Some Mizrahi are very blunt about the link between Zionism and their plight. “If Israel had not been established, nothing would’ve happened to the Iraqi Jews,” opines the Iraqi-Jewish poet Me’ir Basri.
But the suspicion and distrust did not end there. Their resemblance to Arabs – in fact, you could argue that they are also “Israeli Arabs” – in everything but religion caused them to be viewed with a mixture of condescension, contempt and even fear. This kind of culture shock is, at one level, understandable, as it is a myth to expect the simple fact of belonging to a single faith automatically means that people are the same. “We have here a people whose primitiveness sets a record,” wrote a Ha’aretz reporter in 1948, not of the Palestinians, but of Mizrahi refugees.
This anti-Mizrahi prejudice among the Ashkenazi elite (European Jews) translated into them being whisked away to live in the remotest parts of Israel and populate what are known as “development towns” that failed to develop into anything beyond a receptacle for broken promises and shattered dreams.
The Ashkenazi elite also set about “civilising” the Mizrahi Jews and shaping them into modern “Israelis”. Of course, to a certain extent, this happened to all immigrants, but since the Ashkenazi were calling the shots, it was their culture that most influenced the Israeli ideal.
Today, mizrahim still make up the bulk of Israel’s poor and undereducated; they are often stereotyped in the media as pimps, hustlers and whores; their culture is seen as somewhat inferior; and their accent, although it is the more accurate form of Hebrew, is scorned.
the Mizrahi experience resembles that of the Palestinians, and this is increasingly leading to joint activism at the grassroots level, such as when Israeli Arabs joined Mizrahi Jews protesting eviction in a village on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, even though it had once been a Palestinian village.
In addition, a vocal Mizrahi minority have been at the forefront of the peace movement for decades. For instance, it was a Mizrahi organisation, the radical Black Panthers, which was the first Israeli group to recognise the PLO, and a couple of years before the Madrid peace conference, Arab Jewish and Palestinian politicians, writers and academics held their own informal peace conference in the Spanish city of Toledo.
And even if it is misguided to believe that the chasm can be bridged, those who wish to work for peace and coexistence must continue to stretch as far across it as they can. As Sasson Somekh, the Iraqi-born professor of Arabic literature and long-time friend of the late Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, expressed it: “I am aware that I did not produce any important results, but I’m not going to stop.“
(Thanks Marcy for the link).