The most Ashkenazi elite of them all

The elites vary enormously in integration of Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews. The elite that is apparently the most Ashkenazi of all is that of the radical left.

Gideon Levy raises an important issue: the incorporation of Mizrahi Jews into the elites of Israeli society. The picture he draws is depressing: “Our entire political, economic, legal, academic and even military leadership is made up of Ashkenazim, with a smattering of Sephardim as the exceptions that so remarkably prove the rule.” (“And what happens in our community?” May 2 ) This picture is only partially true. The elites vary enormously in this matter. Some are more integrated, while others less so. The elite that is apparently the most Ashkenazi of all is that of the radical left.

In recent decades we have had ministers of defense, foreign affairs and finance who were Mizrahim. We have had chiefs of staff who were Mizrahim, GOCs, heads of Military Intelligence, commanders of the air force and Sayeret Matkal special operations force, attorneys general, directors general and senior officials at the Finance Ministry, heads of the Histadrut labor federation, and business tycoons. Even the Labor Party, a regular target for criticism in this respect, has twice elected a Mizrahi head, and the current Histadrut secretary general is far from being a “pet Mizrahi.”

However, the elites calling for an international boycott of Israel, and the Israeli participants in Israeli Apartheid Week in cities around the world, and in general all those who tend to portray Israel as a despicable and failed state, solely responsible for the conflict – this indeed is an Ashkenazi elite “with a smattering of Mizrahim.” It would be appropriate for the members of this elite, who excel at preaching morality, to show a little more humility and learn a lesson from Israel’s business, political and defense elites on how to integrate Mizrahim.

As a rule, it can be said that all encounters in the modern era between the European world and the East, particularly the Middle East, have been unequal. Of these encounters, the one in Israel between those with origins in Europe and those from the Middle East was the least unequal because both sides shared the Zionist ideology that considered all Jewish communities as belonging to the same people. This approach did not, in practice, prevent prejudice, patronizing and discrimination, but it included an enormous advantage when compared to every other outlook, as far as integrating communities was concerned.

Among modern ideologies, only Zionism enables, and requires, that Polish Jews and Yemenite Jews be seen as one people. It is fashionable today to denigrate this philosophy that sees all Jews as one nation; it is fashionable to consider it a myth. But it is clear that when it comes to integrating people from Europe and the Arab-Muslim world, in nearly equal numbers, Israel is the most successful example of such an integration in modern history. From a Zionist standpoint, it could be said that this achievement is less worthy of wonderment; after all, it involves people of the same nation, despite the cultural differences between them. And it’s not about the much more difficult integration of immigrants from different nations and cultures.

The more someone distances himself from Zionist ideology and considers less than obvious the Jewish national philosophy in its Zionist form, and the more that person considers the coming of Jews to this land as regular immigration rather than aliyah – the more that person should be impressed by Israel’s achievements in building a nation. It is therefore better to embrace the Zionist outlook so there is room left to criticize the Israeli reality on this matter, not just be impressed by it. As an effort to integrate immigrants from the entire world, East and West, Israel is a phenomenal success story; Compared with the Zionist ideal of ingathering “the exiles” there is still a lot to be done.


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