What is Ashkenazi identity?

Instead of embodying the Israeli success story, economist Shlomo Maoz stabbed it in the heart with his attack on the Ashkenazi establishment. The force of the blow stemmed from the fact that he himself was a “success story.” A senior member of the Israeli elite (not because of his accent – which in our culture is used only for comic effect – but despite it ), Maoz, who was fired following his speech, not only refused to see himself as the rule but actually stressed that he was the exception.

In our “official” symbolism, the wound of the Mizrahim, or Jews of Middle Eastern descent, has almost healed. Any minute now, equality will arrive. The fact that both wealth and poverty reproduce themselves has nothing to do with this story, which always relies on partial statistics. The creators of these symbols – such as authors Sami Michael, A. B. Yehoshua and Eli Amir – always tell the same success story, in which the Mizrahi was raised from the pre-modern depths to the modern heights (and this is another reason why Shas, an ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi party, is like a red rag to a bull ).

Liberal pluralism arms itself with “proofs” to polish up the story, and only occasionally does it reveal more than a glimpse of the present reality with the help of cliches about the past. For instance, when people want to eulogize other Jewish languages, before the new Hebrew destroyed them, while also according honor to Mizrahim, they draw comparisons solely between Yiddish and Ladino – even though the latter is also a European language, whose speakers constitute a tiny minority of Israel’s non-Ashkenazi majority. But the language of Iraqi Jews, for example, was Judeo-Arabic. And tens of thousands of people still speak Moroccan Arabic today.

Is it only Ashkenazim who place their seal of approval on the story “that is already over” and cry out against the “ethnic demon”? Certainly not. Israeli mobility is great enough to accept Mizrahim into the elite – but on one condition: They must repudiate what is taking place down below (on soccer fields, in line for the doctor, at the bank, and so forth ). To be accepted into the elite, one must not be a rightist, and it’s also better not to be religious. And even in the Likud party, one is only allowed to talk about how “the left is to blame for it all.”

The issue is not merely a popular memory devoid of chroniclers (to write it, one must first be accepted into the elite ), nor is it only about discrimination. Rather, this is a kind of cord composed of multiple strands of varying lengths – accent and culture and religion, economic and professional inferiority, ideals of beauty, the statistical makeup of the elite compared to that of the prison population. But never all of them taken together.

Yet it’s forbidden to talk about color nowadays, except with regard to Mizrahim who are discriminating against even Ethiopians. (Just try to imagine Ethiopians or ultra-Orthodox Jews in Ramat Aviv. ) We know that Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni appeals to precisely these white strata.

And does a few authors’ and professors’ shock over the appointment of a retired police officer (“the policeman,” they called him ) to run the Am Oved publishing house, which is effectively owned by the Histadrut labor federation, not recall something of the appeal to these strata, even though some of the signatories to the petition were themselves non-Ashkenazi? It certainly does. Not only because the policeman, in our culture, is Mizrahi, in contrast to the pilot (despite former air force chief Dan Halutz ), and not only because Brig. Gen. Yaakov Brei is in fact of Turkish descent, but primarily because he was appointed by Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, “the Frank” (a derogatory term for Mizrahim ), who has already been compared to Stalin by one Jerusalem professor who complained of “state violence.”

Not one single professor protested the appointment of Carmi Gillon – the man who headed the Shin Bet security service at a time when it tortured thousands – as deputy president of Hebrew University. And they surely didn’t make him take a reading test.

In Israel, Mizrahi identity only exists as a negative – “non-Ashkenazi and non-Arab.” And this vacuum serves as an incubator for the identity the right is building – “hatred of Arabs.” But the right has fed for years off the arrogance of the leftist intelligentsia, some of whose members are even capable of bringing their complaints about Ofer Eini to President Shimon Peres, deeming him a spiritual leader (! ).

So what is Ashkenazi identity? It’s the angry, self-righteous defense of hegemony. Like Yair Lapid, for example.


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