As certain politicians prepare to attribute Labour’s imminent failure to win in the Israeli elections to Amir Peretz’s Moroccan origins, this sensible editorial from the Jerusalem Post argues that people in Israel are far more likely to be judged for who they are, not where they come from.
Fordecades, our political scene was burdened by the gaps between Jews of European and Middle Eastern origins. This gap reflected side-effects common to all immigration processes, and problems unique to the Israeli situation. As an immigrant society, Israel was built by layers of arrivals from assorted countries, who initially stuck together and subsequently kept a distance from those who arrived after them.
Similar rifts existed already before the state’s establishment between traditionalist, revolutionary and bourgeois elements and, following the German immigration of the 1930s, between East and Central Europeans.
However, the arrival of massive immigration waves from the Muslim world in the 1950s introduced tensions that reflected deeper East-West gaps. The Jews, who until the 18th century were split evenly between the Christian and Muslim worlds, became 90 percent European by the 19th century, thanks to improving conditions.
The Jews of the Muslim world, meanwhile, declined not only in their numbers but also in their wealth, education and clout. After the Holocaust, the non-Ashkenazi share in the Jewish people in general, and the Jewish state in particular, rose sharply. Eventually, nearly half of Israeli Jews were non-Ashkenazi, while practically the entire political, cultural and financial elites remained Ashkenazi.
Fortunately, since this problem emerged a lot has happened here, and for the better.
Marriages between the two communities have risen steadily over the years and have now become so common that children are often no longer sure how to classify themselves or their friends. The business sector is brimming with world-class success stories like Yitzhak Tshuva, Tzadik Bino, Haim Saban, Shlomo Eliyahu and Benny Gaon, the army is now headed by its third non-Ashkenazi chief of General Staff, and the political scene has seen non-Ashkenazim serve as ministers of defense, finance, foreign affairs and president of Israel, in addition to practically any other position in the legislative, municipal and governmental hierarchies.
This is not to say that our ethnic gaps have vanished. Academia, for instance, remains excessively Ashkenazi, both at the graduate and faculty levels, as does the Supreme Court. Still, in terms of stereotypes, Israel is no longer where it once was, and people are judged not by where they came from, but by who they are.
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