The Anglo-Jewish writer Linda Grant is covering the Israeli election campaign for the Guardian. Hurrah! She seems to be breaking out of the Eurocentric goldfish bowl inhabited by most reporters. She is actually meeting some real Jews from Arab countries in Amir Peretz’s home town of Sderot.
“The current mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal, is a celebrity in Israel. He grew up in a small town north of Marrakech, the son of a rabbi and an illiterate mother. Like Peretz, his family came to Israel in the mid-50s when he was a child, and was placed in Sderot; his mother would later win the Israel prize, the most prestigious award the country offers, for sending all 11 of her children to university and into the professions. After nearly 50 years in Israel, she still speaks to the children in her native Moroccan Arabic and has only limited, broken Hebrew; their Sderot house remains, inside, a typical Moroccan home. Moyal studied law at Brandeis University in Boston and opened a law office in Jerusalem. Peretz has a similar biography: he was born in the Moroccan town of Boujad, where his father was the leader of the Jewish community and owned a petrol station, but where Peretz’s ideology is working-class solidarity, Moyal represents something akin to Thatcherism: success through individual effort.
“Israelis like these, originating in Arab countries, have not historically shown a greater affinity with the Palestinians. The anger of the Moroccans at their treatment by the Ashkenazim when they arrived in Israel in the 50s, the racism they experienced, the menial jobs they were obliged to do, has festered for decades. In the early 70s, radical Moroccans formed a Black Panther party, fighting for civil rights and class struggle against the Ashkenazi elites. Seen from outside, the Moroccans ought to be heavily represented in any leftwing opposition party, and some Palestinians, such as the late Edward Said, have seen in the Sephardim a natural constituency which would join with Palestinians to press for a single state. What has happened is the exact opposite.
“While the history of the Jews in Arab and Muslim countries was considerably less bloody than in Christian eastern Europe, it has been far from untroubled, certainly not recently. Most Moroccan Israelis have first-hand tales about life before they came to Israel, or at least the stories their parents have passed down to them. “I can testify about the feelings of my parents,” Moyal says. “We lived quietly and in peace as long as we obeyed the rules. We had no political power, no say. It was against the law for a Jew to be involved in politics. It was a ghetto we lived in … We know the Arabs better than the Ashkenazim. We obeyed Arab regimes for centuries; we know their traditional and cultural way of life – we ran away from the Arabs.”
(…)”The election should be about a question: why a society which enshrined Jewish values in its declaration of independence, and which promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”, should have abandoned the poor, the old and the sick, and left its Arab citizens feeling much as the Moyals and the Peretzes did when they were a minority in Morocco.”
Beg your pardon, Linda? The Arab citizens of Israel have more civil and political rights than Arabs in Arab countries, including Morocco, while the flight of 90 percent of the Jewish community to Israel and Francespeaks for itself. Scores were killed in riots following the establishment of Israel. Most Jews were not convinced by assurances that they would be equal citizens in the new independent state. As well as sporadic violence there was an atmosphere of antisemitism, an emigration ban and economic boycotts, although it is true that of all Arab states Morocco has been most fair-minded towards its Jews.