Is the Mizrahi decade in Israeli politics over?

For the first time in a decade, the current Israeli government contains no Mizrahi Jews. That’s because ethnicity is no longer an issue, argues this Haaretz piece. (With thanks: Lily)

The recent headline in the daily Maariv, which attributed to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the offensive remark that Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz is “a new version of David Levy,” drew three reactions: It reminded readers that such a person once existed – David Levy; it gave off an unpleasant odor of racism, or maybe just plain arrogance, on the part of the “confidants”; and it shed light on an interesting phenomenon: The emptying from the top political ranks in Israel of leading politicians from the Mizrahi communities (Jews of Middle Eastern or North African descent).

Maybe it’s a passing phenomenon, maybe a coincidence, maybe something deeper, but it’s hard to ignore the following fact: the last decade, 1996-2006, was characterized by a leap forward of members of the Mizrahi communities. They occupied the most senior positions in the successive governments, they were considered the stuff of which prime ministers are made, they competed for the premiership, they were elected to the presidency, took control of ruling parties. That was unquestionably the “Mizrahi decade” in politics.

From 1996 to 1999, two senior Mizrahi ministers served in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu: defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai and foreign minister David Levy. In the government of Ehud Barak, between 1999 and 2001, Levy was foreign minister before being replaced, a year later, by Shlomo Ben-Ami.

Ariel Sharon, who succeeded Barak, appointed two senior Mizrahi ministers to his first government, 2001-2003: Silvan Shalom as finance minister and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, then the chairman of the Labor Party, as defense minister.

The second Sharon government, 2003-2006, also had two ranking Mizrahi ministers: Shalom in the Foreign Ministry, Mofaz in the Defense Ministry.

Only one Mizrahi minister served in the first year of the Olmert government- Amir Peretz, chairman of Labor, as defense minister – whereas in the new Olmert government, the three top posts are held by Ashkenazim (Jews of Eastern European descent): Tzipi Livni (foreign affairs), Roni Bar-On (treasury) and Barak (defense).

In the past few years, the Mizrahim have disappeared one after the other. Some left due to unpleasant reasons, moving to the locales covered by the crime and legal affairs correspondents. Only a small minority remained, but they lost their high rank and have had to make do with secondary posts, with the crumbs of power.

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  • Shaul Mofaz is one of the more competent ministers in Olmert’s government, generally acknowledged by Israelis outside of “leftist” circles to be the worst ever, both for its policies and its incompetence, not to mention its crookedness. Me’ir Shitreet, of Morocaan origin, was also in Olmert’s cabinet until he was dismissed for opposing olmert on one issue or another, whatever it was. Eli Yishai, of Shas, is also a Mizrahi minister in the cabinet. He too is fairly competent.

    The problem with Yishai and Mofaz and the rest of the ministers [such as Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beytenu] is that they stay in the cabinet and keep olmert going, despite everything that they and every informed person in Israel knows is wrong with olmert and his govt, his policies, his “integrity,” etc.

    I don’t believe we can explain the crookedness and incompetence of the olmert cabal [don’t even mention the swinish Haim Ramon] on the grounds of origins, whether Sefardi or Ashkenazi or Mizrahi. But I believe that most Israelis would like to see the removal of this cabal of crooks, misfits, and incompetents as soon as possible.


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