Yitnish Aynaw, the current Miss Israel, arrived from Ethiopia aged 12
This year’s Miss Israel is a young lady of black Ethiopian heritage. But how many people, including prominent intellectuals and leaders, believe the myth that most Israelis are white? Jeff Weintraub puts them to rights.
In 2003 a very great man, Nelson Mandela, made a very inaccurate and unfortunate statement:
Why should there be one standard for one country, especially because it
is black, and another one for another country, Israel, that is white.
That remark was was especially bizarre because the country Mandela
referred to as “black” was Iraq. I very much doubt that this was the way
Saddam Hussein would have described himself.
As I pointed out
in 2008, Mandela’s statement reflected a misconception about Israel
that is all
too prevalent. His description of Israel as a “white” country was no
doubt based on a taken-for-granted assumption that Israeli Jews are of
In fact, about half of Israeli Jews are Middle Eastern
Jews, or Mizrahim (sometimes also called Sephardim, though strictly
speaking that term covers only Jews who can trace their ancestry back to
pre-1492 Spain)–and for most of the history of Israel, until the
arrival of the Russian Jews in the 1990s, a solid majority of Israeli
Jews were Mizrahim.
These people are not Europeans or ex-Europeans, but
refugees from the Arab world and Iran (and their descendants), and the
now-vanished Jewish communities they represent had roots in the Middle
East, including what is now Iraq, that long pre-dated the coming of
(For some details, see A historic optical illusion – Israel & the invisible Middle Eastern Jews and Irwin Cotler on the Middle Eastern Jews & the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the very useful website Point of No Return.)
If they are “white,” then so are Iraqis … not to mention Syrians, Algerians, Egyptians, Saudis, and so on.