Israel recognises Mizrahi Jewry studies as separate discipline

The study of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry is to be recognised as a discipline in its own right, Ha’aretz has announced: this largely symbolic move, based on the 2016 Biton Report, which was never implemented, is to be commended. However, it is not enough to study heritage and culture – this topic must also include the tragic recent history of Mizrahi communities, and must not be used to reinforce a myth of peaceful coexistence. (With thanks: Lily)

Education minister Yifat Shasha-Biton

Israel’s Council for Higher Education recognized the study of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry – or Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin – as an academic discipline that merits study and research, in a move its supporters say “corrects a historical injustice.”

Seventeen of the council’s 22 members voted in favor of the move on Tuesday, according to sources, following a heated debate over the measure, seen as part of a broader inclusivity push in Israeli education and academia.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who chairs the council, said “the human mosaic that makes up Israeli society must also be expressed in curricula and fields of knowledge and research.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Ben David, of the “Masorti Union” of mostly Mizrahi Jewish communities, said the decision “far exceeds the academic field,” and is “an important milestone in our ability to tell a new story throughout all of Israeli society.”

Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews make up roughly half of Israel’s Jewish population, but the community was long impoverished and faced discrimination by Ashkenazi Jews – those of European heritage – who traditionally dominated government, religious institutions and academia.

Council members, including Prof. Haviva Pedaya of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, were lobbying to recognize the study of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry as an independent academic discipline.

Four years ago, Prof. Pedaya was appointed to lead an internal panel within the council to examine the possibility of “research and instruction on the heritage and culture of Sephradi and Mizrahi Jewry” at the country’s universities and colleges.

In response to opposition to legitimizing the subject as an academic discipline, several supporters of the initiative spoke about it as correcting a historical injustice.

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