By Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery considers the relationship between Israel’s demographic-cultural blocs and its domestic politics, especially attitudes towards peace and the Arabs. He argues that before peace can take root, the barriers between the blocs, especially the deeply ingrained racism of the Oriental and Russian Jews, must be broken.
”When the Jews from Muslim countries started to arrive en masse in Israel, they were steeped in Arab culture. But here they were received by a society that held everything Arab in total contempt… So, the immigrants were required to shed their own culture and traditions, their accent, their memories, their music. In order to show how thoroughly Israeli they had become, they also had to hate Arabs.” (Uri Avnery)
“Israel has no foreign policy, only a domestic policy,” Henry Kissinger once remarked.
This has probably been more or less true of every country since the advent of democracy. Yet in Israel this seems even truer. (Ironically, it could almost be said that the US has no foreign policy, only an Israeli domestic policy.)
In order to understand our foreign policy, we have to look in the mirror. Who are we? What is our society like?…
Israel is … a kind of federation of several major demographic-cultural blocs which dominate our social and political life.
Who are they? There are (1) the old Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin); (2) the Oriental (or “Sephardi”) Jews; (3) the religious (partly Ashkenazi, partly Oriental); (4) the “Russians”, immigrants from all the countries of the former Soviet Union; and (5) the Palestinian-Arab citizens, who did not come from anywhere.
This is, of course, a schematic presentation. None of the blocs is completely homogeneous. Each bloc has several sub-blocs, some blocs overlap, there is some intermarriage, but on the whole the picture is accurate. Gender plays no role in this division.
The political scene almost exactly reflects these divisions. The Labour party was in its heyday the main instrument of Ashkenazi power. Its remnants, together with Kadima and Meretz, are still Ashkenazi. Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beytenu consists mainly of Russians. There are three or four religious parties. Then there are two exclusively Arab parties, and the Communist party, which is mainly Arab, too. The Likud represents the bulk of the Orientals, though almost all its leaders are Ashkenazim.
The relationship between the blocs is often strained. Just now, the whole country is in an uproar because in Kiryat Malakhi, a southern town with mainly Oriental inhabitants, house owners have signed a commitment not to sell apartments to Ethiopians, while the Rabbi of Safed, a northern town of mainly Orthodox Jews, has forbidden his flock to rent apartments to Arabs.
But apart from the rift between the Jews and the Arabs, the main problem is the resentment of the Orientals, the Russians and the religious against what they call “the Ashkenazi elite”.
Since they were the first to arrive, long before the establishment of the state, Ashkenazim control most of the centres of power – social, political, economic and cultural. Generally, they belong to the more affluent part of society, while the Orientals, the Orthodox, the Russians and the Arabs generally belong to the lower socio-economic strata.
The Orientals have deep grudges against the Ashkenazim. They believe – not without justification – that they have been humiliated and discriminated against from their first day in the country, and still are, though quite a number of them have reached high economic and political positions. The other day, a top director of one of the foremost financial institutions caused a scandal when he accused the “Whites” (i.e. Ashkenazim) of dominating all the banks, the courts and the media. He was promptly fired, which caused another scandal.
The Likud came to power in 1977, dethroning Labour. With short interruptions, It has been in power ever since. Yet most Likud members still feel that the Ashkenazim rule Israel, leaving them far behind. Now, 34 years later, the dark wave of anti-democratic legislation pushed by Likud deputies is being justified by the slogan “We must start to rule!”
The scene reminds me of a building site surrounded by a wooden fence. The canny contractor has left some holes in the fence, so that curious passers-by can look in. In our society, all the other blocs feel like outsiders looking through the holes, full of envy for the Ashkenazi “elite” inside, who have all the good things. They hate everything they connect with this “elite”: the Supreme Court, the media, the human rights organizations, and especially the peace camp. All these are called “leftist”, a word curiously enough identified with the “elite”.
How has “peace” become associated with the dominant and domineering Ashkenazim?
That is one of the great tragedies of our country.
Zionism and the culture of hating Arabs