The prestigious award that only goes to Ashkenazi men

While the prime minister’s attempt to intervene in the selection committee for the Israel Prize is clearly anti-democratic, so is the fact that the vast majority of its recipients look exactly the same.

The uproar over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meddling in the nominations of three would-be judges for the prestigious Israel Prize selection committee caused many good people to pull out their calculators. They wanted to prove, incontrovertibly, that the prize, which according to its website, “has until now been awarded to a wide range of citizens, to men and women, religious and secular, young and old, veterans and new immigrants, different ethnicities and religious groups – Israeli citizens” is far less pluralistic than it pretends to be, and tends to be awarded to secular, Ashkenazi men [Hebrew].

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even if his attempt to intervene in the Israel Prize is dubious, there is no reason to let the institution off the hook. (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

In 2004, my late father-in-law, Dov Noy, won the Israel Prize for his research on Hebrew literature. Excited and dressed to our nines, we arrived at the fancy ceremony in the Jerusalem Theater. The whiteness was visible before we could even take our seats. As far as I could tell, I was one of the only Mizrahim in the theater.

I didn’t need any statistical evidence that evening: the ethnic makeup, whether among the winners and their partners or those in attendance, was as reflective of Israel’s hegemony as anything I had ever seen. Although I had already been able to wiggle my way into a few Ashkenazi circles in my life, I can still remember that nearly-tangible feeling that I simply did not belong at the event.

One does not need to support Netanyahu or his political motivations in order to tell the truth: from the day of its inception, the Israel Prize has been a shiny toy that the white elite passes around from person to person. This group sees itself as the sole barometer for the strength of Israel’s imaginary democracy: once someone pops their bubble, it is only a matter of time before they begin bemoaning the end of their rule.

Read more: Why Mizrahim don’t vote for the Left

And so judge after judge vocally left the committee, while candidates withdrew their nominations. People who never in their life thought about leaving due to the sheer whiteness of the entire ordeal decided to quit after a right winger defiled their precious institution. The left-wing Meretz party even published an ad on the front page of Haaretz, in which they lamented the destruction of Israel, no less! Turns out that all you need to do is take away the natural-born right of a few Ashkenazim to give out and receive awards, and we are heading straight toward the destruction of the Third Temple.

The depth of these invisible mechanisms of power, which mold the worldview of this exclusive, closed-off circle, is perfectly expressed in Gideon Levy’s op-ed, in which he claims that, “Israel has no right-wing creative artists who write exemplary books.” In other words, Levy is saying that rightists, women, Arabs, Mizrahim, Ethiopians and Russians suffer from a genetic disorder that spares only left-wing, Ashkenazi men.

Is there any point in reminding Mr. Levy of Rabbi Haim Sabato, a Mizrahi religious man, and settler from Ma’ale Adumim, who in my eyes is one of the greatest Hebrew literary figures around? No, it’s pointless. Just as it was pointless to present Mizrahi poets to Sari Raz back when she chaired a committee that was tasked with selecting who would appear on the new shekel bills (as luck would have it, they turned out to be Ashkenazi). Raz isn’t aware of any important Mizrahi poets from the 20th century? That must mean they don’t exist. Levy doesn’t know any outstanding right-wing authors? Case closed.

Let me clarify that I have no sympathy for the prime minister, who promotes his dark political agendas in dubious ways. But if the white “left-wing camp” thinks that, without an alternative, me and my kind will continue swallowing this bitter pill while looking the other way, they have another think coming.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Netanyahu is losing it
Why Mizrahim don’t vote for the Left

Election Coverage banner