One Ashkenazi leftist’s view of the post-election rumblings of class warfare between the “State of Tel Aviv” and the mainly Mizrahi periphery.
Last Tuesday’s election saw Likud’s traditional popular base — Mizrahim in the poor, development towns and cities of the Negev and Galilee, and poor neighborhoods and suburbs of the central region — vote for Likud and Netanyahu in very big numbers. This caused a backlash among many Ashkenazi liberals who voted Zionist Union and Meretz. They’re saying they are through caring about the Mizrahi poor; let them go to Bibi from now on. This, in turn, has caused a counter-backlash by many other Ashkenazi liberals and leftists, who are saying this is a racist, right-wing attitude, and that a big reason why poor Mizrahim vote Likud is because of Ashkenazi liberal offenses against them, past and present.
The following is my view of the Ashkenazi leftist/Mizrahi Likudnik divide. I want to stress that I am referring only to poor, generally under-educated Mizrahim who make up the base of Likud supporters. I am not talking about middle-class, well-educated Mizrahim, who I have a strong hunch leaned away from Likud and toward the more liberal parties in the election.
1. Israeli leftists, who are disproportionately Ashkenazi, want to be in solidarity with the “weakened” classes, which include the poor, under-educated segments of the Mizrahi population. But it turns out that the latter tend to hate Israeli leftists. They also hate the “weakened” classes who are not Jewish: Arabs and African refugees. In disproportionate numbers, they expressed that sentiment — against the Left and the Arabs (the Africans weren’t much of an issue) by voting for Bibi.
So what is an Israeli Ashkenazi leftist to do? If we lash out at Mizrahi Likudniks, we’re racists, which we don’t want to be, and if we blame them for their own racism, then we’re not good leftists, because good leftists don’t blame the “weakened” classes for anything. So we blame the powers that be, we blame Israeli capitalism, we blame Bibi — and, being good leftists, we blame ourselves. We’re racist, we live in a Tel Aviv bubble where everyone is just like us, we’re patronizing, we put the poor Mizrahim in miserable immigrant transit camps when they came to Israel in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we don’t listen to them, etc. And we think that if we take this fearless personal inventory, if we look in the mirror and cleanse ourselves of all these faults, then maybe we can go back to the poor Mizrahim in the periphery and make our case — speaking to them as equals this time! — and maybe they won’t hate us so much.
But they will. Do you know why? Because the overwhelming majority of the Mizrahi poor hate weakness, even worse than the average Israeli does. That – a billion times more than the transit camps – is why they hate Israeli leftists – because they see us as weak vs. their enemies, the Arabs and the Africans. And when they heap contempt on us and we react by groveling, they say to themselves, “Oh, look at the weak, pathetic leftists, apologizing again. God, I hate these people.”
2. Israeli leftists say we have to treat the poor Mizrahim as equals, we have to stop patronizing them. Okay. They just whacked us upside the head – they voted for Bibi in large part because they hate us; Bibi’s campaign (and fellow ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett’s) bashed the Left from day one. So, if we want to treat the poor Mizrahim as equals, we should whack them upside the head in return, shouldn’t we, Ashkenazi leftists? Because if we try to “understand” them, and excuse them, and blame ourselves and God forbid not blame them, then we’re not treating them as equals, we’re treating them as infants, as helpless, pathetic creatures who aren’t responsible for anything they do. Then we’re patronizing them something fierce, aren’t we? So, Ashkenazi leftists, make up your minds.
3. So why are poor Mizrahim right wing and often racist? For the same reason poor whites all over the world are right wing and very often racist, why poor Muslims are right wing in Muslim countries, supporting the most militant nationalist or religious/nationalist candidates. In every society I know of, the poorer classes of the dominant group – in Israel, Jews; in the West, whites; in Muslim countries, Muslims – are drawn to demagogues who promise them power – because they have none. And they tend to hate the people who are on the rung below them – in Israel, Arabs; in the West, blacks and other people of color; in Muslim countries, blacks; in black South Africa, black migrant workers from Zimbabwe. This is the elephant in the room that hardcore leftists worldwide don’t want to see – the poor, the downtrodden, trample on the weak in their societies every bit as much as the rich do in theirs. Sad, soul-killing, but true.
4. So what should Ashkenazi liberals and leftists do? First, we should stop “understanding” and excusing anti-Arab/anti-black racism and hatred of the Left when it comes from poor Mizrahim, and instead denounce them for it the same way we denounce (mainly Ashkenazi) settlers and other Israeli “haves” who hold such fascistic beliefs. To do otherwise is, truly, to patronize them.
Second, while we must recognize that the Labor Ashkenazi establishment indeed mistreated Mizrahim when they got here, and that Ashkenazi prejudice against Mizrahim used to be a terrible problem and still has not been eradicated, this is not why many poor, under-educated Mizrahim tend to hate Arabs and leftists today. No, these hatreds have been sinking deeper and deeper into Israeli society as a whole; they’re just naturally stronger among the Jewish “underclass.” So if you hear some guy in Ofakim bitching about the goddamn Arabs and the kushim and blaming the Tel Aviv leftist shits for taking their side, don’t feel guilty and don’t apologize. You are not to blame for his bigotry. If you want to show solidarity at that point, show it with the Arabs and Africans he’s cursing.
Finally, don’t turn your backs on the Mizrahim poor. They’re not all fascists by any means, and the ones who are have children, and those children need our solidarity. They deserve to grow up in a good environment, get a good education and see a hopeful future. (So did their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents; hate their bigotry, not them.) Moreover, this is the only antidote to the racism and the hatred of Israel’s Jewish underclass: helping them get out of it, not necessarily geographically but educationally. And this antidote is a proven success: again, I doubt many well-educated Mizrahim rushed out to vote Likud when Bibi announced that “the Arabs are going out to vote in droves, the leftist NGOs are bussing them in.”
The Left has always believed in solidarity with the poor, and that must not be lost. What the Left should get rid of, though – and not only in Israel – is its illusions about poor people, its infantilization of them, and its self-defeating, patronizing guilt in the face of their worst behavior, which, of course, encourages it.