African immigrants on the periphery of French cities are torching them.
North African immigrants on the periphery of Israel this week carried
out a democratic revolution in our country
Une analyse de Uri
Avnery (en anglais...) - novembre 2005
In the Labor Party primaries, the members of "Eastern" descent voted
massively for Amir Peretz and defeated Shimon Peres, who enjoyed the
support of the upper class, mostly Ashkenazi, party members.
("Eastern" is the now generally accepted term for Jews from Arab and
other Muslim countries and their descendents, who used to be called,
erroneously, "Sephardim". The "Ashkenazim" are immigrants from European
countries and their descendents, named for the Medieval Hebrew
appellation for Germany.)
A week ago, this column called upon the Labor Party voters to elect
Peretz. "Haaretz" published that article on election day. [Hebrew
]. If it convinced even one person to change his or her
vote, I am glad. Because the election of Peretz is, in my view, an
event that far transcends party affairs. It may well change the future
of the country.
I REMEMBER a debate that took place shortly after the 1982 Lebanon war.
Some dozens of veterans of the radical Israeli peace movements gathered
on the roof of a Tel-Aviv building and discussed the possibility of
creating a new peace party, after the dissolution of the Sheli Party
(which I had represented for some years in the Knesset).
I said that we would not succeed in effecting a real change if we did
not reach the Eastern Jewish public. To this community, the peace camp
looks like an Ashkenazi affair, belonging to the upper socio-economic
strata. In our demonstrations, one hardly sees any Eastern faces. We
have failed to reach half the Israeli population. As long as this
situation prevails, there will be no peace.
Since then, 23 years have passed and the situation has not changed. The
masses of the Eastern public have boycotted the whole Israeli "Left".
They particularly loathed the Labor Party, which in their eyes
represented all the bad things: discrimination against the towns and
neighborhoods where the Eastern public is concentrated, disdain for
social values, support for an economic policy that makes the rich
richer. They had special contempt for "ethnic politicians", seeing them
as mercenaries of the Ashkenazi elite.
The peace camp is identified with the "Left". When, once a year, a
hundred thousand people congregate (like this evening) in Tel-Aviv's
Rabin Square to commemorate the slain leader, the Eastern people are
conspicuous by their absence (apart from members of the leftist youth
movements.) Arguments often heard are "You are concerned only with the
Arabs, not with us!" or "Ramallah is more important to you than
Ramleh!" (Ramleh is an Israeli town mainly populated by North African
immigrants.) The whole idea of peace is somehow considered an elitist,
Ashkenazi affair, which does not concern the inhabitants of the Eastern
There are several reasons for the deep-seated hatred felt by many
Eastern people, even of the second and third generation, for the Labor
Party. One of them is the feeling that North African immigrants in the
1950s were received in Israel with contempt by the establishment, which
at the time entirely belonged to the Labor Party. The immigrants were
expected to give up their cultural heritage and traditions in the
Israeli "melting pot" that imposed a western, secular pattern.
From generation to generation, a (true) story was passed on about the
Moroccan immigrants who were driven to a place in the middle of the
desert and told to build a new town for themselves. When they refused
to get out of the truck, its tipping mechanism was activated and they
were literally "poured" out, as if they were a load of sand. Also, the
immigrants felt humiliated when, upon arriving in the country, their
hair was sprayed with DDT. True, the same happened to immigrants from
the European refugee camps, but in the memory of the Eastern immigrants
the insult has left an indelible mark.
The Eastern people of the second and third generation believed that the
"Left" had created a closed world whose gates were shut to them. This
feeling did not disappear when individuals of Eastern origin reached
high position, entered the office of the President of the State, became
cabinet ministers, professors or successful entrepreneurs. Statistics
show that most of the Eastern people are to be found in the lower
socio-economic classes, that many of them live below the poverty line
and that they are overrepresented in the prisons. As a result, they
voted en masse for Likud, which was also for a long time "outside" the
establishment. Even to this day, the Likud is perceived as an
opposition party - in spite of the fact that it has already been in
power for a long time.
THERE ARE, of course, more profound reasons for the tension between the
Eastern public and the peace camp. Most immigrants from Arab countries
did not arrive as Arab-haters - they became Arab-haters here.
This is a well-known phenomenon in many countries: the most
discriminated class of the ruling nation provides the most radical
enemies of national minorities and foreigners in general. Those who are
trampled-upon trample those beneath them. After being robbed of their
self-esteem, they can regain some self-respect only by belonging to a
"master race". Thus the poor whites in the United States. The same in
Moreover, the Ashkenazi ruling class openly despises the Arab manners,
diction and music that the Eastern immigrants brought with them. This
overtly racist attitude towards the Arabs became a covert racist
attitude towards the Eastern Jews. These reacted defensively by
adopting an extreme anti-Arab attitude.
In the discussion 23 years ago I said that no one of us
Ashkenazis can effect the necessary change. Only an authentic Eastern
leader can imbue the Eastern community with a new spirit. He can remind
them that for 1400 years, while European Jews saw pogroms, the
Inquisition and the Holocaust, Jews were not persecuted in Muslim
countries and, indeed, for long periods in Spain and elsewhere, were
partners in a marvelous Muslim-Jewish symbiosis. Such a leader can give
back to his community the pride in its past and the ambition to take up
its natural mission of serving as a bridge between the two peoples.
That did not happen in the years that have passed. It can happen now.
THE ELECTION of Amir Peretz completely changes the political scene. For
the first time, the Labor party is headed by an authentic
representative of the North African community - not an "ethnic"
politician, but a national leader who is proud of his roots. And
indeed, before the election he declared that "the first thing I shall
do after being elected is to organize a mercy killing for the Ethnic
For the first time since 1974, the Labor Party is now headed by a
person who did not grow up in the army or the defense establishment.
His main agenda is social-economic. He puts an end to the abnormal
situation that has prevailed in Israel for a long time, when the
leaders of the "Left" supported an extremely rightist economic policy.
He can put an end to the situation where the huge defense budget,
together with the massive investment on the settlements, devour the
resources needed for reducing the gap between rich and poor, which is
now wider in Israel than in any other developed country.
From the beginning of his career, Peretz has never wavered in his
consistent support for Israeli-Palestinian peace. His social message is
connected with his peace message, which is as it should be.
All this is not yet a reason for dancing for joy in the streets. We may
be disappointed. Peretz is facing a daunting series of tasks: to unify
his party, to clear away the Peres heritage, to infuse new blood into
the party, to win the next general election, to become Prime Minister,
to introduce a new social policy, to make peace. He must now prove
himself in all of these, phase by phase.
But there is room for optimism. The frozen fronts between the parties
have been broken. It is the beginning of a Peretztroika. Whole
communities can now change their allegiance. A new political scene can
be created, one much more suited to peace-making.
In France, the discriminated North African neighborhoods are going up
in flames. In our country, a member of the discriminated North-African
community has become candidate for Prime Minister. Six weeks before
Hanuka, the Jewish festival with the ancient adage "A Great Miracle Has
Happened Here", we have some reason to be happy.