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Analysis
Last Updated: 09/16/2005
The Mizrahi-Palestinian Connection, Part II
Sharon Komash

Scholarly analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has depicted it as a conflict between two homogenous entities, namely Israel and the Palestinians. However, scholars largely ignore the impact of the "inner-Israeli" conflict between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim on the "external" conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Not only are the Mizrahim excluded from the peace process itself, but academics also fail to research the role they play in the conflict, while their occasional public role is that of extremely right-wing "Arab-haters" who prevent the Ashkenazi-dominated "liberal peace camp" from reaching a solution– hence they are portrayed as an obstacle to peace. Part II of a three-part series. Part I


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"I think we are weak. We are walking around with huge Jewish Stars…lest we be affiliated, heaven forbid, with the Arabs"

– "Yes, but you are also walking around us…with clubs and guns and giving us orders. You control our lives…I can't think about that soldier that…shoots us as a Moroccan or Iraqi. For me he is the Israeli oppressor"[1]

 

The linkage between the Mizrahi issue and the Palestinians has not been given a place in the pages of historiography, sociology and political science[2]. The connection between the groups has many implications. Both the Mizrahim and the Palestinians are the underdogs of Zionism. The Mizrahim have been "rescued" by Zionism to bring them to the state of Israel, to save them from the dark ages and bring them "back to history", forgetting and deleting their histories. The same Zionism "saved" Palestine from the wilderness, to bring it back to history – as if it never had its own history – without alluding to the people that had been living in that land. Finally and ferociously, it forced most of them into exile, and rendering the Palestinians that stayed as third class citizens that should be thankful that they were allowed to stay at all[3].

 

In the following chapter I will explore a few explanations for the Mizrahi's ambivalent place vis-à-vis the Palestinians, as a group that both belongs to the dominant Jewish group and is dominated by it[4].

 

THE IDENTITY EFFECT

A key issue in the understanding of some Mizrahim's anti-Palestinian attitudes is the complex self-identity. Self-hatred was projected in hate for the Arabs. In other words, the Palestinians – the "other" of Jewish nationalism – mirror to the Mizrahim their otherness. The Mizrahim reject the Palestinians, who reflect to them the same culture (and looks) from which they try to dissociate. Not surprisingly, one study shows that the respect Mizrahim have towards Arabs increases in a direct correlation with their self-esteem[5]. Elyachar clearly notes the direct correlation between the cultural oppression of the Mizrahi youth at school, and their non-tolerance towards the Palestinians. In an essay "About Education for Knowing our Neighbors" he warned against the negation of the "rich culture that is so intimately close to the Arab culture" and observed with a great frustration: "The Sephardic-Mizrahi youth, of all youth, that by nature must have been closer to the Arab culture… and act as a connecting element between the two cultures, has turned into an obstacle to any understanding between us and our neighbors"[6].

 

Furthermore, one of the preconditions to becoming "a good Israeli" was to hate Arabs, the national enemy. The Mizrahim, whose culture and appearance forced them into the seam between two nations, had to "prove" and acquire their Israeliness by adopting nationalist views and symbols, such as wearing a Jewish star ("Hai")[7]. Azmi Bashara, a Palestinian Knesset (the Israeli parliament) member, describes it succinctly: "The Ashkenazi has a clear stance as to the relationships with Palestinians: You are there, we are here…but the Mizrahi resembles the Palestinian in looks, customs, dialect…it forces him to distinguish himself from the Arab…if the criterion for equality is nationalism, then they must prove their nationalism"[8].



[1] A dialogue between the Palestinian Reihab Isawi and the Mizrahi Eli Hamo, in Chetrit 1999, p. 173.

[2] Some books that addressed the subject have not been translated into Hebrew. The book "The Lure of Zion" by Abbas Shiblak, and "Ben Gurion's Scandals: how the Haganah & the Mossad Eliminated Jews by Giladi Naeim, both allude to the connection between the displacement of the Arab-Jews and the Palestinians, are two examples. The second book couldn't get published in Israel at all. See Giladi p.1.

[3] Another historical linkage between the Mizrahi and the Palestinian is in the question of compensation for property that both were compelled to leave behind. Elyachar kept lobbying for the inter-twinning of the compensation of both communities. The Ashkenazi Zionist establishment largely ignored that request. See for example pp. 188, 196, 239. For an analysis of this issue see Shenhav 2003

[4] Some of the issues I will discuss are more relevant to the attitudes towards Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. The uniqueness of the relationship between Mizrahim and Palestinians that are Israeli citizens deserves a separate discussion.

[5] Shohat 2001, p.188.

[6] Elyachar, p. 227

[7] Shenhav 2001. Shenhav refers to both "Hai" and wearing a yarmulke ("kipa") as expressions of nationalism rather than religion.

[8] Bashara quoted in Chetrit 1999, p.173.

Sharon Komash holds a Master's in International Peace Studies from the University of Peace.


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