Editor’s note: I think that most of us here in
Uri Avner, 12.11.05
A GREAT MIRACLE
NORTH AFRICAN immigrants on the periphery of French cities are torching them. North African immigrants on the periphery of
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
A week ago, this column called upon the Labor Party voters to elect Peretz. "Haaretz" published that article on election day. [Hebrew edition: http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/643400.html].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
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
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
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
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 weren’t persecuted in Muslim countries and, indeed, for long periods in
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 Demon."
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
From the beginning of his career, Peretz has never wavered in his consistent support for Israeli-Palestinian peace. His social messages 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 Perestroika. Whole communities can now change their allegiance. A new political scene can be created, one much more suited to peace-making.