Aladdin & Aryeh Deri

In the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp, we are told of a boy who had an ancient lamp. When he tried cleaning it off by gently rubbing off the dust, a genie came out and promised to make three of Aladdin’s wishes come true. This past week, it seems that people in Israel attempted to raise the “ethnic demons”; however, they seemed to have forgotten that, like Aladdin’s genie, his power is limited, along with its availability.

This week, Aryeh Deri’s appointment as Minister of the Interior was approved. The official opinion delivered to the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the legal advisor to the government, Yehuda Weinstein, stated that there were no legal impediments to the appointment, despite the moral and public difficulties. And yet, many people severely opposed Deri’s appointment.

The Movement for Quality of Government in Israel has already collected more than 72,000 signatures on a petition against allowing Deri to become a minister in the government. The petition was started in April, when Deri was appointed Minister of the Economy, and has been gaining momentum during the past few weeks, in light of the intention to appoint him Interior Minister. In the final, 917-page long verdict of the Deri trial, it turns out that most of the charges against him referred to the period of time when he worked in the Ministry of the Interior — as an assistant to the Minister, the CEO of the Ministry, and finally as the Minister.

In an interview that Dan Margalit held this past week with Mordechai Gilat, the latter said that there is no precedent to the Deri case; no country in the world would allow a man with such a criminal record to go back to an executive governmental position — especially a sensitive appointment such as Minister of the Interior, with a myriad of responsibilities and billions of budgeted shekels.

However, the logic in the position of Gilat and the Movement for Quality of Government was cancelled out by the logic-voiding move of employing ethnic demons; Itzik Sudri, former spokesman to the Shas party, said in an interview with Gilat that Deri’s return to the Ministry of the Interior is reparation not only for past persecution of Deri, starting from the days of his trial and prison term, but also of the entire Shas party, and a source of Mizrahi pride. Another man who made sardonic use of ethnic demons was MK Yisrael Eichler, who said that Deri was being persecuted only because of the Sefardi revolution he spearheaded alongside Rav Ovadia Yosef.

It is worth noting, for Sudri’s sake, that when ethnic demons are employed in places they aren’t relevant, they tend to become less effective in places where not only are they relevant, they are necessary for correcting discrimination against Mizrahim. It’s important for him to know that there are many people, Mizrahim among them, who don’t think that Deri was intentionally persecuted or set up because of his ethnicity; they don’t think that the intensity of the opposition to his reinstatement can be calmed by the playing the oft-played race card. Eichler, on the other hand, should know better than to speak of Mizrahi persecution, when he lives in a glass house of a political party, when it comes to ethnicity.

Three weeks ago, the investigative show Uvda aired an article that, among other subjects, told the story of Ezra Nawi of Ta’ayush. Nawi is an alleged human rights activist, who was supposed to protect the rights of Palestinians; instead, in the article, he is shown as he plans the disclosure of Palestinian land merchants who intended to sell land to Jews, to the PLO authorities, while knowing full well that he was sending them to their deaths.

After the article aired, Michael Solsbury-Korech wrote on the site “Local Discourse” that one shouldn’t be surprised that an organization (Ad Kan, the group that filmed the undercover material for the article, G.R.) composed of former IDF officials chose to topple Nawi, out of all people. Not only, Solsbury-Korech writes, is he not a standard Ashkenazi activist, fresh from academic studies and elite IDF service, but he challenges the system – with his political activism, but particularly with his ethnicity, just like Mordechai Va’anunu and Tali Pahima.

Despite Nawi’s actions going against every human rights convention, there are people who aim to minimize the disgust expressed at Nawi’s actions by accusing his detractors of racism. There are many injustices that need to be fixed in Israeli society – of which a respectable amount are against Mizrahim; any and all discriminatory actions should be denounced. However, precisely because of the subject’s significance, ethnic demons should not be invoked for any and all reasons – especially when said reasons are irrelevant to the debate at hand.

Miri Shalem is the CEO of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. This column has been translated from her weekly column in Makor Rishon.

About the Author
Miri Shalem is CEO of the Institute for Zionist Strategies and Blue & White Human Rights movement. The Institute is a Right winged, Zionist, Liberal Think and Do Tank that works in the Checkpoints and in East Jerusalem..Miri was for many years an activist for social change for women. Her activities in this field include organizing the national dance conference for Orthodox women and initiating a flashmob protest by Bet Shemesh women against gender segregation in the public space. She worked to establish a women's counseling center in Beit Shemesh, for which she won the Yaffa London Award in 2012. Prior to her current position, Miri was the Director of the Ramat Beit Shemesh Community Center where she was the founder and the chairperson of the city's Women's Council. on 2014, she was one of the heads of the campaign of Eli Cohen, a mayoral candidate in Bet Shemesh. Miri was a columnist for "Makor Rishon" and now she writes for "Yedioth Achronot" She has a BA in Economics and Political Science and an MA in Gender Studies. Miri has lived in Beit Shemesh for almost twenty years and, despite the city's difficulties, reaffirms daily her choice to stay there and continue her activism. She is married and a mother of 4.