Josef Olmert

Mimuna, May Day and the new Democratic Israel

May Day, the so-called workers international solidarity day, was once a big day in Israel. These were the days of Eretz Israel Haovedet [Eretz Israel of the workers], the blue shirt, the Russian folk music [which I personally like…], when some so-called Zionists publicly looked at the USSR as the Second Homeland. Great days for the ruling elite, but not for democracy. These were actually the days of the Mapai Democtatura, under Ben-Gurion, when the red card was your way for opportunity, employment, promotion. The red flag almost equal in importance to the Blue and White, and the red flag, was what the great Menachem Begin called the flag of the ComNazism, the flag of the red and brown shirts who had, at least one thing in common, as they hated Jews and Zionism. Not much different nowadays, as the British Labor party shows all too clearly to those whose eyes and ears are open.

It was May Day, when the red flag covered every street corner, every public building . Days to be forgotten, as this is just a memory for some, and a nightmare for many more. And Menachem Begin was mentioned for a reason. He was the leader of the Herut party, the mother party of current day Likud, and becoming, though through a process, the leader and symbol of hope for change, for the majority of Israel’s Mizrachim, the Jews who were refugees after the war of 1948. The forgotten refugees not only by the world, which recognizes only Arab and Palestinian refugees, but also by the Left Wing establishment in Israel. Yes, they were greatly physically absorbed, but they were rejected culturally and politically. They were not ”our” guys, and also the ”Herutniks” were not our guys. I know first hand, as I grew up in the 1950’s and I remember the humiliations in school. Menachem Begin, with his genius political acumen, created the Israeli version of the alliance of the dispossessed and led them to final election victory in 1977. A revolutionary democratic change, without violence, through the ballot box. Israel was far less democratic before 1977, than it has since then. There are symbols which are associated with major changes like that. I will pick just two. One has to do with location, one with calendar.

Haifa was once Red Haifa, because it was dominated by the Left Wing. Dominated? One way of putting it. Another
would be to call it terrorized by the Left Wing. Plugot Hapoel[the Units of the Workers] ruled the streets in the name of the Mapai establishment, and as of the 1930’s, it was physically dangerous to be first a Revisionist, then a Herutnik in Haifa. The ”good guys ” were there to tell you what Red Democracy was all about. In the famous seamen strike of 1951, they violently broke the strikers, as some of whom were Communists. It was also in Haifa, where the Mizrachim first rose up, in 1959, in Wadi Salib or Neve Yosef, against the Mapai rule, and were brutally dispersed by the police, acting under the orders of the then Mapai Mayor and dictator, Aba Hushi.

It is another Haifa these days. Hardly any red flags, no more red militia of Hapoel, but the Mimuna is celebrated and proudly so.

The Mimuna is a traditional celebration of North African Jews, mostly Moroccan, in the day after end of Pesach. A celebration of the beginning of spring, of open doors, of Moroccan Jewish pride. Not existing in the old days of Mapai rule, but very much so as of the 1970’s, not coincidentally, the beginning of Likud political era in Israel. An era characterized by the rise of those were down under, and came to power democratically. An era in which Mediterranean music is not outcast anymore, and a Jewish North African festival is an informal national holiday. So, the change in Israel was political, but it started with a profound cultural change, something which many of the remaining Lefties in Israel cannot live with, and many American Jewish Liberals and Progressive simply despise. It is not ”their” Israel anymore. Today is also May Day. Who cares? Who Knows?

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina