Josef Olmert

The Left does not like Mizrachim — How much is Menachem Begin missed

It happens almost every election campaign in Israel, usually towards the end of a tiring campaign, always at the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv [formerly Kikar Malchei Israel], in front of cheering Israelis, and with a lot of red flags in sight. Israelis? yes, but they tend to have a distinct character. They are almost to a person Ashkenazi, secular Israelis, mostly vote Labor and Meretz, some even further Left than that, Hadash in the past, the joint Arab List in the present. Good Israelis?, sure. All Israelis , regardless of political creed, ehtnicity, religion , or diaspora origin are good Israelis. I surely believe in that, but the people in the square do not. They believe that there is a ”civilized Israel”, and ”a backward Israel”. They, of course, are the good, the progressives, the civilized.

So, who are the ”backward”? In 1977, in the night of the historic Likud election victory, when the crowds in Tel Aviv screamed the name of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Ben Aharon, an iconic Left Wing leader said, that there has to be another people. Sure, his people were those who wore the blue shirt and looked at Soviet Union as the Second Homeland. Ben Aharon was an interesting man, I knew him personally and had long discussions with him, but he genuinely believed that the ”other” Israel could not come to power in ”our ” Israel. A matter of superiors and inferiors. In 1977, the Likud came to power with the decisive support of the Mizrachim. Was Ben Aharon racist?, I do not think so, but he sounded like one. Then four years later, during the stormy campaign of 1981, A.B Yehoshua, the great novelist, said in Tzavta club in Tel Aviv , that the Likud electorate was a riff raf[asafsuf], with whom the Left had nothing in common, henceforth there was no need for any dialogue with them. This was the same A.B Yehoshua who already then, in 1981, spread the Left Wing Gospel, of ”yes” to the PLO, but no to 50% of our people. Was he racist?, I do not think so, but he sure sounded like one. Few weeks , on the eve of the elections, the late Dudu Topaz , related to the Likud voters as TCHACHCAHIM[VERY BAD WORD!…and was wildly cheered by the tens of thousands of ”good ” Israelis.

This time , Menachem Begin, in one of the seminal speeches of his life, answered the ”good” Israelis with the unforgettable reference to the ”Iraqi” Moshe Barazani, and the ”Ashkenazi” Meir Feinstein, two
Jewish freedom fighters convicted to die by hanging by the British occupation army in our country, who got a hand grenade smuggled to their cell and committed suicide together. Ashkenazi and Sepharadic… the crowd in Tel Aviv, mostly Mizrachim, went ballistic, and Menachem Begin won the elections, and the Left blamed the people.

18 years later, the actress Tikki Dayan invoked the same theme. This time though, Ehud Barak won the elections. BB Netanyahu was in the losing side, there was no more Menachem Begin to champion the cause of the Mizrachim. In 1999, as well as now, there are others who defend the Mizrachim and their great culture, the culture that gave us , among others, Maimonides , and so many others. [do they even remember it in the Left Wing?]. Others is the Shas movement, which even by the admission of Arie D’eri , its leader , is composed who those who still cherish the Likud of Menachem Begin.

As if by Pavlovian instinct, the Left Wing had it again just few days ago, in front of cheering”good” Israelis. This time it was Yair Garbuz, an iconic Left Wing figure in the fields of the arts, who derided those who kiss Mezzuzas [ btw-I do] and go to the graves of Tzadikim. He did not say Mizrachim, but he meant Mizrachim.

He was cheered among others by the Herzog couple and others. Is a racist?, who knows! I cannot be sure anymore about those who use this language. If they use it repeatedly, they may very well be. But they will never use this language against Arabs and Gay people, and rightly so. Any collective reference to people is racist by definition. Many in the Left are infected with virus, and virus like virus, tends to spread, and so it exists also among Left Wing American critics of the ”new” Israel, the ”new ” Zionism. Take, for example the new cult hero of these people Peter Beinart, whose book on the crisis of Zionism is a fascinating , though disturbing evidence of all the above. Try and read there about the Mizrachim. Nada, niet, no, they are thin air. They do not exist.

This time again, it is BB Netanyahu who lead the counter charge, but he is not alone, and clearly less effective than the great Menachem Begin. Today, there is another Nationalist figure who is widely quoted, widely missed. Yes, this is Menachem Begin. So many invoke his name and legacy, and for good reason. Menachem Begin defended the Mizrachim as an integral and important part of his overall political creed, but not only in words. He was the classic Likud national, Liberal and Social leader, much the same as he was taught by the great teacher Ze’ev Jabotinski. He is missed because he was authentic when conducting the battle for ONE Israel. Apparently, Netanyahu is not perceived as such. Btw, Menachem Begin did not just talk about the Iraqi nuclear reactor. HE DID!

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