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April 20, 1984 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-04-20

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Friday, April 20, 1984


The Cruel
Irony Of Israel's
`Ethnic Gap'

The Sephardic majority, long known as the
"other Israel" is challenging the
Ashkenazic elite. The result: tension,
violence and a possible shift away from the
country's universalist and socialist values.

Special to The Jewish News


It began peacefully enough: a
march by the Peace Now
movement through the streets
of Jerusalem. An official report on the
Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut
had just held the Begin government
negligent and indirectly responsible.
On this cold night in February 1983,
Peace Now was demanding that the
government resign.
The marchers were much like the
anti-Vietnam War demonstratOrs of
the Sixties. -They were the beautiful
Israel" — the cream of the society. Re-
serve army officers, students, profes-
sionals, intellectuals, they were left of
center, upper-middle-class and almost
entirely Ashkenazim — Jews of East-
ern Europe origin.
They met their counterparts: fer-
vent supporters of the Begin govern-
ment bused in from the nearby de-
velopment town of Beit Shemesh, a
backwater peopled predominantly by
Sephardim — Jews of Middle Eastern
and North African origin. For the
length of the route, the counter-
demonstrators harassed the Peace
Now marchers. You professors .. .
you lecturers!" they shouted, hurling
the epithets like swear words while
others chanted again and again, "Be-
gin, King of Israel!"
They should have burned you in
the ovens at Auschwitz!" screamed one
of them. "PLO lovers! You should have
been with your friends in Sabra and
Shatila so that they could have killed
you too!" yelled another.
Verbal violence escalated into
physical violence. Soon the,Peace Now
marchers were being spat at, punched,
and kicked. One counterdemonstrator
grabbed a political-science student in
the front line, Emil Grunzweig. Spittle
flew from his mouth, the veins stood
out on his neck, his whole face was
distorted with hatred as he delivered
his message: "You wait, we'll kill you
before this night is out!"

Lesley Hazelton was a reporter in Jerusalem
from 1966 to 1979.

Moroccan synagogue

An hour later, outside the Prime
Minister's office, a hand grenade was
thrown into thejrowd of Peace Now
marchers. Several were wounded.
Emil Grunzweig was killed on the
It was the most violent eruption
yet of Israeli ethnic tension. Not
Jewish-Arab tension, but Sephardic-
Ashkenazic. The division is so deeply-
seated that when they talk about such
things as intermarriage in Israel, they
don't mean marriage between Jews
and Arabs, but between Sephardim
and Ashkenazim. When they talk
about school integration, they mean
SephaIrdic-Ashkenazic integration.
When they say "a mixed neighbor-
hood," they mean Sephardic-
The current euphemism for it is
the social gap," but since ethnic lines
closely parallel socioeconomic lines,
that is better read as the ethnic gap."
It is the gap between the Ashkenazic
elite that founded the country and still
controls nearly all its positions of
power, and the Sephardic majority —

now 65 percent of the population —
which has long been known as "the
other," or "the second," Israel.
But today, almost 36 years after
the founding of the country, that sec-
ond Israel is beginning to claim its
own, challenging the universalist and
socialist values on which the state was
founded by Ashkenazim..
One of history's cruel ironies is
being played out. A country that al-
ways aspired to be an integral part of
the Middle East can now see that hap-
pening, but not as its founders hoped.
They envisioned a Western culture,
one that would somehow "civilize" and
change the Middle Eastern influence.
Instead, the Middle Eastern influence
is changing the country from within.
Liberal Ashkenazim feel be-
leaguered by what they see as a vast
wave of Levantinism. For them, the
Sephardic voice is "The voice of the
street," the ugly Israel. Until now,
that voice never counted. It is the voice
of poverty (Sephardim earn 40 percent
less than Ashkenazim on average), of
poor education (only 17 percent of uni-

versity students are Sephardim), of
powerlessness (only 20 percent of
Knesset members are Sephardim). It
is a voice that speaks Hebrew with a
distinctly Arabic accent, that belongs
to people who often look far more like
Arabs than Western Jews, with darker
skin and a slighter build.
It became the voice of crime, drug
addiction, and unemployment, all vir-
tual monopolies of a large Sephardic
The voice belongs to the sons and
daughters of those who came from
Libya and Iran, Iraq and Egypt,
Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Yemen —
from all over the Middle East and
North Africa — after Israel's victory
over the Arab states in its 1948 War of
Independence. It was a time when
Jewish life in Arab countries became
at best unpleasant and often danger-
ous, and the new Jewish state seemed
the fulfillment of an ages-old mes-
They came to a country still
struggling for basics, desperately
short on housing, jobs, educational

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