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April 20, 1984 - Image 15

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

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Friday, April 20, 1984


Center for the Aged

Photos by Harvey Finkle

facilities, and even food. Above all,
they came to a country that was, de-
spite its Middle . Eastern geography,
dominated by European Jews and thus
still traumatized by the recent past of
the Holocaust. The national ideology
demanded that the new arrivals be
stripped of their past in Arab countries
and assimilated into the new Israeli
culture. That was easy to say, and im-
possible to do. Mass immigration from
Arab countries more than doubled Is-
rael's Jewish population within three
years. No one knew how to handle such
numbers — or such people.
A small elite of Sephardim were
wealthy and highly educated, but few
of these came to the impoverished
country whose very existence re-
mained in question; they opted for
France and the United States. Those
who came were mainly those with no
L alternatives. They included peasants
from Morocco's Atlas Mountains,
whoseehuts had been built into moun-
- tainside caves, and Yemenites who
thought of planes as flying carpets.
- Others came from the teeming alleys
of the mellahs, the Jewish quarters of
the North African cities as different
from the shtetls of Northern Europe
as Algeria is from Poland.
Their living standards were very
different from those of Israel's Euro-
pean population. New standards were

suddenly imposed on them. One indig-
nity that still rankles was regular
practice in the name of hygiene: del-
ousing on arrival. Most were then sent
to temporary transit camps that
looked very much like Palestinian ref-
ugee camps — collections of tents and
tin huts, with asbestos prefabs added
as the years wore on and new housing
went up too slowly to absorb everyone.
Some were to stay in these camps
for as long as 15 years. Eventually
many were trucked out to develop-
ment towns — stark assemblages of
jerry-built apartment houses far from
the centers of power. They had no idea
where they were going, and no say in
the matter. The government decided,
and the gArernment was Labor.
Years of insensitivity and neglect
by successive Labor governments bred
a deep resentment that soon became
the driving force for many Sephardim.
It found expression in 1977, when
Menachem Begin's right-wing Likud
coalition was swept to power on a wave
of Sephardic support.
Jeering tkrongs of Sephardic
youth violently disrupted Labor meet-
ings in both the 1977, and 1981 elec-
tions, vandR 1 izPd cars with Peace Now
or Labor stickers , )n their would not
even allow Labor leader Shiinon Peres
to speak, and could be whipped up to
an emotional pitch with a few well-

chosen phrases by as skilled a public
speaker as Begin. A westerner view-
ing film clips of them cheering Begin
and of Iranian youths cheering Kho-
meini would be hard put to tell the
On the face of it, this seemed ab-
surd. The Likud barely acknowledged
the ethnic problem. Begin was surely
the very stereotype of the European
shtetl Jew: one joke of the time main-
tained that the Sephardim were con-
vinced that he had really been born in
Morocco, and that his having been
born in Poland was nothing more than
Labor Party propaganda.
But Begin was the hero because
he, too, had been the underdog for so
long, waiting nearly 30 years in oppo-
sition; because despite socialist ideol-
ogy, the working class veers strongly
to the right everywhere in the world;
because, he • like them, displayed a
demonstrative and highly sentimental
religiosity; because he spoke to their
hearts rather than to their minds,
playing on the resentments they felt
against Labor. Soon the whole country
seemed to reverberate to their chants
of "Begin, King of Isarel."
Emil Grunzweig's murder that
night of the Peace Now march seemed
to be the next terrible development in
this increasingly violent political at-
mosphere. Many assumed that the

grenade thrower was Sephardic, even
though the police also investigated
Gush Emunim, 'the extremist right-
wing settlement movement, which is
almost entirely Ashkenazic and, in-
deed, heavily American in makeup.
The man eventually charged did, in
fact, work at a Gush Emunim settle-
ment, but his arrest came nearly a
year later. Meanwhile, in the shock
that followed that night of violence,
Ashkenazic fears of Sephardim as
primitive and "Arab," violent and
anti-democratic, came to the fore in a
rush of panic. Otherwise-liberal fig-
ures reacted with outbursts of coun-
Shulamit Aloni, a doughty fighter
for civil rights in the Knesset, de-
nounced the "barbarous tribal forces"
that were "driven like a flock with
tom-toms." She later insisted that she
was not referring specifically to
Sephardim, but in the newly aroused
climate of ethnic tension, few gave her
the benefit of the doubt.
Amnon Danker, a columnist for
the liberal newspaper Haaretz (whose
readership is upper-middle-class and
therefore largely Ashkenazic, de-
clared that he would not be "trampled
beneath the feet of the wild." He con-
temptuously dismissed Islamic cul-
ture and thus that of the Sephardim,
who had lived for centuries in Islamic
countries, as the antithesis of "the
society that my spiritual fathers and I
fought to establish here — an
exemplary humanistic and progress-
ive society, interwoven with the best of
humane liberalism."
Western culture is the developed
one, he wrote; the rest is at best native,
at worst barbaric.
Though it was censured as racist
by the Israel Press Council, that arti-
cle remains one of the most famous
ever written in the country. "I know it
was racist," says an Ashkenazic
lawyer, "but I can't help it, I agree with
him. And if you scratch beneath the

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