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"ISRAEL HAS no foreign policy, only a domestic policy," Henry Kissinger once remarked.

This has probably been more or less true of every country since the advent of democracy. Yet in Israel, this seems even truer. (Ironically, it could almost be said that the US has no foreign policy, only an Israeli domestic policy.)

In order to understand our foreign policy, we have to look in the mirror. Who are we? What is our society like?

IN A classical sketch, well known to every veteran Israeli, two Arabs stand on the sea shore, looking at a boat full of Russian Jewish pioneers rowing towards them. "May your house be destroyed!" they curse.

Next, the same two figures, this time Russian Jewish pioneers, stand on the same spot, launching Russian curses at a boat full of Yemenite immigrants.

Next, the two are Yemenites cursing German Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis. Then, two German Jews cursing Moroccan arrivals. When it first appeared, that was the last scene. But now, one can add two Moroccans cursing the immigrants from Soviet Russia, then two Russians cursing the latest arrivals: Ethiopian Jews.

That may also be true for every immigrant country, from the United States to Australia. Every new wave of immigrants is greeted by the scorn, contempt and even open hostility of those who came before them. When I was a child in the early 1930s, I frequently heard people shouting at my parents "Go back to Hitler!"

Still, the dominant myth was that of the "melting pot." All immigrants would be thrown into the same pot and cleansed of their "foreign" traits, emerging as a uniform new nation without any traces of their origin.

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THIS MYTH died some decades ago. Israel is now a kind of federation of several major demographic-cultural blocs which dominate our social and political life.

Who are they? There are (1) the old Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin); (2) the Oriental (or "Sephardi") Jews; (3) the religious (partly Ashkenazi, partly Oriental); (4) the "Russians," immigrants from all the countries of the former Soviet union; and (5) the Palestinian-Arab citizens, who did not come from anywhere.

This is, of course, a schematic presentation. None of the blocs is completely homogeneous. Each bloc has several sub blocs, some blocs overlap, there is some intermarriage, but on the whole, the picture is accurate. Gender plays no role in this division.

The political scene almost exactly mirrors these divisions. The Labor party was, in its heyday, the main instrument of Ashkenazi power. Its remnants, together with Kadima and Meretz, are still Ashkenazi. Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beytenu consists mainly of Russians. There are three or four religious parties. Then there are two exclusively Arab parties, and the Communist party, which is mainly Arab, too. The Likud represents the bulk of the Orientals, though almost all its leaders are Ashkenazim.

The relationship between the blocs is often strained. Just now, the whole country is in an uproar because in Kiryat Malakhi, a southern town with mainly Oriental inhabitants, house owners have signed a commitment not to sell apartments to Ethiopians, while the Rabbi of Safed, a northern town of mainly Orthodox Jews, has forbidden his flock to rent apartments to Arabs.

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But apart from the rift between the Jews and the Arabs, the main problem is the resentment of the Orientals, the Russians and the religious against what they call "the Ashkenazi elite."

SINCE THEY were the first to arrive, long before the establishment of the state, Ashkenazim control most of the centers of power -- social, political, economic, cultural, et al. Generally, they belong to the more affluent part of society, while the Orientals, the Orthodox, the Russians and the Arabs generally belong to the lower socio-economic strata.

The Orientals have deep grudges against the Ashkenazim. They believe -- not without justification -- that they have been humiliated and discriminated against from their first day in the country, and still are, though quite a number of them have reached high economic and political positions. The other day, a top director of one of the foremost financial institutions caused a scandal when he accused the "Whites" (i.e. Ashkenazim) of dominating all the banks, the courts and the media. He was promptly fired, which caused another scandal.

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Gush

Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli (more...)
 

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