Reprinted from Gush Shalom
Many people in Israel would be glad if both parts do not make it, and Shas would disappear once and for all from our political landscape.
SHAS IS the party of oriental orthodox Jewish Israelis. It is debatable whether it is foremost orthodox or foremost oriental. I believe that the oriental part of its outlook is far more important.
(The term "oriental" needs some explanation. Jews from Muslim countries used to be called "sepharadi," but that is a misnomer. Sepharad is the Hebrew name of Spain, and the term applies properly only to the Jews who were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. They were welcomed by the Ottoman Muslim empire and spread from Morocco to Bulgaria and Iran. However, most Jews from Muslim countries are not Sepharadim. My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, started to call them Mizrahim, Orientals, and this term is now generally accepted.)
Orientals are now about half the Jewish population of Israel. The rift between them and the Jews of European origin, which was expected to disappear over time, is growing. Orientals feel discriminated against, despised by the Ashkenazi "elite" and generally mistreated. They bear a deep grudge. (Ashkenaz is the old Hebrew name for Germany, but applies now to all Europe.)
HERE I must explain my special relationship with the oriental problem. Don't stop me if you have heard it before.
In the middle of the 1948 war I was promoted from private to squad leader and was allowed to choose between Polish and Moroccan recruits. I chose the Moroccans, sprinkled with Libyans and Turks. Without a common language, I trained them and led them into the fighting. I tried very hard to treat them fairly. They thanked me by risking their own lives to save mine when I was severely wounded.
Already during that war, I realized that something was going very wrong. My soldiers, volunteers who had come to Israel to fight without their families, felt that the old-timers -- and especially the girls -- saw them as knife-wielding savages.
The interaction between these immigrants and the "old" inhabitants was based on mutual misunderstandings. The old-timers who were born and grew up in the country felt vastly superior, and sincerely wanted to help the "primitive" newcomers to become like us. The newcomers, who met prejudice everywhere, naturally resented this attitude. This generally happens in immigration countries.
Fresh from my army experience, I saw from early on that a tragedy was brewing. Already in January 1954 I published in my magazine an investigation entitled "Screwing the Blacks" which caused a nation-wide scandal. We were accused of inciting hatred, sowing division and what not. It took decades for the country to realize that they had a major problem on their hands. In the intervening years, my magazine generally supported the Orientals.
THE RIFT between Ashkenazis and Orientals is only one of several in Israel. There is a profound rift between orthodox and secular, Jewish and Arab, old immigrants and new ones (from the former Soviet Union), leftists and rightists, inhabitants of Tel Aviv and its surroundings and the "periphery," and, of course, between well-to-do and poor.
That, by itself, is not so tragic. Every country has internal rifts of diverse kinds.
What is so bad about our rifts is that they are really one and the same. The great majority of the Orientals are also religious, rightist, poor and living in the periphery. They dislike the Ashkenazis, the secular, the Arabs, the leftists, the Tel Avivis, the rich and the "elites" in general.
They are also the electoral basis of the Likud.
WHY, FOR God's sake?