A New Movie Tells How Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Party Came to Be

Founded in 1983, the political party known as Shas represents Ḥaredim of Mizraḥi descent, a constituency that has often experienced no small amount of prejudice from both secular and religious Ashkenazi society. Although its influence has declined somewhat from its peak in 1998, it tellingly tied for third place in the most recent election. A new Israeli film, titled The Unorthodox in English, depicts Shas’s founding by an obscure printer named Yaakov Cohen, played by the actor Shuli Rand. Sarah Rindner writes in her review:

In the film, Rand, channeling Cohen, narrates: “People think that politics is about the ‘big shots’ . . . but real politics, the kind that survives, comes from the bottom, from the street, from the people, from the pain.” In Cohen’s case, it was frustration that his high-school-age daughter had been kicked out of an elite Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox high school for no real reason other than being Sephardi. “Mr. Cohen,” he is chastised by her principal, “you are a guest of the ḥaredi community; don’t abuse our hospitality.”

The rebuke echoed the condescension in which the dominant religious party, Agudat Israel, held its Sephardi voters. Cohen, along with a motley crew of neighborhood characters, patched together a political party, at first only hoping for some representation in the local Jerusalem elections, that would eventually become a major national party and a political movement. Ostensibly focused on local concerns such as funding for synagogues and houses of Torah study, what the party really provides for its constituents is a sense of pride in their Mizraḥi heritage and a refusal to accept a second-class status in a European-dominated Torah culture.

Cohen’s associate Yigal, a ritual slaughterer with a checkered past, declares that “the [Mizraḥi] Black Panthers will look like pussycats next to us.” But truthfully, there is something gentle about the Shas revolution as depicted in the film. It’s a party of elderly Moroccan ladies from the periphery of Israel beaming as a well-spoken rabbi calls to “return the crown to her former glory.” . . .

Ultimately, Rindner concludes, the film is “an exploration of what it means for an organic community to become an organized political movement, replete with bureaucracy, egos, and corruption.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Film, Israeli politics, Mizrahi Jewry, Shas, Ultra-Orthodox


Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University