At most Israeli public schools, the history of the Jews of Muslim lands merits scant attention, with the sole exception of the poets of medieval Spain. The recently released Biton Report, commissioned by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and produced by a committee chaired by the poet Erez Biton—himself of Moroccan and Algerian descent—seeks to remedy that situation. Aryeh Tepper explains its significance:
[S]ince Mizraḥi Jews tend to be more [religiously] traditional and nationalistic than Ashkenazi Jews, augmenting the Mizraḥi story naturally dovetails with Bennett’s expressed desire to strengthen the bond between Zionism and Jewish history. . . .
And make no mistake, the depth of connection to Jewish tradition is what distinguishes Mizrahi culture from Ashkenazi culture in Israel. The roots of the split go back to the beginning of the 20th century, when secular and socialist European Jewish Zionists rebelled against tradition by “negating the Diaspora” in order to fashion a “new Jew” in the land of Israel. These animating principles were unknown to Mizraḥi Jews, but they got to know them pretty quickly when, upon arrival in the country in the 1950s and 60s, they “learned” in school and via the media that their traditional Jewish identity was a primitive relic of the Diaspora that deserved to disappear into a new secular-socialist melting pot. . . .
But rooting Israeli identity in Middle Eastern Jewish history via Mizraḥi heritage isn’t only a strike against the “negation of the Diaspora.” By explicitly placing the Mizraḥi story in its Israeli context or, in other words, by viewing the Mizraḥi story as part of the national Jewish story, the Biton Report constitutes an implicit response to a fashionable journalistic and academic trend that removes Mizraḥi experience from its national, Jewish context and leverages Mizraḥi suffering to attack the state of Israel. In order to pull off this pseudo-intellectual sleight-of-hand, journalists and academics are compelled to participate in a staggering act of intellectual dishonesty in which the openly expressed and deeply rooted Zionist sentiments of Mizraḥi Jews are either ignored or written off in good Marxist fashion as an example of “false consciousness.”