Haaretz is certainly not Israel’s most popular newspaper, but it is the newspaper of the country’s left-wing elite, among whom it enjoys a status similar to that of the New York Times. Many Israelis were thus outraged, if not surprised, when it published a feature in which its writers named the patriotic Israeli songs they disliked the most. Defending the survey on Twitter, the publisher, Amos Schocken, managed to cause something of a scandal with a comment he made to a woman with an obviously Middle Eastern Jewish surname. Liel Leibovitz comments:
At some point, one woman, Ravit Dahan, tweeted at Schocken that it was security-minded people like her who kept Israel safe and allowed Schocken “to continue [to] live here like a king and publish your surreal newspaper without interruption.” At that, the publisher lost his cool. “You insolent woman!” he tweeted back. “My family led the Zionist movement when you were still swinging from trees.”
It didn’t take long for people to note that a privileged, wealthy, Ashkenazi man accusing a Mizraḥi woman of apishness was, to put it mildly, wildly racist. Schocken must’ve realized it, too, as he deleted his tweet and issued an apology, claiming that he didn’t think accusing someone of swinging from trees had any racial connotations.
You may be tempted to write this story off as just another example of someone having a momentary lapse of judgment. . . . But Schocken’s tweet is hard to dismiss as just some unfortunate slip: rather, it is a startlingly clear expression of a systemically racist worldview that has been the lifeblood of the Israeli left for at least four decades now.
Anyone wishing to . . . understand this paradox—that a political camp that champions the rights of Palestinians, migrant workers, and other struggling groups is quick to resort to the most prejudiced stereotypes when it comes to right-wing Mizraḥi Israelis—would do well to study the seminal elections of 1977, which saw the rise of Menachem Begin’s Likud after 29 years of Labor-led governments. In his old-fashioned suits and his old-fashioned Hebrew, Begin visited neighborhoods and towns for which the left never had much use, building his base among Mizraḥi Jews who felt betrayed by Labor.
And not without reason. As an explosive Israeli documentary released late last year revealed, . . . the Labor-run governments of the 1950s deliberately dispatched newly arrived immigrants from North African countries to small and dusty towns down south, barred them from moving to Tel Aviv and other large cities—a restriction not placed on Polish immigrants who arrived a few years later—and went as far as threatening to take away the children of anyone who questioned the policy. At the same time, the very same architects of these horrendous policies spoke haughtily about peace and human rights—and were shocked when the Mizraḥi Jews they’d spent a lifetime disdaining finally rose up and voted against them.