Building a new Mizrahi political home in Israeli politics

Mizrahim, like much of the Jewish-Israeli public, are sinking into a kind of fortress nationalism.

Orly Levy at a meeting with Gesher supporters, Netanya.

Orly Noy reports in +972:

After effectively destroying the Israeli Labor Party by leading it to an unprecedented low in the last elections, chairman Avi Gabbay announced on Thursday that he is quitting politics. Kulanu leader, centrist politician Moshe Kahlon, came crawling on all fours to Prime Minister Netanyahu after he too crashed in the elections. Orly Levy, who broke away from Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu to form the centrist Gesher party, didn’t even make it past the election threshold.

The sun seems to have set on three of Israel’s most promising Mizrahi politicians. But do the election results signal the end of Mizrahi politics? Do Mizrahi politics even exist in the first place?

The Mizrahi issue in Israel finds itself in a difficult catch-22: it is a popular topic of heated public debate yet hardly makes a dent come election time. Mizrahi candidates usually view their ethnic background as an electoral asset as long as it helps them to be seen as “of the people” — one of the most exhausting tropes applied to Mizrahim.

Not only the poor

To be fair, Orly Levy’s story is slightly different. She managed to cobble together an excellent women-led, feminist list that included several veteran Mizrahi activists. But Levy is viewed as a Mizrahi politician mainly because she dedicates herself to social issues, which leads to yet another catch-22: the Mizrahi issue is widely seen as synonymous with issues of social class.This identification, however, is a dangerous and manipulative reduction of Mizrahi discourse. Mizrahi identity is not just about poverty, the periphery and economic oppression — it is first and foremost a political option. Representation is only part of this option, just as adequate gender representation is only one of the components that comprise a feminist worldview. Yet not every woman in a position of power is necessarily a feminist, and the same goes for Mizrahim.

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