Divisions among Israeli citizens

Page last updated 5 April 2020


The deep-rooted and severe divisions in Israeli society need to be taken into account when trying to understand the conflict as a whole. Not all in Israeli society are ‘equal’. Divisions among Jewish citizens run deep and have had profound political implications. “Equal” Palestianian citizens are in a class of their own.

This section focuses on the divisions between the Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Russian and Falasha (all below) as well as on the Palestinian citizens of Israel (on a separate page), viz

Ashkenazi and Mizrachi
The Russians
The Falashas

Palestinian citizens of Israel


 A: Askenazim and Mizrahim

1. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s Segregationist Founder
Seth J. Frantzman, Forward, 18 May 2015

“The danger we face is that the great majority of those children whose parents did not receive an education for generations will descend to the level of Arab children” Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared at a July 1962 meeting. He was speaking with the head of a teachers federation on the question of whether to segregate “Mizrahi” children, whose parents came from Muslim countries, from “Ashkenazi” children in school. In the document from the Labor Party archives, revealed recently in Ha’aretz, a shocking image is conjured up. Did Israel’s first leader really consider segregating Jewish children according to country of origin? Why did he use racially-tinged terms of abuse, worrying that Israel would become “Levantine” and “descend” to be “like the Arabs”? The document is emblematic of a tragic Israeli problem, the legacy of the disastrous policies put in place in the early years of the state that, at the time, seemed in line with prevailing European concepts but did irreparable harm.


2. Thoughts on Israel’s Invention of an Ashkenazi Identity
Seth J. Frantzman, sethfrantzman.com, 02 Aug 2014

“THE MYTH of an ‘Ashkenazi’ ethnicity, especially one wrapped up with it being ‘superior’ has filtered down to this day. Some Israelis believe that there is some iron divide between an ‘Ashkenazi’ and a ‘Sephardi.’ They insulate their communities through acceptance committees to maintain this artificial and invented identity. They talk about ‘intermarriage’ among Jews, as if these are two different ‘peoples.’ It is an irony since Zionism was supposedly about unifying the Jews in one state, that at the very moment of unification in the 1950s, that there was invented a division in society”.


3. Politics of Jewish divisions
Ran Greenstein, Jadaliyya, JfJfP 28 Aug 2015

A snobbish discrimination against Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews by the Ashkenazi elite has, from the beginning, been a driving force in Israeli politics. While the Mizrahim, Jews whose origins go back a generation or two to the Middle East and North Africa, and who comprise approximately forty to forty-five percent of the population, might have made common cause with Palestinians most chose instead to prove a pure Jewishness. Fascinating two-part article by Ran Greenstein.


4. Mizrahi Jews remind Israel of its hidden Other
Michal Zak, Middle East Eye, 16 Mar 2015

“A few independent researchers – see Adva center, Ifat Bitton – help us face the facts about ethnic discrimination. While Mizrahi Jews constitute between 30 percent to 40 percent of the Israeli Jewish population and 50 percent of the students in Jewish schools, only nine percent of the academic staffs in universities are Mizrahi. The current government has three Mizrahi ministers out of the 22. Two of the 15 Supreme Court judges are Mizrahi. There is, however, at least one place where Mizrahi Jews are well represented. They account for 60 percent of the Jewish prison inmates. There are those who claim that discrimination is a remnant of the economic and social gaps of the 50s and that time will heal all wounds. Those who make that claim clearly have a lot of time on their hands. At the rate that the problem is being addressed today it will take 99 years to close the gap”.


5. The Faces of Difference
Shmuel Rosner, The New York Times, 30 April 2013

One “2008 study found that a person with a typical Ashkenazi name is more employable than an equally qualified candidate with a Sephardic name. Another study found that Ashkenazi Jews make more money for the same work. And so once in a while the ‘ethnic devil’ — as these tensions are called here — reappears.

Now the devil is appearing in the faces of our next shekels. The new bills are an unhelpful reminder that both early Zionism and early Israel were dominated by Ashkenazi Jews. One would be hard-pressed to find a 20th-century Sephardic poet of a stature comparable to those of the four who were selected”.


6. Israel Must Banish its Ashkenazi-Mizrahi Stereotypes
Algemeiner, 15 Apr 2015

“The fallout from the Israeli elections have produced an unprecedented outpouring of stereotypes and racist statements in the media. The ones that got the most attention abroad were those directed at Arab voters by the Prime Minister. But another real problem remains unresolved in Israel: The visceral hatred and contempt that many ‘Ashkenazi’ or European-origin Israelis have for ‘Mizrahi’ Jews, and the way that the media exacerbates racial stereotypes by repeating them without self-critique”.


7. Israeli election results reflect deep divisions in that society, say Stanford scholars
Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News, 20 Mar 2015

“Stanford faculty experts say that security concerns were the dominant factor in the outcome of Israel’s election this week. Political and religious fault lines in Israeli society contributed to the tone and results of the campaign”.


8. ‘You’re so Pretty–You Don’t Look Moroccan’
Henriette Dahan-Kalev, chap in ed. E. Nimni, Post-Zionism, 2008, 168-81

A moving account of growing up as an immigrant in Israel in the 1950s and the extraordinary racist stereotypes that the new state deployed against its north African Mizrahim


9.  Yes, Mizrahim support the right. But not for the reasons you think

Tom Mehager, +972, February 27, 2020

“By supporting right-wing parties, Mizrahim have found solutions to hardships that stemmed from decades of Ashkenazi supremacy in Israel.”


B: Russians

1. The million Russians that changed Israel to its core
Masha Zur Glozman, Ha’aretz, 04 Jan 2013

“Galili and Bronfman also describe the hopes and fears that affected Israeli society: ‘The Ashkenazi middle class and its elite impatiently awaited human reinforcements in the form of white, educated immigrants who would save the country from what appeared to them a process of Levantinization. Groups of Mizrahim made noises of complaint and anxiety over their loss of demographic power – and of the political strength they had acquired thanks to that power – during the decades of being disadvantaged and kept out of the bastions of power. The Arabs in Israel were filled with fear of land being expropriated for the purpose of settlement of the Jewish immigrants, and apprehension that they would be pushed out of workplaces that would prefer to absorb the latter.'”


2. The “Russian Power” in Israel
Gad Nahshon, Jewish Post

“So many Israelis, especially from non-Ashkenazi background, have resented this Russian success story. In many cities in Israel, one could find a terrible tension and confrontation between ‘Russians’ and ‘Moroccans.’ An Israeli Russian soldier was murdered by a group of Moroccan Israelis in the city of Ashkelon just because he spoke Russian to his fellows inside a restaurant. The murder shocked the Israelis. Sad to say, ethnicity is an old-new issue in Israel’s political life. It is a dangerous kind of fragmentation. Sad to say, many Israelis tend to ignore the contribution of the Russians to the survival and well being of Israel. Their contribution or their absorption is a miracle. It also explains the roots or the origins of the Russian power, their ability to establish an ethnic defense mechanism”.


C: The Falashas

1. Israel: promised land for Jews … as long as they’re not black?
Hanan Chehata, Middle East Monitor, 4 Jun 2011

This article documents how the Falasha, Ethiopian Jews, who have been brought into Israel in several mass transfer operations, have found themselves relegated to an underclass. They are not only racially discriminated against in housing, employment, education, the army and even in the practice of their religion, but have also been unwittingly used to bolster illegal settlements.


2. The tribulations of being an Ethiopian Jew

IRIN, 9 Feb 2012
“The word discrimination doesn’t describe what we experience. There is another word for it: racism. It is a shame that we still have to use this word today.”


3. Black Israelis rise up
Michel Warschawski, Alaraby, 17 Jun 2015

“How could a racist policeman tell the difference between a Jewish Ethiopian citizen and a migrant who had escaped Eritrea or South Sudan?  And so it is perhaps not surprising that the main purpose of [these] protests led by Ethiopians over recent years has been to denounce police violence.


D: Palestinian citizens of Israel



Contents of this section


a) What kind of society?

Jewish and democratic?

b) Divisions among Israeli citizens

Ashkenazi and Mizrachi
The Russians
The Falashas

Palestinian citizens of Israel

c) The Israeli Supreme Court – champion of rights?

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