As a Mizrahi Jew who works as a critic, Yom Kippur has a two-sided symbolism for me. It is the day of the Black Panther rebellion, stopped in its tracks by the Yom Kippur War, as well as an opportunity for the ruling Ashkenazi Zionist class to beg forgiveness for the injustice inflicted on Sephardic Jews in Israel, who continue to be subjected to this injustice through various means. In truth, I want to see how those oppressors who are still alive will fare in the court of history, and how they will beg forgiveness. I also want history to be rewritten with the names of the oppressors put next to the injustices that ultimately forced the Sephardim to the margins of society.
The Black Panther rebellion broke out in 1972, shortly before the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973 . This rebellion was the expression of those who had been oppressed and ignored. They still suffer from neglect to this day, since the Mizrahim in Israel cannot express themselves as a group. Hungry young men from the Mosrara neighborhood followed by throngs of people raised the banner of social struggle for full equality. Unfortunately, this social struggle did not continue because of the war, as Sami Shalom Chetrit has written in The Mizrahi Struggle in Israel . It was once more subsumed under banner of state security, as they told the Mizrahim that there was no place for two banners at the same time.
The 1973 war did not make the Ashkenazi Zionist power structure forget the fear and anger of the Black Panthers and the Mizrahim in Israel in general. The state budget for welfare, education, and health doubled and even tripled. The social welfare state was created in Israel as a result of this struggle. It is ironic that Ashkenazi socialist Zionism itself gave rise to the political, economic, and cultural oppression of Mizrahim in Israel .
The Mizrahim in Israel , who emigrated from Arab countries after the establishment of the state of Israel , were forced to follow a painful path that continues to this day in different ways. That is why it is up to Ashkenazi Zionism to beg forgiveness by studying the methods of oppression as a means of atonement.
First: The Mizrahim were forced to live in far-flung communities to take possession of the lands that the new state nationalized and confiscated from the Palestinians, some of them Israeli citizens. The oppression was two-fold: in addition to living in holding camps wholly different from the established communities where Ashkenazim lived, there were also no jobs in these communities. In turn, living on the margins of the state (in areas bordering Arab countries) put their identities to the test, forcing them to choose between their Jewish and Arab identity. This was an oppressive colonialist demand (part of post-colonialist theory which tests ethnic considerations by oppressive means).
Second: The MIzrahim in Israel were forced to obliterate their Arab identity thanks to the propaganda campaigns of Ashkenazi Zionism. This was effected as part of government practices in schools and other cultural arenas, such as not broadcasting Arabic or Sephardic music on the radio and later television. The works of Mizrahi poets and writers that did not comply with recognized Zionist standards were not published. Similarly, they marginalized the language by not teaching it in schools. All traits of a Mizrahi identity based on a historical, intellectual, social, and anthropological past in Arab countries were minimized so that the Sephardim could be saved at the hands of Ashkenazi Zionism.
Very few Mizrahim obtained government positions, with the exception of postmaster or police commissioner, and to this day there has never been a Mizrahi prime minister. Sephardic leaders were bought off at an early stage, with the aim of silencing radical voices. To this day, giving or withholding positions and promotions are used to silence the radical mizrahi voice.
We cannot go into details here, but to this day, with the exception of Barak’s apology, the welfare state that was created in the wake of the Black Panther rebellion and the unrest in Wadi Salib has not issued any apology supported by practical steps, such as rewriting Zionist history books or de-charging the relationship between ethnic, national, and religious issues.
I ask the leaders who participated in the oppression, and who continue to participate in it in some way or other, to take responsibility and be held historically accountable on Yom Kippur this year, to atone for the oppression and racism by acts of reconciliation and a solution to the Ashkenazi problem in Israel.
*The Israeli Black Panthers were formed in late 1970 by a group of Mizrahi young people. Largely composed of Marxists and other leftists, the group combined the struggle for civil rights for Sephardic Jews with class struggle-ed.