Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
"There is, indeed, a marginalized Israel. But it is not Mizrahi."
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"There is, indeed, a marginalized Israel. But it is not Mizrahi."

Our conversation with Dr. Guy Abutbul- Selinger on the misconceptions about the status of Mizrahim in Israel today.
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Dr. Guy Abutbul-Selinger (Photo Credit: Ran Nir)

As grave as Israel’s present crisis is, I’m still optimistic—which does not mean certain—that democracy will survive and even remain largely liberal. Yet if we are to avoid a similar crisis in the future, it will be critical that we eventually understand how we got where we are, and what were and are the underlying causes of this deep, painful national rift. Some of that we will only know with the passage of time. It will take decades to fully understand this, but even now, it’s impossible not to wonder.


In almost every Israeli bookstore, you’re likely to find copies of a book by Avishay Ben Haim, a reporter and Channel 13’s correspondent on Haredi matters, who has long held that the Israeli population is divided into two. There is, maintains Ben Haim, a “first” Israel (the Ashkenazi elites) and a “second” Israel (the majority Mizrahi population), and his book on that thesis, called Second Israel or “Yisrael HaShniah”, has become something of a phenom in Israel.

But is he right? Just this morning, Haaretz suggested not (as of this writing, the article is in the Hebrew edition, but not (yet?) the English):

Haaretz Screenshot Aug 2 2023

“A second Israel? Almost all the members of the Likud are living the life of the “first Israel.”

Today’s interview, of course, was recorded before Haaretz posted that article. Our guest today believes that that is true not only of the Likud members of the government who happen to be Mizrahi, but that that phenomenon is true of much of Israel.

Dr. Guy Abutbul- Selinger contends that Avishay Ben Haim is wrong and lacks proper evidence to back up his claims, and in our conversation, he explains why.

Dr. Guy Abutbul- Selinger is the Dean of Bnei Brak Campus at the College of Management in Israel. He completed his PhD at the Sociology Department at Brandeis University and his post-doctoral studies at the School of Education at Tel Aviv University. His research deals with everyday ethnicity in the Israeli middle class, bi-ethnic families in Israel, and everyday dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dr. Abutbul-Selinger speaks with us about why he believes that while there is an underclass in Israel, it is not made up of the Mizrahim. Nor does he think that the Mizrahi world’s political, economic and social viewpoints are all that different from those of the Ashkenazim, especially as the former make their way up the socio-economic ladder. Of course, distinctions remain, and Guy explains those to us, as well.

But in a world in which everyone seems to assume that “of course” this is about the Ashkenazi / Mizrahi divide, Dr. Abutbul-Selinger challenges us to think anew.


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As longtime listeners to our podcast may recall, Dr. Abutbul-Selinger is not the only person we’ve spoken to who believes that this idea of a “first” and “second” Israel paints a false narrative. Shmuel Rosner made a similar argument in our conversation back in May. Recent subscribers may wish to go back and listen to that episode here.

For those who are interested in learning more from Dr. Abutbul-Selinger’s research, his academic articles can be found here. In May, Dr. Abutbul-Selinger was interviewed for an article in Haaretz. You can read the article and his counter-cultural thesis here. You can visit Dr. Abutbul-Selinger’s Facebook page here.


The link above will take you to the full recording of our conversation; below is a transcript for those who prefer to read, available exclusively to paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside.


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Over the past months, as we have been looking at the very, very complicated situation in Israel, and we've been looking at it historically, what did the Aharon Barak Supreme Court really change and what did it not change? We've looked at it legally. What does the reasonability clause actually say? What does it not say? Which legal scholars are in favor of changing some of the current situation? Which of them think that it should not be changed at all? Who's in favor of the proposed reforms? Who's against? We've looked at it politically. We've looked at it in all sorts of ways. And one of the issues that has come up time and again with people that we have interviewed or in columns that we've written, is the question of to what degree is this really to some extent about the Mizrahi part of Israeli society looking to take power in society that has long been withheld from them? The argument, as it's often made, is that we're talking about breaking down some of the bastions of Ashkenazi hegemony. So, that the Supreme Court has always been highly Ashkenazi, and we're going to break that down. Certain other elements of Israeli society have long been Ashkenazi strongholds, and we're going to try to change that through changing the judiciary.

Now, we've heard that argument from some people, and in written columns we've cited it when it's been written by other people. But we have also heard a few of the people on the podcast say, you know what? I don't buy that. I really just don't get that this is Mizrahi - Ashkenazi. It's not religious - secular, that's for sure. It's not even exactly right - left, but it's also not Mizrahi Ashkenazi. And what it would then be is a whole other question. But we've heard people talk about this who are very knowledgeable and deeply thoughtful about Israeli society, but none of them have been actual scholars of the issue of Mizrahim in Israeli life. Which is why I'm just delighted and grateful to have with us today Dr. Guy Abutbul-Selinger. Dr. Guy Abutbul-Selinger is a scholar of this particular field himself, a person of Mizrahi extraction, as he'll explain to us very shortly, married, as he writes in an article in Haaretz a few months ago to a woman who is Ashkenazia. But here is his very impressive biography. Dr. Guy Abutbul-Selinger is the dean of the Bnei Brak campus at the College of Management in Israel. He holds a BA in Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology, an MA in Cultural Sociology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and he completed his PhD at the Sociology department at Brandeis University and Postdoctoral studies at the School of Education at Tel Aviv University. Obviously highly accomplished. His research deals with everyday ethnicity in the Israeli middle class, bi-ethnic families in Israel and everyday dimensions of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. He is widely published, and we will put up some links to some of his articles with this podcast so you can go take a look for yourself. I would love to hear what he has to say about the Israeli Palestinian conflict, but we're going to come back to that perhaps another time. What we want to hear about today is, first of all, without speaking at all about judicial reform or the judicial overthrow, depending on who you ask, let's just learn a bit about the status of Mizrahim in Israeli society from someone who has focused on it and from someone who has what I would call a somewhat unorthodox view in light of what many people say.

So first of all, Dr. Abutbul-Selinger, thank you so much for being with us. It's really an honor. Tell us a little bit more about yourself, and then let's dive into the basic research that you've been doing for a very long time.

Thank you so much for the invitation. It's a great honor to speak with you about Mizrahim in Israel and about the reform. My research is actually dealing with the Mizrahi middle class, and I believe that the Mizrahi middle class is very important to the Israeli society because on the one side it is Mizrahi, but on the other side it is middle class. And the turning of minorities into middle class is described in many countries as leading to de-ethnicization meaning that in the moment that the person turned to be a middle class, his ethnicity became less significant. It became thin ethnicity; it became symbolic ethnicity. And so, my research tried to understand what is the meaning, what is the influence of being a middle class has on the conflict between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim in Israel.

Okay, now, before we go further, let me just ask you a question that I'm sure many of our listeners are thinking. What percentage of Mizrahim… well, first of all, what percentage of Israeli Jews are Mizrahim today?

About 35 - 36% of the Israeli population.

Of the whole Israeli population, right?

Yeah. And Ashkenazi Jews are about 25 - 26% of the Israeli population.

Okay, so Mizrahim are a larger group these days than Ashkenazim. What percentage of the Mizrahi population is middle class, would you say?

About two thirds.

So, we're talking about a phenomenon here that really does characterize the Mizrahi population. It's not a small slice that's become middle class. It's the chunk. It's a big piece of them. And so, whatever you're going to describe for us as having happened in middle class Mizrahi life is going to speak about a huge number of people in Israel these days.

Exactly. And it's related to my main thesis. And the thesis is that the Israeli elite, the Ashkenazi elite, actually enabled Mizrahi Jews to become middle class. And we know historically that in countries that like in the US and in many countries in Europe, when the elite didn't want the minorities to be a middle class, it actually blocked them. But in Israel, because we have this ideology of “mizug hagaluyot”, amalgamation of the exiles, it's a very legitimate to enable Mizrahim to be a middle class. So, there were many processes, social and cultural processes that enabled Mizrahim to be mobile and actually become a middle class. And this is very important. And when I interviewed for Haaretz, one of my main goals was to say to these two groups you should look at the situation from a more positive point of view. Mizrahi Jews on the one hand, in a very short time, in five or six decades, were able to do a significant mobilization and became very influential in the Israeli society. I call them the second hegemony in the Israeli society. And for Ashkenazi Jews, I want to say you did a good job in actually opening the gates and letting the Mizrahi Jews to became mobile. Many elites in different countries didn't do that. So, I think I want to look in a more positive way about the legal reform in Israel.

Okay, we'll come back to the legal reform. Tell us something about the processes by which Mizrahim moved into the middle class. I mean, we all know David Ben- Gurion was not pushing Mizrahim into the middle. I mean David Ben-Gurion was pushing Mizrahim to the outer reaches literally geographically of Israel. We know that he had a rather disparaging attitude towards Mizrahi culture. Thank God, you're pointing out, over the course of time that attitude changed in the last five or six decades. You say that the Ashkenazim have kind of opened the gates and Mizrahim have done very well. What were the actual processes? Was it education? Was it changing their geographic location? What enabled the Mizrahim to become middle class Israelis?

There were several processes. The first one is of course the ideological one. And from ideological point of view, because of this ideology of exile, of the amalgamation of the exiles, then it was very legitimate for Ashkenazi Jews to get married and to enable Mizrahim actually to have a position in the labor market, in the academy, in the political sphere. That was the first process.

In 1977 with the rise of Begin, was a very significant point at time because the rise of the Likud and later of Shas lowered many political and economic barriers. And so, Likud appointed many ministers and members of Knesset and mayors. The capitalization of Israel. Its release from the socialist hold of the Histadrut enabled many Mizrahim to become independent and enable them to open stores and small organizations. Another social process that was very important was actually the conquering of the occupied territories in ‘67, because until 1967, Mizrahim were positioned mainly in the lower ranks of the labor market. Now, the occupation of the territories made many Palestinians from the occupied territories coming to Israel, and they actually replaced the Mizrahim in the lower ranks and actually pushed them up the labor ladder because Israel actually didn't give social rights to these Palestinians. So many Mizrahim opened these small stores, small groceries, small organization, took Palestinians, paid them like very low wages, and actually it enabled them to do huge mobilization. Another very important process was the open of the colleges throughout Israel, community colleges in the ‘90s. Until the 90s the thresholds for the entrance of Mizrahi into the Israeli universities was too high.

Yeah, let me just interrupt you for one second and just give people a little bit of background if they don't know about this. Israel has more or less two different groups of higher education institutions. It has universities, a very small number of universities. Hebrew University, Bar Ilan, Reichman, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ben-Gurion and I might have missed one, but that's basically it. And as Dr. Abutbul- Selinger is pointing out, there's a relatively small number of universities very, very competitive to get in. And at a certain point in the 90s, Israel began to do what we would call in America something like community colleges. But whereas in America, community colleges, or let's say very often two-year colleges, in Israel, the colleges are just another higher education system. Not quite as competitive to get into as the universities. But they offered full degrees. They were the same length of time in many cases, as the other degrees. So, if people didn't know about that, that's what he's referring to here. So sorry for the interruption. Go on ahead.

No, it was a wonderful and very important interruption. It's important to say that because there are only five Israeli universities until Ariel University became a real university, many scholars, many professors, such as myself, were not able to get a position in the Israeli universities because there weren't many positions. So, these colleges are very good ones. I mean, there are a lot of professors were studying at UCLA and UCSD and Harvard and Berkeley and Brandeis, and other universities who are teaching actually at the colleges because they don't have places in the universities. So, these colleges are really wonderful. They're doing a lot of research. Now, many of the Mizrahi adolescents were not able to enter into the universities until the ‘90s because the Mizrahi education system, well, until the ‘90s, there was still an ethnic geographic segregation, and many Mizrahi adolescents learned in a Mizrahi education system. However, in the ‘90s opening of the colleges enabled these adolescents, enabled large population of the Mizrahim to get a degree, a very good degrees, and so it enabled them to do a wonderful mobility within the labor market.

Let me just ask you, I really don't know the answer to this. This is not rhetorical at all. What percentage of the students in the universities, not the colleges, but the universities, what percentage of those students among the Jews, let's leave Arabs and so forth out for a second. What percentage of the Jews are Mizrahi now in the universities?

Well, this is a very tough question. Well, the last findings that I saw was, like, ten years ago. It's really significant because ten years in the Israeli pace, it's a lot of time, but still, these findings show that the ratio between Ashkenazi and Mizrahim on the BA is four to one.

Four to one Ashkenazim?

Yeah. On the MA, six to one. On PhD, nine to one. Lecturer, faculty members, it's eleven to one.

Wow.

So, we still have we have…

A way to go and people who are listening, should remember that that's despite the fact that the Mizrahim actually outnumber the Ashkenazim in the population. How about in the colleges? What's the ratio of Ashkenazim and Mizrahim among the students in the colleges, would you say?

So, I don't have this number. I don't think that there is a research that was done about, but I mean, if you will go to any college, the college that I'm teaching, College of Management or the Tel Aviv Yafo College, you will see very clear that, for example, the College of Management, the students are coming mainly from Rishon LeTzion, Holon, Bat Yam, Jaffa

Which are heavily Mizrachi cities.

Exactly. But I don't think that there is a survey that is done like in the universities.

Interesting. Okay.

So, this process actually created a new ethnic reality in Israel since the 1980s. So, my main argument in this article, and one of the things that I'm really delighted about this article is that no one actually came and gave another thesis about my findings. I mean, people would argue that I'm whitewashed…

You’re whitewashing, they would say, because you're arguing that the whole victimization narrative of the Mizrahim has to go because it's just not true anymore.

Exactly. So, there is a lot of criticism about the article, but there is no criticism about the findings. And I'm really happy about it because I think that from some perspective, the Israeli scholars were able to see that the ethnic reality is different. So, again, my main theory was that the current ethnic discourse in Israel, that the public and the discourse in the media remain stuck on the image of Mizrahim as victims or Mizrahim as belong to the marginalized parts of Israel.

And this is not true.

And this is not true. It’s not true.


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So, we're hearing a lot these days, and I don't want to get to the reform yet, I want to hear more about your research and your findings. But just we hear a lot in the last six months that this whole judicial reform thing has been going on about what we call, you know, class B citizens. People saying that the Mizrahim feel like they are class B citizens, and you're saying that's not true. Are you saying both, a, they are not class B citizens, and b, they do not feel like class B citizens? Or are you saying one or the other?

I would say that I have few debates with Avishay Ben Haim...

Right. Avishay Ben Haim wrote a very important well, he wrote a very widely read book called “Yisrael HaShnia”, The Second Israel, which he argued that there was a tremendous sense of being held back, being put down, et cetera.

Yeah, and actually, what my argument was towards Avishay Ben Haim was that he has no evidence based. It doesn't bring any objective findings because he can't bring any objective findings about the Mizrahim as second Israel. There is marginalized Israel. But marginalized Israel is not Mizrahi.

Who is it?

Marginalized Israel, the second Israel is composed of Arab citizens, of ultra-Orthodox citizens, of work immigrants, of Ethiopians, of Russians, and there are some Mizrahi who are part, but Mizrahi is not the majority of second Israel. The majority of Mizrahi belong actually to the first Israel. And so that's why Avishay Ben Haim’s argument is not based on facts. It's more ideology than a research. And I think his argument played very well to the needs of the right-wing. But this is not the ethnic reality in Israel.

Okay, now I want to come back to the Likud. You mentioned the Likud in 1977, opening up glass ceilings for Mizrahim. Just again point out to our listeners, there's a great irony in that, of course, because the person who founded Likud and was elected in ‘77 was Menachem Begin, and Begin was the ultimate Polish gentleman. I mean, there was no one more Ashkenazi than Menachem Began. Born in Poland, educated in Poland, raised in Poland, but at the same time completely colorblind. So, he always took great pride that in the Etzel, which was the underground military group that he ran, there was no distinction between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. He used to say them, “achim”, he used to say, brothers, we're all brothers, et cetera, et cetera. So, there's this Polish gentleman who opens up the ranks of the Likud, and as you pointed out before, people in the Knesset mayors really opens the floodgates for Mizrahim, but the Likud is more right wing. So, tell me, Guy, Mizrahim still tend to vote more right. Now, if they have made their way into the middle class, why are they voting more right, let's say, than Ashkenazi middle class people?

I want to say also that Netanyahu is the most Ashkenazi person that I can think of. I mean, Netanyahu grew up in Rehavia in Jerusalem, which was a neighborhood that composed mainly of Ashkenazi. Not just Ashkenazi, but the Ashkenazi elites and a lot of yekes, German Jews. And he was studying, and his boys were studying at Leyada, the school that is actually belong to the Hebrew U.

Right. It's a very secular high school right next to the university. And Rehavia, the neighborhood that you mentioned, Rehavia. I think it was Natan Alterman, the famous poet, who has a poem in which he talks about Rehavia and I think he says something like the professor lives next to the doctor, the doctor lives next to the professor. I don't remember anymore the line. But it was a stronghold of university professors, Germans, Eastern Europeans who had made it. It was middle class, upper middle class, highly intellectual. So yeah, that's the world from which Netanyahu comes. So, Netanyahu is also Ashkenazi. So why does this middle-class Mizrachi, very powerful group now in Israel, why are they so consistently following Netanyahu?

And so, this is also very important for understanding the judicial reform. I would say that this is relate to the difference to the ideology or the point of view that is so different between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi. So roughly, secular Ashkenazi Jews are liberals, while lower class and part of the middle-class Mizrahi Jews are communitarian or traditional. These are different logic, different operation system. And the main difference concerns whether the individual precedes the group, or the group precedes the individual. Whether your identity, belonging and moral point of view, the meaning in life derive from yourself or do they derive from the group. So just to say a few words about the liberal, the liberal worldview, it has guided Israel in the past few decades, and it's based on the assumption that the individual is prior to the state and the society in which he lives. Therefore, she has birthrights, rights that are natural given, and they are shared by all regardless of religion, sex, class or ethnicity. And therefore, we as individuals must eliminate boundaries and refrain from group and national affiliation. So, if you vote for someone because he's Mizrahi or Ashkenazi, or marry someone because he's Mizrahi or Ashkenazi, you are actually discriminating. You're putting boundaries to people freedom, barriers to their skill. So, liberals demand to remove barriers so the people will be able to live in the same neighborhood, in the same schools, to serve together in the army, to marry each other. And liberals also a demand to expand the borders of our empathy, whether it's for victims of, I don't know, earthquake in Honduras or a civil war in Syria because all human beings are equal.

But also, it would include Palestinians.

Of course. You actually touched the most [debated] issue between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, the point of Palestinians to be... So, okay, I'll just say what is a traditional or a communitarian worldview and then I'll speak about the Palestinian. So, the communitarian worldview is based on the assumption that each person has worth identity and rights that are derived and related to the group to which he belongs. His family, his ethnic group, his national group. My value as an individual is not equal to that of other people as in the liberal view, but it's related to the community to which I belong and therefore there are those whose value is greater and those that their value is lower. And given this symbiotic relationship between individuals worth and identity and their community, the relationship between the individual and the community is stronger than a liberal society because my worth rights and identity depend on my community. And that's why my empathy and my concern are directed first of all towards my community and therefore any harm to the community or to the members of the community is seen as harming me.

Right, a kind of concentric circles of empathy. So, the empathy is going to be targeted mostly towards the most inner circle and a little bit less towards a second circle and so forth. And the further out you go, the more diluted I guess it could be said the empathy is going to be. I mean there's actually a Talmudic you know the poor of your own city come first. By the way, I mean there's people who would argue today that you actually can't care about everybody. You can't. In other words, you can't care passionately about people in an earthquake in Turkey and people who are suffering repression in a country and people suffering hunger somewhere else. At a certain point it becomes so diluted that you actually don't do anything for anyone. So, the question is who are you actually going to spend your time, your money, your resources and so forth on trying to actually help? But now let's zoom this and I do want to come to the Palestinians if we can, but if we can't, we'll do it in another conversation, but let's talk about how all of this now... in other words, you're arguing that they have typically the Mizrahim have typically voted Likud because Likud has been much more communitarian than it has been individualist liberal, right?

Exactly. When we look at the positions and values of the right as they're reflected in the public discourse, they are much closer to their communitarian worldview. And we can see that in various issues the attitude towards Arabs and peace, the law of nationality, demolition of Palestinians homes, the status of the settlements, the question of foreign workers. We can see that the Israeli right wing and nationalist discourse is seen as indeed taking care of the interest of the Jewish community, of the people of Israel. And the limits of its empathy are usually limited to those who belong to the Jewish people, whereas the left, with the liberal and democratic discourse of equal rights is seen as one that undermines the interest of the Jewish community and the privilege of the Jews. So, the limits of the left's empathies are seen as universal, as exceeding the limits of the Jewish collective. So, from a Mizrahi point of view, you know Mizrahi prioritized local solidarity and the interest of the Jewish community over universal human solidarity. So that's why most of the lower class Mizrahim, these are the people that will go after Netanyahu no matter where we go, and part of the Mizrahi middle class, because the middle- upper class Mizrahim tend today to vote for the liberal side of politics.

So, they've sort of been Ashkenazified, right?

They became liberal. Exactly. When you're turning to be a middle class, many times you're adopting liberal values because liberal class, when you work in organization in the labor market, you don't care about the group or the identity of the person that works with you. And when you're going to the academy, you know the universities are a nest of liberal discourses. Well, in many universities in Israel. But many of the lower class Mizrahim and part of the middle class Mizrahim, they are communitarian, and they prioritize local solidarity over universal solidarity. And because they perceive the right to be more communitarian and more taking care of the Jewish interest then they vote for the right wing. And this is actually what is so sophisticated about Benjamin Netanyahu, because Netanyahu understand that very well, and he played very well his trial to be parallel to the split between democratic liberal and traditional communitarian. So, the trial today is not dealing with Netanyahu. The trial today is framed around the split between democracy and Jewish, between liberal and communitarian values.

Now, the middle class Mizrahim, who you said make up 60% of the Mizrahi world in Israel, right?

Yeah, almost 70.

Okay, so 60, 65, 70. That middle class, where do they fall on the issue of judicial reform? What percentage of them support it? What percentage of them say some reform, but not this reform? What percentage of them are wholeheartedly behind well, either Netanyahu yes or no, but certainly, Levin and Rothman and so forth. Where do the Mizrahim fall on this issue now?

Okay, so the last research that was done was done by Momi Dahan from the Institute for Israel Democracy [the Israel Democracy Institute]. And what he showed, I think, I'm trying to remember was that between 50% and 60% of the Mizrahi middle class vote for the right, while between 30% and 40% of the middle, they are the middle upper class of Mizrahim, they are voting for the left. So, what we can see, and this is related to my orientation to deal with middle class, is that in the moment that you're turning to be more middle class, in the moment that you're turning to be more middle upper class, in the moment that you are working, in the moment that you have an academic education, in the moment that you're working in the high niches of the labor market, you will be more liberal. And I think that this what Momi Dahan’s findings are showing. But this is only the beginning of understanding the Mizrahi middle class. We still need to do a lot of qualitative surveys and try to understand better what influence the political orientation of this class. However, it is important to note that this class, for the first time in history, is breaking the voting patterns, the historic voting patterns of Mizrahi Jews since the 1977.

They're beginning to vote more left, you're saying?

Yeah.

That's very interesting because one of the things that you, it's fascinating, actually, because one of the things that we hear often these days is, well, even if the anti-reform protesters win this time, eventually you're going to lose because the demographics are just simply such that the Mizrahi world is growing percentage wise. The Ashkenazi world is shrinking and so eventually this is going to happen. But what you're saying is it ain't necessarily so, to quote the Broadway play. Because what you're saying is that as the Mizrahi community grows, it's true there'll be more, but they may make their way more into the middle class and they may find themselves voting very differently, certainly than their parents did and maybe even than they are voting right now. So that the Mizrahi world may grow, but it may also shift gradually towards what we would call left. Is that what you're saying?

Exactly, exactly.

Which is really fascinating.

Yeah. What my findings are showing is that we have this heterogeneous middle class that is actually developed in what was before Ashkenazi, veteran middle-class cities such as Herzliya, Ramat Hasharon, Ramat Gan, Kiryat Ono and this heterogeneous middle class, the third generation of Mizrahi origin actually don't care about ethnicity anymore because they're going to the same enrichment classes, they're going to the same schools, they live in the same neighborhood, they have the same consumption patterns and the same tripping abroad and getting to know the world. And they are so similar from a sociological and cultural point of view. So, the meaning of ethnicity is totally different. It is not salient ethnicities as it was before the 80s. This is a thin ethnicity or a symbolic ethnicity. These guys, when they're eating couscous, the Moroccan dish, or eating jachnun, which is the Yemenite dish, or doing henna, which is the pre-marriage ceremony, they are playing with it, they're laughing about it. And they don't have these significant differences that were before the 80s and this is so important. And actually, we have 40% of intermarriage.

Between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim?

Yeah, I was very careful, and I said around 30%, but then Alex Weinreb from the Taub Center showed his findings showed that we have 40% of intermarriage. So, when people are speaking about a demographic that is going towards the right, they don't really take into consideration the new ethnic reality and what is happening with the Mizrahi middle class. The Mizrahi middle class actually became the platform in which a new Israeli identity is created and shaped. And I'm not trying to say that there is no inequality, ethnic inequality.

Right, of course there is.

There is. There is an overrepresentation of Mizrahim in colleges. There is still a geographical ethnic segregation, and there are still not enough lecturers Mizrahi lecturers in the Israel Academy, in the Supreme Court, in certain sectors, mainly the high-tech sectors of the labor market. Of course, there is ethnic inequality, but at the same time, there are wonderful processes, and I'm saying it from Zionist point of view, there are wonderful processes that are actually merging the communities and creating a new, vibrant and Israeli identity. And I think that what Avishay Ben Haim is doing, I think that what Amsalem is doing, I think that what Netanyahu is doing is very dangerous because it's emphasizing the splits, it's emphasizing the historical inequality, and they're not putting the lights into the new and amazing social processes that are taking place in Israel.

It's so fascinating, this notion of putting the spotlight on the change of what's happening. We could talk for much longer, and I hope we will, but this is really, I think, a very important corrective to some of the things that we're hearing. In other words, even if, by the way, some of the people in the Mizrahi world are voting or inclined to be pro the judicial reform, what I'm hearing from you is that it's not necessarily because the Mizrahim are “ezrahim sug bet”, second class citizens, but because the values of communitarianism, which have typically not been the values of the Supreme Court, but which are the values that the Netanyahu political world espouses, are, to a certain extent, their values. And to the extent that people and I hear these comments all the time from people that write and people that post comments, and they're smart, thoughtful people, and what they say is, okay, maybe the protesters will win this time. I don't know if they will or they won't, but that's a separate question. Eventually you're going to quote, unquote, lose because the Mizrahi world is growing.

And what Dr. Guy Abutbul- Selinger, I think, is so helpfully getting us to remember, is that what is an attitude of the Mizrahim today is not going to be the attitude of the Mizrahim in 20 years. The higher the education rates go, the higher the percentage that comes into the middle class, the more the communitarian versus individualist boundaries are going to become blurred. And there's huge opportunities here for building a new Zionist narrative which is shared much more across ethnic divides. Really, it's inspiring. It gives a certain renewed hope in what is undoubtedly a difficult and stressful time in Israel. And Dr. Abutbul- Selinger, we just can't thank you enough for in the middle of a very busy period for all of us and your research and your teaching for taking the time out to have this conversation with us. And I very much look forward to continuing our conversation so we can learn more about other parts of your research. So, thank you very much. Once again, really fascinating.

Thank you so much. And it was such a pleasure to have this dialogue with you. Thank you so much.


Share Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis


Impossible Takes Longer is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at other booksellers.


Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:


Our twitter feed is here; feel free to join there, too.


Our Threads feed is danielgordis. We’ll start to use it more shortly.

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