Israel’s Struggle From “The Projects”
More than a year has passed since the last mass protest of Israel’s social justice movement. It began in 2011, shortly after the Arab Spring and became known as the Israeli Summer. But for most of the Ashkenazi (European) middle class who became politicized by it, the movement evolved into electoral politics. For others, like the reincarnation of the Israeli Black Panthers, a group called “The Not Nice”, the struggle on the streets never ended. On Thursday, Oct 21st, a unique meeting took place in the poorest neighborhood of Tel Aviv. In this meeting the group invited the residents, mostly Mizrahi (Jews from the Middle East and North Africa) to join in building an Israeli struggle from The Projects.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER: More than a year has passed since Israeli streets were filled with the mass protests of the social justice movement. It began shortly after the Arab Spring and became known as the “Israeli Summer”. A tent city sprung up on Rothschild Boulevard in the heart of Tel Aviv and inspired dozens throughout the country. Last January, the middle class that became politicized in the movement turned to electoral politics.
But for many, the struggle on the streets never ended. On Thursday evening, 31 October, a unique meeting took place in the poorest neighborhood of Tel Aviv and one of the poorest in the country. It was organized by a group called We’re Not Nice, who carried the torch of the social justice fight. The meeting was aimed to set the path for how their struggle would carry on.
CARMEN ELMAKIYES AMOS, “THE NOT NICE” GROUP (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Many, many people started turning to us lately. This is one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. There is high poverty and a lot of crime here.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): You need to bring fifty, sixty thousand people for it to have an effect.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Yacov, you’re always talking about getting crowds to come out. It’s not the issue. Fifty, sixty thousand? We had 400,000 out and nothing happened. And nothing will happen if they come out without an agenda, if they’re not united.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The ones from Rothschild Boulevard got sorted out. It doesn’t interest them anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED: The movement started with the tents. The tents said, “We don’t have apartments, we want affordable housing.” And then it went sideways: “We want this free, and to be treated like that.” Are you kidding me? When someone asks me what it was all about, I have no idea, other than “That everything will be good!”
CROWD: Bibi go home!
TARACHANSKY: In Israel, ethnic divides run along economic lines. Most Israeli Jews fall into two groups, the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi, or Mizrahi, as they’re called in Israel. Ashkenazim are Jews who came from Europe with the Zionist movement or following the Holocaust, while the Mizrahim came after the state was born from North Africa and the Middle East.
Today, the Mizrahim are a majority. But following a long history of discrimination, they are disproportionately poor, criminalized, and underemployed. On average, Mizrahim earn 25 percent less than Ashkenazim, and few have managed to leave the development towns and projects where they were settled in the ’50s and ’60s. In academia, only 9 percent of professors and a quarter of the students are Mizrahim. And while by and large they were excluded from the elite, the Mizrahim tend to show more nationalist and anti-Arab sentiment, according to polls by the Israel Democracy Institute.
When the Group of the Not Nice started protesting and raising awareness about the inequalities between Ashkenazi and Mizrahim, they inspired a four-hour documentary by renowned Israeli journalist Amnon Levy.
AMNON LEVY, JOURNALIST AND FILMMAKER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I left the center for the development towns in the periphery, places with a clear Mizrahi majority. They say the ethnic issue is in the past. So I talked to Mizrahi youth first.
LEVY: Do you have Ashkenazi friends?
LEVY: Are there Ashkenazi students in your classroom?
STUDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): No.
LEVY: No? Not even one in your classroom?
TARACHANSKY: Even when it comes to the military, a central part of Israeli culture and seen as a natural part in its citizens’ lifecycle, the gaps are there.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We’ve created a separate army for Ashkenazi and Mizrahim. An elite Ashkenazi army with elite ranks, in special units, the white-collar roles, what counts as the valued, important, contributing army, whose soldiers profit from it symbolically. And then there’s the second army, blue-collar, of driver and cooks and mechanics and low ranks.
ELMAKIYES AMOS: The media has mostly ignored our protests. I mean, here and there some journalists did cover our struggle, but in general the corporate media doesn’t like to show and expose our struggle. I think they and the state are afraid of such struggle because it threatens it. These are the people that hold up the state. If these people rise up against it, that scares the state.
TARACHANSKY: But the Not Nice Group did not come about in 2011. They’re the reincarnation of a struggle that was born four decades earlier with the Israeli Black Panthers.
CROWD: We are all Panthers! We are all Panthers!
GOLDA MEIR, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Dear sir, they are not nice boys.
TARACHANSKY: Reuven Abergel was one of its founders. And here he leads a tour of Jerusalem, where the group was born.
REUVEN ABERGEL, COFOUNDER AND LEADER, BLACK PANTHERS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The first [of us] to come were the Jews of Iraq, in 1950. They were settled in the villages from which Palestinians were expelled [in 1948]. This book is titled after Operation Yahin, in which Jews were brought from North Africa. And the author writes that North African Jews are a few levels below the ballast, meaning we are the garbage of the Arab societies. And if he has one nice word to say, it’s that we’re a little above the blacks and Berbers of Morocco, but we’re one level below the Palestinians they met here.
When we returned from the protests at City Hall, I said, let’s write Prime Minister Golda Meir requesting a meeting. We return home and hear Golda in a press conference. A journalist asks what she thinks, and she says, they’re not nice.
INTERVIEWER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): When you say these people hold up the state, you mean because people from the projects, Mizrahim, are more nationalist?
ELMAKIYES AMOS: Yes. Mizrahim tend to be–they’re the majority here. And I think the state fears the day they’ll stand up, because that’s a real threat.
A policeman, an undercover. I remember him.
INTERVIEWER: Do many come?
ELMAKIYES AMOS: The police called today to ask where the meeting is.
UNIDENTIFIED: I told them, “Come–we’ll make you coffee, on us.”
TARACHANSKY: For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.
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