Over 50 prominent Israeli Jews of Mizrahi (Eastern) origin filed a petition with the Supreme Court last week demanding it strike down the racist Nation-State Law, claiming that it discriminates against both Jewish Mizrahi and Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel. When the Court holds its first session to discuss the several petitions that have been submitted against the law on January 28, a mass Arab-Jewish demonstration will be held in Jerusalem.
According to the Hebrew website “Local Call” the law, which has demoted Arabic from being an official language of the state to one with “special status,” is inherently anti-Mizrahi because it ostracizes the history and culture of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, “while strengthening the impression that Jewish-Arab culture is inferior…and anchoring the identity of the State of Israel as anti-Arab.”
The petition also refers to a clause in the law that establishes Jewish settlement “as a national value.” According to the petitioners, every time Israel takes it upon itself to demographically “re-engineer” the land, it harms Mizrahim by pushing them into the country’s unwarranted geographical and social periphery.
Among the dozens of signatories to this petition are the renowned author and president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel Sami Michael, Professor Yehuda Shenhav, Professor Henriette Dahan-Kalev, journalist Orly Noy and social justice activist Reuven Abergil. According to the petitioners, Mizrahim were largely excluded from the law’s formulation, despite the fact that it would impair their community’s right to preserve its heritage, and that its blatant anti-Arab bias would adversely affect Jews from Arab countries.
Following the establishment of Israel, Zionist authorities did everything they could to suppress Arab identity and culture among immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries by pursuing a compulsory “melting pot” theory, leaving them both materially and culturally disenfranchised. More than six decades ago, top Israeli diplomat and Arabic scholar Abba Eban said, “The goal must be to instill in them a Western spirit, and not let them drag us into an unnatural Orient. One of the biggest fears… is the danger that the large number of immigrants of Mizrahi origin will force Israel to correlate its cultural level with that the world of our neighbors.”
For 70 years, this worldview formed the basis for how Israel viewed Mizrahim. The political establishment demanded Mizrahi Jews renounce their Arab identity, while driving a wedge between them and their cultural histories. Yet, despite the establishment’s attempts at cultural erasure, expert opinions and affidavits attached to the petition show that many Mizrahim — including younger generations — continue to view Arabic as both culturally and linguistically relevant to their personal lives.