Not the Enemy
In this remarkable, page-turning book, Rachel Shabi lays bare the painful division within Israeli society between Ashkenazi Jews, whose families come from Eastern Europe, and Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews, who come from the Arab countries of the Middle East. Herself from an Iraqi Jewish family, Shabi explores the history of this relationship, tracing it back to the first days of the new state of Israel. In a society desperate to identify itself with Europe, immigrants who spoke Arabic and followed Middle Eastern customs were seen as inferior; David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, famously described them as lacking the most elementary knowledge.Sixty years later, Mizrahis are still much less successful than Ashkenazis, condemned, often, to substandard education, low-quality housing and mockery for their accents, tastes and lifestyles. Through a combination of archival research and personal interviews, Shabi brings to light the prejudices that permeate Israeli society and demonstrates how they affect Mizrahi lives and hopes. Even more importantly, she argues that the treatment meted out to Mizrahis reflects a wider Israeli rejection of the Middle East and its culture, a rejection that makes it impossible for Israel ever to become integrated within its own region.