16 September 2016, Himal Southasian
Navras Jaat Aafreedi’s book puts focus on Southasian Jews.
But where do these Southasian Jews find themselves within the social mix in Israel? Jews living in Israel today are largely divided into three main groups – the Ashkenazi, the Sephardi and the Mizrachi. The Ashkenazis are from Germany, France and Eastern Europe. Most American Jews today are Ashkenazis, descended from those who arrived from Europe in the mid-18th and early 19th century. The Sephardis are from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and West Asia. These are Jews who fled Spain after the end of Muslim rule there in 1492. Sephardic Jews are often subdivided into Sephardis and Mizrachis, from North Africa and the Middle East. There is a great social divide in Israel based on racist stereotyping between European Jews, Ashkenazim, and Jews of the Arab-Muslim world, Sephardim. In the early years of the Israeli state, the Mizrahi suffered racism at the hands of Ashkenazi elite. The Zionist narrative has tried to erase the Sephardi’s historical cultural identity. Going back to the past, the post-Zionism Mizrachi still talk about the ill-treatment meted out to them. They recollect memories of discrimination when the Mizrahim were placed in the maabarot, the squalid tent cities, upon their arrival in Israel. The Moroccan and other Mizrahi Jews faced humiliation at the hands of the Israeli immigration authorities who shaved their heads and sprayed their bodies with DDT pesticide.