Will Moroccan Jews in Israel vote Labour in 2019 elections?
Casablanca - Israelis of Moroccan Jewish origin have often been the centre of media attention in legislative elections due to their numbers in the Jewish state. The 1 million Moroccan Jews constitute the second largest Jewish community in Israel and one of their own is expected to seek to become prime minister in 2019.
Avi Gabbay, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, is the seventh of eight children born in the North African kingdom to Moroccan Jewish parents who emigrated to Israel. He is expected to challenge Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the next elections.
Gabbay, a 50-year-old former head of one of Israel’s largest telecommunications companies who also served in a prestigious military intelligence unit, will be looking for his community’s support in the 2019 elections.
The Labour Party long dominated Israeli politics but has not held power since 2001 because, analysts said, it shifted from its socialist roots, becoming a party of elites seemingly less committed to social equality.
Morocco’s Jewish population exceeded 260,000 in the 1940s. After the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, approximately 90,000 Jews left Morocco to seek a new life there. The Moroccan Jewish community has been reduced throughout the years to fewer than 3,000 but is still the largest in the Middle East and North Africa.
Nini Alfasa is one of the many Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin, known as Mizrahim, who said he will not be voting Labour this time. The 37-year-old artist, who lives in Tel Aviv, said he “does not trust Labour at all,” even if it is led by a Mizrahi.
“Nobody wants to be ruled by people (Labour leaders) dealing with hate. Everybody supports Bibi (Netanyahu’s nickname) because of the left’s hatred towards him,” said Alfasa.
Mizrahi strongly supported Netanyahu in the 2015 elections as they felt closer to Likud’s populism and most of the Ashkenazi, Jews of European origin, voted for the opposition Zionist Union.
Mizrahi Jews have long complained of discrimination in a Jewish state dominated by the white elite of Ashkenazi origin in all major sectors. After the creation of Israel in 1948, many Mizrahi Jews lived in shantytowns in poor conditions.
Amir Hetsroni, professor of mass communication at Koc University in Istanbul, denied there was discrimination against Jews of any origin in Israel.
“For example, in medical schools, there are special tracks for students who originate from “economically inferior background,” which often translates into Jews of Moroccan origin.
“Nonetheless Moroccan Jews often claim that they have been historically devalued,” said Hetsroni, an Ashkenazi.
Jewish intellectuals of Moroccan origin have been demanding recognition of their Mizrahi culture and identity. Last year, they called on the education minister to include the history of Arab-Mizrahi Jews in the curriculum.
“The Moroccan clan is very conservative and religious. Therefore, their leaders often blend moderate religiosity with social conservatism. More or less, they will bring us back to the Middle Ages but they have their crowd,” said Hetsroni.
“In my opinion, Sephardic culture is an inferior culture. That is to say that their mark on global culture has been very limited. Shmuel Yosef Agnon won the Nobel Prize in literature. Show me one Moroccan author who even comes close to that,” he added.