Jerry Haber, in a mostly sensible comment on Peter Beinart, writes that
Tony Kushner was, in my view, imprecise when he referred to the “ethnic cleansing” conducted by the Zionists at Israel’s founding. The phrase conjures up mass murder and genocide along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. What we have had in Israel for over sixty years is not so much ethnic “cleansing,” with its implication of blood and destruction, but rather ethnic “dry-cleaning”, ridding the homeland of most of its Palestinian population through legal stratagems that ensure that the natives of Palestine will be effectively barred from full participation in their homeland.
I don’t know what Haber is talking about. It’s pretty clear that Israel is a state founded on ethnic cleansing, and I’m sure Haber is aware of that too. Palestinians know that very well, and many Israeli Jews will obliquely acknowledge it, even if they do their best to feign ignorance. We’ve all read our Ilan Pappé. But it’d be good to understand what happened as a result of that process of ethnic-cleansing, and so move from condemnation to consciousness-raising.
The Ashkenazi over-class is the richest class in Israel precisely because of its proximity to the land and resources-theft that occurred in the context of that process of ethnic-cleansing, not “dry-cleaning,” as Haber puts it.
The nexus of ethnicity, wealth, and proximity to the original dispossession has been systematically erased from Zionist historiography. Furthermore, Zionist ideology distracts lower-class Israeli attention from the fact that Mizrahis were not the beneficiaries of ethnic cleansing. They were the human material with which Zionists stocked their newly-formed nation-state, complete with a Jewish working-class, a Jewish bourgeoisie, and a Jewish peasantry. Mizrahi did not get to become bourgeoisie.
Instead, in Zionist-induced flight from their homelands, they staffed the lower ranks of the socio-economic ladder and were settled in “development towns” near the borders or in moshavim. Badly treated by the immigration absorption system and the MAPAI governments, the Mizrahim formed the social base for the Likud party in the post-1967 era and, later, the Shas movement, both in rejection of labor Zionism’s ideological hegemony over Israeli society and because the occupation became a means for socio-economic advancement denied to them within pre-1967 Israeli society. As a group of Moroccan Jews explained to Amos Oz,
I’ll tell you what shame is: they gave us houses, they gave us the dirty work; they gave us education, and they took away our self-respect. What did they bring our parents to Israel for? … Wasn’t it to do your dirty work? You didn’t have Arabs then, so you needed my parents to do your cleaning and be your servants and your laborers. And policemen, too. You brought our parents to be your Arabs. But now I’m a supervisor. And he’s a contractor, self-employed. And that guy has a transport business. Also self-employed. Small-scale—lives off the crumbs Solel Boneh leaves—but so what? If they give back the territories, the Arabs will stop coming to work, and then you’ll put us back into the dead-end jobs, like before. If for no other reason, we won’t let you give back those territories. Not to mention the rights we have from the Bible. Look at my daughter: she works in a bank now, and every evening an Arab comes to clean the building. All you want is to dump her from the bank into some textile factory, or have her wash the floors instead of the Arab. The way my mother used to clean for you. That’s why we hate you here. As long as Begin’s in power, my daughter’s secure at the bank. If you guys [i.e., Labor] come back, you’ll pull her down first thing.
Is it any wonder the occupation continues, with Palestinians and then migrant workers pushed into the lowest jobs previously staffed by Mizrahi Jews? Is it any wonder nationalism becomes an integument binding together Israeli society against the external enemy, the Arab? Is it any wonder Israeli elites far prefer a focus on nationalism to a focus on resources? This should not be taken to mean that the hands of the under-class are not bloodied. But there are levels of responsibility. The highest is inhabited by those who profusely profit off torturing another people.
Zionism plays a somewhat similar binding role in the American context, distracting American Jewish attention from the fact that most American Jews are not wealthy and so do not benefit from their association with the Israeli state. Instead, it is wealthy Jews, like wealthy people in general, who benefit from the American-Israeli Special Relationship, which is why it continues, and why it should be opposed.
Changing it will require both change abroad and change at home. De-Zioning the Israeli state is not just about scouring legal discrimination out of the state structure, although that matters. It is about radical redistribution of resources, and it is exactly that distribution or future re-distribution of resources that forms the foundation of a coherent call for a one state solution, rather than basing that call on the notion that the settlements are “too entrenched” for a two-state “solution” to succeed. That seems like a recipe for severe disappointment when suddenly Israeli elites, under immense international pressure, suddenly find that, yup, Ariel and Ma’ale Adunim are negotiable, after all.