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Photo courtesy Patrick Brennan on Flickr

On Apr. 19, as part of Israeli Apartheid Week, Students for Justice in Palestine hosted Ilise Cohen from Jewish Voice for Peace to talk about Sephardic and Mizrahi solidarity with Palestine. Sephardi Jews are descended from those who lived in the Iberian Peninsula, and Mizrahi Jews are descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East.

Cohen is a Sephardic and Mizrahi scholar with a PhD in social and cultural anthropology. Cohen’s speech was a look at the hierarchy of Israeli society.

While conversations about the Israeli occupation are generally centered around Ashkenazim (European) Jews and Palestinians, this is an oversimplified view. Sephardim, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews are not a part of the discussion, despite their prevalence in this society.

According to Cohen, the hierarchy of the Israeli state is as follows: Ashkenazim Jews, Sephardim Jews, Ethiopian Jews and finally Palestinians. Each of these communities faces different types of marginalization.

“Mizrahi Jews are discriminated against in times when there is a desire to be closer to the power and elite,” said Cohen. “Sephardim lived under Muslim rule until they were either converted, killed or exiled by the Catholic Monarchs in the last efforts to rid Spain of its Jewish population by 1942. Ethiopian Jews are one of the most marginalized and minoritized Jewish groups in Israel… They have not been considered eligible to immigrate to Israel as Jews.”

Multiple factors contribute to one’s place in society. For example, Sephardic Jews have racial privilege over Ethiopian Jews. Likewise, while Ethiopian Jews have less privilege than Ashkenazi Jews, they still have religious privilege over those of other faiths.

“[Ashkenazi Jewish people] created a state that had the same mentality as the European state, which had an internal other,” Cohen said. “Jews were an internal other in Europe. And now, European Jews have internal others. They have the Mizrahi others, they have the Ethiopian others, they have Palestinian others, they have foreign worker others, they have African others.”

Regardless of religion, Palestinians are always at the bottom tier of Israeli society and lack privilege even if they are of a social group that would be given preferential treatment. For example, Jewish Palestinians are just as oppressed as Muslim Palestinians.

“The entire premise just points to the fact that the establishment of Israel was conceptualized as a white supremacist state overall. A lot of these dynamics that are weird and conflicting always end up discriminating against the people of color,” said Raphael Eissa, a senior from Savannah majoring in political science and international affairs.

When we leave these dynamics out of the equation, we erase the depth of the discrimination.

“So many people use the language of anti-semitism, saying that people who supported the liberation of Palestine were anti-semitic, but actually, no, states function in different ways. Let’s dismantle how states function,” Cohen said.

By establishing the ways in which oppressive states work, we can begin to dismantle them. We cannot begin dismantling the state before addressing the problems inherent in every step of this hierarchy. Therefore, to discuss the Israeli occupation meaningfully, we must discuss it in its entirety.

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(5) comments

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Arafat

Let’s dismantle how states function,” Cohen said.

Wow! You really are insane aren't you?

Arafat

This one is for/about Cohen:
 Some Jews fought with the Greeks and Romans against their fellow Jews. Some sympathized with the crusades and the pogroms. Some Jews even supported the N*zis leading up to World War II.
The story is no different today. There is still a very small – but vocal – minority of Jews who sympathize with those who want to kill us. There is still a fringe sect of Jewish society that finds it necessary to love those who seek to kill us and blame us for our enemies’ baseless hatred.
These views include comparing the Jewish state to the N*zis, calling for the isolation of the only Jewish state and holding it to an impossible standard, and calling for the annihilation of Jewish self-determination.

larrysstuff

What a ridiculous article. First, there are no 'Jewish Palestinians' anymore. That hateful term that the Romans used to de-emphasize the Jewish presence in the land ceased to be applied to the Jews since Israel was liberated in 1948. Second, the 'hierarchy' and issues you mentioned over Ethiopian Jews is grossly overstated. Ethiopians are the most recent immigrant group to make aliyah to Israel. They came with a different language and customs and it will take time for them to be integrated into society, not unlike how the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese and other ethnic groups were in the United States. That being said, Miss Israel 2013 was Yityish Aynaw, who was Ethiopian, there are several Ethiopians int he Israeli Knesset (government assembly), and numerous high ranking Ethiopians in the military.

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