Mizrahi Jews in Israel

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Mizrahi Jews in Israel
Regions with significant populations
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be'er Sheva and many other places
Hebrew (Main language for all generations);
Older generation: Arabic language (Judeo-Arabic languages) and other languages like Judeo-Persian, Kurdish, Georgian, Urdu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Bukhori, Juhuri
Sephardic Judaism, Yemenite Nusach

Mizrahi Jews constitute one of the largest Jewish ethnic divisions among Israeli Jews. Mizrahi Jews are descended from Jews in the Middle East and Central Asia, from Babylonian and Persian heritage, who had lived for many generations under Muslim rule during the Middle Ages. The vast majority of them left the Muslim-majority countries during the Arab–Israeli conflict, in what is known as the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries.

Some 607,900 Jews are immigrants and first-generation descendants by paternal lineage of Iraqi, Iranian, Yemenite, Egyptian, Pakistani and Indian Jewish communities,[1] traditionally associated with the Mizrahi Jews. Many more Israeli Jews are second and third generation Mizrahi descendants or have a partial Mizrahi origin. The other dominant sub-groups are the Israeli Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews. Often Mizrahi and North African Sephardic Jews in Israel are grouped together due to the similarity of their history under Muslim rule and an overwhelming migration out of their countries of residence during the 20th century. As of 2005, 61% of Israeli Jews were of full or partial Mizrahi ancestry.[2]


Post-1948 dispersal[edit]

After the establishment of the State of Israel and subsequent 1948 Arab–Israeli War, most Mizrahi Jews were either expelled by their Arab rulers or chose to leave and emigrated to Israel.[3] According to the 2009 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 50.2% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi or Sephardic origin.[4]

Anti-Jewish actions by Arab governments in the 1950s and 1960s, in the context of the founding of the State of Israel, led to the departure of large numbers of Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East.[citation needed] 25,000 Mizrahi Jews from Egypt left after the 1956 Suez Crisis, led to the overwhelming majority of Mizrahim leaving Arab countries. They became refugees and most went to Israel.

Today, as many as 40,000 Mizrahim still remain in communities scattered throughout the non-Arab Muslim world, primarily in Iran, but also Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.[5]

Absorption into Israeli society[edit]

Refuge in Israel was not without its tragedies: "in a generation or two, millennia of rooted Oriental civilization, unified even in its diversity," had been wiped out, writes Mizrahi scholar Ella Shohat.[6] The trauma of rupture from their countries of origin was further complicated by the difficulty of the transition upon arrival in Israel; Mizrahi immigrants and refugees were placed in rudimentary and hastily erected tent cities (Ma'abarot) often in development towns on the peripheries of Israel. Settlement in Moshavim (cooperative farming villages) was only partially successful, because Mizrahim had historically filled a niche as craftsmen and merchants and most did not traditionally engage in farmwork. As the majority left their property behind in their home countries as they journeyed to Israel, many suffered a severe decrease in their socio-economic status aggravated by their cultural and political differences with the dominant Ashkenazi community. Furthermore, a policy of austerity was enforced at that time due to economic hardships.

Mizrahi immigrants arrived with many mother tongues. Many, especially those from North Africa and the fertile crescent, spoke Arabic dialects; those from Iran spoke Persian; Mountain Jews from Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Dagestan arrived with Azerbaijani, Russian and Juhuri; Baghdadi Jews from India arrived with English; Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan arrived with Bukhari; the Bene Israel from Maharashtra, India arrived with Marathi, Georgian Jew and Judaeo-Georgian, Jews from various other places brought various other languages with them. Hebrew had historically been a language only of prayer for most Jews not living in Israel, including the Mizrahim. Thus, with their arrival in Israel, the Mizrahim retained culture, customs and language distinct from their Ashkenazi counterparts.

Disparities and integration[edit]

The cultural differences between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews impacted the degree and rate of assimilation into Israeli society, and sometimes the divide between Eastern European and Middle Eastern Jews was quite sharp. Segregation, especially in the area of housing, limited integration possibilities over the years.[7]

From the 1980s onward, Mizrahim began moving out of the socioeconomic periphery and toward the center.[8][9] By the close of the 20th century, it could be said that the Mizrahim overall had only started to close the gap with Ashkenazim in two social fields: small business ownership, and politics.[9] The petit-bourgeois private enterprise sector was the first site of Mizrahi success, perhaps because it bypassed higher education, while Mizrahi advances in politics came as the political scene in Israel underwent various successive transformations and Mizrahim claimed a critical role in ensuring the success of Likud.[8] Although Mizrahim raised their education level, so did Ashkenazim, and gaps in many trained sectors of the economy, as well as average income, persisted; a third of Mizrahim had joined the so-called "Mizrahi middle class" which had closed ranks with Ashkenazim socioecnomically,[10] and most of these tended to be Mizrahim from earlier emigration waves from Asia.[9] Whereas Mizrahim from Asia came at earlier times and settled in the center of the country, Mizrahim and Sefardim from North Africa came later and settled in the "development towns". By the end of the 20th century, the Mizrahis of Asian origin had integrated much more closely with the Ashkenazim socioeconomically than those of North African origin.[9][10] The shift of Mizrahim out of the lower percentiles of the economy began in 1979, became palpable in 1989–1999, and accelerated in 1999–2009.[11] By 2015, while native-born Israelis of Ashkenazi origin had incomes 31% above the national average, Mizrahim were lower but above average by 14%, while the more recent Soviet Jewry arrivals had average incomes, while Arabs earned two-thirds the national average and Ethiopian Israelis earned barely half the average income.[12]

Intermarriage between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim is increasingly common in Israel and by the late 1990s 28% of all Israeli children had multi-ethnic parents (up from 14% in the 1950s).[13] It has been claimed that intermarriage does not tend to decrease ethnic differences in socio-economic status,[14] however that does not apply to the children of inter-ethnic marriages.[15]

Although social integration is constantly improving, disparities persist. According to a study conducted by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), Mizrahi Jews are less likely to pursue academic studies than Ashkenazi Jews. Israeli-born Ashkenazim are up to twice more likely to study at a university than Israeli-born Mizrahim.[16] Furthermore, the percentage of Mizrahim who seek a university education remains low compared to second-generation immigrant groups of Ashkenazi origin, such as Russians.[17] The average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than that of Mizrahim in 2004.[18]


The first identifiable Mizrahi politics was on the left, and arose in response to the marginalization of Mizrahim within Israeli society. It was shaped by the Rainbow Alliance and the Israeli Black Panthers, explicitly inspired by the American Black Panthers. However, beginning in the 1970s, Mizrahi allegiances began to shift rightward. Today, the Ashkenazi vote is associated with left-wing, secular and centrist parties (especially Blue and White, Meretz, Kadima and historically Labour),[19] and the majority of Mizrahim vote for right-wing parties, especially Likud, as well as the Mizrahi-oriented splinter party Shas.[20][21]

Mizrahim were a crucial pillar of Likud since its founding in the 1970s,[20] even though the party leadership was dominated by Ashkenazim at first. Despite the increasing dominance of Mizrahi political articulation within Likud and its reliance on Mizrahi votes, there has not yet been a Mizrahi prime minister of Israel.[21] The rightward shift of Mizrahi politics started with early Likud leader Menachem Begin enthusiastically making overtures to the community, though not Mizrahi himself.[22] However, the association of Ashkenazim with the left and Mizrahim with the right was not yet fully crystallized at that time; it sharpened considerably beginning in 1980.[21]

Mizrahim have become the core of support for Benjamin Netanyahu, who is known for championing Mizrahi causes.[20] The rise of Likud from 1977 onward is nearly "universally" attributed to shifts among Mizrahi voters.[23] By May 1977, the share of Mizrahim in the party's Central Committee grew from 10% to 50%.[8] Meir Kahane's far-right Kach party as it emerged in the 1980s which called for the transfer of Arabs also won most of its support in economically depressed areas that tended to be Mizrahi, which Peled argues is best explained by labor market rivalries between Mizrahim and Arabs.[24] The robustness of support among Mizrahi Israelis for Netanyahu has been credited for his political survival despite a string of scandals, court investigations, and very close elections.[20] Likud's electoral success in 2020 has hinged on turnout in its strongholds in Beersheba and a string of northern towns inhabited by Mizrahim,[20] while in 2015 likewise Likud was carried to victory by a wave of turnout in working-class, predominantly Mizrahi "development towns", and because this occurred in response to Netanyahu's warning about Arab voters coming out in "droves",[21] it led to a low level wave of ethnic tensions, with mutual accusations of racism between left-wing Ashkenazi figures and their right-wing Mizrahi counterparts. Nevertheless, the Mizrahi vote for Likud has not always been fixed, and in 1992 Labor's victory is attributed in a large part to flipping Mizrahi former Likud voters.[23]

Whereas Ashkenazi prominence on the left has historically been associated with socialist ideals that had emerged in Central Europe and the kibbutz and Labor Zionist movement, the Mizrahim, as they rose in society and they developed their political ideals, often rejected ideologies they associated with an "Ashkenazi elite" that had marginalized them. Although these tensions were initially based on economic rivalries, the distinction remained strong even as Mizrahim increasingly moved up the socioeconomic latter around 1990, entering the middle class, and the disparity between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim diminished (but did not completely disappear), with Mizrahi political expression becoming increasingly linked to the Likud and Shas parties. Likud, the largest right-wing party in Israel, became increasingly influenced by Mizrahi political articulation,[12] with the Mizrahi middle class' political coming-of-age held by political science commentators to be embodied by the rise of Mizrahi Likud politicians such as Moshe Kahlon[8] and Miri Regev.[25]

The Shas party was founded, as a splinter from Likud, to explicitly represent religious Mizrahi interests, as well as general Mizrahi interest, both vis-a-vis the Ashkenazi-dominated socioeconomic elite of Israel as well as the Arab states; Shas has campaigned for compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries.[26] Recently there has been a "surge of memory" regarding the events of the 1950s, which has challenged the prior "Eurocentric" focus of Ashkenazi experiences by popularizing a new narrative that centers the Mizrahi Israeli's experience as relevant to national identity.[27]

The Mizrahi turn to the right has been analyzed from many viewpoints. Some consider it a result of the failure of Ashkenazi progressive elites to adequately tackle racism against Mizrahim within their organizations.[19] On the other hand, many Mizrahim came to credit Likud with their socioeconomic advancement, with Likud centers serving as hiring halls.[20] Some models have also emphasized economic competition between Arabs and Mizrahim.[24] However, other analysts partially or mainly reject the economic explanation, arguing that instead cultural and ideological factors play a key role.[21] Whereas Ashkenazi Israelis tend to support left-wing politics, secularism, and peace with Arab peoples, the Mizrahim tend on average to be more conservative, and tend toward being "traditionally" religious with fewer secular or ultra-religious (Haredi) individuals; they are also more skeptical of prospects for peace with Palestinian Arabs.[12][28] The skepticism towards the peace process among Mizrahim may be tied to a perceived history of mistreatment by Muslim and Christian Arabs from when they were in diaspora in Arab countries,[citation needed] though many doubt that this alone is sufficiently explanatory.[24]

The greater support among Mizrahim compared to Ashkenazim (48% versus 35% as measured by Pew in 2016[12][29]) for the settlements in the West Bank has also been attributed to economic incentives and the fact that many working-class Mizrahim live there, often in subsidized housing.[20] Another contributing factor is religious views among some Mizrahim who join the settlements.[30] Although Mizrahim form a considerable portion of the settler population, with a particular concentration in and around Gush Katif, they often are ignored by public discourse about the settlements which tends to incorrectly paint all or most settlers as having North American origins, which a disproportionately large but still minority portion do.[30]

Mizrahi alignment to Likud and other right-wing parties is far from homogeneous, however, and has not stopped the success of cultural transformations among Israeli Mizrahi as a result of social movements that were first supported mainly by the left, such as greater tolerance toward LGBT rights and culture, and increasing acknowledgement of the LGBT Mizrahi experience.[31] Mizrahim who stayed in Likud and did not join Shas may have played a role in checking the trend toward ultra-Orthodoxy.[8] The Kulanu party, founded by Moshe Kahlon and Avi Gabbay (who would later join Labour), appeals to Sephardi and Mizrahi middle class, from a center to center right position.[8] By the 2010s, all parts of the political spectrum, not just the centre-right, were giving increasing focus on the Mizrahi perspective, with some identifying a resulting trend of orientalization of Israeli public discourse.[12][25] The trend is also seen in Israeli popular art and music, where an earlier renaissance in Mizrahi expression has now entered and transformed mainstream artistic expression in Israel.[12][32][33][34][35][36] The orientalization of Israeli identity and discourse and the shift from a society aiming to emulate Europe to one identifying itself as Middle Eastern is increasingly being embraced by the younger generation of Ashkenazim as well, especially on the left.[12]

Memorialization in Israel[edit]

Jewish Departure and Expulsion Memorial from Arab Lands and Iran on the Sherover Promenade, Jerusalem

May 9, 2021, the first physical memorialization in Israel of the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from Arab land and Iran was placed on the Sherover Promenade in Jerusalem. It is titled the Departure and Expulsion Memorial following the Knesset law for the annual recognition of the Jewish experience held annually on November 30.[37]

The text on the Memorial reads; "With the birth of the State of Israel, over 850,000 Jews were forced from Arab Lands and Iran. The desperate refugees were welcomed by Israel.

By Act of the Knesset: Nov. 30, annually, is the Departure and Expulsion Memorial Day. Memorial donated by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, With support from the World Sephardi Federation, City of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Foundation"

The sculpture is the interpretive work of Sam Philipe, a fifth generation Jerusalemite.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2009, CBS. "Table 2.24 – Jews, by country of origin and age" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  2. ^ Jews, Arabs, and Arab Jews: The Politics of Identity and Reproduction in Israel, Ducker, Clare Louise, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands
  3. ^ "Jews of the Middle East". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  4. ^ Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2009, CBS. "Table 2.24 – Jews, by country of origin and age" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  5. ^ The Jewish Population of the World, The Jewish Virtual Library
  6. ^ Ella Shohat: "Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims,” Social Text, No.19/20 (1988), p.32
  7. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (2003-03-07). "Social Control, Urban Planning and Ethno-class Relations: Mizrahi Jews in Israel's 'Development Towns'". International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. Digital object identifier. 24 (2): 418–438. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00255.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Nissim Leon (January 2015). "Moshe Kahlon and the Politics of the Mizrahi Middle Class in Israel" (PDF). Bar-Ilan University and Institute of Israel Studies, University of Maryland. Retrieved 14 June 2018. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ a b c d Yoav Peled (1998) Towards a redefinition of Jewish nationalism in Israel? Theenigma of Shas, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21:4, 703-727, DOI: 10.1080/01419879832983
  10. ^ a b Benski, Tova. 1993. ‘Testing melting-pot theories in the Jew ish Israeli context’, Sociological Papers, Sociological Institute for Community Studies. Bar-Ilan University. Vol. 2,no. 2, pp. 1–46
  11. ^ Nissim Leon (January 2015). "Moshe Kahlon and the Politics of the Mizrahi Middle Class in Israel" (PDF). Bar-Ilan University and Institute of Israel Studies, University of Maryland. Retrieved 14 June 2018. A study by Israeli economist Momi Dahan, published in 2013, describes how the proportion of Mizrahim occupying the lower income percentiles has dropped since 1979, with a concurrent shift to the middle and upper percentiles. A large share of this change took place during the years 1989-1999, and even more significantly, between 1999-2009. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Lidia Averbukh (April 2017). "Israel on the Road to the Orient?: The Cultural and Political Rise of the Mizrahim" (PDF). German Institute for International and Security Affairs: 3–4. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  13. ^ Barbara S. Okun, Orna Khait-Marelly. 2006. Socioeconomic Status and Demographic Behavior of Adult Multiethnics: Jews in Israel.
  14. ^ "Project MUSE". Muse.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  15. ^ Yogev, Abraham; Jamshy, Haia (1983). "Children of Ethnic Intermarriage in Israeli Schools: Are They Marginal?". Journal of Marriage and Family. 45 (4): 965–974. doi:10.2307/351810. JSTOR 351810.
  16. ^ "Oops, Something is wrong" (PDF).
  17. ^ Adva Center Archived August 23, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Hebrew PDF Archived September 22, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ a b Smadar Lavie (2011). "Mizrahi Feminism and the Question of Palestine". Journal of Middle East Women's Studies. 7 (2).
  20. ^ a b c d e f g David M. Halbfinger (March 3, 2020). "Ace of Base: Why Netanyahu Seems Unsinkable". New York Times.
  21. ^ a b c d e Aron Heller (4 April 2015). "How ethnic tensions helped fuel Netanyahu's victory". Times of Israel.
  22. ^ Ian Buruma (22 October 2003). "What became of the Israeli left?". The Guardian.
  23. ^ a b Peled, Yoav. 2019. "Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Arabs: Exclusionist Attitudes in Development Towns". In Yiftachel, Oren, 2019, Ethnic Frontiers and Peripheries. Quote: "... that Mizrahim disproportionately support right-wing political parties and "hawkish positions" towareds the Arabs... the rise to power of the Likud in 1977 is universally attributed to its popularity among Mizrahi voters... Labor's victory in 1992 is partially accounted for by its ability to attract about 100,000 formerly Likud voters, 65,000 of whom were Mizrahim"
  24. ^ a b c Peled, Yoav. 2019. "Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Arabs: Exclusivist Attitudes in Development Towns". In Yiftachal, Oren, 2019, Ethnic Frontiers and Peripheries. Routledge
  25. ^ a b Ruth Margalit (October 20, 2016). "Miri Regev's Culture War". New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  26. ^ Barak Ravid (November 25, 2008). "Shas to Seek Payout for Jews Deported From Arab Countries". Haaretz.
  27. ^ Dayan, Hilla. 2019. "Mizrahi memory-of and memory-against 'the people'". In Cesari and Kaya, 2019, European Memory in Populism. Routledge.
  28. ^ In a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, while 66% of Ashkenazim personally identify as hiloni (secular), 32% of Mizrahim do; 35% of Ashkenazim don't believe in God, compared to 11% of Mizrahim; 70% of Ashkenazim believed that religion should be separated from government policy, but only 49% of Mizrahim agreed.
  29. ^ "Israel's Religiously Divided Society" (PDF). Pew Research Center. March 8, 2016.
  30. ^ a b Joyce Dalsheim (2008) Twice removed: Mizrahi settlers in Gush Katif, Social Identities, 14:5, 535-551, DOI: 10.1080/13504630802343366
  31. ^ Shachar Atwan (January 5, 2016). "Mizrahi, Gay and Proud – the Team Behind Israel's Pink Panthers' Revolution". Haaretz.
  32. ^ Regev, Motti and Seroussi, Edwin. 2004. Popular Music and National Culture in Israel. University of California Press.
  33. ^ Erez, Oded. 2016. Becoming Mediterranean: Greek Popular Music and Ethno-Class Politics in Israel, 1952-1982
  34. ^ Picard, Avi. 2017. "Like a Phoenix: The Renaissance of Sephardic/Mizrahi Identity in ISrael in the 1970s and 1980s. Israel Studies: vol 22 no 2: pages 1-25. JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/israelstudies.22.2.01
  35. ^ Karniel, Y. and Lavie-Dinur, A., 2016. "The transformation of the popular Israeli: The increasing dominance of Israelis originally from North Africa and the Middle East". Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism: vol 6.
  36. ^ Prashizky, Anna. 2019. "Ethnic fusion in migration: The new Russian-Mizrahi pop-culture hybrids in Israel". Ethnicities: vol 19(6) : pages 1062-1081.
  37. ^ "For the forgotten victims of Hate at Israel's Birth, a Memorial".