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Chocolate Wars and the ‘Angry Mizrachi Woman’

Screenshot via Youtube

Getting between a woman and her chocolate is a dangerous proposition. Although not usually one that causes a brawl, as occurred on an Israir flight from Tel Aviv over the weekend. It was classic Israeli misbehavior caught on video, with irate passengers demanding life, liberty, and the best of duty-free confectionary. Yet, “chocolategate” is more than the “ugly Israeli” abroad — if Israeli life is like a box of chocolates, this was a sticky mix of gender, class, race and the nation at 10,000 feet.

According to reports, three intoxicated Israeli passengers boarded a Friday flight to Bulgaria. As flight crew began duty-free service in the front of the cabin, a woman stood up in her seat, screaming with self-entitlement, “You work for me, I paid for my flight, I want my chocolate [now]!” Her sister then added, “sell her the chocolate, you piece of garbage, what is she, an Arab?” As the two women hurled expletives and racist statements, the woman’s husband made violent threats and attempted to assault the steward, roaring, “I don’t give a s–t about you or Varna. F–k your mother, you a–hole!” as he was restrained by staff. While threatened to be thrown off the flight, they landed peacefully — if, needless to say, without their duty-free chocolate box.

While some have shrugged their shoulders at simply another example of pushy Israelis at their worst, “chocolategate” is a taste of larger trends.

In some ways, it can be seen as a combustible example of the collision of class and female empowerment in Israeli society. With economic growth and cheaper flights, adventures abroad are no longer restricted to the Israeli elite. Further, with women now in the boardroom in the military, political, economic, social, and even religious sphere, why would they take a backseat at the (folding tray) table? When passenger #1 fulminated, “I paid for this flight,” and demanded to buy goods, she flaunted her new status and purchasing power to demands equal rights in the economy (if a lack of queuing skills and patience to wait until the male passenger up front had been served).

Put another way, changes to the dominant culture that brought about a kind of democratization of duty-free create the context for “chocolategate.” Further, as conspicuous consumption and individualism have spread to Israel’s middle and lower classes, this new ethos is often perceived as a dangerous assault on traditional Zionist values. As female Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich opined over the incident, “this is what happens when consumerism becomes a religion…me, me, me, I, I, I, my rights; that’s all they care about. What about the rights of others?”

Yet, when it comes to “rights of others,” Yachimovich and the media have mostly ignored the race and power dimensions at play here. First, it is notable that the incident primarily involved Mizrachi women — a group doubly-discriminated against in Israeli society — assaulting an Ashkenazi male attendant. “Chocolategate” evokes the caricature of the angry Mizrachi woman, a sub-set of stereotypes of a subaltern unable to restrain abundant passions and tempers. Her quest for duty-free is therefore dangerous, a kind of subversive threat to the traditional order and stability. This is apparent in the dismissive response of the Ashkenazi male steward, who responds to verbal abuse from passenger #1 with a patronizing, politically-tinged message of “I don’t work for you, you wish I would work for you.”

Yet, at the bitter (dark chocolate) heart of the matter is what transpires next. This jab is followed by the racial slur by passenger #2 (“what is she, an Arab?”), which not only marks the distinction between Israelis and a perceived sub-class of Arabs and Palestinians who (apparently) do not deserve rights, but also simultaneously asserts superiority in a hierarchy between Ashkenazi men, Jewish females from Arab lands and Arab women. Here, life in Israel is like ranked favorite colors in a chocolate box. This kind of casual racism, if complex in its deployment on multiple levels, is the all too common unsavory flavor of Israeli society today.

Yet, later, when racial overtones were picked up by the media, these distinctions melted away in a kind of political “hot chocolate” that distracted from endemic racism within Israeli culture. First, a left-wing Channel 2 reporter veered somewhat off-course, interpreting chocolategate broadly as “this is the Occupation…this is how it has treated the Palestinians…how it is directly connected to the brutalization of society.” Right-wing Arutz 7 retorted with its own tongue-and-cheek story, with one talkbacker adding his hysterical comment that “of course it’s all Israel’s fault…the left will destroy the State of Israel before the Jihadists get the chance.” As the video went viral over the weekend, the topic quickly shifted from duty-free to Da’esh.

Surrounded by paparrazi at the airport, the passengers themselves were practically treated like terrorists, issuing a contrite statement that “our holiday was ruined, there is great sadness, we learned our lesson, we all feel bad.” Yet, it was just another tragic reminder of the violent intersection of class, gender, and race today — the Israeli box of chocolates in which you always know what you’re going to get.

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