Today, November 30, is a special day in Israel. It’s “Jewish Refugee Day,” the day that the country commemorates the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. It’s also supposed to be the day when the Israeli government recognizes its own historic discrimination against Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.
How awkward, then, that today is also the day a racist Israeli ad is making the rounds on social media.
The commercial, which was removed due to a public outcry, shows a nice religious Ashkenazi family celebrating a nice religious Ashkenazi Hanukkah. All of a sudden, there’s a knock at the door, accompanied by threatening music. A man in traditional North African costume bursts in and, seeing the holiday candles burning, calls over his friend “Abergil” — a typical Moroccan name.
“Look,” he cries, in a bad put-on Mizrahi accent, “they’re doing a barbecue in the house!” Abergil corrects him: “What are you talking about, ‘barbecue,’ it’s a kunhaya!” It seems we’re supposed to understand that he means to say “hanukkiah” (aka menorah) — but, being secular and non-Ashkenazi, he’s too ignorant to know that most basic Jewish religious term, so instead he’s mistakenly using the Hebrew word for “seashell.” Occupational hazard of being Mizrahi, you know.
The men then get all excited, saying they’ll bring hot dogs and wings to roast over the open flame. “Thank goodness I’ve just eaten dairy!” one says, and again we’re supposed to understand that he’s too ignorant to understand the basic rules of keeping kosher.
Meanwhile, there’s a flash of, ahem, white light as the nice religious Ashkenazi man imagines the Hanukkah celebration he could be having — you know, if these pesky barbarians hadn’t just invaded his home. Alas, when the camera cuts back to real life, we see Abergil and his pal roasting marshmallows over the sacred holiday flames.
And then, the voiceover: “Do you dream of owning your own home? Want neighbors after your own heart?” Translation: Want nice religious Ashkenazi neighbors (more specifically, of the National-Religious variety)? Then come join our community in Karmei Gat, the voiceover says, touting a new housing development near Kiryat Gat in the south of Israel.
That’s right: This commercial is all about selling real estate. Apparently, the best way to do that is to encourage derision directed at secular, non-Ashkenazi Jews. The implication is both that (a) being an authentic religious Jew means being Ashkenazi, and that (b) if you’re a good Ashkenazi Jew and you want to be able to practice your religion in peace, you need to get the hell out of dodge — which is to say, away from those dark-skinned, guttural-accented, costume-clothed, ignorant Sephardim and Mizrahim.
Yes, on paper, Israel is commemorating today the suffering that those Jews endured in the 1940s and 1950s. But seeing as how some people in the country still think it’s okay to produce and air commercials like this one, Sephardim and Mizrahim may be forgiven for thinking that their society hasn’t really come all that far.
Sigal Samuel is the Opinion Editor at the Forward. When she’s not tackling race or identity politics, she’s hunting down her Indian Jewish family’s Kabbalistic secret society. Her novel THE MYSTICS OF MILE END tells the story of a dysfunctional family with a dangerous mystical obsession. Her writing has also appeared in The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, and BuzzFeed. Contact Sigal at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out her author website, like her page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.