Ex-mayor: If Sephardim had founded Israel, it would be just ‘another Arab state’
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Ex-mayor: If Sephardim had founded Israel, it would be just ‘another Arab state’

Sparking outcry, Sderot’s Moroccan-born Eli Moyal says North African Jews paid a price, but got a state, independence and democracy

Eli Moyal, then-mayor of Sderot (r), hosts former president Peres in 2007. (Edi Israel/ Flash90)
Eli Moyal, then-mayor of Sderot (r), hosts former president Peres in 2007. (Edi Israel/ Flash90)

A former mayor came under fire on Monday for saying that had Jews from North Africa built the State of Israel, it would be just “another Arab state,” and that the racism of some of the European-born founders of the country was a necessary price.

Eli Moyal, who served as mayor of the southern town of Sderot from 1998 to 2008, spoke out in an interview against calls to change street names honoring early Ashkenazi founders who enforced racist policies against North African Jews.

“It is good that the Ashkenazim welcomed the Sephardim [to the country] and not the other way around, because otherwise we would have established another Arab state in the Middle East,” he told Radio Darom.

“We should tell the truth and put a mirror in front of our faces: How many universities were there in Morocco? What did we know about the developed world?” he said. “If the Sephardim were the first immigrants, there would be another lousy monarchy in the Middle East.”

Moyal was born in a small village in Morocco in 1953 and emigrated to Israel with his family four years later. He said emphatically that the price Sephardic Jews paid was worth it.

“We got a state, independence, and democracy,” he said. “When you change a culture, the first and second generations pay the price — it is a way of the world and no one can oppose it.”

Moyal was fiercely criticized on-air as well as on social media, and was branded a racist for his comments.

Moyal was objecting to calls to change street names following the release of a TV show of the 2017 movie “The Ancestral Sin” (“Sallah, Po Ze Eretz Yisrael”), which used testimonials and previously sealed transcripts to depict the discriminatory policies in the first two decades of the state against Jews from North Africa, particularly the Moroccans.

Last week, the city of Netanya decided to change the name of a street named for German-born Giora Yoseftal, who held several ministries in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition, an organization advocating for Sephardic Jews, sent a letter to all 120 Knesset members calling for streets and institutions to be renamed. One of those singled out was Chaim Sheba, a European-born doctor, who became director-general of the Health Ministry and founded Sheba Medical Center.

He was involved in the so-called Ringworm affair, when 20,000 to 200,000 Jews, primarily new immigrants from North Africa, were treated for tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp) with radiation to the head and neck, which was standard practice globally at the time, but which is held up as one of the injustices perpetrated against Sephardic Jews.

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