22 March 2016

Seth J. Frantzman and the dark shadow of Buzaglo

Disclaimer 1: The author of this post is not an avid reader of Jerusalem Post. For reasons not to be discussed here. Sufficient to say that many of Seth J. Frantzman's doubtlessly excellent articles escaped the author's attention.

Disclaimer 2: The author, A Jew of Soviet extraction, lives in Israel for about 36 years. In addition to mainly Ashkenazi blood and blue(ish) eyes, he carries Sephardic genes. His local family with years quietly absorbed Iraqi, Polish, Yemenite (and possibly other) Jews, not to mention a few Russians.

Disclaimer 3: All of the above doesn't make the author an expert on the subject matter.

A denizen of a Facebook group posted a link to an article by Seth J. Frantzman, The Jerusalem Post’s op-ed editor, a man of many outstanding qualities and achievements, frequently referred to and quoted by pro-Israeli folks. The article in question is titled 10 THINGS I WISH I’D ALSO KNOWN BEFORE MOVING TO ISRAEL (apologies for the upper case, it is original). As you will see, the article contains some harsh criticism of our uncouth ways, some of the criticism on target, some wildly off. Since I usually support any objective criticism of our country, I wouldn't even think about responding to that piece, no matter how incendiary. However, the level of vehemence the article displays  makes me suspect that Seth (may I call you Seth, Seth?) is too bitter to stay with us for long and is considering to join the 80% of his friends he mentioned, the ones who left Israel after a time. Well, one thing makes me consistently happy: the fact that we are not a closed prison-like society and allow all who can't, for reasons of their own, take the sometimes burdensome reality of life here, to leave. Otherwise... no, the alternative doesn't bear considering - some of us are too painfully familiar with it.

What made me smile at Seth and his vigorous indignation was another article, BOKER TOV RACISM: THE INGRAINED STEREOTYPES OF ISRAELI ELITE SOCIETY (apologies for the upper case again, and BOKER TOV means "Good morning"). In this article Seth goes off specifically at the Israeli racism issue, in his inimitably spectacular manner. Here is the passage that caused me that smile:

On the popular Israel channel 10 program ‘London and Kirschenbaum’, the well known host Yaron London, who is known as an elder statesman of Israeli journalism, went on a rant about “Ashkenazim”. Discussing the entrance of former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into prison, he wondered aloud about how it would be for an “Ashkenazi” Israeli to be in prison. Reference former bank chairman Danny Dankner, who also went to prison and is apparently “Ashkenazi,” he asked “what will a conversation be like between him and other prisoners, with Ahmed or Buzaglo.”
Ahmed is, I guess, self-explanatory, but what caused me a start was Buzaglo. Seth adds:
Referencing “Ahmed” or “Buzaglo” he used names associated with Arabs or “Mizrahi”, non-European, Jews to stereotype the prison population and prison guards of Israel.
Oy vey - was my immediate reaction. Could it be that Seth, a distinguished journalist, lecturer etc. is so ignorant of the history of the name "Buzaglo" and its connotations? For you, my reader - I was lucky to find a relevant reference in the English Wiki, otherwise it would have been the pain of translation for me. But here it is:
The Buzaglo test is a phrase coined in Israeli law which subsequently developed into an idiom in Israel.

In 1976, the Attorney General of Israel at the time, Aharon Barak, decided to begin a criminal investigation against Asher Yadlin in relation to the Yadlin affair. Yadlin, an important figure in the dominant Mapai party who was under consideration for the position of Governor of the Bank of Israel, was suspected of theft and receiving bribes. Yadlin asked to be questioned by the police in his office, but Barak refused on the grounds that the law should treat all equally, without regards to their social standing. Yadlin was questioned in a police facility, and was later convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Barak's decision was significant at the time due to the prolonged dominance of the Mapai party in Israeli politics and society. Referring to the decision, Barak coined the phrase "the law for Yadlin is the same as the law for Buzaglo" (Din Yadlin – KeDin Buzaglo). The phrase was intended to mean that both the strong and the weak in society were subject to the law. Yadlin represented the predominantly Ashkenazi political elite of Israel, whereas Buzaglo represented the Mizrahi population, which at the time were considerably poorer and weaker.

Although it was originally used in the context of the rule of law and specific corruption charges, the Buzaglo test has since become a litmus test for a range of inter-ethnic issues in Israel.
I was following Yaron London, a highly respected journalist and a person of unmatched integrity for many years. I would swear in a court of law that it is totally inconceivable that a) Yaron London doesn't know about the Buzaglo Test and b) that Yaron London is in any way a racist. And so will do, I bet, many other people.

But this is not exactly the point. The point is that, while at the time of the Buzaglo Test being coined, the name Buzaglo indeed represented the trodden down Mizrahi population, it doesn't anymore. Today it is a general term for a simple man on the street, somebody unprotected by fame, money or political power. And most Israelis are well aware of the term itself and of the generic use of that name.

Not so, apparently, for our Seth. Who really needs to beef up on some subtleties of Israeli life and, probably, on some Hebrew idioms.

To close this, already too long, post: to claim that this here country is free of racism is to lie. To claim that this country is more racist than any other is stupid and, being put on paper, even libelous. And if you really want to compare the thinly covered by political correctness American racism or publicly denied but still institutional Soviet/Russian version of racism - oh well, I guess I could go on for a loooong time, being quite familiar with both.

Next time, though.

More on Buzaglo Test.