chapter  Chapter 12
Mizrahi memory-of and memory-against ‘the people’
Remembering the 1950s
WithHilla Dayan
Pages 19

Zionism as a European (Ashkenazi) hegemony informs Jewish-Israelis common sense of who they are and what their common destiny as ‘a people’ is. But the trauma of a cruel and exclusionary ‘absorption’ of masses arriving from across the Middle East, the so-called Mizrahi Jews, to Israel in the 1950s continues to preoccupy Israeli society to date. In recent years, there has been a surge of memory and a return to the epoch of the 1950s, this time predominantly from a Mizrahi perspective. This chapter provides a political analysis of this phenomenon as a struggle for redefinition of ‘the people’, unfolding in the context of populist and right-wing appropriations of the Mizrahi agenda. It explores the desire to both disrupt a social unity and affirm it through the work of memory, hence memory-of and memory-against ‘the people’. The Mizrahi memory surge explodes unresolvable tensions within Eurocentric Zionist hegemony but also perpetuates the ideology of the superiority of Jews over Palestinians and their erasure. This dynamic is examined through the submerged memory of the 1950s ma’abarot period in the city of Holon. The analysis stresses the way a Mizrahi ‘will to memory’ contains the memory of the Palestinian Nakba yet contributes to its continuing repression. The memory surge, however, has a multidirectional potential to democratize and de-democratize society, and its study furthers our understanding of nationalisms in Israel-Palestine and more broadly of conditions for future decolonization.