Posted on September 12, 2022

Israel to Measure Inequality Between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews With New Statistics

Asaf Elia-Shalev, JTA, September 8, 2022

After decades of withholding statistics on socioeconomic differences between Jews of Ashkenazi or European origins, and those of Mizrahi or North Africa and Middle Eastern origin, Israel’s national statistical bureau decided last month to begin publishing data that is expected to shed light on one of the most politically charged divisions in Israeli society.

It will become possible to learn far more than is currently known about the average differences in wealth, education and other factors between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews.

Last year, sociologist Sigal Nagar-Ron wrote an academic article tracing how Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics helped enshrine the two categories of Jewish ethnicity during Israel’s first few decades, and then, starting in the 1980s, largely abandoned such metrics, under the notion that differences among Jews of various background would disappear over time in the Israeli melting pot.

She argued, however, that the bureau’s decisions have led to a “statistical blindness” about current-day inequality. Much more is known, for example, about gaps between Arabs and Jews because the bureau publishes extensive statistics comparing people based on those categories.

Ignorance, however, doesn’t absolve the bureau of responsibility over the inequality among Jews of different backgrounds, Nagar-Ron told Israeli newspaper Haaretz last year. She said Israeli policy “hampers the ability to examine the role of ethnicity in the mechanisms of inequality in Israel today and fix the situation.” Other Mizrahi social justice advocates, such as members of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow and the feminist Ahoti movement, have made similar arguments in decades past.

Researchers have tried to estimate the level of inequality among Jews in Israel through proxies such as education, with findings that Ashkenazi Jews are vastly overrepresented in university faculties and among academic degree holders. {snip}

When Nagar-Ron asked the bureau to make the data available last December, she was rebuffed by the bureau’s head at the time, Danny Pfeffermann. “Mizrahim and Ashkenazim? That story is from 50 years ago. It’s irrelevant today. Everyone is mixed,” he said, according to Nagar-Ron.

Pfeffermann’s impression about the rate of birth from intermarried couples, which is widely shared among Israelis, appears to be off. Recent research estimates that as of 2018 only about 15% of Israeli Jews ages 25-43 were of mixed heritage. The proportion of Israelis of mixed backgrounds appears to be rising but it could take decades for them to become a majority.


Among Mizrahi social justice activists, the bureau’s decision is being celebrated as an important victory, according to Lihi Yona, a University of Haifa scholar who writes about how the lack of governmental recognition for the identity of Mizrahi Jews affects their standing in the legal system.

“Knowing more accurately where exactly Mizrahi Jews are still facing barriers and discrimination can help activists in knowing where to direct resources, and help to push the conversation to where it needs to be: how to fight discrimination rather than how to prove it exists,” Yona said.

She claimed that denial of the existence of anti-Mizrahi discrimination is so pervasive that courts tend to overlook it.

“Similarly, while Israeli law dictates that policies of affirmative action secure representation of women, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Ethiopian Jews, and other minority groups, Mizrahi Jews are not considered a relevant group for affirmative action,” she said. “One of the reasons for this misguided belief is that data regarding discrimination against Mizrahim is scarce.”