Shas Chairman Eli Yishai
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Smooha: Political exploitation

Sociologist slams Yishai's use of discrimination defense

Prof. Smooha says Shas chair's request for pardon for ex-Minister Benizri based on his Sephardic roots is 'cynical'

Social organizations are criticizing Interior Minister Eli Yishai for describing Shlomo Benizri as a Sephardic Jew in his appeal for a presidential pardon for the latter. However they agree that the legal system discriminates against Sephardim.


"As a public figure, a member of the oriental denomination, and deputy prime minister, I believe this is a justified appeal for pardon," Yishai wrote in his letter to President Shimon Peres.


Professor Sammy Smooha, a sociologist from Haifa University who has studied the gaps between ethnic groups, told Ynet that Yishai's letter was rife with "political exploitation" and "cynicism".


"(Benizri) is a man who was convicted of acts shameful to a public figure," he said. "The minister was not supposed to get involved in this. (Shas) is a political party that claims to represent the haredim and the Sephardic public. Instead of defending the interests of these communities it is defending someone belonging to its elite. This is a despicable act for which there is no justification."


But Smooha said the legal system was indeed discriminatory. "I think the ethnic problem is just getting worse," he said. "Most of the Sephardim in Israel are oppressed by the legal system, but not people like Benizri. Mostly the lower classes are oppressed, not people like Shas' elite."


The professor explained that Benizri had not suffered discrimination. "This behavior is cynical and low," he said. "You commit crimes of corruption and then make use of a serious ethnic problem. This harms the legitimacy of rightful claims and the possibility of raising the ethnic problem in an objective and persuasive manner… Shas are only hurting their own interests."


Yishai's move was also criticized by a socially active Sephardic rabbi. "I think this has nothing to do with ethnicity," said the rabbi, who asked not to be identified.


"What Eli Yishai did was political exploitation. Now they will begin a battle similar to the one they waged for (Aryeh) Deri," he added.


However he, too, believes the courts suffer from ethnic bias. "There is proven ethnic discrimination in general, but I don't see its connection to this case. There is evidence here, and facts that the court has ruled on. This hurts our struggle," he said.


"It also contributes to the level of corruption. When I try to educate people according to tradition and they see how traditional figures like Benizri behave – what is it worth? Eli Yishai's use of this is blasphemy," the rabbi concluded.


פרסום ראשון: 08.10.09, 21:09
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