Ashkenazim

The word Ashkenazim is derived from the ancient Hebrew term Ashknaz which originally designated the Scythes (a Turkish people from the Black Sea) and used by the Jews of of Central europe to designate « Germany ». In a wider sense, the term designates the Jewish communities of Cnetral and eastern Europe on the whole, mostly Yiddish speaking (Yiddish is a germanic language mixed with Hebrew and Slav termilogy).

The Ashkenazi community is different from the Sephardim, the Jews from Spain, Portugal and the Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa in language and religious rituals. Although most of the Jews assassinated during the Holocaust were Ashkenazim, it is generally estimated that more than 80 per cent of the 12 million Jews worldwide are of Ashkenazi origin (mostly living in the USA, Israel and France).

Zionism originated in Eastern Europe, centre of gravity of the Ashkenazi Jews, who in 1948 formed 80 per cent of the Jewish population of Israel. That figure fell below 50 per cent after the immigration of Sephardi Jews (Maghrib and Asia minor) and Oriental Jews (Irak, Yemen and Syria) from Arab countries, but increased again above 50 per cent as a result of the large scale immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union and other East European countries at the end of the 1980’s.

Until 1977, Israeli politics were dominated by the Labour Party, mostly Ashkenazi and a driving force of the Sionist movement at its roots.

Resenting 30 years of Labour domination and the social conditions in which they were maintained, an increasing number of Sephardi and Oriental Jews voted for the Likud Party, which led in 1977 to the historical defeat of the Labour Party under Ytzhak Rabin and to the formation of the first Israeli right-wing government under the leadership of Menahem Begin. Since then, and despite short comebacks to power (under Ytzhak Rabin in 1992 and Ehud Barak in 1999), the Labour Party and its Ashkenazi social base are going through a deep process of political decline for the benefit of religious, right-wing and Oriental parties.