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Saadia Marciano founds the Israeli Black Panthers, 1971

On This Day in Jewish History: March 3, 1971


On this day, 1971, Saadia Marciano Founds the Israeli Black Panthers. The Israeli Black Panthers developed in the early 1970s as a movement that demanded equality for all Mizrahi Israelis, economically, politically, educationally, and socially. These activists were mainly second-generation Mizrahi Israelis that saw the inequality that developed when their parents immigrated. Their demands included better housing, pay, and education for Mizrahim, as well as the abolition of poor, segregated neighborhoods. The founding of the Israeli Black Panthers can be attributed to this lack of equality, as well as the history of the treatment of Mizrahi immigrants in the young State of Israel and the negative perception of Ashkenazi Israelis of Middle Eastern culture. After the establishment of the State of Israel, until 1952 most Jewish immigrants were placed in "ma’abarot", transit camps, established to temporarily house them. A majority of these immigrants came from Middle Eastern and North African countries with large families, entirely impoverished and unskilled. Conditions in these camps were devastating, overpopulation and epidemics were frequent; the poor quality of life in the ma’abarot created a widespread, long-term resentment within Mizrahi communities. During the following decades, Mizrahi Israelis were largely the working class engaged in mostly unskilled labor, whereas Ashkenazi Israelis primarily occupied the upper and middle classes. The class divide between the two groups reinforced a binary, and a negative perception of Mizrahim -- rooted in a prejudice against Middle Eastern culture that developed upon their immigration -- permeated the country. Additionally, Mizrahi Israelis had very little political influence, and their arrival was initially viewed as a threat, namely a political threat to the dominant Labor Party. It was in the 1960s that second-generation Mizrahim began to organize, as a “sense of injustice became a central pillar of their identity.” An example of this is the Wadi Salib riots of 1959 (see our post on 7.9.20), wherein the Union of North African Immigrants tried and failed to rally and unify Mizrahi Israelis across Israel. The riots left an impression but no substantial change was made. By the 1970s, conditions were unchanged, and the divide between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim endured in the State of Israel. The first public appearance -- and thus the official founding -- of the Israeli Black Panthers took place on this day in 1971, when the group demonstrated in front of Jerusalem’s City Hall. The group was primarily second-generation Moroccan young adults from Musrara, a poor neighborhood in Jerusalem. Saadia Marciano, like many of these young Moroccans, was frustrated with the conditions and low-paying jobs in Musrara. As one of the leaders, Marciano met with different groups in Jerusalem and began to rally other young, poor Moroccan Israelis with the purpose of speaking up against the inequality that permeated their communities. Marciano also suggested the name “Black Panthers,” inspired by the United States Black Panthers, hoping to evoke a reaction from the media and Americans living in Israel with knowledge of the group’s history in the U.S. Marciano and other leaders connected with two different forces: the street workers of the Community Work Division of Jerusalem, as well as a radical antizionist group of high school and university students called Matzpen. Both groups helped facilitate a reaction from the public; the street workers sent a journalist to the group, who quoted a group speaker in Yedioth Ahronot, a popular newspaper: “[The Black Panthers] want everyone to know that we are here… If our parents were quiet all the time-- we are not going to keep quiet.” Realizing the impact of their statement and the importance of the help they were getting, the Black Panthers began to work on spreading their ideology. They applied for a permit for demonstrating in public, and they distributed a leaflet. Their efforts led to the detention of half a dozen Black Panther members and a few student supporters, and their permit was denied. In spite of the arrests and a lack of permit, 200-300 people showed up to the demonstration on March 3rd, thus commencing the protest phase of the Black Panthers and solidifying a foundation of support. The demonstrations at City Hall starting on March 3rd evoked a powerful reaction across the State of Israel, but it was only the beginning of the organization’s efforts. The era of protests -- including the “Night of the Panthers,” among many others -- was followed by a political phase, in which Black Panthers aimed to infiltrate Israeli politics and implement their goals on a national level. Though they eventually splintered off in politics, the rise of the Black Panthers introduced an ongoing conversation regarding socioethnic inequality in the State of Israel that impacts the welfare of Mizrahi Israelis to this very day.



Bernstein, Deborah. “Conflict and Protest in Israeli Society: The Case of the Black Panthers of Israel." Youth and Society, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 139-152. Sage Publications, December 1984.

Frankel, Oz. “What’s in a name? The Black Panthers in Israel.” The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture. vol. 1, no. 1, June 2008, pp. 9–26. Gerber, Jane S. “Revival and Return: Sephardic Jews in the Post-War Era,” chp. 9 in The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience.

New York: The Free Press, 1992, pp. 254-283. Gordis, Daniel. “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.” New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2016. Sachar, Howard M. “The Course of Modern Jewish History: The Classic History of The Jewish People, From The Eighteenth Century to the Present Day.” 3rd ed., Vintage Books, August 1990.

Pictures: Picture of Saadia Marciano-- https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/4/24/1517501/-Blacks-black-Jews-and-Black-Panthers-in-Israel Black Panther protest-- https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/israeli-black-panther-party-1971-1977/ Black Panther pamphlet with Marciano on cover-- https://israeled.org/israeli-black-panthers/ Picture of a protest-- https://israeled.org/black-panthers-steal-distribute-milk/

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