Few Israeli politicians of the twenty-first century have had as meteoric of a rise to prominence or have been as polarizing as member of the Knesset and Likud affiliate Miri Regev. Born in 1965 in Kiryat Gat into a family of Moroccan-Mizrahi and Spanish-Sephardic descent, Regev ascended the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit to achieve the rank of Brigadier-General. After leaving the military, Regev continued to put her shrewd communication skills to use as a member of the Knesset with Likud. Her career in the Knesset—especially her tenure as Minister of Culture and Sport—has been fraught with tension drawn from Regev’s combative interactions with her detractors, and from the fact that Regev herself has been the recipient of anti-Mizrahi racism.
Early Life and Background
Miriam “Miri” Regev (née Siboni) was born on May 26, 1965, in Kiryat Gat, Israel. She is the oldest of four children born to Felix and Marcelle Siboni, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco with the Youth Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.Aliyah project in the mid-twentieth century. Regev’s Lit. "Eastern." Jew from Arab or Muslim country.Mizrahi roots—both of her parents grew up in Morocco, although her mother, Marcelle, was born in Spain—are indispensable to her identity and play a central role in both her private and public life.
Kiryat Gat, located in Israel’s southern periphery, was one of dozens of ma’abarot (from the Hebrew, “to move or transit”) set up by the state of Israel following its establishment in 1948. Ma’abarot were intended to accommodate the influx of hundreds of thousands of Jews from across the Middle East and North Africa who came to Israel during the Great Aliyah period between the late 1940s to the early 1970s. They were often impoverished, with overcrowded dwellings made from cheap materials like tarp or tin, unsanitary communal bathrooms that frequently lacked running water or electricity, and a dearth of employment opportunities. For a significant proportion of Mizrahi Israelis, ma’abarot are emblematic of a period of humiliation and subjugation at the hands of the dominant Jews of European origin and their descendants, including most of North and South American Jewry.Ashkenazi, Labor Zionist governments of the time, whose reactions to new Mizrahi immigrants ranged from ambivalence to patent racism.
Regev’s own memories of her childhood in Kiryat Gat reflect the reality of life in the ma’abarot. In a 2016 interview with The New York Times Magazine, she recalled that her family slept “four to a room” in a multigenerational household consisting ofe Regev and her siblings, her parents, and her grandparents. In a 2015 interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Regev explained that her father provided for the entire family by building greenhouses for neighboring A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.kibbutzim and through running a meager soda distribution business. Regev invokes her memories of the ma’abarot consistently, and she cites her fortune at having successfully risen from Israel’s periphery to its center stage as one of her primary reasons for pursuing a career in civil service.
Early Military Career
As a teenager, Regev participated in Gadna, a youth organization that prepares young Israelis for their army service before their conscription. After enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces in 1983, Regev continued to work with Gadna, where she served as an educator preparing disadvantaged Israeli youths for a successful transition into the army, as well as as a commander of a Gadna base.
In 1986, Regev left Gadna to become a spokesperson for the Southern Command under Major General Yitzhak Mordechai. Regev claims Mordechai selected her personally after interpreting her public indignation at his ill-timed cancellation of an event in which he was to meet and inspire Kurdish-Jewish Ganda youth as evidence that she possessed the gusto required of an effective spokesperson.
In her early career as a member of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit, Regev served in a number of positions, including Head of the Local Media Division, Head of the Planning Directorate, and Head of the Media Division. In each of these roles, Regev made a concerted effort to prioritize incorporating soldiers from Israel’s periphery with disadvantaged backgrounds into positions of upward mobility. She also worked to push the IDF to prepare its press releases for major operations more carefully and deliberately, as a strategy to ensure that the Israeli public retained a positive opinion of its actions.
While serving in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Regev earned a Bachelor of Education in Informal Education and an MA in Business Administration from the Inter-Branch Command and Staff College, an Israeli military college that allows its students to serve in the military and study concurrently. She also married Dror Regev, who came from a well-off Ashkenazi family that lived, literally, on the other side of the train tracks from Miri Regev’s family in Kiryat Gat. He currently works as an engineer for Israel Aerospace Industries. The couple has three children: Roee (born 1991), Yael (born 1994), and Michal (born 1999).
Late Military Career
After Regev was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 2002, she assumed the role of Deputy IDF Spokesperson. Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, she was appointed Coordinator of the National Public Relations Effort in preparation for the Second Gulf War (2003-2011). In 2004, Regev became Chief Press and Media Censor. In this role, her job was to mediate the flow of information from the military to the public in a manner that balanced national security and democratic openness.
In 2005, Regev was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General under IDF Chief of Staff Dan Haluz and stepped into the role of IDF Spokesperson. At the time of her appointment, she was the second consecutive woman to hold this position. During her tenure as IDF Spokesperson, Regev oversaw the IDF’s media policy during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, as well as during the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. Considering the magnitude of these two events and their pervasiveness in Israeli society, Regev became an easily recognizable public figure due to her near constant presence on Israeli television news and news radio.
After a final role as the Head of Administration for the IDF’s celebration of Israel’s sixtieth Day of Independence in 2008, Regev decided to end her career in the military. She was discharged in the fall of 2008 and remains in the IDF Reserves at the rank of Brigadier-General.
Mere months after her discharge, Regev became a member of the Lit. "assembly." The 120-member parliament of the State of Israel.Knesset with Likud after the 2009 elections for the Eighteenth Knesset, which ran from 2009 to 2013. She participated in a wide array of committees and lobbies during the Eighteenth Knesset, including Chair of Subcommittee for the Outlying Areas, Member of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Chair of Lobby for Strengthening the Periphery, and Member of Lobby for the Prevention of Illegal Immigration to Israel.
With the 2013 elections for the Nineteenth Knesset—which lasted from 2013 to 2015—Regev retained her seat as an MK. She served as Chair of Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, Chair for Applying Israeli Law in Judea and Samaria, Chair of the Lobby for Closing the Social Gaps, Member of Lobby for Female Knesset Members, and Member of Gay Pride Lobby.
By the 2015 elections for the Twentieth Knesset, Regev had become an indispensable part of modern Likud’s brand. As one of the party’s rising stars, she rocketed up to fourth position on the party’s list of candidates. During the Twentieth Knesset, which lasted from 2015 to 2019, Regev was appointed Minister of Culture and Sport.
Regev retained her status as a member of the Knesset through the political upheavals that heralded two ephemeral governments—the Twenty-First Knesset from March to October 2019, and the Twenty-Second Knesset from October 2019 to March 2020—as electoral stalemates prevented the creation of any viable majority government coalition. The March 2020 elections for the Twenty-Third Knesset brought a tepid stabilization to Israeli politics, and a unity deal between Benjamin Netayahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party produced a working government coalition. Regev continues to serve as a member of the Knesset and currently holds a position as Minister of Transportation and Road Safety. She has reportedly been tapped to become Minister of Foreign Affairs in November 2021 when Benny Gantz becomes Prime Minister—as per the details of the unity agreement between Likud and Blue and White—but her future in this role is purely speculative at this point in time.
Controversies and Perception
Regev’s prominent media presence and enthusiasm for public engagement have largely defined both her career in the military and in politics, but her tendency towards blunt and ferocious speech have caused controversies. She has come under fire for her remarks about Israel’s Arab citizens and about African migrants living in Israel, the latter of which she infamously likened to “a cancer in the body” at a speech in South Tel Aviv in May 2012. Regev later apologized for this remark.
Her tenure as Minister of Culture and Sport was especially fraught, considering Regev’s open antagonism to Israel’s Ashkenazi cultural elite. Regev possessed a strong stance against allocating government funding to art projects she perceived to be unsupportive of the state of Israel, which typically included a sizable number of Israel’s most internationally recognized artists. Instead, as Minister of Culture and Sport she favored redistributing government funds towards artists who had previously fallen outside the normal boundaries of Israeli culture, such as Mizrahim, Ethiopians, or residents of Israel’s periphery. Some of the notable institutions and individuals Regev clashed with as Minister of Culture and Sport include the Arab-Israeli Al-Midan Theater in Haifa, renowned pianist and composer Daniel Barenboim, and Israeli author Amos Oz.
Further controversy about Regev derives from her proud display of her Mizrahi identity, and the degree to which she explicitly plays upon tensions between Israeli Ashkenazim and Mizrahim in her politics. On multiple occasions, insults directed at Regev have been drawn from well-trodden anti-Mizrahi sentiments that cast Mizrahim as backwards, brutish, unintelligent, or superstitious. This was the case when former member of the Knesset Avigdor Lieberman dehumanized Regev by referring to her as a “beast” in a 2019 interview with Ma’ariv. To her supporters, Regev’s Mizrahiness represents an assertion of validity for a type of Israeli identity historically derided as inferior, and a long overdue correction in centering Mizrahi culture in Israel.
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