Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mizrahi Open Letter is an Israel-bashing exercise

Writer and poet Almog Behar, an Open Letter signatory

They're back.

A group of 'young' Mizrahi descendants of 'Arab Jews' in Israel have written another Open Letter to the Arab world. (Who are they? Israelis with at least one Jewish parent of Middle Eastern or North African origin. Those with one German, Polish or Latin American parent attest to the onward advance of intermarriage in Israeli society).

The signatories are all fired up by the revolutionary fervour sweeping the Arab world, and are begging to be part of the action.

Are they applauding the Arab protesters for wishing to aspire to the values of the only democracy of the region - Israel?

No such luck. The signatories feel they have been torn away from their true 'Arab' culture and language and have been repressed by Israel's domineering 'colonial, European' culture. Like the demonstrators of Tahrir Square, they live under a 'regime'. As leftist radicals they cannot help reverting to the well-worn slogans of 'solidarity' with repressed 'Palestinian-Israelis - a 'workers of the Middle East unite' type of solidarity.

Their ultimate goal reveals itself : an Andalusian model of interfaith coexistence. A 'golden era' revived.

My objections to this Open Letter are very much what they were to the last Open Letter, which this Mizrahi group wrote after President Obama's Cairo speech in 2009.

The letter-writers protest that their cultural past has been erased by Israeli racism, but they are in denial about their historical past - the Arab world's repression and persecution of their own parents. This is, after all, the reason why they are now Israelis. Their unwillingness to come to terms with the brutality and injustice of their past in the Arab world puts them at variance with the vast majority of Israelis who descend from Arab countries. Sharing a culture and language has never protected Jews from being 'ethnically cleansed'.

Next, the signatories commit the very mistake they accuse Israel of doing to them in reverse - they are asking to be taken into the comforting bosom of the dominating Arab, Muslim culture. The Andalusian model assumes thriving Jews and Christians are not equal partners, but under Muslim rule. Moreover, Arab Muslim culture has ruthlessly suppressed indigenous Berber, Kurdish, Coptic, Assyrian culture and language, and imposed dhimmi subjugation on Jews and Christians.

Is this what this tiny misguided group of starry-eyed Israelis really wants?

Here is an excellent comment from E. Eskel, who sums up the argument brilliantly:

"It’s amazing just how self-denigrating some of these individuals are, who claim to speak for all Mizrahim. While their intentions might be good, their naivety and ignorance is so painful that it drives them to try and reconcile with those who have no desire to reconcile with them, let alone acknowledge the tragic uprooting of millenia old Jewish communities throughout the Arab and Muslim world.


Our families never identified as Arabs. They were comfortable with speaking Arabic (more specifically our unique Baghdadi Judeo-Arabic dialect) and in fact Jews had used Arabic even BEFORE Islam. They participated in the society, contributed immensely to the economy, culture, arts, literature and music. But they also maintained their unique separate identity as Babylonian Jews who pre-date the muslim conquests by at least 1,000 years. It was only a minority from the more secular middle-upper class who identified as “Arabs” and even then, not all of them did. One needs to understand this in its proper historical context. The pan-Arab Baathist movement was founded by a Muslim and a Christian. But for many non-Muslims, it became a way of exiting their less-than-equal reality and create a new identity not modeled on religion, but one on a secular Arabness that would somehow unite Muslims, Jews, Christians…etc The problem was, most Muslims weren’t so immediately swayed by this development, and religion remained an important part in their self-identification with the Muslim Umma.

The price for that illusive equality was a downplaying of one’s non-Muslim or non-Arab identity, whether you were a Copt or Assyrian or Maronite or Syriac or Jewish or Berber. That to me, doesn’t speak of equality but of further inequality, one were Arab culture and Arabic language trumps older regional identities and languages. I challenge these young Mizrahim to find a period in history where Jewish communities voluntarily chose an Arab identity for themselves. Let them pour over the wealth of Jewish writing, literature, letters and historical record and find one such instance.

That is not to say that one can’t be an Arab-Jew if so they choose or even be an Arab convert. In Yemen for example, many Yemenite tribes embraced Judaism and were absorbed into the pre-existing and ancient Jewish community of Teiman. The same with Amazigh tribes in North Africa. However, these communities themselves came to view themselves as part of the Jewish nation and the Jewish people accepted them into the fold. We are an old and diverse people and that is what enriches us and makes us so strong.

The problem with many pan-Arabists is that if you say you’re not an Arab it means its an insult or you hate Arabs, which is of course ridiculous! What is an insult is imposing a foreign and politicized identity on people without their consent. That attitude is rooted in contempt for minorities and a belief in the superiority of everything Arab. That is why many of us Middle-Eastern Jews resent these paternalistic attempts to lecture us on OUR history and how we should identify and “rediscover” our Middle-Easterness or “true arabness.”

I don’t need to rediscover anything. My family has always known where it came from (Iraq) and took great pride in it, despite the violence they faced in Iraq and the discrimination in Israel. They are unapologetic Babylonian Jews who are loud, warm, love listening to Arabic classics (many many of which were composed or sung by Jews by the way) and cook with our strong and beautiful pungent spices.

That being said, it is unfortunate that many of the younger generation has lost touch with their parents’ culture but that is due to many factors: racism, eurocentric views of Jewishness but also the violent dispossession of Jewish communities throughout Arab/Muslim lands that dealt a massive blow. The culture and traditions are rooted to the land where one lives and one can try to preserve what they can, but one can’t expect it to remain the same as when our fathers and mothers lived in Baghdad or Zakho or Arbil.

If there is to be a true reconciliation, let be one where we stand on equal grounds. Let it be one where our Arab brothers and sisters open their eyes to the lies their governments and politicians have been feeding them for decades, and learn about the disappeared Jews who once lived in their midst. Let them acknowledge that we are the face of Israel and are a part of this landscape as much as they are, not more, not less. Let them look to how other minorities today are experiencing what we once experienced and maybe they could stop the disappearance of yet another fragment of diversity. Only then can we even begin to speak of a real, genuine dialogue."


E.Heskel




Update: look who's now showing interest - card-carrying antisemite Gilad Atzmon.

14 comments:

Sylvia said...

"Young Arab Jews"
Here is the picture of one of the signatories, Yossi Alfi (Iraq born). Not exactly "young". Most the signatories are neither young nor Arab (and in many cases) are not Jews either.

http://www.yossi-alfi.co.il/eng/

bataween said...

Thanks for that, Sylvia. Ezra Nawi must be pretty long in the tooth by now too.

A delicious irony that Yossi Alfi's job is 'fiction'.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing just how self-denigrating some of these individuals are, who claim to speak for all Mizrahim. While their intentions might be good, their naivety and ignorance is so painful that it drives them to try and reconcile with those who have no desire to reconcile with them, let alone acknowledge the tragic uprooting of millenia old Jewish communities throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Our families never identified as Arabs. They were comfortable with speaking Arabic and in fact Jews had used Arabic even BEFORE Islam. They participated in the society, contributed immensely to the economy, culture, arts, literature and music. It was only a minority from the more secular middle-upper class who identified as "Arabs" and even then, not all of them did. One needs to understand this in its proper historical context. The pan-Arab Baathist movement was founded by a Muslim and a Christian. But for many non-Muslims, it became a way of exiting their less-than-equal reality and create a new identity not modeled on religion, but one on a secular Arabness that would somehow unite Muslims, Jews, Christians...etc The problem was, most Muslims weren't so immediately swayed by this development, and religion remained an important part in their self-identification with the Muslim Umma. The price for that illusive equality was a downplaying of one's non-Muslim or non-Arab identity, whether you were a Copt or Assyrian or Maronite or Syriac or Jewish or Berber. That to me, doesn't speak of equality but of further inequality, one were Arab culture and Arabic language trumps older regional identities and languages. I challenge these young Mizrahim to find a period in history where Jewish communities voluntarily chose an Arab identity for themselves. Let them pour over the wealth of Jewish writing, literature, letters and historical record and find one such instance. That is not to say that one can't be an Arab-Jew if so they choose or even be an Arab convert. In Yemen for example, many Yemenite tribes embraced Judaism and were absorbed into the pre-existing and ancient Jewish community of Teiman. The same with Amazigh tribes in North Africa. However, these communities themselves came to view themselves as part of the Jewish nation and the Jewish people accepted them into the fold. We are an old and diverse people and that is what enriches us and makes us so strong.

Anonymous said...

he problem with many pan-Arabists is that if you say you're not an Arab it means its an insult or you hate Arabs, which is of course ridiculous! What is an insult is imposing a foreign and politicized identity on people without their consent. That attitude is rooted in contempt for minorities and a belief in the superiority of everything Arab. That is why many of us Middle-Eastern Jews resent these paternalistic attempts to lecture us on OUR history and how we should identify and "rediscover" our Middle-Easterness or "true arabness."
I don't need to rediscover anything. My family has always known where it came from (Iraq) and took great pride in it, despite the violence they faced in Iraq and the discrimination in Israel. They are unapologetic Babylonian Jews who are loud, warm, love listening to Arabic classics (many many of which were composed or sung by Jews by the way), cook with our strong and beautiful pungent spices.

That being said, it is unfortunate that many of the younger generation has lost touch with their parents' culture but that is due to many factors: racism, eurocentric views of Jewishness but also the violent dispossession of Jewish communities in Arab/Muslim lands that dealt a massive blow. The culture and traditions are rooted to the land where one lives and one can try to preserve what they can, but one can't expect it to remain the same as when our fathers and mothers lived in Baghdad or Zakho or Arbil.

If there is to be a true reconciliation, let be one where we stand on equal grounds. Let it be one where our Arab brothers and sisters open their eyes to the lies their governments and politicians have been feeding them for decades, and learn about the disappeared Jews who once lived in their midst. Let them acknowledge that we are the face of Israel and are a part of this landscape as much as they are, not more, not less. Let them look to how other minorities today are experiencing what we once experienced and maybe they could stop the disappearance of yet another fragment of diversity. Only then can we even begin to speak of a real, genuine dialogue.
E.Heskel

Anonymous said...

menfadlokom (please in the plural) can you explain what Mizrahi really means?Are these poeple the result of mixed marriages?
suzy Vidal

bataween said...

E. Eskel
Very well said.
Suzy - The term 'Mizrahi'(oriental) is not satisfactory. As Sylvia would say, it makes no sense when describing Moroccan Jews, who in fact originate to the West of much of Europe!
Bataween

Anonymous said...

How is this showing support for colonized people. Arab tribes conquered most of the Mid east and North africa. Jews along with Copts, Berbers,Syriacs, Sabateans, and Samaritans are the native people of the Mid east. If the Mizrahi open letter wants to be "anti colonist" why aren't they asking for Aramaic to be revived. Finally, the Spanish golden age was caused by Moors conquering and colonizing the Iberian. What was golden age about massacring the Jewish community in Grenada, done by an enlightened caliph.

bataween said...

Absolutely agree with you - these signatories are deferring to Arab/Muslim cultural and linguistic imperialism.
Bataween

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Another reason for some people to take this position --obviously submitting to Arab/Muslim cultural and linguistic imperialism-- is that it is now a "leftist" position. It is politically correct from the so-called "leftist" standpoint. These people are not thinking for themselves and Heskel and Bataween have demolished their shallow, propagandistic arguments.

The Communists were pro-Muslim/pro-Arab way back in 1917 when they had taken power in the old Russian Empire. In this they converged with the position of the British Empire.

http://ziontruth.blogspot.com/2005/10/bolsheviks-for-jihad-genocide-stalins.html

suzy pirotte vidal said...

Going back to my queery, i checked the word Myzrahi and here is what i found:They are

Jews from:Iraq, Syria, Labanon, Yepen, iran Afghanistan,Uzbekistan, Kurdish areas, the Eastern Caucauses and Ethiopia, not the Sephardi Jews from Morocco, Algeria or Turkey.
We Egyptian Jews are Sephardis.
it's good to get the mind working!!!
Sultana Vidal

bataween said...

Thank you for your research Suzy, but I still think the word Mizrahi is not satisfactory. Not all North African Jews are Sephardim - what about the Berber Jews? Neither all all Egyptian Jews - the Karaites, for instance? Not all Iraqi Jews are Mizrahim - a few are Sephardim.
The best description in the circs is probably 'non-Ashkenazi' Jews!

suzy pirotte vidal said...

I personally dislike this way of breaking up Jews in categories. what does it mater anyway if you are Sephardi, Mizrahi or Ashkenasi.
Do you think Hitler stopped at that?
So let's all be simply JEWS
suzy Vidal

bataween said...

You're quite right!

bataween said...

(due to malfunction this comment appears under bataween)

Sylvia said:
Suzy
First you must know that "Mizrahi" means "Oriental". Regardless of the geographic location, calling any group or any person oriental (even when they are from the Far-East) can get you fired if you're an American academic. It has happened.
Second, the term was imposed on any group originating in a Muslim land (and from India) in 1975 by a group of Israeli academics from Makhon Ben Zvi with Knesset approval and despite fierce opposition, namely from the late respected historian H.H. Ben Sasson.
Why did they do that? There are several reasons, of which I will cite two:
- one originated with Haim Ben Zvi hismself in the 1950s when he discovered in some of his research that the Maghrebans and the Moroccan Jews in particular called themselves in their records, letters and prayer book "HaEdah haMaaravit" which in English means "Western Community". Since "Western" is reserved (for Eastern Polish Jews and Central Europeans), either he or his editor started putting the name in quotation marks.
- A second reason has to do with shekels and cents: academic and cultural funding. Imagine having to fund each group. The money was scarce and there were those who wanted most of the money for the worthiest.

The consequences have been disastrous and are still coming back to haunt us. From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean we are all painted with one brush and it doesn't matter if you are from Caalcutta or Benghazi, you're supposed to be speaking Arabic. But the most devastating is what it has done to cultural memories. A twelve grader doing research for her report will to day will eveidently search a bibliography of "Mizrahi Literature" or google it. And the category Mizrahi literature didn't exist prior to prior to the 1970. How are do you think they feel? And how much do you think they know?
Well, don't get me started on that topic