Monday, April 14, 2008

Why do leftists and Arabs ignore Mizrahi rights?

Why is it that Jews on the left hurry to support the Palestinian cause, yet show contempt for the rights of Mizrahi Jews? One could say it is ignorance, or the Eurocentricism of 'white', European Jews, some of whom have bought into the 'Israel-as-colonial-implant' myth. Among Arabs, however, Loolwa Khazzoom, a 'progressive' Iraqi Jew, has found little sympathy for the Mizrahi cause, unless Jews from Arab countries are prepared to ally themselves with Arabs against Ashkenazi Jews and compromise their Jewish identity. Yet to be pro-Palestinian and pro-Jewish rights should not be mutually exclusive.

"Regarding today's politics, why does the world demand that Israel give land or pay compensation to indigenous Arabs, while remaining completely silent about Arab states having stolen from and forcing out indigenous Jews, who now make up the majority of Israel's population? Why does the world demand that Israel give Syria back some or all of the Golan Heights, when Syria inflicted serious human rights abuses on the Syrian Jews; confiscated and nationalized Syrian Jewish property; and never made compensation payments or even apologized?

"Through ignoring or dismissing the Mizrahi reality, I feel the world has perpetuated Arab dominance over indigenous Middle Eastern and North African Jews, inherently accepting and enforcing Arab claims to our land, religious sites, and property. The forces silencing our voices have been so strong that many have given up altogether trying to speak about our reality, and others have done it with great fear of a backlash - which usually has followed.

"I am tired of feeling fear of and guilt about asserting the rights, needs, and experiences of my community. I stand eager to work in alliance with Arabs, but I will not do so in sacrifice of my own people. As far as I am concerned, this situation is "all or none": Arabs must be my ally if I am going to be theirs.

With rare exceptions, my experience has been that Arab leaders and individuals are eager to receive support of their cause but unwilling to give support to ours. I find this pattern to be a continuation of Arab oppression of Jews: We are supposed to step aside, shut up, and otherwise disappear, unless and until we are useful in furthering an Arab agenda. (My emphasis - ed)

What about us fighting for our own causes? Moreover, what about Arabs speaking out about the injustices Mizrahi Jews suffered at the hands of Arabs? There are numerous Jewish organizations - in Israel and abroad - dedicated to giving land to or securing financial compensation for Palestinian Arabs; yet I do not know of one single Arab organization - Palestinian or otherwise - fighting to demand the same for Mizrahim. In fact, I know of only one individual Arab simply verbalizing this message.

"I find it no less than obnoxious for Arabs to expect Mizrahim to pretend our own reality does not exist, to expect us to be in deference to Arab claims and struggles. For there to be true peace in the Middle East, all parties involved must have the room to express how we have been oppressed by each other; and all must look at and fight to end how we have been oppressive to each other.

"I am willing to stand up, speak out about, and fight against current Israeli oppression of Palestinian Arabs - whether at the hands of Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, or anyone else. I challenge my Arab sisters and brothers to be as willing to stand up and speak out about Arab oppression of Mizrahi Jews.

"If supporting someone else inherently rips the floor out from under my own feet, I cannot risk it; I will not participate in a setup for my own destruction. As long as alliance work with Arabs is structured in such a way as to completely negate the Mizrahi reality, I refuse to participate in it. I will not help perpetuate the silencing and oppression of my people.

"For example, I have been to several panels of Arab and Jewish women, where the Arabs were Muslim or Christian and the Jews were white Europeans. Every time, I have raised my hand and spoken about the invisibility of Mizrahi women on the panels. And every time, Arab women from the panel warmly have approached me after the program, taking me aside and telling me something like, "You and I are sisters. We are the same people. It's those Zionists that are the problem." Or, as one Arab woman added after a panel, "Those Ashkenazim are pigs."

"Statements like these have made shivers go up my spine. They essentially have asked me to split myself in half, to connect on the basis of one half and forget about the other. They inherently have demanded that I structure my Middle Eastern reality around an Arab construct.

"But as a Mizrahi woman, I bring my identity to the table: Culturally, it is true, I have more in common with Arab Muslims and Christians than I do with Ashkenazi Jews. But I am a Jew, and this reality must be acknowledged and addressed. Arab women cannot expect to bond with me against the "big, evil Ashkenazi," completely ignoring a legacy of Arab oppression of Jews. If we are to unite in alliance, Arabs must hold my struggle in their hearts, as I must hold their struggle in mine.

"With rare exceptions, I have not experienced Arab willingness to have different perspectives on Arab-Israel/Arab-Jewish issues and come together where we agree; rather, I have felt pressure that to be friends or allies, I first must deny my own reality. As such, to be connected, I have felt I must endanger myself, participate in diminishing my own space."

Read article in full

See comments thread on mepeace.org forum

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent work by Bataween and excellent article by Loolwa.

I disagree with only her one point, "Culturally, it is true, I have more in common with Arab Muslims and Christians than I do with Ashkenazi Jews."

I have had contact with many Jewish communities, and I contend that:

(a) Am yisrael am ehad - The Jews are one people.

(b) In each community, Jews have retained certain inherently Jewish culture, and have absorbed certain local culture. It is not obvious that the latter dominates, as Loolwa maintains.

(c) I suggest the local elements Jews have absorbed remain superficial (a bit of food, a bit of language), but that the core values remain Jewish, not Arab or French or Spanish or .....

For example, Jews (Ashkenasi, Sephardi, or Mizrahi) do NOT share these cultural characteristics of Arabs:
- unwillingness to listen to the "other"
- desire to force one's values and religion on others
- unwilingness to allow the "other" equal respect in society and government
- extremes of irrational, violent pride in religion and race which have made Islam the "religion of perpetual outrage"
- absence of self-criticism
- characterisation of minorities as dogs or apes or pigs
- inability to compromise even with one's own people - compare peaceful dissent in Israel to the intra-Muslim violence in Algeria, Iraq, Iran, ....
- lack of respect for life: Jews have killed 22 other Jews (Grunzweig, Arlosoff, Rabin, plus 19 in the Altalena affair), while Arabs have killed hundreds of thousands of other Arabs.

Anonymous said...

I should add my complete support for Loolwa's main point - it seems impossible to extract from the Arab world the least admission of any responsibility towards Mizrahim. Just the opposite - the Arab-Muslim world continually compliments itself on how "well" it treated Mizrahim, and continually derides work to the contrary (e.g., Bat Yeor's).

Satloff's recent book has mentioned a "crack in the wall" in the form of a single Arab academic's anonymous article. I'll try to find and post the reference.

bataween said...

I think you mean this reference:
http://jewishrefugees.blogspot.com/2007/01/where-were-arabs-in-holocaust.html

bataween said...

Whoops, sorry the link did not appear in full. Posted on 20th January 2007 on this blog.
Bataween

Anonymous said...

Why do leftists and Arabs deny Mizrahi rights? Because in the minds of these bigots you cannot be accused of discrimination when you target an "unoppressed" people and hence dispersal of the Jewish people, whether Ashkenaz, Mizrahi or Ethiopian is an acceptable state of affairs.

bataween said...

It's an intriguing thought. Why can Jews never be considered victims? Is it because they are so rich and powerful and always bounce back?(anti-capitalist bigotry) Is it because the Jews killed Jesus and so deserve everything coming to them (Christian bigotry)? Is it because they never had any rights to start with so can't be considered to have had them violated ('dhimmi' bigotry)?

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

The Ashkenazim are not indigenous Europeans who converted to Judaism by taking correspondence courses. Rather they are descended from Jews who migrated to Europe in a series of migrations, starting even before the Destruction of the Temple, going through the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the Christian persecutions in the Land of Israel after Christianization of the Roman Empire, and of course after the Arab Muslim conquest, which became ever harder to bear starting in the late `Umayyad period and the `Abbasid period. Jews migrated to various places, including Babylonia [now Iraq], Persia, North Africa, Byzantium, Sicily, etc. And then they sometimes migrated again. The original Ashkenazic commnity in the German Rheinland is traced back to Jews who migrated from Sicily, southern Italy. and France to Germany, after Charlemagne came to power. Don't forget that it was illegal in Christian lands for anyone to convert to Judaism and for Jews to make converts. Meanwhile, in Muslim lands it was illegal, on penalty of death, for a Muslim to convert to another religion, although Jews and Christians could convert to each others' religion. That's why in the Middle Ages, a handful of European Christians who wanted to convert to Judaism went to Muslim lands [such as Obadiah the Norman Proselyte who went to Baghdad]. These bans on conversion to Judaism tended to preserve the Jewish stock relatively purely, although no one would say that the Jews then or now are a "pure race."

Whereas the original Ashkenazic communities in Germany were formed of migrants from southern Italy, Sicily, France, etc., the Ashkenazim in Belarus and Ukraine may be partly descended from migrant Jews from Persia and the Byzantine Empire. If you ask the Eastern European peoples if the Jews there were really Poles or Russians or Ukrainians or Hungarians, etc., they will overwhelmingly tell you No.

As to calling Ashkenazim "white-skinned," actually there is a broad range of skin colors among Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Arabs, Italians, Greeks, Turks, etc. The European Judeophobes actually saw Jews as swarthy, which was one of the defects of Jews, according to them. For example, see the novel Trilby by the Britisher George duMaurier. His villain is a swarthy Polish Jew. Note that Karl Marx and Albert Einstein, both German Jews by birth, were more or less dark. Marx was called "the Moor" in his own family [his wife was not Jewish] because of his swarthiness.

Furthermore, Jews migrated between Sefardi, Ashkenazi, and Oriental communities. Consider the family name Ashkenazi among some Oriental Jews, such as the present Israeli army commander in chief. Also note the name Sfard among some Polish Jews. Indeed, there was a Yiddish poet named Dovid Sfard in Poland.

gideon said...

Eliyahu
Nobody is suggesting that Ashkenazi Jews are not real Jews, and cliches like 'white-skinned'are meaningless. The question remains - and I don't think Loolwa answers it adequately - why do some Ashkenazi leftists despise Mizrahi rights? Is it because it is not 'their style' to bang on about Jewish rights in general, bot always to give credence to the Other's grievances?

Anonymous said...

Many Ashkenazi Jews descend from converts, don´t forget the Khazarian people, who had a Jewish king and of whom ALL converted to Judaism. There is no proof of European Jews ever descendinf from ancient Jews, because only paternal lines have been researched, not maternal, and usually it was the women who converted to Judaism, often marrying Jewish men. And conversion was very common in the early times, before it became illegal. So don´t twist the facts Eliyahu. I myself am a half-Jew, whose father is a Mizrahi and mother Scandinavian. And let me tell you something, I have NOTHING in common with Ashkenazi Jews. They are not Jews in the same way Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews are.

Anonymous said...

By the way, it was funny to read that a blond woman, who looks nothing like an Israeli, said Liel Kolet shouldn´t participate in Eurovision competition, because she looks like an Arab. Haha. Isn´t this ugly broad just very jealous, because Mizrahi Jewish women look a lot better than palefaced, fat and ugly Ashkenazi women with hooked noses. Im probably lucky to live in Scandinavia, where I am not oppressed for being partly Mizrahi.