Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Economist sinks back into denial

Time and time again we've witnessed it happening in the press. No sooner do we celebrate the rare victory of a published letter highlighting the just cause of the Jewish refugees, than the following day or week, the letter-writer is shot down in flames.

True to form, in this issue's Economist (May 22), one Victor Sasson of New York, disputes Joe Abdel Wahed's assertion that Jews from Arab countries were brutally expelled:

Historical perspective

SIR – Joseph Abdel Wahed makes the claim that Jews were brutally expelled by Arab countries when Israel was founded (Letters, May 10th). As a Middle Eastern Jew who was a teenager in the 1950s, I never thought that my family and many thousands of Jews in my native country were expelled, let alone brutally expelled. Of course Arabs in general were not happy with the creation of the state of Israel and viewed all Middle Eastern Jews with suspicion, and there was discrimination. But to speak of expulsion or brutal expulsion undermines the continued real and brutal treatment of the Palestinians.

Victor Sasson, New York

In short: It wasn't really expulsion, and the Jews had it coming to them anyway; whatever Jews suffered, treatment of the Palestinians is far worse.

One can't really blame the Economist for printing a letter that vindicates its one-sided prejudices against Israel. But the Victor Sassons of this world represent a particularly Jewish phenomenon.

While researching his book on Arabs saving Jews in North Africa during World War ll, Robert Satloff was surprising to discover Jewish denial - a tendency to deny or gloss over Jewish suffering. He even met a Jew who claimed to have 'nice memories' of the Nazis.

Satloff concludes that denial was a mechanism for generation after generation of Jews to survive as dhimmis. Unswerving loyalty to the ruler provided the only safety shield against the capriciousness of the Muslim masses. Satloff's theory not only explains why some Jews were anxious to put a positive spin on the way they were treated by the Nazis, but by Arab society generally. This quote from his book Among the righteous (p178) puts it well:

Generally, when I asked Jews in Morocco and Tunisia about their own and their families' experience during the war, the usual refrain was: "It wasn't so bad."

"Only after several of these conversations did it occur to me that this sort of denial among Jews from Arab lands is part of their overall strategy for survival. As the last remnant of a people who had mastered the art of living as a tolerated community - sometimes protected, often abused, always second class - over 1,400 years of Muslim rule, these Jews long ago made peace with their lot. Their silence about the persecution they suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their Vichy and Fascist allies is just the latest in a string of silences. This is the same reflex to rush to the microphone after the Djerba and Casablanca bombings to assure the world that 'everything's fine.' It isn't of course. Life for the Jews in these countries hasn't been fine for a long time, and it is getting worse. Young Jews are voting with their feet. (...)

"Jews who did leave these Arab lands have a different approach. Much depends, of course, on when they left (..) and where they went - to Israel, France and North America. But the one thread that ties together these disparate waves of emigration is a sense of grievance. After all, these were the ones who left. Something compelled them to leave, and rarely was the allure to Zion alone powerful enough to do that. Like many emigrant groups, these Jews are nostalgic for their roots. (..) But nostalgia can only smooth over the hard edges of memory. These Jews left for a reason."

The question remains - does the Jew ever shake off this survival mechanism of denial, even when writing letters to The Economist from the safety and comfort of New York?

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