Friday, April 03, 2009

The myth of Jewish Arabs exposed in the Guardian

Following Khaled Diab's puff piece for Rachel Shabi's new book, Not the enemy, Comment is Free posts this rebuttal from Lyn Julius. Not only is the 'ethnic divide' not what it was, she says, but Jews are not Arabs:

There is no denying that in Israel there is discrimination and an ethnic divide. Choice quotes from Israel's leaders in the 1950s do betray contempt for Mizrahim – the 40% of Jewish Israelis who hail from Arab lands. As Rachel Shabi writes in Not The Enemy, they were portrayed as 'weak, dirty, poor, culturally deficient and superstitious".

That's because many immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa were poor, badly educated, unwashed and superstitious. Israel took in the most destitute, the poor, the sick, the elderly and the stateless – because they were Jews with nowhere else to go. Those with education, means and connections mostly went to western Europe or the Americas.

Who would not be bitterly disappointed at the windswept transit camps (ma'abarot) which awaited the Mizrahim in "paradise"? Six hundred thousand Jews flooded into the struggling Jewish state in the 1950s: penniless Jewish refugees housed in leaky tents with insufficient food.

But the Israel of the 50s, where European and Middle Eastern culture undoubtedly clashed, is not the Israel of today. Shabi's claim that "Mizrahi ethnic music is banned from public playlists" strains credulity when Mizrahi artists such as Sarit Haddad, David Broza, Dana International, Avinoam Nini and Ofra Haza are all thoroughly mainstream. Chaqshooka, falafel and mujadera are staples of Israeli food. Mizrahim have reached the highest echelons of political life. Israel has had Mizrahi ministers, a president, and senior military figures.

Most importantly, intermarriage is running at 25%. More and more Israelis are the product of mixed marriages. If this trend continues there will be no such thing as a Mizrahi or an Ashkenazi in the Israeli melting pot.

True – Israel initially rejected the immigrants' Middle Eastern culture, mocked their accents and frowned on them speaking Arabic. But Israel also rejected the old mitteleuropean culture and the speaking of Yiddish, for equally ethnocentric reasons. At least thousands of Arabic-speaking Jews were able to put their skills to good use working in Israel intelligence, staffing Israel's Arabic broadcasting networks and setting up departments of Arabic studies in free-thinking Israeli universities that became the envy of the Middle East.

Read post in full

Crossposted at Z-word blog

3 comments:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

The Arab nationalists themselves have had a hard defining an Arab; who is included in and who is excluded from that category. One of the definitions is whoever speaks Arabic is an Arab. Going by that principle of what language one speaks, the Irish are English, the Scots are English, the Americans, Canadians, and so on are English.
Prof Louis-Noel Harfouche, who comes from Lebanon and is now in the United States, disputes that definition and says that in any case it does not apply to Lebanon, where the spoken tongue is Lebanese [in his words], not Arabic, although there is a linguistic relationship.

Now, the Jews in the Arab lands were traditionally called Jews throughout history, not Arabs, as far as I know. Moreover, they were always treated as a separate group since the rise of Islam. This is in addition to the Jews' ancient pride in being Jews. They could hardly feel proud of belonging to the people that oppressed and humiliated and rejected them.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

correction:
The Arab nationalists themselves have had a hard TIME defining...

bataween said...

Quite right - the Egyptians do not think of themselves as Arabs - as this Wiki extract says:" In 1931, following a visit to Egypt, Syrian Arab nationalist Sati' al-Husri remarked that "[Egyptians] did not possess an Arab nationalist sentiment; did not accept that Egypt was a part of the Arab lands, and would not acknowledge that the Egyptian people were part of the Arab nation."[25] The later 1930s would become a formative period for Arab nationalism in Egypt, in large part due to efforts by Syrian/Palestinian/Lebanese intellectuals.[26] Nevertheless, a year after the establishment of the League of Arab States in 1945, to be headquartered in Cairo, Oxford University historian H. S. Deighton was still writing:
“ The Egyptians are not Arabs, and both they and the Arabs are aware of this fact. They are Arabic-speaking, and they are Muslim —indeed religion plays a greater part in their lives than it does in those either of the Syrians or the Iraqi. But the Egyptian, during the first thirty years of the [twentieth] century, was not aware of any particular bond with the Arab East... Egypt sees in the Arab cause a worthy object of real and active sympathy and, at the same time, a great and proper opportunity for the exercise of leadership, as well as for the enjoyment of its fruits. But she is still Egyptian first and Arab only in consequence, and her main interests are still domestic.[27]"

The Jews were indeed always Jews but under the Ottomans people defined themselves by religion (Muslims, Christians, Jews). The appelation'Arabs' tended to refer to Beduin from outside the towns.