Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post-Zionist' Arab Jews' rewrite history to flatter

Lately, 'new historians' and post-Zionists calling themselves 'Arab Jews' have emerged in the Israeli academy whose mission is to rewrite history out of flattery and subservience to Arabs. Salim Fattal's new book* is a brave attempt to fight back. Shammai Fishman interviewed Fattal:

Salim Fattal (pictured) is a Jew of Iraqi origin who was born in Baghdad in 1930 and came to Israel in 1950. A communist by background, he abandoned this movement in the mid-Fifties. He studied at the Hebrew University and was a pioneer of Israeli radio and television programmes in Arabic. In 1989 he directed a series of documentaries about the Jews of Babylon.

The pogrom (Farhud) of Baghdad broke out in early June 1941, after sixty days of the pro-Nazi regime of Rashid Ali. The pogrom killed 200 Jews. It was well organised and planned. The Jews were taken by surprise. Salim Fattal notes that the pogrom was a critical turning point that led to the Jewish exodus from Iraq.

In recent years so-called "new historians" or "post-Zionists" like Professor Sasson Somekh of Tel Aviv University have emerged. They have tried to downplay the importance of the pogrom, distort the facts or deny them. Salim Fattal's book is a brave attempt to fight back against this destructive tendency.

Arab propaganda arguments have already made use of Sasson Somekh's Farhud revisionism. Egyptian author Jamal Ahmed al - Rifai wrote a review article that appeared in the Arabic Hilal magazine (May 2007) and the magazine Al - Sharq that appears in Israel. Even more bizarre was Sasson Somekh's claim three years ago in a lecture at Vanderbilt University in the United States that more Muslims were killed than Jews in the pogrom:

"We forget that while 150 Jews were killed, at least 200 Muslims were killed in those riots and those 200 Muslims were killed because they wanted to protect their Jewish neighbours and this fact should be written in letters of fire."

Salim Fattal patiently explains, in a well-reasoned manner, how Somekh's claim is unreasonable and unacceptable. First he asks whether anyone questioned the families themselves who these dead Muslims are. He gives an example of Hussein Mansour, a Druze officer who saved a 13-year-old Jewish girl from drowning while he drowned. Mansour immediately became a hero and a model of human relations between Jews and non-Jews. Salim says it is a classic story of a single rescue and a single sacrifice.

"But in Baghdad in 1941 it is claimed there were 250 such stories. Just imagine what eternal fame those brave Arabs would enjoy in Iraq and abroad. They would be immortalized in books, movies, theater, media ..." Salim Fattal adds another layer to this argument: "For this reason alone, no Jew or Arab can forget and / or erase the pogrom and 250 of the alleged Righteous Muslims." But Somekh, according to Fattal, calls himself an Arab Jew: it seems that "a growing Arab-Jewish identity causes the positive image of the Arab side to cancel out the negative impact of the pogrom."

Salim Fattal here raises another comparison: just as you can not imagine that the residents of Kafr Qassem should forget the 1956 massacre in their village, so there is no basis for the Farhud pogrom to be forgotten in the collective consciousness of the Iraqi Jews. Somekh argues that continuing economic prosperity made them forget the pogrom in the Forties, but is it conceivable to argue that because economic prosperity Kafr Qasem residents have forgotten their massacre? Fattal continues: "Remember, the Kishinev pogrom became a symbol among Jews of the world. The memory of the pogrom in Kfar Qassem became the symbol of its residents and the residents of Israel, both Jews and Arabs. And the pogrom of Baghdad, the most deadly of the three, is declared by Somekh as forgettable." Here Salim Fattal confronts Somekh's claim that the pogrom was not a historic turning point and produces other evidence that it was the most crucial turning point for the deportation and emigration of Iraqi Jews.

Fattal summarizes Somekh's attitude as "sub-sensitive" to the suffering of the Jewish community, and greatly sensitive to the suffering of the Arabs.

In another case, Fattal visited scholar Reuven Snir, a scholar of Arabic literature who published a 'vegetarian' study on Iraqi-Jewish literature published by the Ben Zvi Institute (2006) failing to mention that the actual voices of the Iraqi Jews were silenced by the repressive regime. Salim Fattal details at length the restrictions and discriminatory laws Iraq imposed on the Jews between 1948 to 1952, the humiliating deprivation of citizenship and expropriation of their property.

Salim Fattal argues against an artificial 'Arab - Jewish' identity invented by a collection of new post-Zionist historians to rewrite history through politically-motivated flattery and subservience to the Arabs.

Salim Fattal says that the phrase 'Arab Jew' did not exist for the Jews of Arab countries and therefore was not used in Iraq, nor by the people, nor the press or media, not in the textbooks and governmental institutions. " They were 100% Jewish," says Fattal. "Only in Israel have we become 'half-Jews'."

In summary the book by Salim Fattal represents the voice of the silent majority among Iraqi Jews in Israel and the Middle East who feel a partnership with the fate of the Jewish people. They are ready to pursue dialogue and talk peace with the Arabs. Salim Fattal himself says he is rooted in Arab society, but under no circumstances are the Jews willing to forget memories of exile in the days of Ishmael.

Fighting revisionism - and this blog's part in it

*An idol in the temple of the Israeli academy - Remembering the pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad in 1941: a struggle over Jewish identity and historical truth (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass Press, 2010) 192 pp. by Salim Fattal

Shammai Fishman is Chairman of the Motzkin centre for the promotion of Arabic language instruction. He has an MA from the Department of Arabic Language and Literature from the Hebrew University.


Anonymous said...

Cafe Noah: Cultural exile in Israel
A reminiscence of a by-gone era for a group of Jewish Arab musicians and their struggle to keep their music alive.



bataween said...

thanks Bh, terrific.

Sylvia said...

Regarding Sasson Somekh I do not doubt for a moment that he is sincere when he calls himself an Arab Jew. He belongs to that generation now in their seventies of a few Jews who were educated in Arabic in Iraq in the 1930s and for a reason or another were exposed more than others to massive arabization and the imposition of Arabness as an identity and Arabism as an ideology - in a scale that no other Arab country has known, not even Nasser's Egypt.
And yet, it could be that his personal experience was more horrendous than others'. The greater the oppression, the greater the denial. The Bible already speaks of this strange phenomenon: when the Israelites were in hardship in the desert after two hundred years of slavery in Egypt, they remembered the lentils they ate in Egypt, and forgot all about the slavery. We see that with German Jews for example such as the Shocken family who fled Germany after Kristanacht, but returned to associate with a company that had worked for the Nazis. When Uri Avneri, also a refugee from Nazi Germany wants to badmouth Israel, he goes to German TV and Der Spiegel.

But most importantly, we know that Jews were very attached to their countries of origin and many of them were nationalists who wanted to fight for it either for its independence and/or a brighter future as equals. Arab identity provided them with the illusion of equality, "just like Muslims and Christians in Lebanon". There were Jews who prepared explosives in the service of the Algerian Revolution, Jews who were internationally known for their anti-colonialist writings, Jews who preached social reforms for all. But once the goals they fought for were attained, and Jews were kicked out of their own countries, they sobered up and abandoned that identity. Sasson Somekh never did, and that's OK with me. It's different when it's an institution doing it or when it is taught out of a pseudo-history book.

And there are the one-staters (most of them Ashkenazis) who insist on the name "Arab Jew" but for an entirely different reason.

bataween said...

I think there is a simpler explanation - Somekh has gone 'native'. He spent some years in Egypt recently running the Israeli cultural office there.
He was never a communist, and it is usually communists who call themselves 'Arab Jews'. As for whether his experience of Iraq was so horrendous that he is suffering a kind of Shocken syndrome, you could argue that Fattal's experience in the Farhud was equally horrendous, yet it did not have the same effect.

Sylvia said...

These are only a few reasons why one may take an identity his parents never knew they had. Having said that, Sasson Somekh can define himself as he wishes since that is how he sees himself. Another thing is to call entire groups by names they never gave themselves or they were never given in their countries of origin.
In that perspective, I reject the name "Mizrahi" as well.

Sylvia said...

Bataween Sasson Somekh didn't just "go native" he has been writing and publishing in Arabic all along.