Thursday, May 23, 2013
Shasha: where are the Middle Eastern Jews?
David Shasha (pictured) is having a bad week.
Two articles on the trot have upset this director of the Sephardic Heritage Center in New York: the first by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad on Al-Jazeera managed to offend so many that it was briefly pulled; the second on Open Zion, 'Throw away that rusty Key', a response to an article on the Palestinian Nakba, was featured on Point of No Return.
About the first article, a bizarre and twisted rant conflating antisemites, Nazis and Zionists - the less said the better. What bothers Shasha most, writing in Mondoweiss about Massad's piece, is that Sephardim are absent from pro-Palestinian discourse. Massad insists on identifying Jews as Ashkenazim in his desperation to equate Jews with white settler colonialists:
It is therefore ironic that Massad, in seeking to counter Zionism, affirms its basic dogma that Jews are Europeans and not Middle Easterners. The contentious, ugly, and hateful battle between pro-Israel and anti-Israel forces is thus underscored by a rejection of Arab Jewish history and identity.
There are only two voices permitted in this discussion, Shasha laments: the Ashkenazi voice and the Arab voice. Thus far, we couldn't agree more.
Then his argument begins to unravel:
Sephardim have no allies in this battle and those Sephardim who remain convinced that they are a part of this discussion are seriously mistaken.
A perfect example of this, Shasha continues, is The Open Zion article by Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif.
What we see in all of Lyn Julius’ articles is a deeply devoted commitment to Zionism. Her advocacy marks Arab Jews as victims and supports the idea that the Jews of Middle East are indeed just like the Palestinians; homeless refugees who were oppressed by their host countries. What the article misses is the larger history of Jewish life in the Arab-Muslim world and some articulation of the glorious culture that it produced. All that we see is the hatred of the Arabs in a way that parrots the standard Israeli-Zionist approach.
Here Shasha is on much shakier ground: the glorious culture of Jewish life in the Arab Muslim world appears something of a red herring when Jews were forced to run for their lives from Arab countries. It's like saying that no discussion of the Jews escaping Nazi Germany is possible without a mention of the glorious contribution to German culture of Heine, Mendelssohn and Marx.
This is not to say that Jews from Arab countries were all Zionists - many were not. But one thing is sure: the establishment of Israel made the difference between life and death, offering the great mass of Jewish refugees an unconditional safe haven - be they rich or poor, old or young, sick or healthy, uneducated or skilled.
It would be nice to know what Shasha means by 'the standard Israeli-Zionist approach', when Israeli politics contains every shade of opinion and sentiment. However, it's no accident that Jews from Arab countries are amongst the political hawks, deeply mistrustful of their erstwhile Arab masters and still smarting from their recent experience of persecution and violence.
Shasha's argument then proceeds to leave the rails altogether, as he charges that the organisations Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), JIMENA and Harif are there to 'do the Israeli government's bidding.'
"These are organizations that work hand in glove with the Zionist organizations in a way that seeks to aid Israel in its attempt to negate the claims of the Palestinian Arabs. In the course of this advocacy the matter of anti-Sephardi racism on the part of Ashkenazi Israel is completely ignored.
So these 'Sephardi' organisations are actually working against the better interests of Sephardim as a whole. Using Shasha's twisted logic, Sephardim should not be asking for recognition or compensation, because that benefits the Ashkenazi-dominated establishment in Israel. (No mention of the rights of Jewish refugees outside Israel, either.)
As for Shasha's smear that the three resource-starved organisations named above, who have struggled for years for public attention, are 'fronts' for the Israeli government, Stan Urman of JJAC told Point of No Return:
"JJAC generally, and me personally, have been vitriolically attacked by David. We must be doing something right!"
For Gina Waldman of JIMENA, 'there would be no greater honor".
Lyn Julius of Harif found the idea hilarious: "I never laughed so hard in my life," she said.