Friday, January 20, 2006

Ilan Pappe gets a response

Writing in the London Review of Books of 2 December about the election of Amir Peretz to the leadership of the Labour party, Dr Ilan Pappe makes five controversial statements in two paragraphs:

"There may be something positive to come out of Peretz’s election. He is the unlikely product of an education system that failed to provide school leavers with a chance of holding their own in the Israeli economy while implanting in their minds the need to de-Arabise: to forget – indeed, to wrench themselves fromtheir Arab roots. They learned that the way to integrate yourself into Israeli Jewish society was to adopt strong anti-Arab and, more particularly, anti-Palestinian positions. This is why towns like Sderot were built near the unstable and quite often violent borders of Israel. It is easier to feel hatred or animosity when you live in constant danger of being shelled or attacked.

"Amir Peretz has shown that you can make it from Sderot to the top by adopting leftist Zionist views. His prospective policies are not enough to change anything, but perhaps the next generation of Moroccan Jews will produce a leader capable of going one step further in liberating himself or herself from anti-Arab Orientalist ideologies of superiority – and, in so doing, influence the thinking of Israeli society as a whole. It ought to be possible for outlooks to change. After all, 99 per cent of the inhabitants of Sderot and places like it are not candidates for the premiership; nor are they likely to find jobs, proper housing or education, or peace of mind. They are victims of Zionism as much as the Palestinians are. Let us hope that a sense of shared victimhood will one day provide a joint leadership and a genuine road map or train ticket out of our misery here in Israel and in Palestine."

In their 26 January issue the LRB printed the following letter in response :

Most Mizrahim, despite being Arabic in culture and language, would wince at Ilan Pappe’s description of them as ‘Arab Jews’ (LRB, 15 December 2005). Their ancient, now extinct communities predated the Arab Islamic conquest by a thousand years. The Mizrahim do not see themselves as Jewish Arabs, nor do they generally feel victimised by the ‘Ashkenazi’ Zionist establishment. This is not to deny that they are seriously affected by discrimination and poverty. But the Mizrahim, who make up half of the Jewish population, have also managed to reach the highest echelons of society in a single generation. Amir Peretz’s rise to power isn’t a flash in the pan: the foreign minister is a Tunisian Jew and the president an Iranian Jew. Pappe is wrong to suggest that a prerequisite for integration was the adoption of ‘strong anti-Arab positions’ by Mizrahi Jews. Some 600,000 Mizrahim came as penniless refugees from oppressive Arab states and would be the first to understand that under Pappe’s ‘one-state solution’ the Jews would revert to being a persecuted minority in an Arab country.

Lyn Julius

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