Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cambridge 'Arab Jews' conference based on denial

A major three-day conference begins tomorrow in Cambridge entitled Jews of Arab culture, 1948 - 2009. It is being organised by the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish relations and the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge. Giving the opening address is Prince el Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan (Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies in Amman).

So far, so very 'interfaith'. Several respected Israeli academics, some with international reputations, are due to give papers. The conference also features a slew of Arab academics. Any event that spotlights Jewish-Arab interaction and cultural interchange must be a good thing.

But on closer examination, something appears very odd. The conference time-frame begins not 1,000 years ago, when Jews first began to interact with Muslims following the Arab Muslim conquest, but in 1948, when the mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries was in full train. By 2009, almost no Jews live in the Arab world.

The conference has deliberately chosen to focus on Israel, where most Jews of Arab culture have ended up. Its message is clear: Israel has 'de-arabised' Jews from Arab countries. They have been stripped of their Arabic culture. (For good measure, the conference throws in a couple of sessions on Palestinian literature in Israel. No doubt, the conference will also show how Israel has suppressed Palestinian Arab culture.) Conclusion: Jews must re-connect with their 'Arabic roots' and their Arab brothers and together throw off the oppressive Zionist yoke.

Some of the Jewish lecturers are well-known leftists or advocates of Jewish-Muslim coexistence on Arab terms:
Yosef Tobi, an Israeli of Yemeni origin, would like to return to the Golden Age of Spain. He denies that Yemeni Jews were mistreated before the 15th century. Therafter persecution had more to do with the 'general breakdown of law and order than an exclusive anti-Jewish sentiment'.
Almog Behar, author of the poem Ana min al yahoud, has argued that the Arabic language is intrinsic to Jewish identity.
Sassoon Somekh, an ex-communist emeritus professor of Arabic literature, has produced a new theory in which 250 Muslims died saving Jews in the 1941 Iraqi pogrom known as the Farhoud: the Farhoud thus ceases to be an anti-Jewish event.
Ami Elad-Bouskila has published works on the 'Israeli hegemonic cultural predisposition' towards modern Palestinian literature and culture.
Rachel Shabi (tbc), author of Not the enemy, a chronicle of discrimination and cultural suppression of Mizrahim by Ashkenazim in Israel.
Jonathan Mendel,founder of the Cambridge Musta'arabim Unit whose mission is 'Re-arabising the de-arabised'.

Sadly, this conference looks like it will be another Israel-bashing exercise masquerading as an 'interfaith' initiative.

The real issue here is: why does the conference programme studiously avoid discussing the persecution and 'ethnic cleansing' of Jews from the Arab world? Why does it intend to deny their suffering? Why are there no Jewish authors or poets still living in Baghdad or Cairo? Why are there only seven Jews still in Iraq of a community of 150,000? That is a hard truth that Prince Talal and his Cambridge collaborators probably do not yet feel brave enough to confront.

Postscript: from one day's attendance the conference was not as 'political' as feared. Much discussion was mainly about language and literature. The session with Rachel Shabi, with her allegations of discrimination againt Mizrahim, attracted much criticism from the floor, which she took gracefully; Yosef Tobi (perhaps unfairly maligned above) and Shmuel Moreh represented mainstream Israeli opinion and scholarship.


Anonymous said...

How bizarre, the assumption that all the peoples of the near east, save for Persians, Kurds and Armenians, are native "Arabs".

bataween said...

Quite. Of course the Left does not recognise the existence of Arab imperialism - they can only be indigenous, brown victims of western colonialism....

Anonymous said...


Off topic:

Not sure how reliable the site is.


Victor said...

Seconding what previous comments have said, I'd like to add that this "conference" is a joke. Once again, Jews are being defined by others, this time it's Arabs defining Jews as a "sub-group" of Arabs, just as they have done to Assyrians and others. Rather than "re-arabising" what has been "de-arabised," the clowns at this conference want to strip Jews of their Judaism, as if Judaism is a sub-branch of Islam.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Victor, they are also reversing the historical sequence of events, forgetting that Judaism preceded Islam and that Jews preceded Arabs in the Fertile Crescent countries.

That said, I know Yosef Tobi somewhat and I am surprised at the claims and positions attributed to him. To be sure, I have not met him for years. If his views are as described here then he may have undergone a process of rhinocerization [as in Ionesco's play]. Nowadays it is profitable to take the positions of those supposed to speak at this conference. Maybe Tobi or others think they're getting some well-deserved gravy by saying what the conference organizers want.
Anyhow, who is putting up the money for such a conference?? Certain ideas have a lot of money behind them.

bataween said...

The views attributed to Tobi can be found here
Arab money is funding this conference.

Titus said...

What a bunch of bigots you are. Armchair pundits, who have no idea what the conference is about. I have at least participated and am in a position to comment; you are not. HRH Prince Hassan made an effort to promote, peace and understanding. Shame on you, but your ilk, does not understand the concept of shame. Please, enough, about your suffering.

Titus said...

You say the conference is "Arab funded". I say, you are funded by racists like Lieberman and Netanhayu. I am neither Muslim or Jew, How would you feel if I alleged you're funded by Mossad ?

bataween said...

It sounds to me that this conference, which is supposed to promote peace and understanding, has had exactly the opposite effect on you!

Victor said...

Well put, bataween. And remember: the more right you are, the more hysterical the shrieking from idiots like "TitusLivius."

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Victor, this "TitusLivius" seems to identify with the Roman historian usually called Livy in English. But there was another Titus. He was one of the Roman generals who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple there and after whom the Arch of Titus in Rome is named.

It seems rather culturally insensitive --does it not?-- of our "tituslivius" to pontificate on Jewish matters.

IndependentObserver said...

It is disgusting to here the Western left speak of Iran's "natural right to influence in the Mideast". This is an apology for outright imperialism by a nation wich cannot even guarantee basic rights to its own citizens.

Israeli progressives demonstrate in favour of Arabs at Beilin. Where are the Iranians demonstrating in favour of the rights of Iranian Jews?

Where are any Muslims demonstrating in favour of the rights of Sephardic Jews?

The minority of Sephardim supporting the "Arab jew" concept should be ashamed of their de facto collusion with the Arab world to erase the separate Jewish identity and right to self-detemrination.

Titus said...

"Go to this people and say

you will be ever hearing, but never understanding

you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving

For this people's heart has become calloused

they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes

otherwise, they might see with their eyes

Hear with their ears
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them

bataween said...

Ah Titus - so you are Jesus now?

Titus said...


I am quoting from Isaiah

bataween said...

It's also in Matthew 13:15 and Acts 28:26 - 27
Here's a good quote:
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:22)

Titus said...

Bataween, are you familiar with the Balfour declaration ? It is concise and to the point. For your enlightenment I have posted it.

Anonymous said... - Sayed Kashua's take on the conference

Titus said...

Why do so many of you hide behind tags such as anonymous and use pictures of their mothers instead of themselves ? Why do you not reciprocate and allow me to access your profiles ? If your Haaretz journalist can only comment on his hunger, what hope ?