Friday, June 11, 2010

What about Mizrahi Jews, Helen Thomas?

Ignorant and hurtful: those two adjectives just about sum up Helen Thomas's notorious remarks. Has she ever heard of Mizrahi Jews? Read my post on Comment is Free Watch.

If you still haven’t heard of Helen Thomas, you have not been reading The Guardian. Ever since the grande dame of the Washington DC press corps told Jews to ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘back home to Germany and Poland’ our favourite newspaper has run no less than seven pieces or blogs about her.

With an exquisite sense of timing, the veteran journalist made her ignorant and hurtful remarks to a rabbi with a video camera at a reception hosted by President Obama to celebrate Jewish Heritage Day.

We are told that Helen Thomas, who will soon be 90, shares a birthday with President Obama. Let’s hope he also does not share her antisemitic views. Although Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, did apologise, she was forced to resign her post with Hearst Newspapers. Critics were particularly stung at her reference to Germany and Poland. She could not have picked two places where Jews have suffered more in Europe. (Besides, as Richard Cohen pointed out in the Washington Post, 1,500 Jews did try to ‘go home’ to Poland after the Second World War, only to be murdered.)

As Amos Oz once wrote, before the establishment of the Jewish state antisemites were always telling Jews to go to Palestine. Now they tell Jews to get out of Palestine. Although most Jews living there were born in Israel and some have been in Palestine for generations – and Eretz Israel is the cradle of Jewish religion, culture and the Hebrew language – Thomas perpetuates the commonly–held Guardianista canard, aired below Roy Greenslade’s blog entry, that Jews are imposters from Europe who came to usurp the land from the native inhabitants.

Yet at the same time that Thomas’s controversial remarks were made public, the results of a genetic study were announced : not only were Jews from communities around the world genetically related to each other, but their DNA could be traced back to the Middle East. Not that genes alone determine peoplehood, but this news gives the lie to the favoured Guardianista myth that European Jews are converts descended from the Turkic Khazars.

In all the Thomas affair furore, however, few critics have actually pointed out that half of Jews living in Israel are Mizrahim, originally from Arab and Muslim countries. They are as indigenous to the region as any Arab Muslim – in fact more so, as most Jewish communities predated Islam by 1,000 years. As Naim Kattan writes in Farewell Babylon, ‘An Arab could not tell a Jew to go home as the Jew had been there before him.”

How and why did they end up in Israel? Simply because they were driven out by Arab and Muslim antisemitism. Their land and property was stolen by Arab governments for no other reason than they were Jews. Were Helen Thomas ever to acknowledge the fact, it would be just as perverse for her to suggest that Mizrahim ‘go home’ to such hotbeds of anti-Jewish hatred as Libya, Yemen and Syria, as to the killing fields of Germany and Poland.

Reacting to Zamalek’s comment that “Thomas therefore not only perpetuates the propaganda myth that Israeli Jews are colonisers from Europe, but ignores the Arab and Muslim antisemitism that drove a million Jews out of the Miiddle East to seek refuge in Israel and the West” the stock responses betray a parallel Guardianista universe:

*Jews of the Middle East are really Arabs (e.g. EndtheOccupation)

*Jews lived together in perfect harmony before Israel (e.g. ElliotCB) and many Jews reached high office in the Ottoman empire (e.g. EndtheOccupation)

*Antisemitism did not exist (e.g. Shrekll) or only became a problem after the establishment of Israel (e.g. Salamaleque)

*Jews did not live in ghettos and intermarried with Muslims (e.g. ElliotCB)

* Zionism caused the great exodus to Israel (e.g. EndtheOccupation)

For most of their 14 centuries of ‘coexistence’ with Muslims, the status of Jews most closely resembled that of Jews in medieval Christendom. Jews were tolerated as long as they were useful to their Muslim hosts: they lived as a humiliated and subjugated minority (dhimmi) at the mercy of their rulers, to whom they paid protection money. They were ‘untouchables’ under Shia Islam. The religious communities were segregated and rarely intermarried. Jews in Morocco and Persia did live in ghettos until quite recently; the only time in history when Mizrahi rights were protected by law was under the colonial period. In truth, Jews are no more Arabs than Mexicans are Spaniards.

The ostriches of the Greenslade comments thread will not admit that Arab antisemitism predated the creation of Israel by centuries. They pretend that the dozens of blood libels, pogroms and forced conversions of the 19th and 20th century () did not happen. They refuse to acknowledge the rise of nationalist xenophobia and Nazi-inspired Jew-hating fundamentalism, mixed with anti-Jewish Islamic themes, in the 1930s. It was Arab governments, not Zionism, who conflated Jew and Zionist.

Zionism provided a response to Arab and Muslim antisemitism – it was not its cause. The non-Zionist Jews of Iraq, traumatised by the Farhud pogrom of 1941 in which 180 Jews were murdered, fled to Israel primarily because they feared another Farhud. The Jews of Libya, homeless after the 1945 pogrom in which in 140 died, left for Israel in droves in 1948. For the first time, they had a place to go – a Jewish state that would restore their dignity, security and rights.

But let’s return to Helen Thomas. Journalists have attributed her intemperate remarks to her Arab descent. Lebanese Christian Arabs have a long tradition of theological antisemitism. On the other hand, they have also produced such champions of Jews and Israel as Joseph Farah and Brigitte Gabriel.

In his incriminating video, Rabbi Nesenoff tries to engage Helen Thomas in Arabic conversation. She confesses she does not speak the language: “us children were too busy Americanising our parents,” she admits. I suppose Helen Thomas won’t be’ going home’ to Lebanon any time soon.

Read comments thread


Anonymous said...

The complete nonsense is definitely all the Jewish/Zionist propaganda being spewed all over the world for decades....You keep repeating so many lies and utter nonsense for so many years, that you have ended up believing your own crappy bullshit....enjoy it while it lasts.

Rebecca said...

Wow, what an informed, nuanced response, Anonymous! Do you have an argument, or do you just know how to insult people?

in the vanguard said...

Our anonomous commenter shows cowardice, stupidity and hate, 3 well-known characteristics of moslems or their liberal sympathizers. They hate Jews more than they love their kids. Thus the phenomenon of suicide killers.

MK Gross said...

According to her official website, Ms Thomas was born in Kentucky in 1920.

Nadeen said...

You seem to put the Mizrahi Jews and the zionists on the same side of the coin. The Mizrahi's were recruited by the zionists only because they couldn't recruit european jews. When they arrived to Palestine, they suffered the utmost persecution and sometimes pogroms by the Zionist gov. itself. The Minzrahi's actually identified with the Palestinian Arabs because their plight was essentially the same. I think if they suffered anti-semitism, it would certainly be from the direction of the Israeli, zionist authoroties the most. This has been the case for a long time, I dont know if it has changed now. As for Helen Thomas's comments, maybe she does mean to single out the European jews because they have spewed propaganda the most, and have even let other jews suffer at their hands. Think of that!

bataween said...

Not one thing you say is true - educated yourself, Nadeen, instead of swallowing lies and propaganda
-A Mizrahi Jew

MK Gross said...

4/18/2012 10:22:00 AM
[US Congressional] Lawmakers to [PA President] Abbas: Medal to [Helen] Thomas endangers U.S. aid
because it violates a condition in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2011 that requires the PA to be "actively preparing its people for peace through compromise with messages of tolerance, understanding, and reconciliation."

Representative Steve Chabot, a Republican representing the state of Ohio, is the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Eliot Engel is a Democrat representing the state of New York.

The two lawmakers told the Washington Jewish Week that they had sent a letter to Mr. Abbas on April 6th because the medal is "tantamount to accepting and agreeing with her call for Jews in Palestine to go back to 'Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.' ... You cannot be considered an advocate for peace if you publicly honor an individual who has expressed such open hostility to the Jewish state."

everywhere else?

Michelle said...

June 2012
Helen Thomas has received a standing ovation in spite of--or perhaps because of--her work and her views.

American News Women's Club's had a roast for CNN anchor Candy Crowley , who received ANWC's 18th Excellence in Journalism Award named after Thomas.
[the pejorative quotation marks come from the byline of Something Extra by Editor Phil Jacobs]
ANWC names its award after a person who has strongly suggested that the Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine." That remark led to her firing as a Hearst Corp. columnist in 2010. Later that year, the "newswoman" in a Dearborn, Mi. speech, said she did not regret her words. She said that "Zionists" are the hidden hand behind U.S. government policy and opinion vis a vis Israel. She then went to two old standards that the Jews "control" the White House and Hollywood.

Why have these journalists applauded Ms Thomas? Her calumnies against US Jews are ironically false, given the award venue. Her audiences accept her false diatribes as fact, even though they incite hatred and resentment against their fellow Americans.

In all the furore about Thomas's remarks, why do none of her adoring colleagues let her know that her reporting is in err?

Most Israeli Jews were born in Israel; half the Jews of Israel don't originate from Europe at all, but the Middle East and North Africa. Why does Helen Thomas believe that Jews should go back to hotbeds of antisemitism in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and even Lebanon? Does she intend to escort them back?

Anonymous said...

And yet, there is a well documented history of discrimination in Israel against Jewish peoples from Ethiopia, Yemen and so on. Even Mizrahi Jews are underrepresented in terms of university placements and earn less money than their Ashkenazi brethren.
There is definite racism against non-European descendent Jews, it's been well documented and it's very disingenuous of you to imply that there isn't a double standard applied to Jews in Israel that is dependent on their skin colour &/or ethnic heritage.
Zionism is not the same as Judaism, nor is criticism of Zionism the same as being anti-semitic (for example, note the Jewish students chanting "death to all Arabs during the recent escalation of violence in Gaza- as if Yemeni Jews aren't Arabs).

bataween said...

Yemenite Jews are not Arabs.