Saturday, October 01, 2011

Leftists confuse Arabic culture and politics

Lihi Yona discovered her 'Arab-Jewish' identity at a concert in Amman by the Lebanese band Mashrou3 Leila ( Photo: Mati Milstein)

The radical leftist Israeli site +972 never misses an opportunity to slag off Israel as a racist state, so when Israel's Channel 2 TV dug up an obscure propaganda video from 1953, it was a gift to one of +972's writers, Dimi Reider.

The video illustrates 'the forced Europeanisation of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, told through the story of a devoted European-Jewish soldier girl, “Ruthie”, and a filthy shack-dwelling Yemenite-Jewish boy, “Sa’adia”. The racism reeking from the 1953 film,' writes Dimi Reider, ' beggars belief: Sa’adia, we are told by the narrator, lives “in darkness”, eats with his hands, smokes in bed and gets beaten up by his parents; Ruthie reads, writes and eats with a knife and fork. The narration begins with “In the name of the World of Light, Ruthie will descend into the Dark World of the immigrant camp; she will give of her light to Sa’adia and bring him up to her level.”

The real-life Sa'adia ended his life as sacrificial canon-fodder for the Zionist state - he died in the Six Day War.

To our post-Zionist, multiculturalist, PC eyes, the video is indeed shocking. But it is a product of its time. In the 1950s, much of Asia and Africa had yet to undergo a process of de-colonisation. There were far worse examples of racism. In the Jim Crow southern states of the USA, blacks could not sit on the same bus as whites; apartheid in South Africa was at its height. Golf clubs in Britain and the US excluded Jews.

Yes, Israel made a moral choice to westernise its immigrants from the East. But it did not segregate them or deprive them of rights - they were accepted as full citizens, a luxury that was often not afforded them in Arab countries. Many of these immigrants would have been relieved to have moved to a democratic society governed by the rule of law, instead of oriental graft and caprice. If Israel discouraged 'Arab culture' in the 1950s, it has come back to haunt it with a vengeance, given the popularity of 'Mizrahi' pop culture. Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop.

Elsewhere on +972 western means bad, eastern means good. Lihi Yona rediscovers her identity as an 'Arab Jew' and ends up cheering for a Free Palestine at a pop concert in Amman, as if antisemitic politics are a sine qua non of Arab identity, along with the Arabic language and Um Kalthoum.

Ashkenazi Keren Sheffi, whose grandparents came from Poland, also journeyed to Amman to 'learn to belong to the Middle East'. Jews like Keren are so ridden with post-colonial guilt that they feel being a westernised, non-Arabic speaking Israeli is somehow not authentically 'Middle Eastern'.

I have news for you, Lihi and Keren. Not all Jews from the Middle East and North Africa were arabised, nor indeed were all Arabs - the Maronite Christians, for instance. Many Jews and Christians absorbed European culture and spoke English or French. The writer Jacqueline Kahanoff posits a third way - Levantinism* - reflecting the cosmopolitanism of her native Egypt.

You don't have to be an Arab to have an affinity for Arabic language or culture; Jews possess their own authentic Middle Eastern and North African history and culture as ancient as the millenarian Jewish presence in the region. To be a Jew in the Middle East should not involve concealing one's distinctive identity in order to become 'Arab' - an artificial construct, as any Kurd or Berber will tell you. And sadly, acculturation has never been the answer to antisemitism. It may not yet be the case in Amman, but such is the level of Jew-hatred in Arab Spring Egypt that you need merely to be taken for a Jew in order to be raped or lynched.

*with thanks: Pablo


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

The fact is that in 1953 when the film in question was made, Israel was ruled by the "Left." Mapai [now the Labor party] and Mapam were the dominant govt parties. Uplifting the benighted was an old leftist/socialist theme and ideal. The East or Orient was despised traditionally by Leftists in Europe, although the bolsheviks through Stalin declared their preference and favor for Muslims over non-Muslim peoples [such as Armenians] when there were conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, such as between Turks and Greeks, Turks and Armenians, Arabs and Jews.
Jews in general, including Ashkenazim, were held to be sinister or inferior since they were Asiatics.
Another historical fact that 972 overlooks is that when Western powers increased their influence in the Ottoman Empire and set up schools offering modern "Western" education [19th century], many of the dhimmi population started to attend these schools and even seek citizenship in Western states, which was possible in the Ottoman ruled lands and in Egypt [legally part of the Ottoman Empire till about 1920 but ruled by UK]. So many non-Muslim Middle Eastern people wanted to get away from Muslim domination and from too much Muslim/Arab culture. Has 972 considered that fact?

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

HaArets has published opinion articles and even news reports [such as one from 2 or 3 years ago by Gidon Levy] that insulted Oriental Jews.

bataween said...

From what you say, Eliyahu, it sounds like the Bolsheviks were infected with a similar 'untermenschen' prejudice as the Nazis. As with the Nazis, the Muslims appear to have managed to climb up the racial pecking order.
Yes, the possibility that Jews living among Arabs could be of western culture or even a sort of hotchpotch of West and East, as defined by Jacqueline Kahanoff as Levantinism, seems to have escaped 972 with its binary worldview.

The western education offered by the Alliance schools was certainly their meal ticket out of economic misery and as you say, many Jews sought European citizenship to protect themselves against the political insecurity of life in the Muslim world.

Anonymous said...

We were Italian Jews in Egypt but that did not prevent us being called "dirty Jews"
how about that?!!!
suzy vidal

SShendeR said...

Good article, but your apologetics receal that too are "guilty" of cultural relativism, and can't bring yourself to admit the Modern Western culture's superiority over its middle eastern counterpart.

While it is true that Jewish communities in Mulsim lands maintained a distinct identity, it would be ludicrous to deny that it was influenced by the host cultures to a great extent. In other words, Mizrahi Jews had (and some still have) much more in common with their Arab and Muslim hosts, than with European secular Zionists who established the modern Israel.

I would then argue that Western culture's values and precepts are superior to those of the Arabs. This subject has been covered substantially by many scholars of the middle east and the interracial dynamics inside Israel prove only reinforce that premise.

Sa'adya came from a more primitive culture at no fault of his own, and had Israel not taken its path of Westernization, it would have been another failing state among many.

The Ashkemazi establishment did well in trying to Westernize its Mizrahi population. Anything else would be disasterous for the country.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Bataween, I think that many many more Christian dhimmis than Jews sought to escape dhimmi status by obtaining the citizenship or subjecthood [also called "nationality"] in one of the Western states with outposts in the Ottoman Empire. This was possible originally on the grounds of the so-called "capitulation agreements" first made between France and the Ottoman Empire hundreds of years ago. As "Frenchmen" or Italians [in Suzy's case] or Britishers, in the case of George Antonius, an Arab nationalist only after being a British subject. Antonius by the way admired and supported the British Empire till his death in 1942, although his Arab nationalist tract, The Arab Awakening was published in 1938. Antonius, by the way, was awarded the CBE [commander of the Order of the British Empire]. He was a British imperialist as well as an Arab nationalist. Can 972 and that ilk deal with that fact??

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

SShender, there are really a lot of problems and pitfalls for Jews when the overly idealize Western culture. First, recall that Jews were usually considered alien to Europe and the West up to the end of WW2. This was certainly true in Britain where Victor Gollancz defined himself as an Oriental in the 1940s. Then, after Israeli independence, it became more usual to see Jews as Westerners and bearing Western culture. But this was a two-edged sword, as we can now see. Don't forget the hostility in bien-pensant circles in Europe, from Russia to Britain with the Germanic lands and France in between, towards Oriental culture although there was also a certain fascination with it among some [Richard Burton, Louis Massignon, several important painters, etc]. Enlightenment philosophy in Germany and France was openly hostile to the Orient [Kant, Hegel, Voltaire, d'Holbach, etc], and grounded its hatred and contempt for Jews [Jews in general, including Ashkenazim] on the Jews' being Orientals, indeed seeing Jews as inferior to other Oriental peoples. Of course, these philosophers could not be bothered with the differences between various Oriental peoples, esp. between Muslims and non-Muslims, not did they consider the precise history of the various peoples and of their pre-Islamic conquest contributions to civilization.

SS, I think you should reconsider any blanket acceptance or endorsement of Western civilization, esp. in view of its traditional Judeophobia. One of the problems of the Mizrahim was that those coming to Israel under influence from the German philosophic and cultural traditions [obviously including Marxists] had to be bothered by Jews who were too Oriental, whereas they were trying to live down what German culture told them was the shame of being Oriental.

The Soviet Marxists too were very hostile to Jewish culture and religion in any form. Consider Lenin and Stalin especially. Lenin wanted to see the Jews dejudaized. So Jews who were too Jewish were no good by definition.
Basically, the 972 crowd comes out of that tradition, with some curious mutations and/or transpositions, such as the transposition of the Jews' alien nature from Europe to the Middle East.

Independent Observer said...

Excellent comments above by Eliyahu.

"Lenin wanted to see the Jews dejudaized."

Indeed, there are Russian Jews who only saw a Torah in a Soviet Museum of Atheism. The atheist Soviet Union succeeded as well as the Nazis in relegating Judaism to a museum.

As for the Mizrahi-Sephardi-Ashkenasi issue, the issue is dead and almost buried; Dhimmi Reider has to go back half a century to dig it up. He does so because (a) the Israeli left is more loyal to the Euroleft-Islamofascist alliance than to Israel and (b) being profoundly anti-Semitic, that alliance will allow neither absolution for past Jewish mistakes, nor the human right of Jews to wash their own dirty linen in family.

Multi-cultural aspects to their credit, the Jewish people are one.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

In contrast to the film mentioned by 972, there was a film in 1964 that demonstrated the kind of prejudices around at the time. Further, this was a film made by a "rightist" which satirizes Leftists, also bearing out what I said above. I refer to Sallah Shabati, by Ephraim Kishon. Among other things, it was a satire on the kibbutzim and the rigidity of their beliefs. In the film, Sallah has an encounter with a leader of the nearby kibbuts. She is depicted as the stereotype of the bolshevik female commisar. At one point, she chides Sallah for something unprogressive that he has just said:

BFC: Mr Shabbati!! We are living in the 20th century.
Shabbati: I live in the ma`abara.

bataween said...

Terrific lines from a great movie!