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