Sunday, October 07, 2012

Why it is 'cool' to suppress 'Mizrahi' history

 Jewish merchants in Baghdad, 1910

For decades the history of persecution and Jewish suffering in Arab countries, ignored, minimised or a rationalised as an 'understandable backlash' to the creation of the Jewish state, has been eclipsed by the charge that they suffered 'discrimination' on arrival in Israel. Now their rights to justice are being denigrated by 'progressive' Jews of Sephardi origin, who object to any assault on Palestinian exceptionalism, argues Lyn Julius in The Times of Israel:

It is disturbing that the mere mention of Jews from Arab countries triggers an association with ‘discrimination’ at the hands of their Ashkenazi brethren. To be sure, discrimination loomed large in the 1950s, but it is no longer a serious issue today. The systematic persecution and violence one million Jews encountered in Arab countries just because they were Jews, on the other hand, does not seem to figure nearly as prominently. A possible explanation is the Eurocentricism that has prevailed in Israel for so long in the media, in schools, in politics. In the interests of social cohesion, successive Israeli governments have suppressed the unhappy history of Jews in Arab lands before Zionism or glossed over the human rights abuses experienced by these Jews. 

During the Oslo years, Jewish refugees became viewed as a ‘stumbling block’ to peace. It was never the right time to raise their issue. If you didn’t know any better, the only people with a justifiable claim to justice appeared to be the Palestinians.

A friend active in peace groups tells me that they are always eager to explore Arab ‘transgenerational trauma’ but consistently ignore the trauma Iraqi Jews of her generation – for instance – went through in the late 1960s, when, during a reign of anti-Jewish terror, one in four Jewish males were executed or abducted off the streets, some never to be seen again. 

And so the Israeli Far Left, who were only interested in exploiting the Mizrahim in order to bash the Israeli establishment, made all the running with the ‘discrimination’ issue. Concurrently, anti-Zionists and communists speak of ‘Arab Jews’, or Arabs of the Jewish faith, as a way of repudiating Jewish nationalism. Such an identity presupposes that Arabs and Mizrahi Jews are natural allies, and that both are victims of Ashkenazim.

Ironically, most of these far leftists are themselves Ashkenazim, but a small number of oriental (Mizrahi) fellow travellers have been pushing this line. Rachel Shabi, author of Not the enemy, made her name out of stories of 1950s discrimination. Most recently, in an invective-laden article, she describes the campaign for Jewish refugees as an ‘obnoxious form of diplomacy’. To support her case she and other critics of the Ayalon initiative have seized on the burblings of the hitherto-unknown Ramat Gan committee, which purports to speak for Iraqi Jews, but in fact consists of a tiny coterie of Arabic literature ex-students from Tel Aviv university.

Why are so many on the Left so enraged by Ayalon’s campaign? Because it diminishes Palestinian exceptionalism. Anything that seeks to put Jewish rights on an equal footing with Palestinian rights becomes ‘cynical’, manipulative’ and to be fought at all costs. 

In order to maintain the superiority of Palestinian claims, a young Mizrahi Jew such as Daniel Haboucha feels compelled to suppress his own Egyptian family history: he propagates a false narrative, where Jews from Arab lands are ‘Arab Jews’ and Zionism is primarily responsible for uprooting the Jews from Arab countries. Any antisemitism they suffered was an ‘understandable’ backlash. 

By what right do Shabi and Haboucha get to denigrate Mizrahi rights to recognition and compensation? To talk of ‘Arab Jews’ demeans their identity. Do any of these self-righteous critics stop to realise how insulting it is to deny justice to Jews who lost loved ones in pogroms, or fled in terror with one suitcase and the shirts on their backs? How sad it is that, in order to fit in with their Arab and leftwing peers, young Mizrahim feel forced to sacrifice their rights and subordinate their own narrative to a ‘politically-correct’ and ‘cool’ Palestinian cause.

Read article in full 

For a fuller rebuttal to Daniel Haboucha's arguments see responses by Lyn Julius to Lara Friedman here   and here.

My obnoxious rebuttal to Rachel Shabi


Sylvia said...

"To be sure, discrimination loomed large in the 1950s, but it is no longer a serious issue today."

With all due respect, you can trust me when I say it is a very serious issue even today. It might be focused on one subgroup, it might hold a more subtle discourse, but trust me, it is there.

That it is not discussed is a stain on our society, not proof that it is no longer an issue.

Not only the truth, but the whole truth must be said least you alienate many of us.

Haboucha is an unabashed hypocrite, comparing his situation to Palestinians his age, but not to men his age in Sderot and Ofakim who in their thirties, are still living with their parents or their in-laws. This is the point that must be made.

It is wrong to engage in outright denial, since the truth has always a way of making itself heard sooner or later.

And the truth is that one can be at the same time a refugee from an Arab country, a Shoah survivor (think of Tunisians and Libyan Jews) a Zionist, AND subject to discrimination in the Jewish State AND written out of existence by the American Ashkenazi Left as well. All that at the same time.

bataween said...

Sylvia -
Every society is racist, it is just a matter of degree. In Britain we had the Stephen Lawrence murder case, a terrible stain on British society.
But there is a difference between social discrimination - a problem in every society including 'advanced' western societies - and discrimination enshrined in law, as it was in Arab countries, as you yourself know so well, which the Left totatally ignored, manufacturing a 'coexistence' fantasy instead.

Sylvia said...

I don't understand why insert in the conversation a monstruous murder by a gang of despicable criminals?

This absolutely has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

Discrimination in Israel is certainly not legislated. Anti-Sephardi discrimination is subtle as I said and comes principally from the Ashkenazi intellectual Left.

The Ashkenazi Left practically "owns" the Courts - certainly the Supreme Court - the Universities and the media.

The role of the media is to keep - in their own words - the "djinn in the bottle", which mewns that thery put the lid on it every time it spills in public debate. One can easily understand why when you see Haaretz or the iba or Galei Tzahal.

This must be acknowledged.

When a national poet whose every word will be dissected by the coming generations tells a Jewish ethnic group that all they brought "is the culture of the mufleta" (Haim Hefer) or another just as adulated (Natan Zach) tells the same group from a TV platform that its culture is "a culture of the caves", they are expressing what is acceptable talk in their milieu. Or they wouldn't be saying it. Those certainties are translated in real life in discrimination in terms of academic or leadership positions.

Needless to say, that same Left is staunchly pro-Palestinian.

To deny it is not helpful, because some day things will explode and you'll wonder how you missed it.

Now, there is another kind who eats at both mangers. Those are the "Mizrahim" who in fact are either of mixed parentage or themselves intermarried (Almog Behar of Ramat Gan is of Iraqi AND German ancestry for example). Those both raise the flag of anti-Mizrahi discrimination and pro-Palestinian activism, without doing anything about the former.

bataween said...

The article did not say that discrimination was no longer an issue. It said that far leftists exaggerated 'discrimination' to use it against Mizrahim/Sephardim as a political weapon to bash the Zionist establishment with.
What you are saying is something a little bit different - that these (Ashkenazi) leftists are AGENTS of discrimination against Mizrahim/Sephardim.
The Lawrence murder was an illustration of how the British police and courts covered up a racist murder, an extreme example, admittedly.

Sylvia said...

There are also the Ashkenazi religious extremists who discriminate in education. This is the reason why Shas was founded to begin with, and there are every once in a while busts of discrimination in schools like with the Slonim Hassidim who refused girls because they were Sephardis even though their schools are state-funded.

Noga said...

" A possible explanation is the Eurocentricism that has prevailed in Israel for so long in the media, in schools, in politics. "

That is correct but there is another, less self-indulgent aspect to this complex issue: The flow of Holocaust survivors after 1948 which made Jews fleeing from Arab persecution feel their suffering did not merit the same focus and attention as those who had managed to survive Hitler's death camps. Instead, Mizrahi Jews complained about social and economic discrimination, which left them wide open to criticism of being whiners who failed because they couldn't keep up with the Ashkenzi level of achievements. Another factor, when the reparations from Germany began, they immediately created an even greater economic gap between the Ashkenazis and the Mizrahim. It is altogether a very dishonorable period in Israel's history, not so wisely conducted at all by the its legendary leaders who were more urgently engaged in the defense and foreign policy fronts.

Today you will find that the more extreme Israeli Left is mostly made up of Ashkenazi "elitists" who tend to identify the Mizrahi Israeli with what they perceive to be the racist elements in Israel's society.

So Mizrahi Jews are thus twice betrayed: By having been disadvantaged in the earlier years of the state and by being demonized at this stage of the state. Ben Dror Yemini often writes about these phenomena. It is a disgrace.

Sylvia said...

That libel of "racism" comes from the fact that they didn't and wouldn't call themselves "Arabs", not because they were ashamed of anything, but because it had never been part of their identity.

Uri Avneri and his acolytes of the day rationalized that as proof of "hatred for the Arabs", that arose in Israel only after they came and discovered that the "Arab" was the enemy.
This libel has been repeated ad nauseum to this day. It is great time someone makes Uri Avneri swallow back his words and apologize.

Anonymous said...

Presumably, just as Europeans looked at their Jewish populations as aliens in their midst, Jews in the various Muslim countries of the MENA were not seen as Arabs, Persians or Turks, but as aliens as well, regardless of how long those Jews had dwelt in those lands.