Undermining the Jews of the Arab World

September 16, 2012 4:20 am 3 comments

Pupils in the Jewish Maimonides school taken on February 9, 1991 in Damascus, Syria. The photo was taken shortly before the exodus of most of the remaining Syrian Jewish community in 1992. Photo: Diaspora Museum Visual Documentation Archive, Tel Aviv.

If you’re looking for an online aggregator of Israel-bashing articles, you could do a great deal worse than visit Open Zion, the website edited by the darling of America’s Jewish far left, Peter Beinart. All the obsessions of today’s anti-Zionists are neatly organized there, in the form of hand-wringing tracts about Rachel Corrie’s death, Israel’s resemblance to apartheid South Africa, and the dangerous refusal of Israel and the United States to acknowledge that Iran’s rulers really are reasonable people.

This week, I spied a new theme. An article by Hussein Ibish, a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, caricatured the legitimate claims for justice of those Jews who were expelled from Arab countries as the latest trick on the part of the Israeli government. (Ibish, it should be added, is regarded by many supporters of Israel as a rare voice of sanity among the chorus of increasingly whacky anti-Zionists. However, as his piece on the Jews of the Arab world demonstrates, Ibish is far better at convincing people that he’s an original thinker than he is at original thinking.)

The source of Ibish’s umbrage was a conference organized in Jerusalem by the World Jewish Congress and the Israeli Foreign Ministry on securing justice for the long-settled Jewish communities of the Arab world, who were uprooted during the latter half of the last century. That collective experience gives the lie to oft-heard claim of Arab propagandists that Jews lived in harmony and equality with their Arab and Muslim neighbors until the Zionist movement started meddling. In truth, while the situation of those communities didn’t plummet to European depths, they never rose to European heights either. For as long as they lived in the Arab world, Jews were a second-class minority whose destinies were determined by capricious Arab rulers.

As a new policy paper by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a prominent Israeli think tank, shows, in 1948, the year of Israel’s creation, there were more than one million Jews living in Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries like Iran. Ten years later, that number had been sliced in half. By the beginning of this century, there were only 30,000 Jews remaining, the vast majority of these in Iran. Anyone walking now through the cities of the Muslim world would never know that they once housed a vibrant Jewish culture of synagogues, markets, cafes, social clubs and libraries.

The idea that there is a parallel between the Palestinians and the expelled Jews of the Arab world, the Mizrahim, is not a new one, despite what Hussein Ibish claims in his article. Indeed, coming from a Mizrahi family myself, I can recall the story of how my own grandfather was manhandled out of the Iraqi Embassy in London in 1969 for protesting against the public hanging of nine Iraqi Jews on the trumped up charge of spying for Israel. In 1975, an organization named WOJAC, the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, was created with the aim of building awareness about the plight of the Mizrahim against a background dominated by stories of the Palestinian refugees. And over the last decade or so, Jewish activism around the issue has grown exponentially, thanks to the work of organizations like Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and excellent blogs like “Point of No Return.”

Ibish is apparently unaware of all this, so fixated is he with the notion of an Israeli plot. And that is precisely why his conclusion is bereft of both logic and moral sensibility. The campaign to secure justice for Mizrahim is, he writes, a “sleight-of-hand because the political impact of the dispossession of the Palestinian refugees is precisely the opposite of the ‘ingathering’ of the Arab Jews in Israel. The Palestinian Nakba of 1948 was the destruction of a national society. The migration of Arab Jews to Israel, by contrast, and especially from the Zionist perspective, was the realization of a national agenda.”

Where to begin? To start with, there’s the hoary myth of the “Nakba,” which presents the displacement of parts of mandatory Palestine’s Arab population as an exclusively Zionist undertaking. Then there’s the reference to “Arab Jews,” an identification largely rejected by those same Jewish communities. Finally, there is an absurd contrast between the “destruction” of Palestinian society and the erstwhile redemption of the Jews thanks to their arrival in Israel.

In creating a Jewish national home, Zionism sought to provide an option to those Jews who wished to move there, and a safe haven for those Jews with no choice except to move there. The fact that refugees can sometimes arrive in societies that welcome them doesn’t mean they are no longer, in a legal sense, refugees. Yes, the Jewish communities of the Arab world mainly flourished in the countries they moved to, in Israel, in North America and in Europe. That doesn’t in any way dilute the horror of the ethnic cleansing they were subjected to in the years following Israel’s creation.

If Ibish and other Palestinian advocates really wanted a resolution, they would try a different argument. We’ll give up our refugee status—and remember, Palestinians are the only refugee population in the world who can transfer that status to their children; everyone else is governed by a 1951 convention that does not permit refugee status to be inherited—if you give up yours. But that, of course, won’t happen, because it would require the Palestinians to do what the Jews of the Arab world have done, and that is create new lives in the countries where they have settled, and give up on the “right of return.”

At root, the political campaign around the Jews of the Arab world is about historical recognition. For decades, we have been told that the Palestinian Arabs are the only community who suffered as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That victim status has always been jealously guarded by the Palestinians, because—and herein lies the irony of Ibish’s argument—doing so is a political imperative. If Palestinians in Arab countries have to languish as eternal refugees in the Arab world as a result, with educational and career opportunities accordingly closed off, then so be it.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications

3 Comments

  • The ghouls smell the scent of heinppass, life, fresh natural food and honest industry. They are compelled to steal and destroy what is honest and good, especially if they can steal and offer sacrifice to their dark god at the same time. Age means nothing when a target comes into sight. Just animals right? They are psychopathic neanderthal schmucks.

  • One could argue, I suppose, that Ibish is in effect acknowledging the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to a national home, to be a nation, and for the experience of the last 60 years genuinely to have been an ‘ingathering’.

    I agree that Jews in Israel are ‘refugees’, very often if not always, in the same sense that Palestinians are ‘refugees’. I also agree that there *should* be a symmetry between the experience of Palestinians, and Jews: in that both can fairly demand self government and a nation state. Palestinians, however, are stateless, at least in a full sense.

    That being so, a Palestinian can fairly point to the absence of such a state as the key issue: rather than the status of refugees.

    The trouble, of course, is that few Palestinian leaders genuinely accept Jewish self government, and that is why they prioritise the destruction of Israel over the quest for a homeland.

    • “Jordan” is a country with a Palestinian Arab majority. Change it’s name to Palestine, remove the star from its flag, and it’s job done. Arabs in Judea and Samaria can have citizenship of that territory like they used to and in some cases still do. If they are not happy as resident aliens in Israel, they have a refuge to go to just like Tunisian and Moroccan Jews do.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.