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December 14, 2022 11:49 am

Mizrahi Jews: The Beauty of Jewish Diversity and the Lie of Israeli ‘Colonialism’

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avatar by Douglas Sandoval and Josh Beylinson


Young Iraqi Jews who fled to pre-state Israel following the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Baghdad. Photo: Moshe Baruch

This November, CAMERA on Campus observed Mizrahi Heritage Month through the latest iteration of our Mizrahi Stories campaign, a collaborative effort with numerous organizations and partners.

The campaign included participants from the United States, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, and was a community-wide effort to bring visibility to the Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East, whose stories are not often represented in the media, academia, and the portrayal of Jews in popular culture.

The prominent role of Mizrahim in Israel’s founding counters the libelous claims by detractors such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Within Our Lifetime, and Students for Justice in Palestine, which often attempt to slander Zionism.

Anti-Israel detractors often claim that the State of Israel was founded on a “settler-colonial white supremacist ideology.” When the State of Israel was established in 1948, 850,000 Mizrahi Jews were either expelled from or left surrounding Arab and Muslim countries in response to violence, threats, and abuse by their Arab neighbors and rulers. Most found refuge and settled in the State of Israel, joining the diverse confluence of Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and Sephardic Jews that emigrated earlier to the Levant in several waves between 1882 and 1948.

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Contrary to the narrative propagated by the aforementioned anti-Zionist groups, Zionism has been a longstanding feature of Mizrahi Jewish communities. Many have long maintained their connection to Eretz Yisrael in their prayers, traditions, and festivities.

Rising antisemitism in the Middle East, partially perpetuated by Hajj Amin Al-Husseini and the shifting political landscape of the 19th and 20th centuries, prompted Mizrahi Jews to return to Israel. Yemenite Jews immigrated to Jerusalem as early as 1882. Furthermore, in 1941, seven years before the establishment of the State of Israel, an estimated 15,000 Iraqi Jews fled the country in response to the Farhud, a violent pogrom led by the Nazi-aligned Iraqi government of Rashid Ali.

And these are only two examples of several communities that returned to the land of Israel before the establishment of a Jewish state.

While the confluence of Western and Eastern influences on Diaspora Jews meant that the State of Israel faced many challenges in its infancy, calling Zionism a form of “European colonialism” or “white supremacy” erases the contributions of Mizrahi Jews to the Jewish state, and the long-standing commitment of the country to prioritize the return of Jews, including Mizrahim to Israel.

Furthermore, such an assertion overlooks the plight of Ashkenazi Jews who experienced antisemitism, including Nazism — which is perhaps the most dangerous form of white supremacy.

Let’s be clear: Israel was founded as and remains a refuge for all Jews.

In 1950, just two years after its founding, the State of Israel led Operation Magic Carpet, airlifting thousands of Yemenite Jews from Aden to Israel. When Jews in Yemen heard of this operation, some walked for weeks to reach the city for a chance to make it to Israel. And as mentioned, Israel absorbed over 800,000 Jews across the Middle East and North Africa.

Modern-day Israel has maintained this commitment to help all Jews. In May of 1991, Israel carried out Operation Solomon, airlifting over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in less than 36 hours from Ethiopia to the State of Israel.

By highlighting the story of Mizrahi Jews, our Mizrahi Stories campaign shows that Israel is not a colonial endeavor, but the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish desire to return to our homeland. Zionism was essential not only for the persecuted Jews in Europe, but also for the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, who also experienced intense persecution.

At the University of East Anglia and University College London, Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, spoke brilliantly and profoundly on the forgotten Jewish refugees and her heartbreaking story of her family’s escape from Iraq. In 1939 Baghdad, despite Jews having lived there since the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and making up a third of Baghdad’s population, Jews were forced out, fleeing to places like India, the UK, and Israel.

CAMERA’s UK Campus Advisor Jasmine San took part in a Jewish History day at the Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue with her family and others. They dressed in the attire their Jewish Iraqi-Indian ancestors would have worn in Baghdad and Mumbai prior to their migration to Israel in 1948, and also played a short clip of their family heritage.

In Israel, CAMERA supported group at Hebrew University called Isreality; they hosted a campus event with Benny Savati, a researcher on social networks in Iran and founder of the IDF Spokesman Office in Persian, to discuss the history of Jews in Iran.

We hope that all Jews and supporters of Israel continue to refute misinformation about Mizrahi Jewish communities, Zionism, and the State of Israel.

Douglas Sandoval is Managing Editor for CAMERA on Campus. Joshua Beylinson is Campus Advisor for CAMERA on Campus.


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