Sunday, June 29, 2008

Comment is Free: Let's not remember the Jewish refugees after all

No Pro-Israel opinion must ever go unanswered at the Guardian. The inevitable reply to Lyn Julius’ argument that Mizrachi Jews who fled Arab countries deserve some recognition too comes from one Rachel Shabi, who was "born in Israel to Iraqi parents."
[...] It's a neat argument: Jews were forced to abandon material assets and leave Arab countries; Palestinians similarly fled or were expelled from their homes. Ergo, the region witnessed an exchange of populations and if Palestinian refugees are to be compensated by Israel, so too must the Jewish "refugees" from the Middle East, by the Arab nations that expelled them.

Nice try, but there are many reasons why this formula is all wrong. First off (as David Cesarani points out), it's tasteless. There is no need for the fate of these two peoples, Middle Eastern Jews and Palestinians, to be so fused materialistically. Middle Eastern Jews may indeed have a claim to lost assets, but those genuinely seeking peace between Israel and its neighbours should know that this is not the way to pursue it . . .
Was there an argument in there somewhere? Being "tasteless" and "materialistic" is no way to pursue peace! Her next argument is that some Mizrachi Jews wanted to leave, leading to the following:
Broadly, you could say that any Middle Eastern Jew ("Oriental" or "Mizrahi" Jew) who defines their migration to Israel as "Zionist" cannot also be a refugee: the former label has agency and involves a desire to live in the Jewish state; the second suggests passivity and a lack of choice . . .
Let's determine the aptness of the term "refugee" by examining the connotations of the words "Zionist." What about someone who would have liked to emigrate in an orderly way, but who fled leaving his property behind? Too bad, the word Zionist "has agency"? It doesn't get better:
But let's get to the heart of the matter. What JJAC seems keen to establish is that Arab countries treated Jewish citizens with contempt and cruelty, fuelled by antisemitism. This formulation perpetuates the myth of Arabs and Jews as polar opposites, destined to be eternal enemies. It shirks the plain fact that Jews lived in Arab counties for over two millennia, for the most part productively and in peace . . .
Let's see, the assertion that Jews were persecuted in Arab countries in the 1940's "perpetuates the myth of Arabs and Jews as polar opposites." If they were persecuted, shouldn't it be admitted, and if they weren't, isn't this an odd objection? And that "plain fact" about the "productive" life Jews led in earlier centuries is neither "plain" nor relevant. Here is her conclusion:
Of course, we could only focus on the bad and write what the Jewish historian Salo Baron called a "lachrymose" version of events. But what's the point? The Middle Eastern Jewry comprises many threads and, compared with European Jewry, has a distinct history, heritage and culture. This legacy, in all its dimensions, should not be hijacked to fuel further rage and acrimony in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Nice of her to be against "rage and acrimony." I don't see why the broader perspective that comes from considering the fate of the Mizrachi Jews along with that of the Palestinians shouldn't lead to a calmer and more balanced view of the Middle East conflict. After the hysterical screaming that accompanies the bursting of the Palestinian bubble dies down anyway.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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