Thursday, August 02, 2012

Concern Trolling, Thy Name Is Lara

I think Americans for Peace Now is generally a good organization, but this piece by Lara Friedman on the "exploitation" of Jewish refugees is just awful. The instigation for the column is various moves in both Israel and the United States to place the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries -- many of whom were forced to flee anti-Semitic discrimination and violence and watched as their property was confiscated -- on the agenda of the broader Israeli/Arab peace process. "Exploitation", here, appears to be defined as "making sure these persons are not completely overlooked".

The basic problem with Friedman's article is that, while it purports to recognize that there are unresolved issues of justice with respect to the departure of Jews from Arab nations, she effectively labels any efforts to make it an agenda item an example of illegitimate political gamesmanship meant to neutralize claims by Palestinian refugees. For starters, even on face this isn't really correct -- the congressional bill she cites, for example, specifically suggests that Israeli and Palestinian refugee claims ought to be paired. So she twists a bit and says, no, the problem is that discussion of Israeli refugees as a parallel to Palestinian refugees is wrongheaded because they're separate issues. Which they are, but it's not clear why that's relevant -- if they're both issues of concern, both should be on the agenda, and one set of refugees currently is being largely ignored. Jewish refugees and their descendants have every right to wonder about the asymmetry as compared to the most analogous event. None of these bills do much more than urge that Arab Jewish claims become part of the agenda -- which right now they are not. If even that relatively modest call is illegitimate politicization, then Friedman is effectively saying that Arab Jews should permanently shut up.

Is part of the impetus for this discussion an attempt to fight back against the notion of Israel as the sole wrongdoer victimizing Palestinians, while Jews had it made in the shade? Sure. But so what? Aside from the fact that if we're going to get all high-groundy over disputants' attempts at framing we'll be here all day, Israel wasn't the sole wrongdoer and not all Jews did have it made in the shade. The fact of the matter is that this is an issue which has been grossly overlooked for decades for a variety of factors -- racism against non-White Jews ranking high among them -- and now is finally getting some attention. While Friedman says that these claims are "tarnished" because they also have political valence, I doubt the men and women in question will lose much sleep over it, given that everything in this region has a political valence. If that's Friedman's standard -- and it really isn't, because it's impossible for it to be one she applies to every Israeli/Palestinian issue -- what she's actually saying is that any discussion of Arab Jewish claims is a distraction from real-people issues.

Frankly, this is a class of persons that's been silenced for long enough, and deserves to have their grievances aired. Friedman may sigh about how she feels for Arab Jews, but without any indication of how a conversation about them can proceed in an "acceptable" fashion, it rings quite hollow indeed.

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