Saturday, January 23, 2016

Two Links on the Mizrahi Moment

Two older links regarding Mizrahi Jews that I'm posting because (a) they're good articles and (b)  I want to ensure I have them saved for later.

The first, by Ophir Toubul, argues that Israel's White Ashkenazi Left Doesn't Own the Peace Process. I actually had already read this piece before and found it exceptionally insightful, and wanted to make sure I had it memorialized for future reference.  It presents the case for a "Mizrahification" of the peace process and Israel writ large that can genuinely and respectfully interrelate with the broader Middle Eastern community, without pretending that the Mizrahi community represents some post-Zionist fantasy of Jews alienated against Israel and ready to effectively jettison their Jewish communal affiliation and become a subordinate member of a pan-Arab identity.

The second, which I found while searching for the first, interviews American Mizrahi Jews to get their thoughts on a movement by American Arab groups to get "Middle Eastern" disaggregated from "White" on the Census. Their thoughts are fascinating, complex, and often deeply ambivalent. Most would identify as Middle Eastern if given the chance, and many articulated instances of discrimination based on their Middle Eastern appearance. But unlike their Muslim and Christian Arab brethren (organizing under the slogan "Check it right, you ain’t white!"), the Jews were often reluctant to self-identify as "people of color." Some suggested that for them anti-Semitism was a more serious day-to-day discriminatory threat than anti-Middle Eastern sentiment, and (implicitly) that "people of color" denotes a particular type of discrimination qualitatively different from that which they experienced. Others simply didn't seem to view identifying as "Middle Eastern" and identifying as "White" as competitive with one another.

Anyway, both articles are good reads, and so both are getting a plug and permanent enshrinement on my blog's archives. Congratulations.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I'm not a terribly big fan of the first article, to be honest. I believe that the solution to our dilemma is to re-assert the fact that all Jews, regardless of where they lived prior to the re-establishment of Israel, are native to the Middle East and thus "people of color". As a Mizrahi myself, I certainly back the idea of lending more of a voice to our segment of the Jewish community, but I also feel it is dangerous to exclude Ashkenazim from the broader Middle Eastern category, as it buttresses two very popular (and extremely dangerous) anti-Israel tropes...

1. That Jews are not a distinct people with a common origin in the Levant, but rather a collection of peoples who only share a religion. Of course, genetic studies, historical accounts, and cultural/linguistic evidence all contradict this belief.

2. Since we are "merely a religious faith", the Jewish people (and Ashkenazim in particular) have no real claim to Israel. And since the vast majority of pre-1948 olim were Ashkenazi, this allows antisemitic (as far as I'm concerned, anti-Zionist and antisemitic are pretty much one and the same) forces to characterize Israel as a "European settler colony" built on "stolen land".

This perception of Israel as a "white European colony" founded by "fake" Jews with no real connection to the Israelites is the primary motivating factor behind the global anti-Israel campaign. It is the root cause, and we need to destroy this root by aggressively and persistently debunking its core argument. Doing this requires us to emphasize that non-Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews are just as much a part of the Middle East as the rest of us.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

As for the second article, I've long advocated for Jews (again, regardless of where we lived until recently) to be included under the Middle Eastern American category. It is something I am still working on, and I'm making great progress thus far.

Anonymous said...

I think the first article's suggestion that a Mizrahi-led Israel would be willing to make the concessions necessary for a true peace to be begging the question. While they may be able to better relate to Levant Arabs than their European cousins (who are rapidly disappearing as Mizrahi-ancestry becomes ubiquitous) they are politically more right-wing, not least because they have the traditional relationship to Judaism that the Ashkenazi Left has jettisoned. Would they be so quick to give Hebron over to ethnic Arabs knowing that they may never get to visit their "father" again? I doubt it. otoh it may be that this pov would be the one to /solve/ the conflict as Palestinian nationalism finally grasps that the "colonial interlopers" were their former neighbors all along and that they aren't going anywhere.

Unknown said...

"While they may be able to better relate to Levant Arabs than their European cousins"

Actually, I would argue that they hate us *even more* than they hate the Ashkenazi Jews.

"otoh it may be that this pov would be the one to /solve/ the conflict as Palestinian nationalism finally grasps that the "colonial interlopers" were their former neighbors all along and that they aren't going anywhere."

Attempting to debunk the "colonial interloper" lie while shoving Ashkenazim to the background would be counter-productive. We have to remember that the Jewish community in Israel pre-1948 was almost 100 percent Ashkenazi (most Mizrahim didn't return until about a decade later, or more). That is what they use to argue that it's a "foreign/settler colony", and that's why the only remedy I see is to emphasize the indigenous roots of Jews in general, instead of sweeping Ashkenazim under the rug in the vain hope that everybody else will forget the key role they played in the Zionist movement and Israel's re-establishment.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree though I think it's important to emphasize that for us, Jews, the Ashkenazi ethnic paradigm is as transitory as any diaspora constitution and that part of the deemphasis of the Ashkenazi identity is also a decolonization of diaspora Jewry. This is true btw for Sephardim as well but for various reasons we have come to associate Middle Eastern traditions as closer or more representative of pre-diasporic Jewry. In both cases it is clear that the paramount dialectic of Jewish life is making a dramatic shift from Ashkenazi/Sephardi to Israel/United States. The realities of life in either place are imminent + demanding compared to what has become a "flavor of home." In the sense that we should always trouble the boundaries of Jewish identity to accommodate Jews of dramatically different lifestyles + appearances Ashkenazi culture is worth preserving. But to perpetuate it as a distinct ethnic identity I think is to buy into the colonial trope.

Unknown said...

Despite the European influences that were subsumed into Ashkenazi culture, it is still Jewish (that is, Middle Eastern) at its core. The same goes for other Jewish diaspora subgroupings.