Not the enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab lands

I’m always a little wary of getting involved in problems in other parts of the world, particularly in areas where people are inclined to draw glib comparisons with home, but there’s a great little review of Rachel Shabi’s book on the Mizrahi Jews of Israel, ie those who settled there from other Arab and Muslim countries. Richard Crowley notes:

“In Israel, the popular narrative is that the Jews had to flee the Arab lands to escape persecution and that Israel was established to offer them safe haven. What is often eclipsed, Shabi argues, is that many Jews coexisted happily with their Arab neighbours until the fighting over Palestine began. Only when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were driven from or fled their homes did the backlash in the Arab states begin.”

Of course, what we know of similar disputed points of history in our own backyard is that they persist as battlelines today. Thus Israeli blogger bataween notes:

Shabi’s claim that ‘Mizrahi ethnic music is banned from public playlists’ strains credulity when Mizrahi artistes like Sarit Haddad, David Broza, Dana International, Avinoam Nini and Ofra Haza are all thoroughly mainstream. Chaqshooka, falafel and mujadera are staples of Israeli food. Mizrahim have reached the highest echelons of political life. Most importantly, intermarriage is running at 25 percent. More and more Israelis are the product of mixed marriages. If this trend continues there will be no such thing as a Mizrahi or an Ashkenazi in the Israeli melting pot.

Gerald Jacobs in Telegraph says of Shabi that:

She builds a compelling case, based on the experiences of family and friends, for the benefits once enjoyed by Jews in Iraq, as against the bleak, “official” Zionist version. Her forebears, she insists, did not weep “by the rivers of Babylon, as they remembered Zion”. They danced.

Not quite on the subject, but closely related, is this gripping conversation between Howard Jacobson and AB Yehoshua in Standpoint Magazine…

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