The pro-Palestine blogosphere has been abuzz with the deletion of an article on Zionism by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad from the Al-Jazeera website (you can read the Massad article here). What is interesting about the article is that it – as is usual – identifies Jews as Ashkenazim only.
For all that Massad has relationships with Mizrahi Jews, his thinking remains monocausal and racist. Jews never lived in the Middle East and all discussion of Jewish identity and Zionism must be tied exclusively to Europe.
Now there is no question that this is very much what the Ashkenazi Jews have demanded. They have usurped Jewish identity for themselves and made Jewish nationalism a matter of European provenance. The details of this discussion then become very contentious given the deep ambivalence and outright confusion of European Christian and Jewish identity and how that plays into Zionism as an exclusionary form of Jewish identity which seeks to isolate Jews from the Gentile world.
It is this view of Jewish identity that creates a bizarre linkage to Anti-Semites.
And yet the invisible Arab Jews with their roots in the ancient Near East, Medieval Iberia, and the polyglot Ottoman Empire do not match this Eurocentric pattern. Eliminated from Zionist history, the despised Sephardim are equally absent from pro-Palestinian discourse where their claims to Middle Eastern nativity would potentially serve to upset the neat categories that have been established by the Zionists.
It is therefore ironic that Massad, in seeking to counter Zionism, affirms its basic dogma that Jews are Europeans and not Middle Easterners.
The contentious, ugly, and hateful battle between pro-Israel and anti-Israel forces is thus underscored by a rejection of Arab Jewish history and identity. Sephardim have no allies in this battle and those Sephardim who remain convinced that they are a part of this discussion are seriously mistaken.
A perfect example of how all this works came to my in-box a few hours after I first wrote this comment with Lyn Julius’ article “Throw Away That Rusty Key” for Open Zion. What we see in all of Lyn Julius’ articles is a deeply devoted commitment to Zionism. Her advocacy marks Arab Jews as victims and supports the idea that the Jews of Middle East are indeed just like the Palestinians; homeless refugees who were oppressed by their host countries.
What the article misses is the larger history of Jewish life in the Arab-Muslim world and some articulation of the glorious culture that it produced. All that we see is the hatred of the Arabs in a way that parrots the standard Israeli-Zionist approach.
Of course Israel is greatly supportive of the Arab Jewish groups that do its bidding:
These are organizations that work hand in glove with the Zionist organizations in a way that seeks to aid Israel in its attempt to negate the claims of the Palestinian Arabs. In the course of this advocacy the matter of anti-Sephardi racism on the part of Ashkenazi Israel is completely ignored.
This latter point is critical: These Sephardim-in-Name-Only are more concerned for the feelings and needs of the Ashkenazim who have decimated our culture and impoverished our communities economically and politically. Such individuals are militantly Zionistic and beat down all those Sephardim who would have the temerity to criticize Israel and the Ashkenazim. It is often an ugly sight when the battle is being waged.
The bottom line here is that, as I said earlier, the actual culture and history of the Arab Jews is completely ignored in favor of a bare-knuckles political approach that marks Jews and Arabs as separate categories. The narrative is one that has been constructed by the Zionists and leaves out the existential and cultural substance of the Sephardic community. Those permitted to speak in the name of the community have already shown their allegiance to the Ashkenazim and to Israel. Their actions, as we see clearly in the Julius article, are meant to affirm the things Israel wants said and leave out what it wants left out.
We can also point to the exclusionary practices of the media, in this case Open Zion, which suppresses Sephardic voices. It is something that I have discussed many times.
So long as Sephardim are cut out of the discussion this sort of thing is going to keep happening. There are only two voices permitted in the discussion: the Arab voice and the Ashkenazi voice. Any attempt at presenting a more complete and nuanced picture of the matter is not possible under the current rules of the media. So long as we conform to the pre-existing models all is well. If not, what we see is the exclusionary practices of a media that is mired in its own skewed understanding of the cultural history of the Middle East and hell-bent on perpetuating the stereotypes and racist values that continue to permeate discourse about the conflict.