Ashley Perry of the Sephardi Perspective blog tackles the phenomenon of ‘Sephardi skeptics’ who disparage Zionism, claim Zionism was an Ashkenazi plot to ‘dispossess’ Sephardim of their ‘Arab’ heritage, and in extremis identify as Palestinians.
“Recently, I have held many discussions with certain Sephardim who have disparaged Zionism and the State of Israel. These ‘intellectuals’, all from North America, have only distaste for Sephardi Zionists, denigrating them as Ashkenazi dupes or worse. Many of the arguments revolve around the fact that Sephardim were dispossessed of their culture and heritage by the mainly Ashkenazi political activists who helped create modern secular Zionism.
“These Sephardi Zionist-skeptics have reinterpreted a version of Jewish history in Asia and North Africa which barely resembles the actual events that took place. For every individual that was cited as a success story for Jewish integration in the wider Muslim milieu, there were dozens of events which prove that these instances were the exception and not the rule. The Jewish status of al-Dhimma necessitated a repression which even in the best of circumstances meant that the Jew was never equal to the Muslim.
“The Zionist-skeptics also point to a rich Arab civilization which the new Israeli was being deprived of when returning to his ancestral homeland. They essentially whitewash a culture and civilization which had been in decline for many centuries: today, the whole Arab world translates fewer books than Spain in any one year. There are certainly numerous aspects of Arab culture which are very positive; but many were Jewish customs and norms long before there was such a thing as ‘Arab culture’. It is certainly true that the modern State of Israel saw itself in Western terms and attempted to create a homogeny that did not allow for ‘other’ traditions. However, to use this element to call into question Zionism and the return to Jewish nationhood is extremely shoddy intellectual reasoning.
“As I have shown in previous articles, the vast majority of Sephardim were Zionists, whether they were religious or secular. The average Sephardi living in Israel is extremely patriotic and still retains a close connection to his traditions and religion. These skeptics thus remain on the extreme margins of the Sephardi discourse with Zionism.
“Any elements of Sephardi culture, however important, are still very secondary to the unity of the Jewish People as a whole and what unites us as a people is far greater than what divides us. Many use their Sephardi or Ashkenazi identity as a weapon against the other, hoping to score points sometimes at the cost of our unity as a people and nation. It is incredible that people like Professor Sami Shalom Chetrit consider themselves Palestinian and an ‘Arab refugee’ because they feel a deep sense of victimization. This understandable victimization has been misappropriated by these radical Sephardim into taking on the role of another people.
“In the debate of Arab versus Jew, Israeli versus Palestinian; they have looked to throw the proverbial “baby out with the bath water”. Or in the words of Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Center in an article titled ‘Post Zionism and the Sephardi Question‘, “the post-Zionist Mizrahi radical rejection of Zionism and the Israeli state is the wrong medicine for the disease. Rejecting Zionism is opting for a solution that is outside the Israeli political system. Such a solution will contribute little to solving the existing problems of Israeli society and its Mizrahi population. Destroying the state of Israel will not make the Mizrahim more equal or accepted by either Jewish or Arab societies.”
“This disturbing view of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ sees the Jews as beholden to their Arab captors, and the Jewish People who have come to rescue them as the bad guys. The situation was and is not great for many Sephardim in Israel, but to cleave to a memory of persecution, exclusion and discrimination shows that the true amount of historic and philosophical gymnastics necessary are enormous.