Why is it that Jews on the left hurry to support the Palestinian cause, yet show contempt for the rights of Mizrahi Jews? One could say it is ignorance, or the Eurocentricism of ‘white’, European Jews, some of whom have bought into the ‘Israel-as-colonial-implant’ myth. Among Arabs, however, Loolwa Khazzoom, a ‘progressive’ Iraqi Jew, has found little sympathy for the Mizrahi cause, unless Jews from Arab countries are prepared to ally themselves with Arabs against Ashkenazi Jews and compromise their Jewish identity. Yet to be pro-Palestinian and pro-Jewish rights should not be mutually exclusive.
“Regarding today’s politics, why does the world demand that Israel give land or pay compensation to indigenous Arabs, while remaining completely silent about Arab states having stolen from and forcing out indigenous Jews, who now make up the majority of Israel’s population? Why does the world demand that Israel give Syria back some or all of the Golan Heights, when Syria inflicted serious human rights abuses on the Syrian Jews; confiscated and nationalized Syrian Jewish property; and never made compensation payments or even apologized?
“Through ignoring or dismissing the Mizrahi reality, I feel the world has perpetuated Arab dominance over indigenous Middle Eastern and North African Jews, inherently accepting and enforcing Arab claims to our land, religious sites, and property. The forces silencing our voices have been so strong that many have given up altogether trying to speak about our reality, and others have done it with great fear of a backlash – which usually has followed.
“I am tired of feeling fear of and guilt about asserting the rights, needs, and experiences of my community. I stand eager to work in alliance with Arabs, but I will not do so in sacrifice of my own people. As far as I am concerned, this situation is “all or none”: Arabs must be my ally if I am going to be theirs.
With rare exceptions, my experience has been that Arab leaders and individuals are eager to receive support of their cause but unwilling to give support to ours. I find this pattern to be a continuation of Arab oppression of Jews: We are supposed to step aside, shut up, and otherwise disappear, unless and until we are useful in furthering an Arab agenda. (My emphasis – ed)
What about us fighting for our own causes? Moreover, what about Arabs speaking out about the injustices Mizrahi Jews suffered at the hands of Arabs? There are numerous Jewish organizations – in Israel and abroad – dedicated to giving land to or securing financial compensation for Palestinian Arabs; yet I do not know of one single Arab organization – Palestinian or otherwise – fighting to demand the same for Mizrahim. In fact, I know of only one individual Arab simply verbalizing this message.
“I find it no less than obnoxious for Arabs to expect Mizrahim to pretend our own reality does not exist, to expect us to be in deference to Arab claims and struggles. For there to be true peace in the Middle East, all parties involved must have the room to express how we have been oppressed by each other; and all must look at and fight to end how we have been oppressive to each other.
“I am willing to stand up, speak out about, and fight against current Israeli oppression of Palestinian Arabs – whether at the hands of Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, or anyone else. I challenge my Arab sisters and brothers to be as willing to stand up and speak out about Arab oppression of Mizrahi Jews.
“If supporting someone else inherently rips the floor out from under my own feet, I cannot risk it; I will not participate in a setup for my own destruction. As long as alliance work with Arabs is structured in such a way as to completely negate the Mizrahi reality, I refuse to participate in it. I will not help perpetuate the silencing and oppression of my people.
“For example, I have been to several panels of Arab and Jewish women, where the Arabs were Muslim or Christian and the Jews were white Europeans. Every time, I have raised my hand and spoken about the invisibility of Mizrahi women on the panels. And every time, Arab women from the panel warmly have approached me after the program, taking me aside and telling me something like, “You and I are sisters. We are the same people. It’s those Zionists that are the problem.” Or, as one Arab woman added after a panel, “Those Ashkenazim are pigs.”
“Statements like these have made shivers go up my spine. They essentially have asked me to split myself in half, to connect on the basis of one half and forget about the other. They inherently have demanded that I structure my Middle Eastern reality around an Arab construct.
“But as a Mizrahi woman, I bring my identity to the table: Culturally, it is true, I have more in common with Arab Muslims and Christians than I do with Ashkenazi Jews. But I am a Jew, and this reality must be acknowledged and addressed. Arab women cannot expect to bond with me against the “big, evil Ashkenazi,” completely ignoring a legacy of Arab oppression of Jews. If we are to unite in alliance, Arabs must hold my struggle in their hearts, as I must hold their struggle in mine.
“With rare exceptions, I have not experienced Arab willingness to have different perspectives on Arab-Israel/Arab-Jewish issues and come together where we agree; rather, I have felt pressure that to be friends or allies, I first must deny my own reality. As such, to be connected, I have felt I must endanger myself, participate in diminishing my own space.”
See comments thread on mepeace.orgforum