It was too good to last: having allowed the case for Jewish refugees to be put, the Comment is Free website has lapsed back into its default position of denial. The blog Judeopundit has an excellent ‘fisking’ of Rachel Shabi’s piece arguing that Mizrahi Jews left out of Zionism:
No Pro-Israel opinion must ever go unanswered at The Guardian. The inevitable reply to Lyn Julius’ argument that Mizrachi Jews who fled Arab countries deserve some recognition too comes from one Rachel Shabi, who was “born in Israel to Iraqi parents.”
[…] It’s a neat argument: Jews were forced to abandon material assets and leave Arab countries; Palestinians similarly fled or were expelled from their homes. Ergo, the region witnessed an exchange of populations and if Palestinian refugees are to be compensated by Israel, so too must the Jewish “refugees” from the Middle East, by the Arab nations that expelled them.
Nice try, but there are many reasons why this formula is all wrong. First off (as David Cesarani points out), it’s tasteless. There is no need for the fate of these two peoples, Middle Eastern Jews and Palestinians, to be so fused materialistically. Middle Eastern Jews may indeed have a claim to lost assets, but those genuinely seeking peace between Israel and its neighbours should know that this is not the way to pursue it . . .
Was there an argument in there somewhere? Being “tasteless” and “materialistic” is no way to pursue peace! Her next argument is that some Mizrachi Jews wanted to leave, leading to the following:
Broadly, you could say that any Middle Eastern Jew (“Oriental” or “Mizrahi” Jew) who defines their migration to Israel as “Zionist” cannot also be a refugee: the former label has agency and involves a desire to live in the Jewish state; the second suggests passivity and a lack of choice . . .
Let’s determine the aptness of the term “refugee” by examining the connotations of the words “Zionist.” What about someone who would have liked to emigrate in an orderly way, but who fled leaving his property behind? Too bad, the word Zionist “has agency”? It doesn’t get better:
But let’s get to the heart of the matter. What JJAC seems keen to establish is that Arab countries treated Jewish citizens with contempt and cruelty, fuelled by antisemitism. This formulation perpetuates the myth of Arabs and Jews as polar opposites, destined to be eternal enemies. It shirks the plain fact that Jews lived in Arab countries for over two millennia, for the most part productively and in peace . . .
Let’s see, the assertion that Jews were persecuted in Arab countries in the 1940’s “perpetuates the myth of Arabs and Jews as polar opposites.” If they were persecuted, shouldn’t it be admitted, and if they weren’t, isn’t this an odd objection? And that “plain fact” about the “productive” life Jews led in earlier centuries is neither “plain” nor relevant. Here is her conclusion:
Of course, we could only focus on the bad and write what the Jewish historian Salo Baron called a “lachrymose” version of events. But what’s the point? The Middle Eastern Jewry comprises many threads and, compared with European Jewry, has a distinct history, heritage and culture. This legacy, in all its dimensions, should not be hijacked to fuel further rage and acrimony in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Nice of her to be against “rage and acrimony.” I don’t see why the broader perspective that comes from considering the fate of the Mizrachi Jews along with that of the Palestinians shouldn’t lead to a calmer and more balanced view of the Middle East conflict. After the hysterical screaming that accompanies the bursting of the Palestinian bubble dies down anyway.
‘The JJAC campaign has exposed hypocrisy’
Writing on her blog Warped Mirror Petra Marquardt-Bigman exposes the double standards delegitimising the Jews from Arab countries as bona fide refugees, excusing their treatment as a ‘backlash’, or claiming that they are not entitled to be treated equally with Palestinian refugees:
…”While there seems to be some willingness to acknowledge that Jewish refugees from Arab countries should have the right to demand compensation for their material losses, there is apparently very little willingness to reconsider what Prof. Cotler rightly calls the “revisionist narrative”. In a commentary entitled “Another side to the Jewish story” Rachel Shabi asserted that many Jews left their ancient communities in Arab countries voluntarily; in her view, one could also argue “that Zionism both caused Palestinians to leave their homes and brought Middle Eastern Jews to Israel”. Israel should therefore share responsibility for the “backlash” that led to the expulsion and dispossession of Jews from Arab countries:
“Jewish Agency officials knew that their activities in Palestine could imperil Jews in the Middle East . . . They chose to carry on with those actions and committed to ‘rescuing’ those Jews if things did take a turn for the worse. If Zionist officials themselves worried about a backlash in the Arab world, how can Israel then be absolved of responsibility for the Jewish exodus from those countries?”
Obviously, this is again an example of blatant double standards: since this argument justifies holding members of one group of people responsible for the actions of other members of this group elsewhere in the world, the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor would have been perfectly acceptable; and when it comes to our own times, Ms. Shabi’s reasoning could serve to justify “a backlash” against Muslim minorities in the West.
Another rather peculiar argument was advanced by David Cesarani who argued that the “Jews from Arab lands who settled in Israel deserved compensation, from Israel. And, to a large extent, they got it. The Mizrachim are now a well-integrated and affluent pillar of Israeli society.” He also concluded that “although there is an overwhelming case for examining the dispossession and displacement of Jews from parts of North Africa and the Middle East, and indeed a case for restitution and reparation for a proportion of them, it is not appropriate to place this quandary in the context of solving the Middle East conflict.”
Cesarani did not really explain why the two groups of refugees who were displaced and dispossessed within the context of the same conflict should be treated so very differently – one group as the focus of attention, the other group ignored as presenting too much of a “quandary”. It is of course true that the Jews who were expelled from their ancient communities in the Arab world found refuge in the still fledgling Jewish state, and that they contributed to, and eventually shared in its prospering. But the hardships they had to endure at the time they were made refugees were no less of a traumatic experience for them than the similar trauma experienced by the Palestinian refugees. The fact that the Palestinians were condemned to remain in the charge of UNRWA for six decades was undeniably the choice of the Arab states that had started the war that produced these refugees, and while the international community did nothing to alleviate the plight of the Jewish refugees, it devoted considerable means to take care of the Palestinian refugees.
Whatever the JJAC campaign will ultimately achieve, it already has achieved something by exposing the utter hypocrisy of those who doubt Israel’s legitimacy and, at the same time, excuse the persecution of Jews in Arab countries as a “backlash” and insist that it is Israel which should be held responsible for the plight of the Palestinian refugees who fled a war started by Arab states bent on crushing the just established Jewish state.