More about Arab Jews (updated)

Although this blog has already fleetingly referred to the article: Arab Jews: are they extinct? I was asked by blogger Elder of Ziyonif I would comment further on it. My comment has turned into an EoZ guest post:

Naava Mashiah’s article is doing the rounds of the Arab media, gaining prominence in Arab News. Much of what she writes is only partially true, and is designed to ingratiate herself with her Arab Muslim readership.

Is there such a creature as an Arab Jew? Even Naava’s own father says there is no such thing.We agree.

Very few Jews from Arab countries self-define as ‘Arab Jews’, unless they are far-leftists. The ‘Arab world’ is itself a modern false construct, defining identity by language and culture. It’s like saying that a Spaniard and a Peruvian are both bound by a ‘Hispanic’ identity. But whereas a Spaniard and a Peruvian might have the same ancestry, religious communities in the Middle East always kept apart from each other; there was limited social interaction and almost no intermarriage.

Moreover – If you scratch away at an ‘Arab’’s identity, you will often find that he or she is not Arab at all. The region is a kaleidoscope of sects, religions and ethnicities. There is no such thing as ‘Arab’ culture. The famous singer Farid al-Atrash was not Arab but Druze, and many of the stars of Egyptian 20th century cinema were Jews or Copts. The roots of 20th popular ‘Arab’ musical culture in Iraq – the Jewish al-Kuwaity brothers had a powerful influence – could be said to be Jewish.

When she tries to explain why Jews left Arab countries, Naava Mashiah assigns equal blame to Zionism and antisemitic propaganda. In fact antisemitism alienated Muslims from Jews. Miss Mashiah makes no mention of the 1941 Farhud pogrom, seven years before Israel was established, and the rise of pro-Nazi feeling in the 1930s. Zionist activity in Iraq was a response to the Farhud, not the other way around.

Miss Mashiah’s allegation that Israel ‘effaced’ the identity of Jews from Arab countries is a charge commonly levelled by radical leftists and anti-Zionists. It is true that in its zeal to create a new Israeli, the establishment disparaged ‘Arab culture’, in the same way as it did ‘Yiddish culture’. But whatever the situation in the 1950s – and there was real discrimination then – Mizrahi culture has come back with a vengeance in Israel today.

In the final paragraph, Miss Mashiah herself gives the reason for writing her article: ‘my interest in my Arab roots grew about 10 years ago when I established my business which focuses on economic cooperation between Israel and the Middle East.”

So now we know. Being an ‘Arab Jew’, and downplaying the impact of Arab antisemitism, is good for business.

Read post in full


  • Yesterday was Haulocost remembrance day. I am afraid it is not over for some of us. Those who live in countries where they are unprotected can truly wonder at their future.
    They tell me, it can never happen again: but I am not so certain and it is a question of great worry for me!!!
    suzy vidal

  • Sylvia, I am aware that the Sefardic Jews in Bordeaux were legally treated differently from the Old French Jews of the Avignon area, from the Paris Jews and from the Jews of Alsace.

    Nevertheless, Voltaire did not make distinctions among Jewish groups in his relevant Judeophobic writings. I suggest that those who want to appreciate Voltaire's Judeophobia look up what he wrote about Jews in Dictionnaire Philosophiqaue and Philosophie Generale.

  • Eliyahu, just to clarify things.

    The 'Eastern Jews" Voltaire was talking about were the East European Jews, those from Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, etc., in German/Yiddish, "Ostjuden", not those they call today "Orientals", which includes Sephardim.

    And because that was the prevailing opinion in intellectual circles at the time and they had a (relatively) higher regard for Sephardim – probably because they hated Portugal – in France the Sephardim were emancipated before the Ashkenazis.

    The term "Orientals" as referring to Jews of the Middle east, Asia and North Africa bundled together is of recent vintage (1976) and was coined in Israel.

    But, if you mean to say that Jews in general including European Jews (the only kind they knew) were viewed as "Orientals" then yes of course since the philosophers recognized that their country of origin is in the Middle East, and consequently in Asia.

  • Hatred and contempt for the Orient, and –within the Oriental sphere– especially for Jews and Judaism, was typical of German philosophy, of Kant & Hegel, and later their disciple Marx. Voltaire and D'Holbach in France shared that contempt and hatred for Jews and Judaism –specifically as Orientals. While d'Holbach called the Jews in general –including Jews in Europe– degraded "Asiatics," Voltaire called the ancient Jews "an Arab tribe." Kant called the German Jews "the palestinians who live among us." [Rather ironical that last remark, in view of today's reality.]

    Therefore, hatred and contempt for Jews as quintessentially inferior Orientals was part of the heritage of the "Left" from its intellectual forerunners. After all, according to Kant, Hegel, etc., the Orient was incapable of Progress, the great ideal of the "Left." The Jews were even less capable of Progress than other Orientals in that view.

    Hence, from the philosophical standpoint of Kant, Hegel, etc., Oriental Jews were even more loathesome than other Jews. These views held today are irrational but we all know that irrational beliefs resist refutation by reason –by definition.


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