Zvi Ben Dor on the tragedy of ‘Arab Jews’

This 11-minute video, an interview with Zvi Ben Dor Benite, a professor at New York University, is more informative and less tendentious than its synopsis implies. Although he uses the fashionable term ‘Arab Jew’, an antonym which embodies two colliding nationalisms, Ben Dor later declares that Jews defined themselves as Iraqi, Egyptian and Moroccan Jews, and many of them were communists or even nationalists. Jews never imagined that they would ever have to leave their communities, but they were never given a choice.

The Jews have, however, left a legacy. Nostalgia in the Arab world is such that some 30 novels identified by Najat Abdul  Haq,  and published since 2006, feature Jews. Their departure is increasingly regretted  in a less tolerant Arab world. There have also been sympathetic portrayals, as in the latest Ramadan TV series, The Jewish quarter.

On the other hand, the concept of an exchange of populations between Iraqi Jews and Palestinian Arabs along the lines of the Greek-Turkish exchange of 1923-4 was being bandied about before the establishment of Israel.

The Israeli government has reluctantly begun pushing the idea that almost a million Jews from Arab countries were refugees and not Zionist idealists. Zvi Ben Dor Benite claims that it was not a mass exodus because the flight of the Jews took place over more than 40 years: but  90 percent of the Jews did leave within just a few years. The remnant communities of the 70s did not leave before because were kept as  hostages by Arab governments.

One Comment

  • off topic// This morning I heard "as a Jew" Rachel Shabi, a virulent anti-Zionist/Judeophobe on the BBC Dateline London program. The moderator brought up the topic of the recent unfortunate events –so satisfying to some self-righteous Europeans– in Israel. I refer to the stabbing of participants in a gay pride march in Jerusalem, in which a crazed man, a Haredi, stabbed several marchers, tragically killing one teen-aged girl. The other incident was the arson of an Arab home in the village of Duma in which an Arab baby and his father died and two other family members were severely burned.

    Shabi accused Jewish settlers, "right-wing extremists" [don't recall her exact words] of carrying out the arson/murder. She did this without hesitation or qualification and without real grounds or evidence. The only signs that it was done by Jews is that Hebrew grafitti was spraypainted on the wall of the house. But in Israel Arabs may know Hebrew and Jews may know Arabic. So the grafitti does not prove much. There are several known facts and circumstances that argue against the arson being done by Jews. Again, there is no proof one way or the other as to the ethnic identity of the perpetrators. But it seems strange that Jews were able to penetrate well into the village and away from the main road, to paint a few lines of grafitti, set fire to the house, keep the residents from leaving the house until the fire was well established, and then get away without being seen or intercepted, also considering that a big fire makes noise. If the arsonists were Jews who came across the rough, rocky terrain in the dark of night, rather than by car then there again you have the problem of how fast perpetrators could get away through that terrain. And other circumstances arguing against Jewish perpetrators. Those hill top youth arrested overnight were suspects known to the police but no evidence linking them to the arson was cited on the news reports.

    But Shabi had no doubts.


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