Non-Ashkenazi Jews elided in public discourse

‘Jews of colour’ from the Middle East and North Africa  form the  majority of Israel’s population, yet both the country’s
supporters and detractors elide the Mizrahi experience. This needs to
change, say Analucia Lopezrevoredo and David Shraub. Fascinating piece in the Tablet.

Jews in Morocco

 

The omission of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews in intersectional
discourse is symptomatic of a larger problem. In the global imagination,
the easy conflation of “Jews” and “white” has blinded many to the
internal ethnic diversity within the Jewish community—especially in
Israel. Non-Ashkenazi Jews are typically ignored in public discourse or
respected only insofar as they confirm the prejudices and ideologies of
others. While there are some organizations, such as JIMENA (Jews
Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), devoted to elevating
the profile of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish concerns, in general
American Jewish organizations right, left, and center are notorious for
being Ashke-normative—in other words, making the Ashkenazi experience
the de-facto Jewish experience. This is similarly the case among critics
of the American Jewish establishment, both Jewish and not.

Mizrahi Jews represent a conundrum for Jews and non-Jews alike accustomed to the typical Eurocentric modes of characterization. “Jews living in the Middle East? North Africa? Jews identifying as Jewish and Arab? Jews having Arab names and speaking Arabic?”
Yet for more than 2000 years, Jews lived among Arabs, spoke their
language, and shared many of their customs. These Jews were responsible
for contributing the Babylonian Talmud, and centuries later were crucial
in revolutionizing the economies of cities including Aleppo, Baghdad,
and Cairo.

Unfortunately, Ashkenazi history and culture primarily dominates
Jewish dialogue and experiential learning, and Jews are erroneously
being uniformly labeled “white” as a result of it. It’s Yiddish—not
Ladino or Arabic—that Jews and non-Jews incorporate into their daily
vocabulary. It’s the Holocaust—not the expulsion and exodus of nearly
one million Jews from the Middle East, North Africa, and Iran—that
students learn about in schools. And it’s kugel and gefilte fish—not
kubbeh and borekas—that are served at community events and celebrations.
This lack of knowledge becomes even more troubling when one considers
that included in those unaware of this history are Jews that grew up in a
Jewish home, attended synagogue, and received some form of Jewish
education.

Read article in full

4 Comments

  • Actually, Sephardic and Oriental Jews are white insofar as Arabs, southern Italians, Greeks, etc. are white. The US Census Bureau includes Arabs and similar peoples among whites. But the article definitely has a point and I agree that Sephardic/Oriental Jews should not be given such short shrift by the generally Ashkenazi Jewish establishment. And I agree that when the article talks about whites they mean Europeans north of the Mediterranean, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

    Reply
  • Scott, if you are referring to Muslim Arabs, then you are right. But Jews/Israelites were in contact with Arabs long before Muhammad, before Islam. Ishmaelites and Midianites are mentioned in the books of Genesis and Exodus in the stories of Joseph and Moses. Kenites [Cainites] and Amalekites are mentioned in later books, in the historical books. May I remind you that Moses married a daughter of the priest of Midian? That Ishmaelites were involved in the story of Joseph. That Kenites (Cainites) joined Israel against the ancient enemies of the Israelites. And that Amaleq was considered Israel's bitterest enemy. King Herod was son of an Edomite/Idumaean father and an Arab mother. He and his family had converted to Judaism. This was a bitter rivalry between one of Herod's wives, a daughter of the Hasmonean dynasty, and Herod's mother. Herod and the foregoing Hasmonean kings were often at war with Arabs east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea.

    Reply
  • There's an error with the timeframe: the Arab conquests of the MENA region took place around 650-700 CE, so Mizrahi Jews have only been cohabitants with Arabs (with the exception of Yemenites) for about 1300 years.

    Reply

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