Menachem Klein and the invention of the ‘Arab Jew’

Biting Jewish Press article by Steve Plaut about the academic Menachem Klein, who is ressucitating the ‘Stalinist’ myth of peaceful coexistence prior to the creation of Israel. Klein claims that Jews considered themselves ‘Arab Jews’ and were in the forefront of local national movements. While Jews took part in the Iraqi cultural renaissance or Nahda (and some, like Leon Castro in Egypt, were nationalists) they were, unlike Arab Christians,  not prominent and their nationalism was soon torpedoed by the rampant antisemitism practised by the emerging Arab states.

In recent years Klein (pictured) has devoted his energies to resuscitating the
old Stalinist myth about Arab-Jewish euphoria before the rise of Zionism
and especially the silly pseudo-history around the notion of the “Arab
Jew.” Invented by a small group of Israeli Stalinists led by Tel Aviv
University sociologist Yehouda Shenhav, these people claim that Oriental
Jews are actually Arabs of the Mosaic persuasion. Never mind the
proportion who would slap you silly if they hear you calling them Arabs
of any sort. Shenhav has promoted his view that Asian Jews are Arabs in
numerous articles and his book, The Arab Jews: Nationality, Religion and
y, won rave reviews from Arab extremists and from PLO front

Shenhav considers Zionism to be a form of colonialism. Indeed,
Shenhav has long argued that Asian Jews and Arabs need to unite to fight
Zionism, that old “common cause” of the communist party in Iraq and
“Palestine” from the 1920s onward. Asian Jews and Arabs are, in his
view, two wings of the same struggle in absolutely everything – except
that Shenhav has staunchly opposed the idea of compensation for Asian
Jews from Arab countries for their property stolen.

Now years later, Klein tries to steal the anti-Zionist thunder from
the Stalinists, but by beating the same old tune. The only difference is
that Klein rewrites Jewish-Arab relations based upon the supposed
euphoria in “Palestine” before Israel’s creation – not in Iraq – when
the local Jews were supposedly Jewish Arabs. This tooth fairy historic
revisionism is the focus of his book, ‘Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews
in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron.’
It is in effect science fiction focused
upon the past.

Countless murders of Jews and pogroms against them notwithstanding,
Klein’s proof is that in Hebron in 1929, almost half the Jews there were
not massacred by the local Arabs. Klein then argues that not only were
pre-Independence relations among Jews and Arabs in “Palestine” idyllic,
but that the Jews considered themselves Arabs in all things. Something even Shenhav never claims. The problems only
began when “nationalism” made its appearance on the scene, and you will
not be disappointed to learn that he does NOT mean Arab nationalism,
something presumably Jewish Arabs could embrace and join.

From the toady Haaretz review of his book:

Arab-Jewish identity, writes Klein, did not only develop in
Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron. “It was a fact of life throughout the Arab
world. By the end of the 19th century it was a self-conscious identity
in the major cities of the east, such as Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad. In
these urban centers Jews took part in the Arab cultural renaissance and
local national movements.” …

Yet even then, in the midst of the looming nationalist conflict, the
lines remained fluid. Jewish women worked in Jaffa’s cafes and
restaurants as waitresses, singers and dancers. Jaffa’s young men
flocked to Tel Aviv’s cafes and beaches, wide-eyed at the sight of
scantily dressed women, unimaginable in Jaffa itself, and the Hebrew
city’s atmosphere of sexual licentiousness. Older Arab men courted
middle-aged Jewish women at the Casino Café, on the beach, which offered
live music, weekly formal dance nights and a crèche.

Like a Graham Greene novel.

The fatal death blow to the bucolic paradise came in 1948, when those
accursed Zionists declared Israeli independence. Clearly Klein, who
wants Jerusalem to belong to the “Palestinians,” thinks the solution is
for the Jews to go back to being obedient and easily-massacred Jewish

Read article in full 

“Arab Jew’? – it’s like saying ‘Hispanic countryside’


  • Klein's twisted case of the usual reductionist research and academic blunder. Why would one accept a naive description of the Jaffa's 1930's Bohemian life style and joie de vivre between Arabs and Jews (and specially Arab men looking for fun and Jewish ladies willing to please)as a factor of Arab Jewish golden age and Jewish "Arabity" is beyond me. I cannot find a word to describe this rubbish idea of Arab Jews, or Jewish Arabs. One can use "Jewishness" but there is no equivalent of it with the qualifier of Arab.

    If Jews of the Yishouv felt they were Arabs, then Berbers of North Africa should also claim their "Arabness" (another word came up). How about the Kurds, they should claim their "Arabness" because they lived among Arabs and speak the language too. Given Klein's revisionist notion of Jews as Arabs, then there should be blunders like the Persian Arabs, Zoroastrian Arabs, Zen Buddhist Icelandic Arabs,.Hindou Arabs .. you see what I am getting at… It's ridiculous…

    The only thing true about the commonality is the linguistic root between Hebrew and Arabic. Beyond the language, there is nothing (I mean NADA squared) that come close to linking Jewishness with this "Arabness", despite the common respective belief in one God (of course this applies to Muslim Arabs and Devout Jews). religions.

  • Eliyahu m'Tsiyon

    Seem to recall the false notion of faring better under Muslim rule compared to Christian rule originating from a 10th century Rabbi possibly from France (in a case of the grass is always greener on the other side), from a book or few documenting Muslim Jew-hatred (wish I could track down the specific source).

  • Davsil, the difference is that Asian, African, European, etc are geographic terms, whereas Arab is an ethnic term.

    On the other hand, the Arabic word 'Arab means desert. And in Arabic the Badawin are called Children of the Desert, Awlad al-'Arab. Some humorists call them Fathers of the Desert.

  • Assyrians, Maronites and Copts take issue with being called 'Arab' – and so do Jews.

  • There are European Jews, Asian Jews, African Jews, American Jews, so why not be called "Arab Jews"? That being said, I noticed in the introduction to the article, you referred briefly to "Arab Christians". I'm assuming you mean those Christians who really are Arab. If not, I'm sure the Assyrians, Maronites, Copts, etc. would take issue with you calling them "Arab". Why would you insult them like that? Also, I don't usually find comments to articles very interesting but I thought Ms. Slonim Dwek's comment was, probably more so than the article she was commenting on. As an amateur historian, I know that the Slonim family had lived in Hebron since 1811 so she has some personal insight.

  • The notion of Muslims/Arabs as especially tolerant towards Jews, more than the European Christians, seems to have first appeared –as far as I know– in the late 18th & the 19th centuries among Jewish intellectuals, particularly in Germany [with help no doubt from the German poet/dramatist Lessing, author of Nathan the Wise (1779)]. These Jewish intellectuals and historians knew books and texts of Jews in the Islamic domain, like Maimonides and Bahya ibn Pakuda, but did not well know everyday life, which did not always find its way into books since the truth could be deadly for the truthteller in those parts, even if writing Hebrew.
    This highly exaggerated notion of Muslim tolerance became a trap for Jews in the 20th & 21st centuries: Why are you Jews being so cruel to those tolerant Muslims who were so kind and tolerant towards you?

    So I don't agree with Steve Plaut –whom I know from way back– that these pro-Muslim notions exactly began with "leftists" although the Bolsheviks, then led by Lenin & Stalin, issued a pro-Islamist manifesto called an: Appeal to the Muslim Toilers of Russia and the East (Nov-Dec 1917). This document seems to have clearly set the pro-Islamist policy of the Bolsheviks/Communists/Trotskyists ever since. And it is a declaration of such support. See link:

    But Steve is on to something regarding the present. Of course, today's "Left" oftens finds itself carrying water, performing agitprop tasks, for the old Western and Eastern imperial powers.

  • The idea that Zionism was the cause of unrest between Jews, Muslims and Xtians is nothing but an ignorant myth. Since Arabs first INVADED the Levant in 636 CE there has been constant tension between Jew and Arab interspersed with genocidal violence by Arabs against Jews along with forced conversions and Ethnic Cleansing. In my family's hometown, Hebron, there was the 1929 Pogrom, the March 1920 Pogrom, April 1920 Pogrom, 1911 Pogrom, 1887 Pogrom and so on back to 638 when Arabs conquered Hebron. The major pogroms there in 1834 and 1799 took place long before Zionism even existed.

    Sadly, local Arabs used just about any opportunity to murder Jews. In 1834 and 1799 there were political vacuums with the Pasha 'Ali Rebellion and Napolean's Levantine Campaign respectfully. When I hear people recite the ignorance that Klein is resuscitating I get a gnawing feeling in my gut. To ignore so many atrocities against your own People as you try to turn Goyim against Zionism and Israel? It is beyond degenerate.

    As for the disgusting label "Arab Jew," speaking English does not make Jews Englishmen. Only intellectual frauds like Klein and ignoraumses buy into such simpleminded reasoning. If we were Jewish Arabs we would not have been enslaved under Dhimmitude. We would not have seen Arabs steal our lands and homes, our indigenous homeland. Arabs never considered us to be Arabs.


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