Can Israel ever be integrated in the Middle East?

Anything by Seth Frantzman is always thought-provoking, and this piece in the Jerusalem Post, arguing that Israel is both integrated into and disconnected from the Middle East, is no exception. However, there are several fallacies: to be born in the region and to speak Arabic does not mean that you share the same mentality. Converging political interests do not require that Israeli leaders should ‘enjoy’ meeting Arab leaders. Above all, Israel does not act in a vacuum, but turns towards the West in reaction to Arab rejectionism and ostracism.

Prime minister David Ben-Gurion had a dim view of the Middle East and
its people. Of Yemenite Jewry he wrote to IDF chief of staff Yigael
Yadin in 1950, “It is two thousand years away from us, if not more. It
is lacking in the most basic and rudimentary conceptions of
civilization. Its attitude to children and women is most primitive.” His
view of the Arab and Muslim world was that it was primitive and savage
and that Jews in Israel would be molded into a modern Eastern
European-style state.

Seventy years later Israel has drifted from
the fantasies of Ben-Gurion to become more a part of the Middle East.
However, despite its attempts to integrate into the region, some of
which have been successful, in some ways its leadership is the least
integrated of any Israeli generation. After all, Ben-Gurion and others
studied at Istanbul University, while Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon grew
up alongside Arabs in the pre-state period. So why, after so many
decades, does Israel have this janus face?

Part of the reason for Israel’s internal contradiction of being a
Middle Eastern country populated by Middle Eastern people which is
uncomfortable in the Middle East has to do with its cultural elites and
historiography. For some, Ben-Gurion’s views have not changed much with
time. Zvi Zameret in his Melting Pot in Israel parroted uncritically
Ben-Gurion’s view that Yemenites could be “helped to bridge a gap of
thousands of years.” He writes, “despite the different between them
[Yemenites] and veteran Israelis, what was important was that the
Yemenites should absorb general knowledge, and so on as well as what
they could be taught about agricultural labor.”

The view of
Yemenites as foreign and Ben-Gurion as a “veteran Israeli” is a bit
ironic, considering Ben-Gurion was born in Plonsk in the Polish part of
the Russian empire in 1886 and came to Ottoman Palestine in 1906. There
had been Yemenite Jews in the Land of Israel, working in agriculture
even, long before he came. But the real story of the disdainful view of
Middle Eastern peoples as being “a thousand years” behind European
Jewish immigrants is due to the fact that the leadership of Israel in
its early years was dominated by Labor Zionists born in Europe who were
often imbued with a European supremacist ideology.

Their views
were not so different than the views of British colonial officers in the
Raj or whites in the US. For them it was a fact that Western
civilization was not simply more advanced and superior, but
civilizations of the Middle East were stereotyped as almost inhuman and
animalistic. Arye Gelblum wrote in Haaretz in 1949 of Jews from Muslim
countries: “Here we have an extremely primitive people. The level of
their education borders upon total ignorance and even more serious is
their total inability to comprehend anything spiritual.” They “lack
roots in Judaism” and have “primitive and wild instincts.”

Gelblum
was from Poland, born in 1912 and had come to British Mandate Palestine
in 1925. Looking back at the disdain he and others had for people from
the Middle East, one wonders why he came to Palestine? He could have
stayed at home in “civilized” Poland. The caricatures many Jewish
immigrants from Eastern Europe had for Jews from the Middle East was
similar to the caricature that Jews from Western Europe had for
“ostjuden” or Jews from the east.

Their sense of superiority was
manufactured from their own sense of inferiority in Europe. In Palestine
they needed to set themselves apart, and even though their own
education was relatively sparse compared to that of people in Berlin,
New York or London, in Mandate Palestine they could pose as “civilized.”

Bifurcating
themselves from Middle Eastern Jews and the Middle East at large became
a task of second aliya Zionists who began arriving after 1904. The
concept of “Hebrew Labor,” which entailed Jews hiring other Jews to work
the land, was one of the missions of the 1904 generation’s Labor
Zionism. They wanted to separate the new Jewish community from the old,
from the Jews of the Middle East and from the Arabs, to create a
separate revolutionary society.

Shimon Peres, David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan: Middle Eastern?

This had the effect of creating a
kind of cordon sanitaire between their society, preserving its east
European elements, and the Middle East. It was unfortunate because the
older Jewish communities were much more integrated. The old Sephardic
families in Jerusalem, Jaffa and elsewhere such as Amzalak, Valero,
Abulafia and many others were part of the Ottoman Empire and spoke its
languages. However, to their credit some of the second aliya Zionists
did attend Istanbul University.

The next generation of Israeli
leaders, such as Mordechai Maklef, Yigal Allon, Yigal Yadin, Moshe Dayan
and later Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak were born in the Middle East and
some of them grew up at a time when British Mandate Palestine was far
more Arab than it became after 1948. If one looks at the fighters who
coalesced around Sharon’s Unit 101 in the 1950s almost all the men were
born in British Mandate Palestine. Except for Danny Matt, who was born
in Germany, the others such as Meir Har-Zion, Assaf Simhoni, Aharon
Davidi and Raful Eitan were mostly born between 1920 and 1940. Their
formative years were ones where Jews were a minority and the landscape
was Arabic. They were Middle Eastern. Not the “primitives” that
Ben-Gurion was so concerned about, but rather part of their environment.

It’s
no surprise that although some Arabic leaders may have loathed Dayan or
Sharon, they tended to understand them quite well, and both Dayan and
Sharon seemed to feel as at home in a Beduin tent or looking at the
region through the eyes of the Kingdom of Jordan, as they felt in Tel
Aviv. For better or worse, they had more in common with Hafez Assad or
Gamal Abdel Nasser than they did with Jewish peddlers and pianists in
Poland. These early Israeli soldiers and leaders also spoke Arabic. Some
spoke Ottoman Turkish.

Now, fast forward to 2017 and look at the
leadership of Israel’s political parties. After Turkey condemned
Israel’s actions in Jerusalem recently, Foreign Ministry spokesman
Emmanuel Nahshon reminded the Turks that “the days of the Ottoman Empire
have passed.” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid went further, suggesting
Israel support Kurds and recognize the Armenian genocide. But Israeli
comments about Kurds often betray ignorance on the topic, confusing
Kurdish politics in Iraq with Kurds in Turkey. This is because even
though all of Israeli leaders today grew up in Israel, they didn’t
really grow up in the Middle East. Few of them have any knowledge of
languages in the region, and most of them seem to generally feel
uncomfortable around Arabs or other groups in the region. It’s a deep
cultural disconnect.

Commentators in Israel may talk about what
Israel should or should not do about Jordan, but none of them seem like
they’d like to go sit down with the king or anyone in the kingdom, the
way former Israeli leaders did in secret decades ago. Israel’s leaders
show a lack of interest in how the Middle East functions and in its
varying cultures. This spans the Left and the Right. The Left tends to
speak in terms of divorcing Palestinians in order to “save” Israel’s
Jewish character as a nation-state. The Right tends to simply ignore the
existence of Palestinians. But both disregard the need to feel
comfortable with or even interested in the “other.” Former Labor leader
Isaac Herzog claimed “the rampant construction in all the settlements
all the time will lead to replacing the Jewish majority state with an
Arab majority state.”

The discussion in Israel, from the Right to
the Left, is primarily an internal one. When Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu says Israel has shared interests in Saudi Arabia, the UAE or
Egypt, it isn’t because he enjoys meeting with leaders from there, it’s
simply a statement of fact. One gets the feeling that previous
generations of Israelis, with the exception of the cultural Eurocentric
elites, felt more a part of the Middle East, more comfortable in it.
That is ironic, since Israel was more isolated in the 1950s, surrounded
by real Arab armies. Today Israel has peace with two Arab countries, and
relationships with others, yet it is less integrated in the region in
some ways.

Israel was always going to be a janus-faced country
because of its nature. Founded primarily by Eastern European Jewish
nationalists, it was a gathering place for Jews from the Middle East and
has the food, music and culture of the region ingrained in it. Many of
its cultural elites still see the region as “primitive” and their
cultural leanings are toward Europe. It’s no surprise some of them and
their children emigrate to places like Berlin.

Read article in full

3 Comments

  • They can't have lacked roots in Judaism if they came from the region in the first place, unlike Ben Gurion and the rest

    Reply
  • Is this by antisemite Said or goofball Frantzaman? This is the racism, Frantzmann is the racist!! It's filled with inane really old outdated notions, today surviving in the academic and antisemitic far left. And colonialist military manuals written by antisemitic generals. Also it's fully wrong. This reads EXACTLY, like one of the CIA Arabists had written it. Or the British colonialists, who invented the lie that is the middle east, had written in the 19th Century, it is written by an idiot!! It is also LOADED with blatant antisemitic lies!!!

    Firstly he does that recent identity politics trick of separating Ashkenaz and Sfard Jews which is COMPLETELY artificial!! "Ashkenazi" Jews have been going to Israel for a thousand years!!! And "sfardi" and "ashkenazi" Jews had been integrated until modern times. Throughout the 1700s Jews from Europe had been going to Israel!! They were starved to death or killed by dhimmi laws. The Babylonian Talmud constantly speaks about the Greeks, not the Arabs, a European people, disprove that. So this goes back to the beginning. Israel at the arrogant acedemic level, such as Frantmann, are stunted in growth, stuck in a 19th Century far left proto identity politics, which is Nazism. The late middle ages the scholars of the Jews in Syria were often "ashkenazi", another example. This is part of a racist British war style agenda, coming from the late 19 hundreds created by antisemites and arrogant "academics", it's very scary. I had always been neutral on Frantzman, I noticed his long-term, old, outdated 19th Century deep leftism in previous articles, extremist stereotype based identity outlook of the world. The Ottoman Empire was in constant war with Eastern Europe throughout its history, if you think about it disproves everything in the article too. Frantzmann is one confused LEFTIST!! The "arabs" stole their whole architecture form Byzantium and eastern Christianity (which moved to eastern Europe), again disproves the whole premise. This article is antisemitic style lies. Based on some idealized superior "primitive" against some superior Jew, holding them back, not based in any reality which ever was. It uses the leftist scheme of inventing racism everywhere.

    He had some good early articles noticing the Nazi sympathies of most people who identified as Arabs, as he got older he got stupider and more brainwashed. This is a deeply antisemitc article, ALSO filled with absolute lies. HE!!! is the Ben Gurion he uses as a strawman in this article, he is the racist, with these dumb propaganda notions, based on a combination of old antisemitic lies, and some new internet ones. "Jews" have always made any antisemitic verbal diarrhea true, by combining it with some stereotypical thing a 'pro Jew' said such as the one little oft repeated thing about western Jews looking down on eastern European Jews, that "academics" have taken to repeating over and over, he just combined as the rulers of the Jews always do with the repeated over and over antisemitic lies, and you have a Jewish 'academic' and leader, whenever you do those 2 things..

    Reply
  • 06 August, 2017

    There's nothing so existentially irrelevant as more junk-academic turgidity
    about who came from where and who's roots were what,more than a century ago.. With some subliminal leftish drool about "colonialist mentality" and attitudes of "superiority" as icing on the cake. Why would any normal person in their right minds even want to be integrated or "assimilated" into the demography of the Muslim Orient ? Note our avoidance of the term, "middle east".
    From Casablanca in the West to Malaysia and Indonesia in the far South east,and points in between; From Turkey, and Central Asia,and North Africa to Sudan & Sub-Saharan Africa;In the Public housing estates of Europe and America,a dark night of the soul has descended; For which the light of dawn is nowhere in sight.It has nothing to do with what Muslims look-like;What language they speak,or their complexions, racial mix or ethnicity; Or what "nationality"…authentic or fabricated,they proclaim for themselves.
    The content and culture of their Islamic faith has created within them and around them,and wherever they migrate to,the most appalling failure of civilized restraint in recorded history. When fused with their demographic mass,the rest of humanity now faces the worst threat to civilized values,East or West,in its history.Islam's masses will create an abbatoir, wherever & whenever they can get away with it. And their "learning curves" ARE still on the upswing.
    The so called "palestinian" /Israeli conflict is little more than an iota of the shambling horror that is Contemporary Islam.
    It's time for organized and pro-active fight-back. And a golden opportunity to benefit from Islam's fast-forward flush into the sewers of history. Especially for the distressingly supine Jews of the Diaspora. Yapping away at each other or trying to "dialogue" or make any kind of "common-cause" with our Amalek-adversaries,only makes us easy victims. Let us cease to be governed by the judgement of fools.

    Please GOOGLE: {1}Norman L. Roth {2} Norman L. Roth, economist {3}Norman L. Roth,
    Technological Time

    Reply

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