In this review of Matti Friedman’s Spies of No Country, Jack Cohen at Israelseen writes that the Arabic-speaking Jews are no longer a minority in Israel – and have stamped their hawkish views on Israeli politics:
One significant section of this book is devoted to what Israel was and currently is. When these young Arab-Jews, known as Mizrachim In Israel (Easterners) first arrived in Jewish Palestine they were a small minority. In effect they were used and patronized by the predominantly European Jewish (Ashkenazi) Zionists. But, with the establishment of Israel the Jews in Arab lands were both forced out by the Arabs and with the help of the fledgling Mossad managed to get to Israel (some 800,000; many of the rest moved from N. Africa to France and the USA). With this influx and their large families they soon became a majority. The tipping point came in 1977 when the “riff-raff” as the Ashkenazi ascendency called them, out-voted the Labour Party that had ruled since Independence, and voted in the right-wing Likud Party of PM Menachem Begin. It can be said that they voted against the liberal-socialists who were forever trying to assuage the Arabs and make peace (for example Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Wakf in the expectation that they would show gratitude) and voted in the more realistic and hawkish right because they knew the Arabs better than the Ashkenazim. So Israel moved in a different direction than many of the European Zionist founders expected, with their socialist ideals and their sense of entitlement. For those who criticize Israel as a colonialist endeavor you should accept the fact that more than half of Israel’s population (55%) is descended from people who never left the Middle East, and now 74% of its population have been born in the Middle East, and aren’t going anywhere else.
For those who have seen the popular Israeli series Fauda, you may get a taste of what these Arabic-speaking Jews experienced. But, in Fauda the Duvdevan (cherry) unit goes in and out of the Arab West Bank and Gaza, while the Arabic-speaking Jews in this period were expected to live as Arabs in an Arab society for long periods of time, and without all modern means of communication. Their fate was more like that of Eli Cohen, the most famous Israeli spy, who conned the whole of the Syrian power structure for a long time, but was eventually caught and hung (see The Spy on Netflix). Of those Arabic-speakers who joined the fledgling Jewish intelligence service 8 out of 10 did not survive. They were caught out not by their ability to speak Arabic, but often by their lack of knowledge of Muslim religious customs, saying prayers or how to perform the routine ablutions (wudu). But, they learnt by mistakes and that was taken care of in time by expert training.
The food wars rage on. Hanin Majadli has accused chef Naama Shefi and Ashkenazi Zionists in general of “cultural and culinary appropriation” (“Israel’s guide to foodwashing Palestinian culture,” July 23). Writing in Haaretz, Mor Altshuler takes issue with the narrative that Jews appropriated ‘Palestinian’ food culture. In fact, she says, it is the reverse (with thanks: Lily):
Her (Hanin’s) claim about North African cuisine is apparently about couscous, a dish Ashkenazi Zionists have come to love. Couscous is made of cooked semolina – a kind of flour known as solet in Hebrew – that is mixed with oil.
But couscous was known thousands of years ago as the “grain offering” that was sacrificed in the Temple in Jerusalem: “And when anyone brings a grain offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour [solet]; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon” (Leviticus 2:1). Incidentally, frankincense was added to the recipe’s spices.
As for Palestinian freekeh (toasted green wheat), wheat and roast barley, they were all mentioned among the courtship customs of the Biblical Boaz, who gave roasted grain to Ruth the Moabite in the fields of Bethlehem. It was from their relationship that the House of David arose.
Nor is there any need to go back as far as the Bible. In southeastern Turkey, kubbeh, the glory of the Palestinian kitchen, is called “Jewish kofta” – that is, Jewish meatballs.
Jews invented kubbeh because it was their custom to eat meat on Shabbat, but it is religiously prohibited for them to slaughter animals or cook on that day. Before the refrigerator was invented, the solution was to wrap ground meat in dough and fry or bake it on Friday, so it wouldn’t spoil over Shabbat.
Similarly, eggplant and hummus, also ostensibly from the Palestinian kitchen, are mentioned in the records of the Spanish Inquisition as characteristic Jewish foods that could be used to identify people who formally converted to Christianity but secretly remained Jews.
Earlier this month, the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Israel, played host to the widow of Eli Cohen, Israel’s most famous spy. Nadia comes from an Iraqi-Jewish family: her brother is Sami Michael, one of Israel’s best-known authors. Nadia’s visit was particularly poignant for Lily Shor, manager at the Center, who left Iraq in the 1970s. She told Nadia how the remaining 2,000 Jews had read about her husband’s heroism in secret – in Baghdad:
“I was excited to tell Nadia Cohen, the widow of Eli Cohen, the Mossad’s man in Damascus, about the Arabic version of the book on Eli Cohen that my family and I read in the late Sixties in Baghdad.
The book passed secretly from house to house, of course with utmost caution. If they had been caught with it, members of the same family would immediately have been led to the gallows.
What courage we had then! Although we trembled with fear and knew what could happen – with what thirst and enthusiasm the Jews read the book. They did so at great speed, because everyone was queuing up to get the book. I brimmed with pride and respect discussing the story with other Jews. Even though I was a young girl, everything remained etched in my memory.
According to my aunt, the book was translated from Hebrew! I even remember that its cover was red, with black lines across it. Nadia Cohen didn’t know about this and was excited to hear from me for the first time that the story of her husband’s extraordinary heroism had reached the Jewish community, which in many ways was quite isolated from the outside world. Yes, we listened to the Voice of Israel in Arabic and from there we got the whole truth. We also listened to the BBC and to the Voice of America. We became practised at distinguishing between the lies and the real news.
It is unbelievable that more than fifty years after the little girl I was then – 12 or 13 years old – read about him in a book in Baghdad when I was still a ‘hostage′ (like the rest of the Jews in Iraq), I meet the widow of the Israeli hero israel Eli Cohen.”
It is possible that since this Haaretz piece by Zvi Barel was published in June the Israeli emissary David Govrin has found the right offices for the Israeli mission in Rabat. But the euphoria greeting the first commercial flights from Tel Aviv to Marrakesh should not obscure the fact that Morocco is reluctant to open a fully-fledged embassy in Israel. While Morocco will welcome Israeli tourists, anti-normalisation is a powerful force.
It’s not fun to be the official emissary of Israel in Morocco. The veteran diplomat David Govrin, who is head of the mission, has been having a hard time finding an appropriate place for its offices. Six months after he was appointed to the job, the mission is still operating out of a hotel in the capital of Rabat.
Landlords have refused to rent it space in the kind of residential building Govrin is looking for. The government of Morocco has proposed a building far from the center of the city where Israel used to have an office, but Israel rejected the offer, saying it wanted the mission to be in the diplomatic quarter with other embassies, on the assumption that the mission will one day become a full-fledged embassy.
On Facebook and Twitter, there are accounts called “Get rid of the Israeli emissary.” Pictures of the Temple Mount adorn Twitter accounts, one of which declares “normalization is treason and an unforgivable crime. To our great misfortune, our country has chosen to normalize ties with murderers for personal reasons.”
Visits to Israel by Moroccan cabinet ministers that had been planned before the violence in Jerusalem and the Gaza fighting have been postponed or canceled. Local soccer teams were directed to cancel games with Israeli teams and last month protests were staged amid chants, “The nation wants to end normalization.”
“Morocco is a rising economic star in need of Israeli technology, and Israeli companies have a lot to offer. But it seems that politics is charging a price. The Moroccan government isn’t rushing to turn normalization agreements that were signed last December into fact,” an official handling the trade agreements told Haaretz.
When it comes to granting citizenship to applicants of Sephardi origin, Spain appears to have had a change of heart. It has rejected or failed to respond to 20,000 applications. One reason could be that the current government is an alliance of the PSOE socialist party and hard-left Podemos, neither known for being philosemitic or pro-Israel. Although the Spanish deadline expires in September 2021, Sephardim can still apply for Portuguese citizenship, which is open-ended. Times of Israel has picked up the story:
Spain has been widely rejecting applications for citizenship by the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country more than 500 years ago, according to The New York Times.
The Spanish government has extended citizenship to 34,000 people since advancing the 2015 law to redress the “historical mistake” Spain committed when it forced its Jewish population to convert or go into exile in 1492.
But according to The New York Times, which cited Spanish government data, while just a single applicant was denied citizenship before this year, 3,000 applications have been suddenly rejected in the past few months and 17,000 others have received no response.
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