If we talk about the Arab nakba, we should, as a matter of law and equity, also talk about the Jewish nakba of 870,000 refugees from Arab countries, writes Lyn Julius in the Jewish Chronicle in response to a plea by a young Jew for schools to teach Palestinian views.
Writing here last month, Sabrina Miller made a plea: Jewish schools should teach Palestinian views. Her argument was that this would help woefully ill-informed young Jews better to argue Zionism’s case once they arrive on campus. Although the plea came with the best of intentions, it risks falling into a trap. The nakba (an Arabic term for the ‘catastrophic’ exodus of 710,000 Palestinian refugees) is the self-inflicted consequence of the Arab decision to go to war in 1948 — a war which their side instigated and lost. To talk of the nakba without balance or context would be to promote a one-sided narrative of Palestinian victimhood.
If we mention the Arab nakba, we are compelled as a matter of law and equity to talk about the Jewish nakba (I use the expression for convenience). As many as 870,000 Jews (persecuted by the Arab League as the “Jewish minority of Palestine”) were driven from, or fled, the Arab world at around the same time as the Palestinian refugees — and as a consequence of the same conflict, merely because Jews in Arab lands shared the same religion and ethnicity as Israelis.
Why should we take only the Palestinian refugee cause seriously, while dismissing the Jewish refugees? Why are Jews so quick to empathise with our enemies, while failing to defend our own rights? Furthermore, no credible and lasting peace settlement could be reached if the grievances of more than half the Jews of Israel — refugees from Muslim lands or their descendants — are ignored.
Recognising the Jewish nakba, the mass displacement and dispossession of ancient Middle Eastern Jewish communities, is central to achieving reconciliation. It would mean acknowledging that an irreversible exchange of refugees took place, similar to exchanges which occurred as a result of other 20th Century nationalist conflicts.
One cannot teach about the Arab nakba without also teaching about its root cause: Arab rejectionism. Today, such rejectionism has religious overtones. The Israel-Palestine conflict cannot be divorced from the eliminationist intentions of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian ayatollahs and Islamist groups generally. These do not even bother to camouflage their genocidal aims in terms acceptable to western ears, such as “occupation”, “settlements” and “Palestinian human rights”.
Diaspora Jews do not make the right counter-arguments because our approach to Israel is frustratingly “Ashkenormative”. The tragedy of the Mizrahi (eastern) communities is not known to the majority of Ashkenazi Jews. Consequently, we don’t adequately make the case for Jews in general.
Israel is the vindication of an aboriginal Middle Eastern people’s aspirations for self-determination. Over half its Jewish population — Mizrahim from the Muslim world — never left the region and pre-dated the Arab conquest by 1,000 years or more. (The long sojourn of Ashkenazim in Europe does not make them any less Middle Eastern in origin, culture and identity.) Why should Arabs have 22 states, while other indigenous victims of Arab imperialism such as the Amazigh (Berbers) or the Kurds — 99 per cent of whom have voted for an independent state — have no political rights? To the latter, Israel is an inspiration.
Moreover, far from being a “white colonial settler” state, Israel is the native response to a long history of subjugation to Muslim antisemitism. The creation of Israel marked the final deliverance of Jews from a form of historic, but resurgent, Muslim colonialism towards non-Muslims which gave them “dhimmi” status. Like women, whose purpose is to serve Muslim men — witness their treatment today by the Taliban — dhimmi Jews and Christians under sharia law occupied the penultimate rung on the social ladder, just above slaves. They lived in the Muslim world under sufferance, not as of right.
Our children ought to see the Jews of Israel as a “people of colour” who have thrown off the yoke of submission.
Israel’s supporters could indeed deploy ironclad arguments, if only they are given the right facts.