‘Arab Jew’ is as offensive as it is inaccurate

Journalists and scholars weaponise the term ‘Arab Jew’ against Zionism, and ignore that Jews,  Copts, Assyrians or Kurds were Arabised by Arab imperialism, argues Rahel Friedman in JNS News. They are the embodiment of resistance to colonisation.

Rahel Friedman

The Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East are often inaccurately represented in academia and the mainstream media. Their rich, complex history is purposely obscured to undermine Zionism. Indeed, professors, anti-Israel student organizations, and influential figures have denied the unique indigeneity of Jews in the Middle East. Moreover, these groups have minimized the widespread historical subordination, persecution, and exile of Jews under Arab and Muslim rule.

Unlike the harmonious depictions of an interreligious coexistence before 1948, Jewish life under Arabic rule was characterized by subjugation and discrimination. The 7th-century CE Pact of Umar formalized dhimmitude across several Islamic societies. Those under dhimmi status would pay a special tax, wear a yellow badge (which would inspire the Nazi-era Jude star), clip the front of their hair, and reduce the heights of their residential homes and places of worship. In addition, Jews could not build new synagogues, stand at eye-level with Muslims, carry swords, ride horses, wear Sudras, or raise their voices during Muslim prayer time. Despite these restrictions, Mizrahi Jews preserved their longstanding cultures and communities.

Thus, the term “Arab Jew” is as offensive as inaccurate. These Jews — as dhimmis — were never considered Arabs by their counterparts and were not afforded equal rights. The Jews were seen as foreigners above all else.

Al Jazeera’s Susan Abulhawa demonstrates this obfuscation, concluding that Mizrahi Jews are Arab. “They spoke Arabic, ate the same foods as their Christian and Muslim compatriots, celebrated and partook in the same national events and traditions, lived by the same social protocols, and moved through their respective cultures as other natives did… [they] speak Arabic at home… dance to Arabic music, eat Arab food.”

Abulhawa is so engrossed in her anti-Zionist agenda that she neglects all historical and semantic accuracies — obscuring the significant distinction between “Arab” and “Arabized.” Like Copts, Assyrians, or Kurds, the Mizrahim were Arabized by military expansion and imperialism — but they are not Arabs. Their cultural heritage represents syncretism with accessible aspects of Arab culture, such as food, language, and music of Arab culture, rather than a definite embrace of Arab culture. Anti-Zionists suppress the truth of this discrimination, as it substantiates the necessity of a Jewish state. In similar motivation, they reduce the complexity of Mizrahi identity and erroneously label it as Arab identity.

Anti-Zionist groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace also seem to have an affinity for the term, using it nearly 600 times across their different materials. They partner with “scholar-activists;” university professors that abuse their authority and credibility. These academics revise history to justify their anti-Israel political agenda and deliberately mislead students.

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