Tag: Media bias

Why are Mizrahi Jews being misrepresented as anti-Israel?

‘Progressive’ organisations and publications increasingly misrepresent Mizrahi history and cherry-pick unrepresentative minority voices in order to push their anti-Zionist agenda. Sapir Taieb and Matthew Nouriel, who work for the advocacygroup JIMENA, write in JNS News (with thanks: Imre):

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Mimouna. ‘Progressives’ accuse Zionism of ‘co-opting’ the tradition.

Scroll through the feeds of anti-Zionist organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace or publications like +972 or Jewish Currents and you’ll find cherry-picked stories that misrepresent our communal values. More and more ink is being spilled by the small number of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews who do not support Israel’s existence. They focus on Israel’s faults with no mention of the antisemitism we faced in MENA countries before 1948, willfully taking advantage of the limited recorded history of our communities.

Poor public understanding of the history, politics and economics of MENA countries makes it easy to tokenize Mizrahi and Sephardic anti-Zionists, turning them into leading voices even though they do not represent our communities. Anti-Zionist organizations and publications exploit our underrepresentation to manufacture partisan narratives about the Middle East and weaponize public ignorance in order to rewrite history.

The anti-Israel publication Jewish Currents regularly hires Mizrahim whose views are beyond the fringe to weigh in on our issues as if they were experts. They’ve brought in voices to make the ahistorical claim that Mizrahim are “Arab Jews” and that we experience Islamophobia. In reality, as mentioned above, MENA Jews were never allowed to be referred to as Arabs and were denied the legal rights that Arabs enjoyed. +972 has gone as far to publish op-eds claiming that centering our stories of escape to Israel is “Mizrahi-washing,” and that teaching about tragedies such as the Farhud—the 1941 massacre of Jews in Iraq—is to “diminish the Palestinian claim for justice.”

A prime example of this dynamic is when Jewish Voice for Peace published an inflammatory Instagram post about Mimouna, a traditional end-of-Passover festival celebrated in North Africa. They claimed that “Zionism has coopted”such traditions and “our Mimouna celebrations won’t be used to marginalize or tokenize our people, brownwash Israeli colonialism and occupation or erase our history of community.”

Anyone with basic knowledge of Mimouna knows that it is obscene to claim that Zionism has “coopted” it. In fact, given the ethnic cleansing of nearly all Jews who celebrate the occasion, almost the only place where Jews still freely celebrate Mimouna is in Israel. Even in their own post, JVP admits that since the tenure of Golda Meir, every Israeli prime minister has commemorated Mimouna. We fled to a Jewish state, which is why we and our traditions are still alive.

The vast majority of Mizrahim and Sephardim do not marginalize, tokenize or erase our own history. Expressing our communal values is not “brownwashing.” Organizations that capitalize on the increased attention to diversity within the Jewish community in order to burnish their credentials as “progressive” while ignoring the mainstream values of Mizrahim and Sephardim are exploiting us.

Just as anti-Zionist Jews try to represent themselves as conventional American Jews even though their political stances are on the fringe, these organizations and publications cherry-pick minority voices that are not representative of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East. These voices are chosen only because they are willing to affirm anti-Zionist viewpoints rather than tell our collective story. This tokenization lends an unearned legitimacy to those demonizing Israel and harms Mizrahi and Sephardic communities by rewriting our ancestors’ histories.

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BBC edits out true history of Jews in Morocco

The  23 April edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (from 06:18 here) by travel writer Elizabeth Gowing relating to the former Jewish population of Morocco. Israel was blamed for deteriorating relations between Arabs and Jews, despite the outbreak of pogroms before 1948 and widespread popular antisemitism. CAMERA UK has this critique:

Sol Hatchuel, the Jewish beauty who chose martyrdom rather than conversion to Islam in 1834

Gowing’s account told listeners of:

“…the huge diaspora of Jews of Moroccan heritage of whom there are nearly half a million in Israel. At one point Essaouira’s Jews were a majority in the town. But families started to leave in the 1950s and there are now none left living permanently here.”

Clearly those accounts do very little indeed to inform listeners why Morocco’s Jewish population plummeted from some 265,000 to only a couple of thousand and the claim that the reason was worsening relations “between the Arab world and Israel” whitewashes other no less important factors.

As we have had cause to note in the past when the BBC has similarly promoted narratives about Jews living harmoniously in Arab lands until Zionism and Israel came along:

“The Jewish community in Morocco had suffered periodic pogroms and forced conversions throughout history, including in the 18th and 19th centuries and in the early 20th century tens of Jewish families from Morocco had already emigrated to what was at the time Ottoman ruled Palestine. One event which was still within living memory at the time when the significant exodus of Jews from Morocco began was the pogrom in Fez in 1912. During World War Two, Morocco – at the time a French protectorate – came under pro-Nazi Vichy rule and Jews were subjected to anti-Jewish legislation.

Following a serious episode of anti-Jewish violence in Oujda and Jerada in June 1948, thousands of Jews emigrated. As Morocco moved towards independence in late 1955, new fears arose within the Jewish community and indeed between 1956 and 1961 Moroccan Jews were prohibited from emigrating to Israel. In the three years following the lifting of that ban, a further 80,000 Jews left Morocco for Israel.”

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Nostalgia for vanishing Jews masks their ethnic cleansing

The exit of the Last Jew from Afghanistan, Zevulon Simentov , masks the larger, dark issue of the rejection of the ‘other’. Thousands of years of Jewish history are completely erased, remembered only by the descendants of the dead. Dara Horn, author of People love dead Jews has written a heartfelt essay in The New York Times addressing the extinction of diversity, particularly in the Muslim world:

Dara Horn: feeling rage

These stories are used as comic relief, like a Mel Brooks skit injected into the relentless thrum of bad news. But when I read about the Last Jew of Afghanistan, a country where Jewish communities thrived for well over a thousand years, it occurred to me that there have been many “Last Jews” stories like this, in many, many places — and that the way we tell these stories is itself part of the problem.

Dozens of countries around the world have had their Last Jews. The Libyan city of Tripoli was, astonishingly, one-quarter Jewish in 1941; today the entire country is Jew-free. After the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi, who banished the country’s lingering Jews during his reign, a lone Libyan Jew came back to Tripoli and took down a concrete wall sealing the city’s one remaining synagogue. But he was soon forced to flee, having been warned that an antisemitic mob was coming for his head.

Chrystie Sherman, a photographer for Diarna, an online museum of Jewish sites in the Islamic world, once told me how she tracked down the last Jewish business owner in Syria, a millenniums-old Jewish community that once numbered in the tens of thousands. In 2009, he took her to a magnificent 500-year-old synagogue. The structure didn’t survive Syria’s civil war. At another synagogue, she had to lie to government agents about why she was there; admitting that she was documenting Jewish history was too dangerous.

In my travels, I’ve also seen what happens in such places decades after the Last Jews have vanished. Often, thousands of years of history are completely erased, remembered only by the descendants of the dead. Sometimes, something even creepier happens: People tell stories about Jews that make them feel better about themselves, patting themselves on the back for their current love for Jews long gone. The self-righteous memory-keeping is so much easier without insufferable living Jews getting in the way.

Places around the world now largely devoid of Jews have come to think fondly of the dead Jews who once shared their streets, and an entire industry has emerged to encourage tourism to these now historical sites. The locals in such places rarely minded when living Jews were either massacred or driven out.

But now they pine for the dead Jews, lovingly restoring their synagogues and cemeteries — sometimes while also pining for live Jewish tourists and their magic Jewish money. Egypt’s huge Jewish community predated Islam by at least six centuries; now that only a handful of Jews remain, the government has poured funding into restoring synagogues for tourists.

I have visited, and written about, many such “heritage sites” over the years, in countries ranging from Spain to China. Some are maintained by sincere and learned people, with deep research and profound courage. I wish that were the norm. More often, they are like Epcot pavilions, selling bagels and bobbleheads, sometimes hardly even mentioning why this synagogue is now a museum or a concert hall. Many Jewish travelers to such sites feel a discomfort they can barely name.

I’ve felt it too, every time. I’ve walked through places where Jews lived for hundreds or even thousands of years, people who share so many of the foundations of my own life — the language and books I cherish, the ideas that nourish me, the rhythms of my weeks and years — and I have felt the silence close in.

I don’t mean the dead Jews’ silence, but my own. I know how I am supposed to feel: solemn, calmly contemplative, and perhaps also grateful to whoever so kindly restored this synagogue or renamed this street. I stifle my disquiet, telling myself it is merely sorrow, burying it so deep that I no longer recognize what it really is: rage.

That rage is real, and we ignore it at our peril. It’s apparently in poor taste to point out why people like Mr. Simentov wind up as “Last Jews” to begin with: People decided they no longer wanted to live with those who weren’t exactly like themselves. Nostalgic stories about Last Jews mask a much larger and darker reality about societies that were once ethnic and religious mosaics, but are now home to almost no one but Arab Muslims, Lithuanian Catholics or Han Chinese. It costs little to wax nostalgic about departed Jews when one lives in a place where diversity, rather than being a living human challenge, is a fairy tale from the past. There is only one way to be.

What does it mean for a society to rid itself of other points of view? To reject those with different perspectives, different histories, different ways of being in the world? The example of Jewish history, of the many Last Jews in places around the globe, holds up a dark mirror to those of us living in much freer societies. The cynical use of bygone Jews to “inspire” us can verge on the absurd, but that absurdity isn’t so far-off from our own lip service to diversity, where those who differ from us are wonderful, so long as they see things our way.

On paper, American diversity is impressive. But in reality, we often live siloed lives. How do we really treat those who aren’t just like us? The disgust is palpable, as anyone knows who has tried being Jewish on TikTok. Are we up to the challenge of maintaining a society that actually respects others?

I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath. The Last Jew of Afghanistan is gone, and everyone is glad to be rid of him.

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Iraqi normalisers recant while US fails to show support (update)

Update: In the Wall St Journal, conference organiser Joseph Braude responds to a misleading New York Times report and appeals to the media not to let Iran ‘shape the story’ (with thanks: Lily):

New York Times Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf was one of several journalists who interviewed me by phone about the incident. I explained how I had helped Mr. Al-Hardan develop the speech from his original draft and served as go-between with the Journal’s editors. I confirmed that I translated the edited English-language version back into Arabic and submitted it to Mr. Al-Hardan for approval.

In response to Ms. Arraf’s question about his later claim that he didn’t know the content of the speech from which the article was drawn, I provided the full video of his delivering it to the crowd as well as a clip of a Kurdish TV interview, taped after the conference but before the threats began, in which he reinforced the message. Ms. Arraf’s report mentions neither video, and asserts that I told her the Journal editors had provided “input” on the piece. That’s her word, not mine, and the Journal editors made no substantive changes. The Times thereby lent a measure of credence to a recantation that obviously was made under duress.

The Iraqis who participated in the conference came to me in part because I am the son of an Iraqi Jewish woman born in Baghdad, and I took on the commitment out of a sense of kinship and personal conviction. My organization is doing everything we can to help protect them. As part of that effort, we would like to call public attention to one of the ways international media can help: Don’t allow Iran or its violent proxies to manipulate your coverage. Don’t let their intimidation and threats shape the story. And, when courageous people stand up for peace at clear risk to themselves, take note of this and ask why it is happening and why the Iranians feel so threatened by it.

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An intense backlash of death threats and intimidation has been suffered by  Wissam al-Hardan and other leading Iraqi participants in the recent groundbreaking conference calling for normalisation with Israel. But the most disgraceful aspect of this story is the Biden administration’s silence, writes Jonathan Tobin in JNS News:

From left: Dennis Ross, who took part in the conference by Zoom, organiser Joseph Braude and leading participant Wissam al-Hardan

What was so wonderful about Al-Harden’s Journal article was his acknowledgment of the tragedy of Iraqi Jews, a 2,600-year-old community that numbered more than 100,000 persons, that was driven out of the country by anti-Semitic riots and hatred.

But as The New York Times reports, the backlash against the conference, which was attended by former U.S. State Department official Dennis Ross, was intense.

According to the Times, as news of the conference in Erbil spread, the overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province issued arrest warrants for six of the participants. Others were fired from their government jobs. Pictures of the six – now wanted by the authorities for advocating peace with Israel – are now featured on huge banners erected at checkpoints between Anbar and Baghdad with the captions accusing them of “treason.”

Just as ominous was the way Al-Harden was intimidated by the Jew-haters. Reportedly, at the conference, he directly advocated Iraq joining the Abraham Accords and spoke of a desire for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, especially in the light of the fate of Iraqi Jewry and its successful integration into Israeli society. He also warned of Iraq being reduced to a similar position as Lebanon, where Iranian auxiliaries have destroyed the country’s sovereignty and made it a puppet of Tehran.

But after being threatened for doing this and dismissed from his leadership position at the Awakening movement, Al-Harden completely recanted his position. The sheikh said he was deceived by the conference organizers and that he did not write the speech he gave at the conference or the Wall Street Journal article, claiming that since he does not read or write English, he had no idea what was being published in his own name.

The conference organizer, Joseph Braude, an Arabic-speaking American of Iraqi Jewish descent, insists that the sheikh understood everything that was in the article and his speech. Al-Harden’s son, who did not attend the conference but did drop his father off there, is also facing an arrest warrant if he returns to Anbar. Conference attendees are remaining in Erbil, which is part of the autonomous Kurdish region that broke away from Baghdad’s control decades ago. But they know if they go home, they may die.

Iran dominates much of Iraqi society in part because of the ties between Iraqi Shi’ites and Tehran, but also because Iran became immeasurably strengthened by America’s toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime, an unintended and unfortunate consequence of the 2003 invasion of the country.

As much as one might expect that Iran’s Iraqi allies would do their utmost to oppose the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the saddest and the most disgraceful aspect of this story is the reaction of the Biden administration. While Washington has largely remained silent about these events, it was telling that the one American statement about it demonstrated just how thoroughly Iran has also intimidated the United States.

The International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve – the U.S.-led force that has been fighting ISIS for eight years – did have something to say about the pro-normalization conference. In a tweet issued by the command’s spokesman, U.S. Army Col. Wayne Marotto, the force officially stated that it had been, “made aware of announcements … relating to the recent conference held in Erbil to discuss the normalization of ties with Israel. @Coalition had no prior knowledge of the event, nor do we have any affiliation with its participants.”

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Analysis by Tom Gross

A pro-Israel summit in Erbil (Dennis Ross  – Washington Institute)

NY Times mangles history of Iraqi Jewry

New York Times dispatch from Baghdad reports on reaction to a conference about peace between Israel and Iraq.  In the process, the Times news article distorts the history of Jews in Iraq, blaming their exodus on the creation of Israel and drawing a spurious distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Ira Stoll reports in The Algemeiner (with thanks: Lily):

The Times reported, “While the conference linked the two issues, many Iraqis draw a sharp distinction between feeling an affinity for the country’s former Jewish community and openness to the state of Israel.” The Times lets that make-believe distinction — we love Jews, it’s just Israel that bothers us — pass with no comment, consistent with the desire of many Times readers to minimize the considerable overlap between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The Times even lends backing to the supposed distinction with its own capsule summary of Iraqi Jewish history: “The Iraqi Jews — an ancient community and an integral part of Iraqi society — were pressured by the government to give up their citizenship and property and leave Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948.”

That falsely suggests that it was only “the creation of Israel in 1948” that turned Iraqis against the Jews. Yet the Times itself acknowledged back in 2016: “Iraqi Jews had always been the targets of sporadic attacks. But the danger soared with the rise of the Nazis’ influence in the 1930s as well as unhappiness around the Arab world with Zionism’s push for a Jewish state. A pogrom in June 1941, the Farhud, killed nearly 200 Jews in Baghdad.” The 2021 Times article makes no mention of the Farhud or of Nazi influence in Iraq.

The Farhud was before the creation of Israel, not “after.”

And the Farhud was, sadly, not the end of it.

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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