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February 27, 2009

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 27, 2009 New book examines the world of Israel's '0000l,ab Jews' tion with three women who, like her. come from Iraqi Jewish families. They are pleasantly surprised" to find that she can speakArabic, and they share their enthusiasm for Arab culture. One woman "lives in cen- tral Tel Aviv and speaks Arabic constantly, listens to the music, adores the great singers like Fairuz and Farid al-Atrash. She has all the Arabic channels on TV and declares herself to be in love with the language .... She relates that she is happy in Israel, of course, but that she was happy in Iraq too." But then she goes on to say things the left-leaning Shabi--who was born in Is- rael but spent most of her life in England, where she works as a journalist--does not like so much. All of her glorious hybridity does not stop the woman from thinking that "the Arabs themselves, they are killers. They like to die, she says; you see their mothers on TVwishing for their son's death if it means they also kill Jews." Struck by the irony that she is saying all this in Arabic, Shabi demands, "Aren't you also an Arab?" This sends the friendly conversation "screeching into a dark alley." "Of course I'm not Arab!" the woman fires back, "I'm Jewish! Of course we are dif- ferent!" Shabi reports this encoun- ter honestly, even though it presents a rather large ob- stacle to her book's thesis. For Shabi believes that reclaiming the Arab-Jewish identity of so many of Israel's citizens--=40 percent of Israeli Jewsare Mizrahi. down from an actual majority in the 1970s is the only way to save the country's soul. Writingwith a combination of grievance and idealism familiar on the Western left. but not as often heard from Israelis themselves, Shabi decries the marginalization of Mizrahi culture and the economic injustice that keeps Mizrahis poorer and more likely to end up in jail. She attacks the founders of Israel, the European Zionists, who failed to integrate Arab Jew- ish immigrants into the new society. She quotes the most disaffected Mizrahis she can find. like Shlomi from Ofakim. who greets an Independence Day display of flags by say- ing, "My children-will never raise the Israeli flag, never!" Shlomi goes on to add that the Ashkenazis brought the Holocaust on themselves: "Anti-Semitism doesn't come from nowhere, something causes it." This is obviously a fringe viewpoint, not to say a lunatic one, and Shabi is a little too eager to make voices like Shlomi's sound legitimate. She looks fondly, for instance, on Israel's Black Panthers, an extremist Mizrahi rights organization that incited a major riot in 1971. (Golda Meir famously dismissed its members as "not very nice boys.") This tendentiousness is a pity because the actual facts Shabi gathers are sobering enough. It becomes easier to understand why some Miz- rahis would look to Eldridge Cleaver for inspiration when you learn that "in 1970. 78 percent of all adult Jewish and 93 percent of all juvenile Jew- ish offenders were Mizrahi." Even today, Shabi writes. 'the majority of university professors and students, TV presenters. Supreme Court justices (all but one. in fact) haveAshkenazi surnames: the glaring majority of university cleaners, market stall trad- ers, TV buffoon characters. and blue-collar criminals are Mizrahi in origin." So are most residents of Israel's "development towns," impoverished places on the periphery of the country. These towns were created to house Arab-Jewish immi- grants in the 1950s by anAsh- kenazi Labor establishment that did not consult them about where they wanted to go. As is the nature of things, these towns have only become Taught by Senior Rabbi Aaron D. Rubinger & Francisco Vargas Beginning Mondays, March 2, 2009 7:00 p.m. 9:15 p.m. By Adam Kirsch NEW YORK (JTA)That the State of Israel has an eth- nicity problem is the opposite of news: Hardly a day goes by without some report on the hostilities between Jews and Arabs. But "We Look Like the Enemy," the Impassioned. often self-righteous new book by Rachel Shabi, draws the reader's attention to an easily overlooked dimension of that old conflict: What if you are an Israeli Jew who is also, in some ways, an Arab? What if, like Shabi's own family, you came from Iraq, where your ances- tors had lived_for centuries; if you speak Arabic fluently, and pronounce Hebrew words with an unmistakable accent; if you watch TV shows from Dubai and listen to music from Egypt; if your complex- ion resembles a Palestinian's more than a Pole's? In short, what if you belong to the significant percentage of Israeli Jews who are referred to as Mizrahi. or Easterners? Shabi makes one thing dear: If you are one of those Jews, you adamantly refuse to call yourself an Arab, or even an Arab Jew. In her last chapter, titled "We Are Not Arabs!" Shabi recalls ridingan early-morning bus to Kiryat Shmona, a majority Mizrahi town near the Lebanon bor- der. She gets into a conversa- If you would like to strengthen your Jewish Spirituality or are considering conversion to Judaism, this course is for you. This curriculum introduces the essence of Jewish faith, beliefs, customs and traditions from a Conservative perspective, and also incorporates the study of Hebrew for synagogue use. The class will be taught by Senior Rabbi Aaron D. Rubinger and translated into Spanish by Francisco Vargas. Upon completion of this program, those considering conversion must meet traditional requirements. For fees and registration information, please call Susan at 407-298-4650, or email Congregation Ohev Shalom Founded in 1918 Member of The United Synagogu e of Conservative Judaism 5015 Goddard Avenue * Orlando, FL 32804 * (407) 298-4650' Please view our Website: more disadvantaged as time goes on. Shabi writes penetratingly about the way kibbutzes--the pioneer settlements of Euro- pean Jws. which enjoy great prestige in Israel--control the best agricultural land. to the detriment of development towns that have no place left to develop. In the 1990s. when kibbutzes were allowed to rezone their land for com- mercial purposes, they reaped huge private windfalls, even thbugh almost all the land in Israel technically is owned by the state. This ethnic cleavage can- have major repercussions in other ways, as well. Especially since the invasion of Gaza, there has been much coverage of the town of Sderot in the American press. Close to the Gaza border, it is a constant target of Hamas rockets. But I do not remember having read that Sderot is a develop- ment town with a population that is 70 percent Moroccan. Shabi quotes a Sderot store- keeper-named Haim who believes that this is why the government sees the town as expendable. "Polish people, they wouldn't let it pass in si- lence," the storekeeper says. "They are Ashkenazi, so they are strong and they are con- nected to the country, to our government." All of this material will be eye-opening for many American Jews. though it is common knowledge in Israel itself. Indeed. "the ethnic demon," as it is called in shorthand, is a frequently debated subject in the press and in politics. Yet Shabi tends to play down the evidence that Israel's ethnic divisions are gradually improving. The state has now had a Mizrahi president, Moshe Katzav, and even a Mizrahi head of the arch-Ashkenazi Labor Party, Amir Peretz. Culturally, the current" generationof Israelis is much more open to Middle Eastern influences than the pioneers, who tended to look down their noses at Jews who looked and talked too much like Arabs. (Shabi collects many damning quotes to this effect from the heroes of early Israel, includ- ing David Ben-Gurion. who said that the Middle Eastern immigrants arrived in Israel "without a trace of JewiSh or human education.") Where "We Look Like the Enemy" falters is in its rose- colored vision of the distant past and the potential future. Like many a child of immi- grants who grew up on tales of the old country, Shabi tends to see her ancestors' lives as alost paradise, ignoring the reasons why they might have wanted to leave it behind. But it is one thing to wax rhapsodic about Basra date syrup--"brown. thickly sweet," eaten drizzled on fried eggs--and another to suggest that Jews. like dates, can only flourish in Iraqi soil: "Now they; just like the smuggled palms, were sowed into the alien, new soils of Israel. And this land. they say, seemed unaccountably hostile to Middle Eastern and North African Jews--so they didn't grow right, either." The suggestiori that the Jews were better off in Baby- lon ignores the fact that whatever may have been the case in the time of Cyrus the Great. in i948 they voted with their feet--nearly the entire Iraqi Jewish community left the country after Israel was founded. Nor is ita good argu- ment against the Jewish state that as one Iraqi Jew quoted by Shabi has it. "If Israel had not been established, nothing would have happened to the Iraqi Jews." Just ask the Kurds and the Shiites whether they think Iraq has been an oasis of diversity in the last 50 years. Noi does Shabi seem justi- fied in hoping that Mizrahi Jews, once reawakened to their Arab cultural identity, will finally be, able to make peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world. Shabi quotes a Moroccan-born Li- kud Party official to this effect. Book on page 15A A new book asks Israelis: What if you belong to the sig- nificant percentage of Israeli Jews who are referred to as Mizrahi, or Easterners?