Article from the December 2010 issue of Australia/Israel Review. The way in which Harvard psychiatry professor Kenneth Levin is brought in to explain the behavior of Jewish/Israeli critics of Israel reminds me of how the Soviet Union enlisted the services of psychiatrists and psychologists as it sought to discredit (and even compulsorily “treat”) dissidents during the Cold War era. It’s also a little ironic, as Israeli society is a society that is “rapidly closing in on itself” (see Jews for Justice for Palestinians) — as good a definition of narcissism as any, I would suggest.
The following is a news item, dated December 26, 2010, from NewstalkZB:
The latest Wikileaks cables to emerge featuring New Zealand reveal the United States has been keeping an eye on the Muslim community here.
The documents show diplomats have been looking out for signs of extremist behaviour and even visited a mosque to listen to a preacher’s teaching.
Though the mosque visits, quiet dinners with members of the Muslim society and meetings with Islamic scholars failed to reveal signs of a local al-Qaeda cell, the cables still warned the White House to beware of future extremism.
They didn’t offer to take me out for a “quiet dinner”. I would have been happy to expound my “extremist” view that it is illegal to invade other countries and kill millions of their people.
This article by Rachel Shabi is from The Guardian of December 16, 2010. It carries the preamble: “The Israeli government’s demand that Palestinians recognise exiled Arab Jews as ‘refugees’ is political point-scoring.” Most, if not all, of the points have been made before. But as the Israelis invariably argue that “what we did to the Palestinians is no worse than what the Arabs [later] did to the Jews in Arab lands”, it’s always good to see the points restated.
While the US has given up pressing for a freeze on illegal settlement building, one Israeli minister has been cranking up the volume on an issue he apparently considers more pressing. The deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, recently launched a new initiative to demand that Palestinians “recognise Jews who exiled from Arab lands as refugees”.
Ayalon’s initiative is in alliance with Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), whose mission is to put this issue on the international agenda.
The idea itself has been in circulation pretty much since the 1970s when the Palestinian refugee issue was beginning to gain traction within the international community. Since then, it has resurfaced pretty much whenever there are peace talks – hence its return during this latest, wilted round of exchanges between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
As Ayalon puts it, the initiative is explicitly a response to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return to the land of Israel”. The reasoning is: if Palestinians think of themselves as refugees, forced to leave their homes in the tectonic shifts that created Israel in 1948, so, too, were the Jews exiting Arab lands in the same seismology.
There are all manner of problems with this formulation. First, many Middle Eastern Jews dislike being called refugees. Some reject this label because they left Arab lands out of a pioneering desire to relocate to what would become Israel; some say they were uprooted from Arab lands, either by agitating Zionist emissaries, or by the shockwaves that Zionism sent through the Middle East.
Another thorn in the side of this argument is that Israel was created explicitly as a homeland for Jews, while for Palestinians, the homeland is the place from which they were exiled. That means there is no point in lauding Israel for “absorbing” the “Jewish refugees” from Arab lands, while chiding Arab countries for not doing the same with Palestinians – which seems to be the Jewish refugee claim’s secondary reasoning.
There are undoubtedly compensation claims to be made by Jews whose properties and possessions were impounded when they left some Arab countries – Egypt, Syria and Iraq spring to mind – but it isn’t clear why those seeking recompense would automatically wish Israel to represent them in this matter. In fact, many Jews both inside and beyond Israel have specifically declined the offer.
If Ayalon, or JJAC, or any of the other groups, were genuinely concerned for the history and legacy of Middle Eastern Jews, there might be better ways to express it. For instance, they might think about setting up heritage centres to commemorate Jewish life in Arab lands, or promote and celebrate their cultural, political and linguistic output, or address the ethnically-driven social imbalances that still exist in Israel between Jews of European and Arab origin.
But the fact that the sole and stated point of such initiatives is to corral the subject into the frame of Palestinian refugee claims means that, to Israel, the experience of Jews from Arab lands exists only to be hijacked and hocked for cheap, political point-scoring. After all, if there were no Palestinian refugees, would the Israeli government still be raising the issue?
There are significant points to make about the Jewish experience in Arab lands, caught in the crossfire of both Zionism and Arab nationalism: you could, for instance, look at why some Arab governments at the time did not handle the issue smartly, why they sacrificed Jewish communities for short-term political expediency, or did not sufficiently resist the rapid conflation of “Jewish” with “Zionist”.
You could also flip it around, and explore how much resistance existed in those countries, among Jews and Muslims alike, to the idea of Jews leaving Arab countries, or review how this departure was experienced as a loss, for both sides.
Or – and this is deeply unfashionable – you could study the long, vibrant experience of Jewish life in the Arab world and ask what went right, as a way of seeking templates for how to make things right again.
There’s no space for any of that in the “Jewish refugee” frame as endorsed by the Israeli government. And that’s yet another reason why it is so wrong-headed, anachronistic and possibly the worst sort of advocacy for Middle Eastern Jews.
There is no evidence that Mr Shoebat is what he says he is. See http://hourglassera.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/gog-and-magog-raise-ugly-heads-again/. The article is from Challenge Weekly of November 15, 2010.
Note, in connection with the article entitled “Counter-terror ‘Expert’ Tells Cops: Kill Militant Muslims, ‘Including Children’”, which I have appended as a comment, that Challenge Weekly is a Christian newspaper.