Socialist Worker

'Zionism erased our Jewish-Arab identities'

by Noga Sofer
Issue No. 2416

Jews in an Iraqi village in 1905

Jews in an Iraqi village in 1905


With the savage attacks on Gaza by Israel it is not surprising many see the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to be eternal and unsolvable. 

But Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Arab identities are not so different. Some 61 percent of the Jewish-Israelis are Mizrahi Jews, or Jews of Arabic descent. 

They include my maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Iraq to Israel in 1951, leaving behind their property and possessions. 

But with this wave of immigration the Jewish-Arab identity was repressed.

My grandparents were born and raised in Iraq. They spoke Arabic and enjoyed Arab music and traditions but after 1951 they refused to view themselves as Arab Jews. 

It seems that when immigrating to Israel each person was forced to shed their cultural identity and begin to follow a new, Zionist one. 

This was a consequence of the Zionist mission to create a “Jewish nation”, where each Jew considered themselves part of the Jewish nation and Israeli. 

This was all done as a way to make Judaism a nation or ethnicity, where previously it had only been a religion. 

In the early years of the formation of Israel people were discouraged from speaking any language other than the new modern Hebrew.

Children who spoke Yiddish, Arabic or Judeo-Iraqi Arabic, which my grandparents spoke, came under massive pressure by teachers and peers to stop.

Forced

The new Israeli identity was forged to such an extent that Jews were even forced to change their surnames to Hebrew names.

This was a condition of being employed by the government. 

Repressing the Jewish-Arab identity made it possible to paint Arabs as the enemy. 

This Zionist lie that Arabs have nothing in common with Arab-Jews, and that Arab heritage was something to be ashamed of, runs throughout Israel to this day. 

This is clearly seen through the treatment of Mizrahi Jews. Even though they deny their Arab heritage, they still suffer much of the same discrimination that Palestinian Arabs within Israel do. 

Mizrahi Jews tend to have a much lower income than Ashkenazi Jews, or Jews of European decent.

My cousins living in Israel will often describe discrimination they face even at the hands of professionals such as teachers for their Mizrahi origins.

But they still refuse to accept the root cause which is Zionism.

However there are still some Mizrahi Jews in Israel who are willing to describe themselves as Arab-Jews. 

They include my mother, whose rejection of Zionism at an early age made her open to adopt the Jewish-Arab identity stripped of her by the colonialist Zionists. 

The hope may seem lost for Israel, a country militarised beyond humanity, and whose people have lost any identity beyond an Israeli Zionist one. 

However this was not always the case for Palestine. 

Before the rise of Zionism in the 1920s—supported by the West—Jews, Christians and Muslims all lived side by side. 

With some insight to the past, perhaps that can become true once more.

Noga is an Israeli student at university in Britain 

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