Lyn Julius: Haaretz Feeds Anti-Zionist Propagandists (Again)
This article by Lyn Julius brought back memories and made me laugh. And it made me cringe. More of that in a moment.
She brings us an exerpt from an article in Haaretz that is behind a paywall. She gives us enough of the article to let us understand her point — that while there certainly was discrimination in Israel against Moroccan Jews and others from Arab lands committed by Ashkenazi Jews who saw themselves as superior, that is not the whole story. She writes that:
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz likes to publish context-free articles alleging discrimination by Ashkenazim of Sephardim in order to portray Zionism as a racist, colonial movement.
By eliminating context, they provide ammunition against Israel to the anti-Zionists. In this case, they are doing that by means of an article written by Ofer Aderet. Aderet reviewed the new book by Shay Hazkani published in April this year entitled: Dear Palestine: A Social History of the 1948 War.
This unique book bring us the personal side of Israel’s War of Independence. I am sure we have all heard of people like David “Micky” Marcus, the American Jewish pilot who volunteered to fight for Israel. In fact, the Mahal Unit included about 3000 volunteers from a number of countries (Ma-Ha-L means mitnavei hutz l’aretz – volunteers from outside the country) and it still operates today. What Hazkani did was examine the personal letters sent to their families by Jewish volunteers to the Hagana (precursor of the IDF, Israel Defence Forces) and Arab volunteers to the ALA (Arab Liberation Army) and he went even one step further. In his introduction, that you can read in full here, he writes:
Understanding what ordinary people said to one another in private letters, however, is impossible without also taking into account the efforts of elites (be they military, state, party, or tribal) to inculcate certain ideologies in them. To do so, this book also examines battle orders, pamphlets, army magazines, and radio broadcasts used to mobilize young men and women and to educate and indoctrinate them in their respective armies. Reading indoctrination materials alongside soldiers’ letters reveals important and enduring fissures in the ideological edifices of Middle Eastern nationalisms precisely at the moment when, by most accounts, these conceptions of nationalism crystallized.
Particularly shocking, perhaps, is his reporting on an Iraqi Jewish citizen of Israel who fought in the War of Independence as a member of the ALA who opened up about this only in old age. In other words, this Jewish soldier was killing Jews defending the newly declared State of Israel against the Arab armies sent to decimate it. But that just shows the incredible complexity of the social and population issues that anti-Zionists today try to turn into an easy dichotomy in which Israel is painted as a racist and even apartheid state, apartheid meaning something entirely different from what can be found in Israel and a term rejected by South Africans (discussed here) who lived under apartheid. Was any of this complexity brought out by Aderet in his article? Not according to the title and sub-heading:
‘We Saw Jews With Hearts Like Germans’: Moroccan Immigrants in Israel Warned Families Not to Follow
Thousands of letters written in the early years of the state by immigrant soldiers to their families in Morocco reveal a gloomy picture. Most wanted to go home
That is ironic since 94% of the Moroccans stayed on in Israel while almost 95% of the American and European volunteers left the country after the war.
Lyn Julius argues that, while
. . . thousands of letters from disgruntled Moroccan Jews who fought in Israel’s War of Independence, complain[ed] of discrimination by European Jews . . . it transpires that discontent was also rife among Ashkenazi Mahal volunteers, so this is not simply a binary Sephardi-Ashkenazi issue, more a clash of cultures.
And Ofer Aderet made me laugh when he wrote:
Some complained that the locals made no effort to be friendly, and were impolite, impudent and loud. A common theme was that Israelis think they’re always right and can’t abide the idea that sometimes the other side is right.
I can certainly relate to the clash of cultures Julius raises and to the “impolite” (to put it mildly) Israelis Aderet mentions. My grandfather, who had visited Israel in the 1960s, had had a negative experience, not of Israel, but of the Israelis and he talked about his shock at how he was treated by other Jews. I clearly remember my first venture to Israel as a naive 18-YO student on summer vacation. I had decided to spend a month on a kibbutz and I encountered Israeli rudeness and arrogance in the bus line at Tiberias’ Central Bus Station and on the kibbutz . I left the kibbutz after only two weeks and, following a short trip to Jerusalem, I vowed never to return. Had I not had occasion to return the following summer to stay on a kibbutz in the south with a boyfriend who had enlisted in the IDF, I likely never would have made this country my home. After four months living with the young famiies trying to make a success of this kibbutz, I fell in love with Israel and Israelis. It still took me some time to adjust to the culture and society here.
What makes me cringe is remembering the attitude of my Ashkenazi thesis supervisor toward a fellow student in the masters programme at the Faculty of Agriculture. He openly told me that he does not expect him to get far seeing as he is of Moroccan origin. It was no different from the discrimination I experienced at the hands of my supervisor at the University of Manitoba where I first enrolled in the soil science post-graduate programme. My Ukranian-Canadian supervisor very clearly sabatoged my research, finally telling me outright that as a Jew and a woman I had no business studying soil science. Just like nobody there stood up for me, I did not tell my Israeli supervisor what I thought of his prejudice. Double-cringe. With time, I have found the Ashkenazi-Sephardi divide narrow but there is still prejudice and (unofficial) discrimination in the country among the Jewish ethnic groups for sure and not just between Jew and Arab. We have much to work on in that respect.
In spite of the fact that Hazkani’s introduction makes this seem like a fascinating book to read, I did have three problems with he wrote and I doubt that this bothered the Haaretz reviewer one bit: (1) Hazkani believes the myth of the twice-promised land; (2) he refers to the Palestinian Arabs as indigenous and the Palestinian Jews as Mizrachi Jews who were native to Palestine.who often (often?!) spoke Arabic; and (3) he talks about European Jews colonizing Palestine and hints at a parallel between that and European nations colonizing the Middle East. Is that enough to render the book taboo? It reveals his political bias but that does not, in my opinion, mean it is not a valuable contribution to our understanding of the complexities of our society in Israel and the early attempts at socialization that were often discriminatory and harsh.
Lyn Julius brings to our attention the attempt by Haaretz to paint our society black-and-white, thus feeding the propagandists who demonize us and ignoring our magnificent weave of cultures and ethnicities that make up Israeli society.
Feature Image Credit: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons