Arab Jews are an invention – opinion

In recent years, there has been a concerted attempt by anti-Zionists to rewrite the Jewish history of Mizrahi and disconnect us from our identity, culture, and homeland.

The history of Jews in the Middle East and North Africa is rich, yet it is often omitted from the main discourse of Jewish history. Anti-Zionists who rarely care about Mizrahi Jews take advantage of the lack of knowledge and try to rewrite our history for their own agenda. They are doing this by pushing a narrative of “Arab Jews” who were brought to Israel as second-class citizens only to have their “Arab culture” taken away from them.

While you may find a handful of Mizrahi Jews today who identify as “Arab Jews,” the term itself is historically inaccurate and is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Mizrahi Jews.

The history of the Jews in the Arab region dates back more than 2,500 years to the Babylonian exile, after which the center of Jewish life moved out of the Land of Israel for the first time in history.

The presence of Jews in what is now known as Iraq predates the Arab conquest of the region by about 1,200 years.

Author Adiel Cohen (Credit: Courtesy)

So when did Jews become Arabs? Is it only because of the Arab imperial government that the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa suddenly changed their ethnic identity? And what does it say about other indigenous groups living in the region, such as the Assyrians, Copts, and Amazigh tribes, who have struggled to maintain their unique identity under Islamic rule and do not identify with Arab culture?

The same logic should apply to the Jews, who under harsh conditions preserved their indigenous culture and kept it alive in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora.

An Al-Jazeera article published in 2017 falsely claimed that Jews in Arab countries “spoke Arabic, ate the same foods as their fellow Christians and Muslims, celebrated the same national events and traditions, and lived by the same social protocols.”

In fact, Jews in Arab and Muslim societies maintained their Jewish identity even though they do not consider themselves Arabs, but Iraqi Jews, Moroccan Jews, Egyptian Jews, etc. The Jewish tribes of the Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) as foreigners, while the Christian Arab tribes were regarded as fellow Arabs.

For example, in Yemen, where my family passed the diaspora, Jews were forbidden to wear their traditional headdress, because it was considered “too fancy.” They spoke a dialect of Judeo-Yemeni, which incorporated biblical phrases in Hebrew and were forbidden to learn to read and write in Arabic. Their cuisine was clearly different from Arab-Yemeni, and they considered themselves nothing more than Jews.

The status of Jews under Islamic rule varied between different regions, but in general, they did not enjoy the same rights as their Arab neighbors and were often persecuted. When the State of Israel was established, those same Jews were not “Arab enough” for their neighbors to avoid violence and expulsion. Even Iraqi Jews, who somehow managed to integrate into local society, were the target of a violent pogrom in 1941, which became known as Farhud.

Jewish cemetery in Morocco (Credit: Flickr)Jewish cemetery in Morocco (Credit: Flickr)

These same struggles are often erased by anti-Zionist organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). In 2019, a coalition of Mizrahi organizations issued a statement against the JVP’s appropriation and distortion of the history of Jewish communities in the Middle East, which seek to strip the Jewish people of their indigenous origins.
However, why are anti-Israel media like Al-Jazeera and anti-Zionist groups like JVP trying to push this false narrative?

This false narrative is part of his biggest “colonialism” lie. Anti-Israel forces have tried to delegitimize the Jewish state by calling it a colonialist project, claiming that Zionism is a project of Jewish-European colonialism, despite being an indigenous awakening project.

Since more than 50% of Jewish-Israeli citizens originally come from families who have lived in the Middle East and North Africa, and not in Europe, these anti-Israel forces had to make up a story to isolate Ashkenazi Jews. Europeans from Israelis in general. -Jewish population, to fit in with their farce of “colonialism”. They have totally falsified history and are spreading lies, to further their narrative of delegitimization and that the State of Israel should not exist.

Attempts to strip Jews of their Jewish identity and homeland always result in historical revisionism.

The existence of Jews in Arab societies has always been conditioned, as has the existence of Jews in European societies, not only in the 20th century, but throughout the entire history of the diaspora. Now that Jews finally have a place to rest, where we can feel safe in our indigenous homeland, we will not let our adversaries distort our identity and history, just to delegitimize our own existence.

Adiel Cohen is a pro-Israeli TikTok and Instagram influencer and a Tel Aviv-based Jewish-Israeli rights activist. This opinion piece is published in association with an international coalition of organizations fighting anti-Semitism. Read the previous article by David Collier.

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