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If I Were a Mizrahi Zionist, I Would Be Offended

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Poet Erez Biton presents Education Minister Naftali Bennett with the committee's report.
Poet Erez Biton presents Education Minister Naftali Bennett with the committee's report.Credit: Moti Milrod

After 2,500 years (about a million days) during which they resided in Iraq, the Biton Committee couldn’t find a better way to raise the banner of Mizrahim than to focus on their tragedy.

As result, the ministerial panel decided that their entire illustrious history would be remembered with a day "to mark the departure and expulsion of Jews from the Arab countries and Iran," which would henceforth fall on November 30.

First we must explain that versions of history change here according to the season. If it’s hot, a light shirt is enough. If it’s winter, you need a heavy coat, and during stormy weather at other times, you might dress differently every day.

Thus, until the mid-1990s, we were taught in school about the bravery of the aliyah activists in the Arab countries, who through thick and thin and using strategies that wouldn’t have embarrassed James Bond, led to the departure – and even more importantly, to the immigration of – these Jews to the Promised Land. But when the clouds started rolling in, in the form of demands to resolve the resulting Palestinian refugee issue, the concept emerged of “Jewish refugees from the Arab states.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upgraded the concept and raised it to Olympic proportions. A few months ago he wrote an ode to the sublime status of Israeli Arabs, explaining to the world that any call to evacuate Jewish settlers is equivalent to a call to expel these Arab citizens – that is, tantamount to a call for ethnic cleansing, no less. Only a few months passed, the skies darkened, and the very same man is accusing his Arab citizens of nationalist pyromania, hinting that they decided to burn down the Jewish state.

So now the Zionists have to explain whether the arrival here of Mizrahim was a "default" development that was the result of Arab oppression, or whether they arrived here as proud Jews returning to the Promised Land.

If I were a Mizrahi Zionist, I would be offended to be told that I’m living in my homeland as a refugee – and not as a proud patriot.

But the glaring truth, which cannot be glossed over either by the ruses of the right-wing leadership or Arab reactionary propaganda, is that the Jews in Arab lands played a very important role in those countries in all realms – culture, economics and politics.

The fact that these individuals were not immediately tempted when the Jewish state was founded to answer the Zionist call to emigrate there proves the degree to which they affiliated themselves with the Arab peoples. A great body of evidence shows that they were neither Zionists nor anti-Zionists. Like every person seeking peace and tranquility, they simply wanted to continue living in their natural environment.

The terrible tragedy occurred after the Jewish-Palestinian conflict erupted in Palestine, bringing all the so-called nationalist emotions among both peoples to the fore. And when the Zionists, on the one side, linked up with Arab reactionaries on the other, with the encouragement of the British Mandate – the tragedy of the Jews in Arab countries occurred.

It’s hard to estimate the “contribution” of each side to this tragedy, but this “joint effort” wreaked havoc not just on the Jews, but on all the Arab nations, which lost their best and brightest.

The unfortunate thing is that while we are witnessing the rise of Arab intellectuals who are sharply critical of the leadership in Arab states for abandoning the Jews, in Israel the opposite is happening. That’s why I am critical of my brethren on the Biton Committee, headed by poet Erez Biton, who instead of using the Jews of the East to help forge a connection between Arabs and Jews, chose to fan the flames.

There are plenty of days here for hatred. That’s why instead of adding yet another day to widen the rift, I would have chosen a day to express the connection between Jews and Arabs, whether it was the birthday of a poet, or the date of an event by means of which Jews left their mark on Arab culture.

It’s still not too late to fix this.

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