Friday, February 22, 2008

The "whiteness" of Israel

From Atlantic Blog:
The Israel Project has some photos from Sderot, which is under continuous rocket attack from Hamas, suffering as well from the breathtaking incompetence of the Olmert government. [JW: other photos here] Here is one of those pictures, with the caption.

"I came from Ethiopia in may 1991 with my wife and two children. I had six children when Dorit was killed by a Kassam rocket attack. She was 2 years old. I hope and pray for my family. My wife has kidney disease and receives dialysis. I work for municipality liaising with the Ethiopian community. I worry about them at work and my family at hope, but I hope and pray for a better future."
It is useful to remember Nelson Mandela's famous remark:
Why should there be one standard for one country, especially because it is black, and another one for another country, Israel, that is white.
Mandela has many genuine accomplishments in South Africa, but it is good to remember, as he spouts off this and that, that he not only has feet of clay, but racist feet of clay.

Posted by sjostrom on February 13, 2008 03:36 AM

JW: That post accurately quotes a very unfortunate and inaccurate statement by a very great man, Nelson Mandela. (The quoted remark was was especially bizarre because the country Mandela referred to as "black" was Iraq.)

Mandela's statement reflects a misconception about Israel that is all too prevalent. His description of Israel as a "white" country was no doubt based on a taken-for-granted assumption that Israeli Jews are of European origin. In fact, about half of Israeli Jews are Middle Eastern Jews, or Mizrahim (sometimes also called Sephardim, though strictly speaking that term covers only Jews who can trace their ancestry back to pre-1492 Spain)--and for most of the history of Israel, until the arrival of the Russian Jews in the 1990s, a solid majority of Israeli Jews were Mizrahim. (The residents of Sderot also happen to be overwhelmingly Mizrahim.) These people are not Europeans or ex-Europeans, but refugees from the Arab world & Iran (and their descendants), and the now-vanished Jewish communities they represent had roots in the Middle East, including what is now Iraq, that long pre-dated the coming of Islam.

(For some details, see A historic optical illusion - Israel & the invisible Middle Eastern Jews and Irwin Cotler on the Middle Eastern Jews & the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the very useful website Point of No Return.)

If they are "white," then so are Iraqis ... not to mention Syrians, Algerians, Egyptians, Saudis, and so on.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. In February 2008 Shlomo Mula became the second Ethiopian-Israeli immigrant to be elected to the Knesset. In his speeches, Mula often likes to recall that he "walked 800 kilometers from Ethiopia to Sudan" as part of the journey that brought him from his village in Ethiopia to Israel 25 years ago. There is a video clip with some of his recollections of that journey HERE.