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April 28, 2016

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Patrick S. O'Donnell

And what of the suppression, oppression of Palestinians? By all means, let's focus on the Jews, as they're the victims here, right? No doubt on a blog like this you have a sympathetic audience. Jewish problems, issues, what have you, are intrinsically more important than the fact the Palestinians are denied their rights under international law. Incidentally, perhaps, the BDS movement is understandably not concerned, not preoccupied, with intra-Jewish divisions, as they have no ultimate bearing on how the Israeli state continues to deny the Palestinian right to collective self-determination. How predictable, how pathetic. The problems, issues, what have you, of Mizrahi Jews, however important among Israelis, and a clear species of ethnic discrimination, pales in comparison to questions of colonialism and international law in the occupied Palestinian territories. Oh, the Palestinians and supporters of BDS are now responsible for a "dramatic[] shift [of] the locus of Jewish power away from Mizrahim, Sephardim, and Ethiopian Jews and towards Ashkenazim." That's precious...and a bit outrageous, to put it mildly. Many Sephardic Jews are found among the military and political elites of Israel ('Since the 1980s, a growing number of Mizrahim have held key positions in the Israeli government and military establishments.'), and it's the Ashkenazim Jews who are singularly and solely responsible for any discrimination, marginalization, racism, what have you, that Sephardic Jews have and continue to experience. Ask, or look at, the experience of non-Jewish Africans in Israel. What is more, as Max Blumenthal has explained, there "is a largely detached sector of society that has little ability to influence the facts on the ground and which has turned inward, into their Tel Aviv bubble. Thanks to the momentary success of Netanyahu’s strategy of 'peace without peace' and the disappearance of Palestinians after the Second Intifada, the 'enlightened public' is able to experience a sense of European-style normality. They don’t need to worry about the occupation when there is no resistance to it, when Ehud Barak’s vision of Zionism as 'a villa in the jungle' has been seemingly realized." Fortunately, many post-Zionist Mizrahi have had the the good sense to identify with the Palestinian struggle for basic human rights and collective self-determination. But the more salient fact is that "Mizrahim tend not only to view themselves as ardent Zionists, but they also tend to hold religious and nationalist views that lead them to support the Israeli Right in national elections." If you are a Palestinian in the occupied territories, that speaks volumes.

Paul Horwitz

Patrick, is your criticism internal or external? A matter of thinking Schraub's analysis of relationship of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews and their relationship to internal discourse within the Jewish community is mistaken, or a general view that he ought to have focused on some other question? Academics often study questions that are less important than other questions they might study, or engage in projects or methods that are less likely to bring about any significant change on important issues than some other project or method--or, indeed, leaving the academy and focusing more directly and actively on those issues in other capacities--might. Should they respond by switching their focus and more generally making utilitarian decisions about their research agenda? Or (as some do) by making arguments, often questionable and often by way of self-justification, about just how important their particular subject of interest really is to larger issues and questions of social change, appearances to the contrary? Or by leaving the academy and making decisions about what work to pursue based on what will do the most good for humanity? I am partly genuinely curious about what you think, and partly wondering what payoff, if any, your comment has for Schraub's project itself and from an internal point of view, versus how much it is really--and perhaps "merely," although I don't mean that disapprovingly--about thinking that the project ranks low on some list of priorities.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

It was the good professor who brought BDS into the discussion (as well as Zionism and so forth), which belies any reliance on a putative "internal/external" distinction. Indeed, any "internal" Jewish discourse is bound to have intended and unintentional ramifications, spillover effects, what have you, beyond Jewish communities proper, in the first instance, for Arab Israeli citizens. Instead of referring to the alleged "vulnerability" that "the type of discursive exclusion BDS promotes," Schraub might have instead noted, with Blumenthal, how "[t]hose occupying the lowest social strata--working-class Russians and the Jews of Arab descent known as Mizrahim--[have been] encouraged to demonstrate their Israeliness before the wealthy and politically dominant Ashkenazi elite by acting out against Arabs in exaggerated displays of violence and racism." This is far more plausible, causally speaking, than blaming the BDS movement for "instantiat[ing] the too-common trope of the primitive, backwards, bloodthirsty Mizrahim needing guidance from their enlightened and evolved Ashkenazi brethren." Perhaps we'll learn from Schraub how the BDS movement is also responsible for the exclusively Mizrahi Shas Party, "one of the country's most ferocious vehicles of anti-Arab racism." The party's founder, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (a former Israeli Sephardi chief rabbi) who died in 2013, "peppered his weekly radio sermons with genocidal rants." I suppose somehow the BDS movement can be blamed for that as well.

Paul Horwitz

I think I understand your response, although I'm not entirely sure. I take it, then, that you have no problem with Schraub studying differing communities within Judaism, or their different views on various issues, which I assume would include BDS or Zionism. (Presumably one can study and report on groups' positions on different issues without necessarily inviting a long discussion of the merits of the issue on which those groups have views, but the degree of relevance of the merits will I suppose depend on the nature of the original post as well as the commenter.) And I take it that one could legitimately write about whether BDS proponents understand, misunderstand, or ignore dynamics and nuances within Israeli society and/or (depending on whether the proponent makes any assertions about the latter) the global Jewish population, although naturally one can disagree with what the writer concludes about that. And one can *also* argue descriptively that if the BDS movement is not concerned with intra-Jewish divisions, that is because it is lower down on the list of priorities, although I'm frankly not sure what the take-away from such an observation is supposed to be and one might want to know more about whether such a point is simply meant as description and explanation, or as some kind of broader normative argument whose implications could be somewhat disturbing.

If I am confused about any of this, I suppose it has to do with those first sentences of your comment: "And what of the suppression, oppression of Palestinians? By all means, let's focus on the Jews, as they're the victims here, right?" I trust I can be forgiven for thinking that this suggested that Schraub shouldn't be writing about Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews within the Israeli and/or Jewish community, but rather must set that area of study aside so he can write about the oppression of Palestinians. I found it hard to understand its connection with the rest of your comment. If I now understand your subsequent answer correctly, those opening sentences were really more of a fit of pique.

Jane Strauss,BSEd, MAPA, JD

As to whether Ashkenazi Jews "are" or "look" white - this is irrelevant to antiSemitism and irrelevant to reality. Genetically, and by history, we are all a tribal people of the Levant, indigenous to the Middle East regardless of how many times we were exiled from our homeland.

Jane Strauss,BSEd, MAPA, JD

Jews are historically and genetically a tribal, indigenous people of the Levant regardless of how many times we have been colonized and expelled from our homeland. Race is a social construct and does not exist as a scientific reality.

Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King

If the Palestianians were to declare a unilateral peace, what do you believe would happen to them? There would be peace. If Israel were to declare a unilateral peace, what do you believe would happen to them?

Arad


It's a little hard to take seriously a comment that treats Max Blumenthal as a serious source. Blumenthal actively promotes the idea that Israel is the same as ISIS. No, don't laugh, he really does. In other words, the comment writer above is quoting seriously a person who compares a society where a Muslim Arab woman earns valedictorian honors at the country's top science institution (Technion) to a society where women are legally bought and sold as sex slaves (and which doesn't promote a university education at all, much less for women).

As for the comment itself, it suffers from a similar lack of rigor. First, the discussion here relates to Jews and intersectionality. This has nothing to do with Palestinians. Bringing up BDS as a demonstration of the failure of academics to address the implications of the intersectionality paradigm as it relates to Jews doesn't involve the question of Palestinians, their happiness, sadness, suffering or success. It's immaterial and an attempt to deflect from the real topic here. The writer demonstrably seeks to minimize any form of discussion of Jewish suffering in order to promote his vision of Palestinian suffering. He thereby makes Schraub's case for him.

I must add that the writer's comments about colonialism (in a country that has documents, histories and archaeological findings that predate the Arab conquest by over a thousand years) and international law (which supports the current situation, according to a very large number of international law scholars) suggest a political activist's position and not a position that pertains to reality or a scholarly evaluation of Schraub's blog. In fact, by seeking to deflect attention from the serious content of Schraub's blog, it seems that we may refer to these comments as intersectionality-washing, or more specifically, Mizrachi-washing.

Of course, in doing this, the writer seeks to shift attention from the fact that 99% (actual percentage) of Middle Eastern and North African Jews - Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews - were pushed out of their homes and countries and that 75% of them found home and refuge in Israel. The cause of this mass exodus was the wars and attacks precipitated in Mandatory Palestine first by the local Palestinian Arabs and then by fellow Arabs throughout the Middle East. Both 1947 and 1948 were instigated by Arab forces, not Jewish ones. Acknowledging the tragedy and the challenges these MENA Jewish refugees then faced by coming to a poor, culturally western society in Israel that suddenly had to absorb hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of refugees, would force pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists to acknowledge the tragedy foisted upon these innocent people (who did not launch or participate in the war, unlike the Palestinian and Arab instigators) by Palestinians and by Arabs in general. It would also force these advocates to acknowledge there was a population transfer here, just as in many other conflicts in the world, particularly in that era, and that the suffering of Mizrahi Jews stems primarily, or at least originates, from Arab actions, not Jewish or Israeli actions. It would also compel these advocates to start looking at the massive assets lost to MENA Jews, several times greater in value and land losses than those suffered by Palestinian Arabs.

I guess it's far more important to deflect.

So, well done, Patrick. Well done.

Matthew Reid Krell

Not going to pick a fight over Palestinians and Israelis. But I want to touch on something that I think is interesting Prof. O'Donnell's comments. It appears (and I'm happy to be told I'm wrong about this) that Prof. O'Donnell is suggesting that Mizrahi participation or encouragement of Palestinian oppression renders their claims to justice within the Jewish community (however we want to define "justice" or even "the Jewish community") somehow hypocritical and therefore unworthy of serious consideration.

I want to push back on the notion that not living up to one's own standards somehow renders one unfit to press claims for social justice. This is an argument that can very easily be turned around on the Palestinians (as the good Captain Continuance has done), and can also easily be used to dismiss social justice claims by African-Americans ("stop killing each other!") and Latinos ("stop coming here illegally!"). I don't like the notion that not being perfect somehow renders one ineligible for justice. And I think, if Prof. O'Donnell approaches the issue through that frame, he might agree.

There is room, I think, BOTH to argue that within the Jewish community that Sephardic and Mizrahi interests are ignored in favor of presenting a monolithic (and default-Ashkenazi) picture of the community's interests; AND to argue that there is a segment of Israeli politics that is toxic and needs to be excised from mainstream political discourse. But the implied solution - that Mizrahi Jews must withdraw from all political action until the toxic portion of their polity abandons those claims - doesn't seem consistent with the rhetoric surrounding Palestinian activism.

David Schraub

I'm willing to let Patrick's comments rest, as I think they effectively serve as an illustration of the points I was trying to make. I will only observe that the status of Mizrahi Jews is just as much an "intra-Middle Eastern division" as it is an "intra-Jewish division". Mizrahi Jews are marginalized within the Jewish community, and they are also marginalized within the Middle Eastern community (often because they are folded into the larger category of "Jew" which in turn is defined as Ashkenazi, thus effectuating the erasure of their Middle Easternness). The point of intersectionality is to raise such erasures to the surface. Sometimes they'll serve as indictments of Jewish or Zionist practices (discrimination in Israel, development towns, degradation of Arab culture, and so on), sometimes as indictments of non-Jewish or anti-Zionist practices (BDS, expulsion from Arab countries, denial of equal status as indigenous Middle Easterners, and so on). The important thing is that we don't opportunistically pick out the parts of the story that cohere to our prior beliefs, but instead resolve to take Mizrahim seriously even when it differs from what we might like to hear.

Law Prof

"Intersectionality" is the worst social science jargon word I have heard in many years. "Crossroads" is a better synonym for the place where two roads cross. I wouldn't go one syllable past intersection. What next - intersectionalitazation? This is the kind of jargon that causes lawyers to mock law professors. It should be possible to get your point across in plain English. What you're saying really isn't that complicated.

Matthew Reid Krell

Law Prof, your comment indicates that you don't understand the origin of the term (and my guess is that mocking lawyers wouldn't either). "Intersectionality" isn't about roads crossing. It comes from set theory, where the "intersection" of two sets are those elements that fall into both sets (the overlapping part of the Venn diagram). Thus, "intersectional feminism" (to use one term that I see a lot in one of my current projects) is a feminism that acknowledges that the experience of women of color is substantively different from that of white women, because women of color also have to navigate issues of race. Your neologism "intersectionalitazation" is at best a useless back-formation; at worst, a straw man intended to mock.

By the same logic, Mizrahi Jews have an intersectional claim to have their Jewish experience acknowledged as different from the default Ashkenazi experience.

I'm finding this conversation utterly fascinating, because it's demonstrating yet again that the most insidious form of privilege is the privilege of having one's privilege be invisible.

Nevet Basker

Interesting that you define Ashkenazi Jews as "white." For millennia, they were considered (in Europe) to be foreign, Other, dark-skinned, hook-nosed alien transplants. Is it possible that the only reason they are now considered (by some, for some purposes) as "white" is exactly the activist trope you decry--that it casts Jews, along with other Whites, in the role of the "oppressor" against other populations, in a cynical "call for coalitional organizing" that the BDS movement so aptly deploys?

David Schraub

I do not define Ashkenazi Jews as white (or not white). I said that "In the public imagination" they are so thought of. I think some of that is tactical (and I'd add that the stereotype of Jewish hyperpower interacts -- or should I say intersects -- with critical ideas of whiteness in damaging ways); I don't feel the need to say that it is the "only" reason Ashkenazim are thought of as white to nonetheless identify it as a legitimate issue.

Arad


As a point of interest, it appears US courts didn't consider Jews to be "white" until recently: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/481/615/case.html

There's no question in my mind that on campuses Jews are perceived as both white and affluent, which is precisely what makes intersectionality such a useful (and cynical) tool for anti-Israel activists.

Oded Sasportas

I call Patrick S. O'Donnell's argument "the holy Palestinian" argument. The claim is simple, the Palestinian for O'Donnell's ilk is the only subject that actually matters and worth talking about, non of Israel internal issues god forbid, because only a fool would think that they have something in common, for example. I find it funny because even if he's right, one cannot talk about the relation of Israel with the Palestinians and Arab countries without talking about the political constellation of Mizrahi Jews. But what do I know? I'm just a Israeli and Mizrahi man with first hand knowledge who is living in Israel since birth, about the subject. unlike some Anglo Saxon man who never set foot in this part of the world.

anon

Oded

Don't be concerned. Jew hate is very popular in the US in some circles (mainly, academics, who deeply resent Jew overrepresentation in academia and hence, are making Jews as uncomfortable as they possible can), but the Jew haters don't really get anywhere in US society as a whole, because, as we all know, Jews control Hollywood, the press, all the money everywhere, and every secret society on earth. Israel is the only country on the face of the planet that is worthy of their condemnation because there are so many Jews living there!

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