July 2, 2020

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Mizrahi ‘dumbfounded’ by academic erasure of their history


What’s behind two articles by western academics poohpooing official commemorations of the exodus of Jews from Arab countries? They try to belittle and erase Mizrahi identity and history to fit their own political agenda, argues Hen Mazzig in this hard-hitting article for Times of Israel. Not only do media such as Haaretz think that Mizrahi history is an obstacle to peace, but they show habitual contempt for Mizrahi Jews. It must be said that these academics are not all western or Ashkenazi: Israeli universities apparently do not consider Arab antisemitism a topic for discussion.

A recent article in History News NetworkHow did November become the Mizrahi Heritage Month? And what’s Mizrahi anyhow?” presented an argument against Mizrahi Heritage Month and Mizrahi identity.

 The article was co-authored by Chair of Israel Studies at George Washington University Professor Arie M. Dubnov and Professor Lior Sternfeld of the Jewish Studies department at Penn State University. These academics argued against modern-day Mizrahi identity as if it is an identity that was manufactured for the Israeli government’s propaganda efforts.

 I and all of my Mizrahi friends and family members who read the article were dumbfounded (as we as we were by a similar article Haaretz ran the next day by Sternfeld, this time co-authored by Menashe Anzi, who teaches Jewish history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev).

 Notwithstanding the academic bona fides of Dubnov and Sternfeld, their article is nothing so much as a political manifesto that attempts to erase and belittle Mizrahi identity and Mizrahi history to fit their own political agenda.

 Significantly, the vague language on how “Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had undergone different experiences” is a direct attempt at gaslighting the experiences of MENA Jews. While Sternfeld and Dubnov are no experts on Mizrahi history or MENA Jews, the authentic doyen of the history of Mizrahi Jews, and a Mizrahi Jew himself, is the award-winning historian, Professor Shmuel Trigano (professor emeritus of sociology at Paris University).

His rigorous award-winning book “The End of Judaism in Muslim Lands,” stands as a historical counterweight to Sternfeld and Dubnov’s politically charged assertions. Professor Trigano meticulously demonstrates that unifying the expulsion narratives of Jews from different MENA countries since 1945 is the right way to understand our history. One has to look at the exodus of this group as a common history, because of the unity of the Arab League’s actions against this community and because of the common cultural and political factors that MENA Jews share.

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