Historian Rachel Shabi and a group of other post-Zionists have tried to use historical prejudice against Mizrahim—i.e., Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin—to undermine Zionism. In her view, Mizrahi Jews are really “Jewish Arabs” who ought to make common cause with Palestinians against the state of Israel. Although ethnic prejudice and discriminatory policies have certainly existed in Israel, Shabi exaggerates them wildly, fails to understand then in their historical context, and idealizes Jewish-Muslim coexistence in the Arab world beyond all recognition. She also, writes Lyn Julius, ignores the fact that this prejudice is largely a thing of the past:
Although it was . . . a struggling developing country, Israel took in the stateless, the destitute, the sick, and the elderly—because they were Jews. . . . . Today Mizrahim are generals, doctors, property developers, bank managers, and have held every government post except prime minister. Most importantly—a hugely significant fact that Shabi simply glosses over—intermarriage [with Ashkenazi Jews] is running at 25 per cent, and the mixed Israeli family is fast becoming the norm. Soon there will be no such thing as Mizrahi or Ashkenazi in the Israeli melting pot.
Shabi’s nostalgia trip to a world before Zionism leads her up a blind alley. She confuses the interpersonal with the political: good neighborliness with the (unequal) power relationship between Jews and Arabs. An overlap of culture and language with Arabs over 14 centuries did not protect Mizrahim from pogroms, dispossession, and expulsion, to the point where fewer than 5,000 Jews live in Arab countries today, out of a 1948 population of one million. This is a lesson lost on some who eagerly espouse Arab-Israeli coexistence projects.