Among Western and Israeli scholars of Middle Eastern Jewry, writes Lyn Julius, there has been increasing interest in documenting the racism—real and imagined—that these Jews faced after coming to Israel. Such writers have taken to referring to their subjects as “Arab Jews,” a term historically never in general use by either Arabs or those Jews who lived among them. Behind this approach is the work of the Mizraḥi anti-Zionist Ella Shohat, whose work Julius describes:
Shohat, a professor at New York University, made her name by applying Edward Said’s theory of orientalism to Israel, claiming that both Mizraḥi Jews and the Arabs are victims of the West—i.e., Ashkenazim. Mizraḥim and Arabs [according to this logic] have more in common with each other than Jews from the East have with Jews from the West. The former, Shohat and her ilk contend, were “torn away” from their comfortable “Arab” environment by Zionism and colonialism and turned into involuntary enemies.
Julius contrasts this view with that of the Baghdad-born Israeli literary scholar and memoirist Sasson Somekh, who died on August 18, and who also used the phrase “Arab Jew,” though not in the new “politically correct” sense, in the subtitles of both volumes of his autobiography:
For Somekh, “Arab Jew” is a “cultural definition of a Jew who speaks Arabic and grew up in a Muslim environment. . . . Anyone who defines himself as an Arab Jew to attack others, but who does not speak Arabic, . . . does not count as such. [To the extent that] being a Zionist means [believing] that all Jews should come [to Israel], I am an Israeli patriot.”
The vast majority of Jews from the Arab world have not historically identified as Arabs—in fact, many would be offended to be so labeled. But post- and anti-Zionist academics continue to turn a deaf ear to what most Jews raised in Arab countries themselves say and feel, so long as “discrimination” against Mizraḥim can serve as a useful stick with which to bash Zionism.