The support of Jews from the Arab world was a crucial factor in the rise of the Israeli right in the 1970s, and Mizraḥim remain an important part of the right-wing coalition today. To one left-wing activist, the path to winning over Mizraḥi voters goes through the promotion of the “shared culture” that connects them to Arabs near and far, which can in turn be an antidote to the “anti-Arab racism” that, he claims, has been promoted among Israelis of Middle Eastern ancestry by Ashkenazi politicians. Lyn Julius is unconvinced:
Firstly, what “shared culture” are we talking about? . . . When Arab countries had Jewish communities, Jews interacted with Arabs in business and trade, but each community led siloed lives: intermarriage was rare. Jews spoke their own dialects of Arabic and had their own, self-contained, rich religious culture.
Secondly, the culture of the Jews of Middle East and North Africa was not monolithically Arab. It is true that Jews and Arabs might share a love for the songs of Um Kulthum or Farid al-Atrash. Egyptian singers and films were very popular all over the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s. But Jews also flocked to the cinema to see the latest American films. Many Jews living in Arab countries were influenced by Western culture, educated in French-speaking schools, bore European names, and many had a marked preference for Edith Piaf over Um Kulthum.
Mizraḥi mistrust of Arabs . . . is real and not the result of Ashkenazi gaslighting. It is borne of bitter experience—a hostility Mizraḥim brought with them from Muslim countries. This is the elephant in the room, ignored or downplayed by the Ashkenazi left: the subliminal memory of Arab and Muslim persecution experienced by parents and grandparents—violent riots, arrests, torture, even executions in the recent past, coupled with the atavistic fears of a vulnerable and servile minority at the mercy of an unpredictable majority. Mizraḥim view the Palestinian jihad against the Jews of Israel as just the latest chapter in a long story of Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism.
And here is another fallacy about “shared culture.” It will not save you from missiles, or a mob which wants you dead, or a government hellbent on scapegoating your people. A “shared culture” did not save the “Arabized Jews” of Iraq, any more than acculturation saved the German Jews from the Nazis.