Why Mizrahi Jews in Israel Tend to Vote the Way They Do

March 13 2023

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.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Israeli politics, Jewish-Muslim Relations, Mizrahim


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy