Casual Anti-Semitism and the Orthodox Air-Traveler

April 12 2019

In January, an Orthodox couple and their nineteen-month daughter were kicked off an American Airlines flight, without a chance to collect their luggage or their child’s stroller, on the grounds that they were causing a foul odor. The two have publicly complained that they were targeted, unfairly, due to their religion. While admitting that it is impossible to determine with any certainty how the family smelled, Wendy Shalit believes their claims of anti-Semitism to be entirely credible. And there is no doubt that the incident aroused anti-Semitism:

Out of thousands of comments on this story on Yahoo News, not one questioned the report. . . . “I have experienced these types of people,” one reader said; “from that pic, I’d say they’re one of those couples who believes in the ‘natural’ approach to personal hygiene,” said another. The only thing obvious about the couple from pictures was that they were Orthodox Jews. Others were less philosophical: “It’s called SOAP, use it!” Or, only slightly more offensively, “It should mean holocaust!!” . . .

[Moreover], I’ve had my own experience of this kind. Fourteen years ago, my husband and I and our infant son were on our way to Las Vegas for a family reunion when United Airlines tried to boot us off the flight. The trouble began with an impassive gate agent who didn’t want to let us pre-board with our baby’s car seat. . . . “They think they’re special!” a man near us declared. . . . When we finally boarded with everyone else, the [same] man wasn’t done with us: he jabbed my husband in the back with his elbow as we turned to put our suitcases overhead. My husband whipped around, only to see our nemesis leaping to seat himself two rows in front of us.

Soon our assailant was gesturing wildly to the flight attendant in our direction. The flight attendant then paid us a visit to let us know that our place on the flight was not to be taken for granted, as “other passengers are complaining about the smell.” Another flight attendant approached, coolly explaining that we would “simply have to de-plane.” . . .

My husband and son now wear baseball caps over their yarmulkes whenever they fly, and they’ve never been accused of smelling since. A coincidence? Maybe. Or, if observant Jews being identifiable as such are more likely to be targets, then they would be less likely to be targeted if not immediately recognizable as Jewish.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Orthodoxy

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat