Henna BrideThere’s been an idea floating around that one of the ways Israel can go about ending this apparently incessant cycle of violence it seems to be stuck in with respect to its Arab neighbours, is to embrace them. Yeah, embrace them, rather than, you know, bombing the crap out of them. Let’s face it, justified or not, war really sucks. It’s expensive and brutal and often times, good people die. Greater integration into the Arab world as an admirable post-Zionist goal does not mean surrender. It means making Israel an integral and even indigenous part of the Middle East.

Avi Azrieli in the International Herald Tribune opines that

…an Israel that accepts its identity as a Middle Eastern country would be harder to demonize. Its efforts would foster a perception of indigenousness and spread seeds of personal bonds that would trickle up to the political and ideological spheres, ultimately reversing the tide of destructive enmity.

Azrieli offers a two part solution. First, since charity starts at home, greater civil, political and economic equality for Israel’s Arab citizens. Second, he suggests that fluency in Arabic become a requirement for matriculation as well as other steps aimed at allowing more Israelis to converse in and understand Arabic.

Only with the rise of modern Zionism, perceived by the Arabs as a form of European colonialism, were Jews forced to flee Arab countries to Israel, where their culture and language were dismissed as primitive by the Ashkenazi establishment. In hindsight, this original sin has contributed to Israel’s sore- thumb status in the region… By making Arabic a true national language beside Hebrew, Israel would send a clear message to its neighbors: We respect you and we are here to stay.

Azrieli notes how his great-grandfather and namesake, who was a Rabbi of a farming community on Mt. Carmel, taught himself Arabic in order to converse with his neighbors. Underscoring the difficulty of this project, Azrieli also notes how his great-grandfather and his immediate family were subsequently massacred while visiting relatives in Hebron during the 1929 riots. No one said it would be easy…

Lisa from On The Face also links to Azrieli’s article. The spirited discussion following her post is well worth reading. Also inspired by Lisa’s post is a post by itooter Charles Malik on his blog Lebanese Political Journal titled Israel Must Become Middle Eastern. One of his more interesting suggestions is as follows:

Israel could very easily set up a news channel to broadcast to Arab markets. It would get at least a few viewers – Christians and religious Sunnis tune into al Manar, even though they disagree with the politics of the channel. It would definitely get viewers if it routinely criticized the Arab media.

I mean, hell, why not? Al Jazeera’s Israel correspondent walks around here like he owns the place and no one ever bothers him or his crew. However, anyone want to apply for the job of this Arabic language Israeli news channel’s Beirut or Baghdad correspondent?

Anyone? Anyone?

What’s really interesting about all this, is that there are already a whole mess of Jewish Israelis who have more than a passing familiarity with Arabic culture. Ahuva of Sabra at Heart recently went to a friend’s Henna (pictured above). Does that woman look like what the Arab world’s perception of an Israeli? If you were to visit me on a Thursday night, you would no doubt be serenaded by the patrons of the two bars I live above. They’re not singing socialist kibbutz songs accompanied by guitars. To hear them wailing at the tops of their lungs, darbuka accompanied arabic ditties, you’d think you were anywhere other than in the heart of the capital of the Zionist, colonialist entity. These are the people who ought to be at the forefront of Israel’s Hasbara efforts in the Middle East.

So, to reiterate. Equality for all citizens. Greater Arabic literacy. New Arabic language Israeli news channel. And finally, lots of cushy spokesperson jobs for my Sephardic relatives. Sounds like a good start to me!

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About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

21 Comments

  • you know ck, I kept waiting for the snarky comment about how your Moroccan family spoke Arabic, cooked with Arabic spices, listened to Arabic music etc and it was a whole lotta good embracing Arabic culture did for them.

    The whole idea smells like misguided desperation to me. Remember the whole outrage that Israel had first stolen Arab land and was now stealing Arab food – felafel? I don’t think the Arab world is gonna just accept us pitom because of a calculated appropriation of their culture designed to foster a “perception of indigenousness”

    I know people like Azrieli are well meaning, but he might be wise to remember what happened when European Jews wanted to be more accepted and started embracing German culture.

    I think resentment, more than respect is generally the result.

  • The Arab and Iranian leaders have been building societies rabidly focussed on butchering Jews for a century now. All learning Arabic will do is diffuse the false claim that Al Manar loves to tote, which is that Jews are no longer semetic. Who gives a shit?? So we all learn how to speak Arabic, what will happen? We’ll diffuse one myth that’s not even true, while Mulsim Leaders sponsor the creation of 100 more.

    Ultimately, The problem, or rather, the SOLUTION isn’t with the average shmuck on the Arab Street – like most normal people he just wants to have a wife and kids a job and to smoke a little nargilah – the solution is with the muslim leadership and media. The problem is that the politically correct world is affraid to denounce violent intollerance – which is not democratic, but it is the right thing to preach.

  • What a load of hooey. Israel is a Jewish country, for Jews, by Jews. Not by Jews for Arabs. Not by Jews to imitate Arabs. How about we just cut them off, and get on with our JEWISH lives in our secular JEWISH culture.

  • I think that Azrieli was pretty clear in stating that he didn’t believe the Arab world would automatically embrace Israel if we all learned Arabic.

    Quote:
    “It would be naïve to contend that Israel could douse overnight the fire raging around it. To paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt, Israel must ‘speak Arabic and carry a big stick.'”

    The main point of his article, as I read it, is twofold:

    1. Israel has 1.2 million citizens who speak Arabic as their mother tongue; while they are fully enfranchised citizens, they do experience discrimination and they do feel marginalized from Jewish society. Surely it would be a good thing to integrate them fully by creating a truly bilingual society in which both Jews and Arabs speak both languages.

    2. Israel is a little Hebrew speaking country in a big Arabic-speaking Middle East. Since we plan to be here over the long term, surely it makes sense that we speak the lingua franca of the region.

    Maimonides spoke Arabic. Why shouldn’t we all? What’s wrong with increasing our knowledge of the region in which we live by learning its language? Surely learning another language is only a good thing. I certainly cannot understand why anybody would object.

  • I only wish that hugs worked. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with learning Arabic. If I had the time and money, why not? Learning new languages is fun and illuminates other cultures. And besides, at the taping of the new season of the Ellen Degeneres show, Beyonce revealed that one of the things on her life list was to learn Arabic. So maybe she’ll be the bootylicious ambassador of Middle East peace.

  • I’ve met Persian girls who I offered to wholeheartedly embrace for the sake of dialogue, but they declined. When in DC and too f-cked up to drive, one Persian woman invited me over, but then made me on her couch.

    I attribute this hurtful behavior to rabid anti-Zionism.

  • What exactly isn’t Middle Eastern about Judaism and Hebrew? Jews were in the Middle East thousands of years before Islam was invented ‘revealed’.

    ck, thanks for pointing out what Azrieli was getting at:

    What’s really interesting about all this, is that there are already a whole mess of Jewish Israelis who have more than a passing familiarity with Arabic culture.

    Yes, they do. Food, music, the whole Arab-chic thing, etc. Those things are already true. And yet, Arab countries remain overtly antisemitic, and Muslims still support destroying Israel. Why would speaking Arabic make that less so?

    Lisa says that Azrieli was pretty clear in stating that he didn’t believe the Arab world would automatically embrace Israel – emphasis mine. What he does say:

    Its efforts would foster a perception of indigenousness and spread seeds of personal bonds that would trickle up to the political and ideological spheres, ultimately reversing the tide of destructive enmity.

    The ‘automatically’ is a straw-man, particularly when you consider how long it would take to teach several million people a new language.

    Sure, why not learn Arabic? But Azrieli specifically and repeatedly suggests that Israelis learning Arabic (amongst other things) will lead to Arab Muslims hating Israel less.

  • …which is obviously rubbish.

    His history is also shocking:

    Only with the rise of modern Zionism, perceived by the Arabs as a form of European colonialism, were Jews forced to flee Arab countries to Israel…

    Does that even make sense? Arabs see Ashkenazi Zionism as a European colonial project, so they expel the indigenous, Arabic-speaking, Middle Eastern Sephardim They were about as ‘Arab’ as could be without abandoning their religion, and yet they were held responsible for the acts of those pasty Europeans. Why?

    Answer: they were Jews, too.

    Consider that when you read this:

    …an Israel that accepts its identity as a Middle Eastern country would be harder to demonize…

    Back in ’48, the Sephardim were demonised to the extent that they were forced to flee their homes with the clothes on their back – despite living under Arab domination for centuries.

    Zionism’s basis is as Middle Eastern as it gets. If the Arabs just hated the Ashkenazim and were basically cool with the Sephardim, some Fatah goon would probably have said so by now.

  • Laya wrote: a whole lotta good embracing Arabic culture did for them

    They didn’t embrace it. They’ve been in Morocco for generations. And it did them a world of good too. Had they lived in Poland instead, well… most of them would probably be dead. Also we eat really, really well.

    Laya added: I don’t think the Arab world is gonna just accept us pitom because of a calculated appropriation of their culture designed to foster a “perception of indigenousness”

    No one, not me and not the author of the article pretend that the Arab world will pitom accept us because we learnt to say salam as well as shalom. But a perception of indigenousness is not a bad idea. I mean, I feel indigenous – I am indigenous – and the faster the Arabs realize the me and my ilk are an indelible part of the landscape, the better for us and the better for them – unless they like always blowing themselves up and getting blown up.

    And I’m not saying we should all become Arabs – I don’t want Tyre or Tripoli to be the new Tel Aviv. I just think it’s a good idea for us to better understand them and hopefully, vice versa.

    Matt wrote: Yes, they do. Food, music, the whole Arab-chic thing, etc. Those things are already true. And yet, Arab countries remain overtly antisemitic, and Muslims still support destroying Israel. Why would speaking Arabic make that less so?

    Well, you never see those people as the face of Israel. It’s usually some Ashkenazic guy who is the face and voice of Israel to the world. There have been some exceptions – David Levy was Foreign Minister for a bit but that was a disaster as his English was hellacious. And some would say he was kinda dumb. But I’m not gonna go there. I think greater Arabic literacy is a good long term and short term investment for Israel’s security. I’m kinda pragmatic that way.

    By the way, the exodus of Sephardic Jews didn’t start till the mid 50s. And it wasn’t universally harsh. It was harsh for say Iraqi Jews, but somewhat benign for Moroccan Jews. Just so you know.

    As for the Fatah goons being chill with any of us, I think Azrieli was looking towards the very long term. In that respect, it may not be a bad idea to contemplate.

  • I must admit, I’m partial to any plan that involves people learning, working for greater understanding, and most importantly, not shooting. Not shooting is good, I do it every day. I wonder if a peace deal could be brokered that would involve some mutual learning and cultural exchange- Arabs learning Hebrew, Israelis learning Arabic, kids learning and playing together, basically a more extensive form of what’s going on already. As far as civil rights, I think that reciprocity would be needed here, too. Recognition of the state of Israel, and travel allowances for Israeli citizens to travel safely and freely for personal or business reasons where those may be currently compromised, would go a long way towards helping create peace and mutual understanding. What’s good for the kosher goose is good for the halal gander, I say.

  • The problem with most mideast peace plans is that it is usually arrogant westerners projecting their western values and mores onto an ‘eastern’ society. And sometimes it even gets reversed back onto ourselves: What you’re actually saying CK, is that you want them to start speaking hebrew, for them to start accepting us, and for them to come up with more intersting flavours for matzo balls.

    That’s how their will be peace. First, when the Israeli Arabs decide in despite of the our discrimination to reach out to the Jews, to want to become an equal part of society rather than destroy it, to want to contribute to their country. Second, when the Arabs around us realize that they’re wasting too much time worring about us and not enough time worrying about themselves.

    I read a small blurb that Iranians are pissed with their government for finding millions of $$$ to send missiles to Hezbollah, but still can’t deal with internal earthquake refugees sufficiently. After Nasrallah tried to get braod Arab support, Mubarak snubbed him by bluntly saying that he would not risk opening a front with Israel and destroying everything that they had built in the last thirty years.

    A friend in the US told me today he spoke with an Egyptian girl who also bluntly said that she couldn’t care less about the Palestinians. They got Gaza, but what are they doing with it? A nation without a point.

    So when the Arabs decide that since they can’t beat us, then it’s better to join us, then we’ll have peace.

    Until then, CK, watch your back.

  • Most Arabs already have peace Josh. It’s the Israelis who need it.

    And don’t be so enamoured with whimsical hearsay from Egyptian girls of friends from the US. Seriously, think about it.

    There is that old saying “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for it.” What a load of crock. My country is ruled by billionaire pricks who throw out bottles of wine more expensive than my entire mortgage. Look at it from the Israeli Arab perspective and maybe you might understand why they are unhappy. And then you might understand when Habib from Teheran calls his cousin Akbar in Nahariya and hears the bad rap and could really care less that his country is prepping warheads to obliterate that section of land is cousin is also in, etc… That’s how bad guys prosper, through empathy of the masses and being uneducated.

  • ck,

    Ok, granted: the face(s) of official Israel are mostly white. But to alter that to foster peace strikes me as appeasing racism and ignoring the vital element of religious bigotry/supremacism.

    “Look, Ra’ed, the Jews are darker now.”

    “…but they are still Jews?”

    Nothing solved. FWIW, I’d support a more limited version of this plan without ever expecting it to have any influence on the Situation. I’d also be pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

    By the way, the exodus of the Sephardic Jews didn’t start till the mid 50s. And it wasn’t universally harsh…

    Good to know, thanks. I guess I’m Ashkenazi-centric.

  • Three of my great-great grandfathers were rabbis in Iraq. They were 100 percent Jewish in religion and 100 percent Arabic in culture.
    There is no deep theological difference between Judaism and Islam. In fact in the old days the rabbis in the Middle East used to say “there is no monotheism like the monotheism of Islam” and they meant it in a good way. The problem is that traditionally Islam had the idea that in the regions where Islam was dominant, all governments should be Islamic. Sounds similar to what most Christians thought until maybe 100 years ago. So it is basically a power thing, or as Matt correctly says a “supremacist” thing, NOT a religious/ theological thing.
    That doesn”t make it any better, but it does mean that when the causes of the Israeli-Arab conflict are over, there can be peace. One of the main causes of the Israeli-Arab conflict is the continuing relative poverty of most Middle Eastern countries. There is an old saying “if you want your neighbour to leave you alone, wish him wealth”.

  • I really like CK’s idea. It will help integrate Israel into the middle east economically, increase the capability of Israelis to deal with Palestinians, improve strategic skills (counter terror and counter espionage) … Even if it buys no goodwill, it will do these things. When I have children, I will encourage them to learn Arabic for exactly these reasons.

  • From a NY Times op-ed a couple of days ago:

    Born and raised in the largely Muslim town of Khonsar, my father was admitted to the university against all odds, got a master’s degree, joined the military as a second lieutenant, went back to his village dressed in the first Western-style suit the locals had ever seen, then moved to Tehran to become a leading educator.

    His childhood stories remain the most memorable features of our family gatherings. Once a bad mullah came to Khonsar, intent on making trouble for the Jews; two mischievous Jews drove him out by secretly spraying his prayer mat with liquor. Then there was the time a local fish peddler realized that my father had touched a fish, thereby “dirtying” the whole load. The peddler threw the rest away, providing a feast of free fish to the Jews of the town.

    And the best was this: When it rained for eight consecutive days, my grandmother stormed into the office of the school superintendent to protest the rule that Jewish students had to be kept home on rainy days. Moved by my grandmother’s plea, the superintendent escorted my father to his classroom, had him sip from a glass of water, then took the glass and gulped down the rest. He turned to the class and said: “If this water is good enough for me, it is good enough for all of you. From now on, Hakakian will come to class in all kinds of weather.”

    More than any religious instruction, these stories shaped my understanding of what it meant to be an Iranian Jew. In Persia, the land of Queen Esther, whose virtue overcame evil, one could, by wit or by wisdom, overcome every bigot.

    President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric about the Holocaust may terrify people who don’t know Iran. But those who do, find it, above all, tragic. By resuscitating symbols like the swastika and other Nazi-era relics, he is contaminating the Iranian social realm, where such concepts have scarcely existed. No doubt Jews have been mistreated in Iran throughout their long history, but to a degree incomparable to that suffered by Russian and European Jews.

    Throughout its 2,000-year presence in Persia, the Jewish community has helped shape the Iranian identity. Some major Persian literary texts survived the Arab invasion of the seventh century because they had been transliterated into Hebrew. Traditional Persian music owes its continuity to the Jewish artists who kept it alive when Muslims were forbidden to practice it. Yet Iranian Jews have had to hide their identity and restrain its expression.

    Of all the pain that Muslim Iranians have inflicted upon the Jews, the most persistent is obscurity. We have always been admired for being “completely Iranian,” the euphemism for being invisible, indistinguishable from Muslims. We speak Persian. We celebrate the Iranian New Year with as much verve as the next Iranian. Our kitchens smell of Persian cuisine. At our Jewish festivities, we dance to Persian music. In the United States, we have often angered our American counterparts for not wishing to pray in their temples, because we insist on conducting our services in Persian.

    Yet Muslim Iranians, even those who have loved and befriended us, have never known us as Jews:

    Good article and worth reading.

  • hey ck- the pic is not of my friend (those pic are coming). this one is a random henna picture from our favorite website Flickr.
    and i’m glad i got to fuck around with the evil eye.

  • Apparently, based on an article on Ynet, you can forget about bellydancing as a means of expression and bridging cultural dialogue, posited by Rabbi Moshe Amie, who deems it non-kosher…

  • Over half of Israeli Jews today stem from Jewish refugees of Iran, North Africa, and Arab nations. Sure Israelis can learn Arabic today, but how does that beat actually BEING from each of those countries and already speaking those languages, sharing music, sharing culture by nature? And did that help Israel? No it didn’t. Israelis already study about the Arab world in school. Arabs study about blood libel. And now the solution is for ISRAELIS to study MORE? Amazing.

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