Mizrahi tales

Every so often I encounter a book on the Middle East which challenges
my preconceived notions of that region’s people and history. Books like
Fouad Ajami’s Dream Palace of the Arabs and Vali Nasr’s Shia Revival made me look at Middle East with new eyes. Rachel Shabi’s 2008 book We Look Like the Enemy:The Hidden Story of Israel’s Jews From Arab Land does the same thing.
Shabi, the daughter of Iraqi Jewish parents and a former resident of
Great Britain, is a Tel Aviv based journalist and contributor to
numerous publications including the London Sunday Times, The Guardian
and Salon.com. Using her status as an “insider/outsider”, (much like
Suketu Mehta did with his superb account of life in Mumbai, Maximum City

Shabi paints a vivid picture of the Israelis we Americans know very
little-the Mizrahis or Jews orginating from the Middle East and North
Africa. Despite comprising almost half of Israel’s Jewish population,
according to Shabi the Mizrahis are seen as backward country cousins by
the nation’s Western-oriented Ashkenazi elite. Marginalized for over 50
years, they make up the bottom rungs of Israeli society economically,
politically and socially. Adding insult to injury, because of their
Arab origins, they are seen by some Ashkenazis as not being Israeli
enough and hence a possible fifth column when it comes to the ongoing
Arab-Israeli conflict.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit and I’m thankful that I grabbed it from the “new books” shelf at my local library as I was heading to the checkout line. Just to be sure, I would welcome a thoughtful and well written rebuttal to Shabi’s book to see if what she says is accurate and not incredibly influenced by her own ethnic heritage. She has also inspired me to read other books on the
Mizrahi. Andre Aciman’s 1994 memoir Out Of Egypt has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for far too long. Shabi also inpired me to read Nissim Rajwan’s The Last Jews in Baghdad:Remembering a Lost Homeland as well as My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel Sabi.

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Filed under Area Studies/International Relations, History, Judaica

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