Reflections By An Arab Jew

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Ella Shohat. Photo: as.nyu.edu

When issues of racial and colonial discourse are discussed in the U.S., people of Middle Eastern and North African origin are often excluded. This piece is written with the intent of opening up the multicultural debate, going beyond the U.S. census’s simplistic categorization of Middle Eastern peoples as “whites.”

It’s also written with the intent of multiculturalizing American notions of Jewishness. My personal narrative questions the Eurocentric opposition of Arab and Jew, particularly the denial of Arab Jewish (Sephardic) voices both in the Middle Eastern and American contexts.

I am an Arab Jew. Or, more specifically, an Iraqi Israeli woman living, writing and teaching in the U.S. Most members of my family were born and raised in Baghdad, and now live in Iraq, Israel, the U.S., England, and Holland. When my grandmother first encountered Israeli society in the ’50s, she was convinced that the people who looked, spoke and ate so differently–the European Jews–were actually European Christians. Jewishness for her generation was inextricably associated with Middle Easterness. My grandmother, who still lives in Israel and still communicates largely in Arabic, had to be taught to speak of “us” as Jews and “them” as Arabs. For Middle Easterners, the operating distinction had always been “Muslim,” “Jew,” and “Christian,” not Arab versus Jew. The assumption was that “Arabness” referred to a common shared culture and language, albeit with religious differences.

Read more: http://www.bintjbeil.com/E/occupation/arab_jew.html

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