"The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention" rejoinder-Rabbi Michael Lerner
Source Dave Anderson
Date 09/06/14/07:55

Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner

THE ARTICLE above which appeared today in the New York Times reminds us
of another level of complexity in the Middle East--the flight of some and
expulsion of others of the 800,000 Jews who had to leave Arab lands in
the 20th century, often having their property confiscated, often fleeing
with justified fear for their lives, most of whom found refuge in the
newly created Zionist state of Israel. The account given below by Andre
Aciman has been challenged by some historians who point out that these
Jews may have themselves been victims of Western colonialism: the
colonial powers traditionally attempted to create or exacerbate exisitng
ethnic divisions in each colonized country so that the colonized peoples
would fight against each other, often using a domestic minority as one of
its local surrogates. In some Arab countries, France and England used the
Jews in this role, and Jews willingly embraced the benefits of the
privileges offered, in part because under Islamic rule they had usually
been second class citizens without the same political rights as Muslims
and with special tax burdens. The anger that Jewish collaboration with
the colonial power generated among Muslims was exacerbated by Arab
resentments about how Palestinians were being treated in the process of
creating a Jewish state in Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s. Though
Jewish refugees to Israel were often treated in a discriminatory manner
by the dominant European/Ashkenazi Jews who were the major pioneers of
the new Zionist reality, and that accounts for some of their subsequent
identification with the anti- socialist, anti-Labor party Likud, it is
also the case that the anger that these refugees felt at the way they had
been treated by Arabs while they lived in Muslim lands contributed to
their even-now-persisting tendency to support militarist political
parties in Israel and to explain that support by reference to their own
experience of discrimination in Arab lands. This history, of course, is
the subject of great contention, and Aciman fails to discuss its
complexities, but his raising the issue as one that cannot be ignored is
essentailly correct. Unfortunately, this history has been misused by some
neo-cons and rightwing Zionists to claim that Israel has no
responsibility to Palestinian refugees because the Arab countries should
have been as successful in integrating the Palestinians into Arab
societies as Israel was in integrating Jewish refugees from Arab lands.
By trying to reduce the situation to a mere "population transfer," those
right-wingers obscure the particular historical experience of
Palestinians and their deep connection to the land of Palestine, not to
mention the fact that it was not "Arabs" who failed to integrate them,
but rather specific Arab leaders who were themselves deeply aligned with
and supported by Western colonial and imperial powers who had their own
reasons to keep the Arab/Israeli tensions high and who supported the Arab
oligarchs in using Palestinians as a distraction for the Arab masses so
that they would not concentrate on the role of those oligarchs in
perpetuating poverty in oil-rich Arab lands. That Obama did not challenge
those oligarchs in any direct way, and that he did not do more to support
those in Arab lands who continue to suffer from the oppression of
governments like those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia which the U.S. supports
is another story to be addressed separately, but cannot be forgotten when
raising the issues of how to understand the situation of Palestinian
refugees and why they cannot be morally equated to the situation of
Jewish refugees from Arab lands, not least because Jews do not yearn to
return to Arab countries to resume their lives there while Palestinians
do wish to return to their lives in Palestine.Yet Tikkun has always
maintained that the plight of Jews who fled Arab lands is a legitimate
issue to be raised in any final settlement of the larger Arab/Israeli
conflict, and we believe that compensation packages for those Jews from
Arab lands who remain in conditions of poverty today in the State of
Israel should be one of the elements of a comprehensive reparations
agreement whose primary focus should be the compensation of Palestinian
refugees and their families.--Rabbi Michael Lerner

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