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Sephardim in Israel Zionism From the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims

Sephardim in Israel Zionism From the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims

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Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish VictimsAuthor(s): Ella ShohatSource:
Social Text,
No. 19/20 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 1-35Published by:
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http://www.jstor.org/stable/466176
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SephardiminIsrael: Zionism from theStandpointof itsJewishVictims
ELLA SHOHAT
Alternativecritical discourseconcerningIsrael and Zionism has until nowlargelyfocussed ontheJewish/Arabconflict,viewingIsrael as aconstitutedState,alliedwith the WestagainsttheEast,whoseveryfoundationwaspremisedonthedenialof theOrient and of thelegitimate rightsof the Palestinianpeople.Iwould like to extendthe terms of the debatebeyondearlier dichotomies(EastversusWest,Arab versusJew,Palestinian versusIsraeli)toincorporatean issueelidedbypreviousformulations,towit,thepresenceofamediatingentity,thatof theAraborOrientalJews,thoseSephardiJewscoming largelyfromtheAraband Moslem countries. A morecompleteanalysis,I willargue,must considerthenegative consequencesof Zionism notonlyfor thePalestinianpeoplebutalsofor theSephardiJewswho now form themajorityof theJewishpopulationinIsrael. For Zionism does notonlyundertake tospeakfor Palestineand thePalestinians,thus"blocking"all Palestinianself-representation,it alsopresumestospeakforOrientalJews.The Zionist denialofthe Arab-Moslem andPalestinianEast, then,has as itscorollarythedenial of theJewish"Mizrahim"(the"EasternOnes")who,like thePalestinians,butbymoresubtleand lessobviouslybrutalmechanisms,have also beenstrippedof therightof self-representation.WithinIsrael,andon thestageof worldopinion,thehegemonicvoice of Israel hasalmostinvariablybeenthatofEuropeanJews,theAshkenazim,whiletheSephardivoice has beenlargelymuffledorsilenced.Zionismclaims to bealiberation movement for allJews,andZionistideologistshavesparedno effortin theirattemptto makethetwo terms"Jewish"and"Zionist"virtuallysynonymous.Infact,however,Zionism hasbeenprimarilyaliberation movementforEuropeanJews(andthat,as weknow,problemati-cally)and morepreciselyfor thattinyminorityofEuropeanJewsactuallysettledin Israel.AlthoughZionism claims toprovidea homeland for allJews,thathomeland was notofferedtoall with the samelargess. SephardiJewswere firstbroughtto Israel forspecificEuropean-Zionistreasons,andoncetheretheyweresystematicallydiscriminatedagainstbyaZionism whichdeployeditsenergiesand materialresourcesdifferentially,to theconsistentadvantageofEuropeanJewsandto theconsistent detriment ofOrientalJews.In thisessay,I
SephardiminIsrael: Zionism from theStandpointof itsJewishVictims
ELLA SHOHAT
Alternativecritical discourseconcerningIsrael and Zionism has until nowlargelyfocussed ontheJewish/Arabconflict,viewingIsrael as aconstitutedState,alliedwith the WestagainsttheEast,whoseveryfoundationwaspremisedonthedenialof theOrient and of thelegitimate rightsof the Palestinianpeople.Iwould like to extendthe terms of the debatebeyondearlier dichotomies(EastversusWest,Arab versusJew,Palestinian versusIsraeli)toincorporatean issueelidedbypreviousformulations,towit,thepresenceofamediatingentity,thatof theAraborOrientalJews,thoseSephardiJewscoming largelyfromtheAraband Moslem countries. A morecompleteanalysis,I willargue,must considerthenegative consequencesof Zionism notonlyfor thePalestinianpeoplebutalsofor theSephardiJewswho now form themajorityof theJewishpopulationinIsrael. For Zionism does notonlyundertake tospeakfor Palestineand thePalestinians,thus"blocking"all Palestinianself-representation,it alsopresumestospeakforOrientalJews.The Zionist denialofthe Arab-Moslem andPalestinianEast, then,has as itscorollarythedenial of theJewish"Mizrahim"(the"EasternOnes")who,like thePalestinians,butbymoresubtleand lessobviouslybrutalmechanisms,have also beenstrippedof therightof self-representation.WithinIsrael,andon thestageof worldopinion,thehegemonicvoice of Israel hasalmostinvariablybeenthatofEuropeanJews,theAshkenazim,whiletheSephardivoice has beenlargelymuffledorsilenced.Zionismclaims to bealiberation movement for allJews,andZionistideologistshavesparedno effortin theirattemptto makethetwo terms"Jewish"and"Zionist"virtuallysynonymous.Infact,however,Zionism hasbeenprimarilyaliberation movementforEuropeanJews(andthat,as weknow,problemati-cally)and morepreciselyfor thattinyminorityofEuropeanJewsactuallysettledin Israel.AlthoughZionism claims toprovidea homeland for allJews,thathomeland was notofferedtoall with the samelargess. SephardiJewswere firstbroughtto Israel forspecificEuropean-Zionistreasons,andoncetheretheyweresystematicallydiscriminatedagainstbyaZionism whichdeployeditsenergiesand materialresourcesdifferentially,to theconsistentadvantageofEuropeanJewsandto theconsistent detriment ofOrientalJews.In thisessay,I
SephardiminIsrael: Zionism from theStandpointof itsJewishVictims
ELLA SHOHAT
Alternativecritical discourseconcerningIsrael and Zionism has until nowlargelyfocussed ontheJewish/Arabconflict,viewingIsrael as aconstitutedState,alliedwith the WestagainsttheEast,whoseveryfoundationwaspremisedonthedenialof theOrient and of thelegitimate rightsof the Palestinianpeople.Iwould like to extendthe terms of the debatebeyondearlier dichotomies(EastversusWest,Arab versusJew,Palestinian versusIsraeli)toincorporatean issueelidedbypreviousformulations,towit,thepresenceofamediatingentity,thatof theAraborOrientalJews,thoseSephardiJewscoming largelyfromtheAraband Moslem countries. A morecompleteanalysis,I willargue,must considerthenegative consequencesof Zionism notonlyfor thePalestinianpeoplebutalsofor theSephardiJewswho now form themajorityof theJewishpopulationinIsrael. For Zionism does notonlyundertake tospeakfor Palestineand thePalestinians,thus"blocking"all Palestinianself-representation,it alsopresumestospeakforOrientalJews.The Zionist denialofthe Arab-Moslem andPalestinianEast, then,has as itscorollarythedenial of theJewish"Mizrahim"(the"EasternOnes")who,like thePalestinians,butbymoresubtleand lessobviouslybrutalmechanisms,have also beenstrippedof therightof self-representation.WithinIsrael,andon thestageof worldopinion,thehegemonicvoice of Israel hasalmostinvariablybeenthatofEuropeanJews,theAshkenazim,whiletheSephardivoice has beenlargelymuffledorsilenced.Zionismclaims to bealiberation movement for allJews,andZionistideologistshavesparedno effortin theirattemptto makethetwo terms"Jewish"and"Zionist"virtuallysynonymous.Infact,however,Zionism hasbeenprimarilyaliberation movementforEuropeanJews(andthat,as weknow,problemati-cally)and morepreciselyfor thattinyminorityofEuropeanJewsactuallysettledin Israel.AlthoughZionism claims toprovidea homeland for allJews,thathomeland was notofferedtoall with the samelargess. SephardiJewswere firstbroughtto Israel forspecificEuropean-Zionistreasons,andoncetheretheyweresystematicallydiscriminatedagainstbyaZionism whichdeployeditsenergiesand materialresourcesdifferentially,to theconsistentadvantageofEuropeanJewsandto theconsistent detriment ofOrientalJews.In thisessay,I
111
 
Ella ShohatElla ShohatElla Shohat
wouldlike todelineate thesituationof structuraloppression experiencedbySephardiJewsinIsrael,tobrieflytrace thehistoricaloriginsofthatoppression,andtoproposeasymptomaticanalysisof thediscourses-historiographic,sociological, politicalandjournalistic-whichsublimate,mask andperpetuatethatoppression.SuperimposedontheEast/Westproblematicwill beanotherissue,relatedbuthardlyidentical,namelythatofthe relationbetween the "First" and the"Third" Worlds.AlthoughIsrael isnota Third Worldcountry by anysimpleorconventionaldefinition,it does have affinities and structuralanalogiestotheThirdWorld,analogieswhichoftengounrecognizedeven,andperhapsespe-cially,withinIsrael itself. In whatsense,then,canIsrael,despitethe viewsof itsofficialspokesmen,be seen aspartakingin "Third Worldness?"First,inpurelydemographicterms,amajorityof the Israelipopulationcan be seen as ThirdWorld orat leastasoriginatingin the Third World. The Palestiniansmakeupabouttwentypercentofthepopulationwhile theSephardim,themajorityofwhomcome,withinveryrecentmemory,from countriessuchasMorocco,Algeria, Egypt, Iraq,Iran andIndia,countriesgenerally regardedasformingpartof the ThirdWorld,constitute anotherfiftypercentofthepopulation,thusgivingusatotal ofaboutseventypercentof thepopulationas ThirdWorldorThird World-derived(andalmostninetypercentifoneincludestheWest BankandGaza.)EuropeanhegemonyinIsrael,in thissense,istheproductof a distinctnumericalminority,aminorityin whose interest it is todownplayIsrael's"Easterness"aswell as its"Third Worldness."WithinIsrael,EuropeanJewsconstituteaFirst-World elitedominatingnotonlythe Palestinians but alsotheOrientalJews.TheSephardim,as aJewishThird Worldpeople,form asemi-colonizednation-within-a-nation.Myanalysishere is indebted toanti-colonialistdiscoursegenerally(FrantzFanon,AimeCesaire)andspecificallytoEdward Said'sindispensablecontribution to thatdiscourse,hisgenealogical critiqueofOrientalismas the discursive formationbywhichEuropeanculture was able tomanage-andevenproduce-theOrientduringthepost-Enlightenment period.1The OrientalistattitudepositstheOrientas aconstellation oftraits,assigninggeneralizedvalues toreal orimaginarydifferences,largelytotheadvantageof theWest and thedisadvantageof theEast,so as tojustifytheformer'sprivilegesandaggressions.Orientalismtendsto maintain whatSaid callsa"flexiblepositionalsuperiority,"whichputstheWesternerin a wholeseriesofpossiblerelationswiththeOriental,but withouttheWesternereverlosingthe relativeupperhand.My essayconcerns, then,theprocessbywhich onepoleof the East/Westdichotomyisproducedandreproducedasrational,developed, superiorandhuman,andtheotherasaberrant,underdevelopedandinferior,butinthis case as itaffectsOrientalJews.wouldlike todelineate thesituationof structuraloppression experiencedbySephardiJewsinIsrael,tobrieflytrace thehistoricaloriginsofthatoppression,andtoproposeasymptomaticanalysisof thediscourses-historiographic,sociological, politicalandjournalistic-whichsublimate,mask andperpetuatethatoppression.SuperimposedontheEast/Westproblematicwill beanotherissue,relatedbuthardlyidentical,namelythatofthe relationbetween the "First" and the"Third" Worlds.AlthoughIsrael isnota Third Worldcountry by anysimpleorconventionaldefinition,it does have affinities and structuralanalogiestotheThirdWorld,analogieswhichoftengounrecognizedeven,andperhapsespe-cially,withinIsrael itself. In whatsense,then,canIsrael,despitethe viewsof itsofficialspokesmen,be seen aspartakingin "Third Worldness?"First,inpurelydemographicterms,amajorityof the Israelipopulationcan be seen as ThirdWorld orat leastasoriginatingin the Third World. The Palestiniansmakeupabouttwentypercentofthepopulationwhile theSephardim,themajorityofwhomcome,withinveryrecentmemory,from countriessuchasMorocco,Algeria, Egypt, Iraq,Iran andIndia,countriesgenerally regardedasformingpartof the ThirdWorld,constitute anotherfiftypercentofthepopulation,thusgivingusatotal ofaboutseventypercentof thepopulationas ThirdWorldorThird World-derived(andalmostninetypercentifoneincludestheWest BankandGaza.)EuropeanhegemonyinIsrael,in thissense,istheproductof a distinctnumericalminority,aminorityin whose interest it is todownplayIsrael's"Easterness"aswell as its"Third Worldness."WithinIsrael,EuropeanJewsconstituteaFirst-World elitedominatingnotonlythe Palestinians but alsotheOrientalJews.TheSephardim,as aJewishThird Worldpeople,form asemi-colonizednation-within-a-nation.Myanalysishere is indebted toanti-colonialistdiscoursegenerally(FrantzFanon,AimeCesaire)andspecificallytoEdward Said'sindispensablecontribution to thatdiscourse,hisgenealogical critiqueofOrientalismas the discursive formationbywhichEuropeanculture was able tomanage-andevenproduce-theOrientduringthepost-Enlightenment period.1The OrientalistattitudepositstheOrientas aconstellation oftraits,assigninggeneralizedvalues toreal orimaginarydifferences,largelytotheadvantageof theWest and thedisadvantageof theEast,so as tojustifytheformer'sprivilegesandaggressions.Orientalismtendsto maintain whatSaid callsa"flexiblepositionalsuperiority,"whichputstheWesternerin a wholeseriesofpossiblerelationswiththeOriental,but withouttheWesternereverlosingthe relativeupperhand.My essayconcerns, then,theprocessbywhich onepoleof the East/Westdichotomyisproducedandreproducedasrational,developed, superiorandhuman,andtheotherasaberrant,underdevelopedandinferior,butinthis case as itaffectsOrientalJews.wouldlike todelineate thesituationof structuraloppression experiencedbySephardiJewsinIsrael,tobrieflytrace thehistoricaloriginsofthatoppression,andtoproposeasymptomaticanalysisof thediscourses-historiographic,sociological, politicalandjournalistic-whichsublimate,mask andperpetuatethatoppression.SuperimposedontheEast/Westproblematicwill beanotherissue,relatedbuthardlyidentical,namelythatofthe relationbetween the "First" and the"Third" Worlds.AlthoughIsrael isnota Third Worldcountry by anysimpleorconventionaldefinition,it does have affinities and structuralanalogiestotheThirdWorld,analogieswhichoftengounrecognizedeven,andperhapsespe-cially,withinIsrael itself. In whatsense,then,canIsrael,despitethe viewsof itsofficialspokesmen,be seen aspartakingin "Third Worldness?"First,inpurelydemographicterms,amajorityof the Israelipopulationcan be seen as ThirdWorld orat leastasoriginatingin the Third World. The Palestiniansmakeupabouttwentypercentofthepopulationwhile theSephardim,themajorityofwhomcome,withinveryrecentmemory,from countriessuchasMorocco,Algeria, Egypt, Iraq,Iran andIndia,countriesgenerally regardedasformingpartof the ThirdWorld,constitute anotherfiftypercentofthepopulation,thusgivingusatotal ofaboutseventypercentof thepopulationas ThirdWorldorThird World-derived(andalmostninetypercentifoneincludestheWest BankandGaza.)EuropeanhegemonyinIsrael,in thissense,istheproductof a distinctnumericalminority,aminorityin whose interest it is todownplayIsrael's"Easterness"aswell as its"Third Worldness."WithinIsrael,EuropeanJewsconstituteaFirst-World elitedominatingnotonlythe Palestinians but alsotheOrientalJews.TheSephardim,as aJewishThird Worldpeople,form asemi-colonizednation-within-a-nation.Myanalysishere is indebted toanti-colonialistdiscoursegenerally(FrantzFanon,AimeCesaire)andspecificallytoEdward Said'sindispensablecontribution to thatdiscourse,hisgenealogical critiqueofOrientalismas the discursive formationbywhichEuropeanculture was able tomanage-andevenproduce-theOrientduringthepost-Enlightenment period.1The OrientalistattitudepositstheOrientas aconstellation oftraits,assigninggeneralizedvalues toreal orimaginarydifferences,largelytotheadvantageof theWest and thedisadvantageof theEast,so as tojustifytheformer'sprivilegesandaggressions.Orientalismtendsto maintain whatSaid callsa"flexiblepositionalsuperiority,"whichputstheWesternerin a wholeseriesofpossiblerelationswiththeOriental,but withouttheWesternereverlosingthe relativeupperhand.My essayconcerns, then,theprocessbywhich onepoleof the East/Westdichotomyisproducedandreproducedasrational,developed, superiorandhuman,andtheotherasaberrant,underdevelopedandinferior,butinthis case as itaffectsOrientalJews.
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