Proselytes are hard for Ishmael

Associating part of the muezzin's call with Arabs is a Zionist invention intended to demonize all Arabs.

Salman Masalha | Proselytes are hard for Ishmael

The people who gathered among the "pictures of medal-bedecked Russian heroes" at the community center in Lod were waiting for MK Anastassia Michaeli (Yisrael Beiteinu ), who has presented a bill to silence the muezzins. One of those present termed the muezzin's call a "tool of terror," and said that muezzins use the words itbakh al-Yahud ["kill the Jews"] (as reported by Roy Arad in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz on December 20 ). We will return below to the source of the call to "kill the Jews."

Zionism, as its early leaders attested, was not interested in all Jews everywhere. It sought to create a new Jew here, and therefore sought Jews of a different type. David Ben-Gurion expressed this attitude very clearly: "Zionism is not a philanthropic venture," he said in the 1930s to the British high commissioner, and added: "We need here a superior type of Jew who will develop the Jewish homeland."

When there is a dearth of "superior types" of authentic Jews, they bring converts to Judaism. As the Hebrew newspaper Hashkafa reported in 1903, "in a region of Astrakhan are many proselytes...they also leave the Russian language and call themselves exiles in Egypt and they call Russia Assyria and long for the coming of the redeemer who will restore the Jews." (The quote is from Prof. Yuval Dror's "Russian Converts in the Galilee at the Beginning of the 20th Century," Cathedra, 1979. ) The Zionist Movement pounced on this find, because it wanted to increase the number of "Jews" in Palestine and also to bring people to this country who were skilled farmers.

Meir Dizengoff and Dr. Hillel Yaffe, who were members of the early Zionist group Hovevei Zion, helped bring these "converts" to the country, and they were sent to Hadera and colonies in the Galilee. Ben-Gurion himself got to know the converts, Russian farmers who were Subbotniks (Judaizing Christians ), during his time in Sejera. Despite tensions between the Jews and the converts, the Russian farmers proved a great help to Jewish settlement. There was another reason to bring them to the country. It involved improving Jewish blood. "It will not at all hurt Jewish blood, which has become weakened through generations of marriage (among Jews ) to mix somewhat with Christian blood," Yaffe said (also quoted in Cathedra ).

Many of those that "we needed" for the "development of the Jewish homeland" and the betterment of Jewish blood came to Israel with the fall of the Soviet Union. Many of them vote for Michaeli's party, Yisrael Beiteinu. That party took the name "Israel" and appropriated it as a "home" for itself; that is, if party followers claim "Russia is Assyria." But they might also claim they are "exiles in Egypt" and may even pray to the one "who brought us out of Egypt" or "who wrought miracles for our forefathers."

One of the converts, one Yaakov Nitchev, lived in Sejera. He allegedly took to drink after a family tragedy. It is also said that one day a year, on Simhat Torah, he permitted himself to get "as drunk as a goy." When he was drunk, he would revert to being a Russian farmer of the old days, and as with every drunken Russian farmer, the vodka would shout from his throat, bei zhidov ("kill the Jews" ).

That, it seems, is how the call was born here, at the beginning of the 20th century, in Palestinian Hebrew - itbakh al-Yahud. The Russian bei zhidov, which comes from the Russian pogroms, underwent a transformation here due to circumstances. It was translated literally-nationalistically by converts and lovers of Zion and was attached to the Arabs. Associating the call with Arabs is a Zionist invention intended to demonize all Arabs. Therefore, let the ancient sages be comforted: As it turns out, proselytes are not hard on Israel, they are actually hard for Ishmael.
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Published: Opinions-Haaretz, Dec. 28, 2011

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