Wednesday, December 28, 2011

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.
Published: Opinions-Haaretz, Dec. 28, 2011

For Hebrew, press here

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That's how the Zionists are

A short history of Arab feelings toward Zionism:
A new Arabic monthly, Lughat al-Arab ('the Arabic language'), that began publication in Baghdad 100 years ago, published an investigative report by the editor called 'The Founder of Zionism' in its September 1911 issue.

Salman Masalha | That's how the Zionists are

The Arab attempt since the start of the 20th century to understand the Zionist movement has long produced mixed feelings. A new Arabic monthly, Lughat al-Arab ("the Arabic language"), began publication in Baghdad 100 years ago. The third issue, from September 1911, contains an investigative report by the editor called "The Founder of Zionism."

"Many talk about Zionism nowadays, but most of the people don't know what it's about," he wrote. To enlighten his readers the editor quoted an article published three months earlier in a French newspaper, by a writer from Istanbul: "Before the group came to be known as 'Zionists' the Turks called them Donmeh [Turkish crypto-Jews] ... "
Arab Spring

The article in the Baghdad journal connected Zionism to the Sabbateans and divulged for its readers details from the life of their leader, Shabbetai Zvi, who claimed he was the Messiah and that all twelve tribes of Israel would soon return to Palestine. In Cairo, the author relates, Shabbetai Zvi met a beautiful Jewess who acted oddly and purported to be the "Queen designated for the Messiah."

They married and traveled throughout the Orient; Shabbetai Zvi continued to spread his message until his imprisonment and conversion to Islam. His followers, emulating him, also converted. Shabbetai Zvi was exiled to Albania, where he died in 1676, because he continued to engage in mysticism. After the death of the "scoundrel," the article said, his followers continued in his path and their descendants now "live in Salonika and Edirne."

"Those are the Zionists and their roots. Heads of state and officials fear them as men fear lions. That is because the Zionists are serious, industrious people, cunning and alert, and they exert considerable influence on their surroundings," the article explained. It isn't hard to guess what was considered the source of the influence. The writer elaborated: "Because of the gold they hold in their hands ... Thus, in meetings with delegates, some fawn over them, while fearing machinations. For these reasons, honest state officials talk about the 'Zionist danger.'"

In fact, officials from far-flung areas in the region warned of this danger. They reported an increased Jewish presence in Iraq and in parts of Greater Syria. They alluded to the proliferation of agricultural and industrial machines and facilities, and even talked about the "routines and organization on their colonies." The official in Jerusalem wrote, "80,000 Jews live in the city, while the number of Muslims does not exceed 9,000." A Syrian official confirmed this estimate, adding, "The activities undertaken by these people are those of a nation; during holidays they wave a blue flag that has 'Zion' written on it."

On one hand, the writer tried to reassure his readers: "Whatever happens with this Zionist issue, there's no reason to worry that the Zionists will ever turn into a nation." On the other hand, he did not attempt to conceal his concerns: "You have to bear in mind that these foreigners compete with natives of the land, and so struggles and disputes about the land erupt." The Baghdad journal found reason to underscore the tight bonds that unite Jews, and referred to the "ethos of solidarity among them, which has reached the highest level."

This report projected anxieties about the unknown, alongside admiration. In conclusion, the author suggested there was something to be learned from the Zionists: "They should serve as exemplary models to others," he wrote. One hundred years have passed. It seems that nothing has changed since then, and life in the East continues as always.
Published: Opinions-Haaretz, 20 December 2011

For Hebrew, press here

Monday, December 5, 2011

Neither Arab nor Spring

The vicissitudes that have, for some reason, been collectively dubbed the 'Arab Spring' are neither Arab nor Spring. One can say that they are actually living proof of the identity crisis and reverberating bankruptcy of Arab nationalism.

Salman Masalha ||

Neither Arab nor Spring

The vicissitudes that have, for some reason, been collectively dubbed the "Arab Spring" are neither Arab nor Spring. One can say that they are actually living proof of the identity crisis and reverberating bankruptcy of Arab nationalism. We must remember that the intifadas that brought the masses to the streets took place in countries that have been ruled by governments considered to be nationalist. They passed over the monarchies, and there is a simple reason for that.

From the first days of Islam, through to the disintegration of the Ottoman empire, the Arab world has been ruled by monarchies in the form of various caliphs. The first caliphs were Arabs who conquered land and established empires. In Arab lands, the legitimacy conferred on rulers was fundamentally tribal, and resembled monarchy. Over time, Arab rule weakened. The caliphates remained Islamic, but the caliphs were no longer of Arab descent.

Nationalism was a new idea. The founding of Arab nationalism had two phases: First there was traditional Bedouin nationalism, while urban nationalism developed later. Traditional nationalism was encouraged by Britain, the colonial power that sought to secure hold of the important areas by taking them over from the Ottomans. Lord Horatio Kitchener, who served as the British secretary of state for war during World War I, actively pursued this goal, working to restore the Arab caliphates.

We know about this from a letter sent in August 1915 from Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, to Hussein bin Ali, the sharif of Mecca: "We rejoice, moreover, that your Highness and your people are of one opinion - that Arab interests are English interests and English Arab. To this intent we confirm to you the terms of Lord Kitchener's message, which reached you by the hand of Ali Effendi, and in which was stated clearly our desire for the independence of Arabia and its inhabitants, together with our approval of the Arab Khalifate when it should be proclaimed. We declare once more that His Majesty's Government would welcome the resumption of the Khalifate by an Arab of true race."

The region was ultimately left without either an Ottoman caliphate or an Arab one. It was divided between Britain and France, and the Arabs got the condolence prize: the Arab League.

The second phase of Arab nationalism developed in the context of the colonial powers' withdrawal from the region and the Cold War. The Arab world, which was divided into "autonomous" entities, continued to be ruled by puppets controlled from afar. Then a new player - the Soviet Union - entered the fray, and the new nationalism fell into the net of the Soviet bloc. This nationalism was created in an unnatural process. Junior officers had brutally raped their people and their lands, and a new kind of regime was born of this assault: a political bastard in the Arab world, neither a monarchy nor a republic.

These governments promised the world, and national pride, but their existence was essentially dependent on empty slogans. All their energy went into maintaining their hold on the reins of power, at any price. And that's how the Arab world got where it is today. One can say that Arab nationalism, in both its empty forms, flunked the reality test.

There is an Arabic phrase that tells us the drowning man hangs by ropes made of air. These days, the ropes of air are being held out to the Arab world by the modern-day successors of Kitchener and McMahon. This time, it is being done through assistance to Sunni Arab Islam and with prominent Turkish-Ottoman support, in the hope that the new regimes will counter the increasingly strong Shi'ite Islam at Iran's helm. But this is just another golem that is liable to turn on its maker.
Published: Opinion-Haaretz, 5 Dec. 2011

For Hebrew, press here

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