The Arab Jews: Language, Poetry, and Singularity

A joint Arab-Jewish identity seems an impossibility given the current political situation in the Middle East. And yet it was a reality, exemplified by Arabic-speaking Jews and their writers. In his extensive essay Reuven Snir investigates the complex history of Arab Jews

Arab miniature painting, 16th century (source: Wikipedia)
What is Arab-Jewish identity?” In his essay Reuven Snir takes a look back at Jewish life in Arabia


If you meet now in Israel a Jew who is fluent in Arabic, you can be sure that he was either born in an Arab country (and their number, of course, is constantly decreasing) or works with the military or security services (and their number, of course, is always increasing). The canonical Israeli-Jewish elite does not see the Arabic language and culture as an intellectual asset. In the field of literature, there is not even one Jewish writer on record born after 1948 who writes in Arabic.


Furthermore, the Arab Jews who immigrated to Israel after its establishment were exposed to a hegemonic Hebrew-Zionist establishment, which imposed its interpretive norms on all cultural communities under the umbrella of leftist liberalism, and at the same time despised and feared the Orient and its culture. The policy of remodelling the identity of Arab-Jewish immigrants in an Ashkenazi image and cultural identity was no different from the British policy in India, which Thomas Babington Macaulay defined in a speech he made in 1834 before the General Committee on Public Instruction.

Speaking on the educational objectives of the British in India, he called for the creation of a new type of person who would be ‘Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.’ The Zionist movement succeeded where even the British had failed: in creating a new model of an Israeli who is Oriental in blood and colour, but Zionist and Ashkenazi in taste and in opinions. Also, the Israeli educational system forced the offspring of Arab-Jewish families to accept the Holocaust as their own – sometimes, I can add, as their sole – history and decisive marker of identity.

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