Anti-Zionists are fond of claiming that Israel is a colonial enterprise of white Ashkenazi Jews—as though Jews exiled to Europe centuries ago from the Middle East should be ineligible to return. Ironic, too, that Hitler insisted German Ashkenazi Jews were anything but white—and therefore should be killed.
This Catch 22 has made it difficult for Jews to find welcome anywhere—in exile and in their ancient homeland.
What most anti-Zionists miss is that despite the perception that resettling Israel was largely (though not completely) an Ashkenazi initiative, the majority of today’s Israelis are ancestors of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Most are brown-, black- or olive-skinned—not what anyone could describe as white—and as a group are called Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews.
Yet even this fact doesn’t save Israel’s Jews.
Marc Lamont Hill, discredited former CNN commentator, has argued—absurdly—that the Mizrahi designation is a propaganda attempt to decouple Mizrahi Jews from their “Palestinian identity.” In other words, the Mizrahi Jews and Arabs—they’re all just Palestinians.
Surely neither Mizrahi Jews nor Palestinians would embrace Hill’s bizarre connection—especially since most of the 850,000 post-1947 Mizrahi refugees were forced by Arabs from their homes in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Iran and Egypt. The Palestinians reject the ancestry of any Jews—European or Mizrahi—in the region, and certainly did not welcome any of them back home.
In another effort to shut down the truth of the Jewish people, a few weeks ago an Israeli Mizrahi speaker was “cancelled” by anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian forces at the United Kingdom’s Warwick University. She was prevented from speaking of her ancestry for Mizrahi Heritage Week. You may have missed this, since the squelching of speech for pro-Israel voices on college campuses is no longer of media interest.
While for millennia Jews lived with unbroken continuity in the land of Israel, many Jews also lived in neighboring countries, predating the birth of Islam and the Arab conquest, occupation and colonization of the region. While many think of the region today as “Arab,” places like Morocco, Syria and Egypt were invaded 1,300 years ago by Muslims, and their indigenous populations killed or forced to convert and adopt the Arabic language and culture.
In Iraq, for example, Jews had lived for almost 2,500 years—since the destruction of Jewish sovereignty in the First Temple period—but all this ended just a couple of generations ago with an orgy of bloody pogroms and public hangings.
Few indigenous populations survived the centuries of onslaught on their authentic identity, and simply disappeared. Despite having second-class, dhimmi status imposed on them by Muslim rulers, Jews refused to relinquish their culture and tradition. They were made subservient to the majoritarian Muslims, who had arrived via invasion and colonization.
This history of conquest, occupation and colonization is one many anti-Zionists would like to hide, since it turns every popular Middle East narrative on its head. Today, strong forces and lobbies ensure that anything exposing Muslim colonial history is censored.
Only a few days ago, Nadia Murad, a former Islamic State sex slave, Yazidi human rights activist and 2018 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was banned from speaking at an educational event by the Toronto District School Board, because her story of mass rape and torture by Islamic State would promote “Islamophobia.”
In other words, students cannot be exposed to stories of persecution by Muslims because it might make other Muslims look bad. Truth be damned, history be damned—as long as no one hears the story of a minority in the Middle East that was treated as chattel in accordance with an extremist interpretation of the Koran.
Progressive leftists are so intimidated that they stop defending real victims, instead siding with the persecutors’ narrative. Murad, who has experienced so much horror and trauma, is not allowed to tell her harrowing story—despite being a Nobel laureate—thus compounding her and her people’s tragedy.
This singular episode speaks volumes about the Middle East conflict. Many—seemingly most—Muslim and Arab leaders cannot countenance a story in which they are the persecutors and not victims. They act to ensure that any mention of their history as conquerors, occupiers and colonizers is excised from the history books and banished from public forums.
It is for this reason that the history and expulsion of Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa is so challenging for Arabs and Muslims. It reverses their central common understanding of the conflict.
The story of Mizrahi Jews confirms that the Jews are the indigenous people of the region, who were conquered, occupied and colonized by marauding Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs imposed their religion, language and culture on those living there, including many Jews in the Land of Israel, who were converted at the point of a sword.
This is the reason some Palestinians in certain areas, such as around Hebron—the first Jewish capital city—have discovered they have Jewish DNA.
It behooves advocates for Israel to ensure the true history of the region is spread, despite threats. The story of Mizrahi Jews is the ultimate antidote to many of the lies told about Israel.
Of course, every Jew is indigenous to the land of Israel—because all belong to the Jewish people—regardless of their recent heritage. But it is these Middle Eastern and African Jews whose history most threatens BDS and anti-Israel activists. This is why so many enemies of Israel resort to false claims that Israel was settled by European colonists and that European Jews are converts—and why Mizrahi history is forcibly suppressed.
The Mizrahi heritage story dispels the false mythology that Arabs or Muslims are indigenous to the region, that the Jews came from distant lands—and especially that Palestinian Arabs are being forced out of their “homeland.” These lies are the foundational pillars of the anti-Israel movement—which come crashing down when the real story emerges.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.