Posts Tagged ‘‘Christians in the Arab East’’

How Many Indigenous Jews Are Emigrating from Israel?

April 11, 2019

One of the major issues confronting the survival of the indigenous Christian community in Israel is emigration. Christians constitute one of the best educated and most skilled sectors of Palestinian society and economy. Historically they have provided much of the area’s political leadership, serving as mayors, village headmen and in important positions in the P.L.O., and have also been active running businesses, particularly tourism, and providing for the Palestinian people’s welfare through charity. But their numbers have been decimated through pressure from the state of Israel on the one hand, and Islamic fundamentalism on the other, which views them as collaborators with the Israeli state. Before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Christians comprised about 1o per cent of the Palestinian population. Now it’s down to about 1 per cent. Unable to find suitable jobs in Israel and the Occupied Territories to due the system of Israeli apartheid, and with their businesses and farms heavily squeezed by the mass of regulations and legal obstacles put in the way of all Palestinians, many are emigrating to America, Europe and Australia.

But it’s not only the Christian community that has sought better opportunities elsewhere. I found this fascinating reference to indigenous Jewish emigration from Israel in a passage discussing Christian emigration from the Holy Land in Robert Brenton Betts, Christians in the Arab East (London: SPCK 1979) on page 76 discussing the problem of obtaining the correct figures for emigration from the Israel:

No sectarian emigration figures are available for Israel (largely because they government does not wish to acknowledge publicly the large number of Jews, especially from the Sephardim, who are emigrating as well)….

The Sephardim, or Sephardic Jews are the descendants of the medieval Spanish Jews, who were expelled from the country by Ferdinand and Isabella in the Fifteenth century with the Muslim Moors. Their vernacular language is Ladino, a form of Old Spanish. After their expulsion, many found sanctuary under Islam in North Africa and the Middle East. Israel claims to be the nation state of all Jews, everywhere, something which is denied by non- or anti-Zionist Jews, whether secular, Liberal, Reform or Orthodox. Historically Reform Judaism rejected Zionism because they felt that their future lay as equal citizens in their traditional European homelands. And many Orthodox Jews reject Zionism because they believe that Israel can only be restored by divine action through the Messiah. Until then, they believe that their duty as devout Jews is to remain in exile as commanded by the Almighty.

But the emigration of indigenous Jews from Israel raises further issues challenging the supposed identity of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. For anti-Zionists, Israel isn’t a restoration of ancient Israel, but a White settler state like the other colonies established by Europeans at the expense of the indigenous peoples in the Americas, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They point to Israeli racism against non-White Jews, such as those from Ethiopia, as well as the persecution of the Mizrahim, Arab Jews. The Zionist pioneers initially were reluctant to admit them, calling them, amongst other derogatory epithets, the ‘dust of the Earth’. They were held to be biologically inferior to White, European and American Jews. The labor shortage due to the lack of White colonists from the West eventually forced the Zionist authorities to admit them, but they were heavily discriminated against. They were given the worst and lowest paid jobs and housing and were educated in separate schools from the Ashkenazim. As a result, many of them have become even more racist and intolerant than mainstream Israeli society. In the 1960s, tens of thousands of Arab Jews were expelled from Israel because they were culturally indistinguishable from Arabs, or so I understand. And from reading this, it appears that many Sephardic Jews, who had lived in Palestine for centuries, also left of their own accord.

Which would appear to confirm that Israel really isn’t the ‘nation state of the Jews’, whatever Benjamin Netanyahu and the other racial nationalists in his coalition say, because clearly there has been a sector of the indigenous Jewish population that has not welcomed the establishment of Israel, or been properly treated and respected by Israeli society and its authorities.

Persecution and discrimination are not confined just to Christians and indigenous Jews. All Palestinians have been brutally maltreated by Israeli expansion and colonization, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, and Christian Palestinians have been at pains to point out that they are persecuted because they are Palestinians, and to show solidarity with their Muslim compatriots. But there’s also a story here of the persecution of the indigenous Jewish community, who have also sought refuge in emigration. And it’s been hidden in order to maintain the stance that Israel is the state of all Jews, everywhere, world-wide. The emigration of the Sephardim strongly indicates that, at least as far as these emigrants go, this definitely isn’t the case.