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We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel's Jews from Arab Lands
     

We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel's Jews from Arab Lands

by Rachel Shabi
 

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Middle Eastern or "Mizrahi" Jews from Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen, and other Arab or Muslim lands make up nearly half of Israel's population. Yet European or "Ashkenazi" Jews have historically disparaged them for looking like Arabs, speaking Arabic, and bringing with them what was viewed as a "backward" Middle Eastern culture. Journalist Rachel Shabi, who was born

Overview

Middle Eastern or "Mizrahi" Jews from Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen, and other Arab or Muslim lands make up nearly half of Israel's population. Yet European or "Ashkenazi" Jews have historically disparaged them for looking like Arabs, speaking Arabic, and bringing with them what was viewed as a "backward" Middle Eastern culture. Journalist Rachel Shabi, who was born in Israel to Iraqi Jews and grew up in England, returned to investigate the subtle discrimination and tense relations that still exist between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews in Israel. She combines historical research, her own family's story, and the heartfelt oral history of several other Mizrahis to make We Look Like the Enemy a stunning, unforgettable book.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The importance of this very personal book is in the insights it provides to feelings and attitudes of both groups toward social, cultural, and political conditions in Israel rather than in providing new data.” —Jewish Book World

“Shabi explores the contentious questions of how these Jews arrived, the experiences they endured, and the lingering issue of where they fit into Israeli society. We Look Like the Enemy combines the author's own personal story with academic studies, cultural analysis, and on-the-street interviews in order to paint a full picture of this often overlooked population.” —Middle East Journal

“Shabi hits hard and effectively in pointing out the fissures in contemporary Israeli society that belie some of the comforting Zionist myths.” —Booklist

“A finely calibrated, intimate portrait of a diverse people, imbued with authenticity sympathy.” —Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Journalist and first-time author Shabi reports on the societal struggle of Israel's Arabian Jewish population from her viewpoint as the Israel-born daughter of two Iraqi Jews. Backed with a long view of Jewish history in both the Middle East and Europe, Shabi explores the conflicts and inequities among the privileged Ashkenazi Jews-European, educated and cosmopolitan-and their Mizrahi neighbors, whose culture-incorporating many Middle Eastern and North African traditions-is often devalued or oppressed: popular Arabian music gets banned from Israel's airwaves, the Mizrahi accent has become shorthand for the lower class, and government programs meant to help Mizrahi migrants are set up to fail (like the "developmental towns" cut short of funding during the Six-Day War, and left half-developed thereafter). Interviews with Mizrahi citizens heap blame on the Ashkenazi-dominated Jewish Agency for presenting Israel as a haven for all displaced Jews, when the reality for Arabian Jews is likely less prosperous-and possibly less tolerant-than life in Arab countries. Shabi's investigative skill and grasp of Israeli history (especially her re-examination of the Jewish Diaspora) makes this a rare and fascinating overview of the other Israeli conflict.
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Kirkus Reviews
An Israeli journalist-born to Iraqi Jews and raised in England-presents a unique perspective on Israeli history: that of the oft-vilified Jewish immigrants from Arab countries. As Shabi amply demonstrates, the Arab Jewish minorities who first settled in Israel, or Mizrahis, were treated by the Zionist Ashkenazi founders (Jews from Europe) as inferior and even "uncivilized," suffering discrimination that still remains entrenched. The Sephardic Jews already living in Palestine when the European Zionists created the New Settlement had well-established business and social connections with the Arabs, and indeed maintained the so-called Oriental characteristics that were lost in the Diaspora. Yet the Jews of the Old Settlement were held suspect by the British-backed Zionists, who believed the Arabs were a corrupting influence on "authentic Jewish values." The Yemenis, for example, first arriving in Palestine in the 1910s, were said to possess "the lifelong habits of the Arab," and became the solution to "Hebrew labor"-that is, relegated to the low-wage, dead-end work that the Arabs had done. "Development towns," established on the outskirts of the state between 1952 and 1964 to house migrants, are overwhelmingly made up of Mizrahis, and they tend to be the poorest places in Israel. Shabi also looks at other groups, including the Iraqi Jews, and chronicles their litany of discrimination, as well as the stigma associated with the Mizrahi accent-wherein the lost gutturals of Hebrew still reside-and the Mizrahi students' tendency toward low achievement in education. Although Israelis often silence these groups from speaking Arabic, Mizrahi music, notes Shabi, is making a comeback. A finelycalibrated, intimate portrait of a diverse people, imbued with authenticity sympathy. Agent: Ben Mason/Sheil Land Associates

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802717665
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
12/22/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Shabi was born in Israel to Iraqi Jews and grew up in England. A journalist, she has been published in the Guardian, the Sunday Times, and the Sunday Express. This is her first book. She currently lives in Tel Aviv.

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