Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Sephardic Anti-Zionist Extremists
1. Sephardic Anti-Zionist Extremists
Anti-Zionism, Sephardic Style
By: Steven Plaut Wednesday, January 10, 2007
There is a widespread perception in Israel that Sephardic Jews are more
sensible than the rest of us. Sephardim, or "Oriental Jews" as they are
commonly if mistakenly called (strictly speaking, the two terms are not
interchangeable), tend to shy away from the various manifestations of
non-moderation that afflict Ashkenazi or "Western" Jews.
Sephardic Jews seldom are either complete pork-munching secularists or
black-coated haredim, though there is a movement toward the latter within
some Sephardic communities. Sephardim also tend to shy away from political
extremism in all its forms. On average they seem closer to the traditional
Jewish ideal of avoiding all forms of immoderation.
By and large, the common sense approach has served Sephardic Jews in
Israel and elsewhere quite well. Within Israel, Sephardim have held the
most senior political leadership positions (other than prime minister) and
are judges, professors, army commanders, leading entertainers, high-tech
entrepreneurs, etc. The rate of Ashkenazi-Sephardi "intermarriage" is high
and has done much to eliminate the residual Jewish sub-ethnic distinctions
in Israel. (I say that as someone who carefully answers to a Sephardic
Having noted all this, the point also needs to be made that there is a
small but growing group of malcontents and political extremists who have
emerged from the Sephardic communities. While Sephardic integration and
participation in Israeli society is an unambiguous success story, these
radicals are people who argue that not only are Sephardic Jews victims of
rabid Ashkenazi "racism" and "discrimination," but that they are in fact
the natural allies of Palestinians and Islamists.
The existence of this band of Sephardic extremist anti-Zionists was
brought to public attention by Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for
Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute, in an article titled
"Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question" that appeared in the Spring 2005
issue of Middle East Quarterly.
Wurmser documented the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist pronouncements of
Sephardic communists and extremists, many of them on the faculties of
Israeli universities. Such extremists are also the focus of Israel
Academia Monitor (IAM), a watchdog group that exposes the extremist
politics of Israeli academics (though its focus is not on Sephardic
extremists as such).
Among the Sephardic academic extremists named and exposed by Wurmser and
IAM are Sami Shalom Chetrit (whose personal website features claims that
Israel behaves like Nazi Germany), Oren Yiftachel, Yehouda Shenhav, and
Smadar Lavie (active in promoting boycotts of Israel).
Political extremism characterized small groups of Sephardic Jews even in
their original countries, before they emigrated to Israel, France and the
U.S. Iraq in particular had a communist party that contained relatively
large numbers of Iraqi Jews (and Christians), perhaps because they
believed - foolishly - that a communist regime would create conditions
under which they wold no longer be inferior in status to Muslims.
The Jewish experiences in the Iraqi Communist Party have been romanticized
and are one of the dominant repeating themes in the writing of popular
Israeli author Sami Michael (see, for example, his novel Refuge), who grew
up in Iraq and joined the party at the age of 15. Michael is still a
member of Israel's radical Literary Left, more extreme even than people
like David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua (who is also Sephardic) and Amos Oz.
Michael was cited in Haaretz (Oct 21, 2004) as justifying Palestinian
terror attacks against Jewish Israelis. Here are his words as quoted by
Michael understands the Hamas members who are fighting these Jews, who
stuck a wedge down their throats. In an interview published in the latest
issue of New Horizons, a monthly on society and the state published by the
Berl Katznelson Foundation, Michael rejects the definition of Hamas
fighters as "terrorists."
"Imagine the feeling if I woke up tomorrow and saw this neighborhood,
which we inhabit, forcibly conquered by the Syrians, and they established
settlements here, and in order to go to the bus station, I needed
permission from the Syrian army. How would I feel?" the author from Haifa
asked. "If I fight them, I will be considered a terrorist. Why am I a
terrorist? Why do we call Hezbollah or Hamasniks terrorists? Why? Because
he fights on his own territory? Suddenly, aliens, occupiers, land on him
and tell him: "Your house is ours. It's his land, he and his forefathers
were born here, and the settlers say: We will never leave ... How would
you respond to this?" "
Political extremism among Sephardic communists has not been limited to
words. Most notoriously, the fringes of Israel's Sephardic communities
produced Mordechai Vanunu, the spy who tried to reveal Israel's nuclear
secrets to its enemies, and Tali Fahima, arrested for collaborating in
planning terrorist atrocities against Jews with her Palestinian boyfriend.
Back in the 1960's, a number of Sephardim were affiliated with the Maoist
group Matzpen, which produced its own espionage ring of traitors and spies
working for Syria.
In an attempt to build a power base by fanning resentment among Israeli
Oriental Jews over supposed discrimination, Sephardic radicals have formed
a small lobby that calls itself the Mizrachi Democratic Rainbow Coalition
or Keshet Mizrachit.
Keshet is left-wing and anti-Zionist; a number of its leading members have
been involved in promoting international boycotts of and divestment from
Israel. Its most important "cause" has been fighting what it considers to
be unfair land uses in Israel. It has specialized in bashing kibbutzim,
which it considers to be Ashkenazi enclaves controlling land that should
be used to benefit low-income towns.
In the late 1960's, a protest movement calling itself the Black Panthers
attracted considerable media attention. It failed to attract massive
Sephardic support and quickly fell apart, after which some of its
erstwhile leaders joined the Israeli Communist Party.
As for charges of discrimination against Oriental Jews in Israel, I happen
to be the co-author (with my Sephardic wife) of the most thorough
statistical investigation of wage and income disparities in Israel to date
("Income Inequality in Israel," Israel Affairs 8 (3), 2002, pp. 49-68).
In the Israeli labor market there are virtually no signs of any
discrimination against Oriental Jews in wages and incomes (nor against
Arabs, for that matter). There are differences in incomes across groups
due to differences in their age structures, savings rates, schooling,
family size, and other factors unrelated to ethnic discrimination. If any
ethnic sub-group in Israel under-earns relaive to its level of schooling,
it is the recent immigrants from the post-communist countries.
Sephardic communism has benefited from the sponsorship of a number of
Israeli Post-Zionist academics, most notably Tel Aviv University Professor
Yehouda Shenhav (currently under consideration for a position at Columbia
University). Born Yehouda Shaharabani to Iraqi parents who immigrated to
Israel, he later changed his name to a less obviously Sephardic one. He
teaches Marxism and anti-Zionism to Tel Aviv University students and edits
the Marxist Israeli journal Theory and Criticism.
Shenhav was a visiting faculty member at Columbia University when the
radicals at the campus of the late Edward Said were turning it into a
hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment. Unsurprisingly, Shenhav did not speak out
against the rising campus anti-Semitism there nor did he denounce the
academic ultras. During his appearances at antiwar rallies there, Shenhav
compared the war in Iraq to "Israeli acts of aggression in the West Bank,"
which he saw as "acts of colonialism" led by "crude military men."
Shenhav's main academic thesis, picked up and promoted by nearly all the
other Sephardic anti-Zionist radicals, has been the claim that
Asian/Sephardic Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries are in fact
Arabs of the Jewish faith. He insists that their national identity is
determined by language and not by religious identity.
He has promoted this view that Sephardic Jews are Arabs in numerous
articles and his recent book, The Arab Jews: Nationality, Religion and
Ethnicity, won rave reviews from anti-Israel activists. Shenhav considers
Zionism to be a form of colonialism. Indeed, he has long argued that
Sephardic Jews and Palestinians need to unite to fight Zionism and
liberate the Middle East from Ashkenazi Zionism.
His ideas are reincarnations of those of the old dead "common cause" once
promoted by the Communist Party in Palestine from the 1920's onward. The
greatest of historic ironies occurred when that party split into two
separate communist parties in the 1950's, one for Arabs and one for Jews,
because the two groups of communists could not get along.
Shenhav has staunchly opposed the idea of compensation for the lost
property of Sephardic Jews by the Arab and Muslim countries they left,
though he wants the Palestinians to be granted a "right of return."
Sephardic extremism has not only emerged at the fringes of communities in
Israel. Perhaps the leading American Sephardic anti-Zionist is one David
Shasha, a follower of Shenhav. Born in the U.S. of Syrian Jewish descent,
he attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush and he is today the director of
something called the Center for Sephardic Heritage.
Shasha is a vociferous critic of Israel and Zionism and his Israel-bashing
articles are regularly published by the fundamentalist American Muslim
magazine and website. His notion of Sephardic separateness is to advocate
Sephardic alliance with Islamic radicalism.
Mainstream Sephardic institutions maintain no ties with Shasha and his
center. In contrast, the Swedish anti-Zionist extremist calling himself
"Israel Shamir" regularly runs Shasha's anti-Israel screeds on his own web
page, as does the extreme left-wing academic Norman Finkelstein.
Shasha's notion of Sephardic nationalism translates into ferocious
denunciations of Israel and Zionism. He is so determined to anchor
Sephardism in Arab culture that he adopts an Arab view of history and
political reality. He writes: "The Zionist version of things had it that
the Arabs were the aggressors and thatthose same Arabs harbored an
implacable hatred for Jews from time immemorial; a hatred which was merely
another chapter in a very long history of anti-Semitism."
In other words, Shasha rejects such a factual "narrative" as fundamentally
false. He enthusiastically endorses all the anti-Zionist "New Historians"
and is a fan of Norman Finkelstein. He writes: "Zionism has played fast
and loose with those facts and then created a series of pseudo-liberal
fictions that make Zionism appear benign. Rather than accepting the basic
facts of history, Zionism has sought to refigure those facts and create
multiple illusions; illusions that have blocked any sense of possible
Shasha goes on to endorse theories about Jewish cabals invented by
anti-Semites: "The Israeli propaganda machine has become a ubiquitous
presence in the American Jewish community and any attempt to generate and
promote alternative sources of information carries the crushing burden of
threatening that merciless beast, a beast which can do great damage to its
A devotee of the Shenhav thesis that Sephardic Jews are in fact Jewish
Arabs and that Zionism is little more than Ashkenazi racism, Shasha has
denounced me as an "Ashkenazi racist-mongerer" for criticizing Shenhav's
ideas. He has written numerous articles bewailing the alleged abandonment
by Sephardic Jews of their historical devotion to Arab "Levantine" culture
and their Westernization in Israel and elsewhere.
To promote his agenda, he distorts and prettifies Jewish experience under
Islamic regimes. He writes, in an article titled "A Jewish Voice Left
Silent: Trying to Articulate 'The Levantine Option' ":
Until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 Arab Jews created a
place for themselves in their countries of origin by serving in
government, civic affairs, business, and the professions.... The model of
Levantine Jewish historical memory would serve to collapse the alienating
cult of persecution harbored in classical Zionist thought and omnipresent
in the rituals of the state of Israel, replacing it with a more positive
view of the past that would lead us into a more optimistic present. The
nihilistic "realism" of the current Israeli approach, centered on the
institutionalized perpetuation of the twin legacies of the Holocaust and
European anti-Semitism, would then be countered by memories of a Jewish
past that was able to develop a constructive relationship to its
He opposes all vestiges of "Ashkenazifying" the Sephardic Jews, which in
his mind means forcing on them modernization of life style and
identification with Israel.
When Middle East Quarterly ran Meyrav Wurmser's above-mentioned study of
Sephardic radicalism, Shasha responded in a rage. Writing in The American
Muslim, he denounced the Quarterly's editor, Daniel Pipes, as
"reactionary." Elsewhere he wrote: "Israel is purportedly a democracy, but
it does seem rather strange that those who espouse the most virulent and
racist forms of Zionism are constantly berating and de-legitimizing the
rights of others - in this case the Sephardim - from freely criticizing
those who have wronged them."
How ironic that the emergence of a movement of Sephardic communists and
anti-Zionist extremists represents, first and foremost, the infection of
such people by the disease of left-wing lunacy and assimilationist
self-hatred that has long afflicted Ashkenazim and Western Jewish
Our Sephardic brethren may need to coin a Ladino, Arabic, and Hebrew
equivalent for "shande" (Yiddish for "disgrace").
2. Well, communists do not have a sense of humor. Otherwise, this would
make them wet themselves laughing:
3. Making Judaism silly:
January 5, 2007
Wall Street Journal
January 5, 2007
By NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY
January 5, 2007; Page W11
A few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton got started on a new "listening tour."
Her first one, during the 2000 Senate campaign, was aimed at soliciting
the ideas of New York voters on what legislative issues were important to
them. This one is aimed at hearing the thoughts of Democratic strategists
on the subject of her presidential run. But the idea behind the tours
remained the same: Find out what the people want -- and, if possible, give
it to them.
In politics, such an approach has an irrefutable democratic logic. But is
it well suited to religion? Arnold Eisen, the chancellor-elect of the
Jewish Theological Seminary, has spent the past few months on a "listening
tour" of his own, holding town-hall meetings around the country to figure
out how to reinvigorate Conservative Judaism. Mr. Eisen is looking to find
out what Jews want -- and, if possible, give it to them.
Trying to make Judaism more popular is not a new idea. Jewish leaders have
worried for decades that high rates of intermarriage and assimilation are
causing the Jewish population to diminish dramatically. And they are
right. Between 1990 and 2000, the American Jewish population declined to
5.2 million from 5.5 million. With Jewish women getting married later in
life and having fewer children, this trend is likely only to accelerate.
But the most recent response to this crisis has been less than inspiring.
The Jewish Week recently published "17 Seriously Cool Ideas to Remake New
York's Jewish Community." These included creating a Jewish culinary
institute, building a kibbutz in the Big Apple, providing high-quality
Jewish toddler care, hosting a hipper Israeli Independence Day parade and
baking better kosher pizza.
Perhaps these ideas were meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but other
ideas are not -- and probably should be. Take a new project called
Synaplex. Sponsored by the Star Foundation, Synaplex is, according to its
Web site, "designed to provide people with new reasons to make the
synagogue the place to be on Shabbat." About 125 synagogues are already
"enabling people to celebrate Shabbat the way they want to."
What does that mean? Instead of attending a traditional service, Rabbi
Hayim Herring, Star's executive director, tells me, some people would do
"Medi-Torah" or "Torah and Yoga." Others might attend a lecture or go to a
musical service followed by a "latte cart." And still others might prefer
to attend a Friday night wine-and-cheese reception.
Rabbi Herring says that some of the participating synagogues double or
triple their attendance on the day of a "Synaplex" Shabbat, but it's not
clear whether such one-day surges result in long-term membership gains.
Religious groups that have grown the fastest in recent years (including
Orthodox Judaism) are the ones that demand the most of their adherents,
not the ones that offer religion (and refreshments) cafeteria-style.
Rabbi Herring acknowledges this trend when I mention it to him. But he is
not sure that it applies to the people he is trying to serve. He believes
that "one failure of some of the Jewish movements is bludgeoning people
with the notion of mitzvah [commandments], as opposed to taking people
where they are and being patient enough to not impose their own vision of
As it happens, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, whose mission is "to
inspire a renaissance of Jewish life," gives money to the Synaplex
project. Adam Bronfman, the foundation's managing director, tells me that
"each individual accesses meaning differently." He himself was "born a Jew
and decided to live a Jewish life," he says, and he wants "others to
access that if that's what they choose."
This way of thinking is making its way onto college campuses, too, where
Jewish leaders hope to persuade students to remain Jews and not drift into
the surrounding secular culture. Wayne Firestone, the president of Hillel,
the Foundation for Campus Jewish Life, says that the "millennials," the
members of today's college generation, have "many different options" on
campus. Their identity is "similar to a Windows operating system," with
many programs running at once. The Jewish "program," in other words, has
lots of competition.
After extensive surveys, Hillel has concluded that many unaffiliated Jews,
in Mr. Firestone's words, "don't feel welcome" by the Jewish offerings on
campus. I was surprised by this claim, having always thought that college
was probably the easiest place to practice Judaism. At big universities
particularly, services of all types are easily accessible. Kosher food is
not hard to come by. Religious celebrations abound.
But if the surveys are correct, some Jewish students are still feeling
left out. The problem, according to Mr. Bronfman (whose foundation also
gives to Hillel), can be thought of in terms of ice cream: "Some people
want rocky road and some people want vanilla and some want strawberry. But
Hillel was only able to provide one aspect, one flavor."
So Hillel is expanding, hoping to double the number of students involved
in campus Jewish life. It is offering community-service trips with Torah
studies; hosting its activities in non-Hillel buildings; even reaching out
to American Jews studying abroad.
There is nothing wrong with these ideas or anything else in Hillel's
"five-year strategic plan," and they may result in greater numbers of
students taking Jewish ideas and culture seriously. Indeed, the other
outreach efforts, however tacky or trivial, may also strengthen Jewish
life in America. Still, there is something strange about all this
consultant-speak. Listening tours, marketing gambits and strategic plans
may be an inescapable part of modern life, even in the realm of religion.
But in the end, for a particular faith to thrive, God can't just be for
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4. Down goes another infantile conspiracy "theory":
January 9, 2007
Roberta Wohlstetter, Codebreaker
January 9, 2007; Page A18
When Roberta Wohlstetter set out, in the early 1960s, to explain why the
U.S. had been surprised by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she
confronted a puzzle that to some seemed like a conspiracy.
Unlike classic military surprises, the U.S. had received ample
intelligence that the Japanese were prepared to attack the Hawaiian base.
That nothing was done to remove American ships to safety was proof, for
Clare Booth Luce among others, that Franklin Roosevelt had "lied us into
war because he didn't have the courage to lead us into it." But
Wohlstetter, who died Saturday at age 94, knew better, and she spelled it
all out in "Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision," perhaps the most
important book ever written on military intelligence.
Yes, the U.S. had intelligence that Pearl Harbor was a potential Japanese
target. But other intelligence suggested Siberia could be a target, or the
Panama Canal, or the Philippines. Previous indications of an impending
attack had served, like so many false alarms, to lower America's guard.
And American planners had trouble believing the Japanese would launch a
war against the United States that they couldn't possibly hope to win.
From this, Wohlstetter drew the essential conclusion that the U.S. failed
to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor because, amid mountains of
incomplete and often conflicting data -- what she called "noise" --
intelligence analysts couldn't distinguish the information that really
mattered. This tended to lead, as the future Nobelist Thomas Schelling
wrote in his preface to Wohlstetter's book, to "a routine obsession with a
few dangers that may be familiar rather than likely."
The lessons are timeless, and foretold the findings of the 9/11
Commission. Contrary to the views of many so-called realists, nations do
not always act from rational calculations of their self-interests: They
can be reckless gamblers, something that should give pause to those who
see nothing to worry about in the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
And contrary to the instincts of many CIA "professionals," the best
intelligence analysis requires judgment and imagination, not simply the
widest possible data set.
Wohlstetter was also remarkable not simply as a woman working in what was
then a "man's field," but also as the wife and intellectual partner of the
late Albert Wohlstetter, the legendary nuclear-strategy theorist. Both
Albert and Roberta were great friends of this page, as well as great
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