The Mizrahi Question, the Palestinian Question and Matzpen

By Orit Bashkin
Submitted to Session P5167 (The Teenager, The Intellectual, The Soldier; New Approaches to Palestinian Cultural and Social history, 2018 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
In recent years, an alarming discourse has taken root in Mizrahi Israeli circles, in which intellectuals focus exclusively on the Mizrahi struggle, while relegating the Palestinian struggle for independence and sovereignty to the margins or Israeli politics, or, in worse cases, denying this struggle completely or actively attempting to suppress it. These Mizrahi writers and activists argue that the liberal Zionist left, or what they called “the white left,” has done nothing for the sake of the Mizrahim. Therefore, any position that seems to echo a liberal Zionist concern, not to mention a radical pro-Palestinian one, is considered detrimental to attempts to create Mizrahi solidarity, which must include left- and right-leaning Mizrahim. In this discourse, the battle against the occupation of the Palestinians and the continual denial of their rights is perceived as an exclusively Ashkenazi affair. My paper attempts to challenge this view by tracing a long genealogy of moments of Mizrahi, Arab-Jewish and Palestinian solidarity. I argue that Palestinian-Mizrahi solidarity was not born out of the efforts of important Mizrahi and Palestinian intellectuals in the 1980s, in which PLO leaders on the one hand, and radical Mizrahim, on the other, met and discussed pertinent issues. Rather, these sentiments of solidarity have important historical roots, dating back to the nahda, and the interwar period and to Mizrahi resistance to Zionism. In fact, this expression of solidarity emerges in every decade since the 1890s. My paper focuses in particular on two moments of Palestinian-Mizrahi solidarity. One is the migration of Iraqi Jews to Israel after the Nakba. It looks at the approaches of Palestinian intellectual Emile Habibi into the question of Mizrahim in Israel, following in particular his relationships with Iraqi communist Jews and Iraqi Jewish novelist Sami Michael. I introduce how Habibi envisioned connections and collaborations between oppressed Arab peoples – Jews, Christians and Muslims. The second moment is the activities of the radical Israeli group Mazpen after 1967, and its writing on the Palestinian and Mizrahi issues, viewing the two as intertwined and deeply connected to one another. The paper attempts to uncover the new political language created by Palestinian and Jewish intellectuals to think through these issues, and to suggest a new periodization of Mizrahi and Palestinian modern thought.