January 23, 2019

In a letter to Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), JIMENA, along with a coalition of Sephardic and Mizrahi synagogues and communal organizations called on JVP to remove all references to Mizrahi and Sephardic history in their organizational literature.

January 23, 2019

We, the organizations and congregations listed below, represent Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities in countries around the world – including Israel. We are writing to express our denunciation with Jewish Voice for Peace’s (JVP) latest document, “Our Approach to Zionism”, which tokenizes, appropriates, revises and explicitly lies about Mizrahi and Sephardic history and experiences in order to promote a hostile, anti-Israel agenda. As Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, we reject JVP’s framing of the Mizrahi and Sephardic experience as a driving force of their anti-Zionism and we request that JVP remove all references to Mizrahi and Sephardic history in this document and in all other organizational literature. We ask them to stop in their failed attempts to represent Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, in any capacity.

JVP’s latest statement is built on the erasure of Mizrahi and Sephardic voice, truth and history and ultimately promotes an agenda which is harmful to Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. Because it cannot accept the simple historical truth that most Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews are and continue to identify as Zionist, JVP instead propagates a portrayal of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews as pawns without any agency. We reject this revisionism, and call it out for the orientalism and racism that it is.

Because it does not fit with its authors’ preconceived views about Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, the JVP document fails to reference the genuine importance and communal role of Zionism in the lives of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. Zionism is an embedded religious principle of our faith, demanded in our Bible, fulfilled by our ancestors, Judges and Kings, by our First Temple and Second Temple Commonwealths. It has been the yearning of Jews throughout more than 2,500 years of diaspora; the Babylonian Diaspora, the Byzantine Diaspora, the Spanish Diaspora, the European Diaspora and the Middle East and North African Diaspora. The Establishment of the State of Israel in the lands of Ancient Israel is the fulfillment of that religious imperative. Moreover, political Zionism was a part of Jewish communal life in nearly every country in the Middle East as is evidenced by the underground Zionism clubs that existed throughout the region. Today, the majority of the Mizrahi and Sephardic community resides in Israel, and the vast majority of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, in Israel and in diaspora, are self-identified Zionists. In seeking to obscure that reality in service of its own narrow ideological ends, the JVP statement perpetuates a history of racist exclusion where Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews are spoken for and spoken over.

The document fails to recognize and address the rampant state-sanctioned anti-Semitism – frequently taken under the banner of anti-Zionism in the20th century. Under the color of law, one million indigenous Jews from the Middle East and North Africa were persecuted, dispossessed and ultimately fled or were ethnically cleansed from countries their ancestors lived in for millenia. Of those, 650,000 found refuge in Israel, the place where they regained freedom, rights and a sense of personal security. It fails to grapple with the terrible truth that the most tangible political accomplishment of anti-Zionism in the 20th century was not to establish a Palestinian state, but to engender the decimation of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish communities across the Middle East. As a (now-publicly) anti-Zionist organization whose spokespeople and leadership continue to be predominantly Western and Ashkenazi, JVP must reckon with the deeply-embedded anti-Mizrahi and Sephardic orientation inside the anti-Zionist movement.

We acknowledge the history of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish marginalization in Israel, as many of the undersigned organizations have been at the forefront of efforts to overcome that history and dismantle discriminatory barriers. Yet JVP’s ‘discrimination’ narrative is a blunt and outdated Israel-bashing tool. Many charges of early cultural discrimination no longer hold true in 21st century Israel. Mizrahi and Sephardic culture is a central element Israeli society, and today Mizrahim have held every government post except prime minister. Inter-ethnic Jewish marriages in Israel is running at 25 per cent and the mixed Israeli family is fast becoming the norm.

But most importantly, JVP deliberately overlooks how, with the exception of handful of post-Zionist Mizrahi academics who are non-representative, the Mizrahi and Sephardic community in Israel overwhelmingly has asserted its demands for equality as an instantiation of, not departure from, Zionist ideals. For JVP to now appropriate our struggle as part of a political campaign that most Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews reject is deeply disrespectful, yet sadly predictable from an organization whose interest in the Mizrahi community has always proven to be instrumental and transactional in character. Indeed, we have seen first-hand how exclusionary and isolating practices promoted by JVP—including the opportunistic elevation of cherry-picked voices whose views stand far outside the Mizrahi and Sephardic mainstream, and the endorsement of BDS and anti-normalization movements which attempt to cut off Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish activists from allies and resources around the world. Simply put, in the fight for Mizrahi equality, JVP has not been and is not now an ally, and more often than not it is has explicitly aligned itself with those who have done us harm. We condemn its self-congratulatory and ahistorical attempt to position itself as a friend of the Mizrahi community even as it continues to talk over and erase actual, extant, and living Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish community organizations.

Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish history has long been abused as a talking point for this or that ideological agenda, and for years JVP has been among the primary offenders. Their statement on Zionism is only the latest example of a long history of patronizing hostility towards Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, and should be rejected by anyone who considers themselves an ally of the diverse voices in the Jewish community. For those interested in genuinely hearing and engaging with the Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish community, the organizations undersigned below stand ready to educate you.

30 Years After

A.A. Society Inc

Babylonian Heritage Center of Great Neck, New York

Beth Abraham Synagogue of the Sephardic Congregation of New England

Coalition of Organisations of Jews from Arab and Islamic Countries in Israel composed of:

Association of Jews from Damascus, Syria

E’eleh BeTamar: Association of Jews from Yemen

Eli: Association of the Jews from Lebanon

Kedem for Information on Orientalism

Merage Foundation for Jews from Iran

Moriah: Association of Jews from Algeria

Organisation of the Jews of Kurdistan

Orot Institute for Moroccan  Jews

Shemesh: Organization of Jews from Iraq

The Jews of Harat-Afganistan in Jerusalem

The World Federation of Tunisian Jewry

Union des Juifs d’Egypte en Israel

Congregation Bene Neharayem of Jamaica Estate, New York

Congregation Ezra Bessaroth of Seattle, Washington

Historical Society of Jews from Egypt

Harif, UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa

Iranian American Jewish Federation

JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa

JJAC: Justice for Jews from Arab Countries

Kahal Joseph Congregation of Los Angeles, California

Magain David Sephardim Congregation of San Francisco, California

Manhattan East Synagogue

S&P Sephardi Community of London incorporating:

Bevis Marks Synagogue

Lauderdale Road Synagogue

Wembley Sephardi Synagogue

Sephardic Community Alliance

Sephardic Congregation of Evanston, Illinois

Sephardic Congregation of Florida

Sephardic Educational Center

Sephardi Federation of Palm Beach County

Sephardic Jews in DC

Sephardic Legacy Project

Sephardic Minyan of the Boca Raton Synagogue

Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation of Seattle, Washington

World Organization of Jews from Iraq

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