Earlier this week, JIMENA, a nonprofit representing Jews indigenous to North Africa and Arabia, took issue with a statement put out by Jewish Voices for Peace on Zionism. In their piece advocating for Palestinians and marginalizing Jews who support the State of Israel. Within the statement, JVP decided to use Middle Eastern and African Jews to bouy their argument. As is well documented, Jews of Middle Eastern and African origin have had to face discrimination in Israel. To JVP, that delegtimizes the entire existence of a Jewish state. Well, JIMENA, and many other Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, don’t agree.
Let’s circle back to the beginning — JVP’s statement. It is all well and good to advocate for Palestinian rights. But it’s another thing to deny Jewish rights. And that’s what JVP does. Their statement asserts, “We unequivocally oppose Zionism because it is counter to those ideals.” Those ideals being the aforementioned justice, equality and freedom for all people.
JVP’s renunciation of Zionism means that JVP does not believe the Jewish people are entitled to a nation-state. Why in the view of JVP are Jews not deserving of a homeland? JVP rambles on and on about European anti-Semitism being the reason why Zionism exists. JVP is wrong on that. Certainly, European anti-Semitism fuelled the earliest modern Zionist thinkers, namely Theodore Herzl, but the Zionist idea, that Jews would one day return and re-inhabit their homeland, is as old as the first expulsion of Jews from the land of Israel. Yet JVP ignores this, choosing instead to slot Zionism into a simplistic answer to European anti-Semitism, and thereby ignoring the thousands of other non-European Jews who also dreamt of and prayer for a return to Zion.
JIMENA’s statement makes it clear that the Mizrahi Jews it represents feel a deep and abiding connection to Zionism and to Israel, where, as the statement asserts, the majority of Mizrahi Jews reside! JIMENA also takes issue, rightly, with Mizrahi Jews being coopted by JVP to make a political point about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
JVP responded to JIMENA with a statement of its own, that it claimed was “collectively written by a group of Sephardi and Mizrahi members and staff of JVP.” Unlike JIMENA’s statement, however, JVP’s includes no signatories, so there can be no verification if it was indeed written by “Sephardi and Mizrahi” Jews. Perhaps not too surprising, JVP’s statement focuses on itself and its alleged mistreatment and isolation by JIMENA and the vast community of Mizrahi Jews it represents. JVP does not address the issues and complaints posed by JIMENA.
We do not claim to be experts on the Mizrahi community or its internal culture and politics. Let’s put it this way: We know enough to know that we should neither speak on their behalf nor cite their history and struggles to score a political point. Those are lessons JVP has yet to learn.