Barenboim's citizenship (Jogo guest post)

A guest post by Jogo

Daniel Barenboim was born in Argentina, where Jews are a small minority and there is an anti-Semitic climate. So he moves to Israel.

Why? So he can be a serious Jew and study the Torah and lead a kosher life? No. Rather because a] he is safe in Israel; b] Israel is a sophisticated and prosperous society in which he can bring his art to a much higher development than he could in Argentina, and become an international star. So there are two items of enormous self interest.

In Israel he aligns himself with the most extreme pro-Palestinian positions, which necessarily entail a certain degree (a lot, a little) of anti-Israel position. The only excuse he can have is IF he sincerely believes that his efforts are in the interest of a long-enduring, peaceful and safe Israel. Perhaps he has reasons to believe this.

But ... do his friends on the Pal side also wish for a long-enduring Israel, let alone a peaceful and safe one? Many, perhaps most, do not.

My problem is that I see Barenboim and Marwan Barghouti as having differing views on the meaning of Barenboim's honorary citizenship and passport from the Republic of Palestine.

Barenboim says the gift "moves" him, and makes him "very, very happy" because it "symbolizes the everlasting bond between the Palestinian and Israeli people."

Bargouti says that the honor paid Barenboim is appropriate because Barenboim "under the most difficult circumstances has shown solidarity with the Palestinian people."

Those angles of view of the thing are not mutually exclusive, but they're not the same, either. If Barenboim and Bargouti could figure out one interpretation that they both could feel good about and sign their names to, I'd feel better. But as it is, each has spun the story in a somewhat different direction, and given it somewhat different emphases.


"the everlasting bond between the Palestinian and Israeli people." is really not something that should be symbolized or perpetuated.

He should have been more honest about it and speak of the bond between HIM and the Palestinian people, via his cooperation with Edward Said. There is no other bond to speak of between Palestinian and Israeli peoples except a bond of mutual enmity, which I'm sure he didn't mean to imply.

Barghoutti is much more honest in what he wants to get out of this "symbolic" act.

Whatever respect I had for Barenboin disappeared when he forced Wagnerian music on an Israeli audience, because HE considered it was time for Jews to move on beyond Wagner's Nazi connotations. That was another grandiose gesture which had little to no effect, and applauded by those who delight in spiting the pain of Holocaust survivors.
bob said…
I agree on Wagner. I disagree on the everlasting bond.

Whether we like it or not, there has to be a relationship, because the two peoples will have to share the same land in some way, whether in two states, in one states, or with one people exiled. This may not be "everlasting" (because peoples, as with, say, the Nabataeans or the Assyrians, eventually come and go, and move on, die out, or merge into others - but in very slow motion), but it will be a long time to come. And there are deep cultural connections too.

It is true that enmity is the way it is now, but that need not be the case.
Anonymous said…
I'm not sure I understand what you disagree with. I merely pointed out that speaking of a "bond" between Israel and Palestine is simply a fantasia by Barenboim. There is no friendship between the two peoples and he cannot pretend that there is by merely saying the words. He was awarded this citizenship because of his friendship with the Palestinians. That should have been good enough for him.

There is some common rationale in his expression in this case and his behaviour in the Wagner case, only I can't quite put my finger on it.
bob said…
Maybe we don't disagree after all! I agree there is no "bond" in the sense of no relationship of affection between the two peoples. But I think there is a powerful "bond" in the sense that the two peoples and their destinies are tied to each other, live in intense relation to each other, and would do even if there were no war between them, because of shared cultural histories and a tie to the same land.
What "shared cultural histories"? Humous and falafel? The Palestinians will tell you Israelis "stole" them from the Arabs...

We will have to share the land. And it had better be done in the strict framework of law and guarranties, not under some romantic fantasization of "shared history".
bob said…
Of course most Palestinians think the Israelis stole the land fom them. But this does not refute the fact of deep cultural connections.

Deeper than homous and felafel, although humous and felafel are not trivial! Not to mention kibbeh, tabouli, t’beet and dafina...

For example, as you know, a large number of Israel's Jews come from families that one or two generations back were speaking Arabic. For example, the Andalusian music developed by Jewish and Muslim musicians in Spain is the basis of a lot of music in North Africa and the Levant. For example, cantors from Morocco sometimes sing accompanied by the oud or darbouka. For example, there's a whole genreof music played by the religious nationalist settlers on darboukas with lyrics about picking zaatar in the hills of Hebron, which gets airplay on Arutz Sheva radio, played by young men in Druze trousers.

Check out fascinating wikipedia articles like Judeo-Berber language, Baghdad Arabic, Judeo-Moroccan, Judeo-Yemenite. Or flick through a Claudie Roden cookbook. Or read the beautiful The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar. Or listen to Los Desterrados. For example, Hebrew and Arabic are close relations.

Of course, this point can be over-stated (as in the writing of Ella Shohat, for example) but it cannot be denied.
The main point is that you don't have to share in your neighbours' culture in order to maintain peace with them. I prefer not to complicate further the emotional baggage of this conflict by being forced to think of the Palestinians as my long-lost brothers.
Anonymous said…
Great discussion here. I agree with Noga that the notion of “shared history” is problematic. Where do we draw the line? After all Jews have a shared history with the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and Romans as well. Do Germans and French have a shared history?

One aspect of this is the sort of interactions one has with one’s neighbors. Those interactions may be peaceful (trade and exchange, for example) or not so peaceful (war). In recent decades, relations between Jews and the Arab World have not been very peaceful. So there certainly is a shared history of conflict between these two peoples but what else is going on?

This is where Bob’s points should be taken into account. I have quite a few Mizhrahi friends in Israel and many of them self-identify as “Arab Jews”. Their parents came from places like Morocco, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. Here is a link to an article written by one of my friends. Apologies for the long link:
Anonymous said…
Hi NC and Bob:

I'm linking here to a thread on Engage where the question of "Arab Jews" comes up. I'm in a bit of a rush and can't reproduce my comments and others', here. It's worth a read.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Noga. I read that thread on Engage last week. I didn't post a reply to the person who claimed there is no such thing as an Arab Jew, that only "post-Zionists" believe such a thing, etc.

I think it might be generational. Most of the individuals who I know who self-identify as Arab Jews are in their 20s, a few in their 30s. The person commenting at Engage seems quite a bit older than them.
Anonymous said…
Sorry for posting the faulty link. This should work:

Almog Behar
“Ana Min al-Yahud - I am One of the Jews”

At that time, my tongue twisted around and with the arrival of the month of Tammuz the Arabic accent got stuck in my mouth, deep down in my throat. Just like that, as I was walking down the street, the Arabic accent of Grandfather Anwar of blessed memory came back to me and no matter how hard I tried to extricate it from myself and throw it away in one of the public trash cans I could not do it. I tried and tried to soften the glottal `ayyin, the way my mother had in her childhood, because of the teacher and the looks from the other children, but strangers passing by just rooted me to the spot; I tried to soften the pharyngeal fricative het and pronounce it gutturally, I tried to make the tsaddi sound less like an "s" and I tried to get rid of that glottal Iraqi quf and pronounce it like "k," but the effort failed. And policemen started to head assertively towards me on the streets of Jerusalem, pointing at me and my black beard with a threatening finger, whispering among themselves in their vehicles, stopping me and inquiring as to my name and my identity. And for every passing policeman on the street I would want to stop walking and pull out my identity card and point out the nationality line and tell them, as if I were revealing a secret that would absolve me of tremendous guilt: "Ana min al yahoud, I'm a Jew."
Anonymous said…
Here is what I wrote:

I repeat, I have never heard Mizrahim refer to themselves as Arab Jews. It's true that often Mizrahim are called Sephardim, but that is a misnomer, to a large extent. Sephardim, strictly speaking, are those who come from Sepharad, Spain, and speak, or used to speak, Ladino. Also, Moroccan Jews sometimes called themselves Maghrebby Jews, from that part of Atlas Mountains. I have never heard any Moroccan Jew calling himself an Arab Jew. Same goes for Algerian or Tunisian or Libyan or Syrian Jews.

If the term "Arab Jew" exists, it would be in a pejorative sense. At least in the Israel I grew up and lived in. There is a story, which has never been verified, about our "national" poet and author, Chaim Nachman Bialik, saying that he disliked the Sephardim because they were like the Arabs. I remember reading Hannah Arendt referring to Oriental Jews as Arabs, and not in a flattering way. (She found them scary).

It would be interesting to know how the author Sami Michael, an Iraqi Jew with much sympathy for Arab Israelis and love of their culture, described himself.

I really don't know what all this means except that people's identity seems to be terribly important to them and that no one likes to be identified as something or someone he feels uncomfortable about.
bob said…
I have heard one or two people refer to themselves as Arab Jews, and read a number of (both serious ethnographic and radically posturing postcolonial) academics talking about them. I don't know how widely the terms is used by real people.

It is also certainly true that the Ashkenazi elite has been, to varying degrees, racist against Mizrahi Jews, not least because of their association with Arabs. But at the same time the Zionist movement has historically romanticised the Mizrahi too, seeing them as a more authentic connection to Hebrew national culture than the (as many saw it) degenerated ghetto Judaism of Ashkenazi central/eastern Europe (hence the choice to base Ivrit on Sephardic Hebrew, rather than Yiddishy Ashkenazi loshn-koydesh). And then of course, other figures in the Zionist movement saw the Yiddish masses (Ostjuden) as "Eastern" and Oriental too, whether they saw that as good (Buber) or bad (Herzl), or more often both... Again, not sure what my point is, just that, as they say, it's complicated.
Anonymous said…
Well, it's an interesting phenomenon. And If I weren't so deep in Shylock's identity, I might have been tempted to dig into it.

Speaking of Shylock, how many stagings have you seen where he is portrayed as though speaking with a Yiddish accent? It is my opinion that he was a Sephardic Jew... And then some...

I have lived the better part of my life in Israel, and I have never heard anyone refer to themselves as "Arab Jews". The academics and authors (Like Mordechai Richler) can call them whatever they like. They are all speaking out of a certain bias. I've encountered such "literary" or academically-convenient bias in a few writings.

Have you even wondered why there was never much interest in Jewish suffering in the Arab lands until more recently?