Untermenschen and Asylum Seekers. London Conference Sunday 24th of January 2010.

I want to strongly recommend this conference taking place on Sunday week. The event explores the politics of the refugee experience, including Jewish refugees from Naziism and from Arab lands, African refugees in Israel, Palestinian refugees in Gaza and Iranian refugees in Britain. The material below is from Meretz UK, with a couple of added hyperlinks. On a personal note, let me add that David Rosenberg is an excellent speaker, so it is well worth turning up on time!

24th January 2010
Start 09.45 (9.00Doors Open), End 1930 (approx.)

Venue: Meretz UK - 37a Broadhurst Gardens, NW6

Costs: Advance £25 / Concessions £15.
Donation ticket £65 (£40 will go directly to charities present on the day).
On door £30/£20. Donations welcome.

Any surplus income will be donated to charities related to the
presentations, including Asylum Aid, ARDC, SOS Children Villages, Save Behnam.


Mimitah Best New Comer Awarded Singer
to perform at our refugee day
  • David Rosenberg: The 1905 Aliens Act . How it came to be, its impact and why it is important to know about it 110 years on.
  • Leslie Baruch Brent: Sunday's Child? My life story and how it shaped me.
  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind: 25min. FILM documentary, (Harris / Ben Tovim) Narrated by Juliet Stevenson
  • Edwin Shuker: Jewish Refugee from 1970s Iraq. How being a refugee has shaped me.
  • Jayyab Abusafia: Refugee Existence in Gaza. A young Palestinian journalism student recounts his years growing up as a Palestinian refugee in Gaza under Israeli occupation.
  • Nitzan Horowitz: Current Meretz Israel Member of Knesset (MK), Israeli House of Parliament.
  • The Forgotten Refugees (2005): Award winning Documentary about Jewish refugees from the Middle East and the Maghreb produced by the David Project (Boston).
  • Ben Du Preez: Refugees cared for by African Refugee Development Centre (ARDC), Tel Aviv.
  • Maurice Wren: Director, Asylum Aid. London: Asylum Aid 2010. Contemporary challenges and successes
  • Pauline Levis: One person can make a difference. How and why I got involved in running a campaign to safe Behnam
  • Mimitah Abofando: Professional singer originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She will perform live as well as talk a little about growing up in a refugee family!

If any people are experts on being refugees by their experiences throughout human history, the Jewish people would surely make a good candidate. Jewish people with direct refugee experience live still amongst us and can recount their still vivid memories. What the German Nazis labelled to be racial sub-humans "Untermenschen" were to be expelled from the German Reich by force. Today many Jewish people are well settled in relatively safe countries. Our refugee experience obligates us to look around us. What are the realities of refugees today? The last few decades saw a tightening of the EU borders to outsiders, with an increase of desperate people willing to risk all to reach Western shores. Many just want a better chance in life, others are refugees from the war torn battlegrounds that humanity fails to prevent or end. Asylum Laws have tightened in spite of the introduction of the European Human Rights Charter in the U.K. 1000s of people drown every year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, others perish in deserts. Many live phantom existences in European towns, exploited, without medical aid, always on the run. People smuggling has grown into a sophisticated business involving criminal gangs from many corners on earth. In Israel Darfurian Sudanese refugees and other migrants who hoped the Jewish people will understand have made headlines, mostly because of appalling treatment by the state and related authorities. The birth of Israel supposed to end unsafe refugee existence of Jews caused other Jews from Arabic speaking countries to become refugees and the stories of Palestinian refugees goes hand in hand with the establishment of Israel, and remains still unresolved. This is the reason why Meretz UK has decided to dedicate a special day on the issue of refugees and migrants to inform, discuss and encourage to help and take action. We have succeeded to get an excellent line of speakers and what's more money raised through this event will reach refugees in Europe and in the Middle East.

Be there listen, participate, get encouraged, take action!

More details:

David Rosenberg: is a teacher and writer who also leads guided walks on London's radical history (http://www.eastendwalks.com/). He is on the National Committee of the Jewish Socialists' Group and on the editorial committee of the Jewish Socialist Magazine. During the 1980s he was co-ordinator of the Jewish Cultural and Anti-Racist Project and then worked for the Runnymede Trust - a research and information body dealing with issues of racism and discrimination.

Leslie Baruch Brent's autobiography is called "Sunday's Child? A Memoir." He is University of London Emeritus Professor, and a Kinder-transport refugee, and has been outspoken on a number of civil rights and human rights subjects in the past.

Edwin Shuker fled Iraq when Arab Nationalism caused Jewish expulsion as a response to the foundation of Israel. However he is a man of bitter sweet memories, who thinks that the Jewish experience amongst Arab and Muslim countries has more to offer than an example of failure, but also a possible example how "Others" can live successfully amongst a non-Jewish Muslim majority in the Middle East.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind is a 25 min documentary following three mothers as they struggle to provide a normal life for their children against the shocking reality of being an asylum seeker in the UK. Emily Harris and Yoni Bentovim are an award winning filmmaking duo. They began collaborating whilst studying at the London Film School and have continued to produce successful projects ranging from drama shorts and feature to television documentaries. The film was recently screened at the Human Rights Film Festival.

Jayyab Abusafia is from Jabylia Refuge Camp in the north of Gaza Strip, the biggest Refugee Camp in the Occupied Territories. He is studying for a Journalism career here in London.

Nitzan Horowitz current Meretz Member of Knesset (MK), Israeli House of Parliament. Nitzan Horowitz was a foreign affairs journalist with Haaretz and Israeli News Channel 10 before becoming a parliamentarian. Since his election in 2009 Nitzan Horowitz has campaigned tirelessly for the human and civil rights f non Jewish immigrants in Israel and of Palestinians inside Israel and those in the Occupied Territories. He shares one of only three Meretz seats and has recently been called Israel's least corrupt politician.

Ben Du Preez (formerly Amnesty International (Refugee Rights) and Sadaka-Reut): Refugees cared for by African Refugee Development Centre (ARDC), Tel Aviv. ARDC was one of the first is today one of the leading organisations to reach out to non Jewish African refugees in Israel. Ben Du-Preez worked alongside ARDC as part of his mission in Israel to check on refugees in prisons. Du-Preez currently took a break from work to study at SOAS.

David Project (Boston). An educational trust and lobby group that serves to promote "strong voices for Israel," who also campaigned for the story of Arabic speaking Jewish refugees to be publicised. They are producers and promoters of the documentary "The Forgotten Refugees," winner of the Marbella Film festival 2007 and The Warsaw Film festival 2006.

Maurice Wren, Director, Asylum Aid. London: Asylum Aid 2010. Contemporary challenges and Successes:Asylum Aid is a leading national charity working to secure protection for people seeking refuge in the United Kingdom from persecution and human rights abuses abroad. They provide legal aid, and act as a lobby and support group

Pauline Levis is a single-handed grassroot campaigner for an Iranian Refugee and Asylum Seeker. She is a former chair of Meretz UK by coincidence. [see Behnam: Fighting deportation and Behnam Askari must stay.]

Mimitah Abofando
is a professional singer originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She grew up in a refugee family in the UK and has recently won the award of best new talent at the 2nd African Music Award. http://www.mimitah.com/

Buy Tickets either via our online facility here, with a cheque issued to to Meretz UK, 37a Broadhurst Gardens, London NW6 3BN or pay on door. Limited Availability!


bataween said…
"The birth of Israel supposed to end unsafe refugee existence of Jews caused other Jews from Arabic speaking countries to become refugees and the stories of Palestinian refugees goes hand in hand with the establishment of Israel, and remains still unresolved."
Wrong. It was the confluence of Islamism and intolerant Arab nationalism which caused the Arab war to reclaim Palestine from the Jews. The Jews in Arab lands were already being victimised by these forces, well before the creation of Israel, while the Arab refugee problem was a by-product of the Arab decision to reject the 1947 Partition Plan.
bob said…
Bataween, Islamism had little or nothing to do with the Jewish refugee crisis from Arab lands. Islamism was a negligent political force across the Arab world in the 1940s and 1950s. Arab nationalism, in its "socialist" and more right-wing guises, was significant. But the creation of the state of Israel did precipitate the crisis, and the state and the Zionist movement also actively promoted Aliyah from the Arab lands in this period. Of course there was a history of victimisation in some or all of the Arabic speaking countries, but there was a step change in the level of this in 1948. Arabs of all the Arabic speaking world were not a homogeneous, unified entity, who all "decided" to reject Partition together. Indeed, some Mizrahi Jews were considered and considered themselves Arabs.
"..some Mizrahi Jews were considered and considered themselves Arabs."

I keep reading this statement from mostly Ashkenazi Jews who seem to have developed a theory which is based mainly on some reconstructed history and maybe (dare I say it?) some lingering prejudice against Mizrahi Jews.

I have never encountered a Jew born in Arab lands who considered herself an Arab. And I grew up and lived in Israel, home to these Jewish refugees for the better part of my life. I went to school with them, I attended university with them, they were and are my friends, neighbours, relatives. Not once has any of them identified themselves as Arabs.

And as to the other part of your comment, Bob, that "Islamism had little or nothing to do with the Jewish refugee crisis from Arab lands." I'm not so sure. According to Matthias Küntzel, there was a direct line from the Muslim Brotherhood to Nazi ideology to the Mufti of Jerusalem already during the 1930's. And Jews in the Middle East began to suffer from intimidation and pogroms long before they became interested in Zionism.

Islamic teachings fertilize the minds of their students by indoctrinating contempt for the Jew as the only acceptable and appropriate relationship with him. This has been going on since the foundation of Islam. All it took was a very tiny seed to let the flowers of evil bloom.

Look at what is happening in Turkey today. Why are people taken by surprise? My father, who was born and grew up in this most tolerant of Islamic countries, is by no means surprised.
bob said…
On Arab Jews: The notion of Arab Jews has become deeply entrenched in anti-Zionist thought, and I know that it is massively exaggerated, but I have also read enough ethnographic, historical and autobiograpical accounts to know that it is not wholly a myth: some (not most, perhaps not many) Jews in Arab lands considered themselves Arabs; many more did not think in sufficiently ethno-nationalist terms yet to say they were or weren't (just as Ashkenazim in the 19th century Europe would not have computed the question of whether they were 'white' or 'European' or not).

On Islam and Islamism: Jews in the Middle East did indeed experience pogroms long before Zionism came onto their scene. It may be that Jew-hatred runs deep in the DNA of Islam as a religion (as it does, arguably, in the DNA of Christianity as a religion, altho the latter has perhaps spawned more genetic mutations than Islam has, some of which have escaped that trait).

But Islamism as an ideology, I think, played a small part in that. Yes, the Mufti, and some other more religions Arab nationalists in the greater Syria, including Palestine, of the Yishuv years, had some connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't think this was a decisive factor in the Arab uprisings of the interwar years or in the violence of 1948. (I haven't read Benny Morris' recent work where he argues that Islam, if not Islamism, played a greater role than he had earlier allowed for.) And Islamism, as far as I know, barely existed in Iraq, Algeria, Morrocco or the other main countries the Mizrahim came from.
TNC said…
Most of my friends living in Israel are Mizrahi and many (not all) of them self-identify as "Arab Jews." One considers himself a "post-Zionist" but most identify with Israel as a Zionist state, are proud of their military service, etc.

These are the children of parents who fled Arab states and they do not see a contradiction between their parents growing up in Arab states, their parents speaking Arabic, their parents being culturally Arabic in many respects but, at the same time, being religiously Jewish. So perhaps, as is often the case, the younger generation sees things differently than the previous generation.

Re: Islamism, I agree that pan-Arabism, Arab socialism, and Arab nationalism dominated the Arab political scene for much of the 20th century but the history goes back much further and is far deeper than this. Plus, as CC points out, the ideology of the Islamic Brotherhood is an amalgam of Islamist and revolutionary thought.
"Most of my friends living in Israel are Mizrahi and many (not all) of them self-identify as "Arab Jews."

This simply does not accord with my own experience which i stated above. I never ever heard any Mizrahi Jews identify themselves as "Arab Jews". This term simply does not exist as such in the Hebrew Language. What you may have seen is Jews who identify themselves by the country from which they came: Syrian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Moroccan Jew, etc. Arab Jew? I never encountered such self identification. I'm not sure even the author Sami Michael would subscribe to this self-identification. Here is what he said:

"Other books explore confrontations between political identities in Israel, comparable to the plural political identities within Michael himself. "It is as if, sometimes, I feel I am two persons. One is an Arab Iraqi, the other an Israeli Jew."

TNC said…
According to conversations I had with my friends, their parents do not identify as "Arab Jews" but many of them do. Not all, but many. Perhaps they will dismiss this identity as an academic fad as they grow older or perhaps they will embrace it. Time will tell.
bob said…
For an anti-Zionist critique of the notion, by Moshe Machover (hardcore British Marxist ex-Israeli) see http://rac.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/50/3/62.pdf

Extract (p.67):
The weakness of specifically Mizrahi opposition to Zionism and,
especially, the almost total absence of solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs may seem strange in view of the fact that the Mizrahim are often labelled as ‘Arab Jews’. This terminology has been used especially by a
few Mizrahi exponents of identity ideology but also in some Palestinian nationalist discourse. The ideological motivation behind this is quite obvious. For the Mizrahi identity ideologues, this labelling helps to depict Palestinian Arabs and Mizrahi Jews as joint victims, counterposed
to their Ashkenazi Zionist oppressors. For Palestinian nationalist supporters
of the unitary ‘one state solution’, it serves to avoid the problem posed by the existence of a new Hebrew (Israeli-Jewish) nation and depicts the national character of the future unitary Palestine as predominantly
Arab. Thus, in an authoritative programmatic article, ‘Towards the
democratic Palestine’, published by Fatah in 1970, the author points out that ‘the call for a non-sectarian Palestine should not be confused with …a bi-national state’. He goes on to claim that in the reality of Palestine
‘the term bi-national and the Arab-Jewish dichotomy [are] meaningless,
or at best quite dubious’. This is so because ‘the majority of Jews in
Palestine today are Arab Jews – euphemistically called Oriental Jews by the Zionists. Therefore Palestine combines Jewish, Christian and Moslem Arabs as well as non-Arab Jews (Western Jews).’

However, this labelling of Mizrahim as ‘Arab Jews’ is quite wrong. Of course, we are not questioning the right of any individual to self-identify
as an Arab Jew if s/he feels inclined to do so. But there is no justification for thrusting this label upon the mass of Mizrahim, who do not choose to identify themselves as ‘Arab’ and who would, at best, regard this label
as alien to their self-identity.
It is a strange denouement of what I can only assume is a second generation psychosis. The parents, the original refugees from Arab lands, consider themselves Israeli Mizrahi Jews but their children decide to dismiss their parents' identity and re-define themselves as "Arab Jews" and all this is happening while they are all Jews living in Israel.

Quite remarkable.

The only possible explanation I can think of it that it was some sort of a reaction to Ashkenazi Israelis' prejudice against Mizrahim. Ashkenazi Jews used to call themselves "European" and look down on all those Arab-like Jews from Arab lands. Many of these Mizrahi kids internalized that message in some way and responded in different ways in order to divest themselves from that "stigma". I can think of three ways: Some would seek to marry Ashkenazi girls, some ignored the prejudice and went about getting better education than their parents and have a good life in Israel, their country. And some, according to you, TNC, reacted by taking the opposite identity to "European". Edward Said's theory as lived through Israeli realities, what do you know.

I remember that as a girl I was always mystified by the need of Ashkenazis to regard themselves as "Europeans". The genuine European Jews, by which I mean those Jews who immigrated or arrived from West European countries such as Germany or France hardly ever identified themselves as Ashkenazi. I guess they had their own bias against Ostjuden.

I thank my lucky stars to have been born into a really vibrant Sephardi family and had the good fortune to spend my first years under the tutelage of my beautiful and self-educated grandmother. She had mild rebuke towards her Ashkenazi neigbours for what she considered their lack of good manners and she was at a loss vis a vis her Yemenite neigbours whose speech she could never understand. She knew a little Hebrew and would speak to me only in Ladino. She did not much care for who was what. She cared about how people behaved.

Unlike those self-designated "Arab Jews" for whom a label is a ticket to self-respect.

I take great pains to teach my daughter that wearing a Ed Hardy shirt will not make her more loved or more successful.
TNC said…
Excellent points, CC.

"I take great pains to teach my daughter that wearing a Ed Hardy shirt will not make her more loved or more successful."

Ed Hardy?...(shudders)...
bob said…
fascinating! Edward Said is not wholly wrong is he? The orient has been a strange presence within Jewry over the years. The Western Jews designating the Yiddish-speakers as Eastern (Ostjuden), the Ashkenazim in Israel naming Jews from Arab land as Eastern (Mizrahim)... The Westernised Jews in 19th century central Europe, incidentally, held the Sephardim in high esteem - Maimonides was imagined as the model of rational, Western Judaism; the Zionist movement took its idea of Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew when it invented Ivrit, cleansing it of traces of Yiddish as much as possible. But then this counter-Orientalism of the next generation, analagous, I guess, to the grandchildren of Ostjudish immigrants to America reclaiming klezmer in the 1970s.

When I went to Granada a couple of years ago, I was struck by what appeared to be a subculture of Spanish kids reinventing themselves as the Mozarabic of Al-Andalus, hanging out in Moorish style cafes smoking hookahs and drinking mint tea. And then there are the Hispanic people in the American Southwest who have decided that they are actually of Marrano heritage... There is no limit to our capacity to reinvent ourselves, or to deceive ourselves, and the world would be a greyer place if that weren't so.
"Edward Said is not wholly wrong is he? "

I was being somewhat ironic, Bob. I relate to these prejudices between East and West as an aspect of any ethnically-based petty prejudice or not even. It seems we are hard wired to want to think ourselves better than our others, culturally, morally, whatever. Said's theory is wrong because it does not quite accept this truism. It is based on a perception of mega-conspiracy between politics and scholaship. Thus Orientalism emerges as unidirectional where the "East" he imagines is supine, passive and completely blameless. Simultaneously it is much nobler, pristine and peace loving than the power-corrupt West.

You can find plenty of these hallucinations still being boasted in the Arab media and blogosphere and especially in Palestinian pre-Israel Edenic fantasies.

Said formulated an entire theory based on such illusions.
bob said…
Let me get this straight. You are saying, I think, that there is a widespread and trivial and possibly universal human tendency to look down on other groups, and Said's concept of Orientalism, and all of the scholarship devoted to establishing it, is no more than a fancy explication of one more example of that? (I guess analogies would be Polish jokes in the US, or the humour British people make out of Birmingham accents, or the way Litvish Jews looked down on Polish Jews.)
I think I disagree with you, if you are saying that. There has, in the modern period at least, been a power imbalance between those framing the Orient and those framed through it, which makes a crucial difference. And there have been particular patterns, particular images and narratives and so on, which have circulated between scholarly, governmental and popular spheres that frame the Orient, which have had lived a non-trivial life.

I do agree with you that Said's account misses whatever agency (benign and malign) the East has had. And I might agree with you about the mega-conspiracy dimension. And, of course, his account misses the projections back the other way, including the "Occidentalism" described so well by Buruma and Margalit.

P.S. I am quite fond of Ed Hardy myself...
TNC said…
"P.S. I am quite fond of Ed Hardy myself..."


Did you know Ed Hardy clothing is designed by Christian Audigie, the same person who brought that "Von Dutch" hipster trash into existence?

Graeme said…
Been seeing Ed Hardy energy drinks around...thinking that poisoning a batch of these would be a surefire way to keep the local douchebag population under control.
TNC said…
Douchebag Awareness Day

Bob: I prepared a long response but lost it. I may try to reconstruct it later on.

Ayez patiente! as the canned voice on the phone instructs me with much alacrity whenever I try to reach some public service.
bob said…
I'll wait!

And TNC, thanks for reintroducing me to the joys of stuffwhitepeoplelike.com
Yamin said…
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