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Becoming Survivors: Sephardic/Mizrahi Responses to the Holocaust

Tue, December 18, 2:30 to 4:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 1 Ballroom

Abstract

The efforts of organizations advocating for recognizing Middle Eastern Jews as “refugees” have come to assume a prominent and controversial place in the Israeli-Palestinian context. Less known is that in tandem with these claims, Middle Eastern Jews have also demanded to be recognized as “Holocaust survivors.” These demands appear strange on two fronts: first, because within and outside of Israel, there has been a longstanding view that Middle Eastern Jews were largely untouched by the Holocaust, and were, in fact, insensitive to the Zionist establishment’s preoccupation with it; and second, because the demands for refugee recognition and Holocaust survivor status pit the government of Israel as both an ally and opponent. Having secured the Israeli government as an ally for refugee claims, why would Middle Eastern Jews jeopardize this support by seek recognition as Holocaust survivors?
 
In answering this question, I explore the current role that the Holocaust has played in Middle Eastern Jewish efforts for recognition.  I offer a framework for understanding how Jews displaced from Arab countries, now living in Israel, have come to frame their own experiences of displacement and discrimination in their countries of origin and then in Israel in terms of the Holocaust and European Jewish experiences of persecution.  Drawing upon newspaper archives, literary sources, and oral history projects, I argue that Middle Eastern Jews' invocation of Holocaust commemorative practices, and appeals for inclusion in Israeli national memory, challenge Zionist hegemony over the Holocaust narrative.
 

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