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Alternatives to Zionism in the post-48 era

Tue, December 18, 12:45 to 2:15pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Backbay 1 Complex

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


According to most historians, following the establishment of Israel in 1948, Jews in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region largely faced a binary choice: Immigrate to Israel, or to Jewish diaspora communities in the West. Session one of this roundtable explores how in the first half of the twentieth century, MENA Jews responded to various strands of liberalism and nationalism with a range of new political paths. This session continues in a similar vein by asking three questions: first, in the era following the establishment of Israel, how did Mizrahi Jews maintain political agency? Second, what sort of pathways did they forge outside of Zionism? Third, how might the largely ignored matter of indigenous Mizrahi contributions make us rethink the post-1948 history of Jewish politics?

The roundtable’s geographic scope includes Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and Morocco, demonstrating how Jews across the region interpreted their opportunities for the future in myriad ways. In Egypt, the shift from pre-to post-1948 politics led to the eventual exodus of most Jews. Yoram A.J. Meital explores how the minority that stayed in Egypt became increasingly active in the struggle between Egyptian nationalist, Pan-Arabists, and attitudes toward the Israel-Palestine conflict. In the same moment, Moroccan Jews were prominent among the leaders of the communist party and the nationalist movement, but scholarship has mostly focused on men. Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli discusses how in this context, the story of Moroccan Jewish women illuminates yet another aspect of Jewish politics in the MENA.

The next two discussants present another fascinating phenomenon among Mizrahi activists: Those who moved to Israel yet continued to critique it while maintaining Arab-Jewish political identities. Yaron Ayalon relates the story of the influential writer Ibrahim ‘Aqri (1921-2006), a non-Zionist Iraqi Jew who followed his family to Israel and created a Jewish-Arab identity. Jonathan Gribetz addresses the relations between Mizrahi Jews and the Palestine Liberation Organization. A few Mizrahi Jews offered to become a bridge between Jewish and Palestinian society, and were considered by the PLO as a potential partner in future resolution. Daniel Schroeter has agreed to serve as session chair. He will pose questions and moderate the discussion.

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