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Editorial Article

New York University - History and Middle East Studies Professor Zvi Ben-Dor Benite helps invent the Jewish Arab

If only Ben-Dor Benite would be as indignant about defamations of the Jews. He is one of those Israeli professors of Sephardic-Oriental lineage who likes to claim he’s really an “Arab Jew.” The “Arab” part of him likes to promote the Arab pseudo-historical “narrative” against Israel and Zionism. From the isle of Manhattan, Ben-Dor Beniste castigates Israeli society for its so-called bias against Jews from the Middle East and against their “racist oppression” by the European or Ashkenazi Jews.

 

 

 

New York University - History and Middle East Studies Professor Zvi Ben-Dor Benite helps invent the Jewish Arab

By Lee Kaplan, www.IsraCampus.org.il
26/5/2010

Associate Professor Zvi Ben-Dor Benite teaches in the departments of History and Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies at New York University. Considered a specialist on the Islamic world and East Asian history, he is the author of The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China (Harvard Asia Center, 2005), and of articles, essays, and book chapters on topics ranging from contemporary Middle Eastern politics to classical Chinese historiography. Almost half of the papers listed on his NYU web page are in leftist propaganda magazines, not bona fide academic journals.

After the manufacture of a new Mohammed bobble head doll was released on the market, Ben-Dor Benite commented indignantly, “No depiction of the prophet, even if it is positive, should be made ever - and certainly not one as ridiculous as the bobble head Muhammed. I don't think it's about freedom of speech. This is the freedom to insult, which he shouldn't be doing."

If only Ben-Dor Benite would be as indignant about defamations of the Jews. He is one of those Israeli professors of Sephardic-Oriental lineage who likes to claim he’s really an “Arab Jew.” The “Arab” part of him likes to promote the Arab pseudo-historical “narrative” against Israel and Zionism. From the isle of Manhattan, Ben-Dor Beniste castigates Israeli society for its so-called bias against Jews from the Middle East and against their “racist oppression” by the European or Ashkenazi Jews. This thinking extends to the idea of the fictional “good old days,” back when the Arabs were supposedly good neighbors to the Jews of the Islamic world. The idyll was something that changed because of the creation of Israel, or so he says.

Ben-Dor Beniste is signatory to the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel that was founded by ISM leader Jess Ghannam and other Arab and Islamist academics in the US.

He seems to be in demand as a Sephardic speaker who bashes Israel and Zionism. He was called upon by the BBC to do commentary on a special program about the forgotten refugees, the Jewish Sephardic refugees – almost a million of them - who were evicted at bayonet point from the Arab states after 1948. Most of these went to Israel where they built new homes, without any of the wealth stolen from them by their previous Arab home countries. Ben-Dor Benite would have us think these Jews do not consider Israel their home because HE does not. He particularly feels that Iraqi Jews regard Iraq as their true home. He might be able to find one or two in the world who do, and they probably are hard-core Stalinists.

But tell that to the Jews who experienced the Farhoud pogroms in Iraq or to those who found themselves being hung in the streets of Baghdad as “Zionist spies” by Saddam Hussein.

One commentator on the BBC’s use of Benite had this to say: “(It is) not a good sign that the 'historian' chosen to answer calls into the studio is an obscure post-Zionist leftist academic named Zvi Ben-Dor whose main claim to fame is a research paper arguing that Iraqi Jews in Israel are in exile from their true homeland, Iraq. The discussion was designed to undermine the very premise that Jews were refugees. ‘Historian' Zvi Ben-Dor threw back in the Israeli government's face the rhetoric that the Mizrahi Jews were not refugees, but Zionists returning to their homeland.”

It is interesting to note that, like anti-Zionist professor of history Meir Amor at Concordia University, Ben-Dor Benite is of Moroccan Jewish ancestry. He waxes nostalgia about the good old days in Islamic Morocco, while detesting Israel. According to Ben-Dor Benite:

At the end of each line rests the simple, and cruelest truth: for the state, Arabic is the language of Arabs, and Arabs are the enemy. The very fact that with the establishment of the state Arabic was pronounced a second official state language emphasizes, beside the inferiority of Arabic, the forced disconnection of Jews from it. For the founding fathers had two groups in mind: Hebrew speaking Jews, and Arabic speaking Arabs. Nothing was supposed to exist in the middle, between the two groups, and it was in this "in-between" that Arabic speaking Jews found themselves. They broadened and redefined this "in-between" over and over again. These are some of the principal dimensions of the problematics (sic) of the question of Mizrahim and Arabic -- an essentially different issue from the relation of Jews to other languages -- and these are the principal factors in its history.’

Sephardic or Mizrachi Jews inside Israel intermarry with Ashkenazi Jews at an enormous rate, sit in the parliament and the Supreme Court, serve as university professors and hospital directors. They also tend to be far less tolerant of leftist anti-Zionist political extremism than other Jews.

Ben-Dor Benite also signed a petition objecting to universities moving to stop leftist anti-Semitism on Western campuses. He has no problem with anti-Semitism that is masquerading as “criticism” of Israel. The petition was touted by the leftist Jewish anti-Israel propaganda group “Jewish Voice for Peace.”

He has written articles with his theory of “Arab Jews” being in “exile” in Israel. These include “Invisible Exile: Iraqi Jews in Israel,” in The Limits of Exile, special issue, Journal of Inter-Disciplinary Crossroads, Vol. 3, No. 1 (April 2006), pp. 135-162 or “The Jewish State as an Aryan State: Michael Selzer, the Oriental Jews,” and the “Third Exile,” in the boilerplate Marxist magazine Theory and Criticism, April 2005, pp. 255-260 (in Hebrew). 

But the best example of his thought processes are in an article he wrote about an Israeli film. The lead character in the film is a Mizrahi Jew from Iraq living in Israel in the years not long after the War of Independence. A sort of Sephardic Everyman, this Israeli speaks Arabic and is “exploited” by working as a translator for Shin Bet agents who are Ashkenazim. In one scene the man’s car breaks down in an Arab neighborhood, because of a trap set flattening his tire. He has a pistol and warns the Arabs off, but it fails to fire a warning shot. The Arabs surround him and have him on his back on the ground with their knives ready. He then launches into a monologue in Hebrew and Arabic where he tells the Arabs he’s just an oppressed paison in Israel just like them because he’s a Mizrahi Jew. The next scene has the Arabs changing his tire for him for free. Isn’t fiction lovely.

Ben-Dor Benite just came out with a new “book,” The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History. He suggests in the book that a belief in the “myth” of the ten lost tribes was responsible for the British imperialists helping found of Israel. In an interview with a Mormon radio blog, he explains how politics get injected by you-know-who into the idea of The Lost Tribes to change history for political goals. “There is great power in restoration,” he says, “The idea of return is a story that is more powerful.”

Apparently, Ben-Dor Benite adopted his anti-Israel attitude back in high school. He relates how horribly he was oppressed in the 11th grade when a recruiter came to school looking for Arabic-speaking Israelis:

The male officer, who was the younger and lower in rank, called out: "All Egyptians, Iraqis, Moroccans, etc..." (sic. -- I can't forget) “Out! Intelligence exams!" I did not leave the class. What did I have to do with the Intelligence Corps? But I was taken out. The officer was astounded: "What? Don't you want to join the Intelligence? Intelligence is Arabic!" "I don't know Arabic," I lied. "Never mind," said the officer, "you have the ear." (Someone later told me, and I am not sure this is accurate, that Mizrahi kids are wanted in the Intelligence Corps not only due to a knowledge of Arabic, which is no longer unique to them, but for their ability to make out linguistic nuances when they listen to Arabs – for “the ear”).’

Accused of having ‘An ear.’ Oh the humanity! Never mind that a speaker of Moroccan Arabic cannot understand a Palestinian, nor vice-versa.

Here is more Ben-Dor Benite:

‘With this in mind, an entire establishment was created in Israel whose occupation was the knowledge of Arabic. It was headed by the chiefs of Intelligence, and later by the chief (Ashkenazi) orientalists in academia. At the bottom were Mizrahim, reading, listening. In the entire public sphere in Israel Jews were forbidden to be Arab. The Intelligence Corps, its various branches, was the place where a Mizrahi could continue using his Arabic -- that is, ‘continue’ being Arab, licensed by the state of Israel. Here Arabic was an occupation, a chance for a job, a chance for promotion; and paradoxically, a chance to be Israeli. Thus our first generation joined the Intelligence, and the Mossad, and other authorities that yearned for Arab speakers to rule the Palestinian population.’

How sad that over the years Ben-Dor Benite became a history professor but never outgrew his juvenile resentment towards other Israelis.

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Op-Ed articles appearing on IsraCampus.Org.il are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinion of IsraCampus.Org.il