Ethnic bias against Middle Eastern Jews within Israel has far-reaching implications for the whole region.
Middle Eastern Jews from Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen, and other Arab or Muslim lands―"Mizrahis"―make up nearly half of Israel's population. Yet European or "Ashkenazi" Jews have historically disparaged them for looking like Arabs, speaking Arabic, and bringing with them what was viewed as a "backward" Middle Eastern culture. Journalist Rachel Shabi, who was born in Israel to Iraqi Jews and grew up in England, returned to investigate the subtle discrimination and tense relations that still exist between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews in Israel. She combines historical research, her own family's story, and the heartfelt oral history of several other Mizrahis to make We Look Like the Enemy a stunning, unforgettable book.
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Rachel Shabi has been published in the Guardian, the London Sunday Times, the English Aljazeera online, Jane's Intelligence Digest, and Salon.com. This is her first book. She lives in Tel Aviv.From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. Journalist and first-time author Shabi reports on the societal struggle of Israel's Arabian Jewish population from her viewpoint as the Israel-born daughter of two Iraqi Jews. Backed with a long view of Jewish history in both the Middle East and Europe, Shabi explores the conflicts and inequities among the privileged Ashkenazi Jews-European, educated and cosmopolitan-and their Mizrahi neighbors, whose culture-incorporating many Middle Eastern and North African traditions-is often devalued or oppressed: popular Arabian music gets banned from Israel's airwaves, the Mizrahi accent has become shorthand for the lower class, and government programs meant to help Mizrahi migrants are set up to fail (like the "developmental towns" cut short of funding during the Six-Day War, and left half-developed thereafter). Interviews with Mizrahi citizens heap blame on the Ashkenazi-dominated Jewish Agency for presenting Israel as a haven for all displaced Jews, when the reality for Arabian Jews is likely less prosperous-and possibly less tolerant-than life in Arab countries. Shabi's investigative skill and grasp of Israeli history (especially her re-examination of the Jewish Diaspora) makes this a rare and fascinating overview of the other Israeli conflict.
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