David Shasha publishes a weekly newsletter called Sephardic Heritage Update. The commentary below has been written for SHU, and David agreed to let me use it here, as a preface for the video clip "Where is Sa'adya?"
The KEDMA website which is devoted to presenting issues of importance to the Arab Jewish community in Israel has just posted a very important video that presents a TV News report containing clips from a shocking 1951 Israeli propaganda movie called "Saadia: Roots of the Homeland." The original film was rediscovered by Jacob Gross and has been presented in the Jerusalem Cinemateque. The news report that has been posted and which can be viewed with English sub-titles presents both a deeply disconcerting back and forth with a group that was invited to watch the film.
The bits of the original movie that are shown in the news report are themselves quite nauseating in their paternalism and outright racism towards Jewish immigrants from the Arab world. The Sephardic inhabitants of the "Ma'abarot" – the tent camps that were hastily constructed for the new immigrants and which bred filth, disease, and crime among its inhabitants – are shown to be ignorant, primitive, and backward people. Barely human, they are shown as requiring the enlightenment of the morally and intellectually superior Ashkenazim who is presented as their saviors.
For those who question the existence of a malignant anti-Sephardi racism in the Zionist culture of the state's early days, and the complicity of the Sephardim themselves in rationalizing and justifying this racism over the course of many years, the news report is striking evidence that there has been a profound and deep denial of this racist Ashkenazi-centric ethos by both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Israelis alike.
The clip includes some very incisive commentary from our good friend Yehouda Shenhav. I have taken the liberty of attaching my review essay on his excellent book The Arab Jews which I strongly recommend to all of our SHU readers. It explains in painstaking detail many of the central issues raised in the short video clip.
In these days of ideological contentiousness regarding Israel and Zionism and the Divine role in this history, it is critical that we as Sephardim take a long and hard look at how the founding the Jewish state was deeply antagonistic to our own socio-cultural and political interests as a community. Sephardim in Israel have seen their ancestral heritage and cultural traditions become eviscerated by an intolerable Ashkenazi hegemony that, as the original 1951 film shows clearly, has had only contempt for us as human beings and as Jews and which has forced us to abandon our cultural inheritance through erasure.
How all this is part of some Divine plan continues to elude me.
To watch this important video go to the KEDMA website:
To purchase and learn more about Yehouda Shenhav's important book The Arab Jews:
For other resources, including a review of Yehouda Shenhav's book:
(At the end of the list, there is a "download" you can click on - RG)
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