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Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary

Arab Jew

Arab Jews-

1. Term formerly used by Egyptian Jews to denigrate Karaites

2. Term sometimes formerly used to denigrate Mizrahi Jews by other Jews.

3. Term used by Anti-Zionists to denote Mizrahi Jews from Arab Lands and thereby imply that that are not members of the Jewish people, but rather Arabs of the Jewish religion. This term is not accepted by the majority of the  Mizrahi or Sephardic Jews.

In "Who is an Arab Jew?, Albert Memmi both explained the ambivalent and problematic meaning of the term, and also exploded the myth of easy coexistence between Muslims and Jews in Arab ruled countries: 

The term "Arab Jews" is obviously not a good one. I have adopted it for convenience. I simply wish to underline that as natives of those countries called Arab and indigenous to those lands well before the arrival of the Arabs, we shared with them, to a great extent, languages, traditions and cultures. If one were to base oneself on this legitimacy, and not on force and numbers, then we have the same rights to our share in these lands - neither more nor less - than the Arab Moslems. But one should remember, at the same time, that the term "Arab" is not a happy one when applied to such diverse populations, including even those who call and believe themselves to be Arabs.

The head of an Arab state (Muammar Ghadaffi) recently made us a generous and novel offer. "Return," he told us, "return to the land of your birth!" It seems that this impressed many people who, carried away by their emotions, believed that the problem was solved. So much so that they did not understand what was the price to be paid in exchange: once reinstalled in our former countries, Israel will no longer have any reason to exist. The other Jews, those "terrible European usurpers", will also be sent back "home" - to clear up the remains of the crematoria, to rebuild their ruined quarters, I suppose. And if they do not choose to go with good grace, in spite of everything, then a final war will be waged against them. On this point, the Head of State was very frank. It also seems that one of his remarks deeply impressed those present: "Are you not Arabs like us - Arab Jews?"

What lovely words! We draw a secret nostalgia from them: yes, indeed, we were Arab Jews- in our habits, our culture, our music, our menu. I have written enough about it. But must one remain an Arab Jew if, in return, one has to tremble for one's life and the future of one's children and always be denied a normal existence? There are, it is true, the Arab Christians. What is not sufficiently known is the shamefully exorbitant price that they must pay for the right merely to survive. We would have liked to be Arab Jews. If we abandoned the idea, it is because over the centuries the Moslem Arabs systematically prevented its realization by their contempt and cruelty. It is now too late for us to become Arab Jews. Not only were the homes of Jews in Germany and Poland torn down, scattered to the four winds, demolished, but our homes as well. Objectively speaking, there are no longer any Jewish communities in any Arab country, and you will not find a single Arab Jew who will agree to return to his native land.

I must be clearer: the much vaunted idyllic life of the Jews in Arab lands is a myth! The truth, since I am obliged to return to it, is that from the outset we were a minority in a hostile environment; as such, we underwent all the fears, the agonies, and the constant sense of frailty of the underdog. As far back as my childhood memories go - in the tales of my father, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles - coexistence with the Arabs was not just uncomfortable, it was marked by threats periodically carried out. We must, nonetheless, remember a most significant fact: the situation of the Jews during the colonial period was more secure, because it was more legalized. This explains the prudence, the hesitation between political options of the majority of Jews in Arab lands. I have not always agreed with these choices, but one cannot reproach the responsible leaders of the communities for this ambivalence - they were only reflecting the inborn fear of their co-religionists.


For a brief discussion of the historic position of Jews in Arab and Muslim society and readings on the subject see: Jews in Arab lands: Introduction and readings.

Synonyms and alternate spellings:  Mizrahi Jews   Sephardic Jews

Further Information:  Sephardic Jews  Mizrahi Jews Ashkenazic Jews

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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