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Weinstock quotes a Moroccan sultan saying in the mid-19th century: “Our glorious religion grants them only marks of opprobrium and inferiority.”
Weinstock also examines the situation in the Holy Land through the dhimmi prism. The Jewish minority that lived under Ottoman rule experienced humiliation and subordination, he says. Anti-Jewish riots were fomented time and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. He quotes the British consul in Palestine as writing in 1831 that the extortion and acts of suppression against the Jews were so numerous that it was said “that the Jews have to pay even for the air they breathe.”
In the twilight of Ottoman rule, a century ago, the first “Hebrew city” was founded (present-day Tel Aviv), a revival of the Hebrew language began to be felt, and Jewish cooperative farming settlements were established. The local Arab population, Weinstock says, felt that the ground was being pulled from under it, as the dhimmi Jews, who were supposed to possess inferior status, were now striving for more – even for independence.
According to Weinstock, underlying the growing hostility toward the Jewish population in Palestine was the realization that the dhimmi Jews were shaking off their traditional legal status of humiliation and submission. In retrospect, the writer maintains, dhimmi status, on the one hand, and the declared attempt by the Zionist movement to be free of it, on the other, led ultimately to the Arabs’ rejection of the United Nations partition plan in 1947 and to the War of Independence the following year.
Local Palestinians and the Arab world refused to grant the Jews of the country a status different from dhimmi, and they were even less likely to recognize the Jews’ national rights. Zionism, for its part, could not accept Arab sovereignty over all of Palestine, a situation in which the Jewish minority would again find itself under dhimmi status. “Historically, then,” Weinstock says, “dhimmi status is the root of the conflict.”
What impact does this relationship have today?
“It continues to affect Israeli-Arab relations even today, because in Arab eyes the Jew who now lives in Israel is the same Jew whom they customarily saw as humiliated – and who is now taking his revenge. The Arabs experience Israel’s establishment and existence to this day as very painful revenge and as the reversal of dhimmitude. This is a very meaningful and deep aspect of the current political problem, which we cannot allow ourselves to ignore. Without understanding this, it is impossible to understand the conflict.”
Then why is it not dealt with more by academics and the press?
“For the Jewish world, the reason is that Ashkenazi Jews, in Israel and elsewhere, continue to be indifferent to and even disdainful of the Mizrahi Jews. For the Arab world, this should come as no surprise, as self-criticism is not popular among Arab journalists, intellectuals and public-opinion leaders. With the exception of a very short incidental note by [the late Prof.] Edward Said in one of his books, it is hard to find serious references to the massive emigration of Jews from the Arab countries and its causes.
“The left tends to avoid the subject, because they don’t consider it ‘kosher.’ The left has become extraordinarily dogmatic and lacks the ability of self-criticism today. People define themselves as identifying with ‘the Palestinian cause,’ and that’s all: There is no thought behind it. This subject might upset their one-sided worldview, so they simply avoid it.