Commentary Magazine


Arab Assimilation

“If the Germans could not succeed in eliminating the Jewish people in the Holocaust, then neither will the campaign that the Israelis are now perpetrating against millions of Palestinians and billions of Arabs and Muslims succeed.” Thus spoke Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, in observance of the 60th anniversary of what Palestinians call the “naqba,” or the catastrophe — the birth of Israel.

Leaving aside the implicit compliment about Jewish resilience in the Holocaust (did he really mean that?), it goes without saying that the Final Solution is a weird comparison to what Israeli Arabs, among whom Khatib is one of the leaders, are experiencing. In this week’s Forward, the social linguist Philologos writes about the gradual assimilation of Arabs into Israeli society, as evidenced by their increasing use of Hebrew words when speaking in Arabic. As with any dual-lingual discourse, the majority are terms that have no easy Arabic equivalent–not just “machsom” (roadblock) or “ramzor” (traffic light) but also “glidah” (ice cream) and “sulamit” (the pound sign on your phone). But the most interesting of these is “m’anyen,” which means “interesting.” After checking around, the columnist confirms that there is no such word in Arabic. “Is this just a linguistic oddity,” Philologos asks, “or is it indicative of a deeper feature of Arab culture – the absence, perhaps, of the very concept of ‘interesting’ that is so basic to the Western mind, since what isn’t unusual enough or noteworthy enough to arouse curiosity is not considered worthy of attention?” Interesting!

In Jewish history, Jews tended to assimilate much more in countries that gave them freedom than in those that persecuted them. If Israeli Arabs are so upset by Israeli independence, why are they assimilating? Why do they generally support national service and insist they would never become part of the Palestinian state? And while we’re at it: Isn’t it a little odd that they observe the naqba on the same day that Israel celebrates its independence? What I mean is, Israel celebrates the fifth of Iyyar, which corresponds to May 14, 1948, on the Jewish calendar. Americans, by contrast, tend to observe May 14. Given the choice between the Muslim, Western, and Jewish calendars, why would Israeli Arabs pick the last of the three?

M’anyen m’od.