Jews and Arabs
To the Editor:
Joan Peters’s account . . . of the mistreatment of Jews in the Arab countries [“An Exchange of Populations,” August] is bound to arouse sympathy. Yet to someone who has an academic interest in the subject, Miss Peters’s article is one-sided and superficial; and for the sake of balance, . . . I would like to respond.
First, while anti-Semitic literature as revealed in Arab children’s textbooks is deplorable, equally deplorable is the spread of similar literature in Israeli children’s books. Consider the article in Ha’aretz (September 20, 1974) in which the author points out: “Dozens of children’s books published in Israel encourage their readers to hatred and contempt for the Arabs. . . .”
Consider, along similar lines, the findings of Dr. Georges Tamarin, the Israeli social-psychologist, who discovered in his work on prejudice that Oriental children’s hatred of the Arabs far exceeded that of their parents. . . .
Or consider the following conclusion reached by three psychologists from McGill University in Montreal concerning Jewish children’s perception of the Arabs: “It appears that Arabs were rated lower on nearly all traits, significantly more so on courage, good looks, intelligence, good-naturedness, pleasantness, manners, truthfulness, successfulness, self-confidence, permissiveness, reliability, leadership, cheerfulness, and capacity for hard work.” . . .
Second, concerning the exodus of Iraqi Jews, it is true, as Miss Peters notes, that there was a pogrom in Iraq in 1941. Yet this episode, encouraged by the pro-Nazi prime minister of the time, Rashid Ali al-Kaylani, cannot be considered either representative or typical of the life experience of Iraqi Jews, as pointed out in a 1972 Israeli Black Panther publication. Surely, the account given by Miss Peters doesn’t explain the affluence of Iraqi Jews, which even she admits in passing, nor does it acknowledge the influence Iraqi Jews exercised in the political life of that country (almost every Iraqi government prior to 1948 had a Jewish minister). This is more than one could say about Israel, a country where the Arabs comprise 14 per cent of the population. . . .
Finally, although it is deplorable that Jews, Christians, or anybody else cannot enter certain Arab countries because of religious criteria, it is equally deplorable that the Palestinian Arabs are prevented from going back to their homeland. . . .
Department of Sociology
To the Editor:
As an Israeli from Iraq, I wish to differ with Joan Peters’s assessment of past relations between Arabs and Jews. In my study of the dhimmi (“protected peoples”), I found that the status of the Jews was, to quote Bernard Lewis, “rooted in tradition, respected by law and custom, and effectively maintained,” thus enabling them “to survive and at times to flourish.”
I am further concerned that Miss Peters’s article scarcely does justice to the achievements of Jews in Muslim lands, and gives the impression that Jews were little more than a humiliated minority. Such was not the case. Indeed, Miss Peters seems to contradict herself by suggesting that the property exchange was “to the benefit of the Arabs, who confiscated Jewish-held assets in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere.” The question thus arises: is it conceivable that a continuously persecuted minority should have been better off economically than the Palestinian Arabs? . . .
Rita Zemach Braude
To the Editor:
I read Joan Peters’s article with great interest. Although I have no serious disagreement with one of her major points—that Jews in Muslim nations have been discriminated against for centuries—I think that several clarifications and corrections need to be made.
First, the treatment of Jews by Muslims during the Middle Ages and later was either no worse, and was often better, than the treatment of Jews by Christians in Europe. Perhaps the best example of this is the flight during the Inquisition of 150,000 Jews to North Africa, where they found sanctuary under Muslim rulers (Doris Bensimon-Donath, Evolution du Judaisme Marocain. . .).
While it is undeniably true that Jews were consigned to the second-class, dhimmi category, it is also true that, as André Chouraqui notes, “There was never at any time in the Muslim Maghreb a philosophy and tradition of anti-Semitism such as existed in Europe from the Middle Ages down to modern times. . .” (Between East and West: A History of Jews of North Africa). . . . Thus, the same author Miss Peters quotes to demonstrate the repression of Jewish life would also seem to be saying that the situation was somewhat more mixed than the quotation she uses would suggest.
The evidence is also mixed in regard to the official position of the Moroccan government toward Jews since independence. Unlike the situation in many Arab nations, where the government has officially sponsored anti-Semitic riots and outbursts, the Moroccan government has very rarely done so. This reflects a relatively tolerant attitude on the part of both the Sultan, Mohammed V, and his son, Hassan II. In 1948, after the riots in which 48 Jews were killed, the government sentenced two rioters to death, and 39 to prison terms (Bensimon-Donath and American Jewish Yearbook, 1950). This must be one of the few times in history that an Arab government has punished anti-Jewish outbursts with such severity.
I must also disagree with Miss Peters’s statement that in Morocco “the 25,000 [Jews] who remain reportedly live well.” Having worked with Moroccan Jews during the summer of 1971 (for the Joint Distribution Committee), I can personally testify that most of that community is impoverished. What is surprising is that at least some of those still there, mainly small businessmen, do live well. However, the reason they are still there is that they do not have enough money to persuade the right officials to allow them to leave with their possessions (Jews who emigrate are not permitted to take a great deal with them). Aside from these few businessmen, however, life is not good for Jews in Morocco today, particularly because discrimination makes it virtually impossible for Jews to get jobs in Arab firms. Thus, those who do find employment usually find it with Jewish businesses. Much of the Jewish community subsists on food and payments from the JDC. . . .
Princeton, New Jersey
To the Editor:
I find it hard to accept Joan Peters’s idea that the Palestinian problem can be dismissed as a population exchange. The Palestinian fleeing Israel in 1948 did not switch places with the Jew fleeing Iraq. Instead, the Palestinian’s place was taken by the Jew, and he himself was left out in the cold, where he remains. The miserable situation of the Palestinian refugees, most of whom still reside in camps, can indeed be cited as evidence of the cynicism and cruelty of the Arab states; it also proves that a Palestinian and an Egyptian are not of the same nation in the sense that two Jews are. As great as was the suffering of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, none of it was caused by the Palestinians. An explanation of the Palestinian problem which more closely corresponds to reality is that in 1947 two national groups were struggling to gain and maintain sovereignty in what was then Palestine. The Jews succeeded, while the Palestinians lost everything. Accordingly, when the Palestinians say that they want to return to Israel and not Iraq, it makes sense to take them at their word.
Miss Peters’s theory is not new. In fact, her arguments have become for many something of a propaganda “line.” This line tends to distort the issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly the issue of Palestinian rights. For example, it is argued that since the Palestinians never exercised sovereignty over the land of their birth, in which they were a majority until 1948, they are not a nation, and therefore have no claim upon Palestine. The implied definition of nationhood is so narrow as to make one suspect that before 1948 it would have given the Jews a hard time justifying their own national aspirations.
To those of us who worry that Israel is being pressed to make dangerous concessions, the population-exchange theory is comforting: it treats the Palestinian problem as a historical curiosity, one for which Israel bears no responsibility. Nevertheless, the Palestinians do not seem likely to accept integration into the Arab states as a substitute for national self-determination. And bearing in mind the power realities of the Middle East, there does not seem to be much Israel can do to change their resolve. Moreover, such a solution to the Palestinian problem would be as unjust as it is unlikely. A just solution can only come about when both Israel and the Palestinians recognize each other’s right to exist as nations within the boundaries of historic Palestine. This emphatically does not mean that we can point to Jordan as an already existing Palestinian state. The clear ethnic reality of the region demands that a Palestinian state include the West Bank and Gaza as well.
Miss Peters is to be commended for helping to explode several Arab propaganda myths. It is unfortunate that in so doing she has helped perpetuate other myths, equally objectionable.
New York City
To the Editor:
Joan Peters is a voice of sanity in a wilderness of irresponsible Arab propaganda. . . .
Forest Hills, New York