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Anti-Zionist Ignorance

It’s a vicious cycle: Lack of exposure leads to lack of awareness leads to lack of knowledge leads to lack of recognition.

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It was a beautiful summer day in the Pacific Northwest. I was visiting a small coastal town, taking a much-needed day off, and had just gotten myself a latte. I positioned myself on the rocks outside the cafe, looking over the water, and noticed an attractive man with a dog, walking on the beach. He looked at me and smiled, and somehow – I don’t remember how the conversation started – the dog became the catalyst for pleasant chit-chat.

We were both musicians, it turned out – he a professor of music, I a singer, songwriter, and bass player – and our conversation turned in that direction. Given his curly dark hair, dark eyes, and light skin, I was wondering if he might be Ashkenazi but didn’t want to ask outright. So I threw out the bait about my band, sharing that it offers up a unique blend of Iraqi Jewish prayers and original alternative rock. With that, I knew, he would reveal if he were Jewish.

 
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He’d been to Israel, he responded, but was not Jewish, though everyone mistook him as such.

From there, the conversation took a sharp turn into a monologue – or, more to the point, a diatribe – about Israel being a racist, colonizing state. Out poured the scripted, entrenched, and entirely predictable narrative of the Western Left. Not only could I have spoken the next words about to come out of this man’s mouth, at each twist and turn, but he barely allowed any words to come out of mine. He was on a mission, hellbent on mansplaining to me how utterly wretched Israel was, and going so far as to equate Israel’s very existence with America’s occupation of Japan.

That last part did surprise me, actually. Was he so utterly ignorant of Middle East and Jewish history, and the intersections thereof, that he thought Jews have zero relationship to the land of Israel – as in the case of Americans in Japan?

I desperately needed to be “off-duty” – I was just asking the universe for a scant 24 hours, really – so I kept trying to veer our conversation back in the direction of pleasantness. “I’m happy to talk with you about this, another time,” I said, “but I’m having a mental health day, and this is my line of work, so I’d rather talk about other things for now.” He ignored me and kept vomiting anti-Israel sludge.

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“There’s a lot of history and complexity that people don’t know about,” I said calmly. “I’m an indigenous Middle Eastern Jew, and our history has been repressed in public dialogue, despite being central to the history and politics of the region. I’d be happy to talk with you about it another time, but just not today. Right now I want to enjoy the sun and the water.”

He kept going.

“Stop,” I said. “This is a boundary. I don’t want to talk about this right now.  I’m happy to talk with you about it another time, but for now, I need to relax, and would rather talk about other things.”

“OK have a nice day,” he said, and promptly ran off – leaving me startled and confused.

We journalists are a cross between sleuths and hackers, so when I got home, I tracked him down, from the bits and pieces of information he had revealed, and emailed him, asking why he bolted. We’d been having a perfectly pleasant conversation, I said, and I wanted to continue talking with him, just not about that. 

I also asked why he didn’t seem curious to find out about my perspective, in particular, considering that he was in the field of education – which seemed incongruent. “I challenge you that it lacks integrity to have a strong stand on Middle East politics,” I said in the email, “without knowing about the history of [indigenous Middle Eastern Jews], who among other things, have been the majority Jewish population in Israel for decades.”

He did get back to me, but only to say that I had cut him off, so he didn’t understand why I felt confused. His response demonstrated zero awareness of the way he had bulldozed me in the conversation, necessitating my abrupt cutoff, never mind zero interest in learning more about my perspective.

If I encountered someone who revealed he was from an indigenous community whose history had been suppressed, in particular, regarding an issue I was passionate about, I would be excited about deepening and diversifying my knowledge, and would thirst to know more. So I didn’t get it. But in my repeat experience, the anti-Zionist crowd seems to feel quite satisfied that they know all there is to know, and seems patently uninterested in questioning or challenging their long-held beliefs – which makes it damn near impossible to have a conversation with them.

Perhaps part of this phenomenon is the contemporary notion that everything is available on the mighty internet, in particular, through a Google search, or through go-to, counter-culture news sources like NPR or Al-Jazeera. But a vast amount of knowledge is unavailable, repressed, or outright censored in those and other mediums – in the latter case, even in Jewish community news sources.

I say this from decades of experience as both a professional journalist and Jewish multicultural educator: Despite the fact that I grew up deeply immersed in the history and heritage of indigenous Middle Eastern Jews, that I am highly skilled in research, and that I have the background to know what to even begin looking for on topic, it has proven both challenging and labor-intensive over the years to find what I have been seeking. And when I have found the information, it rarely has been on Google – certainly not on the first few pages of a search.

Many authentic sources on indigenous Middle Eastern Jews are in Arabic, Hebrew, and French, are in books that one needs to be part of the community to know about, and moreover, are in books that are now rare and difficult to come by. Adding to the difficulty, even more sources are through unrecorded oral history alone – again, entirely out of reach of the general population. Adding to the mix, systematic devaluation and dismissal of our community’s voices, and lack of funding for preserving and passing on our stories, have rendered our knowledge obscure – in particular, now that the generation who grew up in “the old countries” has almost entirely died.

It’s a vicious cycle: Lack of exposure leads to lack of awareness leads to lack of knowledge leads to lack of recognition. That lack of recognition, in turn, not only shuts down important conversations but also renders media uninterested in articles on the topic, because they do not have the points of reference to “see” what they are seeing. So they don’t publish the articles, and the cycle of ignorance continues.

I suppose it takes being part of a dismissed indigenous community to have consciousness of this phenomenon. And I suppose that’s why a professor from a white Christian background might bristle at thinking of himself as any variation of “ignorant” and needing to challenge his perspective. He is, after all, well-read, well-educated, and well-informed.

But ignorant does not mean stupid or uneducated. It means unaware. How can one be aware of something to which he is not exposed? And how can one be exposed, if he is convinced he is already aware, that he knows everything there is to know on topic?

Loolwa Khazzoom (KHAZZOOM.com) is the singer, songwriter, and bass player for award-winning band Iraqis in Pajamas (IraqisInPajamas.com), which combines Iraqi Jewish prayer with original alternative rock. Khazzoom sings in English, Hebrew, and Judeo Arabic, on the topics of healing and transformation, on the individual and collective levels. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone, and other top media worldwide. She lives on Bainbridge Island.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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