hey, Vox


"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."

Jewish French-Tunisian writer Albert Memmi (1920-2020)


Recently, Vox published this article.

Mizrahi Jews in the comment section are furious.

There are a lot of things wrong with the article. I will try to break down some of the themes and explain why they are not only problematic, but deeply offensive.



Mizrahi means “eastern.” It does not mean Arab. “Mizrahi” Jews are Jews who come from the Eastern hemisphere, including non-Arab countries such as Iran and Uzbekistan. Naturally, this is what Israel called Jews who came to Israel from the eastern part of the planet. Most Mizrahim prefer it. Never mind the fact that Jewish presence in the Arab world long predates the Arab conquests; for example, Jews have been in modern-day Iraq since long before that land was colonized by the Arabs. Calling Mizrahi Jews Arab is like calling Pocahontas American.

Vox makes the strange implication that Jews in the Arab world had been calling themselves, say, “Jewish Iraqis” throughout history. But Iraq is quite literally a British invention dating back to World War I, loosely around ancient Mesopotamia. The British carved Iraqi borders and gave Iraq its name.

Historically, different subsets of Mizrahi Jews had names for their own communities. For example, the Bukharian Jews of Uzbekistan called themselves Bnei Isro'il, meaning “children of Israel.” 

Arab identity outside of the Arabian Peninsula, where Arabs actually come from, is a colonial identity. In the early 20th century, Arab nationalists in opposition to the Ottoman Empire emphasized Arab identity as one of shared ancestry, culture, history, and language. But Arab ancestry, culture, and language spread across West Asia and North Africa through violent conquest (that is, imperialism). This nationalism was strengthened by the British to weaken the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Think of Latin American identity, for example. It’s a colonial identity, imported by the Spanish and Portuguese via colonialism, despite the fact that most Latin Americans have some percentage of Indigenous ancestry.

Mizrahim largely prefer to be referred to as Mizrahim. Why won’t Vox respect how people chose to identify?


Sure, Vox offhandedly remarks that things weren’t always idyllic for the Jews of the Arab world. By they immediately minimize it when they write, “It was very unlike what was happening in Christian Europe, where Jews were blamed for everything from the death of Jesus to the bubonic plague. On the whole, in the Muslim world, Jews coexisted with their neighbors to a remarkable degree for two millennia.” 

First off, there has been no “Muslim world” for two millennia. Islam dates back to the seventh century. Second, it’s easy for the dominant group (Arabs, in this case) to speak of “peaceful coexistence” when what’s actually happening is that the other group is subjugated to the extent that they keep their heads down, which is what actually happened to the Jews of the Arab world. Not to mention the periodic massacres which date back all the way to the conquests of Muhammad.

In 637, Jews and Christians were given second class citizenship, known as dhimmitude, in exchange for a jizya tax. Until the Ottomans abolished the dhimmi system in 1856, Jews were subject to repressive and humiliating laws. 

Many apologists frame the jizya tax as a positive. But giving someone a choice between paying a (crippling) tax or being persecuted doesn’t exactly give them much of a choice. Nor does it signal equality or coexistence.

The article then implies that classic antisemitism — for example, scapegoating and blood libels — didn’t exist in the Arab world. Like Jews in the Christian world were scapegoated for the death of Jesus, Jews in the Arab world were (and still are) commonly scapegoated for the death of Muhammad. Incidents of European-like antisemitism, like the Damascus blood libel of 1840, exist throughout Arab history. And, of course, since the early 20th century, Jews in the Arab world have been scapegoated for the existence of the State of Israel.



Vox writes, “But Egypt’s delegate to the UN warned at the time, ‘The lives of one million Jews in Muslim countries will be jeopardized by the establishment of a Jewish state.’ The fear was that in the Arab world, all Jews would be seen as supporters of Zionism, and that Arab countries would turn on Jews within their borders as a result…Sadly, that’s exactly what happened.”

Sadly? What offensive framing. This was a premeditated threat of ethnic cleansing, not well-intended concern on the part of the Egyptian delegate. This framing places the onus of the ethnic cleansing of 850,000 Jews from the Muslim world on Israel…not on the countries which actually committed the ethnic cleansing. This is akin to saying “oh well” if, for example, Iraqi Americans had been expelled from the United States during the American invasion of Iraq.

Never mind the fact that there is an incredibly long precedent for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from nearly every corner of the Arab world, dating all the way back to Muhammad’s earliest conquests, when Jewish tribe after Jewish tribe in the Arabian Peninsula was attacked, slaughtered (in some cases arguably amounting to genocide), expelled, and ultimately subjugated. Other examples throughout history include the Hakim Edict in 1012, when virtually all Jews were expelled from the Land of Israel, and the Mawza Exile in 1679, when nearly all Jews were expelled from Yemen.

In modern times, the Muslim Brotherhood and Arab nationalists such as Haj Amin al-Husseini were already speaking of expelling Jews from the Arab world in the 1920s. Again, what happened in 1948 was a premeditated, systematic expulsion, in many cases — such as in Iraq — codified into law. The 1948 war was merely an excuse. But even so, it’s a terrible, unjustifiable excuse…one which Vox seems to accept. 



Mizrahim in early Israel experienced discrimination. This is indisputable. But to spend nearly the entire article highlighting this discrimination while at the same time minimizing 1400 years of violent Arab persecution of Jews is insincere at best. Vox distorts and exploits the Mizrahi experience to push a political agenda — an agenda that the overwhelming majority of Mizrahim vehemently disagree with. 

The claim that the “European” Ashkenazi Jews came to Israel with the evil intent of dividing and conquering Arabs and Mizrahim to subjugate the both of them is outright antisemitic, echoing thousands of years’ worth of antisemitic tropes. Further, this sentiment is also orientalist and racist, stripping agency from Mizrahi Jews. 

Vox, among other examples, frames the delousing of Mizrahi Jews as a sinister and racist Ashkenazi ploy to oppress Mizrahim. Vox completely ignores the conditions that necessitated delousing; after 850,000 Jews were expelled from the Arab world, Israel, whose economy was in shambles after the 1948 war, placed many of these refugees (as well as tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors) in refugee camps, known as ma’abarot. No country in history has had to absorb, proportional to its total population, as many refugees as Israel did in such a short amount of time. There is nothing inherently sinister about placing refugees in refugee camps, especially for a country with a collapsing economy. As is often the case in crowded refugee camps, disease ran rampant in the ma’abarot. Though demoralizing and probably humiliating, delousing refugees to prevent disease is in no way akin to the sinister treatment of Jews in concentration camps, nor is it inherently racist or evil.

Vox also mischaracterizes the nature of the Yemenite Children’s Affair. It’s true children — including Ashkenazi children — were removed from their parents in the ma’abarot to take to hospitals. Many died in these hospitals, sometimes from medical negligence or malpractice, and in a few cases from unethical experimentation, and the parents were not informed, or the death notices were handled with immense insensitivity, likely due to a combination of discrimination and language barriers. But contrary to what Vox claims, there is no genetic evidence whatsoever to suggest the children were given away to other parents as a matter of policy (in fact, Yosef Melamed’s exhuming and subsequent DNA testing suggested the opposite). Some social workers might have removed the children from their homes. Their decisions were likely informed by orientalist bias. Of course, Vox ignores centuries of Arab abduction of Jewish children for the purpose of forced conversions.

Speak with any given Israeli Mizrahi Jew and they will more likely than not express immense pride to be Israeli. On the other hand, very few accept the label of “Arab Jew,” given the experience of nearly a millennia and a half of violent oppression. The Vox article suggests the opposite.

Vox exploits the very real struggles and discrimination Mizrahim experienced in the first few decades of the State of Israel to push an anti-Israel agenda. Not only do most Mizrahim today live in Israel, but the majority of Israelis today are at least of partial Mizrahi descent. Without Israel, Mizrahi Jews would’ve likely faced a fate similar to the fate of Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. On the other hand, Vox whitewashes and even denies the objectively worse and exponentially more violent discrimination Mizrahim faced in the Arab world for hundreds of years. 



Zionism is the Jewish movement for self-determination in the Land of Israel. When we speak of Zionism, we are generally referring to the modern political Zionist movement, which culminated in the establishment of the State of Israel. In reality, however, Zionism has existed in various iterations since Biblical times. In fact, the name Zionism is derived from the “Return to Zion,” when the Jews who had been exiled from the Land of Israel in 587 BCE made their way back to their homeland in 539 BCE. The Return to Zion quite literally predates Jewish presence in Europe. It also long predates the Arab conquests of both the Land of Israel and what was then Babylon.

The First Zionist Congress, marking the official beginning of modern political Zionism, was held in 1897. Mizrahi and Sephardi Jewish representatives were present at this congress. Read that again: Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews were no less involved in the Zionist movement than their Ashkenazi counterparts.

Indeed, the idea that Ashkenazi Jews somehow “duped” Mizrahi Jews to become Zionists is orientalist. Mizrahim and Sephardim are just as capable as Ashkenazim of thinking for themselves. 

The waves of Jewish migration to the Land of Israel in the late 1800s and early 1900s had a significant Mizrahi presence. Between 1881-1904, 10% of all Yemenite Jews immigrated to Palestine. Most settled in Jerusalem and Jaffa. Between 1880-1914, 8% of all Bukharian Jews from Uzbekistan fled to Jerusalem, escaping brutal persecution. In the 1920s, another 10,000 Mizrahi Jews immigrated to (now British) Palestine, coming primarily from Yemen and Iraq.

In 1947, the United Nations held a series of hearings on the issue of British Palestine. Mizrahi and Sephardic representatives, including Eliahu Eliachar (whose words Vox later misrepresents), Eliahu Sasson, and Abraham Elmaleh, ardently supported Zionism in these hearings. 

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