Newsletter Special: Sephardic Resources for Progressives

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David Shasha

May 26, 2011, 7:50:54 AM5/26/11



            While a good deal of the work that I do addresses the problems of the Sephardic Jews from the standpoint of Right Wing Jewish Orthodoxy and Zionism, it is equally important to realize that racist Ashkenazi Jews are not only on the Right Wing side of the political ledger.


            Indeed, Ashkenazi Jewish ethnocentrism is not limited to Conservatives, but exists among Liberals and Progressives as well.  In the media, academia, and in the non-profit world of Think-tanks and institutions there is an anti-Sephardi exclusionary principle at work that is all-too-apparent to those of us who examine what is happening in the Jewish world at present.


            I am often told that this exclusionism is not a product of conscious design, but simply an oversight due to ignorance and a lack of information.


            For this reason, I have prepared a special edition of the Sephardic Heritage Update that would help to rectify the matter.  I have collected a bunch of previously-published articles from the SHU that would serve as resources addressing issues central to the Progressive community. 


            We begin the newsletter with a reading list I prepared which lays out the case of the Sephardi activist community.  The list includes many important books and academic studies that display the important work being done by a small but dedicated group of Sephardim who are routinely ignored by the Progressive community.


            Next is the article I wrote a few years ago which deals with the lack of positive Sephardi inclusion at the J Street conference in Washington.  J Street has become a lightning rod within Right Wing Jewish and pro-Zionist circles, and yet its exclusion of Sephardi voices and issues remains unspoken.


            “A Broken Frame” is one of my generic essays on the evisceration of Sephardic culture and history from the Ashkenazi-dominated Jewish discourse.  It is an attempt to introduce those unfamiliar with Sephardic civilization to the basic ideas and concepts in that history.


            “Contested Histories and Disembodied Voices” is my review essay on Yehouda Shenhav’s book The Arab Jews.  The essay goes into some detail to explicate the Sephardi Question in Israel and the oppression and persecution that Sephardim have been forced to face in the larger framework of a Jewish empowerment in Israel that has largely passed them by.


            “Sephardi Typologies” is an essay of mine that provides the philosophical issues that have forced many Sephardim to acculturate to the dominant Ashkenazi Jewish models.


            An excellent article from Trude Weiss-Rosmarin first published in 1967 gives us an overview of the Sephardic place in the peace discourse on the Middle East.  It is a comprehensive review of many of the basic issues involved in pro-Sephardi advocacy as it relates to Israel and the Palestine issue.


            My teacher Ross Brann is one of the most important experts on the literary culture of Sepharad/al-Andalus.  His lecture on Muslim Spain and the Sephardim at the time of the Genizah provides some basic information about the foundational elements of Sephardic culture and civilization.


            Another scholar who has done so much to illuminate Sephardic history is our good friend Arthur Kiron.  His seminal article on “Atlantic” Judaism is one of the most important resources for American and European Jews to better understand how the old Andalusian tradition found its way to the West, moving from the Mediterranean world to the Americas.  For those who continue to think that American Judaism means Ashkenazi Judaism, the article will provide an important perspective that will serve to alter your view of the matter.


            Michelle Campos has recently published an excellent book called Ottoman Brothers, the seeds of which appear in her article on Palestine prior to the emergence of Israel.  The article opens a window onto what is a largely forgotten world where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together and were working towards a new union based on the emerging constitutional principles of the Ottoman government.


            In a similar vein, Abigail Jacobson has done wonderful work on the relationship between Sephardic Jews in pre-state Jerusalem and the Zionist movement.  Her excellent article provides us with the voices of Sephardim before they were extinguished in favor of Ashkenazi ones.


            We end this special newsletter with an important article from the Israel radical group Matzpen which vilifies some of the most prominent Sephardi activists.  In my comments to the article I argue that anti-Sephardi prejudice is not limited to Right Wing partisans, but the demeaning and condescending Ashkenazi ethnocentrism is also alive and well in Progressive circles.


            I hope that our readers will take a serious look at this problem and make use of this special newsletter in order to become more knowledgeable about the Sephardi Question, but to also make their friends and colleagues aware of the plethora of resources that are currently available; resources that can be utilized to create a more balanced account of Jewish concerns in an age of polarization.  There is no legitimate reason for Sephardim to be kept out of conferences and discussions of Jewish matters.  The many Sephardi activists who are out there are given voice in this special newsletter and should be acknowledged as a critical part of the ongoing Jewish discussion over Israel and Zionism.




David Shasha 




Sephardic Resources for Progressive Activists

By: David Shasha


American Sephardim: No Place at the (Ashkenazi) Jewish Table

By: David Shasha


A Broken Frame: Sephardi Occlusion and the Repairing of Jewish Dysfunction

By: David Shasha


Contested Histories and Disembodied Voices: How to Speak of the Arab Jew

By: David Shasha


Sephardi Typologies: Hating Ourselves and Others

By: David Shasha


Toward Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

By: Trude Weiss-Rosmarin


Hebrew Literary Culture in Spain (Al-Andalus) in the Age of the Geniza

By: Ross Brann


An Atlantic Jewish Republic of Letters?

By: Arthur Kiron


Between “Beloved Ottomania” and “The Land of Israel”: The Struggle for Ottomanism and Zionism among Palestine’s Sephardi Jews 1908-1913

By: Michelle U. Campos


The Sephardi Jewish Community in Pre-World War I Jerusalem: Debates in the Hebrew Press

By: Abigail Jacobson


Ashkenazi Racism has no Barrier: Israeli Leftist Radicals Attack Mizrahim!

By: David Shasha


Zionism and Oriental Jews: Dialectic of Exploitation and Cooptation

By: Ehud Ein-Gil and Moshe Machover



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