By Joseph Massad
Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics & Intellectual History Columbia University
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2007)
The type of Jewish culture that Zionism wanted to create had nothing to do with Diaspora culture, seen as a manifestation of oppressed Jewishness. Yiddish, stigmitized as a product of that culture, was and is actively discouraged in favor of Hebrew, while the Arabic of Arab Jews became the contemptible language of the enemy. In sum, Israel created a new Israeli identity and culture alien to Diaspora Jews. Zionism's commitment to cosmopolitan European gentile culture as the totalitarian basis for the New Jew led Georges Friedmann to assert that Israel "constitutes a new kind of assimilation liable to produce 'generations of Hebrew-speaking Gentiles.'"
ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi schools.
Thus the creation of Israel was to have far-reaching effects not only for Palestinian Arabs but also on the identity both of European Jews and of Asian and African Jews. Whereas non-European Jews were classified as Sephardim (Spaniards) and later Mizrahim (Easterners) and were juztaposed to the Yiddish-speaking Jews whose Ashkenazi identity preceded Zionism, Palestinians were divided into Druze, Bedouin, and Christian and Muslim Arabs. Israel, consequently, was based on a complete overhauling of the ethnic identities of the population over whom it was to have jurisdiction. The irony about the Mizrahi identity created by the Ashkenazi establishment is that it came to be internalized by the Mizrahim themselves, who launched ethnic protests based on it.
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