Conference shines new light on Arab Jews
18 June 2009
A major conference, to be opened by Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan next week, will shed new light on the underexplored subject of Arab Jews.
The Jews of Arab Culture: 1948-2009 conference, which takes place from 22-24 June, is being co-hosted by the University’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies and the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations of the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths.
Over the course of the 20th century, Arab Jews came to Israel from Arab countries ranging from Morocco to Iraq and now constitute more than 50% of Israel’s Jewish population. While the study of medieval and early modern Judaeo-Arabic culture and literature is a comparatively well established field in Western academia, the complex identity of the recent influx of Arab Jews to Israel and its impact on the culture of the Middle East has been little studied.
The conference will examine the cultural repercussions of the absorption process of Arab Jews by the State of Israel, the impact this has had on Arab Jewish literature, and the reactions which followed in Palestinian literature.
The conference, which will be held at Westcott House and will include internationally renowned academics, will be accompanied by the screening of various films and a concert of Jewish-Arab music played on the ‘Oud and Violine by Israel-Iraqi musician Yair Dalal, all of which are open to the public.
Professor Yasir Suleiman, Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, said: “Arab Jews have historically been an important part of Arab culture well before the advent of Islam. In Arabia, Spain, Iraq, Egypt, and the Levant Jews have played an important role in creating a culture that belonged to all those for whom Arabic was a native language. The conference will tap into this past to challenge and repair some of the ruptures of the present by showing the richness and diversity of an inclusivist culture that belonged to all the communities that helped create it.”
Gregor Schwarb, Ariane de Rothschild Academic Director of the CMJR, said: “Showing the richness and dynamism of the culture of Jewish Arabs dispels the myth that there is a total divide between Arabs and Jews. In this way, we hope that the conference will contribute towards greater understanding, a spirit of reconciliation and a greater respect of differences”.
Research shows many Arab Jews look with affection and pride on their Arab heritage; others see themselves as “forgotten refugees”, whose cause is akin to that of Palestinian refugees. In a recent open letter, a group of prominent Israeli Jews whose parents came from Arab or Islamic lands wrote that “the culture of the lands of Islam, the culture of the Middle East, and the Arabic culture, are all part of our identity, a part of it that we cannot sever and wouldn’t wish to sever, even if we could.” They added: “The rift between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world cannot be a permanent one, since it splits our identities and our souls.”