I’ve been a subscriber for over a year and have greatly appreciated MERIP’s in-depth analysis and the familiarity with resources that it provides. Usually I am also appreciative of a balanced, scholarly tone about a situation in which polarization is so much the status quo that a “moderate” voice — like the assassinated Shehadeh, for example — is the true radical, who dares to speak something new and useful.
But I need to respond to Mark Richey’s letter in the May-June 1986 forum. Richey calls the term “progressive Zionist” an “oxymoronic expression” and — the point of the letter — cautions that it should not so much as appear in MERIP. This attitude is, frankly, stupid. Perhaps Richey thinks he owns the word “progressive” and can therefore exclude from its range socialists, feminists, civil rights fighters, radical activists of all sorts who believe that Israel as a nation exists and should continue to exist, albeit with radical social and political changes. To define “Zionist” as inherently right-wing militarist is as sensible as defining Palestinian nationalism as inherently terrorist.
“Those of us who care deeply about the Middle East and its people” — I am quoting Eqbal Ahmad — need to understand the Middle East, and MERIP is an invaluable resource. But those who want to understand the Middle East must realize that, like it or not, Israel is part of the Middle East. Understanding this part means knowing something about Jewish history, which is no purer, no prettier and no more disgusting than any other people’s history. Zionism meant to the Jewish people one strategy for survival. Zionism meant to many of the Palestinian people living in Palestine displacement and exile. It behooves all of us to understand both these meanings, instead of the one or the other characteristic of the polarized sides.
As a progressive Jew, I know I am a natural ally to Palestinian people who want a homeland, who want an end to war and oppression. I am also an ally to the Lebanese people — and I think especially of the women and children, least empowered to make peace, most suffering from war; to the Iraqis who want peace; the Iranians who want freedom; and I could go on, through the nations of the Middle East. I am not alone. My radical politics are deeply Jewish. I care about my people’s survival and about the survival of other peoples and cultures. To hear Palestinian people talk about their diaspora, about their dependence on education as a means of survival and advancement, about being a nation of small shopkeepers — this strikes painful chords of recognition in me and in many other Jews.
Why do people like Richey insist on isolating us from other progressive people, on claiming that our concerns are not valid, that Jewish survival is an inherently reactionary concern? Such insistence is intellectually obtuse and morally hollow. I — and many other Jews — stick out our necks constantly: on the left, as in this letter, in the women’s movement, in our home communities where people are understandably fearful and misinformed. Why do people like Richey not offer support to those of us who struggle with our communities, the so-called monolithic Jewish community, on these issues? Why can’t they stick out their own necks at least far enough to notice where such polarizing gets any of us, and in the Middle East people are still suffering and dying.
Keep up your great work! I wish I could be giving you some money. Instead, I’m giving a suggestion for an article. Has anyone tried to document the cultural attack against Arabs and Muslims in the American cinema? I was “held hostage” by the film King Solomon’s Mines on a transatlantic flight and sat appalled as every hateful stereotype was milked dry, including shouts of “camel jockey,” scenes of demented Arab crooks and rapists looking evilly at women, twitching and panting “harem, harem,” or “Allahu akbar” while tossing sticks of dynamite. Associations are carefully made between Wagner-singing Nazis and turbaned Arabs, lest we viewers be too dull to miss the point. The blonde heroes offhandedly comment with racist one-liners: “Can’t you people take no for an answer?”, “Maybe they’ve never seen a white woman before,” and the like. The producers, the infamous Israeli team Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, vent most of their hate on Arabs, but save a good serving for black Africans as well, portraying “cannibals” with spears, nude from the waist up. One shudders to imagine how they could even manage to recruit individuals to play these degrading roles.
To a trained eye, these incitements are shockingly transparent. But to the great hordes of cinema excitement-seekers, the messages of good and bad are subtly set up to enter unperceived, through associations, visual stereotyping and key bits of slang designed to make the viewer identify with the “heroes,” and share their fear and loathing of the Third World in general and Arabs in particular.
I would like to see a survey of these releases. If the Arab-American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC) has not done it, perhaps you could? Or perhaps print their findings. Also, what corporate/governmental ties exist between these two hatemongers and various groups, if any?
ADC has produced several relevant papers: “The Influence of the Arab Stereotype on American Children,” “ABSCAM: Arabiaphobia in America,” “Cruel and Unusual: Negative Images of Arabs in American Popular Culture” and “Congressional Hearings on Anti-Arab Violence: A Milestone for Arab-Americans.” They also distribute The TV Arab, by Jack Shaheen. All are available from ADC, 1731 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20009. This is something we will be covering as well.