Jerusalem Post review, March 6, 2019

Mizrahi Jewish spies built Israel, their descendants meet racism there

By Hen Mazzig

In 1951, my great-grandfather was executed in the city of Baghdad, Iraq. He was accused by the government of being an Israeli spy.

My grandmother always told us things were never the same following the Farhud, a two-day pogrom filled with vandalism and violence against the Jewish population of Baghdad that took place during Shavuot in 1941. Every Iraqi Jew was viewed as an Israeli agent.

While America had closed its gates to the Jews of the Middle East, my family heard word of a safe haven for the Jewish people: Israel. Soon after, Israeli spies and Israeli security forces came to rescue them on planes, around the same time that my father’s parents arrived to Israel from Tunisia, likewise forced out of their country. Tunisia was not as violent toward its Jews as Iraq, but the oppression and the institutionalized discrimination against the Jews was unbearable. So both sides of my family took a chance on the new state that emerged promising a safe refuge for all Jews.

The majority of Israeli Jews, like my family, came from Arab and Muslim countries, an inconvenient fact for some critics of the State of Israel today. Far from being a white colonialist entity, the truth is that Jews in Israel have suffered from oppressive and racist governments just as much as other “brown” peoples throughout the world.

However, along with being kicked out of their home countries – where my family truly felt they belonged but were never “Arab enough for the Arabs” – Mizrahi Jews have also often felt like second-class citizens in Israel. Many Mizrahi Jews weren’t seen as being “Israeli enough” for the Ashkenazi founders.

Indeed, most tellings of the story of Israel’s founding focus on Ashkenazi figures like David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, all with roots in Eastern and Western Europe.

This is also the dominant narrative in modern-day Israel – that’s why Matti Friedman’s new book is long overdue.

Spies of No Country,” the third book by the Israeli journalist, shares the gripping and previously untold stories of four Mizrahi Jews who took part in a spy unit called the Arab Section. The unit, comprised entirely of Jews from Arab lands, was part of both the underground Palmach before the modern State of Israel was founded and the post-independence Israel Defense Forces.

(Read the whole thing here.)