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We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel's Jews from Arab Lands Hardcover – December 23, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Journalist and first-time author Shabi reports on the societal struggle of Israel's Arabian Jewish population from her viewpoint as the Israel-born daughter of two Iraqi Jews. Backed with a long view of Jewish history in both the Middle East and Europe, Shabi explores the conflicts and inequities among the privileged Ashkenazi Jews-European, educated and cosmopolitan-and their Mizrahi neighbors, whose culture-incorporating many Middle Eastern and North African traditions-is often devalued or oppressed: popular Arabian music gets banned from Israel's airwaves, the Mizrahi accent has become shorthand for the lower class, and government programs meant to help Mizrahi migrants are set up to fail (like the "developmental towns" cut short of funding during the Six-Day War, and left half-developed thereafter). Interviews with Mizrahi citizens heap blame on the Ashkenazi-dominated Jewish Agency for presenting Israel as a haven for all displaced Jews, when the reality for Arabian Jews is likely less prosperous-and possibly less tolerant-than life in Arab countries. Shabi's investigative skill and grasp of Israeli history (especially her re-examination of the Jewish Diaspora) makes this a rare and fascinating overview of the other Israeli conflict.
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From Booklist

Journalist Shabi, born in Israel to Iraqi-Jewish parents, was raised in England but has returned to live in Israel. Israeli Jews whose families are from Arabic-speaking nations (often referred to as Mizrahis) began arriving in Israel en masse after the creation of Israel, in 1948. Generally less educated and darker skinned than European Jews (Ashkenazi), they were frequently housed in refugee camps for years and then shunted to so-called development towns in isolated regions far from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. As Shabi indicates, they were often subjected to blatant racial prejudice, and they still endure more subtle forms of discrimination. Shabi clearly has an agenda, however, so some of her criticisms are over the top; she seems a bit eager to anoint the Mizrahis with victim status. Still, Shabi hits hard and effectively in pointing out the fissures in contemporary Israeli society that belie some of the comforting Zionist myths. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (January 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802715729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715722
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,001,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John Paul Nelson on March 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Wow - this book really lifts the lid off an Israel that I didn't even know existed. As a westerner who has never visited Israel, I had the view that Israeli life was what was depicted in "Fiddler on the roof", and that Jews were represented by the likes of Woody Allen, Albert Einstein. I had no idea that "Arab- Jews" existed, never mind that they were once in the majority in Israel. The dichotomy of Arabs hating Jews and being the enemy - whilst at the same time a majority of Israeli citizens having their birthplace in various Arab countries - has led to these "Mizrahi" Jews being treated as second class citizens. I come originally from Northern Ireland but now live in the USA, and I see striking similarities to the Catholics in N.I. and African Americans here in the USA.
The cultural differences set the Mizrahi apart, and the European (Ashkenazi) Jews do not want their Arab culture to be expressed in Israel.

Shabi's writing style is conversational and easy to read - and she backs up her claims with a multitude of references. Speeches by Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and others, show that the bias against Mizrahi Jews was not random or accidental, but strategically planned. "We look like the enemy" shows clearly that the popular view of Israel is wrong, and that there is a large population in Israel who share a cultural identity with their Arab neighbors. The book notes that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sees the Mizrahi Jews as the best option for negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and who knows, maybe this community could well be the key to solving a problem that it seems has no end.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on March 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There have been several important books on the lives and immigration of Sephardim and Mizrahim, or Jews from the Middle East, to Israel. Among these are Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book and The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands. This book seeks to examine the hardship these groups faced when they arrived in Israel. Several personal memoirs have already done this, such as Last Days in Babylon: The Exile of Iraq's Jews, the Story of My Family.

But this book's central thesis is that the maltreatment and stereotypes of these Jews by the Ashkenazi or European Jews is a reason to condemn Israel in total and label it a 'misfit' in the Middle East. But herein lies the problem. The author blames Ben Gurion for saying these Jewish immigrants had no culture but yet it was Ben-Gurion who ordered Israel to bring them. In successive waves of immigration after 1948 some 800,000 of these Jews came on such operations as Magic Carpet from Yemen. The Jews that came were very diverse, from the poorer but very educated communities in Yemen to the wealthy ones of Baghdad and the French speakers from North Africa. From the wordly Egyptians, some of whome were actually recent Ashkenazi arrivals, to the Libyans and Kurds and Persians ans Turkish Jews who spoke Ladino and even the Jews of Greece who, although this book does not deal with them, were also Sephardim.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Raymond Deane on April 6, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rachel Shabi, an Israeli-born Jew of Iraqi background, returned to Israel from her adoptive UK in order to prove a thesis: that "Arab Jews" (Mizrahim, or Sephardim - she explains these terminological distinctions carefully) represented a potential bridge between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. It testifies to her unflinching honesty that she reluctantly abandons this theory: "it's obvious that Mizrahis are no bridges of peace... they hold tight to the national script", tending, in fact, towards the belligerent right wing of the political spectrum.

The bulk of the book seeks to explicate the paradox that immigrants from Arab and Islamic countries - Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, etc. - who have been discriminated against by the dominant European Jews since the foundation of the Israeli state, who speak Arabic, eat Arabic food and listen to Arabic music, nonetheless reject the designation "Arab" and advocate unjust and intolerant policies against the Palestinians.

Shabi concludes that sheer self-preservation led to the Mizrahis' identification with the new state that despised them, despite its narrative of inter-Jewish cohesion and solidarity. Her writing is often passionate (and not "angry", as some Amazon reviewers have claimed), sometimes humorous, sometimes mournful, but always scholarly and stylish.

I recommend without qualification this study of a group whose culture, accomplishment, dreams, and hardships hitherto have been obscured and hidden from most of the outside world."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Meshaal on April 7, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't even know where to start. I have read this book about a year ago and it still impacts my view on the Ashkenazi-Mizrachi/Sefardi relationship. You might think that all Jews are the same, they only have different tribes. However, Rachel Shabi, an Israeli Jew who comes from Iraqi origin revealed what outsiders don't know. Before reading this book,I felt like a tourist in a foreign country. Now that I have read the book, I feel that I am a local. I know what locals know. In short, this book is a gem.
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