Experts

Spanish citizenship bill: Where are the Sephardi voices?

Once again, only Ashkenazi Jews count as Jews – even in Spain!

The Puerta de Torcuato was documented in 1376 as part of the ‘new’ Jewish quarter.
Photo by: Courtesy ‘La Opinión-El Correo de Zamora’
 It is telling that Spain’s offer to give citizenship to Jews has caused a minor stir among Israeli Sephardim.
 
 
It is worthwhile to note that the Times article makes mention of a meeting between that great Sephardic Jew Malcolm Hoenlein and King Juan Carlos of Spain.  There is no Sephardi representation in the Jewish institutional world.  Once again, only Ashkenazi Jews count as Jews – even in Spain!
 
It is also worth noting that most of the articles on the issue are being written by Ashkenazi Jews – Sephardim, of course, have no representation in the Jewish media.
 
It is a matter that I discussed most recently in an article in The Jerusalem Post.
 
The story of Spain’s invitation is interesting because it speaks to the continued alienation of Israeli Sephardim from the Jewish state and the idea that the grass might be greener on the other side.
 
It does not appear that there will be any appreciable Jewish movement from Israel to Spain, but it is indeed curious that there have been some takers for the offer, Sephardim willing to explore the possibility of returning to Spain.
 
It is only natural that the rabbis have now weighed in on the matter.
 
The Ynet article’s title is interesting; the rabbis will tell us who is Sephardic!
 
 
In their messianic agitation it seems that the Religious Zionists are all in a panic over the Spanish initiative – and the statement by Rabbi Abergil that there is still a rabbinic ban in place against returning to Spain is a nice touch.
 
Given the widespread ignorance of Sephardic Jewish civilization all of this is quite curious as the attack does not pay any serious attention to the historic loss of our heritage.
 
As proof of this institutional ignorance, we have this from the far right wing Gatestone Institute.
 
It is important to note that the article begins with a quote from Ashkenazi writer Michael Freund. It makes perfect sense and is consistent with the statements by other Ashkenazim in the body of the article. Sephardim, naturally, must have Ashkenazim speak for them as they are not qualified to speak for themselves.
 
The reason for this is that when Ashkenazim like Freund speak they present Sephardic identity in a way that comports with the standard Ashkenazi ethos and does not muck things up with things like Religious Humanism and any pesky critical views of Zionism and Ashkenazi hegemony.  All the usual prejudices can remain firmly in place.
 
It is a way to control the discourse on Sephardic identity and make the story not about the Sephardic heritage, but about Ashkenazim and how Ashkenazim understand what it means to be Jewish.
 
Reading the Gatestone article in light of what is happening in Israel, we see that Ashkenazi ways of seeing are not always the same as Sephardic ways of seeing.

David Shasha is the founder and director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York designed to raise awareness of the history and culture of Arab Jews.  He publishes the Sephardic Heritage Update, a weekly e-mail newsletter available on Google Groups.  He has written for publications such as the Huffington Post, Tikkun magazine, The Progressive Christian, and The American Muslim.  You can contact him at david.shasha.shu@gmail.com




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