Translated from HaOkets (“the sting”), a site run by Itzik Saporta and Yossi Dahan of the Adva Center, a non-partisan, action-oriented Israeli policy analysis center. It was founded in 1991 by activists from three social movements: the movement for equality for Mizrahi Jews, the feminist movement, and the movement for equal rights for Arab citizens. This letter is also available in Hebrew and Arabic.

A New Spirit – A Letter from Jewish Descendants of the Countries of Islam

June 8th 2009

We, Israeli women and men descendants of ancestors from Arab and Islamic countries, hereby express our support for the new spirit that President Obama has expressed in his speech in Cairo – a spirit of reconciliation, realistic vision, the pursuit of justice and dignity, respect for the different religions, cultures and for all human beings.

We were born in Israel and Israelis we are. Our country is dear to us, and we would like to see it secure, just and prosperous for the benefit of its inhabitants. Simultaneously, the recent history into which we were born cannot erase a history of hundreds and thousands of years, during which our ancestors lived in the Middle East, in the vast areas under Muslim hegemony and in the Arab lands. Our fathers and mothers not only lived in the area since time immemorial, but were also part of the fabric of life and have contributed significantly to the development of the region and its culture. Today, as well, 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.

The history of the Jews in the lands of Islam contained painful moments. Yet a fair and realistic introspection reveals that the tough moments cannot hide or conceal a magnificent history of shared life. Muslim rule over the Jews was much more tolerant and courteous compared with non-Muslim countries, and the share of Jews in Muslim countries cannot be compared with the tragic fate of whole Jewish communities in other regions of the world, particularly in Europe.

One can view the last few decades as a period during which a deep chasm between the Jews and the Arab and Muslim world has been opened. We prefer to see these years as a painful yet temporary crack in a much longer history, that includes a shared past as well as a shared future. Thus, when we look at the map of our region, we see Israel as part of the Middle East, and not solely from the geographical perspective.

Judaism and Islam are not foreign to each other from religious, spiritual, historical and cultural perspectives. The partnership between these two religions extends into numerous past generations, yet the memory of this partnership has faded over the last decades, both in Israel as well as in the majority of the Muslim world, together with the memory of the unique history of Mizrahi Jewry (which today constitutes 50% of the Jewish population in Israel!). In the reconciliation process that is required between East and West, in the desired retreat from enmity and fear back to cooperation and co-existence, Mizrahi Jews and Judaism can and should embody a living bridge of remembrance, healing and partnership.

From our point of view the rift between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world cannot be a permanent one, since it splits our identities and our souls. As for the tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we hope that a fair solution of respect and mutual recognition will soon be found, one considerate of the hopes, fears and sorrows of the Palestinian side, as well as those of the Israeli side. We therefore express our support for the new spirit set forth by Mr. Obama in Cairo, and we are joining the hope for a future in which bridges of mutual respect and humanity will replace walls of suspicion, belligerence and hate, all in the spirit of justice and humanism that is shared by Judaism and Islam.

Signed (*): Kobee Oz (Tunis), Yossi Ohana (Morocco, Berberia), Hedva Eyal (Iran), Neta Alkayam (Marocco), Almog Bahar (Iraq), Mois Ben Harash (Morocco), Navit Barel (Tripoli, Lybia), Yael Barda (Tunis), Yizhak Gormazano Goren (Egypt), Bat-Shahar Gormazano Garfunkel (Egypt/Iraq), Yali Hasas (Lybia/Yemen), Claris Harbon (Morocco), Shlomit Leer (Iran), Dr. Nataly Mesika (Tunis), Shimon Mermelstein (Afganistan), Orli Noy (native of Iran), Yonit Naaman (Turkey/Yemen), Yehezkel Nafshi (Iraq), Yuval Ivri (Iraq), Adamit Pereh (Yemen), Yehezkel Rahamim (Iraq), Yodit Shahar (Turkey), Mati Shemoelof (Syria/Iran/Iraq), Naftali Shem Tov (Iran-Kurdistan/Iraq), Kzia’a Alon (Kurdistan/Bukhara), Yael Yisrael (Iran/Turkey), Dror Nissan (Tripoli, Lybia).

(*) [Yossi:] Apologies if I made too many mistakes in transliteration of the names from Hebrew.