Cover of Safadi's album, Namrod, Troublemaker.
Cover of Safadi’s album, Namrod, Troublemaker.

Palestinian Jowan Safadi’s new song “To be An Arab” addresses Mizrahi Jews and informs them that they are actually Arab. The song is mostly in Hebrew, except towards the end where the Israeli flag daubed man playing a Mizrahi Jew is face to face with Safadi, who describes him as an “imported Arab.”

The lyrics spoken in Arabic include these lines:

You need to know where you came from
And where you’re going to
And what you’re gonna find
Standing in the streets and chanting death to Arabs and such shit
You’re an Arab man more fucked than I am

While many are applauding the song, the comments on the video point up some of the problems with the attitude of defining other people’s ethnicity for them, and failing to even mention the experiences of  Jews in Arab countries, including the Farhud in Iraq. For more on which, see Forget BaghdadAlso the Israeli film The Dove Flyer. Also the Other Arabs.

It’s a four minute song, of course, but it might strike the wrong chord to say that Mizrahi Jews don’t want to be Arab because being Arab is hard in a racist state, yet not acknowledge that being Jewish was hard in many Arab states. Lihi Yona reflects on these complexities in an article published back in 2011.

Music has long been a site where the lines between Arab/Jew are blurred, and it is often music through which the nostalgia for “back home” is channelled. See Ted Swedenburg’s talk on this:

This is the case even when there’s a bit of gymnastics to avoid saying the word Arab, and instead saying Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Andalusian etc, as with the Mediterranean Andalusian orchestra, which does quite a bit of straight up Egyptian tarab.

This is also a thing with food – in this entire video about Middle Eastern food, I think the word Arab is not mentioned once. There’s something awkward and contorted and defensive about this intersection of things that are both/and, not either/or. See IsraelCultureBuzz try to navigate the rough seas of this subject and come out looking good in this interview with Tom Cohen of the aforementioned orchestra.

Back to the Safadi video. It still troubles me. But go take a listen to some of his other songs here.

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