Posts

Middle Eastern Anti-Semitism

When I was 18, I traveled for months in Turkey, Turkish Kurdistan and Morocco. The Middle East is always interesting for a girl alone, but for a one with an agenda it can be particularly informative. And agenda I had! … Read More

By / March 12, 2007

When I was 18, I traveled for months in Turkey, Turkish Kurdistan and Morocco. The Middle East is always interesting for a girl alone, but for a one with an agenda it can be particularly informative. And agenda I had! I was going to combat Islamic Anti-Semitism, one unwilling listener at a time. Throughout most of my Middle Eastern travels, I was proudly, vocally Jewish. In Williamsburg I’m an atheist. But, in Diyarbaker, scarcely had I been introduced to someone- whether liberal college student or 70-year-old mullah, and on I was. “I’m Jewish!” I would chirp, big smile even though I was wearing a full coverage outfit in 90 degree heat. Responses varied. “As long as you believe in god,” said an earnest matron in Marrakesh. In Mardin, along the Syrian border, an engineering student had a different reaction. “Are you not Israeli?” “No” “Do you speak Hebrew?” “No” “Were you in the Israeli army?” “No” “Do you want to kill all Muslim babies and take over the Middle East?” “Certainly not” “Lets have tea” He called me for the next three years, promising me that I could keep my Jewish faith in marriage, and even call our son Isaac. In the holy city of Sanliurfa in Eastern Turkey, a very friendly kilim salesman and me were talking about New York. “The bombing, terrible”, he said, greatly sympathetic. “The Jews all knew and escaped” Seizing my chance at conversion, I let loose with a long harangue about conspiracy theories, Judaism, and how many, many Jews died on September 11th. “Would you like more tea,” he responded. In my experience, Anti-Semitism is rabid in the Middle East. Hanging out with a family in Fez, I heard children’s chanting out the window. “What are they saying?” I asked, imagining some picturesque local custom. My friend Fatima giggled. “They’re telling the dirty Jews to go into the sea.” In 2003, in between coverage of the anti-Bush protests, TV stations blared constant footage of Israeli tanks demolishing Palestinian homes. But they were always just described as “The Jews”. But the Anti-Semitism was oddly theoretical too, and my big mouth never got me in trouble. Confronted with an actual Jew, most people got over it rather quickly. At 5’2, I look pretty harmless. And never, as in France, did people continue ranting about “The Jew” once they knew where I came from. I haven’t been back to the Middle East since 2004. I wonder how it is now, if I’d still get the same response.

Tagged with: