1954 film calls Mizrahim in Israel medieval “creatures from the Arabian night”

Israeli video artist Doron Solomons dug up a 1954 film about “Operation Ali Baba” (yes, that was the real name, although it was also known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah), the Israeli government’s airlift of Iraqi Jews into Israel.

The film is incredibly racist and patronizing.

In the beginning of the clip, the narrator welcomes the “handsome” Ashkenazi (European) policeman and says the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews are “unable to fathom, yet, what freedom will mean.”

The film says they looked “like creatures from the Arabian night.”

“It’s a colorful site, but scarcely a pretty one,” the narrator adds.

The film continues with clips of the tent camps the Israeli government set up for Mizrahim. (Ashkenazim got apartments; Mizrahim got flimsy tents.)

Describing their clothing, the narrator says, “a sort of weird costume ball unfolds in front of you: amusing, bizarre, pathetic.”

The clip concludes with the film asking, “You walk among them and you ponder: How much work, how much skilled effort will be needed to bridge the centuries, to take these representatives of the Middle Ages into a progressive Western civilization?”

The horrific history of racism against and exploitation of Mizrahim in Israel is not often discussed.

Naeim Giladi, an Iraqi Jew and former Zionist who risked his life in the underground movement to help establish Israel, later made a harsh break with Zionism.

In an interview, Giladi would later recall:

I was disillusioned at what I found in the Promised Land, disillusioned personally, disillusioned at the institutionalized racism, disillusioned at what I was beginning to learn about Zionism’s cruelties. The principal interest Israel had in Jews from Islamic countries was as a supply of cheap labor, especially for the farm work that was beneath the urbanized Eastern European Jews. Ben Gurion needed the “Oriental” Jews to farm the thousands of acres of land left by Palestinians who were driven out by Israeli forces in 1948.

And I began to find out about the barbaric methods used to rid the fledgling state of as many Palestinians as possible.

We took to the streets and organized politically to demand equal rights. If it’s our country, if we were expected to risk our lives in a border war, then we expected equal treatment.

We mounted the struggle so tenaciously and received so much publicity that the Israeli government tried to discredit our movement by calling us “Israel’s Black Panthers.” They were thinking in racist terms, really, in assuming the Israeli public would reject an organization whose ideology was being compared to that of radical blacks in the United States. But we saw that what we were doing was no different than what blacks in the United States were fighting against-segregation, discrimination, unequal treatment. Rather than reject the label, we adopted it proudly. I had posters of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and other civil rights activists plastered all over my office.

With the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Israeli-condoned Sabra and Shatilla massacres, I had had enough of Israel. I became a United States citizen and made certain to revoke my Israeli citizenship. I could never have written and published my book in Israel, not with the censorship they would impose.

Giladi added:

I write this article for the same reason I wrote my book: to tell the American people, and especially American Jews, that Jews from Islamic lands did not emigrate willingly to Israel; that, to force them to leave, Jews killed Jews; and that, to buy time to confiscate ever more Arab lands, Jews on numerous occasions rejected genuine peace initiatives from their Arab neighbors. I write about what the first prime minister of Israel called “cruel Zionism.” I write about it because I was part of it.