1911: the birth of the Mizrahi–Ashkenazi controversy

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The question was simple: should the Hebraist Zionist movement in Ottoman Palestine invest in publishing a newspaper in Arabic and, if yes, should it be communitarian Jewish or general in its topics? What began as yet another obscure intra-Zionist deliberation gradually crystallized into what I argue merits the label of the earliest, explicitly Ashkenazi–Mizrahi ethnic controversy. This is with the smallest risk of the superimposition in hindsight of the terms and signifiers usually associated with Israel’s post-1971/Black-Panthers era onto the Ottoman period. Lasting between 1909 and 1913, the spirited exchange regarding the Arabic newspaper involved two dozen writers, mainly of the Sephardi–Mizrahi Haherut newspaper, and about one third of ethnic Ashkenazim writing elsewhere. It was nonetheless October 1911 that encapsulated the peak of the controversy, mainly due to writing by Mizrahi intellectual and activist Dr Shimon Moyal (1866–1915) and Ashkenazi intellectual and activist Dr Avraham Ludvipol (1865–1921). My decision to let primary texts speak for themselves at greater length than is customary results from my conviction that–in this case–extensive recourse to source material can convey best to twenty-first-century readers why the exchange is effectively “the mother” of all ensuing Mizrahi–Ashkenazi ethnic controversies. While clear definition for what constitutes such a controversy is provided, I close by offering a sample of views about the Arabic newspaper by four prominent Ashkenazi Zionists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-331
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Modern Jewish Studies
Issue number2
Early online date4 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2017


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