I recently posted about a Jerusalem Arab that I had met. A close friend commented that he had enjoyed what I had written, but he hadn’t liked the racist part. I was shocked as I’ve never considered myself to be anything of the sort. It transpired that he was referring to my use of the word “Arab”:
“He (Yossi) assured me that we would easily find an excellent Arab who would be more than happy to drop everything and provide a solution to our predicament for a mere pittance…”
I dismissed this criticism as absurd, but a few hours later heard on the news about a car accident. The driver who had committed the crime was described as being of “Arab background (מוצא).” This seemed quite strange as it would be the kind of term that I’d use to describe someone whose ancestors had been Arabs, but he was not. The gentleman in question was clearly an Arab. For the first time I asked myself whether at some point it had become politically incorrect to call an Arab an Arab, and I had never noticed.
Before anybody asks me how I feel to be called a Jew I shall preempt that question and say that nothing pleases me more. I never particularly enjoyed being called a “Jew boy” as a child, or occasionally a “kike”, however, the word Jew never upset me, but made my heart swell with pride. Regarding the term “Yid” it usually depended who was saying it and how it was being said. Coming from an Anti-Semite with a cockney accent and a knuckle-duster I did find it offensive, but when my father and his friend Norman the watchmaker affectionately called each other “Yid”, with an Anglo-Yiddish accent, it sounded fine.
Back to the term Arab, there was an interesting incident in the last US presidential election when one of John McCain’s supporters said to him:
“I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him. He’s an Arab.”
The senator made an enormous blunder by replying:
“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”
Rightly, McCain was criticized for thus, albeit unintentionally, implying that an Arab could not be “a decent family man and citizen”. If I had to explain what the Republican nominee for president meant, he was acknowledging the lady’s bigotry and saying that Obama had none of the negative characteristics that she apparently associates with Arabs. From a Factual point of view, Obama is simply not an Arab and has no Arab roots. He may be of part Moslem origin, but the President was born in Hawaii to a mother of German descent and to a Kenyan-born father.
It would be naïve to deny that Arabs are often stereotyped and I once heard an American Arab complaining that in movies the men are all terrorists and the women are all belly-dancers. However, is the solution to change the term being used?
Even the The ADC (The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) seem to have fallen into the trap of identifying themselves as “..a civil rights organization committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent..” Why not just say American Arabs? The ADL proudly say that it is there “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people” not people of Jewish descent.
Were I an Arab, I would say, “Let’s stop being ashamed of what we are. Let’s stop playing with words. Let’s call ourselves Arabs – American Arabs, British Arabs, all kinds of Arabs. Let’s be proud of our nation. And if there’s anything not to be proud of, let’s change it, not the word Arab.”
Charlie Chaplin was once asked whether he was a Jew and he answered:
“No, I am afraid that I am not so lucky that I can call myself a Jew.”
Let being called an Arab be a source of pride too. And next time a (non-Arab) US politician is called an Arab let him proudly say:
“No, I am afraid that I am not so lucky that I can call myself an Arab.”
Judah (the Jew)