Not The Enemy Israel's Jews from Arab Lands Rachel Shabi

Publication date:
20 Aug 2010
Yale University Press
320 pages: 138 x 216mm
Sales territories:
World excluding the U.S., the Philippine Islands, or Canada

Mention Israel and internal conflict, and most people immediately think of the seemingly insoluble Palestinian problem. However, as Rachel Shabi explains in this acclaimed book, there is another crucial division within Israeli society: between Ashkenazi Jews, whose families come from Europe, and Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews, who come from the Arab countries of the Middle East. Herself from an Iraqi Jewish family, Shabi explores the history of this relationship, tracing it back to the first days of the new state of Israel. In a society desperate to identify itself with Europe, immigrants who spoke Arabic and followed Middle Eastern customs were seen as inferior. Sixty years later, such prejudices are still in force. As Shabi demonstrates, Mizrahis are strikingly less successful than Ashkenazis, condemned, often, to substandard education, low-quality housing and mockery for their accents, tastes and lifestyles. Not only does this damage Mizrahi lives and hopes; it also reflects a wider Israeli rejection of the Middle East and its culture that makes it impossible for Israel ever to become integrated within its own region.

Rachel Shabi was born in Israel to Iraqi parents and grew up in England. A journalist, she has written for a variety of national and international newspapers, including the Guardian, the Sunday Times, and the Independent.

"Rachel Shabi’s revealing examination of Mizrahi culture, and its dismissal by the Ashkenazi – or European – elite of Israel, is a timely reminder that the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict is as much about culture as it is about land … [Shabi’s] account of [the Mizrahi’s] vibrant culture is fascinating."-  Siona Jenkins, Financial Times, 31st January 2009

“… an eye-opening book … Not The Enemy is … a disturbing and important document, which should be read by everyone worried about what its author calls the “corrosive, entrenched polarity” of the Middle East.” - Gerald Jacobs, Daily Telegraph


“Shabi…carefully builds a convincing and readable narrative of how a section of Israeli society has been discriminated against since the formation of the state [of Israel].” - Richard Crowley, Irish Times

“…Shabi offers an unsettling illustration of the successive Ashkenazi-dominated government’s discrimination…(and) builds a compelling case against the simplistic portrayal of Arab Jews.” - Jonathan Mok,


“Using eye-witness accounts, Shabi lays down the full spectrum of experience of the Oriental/Mizrahi Jews in modern Israel … Shabi’s important book is … a wake up call to modern Israeli society. For a nation to be able to call itself a true democracy, all of its citizens must feel equally enabled and valued.” - Miriam Halahmy, Jewish Chronicle

“A British educated Iraqi Jew recently transplanted to Tele-Aviv, Shabi is well placed to catalogue the ongoing woes of Mizrahi Jews … Shabi’s book tugs the cultural map of Israel back towards a more accurate version of history, paying homage to the musical, literary, theatrical and academic traditions of Arab Jews … On the evidence of her own lively intelligence, Shabi will do the Mizrahi cause proud…’ - Marina Benjamin, Evening Standard