Thursday, February 04, 2010

A new Israeli keffiyeh kerfuffle

A Jewish Brooklyn website is advertising "the first ever Israeli Keffiyeh!"

Here is the rationale from Shemspeed's founder, Erez Safar:
My family originates from Yemen, where my ancestors had lived for close to 2,000 years. Nearly 100 years ago, my Grandmother’s side of the family decided to move to Adis Ababa, Ethiopia and then to Israel, in 1933 (Southern Syria/Mandate Palestine at the time). On my Grandfather’s side, our family emigrated to Israel in 1924. Jews indigenous to the Middle East, such as my family is, have worn some variation of the “kefyah” (cap/kippah) and keffiyah (head/neck scarves) for thousands of years. The original purpose of the scarves, was to provide protection from the sun and sand. We have had some Arab friends take offense to our new scarf-remix. In response to such, I thought it was essential to release this statement in order to clarify the historical facts on the ground and, to provide some context. I as a Jew am not offended by the Pope who wears a “kippah” and in the same respect, I don’t feel there is any reason for anyone taking offense to a Jewish person wearing a version of the Keffiyah which they identify with; especially considering the significance of this article of clothing in both of all of our histories. There are numerous variations of the Keffiyah today; the red and white Keffiyah is associated with Jordan and worn throughout the Middle East and Somalia and have been worn by Bedouins for centuries. The black and white Keffiyah, idolized in the 1960s by Yasser Arafat, has become the symbol of the Palestinian resistance movement. The way that symbols are politicized and used to divide people, rather than as common ground for discussion and dialogue is exactly the kind of thought-provoking topic that we at Shemspeed explore with our music, as well as our programming. Our Israeli remix of the Keffiyeh, available through Shemspeed, is just one more interpretation of a scarf worn by our brothers for thousands of years. We hope you enjoy them.

And not everyone is amused. After the UAE National newspaper picked up on the story from the Jerusalem Post, the Kipp Report whines:

Safar knows exactly what he’s doing. The ‘Israeli’ keffiyeh has not been created to keep off the notoriously hot sun or blinding sandstorms that hit Brooklyn at this time of year. It’s an attempt to make a mockery of this symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

As The National points out today, the likely row over a ‘Jewish’ keffiyeh will be the latest in a series of clashes over cultural symbols in the Middle East. In 2008, for example, a group of Lebanese businessmen announced plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus and tabouleh as ‘Israeli’.

But the creation of the ‘Israeli’ keffiyeh has somewhat raised the stakes. Safar has taken direct aim at this instantly-recognizable Arab symbol, and personal trademark of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Are these “young, hip US Jews” simply deluded, or are they being consciously antagonistic?

There is some deja vu here. A British company has been marketing the Keffiyeh Israelit (pictured, right) for years - and the Arabs have been complaining about it for just as long. (The British manufacturer used to visit and comment here.)

And the reason that Palestinian Arabs don't like Jews co-opting their keffiyeh? Because it symbolizes PalArab "resistance" - terrorism!

Meanwhile, in Nablus, the PalArabs are trying to set a new Guinness world record by creating the world's largest keffiyeh, 500 meters long. The Friends of Palestine group, which is sponsoring it, plans to complete the project in March and then will bring the scarf to refugee camps to cheer people up.