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The ‘Israeli’ keffiyeh: just more petty antagonism

The ‘Israeli’ keffiyeh: just more petty antagonism

In the latest tit-for-tat war over cultural symbols, a group of “young, hip US Jews” has created a version of the traditional Arab headdress emblazoned with the Star of David.

February 2, 2010 10:44 by

The Jerusalem Post attempts to cast it as a trendy accessory for “young, hip US Jews”. But it doesn’t take an expert on Middle Eastern affairs to tell you what the so-called ‘Israeli’ keffiyeh is about. For it’s simply next petty provocation in an ongoing tit-for-tat war over cultural symbols.

According to the newspaper, a Jewish music label in New York has started selling a version of the traditional Arab headdress, emblazoned with the Star of David and the Hebrew slogan “Am Israel Chai” (“The Nation of Israel Lives”) embroidered into the fabric.

“It might be considered by some as a symbol of Palestinian “resistance” or solidarity, but for a group of young, hip US Jews, wearing a keffiyeh – especially one with blue embroidered Stars of David – is just as much their right as anyone else’s,” said the Jerusalem Post.

DJ and producer Erez Safar, founder and director of Brooklyn-based Shemspeed, which sells the ‘Israeli’ keffiyeh, said that it was created “for the unity it creates among Jews”.

Safar released a statement on the Shemspeed website, ostensibly “in order to prevent anyone from taking offense”.

“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.  When it comes to religious observance, the Muslim tradition of head covering originates from the Jewish tradition,” claimed Safar on the website.

“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,” the statement added.

Yeah, right.

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?

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  1. Abraham B on February 3, 2010 6:16 am

    You must be very historically ignorant to think that the Keffiyeh is strictly an Arab Symbol and not one of the Middle Eastern culture as a whole. Jews have been spread out from Morocco to Iran starting from before Islam, through the cascades of various Islamic empires, until now.

    Did you know that the Pact of Umar, written in the 700s, Jews were forbidden (and other religious minorities from Muslims) from wearing any clothes that resembled Muslim clothes. First of all, this is not strictly an Arab symbol as Persians wear keffiyehs, Berbers, Assyrians, Pakistanis, and the list goes on.

    But my point is, that after this law was written into existence, Jews have been photographed and otherwise recorded into history wearing this headdress. This may inadvertently be a cultural war, but do you really think that this Jewish person, who has roots from the Muslim Empires, cannot partake in the current stream of globalized capitalism and market something which he so desires? It is unfortunate if it offends someone, but in reality, take it at face value. Jews don’t get mad at the Pope for wearing a “Kippah” (Head covering), which any observant Jew wears everyday. And Jews have had enough historical problems with the pope…

    Did you know that prior to the 1940s, Jews numbered about 1/3 of the population of Baghdad, and dominated the businesses there? Do you think these people did not wear keffiyehs? If you answered yes ,then you should stroll down New York City and see if any Jews are wearing blue jeans. Then go to Palestine and call anyone wearing blue jeans an American cultural affront.

    This is preposterous and of poor journalistic integrity. Are you simply deluded or are you being consciously antagonistic? Making a mountain out of a molehill? Maybe next time I put on a sport’s jacket I will smile at my cultural stab at Great Britain…

    I don’t mind your opinion, but I don’t like your negativity and sarcasm towards Mr. Safar.

  2. Nick on February 3, 2010 8:54 am

    If there ever was any doubt whether Kippreport was a serious news aggregator or – as other local ‘newspapers’ – an amateurish arselicking opinion rag and mouthpiece of the ubiquitous regional Anti-Zionism, it was cleared today…

    I wonder sometimes – wouldn’t it be just wonderful to be Arab? Never having to have any doubt where all the problems in the world stem from – with Israel always there to blame? Academic and economic underachievement in the Arab world, Lebastinan fraternicide, the bad weather in Europe this year and your ingrown toe nails – Khallas – all Israel’s fault!

    Now the Palestinian’s favourite headgear is being mocked! Whatever next? Israelis sporting beards? A mockery of the Prophet surely! Israelis wearing sandals? They must be making fun of Gaza fashion!

    Palestinians sulkingly revel in their ‘victimhood’ as their singular defining raison d’etre; and isn’t convenient, too? WIthout Israel to blame for everything they might even have to pull themselves up by their sandal straps and get on with life…

  3. Karin on February 3, 2010 9:42 am

    The Jewish talit, a ritual prayer shawl, has been used in the religion for a few thousand years. It much resembles the “Judaized” kafiieh in the associated photo.

    The same way lesbians started calling themselves dykes, and blacks niggers, is to re-shape the meaning of symbols, words and stereotypes – to give them less power. The fact that Jewish activists are trying to rebrand a symbol associated with a terrorist faction is a positive action. And besides, didn’t the kaffieh come into use in the Arab world during the British mandate?

  4. Andrew on February 4, 2010 8:59 am

    Taxi for Kipp.

  5. Omri on February 5, 2010 5:39 am

    Consciously antagonistic. Self-righteous terror apologists deserve this kind of tweak in the nose.

  6. Tariq on February 12, 2010 6:17 am

    People don’t seem to comprehend that the issue is not about Jews wearing the kuffiyah. It’s about Zionism desecrating the kuffiyah by ripping it of its’ symbolism and imbuing it with characteristics of a state, obviously Israel, that views Arabs as non-human. This is akin to a Nazi printing a swastika on a kippah.

  7. Abraham B on February 19, 2010 4:58 pm

    Tariq – This is not about Zionists. This is about a business opportunity for a Jew from New York…

  8. John on February 22, 2010 1:23 pm

    Sounds like the Arabs are the ones being petty…if not for the Jewish Tallit the Arabs wouldnt even have a keffiyeh to begin with

  9. Y-Love on February 25, 2010 2:10 am

    As one of the artists on Shemspeed Records, I can tell you that there is no monolithic group of “young, hip, US Jews”. The “Israeli keffiyeh” has actually caused a rift in the Jewish music arena — with non-Zionist and leftist Jewish artists, such as myself, resenting being caught up in a “party line” to which we vehemently do not subscribe. Mr. Safar is not representing some group of “young, hip, US Jews” who all agree on “antagonizing Palestinians” — far from it.

    (As an aside, saying “the Arabs are the ones being petty” is also offensive.)

    In fact, Safar himself invented the Hiphop Sulha, the yearly event which brings together Jewish and Muslim MCs, which has built many bridges in communities worldwide. My debut album features a Palestinian MC, and I have been involved in Muslim-Jewish unity and Muslim-Jewish relations for the better part of the last decade.

    Many of us in the Jewish music scene, and even on Shemspeed Records, are vocal in our support for Palestinian self-determination and the rights of the Palestinian people — and it would be a pity for one keffiyeh to be the blindfold that stops the entire world from seeing us out there.

    Shalom IS salaam. Peace and unity.

  10. Paige on July 10, 2010 8:33 am

    People keep commenting about the Israeli Keffiyeh saying “This isn’t about the Jews wearing Keffiyeh, it’s about it having words about the Israeli state on it and about Zionism”.

    Keffiyeh is rarely worn anymore, but the people who wear it the most are the Palestinians. They wear it as a symbol of unity and pride against Israel. There are even red and white Keffiyeh (Palestinian colors) saying “Jerusalem is ours” in Arabic.

    No one can say that it’s about Zionism if there are anti-Zionist ones as well. And no one can say it’s about Zionism especially because it says “The Nation of Israel Lives”.

    The Nation of Israel are the Jewish people, descended from Jacob (renamed Israel by God/Allah). They are considered a Nation of people, one, so they cannot be separated even if they are physically. The words on the Keffiyeh just proclaim that no matter what happens to us, no matter what adversity there is, we as a Jewish Nation exist still. And there is a LOT of adversity.

    The fact that it is Israeli colors is because that is the only thing we have to cling to as a Nation of peoples. Palestine has their colors, we have ours.

    Personally, i don’t support either side. i think we should just all get along. Which is what Shemspeed wants to do. You attack Erez Safar, but do you know what Shemspeed even does?

    Shemspeed has produced music in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic. They produce music with Muslims and Palestinians.

    Try researching before you attack please.

  11. Penny on November 24, 2011 10:17 am

    Supporters of the Palestinians have appropriated highly emotive language from historically sensitive times – such as ‘apartheid’, ‘genocide’ and even ‘Nazi’ – in order to demonise and deligitimise the state of Israel.

    And the author of this article believes a scarf is antagonistic?

    You really couldn’t make it up.


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