Thursday, April 21, 2011
An ‘Israeli Remix’ of a Palestinian Scarf
Two years ago, under pressure from conservative bloggers, Dunkin’ Donuts called off an ad campaign featuring Rachael Ray because she was photographed wearing a black and white scarf that looked like a keffiyeh. One of the bloggers, the conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, argued that the scarf was inappropriate because “the keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.”
Palestinians counter that the keffiyeh is indeed symbol, one of identity and resistance, not terrorism. Over the last several years the scarf has even entered the mainstream, as a sort of radical chic accessory. But now a Jewish D.J. in Brooklyn finds himself defending his right to market what he calls an “Israeli remix of the keffiyeh,” featuring the Star of David.
An article last week in the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National compared the effort by Jewish hipsters like Erez Safar to claim the keffiyeh for themselves as just the latest in a series of battles over symbols of Middle Eastern culture whose appropriation by Israelis has enraged Arabs. The National’s report began like this:
First it was the hummus war. Then it was the tabouleh war. Now get ready for the keffiyeh war.
By contrast, an article on the new version of the scarf in The Jerusalem Post began:
It might be considered by some as a symbol of Palestinian ‘resistance’ or solidarity, but for a group of young, hip U.S. Jews, wearing a keffiyeh — especially one with blue embroidered Stars of David — is just as much their right as anyone else’s.
Mr. Safer, the D.J., is based in Brooklyn. He told the Israeli newspaper his company had gotten “some negative comments” when they started selling the blue and white “Israeli Keffiyeh,” which features a Hebrew slogan — “Am Israel Chai,” meaning “The Nation of Israel Lives” — as well as Stars of David. “We have had some Arab friends take offense to our new scarf remix,” he told the paper. Mr. Safer, who performs under the name Diwon, added:
We have some Muslim rappers who have taken part in our Hip Hop Sulha series, which is a Jewish and Muslim reconciliation concert series featuring hip-hop groups from around the world. We are having a concert in February, and one of the performers has actually backed out because of these scarves.
In response to the criticism, Mr. Safer posted a statement on TheKef.com, where he is selling the scarf, which reads in part:
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 Addis 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 keffiyeh (head/neck scarves) for thousands of years. [...]
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 keffiyeh which they identify with; especially considering the significance of this article of clothing in both of all of our histories. [...]
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.
Mr. Safer told The Post that the scarf was designed by Baruch Chertok, who has a line of Jewish-themed clothing called Dveykus. According to Mr. Safer, “Chertok happened upon a Jewish pro-Palestinian rally where Jews wearing keffiyehs were demonstrating for Palestinian rights, and that was all the inspiration it took.”
As a D.J. embedded in the world of hip-hop, Mr. Safer clearly has a different perspective on the concept of appropriation and remixing than people angered by the scarf. But according to a 2006 post on the blog Jewschool, the maker of an earlier blue and white keffiyeh with a Star of David pattern, Mark Israel, created it for more explicitly nationalistic reasons:
The Khaffiya has become a trendy accessory among students but has obvious connections to the Arab cause preventing Jews from wearing it. Our idea was to produce an Jewish/Israeli version that would allow the wearer to identify themselves with Israel and at the same time be fashionable… to allow Jewish people to wear this popular item without any reference to being a supporter of Arab or anti-Israel groups.
Beniton the Menace rockin the Israeli Keffiyeh
Heads up! It’s the new ‘Israeli keffiyeh’
“People view Jews as Eastern European and forget Arab Jews are also a massive part of our nation,” says young US Jew.
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.
“We did have some negative comments [about the keffiyeh] when we initially sent it out to our mailing list,” Erez Safar, founder and director of Shemspeed, a Jewish music label and promotion company that started selling the traditional Arab headdress about two weeks ago, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“I think people tend to view Jews as Eastern European and often forget that Arab Jews are also a massive part of our nation,” continued Safar, a.k.a. DJ/Producer Diwon, whose family on one side originates from and on the other from Yemen, and pre-state Israel.
“Jews indigenous to the , such as my family, have worn some variation of the kefyah [cap/kippa] and keffiyeh [head/neck scarves] for thousands of years,” he said.
“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,” Safar said.
However, he is not oblivious to the fact that this new “Israeli keffiyeh,” which has been selling fairly well, has already engendered controversy among some who feel it might be inappropriate for Jews to use it as a pro-Israel symbol.
“We have had some Arab friends take offense to our new scarf-remix,” acknowledged Safar. “We have some Muslim rappers who have taken part in our Hip Hop Sulha series, which is a Jewish and Muslim reconciliation concert series featuring Hip Hop groups from around the world. We are having a concert in February and one of the performers has actually backed out because of these scarves.”
In an attempt to put people’s minds at ease, Safar this week released a press statement to clarify the historical facts and to provide some context.
“As a Jew, I am not offended by the pope who wears a ‘kippa,’ and in the same respect, I don’t feel there is any reason for anyone to take offense to a Jewish person wearing a version of the keffiyeh, which they also identify with,” he said in the statement.
“There are numerous variations of the keffiyeh today; the red and white keffiyeh is associated with and is worn throughout the . It has also been worn by Beduin for centuries. The black and white keffiyeh, idolized in the 1960s by Egyptian-born PLO founder Yasser Arafat, has become the symbol of the Palestinian resistance movement,” Safar said.
“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 want to explore with our music, as well as our programming. Our Israeli remix of the keffiyeh is just one more interpretation of a scarf worn by our brothers for thousands of years.”
According to Safar, the idea for the Israeli keffiyeh was born out of a trip to taken by the New York-based design veteran Baruch Chertok from the Jewish clothing line Dveykus. On his way to , Chertok had a layover in and was struck by the fact that the keffiyeh-looking scarves were worn on the streets and prominently displayed in all the stores.
After arriving here, said Safar, “Chertok happened upon a Jewish pro-Palestinian rally where Jews wearing keffiyehs were demonstrating for Palestinian rights, and that was all the inspiration it took.”
Safar said that the scarves, which also have “Am Israel Chai” embroidered in Hebrew into the fabric, were created purely to express a deep love for and “the unity it creates among Jews.”