Rewriting the History of Zionism
After its electoral victory in 1977, the Likud encouraged its supporters to rewrite the history of Zionism to accord more substantial weight to the revisionist Zionist movement and to its heavily Mizrahi electorate. This was not a particularly coherent project because Vladimir Jabotinsky and the revisionists had been almost as insistently Eurocentric as the labor Zionists. Support for the Likud developed among Mizrahim primarily as a response to feelings of neglect by MAPAI/Labor governments after they arrived in Israel.
In response to the Likud initiatives, supporters of the Labor Party and MAPAM began to document the history of their activists in Middle Eastern countries. One such project was a series of public roundtables on “Jewish Defense in the Lands of the East” organized by the Institute for Research on the Zionist and Pioneering Movement in the Lands of the East at Yad Tabenkin, the research and study center of ha-Kibutz ha-Me’uhad (now part of TAKAM, the United Kibutz Movement), a federation historically affiliated with the Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah Party. Yad Tabenkin also initiated a new journal devoted to the history of Zionism in the Middle East: Shorashim ba-Mizrah (Roots in the East). “Illegal Immigration (ha‘apalah) and Defense in Egypt” was the title of one of these colloquies at which the oral testimony of Egyptian Zionist activists and the emissaries dispatched from Palestine and Israel to lead them was featured.
This event was organized by Shlomo Barad, a Tunisian-born veteran of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and member of Kibutz Karmiah. He had no direct tie to Egypt, but as a Mizrahi member of the Zionist organization that had been most active in Egypt in the late 1940s, he felt an obligation to set the record straight. Relying on the oral testimony of the participants in the roundtable and other sources, he published the first comprehensive history of Zionist activity in Egypt. Barad affirmed and elaborated on the perspective of the Egyptian Zionist activists:
After the arrest of most of the leaders of the Zionist organizations, adult and youth, [in May 1948] a new leadership for the confused Jewish masses emerged outside the internment camps in the form of the youth of the Zionist underground.…The news was whispered in every Jewish home that an organization existed which encouraged ‘aliyah to Israel, and that it was the only means of exodus from exile to deliverance (ha-yetzi’ah min ha-golah le-ge’ulah).
Like most Zionist ideologues, Barad sees ‘aliyah as the inevitable, redemptive telos of Jewish existence, which is not indefinitely sustainable in “exile.” He unquestioningly imputes this consciousness to the inhabitants of “every Jewish home” in Egypt, affirming their full participation in Jewish national history and the labor Zionist movement before the establishment of the state of Israel. No one at the roundtable addressed the questions about identity, dispersion, and retrieval of identity that have been the central concerns of this volume.
The speakers at the Yad Tabenkin symposium eagerly seized the opportunity provided by the occasion to secure their places in Zionist and Israeli history. Ada Aharoni confirmed the official Zionist paradigm of Jewish history even as she disputed its Eurocentric version by insisting, “Zionism was not imported into Egypt [by emissaries from Palestine]. It was there.” This conclusion, she asserted, emerged from the research she had done for her novel, The Second Exodus, a romance set in the milieu of the Zionist youth movements of Egypt (see below).
David Harel spoke at the Yad Tabenkin symposium, recounting his exploits as one of the underground youth leaders of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir referred to by Shlomo Barad in the previous quote. Harel has consistently affirmed the Zionist potential of the Egyptian Jewish community. Several years later he told a reporter for a Passover edition of the Jerusalem Post, “Already by the time I was 10 or 11 I didn't identify myself as an Egyptian.…I felt we were strangers in Egypt. I started to think about how I would get to Israel.” 
David Harel and Ada Aharoni were members of the gar‘in of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir members who settled in Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer. Their Zionist and socialist commitments encouraged them to imagine the land of Israel as an ideal space—a national homeland to be rebuilt and the site of the Jewish contribution to the worldwide proletarian revolution. Like many adherents of revolutionary ideologies in the twentieth century, they were frustrated by the social materialities they encountered on the road to realizing their vision. In Chapter 5, I argued that their expulsion from the kibutz suggests that they could not easily shed aspects of the cultural and political identities they brought with them to Israel despite their strong Zionist commitments. But this was not a subject for discussion at the Yad Tabenkin roundtable or in the Passover supplement of the Jerusalem Post. Instead, the memories they evoked on these occasions of public commemoration expanded on the image of Egyptian Jewry previously established by Sami ‘Atiyah and his organization. Not only were Egyptian Jews persecuted like European Jews and alienated from the lands of their birth; they independently realized that Zionism and immigration to Israel offered the solution to their predicament. The history, culture, and Israeli social status of the Jews of Egypt was valorized by presenting them in a form that conformed to the norms of Zionist discourse. Because the testimonies offered at the Yad Tabenkin roundtable and many similar occasions confirmed the Israeli national narrative, most of the public has not been anxious to cross-examine them too closely.