Heads up! It’s the new “Israeli keffiyeh”

(Photo by: Ruth Eglash)

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.”


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