For nearly half a decade, the blue and white Israeli keffiyah has been the unofficial trademark of the Zionist Freedom Alliance. ZFA activists in Israel and on American campuses have been known to sport the Star-of-David clad headscarf as a symbol of support for Israel in general and for the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria in particular.
But last month it became clear that the trend has caught on and spread from political activism to Jewish popular culture.
Shemspeed, a Jewish music label and promotional company in the United States, has released an updated version of the ZFA keffiyah embroidered with the Hebrew words Am Yisrael Chai (The People of Israel Live). According to Shemspeed founder and director Erez Safar, who also produces music under the alias of DJ Diwon, Jews have just as much right as Arabs to wear the keffiyah.
“Jews indigenous to the [Middle East], such as my family, have worn some variation of the kefyah [cap/kippa] and keffiyah 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.”
While Benny Katz of the ZFA expressed satisfaction that the Israeli keffiyah has caught on beyond his organization, he stressed to Israel National News that the headscarf carries a strong Zionist message. “In ancient times, it was common for Hebrews to wear keffiyot, but the rise of Islam brought with it a series of laws that gave non-Muslims an inferior position in society. Synagogues could not be built higher than mosques, and Jews could not ride atop animals for fear that they would appear higher than Muslims. As the keffiyah came to be seen as the crown of the Arabs and its wearer was attributed an honorable status, non-Muslims were forbidden from wearing such garments.
“With the rebirth of the Jewish nation in our homeland, there are voices calling Israel back to our authentic national culture. The Israeli keffiyah is part of this trend. Its wearer is making a clear statement that – like the Arab, Kurd and Druze – the Jew is a Middle Easterner and is indigenous to this region. The Israeli keffiyah is a proud symbol of Jewish nationalism but also a statement of solidarity with the other peoples of the Middle East.
"By wearing it, we proclaim a desire for peace with our neighbors balanced with an equally strong proclamation that our people have a legitimate right to sovereignty in our entire country. In today's post-exile Jewish reality, we will no longer allow foreign antagonists to rob us of our homeland or of our culture.”