Friday, March 24, 2017

BBC radio tells a Calcutta family's story

 With thanks: Avril

 The Maghen David synagogue in Calcutta

There is just under a month left to listen to Ben Judah's family story on BBC Radio 4. It's a Jewish story with a difference, lyrically told; sad, yet offering some hope.

Ben's ancestors - the Judahs, the Ezras, the Belilios and the Sassooons  - settled in Calcutta from Baghdad, beginning in the 18th century. Today, there is little trace of these great trading families except in sepia-coloured photos and on the gravestones that lie behind a paddy field in the Calcutta Jewish cemetery .

Trading - in jute, spices, opium - ran in the Judahs' blood. They were part of the Baghdadi community, who 'spoke Arabic, prayed in Hebrew, and longed to be English'. Calcutta was the jewel in a necklace of bustling ports established by the British in India and the Far East.

The Calcutta Jewish story, founded by Shalom Cohen from Aleppo,  is almost over, says Ben. From 4,000 Jews, only 20 remain to light a forlorn candle on Friday nights. No rabbi, no weddings, no children, only funerals. Their descendants have moved to Britain, to Israel, to Australia.

So far, so lyrical. Ben goes into romantic overdrive when he claims that Jews felt close to Muslims - 'faiths destined to live together' whether in India or in Israel.

(It is true that Jewish households employed Muslim cooks and trained them in the culinary arts of Baghdad. The reason, according to Mavis Hyman in 'The Jews of the Raj', was not so much 'disgust at pork', but  that high caste Hindus would not  cook in non-vegetarian households. On the other hand, Jews could go out to Hindu shops to  purchase vegetarian pastries, in the certain knowledge that these foods met 'kosher' standards.)

Ben Judah's programme does not emphasise enough that the rigidly-stratified communities of India remained hermetically separate. Hyman quotes an Englishman in the early 20th century describing Calcutta as 'a city of gulfs where nobody knew anybody outside their particular sphere.'

But Ben does explain that the British sphere was perhaps the most impenetrable. No Jews were ever admitted to British clubs. He describes how an uncle, wishing to escape the impending strife between Hindus and Muslims in the 1940s, attempted to convert his British subjecthood into citizenship, by arguing that he was of 'European culture': he failed. He was too 'dusky' to cross the colonial barrier.

Unlike Jews who escaped the Holocaust and pogroms of Europe, the Baghdadi Jews who left Calcutta 'arrived and left happily'. The Jews of India had never experienced persecution. (But this does not mean that the 'white' Baghdadi Jews did not discriminate against the 'brown' Bnei Israel, who traced their history back 2,000 years.)

The authorities in Calcutta are busy restoring three synagogues. Ben Judah concludes his programme with the moving and important point that these buildings, though destined to remain silent, will be lasting memorials to a culture now lost in the places where the founders of the Calcutta community came from. The Great Synagogue in Aleppo has been destroyed; the Great Synagogue of Baghdad is inaccessible.

Another important difference:  Jews will continue to be able to visit the graves of their ancestors. 

Destiny and the Migrant by Ben Judah, BBC Radio 4 (15 mins)


Thursday, March 23, 2017

'Where are your Jews?': Neuer speech goes viral

UN Watch director Hillel Neuer's dramatic rebuttal of a UN Human Rights Council report accusing Israel of 'apartheid' and 'ethnic cleansing' has now gone viral. 'Where are your Jews?' he asked the Arab states behind the report. A stunned silence descended on the chamber. It was perhaps the first time that the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab states had been mentioned in a world forum. Here is a transcript of the debate at the Times of Israel. 

 Hillel Neuer
UN Watch (Executive Director Hillel Neuer): Mr. President, let me begin by putting the following on the record: Everything we just heard — from the world’s worst abusers of human rights, of women’s rights, of freedom of religion, of the press, of assembly, of speech — is absolutely false; and, indeed, Orwellian.

Today’s report does not consider Israelis to be deserving of human rights — consistent with the approach of this council, where today’s notorious agenda item against Israel completely ignores their human rights.

Over the weekend, President Abbas announced he was giving his highest medal to Rima Khalaf, who resigned from the Economic and Social Commission of Western Asia, a Beirut-based UN agency of 18 Arab states, after Secretary General Guterres rightly instructed her to remove an absurd report which accused Israel of “apartheid.”

Mr. President, why is Mr. Abbas celebrating a report written by the notorious Richard Falk, after his own Palestinian Mission here, tried in 2010, to remove Mr. Falk on the basis that he was “a partisan of Hamas,” as we know from WikiLeaks?

The accusation against Israel is absurd. Israel’s 1.5 million Arabs…

[Interruption with objections by Palestinians, Egypt, and Pakistan.]
President gives UN Watch back the floor.
Thank you, Mr. President.

Israel’s 1.5 million Arabs, whatever challenges they face, enjoy full rights to vote and to be elected in the Knesset, they work as doctors and lawyers, they serve on the Supreme Court.

Now I’d like to ask the members of that commission, that commissioned that report, the Arab states from which we just heard. Egypt, Iraq, and the others:
How many Jews live in your countries? How many Jews lived in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco?

Once upon a time, the Middle East was full of Jews.
Algeria had 140,000 Jews. Algeria, where are your Jews?
Egypt used to have 75,000 Jews. Where are your Jews?
Syria, you had tens of thousands of Jews. Where are your Jews?
Iraq, you had over 135,000 Jews. Where are your Jews?

Mr. President, where is the apartheid?
Why is there a UN commission on the Middle East that does not include Israel? From the 1960s and the ‘70s they refuse to include Israel. Where is the apartheid, Mr. President?

Mr. President, why are we meeting today on an agenda item singling out only one state, the Jewish state, for targeting.

Where is the apartheid, Mr. President?

UNHRC chamber goes silent.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dudu Tassa to tour US with iconic UK band


Another BDS fail: Israeli musician and grandson of Daoud al-Kuwaity Dudu Tassa have been asked to be the opening act to the British rock band Radiohead on their US tour. (But had Dudu's music not been fashionably cross-cultural and his band called 'the Tel Avivians' instead of 'The Kuwaitis', would he still have been invited?)  i 24 News reports (with thanks: Lily):

Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis, an Israeli band with Jewish and Arab performers, has been invited to join iconic British alternative rock band Radiohead on their US tour as an opening act, Radiohead announced on Twitter Tuesday.

"Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis will support Radiohead on their US headline dates, beginning in Miami on March 30th," Radiohead tweeted.

According to the group's website, Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis is a "cross-cultural joint Jewish-Arabic project from Israel which revives the music of the Al-Kuwaiti Brothers - composers of some of the most popular Iraqi songs from the early 20th century."

The Al- Kuwaiti brothers were Dudu Tassa's grandfather and great uncle, Jewish Iraqis who immigrated to Israel in the 1950s.

 Read article in full

The Al-Kuwaity brothers are back!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Arab states, where are your Jews?

That paragon of virtue, the UN Council for Human Rights, frequently accuses Israel of 'apartheid' and 'ethnic cleansing', in the hope that if you repeat a lie often enough, it will stick.

If there is one man who is inured to the international verbal lynch mob, it is UN Watch representative Hillel Neuer. At the 20 March session, his speech was interrupted by Egypt, Palestine and Pakistan, but he managed to reduce the chamber to silence with one sentence: 'Where are your Jews?'

 'The Arab world used to be full of Jews', he said. 'Algeria once had 140,000. Algeria, where are your Jews? Egypt had 75,000. Egypt, where are your Jews?' And so he went on, enumerating all the Arab states sitting on the Council.

 If that was proof of 'ethnic cleansing', to single out the world's one Jewish state was 'apartheid'.

'Where is the apartheid, Mr President?' asked Neuer.

There came no answer from The UN Human Rights Council. 

Medieval polemic by neo-Muslim unearthed

Thousands of Jews are known to have converted to Islam under the 13th century fundamentalist rule of the Almohads and Almoravids in Spain and North Africa, but not much of their literary work survives.  Now Professor Paul Fenton of the Sorbonne has brought to light a rare document by the Muslim convert from Judaism Ibn Zikri. An annotated Arabic edition of Ibn Zikri's Rashf al-darab fi fadl bani Isra'il wal-'arab (0n the Eminence of Israelites and Arabs) was published by CSIC, Madrid, in 2016.

This book opens up a whole new area of religious studies for it it is the first ever publication of a polemical work by a neo-Muslim of Jewish descent in defence of Israelite ethnicity.

Here is an extract from Professor Fenton's Introduction in English:

"The present publication of Muhammad Ibn Zikri's Rasf al-darab represents the first appearance of a unique apologetic work emanating from the ranks of the Jewish Marranos, known as Muhajirun, or emigres. Of the several crypto-Jewish communities that existed in Islamic lands, none, as far as I know, produced any substantial literary works reflecting their situation within the Muslim-Jewish convivencia. Despite their longstanding conversion to Islam, generally by force, the descendants of the Moroccan Marranos, often known as bildiyyin or bled, continued over the centuries to constitute a distinct section of Maghrebi society whose destiny was often to be dismal. Indeed bias against them festered among certain sections of the Moroccan aristocracy. Retrieved from the dust of oblivion, Ibn Zikri's work opens a new chapter in the history of inter-religious polemics and constitutes the most explicit defence of Jewish ethnicity in the arena of the medieval debate about ethnic superiority known as su'ubiyya."

To read selected pages click here

To order a copy, contact:

c/ Albasanz 26-28.
28037 Madrid


Tel: +34 91 602 2760

The curious case of the Moroccan Marranos

Monday, March 20, 2017

Haaretz pursues Mizrahi 'bridge-building' mirage

In the 100th anniversary year of the Balfour Declaration, Ofer Aderet at Haaretz pursues the will o'wisp of the binational state by evoking those  Mizrahi 'bridge-builders' in the 20th century who advocated a 'shared' existence in Palestine. The article is predicated on several myths. Despite superficial resemblances between Arabs and Mizrahi Jews, they have quite different values; the pre-Zionist situation was not always one of peaceful coexistence, and both sides are not equally to blame for 'hostilities' in Palestine; as the chief victims of Arab antisemitism, Mizrahim are generally more distrusting of Arabs than others. Lastly, as civil war rages in neighbouring Arab states, the 'shared future' vision of the bridge-builders seems more distant than ever. (With thanks: Lily)  
An immigrant from Bulgaria chatting to an Arab in Jaffa, 1949 (Israel GPO/Zoltan Kluger)

With 2017 marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan vote and the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, new historical research is seeking to shed light on some of the silenced and forgotten voices that were part of the lively Jewish-Arab discourse in British Mandatory Palestine.

“These voices spoke of another option, the road not taken, which centered on a Jewish-Arab identity. It’s important that we recognize it, particularly given today’s fragmented reality,” Prof. Moshe Naor of the University of Haifa told Haaretz last month. “We want to underscore the complexity of this debate and not let the dichotomy of ‘Arabs’ and ‘Jews’ be viewed on such a simple level,” added Dr. Abigail Jacobson of the Van Leer Institute.

Their English-language book “Oriental Neighbors: Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs in Mandatory Palestine” (Brandeis University Press) was published last December. It contains a wealth of examples of attempts at dialogue between Arabs and Mizrahi Jews – efforts that emphasized their ethnic, linguistic, cultural and geographical closeness, despite tensions between the Zionist and Palestinian movements.

The Mizrahi Jews who lived in British Mandatory Palestine – which existed from April 1920 to May 1948 – fell into three main categories: descendants of Jews who had arrived after the expulsion from Spain and Portugal; immigrants from Arab countries; and Yemenites. At the start of the mandate era, they made up 40 percent of the Jewish population. As more waves of aliyah arrived from Europe, this percentage was reduced by about a quarter.

The political, social, economic and cultural cooperation documented in the book illustrate how, at the time, some aspired to create a “New Middle East” in which Mizrahi Jews would make use of their dual Jewish and Arab identities to mediate and bridge between the two peoples and movements.

One such person was David Avisar, an educator and writer of Iraqi-Jewish origin. The organization he headed, Pioneers of the East (Haultzei Hamizrah), maintained that Mizrahi Jews had always lived with Arabs in “brotherhood and friendship,” and that “strangers are sowing conflict between us.”

In 1923, Avisar published a manifesto titled “The Arab Question,” in which he discussed the “racial and cultural affinity of the two peoples – Jews and Arabs” – and the “possibility of forging a shared life in Palestine.”

In 1929 – the year of the Hebron riots that shook Jews living in British Mandatory Palestine – Avisar published a plan for a binational state, called “A Proposal for Understanding and Agreement with the Arabs of Palestine.” He wrote that the Mizrahi Jews should directly address the Arabs, and was critical of the Ashkenazi Jews from Europe whose actions “had been taken over the heads of these masses,” without consideration for “the Arab settlement that has been in Palestine for 1,300 years.”

His plan called for the declaration of a single state on both sides of the Jordan River, in which Jews and Arabs, who share “race, creed, history, language and hope,” would live side by side.

Could an outlook such as Avisar’s, who championed cultural and social cooperation between Jews and Arabs, have done anything to prevent the escalation of hostilities between the two peoples?

Read article in full (Subscription required)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Netanyahu apologises for 'racist' comment

Libyan-born Moshe Kahlon with Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized on Friday following an uproar over comments he made deemed offensive to Jews of Middle Eastern extraction, the Times of Israel reports. Vociferous among his critics were several MKs including Moroccan-born Amir Peretz. But Miri Regev, the culture minister, who has, in the past, been swift to condemn similar anti-Mizrahi remarks, was notably silent. (With thanks: Lily)

During a meeting of coalition party leaders on Thursday, Netanyahu was asked by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon — who is of Libyan decent — why he called for a six-month delay of the scheduled April opening of the new public broadcaster, to which the prime minister responded “my Mizrahi gene acted up,” seemingly attributing his rash decision to this stereotype. 

Mizrahi is a Hebrew word meaning “eastern” and is used to refer to Jews whose families came from the Middle East and North African, as opposed to Ashkenazi Jews of European descent.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Recapturing Judeo-Arabic before it dies out

Public Radio International took a break from covering Donald Trump in order to do a report on Judeo-Arabic. In Montreal, they tracked down Elsie Solomon, Lisette Shashoua and Gladys Kattan, three Iraq-born women who still speak the language. Regrettably we don't hear much of the dialect in this report: we get more of the historical context. One thing is sure: This language, while experiencing a mini-revival, is on its way to extinction.

Judeo-Arabic is more than a dialect. New York University Hebrew and Judaic studies professor Benjamin Hary calls it a "religiolect."

But as a natural language, it's dying.

With so few Jews left in Arab countries, it is barely spoken — especially among the young.

There is, though, renewed interest in Judeo-Arabic as a cultural artifact. In 2013, an Israeli feature film about the exodus of Jews from Iraq included mainly Judeo-Arabic dialogue. And there are attempts to capture and document the language before it dies out.

All of which makes the three women Alina spoke with happy that their native tongue won't entirely vanish.

Read article in full : (the radio report is embedded)

Friday, March 17, 2017

There was a time when Jews lived there

 Long but fascinating essay by Samuel Tadros for the Hoover Institution. It describes how Arabs have begun to revive the memory of their lost Jews. However, the Jew they choose to remember is a distorted, anti-Zionist Jew who often only fulfils his destiny if he converts to Islam. (With thanks: David T)

For over six decades, Arabic-speaking peoples have undertaken a deliberate effort to erase part of their memories. No grand council was convened to approve the measure, but a collective decision was nonetheless made. No longer would it be remembered that once upon a time, not so long ago, Jews had lived among them.

To aid the deliberate memory loss, a physical one would be attempted. Buildings left empty would soon be occupied. Synagogues would be demolished. No one needed a reminder of what had once existed, for the decision to collectively forget was nearly unanimous. Certainly not the new military governments, whose claims to legitimacy were increasingly crafted around a fight with “the Zionist entity.”

But the organized efforts by governments to eradicate this memory could not have succeeded had it not been met with enthusiasm and willing participation by the peoples themselves. To remember is to ask and some questions were better left buried, for an individual’s as well as a nation’s health. This is not to say that the memory of the Arabic-speaking countries’ Jews was completely wiped out.

After all, no matter how successful the effort to eradicate all physical evidence, it was impossible to completely erase the existence of more than 850,000 Jews who had lived in the Arabic-speaking countries for centuries.

Some things were bound to remain. An abandoned synagogue, a story from a grandmother, an odd name encountered in an old book, a 1949 Egyptian movie called Fatma, Marika and Rachel, some traces remained. But these traces were not of humans but of ghosts. The Jew, who had once lived there, was not a complete human being. Jews were mythical figures, of whose lives little was known except the confidence in their treason to the countries that had hosted them.

The Jew was an alien body that had been expelled from the nation, just as the Zionist entity would be expelled from the region, one day, soon. But inevitably, today or tomorrow, an interest in the lost memory is bound to occur. A moment of personal or collective crisis, a moment of shock, a moment of confusion forcing self-reflection the urge may take many forms, but the questions are inevitable. And so it has come to pass that the lost memory of the Jews who once lived among them has returned to haunt the Arabic-speaking peoples. Before memory was to be regained, a few glimpses of the mysterious other were to appear.

Read article in full

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Latent Arab antisemitism provoked 1967 war

In 1965, the Tunisian leader Habib Bourguiba suggested that the Arab world bury the hatchet with Israel. But Bourguiba was thwarted by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. In an impulse carried over from the Nazi era, swept up by the anti-Jewish hysteria of the Arab Street, Nasser embarked on the path to war to 1967 - a war that would result in a catastrophic Arab defeat. Must-read by Mattias Kuntzel in Fathom magazine.  (With thanks: Lily)

Nasser was born in 1918. In 1935 or 1936 he became a member of the Young Egypt Society led by Ahmad Hussein – a radical nationalist movement that was pro-Nazi in several respects. ‘The Second World War and the short period before it fired the spirit of our youth,’ wrote Nasser, ‘and moved our whole generation towards violence.’[29] Leading members of the Young Egypt Society included Ali Maher and Aziz al-Misri, two prominent Egyptian politicians who were known for their anti-British and pro-Axis stance.[30]

In 1937, Nasser entered the Military Academy. In 1938, the core of the Free Officers movement that would take power in 1952 was formed. When in 1942 ‘the Germans were close to Egypt’, recalled movement member Abdel Latif Boghdadi, we ‘thought it our duty to do something against the British. We formed a secret organisation in the Air Force to disrupt and impede the British withdrawal from the Western Desert by sabotaging their lines of communication and supply.’[31]

In 1943, Nasser and some of his military colleagues held meetings with Mahmud Labib, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Those gatherings took place once a week and ‘continued uninterrupted until May 1948, when mobilisation for the Palestine war [of 1948] occurred.’[32] In the 1930s the Brotherhood had received financial aid from Nazi Germany because of its antisemitic orientation.[33] Thus, in 1947, Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s leader, explained the United Nations decision in favour of a partition of Palestine in antisemitic terms, deeming ‘the whole United Nations intervention to be an international plot carried out by the Americans, the Russians, and the British under the influence of Zionism.’[34] In 1948, the Brotherhood was nevertheless by far the largest political organisation in Egypt with at least one million members.[35]

Nasser was among those officers who provided lengthy clandestine training to the Brothers in preparation for the Palestine war of 1948. It was thus no accident that in 1949 Nasser’s name was found on a manual about grenades in a Muslim Brotherhood hideout.[36] After the Free Officers’ revolution had swept away the monarchy and the old power elites in July 1952, ten of the fourteen officers now running the country had, at one time or another, sworn loyalty to the Brotherhood.[37] With good cause the Soviets condemned the ‘reactionary officers’ group’ and their new ‘military dictatorship’.[38]

In 1942, at British instigation, Aziz al-Misri and Ali Mahir had been dismissed because of their explicit pro-German stance; both were reinstated ten years later by the Free Officers: Al-Misri was hailed as the ‘spiritual father’ of the July revolution and the Officers made Ali Mahir the new prime minister.[39] It was not by chance that Egypt was henceforth to become the El Dorado of former Nazis war criminals and antisemites. One example is that of air force officer Mohammad Radwan. He had managed to reach the German lines during the war. He made his way to Germany, where he was arrested by the Allies in 1945 and then sentenced in Egypt to fifteen years in jail. In 1952, he was released and then employed in the Armed Forces’ Department of Public Affairs.[40] Another is neo-Nazi publisher Helmuth Kramer: He received political asylum in Egypt in 1965 after a German court had found him guilty of ‘spreading Nazi ideas’. According to Kramer, Nasser personally dealt with his asylum request and gave permission for him to continue publishing his books.[41]

Since Moscow had refused to deliver intermediate-range rockets to Egypt in 1959, Nasser invited more than 300 German engineers and scientists who had formerly worked for the Nazi government to develop such missiles. In 1962, missiles were for the first time on display at a Cairo parade. ‘The staff of the Israeli embassy in Paris mourns and the Jews in New York are in fear,’ Al-Ahram rejoiced. [42]

Though Nasser denied being an anti-Semite (‘I have never been anti-Semitic on a personal level’[43]) he emphasised the great relevance of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for an understanding of world affairs and claimed publicly that ‘three hundred Zionists … govern the fate of the European Continent’. Whoever believes such a thing must of course deny the Holocaust. Nasser denied it both directly (‘No one … takes seriously the lie about six million Jews who were murdered’[44]) and indirectly, by claiming that ‘Ben-Gurion … has killed as many Arabs as Hitler killed Jews.’[45]

Whoever believes in the Protocols will also seek to destroy Israel. And, indeed, Nasser’s obsession with the Jewish state was a constant theme of his time in power. Firstly, he considered Israel a bridge-head of Western imperialism, a conspiracy theory that gained some credibility after Israel’s involvement in the Suez crisis of 1956.[46] Second, he considered Israel to be expansionist by nature. ‘Arab unity means the liquidation of Israel and the expansionist dreams of Zionism’ he told a crowd in 1965.[47]

Nasser’s background did not of course rule out a later change of course. In 1953, his friend and combatant Anwar al-Sadat praised Adolf Hitler as an ‘immortal leader’ but 26 years later recognised Israel’s right to exist. Why was Nasser incapable of making such a move?

This is where the radical anti-Zionism of the ‘Arab street’ enters the picture. It may well be that it was the mass enthusiasm which flooded Egypt on the eve of the Six-Day War that kept Nasser on the path to war.

The Arab world had reacted ecstatically to Egypt’s Sinai move in May 1967.

After the withdrawal of the UNEF troops, Cairo looked more like a carnival than a city preparing for war: ‘The City was now festooned with lurid posters showing Arab soldiers shooting, crushing, strangling, and dismembering bearded, hook-nosed Jews.’[48] The closure of the Straits of Tiran worked like magic: Now, Nasser’s Ahlan Wa-sahlan (‘You are welcome’) reverberated throughout the Arab world. ‘Congratulations and messages of support poured in from all capitals. Delegations began to arrive in Cairo from Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Kuwait and other countries.’[49] Overnight, Nasser’s prestige in the Arab world had soared to new heights.

This enthusiasm, this fervent hope for the destruction of an established state is quite exceptional. In 1945, the Arab League was founded with the goal of preventing the creation of Israel. So far, nothing out of ordinary: many emerging countries initially met with resistance and had to fight for their right to exist. But what followed was altogether exceptional, as Ruth R. Wisse explains:
Israel won its [1948] War of Independence, but … Arab leaders did not acknowledge Israel’s independence. Though the world was now dealing with a Jewish country rather than a dispersed people, the political functions of Israel in Arab politics became almost identical to the functions of the Jew in the politics of Europe. … Arab leaders forged a target and scapegoat.[50]

It was this Arab response that rendered Israel exceptional despite its successful establishment as a state. ‘Zionism was politically unexceptional – dozens of new countries have joined the United Nations since 1948. The exception was anti-Zionism: the organisation of politics against the Jewish state.’[51]

Merely anti-Zionism? ‘The Arab side is agitating the masses by purposely not separating Anti-Zionism from antisemitism,’ stated Habib Bourguiba in 1965.[52] He was right: Arab leaders adopted the texts, images, and tactics of European antisemitism. ‘With the ideological inversion that is at the heart of antisemitism,’ observes Wisse, ‘they denied the Jews their country and accused them of denying the Arabs theirs.’[53]

Antisemitic agitation in Arab countries, based on European models, was nothing new, as recent studies of Nazi antisemitic propaganda in the Arab world have proved.[54] For example, from April 1939 to April 1945, daily Arabic language radio broadcasts from Berlin constantly urged their Arab listeners to prevent the birth of a Jewish state and to exterminate the Jews living in Palestine. These antisemitic programs were popular and widely heard. Time and again they claimed that Zionism was inherently expansionist and aspired to destroy Islam.

The closer the defeat of Nazi Germany came, the shriller became the broadcasts’ warnings about the consequences for Palestine should ‘World Jewry’ seize its opportunity. What was the significance of this for Nasser’s 1967 decisions?
We know that the Nazis’ radio propaganda continued to reverberate after Germany’s defeat. While the view of the British Foreign Office, which in 1946 ‘spoke of Arab hatred of the Jews being greater than that of the Nazis’, may be exaggerated,[55] it is clear that wartime Nazi propaganda contributed to increased hostility after the war. Certain Arab countries, observed Bernard Lewis, ‘have been the only places in the world where hard-core, Nazi-style antisemitism is publicly and officially endorsed and propagated.’[56]

Historians of the Middle East agree that it was to a large extent the pressure from the ‘Arab street’ that had previously driven a reluctant Arab League into a full-scale war against Israel in 1948.[57] Egypt’s prime minister Mahmud al-Nuqrashi Pasha, for example, was against the military assault that took place in 1948. However, he said he was swayed by public opinion that ‘was all in favour of the war, and considered anyone who refused to fight as a traitor.’[58] In 1948, the Muslim Brotherhood in particular had created an atmosphere in which war seemed the only logical and natural process: ‘The [Brotherhood] Society succeeded in drawing Egypt into a full-scale military initiative in Palestine.’[59]

In 1967 this constellation reappeared, but in a new form.

In 1967, 22 years after World War Two, the direct reverberations of Nazi propaganda hardly played a role. Instead, the Arab defeat of 1948 – neither reflected on nor really admitted seemed to require revenge. At the same time, Arab rulers profited from the prevailing mood by using anti-Jewish scapegoating to divert their peoples’ attention from their own failures. According to Bourguiba’s analysis of 1965, Arabs and Israelis ‘would be able to live in harmony after having mutually ridded themselves of their complexes and their extremists’. This kind of clean-up, however, never began.


Behind the question of whether Nasser could have resisted the ‘Arab street’ in 1967 lies another: why did he incite their mass fury in the first place? In my view, the main cause of both Nasser’s decision and the subsequent enthusiasm of his followers was the antisemitic impulse as it was carried over from the Nazi period to the post-war period and then to the next generation.
It was neither Israel nor Zionism that provoked the 1967 war but the latent anti-Zionism and antisemitism in the Arab world.

Read article in full

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Is Iran really safe for Jews?

Foreign minister Zarif: condemned Netanyahu's 'fake history' (AFP: Kristof Stache)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of distorting history by repeatedly saying that modern Iran, like ancient Persia, is bent on annihilating the Jewish people. How could that be so, he claims, when Persia 'saved' the Jews on several occasions? Michael Rubin asks if Iran really respects Jews in Commentary (with thanks: Lily): 

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, took to Twitter earlier this week to castigate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for propagating what Zarif termed “fake history.” The offense Zarif protested was the Israeli prime minister’s decision to draw allusions between the story of Purim and the present day. “To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews three times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history [and] falsifying Torah. Force of habit,” the Iranian foreign minister declared.

Zarif’s rebuke of Netanyahu was enough to win applause in some circles, but those who buy into the myth of an Iranian haven for Jews should think again.
Take the modern day. How often have pundits talked about the Islamic Republic’s supposed tolerance for Jews by citing the fact that Iran’s parliament has a Jewish representative or that Iran is home to perhaps 20,000 Jews, supposedly the second-greatest Jewish population in the Middle East besides Israel?

Let’s put aside the fact that no one knows just how many Jews are in Iran today. The 20,000 figure has been bandied about since the 1990s, even though many Jews continue to leave Iran for Israel or the United States. And also put aside the fact that the “second largest community” doesn’t mean anything when the difference between the first and the second are several orders of magnitude. It is akin to saying Finland is the second-largest destination for sun-and-surf beach vacations if the only other choice in the survey is Jamaica. What matters is that, under the regime that Zarif represents, Iran has lost at least 80 percent of its Jewish population. That’s generally not a sign that Iran is a welcoming and healthy place for Jews to thrive or even live.

Praise for having a Jewish representative in parliament is just as misplaced. When I attended synagogue as a student in Iran, members of the Jewish community did not trust the representative. His sole purpose seemed to be to pass pronouncements from the government to the synagogues and to be cited to deflect attention from Iran’s fairly horrendous human rights record.

Beyond that, though, is Iran safe for Jews? It depends. Pogroms—as vicious as any in Eastern Europe—characterized nineteenth century Iran. Then there were the restrictive rules: In 1889, for example, the government prohibited Jews in Isfahan from going outside on wet days lest rainwater spread their impurity. Jews were also forbidden from touching food, speaking loudly, or purchasing any goods in the market. (Daniel Tsadik provides an excellent account of modern Jewish history in his 2007 book, Between Foreigners and Shi‘is; Habib Levy’s Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran remains a masterpiece).

It is true that, at times, Iran was a relative haven for the Jews. The irony here, though, is that it was the regime that Zarif represents not only overthrew an Iranian state that allowed its Jewish minority to thrive, but also sought to close the door on the laudable regimes of the distant past.

Read article in full

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tunisians foil smuggling of 'rare' Torah scroll

 There is nothing more precious to a Jewish community than its Torah scrolls: that is why Jews on the run always try and take their scrolls with them. The Tunisian authorities are now the self-proclaimed guardians of abandoned Jewish artefacts and have called a press conference to announce that they have foiled the smuggling of a 'rare' Torah out of the country.  (Two caveats: because it is written on cow hide does not make the scroll ancient. The claim that 'Hebrew language experts that the scroll was  written before the various books of the Torah were organized in their present order' sounds highly dubious. ) Report by YNet News: (With thanks: Boruch)

Tunisian authorities announced that they prevented a 15th-century Torah scroll from being smuggled out of the country. The scroll was written on bovine skin.

According to Tunisian authorities, a group of suspects were arrested following a tip that the Torah scroll was being transferred to a European country as part of an antiquities smuggling operation.

During a press conference, Tunisian National Guard spokesman Khalifa al-Shibani presented the rare Torah scroll, which measures 37m long and 47cm wide.

According to al-Shibani, unidentified foreign elements attempted to buy the scroll, which he described as "a unique historical item for the world."

Tunisian press conference of ancient Torah
Tunisian press conference of ancient Torah

Later in the press conference, al-Shibani said, "Experts at the National Heritage Institute have confirmed that the Torah scroll is an extremely rare, historical and invaluable item that is from the 15th century."

The scroll seems to contain all parts of the Torah, yet Hebrew language experts argue that this scroll was written before the various books of the Torah were organized into their present order.

Read article in full

Monday, March 13, 2017

Maryland to host Iraqi-Jewish archive exhibit

 The future of the Iraqi-Jewish archive, the collection of documents shipped to the US for restoration in 2003, has still not been resolved: Iraq wants it back as its national heritage. However, the announcement that another US museum is to host the IJA exhibit will delay its possible return for another year. Baltimore's Child reports: 

The Jewish documents were discovered in a flooded basement and at first left to dry out in the  Baghdad sun 

The Jewish Museum of Maryland will host a major traveling exhibit, Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage from October 15, 2017 to January 15, 2018.

The exhibit details the dramatic recovery of historic materials relating to the Jewish community in Iraq from a flooded basement in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, and the National Archives’ ongoing work in support of U.S. Government efforts to preserve these materials. The 2,000 square foot exhibit features 23 recovered items and a “behind the scenes” video of the fascinating yet painstaking preservation process. Exhibit opened Sundays through Thursdays every week.

Read article in full

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The curious case of the Arabian Jews of Najran

It is widely known that Saudi Arabia permits neither Jews nor  Christians to become citizens, nor will it officially allow Jewish travellers to enter. But until 1934, the year when the kingdom was established, Jews lived at its southern tip, at Najran. However persecution forced hundreds of Najrani Jews to seek shelter in the neighbouring kingdom of Yemen and Aden. Together with the majority of Yemen's Jews, the Najrani Jews were airlifted to Israel in 1949. (With thanks: Lily)

The Jewish Virtual Library has this entry:

According to Yemenite Jewish tradition, the Jews of Najrān trace their origin to the Ten Tribes. They lived in the region of Najrān in Saudi Arabia and were the only group of Yemenite Jews who lived outside Yemen under the rule of another kingdom. On the strength of the laws of the desert and tribal protection, they were not subjected to persecution as were the Jews of Yemen.

They enjoyed the same equality of rights as the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, were not taxed, and did not pay the *jizya (the poll tax imposed on non-Muslims in the Muslim countries "in exchange for the protection" granted them by the government). The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia, who belonged to the Sunni Islam sect, practiced religious tolerance toward them and ate meat slaughtered under their laws of sheḥitah. The Jews of Najrān carried weapons in self-defense, as did the other inhabitants, and were renowned for their courage and strength.

There was no other place in the Arabian Peninsula where Jews lived in such dignity and freedom as in Najrān. By profession they were craftsmen: they worked essentially in goldsmithing and repairing arms. They earned a good livelihood and their material conditions surpassed those of Yemenite Jews. Their settlements were scattered throughout Najrān in small units of two to forty families. They lived in clay houses or in huts. Their clothes, of both men and women, were slightly different from that of Saudi Arabians and Yemenite Jews.

The strict barrier between men and women, which was customary in social life throughout Yemen, was nonexistent among them. At festivities and celebrations men and women sat together and women danced to the sound of the men's singing.

After 1936, their relations with Yemenite Jews were not very close, because the two groups were under the rule of different kingdoms which occasionally were at war with each other. The life of the Jews of Najrān, dispersed as they were in small settlements, did not encourage the development of Torah studies among them or the fostering of an independent spiritual culture. In matters of religion and halakhah they were dependent on the community of nearby Saʿdah (one day away from them), and when necessary, on the bet din of *Sanʿa.

 The Jews of Saʿdah served as their spiritual guardians in times of need: they provided them with religious books and guided them in their religious practices. Therefore, their prayers, customs, and system of study were very closely related. In Israel they are concentrated in Kiryat Ekron, which is inhabited by the Jews of Saʿdah. When the Jews of Najrān immigrated to Israel in 1949, they numbered about 250.

According to Wikipedia :

The Yemeni city of Najran was conquered by Saudi forces in 1934, absorbing its Jewish community, which dates to pre-Islamic times.[7] With increased persecution, the Jews of Najran made plans to evacuate. The local governor at the time, Amir Turki ben Mahdi, allowed the 600 Najrani Jews[8] a single day on which to either evacuate or never leave again. Saudi soldiers accompanied them to the Yemeni border. These Jews arrived in Saada,[9] and some 200 continued south to Aden between September and October 1949. The Saudi King Abdulaziz demanded their return, but the Yemeni king, Ahmad bin Yahya refused, because these refugees were Yemenite Jews. After settling in the Hashid Camp (also called Mahane Geula) they were airlifted to Israel as part of the larger Operation Magic Carpet.[10]

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why hidden Jews fasted on Purim

The Purim holiday beings tonight. It is one of the most joyful of Jewish festivals - unless you happened to be Anusim - Jews in medieval Spain forced to hide their identity. Their solution was to fast. Fascinating explanation by

 A Happy Purim to all readers

Was it too dangerous to celebrate the Jewish holidays on their real dates? No problem. They would trick their pursuers by celebrating a few days – or months - before or after the real date.
The Anusim became accustomed to living in a world of secrecy.
The Anusim therefore gradually became accustomed to living in a world where secrecy was the norm and disguise was a way of life. But despite their efforts and good intentions, they did have a problem. Their connection to the rest of the Jewish world had been severed. Without access to Jewish books, or even a Jewish calendar, it became harder and harder to remember all the prayers and laws. And there were many commandments that they couldn’t perform or were forced to transgress because the danger was too great.
To compensate, over time the Anusim began to develop their own unique culture, complete with special prayers and customs. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than with the holiday of Purim.

Traditionally, the Purim holiday is comprised of two parts: the Fast of Esther, a one-day fast that takes place the day before Purim, and Purim itself, a busy day filled with lots of mitzvot (commandments) and noise and laughter. But what is good fun for us was a day fraught with danger if you were a Hidden Jew.
Drown out Haman’s name with noisemakers during the public reading in synagogue of Megillat Esther? Not in a community that scrupulously kept the location of their underground synagogues a secret.

Get so drunk at the festive Purim meal that you can’t tell the difference between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman”? Not unless you wanted to wake up the next day to a personal invitation to appear before the court of the Spanish Inquisition.

So what could the Anusim do? In a word, fast. They looked into the megillah and saw that when the Jewish people were threatened with annihilation, Queen Esther ordered a three-day fast for everyone. So the Anusim – who lived with that threat every day of their lives - decided to fast for three days, too.

The Inquisition’s records provide us with some fascinating details about this unique custom. For one thing, the fast was mainly done by women, who felt a special connection to the heroine of the Purim story, Queen Esther. But since a three-day fast could be dangerous to a person’s health, the women found ingenious ways to observe the fast without endangering their lives.

Read article in full

Friday, March 10, 2017

How will Jews in Muslim countries mark Purim?

How are Jews in Muslim countries preparing to mark the festival of Purim? The foiling of a genocidal plot against the Jews of Persia is a particularly delicate matter to celebrate in present-day Iran. Rachel Avraham of Jerusalem Online looks at various beleaguered communities:

Purim in Holon, Israel in 2011 (photo: Avishai Teicher)

Across the world, the Jewish people are preparing to celebrate the Purim holiday, which is a festive occasion full of joy and happiness. However, Jews living in many Muslim countries find themselves in a precarious situation.  Due to threats posed by radical Islamist groups such as ISIS or the regime itself, these Jews are still celebrating but at the same time, they do so in fear.  However, there are exceptions to this general trend. Despite the rise of radical Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, there are places where Jews do feel more secure and thus are able to enjoy the holiday more. In honor of the holiday, JerusalemOnline is exploring, how are Jews in the Islamic world celebrating Purim under the radical Islamist threat?

Although the holiday originates in Iran and features Iranian heroes, the plight of Iranian Jews celebrating Purim is quite dire. The population that once exceeded a vibrant 70,000 has now dwindled to approximately 12,000-15,000 members. Despite claims by the Iranian regime that they accept Jews as a protected religious group, many Jews have chosen to flee the land of their ancestors. According to anonymous sources, Iranian Jews can go to synagogue, attend Jewish day schools, close their businesses for Shabbat and even to consume wine for religious rituals in a country where alcohol consumption is punished by lashes and jail time. They claim that the Iranian leadership even provides financial support for a Jewish hospital and erected a monument honoring Iranian Jewish soldiers who lost their lives during the Iran-Iraq War.

However, all Iranian Jews must demonstrate their enmity towards the State of Israel and to avoid having any connection with it. The anonymous sources stress that historic Jewish cemeteries in Iran have quietly been getting destroyed and local Jews don’t have the ability to object to it.  They stress that even though Jewish day schools exist, they are not autonomous and they are controlled by the government.  Many of them even have Muslim principals who force Jewish children to go to school on Shabbat. Prayer books and rabbis are in short supply. Given this, the sources stress that local Jews feel like outsiders in the Islamic Republic of Iran despite their almost 2,000 years of history in the country.
Iranian Jewish dissident Marjan Keypour Greenblatt added that one explanation for this sentiment is the Shia supremacy that is prevalent across Iran: “The officially recognized religions (Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians) are still second-class citizens according to the law, entitled to lesser rights and privileges.” Nevertheless, despite the fact that Iranian Jews suffer from this predicament, Iranian Jewish dissident Dr. Sima Goel stressed that the local Jews still take pride in their identity and celebrate Purim in spite of “the dictator that oppresses them.”

Read article in full

World's oldest Jew - a Kurdish rabbi - dies

The world's oldest Jew has died in Jerusalem, purportedly aged 117. Zecharia Barashi was born in Kurdistan and came to Palestine in the 1930s. (However, it is impossible to verify his age as there were no records at the time.) Report in The Forward:

The 117-year-old Rabbi Zecharia Barashi on Tuesday left a world very different from the one he found, as Israel’s oldest resident – and the world’s oldest Jew and rabbi - passed away from natural causes at his Jerusalem home.

Barashi immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1936 from his native Iraqi Kurdistan, first laboring as a construction worker and then as a rabbi ministering to his fellow Kurds, according to The Times of Israel. He also founded a national organization for Kurdish Jews and worked as an educator in Jerusalem.

His longevity records were not confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records due to issues with documentations, but his claim was accepted by Israeli authorities. He is survived by 29 grandchildren, 72 great-grandchildren and 24 great-great-grandchildren.

Read article in full  

Jews and Kurds 'almost never fought'

Thursday, March 09, 2017

A Moroccan 'olah' in Israel, then and now

Home in Morocco for Soly Anidjar was an apartment with servants and family holidays. When her family arrived in Israel, they did not have electricity, running water, a paved road or enough beds to sleep in.  There are lessons there for today's French immigrants: they have it comparatively cushy - yet substantial numbers return to France every year. (With thanks to the author and to Michelle)

Every year, more and more French Jews decide to settle in Israel: a sometimes painful choice, often dictated by the rise in anti-Semitic acts in France. Many French Jews who came to settle in Israel eventually leave, often after having a difficult time integrating. They have left behind language, work, money, family, country of birth, school, friends, classmates, neighbours, the synagogue, Sunday as the official day of rest over a lifetime. Plus they have the headache of finding accommodation. Where can we put the sideboard, the Louis XIV and Louis XV armchairs? In Israel the kitchen is the dining room.  In short, they feel fobbed off, stifled. The young people didn't want to leave France -  their parents decided for them. 

Nobody promises Eldorado. Aliya is complex and difficult. Wages are low compared to France, plus you use up all your savings. The reality of everyday life is far from what they dreamed of. When you arrive in Israel,  you have to start from scratch. Then there's the abrasive Israeli, who doesn't say thank you, jumps the queue, he's rude, very rude. But he is always giving up his seat on the bus and always keep his door open, and  comes knocking on your door to offer you bread and cakes all warm from the oven to wish you Shabbat shalom and happy birthday.

When it came to overcoming hurdles of language and qualification,  I've learned to speak Darija Moroccan Arabic, so they could understand me - few spoke French in Ashdod.

The airplane ticket made provision for us to bring in three giant-sized suitcases, but we had the right to only one suitcase. Dad paid back the price of the tickets to the Jewish Agency over ten years. 

The Sal Klita, (absorption basket to help new immigrants with their basic needs) of approximately 4,000 euros for a single person was beyond our wildest dreams. In 1966 it did not exist.
The tax breaks did not exist in 1966.
Free social security for the first year did not exist in 1966.
French schools and lycees did not exist in 1966.
Family allowances did not exist in 1966.

It's not because you're  a patissier in France that you will become a  patissier in Israel. The job centre will encourage you to learn an extra trade and try your luck for free. Besides they'll give you a paycheck (Avtakhat Akhnassa), for the long months that learning the new job will take.

We had a nice apartment with two servants in Casablanca and holidayed in Spain every year.

Here no-one knew about holidays. We lived in a tiny apartment of 48 sq.m (the size of our balcony in Casablanca). We were allocated four iron bedsteads, four mattresses and army issue grey blankets, an oil stove and a table measuring one metre squared. There were five of us, but they must have thought we would take it in turns to sleep. 

Our household goods stayed in Haifa for months. We were not in a hurry for them as we had  no power:  the fridge, the washing machine, the television and the gas oven did not budge. The cost of transporting them by truck from Haifa to Ashdod was exorbitant.

The economic difficulties, and the hardships of integration are part of  aliyah whether it takes a year or 50.

I came in 1966. There were five of us - Dad, mum, my two sisters and me. I'm the eldest. 

Rising out of the desert, Ashdod today

For six months we lived without electricity and on an untarmacked road, mountains of sand surrounding the fifteen houses that existed in the Gimel neighborhood where I lived. The houses were not yet finished, there were no shops, the grocery store did not exist. Once a day a cart passed by with bread, once a day a pickup truck came with blocks of ice that we put in dishes, laundry bowls and bathtubs. The milkman and oil merchant came with their wagon hitched to a donkey. Dad was without work for the first few months. In Casablanca, he  was director of the Water Board. Here he watered the JNF trees for four hours. He was 40 and this was the era of mass migration  of Jews to Israel form Arab countries and Europe. Later he did his military service and entered the police force.

One year after our arrival, the Six-Day war broke out. It was new for us all : we finally had electricity but it was war. We were not used to this - it was the end of the world, the sky was falling on our heads.

In the 1950s and up to the 1970s the conditions Sephardim lived in were very hard. It took a few decades for the Ashkenazi political establishment to publicly recognize the huge mistakes that they had committed in their reception and integration of Sephardim from Arab countries. For years we were Morocco Sakin.  

The Israeli Black Panthers began their movement in 1971 in Musrara, near Jerusalem, in response to discrimination. Saadia Marciano was our spokesperson.  Improving living conditions for Sephardim wasn't considered a priority by the government. For them,  we didn't exist. 

The Sephardi cities of the south of the country, a real desert - Dimona, Ashkelon, Beersheva, Ashdod, Yeruham, Netivot, Kiryat-Gat, Kiryat Malakhi - have risen to the challenge. They have greatly contributed to the social and economic development of Israel. Our Ulpan teacher told us that his father arrived in Israel in 1921. He had to drain the swamps in the Jezreel valley (Afula). When I walk in that place with its wonderful and majestic landscapes, I say to myself, "it's amazing what we have achieved in the past hundred years". I hope that future generations can do the same. Israel is a human adventure, unique and unprecedented. It's a bubbling human lab where ethnic groups from the four corners of the world have learned to live together.


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Historian Georges Bensoussan is acquitted

After a trial for incitement to hatred, the prominent historian and author of a study of Jews in Arab countries, Georges Bensoussan, was acquitted yesterday (7 March) by a criminal court, according to Le Monde.

During the trial a fine of 1,500 Euros was demanded.

The groups bringing the prosecution against Bensoussan were the following:  Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples (MRAP)), la Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme (LICRA), la Ligue des droits de l’homme (LDH), SOS-Racisme and le Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF) .
The anti-Islamophobia organisation CCIF has announced it will appeal the decision.

 The trial divided members of LICRA, some of whom are Jewish.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Kurdish-Jewish directorate is 'suspended'

This report by Rudaw English is a turn-up for the books: it says that the Kurdish-Jewish directorate under Sherzad Omer Mahmoud Mamsani has now been 'suspended' - ostensibly for lack of funds. Readers of Point of No Return will know that we were from the outset suspicious of this enterprise in a country with no Jews. Mamsani's directorate claimed to represent 430 Jewish families, but the 18,000-member community was evacuated to Israel in 1949.  Gullible Western Jews fell for Mamsani's kitsch commemorations of events like the Farhud and Holocaust memorial day, complete with Jewish religious symbols. We were warned that Mamsani was an Iranian agent with no Jewish blood whatsoever, whose role in the abduction of the editor of the Israel-Kurd magazine remains a mystery. We may never know the real story behind the directorate's suspension. (With thanks: Boruch)
Sherzad Mamsani (second from right) at one of his commemorative events.
HEWLÊR-Erbil, Iraq’s Kurdistan region,— The official representative of the Jewish community has announced that they have suspended their representation at Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Ministry of Religious Affairs indefinitely for “some reasons” without giving any further details.

“Because of some reasons we have suspended our representation at the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs until an undeclared time,” Sherzad Omar Mamsani announced on his Facebook page on Thursday.

The representation was opened in 2015 after the Kurdish parliament passed a law officially recognizing the Jewish community with full ethno-religious rights, along other minority religions.

Nabaz Ismail, the spokesperson for the ministry told Rudaw English that they have not been notified officially of the suspension.

Ismail said Mamsani was conducting his official duties when he last saw him a few days ago.

Mariwan Naqshbandi, a senior official at the ministry, however was aware of some issues that Mamsani raised with him as recently as yesterday, mainly about “the lack of funding” to their representation.

Read article in full

Israel doubts Aleppo refugee's Jewishness

A Syrian refugee in Aleppo called Razan who claims she is Jewish has appealed to Israel for help. But Jews usually keep their identity under wraps, and the Jewish Agency has its doubts , according to the Times of Israel. (With thanks: Lily)

Razan adds that “the government [of Israel] is a powerful government and I believe that it will not abandon any Jew in the world. Every Jew knows that [Israel] will not neglect him, because [Israel] is the mightiest country on the face of the earth and will not abandon its coreligionists.”

The Central Synagogue of Aleppo in January 2016. (Courtesy/Moti Kahana)

Razan’s younger brother Salah, who gave Army Radio the recording and now lives in London after fleeing Aleppo over a year and a half ago by way of Turkey, said that his father is Muslim and his mother Jewish, and that he and his two sisters have always considered themselves to be Jews.

“When I was a child my mother told me I am a Jew and I understand that. And before the war I told everyone, everyone knows I am a Jewish, all the neighbors around me. After the war, I couldn’t say that, because it is very difficult,” he said.
Despite the family’s appeals for help from Israel, officials at the Jewish Agency, which has carried out a number of operations extracting Jews from hostile countries, told Army Radio that they had doubts about the family’s Jewishness.

 People in similar positions have in the past ensured that their Jewish identities remained under wraps as to avoid magnifying the danger they face.

Israel has not taken in any refugees from the Syrian civil war and a plan to bring in 100 orphans has recently stalled.

Elizabeth Tzurkov, who researches Syria at the Israeli think tank Forum for Regional Thinking, told Army Radio that she was aware of similar cases to that of the woman in the recording and questioned the source of the Jewish Agency’s skepticism.

Read article in full

Monday, March 06, 2017

Memoirs of a tennis-playing diplomat

Zvi Gabay's memoir, From Baghdad to the Pathways of Diplomacy, reflects modesty and restraint. Typically, his memoir understates his tireless advocacy in newspapers and fora for the rights of almost a million Jews driven from Arab lands. Lyn Julius writes in The Times of Israel:

In his book he barely mentions the issue which – apart from his love of Arabic poetry – has consumed much of his time since his retirement.

Born in Baghdad in 1938, Zvi Gabay (brother of the famous film actor Sasson Gabay) was just old enough to remember the turmoil of 1947, when the Iraqi government tried to divert popular attention away from domestic issues to the Jews. Iraq was among the seven Arab countries that declared war against the new state of Israel. Arrests of local Jews, executions and travel bans followed. The writing on the wall was clear to Zvi: the Jewish community of Iraq was doomed.

Although he comes from a comfortable middle class family, several frightening incidents stick in Zvi’s childhood memory: Palestinian youths hurling stones at Zvi’s bicycle, for instance. The hostility he encountered in Baghdad made Zvi loathe the city and strengthened his determination to emigrate to Israel.
There was a two year stint at a ‘cold and alienating’ kibbutz, night school, then military service in the IDF. Expecting to be punished for playing without permission his passion, tennis, in his lunch break, Zvi tells an amusing anecdote when the base commander insisted, davka, on playing with him. It was ‘tennis under orders’.

His family having sought security in Israel, then came a terrible twist of fate: his father was murdered in his Haifa grocery store by a Christian Arab.

Zvi undertook intermittent higher studies and embarked a long career in the Israeli Foreign Ministry which took him to Ireland (where he served as ambassador) and Australasia. As a fluent Arabic speaker he was one of the first diplomats to be assigned to the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Much of the work was unglamorous: arranging official visits, undertaking painstaking mediation behind-the-scenes for the release of Israelis in Egyptian jails. His disappointment at the cold peace which followed the 1979 Israel-Egypt Treaty is palpable. The Egyptians he dealt with remained smiling and polite but ultimately uninterested in advancing relations with Israel.

Zvi Gabay: thoughtful and restrained

The most fascinating section of Zvi’s memoirs relates to Egypt. He tells a hilarious story of Israelis stuck in a lift ‘with a mind of its own’. The repairmen’s stock answer was ‘patience, patience.’ The doorman refused to help, convinced that the cries of the trapped Israelis were the voices of jin (spirits). The firemen arrived, put out an imaginary fire and left. Zvi and his friends had no choice but to free their suffocating colleagues with their own hands, by breaking a hole through the adjoining wall.

A suitable metaphor for the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, perhaps: the Israelis make all the running, while the Egyptians imagine Zionist conspiracies, pay lip service, and urge ‘patience’.

From Baghdad to the Pathways of Diplomacy by Zvi Gabay (Contento, 2016) £14.43. Also on Kindle.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

How many Jews died in the Farhud?

 It is universally accepted that the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Iraq was a cataclysmic event which shook the Jewish community of Iraq to its foundations. Controversy still centres, however, over how many Jews were killed.

The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Israel has a list of 145 named victims but  usually quotes an official figure of 179 Jews killed.

The historian Sami Sourani attended a lecture, together with 150 others,  at the Hebrew University by Ezra Haddad, the principal of the Jewish Wataniya school. Haddad was involved in the burial of the Jewish victims by the Hebra Kaddisha (Jewish burial society) in a mass grave in the old Jewish cemetery in Baghdad. He said that the Hebra handled the burial of between 180 and 200. He could not be exact as there were limbs which could not be related to a body.

Sourani says that this number could not have included those Jews who were killed while standing on a bridge over the river Tigris. Their bodies were thrown into the river and washed away.

The Jewish community leaders agreed with the Regent to minimise the death toll, Sourani claims, lest Iraq  be seen as a 'savage' country.

However, when British documents were declassified fifty years later, a researcher from Israel discovered the text of a speech by the British ambassador to a group of visiting British soldiers. "If they had come one day later and the riots had continued, then another one thousand (my emphasis) people would have been killed," he said.

The historian Eli Kedourie estimates that at least 600 Jews were murdered.

The reason why estimates differ so wildly is that whole families could have lost their lives, especially in the poor Jewish quarters of Baghdad, leaving no-one alive to report the deaths.

Farhud mass grave in the old Jewish cemetery in Baghdad. The cemetery was razed under the rule of general Qassem.

The Jewish community leadership arranged a communal prayer when the mass grave was built and many Jews went to say kaddish.

According to Sami Sourani, there was a peaceful demonstration by Muslims a few days later. The demonstrators claimed that the Jews had buried a Muslim in that grave and they wanted to open the grave to take his body out.

"They claimed that that Muslim appeared to them, asking them to take him out of the Jewish Cemetery and bury him among Muslims. At this point, the Iraqi Police dispersed this demonstration and it did not happen again."

Friday, March 03, 2017

Assyrian palace found under Jonah's shrine

Something good seems to have come out of the destruction of Jonah's shrine in Mosul and the excavating of deep tunnels by  Da'esh (ISIL) : the discovery of the ancient palace of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.  This Telegraph article describes what archaeologists have found: 

Assyrian stone demi-goddess (Photo: Jeremy Andre)

Archaeologists documenting Isil’s destruction of the ruins of the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah say they have made an unexpected discovery which could help in our understanding of the world’s first empire.

The Nebi Yunus shrine - containing what Muslims and Christians believe to be the tomb of Jonah, as he was known in the Bible, or Yunus in the Koran - was blown up by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (
Isil) militants soon after they seized huge swathes of northern Iraq in 2014.

The shrine is situated on top of a hill in eastern Mosul called Nebi Yunus - one of two mounds that form part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

The Iraqi army retook the area from Isil last month, revealing the extensive damage wrought by the jihadists.

But local archaeologists have told the Telegraph that Isil also dug tunnels deep under the demolished shrine and into a previously undiscovered and untouched 600BC palace.

Limited excavation was carried out by the Ottoman governor of Mosul in 1852, which was revisited by the Iraqi department of antiquities in the 1950s. But neither team reached as far as the palace.

Read article in full

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Jews in Bahrain: business people, politicians and midwives

 Puff piece promoting pluralism in Bahrain in the Saudi-financed al Arabiya about Nancy Khedouri, one of two Jews involved in Bahraini politics. A Jewish midwife called Um-Jan achieved fame delivering hundreds of babies. Thirty-six Jews remain in the Gulf state from a community of 800. (With thanks: Boruch)

The Manama neighborhood adjoining Bab al-Bahrain – the gate considered the center point of the tiny island kingdom– has a religious uniqueness unlike in any other Gulf country, let alone any other Muslim-majority one.

It is the only Middle Eastern city to host both Sunni and Shiite mosques, Christian churches for the various sects of Christianity and a Hindu temple, all in walking distance of each other and in a corner of Manama, behind the Sahara Hotel lies the now-dormant Bahraini Jewish Synagogue. It is situated within a few minutes’ walk from the Shiite Maatam Madan and the Hindu Sri Krishna Temple.

Native Bahraini Jews trace their ancestry to Iraqi immigrants during the 1880s who thrived in the kingdom working in economic and political sectors. Various statistics had numbered the community between two and a half thousand then down in the hundreds, which in turn dwindled over the years to a mere few resident well-known Families.

Al Arabiya English sat down with Bahraini politician, businesswoman and writer Nancy Khedouri, who has documented the history of Bahraini Jews in her book ‘From Our Beginning to Present Day’.

Nancy Elly Khedouri is a Bahraini politician, businesswoman and writer and has been a member of the National Assembly of Bahrain since 2010. (Supplied)

Al Arabiya English: Can you tell us a little about the history of Jews in Bahrain? What were the numbers like in the 1950s for example, compared to now and where did most Jewish Bahrainis originally come from?
Nancy Khedouri: 

 Bahrain’s historically dynamic Jewish community are all from a common historical background, which unfortunately dwindled from several hundred people to a mere thirty-six! but who continue to contribute to interfaith understanding.

The Jews of Bahrain trace their roots back to the first Jewish people who arrived mainly from Iraq in the 1880s, under the reign of Shaikh Isa Bin Ali Al-Khalifa, establishing themselves in Bahrain in search of a better quality of life.
Although previous historical records indicated that the oldest Jewish person in Bahrain resided since 1873, it has always been known to the Jewish community of Bahrain that the first of the Jewish settlers in the Archipelago, arrived in Bahrain from Basra, Iraq, during the late 1880s.

My immediate family is third generation, although we also have Bahraini-Jewish families who are fourth and fifth generations. My late grandparents originated from Iraq and the Jewish community of Bahrain are Sephardic Jews.

Al Arabiya English: What have Jewish Bahrainis contributed toward the kingdom’s society? Families like the Halwachi’s – originally from Iraq – for example changed the sweet industry in Bahrain forever, so is there something similar with the Jewish community?

Khedouri: Many Bahraini Families, regardless of religious differences, have helped contribute to our country’s economy and other sectors.

As for the Jewish community of Bahrain, they have contributed largely to the economic sector as they worked at banks or as money exchangers. The have also contributed to the education sector, as many were teachers at the government and private schools. The health sector was blessed with a famous mid-wife, ‘Um-Jan,’ who was of Jewish faith and was known to be ‘A Mother to All.’

Um-Jan, who was of the Jewish faith and was known to be ‘A Mother to All’, was a prominent mid wife in Bahrain. (Supplied)

The Jewish community continues to effectively play a key role in inter-faith dialogue, one of the constructive hallmarks of my country. As to those whose occupation falls within the administrative aspect, they have been skillful and successful in whatever role they have been appointed to.

Al Arabiya English: You and Houda Nonoo have contributed massively to the political landscape in Bahrain through your appointments in the Shoura Council and abroad through Nonoo’s ambassadorship. Will we ever expect to see a Jewish Bahraini perhaps contest the local elections? Is the community ready to embrace such an idea or something that is looked at as unnecessary?

Khedouri: Contributing to the political landscape of our country has been a great privilege for my first cousin Houda Nonoo and for myself.
As for myself, serving as a Shoura (Consultative) Council member and as part of its Foreign Affairs, Defense and National Security Committee, the law-making process has been wonderfully challenging. There is great respect between my colleagues and myself, regardless of our religious differences and we all work together as a family of lawmakers. I am happy to serve my country and the People of Bahrain and look forward to continue to serve in any role appointed to.

As for any member of the community contesting in local elections, this is a personal matter for each Bahraini individual - regardless of whether they are from the Jewish community or not - and such decisions usually depends on opportunities that may arise, nearer the time elections are held.

Al Arabiya English: Can you tell us of a time when you first realized you truly belonged to the Jewish-Bahraini community rather than just being Bahraini? A moment in your childhood perhaps that made you think about identity as a discourse?

Khedouri: I am proud of my unique identity as a Bahraini of the Jewish faith, a Gulf National, an Arab.

Religious festivals celebrated at home come to mind from my childhood memories and I feel that by celebrating these Holy days are what helped maintain our identity as being of the Jewish faith. However, as Bahrainis, we were never segregated from other citizens of other faiths in the society. In fact, the happy and sad times always brought us together, closer and stronger. Our homes continue to be open to each other and we attend each other’s ceremonial and other social gatherings.