Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Bukharan community dwindles to about 200 Jews

The Bukharan community has shrunk to the point  where its future is in peril, Yahoo reports. While most Jew left  for economic reasons in recent times, Bukhara has a history ( until the 19th century) of antisemitism and forced conversions. (With thanks: Gideon)

Among the handful of worshippers to attend, the tall 15-year-old, dressed in Nike trainers, sweats and an off-white yarmulke, is the youngest man in the room by decades.

“This is our future cantor,” says Abram Iskhakov, 70, the synagogue’s current cantor and the president of the Bukhara Jewish Community. “The youth don’t come, they go to Israel and America, but he comes.”“This is our future cantor,” says Abram Iskhakov, 70, the synagogue’s current cantor and the president of the Bukhara Jewish Community.

Once home to more than 23,000 Jews, the ancient Silk Road city of Bukhara now has around 200. Thousands of Bukharian Jews emigrated because of antisemitic policies under the Soviet Union, and still more due to Uzbekistan’s bleak economic prospects after its independence in 1991.

 The emigre community is far larger than its wellspring, with more than 50,000 Bukharian Jews in New York and more than 100,000 in Israel.

 Once home to more than 23,000 Jews, the ancient Silk Road city of Bukhara now has around 200. Thousands of Bukharian Jews emigrated because of antisemitic policies under the Soviet Union, and still more due to Uzbekistan’s bleak economic prospects after its independence in 1991.

 The emigre community is far larger than its wellspring, with more than 50,000 Bukharian Jews in New York and more than 100,000 in Israel. Despite boasting two synagogues, deep-pocketed foreign donors, and a Jewish school where Badalov learns Hebrew, the Jewish community in Bukhara has shrunk to the point where its future is in peril."

 Despite boasting two synagogues, deep-pocketed foreign donors, and a Jewish school where Badalov learns Hebrew, the Jewish community in Bukhara has shrunk to the point where its future is in peril.

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What the world's leaders will not learn at Yad Vashem

On 23 January, some 55 heads of state, prime ministers and members of royal families will visit Yad Vashem to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. But will anyone make the link between Nazi anti-Jewish hatred and Palestinian and Islamist antisemitism? Lyn Julius blogs in The Times of Israel (Jewish News).

The Mufti meeting Hitler in November 1941

 After solemn speeches emphasising that ‘never again’ should such a catastrophic event happen, the event will conclude with a memorial ceremony. Holocaust survivors will light a memorial torch and delegation heads will lay wreaths.

 It is all well and good to learn the lessons of Nazi antisemitism, which still inspires fascist and ultra-right extremists today in the West – what the commentator Ben Cohen calls bierkeller antisemitism.

 But how many of these ministers and heads of states will be journeying to the seat of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah after their stopover at Yad Vashem?

The chances are that the Palestinian leadership will tell them that the Palestinians ‘paid the price’ for the establishment of Israel. There is a danger that world leaders will come away with confirmation of the idea that antisemitism was a purely European phenomenon. Israel is ‘Europe’s penance’ for killing six million European Jews.

 The world’s leaders will visit Ramallah with little inkling of the depth of pro-Nazi feeling among Arabs during WWII.

The Palestinian leadership will take care not to mention that one of the foremost Arab leaders, the wartime Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, was complicit with the Nazis.

After the Palestinian Mufti incited the 1941 Farhud massacre of Iraq’s Jews, he spent the rest of the war in Berlin as Hitler’s guest. While pumping out vicious anti-Jewish radio propaganda to the Arab world, he sought Hitler’s permission to manage the extermination of the Jews across the Middle East and North Africa – not just in Palestine - should the Nazis win the war.

 When the war ended, the Allies did not put Haj Amin al-Husseini on trial at Nuremberg. As a result, the Arab world was never ‘de-Nazified’. Its legacy of antisemitic, Nazi-inspired Islamofascism/ Islamist terrorism – represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, Al Qaeda and Hamas – also fuels jihadist antisemitism in the West today.

More than half the Jewish population are in Israel because of the Arabs, not the Nazis. Will anyone at Yad Vashem make the point that 850,000 Jews were forced to flee Arab lands because Arab League states implemented anti-Jewish laws eerily reminiscent of Nuremberg laws against their Jewish citizens, stripping them of their rights and dispossessing them of their property?

 On their visit to Ramallah, some guileless leaders will endorse the Palestinian ‘right of return’ without realising that this simply replaces genocide with politicide. In other words, Palestinian genocidal intentions have been concealed in the language of human rights. The BDS movement lends continuity to this longstanding campaign.

 One head of state will not be present at Yad Vashem on 23 January. Ayatollah Khameini of Iran has remained faithful to such genocidal aspirations. He denies the Holocaust and threatens another against the Jews.

 At least we know where we stand with the Iranian regime.

 Read article in full

Crossposted at Harry's Place

Monday, January 20, 2020

Revisited: the Nahum Palace, where a Jewish leader was murdered

Lucky Nahum is a US-based fashion designer and businessman, born in Tripoli. Recently his friend Giuseppe Scalora sent him a video of the Nahum family residence in Libya, the Nahum Palace. The family owned several properties and land in the Tripoli area. When it was forced to leave Libya the family received not a cent in compensation. The Palace was also the site of the murder of its owner, the prominent leader and businessman  Halfalla Nahum.

Thanking Giuseppe for the video clip, Lucky wrote this post on his Facebook page: "Much has changed in 53 years since our expulsion, but here's the palace today (it shows up at the 1:12 mark of the video). I think one can appreciate the size of it and what it might have been in its glory days, it appears to to have taken Giuseppe until the 3.04 mark to have walked the length of it.

This street is now called Sciara Ysticlal, and at the time Corso Vittorio was THE street. This was where all the better jewellers were, the better stores in general. Here people strolled to meet other friends, to see and be seen in their finest clothing. "

The video shows a glimpse of a side street and the public gardens in Tripoli. These took up the entire width of the back of the Palace. The Palace faced the Corso Vittorio on one side and the Mediterranean just beyond the gardens on the other.

Postcard of the Nahum Palace in its heyday

Another property owned by the Nahum family in Trupoli

An eighty-four-year-old Jewish leader, Halfalla Nahum, Lucky's uncle, was murdered at the entrance to Nahum Palace in 1963. A lay leader and well-to-do businessman. Halfalla was the highly respected president of the community.  He worked with the Italian authorities before WWII to improve the lot of the great mass of Libyan Jews, who were poor. He was assaulted in 1920s by Fascists.

Before his murder Halfalla was first threatened with letters allegedly asking for protection money and when he refused to pay the second demand, the murderers came to his home, tied him to a chair and killed him. The police initially suspected 20 Jews because Halfalla was a generous donor to Arab philanthropic causes. The suspects included Rabbi Baruch, a shohet. He was held because of blood stains on his shirt.

A gang was finally arrested consisting of ten Arabs and one Maltese, although the family still have their suspicions that these were not the actual perpetrators.

During the summer of that year, a time of rising nationalism, other Jewish figures were attacked and injured, including Beniamino Haddad, who lost one eye.

Today, there are no Jews living in this 2,000-year-old community.

The Jewish properties around Cairo's Tahrir Square

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Iranian Jews overcame threats of deportation from the US

Some 40 years ago, the Iran hostage crisis had an unintended impact on Jews seeking refuge in the US. Point of No Return heard the following anecdotes: 

A mass demonstration in favour of Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 Iranian revolution

The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Iran. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, after a group of Iranian college students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, who supported the Iranian Revolution, took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

 The crisis coincided with a mass exodus of Jews and westernised Iranians. Following the revolution, Jews were persecuted and many found refuge in the US. Less well-known are the unintended consequences on Jews of measures the US took in response to the crisis: some Jews were threatened with deportation.

One Jewish family, which had moved to New York, had an unwelcome visit from two policemen. They claimed that the daughter's papers were not in order. The mother invited in the policemen, plied them with lashings of her trademark chocolate cake, and finally convinced them that it was folly for Jews oppressed by the Islamic Republic of Iran to be sent back.

 In the same time period, a young friend of the family was invited to dinner. He arrived an hour late. He apologised to the hostess, a stickler for punctuality, saying,' Sorry I'm late, Auntie, I was applying for political asylum'.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Moroccan king hosts dinner to mark dedication of Essaouira heritage centre

A synagogue has been dedicated as a Jewish Heritage Centre in Essaouira in Morocco (formerly Mogador) . 

Here is a video clip 

The dedication ceremony of the Beit Dakira (House of Remembrance), a former synagogue,   took place in the presence of the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI. The King threw a banquet in honour of the representatives of the Jewish community attended by his royal advisers, Fouad Ali El Himma, Andre Azoulay and Yassir Zenaqui.

The President of the State of Israel, Rubi Rivlin, tweeted his thanks to the King of Morocco and said he was very moved by the occasion.

Prominent guests included Audrey Azoulay, director of UNESCO, Goz Schmidt Bermme, the German ambassador, Serge Berdugo, secretary general of the Moroccan Jewish community, Rabbis David Pinto and Joseph Israel, the chief rabbis of Morocco and Casablanca; Yitzhak Dayan, the chief Rabbi of Geneva, Jason Guberman, executive director of the American Sephardi Federation and actor and comedian Gad Elmaleh.

The city, once 40 percent Jewish, today has a handful of Jews.

Read article in full (French)

Article on Bayt Dakira (Times of Israel - with thanks Imre)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Iraq-born Jew profiled as 'father of the drone'

Abe Karem, an Iraqi Jew, was  profiled in a recent article in the prestige publication The Economist as 'the father of the drone'. 

Karem is considered the founding father of drone technology. He is the founder of Leading Systems, which eventually became the divisiton of General Atomics which builds the Predator and its successor the Reaper. He now leads Karem Aircraft. More about him here.

Born in Baghdad in 1937 Karem (pictured)  had a passion for flying from an early age. When he was 14 he started building his first model. Arriving in Israel with the mass exodus of 1951 he graduated in Haifa as an aviation engineer. He moved to Los Angeles, built a private hangar in his own home in which he designed the Albatross 'plane, the ancestor of the drone.

There is, however, another Mizrahi pretender to the title 'father of the drone' -  the Egyptian-born David Harari. 

Harari worked for Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and witnessed the shooting-down of  of 200 Israeli pilots by Egyptian surface-to-air missiles over 48 hours in the Yom Kippur war. In a race with the Americans, IAI then launched the Sout programme: flying television cameras with wings, a motor  and a communication system. In 1979 the first unmanned aircraft flew successfully. Before delivery to the military, the final prototype was sent on a secret mission to the Bekaa valley in Lebanon.

More about Harari in Le Parisien (French)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Restoring synagogues means never to say you're sorry

Restoring synagogues in Arab countries is a small price to pay for expelling a country's Jews, argues Lyn Julius in this JNS piece.

To much fanfare last week, the largest synagogue in the Middle East was reopened in Alexandria, Egypt. Some 300 guests, including Egyptian Antiquities and Tourism Minister Khaled al-Anany, were on hand for the festive occasion.

 The event made headlines from the United Kingdom to China—but only The Jerusalem Post pointed out that only three Jews were in attendance. Eight Jews now live in a country that once boasted 80,000 to 100,000. (Egyptian-born Jews and Israeli diplomats are planning their own celebration next month, but these visitors will be returning to their homes in Israel, Europe and the United States after the party.)

 The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue will never again host Jewish weddings or bar mitzvahs, nor will it ever muster a minyan. It will be no more than a museum to an extinct community and a perfunctory tourist stop.

 The media coverage of the event was typical of a trend hailing the restoration of Jewish buildings in countries with no more than a handful of Jews as somehow indicative of pluralism and tolerance in the Arab world.

 Even Jews fall for the fantasy, grateful for the slightest acknowledgement that members of the Tribe once lived in these countries. “I’m very proud of what my country has done, and it symbolizes living together—today, there is no difference between Egyptian Muslim, Christian and Egyptian Jew,” gushed Magda Haroun, leader of the Cairo “community” of two Jews. “It is recognition that we have always been here and that we have contributed to a lot of things, just like any other Egyptians. ”

No journalist covering the restoration story bothered to ask why a once-glorious community has been reduced to eight souls in Cairo and Alexandria, the youngest of whom (Magda herself) is 67.

 “Nearly all left after the founding of Israel in 1948 and during subsequent conflicts between the two countries,” The London Times reported. (Yet Egypt also divested itself of other non-Egyptians: Greeks, Italians, Maltese, Armenians.)

 Not a word about the proximate causes of the Jewish exodus: bombings of Cairo’s Jewish quarter, overnight expulsions, months and years spent in putrid jails for no other crime than being Jewish, torture and rape of Jews taken prisoner in 1967 as “Israeli POWs.”

 The Egyptian restorers did a magnificent job at Eliyahu Hanavi, even laying a glass floor over the remains of an earlier synagogue they discovered during their work. The Antiquities and Tourism Ministry undertook the $4 million project following the collapse of part of the women’s gallery and a staircase three years ago.

Recently Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi declared his intention to spend $71 million on restoring Jewish sites, but the brief was hurriedly redefined to incorporate the repair of Coptic, Islamic, Pharaonic and Roman, as well as Jewish sites, lest anyone ask why so many of this country’s scarce resources be funneled into preserving the heritage of its erstwhile enemies.

 It is surely better to preserve Jewish heritage sites in Arab lands than to let them crumble into disuse or be converted to other purposes, as has happened right across the Arab world. But el-Sisi wants to show that he is in control. He turned down outside offers of help and funding from Jewish individuals and organizations. If Jews come back to live in Egypt, he has promised, Egypt will build synagogues for them.

 Jewish communal property in Egypt is viewed as part of the national heritage. The Egyptian government alone is responsible, as it is for the preservation of Tutankhamen’s tomb. No longer will Jews have any input, and Egypt’s last links with its exiled Jews will be severed.

 This policy of nationalization extends to the creeping appropriation of movable property more than a century old, such as Torah scrolls and libraries. These are now being registered as “protected.” But no Jewish scribe or archivist remains in Egypt to curate and maintain these treasures.

Most galling of all, the communal records, essential to establishing a Jew’s identity wherever he may be in the world, have been declared antiquities. They remain out of reach; Egyptian Jews are not even able to get photocopies.

 Four million dollars is a small price to pay for ethnic cleansing. There is never any need to apologize. Restore a few buildings abandoned by their owners and pocket the tourist revenues. It’s a win-win situation.

Read article in full

Also at Israel Hayom

The Times erases the ethnic cleansing of Egypt's Jews

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Will Jews in NY become as afraid as they were in Iraq?

When  Jordan Salama's mother was growing up in Iraq, the warning signs of impending doom for this most enduring of Jewish communities accumulated during her childhood. Are the warning signs appearing in the US? Jews must learn from the past ands take action, he argues in this important piece in the New York Times (with thanks: Dan, Janet) :

Jews in Iraq in the 1970s. 

She doesn’t like to talk about Iraq much, but my grandmother Fortunée and my aunt Cynthia do.

Some of the most memorable moments of my childhood were spent in Long Island living rooms, sitting beside them as they told me, in a spellbinding mix of English and Arabic, stories of life in a country that ultimately rejected them after such a long and rich history of coexistence.

They shared tales of my great-great-great-grandfather, a trader who famously owned a caravan of more than 1,000 camels and traveled the Silk Road from Baghdad to Aleppo and Isfahan and beyond; of my great-grandfather, who built Iraq’s first cinema and movie studio; of the family house, with courtyard gardens so luscious they attracted wedding parties from all over the city.

 In the summertime the children flew kites and slept peacefully on the cool roof. Jews were jurists and government officials; one was even the first minister of finance. They lived side-by-side with Christians and Muslims; they were business partners, neighbors, close friends who supported one another.

 But these stories were always set up as the beginning of the end. Sprinkled throughout paradise were the warning signs, each worse than the next, until there was no choice but to leave. In the 1930s it was mainly political rhetoric; then in June 1941 it was the “Farhud,” a pogrom that killed nearly 200 Jews and injured hundreds more.

 By the 1950s more than three-quarters of Iraq’s Jews had fled the country; just over a decade later, around the time my mother was born, the few remaining Jews saw their assets frozen and their passports revoked. My mother remembers when they imprisoned her father along with other Jews, remembers her mother going every day to the jail where he was being held, remembers the emptiness the family felt the morning after her cousins escaped over the border to Iran. When she was 3 years old, in January 1969, nine Jews were hanged in the main city square.

By 1972, my mother’s family was among some of the last to leave, bound for the United States. Today, the number of Jews remaining in Iraq is reported to be in the single digits.

This is the story my mother remembers, the story she has always feared would repeat itself. That no matter how comfortable we as Jews may feel today, it only takes a small group of people (and a large group of people to sit idly by) to turn everything on its head.

 I remember watching with her in our living room as Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017. It was on her mind. As he approached the podium for his oath she asked me, with tears welling in her eyes, “Are we going to have to leave?”

At that point I didn’t think the answer was yes; I’m not sure I do now, either. But with each incident that has followed, family conversations have become more frequently wrapped up in those kinds of questions. First there was “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va. Then the attack in Pittsburgh, on a synagogue that looked an awful lot like ours. Then San DiegoJersey City and other smaller but significant incidents in between.

Jewish students’ experiences on college campuses are becoming. This fall, swastikas were drawn in a school in our district, and in another one nearby. And in December, there were several anti-Semitic attacks in a little over a week in New York — arguably the Jewish capital of this country — ending with the Hanukkah stabbings in Monsey.

Read article in full

From Baghdad to Queens: An Iraqi community remembers

From Exile to Exodus: the story of the Jews of Iraq (film)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Iranian Jews condemn US killing of Soleimani

It's a well-worn strategy for Jewish minorities to toe the government line for reasons of self-preservation,  and the Jewish minority in Iran is no exception. Thus it condemned the killing of General Qassem Soleimani by the 'Great Satan', and tries to  enforce the distinction between Judaism and Zionism. Israel Hayom reports: 

Iranian Jewish leaders, together with Christians and Zoroastrians, visited the house of assassinated General Qassem Soleimani to pay their respects 

The first thing the Jews of Iran did Friday before last, when they heard the astonishing news that commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had been killed in a US airstrike, was issue sharp condemnations of the American act.“God will avenge his blood,” a message from the Jewish community said.

At the start of last week,  to pay their condolences to his family, and took part in his funeral. Those present included Chief Rabbi of Tehran Yehuda Gerami, who even condemned the killing in an interview to state television. We can only guess how afraid the community was that the nation would vent its fury against them.The Iranian Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world. Legend has it that the Jews arrived in then-Persia after the destruction of the First Temple.

Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, some 80,000 Jews lived in Iran, but after the ayatollahs took power most of them left for Israel and the US. Today, the Jewish community in Iran is estimated to number some 8,000, most of whom live in the biggest cities, such as Shiraz and Tehran.“As far as religion goes, they enjoy freedom – more or less – because the Muslims cannot reject Judaism, which is mentioned in the Quran. So they can celebrate [Jewish] holidays and keep kosher and go to synagogue,” explains Rani Amrani, the director of Israel’s Farsi-language RadioRan, who made aliyah from Iran years ago. Amrani maintains close ties to Iranian Jews and non-Jews.

According to Amrani, one of the best ways for the Jewish community to ensure things stay quiet and they stay safe is to throw off any hints of Zionism.

“They are trying to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism to avoid being targeted,” Amrani says. Every few years, rare footage of Jewish activity in Iran is made public, usually around the holidays. Last Sukkot, Jewish BDS activist Ariel Gold documented the traditional prayers. Of course, her visit was approved by the Iranian regime. The goal? To prove that Iran has no quarrel with Judaism, only with Zionism. Rabbi Gerami’s Facebook page also shows recent prayers and rites, including the song “Maoz Tzur” sung in both Hebrew and Farsi.

Read article in full

Monday, January 13, 2020

Mizrahi voters are not motivated by identity politics

The Israeli Labour party is merging with the far left Meretz party. This looks like another disastrous lurch away from key Mizrahi support, if the academic Nissim Mizrahi is to be believed.  Identity politics are not  the right conceptual framework to win over Mizrahim to the left, he argues in this lengthy Haaretz interview. The Mizrahim are wedded to 'Jewish values' - patriotism and tradition - which the left seems to denigrate. Missing from Mizrahi's analysis however, is the elephant in the room: the bitter experience of the Mizrahim with Arab and Muslim antisemitism.

All the empirical research we’ve done shows that the Mizrahi majority is upset by the Tel Aviv left and even hates them, but that it doesn’t necessarily talk about it in ethnic terms.

When you look at the ethnic dispersion, you have a person bearing the name ‘Peretz’ in both the religious Zionist movement and in Labor. Both are of Moroccan origin, one was a pilot in the air force [Rabbi Rafi Peretz], both are in the Knesset and are or were in the government.

How could that be, if the extreme right in Israel is Ashkenazi by origin?

The Mizrahim have no problem being led by an Ashkenazi who is good for the Jewish people. On the contrary. They have Mizrahi heroes like Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – but there are also Menachem Begin, Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett.

When did they vote [only] for Mizrahim? What are they angry about now and who are they defending – a Mizrahi?

Certainly those termed Bibi-ites have an ethnic complexion, but the organizing principle underlying the sense of belonging to the camp is not ethnic.”

 If the so-called genie is no longer ethnic, what is it now?
Anyone who tries to paint it only in ethnic terms, based on the notion that ethnicity and Mizrahiness are the organizing principle, will be wrong time and again. That is what the left tried to do, for example, when they made Avi Buskila executive director of Peace Now, and the Mizrahim did not come.”

 Is that why Avi Gabbay failed as leader of the Labor Party?

 “That question is better suited to political commentators than to sociologists. But I think that Mizrahiness in itself is not a commodity that is in great demand among the Mizrahi public. In other words, to be a Mizrahi is definitely not a sufficient condition nor a necessary one for political success. That’s not how identity politics works.”

 What do you mean?

“The presupposition that the Mizrahi public views itself as a minority group, defines itself first and foremost as Mizrahi and therefore seeks Mizrahi representation, is unfounded. You see the contrast between the leadership of Labor-Gesher and the leadership of Likud – it’s a live experiment going on before our eyes. You see that three worthy Mizrahim are unable to attract votes from the right.”

 Nissim Mizrahi (Photo: Daniel Tchechik)

So maybe the Labor Party or the left need to stop trying to find the Mizrahi person who will speak liberalese. 

“Of course. That is a categorical error of the left. It’s an almost vulgar and simplistic application of identity politics, based on assumptions that inequality and oppression are the be-all and end-all of what motivates Mizrahim in Israel. That conception has failed time and again.

” So, what you are actually saying is: Stop thinking about this fantasy of appealing to new communities, meaning the Mizrahim. 

Those are cheap tricks that all Likud voters recognize instantly. There are all kinds of attempts based on the thesis that the vote of the Mizrahim is an anomaly, and seen through this lens, liberals are unable to see and perceive what those voters are actually saying. If they say things that are not compatible with the liberals’ imagined order, the latter immediately shut their ears and look for tricks.

Gabbay, for example, tried to signal something when he said, ‘The left has forgotten what it is to be Jewish.’ He was saying that there is a population here whose loyalty to Jewish values and the state’s Jewish identity is very deep and should not be maligned. ”

 But then everyone pounced on him.

 “True. The left thinks that Haaretz can run articles all the time stating that God is nonsense and those people are idol worshippers, all kinds of enlightened talk said as if it was something avant-garde. Maybe it was avant-garde in the 18th century. Simplistically, I can say that the left cannot change without undergoing a deep metamorphosis – without examining itself from a slightly more humble position.

To understand that the liberal vision is only one vision of order and it is not eternal. It’s true that Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history, but we’ve seen what happened to history since then.”

Read article in full

Sunday, January 12, 2020

'Only three Jews show up' to inauguration of Nebi Daniel synagogue

To much fanfare, the Eliyahu Hanavi (Nebi Daniel) synagogue in Alexandria was at last officially inaugurated after a three-year programme of restoration, ordered by Egyptian president Al-Sissi. While the project affirms that Jews once lived in Egypt and their glorious heritage, The Jerusalem Post noted the irony that 'only three Jews showed up'. Meanwhile, Egypt continues the creeping appropriation of the near-extinct community's moveable heritage, Torah scrolls and communal records.

At the age of 67, Haroun is the youngest of the eight remaining Egyptian Jews. “I will be the last Jewish woman in Egypt to close the door of the synagogue,” she said.

Yolande Mizrahi, in her 80s but still vital,  sat in one of the rebuilt wooden benches of the synagogue. Although her family left Egypt for France, Italy and Israel, she remained and reveled in returning to the synagogue which she attended as a child.

“I have traveled a lot and I have always returned. This is my country, I belong here. Why should I leave? asked Mizrahi, adding that she hopes her family will visit to see the refurbished shul.

“Egyptian officials are hoping that the synagogue will become a tourist attraction that backs up Sisi’s assertion that the country respects religious minorities and their heritage.

"If it wasn’t for [President Abdel Fattah] al-Sissi, this would have never been done. A lot of things have changed since he’s taken over,” Mizrahi told AFP. In 2018, Sissi singled out preservation of places of worship for Egyptian Jews and Coptic Christians as a priority for his government.

 “If Egypt has Jews again, we will build synagogues for them,” he said.

 Of course, that was an empty gesture, but the restoration of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue enables the government to place a feather of tolerance in its cap. And for the few remaining Jews of Alexandria, they can carry on with the knowledge that their heritage will not completely disappear.

 “This is recognition of Egypt’s Jews who were neglected for over sixty years,” Haroun told AFP. “It is recognition that we have always been here and that we have contributed to a lot of things just like any other Egyptian.”

Read article in full

Repair news was simply good PR for Egypt

The Times erases ethnic cleansing of Jews from Egypt

Friday, January 10, 2020

Baron de Menasce offered to buy Western Wall from the Arabs

Following the 1929 Hebron massacre, which began as a clash of religious claims to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, three initiatives to settle the dispute by buying the Wall and surrounding buildings from the Muslims emerged. One was a remarkable proposal by Prince Ali Pasha of Egypt, the uncle to the future king Farouk. Another came from the entrepreneur Pinchas Rutenberg. The third came from Baron de Menasche, an Egyptian Jew and well-known philanthropist. The Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, turned down all three. Read the full story in The Times of Israel:

 In 1926, a Jewish effort was launched to buy properties in front of the Wall as a first step toward acquiring the entire Moghrabi area and eventually the Wall itself.

In early October 1928, Frederick Kisch, a Jerusalem-based Zionist official proposed, in a confidential letter to the Zionist Executive in London, that the Muslims be compelled to sell the pavement and the Moghrabi area to the Jews for £100,000, “in exchange for another suitable area in the Old City, with the inevitable addition of a cash payment for the benefit of the Wakf authorities.” But these efforts, like those preceding them, went nowhere.

Jews fleeing their homes in Jerusalem in 1929

Suddenly, however, in the days immediately following the Hebron massacre, three new initiatives appeared. While none of these new initiatives succeeded, their close proximity to each other and the dramatic nature of their presentation make them, especially Prince Mohamed Ali Pasha’s proposal, unique in the history of Mandate Palestine.

 The first initiative came from a prominent Egyptian Jew, the Baron Felix de Menasce, the President of the Israelite Community in Alexandria. On August 26, 1929, only two days after the Hebron Massacre, Menasce walked into the British Embassy in Paris and met with Adrian Holman, the Second Secretary at the Embassy.

Later that day Holman cabled the Foreign Office in London and reported as follows: [Menasce] explained to me at some length that the frequent cases of rioting at the Wailing Wall were due to the fact that the buildings surrounding the Wall were in the hands of the Moslems and had always been looked upon by the British Government as bearing a religious character. It had consequently always proved impossible for the Jews to buy the buildings in question and thus prevent troubles in the future. He maintained that the buildings were purely civil as opposed to religious and that the present moment might be an opportune one for the British Government to reconsider the possibility of arranging for the Jewish community to buy the buildings for demolition or other purposes. He was sure that if this were done, the Jewish community throughout the world would easily be able to find the necessary sum of money.”

 George W. Rendell of the Foreign Office’s Eastern Division responded to Holman’s cable on September 7, noting the Muslims viewed the Wall as a religious site and would not be willing to sell the nearby dwellings to the Jews. Rendell poured more cold water on the idea, adding, “[t]he Colonial Office are, I think, familiar with the advantages and difficulties of a solution on the lines of the Baron de Menasce’s proposal, and seeing how overworked they are at the moment with a variety of Middle Eastern crises, I am not adding to their correspondence by passing the suggestion on to them.”

 Menasce sent a handwritten letter in French to Weizmann reporting on his meeting with Holman at the British Embassy in Paris. Menasce wrote, “J’ai la conviction c’est le moment psychologique de transfer tout l’argent necessaire, si jamais les Juifs deraint acheter ce Wakf …” (“I am convinced that if the Jews are ever going to buy this Wakf, this is, psychologically, the right time to find all the necessary money …”)

No record has been found indicating whether Menasce had been acting on Weizmann’s behalf, or whether Weizmann ever responded to Menasce.

Project to restore overgrown Alexandria cemeteries is launched

Now that  the Eliyahu Hanavi (Nebi Daniel) synagogue is having its official opening following months of renovation and restoration, a  project to renovate Alexandria's Jewish cemeteries has been launched.

The ark of the Nebi Daniel synagogue after restoration

Alexandria’s Jewish cemeteries are overgrown with weeds, leaves and small tree-trunks.  The Nebi Daniel Association, based in Paris and London,   has decided to undertake a thorough cleaning of the three cemeteries and is appealing for funds.

Since its formation, the Association has been able get the local authorities to  repair  the perimeter walls of the three cemeteries. It  has financed, from its own personal funds, the resurfacing of the paths at the cemetery at Chatby.

The current estimate for cleaning the  cemeteries amounts to USD 30,000 or EUR 27,000 . The Association says the project cannot be fully funded by it alone, although its council members have pledged more than half that sum.

Fifteen gardeners must be recruited  for each cemetery to supplement the six permanent gardeners of the community for a period of 35 days. Waste needs to be disposed of and equipment has to be purchased.

Nebi Daniel Association will work together with the community under the supervision of architect Alec Haggar. The Association will organise for a rabbi to recite kaddish at the graves of relatives of donors.

To contact the Nebi Daniel Association email

Egypt registers 13 Jewish artefacts as protected

Project to restore Nebi Daniel synagogue is completed

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Let's talk about (Arab) colonialism

Zionism is the polar opposite of colonialism, and the exodus of Jews from Arab countries is just the last stage in a project to subdue indigenous and unassimilable peoples of the Middle East, argues Dani Ishai Behan in this important article in The Times of Israel. 

Now let’s discuss the real colonialism occurring within Palestine – specifically, that conducted by Arab Palestine itself.

The Arabian conquest

As with many powerful nations in the early Middle Ages, the Arabs sought to expand their holdings and their power through acquisition of foreign territory. Conquest, war, and totalization were the popular mode of “progress” in that era, so it isn’t surprising that the Arabs sought to build an empire of their own. Their first conquests included, by dint of proximity, the upper parts of Middle East, specifically Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.

 They immediately set about the project of “Arabization”: raising taxes on indigenous peoples, restricting our government access, curtailing our civil liberties, replacing our sacred sites with mosques (the most notable example being the Al-Aqsa compound, which sits on the very location where our Temple once was), and effectively reducing us to second class citizens in our own lands. This system was cynically named “Al-Dhimma”, or “the protected people”.

 Those who defied this system, or were perceived as defying this system, were met with massacres and bloodshed, as the seemingly endless list of pogroms (and the eventual ethnic cleansing of Jews from “Arab lands”) clearly shows. The only way to escape all of this was to convert to Islam, abandon all trappings of indigenous identity, and become “Arabs”.

 Countless people throughout the Middle East and North Africa did just that, trading in their indigenous identities for the privileges of Arab status. However, as with their brethren in Europe, relatively few Jews were willing to assimilate, and most held steadfast to their people, their religion, and their way of life.

 Despite this, the Jewish nation was not expected to survive. Arab rulers believed we would eventually cave in and convert, or languish in dhimmitude until we all died off. The success of Zionism shattered these expectations. Not only did we survive exile in Europe/Babylon/etc and under centuries of Arab occupation, we regained a substantial chunk of our ancestral territories – defeating 6 well-trained Arab armies bent on genociding us in the process.

The acute humiliation felt by the Arab states after the war, and the resulting flood of refugees (both Jewish and Arab), set the stage for the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict and the Palestinian cause.

 What, then, is the Palestinian cause? It is, in essence, a reaction to Zionism and the State of Israel itself. Although it ludicrously presents itself as an indigenous rights-oriented cause, it is really nothing more than a front for Arab imperialism. It is hoped that, by repatriating the 6 million or so descendants of Arab refugees into Israel, the Jews in Israel will be demographically overwhelmed and we will be robbed of our self-determination once more, transforming our country into a de facto (and eventually de jure) Arab state.

 The Palestinian cause has nothing whatsoever to do with human rights or “anti-colonialism”. It is about nothing more than the Arab world’s desire to regain its lost “honor” by accomplishing through stealth what it failed to do by force: restoring their hegemony over Israel and putting the “uppity” Jews back in their place.

 Read article in full

More from Dani Ishai Behan

Challenging the myth of ''white European' Israel

The story of Judaism is liberation from imperialism

Don't excuse Muslim antisemitism

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

'White Zion' is not without black humour

With her new book White Zion, Gila Green adds grit and detail to a literary field where the Yemenite experience in Israel remains under-represented. Lyn Julius reviews the book in Jewish News (Times of Israel):

Why did Gila Green, a writer, editor and teacher who moved to Israel from her native Canada,  call her book White Zion? In this thinly-disguised autobiographical collection of short stories,  there is a constant tension between  effete, icy Ottawa, and the rugged landscape of Israel, where her Yemenite father spent his childhood. In  his family's stone house  on the edge of Jewish Jerusalem,  he would meet pilots in the 1948 war taking a coffee break in a shack on the roof. Yet it is  Gila (or her character Miriam)  who ends up living in Israel, while her father  remains in his White Zion, Canada.

The writing is picturesque, even naturalistic, although sometimes the similes are extravagant. For example, at a tea party:'I would have expected something closer to a look of disgust and a shake of the head, as though turning away from a close- up view of roadkill while sitting in the passenger seat.'

 Green mines the contrast between Miriam's well-spoken Canadian Ashkenazi mother, and her brawny ex-paratrooper father, wearing his perennial shorts even when it is  minus 20 outside. He never manages to master enough English to write down telephone messages.  The parents engage in language wars, yet the relationship seems to survive. Although the father works in a TV repair shop with a sideline in home porn movies,  the family are poor enough to take in boarders. Some turn out to be thieves and even mental cases.

It is the Yemenite side of her family which most interests Miriam: she persuades her father to start writing down his childhood memories in Jerusalem. Some are reminiscent of Amos Oz's.  Green's  subjects are Miriam's  brother, her much-married mother, her gay uncle, who is taken under the wing of a Russian dance teacher, her father's own squabbling parents. All the Yemenite characters seem to accept the hardships of life in Israel. They are devout and work hard, the women eking a living from selling food or cleaning houses. However, Miriam's tough ex-paratrooper father, shouting Arabic expletives, is not afraid to take his revenge on those who  upset him.

In painting her picture of developing Israel, Green suggests the white-on-black racism of the Ashkenazi establishment, passing the Yemenite grandfather over for promotion despite his loyal service to the Mapai workers' party. There is the black-on-black racism of the Arab who objects to what he thinks are  two Arab girls (in fact one is the swarthy Miriam) consorting  in the Jewish students' canteen.

Back in Canada Green subtly hints at the effects of assimilation  - Miriam's brother marries out, presumably to a woman with money whose rosary hangs in her SUV. Miriam's prematurely dead uncle is hurriedly cremated by his shiksa wife before his shocked parents have time to say farewell. At the other extreme we are given a glimpse into Israel's secular-religious divide, where a yeshiva  boy talking to a girl could be reason for savage punishment.

White Zion is not short of black humour, and some moments in  Gila Green's short stories are hilarious.   Take the description of the religious wedding in a shabby hall. The groom  has gone 'frum' and the marriage begins inauspiciously with  his forcing the wedding ring down on the bride's finger. Rats scamper in the toilet. Ironically, the bride in the toilet stall  has to console her rattled young escort, who is there to protect against the evil eye.

White Zion never ceases to fascinate while at times it repels. Gila Green should be commended for  adding grit and detail to a literary field where the Yemenite experience remains  under-represented.

White Zion by Gila Green (Cervena Barva Press, 2019)

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

On the trail of what is left of the Cicurel legacy in Egypt

Egyptian Tarek Heggy is a liberal author and academic, with a special interest in Jews and Israel. So when offered  the opportunity to show descendants of the prominent Cicurel family around his home country, he took it. Not all of the Cicurel legacy was still standing.  A note slipped to Heggy by a fellow tour guide read: "History can be distorted, but it can never be erased or denied.'

"I was delighted and honoured to be the tour guide accompanying the Cicurel family during their recent visit to Egypt. The children and grandchildren of Solomon Cicurel gathered in Egypt from the United States and France. 

The trip was intended to explore Egyptian civilisation and discover its modern history in which the family played a part, especially the Egyptian economy: Solomon Cicurel and others had joined Tallat Harb Pasha to found Egypt's first bank.

 The journey was steeped in emotion. It was a search for roots and history in Egypt. They grieved in front of every demolished building and rejoiced in front of every relic. Every suspicion was met with frustration and every confirmation with pride.

The Cicurel department store in Cairo before it was  demolished.

 The biggest shock was in Cairo. The Cicurel department store had been demolished and replaced with the Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt. Villa Cicurel bore no relationship to (the exclusive district of ) Zamalek and its demons, nor with the novel and the stories written about it. Villa Cicurel was in Giza. Here in his own house, Solomon was murdered in 1927 while sleeping next to his wife.

Solomon Cicurel and Villa Cicurel in Cairo's Giza district where he was murdered

 The family were most anxious to find Villa Cicurel in Giza. They wanted to rush their visits in order to look for the villa, and forego lunch for sandwiches. With the help of Google and GPS we found it. The villa is now the building of the College of Oriental Languages, as far as we could see from the newspaper photos of the time reporting the tragedy.

The family were happy to find the villa but were saddened by the tragedy, happy to take a picture of the outside but disappointed that the director would not allow them inside (they respected his refusal). They rejoiced when some confirmed that it was Villa Cicurel, but were sceptical when others said that it was the property of Princess Fatma and that the original villa had been (surprise!) demolished.

 In Luxor they were introduced to Pharaonic history and civilisation, and were amazed at all the monuments.

Alexandria filled them with joy - they rejoiced when they saw the restored (Nebi Daniel)  synagogue and were proud to see the names of their ancestors engraved among the synagogue founders. They told me that Solomon Cicurel was married to a member of the Toriel family, known as Egypt’s ‘cotton kings’ in that era.

No words can describe their feelings, that I witnessed, when we visited El Shatby cemetery and they found the graves of their family members.

The Cicurel residence in Alexandria was demolished in 2012

 The city of Alexandria was a blessing and gave us more joy when we spotted the original Oreco building (a branch of the Cicurel store catering to the middle classes) : the letters of the name are still visible on the facade.

Returning to Cairo, the American Cicurels left us to return to the States and the French branch continued their visits, alternating their tourist schedule with their search for roots. We visited the Adly St synagogue and found the name Cicurel engraved on the founders' board and on the wooden benches (No.122)."

Inside the Adly St synagogue

Monday, January 06, 2020

Suleimani demise: Iranian Jews relieved but fearful

Following the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, the Los Angeles Times has been canvassing opinion among Iranian Jews in California:

Among Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community, many responded positively to Suleimani’s assassination.

Some who were doing their pre-Shabbat shopping in Pico-Robertson described Suleimani as an enemy of Israel, which has been locked with Iran and Saudi Arabia in a struggle for regional dominance.

 An Iranian Realtor carrying bags of Shabbat groceries said the U.S. needed to take action after pro-Iranian militias attacked the U.S. Embassy in Iraq earlier this week — the event that apparently triggered Thursday’s military response.

“The concern is about effects that will happen around the region, but I don’t think the U.S. could [just] stand there,” said the man, who fled Iran with his family during the Islamic Revolution and did not want to be identified

“I think Trump needed to make a stand in some way.”

 Tabby Refael, an Iranian refugee and a prominent voice in L.A.'s Persian Jewish community, said “the first ones to breathe a sigh of relief were the Persian Jews, because Suleimani was not only an enemy of the Iranian people, he was an enemy of the Jewish people.”

 She and others in the Persian Jewish community said their most immediate concern was for family in Israel rather than about any direct retaliation against the U.S.

 In a vacuum, objectively, his death is a welcome development,” said Sam Yebri, president and co-founder of 30 Years After, an Iranian American Jewish civic organization in Los Angeles. “With that said, most Iranian Americans, including myself and my family, are fearful of the repercussions. This is a really dire situation if it escalates."

Read article in full

Sunday, January 05, 2020

BBC leaves out key events in Syrian Jews' timeline

BBC Arabic, you  are being watched! A report on  6 November ostensibly  provided  a timeline  to the history of Jews in Syria, while actually leaving out  important events such as the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840 and the 1947 Aleppo riots, according to CAMERA Arabic. The report focused on a promise by President Putin to help the Jews of Syria (a cost-free exercise to gain brownie points with the West), but asks, 'where are they ?' This is a reasonable question, as there are fewer than 20 Jews from a 1948 community of 38,000 still living there. (Via BBC Watch)

BBC Arabic video clip from August 2019 showing one of the last of the Damascus synagogues. Three of the last Jews in the city are interviewed

1. The BBC removed JIMENA’s account of the 1840 Damascus blood libel, a true landmark of 19th century history of the Jewish people as a whole. To quote the original JIMENA timeline (originally in English, in-bracket remarks by CAMERA Arabic): “1840 –Eight members of the Jewish community were falsely accused of ritual murder of a Christian monk during the Damascus Affair. The men were tortured, killed and forced to convert to Islam [all tortured, and some of them were either killed or forced to convert]. The Jewish synagogue of Jobar is destroyed [its interior was pillaged and vandalised by an angry mob]”.

Notably, the affair influenced not only the Jews in Damascus (and the Ottoman Empire which controlled it between 1516-1918) but was also pivotal to world Jewry – operating globally to protect fellow Jews in a way that was unbeknown to remote communities until then.

To get a better idea of just how gross of an omission it is to remove the Damascus blood libel from a chronicle of Jewish history in Syria, it should be emphasised that it appeared not only in all of JIMENA’s three webpages, but also in many other online chronicles of the history of Syrian Jews.

2. The BBC kept the following entry in place: “In 1850, many Jewish families leave Syria for Egypt, then [depart] from it to England”. However, it removed JIMENA’s phrase that made a connection between the departure and the blood libel, thus creating the false impression that it was spontaneous or due to an unknown reason.*

3. The BBC added an entry, stating that “in the 1800s Jews were granted a legal status known as Dhimmis’, and they were required to pay the head tax [Arabic: Jizya جزية]”. In fact, the Dhimmi legal status, historically granted to members of some religious minorities who were subjected to Muslim rule, as well as the obligatory Jizya tax that was imposed on them along with it, are both thought to be almost as old as Islam itself; a few of the most ancient Islamic texts (in the case of Jizya, even the Qur’an) refer to them.

 Specifically regarding the Jews of the areas which now consist modern Syria, their designation as Dhimmis who owe mandatory tax to the state was in effect up to 1856, under the Ottoman Empire as well as under the Muslim rulers that preceded it. Between 1856-1909 Jizya was replaced with a different tax, “Badal Askari”, that Jews and Christians paid in order to become exempt from military service. However, at least some of them considered the new tax as “Jizya with a new name”.

Read article in full

*One factor was the opening of the Suez Canal which deprived many Jews of their livelihoods. Another was the 1960 - Druze- Christian war.

Friday, January 03, 2020

From South America to England, via Morocco

Vanessa Paloma Elbaz is both a musical performer and an academic specialising in Moroccan music. Profile by Jessica Duchen in the Jewish Chronicle:

Vanessa Paloma Elbaz (PhotoPG Svarzbein/Mongovision)

It is not every scholar who can be described as a “one-woman roving museum”. But Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, who drew that plaudit from the New York Times, is no ordinary academic.

 Currently based at the Cambridge University music faculty, she is a remarkable mix of writer, performer, anthropologist and Earlier this year she was presented with the inaugural Florence Amzallag prize from the American Sephardi Federation and Mimouna Association at the Center for Jewish History in New York.

 It is the latest in a string of prestigious awards and grants that have attended her in what could seem a niche field, yet has wider implications. The focus of her research is music and politics in the Mahgreb, the Moroccan Jewish community and Judeo-Muslim relations through culture and cultural diplomacy.

This unusual path has taken her from Atlanta, Georgia, to Puerto Rico, Morocco, Jerusalem, Paris, across the US and now to the UK, delving ever deeper into her passion for traditional musics and their significance.

 Elbaz’s parents are both academic anthropologists. Her mother is from Colombia, from a family originating in northern Morocco. “She and my father met in Atlanta when he was a professor at the university and she was a postdoc,” she says. Elbaz was born there, but raised largely in Puerto Rico, where her father became vice-president of the university.

 Read article in full

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Morocco and the tale of the key under the mat

Morocco, it is often said with good reason, was not like other Arab countries, such as Egypt or Iraq, whose governments actively persecuted and sometimes brutally expelled their Jews. Yet if life was so troublefree for Jews, why does only one percent of the Jewish population remain?

The reasons why they left have to do with a more subtle form of antisemitism. In the early sixties, the atmosphere became increasingly hostile; there were several instances of Jewish girls being forcibly abducted, and their conversion to Islam announced in the newspapers.

Here is one story, told to Point of No Return by a Jew who left Morocco in 1967.

A Jewish girl from Casablanca was abducted one Saturday morning. Her father, helped by police officer friends, managed to find her in Marrakesh.

They returned to Casablanca. That evening, the girl was put on a 'plane to Paris.

The next day was Sunday. That afternoon, the mother fled  with the other children to France.

On Monday afternoon, the father, having settled his bills, also left Morocco.

He locked the door of his house and put the key under the mat.

On Tuesday morning, the gang of would-be kidnappers came back to Casablanca. There was nobody left  against who they could take their revenge, and the house was theirs for the taking.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

2019: Point of No Return's Year in Review

Wishing all Point of No Return readers a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year!

It's that time of year again, when this blog looks back on the main events of 2019 - the good, the bad and the ugly. Point of No Return is getting some 66,000 page views a month from visitors across the globe, from the US to Indonesia. It has had 4 million since its humble beginnings in 2005.

The year began as it ended, with talk of the evaluation commissioned by Israel's Social Equality Ministry into Jewish property lost in Arab countries. Minister Gamiel's claim of $250 billion has been downgraded to $150 billion - still a substantial sum. The results of the evaluation will be formally announced imminently. For the first time, British MPs debated the subject of Jewish refugees at Westminster. Commemorative events were held and press articles published on Jewish refugees from Arab countries around the globe on or around 30 November. Israel intends to submit a UN resolution demanding recognition for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

Point of No Return marked the following anniversaries: 70 years since the airlift of Jews from Yemen, 50 years since the Baghdad hangings;  45 years since four Jewish girls were murdered in Syria; 45 years since the death of the Palestinian wartime Mufti;  40 years since the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty; 40 years since the outbreak of the Iranian revolution and 180 years since the forced conversion of the Jews of Mashad.

It was a good year for Fischel Benkhald, Pakistan's only self-identifying Jew, who gained permission to visit Israel; Elan Carr, named US government antisemitism 'tsar' (although his file is ever more burdensome), Albert Memmi, the 98-year old Tunisian-born writer, who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award; Mizrahi spies, put on the map by Matti Friedman and Netflix, Dana Avrish, whose exhibition 'Leaving, never to Return'  in Tel Aviv helped raise awareness of Jewish refugees; Jews in the Gulf states, who can now practise openly; Rabbi Pinto, named Dayan of the Moroccan Beth Din, Alexandria's Nebi Daniel synagogue, now completely restored.

It was a bad year for the family of Sarah Halimi, whose killer is not likely to stand trial; for the 1941 Farhud survivors, whose  petition to the Israeli courts for compensation  was rejected, and for Jewish heritage in Arab countries, whose theft is being legitimised by international law. 

Deaths: Singer Maya Casablanca, Writer Lucette Lagnado, Community leader Shalom Tesciuba, Writer Shimon Ballas, Professor Sasson Somekh, Campaigner Raphael Bigio, Mossad agent Abu Nur.

Best articles of the year: 
Pilot Nagi Dabby
Yaakov Lozowick on the Yemenite Children
Tales of the Spiderweb building
The failed Kurdish aliya
The tale of the two Menashes
How Chabad saved 1,800 kids from Iran
A Tale of Yemenite love
Must-read by Shmuel Trigano
Must-read by Hen Mazzig

Past end-of-year Reviews:

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hanucah lighting is held in Kurdistan

For the first time, a Hanukiah was lit at the tomb of the Prophet Nahum at al-Kosh in Kurdistan, as reported by i24 News. The lighting took place on the last day of the festival. Yet there are no practising Jews in Kurdistan and no community to speak of, other than the descendants of 400 families with Jewish roots, all of whom are now Muslim. One assumes that the ceremony took place as a symbol of defiance towards Da'esh (IS), which had reached within 11 miles of the tomb before being defeated, and enables Kurdistan to show off its pluralism. The decision to hold the ceremony could also be linked to the renovation of the tomb of Nahum. 

Some had traveled from Israel, but the majority came from the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan to come together to light the Hanukkah candles, which celebrate the miracle of the cruse of oil that lasted for eight days.

 "It's the first time we are celebrating Hanukkah in Iraqi Kurdistan," one of the organizers Ranj Cohen said.

Cohen, an Iraqi Kurd, registered his association with the authorities and plans to complete the renovation of the prophet Nahum's tomb so as to hold services there on Saturdays.

He hopes to have all readied early next year.  For the time being, the small congregation distributes sweets and chocolate-iced cakes as they hope for better days in Iraq, and especially in Kurdistan.

 In 2015, when IS still occupied a third of Iraq and the territory of the self-proclaimed "caliphate" bordered the majority-Muslim autonomous region, the local authorities appointed a representative of the Jewish community to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. 

Read article in full

Egypt registers 13 Jewish artefacts as protected antiquities

The restoration of the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria has been greeted with rejoicing and gratitude. But this is the price Jews are paying for the preservation of their heritage: according to this article in Egypt Independent, the Egyptian government has declared 'protected' 13 artefacts. This means that it is starting to nationalise  moveable communal property that might
 have been restored to its Jewish owners.  (With thanks: JIMENA)

A Torah scroll in the Nebi Daniel synagogue (Photo: Nebi Daniel Association)

The Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt has approved registering 13 artifacts, including Torah scrolls, candlesticks and lanterns, belonging to synagogues in Alexandria and across Egypt’s governorates, in preparation for listing them under the Antiquities Protection Law.

Mohamed Mahran, head of the Central Department of Jewish Antiquities at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, said that the move to approve registering the pieces as antiquities represents the first of its kind.

In a conversation with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mahran said that specialized scientific and technical committees had submitted a list of 500 pieces from 13 different Egyptian synagogues, including the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria.

The Permanent Committee for Antiquities then approved the selection of 13 artifacts from the list.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities approved the selected artifacts in accordance with established regulations, Mahran noted, adding that the pieces handpicked for antiquity status under the Antiquities Protection Law are over 100 years old and have a specific history.

The Council recommended that the remaining 487 pieces be preserved in preparation for further study and scientific research. The pieces came from a group of around 6,000 total artifacts examined by scientific and technical committees, which included academic professors specializing in archaeology and experts from the Ministry of Antiquities.

Read article in full

Arab states are claiming the heritage of their expelled Jews

Monday, December 30, 2019

Blaming Israel for the exodus: rebuttal to Sky News

In the fourth of a series*, CAMERA Arabic takes Sky News Arabic to task for spreading unsubstantiated allegations that Israel caused the exodus of Jews from Arab countries. Many of these are stapes of Arab propaganda, but in refuting them the original piece does refer back to some useful links and sources. 


Regarding the series of attacks against Iraqi Jewish targets, all carried out in Baghdad between April 1950 and June 1951, their perpetrators and their influence on the Jews’ exodus, all are a matter of a heated historical debate to this day. Apart of the usual “Israel did it” allegation, always a classic of Arab mainstream propaganda that has recently been promoted by “critical theorists” and “new historians”, other more probable suspects have been floated, either by interested parties or scholars.

Among the suspects are Iraqi nationalists (based on the only recorded admission of two perceived culprits ever made), Muslim Brotherhood Islamists, as well as local Jews who – albeit members of the Zionist underground – were operating outside Israeli directives. Allegedly, the Iraqi Zionists initiated several attacks after the only fatal attack, the Messouda Shemtob synagogue bombing of January 1951, was already carried out (they were certain that the synagogue attack was the work of the Muslim Brotherhood).

 This was done to prove the innocence of their fellow underground members, arrested by the Iraqi authorities shortly after the synagogue bombing. At that point most Iraqi Jews were already registered for emigration, so Israel didn’t even have an interest in rushing them out of Iraq. Moreover, two independent commissions found no connection between Israeli intelligence and the events: the first secretly assembled in 1960 by David Ben Gurion’s instructions; the second  as a part of a libel lawsuit filed in 1977 by a former intelligence agent against an Israeli journalist. Eventually, the trial concluded in 1981 with the journalist apologising and retracting his accusations as a part of a settlement. Currently, the theory about Israeli involvement in the bombings relies heavily on quite oblique pieces of evidence, none of which can be considered substantial:

• The Iraqi official “investigation”, which brought about the arrest, torture and trial of two Zionist underground members, Yosef Ibrahim Basri and Shalom Saleh Shalom. Both were convicted of the synagogue bombing** and were eventually executed; however, despite having found large amounts of hidden weapons as a result of the two’s arrest, the Iraqi authorities were never able to draw a plausible connection between them and any of the attacks, or between them and the Israeli authorities. A common belief among the Iraqi Jewish community that such involvement existed. Notably, it only became widespread and subsequently faced unrelated hardships. Unfounded estimates of UK and US diplomats and intelligence agents, accusing Israel of responsibility for the events. A single British report explicitly refrained from questioning Basri and Saleh’s trial, stating there was “no reason to suppose that the trials were conducted in anything but a normal manner”, notwithstanding it being a trial of Zionists conducted by an Arab regime in the early 1950s. Alleged similarities between the 1950-1951 Baghdad attacks and the 1954 Cairo and Alexandria ones which lay at the heart of the Lavon affair (see more under Egypt below), despite the fact that the latter never targeted Jews.

• An analysis of the Israeli interest in speeding up the Jewish exodus from Iraq. Israeli historian Moshe Gat has pointed out that the main advocates of this analysis base it on distorted dates and statistics. In conclusion, to unconditionally assign responsibility for the attacks to the Israeli government, as Sky News Arabia did, reflects absolutely no fact checking on the reporter’s behalf.


 The first intelligence-related Israeli operations in Yemen date back to the mid-1960s, when Israel sought to interrupt the Egyptian intervention in the Yemenite civil war by providing weapons and funding to the side who fought the Egyptians. This happened more than a decade after Operation On Wings of Eagles (“Magic Carpet”), which was completed in 1950 – notably, before the Mossad even existed as an intelligence agency that was permitted to operate independently outside Israel.

 Admittedly, some researches suggest that Israel, not oblivious to the humanitarian crisis some Yemenite Jews were facing, secretly colluded with Yemen’s monarch, influencing his decision in favor of allowing Jews wishing to depart his kingdom to do so. However, this can’t possibly be considered a conspiracy of Israeli intelligence agents to “sow strife and unrest” in Yemen. All the more absurd is the suggestion that the political turmoil, economic difficulties and antisemitic hostilities of the late 1940s – generally perceived as the immediate factors which drove the Jews of the Kingdom of Yemen and the Aden British Protectorate to leave for Israel – are a part of such a conspiracy. This has no historical basis whatsoever.


The identities of most of the 1950-1951 Iraq bombing perpetrators are still unknown. In contrast, an examination of the Egyptian case leaves little doubt that those who orchestrated what the Sky report referred to as “bombing attacks targeting Jewish businesses” – a series of deadly attacks which targeted Jews in Cairo in 1948 – belonged to ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, agitated by Egypt’s losing war effort against Israel. Not a single English or Hebrew source seriously debates the possibility that Israel, still waging its War of Independence at the time of attacks, would divert its limited resources to engage in such an operation, killing dozens of Egyptian Jews in the process. Additionally, it is unclear why the Sky report mentioned the attacks in the context of Gamal ‘Abd an-Nasser’s rule, since he led the military coup against King Farouq only in 1952. As for Nasser, his direct responsibility for the many thousands of Jews forced out of Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s is undeniable.

Furthermore, while Nasser himself publicly rejected the “anti-Semite” label and insisted that he opposed Zionism alone, in practice his official policies and propaganda did next to nothing to distinguish the two. In other words, even if Nasser himself wasn’t openly anti-Semitic, his regime definitely was.

Marcelle Ninio, who was involved in the Lavon Affair. 

What was the contribution of Israeli policy to the Egyptian decision-making process that produced the mass persecution of local Jews? Indeed, the 1954 espionage affair and 1956 Suez crisis, to which Israel was responsible, has considerably worsened the relations between the Jews of Egypt on the one hand and the Egyptian government and Muslim majority on the other. However, these Israeli moves never intended to encourage Jewish immigration: the Lavon affair attacks were conceived as false flag, and Operation Musketeer/Sinai Campaign of 1956 had strategic objectives that went far beyond the concerns of Egypt’s small Jewish minority.

It is also debatable to what extent local Jews would be persecuted had Egypt not been in a conflict with Israel. Judging by the fate of Egypt’s Greeks, Copts, Armenians, Italians and Levantine Christians under Nasser’s nationalist regime, all ethnic and religious minorities who lived in the country for generations and were never involved politically with a foreign power hostile to Egypt, it seems very likely that Jews would have been targeted nonetheless, in one way or another. Once again we’re amazed at how most Arabic-speaking media outlets, purporting to present themselves as “Western” via their brand names, engage in the same kind of baseless, hateful propaganda that (non-Western) Middle Eastern media channels have perfected, often at the order of their local governments.

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** In fact Basri and Salah were charged only with throwing the last three bombs, not the synagogue bombing. (Gat p 179)