Tuesday, September 16, 2014

(Some) Bosnian Muslims saved Jews

 A page from the Sarajevo Haggadah, hidden by Muslims during WW2

An exhibition charting the role Muslims played in saving Jewish lives in the Holocaust went on show at a  Cardiff synagogue last week, the BBC tells us. Bosnian Muslims hid the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year old manuscript, beneath the floor of a mosque - a remarkable story. It is a pity that the BBC does not pay equal attention  to the 20,000 Bosnian Muslims who joined the Handschar SS division and took part in the killing of thousands of Jews, Serbs and Roma. (With thanks: Lily)

Stanley Soffa, chair of Jewish Representative Council for South Wales who has brought it to Wales said it was a "heroic story".

It is part of Open Doors 2014, the annual event offering free entry to many attractions throughout September.

The programme is marking 30 years of making heritage more accessible.
The Righteous Muslim Exhibition documents the story of Bosnia Muslims who went to great lengths to preserve Jewish tradition during World War Two by safeguarding the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year-old manuscript which narrates the Exodus from Egypt every Passover.

When a Nazi official came to seize the Haggadah, two men carried it through Nazi checkpoints, to a mountain village above Sarajevo. A Muslim cleric kept it hidden beneath a floor of a mosque until the war was over.

Mr Soffa said: "The exhibition was very well received in London last year, so we are delighted to have the opportunity to share this story with the people of Wales... this weekend.

"For us, it is a heroic story of Muslims saving Jewish lives which provides a unique bond between two communities that we can celebrate together and remember together."

Read article in full

Monday, September 15, 2014

How the Mizrahi story can end the colonial myth

 This summer's Gaza war has highlighted the role of the media and opinion formers in shaping a hostile view of Israel and a favourable understanding of Hamas.  Two journalists, Matti Friedman (right) and Tom Gross (left), have called the biased reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict a 'political weapon -with which they arm one side in the conflict.' Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:
There are many reasons why journalists have become accessories to Hamas's propaganda war, behaving as activists rather than reporters. They relay a picture  of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli extremism and intransigeance, suppressing any facts that make a  nonsense of this narrative. Tom Gross identifies one reason:

" ...Many have a kind of guilt about being white and Western, and the history of their own colonization. Israel is perceived as a white country and the Palestinians are perceived as non-white, even though in fact many Palestinians have lighter skin than some Israelis. Many Western journalists abroad have barely heard of the fact that there are Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews."

This is a key reason why organisations like mine, Harif, have been trying to raise awareness that Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews constitue over 50 percent of Israel's population.

We want people to ask why these Jews ended up in Israel. They did not move to Israel only out of Zionism, although this was a factor : the majority fled their countries as refugees - out of fear, to escape harassment, violence and death.

They fled the same conditions of intolerance and bigotry that are now forcing the other non-Muslim minorities of the Middle East to choose between extinction or exodus.

We must turn the Israel-as-colonialism narrative on its head. We must re-assert that Jews are the most ancient of indigenous Middle Eastern peoples, with a history of continuous residence in what is now known as the Arab world going back 3,000 years.

Moreover, the colonial relationship between Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews and the Arab Muslim conquerors is the exact opposite of what reporters and western observers believe:  the Jews of the region are the colonised and the Muslims the colonisers. For fourteen centuries,  Jews survived at the beck and sufferance of their Muslim rulers. As the historian Georges Bensoussan has explained, they sought to escape insecurity as a vulnerable minority and their second-rate status by seeking western protection and embracing modernity.

The modern state of Israel, although under attack since the day it was born, has provided Jews with the wherewithal to defend themselves. This is an affront to Muslim pride and supremacy, and a key reason why the Arab/ Islamist struggle to destroy the sovereign Jewish state continues.

The Sephardi/Mizrahi 'narrative' may not be able to reverse the supertanker of current public opinion any time soon, but it can seriously hole it below the waterline.

Read blog in full 

Cross-posted on Harry's Place

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Turkish pundit : Jews must pay Gaza tax

Faruk Kose (photo: Haber Vaktim)

A Turkish pundit writing for Yeni Akit, a major publication aligned with President Erdoğan, called for the country’s Jews to be taxed to pay for reconstructing buildings damaged in Gaza during Israel’s recent Operation Protective Edge. The idea has precedence:   During World War II, Jews, as well as ethnic Armenians and Greeks, were subject to an arbitrary lump-sum tax. It also has overtones of the 'dhimmi' jizya tax on non-Muslims. The Algemeiner reports (with thanks: Michelle):

Faruk Köse said that the “Gaza Fund Contribution Tax” should apply to Turkish Jews as well as foreign Jews doing business in Turkey and any Turkish nationals with commercial ties to the Jewish state.

The columnist even said the tax should apply to any company or business that maintains a partnership with a Turkish Jew.

“The reconstruction of Gaza will be paid for by Jewish businessmen,” he said.
The penalty for failing to pay the tax should be the revocation of the Jew’s business licence and the seizure of his property, Köse said.

Köse also sparked controversy in July when he penned an open letter to Turkey’s chief rabbi, calling on Erdoğan to demand that the Jewish community apologize for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“You came here after being banished from Spain. You have lived comfortably among us for 500 years and gotten rich at our expense. Is this your gratitude – killing Muslims? Erdoğan, demand that the community leader apologize!” he wrote at the time.

The article was mentioned in a subsequent open letter to Erdoğan from Jewish human rights group, the Anti-Defamation League, calling on the leader to “publicly reject all expressions of anti-Semitism including the scapegoating of Turkish Jews for the actions of Israel, and assure the Turkish Jewish community that they continue to have the full support and protection of the state and people of Turkey.”

Read article in full

Friday, September 12, 2014

Iraqi-Jewish archive to go on tour

 Summer 2014 has come and gone but the Iraqi-Jewish archive has still not been returned to that war-torn land. According to the US State department, the archive, whose highlights have been exhibited in Washington and New York,  will embark on a tour of more American cities. Report in the Washington Post:

Fragment of Torah scroll (Book of Numbers)

WASHINGTON — After the U.S. Army rescued a trove of Jewish artifacts from the basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters, many American descendants of Iraq’s once vibrant Jewish community had an urgent question.
Is the U.S. going to return these artifacts to war-torn Iraq?

The answer was yes. Over the objections of many Jews whose families came from Iraq, the U.S. had agreed that the “Iraqi Jewish Archive,” painstakingly restored in a laboratory outside Washington, would return to Iraq in the summer of 2014.

But the summer of 2014 is nearly over, and the archive is still in the U.S. Now a new plan will delay at least some of the collection’s journey back to Baghdad, where it had been discovered — moldy and disintegrating — in the flooded basement of the former dictator’s intelligence headquarters.

According to the State Department, highlights of the archive — exhibited in Washington and New York this year and last — will soon embark on a tour of several more American cities.

Some see this extension — at a time when much of Iraq is in chaos — as an opportunity to revisit the question of the archive’s destiny. They want its Torah fragments, prayer books, documents and photographs, dating from the mid-16th century to the 1970s, housed permanently among Jewish communities capable of caring for them.

“There is no regard for human life there now, so how can there be regard for our precious legacy?” said Carole Basri, vice president of the American Sephardi Federation, a group of Jews of Spanish, Portuguese, Middle Eastern and North African heritage.

Read article in full 

Sign the petition: don't let the Iraqi-Jewish archive go back to Iraq

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The invisible Jews of Algeria

 Jews in Algeria? We don't hear of them much. Could it be that there aren't many left? in the Arab imagination, however, their numbers are exaggerated (how else could one explain Jewish power?). One thing's for sure: there are not enough Jews to form a community, even if synagogues were re-opened. Officially there are no Jews left in Algeria, but as with Lebanon and Kurdistan, there could be Jews of mixed ancestry who still identify with the faith but are forced to hide their identity.  Even Mohammed Aissa, minister for religious affairs, admits that if they became visible they would soon be vulnerable to attack by Islamists. 

Article in MondeAfrique (With thanks: Andrew)
Google Translation into English

Synagogue in Oran, now a mosque

« Des juifs en Algérie ? On en entend parler, mais sincèrement on ne les voit jamais et on ne sait pas où ils sont. Pour une grande partie des algériens, l'existence de cette communauté dans leur pays relève du mythe. Pourtant ils sont nombreux à y vivre depuis des siècles. Ils forment une communauté invisible depuis la fin du régime colonial Français en 1962. Ceux qui ont choisi de rester en Algérie ont toujours mené une vie très discrète, surtout après l’avènement du terrorisme dans le pays aux débuts des années 1990.

On dit qu’ils sont nombreux mais leur présence est presque fantomatique », explique un journaliste à Alger. Une réponse qui à elle seule permet de comprendre la situation des juifs d’Algérie. Il existe toutes sortes d'anecdotes sur cette minorité religieuse. Un habitant de la région de Blida raconte comment il a découvert que son voisin était juif. « J’ai remarqué que mon voisin recevait chez lui une dizaine de famille chaque week end. J’étais curieux et étonné à la fois de savoir le motif de ce regroupement chaque semaine, jusqu’au jour où j’ai su qu’il s’agissait de juifs qui pratiquent leur religion et font leurs prières collectives. C’est vraiment étonnant. Ce sont des gens arabes comme nous et leurs femmes portent même le voile islamique pour passer inaperçues." « Sincèrement, cela ne me dérange pas, mais si les islamistes les découvrent, ils risquent leur vie », nous raconte Ahmed, un habitant de la même région.

Et les juifs, eux même, acceptent-ils de parler ? Pas facile de nouer le contact avec eux. « Ils sont protégés par les services de sécurité. Ils ne se manifestent pas et c’est pour leur sécurité. Les juifs d’Algérie se méfient de tout et de tout le monde», nous confie une source de ministère de l’intérieur. Ils vivent en retrait au milieu d’une société pas toujours tolérante. Notre contact avec deux étudiants juifs de la région de Constantine, après plusieurs mois de tractations et par l’intermédiaire d’amis journalistes qui ont mené des investigations sur ce sujet rarement abordé en Algérie, ne donne pas grand chose. Ils ne livrent que peu d'informations et refusent de répondre à nos questions relatives à leur mode de vie. Pour des raisons de sécurité, ils ont exigé d’abord l’anonymat. « On vit comme tous les algériens. Il n’y a rien qui nous distingue de nos concitoyens, seulement en privé, on mène notre vie à notre manière et on pratique notre religion en catimini. On est très attaché à notre religion et certains d’entres nous
apprennent même l’hébreux.

Read article in full (French)

*This rare clip of a religious Algerian Jew is subtitled: Jews and Arabs lived well together. The Jew explains that he was born in Montgolfier and left soon after Algeria became independent in 1962: there was no synagogue in his place of birth, but the Jews led orthodox lives, and attended synagogue services on festivals in the neighbouring town. He went to school with Arabs and 'there was never a problem."

However, matters began to change 'after the war'. Algerians 'returned from abroad' (from Germany?) and 'began to turn against the Jews'. The interviewee does not go into detail. It is instructive that he does not blame 'Palestine' for the deterioration of Arab-Jewish relations.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Even Jewish funerals guarded in Turkey

 Antisemitism is reaching fever pitch in Turkey, where even Jewish funerals need security. Hurriyet columnist Burak Bekdil writes for the Gatestone Institute (with thanks: Eliyahu):

 The motive for murder of the Jewish couple Georgia and Jak Karako was criminal, but mourners at their funeral needed security
If you are a Jew in Turkey not even a funeral is peaceful.
Just imagine a Turkish Jew having a legal dispute with a Muslim Turk and facing this judge in the courtroom...
As usual, apparently Muslims are allowed to kill Muslims as they like, only Jews are not.
Nearly three years ago, the Israeli news site Ynetnews.com published an opinion piece written by a Turkish-Jewish girl. She wrote: "…I have never had the need to discuss my Jewish identity, let alone my Israeli identity… We are a Jewish family with a connection to Israel, and as fit for a Turkish family we enjoy... freedom of religious rituals and worship. Holidays and vacations, Jewish schools, synagogues, and Jewish after-school clubs, all out in the open, and with no reason to fear… (Nov. 17, 2011)"

Just when I suspected that the author must be describing a Turkey other than the one I lived in, her final line confirmed that it was the same Turkey: "Despite my love for Turkey, I have chosen to remain anonymous, in case, well, you know..." Well, I knew...

Last month, Georgia and Jak Karako, a prominent, affluent Jewish couple, were found stabbed to death in their apartment in Istanbul's upscale Ortakoy neighbourhood, amid President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan's thundering speeches that, "Israel was worse than Hitler," and regular attacks on Israel's diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul, including rocks thrown at -- and hundreds of angry Turks trying to break into -- the diplomatic compounds. The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, was quoted as saying: "We will conquer the consulate of the despicable murderers."

Unfortunately, the Jewish couple had already been slain. But fortunately, this was not a crime motivated by anti-Semitism. The police quickly caught the suspects, an Uzbek couple who worked for the Karakos. They confessed to the killing. It was a simple criminal act like hundreds of others committed in Turkey everyday.
All the same, the poor couple's funeral service at the Ulus Askenazi Jewish cemetery was revealing. In fear of an attack, tight security scanned every guest. If you are a Jew in Turkey, not even funeral is peaceful.

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Iraqi-Jewish voice heard on BBC

 Demonstrators in London protesting at the genocide of minorities in Iraq

The current disaster afflicting minorities in Iraq, threatened by the advancing Islamic State army (IS), has had a positive unexpected effect: a Jewish voice was heard on the BBC programme, Beyond Belief.

You can hear Edwin Shuker (at 10 minutes into the programme) give an eloquent potted history of his life in Iraq, how the ancient Jewish community was persecuted again after the murder of King Faisal ll in 1958 and most of its remaining members fled to freedom over the mountains of Kurdistan in the 1970s.

Shuker was introduced by presenter Ernie Rea as an 'Arab' Jew - approved BBC-speak. Shuker told Point of No Return that he has never used this expression in his life to describe either Jews or Christians.

To the BBC's credit, however, the injection of a Jewish voice puts into perspective the ethnic cleansing of Iraq's minorities. Yazidis and Assyrian Christians are the latest to suffer from the IS's demands: pay an unaffordable jizya tax, convert to Islam or die. Hundreds have been killed and their women and children sold into slavery.

Ernie Rea and his guests projected the BBC party line that until the 20th century Iraq was known as a 'harmonious melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity'. No mention of the 1941 Farhud.

All agreed that the persecution of the Jews (attributed solely to the Ba'ath party) was 'political' rather than religious.

Dr Reza Pankhurst, author of The Inevitable Caliphate, was revealed only at the end of the programme as belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a banned Islamist organisation in the UK. He made the dhimmi status of non-Muslims sound like a privilege and the caliphate sound like a bit of necessary dental surgery: it may hurt in the beginning, but it will benefit you in the end.

Gerard Russell, former British and United Nations diplomat and author of "Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East, suggested that the survival of non-Muslim minorities was a tribute to the 'tolerance' they experienced under Islam in Iraq. Later in the programme, however,  Russell admitted that the 'tolerant' Ottomans had managed to massacre three-quarters of all Yazidis.

Only Dr Erica Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Eastern Christianity in the Department of Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, was sanguine about the impact of 'dhimmitude' on non-Muslims, suggesting that minorities survived in Iraq into the 20th century despite Islam, not because of it.

At the end, the academics puzzled over what conditions needed to exist for Edwin Shuker to be able to 'return' to the country - a favourite BBC theme.

Puzzling indeed.

You can hear a podcast of Beyond Belief: The religious history of Iraq over the next year.

BBC Watch

Monday, September 08, 2014

Turkish shop sign bans 'Jew dogs'

A shop in central Istanbul has put up a sign forbidding entry to 'Jew dogs', according to the local Jewish publication, Salom.


The sign, which features an Israeli tank,  was first sighted three days ago. It says: "Jew dogs are not permitted entry."

Ironically, the shop, which sells mobile phones and accessories, is in Tahtakale, an area with many Jewish businesses.

The sign is symptomatic of a dramatic rise in Turkish antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric.

'Jews and Armenians not allowed, but dogs are'

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Iraqi Jew leaked beheading video

An Iraqi Jewess was behind the 'leak' of the execution video of the journalist Steven Sotloff. Rita Katz, whose own father was executed in Iraq, has made it her life's work to monitor Islamist internet sites, according to Ynet News:

Rita Katz

Shortly after international media got hold of the horrible execution video of American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff, the radical terror group behind the beheading, the Islamic State (formerly ISIS), published a bizarre clarification: The video, they explained, was "mistakenly leaked" to the internet. What they didn't know was who was behind the leak – meet Rita Katz,  an Israeli expat originally from Bat Yam.

From an office in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, a small team scans the Web 24 hours a day for jihadi videos often featuring gruesome executions by groups such as Islamic State.

On Tuesday, SITE Intelligence Services grabbed headlines when it found and alerted its subscribers to footage of the beheading of Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist to be put to death by IS in two weeks.

Founded by Katz, SITE has built up more than a decade of experience tracking extremist groups online for clients including government agencies of the United States and other governments, private firms and media outlets.

Katz, 51, was born to a Jewish family in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, and was forced to flee the country after her father was executed by the regieme for allegedly spying for Israel. At the age of six she made Aliyah to Israel with her family, living in the coastal city of Bat Yam, directly south of Tel Aviv.

After serving in the IDF, she competed her BA in Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv university and then moved with her family to Washington, moving on to become a prominent figure on the world of research into radical Islamism and terror. She founded SITE in 2002.

Katz would not disclose the number of staff SITE employees, but said it was a small and dedicated team.

By monitoring file-sharing sites, Islamist forums and other obscure and often password-protected areas of the Internet, the firm says it has built up a sophisticated picture of how Islamic State and similar groups operate online.
"Our ability to find jihadist materials so quickly doesn't come from luck," Katz told Reuters. "Tracking them is a science."

Read article in full 

Rita Katz, Iraqi-born terrorist hunter

Friday, September 05, 2014

The left's blindspot for Iranian Jews

The Iranian intellectual left in exile has latched on to popular leftwing causes like the Palestinian cause, without paying the slightest attention to the great injustice taking place under their very noses: the loss of their own age-old Jewish community. Important essay by Roya Hakakian in The Tablet. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

Jews in Hamedan in 1918. They have now disappeared

These friends got me to replace my petty anxieties with much grander ones. I was to preoccupy myself with the plight of the mineworkers of Bolivia, pray for the struggling Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Northern Ireland nationalists, keep alive the memory of Native Americans, and march on behalf of the displaced Palestinians. Somehow this proved the best antidote for the discontented adolescent at the time.

But even at the time, it puzzled me why the dwindling community of Iran’s own Jews never fell within the otherwise generous purview of their concerns. In 1977, that ancient community had more than 100,000 members. Today fewer than 10,000 remain. Such drastic diminishment of any population in the West would surely place that community on the endangered list, warranting the issuing of buttons and stickers, pasted on car bumpers and the binders of idealistic freshmen in colleges. But somehow Bolivia was closer to the hearts of my compatriots than Ju-bareh, the Jewish district of their own Isfahan, where, as it happens, Jews had, indeed, built underground tunnels to alert each other when pogroms broke out.
The extinction of a community to which Iran owes so much of its distinction as a non-Arab nation, a distinction so important to the Iranian sense of self, has never been recognized by Iran’s elite, nor eulogized, for with the loss of the Jewish community Iran’s claim to tolerance and Persian-ness will be harder to sustain. And so a nearly 3,000-year history is ending in silence. The Jews who had aspired to anonymity throughout their life in Iran are becoming extinct in anonymity now. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not manage to wipe Israel off the map of the world, his revolution surely has just about wiped the Jewish community off the map of Iran.

Of the 90,000 Iranian Jews who have been displaced since 1979, possibly half emigrated to Israel. These were the less-well-off Jews, the “proletariat” of the community who could not afford to go elsewhere. My aunt and her family were among them. In January 1979, in a town called Khonssar, an angry mob of anti-Shah demonstrators set fire to the fabric shop the family ran. In the rolls of fabric they kept in the store, they had tucked their life’s savings in cash. When the shop burned, so did their future. And so did their home, for they lived on the story above.

In the thousands of posts that avid secular Iranians have placed on social media since the start of the recent war in Gaza, as in the numerous articles they penned, statements they signed and speeches they gave over the years, there has never been a mention of their own uprooted Jews. Palestine, they have consistently demanded, must be returned to the Palestinians. But not once a contemplation on what was to become of those who made their home there because the revolution they helped usher into the country drove them out of their ancient homeland.

Reams of translations and invocations of the literature of wronged communities—of poetry of Langston Hughes, for instance, and of the suffering of African Americans under slavery—but not a word about the gas chambers of the Nazis. In what they have not done, this so-called Iranian leftist vanguard is denying the Holocaust just as much as the president they opposed did.

In the thousands of posts on the “apartheid” in Israel, there has been none about the apartheid in Iran, the one where Jews (like other non-Muslims) cannot testify in a criminal trial against a Muslim. Thousands of posts on the alleged genocide committed against the Gazans, not a word about disappearance of Iranian Jews from Hamedan, for instance, where of the rule of the Jewish Queen Esther, only an abandoned tomb remains. The wrongs done to the Jews of Iran do not wash away the wrongs done against the Palestinians. But how can the necessity of Israel as a Jewish homeland be so readily dismissed by those who have been the culprits of the displacement and extinction of a community of their own?
 (My emphasis)

It is far too easy to resort to “anti-Semitism” as the explanation for what is ailing my compatriots, though it cannot be ruled out. Having observed them for as long as I have known them and myself, I have come to see their profound loss as the single most formative, and tragic, force of their lives. Once the Young Turks of their own era, they are now reaching the end of their lives in Iran or in diaspora, their destinies determined and ruled by a lesser sort—less educated, less erudite, less debonair, less sophisticated: mullahs who outwitted them in a Trojan moment. The innocuously turbaned giant they allowed into the country in February of 1979 proved to be their archenemy. They lost Iran, then they lost their hope in the Soviet Union as a utopia. Of all the things that used to define, bind and unify them, nothing is left today.

Nothing, that is, but their antagonism to Israel. Israel is the one cause around which their disarrayed lot can still unify, to reclaim a modicum of their old revolutionary glory. And it is cost-free, too. So many of these aging and ailing opposition figures, who had sworn off traveling to Iran until the mullahs were gone, are now dual citizens, returning to the bosom of families and communities after decades of separation. To keep their travel privileges, there is much that they keep silent about. But bashing Israel and the Jews, where their convictions miraculously overlap with those of the archenemy—well, that gets their passports renewed. Besides, for the more visible figures, it may even land them an interview or two on national television.

In the meantime, several promising signs point to a different attitude emerging among average Iranians, as documented in the latest ADL’s report on the state of anti-Semitism globally. A far more pragmatic generation, disenchanted with the regime and even more so with their “enlightened” predecessors, is rising throughout Iran.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 04, 2014

What really made Moroccan Jews leave?

 A press cutting reporting the Petit Jean massacre of 1954

The Petit Jean massacre 60 years ago,  the subject of a blogpost in the Times of Israel by Lyn Julius, has elicited an interesting reaction from those who have always believed that Moroccan Jews did not leave for Israel as a result of antisemitism, but out of ideological reasons (see below):

Last month, at the height of the Gaza war, French Jews in a Paris synagogue were shocked to find themselves the target of a near-pogrom by an enraged mob. And not only in France. Attacks on Jews in the UK went up 500 percent. Germany, Italy and Australia saw a worrying rise in anti-Jewish incidents too.

Jews in the West have been dismayed and traumatised: campaigns against antisemitism have been launched, demonstrations called. Leaders are hastening to distance diaspora Jewry from Israel in the hope that Jews will not be targeted for violence. 

In fact ‘collective punishment’ of Jews is nothing new to Jews who originate from Arab and Muslim countries.

Sixty years ago last month a massacre occurred that actually had nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The massacre of Petit Jean (now known as Sidi Kacem) may surprise those who extol Morocco as a model of Muslim-Jewish coexistence.
In a private exchange, Lyn Julius responded to a reader who claimed this article marked a serious revision to the history of Jews from Arab lands. Even Moroccan Jews themselves, and the new centre for Moroccan Jewry in Jerusalem, he asserted, make no mention of events such as the Petit Jean massacre. She replies:

The period just before independence must have been very difficult for Jews, with regular outbreaks of violence - as well as Petit Jean, five Jews were murdered in Oujda in 1953 and seven in Wadi Zem in 1955. This must have made Jews want to leave but the gates were slammed shut as soon as Morocco got independent. 
In fact Morocco has the worst record for pogroms of all Arab countries in the late 19th and early 20th century, culminating in the major pogrom of Fez in 1912 which 45 - 60 Jews died. 
Also in Morocco the dhimmi status, with its ritual humiliations and exactions, was still being applied to Jews into the 20th century, long after it had been abrogated in the Ottoman empire, and the country had a dismal record of forced conversions and abductions of Jewish women. Having said that, independent Morocco never passed discriminatory laws against Jews and did not expropriate their property, although fleeing Jews left many of their assets behind.
In addition, the impression of Morocco as the model of Muslim-Jewish coexistence has emerged because the King has invested heavily in a PR campaign to project an image of Muslim-Jewish harmony to a) encourage tourism and b) gain brownie points with the US and legitimacy for its invasion of Western Sahara.

 Jews themselves often confuse the issue by expressing their affection and loyalty to the Moroccan monarchy, not least because of the role the wartime sultan was supposed to have played in 'saving' them from Nazism. But no less than the head of the Moroccan Jewish organisation in Israel, Dinah Levin, has compared the plight of Morocco's Jews to a Nakba.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Turkish Jew girds loins against eviction

Ilya Avramoglu's bra and corset shop in Istanbul has survived much antisemitism in the past; this time, however, the antisemitic threat is (allegedly) coming from his Catholic landlord, Sophia Jones writes in the Huffington Post:

Avramoglu's Kelebek shop in downtown Istanbul : threatened with eviction

In one of the wood-paneled walls at the back of the shop, just below a poster of a smiling woman in a black bra, is a small hole. It’s all that is left from an attack on the minority-owned shop 60 years ago. It was nearly his grandfather’s downfall.

In early September 1955, rumors spread like wildfire that the home of Kemal Ataturk, the widely loved founder of modern Turkey, was set ablaze by Greeks (the rumor was entirely false). What ensued was a slew of attacks on homes, churches, schools and shops of Greeks, as well as Armenians, Georgians and Jews. The actual death toll of what is now known as the Istanbul pogrom is unknown; at least a dozen people were killed. Istiklal, then home to many shops owned and run by foreigners and minorities, was totally destroyed.
Kelebek was ransacked, its money and merchandise stolen. Nothing was left except debris and broken glass, and there was a hole in the wood paneling -- which Avramoglu now proudly shows off as a mark of defiance.

kelebek corset
Avramoglu holds up a photo of his grandfather standing in Kelebek Corset Shop after it was destroyed by a mob in 1955 during the Istanbul pogrom.
Two faded black and white portraits, one of his grandfather, and another of Ataturk, hang in the shop like a silent reminder of the time.

Two generations later, Avramoglu says he still isn’t safe from persecution. He vividly recalls two major anti-Semitic attacks in particular: In 1986, two gunmen locked the doors of an Istanbul synagogue and open fired during Sabbath prayers, killing at least 21. And then in 2003, twin car bombs exploded near two synagogues in central Istanbul.

Avramoglu's sister, who was attending a bar mitzvah in one of the synagogues during the attack, survived. But more than 24 people were killed and 300 wounded, the majority of them Turkish bystanders.

Rising levels of anti-Semitism have rocked Turkey’s Jewish community. Scores of Jews have left home, bound for Europe, the United States and Israel in search of religious freedom and a better life. In some cities, like Antakya, there are only a few remaining members of the ancient communities.

Avramoglu’s family started a Change.org petition pleading to Pope Francis to rescind the eviction order, and they plan to go to court. His lawyer tells him they’ll lose, he says, somberly. “The law is against us.”

Avramoglu cannot support his large family if he gets evicted. A local Jewish foundation is already pitching in to help pay his son’s university tuition.
kelebek corset
Avramoglu hangs fliers condemning his eviction order.
On Thursday, Avramoglu taped up his eviction order in the storefront and a poster in Turkish reading, "Where is the mercy? Where is the conscience?" Passersby stopped and watched him, whispering among themselves.
“We support you fully,” a woman said to Avramoglu, briefly poking her head into the store.

“An era is ending,” murmured a man who has been coming to Kelebek for 48 years.

For Avramoglu, his shop is a monument, not just to bras and underwear, but to religion and identity -- which is what he’s fighting for. Kelebek is his life’s work, and he's proud to have achieved his grandfather’s dream.

“This store is everything for me,” he says. “It’s history.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

IS within 30 km of Ezekiel's tomb

 With thanks: Maurice
Detail from the ceiling at Ezekiel's tomb

Islamic State (IS - formerly known as ISIS) has advanced to within just 30 km of Ezekiel's tomb at Al-Kifl. Ezekiel's tomb was the place of pilgrimage most revered by Jews when Iraq had a community.

 Last week, Islamic State (IS) elements in Iraq detonated two truck bombs in the city of Hillah, about 30 km. from al-Kifil. Although these attacks and others near the Imam al-Hussein Shrine in Karbala show IS's reach into southern Iraq, analysts think that IS's goal is to further foment Shi’a-Sunni sectarian tensions. The region is home  to many Shiite shrines, especially one belonging to the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

Iraq's five remaining Jews live in Baghdad, where IS suicide bombers routinely target Shi'a mosques. Dozens are killed daily.

Although the Iraqi defence ministry takes credit for repulsing IS elements, it is US airstrikes which are making the difference. A combined army of Iraqi security forces,  Shia militia and Peshmerga Kurdish forces  launched an offensive to retake Amerli, a Turkmen Shi'a town of 15,000 - thus averting a humanitarian catastrophe. The mobilisation of Shi'a militia, which fought the US military in Iraq, puts them in the ironical position of benefitting from US airstrikes.

The suffering of Yazidi girls and women who were captured in Iraq  afew weeks ago, reached its peak when it was reported that 300 of them were sold by IS fighters to their elements in Syria after they were forced to convert to Islam, so that they can marry IS fighters. The reports added that the 300 girls/women were sold for $1,000 each. Other girls/women were previously sold in Iraq for as low as $15 each. Three weeks ago, there were reports that some Kurdish and Arabic mediators in Syria also bought women from IS as a way of returning them to their families.

During the last few weeks, more than 1000 children were killed by IS in Iraq, and more than 400,000 people were displaced in the country, mostly in the Kurdish region. The old tensions between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs are feeding battles there. Kurdish fighters suspect that area Arabs have backed IS militants that have rampaged in Iraq’s north over the past month. The Yazidis in Iraq are paying a higher price than other minorities in the country in light of the progress that IS achieved in the north last month (IS advances are now being reversed following the US attacks). After IS gunmen had entered Yazidi villages with machine guns, they gave a choice to Yazidis between conversion to Islam or death. Hundreds among them who refused to convert were executed. Following that IS released a video clip that shows hundreds of Yazidis who were “happy” to convert to Islam.

 The video clip was issued not long after IS released another video showing one of its fighters beheading American journalist James Foley.


Senior Kurdish government officials are reportedly angry at Israel for declaring its support for Kurdish independence. They fear such support will damage the Kurdish cause. The reaction among Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a Arabs is much worse, they say.  The Israeli leaders' declarations will increase Arab suspicion and animosity towards the Kurds.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Rebutting Hamas's Mizrahi narrative

 CNN's Wolf Blitzer challenges Hamas's spokesman Osama Hamdan

Enjoying greater media exposure during the Gaza war,  Hamas has been busy spreading the disinformation that the Muslim world welcomed Jews as 'normal' citizens before the establishment of Israel. JIMENA, the US organisation representing Jewish refugees from Arab lands, has been equally busy countering the lie. Article in Digital Journal: 

Amidst the flurry of international media surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Operation Protective Edge, one crucial voice continues to be co-opted and silenced: that of indigenous Mizrahi Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

In an August 6, 2014 interview on CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan was questioned regarding his accusations that Jews "slaughter Christians in order to mix their blood in their holy matzoh." In response, Hamdan denied the Anti-Semitism in Arab countries, by painting a picture of Islamic societies as pluralistic and accepting of Jews: "The Jews lived in the Arab region and among the Muslims as normal citizens. When the Jews were kicked from Europe in the mid-ages, they came to live in peace in our countries, and they were accepted." JIMENA President and Libyan native, Gina Bublil-Waldman counters by noting that, "Jews have had a continuous presence in the Middle East for over 2,500 years – an entire millennium before the advent of Islam. Under Muslim rule, many Jewish communities in the Arab world were relegated to a subservient, second-class "dhimmi" status."

Hamdan is only the most recent to make this claim. Dr. Mousa Abu Marzook, then Deputy Head of Hamas' political bureau, stated in an August 25, 2008 interview with IslamOnline: "The Jews who were living under the Islamic rule were the happiest on earth…Jews lived freely and ran prosperous businesses in Egypt and Baghdad, and the markets of Baghdad are evidences of what the Jews owned. Jews did not face any persecution or mistreatment."

Hamas also refuses to recognize Mizrahi refugees, instead blaming them for their own exile and the plight of the Palestinians. In a September 22, 2012 public statement published by Ma'an News Agency, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the first UN conference on Jewish refugees from Arab countries, held in New York in 2012, claiming that "those Jews are criminals rather than refugees… They were actually responsible for the displacement of the Palestinian people after they secretly migrated from Arab countries to Palestine before they expelled the Palestinians from their lands to build a Jewish state at their expense."

As a leading representative voice of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East & North Africa aims to achieve universal recognition of the Mizrahi refugee experience by collecting and sharing the personal and communal eye-witness testimonies of some of the 850,000 Jews who fled Anti-Semitic persecution in the Arab world. Legal experts assert that the UN Agency for refugees (UNHCR) recognized Jews fleeing Arab countries as bona fide refugees. UN Resolution 242 which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council officially recognized Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

In a JIMENA testimony, Iraqi-born author Emil Murad describes the long history of Anti-Semitism in Iraq: "From l930 all Iraqi governments systematically suppressed any sign of Jewish or national consciousness on the part of the Iraqi Jews...study of Jewish history was forbidden, restrictions were imposed on relations with Jews abroad and Zionism was considered to be treason." In 1941, these actions culminated in the massacre known as the Farhud: "They began dragging Jews out of buses and murdering them in the road. Wild crowds and defeated soldiers who had returned with their weapons to the city, saw the pogrom as a celebration and a sort of amusement. The Jewish Quarter in the city centre became a battlefield, with looting, robbery, and rape…The pogrom inflicted mortal wounds on the Jewish community."

JIMENA President Gina Bublil-Waldman recalls the danger to Jews in Arab countries. "We were denied the most basic human and civil rights, such as the right to become citizens, the right to vote, the right to hold public office, or hold government jobs." Waldman remembers the pogroms in 1945 in her hometown of Tripoli, Libya: "Libyan Arabs looted and burned Jewish homes and killed Jews. They dragged my neighbors and relatives out on the streets and slaughtered them… Nine synagogues – four of them in Tripoli – were burned to the ground, and 35 Torah scrolls were destroyed."

Mrs. Bublil-Waldman relates to ethnic and religious persecution in Muslim countries today: "Mizrahi refugees can empathize and serve as great allies to minorities from Arab countries. Honoring Mizrahi history is key to understanding the suffering of Yezidis, Christians and other oppressed groups, including Palestinian refugees, in the Middle East."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

More on the 1954 massacre at Petit Jean

 As promised, here is a little more detail about the massacre of Petit Jean, near Meknes, on 3 August 1954.  The massacre gives the lie to the myth that Moroccan Jews and Muslims had always lived peacefully together. As a commenter has pointed out, this pogrom was  the worst of a series of incidents - riots in Oujda in 1953 in which four Jews were killed, Sagan in 1955 (hundreds of Jews made homeless after their homes were burnt to the ground), riots in Wadi Zem (a family of five and two other Jews killed).

The aftermath of the massacre 

 The massacre of Petit-Jean (now known as Sidi Kacem) took place against a background of unrest and violence as Moroccan nationalists struggled for independence against French colonial rule. The tension was palpable during that fateful August of 1954.

What happened exactly on 3 August ?
Petit Jean was a commercial hub 20 kilometres from Meknes. Jewish shopkeepers prepared to shut their stores to comply with a nationalist boycott. But the French authorities told them to remain open and guaranteed them 'total protection'. The Jews paid dearly for such a lie.

According to Robert Assaraf, author of  Une certaine histoire des juifs du Maroc (p 579), at around 6.30 pm a horde of 1,000 excited Arabs converged on the old town and fixed a portrait of the exiled sultan, the future Mohammed V, on the front of a Jewish shop. The police commissioner climbed a ladder to remove it. The mob threw stones at him. He got away. For no apparent reason, the mob then took out their frustrations on  the Jews, clubbing them with iron bars. Some believed that a Jew had lent the policeman a ladder.

The names of the dead were as follows:

The manner of their death was particularly shocking: Samuel Boussidan, a father of 11, had his chest split open. The murderers then indulged in unspeakable atrocities. They hurled him on to a heap of sacks and set fire to him. Setting ablaze  a truck belonging to Chaloum Elfassy, the screaming crowd headed for Elfassy's warehouse, attacking him with bricks and killing his son, 22, a young married father of one. Other rioters attacked Elie Toledano, the head of a large family, and killed him and his son David. A sixth Jew, Abraham Amar, suffered the same fate.

The mob made a bonfire of the bodies and set fire to valuable stock, while their women ululated their joy. Witnesses saw the rioters distribute banknotes stolen from the unfortunate victims. The body of a sixth victim was found some time later.

It took four hours for the forces of law and order to come. The police, who were protecting the European quarter, began to fire on the rioters. They fled in all directions: 300 were arrested.

Assaraf points out that the rioters spared the shops belonging to Muslims, and even more incredible, the property of French and foreign companies. "At the SCAM warehouse, the mob enquired who was the owner," Assaraf recounts." When they learned it was a French company, they were careful to leave it alone, going off to plunder more Jewish assets."

The corpses,  charred beyond recognition,  were handed over to the traumatised Meknes Jewish community. On the seventh day of mourning, the community leadership publicised an open letter in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic to be read out in all synagogues: "Fathers and sons were sacrificed on the same day. Their murderers, full of hate, savage and cruel, made them suffer the cruellest torments. The dead are martyrs for the people of Israel." The letter ends with a plea for Divine vengeance.

This video, taken by the granddaughter of Samuel Boussidan's brother, ends with a view of the victims' tombstones filmed in the Meknes Jewish cemetery. Apparently they bear the engraved inscription: "Killed by Arabs on 3 August 1954."
Directing its anger as much at the murderers as at the police's failure to prevent the pogrom, the community  pledged to plant trees in the victims' memory in Eretz Israel.

Following the pogrom, letter of complaint in Judeo-Arabic sent by Meknes Jews to the Alliance Israelite headquarters in Paris

Was the riot premeditated or spontaneous? No one knows, but Jews had been singled out for an unusually sadistic death purely for being Jews. When the last French soldier left Moroccan soil, what fate lay in store for the Jewish community?

Nationalist leaders and the French governor condemned the massacre, but panic had already spread amongst the Jews. A few weeks later a Jewish merchant in Rabat was killed for opening his store in violation of the boycott of French goods declared by Moroccan nationalists.

JTA reported on the 'pogrom' atmosphere in Morocco:

Haifa (Aug 15): "The first group of 599 Moroccan Jews escaping from the pogrom atmosphere now prevailing in Morocco arrived here today. Most of the immigrants are young people and come from Marakesh, Fez, Rabat and Casablanca.

"The immigrants are the first of a stream of 25, 000 Moroccan Jews already registered for entry into Israel by the Jewish Agency. They left aboard the Israeli ship “S.S. Jerusalem” two days after the start of the anti-Jewish attacks, which resulted in at least seven Jewish dead and many injured at Petitjean and Fez.
Most Moroccan Jews, rich and poor alike, want to leave for Israel, and “the sooner they are transferred, the better, ” the refugees declared. They told how, when they were passing through the streets of Casablanca on their way to board their ship, Arabs shouted: “We’ll start war against the Jews within a week. “
Jews under Muslim rule in the 19th c, by David Littman

One hundred years since the Fez pogrom

Friday, August 29, 2014

1954: Morocco's summer of terror

Sixty-years ago this month, Morocco was in turmoil as it struggled for independence from France.  On the first anniversary of the deposing of the Moroccan sultan, who was sent into exile to Madagascar, Jews found themselves targeted by Moroccan nationalists. On 3 August 1954, a pogrom erupted in Sidi Kacem (Petit Jean), 20 km from Meknes: six Jews were killed. More about this pogrom soon.

Here is a JTA report from 12 August 1954 describing the aftermath of the pogrom:

"Twenty-five thousand Jews in Morocco have registered with the Jewish Agency for emigration to Israel, it was announced here today. In view of the tense situation in Morocco, the Agency started negotiations with an Israeli shipping company for their transportation. The first group of 600 will arrive tomorrow, followed by another group of 1, 000 by the end of this month, and 2,000 more in September.

A number of well-to-do Jews in Morocco have received threatening letters from Arab terrorists, ordering these Jews to leave the country within three months, it was reported here today by David Rubino, a merchant, upon his arrival from Casablanca.

Mr. Rubino, in giving the first eye-witness report on the Moslem terror against Jews in Morocco, said that seven Jews lost their lives in the pogroms in Fez and Petitjean last week. Many other Jews, he reported, were injured, shops were looted, businesses and artisans’ booths that had been maintained by Moroccan Jews for generations were smashed by the rioters.

The scene in Petit Jean following the pogrom of 3 August.

“The terror is not aimed specifically against the Jews,” he declared. “The terror has its own political motivation. But Jews are suffering, and losing their lives. Most Moroccan Jews want to leave the country, want to emigrate to Israel. This includes many who, up to very recently, had no particular desire to go to Israel. These have changed their minds overnight, because of the pogroms. “

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"I live. Send help": the Joint's 100 years

Top: Jewish refugees waiting to leave Algeria, 1962. Middle top: the Sephardi Old Age Home in Jerusalem, 1920s. Middle Bottom: Tunisian Jewish mothers queuing to collect free milk, 1951. Bottom: The Joint helped organise the airlift of Jews from Yemen in 1949, Operation Magic Carpet.

Many Jews displaced from Arab countries  owe a debt of gratitude to the prosaically-named Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee), which has been quietly going about its business of giving humanitarian aid to Jews in need. This year, the Joint celebrates its 100th anniversary. Point of No Return salutes the Joint's amazing work in the Middle East and North Africa with this photographic tribute. Here is some information on the special centenary exhibition being held in NYC until 21 September :" I live. Send help."

"On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) a new exhibition, “I Live. Send Help.” 100 Years of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, will be on view at the New-York Historical Society Museum; Library in New York City, is running until 21 September 2014.

Founded in New York City in 1914 as a response to the plight of Jews in Europe and Ottoman Palestine at the outset of World War I, JDC has become a premier humanitarian organization helping Jews and non-Jews in need worldwide.

A collaboration between the New-York Historical Society and JDC, the exhibition recounts JDC’s 100-year history with photographs, objects, films, and letters dating from 1914 compiled from JDC’s extensive Global Archives in New York and Jerusalem.

I Live. Send Help.” will chronicle JDC from its inception in 1914, when Jacob Schiff, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., and other Jewish philanthropists came together in New York City to help needy Jews in the Middle East and Europe suffering at the outset of World War I. After the war ended, new crises emerged and JDC - originally intended as a temporary initiative - continued and expanded its efforts around the world. During the buildup to World War II, JDC helped relocate Jewish refugees and save them from Nazi persecution, in places as far and wide as Shanghai, China; La Paz, Bolivia; Kobe, Japan; and Sosua, Dominican Republic. JDC was critical in rehabilitating and resettling survivors of the Holocaust after their liberation.

The exhibition also visits the challenges facing Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East, and focuses on JDC's most recent relief activities rebuilding Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union and aiding Filipinos in the wake of the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

Highlights of “I Live. Send Help.” include a long-lost 1940 letter from Albert Einstein to JDC Chairman Edward Warburg, revealing the renowned Jewish scientist and Nobel laureate's dedication to helping children escape Nazi persecution in Europe.  In the exchange, Einstein praises the JDC for its work and implores nations in the Americas to admit more Jewish refugees: “Efforts to save these children must not slacken... It is not only a question of bringing them to the States, other countries must be opened to them…In all these efforts the aid of the Joint Distribution Committee is of the utmost importance."

A 1921 photograph of elderly men, women, and children desperately waiting to receive food outside the JDC-sponsored Dreyfus Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem illustrates the chaos in which JDC operated in its earliest years.

The exhibit will feature rare audio recordings including entertainer Eddie Cantor’s radio endorsement of JDC’s WWII-era work and testimony by an Alaska Airlines pilot involved in the JDC-organized evacuation of Jews from Yemen."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The curious case of the 'Jewish' Kurds

Jews demonstrate in solidarity with Kurds. Do Kurds have a Jewish skeleton in their cupboards?

The current  rapprochement between Jews and Kurds, standing together against ISIS and in favour of the protection of oppressed minorities in Iraq,  has obscured an aspect of their historical relationship not often talked about : how many Kurdish Jews converted to Islam over the centuries?

The 18,000-member Kurdish-Jewish community was airlifted to Israel in 1950, so  Jews attending demonstrations in solidarity with Kurds are surprised to hear that Kurds have Jewish family members living in Israel or recall that their grandmothers were Jewish. One estimated that the 'Jewish' Kurds living in the Kurdish region numbered 150,000. This figure is almost certainly a fantasy.

In Kurdistan, they call them Ben-Ju: they are the descendants of Jews converted to Islam. To all intents and purposes, they are Muslim. But they remain aware of their Jewish ancestry, and this undoubtedly influences their views. Many are sympathetic to Israel. The Israel-Kurd magazine - whose editor disappeared without trace (reportedly kidnapped by Iranian agents) - was apparently an initiative of Kurds of mixed Muslim-Jewish ancestry.

There could be hundreds or even thousands of these cases.
 It's an intriguing thought that the scale of forced conversions in Kurdistan might even approximate what occurred in Morocco (one in four Moroccan Muslims in Fez, for example, are reckoned to descend from Jewish converts) Yemen, and Iran. It could be a skeleton in the Kurdish cupboard of massive proportions.

 Jews were under the protection of local tribal chieftains, or aghas. It is possible that these aghas seized Jewish girls as their wives.

A story doing the rounds in Israel tells that a military adviser was sent by the Israeli army to train the Kurds in the Sixties. He wrote that when he was invited one evening for a dinner at a Kurdish peshmerga army leader's house, a lady in that house brought him tea. When he looked at her, he thought he recognised her and  asked if she was Sarah. When she heard him calling her that name, she dropped the tray with all the tea on the floor out of  shock, and rushed out of the room. He  never saw her again. He added that when his family lived in northern Iraq, he had a sister by the name of Sarah who was kidnapped. He was sure that that lady was his sister.

This story echoes that told by  Ariel Sabar in 'My father's Paradise'. Ariel's aunt was kidnapped by her Muslim wetnurse as a baby, and never heard of again.

Of Kurdish barbers and Jewish converts


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Exposing Edward Said as academic fraud

A new book by Joshua Muravchik, Making David into Goliath, exposes the late academic Edward Said (pictured) as a fraud whose Orientalism turned history on its head: he made Arab Muslim imperialists into victims and colonised peoples  into colonialists. The brilliant Daniel Greenfield explains in Front Page Magazine:

Edward Said transformed the Muslim and Arab colonists into the oppressed indigenous peoples pitted against European colonizers. The complex nuanced realities of legitimate scholars who recognized that Europeans and Arabs had both been imperialists and colonizers in their time were swept aside by Said’s nationalistic polemics.

By damning legitimate scholars as racist colonialist Orientalists, Edward Said was able to impose his own racist and colonialist revisionist history on academia.
The New Left had made Third World nationalism into its new creed. Said’s support of the PLO made him a voice for justice no matter how many lies he told or how his botched scholarship perverted history. Third World nationalists could legitimately call on Western guilt and act as moral voices on campus at the behest of a left that glibly assumed that only political terror would end the cycle of oppression.

The unfortunate truth of human affairs is that everyone is oppressing someone else. The great question that the left has been unwilling to address is who their designated victims are oppressing.

By treating the likes of Edward Said as reservoirs of unchallenged morality, the left had become complicit in the oppression of others. The old lessons of the USSR and the French Revolution, the danger of handing unlimited moral authority to outraged fanatics with an agenda, had not been learned. Instead class made way for race. The elites who had claimed to speak for the workers in France and Russia were dismissed. The new elites were wealthy prep school grads like Edward Said who claimed to speak for a non-existent people in an imaginary country based on three vacations he had taken there.

It was not only a breathtakingly impudent act of colonialism, but one that had severe consequences for the intellectual integrity of academia. Edward Said had staked out his place in the academic revolution by denouncing just about everyone else for their Orientalism. Facts were his weak point, but his tactics were Stalinist. Denouncing potential opponents as a class allowed him to turn his own Orientalism into the Lysenkoism of his field. It was not the quality of his scholarship that won him influence, but the broadness of his denunciation. Said’s work was not inclusive, it was exclusive. It came to bar the door.

In Making David Into Goliath, Joshua Muravchik dissects many of the myths and frauds that Edward Said built up around himself. And yet the myths can never be entirely destroyed because of the crucial role that he played in the alliance between the New Left and Third World nationalists. His ideas helped assign intellectual credibility to the intertwining of two reactionary totalitarian movements struggling to remain relevant by denouncing every newer system of government and thought.

Like many racists, Edward Said’s denunciations of others were really expressions of his own limitations. Said condemned his academic enemies for failing to see the diversity of the east, when it was Said who refused to see the diversity of the west. Edward Said reduced his opponents to crude stereotypes while accusing them of reducing Arabs and Muslims to crude stereotypes.

Edward Said accused his opponents of constructing colonialist myths, but his obsession with Israel led him to promote a colonialist myth in which his imperialist ancestors were the true indigenous people and the Jews, the majority of whom were Middle Eastern refugees, were foreign usurpers. (My emphasis)

Edward Said tainted scholarship with this revisionist nationalist history. His defense of Arab and Islamic colonialism in an era in which academia no longer looked kindly on conquerors required him to turn history on its head and manufacture a narrative of oppressed colonizers suffering at the hands of the newly liberated indigenous people whom they had oppressed.

This local perversion of history fitted into the larger global perversion of Orientalism which indicted Middle Eastern scholarship for its intellectual colonialism as part of Said’s effort to colonize the study of the Middle East with his own tribal nationalism. Like a thief who pretends to be a policeman to scare away the other competing thieves he imagines are lurking nearby, Edward Said disguised the imperialism and colonialism of his agenda by dressing it up as anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism.

From his biography to his ideas, from his head to his toes, Edward Said was a fraud. Neither a great scholar not a great thinker, Said’s private nationalism played into a larger intellectual debate taking place within the culture. His work lives on because of grants from Saudi princes and because it serves as a pillar of a post-American academia in which political indictments have taken the place of research.

Arafat hijacked planes in the name of a phony nationalism, but Edward Said hijacked academia. These two Cairo natives had briefly lived in Israel as children and built careers around their imperialist efforts to colonize Israel with myths and violence, with lies and terror, pretending to be the oppressed when they were actually the oppressors.

Read article in full 

Placing the colonial boot on the Arab foot

Monday, August 25, 2014

Couple 'confesses' to Turkish -Jewish murder

 The caretakers for a famous Jewish couple in Turkey have 'confessed' to their murder. But Turkey's Jews say that the government has form when it comes to blaming local disputes for what is widespread antisemitism (with thanks: Eliyahu):

 The Jewish Press reports:

An Uzbek couple has confessed to the murders of Jak Karako and his wife, Georgia Karako, owners of Turkey’s upscale yarn manufacturing firm Ören Bayan.

The bodies of the Turkish Jewish couple were found by Istanbul police in their apartment in the Ortaköy neighborhood on Friday.

The suspects, ages 28 and 26, were identified only by their initials in the Todays Zaman newspaper due to legal restraints. The suspects, who were caregivers working for the family, allegedly confessed to the murders under interrogation that they killed their employers in a fit of temper.

Police arrested them at their own apartment, according to the report. Both allegedly confessed that they killed the Karakos because the victims withheld wages in compensation for items the caregivers had broken in the home, and they were angry they had received no money for two months.

But Turkey's Jews are sceptical, the Times of Israel reports:

An unnamed source in Turkey told The Algemeiner website that there is so much mistrust between members of the Turkish Jewish community and the Turkish government that the truth about the couple’s murder may never be revealed. “It will be some manipulated version of what had happened,” said the source.

“There have been several reported murders of Turkish Jewish businessmen throughout the past several years, but these incidents were either never solved or were blamed on some small local disputes which the community always looked at with suspicion,” the source added.

Pistachio nuts link Iran and Israel

 A Jewish wedding in Iran (photo: Hassan Sarbakhshian)

Relations between Iran and Israel are almost non-existent, except for the bizarre fact that Iranian pistachios flow freely into Israel. Claudio Gallo  from the Italian daily La Stampa takes the pulse of the local Jewish community, and asks if pistachios are the best hope for diplomacy.

In the most popular part of south Tehran, not far from the bazaar, there is a famous Jewish institution: Sapir Hospital and Charity Center. It is an old building with white walls on Mostafa Khomeini Street, named after the late son of the imam, but everyone still calls it by the name it had before the revolution: Cyrus Street.

The hospital is named after a Jewish doctor who died in the 1930s fighting the typhus epidemic that decimated the city. Sapir is funded by the Jewish Association in the capital as well as the Islamic State, though both patients and staff are 97% Muslim. The medical director is Ciamak Morsadegh, a surgeon with the physique of a sumo wrestler who is also a member of the Iranian parliament representing the Jewish community.  

Just out of the operating theater, Morsadegh explains that there are about 30,000 Jews in Iran (a figure contradicted by the latest census, which puts the numbers at under 10, 000 - ed) — the largest community in the Middle East after Israel — and half of them live in Tehran. "Every community has its own problems," he says, "But we live well here. There are more than 50 synagogues in the city, and a Jewish ghetto never existed here like it did in Europe (not true - Iranian cities had their mahaleh: the Tehran ghetto was called Oudlajan) . We are free to follow our religion as we please."

"We don’t need security outside synagogues," he adds, "Unlike in other parts of the world. There are a few limitations, however: A Jew can’t get to the higher ranks of the army or state bureaucracy. He will never be a minister or the president."

Military service is mandatory, as for everyone, but there are special permits during Jewish holidays. Among those killed in the Iran-Iraq war were 15 Jews (another source puts the dead at 150 Jews). "Things that really worry us, worry the rest of Iran too: jobs, inflation, the cost of living," he says.

Because of a topographical irony, one of the two kosher restaurants in Tehran is on Palestine Street. The owner, David Shumer, stands at the register. "We’re fine here," he says. "We’re fully integrated in society."

What about visiting Israel? "It’s not difficult. I’ve been there once." It’s still not so easy, though, as permits (especially multiple ones for families) are almost impossible to obtain. (Family members are kept back as hostages) . The truth is that Islamic authorities fear Israeli spies, and it complicates the relationship irreparably. 

On the opposite side of Cyrus Street from the hospital, there is a small synagogue called Molla Hanina. It even has its own Facebook page, though it’s not possible to use Facebook in Iran. "In a synagogue, unlike in a mosque, men and women can pray together," Marjan, 20, proudly explains. Everyone here assures me that they have no problems with the authorities. 

Oddly, the tenuous thread that unites the countries seems to be pistachio nuts. Israel is one of the largest consumers, and Iran one of the biggest producers. A few years ago, the Israelis quarreled with the United States to be allowed to continue importing Iranian pistachios. Could nuts actually spark diplomacy someday? Whatever the long shot, it seems to be the only hope. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Iraq's melting pot has almost gone

 Iraq has always been home to a remarkable melting pot of cults and religions. But for how much longer?

The most remarkable melting pot in history is about to be erased by a ruthless jihadist army, IS. It's not just a crime against humanity, but civilisation, writes Tom Holland in The Spectator.

To this day, though, across the Fertile Crescent, there remain communities which bear witness to the extraordinary antiquity of its religious traditions. There are the Mandaeans, who hold themselves, as Mani did, to be sparks of a cosmic light, and whose priests, like their Babylonian forebears, are obsessive astrologers. There are the Alawites, who revere Plato as a prophet, believe in reincarnation, and pray towards the sun. There are the Yezidis, whose home of Sinjar still preserves in its name an echo of the ancient Harranian moon god. Like the Harranians, they reverence the planets; and like the Harranians, they hold a special place in their hearts for the peacock. Melek Taus, the angel whom they believe to be God’s lieutenant here in the material world, wears the form of the bird; and back at the beginning of time, when the earth was nothing but pearl, he laid his feathers over it, and gave colour to its forests and mountains and seas.

Various strategies were adopted by these communities to survive the disapproval of their Muslim overlords. All of them kept the precise details of their faiths a secret; and all of them, when faced by bouts of persecution, would retreat to remote and inaccessible fastnesses, whether in marshes or on mountain tops. The Mandaeans, copy-ing the strategy of the Harranians, were able to market themselves as Sabaeans; the Alawites, some of whom believe Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, to have been the reincarnation of St Peter, took on a patina of Shi’ism. Even the Yazidis, who proudly keep a list of the 72 persecutions they have survived over the course of the centuries, were sometimes willing, when particularly hard-pressed, to accept a nominal baptism from an amenable bishop.

It is hard to believe, though, that they will survive the 73rd persecution. Their prospects, and those of all the religious minorities of the Fertile Crescent, look grim. Mandaeans, exposed to murder and forced conversions in the wake of Saddam’s overthrow, are now almost extinct in Iraq. The future of the Alawites is bound inseparably to that of their co-religionist, the blood-stained president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. As for the Yezidis, targeted as they are for extermination by the slave-taking, atrocity-vaunting murderers of the Islamic State, how can they possibly survive in their ancient homeland?

 Meanwhile, with Iraqi and Syrian Jews now only to be found in Israel, and Christians emigrating from the region in increasing numbers, even the Peoples of the Book are vanishing from the Fertile Crescent.

The risk is that all traces of what once, back in antiquity, made the area the most remarkable melting pot in history will soon have been erased. In cultural terms, it is as though a rainforest is being levelled to provide for cattle-ranching. Not just a crime against humanity, it is a crime against civilisation.

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