Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Curriculum still marginalises non-Arab ethnic groups

On 3 August 2020, the California Department of Education released the second draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum: while changes were made, it still excluded the antisemitism which Middle Eastern and North African communities had experienced, prompting protests from JIMENA. Dani Ishai Behan has written in the Times of Israel this long but comprehensive analysis of how the curriculum still falls short:


The University of California in L os Angeles

It still fails to recognize anti-Semitism as a form of racism.

* The passage “Arabs and other Middle Easterners” is concerning, if only for the fact that it treats Arabs as the Middle East’s “default” ethnic group.

Consequently, the curriculum marginalizes other indigenous ethnic groups of the MENA region, including Jews (of whom there are 6-7 million in America), Persians, Copts, Assyrians, Amazigh, Armenians, Kurds, Turks, and others. It also obfuscates the fact that Arabs became a majority throughout the MENA region the same way Europeans became a majority in North America (colonialism), thereby ignoring the pre-colonial histories of many of the above-mentioned Middle Eastern populations.

 * There is no indication that Jewish-Americans are included under the ‘Middle Eastern’ umbrella at all. Instead, it egregiously compares the Jewish-American experience to the Irish-American one. * It airbrushes Jewish-Americans into the category of “privileged whites”.

* The existence of non-Ashkenazi Jews is largely ignored.

* Instead of making an effort to cover the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a fair, balanced, and accurate manner, they’ve instead opted to scrap all overt references to Israel and Palestine. Although, it must be said, this did not stop them from ratifying published texts urging “solidarity” with anti-Zionist groups as mandatory reading materials. The proposed curriculum, as it stands, is a recipe for more anti-Semitism and more facile understandings of Jewish history and lived experience.  

Read article in full

More from Dani Ishai Behan

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Jews in the Iraqi armed forces showcased in Israel

With thanks: Jenny K

A new exhibiiton at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Israel spotlights the role of Jews in Iraq's armed forces. 

While military service was mandatory in Iraq, many patriotic Jews would choose to make a military career. Even before Iraq became independent, Jews from Baghdad served in the Ottoman army. This is a picture of Yaakov Avraham Hamara in the late 19th century. In those days, many soldiers who joined the Ottoman army never came home.



Yaakov Avraham Hamara (Photo courtesy: Almog Levi)

Despite an unofficial numerus clausus of Jewish officials established in the middle of the 1930s, many Jews still went into the army. According to sources, a quarter of all Baghdad recruits were young Jews in 1940.

After hearing about the conditions of Jewish refugees in Israel, Dr Munir Shemesh decided to stay in Iraq. After military service in 1951, he was drafted into the army. Under Qassem he lived a good life as a doctor but with the rise of Baathism, he fled Iraq for good.

Dr Munir Shemesh

Others would contribute to the effort and share their knowledge with soldiers. Here are soldiers on a pharmacy course in the Iraqi Army, led by Yaqoub Kuwaiti in 1939. Yaqoub was a pharmacist in Baghdad.



Some choose the army as their career, like Amara-born Ezra Ben Nahum. He was admitted to the prestigious Baghdad Royal Military College in 1934. The only Jew in the training program that year, he received the rank of lieutenant in 1936 and then was promoted major.


Ezra Ben Nahum

Nagi Dabby always wanted to be a pilot. He enrolled in the Royal Military College during a time when King Faisal encouraged Jews and other minorities to contribute to the prosperity of Iraq. Nagi never hid the fact he was a Jew.


Nagi Dabby

Monday, August 10, 2020

Yemenite family reunion shows 'tolerance ' of Gulf states

A Jewish family has been reunited in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi) after a separation of 15 years. The UAE had flown members of the family from London.  Al-Arabia  TV recorded an emotional reunion with other members of the family who had left Yemen for  Abu Dhabi.

There are less than 50 Jews still living in a compound in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a. It is not clear if the Yemenite members of the family were living in embattled Sana'a and how long ago they had left. Their settled appearance suggests that that their exit from Yemen had not taken place in the recent past.

The UAE seems to be using this happy reunion to show how 'tolerant' and humanitarian it is. A Twitter hashtag .was launched and tweeted by all the Emirates' embassies. It may be that the UAE wants to be seen to be  competing with Dubai, where Jews practise openly in two community centres.


Although the UAE is clearly using the Yemenite family for PR purposes, relations between the Gulf states and Israel have progressed far enough for an Arab government to be proudly associating itself with Jews.


The Times of Israel reports (with thanks Sarah, Lily): 

"In a further sign of the United Arab Emirates’s effort to position itself as a regional center of religious tolerance, the country’s government organized the reunion last week of a Jewish Yemenite family that had been separated for 15 years.

According to a report by the state-owned Emirates News Agency, UAE authorities “facilitated the travel of family members from Yemen to the UAE” and also arranged for other family members living in London to join them. Among the family members were several young children and at least one elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair."

Read article in full

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Rogen's rant gets a response centred on Mizrahi refugees

At last, some effective push-back to the Eurocentric naivety of the Canadian actor Seth Rogen, who caused outrage when as a teenager, he claimed he had been fed lies about Israel . JIMENA executive director Sarah Levin's op-ed not only puts the narrative of the Mizrahi refugees front and centre, but shows that Newsweek is willing to give a platform to views not often aired in other mainstream media.



Yemenite Jews on their way to Israel

The creation of modern-day Israel provided a democratic safe haven for Middle Eastern and North Africa Jewish refugees to rebuild their lives as a decolonized people free from the oppressive anti-Semitism they were subjected to for millennia in lands throughout the region.

Today, Israel is an ethnically, religiously and racially diverse center of democracy in the Middle East that continues to welcome Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in countries throughout the world, including the United States. Rogen claims that he was never told that "other people" lived in Israel prior to its formation. It is disappointing that he and so many others are unaware that the Middle East is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse corners of the world, and that Jews are an integral thread in the tapestry of ethnic groups native to the region.

The majority of Israeli Jews are Middle Eastern in origin and their ancestors never left the region. What's most problematic about Rogen's comments isn't his distortion of facts, or the carelessness with which he spoke—he's a comedian after all. Rather, it is that his perspective exemplifies an overarching failure of institutions—from the UN to the media to the academy—to tell the true story of the Jewish state.

Although far from a perfect country, Israel is the most successful vehicle in modern Jewish history for keeping Jews alive. After 2,500 years of wandering, it is too bad that so many so quickly forget what life was like for our persecuted people in a world without a state of our own.

Read article in full

'Mizrahi-washing' denies historical truth of Arab persecution

Mizrahi activist Hen Mazzig has made it his life's work to speak up about his family's persecution and ethnic cleansing fromArab countries. But he is up against a tide of denial, he writes in JNS News:   merely to fight for Mizrahi rights prevents one for defending Palestinan rights, or distracts from Israel's 'crimes' ('Mizrahi-washing'), the deniers claim. 

Hen Mazzig

Mizrahi activism is not exclusively a pro-Israel movement, but it acknowledges that the safety of the majority of Mizrahi Jews is reliant on the existence of the Jewish state where we found refuge. Historically, Mizrahim have a strained relationship with the Arab and other Muslim communities they lived under even before they were mass expelled from their homes in 1945. In these nations, Mizrahim were always considered dhimmi, a minority that is protected as long as they paid a tax for being non-Muslim. They were, at best, second-class citizens.

 “Our community is still dealing with a lot of trauma from what happened to us all over the Middle East and North Africa,” said  (Iranian-born author Saba) Soomekh. She also warned against romanticizing the past. “In my book From the Shahs to Los Angeles, I interviewed 120 Iranian Jewish women. When I asked the older women, they used to tell me, ‘Oh, it was great in Iran,’ and only when I kept digging, I realized that ‘great’ for them was being able to walk in the streets and Muslims throwing rocks at them for being Jewish.”

 The leading sociologist on the Middle East and North African Jewish history, an Algerian Jew himself, professor Shmuel Trigano, explained to me that “the Jews of the Arab countries suffered from persecution and pogroms for many generations, hundreds of years prior to the emergence of Zionism.” He said “their situation deteriorated in modern times with the appearance of Arab nationalism in the 20th century. The narrative that describes their immigration to Israel as colonialism is the opposite of the truth. These were fleeing refugees who found home and shelter in the State of Israel.”

 For Trigano, the notion of “Mizrahi-washing” defies historical truth. So what is the rhetorical value of “Mizrahi-washing” and the ideological bent of those promoting the term? Ron Katz, head of the Tel Aviv Institute, where I work as a senior fellow, had some ideas. Katz earned his Ph.D. in researching the use of rhetoric and propaganda from UC Berkeley. For him, whiteness plays a large role in this terminology.

 “White Anti-Zionists labeling Mizrahi Jews’ support of Israel as propaganda or ‘Mizrahi-washing’ is the most virulent kind of bigoted rhetoric,” he said. “Its implication is that MENA Jews are somehow incapable of forming independent opinions and are therefore simpletons reliant on state-sponsored bribery. The only thing one can deduce from this is that those doing the labeling, the white majority, have determined that theirs is the only unencumbered voice.”

Read article in full

More from Hen Mazzig

Friday, August 07, 2020

Bring back colonial rule, say Lebanese

Over 58,000 people have signed an online petition to "place Lebanon under a French mandate for the next 10 years" as of Friday morning. As reported by DW News, the petition is addressed to French president Emanuel Macron, who visited Beirut after a massive blast destroyed  the Hezbollah-controlled port, killing hundreds and making 300,000 homeless. The Lebanese seemed to have started a trend: An Adeni, Bilal Hussein, wants the British to re-establish control of Aden. He got 246 likes  on his Facebook page and as many comments approving his initiative (with thanks: Sarah):

 "Lebanon’s officials have clearly shown a total inability to secure and manage the country," the petition reads. "With a failing system, corruption, terrorism and militia the country has just reached its last breath."

 "We believe Lebanon should go back under the French mandate in order to establish a clean and durable governance." Dima Tarhini, from DW's Arabic department, said the petition had been circulating widely on Lebanese social media.

 "That's how desperate some Lebanese are," she said. "So much has been lost from where there was already so little.

 They lost their homes, they lost their properties, they cannot save their children. They don't know what to do." France controlled the Middle Eastern country from 1920 to 1945 under a mandate set up after World War I.

Read article in full









Thursday, August 06, 2020

Jewish refugees would restore politics and accountability to conflict

The expulsion of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries is a key component of the Middle East conflict. Restoring the Jewish refugees to the narrative would restore balance and Arab accountability, argues Shmuel Trigano in Le Blog de Therèse:



Professor Shmuel Trigano

A comparison (between the two sets of refugees)  is still impossible at the level of historical causality. Jews in Arab countries have been expelled or pushed out by the new Arab states; Palestinians found themselves on the road to exile because their rulers and all Arab states in 1947 refused the UN partition plan and massively attacked the newly-proclaimed state of Israel to destroy it. The condition of the Palestinians results from this failed global Arab aggression. Disguised as a nakbah, or a "catastrophe" designating their exodus, as if the event were comparable to the Holocaust, is astonishingly ideological manipulation. We do not see - unless we assume, together with Nazis and anti-Semites, that the Jews are responsible for World War II - how the comparison could be possible. It is part of a devious system that aims to distort the reality of facts and responsibilities.

Another anomaly in the history of international relations: victim status has been conferred on the aggressor, whereas as a general rule, the military outcome of a largely defensive war creates a fait accompli and new realities, the victors dictating the new international order, as in Europe after 1945. However, the Western powers (including over a long period the United States) have systematically challenged territorial gains from the recurrent victories of the Israelis over their aggressors, so that a problem that should have been solved, namely, that of the Palestinian refugees - and not the existence of Israel - has been kept alive.

The Arab states are doubly responsible for an irreversible situation: after expelling their Jewish residents, they did not resettle the Palestinian refugees. Instead, they turned them into a weapon against Israel. So this is why this one and only refugee problem in contemporary history has still not been resolved at a time when there were sixty million refugees? While all of the world's refugees depended on the High Commissioner for Refugees and eventually rebuilt their lives in the places they were, Palestinians remained in camps and dependent on UNRWA, sustaining a bureaucracy of 17,000. employees and swallowing up (according to 1986 figures) $2 939,774,915  -  to which the Arab States have contributed very little.

It is to be feared that concealing the drama of the Jews of the Arab countries results from the exception in which one wants to imprison the State of Israel, applying  unequal justice standards which appraise Jewish affairs according to "different criteria". ".The current ideological mix reconstructs the Palestinians, in the words of historian of Orientalism Edward Said,  as "victims of the victims"; it situates the origin of the conflict at a metaphysical and ideological level not unrelated to an old reservoir of prejudices on the “Jewish question” which blurs the real issues.  Recalling the memory of Jews in Arab countries brings the conflict back to the level of politics and accountability.

Read article in full (French)

More from Shmuel Trigano

Professor Trigano will be interviewed (in French) at a Harif Zoom event on Tuesday 11 August  2020 at 7 pm UK time. Details from info@harif.org








Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Beirut synagogue reportedly damaged by explosion (updated)

Update (with thanks Lily): The Lebanese Jewish Community Council has published this photo of the Maghen Avraham synagogue following the massive explosion the Beirut port area a mile away. But beyond dust and debris, the photo does not seem to show any extensive damage. It is not clear if the windows were blown out. Full report in the Times of Israel. 




****************************************************************************

With thanks: Nagi

Maghen Avraham: newly restored

The massive blast that devastated the port area of Beirut  appears to have done extensive damage to the city's synagogue, Maghen Avraham, according to one source.

Although Lebanon  no longer has a Jewish community to speak of, the synagogue was restored and reopened in 2015. It has yet to hold a service.

It was in 2008 that Isaac Arazi, the leader of Lebanon’s Jewish Community Council, first initiated a project to restore the synagogue, which was bombed during the Lebanese civil war. The Lebanese Jewish diaspora -- including the Safras, a prominent banking family -- led the fundraising drive. Non-Jewish Lebanese also made contributions. Solidere SAL, a real estate firm set up by the Hariris, a Sunni family prominently involved in politics, pledged $150,000, an amount it also offered to other religious groups restoring places of worship in the area. In total, the restoration cost between $4 million and $5 million.

 Point of No Return will update this post as soon as more details of the damage suffered by the synagogue are known.

Misunderstanding surrounds the Yemenite children affair

The Yemenite children affair prompted accusations that children had disappeared from public institutions during the state’s early years, but has never been studied from a medical point of view. Yechiel Michael Barilan writes in Haaretz that the poor health of the Yemenite immigrants gave Israeli doctors no choice but to separate children from their parents. (With thanks: Yoel)



Yemenite immigrants at the Rosh Ha'ayin transit camp

There was in general much misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding medical institutions and health regulations during the state’s early years. Advanced medical tests ostensibly carried out for the immigrants’ benefit were sometimes interpreted by later critics as being “human experiments” and referred to in offensive language.

 According to the medical doctrine that prevailed at the time, the body of a dead infant was not shown to his or her parents, for fear of causing psychological trauma. The law did not obligate the attending physician to issue a death certificate, and there were no organized procedures or rules relating to keeping medical records, discharge of patients, registration of the deceased and burial. Many parents did not ask for a death certificate from the district health bureaus, as this entailed relinquishing the deceased’s food coupons.

Others did not do so simply because they had no knowledge of the procedure or were unable to pay the required fee. In some cases, pressure was exerted on medical staff not to report a stillbirth so as not to deprive the family of the post-natal grant. Also, in the absence of refrigerated rooms to store the dead, and in some cases also for fear of epidemics – it was necessary in many cases to bury the deceased before the family was located.

For the Yemenites, care for a child away from the parents, his or her death and burial before the parents were even informed was unheard of; but for all other immigrants, this was the reality of modern life, especially in the chaotic occident, following the social instability of the world wars, the Great Depression, the Holocaust and the communist revolutions.

Read article in full

More about the Yemenite children affair

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A Yemenite love poem for Tu' be'Ab

Tonight begins  Tu be'Ab, the 15th of Ab, the Jewish “holiday of love.”  In celebration, we are reproducing a poem, Love for Hadassah,  by  Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, the most famous poet of Yemenite Jewry, who lived in the 17th century.

According to Wikipedia, Shalom Shabazi is said to have written nearly 15,000 liturgical poems on nearly all topics in Judaism, of which only about 850 have survived the ravages of persecution, time and the lack of printing presses in Yemen. He wrote his Diwan (Anthology of liturgical poetry) in Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic.


The love for Hadassah poem has been set to music and is  performed at weddings.

אהבת הדסה | ר' שלום שבזי תימן- מאה 17 אַהֲבַת הֲדַסָּה עַל לְבָבִי נִקְשְׁרָה וַאְנִי בְּתוֹךְ גּוֹלָה פְּעָמַי צוֹלְלִים לוּ יֵשׁ רְשׁוּת לִי אֶעֱלֶה אֶתְחַבְּרָה תּוֹךְ שַׁעֲרֵי צִיּוֹן אֲשֶׁר הֵם נֶהְלְלִים שַׁחְרִית וְעַרְבִּית בַּת נְדִיבִים אֶזְכְּרָה לִבִּי וְרַעְיוֹנַי בְּחֵשֶׁק נִבְהֲלִים בִּנְעִים זְמִירוֹת מִנְּדוּד אֶתְעוֹרְרָה וַאְנִי וְרַעְיָתִי בְּרִנָּה צוֹהֲלִים בִינוּ עֲדַת קֹדֶשׁ בְּשִׁירָה חֻבְּרָה חָתָן וְהַכַּלָּה בְּחֻפָּה נִכְלְלִים זֶה יוֹם שְׂמָחוֹת לַאֲיֻמָּה יָקְרָה כִּי הִיא וְדוֹדָהּ חֵן וְחֶסֶד גּוֹמְלִים יַחְדָּו עֲלֵי שֻׁלְחָן וְכוֹס דּוֹדִי קְרָא זַמֵּן שְׂרִידֵינוּ וְכָל הַנִּסְגְּלִים מִכּוֹס יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשְׂמְחָה וַאְזַמְּרָה אוֹצִיא לְכָל סוֹדִי וְאָשִׁיב שׁוֹאֲלִים שֵׁם טוֹב לְמַשְׂכִּילִים בְּדַעַת יָשְׁרָה כִּי הֵם עֲלֵי יִצְרָם בְּוַדַּאי מוֹשְׁלִים תַּאְוַת לְבָבָם לַעֲשׂוֹת טוֹב גָּבְרָה יַעְלוּ לְגַן עֵדֶן וְחַיִּים נוֹחֲלִים אַהְבַת יְחִידָתִי לְטוּב אֵל נָהֲרָה בָּרוּךְ שְׁהוּא נוֹתֵן שְׂכַר כָּל פּוֹעֲלִים שָׁלוֹם כְּנָהָר לַעֲדָתִי יִנְהֲרָה זָקֵן וְגַם בָּחוּר וְכָל הָעוֹלְלִים

Love for Hadassah
By R Shalom Shabazi

The Love for Hadassah is bound up in my heart
 But I, deep in Exile, my feet are sinking.

Would that I were able. I would go up and become one
With the gates of Zion, the glorious ones.

Morning and evening the Princess I do recall
 My heart, my very being throbs with desire.

She and her beloved reciprocate grace and affection
With the cup of salvation I will rejoice and sing
I will reveal my secret to all.

My soul surges with love unto the goodness of the Lord
Blessed is He who rewards all good deeds.

Poem courtesy of www.piyut.org.il
Translated by Reuben Aharoni

Monday, August 03, 2020

California ethnic studies curriculum still falls short

A group representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, JIMENA,  has strongly criticised the latest draft of a California state model curriculum for portraying the region as a monolithic 'Arab world'. Article by Benjamin Kerstein in The Algemeiner:


Sarah Levin: curriculum erases the experiences of MENA Jews


The California Department of Education released its recommended Draft Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum on Friday, which had already been revised after strong criticism from numerous organizations, including Jewish ones.

Sarah Levin, the director of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) — which is acting in concert with Advocates for Inclusive Middle Eastern Education, representing Californians with roots in the Middle East and North Africa — strongly criticized the new curriculum, saying it ignores and “erases” the experiences of MENA Jews.

 “JIMENA is part of a coalition of diverse Middle Eastern and North African communities, which strongly supports a high-quality ethnic studies curriculum that accurately reflects the demographics of our state,” Levin said.

 While the draft released today is an improvement over past versions, some of the supplemental materials that have been included are deeply problematic and exclusionary,” she continued. “These supplemental materials ignore the stories of all our coalition members — who together represent an estimated 60% of Californians who hail from the Middle East and North Africa — while portraying the Arab-American experience as a monolith to represent the region.”

Levin added, “The materials fail to adequately discuss antisemitism — and characterize American Jews only in the context of how some have secured White privilege, which is misleading and erases the experience of a significant part of our community, including Middle Eastern and North African Jews, as well as of other Jews of Color.”

 The curriculum, which is seen as biased heavily toward the radical left, has met with strong opposition from Jewish and pro-Israel groups, with some calling it antisemitic.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Let US Jews reclaim their identity as 'people of colour'

As a child in the Far East, Rachel Wahba tried to 'pray her brown' skin colour away - until she got to the US where 'brown' was acceptable. But Jews in the US are being miscategorised as white, when they are really people of colour, she argues in this Times of Israel blog:


On arrival in the US, Rachel Wahba became proud of her 'tan'

Jew was never an issue for me, being stateless, it was the only national identity I had. It was the devalued skin color that occupied me. Jews who haven’t had issues with skin color but have internalized antisemitism can grow out of it too. How others see you, how color is reflected in movies, magazines, that old “skin color” crayon, the compliments, the insults–on the street, in the home–over and over again–it matters. It gets internalized. The degree of misery it causes colonizes your brain. It did mine.

 When the scenery changed, I began to heal. Reading Malcolm X on skin color, (despite his unexamined antisemitism), went deep into my consciousness. If he could be a proud Black man owning and loving his color, I could outgrow my internalized racism and become whole — as comfortable with my color as I was being a Jew.

 Jews with white/light skin, Jews who are seen as White, pass as White, identify as White, Jews with white skin privilege in the United States or elsewhere, do not make Jews White. In Europe not so long ago, six million Jews with white skin were slaughtered for not being Whites.

 Ancient Jewish communities from all over the Middle East and North Africa have been driven out, targets of pogroms, persecution, and most recently, ethnic cleansing. You won’t find Iraqi or Egyptian Jews in my parents native lands today. Jews have participated in their miscategorization as “White” in the United States.

The unfortunate collusion of Jews thinking themselves White and allowed to be White (until they aren’t, as in Germany), with the ongoing refusal by the world at large to understand us as a People (antisemitism), is intensely problematic. Let’s make the time to decolonize our brains and reclaim our identity.

 Read article in full

More by, and about, Rachel Wahba

Saturday, August 01, 2020

The fourth Jew executed by Iran's ruthless regime

It took the trauma of losing their relative, 30-year-old Ebrahim Berookhim - shot in Evin prison 40 years ago - for Karmel Melamed's family to appreciate  the utter ruthlessness and cynicism of the Ayatollahs ruling Iran: they understood that Jews needed to get out  of the country fast. Melamed tells Berookhim's tragic story in the Times of Israel: 


Ebrahim Berookhim, shot in the heart in Evin prison 40 years ago


My own family and thousands of Jews in Iran did not realize the serious threat of the new Khomeini regime to our lives until our relative, Ebrahim Berookhim, a 30-year-old Jewish businessman with no ties to the Shah’s government, was suddenly executed for no reason by the Ayatollah’s thugs on July 31, 1980.

After his execution, our lives in Iran were devastated and we promptly fled the country leaving behind everything we owned.

 Forty years after Berookhim’s death, my father is still traumatized by the events that he undertook to retrieve his friend and relative’s body and provide him with a kosher burial.

 I share Berookhim’s story with my American Jewish brethren in hopes that they will finally wake up and are motivated to take actions against the very serious genocidal threat to world Jewry from this radical Islamic regime in Iran. Berookhim’s problems started with the beginning of Iran’s Islamic revolution, in early 1979, when his family’s five-star Royal Gardens hotel in Tehran was confiscated by the newly formed Islamic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Nearly all of his family had already fled Iran for the United States in the prior months, but Berookhim’s remained behind. One day, armed thugs of the regime overran the hotel and quickly blindfolded him. They took him to the Khasr prison in Tehran on trumped-up charges of being an American and Israeli spy. They claimed he and his family were spies because they allowed Americans and Israelis to stay at their hotel.

 Read article in full

Friday, July 31, 2020

Seth Rogen ignores that most Israelis descend from refugees

For those who have never heard of him, Seth Rogen is a Canadian-Jewish actor. Rogen has raised a firestorm with his controversial remarks about Israel, which he claims is 'antiquated and ridiculous'. He was never made aware of the fact 'other people' lived there. He says he has been fed a huge amount of lies about Israel.

Too true, he and many 'woke' celebrities like him, have  swallowed a great deal of pro-Palestinian lies and propaganda.

David Harsanyi writes in National Review:

"I was once a young Jewish person growing up in similar cultural circumstances to Rogen’s, and anyone with basic cognitive abilities understood that “other people” lived in Israel. It was “other people” who launched pogroms against Jews in 1920s and 1930s. It was the “other people” who allied with Hitler during World War II, continuing to stoke violence against Jews, making the formation of a peaceful multiethnic state impossible. It was the “other people” who rejected the United Nations partition plan and launched an all-out war against Jews only three years after the concentration camps were liberated. It was “other people” who initiated wave after wave of terrorism against Jewish civilians — years before there were any “occupied” territories in the West Bank. It was “other people” who rejected dozens of peace offerings from 1948 onward. And yet, some of those “other people” still reside in Israel and enjoy more liberal rights than Arabs do in any Arab nation."

Absent, as usual with pro-Palestinian Hollywood personalities moving in  comfortable, privileged, assimilated circles, is any awareness of the need for Israel for the vast majority of Israeli Jews - refugees or descendants of refugees.

Siamak Kordestani of JIMENA tweeted: 'and how much did you learn in your schools about the many thousands of Mizrahi Jews  ethnically cleansed  from Arab lands in the 1940s and 1950s'?




For rebuttals to Rogen, see Shany Mor in The Forward, Aaron Bandler in Jewish Journal , Shahar Azani and Dani Ishai Behan in Times of Israel. 


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Israel is not a European colony

Sherry Sufi PhD is a pro-Israel Australian intellectual with a keen interest in the Middle East. In this Times of Israel blog, he cautions against using the argument that Israel cannot be an outpost of European colonialism because most of its Jewish residents never left the Middle East.  The indigeneity argument must apply to Jews in Europe and the US: all Jews, wherever they live,  belong to a distinctly semitic Middle eastern civilisation, he argues. (With thanks: Dani)

Sherry Sufi, PhD

What’s even more important is to avoid responding in a way that defeats its own purpose. For instance, a popular argument often seen floating around on social media says:

 • Most Jews in Israel today didn’t even come from Europe.
 • 2/3rds came from other Middle Eastern or North African countries.
 • They have had greater influence on Israeli cuisine and music.
• So it follows that Israel can’t exactly be a European colony.

The premise here is spot on. Those Jews who came from Israel’s neighbouring lands are to be saluted for their continued sacrifices in service to the Jewish state using their bilingual capabilities and intimate understanding of hostile forces. Yet the conclusion has a hidden flip side.

It concedes that when Jewish exiles from Europe did make up the majority of Jews in pre-state Israel between the first aliyah (1882) and independence (1948), that was a European colony. It also implies that if Jews from Europe or America were to ever become the majority in Israel through mass aliyah, that would again make it a European colony. These are misleading implications.

More Jews live outside Israel than within it.

3/4ths of the world’s Jewish population is made up of exiles who lived in Europe and by extension, America. An argument like the one above compromises their identity and status as native Middle Easterners. Remember, they are as Jewish and as authentically Middle Eastern as Jews elsewhere. They have kept the same traditions in exile as did their counterparts who remained within the Middle East and North Africa.

No one denies that the Zoroastrian Parsees that have lived in India for centuries are the natives of Persia (Iran). Though they have not been physically present on Iranian soil for over a thousand years, their historic and civilisational connection is undeniable.

That connection will remain intact so long as the Zoroastrian Parsees resist efforts to assimilate and dissolve into another civilisational identity.

The same is true in the Jewish case.

So the argument in response to the anti-Israel world view needs to be tighter than the above. All Jews belong to the same civilisation — Am Yisrael — a distinctly Semitic Middle Eastern civilisation.

Read article in full

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Gisèle Halimi, rebel with a feminist cause, has died

Tunisian-born Gisèle Halimi has died aged 93. Rebelling against the misogyny of her family, she made her name fighting for feminist causes as a lawyer in France, and defended an Algerian woman accused of planting a bomb during the war of independence in 1960. Obituary in Le Monde:



To describe Gisèle Halimi, who died on 28 July, the day after her birthday, two words spring to mind: fighter and rebel.

On July 27, 1927, in the district of La Goulette, in Tunis, when Zeiza Gisèle Elise Taïeb was born, no one was celebrating. As she recounts in La Cause des femmes (Grasset, 1974), her father, Edouard,was so upset to have had a daughter that he took several weeks to tell his friends about her   birth. A father who does not like daughters will nevertheless passionately love "his" daughter.

Relations between Gisèle and her mother had always been difficult, as she writes in Le Lait de l'Oranger (Gallimard, 1988), a moving autobiographical story, and in Fritna (Plon, 2000) . Mme Taieb would have probably wanted a more compliant daughter.

The young Gisèle rebels against everything, going as far as to embark on a hunger strike at the age of 10 to demand the right to learn to read. She challenges the religious beliefs of her Jewish family by refusing to kiss the mezuzah before going to class.

At 16, she refused an arranged marriage, pursued her law studies in France, returned to Tunis and enrolled at the Bar in 1949. The rebel she had always been became an activist - first for the independence of her country. Though she became French, she never gave up her (Tunisian) nationality. She always loved Tunisia and returned there regularly. In Paris, she loved to cook Tunisian dishes for her friends.

Settling in France in 1956 and marrying Paul Halimi, a civil administrator, she changed her name and gave birth to two sons. She divorced, while keeping the name by which she made herself best known, and married Claude Faux, who was Jean-Paul Sartre's secretary. She has a third son with him. Never a girl. This is perhaps why she had, a close relationship with her grand-daughter that she explores in Histoire d'une passion (Plon, 2011), her last published book.

  Read article in full (French)

Israel should build on changing Arab attitudes to Jews

In the wake of the Ramadan screening of Umm Haroun, the TV series which projects a more sympathetic view of Jews, Israel should build on the warming relations with Gulf states and Saudi Arabia to advance dialogue and the peace process with the Palestinians, argues Ksenia Svetlova in the Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Beatrice)



A screenshot from Umm Haroun

Saudi Arabia’s latest binge-worthy television series has an unlikely subject: Umm Haroun, produced for the month of Ramadan, depicts life in the Jewish community of Kuwait in the 1940s. It is far from coincidental that the show is aired on the Saudi MBC channel, flying in the face of harsh Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns and radical Islamic criticism. Arab and Muslim states’ interests in Judaism and the Jews has been growing quietly for around a decade. The gradual rapprochement can be seen in official meetings and rabbis’ visits to Arab capitals; the restoration, renovation and establishment of synagogues in Egypt, Morocco and Dubai; messages of reconciliation from Arab leaders; moderate legislation in several states; positive remarks by senior Muslim clerics and even, as Umm Haroun demonstrates, in literary and cinematic endeavors.

 The changing tides are inherently linked to sweeping geopolitical developments in the Middle East throughout the past two decades, from 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq, to the Arab Spring and the ascent of Iran. Since 1948, Arab regimes have officially sought to distinguish between Jews and the State of Israel, preempting Israel and the West’s accusations of antisemitism. Yet, their artificial distinction did not prevent them turning on their Jewish residents, expropriating their property, excluding them from public life and ultimately expelling them. Thus although the official line of Arab regimes always targeted the State of Israel and the Zionist movement, it appeared that 1,400 years of Muslim-Jewish and Arab-Jewish co-existence had ended abruptly. From Egyptian and Syrian caricaturists depicting Jews as malicious parasites to Saudi Arabian stores banning ‘dogs and Jews,’ relations were far from warm.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Scores of discriminatory laws were passed against Iraqi Jews

With thanks: Michal

Seventy years on from the mass emigration of Jews from Iraq, the full extent of state-sanctioned discrimination against them  - and the  community which stayed behind -  is not fully appreciated.

At a conference on the Jews of Iraq held at London's SOAS in September 2019, Khairuldeen al-Makhzoomi of Georgetown university enumerated dozens of laws and decrees passed by Iraq's government against Jews, despite the fact that they were nominally Iraqi citizens.


Kahiruldeen al-Makhzoomi making his presentation at the London conference at SOAS


Law 51 of 1948 added Zionism to the criminal code. From then on, Jews could be arrested, tried and even executed for 'Zionism'. Law1 of 1950 permitted Jews to leave Iraq legally on condition that their citizenship was revoked. The law was in force for a year.

Law 5 passed in urgent session in  March 1951 froze the property of Iraqi Jews stripped of their citizenship. In 1954 such property was open to public bidding.

There was an attempt to draw an equivalence between the confiscation of Jewish property and compensation for dispossessed Palestinian refugees.

 Law 12 set up a Secretariat to manage confiscated Jewish property. From 1951 - 56 several decrees  were passed, seizing, managing, disposing and liquidating Jewish property. These decrees piled on the pressure on Jews still living in Iraq.

However, not all newspapers supported the government's anti-Jewish  policy. Nor did all the religious authorities.

In spite of attempts by General Kassam, who overthrow the royalist regime in 1958 -  to affirm that Jews were equal citizens,  his successor General Aref rescinded Law 11 encouraging Jews to return.  In 1963, Law 161 introduced yellow identity cards for Jews, several of whom changed their names.

Other laws banned the sale of Jewish property and limited the amounts that could be paid to Jews.

The Baath regime passed a host of discriminatory laws. In 1981, the management of seized Jewish property came under the remit of the ministry of  finance.

One law, no 643, targeted the extensive property and assets of a single Jew - Ezra Menahem Daniel, although Daniel lived and died in Iraq.


To see video of al-Makhzoomi's presentation (29 mins), click here.

More about the SOAS 'Jews of Iraq' Conference 







Monday, July 27, 2020

Moroccan lentil soup for Tisha B'Ab

This week falls the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and other catastrophes, such as the Expulsion from Spain. It is customary not to eat meat, drink wine, cut hair or listen to live music. Here is a recipe for Tish b'Ab Lentil Soup, courtesy of Dafina,  by Moroccan-born chef Soly Anidjar, who now lives in Ashdod. 

The custom of Tisha B' Ab is to consume a dish of lentil as a sign of mourning for all the misfortunes that have happened on that day for generations. The 9th of Av has indeed become the symbol of the misfortunes of the Jewish people and it is true that at all times, dramatic events  - such as the Expulsion from Spain - have marked the history of the Jewish people on the 9th of the month of Ab.

 

Ingredients:

500 g green lentils (soaked in advance)
 4 tablespoons of oil
 2 medium onion, grated
 2 stalks of celery, trimmed
 20 sprigs of coriander
 a piece of diced pumpkin
 3 grated tomatoes
 2 litres of water,
 1 teaspoon of salt
 a pinch of pepper
 1 teaspoon of turmeric
 4 bay leaves

Method:

 Rinse the lentils well. Heat the oil in a casserole dish and sauté the onion for two minutes. Add to the casserole all the vegetables,  then the diced pumpkin, the lentils, turmeric, salt, pepper, bay leaves.

 Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for one hour in a pressure cooker; without a pressure cooker for some two hours,  until the vegetables are tender.


More posts about Tisha b'Ab

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Israel's silent US partners facilitated mass emigrations

They may now be in disarray, but historically, Jewish organisations such as the Joint Distribution Committee were crucial, if unacknowledged, partners in facilitating and  bankrolling the smuggling of Jews via Iran, and later, the massive airlift transporting  Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1950 -1, Shulamit Binah  claims in  her Times of Israel blog:



Iraqi Jews waiting in Iran before boarding to Israel photo: JDC)


Documents found in the archives of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) reveal the crucial role played by American Jewish Organizations.

They facilitated the operation through diplomacy, political connections, and media attention as well as financial support and care to Iraqi Jewish refugees. The AJC led the diplomatic effort vis-à-vis the State Department, the United Nations, and the American media. They were well aware of the furious reactions of the Arab world to the Declaration of Independence of the state of Israel and defined the local Jews as enemies, spies, and agents provocateurs.

 The AJC worked in accordance with the newly formed Israeli state institution. Led by Foreign minister Moshe Sharett and through the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Mission to the UN in New York, Israel was trying to utilize the ongoing US-UK negotiations over the issue of providing technical and military assistance to Iraq, which, seemingly, could provide a useful inroad into the Baghdad government.

 There was a lot of humanitarian work to be done in Iran as well. Since Iraq did not allow American NGOs’ presence within its borders, the JDC was operating from Iran using its long experience with displaced refugees.  Until the beginning of direct flights from Baghdad in the “Ezra and Nehemiah” operation, Iraqi Jews fled illegally to Iran, taking the risk of arrests, abuse, and even murder. In most cases, they bribed their way through Kurdistan and arrived to Iran practically penniless.

 The JDC had already been busy assisting some 8,000 Iraqi Jews who fled illegally to Iran; they helped to secure Iranian permits; they addressed local animosities and arranged the Israel-bound flights. JDC set a “transit camp” in the old Jewish cemetery, called ironically Beheshti (Eden, in Farsi). Stanley Abramowitch, the JDC Iran country director, described a grim picture of crowded communities with health and sanitation issues and stressed the urgent need for funds and relief.

 In late 1949 through January 1950, he sent detailed requests for funding beyond the ongoing expenditure. Those additional funds were to be earmarked for accommodation, basic equipment such as beds and blankets, dispensary water installations, and stoves in preparation for the harsh Iranian winter.

Read article in full

Friday, July 24, 2020

Jewish buildings still stand in Iraq

The Jews may have gone from Iraq, but some of their buildings are still standing, although they have clearly been abandoned. These are two ornate examples of a school in the Nasriya governorate and a family home in Abu Sefen, Baghdad. 
(With thanks: Kobi A.)



Above is a Jewish school dating back more than 100 years. It is in the Suq Al Shuyukh, Dhi Qar Governorate, 29 kms south of Nasriyah. More photos here. 

Below is a Jewish house in the Mahalla (Jewish quarter) ofAbu Sefen, Baghdad. The year in which the house was built is indicated in Hebrew numerals above the door: 5775. This is 1928 in the Gregorian calendar.






Thursday, July 23, 2020

Can a Jew reclaim his or her 'Arab' heritage?

The spectre of the 'Arab Jew' rises again. Writing in Hey Alma,  which describes itself as a Jewish feminist publication, Talia Aharoni has mixed ancestry - her mother is Ashkenazi - but she is now identifying as an 'Arab Jew' - although the Mizrahi side of her family reject such a label. See my comment, and that of Hen Mazzig below (with thanks: Michelle) :


 "The existence of the Arab Jew — the indigenous, brown-skinned Jew — has the power to crumble long-standing dogmas. For one, the idea that Jews and Arabs are inherently at odds, that one is the antithesis of the other, and that the so-called “gaps” between the peoples are so vast as to never be reconciled. These types of nuances can be uncomfortable for those who are quick to file away information into perfectly neat labels in their mind. The Arab Jew defies broad categorization. Even many Mizrahis tend not to think of themselves as Arab. Many, including members of my own Mizrahi family, become indignant — offended, even — at the insinuation. They’ve been told the same story: Jews can never be Arabs.

But in believing this, they deny themselves a part of their heritage — the thousands of years of shared history in the Levant, North Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. The spices and foods, dances and folklore. Even the values — the hospitality and generosity of spirit, the piety and modesty of character, and of course, the hectic and often heated exchanges — all endemic to the Middle East, irrespective of faith.

 When I was younger, I wasn’t interested in embracing my Mizrahi side. As the daughter of a diplomat, I’d spent my childhood split between the U.S. and Israel. But our home base was a small suburb outside of Jerusalem by the name of Mevaseret Tsion, which was originally founded as a transit camp for Jewish refugees from Iraq and Kurdistan. My classmates were a diverse bunch — Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and many mixed, like myself. But the overtly Mizrahi kids, the ones who spoke with guttural “chets,” ate spicy sandwiches and kubeh for lunch, and blasted Mizrahi music out of their cell phones, were often branded as “arsim” and “frehot,” Hebrew terms which loosely mean dumb and trashy.

 And so, for many years, I internalized this and denied my Mizrahi culture; it was easier to tuck it away, shove it in some faraway cabinet, and not risk, God forbid, being called a “freha.” I shied away from spicy condiments like zhug and amba, renounced Mizrahi music altogether, and often told those who’d questioned my ethnicity that I wasn’t “a real Mizrahi” — whatever that meant. I’d believed that in order to be taken seriously, I needed to shirk that part of my identity. I met no resistance within my own Mizrahi family, because sadly, most of them had done the same.

 Five years ago, I moved to New York City. On the other side of the Atlantic, enshrouded in blissful anonymity, I began to change. Slowly, I found myself chipping away at the barriers, the prejudices that had allowed me to suppress entire facets of myself. I gave myself permission to wonder, ask questions, and reexamine the stories I’d been told."

 Read article in full 

My comment:There are several reasons for Aharoni's confused identity: Since she nw lives in New York, it is likely that she has been influenced by 'progressive' anti-Zionist thought which questions the artificial 'binary' division between Jew and Arab created by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Has she stopped to define what is 'Arab'? Does she not mean 'Levantine'. or Middle Eastern'? How is 'Arab' different from 'Bedouin'? The late scholar Sasson Somekh said that no Jew could call himself 'Arab' unless he was fluent in Arabic and steeped in Arabic literature and culture (I would doubt Aharoni qualifies). Does she not really mean 'Arabic' Jew of culture, as Jews and Arabs have always been separate ethnicities? Lastly, it is no longer true that Israel disparages Arab culture - Middle Eastern food and music are now see as cool among Israeli youth. Lastly, as Hen Mazzig argues below, the 'Arab Jew' label is an imperialist device to deny Jews a distinctive identity.

Hen Mazzig comments,  quoting an earlier article he wrote for the Jerusalem Post: 
 Since this is being brought up again, by Hey Alma, that decided to publish a piece arguing Mizrahim are actually “Arab Jews”: “These scholars brand themselves as “Arab Jews” and subversives when they are in fact run of the mill pan-Arab nationalists. The term “Arab Jew” subverts Zionism because it is Arab nationalist/imperialist orthodoxy. Arab nationalists/ imperialists reject Jewish national identity and political power, while they generally accept Jewish religion. The term “Arab Jew” encapsulates this rejection. The greater issue is that there is a misguided school of thought dominating global academia which is distorting the whole imperial and colonial history of the region. There have been several nations that have acted as empires in the region, conquering, settling and dominating peoples outside their own homeland. These have been the Arabs, Turks and Iranians, and more recently the British, French and Italians. The Jews, in contrast, have merely returned to their only homeland. Israel is the only Jewish state in the world and 0.03% of the entire Middle East.” 

Read article in full

What are we to make of Massoud Hayoun?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The wisdom of Peter Beinart's grandmother

Peter Beinart now advocates a bi-national state in Palestine. But he has never needed Zionism and appears to have internalised today's 'woke' categories which pass over in silence the oppression of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, such as his own Egyptian-born grandmother, argues Lyn Julius in Fathom. 

Lyn Julius at Jewish Book Week in 2018
At the beginning of July, Peter Beinart, bellwether of US Jewish liberalism, sent shockwaves rippling through the Jewish world when he penned a long essay disavowing Zionism and advocating, in place of Israel, a bi-national state where Palestinians and Israelis would enjoy ‘equal’ rights.
Many critics have pointed out that ‘Beinartistan’,  as one described it, would soon become yet another Muslim Arab state with a vanishing Jewish minority. And if Islamic fundamentalists have their way, its Jews would swiftly find themselves reverting to the status of dhimmis’, with few rights under Muslim religious law.
How come a liberal like Beinart has bought into such a ‘dangerous delusion? Because he has never needed Zionism and because he appears to have internalised today’s ‘woke’ categories, which see Jews as benefiting from ‘white privilege’. He seems to want to promote, in the words of Einat Wilf, ‘Jewish powerlessness in an effort to restore [Jewish] moral purity.’
In progressive Western circles, Zionism has become decidedly un-cool. Self-declared Zionists, like the writer Bari Weiss, complain of bullying at the New York Times. In the vogue for identity politics, Jews are framed as white oppressors.
This postmodern conceptual straightjacket perverts historical truths. It dictates that only ‘people of colour’ can be victims, while the oppression of one million Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of pre-Islamic Jewish communities, among other minorities, from the Arab Muslim world from the 1940s, the subject of my book Uprooted!, must be passed over in silence.
The long history of oppression of Mizrahi Jews in the Arab Middle East is the key to understanding the main drivers of the conflict with Israel – an Arab and Muslim inability to tolerate difference, to co-exist with minorities, and an abhorrence for any exercise of Jewish power.
Yet in the Western progressive mind, bound tight as it is by the postmodern conceptual straitjacket, only Palestinians can be victims. The Mizrahi Jews are airbrushed out of public discourse. In the current jargon, they are ‘cancelled’. In this topsy-turvy world, merely to draw attention to Arab and Muslim antisemitism invites accusations of racism or ‘Islamophobia’.
Progressive orthodoxy even denies Jewish indigeneity, as one woke Manhattan rabbi recently tried to do, perhaps because it conflicts with the false settler-colonial paradigm which the left habitually applies to Israel. The fact that over 50 per cent of Israeli Jews have roots in the Middle East is simply ignored.Most Israeli Jews found refuge in the only state that would defend them unconditionally from persecution. By empowering Palestinians at the expense of Jewish Israelis, Beinart and other anti-Zionists would once again put Jewish destiny in the hands of others.
Someone who did appreciate the absolute need for Zionism was Peter Beinart’s Egyptian-Jewish grandmother, Adele Pienaar. Born in Alexandria, she was driven out by Arab nationalism. In an 2014 elegyhe wrote: ‘The lessons she drew from her experience of vulnerability and dislocation were straightforward: Jews should be on the lookout for trouble and should take care of each other since no one else would … her nightmare for Israel was that Arab nationalism would imperil its Jews in the way that Arab nationalism had imperilled Alexandria.’
Beinart’s essay, in effect, disparages his grandmother’s ‘tribal’ and instinctive Zionism in order to virtue signal to a narrow liberal intellectual milieu. It is a tragedy that he thinks the imperilment of Israel is a price worth paying for that, as the ‘vulnerability’ and ‘peril’ his Grandmother knew has not gone from this world. As for the Middle East, only a fool would think the Jews will continue to thrive without a state of their own.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The rival Iraqi-Jewish dynasties who opened up China

A new book by Jonathan Kaufman explores the story of two rival,   intertwined Iraqi-Jewish entrepreneurial families, the Sassoons and the Kadoories, who opened up China to the world. It is interesting that David Sassoon, the founder of the Sassoon dynasty, was forced to leave Iraq by Ottoman harassment. Extract from Tzach Yoked's Haaretz article: 


Sir Elly Kadoorie with his sons Lawrence (left) and Horace

The story begins with the Sassoons, an aristocratic family that lived in Baghdad for 800 years and was one of its wealthiest families.

Because of its social, political and economic status, which extended well beyond the bounds of the Jewish community, the head of the family was granted the title “Nasi” – a Hebrew honorific meaning “Prince of the Jews” – by the Ottoman Empire. “In the 18th century, Baghdad was a crossroads of trade, people were coming from all over the Middle East, even from China,” Kaufman tells Haaretz in a recent phone interview from his home, outside Boston.

“And all these people would pass through the Sassoons’ house, because they knew they were the most important traders in Baghdad.” But hundreds of years of economic success and social integration came to an end one morning in 1829. David Sassoon, who was 37 and had been groomed from childhood to inherit leadership of the family empire, was kidnapped and jailed by the Ottoman authorities in Baghdad. They threatened to hang him if the family did not pay a high ransom for his release.

 “Desperate for money to boost a collapsing economy, the Turks began harassing and imprisoning the Sassoons and other wealthy Jews, demanding ransom,” Kaufman writes.  The harassment dealt a devastating blow to the family. The Sassoons lost their wealth and influence and decided to leave everything and start anew, elsewhere. David Sassoon believed in the integrity and decency of the British, Kaufman notes, and after his family ransomed him, he decided to move with his wife and eight children to Bombay (today Mumbai), where the British were opening up trade routes. Other Jews followed suit.

Sassoon became an Anglophile, studying British history, hiring a tutor to teach his children English and even arranging for the text of “God Save the Queen” to be translated into his native Judeo-Arabic – Arabic written in Hebrew script.

 Read article in full

Monday, July 20, 2020

Kurdish medium explores Jewish exodus from Iraq

The emptying of Iraq of its Jews is not a subject that Kurds wish to shy away from. It is the focus of this article by Holly Johnston in the Kurdish  news medium Rudaw English. 

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Bertha Bekhor was 15 years old when a man knocked frantically at the door of her Baghdad home, on a warm June evening in 1941. Violence was sweeping across Iraq's capital, targeted at one group – the Jews.

 "A man came to the house, banging on the door to be let in. He was a Jew, and was pale and trembling. He said he'd been on a bus and rioters began pulling Jews off the bus. He told them he was a Christian and ran as fast as his legs could carry him," Bertha’s daughter Lyn Julius told Rudaw English. The experience left Bertha’s family "traumatised", her father applying for passports the very next day so that they could leave the country they called home.


A 1998 service in the last functioning synagogue in Baghdad, Meir Tweg.

 The Farhud, Arabic for 'to dispose of something with violence,' saw upwards of 100 Jewish people killed on the first two days of June 1941, in bloody mob brutality that "broke the trust" between the Jews – then numbering up to 150,000 – and Iraq’s Muslim majority. Violence targeted at Iraq’s Jewish community by no means began with the Farhud.

Bertha, now 94, told her daughter of "frequent disturbances" throughout her childhood – including being hid from mobs brandishing tarred clubs on an anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a British government statement declaring support for a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine.

 But the Farhud did kickstart a new, deadlier wave of anti-Semitic violence that would see the country virtually emptied of its Jewish community by the end of the twentieth century. Bertha and her husband fled Iraq in 1950 for the United Kingdom, where Lyn was born and raised.

Lyn now runs Harif – an organization dedicated to educating people about the struggle of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, where Jewish communities are all but extinct in most countries across the region. Bertha “was happy to leave, although it was very hard for her," Lyn told Rudaw English via telephone. "I've often asked her about it, and she has no nostalgia at all.”

Read article in full

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Israel is a tiny enclave defending persecuted Jews

If the two-state solution is no longer the preferred answer to the Middle East conflict, what is?  Whether you agree or not with his proferred solutions for the Palestinians of the West Bank, this clear-sighted Newsweek op-ed by Yishai Fleischer is a refreshing attempt to give much-needed context to the debate.  



Joseph's tomb near Nablus, restored after an arson attack


To answer the question, let's zoom out.

The heavily-Islamic Middle East and North Africa is a large region: six million square miles, twice the size of the continental United States. It is inhabited by 570 million Muslims (406 million Arabs, 82 million Turks and 82 million Iranians) across over 20 states. Within this region, there are a few tiny islands of independent non-Arab entities. One example is the Autonomous Kurdish Region in northern Iraq, with a population of five million. The Kurds, while mostly Muslim, live in constant tensions with their neighbors, who would love to swallow up their land.

 Similarly, there is another small non-Arab group living in a regional enclave: the Jews. About seven million Jews populate an independent ethnic-national state called Israel. This Jewish state is located in the heart of the Arab world and is the size of the state of New Jersey—only one-sixth of one percent of the Muslim world's sprawling landmass.

American progressives cast Israel as a powerful Western giant, accusing it of denying rights to Palestinians. But that image is warped. The truth is that Israel is a tiny country tasked with defending a persecuted minority. Jews have no rights in the neighboring Arab states and, in fact, have been ethnically cleansed from those states. After Israel declared independence in 1948, 99 percent of Middle Eastern Jews—850,000 people—were purged from the Arab countries.

 Like the hostile Arab countries, the Palestinian movement, in its various iterations, has always been a machine for ethnically cleansing Jews. In 1929, they ethnically cleansed the Jews of Hebron, and in 1948, they did the same to the Old City of Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. In 2000, they evicted the Jews from the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem/Nablus and destroyed it.

By law, no Jews are allowed to own property within the Palestinian Authority, and an Arab selling land to a Jew there is liable for capital punishment. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority incites to liberate "all of Palestine" and pays terrorists who have murdered Jews $400 million in annual rewards.

 Beinart's idea of a bi-national Israel-Palestine, whose democratically elected Arab leaders would certainly work to undermine Jewish defenses from within, would defeat the whole purpose of the independent Jewish state in the first instance.

Read article in full

Anti-Zionists want Jews to revert to being dhimmis