Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Forward trilogy does not do archive saga justice

At first glance, it is heartwarming to see that Talya Zax, the culture editor of the Forward, has devoted a trilogy of articles to the saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archive, which the US has promised to return in September. But reader irritation and even anger soon begin to mount.

A crate of waterlogged items from the Iraqi-Jewish archive. The crate was marked with the name of  Harold Rhode, an orthodox Jew working for the Pentagon in Baghdad in 2003, who first drew attention to the archive.

Firstly, Zax has got elementary facts wrong: the Babylonian exile began in 586 BCE, not in 596 BCE. The troubles of the Jews are said to have started in 1948,  ie can be blamed on the creation of Israel - no mention of the 1941 Farhud in this context.Then the man who discovered the archive in the waterlogged basement of the secret police headquarters is not even named - Harold Rhode. The impression is given that members of the Iraqi National Congress were present at the salvage operation. (More accurately, Ahmed Chalabi  facilitated it. Other key figures like Natan Sharansky  are not given the credit they deserve.) The Hebrew inscription in the photo is not on the ceiling but the wall of Ezekiel's shrine ( bizarrely, the caption calls the site by its Muslim name, Dhu al Kifl).

But the most egregious omission is that nowhere in the three articles does Zax refer to the fact that the archive was not abandoned by departing Jews in the same way as they 'lost their life', homes, assets and property, but was physically seized by Saddam Hussein's regime. Witnesses watched aghast as Saddam's men carted off piles of books and documents from the ladies' gallery of the Bataween synagogue.The ownership of the archive ceases to be 'up for debate', but appears more of an open-and-shut case of brazen theft.The extraction from Iraq may have been legal, but was based on a false premise.

Zak  gives credence to the Iraqi ambassador who claims that Iraq has a 'deep emotional tie to the archive'. Yet there has ben hardly a peep about 30,000 other documents concerning the Baath regime  : the US shipped these from Iraq and insists on retaining them 'for security reasons'. who might guarantee that the 'museum-like space in which the ambassador pledges to house the archive on its return to Iraq will be preserved, won't be smuggled out  or destroyed. Then there is the fear  that the archive will not be accessible to them exiled Jews themselves, an argument which the writer fails to develop. (Past experience does not inspire confidence.)

The horrific stories told by the Iraqi  ladies of the Bene Naharayim congregation  contradict the idea that these Jews left 'voluntarily, but under duress'. No amount of quibbling can deny the fact that these people fled Iraq as dispossessed refugees and that Arab states were responsible for the Jewish exodus. Granting reparations to the Palestinians should not obviate reparations to Jews.

 It is a pity that the articles are written in the style of 'he said, she said' with scrupulous equivalence between thief and victim. With the return of the archive to Iraq imminent, few will be persuaded of the justice of the Jewish claim.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Impact of the Suez crisis on the Jews of Egypt

Useful summary in  History is Now of the expulsion of Jews from Egypt after 1956. (With thanks: Boruch)

The Suez Crisis, aside from producing an understandable rise in support for President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his regime, had devastating effects for persons living within Egypt who had become ‘egyptianized’ i.e. those who were not Egyptian citizens; or those whose ancestry was not wholly Egyptian, but had attained Egyptian citizenship through various legal statutes.

 These people were collectively known as the mutamassirun, and, in the immediate post-colonial period in Egypt (from 1922 onwards) they owned a large share of capital and operated a large number of businesses in Egypt. They were also acknowledged to have made significant contributions to Egyptian cultural, religious and linguistic diversity in the past.

Although measures to expel members of the mutamassirun were already underway before the Suez Crisis came to a head, the Crisis is widely seen as giving Nasser the necessary impetus and legitimacy to proceed to make it extremely difficult for ‘egyptianized’ persons to remain in Egypt. It was a natural step for Nasser to seek to blame the Suez Crisis on the mutamassirun population.

After all, Nasser had risen to power on an avowedly pan-Arab, anti-colonial message. As Britain had directly ruled Egypt from the late nineteenth century until 1922, and France had previously invaded under Napoleon in 1798, the mutamassirun were easy targets for blame post-Crisis Egypt, as many were of British or French nationality or extraction. There was also a sizeable population of Jews living in Egypt around the turn of the twentieth century.

As the pre-Crisis period coincided with an increasingly confident and assertive Zionist movement, leading up to the creation of Israel in 1948, which led to great discomfort across Arab states, the Crisis only provided Nasser with a further reason to expel large numbers of the Egyptian Jewish population in its aftermath. For the Jews specifically (including those Jews who also happened to be British or French citizens), Nasser’s policy of removal post-1956 was carried out in two ways: expulsion and ‘voluntary’ emigration.

With regard to expulsion, the Egyptian government was able to make the number of Jews removed from Egypt seem much lower than the actual number by statistical sleight of hand: the estimate that at least 500 Egyptian and stateless Jews were expelled from Egypt by November 1956 does not include the expulsion of those Jews that were French or British citizens, nor does it include any member of a family who was not deemed by the Egyptian authorities to have been the ‘head of a family’, but who nonetheless had to leave Egypt along with the head of their family.

Read article in full

Monday, July 16, 2018

Iraqi-Jewish archive ownership 'up for debate'

The first of three articles in the Forward about the Iraqi-Jewish archive by the culture editor, Talya Zax, makes depressing reading. (For full background to the case, see under 'Jewish archives').  As well as claiming that the ownership of the archive is up for debate, the article disturbingly claims that the  status of the archive is ambiguous because Iraqi Jews 'left voluntarily, if under duress'. Apparently it is not a violation of international law for a government to have seized its citizens' property. Should the Iraqi-Jewish community bring a lawsuit against Iraq,  it is also unclear if the case could be heard in a US court.  However,  successful Holocaust restitution does set a precedent. 

Page from a Haggadah found in the Iraqi-Jewish archive

One reason the ownership of the archive appears to be up for debate is that the majority of the Jews who left Iraq did so voluntarily, but under duress. That was also the case for many European Jews who fled the Nazi menace, and the decades-long work of Holocaust reparations has established a mixed precedent as to what can and ought to be done with their property. Ambassador Yasseen declined to discuss the grounds on which Iraq claims ownership of the archive.

 I asked Gina Waldman, president of the advocacy organization Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) how the Iraqi Jewish community can claim ownership of materials left behind when their owners chose to leave. “This was what was considered communal property,” Waldman said. “No one person could sign off and say, well, this synagogue now belongs to the Iraqi government.”

 Basri, in an article outlining a legal argument for the United States to refuse to return the archive, refers to U.N. Resolution 242. Passed after the Six Day War, that statute calls for a “just settlement of the refugee problem.” Yet the Iraqi Jewish community has limited legal opportunities, says Patty Gerstenblith, director of DePaul College of Law’s Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law. The State Department, Gerstenblith said, granted the archive a status known as immunity from seizure, meaning that courts cannot hear cases or issue orders about it. “Doesn’t matter if it’s stolen property,” she said.

 That leaves only one option, which would be for the community to bring suit against Iraq. It’s unclear if such a claim could be heard in American court. “Usually,” Gerstenblith said, “when a government takes property away from its own citizens that’s not a violation of international law.” What about the example of Holocaust restitution? Objects looted during the Holocaust can be recoverable so long, Gerstenblith said, as suits are brought by clearly identifiable owners. A less direct precedent has been set for communal property. “In a sense, the Holocaust expropriations have been treated as a unique set of cases,” Gerstenblith said. “Having said that, there’s no reason that a court couldn’t extend that to another historical circumstance.”

 The Iraqi Jewish community has yet to attempt any legal action. In the short term, it’s unclear if they’ll have to, as the State Department would not comment on plans for the archive’s return. A spokesperson specifically declined a request to confirm that the current administration intends to return the archive in September, as scheduled. If the return is delayed, it won’t be for the first time.

  This is the first of three articles on the Iraqi Jewish Archive. Come back tomorrow for part 2, “In Exile, Iraqi Jews Are Desperate To Reclaim Their Artifacts — But So Is Iraq” and Tuesday for part 3, “The Iraqi Jewish Archive’s Future Is Uncertain. Foreign Policy Depends On It.”

  Read article in full

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A double whammy for the Jews of France

The Jews of France have sustained a double blow - an antisemitic crime is attributed to mental illness, while an  institution of the Jewish community ostracises one of the foremost experts on Arab and Muslim antisemitism. Lyn Julius writes in JNS News:
Sarah Halimi: hurled from her balcony
The first is that the murderer of Sarah Halimi, who shouted “Allah Hu Akbar” as he tortured and hurled the Orthodox Jew to her death from her balcony in April 2015, may not even stand trial. Kobili Traore has been declared “mentally incapable” by a panel of psychiatrists. After months of foot-dragging by the judge, the panel has reversed the findings of an earlier evaluation, which had retained the charge of anti-Semitism as an “aggravating circumstance.”
The second blow delivered to the Jewish community concerns the shoddy treatment of French historian and director of the Paris Holocaust memorial Georges Bensoussan. Over the last three years, Bensoussan has been fighting charges of “Islamophobia” and incitement to hatred against Muslims. In a television debate, he had said that Arab anti-Semitism was endemic, quoting the words of an Algerian sociologist that “Arabs sucked in antisemitism with their mother’s milk.”

Georges Bensoussan: dismissed
Thus far, Bensoussan has been acquitted in the French courts. But his reward has been to be unceremoniously dismissed from his job after 25 years of faithful service. His contract had still had two years to run, but the lock to his office was changed. When he was eventually allowed in to collect his possessions, a minder looked over his shoulder.
The Sarah Halimi case points to the institutional denial of Islamist anti-Semitism. Not for the first time have the perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes been declared “insane.” France does not want to admit that its terrorism problem has ideological roots. It prefers to blame economic grievances, despair or mental illness.
The Bensoussan case points to the fecklessness of Jewish community institutions in France. They have remained silent or have ostracized or have refused to support one of the most respected historians of their generation. Bensoussan may have won the argument in court, but he has become an embarrassment to the bien-pensants.
The Halimi and the Bensoussan cases are two sides of the same coin. The first was another instance of jihad terrorism against Jews: an anti-Semitic crime whose criminal nature has been denied. The second is a judicial jihad, in collusion with human rights and anti-Islamophobia organizations: the attempted criminalization of the act of calling out anti-Semitism. He who is reckless or bold enough to venture into this politically unpalatable territory is himself branded a racist.
The writer Albert Camus once said that “to misname things is to add to the woes of the world.” How right he was. If the French can’t even identify a problem, then how can they ever hope to deal with it?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Belly dancers admired by the Egyptian king

Double vision: the Jamal sisters perfected synchronised belly dancing

The Egypt of the interwar years had its fair share of Jewish celebrities. This is the amazing story of the Jamal Twins, who introduced a new style of belly dancing. Read their story in Israel National Library (with thanks: Michelle):

The foreign military forces that filled Egypt’s main cities in the post-World War II era brought about many changes in the local entertainment culture. Many nightclubs were opened and musicians, actors and dancers – both male and female – took advantage of the tremendous thirst for entertainment, which they were more than happy to supply.

The big stars of Helmieh Palace were “The Jamal Twins -” belly dancers who introduced a new style into this ancient style of eastern dancing. The sisters, Leila and Lamia, became the foremost stars of the Egyptian entertainment world at the end of Farouk’s regime. Their audiences were always packed and the Egyptian king was one of their greatest admirers. What was the magical secret of these girls that launched their star studded careers?

 The Mediterranean Sharkiya dance was one of their specialties. The musicians who accompanied the pair practiced with them for hours at a time to match the choreography to the musical repertoire, which was carefully selected. Grueling practice sessions, endless exercises and daily rehearsals produced extraordinary results.

The Jamal sisters’ performance was bright and innovative; the two dancers moved in wonderful harmony, with the dance and the music completely in sync. Their dance performances, in which they also used various stage props, was not simply another exotic oriental dance. They knew how to create a symmetrical picture of movement and make it virtuosic, while vibrantly expressing the music they moved to. The connection between them and the musicians was lively and exciting for the audience.

 The Jamal sisters’ musical talents were wholly unsurprising. They were daughters of musicians and had learned to play instruments from early childhood. Their father, Fishel Alpert was a violinist in the Vienna symphony orchestra. His name reveals his origins as a Jew who had moved from Chernowitz to the Austrian capital, where he became a professional musician. The reason for his emigration in the 1920’s to Egypt is unknown. It could well have been the great economic crisis which propelled him far away from Europe, to a place where he would have a dignified position in an orchestra and a decent income. In Alexandria, Fishel met his wife, Jini (Janin) Elpert. The impressive presence and the beauty of this opera singer, the daughter of Jewish emigrants, captured his heart. Their firstborn daughter, Helena, was born just a year after their wedding and her younger sister, Bertha, was born two and half years later, in 1932.

  Read article in full

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Jewish Mosul re-emerges from under the rubble

 After the devastation wrought by ISIS, Mosul is slowly coming back to life, and traces of Jewish existence are re-emerging from under the rubble. Seth Frantzman and Omar Mohammed report in The Forward:

Mosul once had a thriving Jewish community whose roots stretch back to the 8th century B.C.E. There are tombs in and near Mosul that commemorate the biblical prophets Jonah and Nahum — ISIS blew up the tomb of Jonah, known as Nabi Yunis in Arabic, in July 2014.

Many other local Jewish sites were known to local people but were kept secret after the last Jews left Mosul. The community secreted away inscriptions and items with family friends; these were passed down or left aside to collect dust. The fact that they were hidden kept them safe from ISIS invaders. Some of the sites, such as the synagogue, were used for other purposes — ISIS turned the synagogue into a storage area for bombs and used it as a hideout to avoid coalition airstrikes, according to the Voice of America. The former Jewish quarter in Mosul was called ‘Mahalet al-Yahud’ (Jewish neighborhood), and now it’s called ‘Ahmadiya’.

After the destruction from the 2017 fighting subsided, we found a local resident who asked to remain anonymous and was posting photos that were circulating privately online of inscriptions and old buildings. He didn’t know what the pictures were of, but someone noticed the Hebrew letters. Residents thought one of the buildings was “just rubbish.” We checked it out and the writing on a stone lintel was indeed in Hebrew. It is not surprising that people thought the site was “rubbish” — an American soldier wrote about finding the building in 2003 and described it as a “garbage dump.”

Read article in full 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

How an Egyptian Muslim became a Zionist Superhero

 The sad truth is that individuals like Hussein who reach out to Jews and change their negative views about Israel are all too easily branded as traitors and harassed by their own. Rachel Wahba tells his story in The Times of Israel:

 Rachel Wahba

Hussein’s story is unusual to say the least. His courage, after he unintentionally unearthed the truth in a land of censorship, is epic. He could not stop, and he could not stay silent once he started learning the truth about Jews, Israel, Christianity, and the world.

The middle child in a Middle class mostly secular Muslim family, Hussein was eleven years old when he embarked on a religious path. He began praying several times a day, getting more and more devout. He found himself praying for the destruction of the Jews and Israel. By the time he was a teen he hated us with a passion, a budding Jihadi ready to fight the good fight against the Zionists.

Obsessed with comic book Superheroes, Hussein channeled his hate in a wholly original way – He was going to be a superhero.  He, Hussein, would “learn everything about the Arch Enemy, the Jew,” the ultimate evil in the universe, responsible for everything wrong with civilization.

He studied Hebrew, first on his own via the internet and then in university. He knocked on the door of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and got a hero’s welcome (they don’t get many visitors). They gave him books, a world opened.

Threatening calls came to his home, He was arrested for a night, his father was arrested, he was told several times to stop visiting the embassy. He didn’t take the arrests seriously enough, he refused to stop blogging his new ideas.

His consciousness expanded, his friends thought his new ideas were crazy, he kept learning. He studied Jewish history, and then Christianity. There were no Jews in Egypt, but he saw how Egyptian Christians (like Jews), were not the dirty, smelly, vile sub-human filth he was taught. He read about Israel. He wrote.
Instead of becoming the Superhero he set out to be, he rejected Islam. He became a Zionist, an enemy of the state.

He was arrested and tortured for two months until he lost the capacity to see color, to care about anything except dying. Eventually he was helped out of the country, to flee for his life, into America, where I first heard him speak on a panel with other dissidents from the Middle East.

When I first met him, I asked about criticizing Islamic ideology without being silenced as “Islamophobic.”  He laughed, saying one cannot care about that. It was validating, because I am accused regularly, even when I am talking about my family’s experience. Even when I tell the story of how my Iraqi mother, accompanying her father to Basra on business, seeing the Shia merchant wash his hands to cleanse himself, after doing business with the Jewish merchant, my grandfather. This story is “Islamophobic.”

The validation I experience and every Zionist feels with Hussein is a blessing. We need our story understood.

I don’t have to explain to Hussein how sick to their core it makes Islamists that although they got rid of us Jews in their countries all over the Middle East, Israel rose and keeps thriving as a Jewish country in their midst.

With Hussein I don’t have to find ways to explain the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish country, or how the Palestinians were and continue to be inhumanely groomed by Political Islamic ideology as a means to get rid of us after major aggressive wars to destroy the one Jewish country failed. I don’t have to try to convince him that the “refugee” issue and “peaceful protests” in Gaza that keep multiplying in numbers is a cruel sham. He knows.

He knows first-hand, as did my family, as do most Jews from Arab lands, as does anyone who refuses to live in ignorance of a reality we have to wake up to if we want Israel to survive. This connection with him means the world to me.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In Morocco, antisemitism was rampant, but not fatal

 Zineb El Razhoui was a journalist with Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine whose staff were gunned down by Islamist terrorists in 2015. In this eye-opening article for the Nouvel Observateur she responds to an initiative by prominent French intellectuals to stem 'the new antisemitism'. The 'new antisemitism' is as old as the hills in her native Morocco, she contends. But it need not be fatal. (With thanks: Penina)

"When I first heard the word Yhoudi (Jewish) more than 30 years ago in Morocco, it sounded like an insult. It was at a large family reunion, the kind of meeting where the adults enjoying the reunion are irritated by their brats running in all directions. Someone had just called his child Yhoudi ould lyhoud (Jew son of a Jew!) to tell him he was a naughty kid. I was going to have the opportunity to hear this " insult " in different forms during my life in Morocco, a country that I later learned was the least antisemitic in the Arab world.

Zineb El Razhoui: grew up insulting Jews 
"Hachak (with all due respect) is a word that Moroccans, very concerned about verbal politeness, attach to any infamous term. Thus, a Moroccan will say "hachak garbage" or "hachak donkey". But more surprising still, many Moroccans would say "a woman, with all due respect" or "a Jew, with all due respect". Moreover,  legend  has it that before the lions of the Atlas mountains became extinct in time immemorial, the traveller who feared an attack of wild beasts had to gird himself with Jews, of flesh so vile that the king of the animals would not stoop to go after him.

"A little later at Al-Amani Primary School in Casablanca where I learned Arabic, French, and had many lessons in religion, it was rumoured in the courtyard that the terraced house was inhabited by Jews. We then thought that we,  little schoolchildren of a rather bourgeois private establishment, were allowed to throw insults and rubbish from the windows of our classrooms. The owner complained to the director, a graduate of the Al Azhar Theological University in Cairo and a doctor of Arabic literature, who furiously doled out punishments to us. For the first time, the neophyte antisemites that we were had just learned that hating the Jews was wrong. Ironically, it was Mr. Fahmi Shanti, a brilliant Palestinian intellectual refugee in Morocco and founder of our school, who taught us this lesson.

"This lesson I was never going to forget. I learned that antisemitism - with all due respect  to the detractors of Georges Bensoussan* - is indeed atavistic - that one has a good chance of suckling it from one's mother's breast  if  receiving a standard Islamic education.

Atavistic, but not fatal. I have also learned that the Palestinian cause cannot be a pretext for antisemitism, even for those who have pad a personal price like Mr Shanti. As an Al-Azhar theologian he was particularly keen to maintain good relations with his neighbours. If he could live together with his Jewish neighbours, why can't we in France?

Read article in full (French - registration required)

* a reference to the case of the French historian who was accused of 'hate-speech' after quoting a Muslim sociologist who claimed Arabs 'sucked antisemitism with their mother's milk'.

Monday, July 09, 2018

'Farhud casualties could have exceeded 1,000'

With thanks: Janet 

The Mossad report of 17 July 1941 on the Farhud

The Farhud pogrom of 1 and 2 June 1941 in Iraq could have claimed up to 1,000 Jewish casualties, according to a contemporaneous Mossad report.

The report, issued on 17 July 1941 after the Iraqi government had tried to suppress news of the pogrom, was apparently based on eye-witness testimonies and letters. It claimed that 90 Jews were murdered on the morning of the first day and many others were injured.

 On the second day, the mob began to attack Jewish homes. "Police and military officers and students, moved from house to house, killing young boys and the elderly, without any mercy. Their actions were even more severe than of the Kishinev pogrom's killers. Jewish blood was nothing and poured like water. Besides the killing, there was looting and robbing of houses and stores," said the report, putting the total value of property lost at a million Israeli lira.

The report puts at 120 the number of Jewish patients poisoned in Iraqi hospitals.  This would give a total of 210 deaths, exceeding the official estimates.  But the report goes further: לפי אומדנא מגיע מספר ההרוגים והאבודים למעלה מאלף איש. ("According to estimates the number of dead and lost is greater than 1,000." )

Although the figure of 179 dead is commonly quoted, the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center  has managed to identify the names only of 141 dead in Baghdad and seven in the rest of the country. Zvi Yehuda of the Center says he is aware of the report but refutes the figure of 1,000, arguing that no evidence exists for this number.

The final death toll may never be known. The prominent historian Elie Kedourie put the numbers of Jewish dead at 600. The  bodies were buried in a mass grave in the old Jewish cemetery, which itself was later destroyed. Whole families are thought to have been wiped out in the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, with no-one alive to witness the deaths.

The report claims that the Jewish community paid over enormous amounts of money to the rioters.  It points to the complicity of the police in the violence:"Suddenly rebel gangs attacked the Jews, and among the gang members, there were police officers that removed their police insignia." After the poisoning of the Jewish patients became known, Dr Diab Bik, the local hospital manager, had his licence to practice medicine suspended for five years.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Mossad finds Eli Cohen's watch, but not his body

 The Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, has recovered a watch belonging to the famous spy Eli Cohen. Born in Egypt, Eli Cohen was one of Israel's most audacious spies. He was caught and executed in 1965 in Syria but his body has never been found. The Sydney Morning Herald carries this story by Ronen Bergman:

Tel Aviv: The news came in a brief announcement from the Israeli Prime Minister's office: A watch belonging to a legendary Israeli spy had been recovered in a secret operation and brought back to Israel.
The watch belonged to Eli Cohen, whose spying in Syria is credited with helping Israel to a quick victory in the 1967 war, long after he had been caught and executed by the Syrian government.

Eli Cohen wearing the watch in Damascus, early 1960s

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the "determined and courageous action" of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, for returning "a memory from a heroic fighter who contributed greatly to the security of the state."
But the Thursday announcement was tantalisingly short on specifics, setting off a buzz across Israel. Cohen was a national hero, with streets and buildings named after him and ceremonies honouring his memory every year. But had Mossad, as Netanyahu implied, carried out a secret operation to recover a wristwatch?
In part, yes.

The operation, according to an Israeli official with knowledge of it, was part of a broader 14-year hunt by Mossad to find Cohen's body, which 53 years after his execution in Damascus had never been located. The main goal was to recover the body and return it for a hero's burial in Israel. But part of the operation was to recover any personal items belonging to the spy.

The spy agency has invested huge sums and resources in the larger quest, including endangering human life and paying bribes to agents and crooks, Israeli intelligence officials said. Still, the body has not been found.
But during the search, the official said, Mossad agents located a man who had the watch and began an operation to obtain it.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

How can a Pakistani visit Israel?

The name Fishel Benkhald (Khalid)  is familiar to those who have been following his campaign to have his identity as a Jew recognised by Pakistan. Now, writing in the Daily Times,  he has set himself another challenge: to get the law changed so that he can visit Jerusalem. His Pakistani passport bans him from visiting the country. However, Israel would not consider his visit illegal, as long as he obtains a visa. Point of No Return's advice  to Fishel is to break his journey in one of the following countries with an Israeli diplomatic mission: Baku, Azerbaijan; Nairobi, Kenya; Yangon, Myanmar; Accra, Ghana, and  Kathmandu, Nepal.

I am stuck in a real life conundrum. Being a practicing Jewish man, I want the freedom to perform my religious duties, a right granted to me and other minorities in the country by the constitution. However, the reality is that my Pakistani passport states that ‘this passport is valid for all countries of the world, except Israel’. As per the constitution, every citizen has the right to practice their religion, including religious pilgrimages. How then, can the state be justified in prohibiting not only Jews, but Pakistani Christians, Messianic Jews, and even Muslims from travelling to Jerusalem? This self-conflicting sentence on our passports is flawed and inconsistent with our constitution, and it is time to challenge this archaic law.

All I simply want is to invoke my given constitutional right to perform a religious pilgrimage without having the threat of criminal persecution from the state of Pakistan hanging over my head. This is a flaw in the laws that govern the state of minorities in the country and it specifically discriminates against the small community of Jews, Christians and Muslims that want to observe their rights.

I want to observe the Passover (Pesach) Seder in Jerusalem next year in April, and as the situation stands at the moment, I am unable to do so. But we need to realize that even though laws are not meant to be broken, they are supposed to evolve, so that any flaws can be ironed out over time. If the lawmakers today realize how the law banning Pakistanis from travelling to Israel, despite their desire to just perform a religious pilgrimage, is contradictory to the rights highlighted in the constitution, then I implore them to amend the laws accordingly.

Read article in full

Friday, July 06, 2018

The wonder woman of World War 2

 If you have seen the film Casablanca, you will know that Morocco was a conduit for refugees escaping Europe during WW2. Less known is a remarkable Jewess called Helen Cazes Ben Attar, who spearheaded the effort to support the refugees and found them jobs. Here is a post by North African Jews in World War 2:

Not many people are familiar with Helen Cazes Ben Attar.
Helen was in the forefront of the progress of women's rights in Morocco and worked tirelessly for the Jewish refugees who had escaped Europe.

Helen had been a trailblazer from early on, when she was one of the first Jewish girls to complete the Moroccan matriculation exams. She went on to study law and became the first female Jewish lawyer in Morocco. She soon became active in the Jewish community in Casablanca and worked with welfare organizations, the Jewish National Fund, and was appointed the first head of WIZO (the Women's International Zionist Organization).

Helen was also first in other respects. Following the outbreak of WWII she was the first to recognize the dire straits in which the Jewish refugees from Europe found themselves. She acted to alleviate their hardship and worked to mobilize the Jewish community to welcome and support them.

After the liberation of North Africa by the Allies, Helen continued to work for the refugees - she found work for 1,276 Jewish refugees in the American Army and in the factories which supported the Allied fighting forces. She also became the head of the Joint.

On her gravestone, her children inscribed the following: "To our mother, a legendary woman who delivered innumerous souls from danger." Helen was a wise and courageous woman with a kind and warm heart.

The website North African Jews in World War 2 is seeking more information - documents, photos or personal accounts - which could shed light on the unique figure of Helen Ben Attar.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Why have Jews from the Arab world been forgotten?

Writing in the Algemeiner, Jacob Sivak suggests some possible answers to this question. There are others: the far left 'Arab-Jew' counter-narrative, the postmodern view of Jews as colonial interlopers from Europe, etc. But Sivak's conclusion vindicates the creation of a state - Israel - where Jews can defend themselves in a region torn by sectarian warfare. (With thanks: Joseph)

Why have these refugees been forgotten? Part of the answer has to be related to the numbers and public relations strengths of the Arab-Muslim community, which accounts for more than 25% of the countries represented in the United Nations. Moreover, as Chaim Genizi writes in The Holocaust, Israel, and Canadian Protestant Churches (2002), the establishment of the State of Israel “…contradicted the old Christian theological myth of Jewish national demise,” and while the Palestinian refugees are a suitable Christian concern, the same does not apply to Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Yet another factor likely resides with the refugees themselves. In a Huffington Post oped titled “Letter from a Forgotten Jew,” David Harris writes, “Perhaps we Jews from Arab countries accepted our fate too passively. Perhaps we failed to seize the opportunity to tell our story.”

Finally, in an insightful book titled The Siege, Conor Cruise O’Brien writes, “The attitude of the Israeli establishment toward the Oriental Jews, in the fifties and sixties, and even later, might be defined as benevolent but pessimistic paternalism, strongly affected by negative racial attitudes and stereotypes, mitigated by the sense of a common Jewish bond. … They were Jews, but not quite the right Jews.”

The Middle East today is a cauldron of sectarian warfare, brutality, and population upheaval — particularly with respect to ethnic and religious minorities such as Kurds, Yazidis, Coptic Christians, and smaller Muslim groups such as the Sufis. Imagine for a moment that Israel was never created. How secure would the lives of a Jewish minority living in the Arab world be today? If forced to flee where would they go?

Read article in full

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Sasson Gabay leads the band in New York

Legendary Israeli actor Sasson Gabay stepped into his new role as star of the award-winning Broadway show The Band's Visit.  It is a new experience for the Iraq-born actor, who is best known in Israel for his film roles. Report in the Jerusalem Post:

Gabay, who originated the role in the 2009 film which formed the basis for the musical, is expected to remain in the show for at least a year.

The Band's Visit swept the Tony Awards earlier this month, taking home 10 prizes including best musical, best actress and best actor for Tony Shalhoub, who originated the role in the play. It is one of three shows in history to win the "big six" Tony Awards - best musical, actor, actress, director, score and book.

Ari'el Stachel, the US-born Yemenite-Israeli who won best featured actor for his role in the show, welcomed Gabay to the team.

"We just welcomed this legend into our company and it’s blowing my entire mind," Stachel wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of the two of them together. "Sasson Gabay is the Deniro of Israel - he’s the most recognizable and prolific actor in the country - and my cast and I are lucky to be sharing the same air as him. Literally a walking master class being on stage with him. Learning so much. So unbelievably happy that American audiences will now be able to witness his brilliance. And he’s almost instantly become my second dad so basically you can say I’m in heaven."

Since sweeping the Tony Awards, The Band's Visit has seen a surge in ticket sales, and the production released a block of tickets earlier this week through June 2019.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

200 Jews die in Cairo during summer of 1948

 As the first Arab-Israeli war raged, the Muslim Brotherhood vented its anger and desire for revenge at the Jews of the old Cairo Karaite quarter by planting bombs. Some 200 Jews were thought to have died during the summer of 1948. Story in Haaretz:

 At the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria, 1940s

Egypt’s Jews thought they could distance themselves from the Zionist movement. Community leaders, including the chief rabbi and the presidents of both the Cairo and Alexandria Jewish communities, publicly repudiated Zionism, and those who were active in the movement went underground.
In 1947, the government, which until then had at least nominally protested anti-Semitic actions, began to take official measures against Egypt’s Jews. Foremost of these were the Company Laws, which set quotas on the percentage of non-citizens, the country’s Jews included, that could be employed by incorporated businesses. 

After Israel’s declaration of statehood, on May 15, 1948, matters deteriorated further. Jews were rounded up for Zionist activity, which was now illegal, martial law was declared, and the assets of many Jewish firms were confiscated. These official measures were accompanied by more attacks by Islamists on Jews and their property.
When the bomb went off on June 20 in the Karaite Quarter, the authorities initially claimed that it had been set off by Rabbanite Jews, who constituted the majority of Egypt’s Jewish population. They also blamed it on the accidental detonation of fireworks that had been housed in Jewish homes. But details of the crime were censored in the press, and even the local Jewish newspaper did not fully cover the event. 

That terror attack was followed by five more attacks on Jewish sites in Cairo during the summer and fall of 1948: the July 19 bombing of two Jewish-owned department stores, and similar attacks on two additional stores on July 28 and August 1; the September 22 blast in the (Rabbanite) Jewish Quarter, which killed 19 people; the destruction of a large Jewish-owned publishing firm, Societe Orientale de Publicite, on November 12. One source puts the number of Jewish deaths to bombings and other murderous attacks, in July 1948 alone, at 200.

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Monday, July 02, 2018

Commentary review: The other Middle Eastern refugees

History has been deeply unkind to the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa, and so too has the historical record. As the British author Lyn Julius points out in Uprooted, the persecution and ethnic cleansing of more than 800,000 Jewish denizens of Arab lands from the 1940s onward is a story still confined to the margins of more visible tragedies. Review in Commentary (July 2018 issue) by Ben Cohen:

Foremost among these is the Holocaust, commonly regarded as a purely European episode, yet one whose German architects intended ultimately to include the Jews of Arab lands. That ambition was checked when the Allies stopped the Nazi advance in North Africa at the close of 1942. Then there is the outflow of approximately 750,000 Palestinian Arab refugees during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, still presented in many Western and Arab circles as the origin of the region’s present problems. The Arab-refugee issue has become grossly expanded in another way as well: The Palestinians, uniquely among the world’s refugee populations, are compelled by the United Nations to transfer refugee status from parents to children. Thus there are currently 5 million Palestinian “refugees.”

Because of these events, the Jewish exodus from the Arab world is commonly perceived as simply one more misfortune among the myriad population transfers and ethno-national conflicts that followed World War II. Yet according to the historian Nathan Weinstock, it remains an exodus with no precedent in Jewish history, “even when compared with the flight of the Jews from Tsarist Russia, Germany in the 1930s, or massive emigration from Eastern Europe after the war.”

Julius, herself the product of a Jewish family driven from Iraq, cogently explains how the Jews of the Arab world effectively became denationalized. She argues persuasively that the rapid unraveling of these Jewish communities, whose presence in these areas predated the emergence of Islam, should be understood above all else as an offense against the elementary codes of human rights.
The inherent danger with these kinds of accounts is that the victims end up as a beatified collective, at which point historical writing quickly becomes apologia. Julius avoids this basic trap. She makes it clear that there is no archetypal “oriental Jew,” and no literary sleight of hand can encompass the vastly different experiences of Jews from cowed, closed Yemen and from open, ebullient Morocco. Nor can Cairene Jews, educated in European private schools, be lumped in with those crammed into the Jewish quarters of Fez or Meknes.

Insofar as these communities began exhibiting more and more similarities as the 20th century progressed, it was the result of the draconian, discriminatory legal regimes imposed on them by the Arab governments under which they lived.
By the late 1950s, the vast bulk of these communities, from the western reaches of North Africa to the eastern borders of Saudi Arabia, had been brutally wrenched from their roots. Typical measures along the way included stripping Jews of their citizenship, freezing their property and assets, systematically intimidating them through mass arrests and detentions, proscribing Zionism as a crime, and subjecting them to humiliations both large and petty in the workplace and in schools.

Drawing on the scholarship of historians such as Matthias Kuentzel and Jeffrey Herf, Julius spotlights the ideological overlaps between German National Socialism, the various strains of Arab nationalism, and the overtly anti-Semitic Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood. “The root cause of the post-1948 exodus of over 850,000 Jews from the Middle East and North Africa,” Julius writes, “was pan-Arab racism, itself influenced by Nazism.” That truth has become more and more evident as the years have passed, especially in Israel, where historians and politicians are beginning to grasp the significant ties between the Holocaust and the uprooting of the Jews from the Arab world. The clearest example of this trend, which Julius cites approvingly, was the decision by Israel’s Finance Ministry in November 2015 to extend Holocaust-survivor benefits to Israelis who survived Nazi-era persecution in Morocco, Algeria, and Iraq. In the words of Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, this was “the righting of a historical wrong.”

If Kahlon’s characterization appeals to Julius, it is perhaps because she sees her task as correcting a series of historical wrongs that, 70 years after the fact, still confound our appreciation of the Jewish exodus from the Arab world. The critical difference between the Middle East’s uprooted Jews and the Palestinian Arabs is that, excepting a handful of cases from Egypt and Libya, these Jews were never assigned refugee status. This discrepancy, Julius asserts, has “narrowed the [Middle East] conflict to the Israel-Palestinian dispute and excluded the larger Arab context in which the expulsion of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries is central.”

Israel’s approach to the claims of these Jewish refugees has evolved. The idea of kizzuz—according to which Jewish losses were thought of as being offset by Palestinian losses—has given way to recognition of the judicial importance of individual compensation. Julius credits former President Bill Clinton for inaugurating this idea in 2000, when he opined that one element of an eventual Palestinian–Israeli agreement would be the creation of a compensation fund for refugees that included “the Israelis who were made refugees by the war, which occurred after the birth of the State of Israel.” Clinton explained: “Israel is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in predominantly Arab countries who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own lands.”

Julius accepts that the parallel between the Palestinians and the Jews of the Arab world is not a neat one. She believes, in fact, that attempting to draw such a parallel does a disservice to the Jews, who were the targets of government-sanctioned discrimination mainly during peacetime. The Palestinian refugees, by contrast, were displaced as a result of the fierce fighting between the Haganah and the invading Arab League armies. The very act of raising this issue, Julius contends, challenges the “unchallenged sway” that the Palestinian-refugee issue has held thus far. At the moment, “Jewish refugee rights are dismissed as an impediment to peace, denigrated, or ignored, while Arab rights—including the much-vaunted Right of Return—are put on a pedestal.”

As a corrective, Julius puts forward the idea of the Arab world’s Jews as having endured three successive “colonizations.” In the seventh century, there was Islam; in the 19th century, there were European powers; and, finally, in the last century and this one, there has been a “colonization of facts” by which “the story of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa has been erased and falsified.” Uprooted will surely not be the last historical examination of the Arab world’s exiled Jews, but it is among the first to launch a frontal assault on the myths and preconceptions associated with their plight. For that alone, its value will endure.

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Other reviews 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

We must speak of Jewish refugees - for truth and peace

Two blogs argue that the Palestinians have hoodwinked the West into believing in the deception of the 'right of return' and the justice of their cause. Lyn Julius explains that the 'right of return' is a recipe for war, while Karen Hurvitz calls out the Palestinians on the 'big lie' of their victimhood. Both writers remark that the Palestinians are not unique in their displacement, and that we should speak of the Jewish refugees too:

                                                          Lyn Julius

 Lyn Julius writes in her Jewish News/ Times of Israel blog:
The idea that the refugees should return to Israel, and not to Palestine, runs counter to the two-state solution. What is the point of establishing a Palestinian state if the Palestinian refugees still cling to their ultimate objective of returning to Israel?
Apart from the fact that it would soon turn Israel into a majority-Arab state, little thought is given to the mayhem that such a return would produce. Refugee questions after such a long lapse of time have not been solved by return. The great majority of Palestinian refugees today never lived in the homes that they are programmed to ‘return’ to. Most might no longer exist. In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Greek Cypriots who demanded to return to their properties in the northern part of the island now under Turkish-Cypriot control. As so much time had elapsed since 1974 when the Turks invaded the island, the Court ruled, in the words of Tel Aviv professor Asher Susser, that ‘it was necessary to ensure that the redress offered for these old injuries did not create disproportionate new wrongs’. If this was true for Cyprus since 1974 it is all the more true for Palestine since 1948. 

But the issue of the Palestinian refugees needs to be seen alongside the parallel plight of the Jewish refugees, who fled Arab countries for Israel in roughly equal numbers at about the same time. A permanent exchange of refugee populations occurred. The last thing the Jews want is a ‘right of return’ to countries which remain as hostile and antisemitic as the day the refugees fled.

As long as the Right of Return is the cornerstone of the Palestinians’ strategy, the 650,000 Jewish refugees who fled from Arab lands to Israel remain its antidote. Yet the issue of the Jewish refugees is either denied or ignored. When Jewish and Palestinian ‘narratives’ are juxtaposed, the Jewish refugees remain invisible. When Fisk goes hunting for original Palestinian homes and the locks which fit the Palestinian keys, invariably he finds a Jew from Poland or Romania now occupying the Arab home, never a Jew from Yemen or Iraq. In other words, Jews did not come to Israel because they were fleeing Arab and Muslim antisemitism.The innocent Palestinian is ‘paying the price of the Nazi Holocaust’ – a European crime.

                                                           Karen Hurvitz

Karen Hurvitz writes in her Times of Israel blog:

In the same breath as we speak about Palestinians who were displaced by the creation of Israel, so too should we speak of Jews who were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries. Massive exoduses of Jews took place in the late 1940s and early 1950s, mostly from Iraq, Yemen and Libya. At least 90 percent of those Jewish populations had to flee, forced to leave all of their possessions behind.
Overall, more than 850,000 Jews were kicked out of Arab lands and exactly zero of them claim refugee status today. Just between the years 1948 and 1951, 260,000 Jews from Arab countries immigrated to Israel and a few years later, following the 1956 Suez Crisis, another 25,000 Jews were expelled from Egypt. Israel is largely a country made up of Jewish refugees and their children, and these are the very people that a refugee organization now seeks to displace — other refugees!
Jews do not refer to the slaughters, pogroms, property confiscation and deportations they endured in Arab countries as nakbas (the Arabic word for catastrophes). Instead of using these slaughters and expulsions to drive their narrative, Jewish Israelis have chosen to build a country. None of them, including the Holocaust survivors who (to put it mildly) had the right to be heart-wrenchingly furious after losing most of their families, have ever returned to their countries of origin to throw bombs, stab civilians, run down people with vans, and commit other acts of terror and revenge.
We should take to heart the suggestion of Professor Ada Aharoni, chairman of The World Congress of the Jews from Egypt, who stated in his Ynet article “What about the Jewish Nakba?” that publicizing the expulsion of Jews from Arab states could aid the peace process. It would show the world — and the Palestinians — that they are not unique in their experience of displacement and that instead of destroying, they could just as easily redefine themselves as a nation that builds itself up in the face of displacement. Not only would this be a productive way to channel their nakba, but it would also dispel their necessity to channel Joseph Goebbels by continuing to propagate their “big lie.”

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

70 years ago, Morocco pogroms caused 10% of Jews to flee

This month, seventy years ago, a murderous riot broke out in the cities of Oujda and Djerada in which 44 Jews died. As a result, 10 percent of the Jews of Morocco fled. Point of No Return is republishing a blog we first posted seven years ago:

 Sunset in Oujda

On the morning of 7 June 1948, a riot broke out against the Jews in Oujda (Morocco), a city in the north-east of the country close to the border with Algeria. Five Jews were killed and many wounded.

The following day, 8 June, the rioting spread to the small mining village of Djerada, 60 km south west of Oujda. There, the Jewish community numbered some 100 souls: 38 were slaughtered, sometimes entire families. Among the dead was the community's rabbi, Moshe Cohen, and his wife, his mother, 13-year-old son, daughter aged six and a baby of one year. The badly wounded were left for dead. Material damage was great, especially in Oujda.

The Pasha of Oujda expressed his regrets and went to meet each individual victim's family. Subsequently he was violently attacked in the mosque of Oujda. Prosper Marciano, commenting on the weblog Dafina, reveals that one of the victims was his maternal grandfather Messaoud Bendayan, lynched and hurled from a balcony.

According to the historians Haim Saadoun and Yaron Tsour and others, quoted by Jeff Malka in his blog SephGen, several factors led to the outbreak of rioting:

1. The feeling of brotherhood towards the Palestinian people;
2. The huge progress made by the local nationalist movement of independence;
3. The fact that hundreds of young Jews were illegally leaving Morocco and crossing the border between Morocco and Algeria, close to Oujda en route towards France and Israel;
4. The speech given by the Moroccan Sultan, Mohammed V, in which he expressed concern about Morocco's Palestinian Arab brothers, although emphasizing Moroccan Jews' loyalty to Morocco. He ended by calling for countrywide calm. Unfortunately, many listeners only heard the first part of his speech.

Some claim that the massacres were deliberately instigated by the French authorities following a failed attempt to incite trouble in Fez on the last day of the Maimouna festival, but Michel Abitbol, in his book Le passe d'une discorde, says there is no evidence for this. What is clear is that in both places, the police arrived too late to prevent the disturbances and were only able to take note of material damages.

The result was that 10 percent of the Jewish population of Morocco left in the first wave of emigration to Israel, according to the historian Andre Chouraqui. The leaders of the Miners' Federation were accused of being behind the massacres and brought to trial. The verdict was delivered on 25 February 1949: none was condemned to death, but four were given life sentences for hard labour, and others sent to prison.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A partial paean to coexistence in Morocco

This is another article, based on an Australian ABC TV report,  regretting the end of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in Morocco. Joseph Sebag, the last Jew of Essaouira,  is its poster boy. Israel is portrayed as the cause of the exodus and the Jews of Morocco persuaded to leave against their better judgement by Zionist agents. The threats of forced conversion, abduction and daily incidents of violence and intimidation are omitted, or minimised, and the six-year emigration ban to Palestine not mentioned.  What is new, is that French colonialism is also blamed (and the teaching of Hebrew instead of Arabic!)  for tearing the two communities apart before Israel's creation. Yet the French can be credited for liberating the Jews from their subjugated dhimmi status under Islam.

Joseph Sebag, last Jew of Essaouira
In an antique shop in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira sits Joseph Sebag, a charming old man with a shy smile.
He is all that remains of the city's once thriving Jewish community. But he remembers what it was like before the exodus.
"There was no Jew that didn't have a Muslim friend, and there was no Muslim that didn't have a Jewish friend," Mr Sebag says.

Jewish merchants first arrived in Africa around 500 BC. In the centuries that followed, thousands of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe established new lives in Morocco.
For most of Morocco's history, Jewish people lived in relative harmony with Muslims.
But when Israel was established in 1948 the friendship was severed beyond repair.

Tensions between Arabs and Jews, which had been stroked under French colonial rule, exploded into a terminal confrontation.

Arab nationalists expressed their solidarity with displaced Palestinians by turning on their Jewish neighbours.

In Morocco, as with much of the Arab world, many Jewish communities faced looting, arson, and riots.
"It was very sad, people that had lived there for hundreds of years all packed up and went," Mr Sebag says.


The country was once home to more than 300,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population of any country in the Arab world. It now hosts only 5,000.
"Before the exodus the Jews in Morocco were everywhere, in the cities, in the small villages," says Mechthild Gilzmer, a professor in Jewish studies at Saarland University.
"It was a large and vibrant community."
Unlike the biblical exodus of ancient Jews from Egypt, the migration of Arab Jews in the 20th century was more like a slow divorce than an instant separation.
For more than 30 years before the creation of Israel, French colonists had been working to drive a wedge between Muslims and Jews in Morocco.
Education programs were rolled out encouraging Jews to embrace French culture and language. Classical Arabic was left off the curriculum in favour of Hebrew.
A symptom of disintegrating relations, looting and rioting broke out in Jewish Quarter of Fez in 1912.
Jews fled large cities to smaller towns and villages on the urban outskirts, creating Jewish ghettos reminiscent of 19th century Europe. (This makes no sense - surely the opposite was true ?-ed)

In Morocco some Jews left to seek the long-promised land, but many chose to stay despite the growing tide of anti-Semitism in some cities.
"Unlike elsewhere in the Arab world, the creation of Israel did not immediately spark widespread animosity or attacks on Jews [in Morocco]," Professor Gilzmer says. (A statement contradicted by what follows - ed)

Carrying the flag of the newly-established Arab League, the Moroccan nationalist press began fostering hostility against Jewish Moroccans. Many shops and homes were looted.

In the early weeks of June 1948 an anti-Jewish riot broke out in the north-eastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada. At least 44 people were killed.
After a long history of coexistence, "many Jews were made to feel like they were no longer welcome", Professor Gilzmer says.

After the violence in Oujda and Jereda, the stream of Jews making the journey across the Mediterranean became a flood. By 1950, 18,000 of Morocco's Jews left for Israel.

Marc Cohen left Morocco 50 years ago, when he was 18. He now lives in Melbourne.
"I remember buses full of Jewish people not knowing where they were going," he says.
 "They started closing one synagogue after the other, most of my school friends left, and then everybody left.
"For many it was the end of the exile".

Against a backdrop of rising Arab nationalism, European Zionists began arriving at Moroccan synagogues telling stories of the new Jewish homeland. They encouraged the local Jewish community to migrate.

Israel had sent dozens of Mossad officers to North Africa who acted as missionaries for the Zionist cause.

According to Professor Gilzmer, even when threats were minimal, "many Jews left after being told by Zionist agents they were in danger".

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

L' Aurore archives now accessible online

 Donations from the UK, Israel and France among others have enabled JPress (part of the National Library of Jerusalem) to digitise issues of the Egyptian-Jewish newspaper L'Aurore. What is remarkable about this newspaper  - a treasure trove of data about the interwar Jewish community in Egypt, edited until its demise in 1941 by Jacques Maleh - is that it continued to publish articles sympathetic to Zionism and to refugees from, and victims of, Nazi antisemitism. Here is a synopsis of the history of L'Aurore by Ovadia Yerushalmi. (With thanks: Maurice)

Issue of 10 January 1941: until its demise the newspaper continued to publish articles about Zionism and the victims of Nazism.

The weekly newspaper L'AURORE was founded in 1909 by Lucien Sciutto in Istanbul, Turkey. In 1919 it was shut down either by government pressure or, as rumors had it, due to economic difficulties that followed Sciutto’s clashes with the local Jewish community. In 1921 Sciutto moved to Cairo. Three years later, in 1924, under pressure from his devoted readers who considered L'AURORE to be a means of expressing their liberal views in French, Sciutto started publishing the magazine again, in Cairo,  in its original name and format.

The reborn Weekly had a great success among Jewish readers of Greek and Turkish descent in Egypt. It became a significant competitor to the weekly ISRAEL.

At that time L'AURORE housed the Cairo agency of the United Palestine Appeal (UPA) in its offices. Consequently, from October 1924 onwards the UPA headquarters in London supported the magazine by paying 10 Pounds Sterling per month – a sum that was equal to an apartment’s  monthly rental charge. This support lasted till June 1931. Ensuing this date the Weekly started encountering economic difficulties and on two occasions its publication was halted. In July 1931 Jacques Maleh, Sciutto’s partner, took over and for a few months tried to publish the magazine at his own expense. However, as Maleh’s debts piled he had to ask for help. He found it in the B'nai B'rith organization whose members teamed up to save the magazine. They founded a committee, headed by Simon Mani, with the goal of revitalizing the magazine. With the guarantees that were provided by Léon Bassane and M. Markovitz,  who were members of the committee, Maleh managed to improve the magazine’s image and status within the community. L'AURORE became independent and successful. It was only in 1941, as a result of the economic consequences of World War II, that the magazine was closed for ever.

Like the magazine ISRAEL, L’AURORE defined itself as a Jewish National publication and presented succinct pro Zionist inclinations. Sciutto was outraged at the indifference of most of the Jewish community, including its religious and institutions’ leaders, who shunned from taking part in the Zionist effort to establish the National Home. In 1925, when Baron Jacques de Menasce was elected the head of the Zionist board in Alexandria, Sciutto urged the wealthy in Cairo to follow the Alexandrian example.

L’AURORE was the first Jewish magazine to struggle against the Nazi regime. Already in 1933 it alerted its readers of the Nazi movement that had just risen to power. L’AURORE published an open letter to Egypt’s Acting Prime Minister demanding to outlaw the Nazi party in Cairo and to expel its leaders. The magazine warned the world from the consequences of the Nazi ascend  to power. In fact L’AURORE became the voice of the “Contra Anti-Semitism League” in Cairo.  

Lucien Sciutto was a Zionist activist, a journalist, an author and educator. After his departure from the magazine he devoted himself to teaching French in high-schools and in 1941he became a principal of a Jewish school in Alexandria.

Click here to access L'Aurore archive

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

'Jewish life in Turkey is slowly being suffocated'

Turkey feels like a dictatorship hiding in plain sight, writes Annika Rothstein  in this insightful piece in Rebel. Yet few Jews would have voted for anyone in the recent elections other than Prime Minister Erdogan, believing he alone would ensure stability. No Jew has ever been arrested, but fewer identify publically as Jews. 'It is a slow suffocation of Jewish existence, as opposed to an outright shot to the heart'. (With thanks: Michelle)

Nisim’s grandfather suffered under the Turkish “wealth tax” that as instituted in the early 1940s, aimed at Armenians, Jews, Greeks and Levantines. The official reason for the tax was to amass funds for a possible entry into WW2, but in reality it was a way of throwing Turkey’s non-Muslims into financial ruin and despair.
Because of his inability to pay the massive dhimmi-tax, Nissim’s grandfather was thrown into a prison camp and his grandmother borrowed money from Muslim bankers in order to get him out. Once freed, he was forced to work several jobs for the rest of his life, just to manage the payments, and all the untold stories of this hardship is reflected it Nisim’s eyes as he stands at the foot of his grave.
I take a picture of Nisim but he asks me not to post it on social media.
“The government is already monitoring me, and I don’t want to give them an excuse to say that I am some sort of terrorist, speaking ill of Turkey or complaining about our history.”
I try really hard not to show the anger I feel at his words; anger at how little has changed since the dhimmi-laws and the outright persecution, and at how the Jews of this land are still locked in a prison of fear and silence. Feeling that my reaction would somehow be disrespectful or patronizing I walk next to him in silence, reading each name out loud to myself; making sense of the words as the outside world befuddles me.

During Ramadan when I was there, the pace of the city is sluggish in the unrelenting heat. Nisim and I go to a nearby kosher restaurant, the only one around, and Nisim shows his ID-card at the unmarked door, revealing the word "Musevi" (Jew) in bold black letters. The owners of the otherwise empty eatery treat us like royalty, and while they speak no Hebrew they chatter in fluent Ladino, one of the few remnants of a time that was.

There is a warm familiarity between the two of us, despite the fact that we didn’t know each other’s names just a few days ago. Regardless of geography, age or our levels of observance, we are just two Jews sharing a meal, cooked according to the rules of our ancient faith. Right below the restaurant lays a small but ornate synagogue, and as we walk through it we are approached by the curious keepers of the keys, asking for our names and ID. This is the case in every Jewish institution in this city; the doors are unmarked but heavily guarded and usually, getting in takes more than one form of verification.

That feeling is everywhere – the low-level fear and hostility. Turkey is a deeply conservative country, shrouded in modern attire. While there may be plenty of scantily clad European tourists on the streets of Istanbul, I am told not to walk alone at night and definitely not wear my Magen David necklace or tell anyone that I am a Jew. Having already spent time in Iran I am surprised at how this place feel more menacing, somehow, perhaps because the world is in agreement on what Iran is, whereas Turkey still is able to play the role of country among countries while its leadership does away with basic rights and freedoms. It feels like a dictatorship hiding in plain sight, jailing and killing minorities and journalists while millions of tourists take selfies on the beaches of Antalya.
Erdogan has achieved stability, says Turkish Jewish author Rifat Bali when I meet up with him in his downtown office. He agreed to meet with me after a great deal of coaxing, and as soon as I walk in I can sense a tension coming off of him, in action as well as in words:
“Erdogan is the best option for the Jews in this election. I mean, what options are there? Anything but Erdogan would mean chaos, and chaos has never ever favored the Jews.”

Rifat Bali: 'Turkish Jews live a dual life'

Nissim is sitting next to me and he boldly interjects in disagreement, receiving little but a scoff for his trouble. Mr. Bali assures me that the Jews will not be persecuted under Erdogan and that, as far as he knows, no Jew has even been arrested. When I ask him about the President’s constant and virulent anti-Israel rhetoric, Bali shrugs and says that this is a language that means very little in actual terms in this part of the world:
“Turkish Jews live a dual life, where we know not to put Israel on the forefront, but keep that private. The Turkish Jews that remain here are well off, they live good lives, and they know how to survive in this environment where very few Turks carry the baggage of rational thought.”
And he is not wrong, at least not about the last part. The remaining Turkish Jews have developed excellent survival skills, and very few still carry their Jewish family names but have adapted and changed to accommodate their surroundings. There is still more of a Jewish framework here than in my native Sweden – such as several kosher butcheries, three kosher mikvaot and at least three daily minyanim – but the power of self-censorship has set in long ago and fewer and fewer keep kosher, use the Mikve or partake in any other form of observant Jewish life. It is a slow suffocation of the Jewish existence, as opposed to an outright shot to the heart.

As Turkey approaches their general elections, Jews are keeping well out of the way of the public debate and focusing on staying off the radar. Recent events, such as the embassy moving to Jerusalem and violent riots in and around Gaza, has raised the threat level and caused discord within the community, as many now feel that they are being targeted based on Israeli and American policy, despite doing their best to slip into the shadows.

Nisim and his family listen to me as I sing the "Birkat Hamazon," and afterwards we retire to the living room with the traditional glass of chai and delicate plates, overflowing with fruit. We are in a Jewish bubble now, a place of comfort for all of us, and very little reminds us of the troubling status quo that looms outside those doors. By nightfall the next day, I will be leaving, and the family will stay in a country that for decades has done its best to force them out. I am as impressed by their dignity and tenacity as I am heartsick for their peril, and as a fellow diaspora Jew with centuries of roots in a land that treats me like a stranger I fully understand why they feel they have to stay and see this through.

Perhaps Rifat Bali was right; maybe the leadership of Turkey doesn’t matter to the Jews, as there are no leaders left who would protect them. To seek the status quo, though, is a fallacy, because Erdogan will likely not rest on his laurels if he lives to fight another day. Mr. Bali laughed at me when I asked him if Turkish Jews faced a possible expulsion under an even more totalitarian Erdogan rule, saying that this was typical hyperbole, emanating from an ignorant foreign media. But after a week in Istanbul I see that there are many ways to expel a people, or to simply make them disappear. Nisim’s grandfather is proof of that, having been taxed out of house and home and penalized to near assimilation. Today’s Turkish Jews are fading into the woodwork, despite thousands of years of glorious history, and while the Turkish government may claim it is done by choice it is clear to me that this is done out of heartbreaking necessity.

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