Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-Zionists like Beinart want Jews to revert to being dhimmis

An op-ed by liberal Peter Beinart disavowing Zionism has elicited outrage from the mainstream Zionist community. It would not take long for the bi-national state replacing Israel to become an Arab-majority state. But Rachel Wahba, blogging at the Times of Israel, is one of the few to predict that a dwindling Jewish minority in an Arab state will force Jews back into their traditional subaltern state of dhimmitude under Islam.


Peter Beinart: 'naive, opportunistic'

Naive, opportunistic, and compartmentalized, the Beinarts in our community assume Jews can be safe and equal in a region where not being Muslim has always been a huge liability. In a region where native Jews and Christians have been legalized as dhimmi, legalized as second class citizens at the mercy of Muslim Arabs.

Today Jews have one Jewish country the size of New Jersey in the region. One. Half the Jewish population of this country, Israel, are refugees and descendants of refugees from Arab lands who once lived as dhimmis. My family on both sides lived this reality for over two thousand years. Instead of celebrating the end of dhimmitude the anti-Zionists in our tribe want to go backwards.

They insult the Mizrahim as they pay tribute to anti-Zionist currency. In a world where Anti-Zionism is the “new” Anti-Semitism. Internalized self hatred is symptomatic for persecuted people. We understand this. Disavowal of one’s Jewishness is as old as anti-Semitism. Now however you can be a Jew, disavow Israel, and still belong. And be popular among what passes for “progressive” in one too many a community.

 “Can you be less of a Jew,” a (former) new friend pleaded. She wanted me in her inner circle, her “sea of anti-Zionists.” The dilemma was all hers, it felt bad, of course it did, but I had no interest in the proposition. When a salesperson responded to my pre-COVID trip to Israel with a “its not with a Zionist group is it” gasp, we understand anti-Zionism is metastacizing out of the Far Left and the New Left, to the misinformed liberal progressive community in general.

It scares me. We know Zionism has been unpopular in the Left for a long time, forcing many a Progressive out of the scene since the eighties.  Forcing one too many progressive rabbis to have to “come out” as Zionists. Only to go back into their synagogue closets.

 Rabbis who once supported AIPAC embrace J Street. Readers of “respected” newspapers  are served optics layered with skewed information and embedded double standards when it comes to Israel. Cries of  “existential anguish” over supporting Israel are heard from them. We are witnessing an emotional “movement” driven by a need to feel good about oneself “as a Jew,” in a Zionist-ambivalent world.

This wandered Jew cannot bear the reality of Israel as a country instead of some idealized image of her/himself. Groomed to merge identities with a “light unto nations” only to discover Israel is a country like any other country, with issues and ugly problems, is too much to bear. Mirror mirror on the wall …oops. Pass those poisoned apples. Israel is still struggling every single day to survive– as a Jewish country. The country of the Jewish PeopleIsrael, unlike every other country, is slandered with double standards/anti semitism, forced daily to fight for legitimacy, validation, and outrageously,  the right to exist, on the world stage. When wandered Jews join Israel Denial it’s appalling. 

 As a new immigrant to the United States who grew up as a Stateless Iraqi Egyptian Jew,  it was shocking to see anti-Zionism grow in the seventies. Still, it felt fringe even in the leftist lesbian feminist community in San Francisco. Back then I thought it was just ignorance, that as Americans, or as Ashkenazim, they didn’t know about us and the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands.Today I know it is not ignorance, but an inconvenient truth. 

Read article in full

Will Beinart's Egyptian-born grandma be turning in her grave?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Report: Houthis arrest Yemenite Jews

An Egyptian newspaper has reported that Yemenite Jews in the Kharif district have been arrested  and dispossessed. There is no way of verifying this report, as it is not known how many Jews still live in the areas. The bulk of the remaining Jews were living in a compound in the capital San'a (via Elder of Ziyon): 


According to  an Arab media report, pro-Iranian militia is stepping up its attempts to ethnically cleanse Yemen of its last remaining Jews. The pro-Iranian Houthi militia has begun arresting the remaining Jews in the Kharif District, the Egyptian Al Mesryoon newspaper reported Monday.

 According to the report, after arresting the Jewish residents, the Houthis forced them to sell their homes, their land, and all their properties to Houthi leaders. The militia has also pressured them to leave Yemen.

  Al Mesryoon further reported that Yemen's small Jewish community has faced systematic discrimination and human rights violations from the Houthis, who have cut off water and electricity from Jewish homes and prevented Jews from going out to purchase food. The Jewish community of Yemen is one of the most ancient in the world.

Read article in full

Monday, July 13, 2020

How Kurdish Jews made their way to Jerusalem

Fascinating article in the Times of Israel by Shmuel and Aviva Bar-Am about the origins of the Jerusalem quarter of Nahlaot, founded by Kurdish Jews at the turn of the last century. The  advent of Kurdish Jews  to Jerusalem confirms  that Jews from the East - from Yemen, Syria, Kurdistan, Turkey, Bukhara, Persia -  settled in Eretz Yisrael  around the same time, or even before, the first aliya of Russian Jews (with thanks: Lily). 


Barashi Street, Nahlaot - named after a Kurdish Jew who fought in the Israeli war of independence

What kind of rocks do you need for making fire? At the end of the First World War, a group of English geologists thought that they could find the perfect blend of flint and steel in the rocks of Zacho, a town in Kurdistan. Off they went to the East and, while digging in the ground for rocks, they ran into a group of Jews.

 Excited, they wondered if the Jews were acquainted with Chaim Weizmann, celebrated in England for having been crucial to the war effort. And they asked what the Jews thought about the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British government expressed support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

 To the shock of the Brits, the Jews of Zacho had no idea what they were talking about. For like most Jews in Kurdistan, they lived a simple life in a close-knit ethnic community, isolated from the outside world and completely ignorant of world affairs. Each day they woke up, prayed, and worked the land.

And the next day they did it all over again. Nevertheless, the questions asked by the British geologists had piqued their interest. They began writing to Jews in England and in Palestine. And eventually this chance encounter between Kurdish peasants and British geologists would be one of the driving forces behind a mass immigration to the Holy Land.

 These days among the choicest residential areas in Jerusalem, Nahlaot consists of several dozen tiny quarters clustered together outside the walls of the Old City. Occupants of each little quarter generally belonged to a specific ethnic group with shared geographical connections, similar styles of worship, and common traditions. In those early years and until the middle of the 20th century, it was populated with immigrants from Kurdistan, Yemen, Iran, Syria, Jews from Urfa in southern Turkey known as Urfalim, and a very small number of newcomers from Eastern Europe.

 Inhabitants of Shaarei Rahamim, the poorest of them all, lived in tents, or large empty gasoline cans covered with tin. Conditions were terrible, with kitchens in the yard along with outhouses, and sewage running through the streets. Yet the Kurds knew that this was only a matter of time until they would manage to build more permanent housing.

  Read article in full

Sunday, July 12, 2020

NY rabbi rebukes colleague for erasing Jewish links to Middle East

A senior rabbi at a New York synagogue has rebuked junior rabbi Andy Kahn for tweeting that Jews were not indigenous to the Middle East.  According to the Jewish Journal, the tweet caused a furious reaction from JIMENA, the California-based organisation advocating for Mizrahi rights, and from Mizrahi rights activist Hen Mazzig. To add insult to injury, Rabbi Kahn blocked Jews objecting to his post-colonial, revisionist views on Twitter. Rabbi Kahn appears to represent those liberal US Jews who think of themselves as 'white and privileged'.





JIMENA also weighed in on Kahn’s twitter antics. “Him blocking a number of prominent and outspoken Middle Eastern Jews, before proclaiming Jews aren’t indigenous to Israel, is in fact an attempt to suppress Middle Eastern voices and experiences,” the organization tweeted.

“He can only grasp the most facile understanding of the Middle East — one that easily fits into his privileged worldview. Our *PLACE in MENA disrupts his narrative so much that the only thing he felt he could do is erase us – individually and collectively. This reeks of racism.” Prominent Mizrahi activist Hen Mazzig agrees that Kahn’s behavior was insensitive to Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. “Rabbi Kahn has a blind spot for Mizrahi Jews,” Mazzig told The Journal.


Rabbi Andy Kahn

“He has displayed it over and over again by silencing Mizrahi Jews and even actively attacking them.” Davidson addressed these concerns in his letter, noting, “Mizrahi communities today bear living witness to a Jewish link to the land — for some, a sustained presence there; for more, one interrupted by conquest and exile.”

 “I’m glad that Rabbi Davidson addressed Rabbi Kahn’s tweets and mentioned Mizrahi heritage,” Mazzig continued. “However, I am concerned that Temple Emanu-El, whose entire clergy is homogenous, has allowed Rabbi Kahn to consistently bully, harass and erase the experiences of Jews of color with little pushback. It speaks to how much they care about people of color in these times.”

 In a statement to the Journal, Kordestani said, “I commend Temple Emanu-El Senior Rabbi Joshua Davidson for speaking the truth about Mizrahi Jewish communities: we bear living witness to the deep Jewish connection to the land from ancient times until today.”

Read article in full


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Canadian Jews condemn 'Jews are our dogs' chant

According to Jewish Journal and other media, Jewish organisations in Canada have moved to condemn an anti-annexation march on 4 July in which the antisemitic chant 'The Jews are our dogs' was heard. Historically, the slogan was chanted by Arab mobs, for instance in the Nebi Musa riots of 1920. The chant has long been associated with the assertion of Muslim superiority over dhimmi Jews; dogs were viewed as ritually impure. 



Canadian high school students at the march chanted 'the Jews are our dogs'.

B’nai Brith Canada announced in its statement the Jewish organization has filed a hate crimes complaint against the protesters.

 “The display of anti-Semitism in Canada’s public squares is totally unacceptable,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a statement. “Opposition to Israeli policy can never be used as an excuse to demean Jews as ‘dogs’ or to threaten violence against them.”

 He added: “We have reached out to the high school attended by one of the rally’s organizers, and hope to visit at an appropriate time in order to educate students about the dark places to which rhetoric of this sort can lead.”

 Toronto’s Centre for Israel Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Chair Barbara Bank similarly said in a statement, “There is a lot of room for legitimate discussion about the State of Israel and the politics of the Middle East, but our community will not accept the use of Israel as a pretence to call Jews ‘dogs.’

This is not just offensive. Hate directed at Jews and other communities has a toxic impact on our city, province and country. Hatred that starts with words all too often ends in violence.”

  Read article in full

Friday, July 10, 2020

Albania unveils a Holocaust memorial

Albania has unveiled a memorial to honour its Jews and its citizens who risked their lives to protect Jews during WW2. It is notable that these Albanians were Christians as well as Muslims who abided by a code of honour called Besa. Albania was only country where no Jews died.  Haaretz reports: 



Israel ambassador to Albania Noah Gal Gendler speaks at the unveiling of the memorial

Albania unveiled a Holocaust memorial in the capital on Thursday to honor the dead and the Albanians who protected Jews from the Nazis.

 The marble memorial was put at an entrance to Tirana’s Artificial Lake Park, close to Mother Teresa Square. The inscription was written in three languages — English, Hebrew and Albanian — and it said that “Albanians, Christians and Muslims endangered their lives to protect and save the Jews.”

 The Nazis murdered six million people, but Albania was the only country where no Jews died or were handed over. Albanians protected their few hundred Jewish friends, and helped other Jews who fled from Germany and Austria by either smuggling them abroad or hiding them at home.

 “We are the only country with more Hebrews after World War II, where the Hebrews came in search of protection and salvation,” Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said.

 Read article in full 

More about Righteous Albanians

 
Yad Vashem has published this useful round-up of the impact of the Holocaust on Jews in North Africa (With thanks: Benjamin): 

On the eve of World War II there were 400,000 Jews in French North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, sometimes called the “Maghreb”, meaning Arab North Africa), and another 30,000 Jews in Libya, then an Italian colony. The fate of the Jews in North Africa was different depending on the country in which they were located. In Libya, which was an Italian colony, thousands of Jews were sent to labor camps and concentration camps, and almost 600 died in these camps from hunger and disease.

 In the three North African countries that fell under the regime of Vichy France, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, the fate of the Jews was, likewise, different depending on the country.

The Jews of Algeria, who held French citizenship, were stripped of their rights, required to wear an identifying mark, and subjected to admission quotas, even in primary schools. In Morocco, where Jews had civil rights but were not citizens of France, anti-Jewish laws were less rigorously enforced. The Jews of Algeria and Morocco were spared the fate of their brethren in Europe because the tide of the war turned against the forces of General Rommel at the battle of El Alamein; beginning in November 1942 the Allies began to liberate North Africa.

Tunisia was the only country among the three that the German army actually occupied. The army entered Tunisia together with a SS unit tasked with applying anti-Jewish policy. The Jews of Tunisia were saved only because in early May 1943, military developments forced the Germans to retreat. This article will discuss the situation of the Jews in France’s three North African colonies, whose treatment was greatly impacted by France’s defeat at the hands of Germany during World War II. An article on the Jews of Libya appears separately in this newsletter.


Read article in full




Thursday, July 09, 2020

Will Beinart's Egyptian-born grandma be turning in her grave?

 Liberal Zionist circles in the US have been reeling from the shock that one of their most eloquent spokesmen, Peter Beinart, now advocates the replacement of Israel with a binational state in Palestine. Perhaps his own grandmother Adèle will be turning in her grave. Her family was expelled from Alexandria, Egypt and lived thereafter in the Congo and South Africa. Beinart seems to have forgotten his own 2014 eulogy to her in the pages of Haaretz:


Peter Beinart: forgot his grandmother's 'tribal' Zionism

My grandmother was neither morbid, nor even particularly nostalgic. When asked about her past, she’d often reply, “Who knows?” and then ask a question she considered more pertinent, like, “Why aren’t you eating your fish?” She didn’t talk much about the communities she had buried, but they spoke through her actions. She cooked vast quantities of bourekas, especially for Shabbat dinners, during which her grandchildren ran wild through the house. She went every week to Cape Town’s tiny Sephardi shul. She argued with her brothers in French. She kept a small book that listed the Jewish families from Rhodes, and the places to which history had dispersed them. On beautiful 75-degree days in Cape Town, she sometimes complained about the chill, which puzzled me until I remembered that she had spent much of her youth on the equator.

In my teenage years, when the anti-apartheid movement became a global force, we began to argue politics. My suggestion that Jews had a particular obligation to combat apartheid annoyed her. She probably felt that my claim that Jews had a special responsibility to black South Africans, or any other group of gentile underdogs, stemmed from my inability to imagine being the underdog myself. For her, it didn’t take much imagination. 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. She approached peoplehood the same way she approached family: like she was part of a gang.

Those instincts formed the basis of her Zionism, which was more tribal than ideological. She didn’t see Israel as a place to forge an ambitious new social order; she saw it as a place Jews could exhale. If her nightmare for South Africa was that its transition to black rule would resemble Congo’s, her nightmare for Israel was that Arab nationalism would imperil its Jews in the way Arab nationalism had imperiled Alexandria’s. If I questioned these fears, she’d ask me how much time I’d spent living in an Arab country. Our dialogue of the deaf bore a faint resemblance to the dialogue between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, except that Netanyahu doesn’t interrupt his lectures to inquire if Obama has had enough to eat.

In retrospect, I feel blessed to have had a grandmother whose experiences were so different from my own, and who saw the world in such different ways. Among countless other things, she taught me the danger of drawing any simple connection between a person’s political views and their moral character. On South African politics, my grandmother was the most conservative member of our extended family. Yet she showed more personal kindness to black South Africans than any white South African I have ever known—among other things, paying the school fees of the orphaned daughter of a woman who once worked for her around the house. I often reflected on that as a student in Cambridge, New Haven and Oxford, where I met people with impeccably progressive views who had far more empathy for humanity in the abstract than for the actually existing human beings they happened to know.

  Read article in full

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

American Jewry's blindspot for Mizrahi Jews

The American-Jewish diaspora has been ignoring the history and experience of a significant number of Mizrahi Jews lest it disturb their binary understanding of Jews generally - divided into simplistic categories of 'white' and 'black' Jews.  To introduce Mizrahi Jews into debate of the  Arab-Israel conflict also overturns assumptions about who is the 'privileged' oppressor and who the victim. Must-read by Nave Dromi  in JNS News.

The recent discussion about “Jews of Color,” who fit this identity and whose numbers relative to the total Jewish population are significant, has once again exposed a blind spot in American Jewry.

Yemenite Jews in a tent camp, 1950: overturning assumptions of who is 'privileged'

 The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, otherwise known as Mizrahi Jews, are far too frequently erased from the general debate over identity in the American Jewish community, which has recently largely been painted as binary, comprising only “white” Ashkenazi Jews and black Jews.
The debate is significant because while there appears to be a significant disagreement over the numbers of each community, Mizrahi Jews appear to be rarely counted.

Perhaps it is because the debate is largely connected to the wider American debate about identity, privilege and racism, but surely those involved in this debate, usually the elites in the media, academia and the Jewish organizational world, should not be easily forgiven for the erasure of this historic Jewish community.

  Read article in full

More from Nave Dromi

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Video puts Mizrahim at centre of debate about Israel



A new Youtube video puts Mizrahi Jews at the centre of reframing the debate about Israel.

Lyn Julius, a journalist and author of Uprooted, demolishes eight common propaganda myths. She says context must be restored to the way the conflict is perceived. More Jews than Palestinians became refugees and they lost more in seized land and property. Forces in the Arab and Muslim world were allied with the Nazis. The distinction between Zionism and Judaism is spurious, she argues. Historically, Jews were subject to a form of Muslim colonialism called 'dhimmitude.'

The video, produced by J-TV,  has so far drawn more than 500 views.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Libyan Jew ready to stand in next government

A Libyan-born Jew living in London, Raphael Luzon, has made clear his intention to stand in forthcoming elections in Libya or be part of the next Libyan government.

 Faced with criticism that he did not have a Libyan passport, Luzon retorted that he had been stripped of his Libyan citizenship and passport when he and his family were forced to leave the country in 1967. (They acquired Italian citizenship.) If he acquired a Libyan passport, he might still be disqualified from running as a holder of dual-citizenship. However, Luzon argues that most of the current Libyan leaders have dual-citizenship. Luzon appealed to Libyan friends to help him surmount this technical obstacle.


Some 350 Jews took part in an international video conference on preserving Jewish heritage in Libya

Luzon convened a global video conference of 350 Libyan Jews recently. The conference was held to discuss the preservation of Jewish heritage, especially Tripoli's Dar al Bishi synagogue and Jewish cemeteries. They affirmed their determination not to let Libya, once a country of ethnic and religious diversity,  become a monolithic state representing one tribe and one religion.

'We must not allow our pages to be ripped from Libya's great and rich history book," Luzon wrote on his Facebook page. "

Despite all talk of democracy and pluralism, however, fighting is still going on in Libya, with both Turkey and Egypt stepping up their military engagement in the country.

More about Raphael Luzon

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Iran 1980: shocking execution of a Jewish hairdresser

It is 40 years since a Jewish hairdresser, Nosrat Goel Tali'i, was executed by the Iranian regime on charges of running a prostitution ring and drugs trafficking in Shiraz. The victim was mistaken for a prostitute named Zahra who managed to buy her freedom with a huge bribe. Nosrat was convicted on the say-so of a revolutionary guard. Here is her story according to the Abdorrahman Bouroumand Centre, a watchdog  monitoring human rights violations in Iran (With thanks: Karmel) :

Public baths, Shiraz

On the afternoon of July 3, 1980, Ayatollah Khalkhali, the religious judge and head of the Special Islamic Revolutionary Court, tried Mrs. Goel Tali’i and 23 others at the same time at the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Headquarters in Shiraz. According to available reports, the proceedings continued until 11:00 PM, and all sentences were implemented by 12:00 PM (Akhbar-e Ruz website).

The trial court for all 24 defendants lasted about nine hours, and this session was held without the presence of a lawyer and without defendants being able to access judicial records (Mohsen Kadivar website). Charges Official newspapers cited different charges for Mrs. Goel Tali’i. The Jomhury-e Eslami newspaper counted “operating an opium den and drug trafficking” as Mrs. Goel Tali’i’s charges. Meanwhile, charges reported by Ettela’at newspaper were “corrupting girls and selling them to men”, and in the Kayhan newspaper “operating house of debauchery and drug trafficking” (Mohsen Kadivar website quoting Ettela’at newspaper, July 5, 1980, page 3 and Kayhan newspaper, July 5, 1980, the last page).

The validity of the criminal charges brought against these defendants cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial. International human rights organizations have drawn attention to reports indicating that Islamic Republic authorities have brought trumped-up charges against their political opponents and executed them for alleged drug trafficking, sexual, and other criminal offences.

Each year Iranian authorities sentence to death hundreds of alleged common criminals, following judicial processes that fail to meet international standards. The exact number of people convicted based on trumped-up charges is unknown. “Statements made by one of the Revolutionary Guards against her” were used as the sole evidence to prove Mrs. Goel Tali’i’s charge.

According to the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Shiraz, the religious judge thought that the guards arrested a certain Mrs. Zahra, and asked Mrs. Goel Tali’i: “[Are you] Zahra? Mrs. Goel replied: “I am not Zahra, I am Nosrat Goel. Who is Zahra?”
Mr. Khalkhali said: “[You can] go.”

When Mrs. Goel Tali’i wanted to go, one of the guards whispered to Khalkhali that she herself made prostitutes available by phone [i.e. operated a den of corruption]. Khalkhali told her to come back right away and executed her immediately.” (Akhbar-e Ruz website). Defense Based on available information, Mrs. Goel Tali’i was arrested and tried in someone else’s place. According to the former commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Shiraz, “a prostitute in Shiraz named Zahra was arrested, gave a bribe of one million [tomans] and was released".

The guards’ officers reported the matter to Khalkhali. Khalkhali ordered that she be brought back. The officers went to bring Zahra, but could not find her: either she was hiding or gone. The officers knew it was a bad thing not to be able to find her. So, they went to a hair salon and took this woman [Mrs. Goel Tali’i] and told Kalkhali that she was Zahra” (Akhbar-e Ruz website).

Mrs. Goel Tali’i’s so-called trial was held immediately after her arrest and did not comply with the minimum principles of procedure. No information is available on whether public prosecutors were present, whether an indictment was brought against her at the trial, and whether Mrs. Goel Tali’i was granted the opportunity to defend herself.

On July 3, 1980, Ayatollah Khalkhali, the religious judge and head of the Special Islamic Revolutionary Court, sentenced Mrs. Nosrat Goel (Koel) Tali’i to death and confiscation of property. The sentence was implemented immediately. About 12 PM on July 3, 1980, Mrs. Nosrat Goel (Koel) Tali’i was executed along with 13 other people by firing squad in the Revolutionary Guards camp in Shiraz (Jomhury-e Eslami newspaper, Akhbar-e Ruz website, Mohsen Kadivar website, quoting Ettela’at newspaper, July 5, 1980, page 3). According to available information, Mrs. Goel Tali’i was pregnant at the time of the execution. Mrs. Goel Tali’i’s body was delivered to her family several hours after the execution. The Shiraz Jewish community arranged a remarkable funeral for Mrs. Goel Tali’i (Mohsen Kadivar website).

Read post in full

Friday, July 03, 2020

BBC watchdog rejects complaints on refugees

Last Monday was not a happy day for Elisha Manasseh.  He had had a third complaint rejected by OFCOM, which adjudicates on complaints to the BBC.

He first complained to the BBC in 2018, claiming that its reporting on the MENA constantly refers to Palestinian refugees, while ignoring Jewish refugees.


"I have now been through the whole system with the BBC,"  he says.

Manasseh  argued that the BBC had breached its own guidelines on accuracy and impartiality when it failed to mention Jews displaced from Arab countries in a background 'explainer' to the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2019, held in Tel Aviv.

The BBC retorted that  'impartiality' did not mean that every reference to one side had to be matched with a reference to the other side. For example, a reference to Israel's security concerns needed not be matched by a reference to Hamas security concerns.  They claimed that Jewish refugees arising out of the' Arab/Israeli conflict' were 'irrelevant' to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Finally, they said, the Oslo Accords allegedly addressed Palestinian refugees but makes no mention of Jewish refugees.

In fact this statement  is incorrect, as the Oslo Accords deferred such difficult topics as borders, Jerusalem and refugees to be discussed as final status issues. The Clinton Parameters of 2000 did mention Jewish refugees. The BBC does mention the Palestinian 'right of return' - a euphemism for the destruction of Israel by overwhelming the country with thousands of returnees. It is essential to the audience's understanding to explain this point, but the explanation is never given.


The BBC's position confuses claims with facts. Both sets of refugees - Jewish and Arab - arose out of the same conflict and both should be mentioned in the context.
 
Some 90 percent of the Jews of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen fled to Israel within three years of 1948. Some 90 percent of Jews fled Arab countries in the 15 years since 1948 (and many more of those would have left earlier, but were officially banned from leaving ), making this one the most dramatic examples of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century.


  There was an exchange of refugee populations between Israel and the Arab world. The BBC regularly mentions the exchange between India and Pakistan and gives equal weight to both parties.


A radio programme with the historian Simon Schama marking Israel's 70th anniversary did mention Jewish refugees, but the Jewish side deserves equal time, not a solitary mention on a single programme.


It appears that a lone complainant will  remain a voice in the wilderness unless the Jewish refugee issue is consistently and loudly raised by  the Jewish establishment and Israeli spokespersons.

Will Elisha Manasseh now give up complaining?


"What I will be doing is just carrying on, waiting for the next time they mention the subject, and there will be a next time, I will start all over again," he declares, undaunted.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

The US-born daughter of Mashadi Jews tells her story

Esther Amini is the American-born daughter of parents who had fled Mashad, Iran, where the Jewish community lived as secret Jews after a 19th century forced conversion. In Concealed she tells the story of being caught between these two worlds: the dutiful daughter of tradition-bound parents who hungers for more self-determination than tradition allows. Here is an extract from an interview with Esther  in the Jewish Week.

“The story of the Mashhadi Jews, who lived like Marranos or crypto-Jews, has never been told before in a first-hand or second-hand account,” Amini tells The Jewish Week. The women, who were not educated, were not writing diaries. The men weren’t putting their feelings into journals. There are written histories, but no memoirs or autobiographies or private accounts of what life felt like.”

 Amini was able to learn of her family’s past from her late mother, who “was a big talker and would tell stories again and again.” Her father, in contrast, was withdrawn and did not speak about his past or about most things. She felt like she was the bridge between their history and the present, and felt a sense of responsibility to tell their stories.


 Her father, Fatulla Aminoff, who came from long line of landowners, merchants and traders, grew up in a home where speech was prohibited. His father disowned him when, as a young man, he came back from a boarding school for wealthy Jewish boys in England and then broke all ties when Fatulla married Amini’s mother, Hana Levi — she was 14 and he was 34 — when he was supposed to marry his first cousin, as was tradition. The age differences of Amini’s parents was customary; her grandmother married at 9.

 Her mother’s mother, named Esther, died in childbirth, and her father died when she was 2. Hana was raised by a kind stepmother, but felt betrayed when she learned from someone in the community that she wasn’t her birth mother. Amini says that for her mother, “time froze then, she couldn’t get beyond that.” She lived in mourning for her mother.

Read article in full

Times of Israel review

Esther Amini's website


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Chabad sets up rival community in Dubai

Do the 1,500 Jews of Dubai need two synagogues? A Chabad rabbi's attempt to set up a rival community  so soon afterJews have come out of the woodwork has raised official eyebrows and caused unease.  The Times of Israel reports: 

It’s a story as old as Jewish history itself. A community establishes itself, and inevitably splits into the synagogue you go to and the one you don’t, as the old joke goes.

 Only this time it’s in Dubai, where a young rabbi from the Chabad Lubavitch movement is facing a backlash and an official reprimand, after a concerted public relations campaign introducing his new congregation in recent weeks persistently neglected to acknowledge the existence of the city’s established but media-shy Jewish community.
Rabbi Levi Duchman (Photo: Levi Teitelbaum)

 It could have been the feel-good story of the summer: the small but vibrant Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates coming out of the woodwork, opening social media accounts and giving interviews about Jewish life in the Gulf.

But local authorities last week ordered the people behind this particular community — a small group that splintered off from the city’s existing congregation — to “immediately” suspend their social media accounts, The Times of Israel has learned.

 Rather than do so, however, the maverick group, led by enterprising Chabad rabbi Levi Duchman and his businessman associate Solly Wolf, has merely changed the name, description and profile photos of its Twitter account, which for several weeks created the impression they were the country’s officially recognized Jewish community.

Read article in full



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The 1945 Tripoli massacre that never was

A historian has questioned whether a massacre of up to 14 Jews in the Lebanese town of Tripoli actually took place in 1945.

History books have long recorded that a massacre took place in Tripoli, Lebanon ( aka Tripoli de Syrie)  on 9 November 1945. Twelve to 14 Jews were allegedly killed. The authoritative history of the Jews of Lebanon published in 2001 by a professor at the London School of Economics, Kirsten E. Schulze, cites the massacre. So does the Encyclopaedia of the Jews in the Islamic World, published in 2010.

But no newspapers of the time  - the Palestine Post,  the Lebanese and international press - report such a massacre.


The Lebanese- Jewish newspaper Al- Alam carred a report of the massacre in Tripoli, Libya in November 1945. It made no mention of a massacre in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Historian of Lebanese Jewry Nagi Georges Zeidan believes that the misconception, recycled in published works,   arose out of confusion with a massacre that occurred in Tripoli, Libya ( aka Tripoli de Libye) between 5 and 7 November 1945. Some 130 Libyan Jews were murdered in that episode. A Jewish source told Zeidan that he had not heard of a massacre in Lebanon and  that relations between Jews and non-Jews in the country only began to deteriorate at the time of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

The synagogue in Tripoli, Lebanon, now a dry cleaner's.

Nagi Zeidan says that  there is no evidence of a mass burial, nor is such a massacre commemorated by the Jewish community.

According to Zeidan, there were 84 Jews in Tripoli, Lebanon in 1930. The census of 1932 puts their number at 25. Zeidan lists eight households from the town. The family of Ibrahim Cohen had moved to Beirut.  Isaac, son of Simon Ninigan, had no children. The only daughter of rabbi Chehadeh moved to Sidon. Selim, son of Jacob Srour,  died in 1951 and is buried in Beirut. The Mizrahi family emigrated first to Israel then to the US. Youssef, son of Chehadeh Mizrahi, died in October 1945, three weeks before the massacre, and is buried in Beirut. He had no offspring. There was another surviving son, Mourad.

Nagi Georges Zeidan, who is  Lebanese Christian,  first began researching the history of the Jews of Lebanon 25 years ago. He is about to publish a book in France this summer 2020, Les juifs du Liban d'Abraham à nos jours et leur tragique disparition  For details and to donate towards  publishing costs, click here.










Monday, June 29, 2020

Liberal fought for Jewish citizens' rights in Iraq

This interesting Tablet  piece by Raad Yahya Qasim, an academic based in Brazil, profiles his father Yahya, editor of the newspaper Al Sha'b until 1958. Yahya typified a breed of liberal Iraqi who worked with, and was sympathetic to, the increasingly oppressed Jews of Iraq. However, it is not clear how his work as a lawyer helped mitigate the 1951 Denationalisation Law, which froze the property of Jews departing Iraq, and remains on the statute book to this day. (With thanks to all those who flagged up this article).


Yahya Qassim at the editor's desk of Al Sha'b


Returning to the core of my story—Al-Sha’b (the people in Arabic) was launched in 1945 by Yahya Qassim with the aim of using the editorials he penned to advocate daily and emphatically for a pluralist, democratic Iraq, where citizens—whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or of any other set of personal faiths and beliefs—are considered fully equal under the rule of law. In less than a year, Al-Sha’b rose to become the leading newspaper in Iraq in terms of its circulation, its liberal editorial policy, and its independence from any political party or group. True to Qassim’s pluralist principles, there were several Jewish professionals working at Al-Sha’b alongside Muslims and Christians, both as journalists and in administrative positions.

 In 1946, with Al-Sha’b in its second year of publication, the political atmosphere in Iraq started to grow increasingly tense in view of the expected creation of the State of Israel. Iraqi public opinion was roughly divided into three views on this matter: The first view was that of Iraqi political parties and newspapers pushing the Arab nationalist approach of considering Iraqi Jewry and Zionism as one and the same and exhibiting outright hostility toward the Jewish community in Iraq. The second view, predominant in the ruling establishment, looked at the question through a somewhat more moderate and pragmatic lens, taking into account the pressure exerted by some other Arab governments, particularly Syria’s, to follow a hard-line policy toward Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel.

 The third view was that of a minority, in which Yahya Qassim was a leading example. This view was embodied in Qassim’s daily editorials in Al-Sha’b, arguing that Iraqi Jews were—both de jure and de facto—fully equal to other Iraqi citizens, and that the creation of the State of Israel was a separate and distinct question of Iraqi governmental foreign policy. Furthermore, Qassim argued that sympathizing with the plight of the Palestinian Arabs in no way conflicted with the recognition of the full rights of Jews as Iraqi citizens.

  Read article in full

The author pays tribute to New Babylonians by Orit Bashkin, which mentions his father Yahya Qasim on page 215:

"Al-Sha'b, a paper edited by Yahya Qasim, critiqued Zionism, yet made the distinction between Zionism and Judaism. Qasim was close to Hesqel Shemtov, acted as the lawyer of the community, and negotiated many of the deals regarding the Denationalisation Law. Menashe Somekh came to work for Al Sha'b and quickly became one of Al-Sha'b's leading workers. .. In a story about a discussion in the British House of Lords concerning the sufferings of the Palestinian refugees, Al Sha'b published an article about a prominent Jewish author who sought to alleviate their misery...The article suggested that a Jew, despite his religion, could sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians since ethics and compassion, and not religion, were what determined how one responded to the refugee problem.....Unlike the right, which urged jews to leave Iraq as soon as possible,  Al Sha'b implied that leaving for Israel would not solve their problems."

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Jews of Mosul escaped intimidation and injustice

In tribute to Ezra Laniado,  the author of one of the few books about the Jews of Mosul, Dena Attar in The Jewish Chronicle recalls the suffering of this small community in the north of Iraq. The period before their mass flight to Israel was replete with threats, extortion and anti-Jewish agitation.

Mosul, Iraq’s second city, was formerly part of the Ottoman Empire. Jews were conscripted into the Ottoman army from 1908 and many did go to fight, with about 100 joining the “matches” battalion, nicknamed when they had to hold up matches to find their way to the frontline at night.

 Many other Jews from Mosul, like my grandfather, escaped conscription and probable death by going into hiding in local Kurdish villages or in cellars, aided by the community who stalled Ottoman officials searching for them. One story even told of a father retrieving his conscripted son from the Syrian city of Homs as the Ottoman army was in such chaos nobody could stop him.

 The war brought extreme suffering, especially during the famine of 1916-17 when the army seized all of Mosul’s food supplies. Two rabbis, Hakham Yahya Hamo and Hakham Eliyahu Barzani, who both sold spices, perfumes and herbal medicines, raised money to feed the starving population. One man who sold his home and entire possessions to feed his family but was still destitute went to “Babylon” (Baghdad) to plead with Rabbi Dangoor to help famine-stricken “Assyria” , lamenting “there is no pity and there is no mercy and hunger is outside every door.”

Haham Yahya Hamo, Dena Attar's great uncle: raised money to feed starving Jews in 1917

 The British were welcomed to begin with as one of the first things they did was reopen the grain barns, but nationalist feeling in the 1930s following Iraq’s independence was fiercely anti-British and becoming influenced by antisemitism. In April 1939 when the young king died in a car accident but was rumoured to have been assassinated, a crowd gathered in Mosul to attack the Jewish quarter. The rioters were diverted at the last moment, storming the British consulate instead and murdering the consul George Monck-Mason.

 Two years later during Rashid Ali al-Gailani’s pro-German regime the Jewish community was again terrorised with threats and absurd spying allegations. Many Jews were searched, imprisoned and tortured. The military governor Kassem Maksoud summoned 14 community leaders and attempted to extort a huge sum from them in gold coins, beyond what they could possibly raise. Eyewitnesses recalled that he was unable to look them in the eye when he claimed this was to guarantee their loyalty.

 One informant recalled the day news of the June 1941 Farhud in Baghdad — in which hundreds were robbed and killed — was intercepted by Habib Salah Shaoul, a Jewish telegram worker in the post office. Shaoul decided at the risk of his job to shelve the telegram and warn the community rather than passing it on. That delay gave the Mosul community a chance to prepare and defend themselves, averting an attack.

 There were a few years when conditions in Mosul improved but in the late 1940s Jews from nearby Kurdish villages began leaving after numerous threats and murders, and anti-Jewish agitation intensified at all levels. The old system of Kurdish Jews relying on local chieftains for their livelihoods and protection was breaking down.

 Mosul’s one Jewish MP, Sasson Tsemach, had made a point of cultivating good relationships with Christian religious leaders. In 1946 he interceded in customary informal style with a Christian patriarch to get justice when a large number of Jewish pilgrims travelling to the tomb of Prophet Nahum in the Kurdish Christian village of al-Qosh were attacked and robbed. Tsemach was only partially successful as local people threatened reprisals when the perpetrators were identified and arrested. The community had little recourse to justice when police and army officers in Mosul harassed them, raiding homes on flimsy evidence and jailing anyone they alleged was a Zionist agent.

The community was forced to pay bribes to get prisoners released. Mail between Iraq and Palestine was legal before 1948 but possession of mail from Palestine, and later from Israel, became a crime. As letters took time to arrive, emigrants from Mosul and Kurdistan had already written asking after friends and family. When such letters were intercepted, houses would be searched and people arrested and interrogated.

 Shoshana Arbili, who eventually became a member of the Knesset, wrote from Israel to Raful Chai Hamo asking after his sisters and her friends. One of them, a child named Lillian mentioned in her letter, was detained and questioned for hours in the police station. Once it seemed they had no future in Iraq, Mosul’s Jews endured a long wait for transport and permission to leave.

 Entire Kurdish Jewish communities driven from their villages were stuck in transit in the city for a year, housed in school and synagogue halls. When they ran out of food, and fuel Ezra Laniado and his friends raised funds to support them. Mosul’s Jewish population was a tenth the size of Baghdad’s, less wealthy and less influential, but their loss of homes, businesses, property and culture was as traumatic and perhaps even more complete.


Read article in full

Friday, June 26, 2020

Far-left magazine makes allegations of 'Mizrahi-washing'


It was bound to happen: the Israeli far left, through its mouthpiece at +972 magazine, is making accusations of 'Mizrahi-washing'.

An article by Lihi Yona, who is a student at Columbia university in New York, comes as 'push-back' against the writings of  Hen Mazzig and Nave Dromi.  Yona claims they are 'hasbara-niks'  in the service of Israel, working to make the Jewish state look better than it deserves. According to Yona, Israel indulges in 'Mizrahi-washing'.  That is to say it  exploits Mizrahim as it does gays through  'pinkwashing':Israel  allegedly promotes its tolerance and protection of lesbians and gays only in order to obscure its 'oppressive' treatment of Palestinians.

Hen Mazzig: accused of being a 'hasbara-nik'

Yona admits that it is good to recognise the existence of Mizrahi Jews, but only if they can be portrayed as victims of 'white' European Jews. Thus she lumps together examples of Israeli police or army brutality against Mizrahim, Ethiopians and Palestinians, without spelling out the particular circumstances leading to each death. And why not add instances of historic discrimination  into the mix - when Israel 'dumped' Mizrahim into tent camps and 'kidnapped' Yemenite children?

Dromi's op-ed in Newsweek criticises Palestinian activists and their fellow-travellers for hijacking the Black Lives Matter campaign in order to to draw parallels with 'privileged  white' Israelis' oppression of 'black' Palestinians.

In fact Dromi turns current misconceptions, straightjacketing people into facile categories of identity politics, on their head: Mizrahim see Arab and Muslim privilege in a similar way to how a person of colour might see a white person in the US. In his work Mazzig, too, evokes the Arab antisemitism experienced by his Tunisian and Iraqi family before they moved to Israel.

Yona concedes that both Dromi and Mazzig are correct - Mizrahim suffered violence and displacement. But they are 'fixated on the past' and 'deny the power Israel possesses with  regard to Palestinians'. These are perpetual victims, and  never have any agency in the oppression of Jews.The pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, terrorism and Hamas missiles simply do not exist in Yona's 'woke' narrative.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Tablet tribute to Memmi - a complex intellectual giant

Albert Memmi, who died in May 2020 aged  99, was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century - although probably one of the most underrated. Now that he is dead, his true worth may perhaps be truly appreciated.  In-depth account of Albert Memmi's work in Tablet magazine by Jonathan Judaken.



Memmi in 1988 (Photo: Getty iimages)


Unlike postcolonial theorists who have tended to treat Zionism as allied with colonialism, Memmi made a compelling case for aligning Zionism with anti-colonial nationalism, rather than empire. This was initially undertaken in a period when Israel was broadly understood by the left as a decolonizing, socialist, humanist undertaking. Nurtured on the Jewish traditions of Tunis, Memmi came of age as a socialist Zionist in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, and he believed that Zionism articulates the national liberation struggle of the Jewish people. Just as he argued for other postcolonial states, he maintains that the State of Israel is necessary to liberating Jews from millennia of degradation and humiliation.

 Memmi was always a steadfast secularist, skeptical about many aspects of Judaism. He understood the Bible, the Talmud, and Kabbalah as “monuments of world literature,” that contain, “an inexhaustible reservoir of themes, designs and symbols” but they become desiccated when they are treated as sacred texts. These views would emerge with clarity in his two masterworks on Jews in the 1960s, Portrait of a Jew (1962) and The Liberation of the Jew (1966).

 Following the Six-Day War, Memmi continued to compose essays on the Arab-Israeli conflict, gathered in his collection, Jews and Arabs (1974). Published in the hostile year between the bitterly fought Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the U.N. declaration that Zionism is a form of racism in 1975, the book was dedicated to both his Jewish and Arab “brothers/so that we can all/be free men at last.” Memmi clearly hoped the light he cast on relations between Jews and Arabs would bring them closer, despite the growing antagonism and polarization created by the Arab-Israeli conflict.

He wrote the book as a self-described “Arab Jew” and a left-wing Zionist, distilling his position on the conflict. In his essay, “What Is an Arab Jew,” Memmi explains that most Jews in Arab lands were culturally Arabs: in their language, clothing, cooking, music, and daily habits. But a peaceful and unproblematic coexistence between Jews and Muslims is a myth, he insists—a narrative fostered mostly by Arab propagandists and European leftists. He also suggested that the myth of peaceful coexistence appealed to Israelis hopeful of a utopian coexistence in Israel and the nostalgic viewpoint of Jews from North Africa looking back on the places where they grew up.

 Even Western Jewish historians who compare the experience of Jews in Russia less favorably to the experience of Jews in the Maghreb reinforce the legend, according to Memmi. The relationship between Jews and Arabs was fragile, and occasionally erupted into overt hostility or violence.The myth of peace before the rise of Zionism has its double in the role played by “Israel” within pan-Arabism, he argues. In “The Arab Nation and the Israeli Thorn,” Memmi explains how Arab states constituted “Israel” as the evil Other in order to create Arab unity.

 In the face of their divergent social structures and internal challenges, “Israel” enables Arab regimes to symbolically coalesce around an enemy. It provides coherence, but at an exorbitant cost—“for this policy of waging war exhausts their economies’ possibilities in advance, [and] impedes all efforts at democratization.”

Who is an Arab Jew?

More about Albert Memmi

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ambassador compiles index of Damascus names

A former Israeli ambassador, Jacob Rosen, has been working hard to compile an index of surnames of Jewish families from Damascus. Report in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Alan)


 Rosen, who is fluent in several languages, including Arabic, wrote that, "like many other Jewish communities in the Levant, the Jewish community of Damascus dwindled from a thriving community with 12,000 members in 1943 until only a handful remained by 2010. Its members largely left for Mandatory Palestine and later to the State of Israel, the USA or Latin America, where they established thriving new communities founded on a rich heritage."

The Jerusalem Post on Saturday that his index of Jewish surnames from Damascus is the "basis for further research," adding that "I worked on [the index] for about 8 months — every day for 3 or 4 hours." The genealogical work is taxing, said Rosen, noting that "your eyes become tired after 3 or 4 hours" and you "need clear a mind" to decipher the various spellings.

Rosen sounded the alarm bells about the need for more knowledge about Syria's Jewish communities and those across the Levant.

"In ten years there will be no one around to ask," he said.

Read article in full

A list of names by Sarina Roffé

Sephardic Jewish names by Jeff Malka

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Jewish craftsman left his mark around Damascus

With thanks: Jenny K

The massive contribution of Jewish craftsmen to art and handicrafts in the Arab world must not be forgotten.  Maurice Nseiri is a Syrian Jewish craftsman born in Damascus, 1945. He studied metalwork with his father, and owned a popular shop called “Omayad Bazar”.The Omayad Bazar is now permanently closed but Maurice‘s designs can still be found all around Damascus : in synagogues, at the Sheraton hotel, at the Sham Palace and many other places. Admired by arts enthusiasts his most famous creation is the front brass gates of the Syrian Presidential Palace. Here is an extract from a Hadassah magazine profile published  in 2016.

An example of Nseiri's work on display at the Brooklyn Jewish Children's  Museum in 2015

When artist Maurice Nseiri fled his native Syria in 1992, part of the mass exodus of most of the country’s remaining Jewish community, he took with him whatever he could of his handcrafted metalwork. That meant that only several dozen of his smaller creations—samovars, ornamental boxes and platters, fanciful birds, vases and bowls—eventually came with him out of the thousands of pieces created in his workshop.

The Damascus-born metal artist, 72, may be the last Jewish practitioner of a centuries-old artistic heritage. Handed down father to son in the 2,500-year-old Syrian Jewish community, the art of inlaying metals into one another—known as damascene—to create ornamental objects was taught to Nseiri by his father, Tzion Nseiri. Maurice Nseiri is considered a master.

 For over 30 years, Nseiri’s workshop, called the Omayad Bazaar and located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Damascus, produced furniture and ceremonial keepsakes for prominent individuals and landmarks in Syria. Nseiri’s pieces have adorned mosques and synagogues, royal palaces and celebrity homes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. He designed the gates, floor and platform for the Al-Franj Synagogue in the Old City, and the grand gates of the Syrian Presidential Palace, also in Damascus.

Read article in full

Monday, June 22, 2020

So you think you know the Israelis?

Researcher David Collier busts the myth that Israelis are all from Europe.  Tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of Israelis have their roots in Arab or Muslim countries. Over a million Israelis are Arab. Here are a couple of examples from his collection of Israeli faces on Facebook:


Menashe Amir 

Menashe Amir was born in Tehran, Iran in 1940 in the ancient Jewish quarter. He left Iran for Israel in 1959. Amir broadcasts in Persian on Israel Radio International. Amir is one of over 130,000 Israelis of Iranian descent.



 Ninet Tayeb 

 Ninet Tayeb’s father was from Tunisia. Her mother Moroccan/ Algerian. Her parents arrived in Israel separately, both fleeing persecution. Nina is a successful musician, singer-songwriter, composer, DJ, model and actress. There are 10,000s of Israelis who can claim Tunisian descent.


See Facebook post

Sunday, June 21, 2020

On World Refugee Day, recalling the airlift from Iraq

In honour of World Refugee Day (20 June), Point of No Return  recalls the 850,00 refugees  forced to flee Arab countries. It is 70 years since the first flights  carrying 175 Jews took off from Baghdad, Iraq, for Israel via Cyprus (The Iraqis needed an alibi they could present to other Arab countries). Sone 120,000 Jews would be airlifted from Iraq over the next year, most leaving their property behind. Here is an extract of Generations of Fighters, 1897 - 1967 by Aviezer Golan.

Iraqi Jews being transported on 'Operation Ezra and Nehemiah'

'Operation Ezra And Nehemiah' began on Friday, May nineteenth, 1950. Two Constellations landed at the airport. Their upholstered seats had been replaced  with wooden benches, and about 120 Jews were crowded into each plane. They were confused and humiliated, because on arrival at the airport they had been surrounded by police, who conducted a painstaking search of all their luggage. Some of the passengers were even ordered to undress, to be sure that they were not concealing on their bodies money or jewellery above the permitted amount. When the engines  were roaring, they did not know whether  to feel sorrow at leaving the land of their birth, or to rejoice at ridding themselves of its troubles; and they wondered what awaited them at the end of their journey.

In the airport terminal, behind a barrier, waited a group of relatives who had come to say their goodbyes to those leaving.Among them were two activities from the Aliyah committee, Yitzhak Sofer and Yehezkel Ezra. They watched the embarrassing and coarse searches the police conducted of those leaving and were worried. Did this complete the mistreatment by the authorities or was it just the beginning? Would the planes be allowed to take off?

The signal was given by the control tower. The first plane accelerated down the runway, its wheels left the ground, it circled once, then it turned to the west.

(...) Operation Ezra and Nehemiah was continuing at full intensity, and the report spread among the Jews that those leaving were really going to Israel, and that the registration was not a trap by the hostile government. The registration for aliyah expanded beyond all expectations and predictions. The 30,000 mentioned by the government representatives in the negotiations with Mr Armstrong
( Israeli emissary Shlomo Hillel -ed) had already departed, but the number of those registered for aliyah had been swollen by a further 30,000. Now non-Zionists and those who initially had had no intention of emigrating to Israel also began to register. Seeing their neighbours' houses and all the Jewish streets emptying o their inhabitnts, they had no wish to be left behind.

On World Refugee Day, Jews expelled from Arab states are also entitled to justice 









Friday, June 19, 2020

Muslim thinkers must dismantle theological antisemitism

If we are to enhance prospects for peace in the Middle East, Muslim thinkers should begin challenging a pejorative and radical 'theology of the Jews', which has contaminated discourse in the Arab world. These two bold articles were written by Hassan Mneimeh and published in the Fikra Forum in September 2019. (with thanks: Lily)

In the course of the past century, a troubling development has asserted itself in Islamic thought. Whether in scholarly religious texts or in popular presentations, a new Islamic “theology of the Jews” has coalesced into a thorough demonization of both historical and contemporary ‘Jews.’ In this evolving and radicalizing theological outlook, “the Jews” are presented as a unitary, undifferentiated collective. This collective is portrayed not only as political foes or religious rivals, but as the quintessential nemesis—with the corresponding struggle shaping the course of history and fulfilling prophecy.

Photo: Fikra Forum

 While the universe of Islamic thought is wide, encompassing diverse trends and displaying multiple, often conflicting, expressions on any given subject, the problematic aspect of the new pejorative “theology of the Jews” is that it has been virtually unchallenged. Islamic portrayals and assessments of “the Jews” are almost invariably negative. In the rare instances where an ‘excess’ is noted—such as among the few intellectuals that reject the authenticity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion—the rationale for qualifying this negative portrayal is that such excesses obfuscate the ‘real’ grounds for criticism. With scant attempts to see Jewish history and society as complicated and diverse, the trend toward enmity has also assimilated and appropriated Western antisemitism while leveraging anti-Zionism as a baseline and an entry point.

 It is true that some distinction is occasionally (and defensively) made between the categories of Zionist, Israeli, and Jewish in sophisticated intellectual circles in the Arab world. Statements on this point stress that the enmity is not with the Jews as a religious group, and that a settlement for peace should ultimately be achieved with the Israelis as a national community. These intellectuals insist that the enemy is instead the Zionists, whose expansionist ideology denies Palestinian national rights and espouses racist convictions while branding any attempts to criticize Israeli politics or Zionism itself as “anti-semitic".

 Yet when contrasted with the broader and deeply seated demonization of the Jews that also exists in the Arab world, these statements seem to oscillate between wishful denial and intellectual dishonesty. Anti-Jewish rhetoric is the overwhelming norm in Arab cultural, political, and popular discourse. The distinction between “Jewish,” “Israeli,” and “Zionist” is seldom made in either popular or elite discourse and, if mentioned at all, is often added as an after-thought. Even the few instances of a tacit willingness to align with Israel, such as in the pursuit of a anti-Iranian coalition, are partially motivated by an assumption that “the Jews” hold disproportionate influence and power that can be leveraged.

 Not unlike some Western contexts, there seems to be a fine line in these cases between philo-Jewish and anti-Jewish sentiments. The roots of this discourse must be understood as feeding both into and from a new but expanding Islamic “theology of the Jews.” As such, the pursuit of any meaningful resolution for the Middle East conflict will be hampered, if not outright denied, without a genuine effort on the part of Muslim intellectuals to address and dismantle this newly dominant radical theology.

Read article in full (Part 1)

Read Part 2

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Why am I afraid to call myself the grandson of a survivor?

Hen Mazzig was invited to address a commemorative ceremony on the 79th anniversary of the Farhud - the Nazi-inspired pogrom of 1941 -  by the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Israel. He is heart-broken that his Ashkenazi friends don't know he is as much a grandchild of  survivors of Nazi persecution as they are. Read his column in the Jewish Journal: 


Hen Mazzig speaking at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage center at this year's commemoration of the Farhud massacre

For this year’s ceremony, the group invited me to speak. When they introduced me, they referred to me as a grandchild of a survivor. Being “grandchild of a survivor” is a title many of my friends in Israel have − all of them Ashkenazi Jews whose grandparents survived the Holocaust. However, I’ve never been included in that group.

It didn’t matter that my relatives, too, had survived the Nazis. My Tunisian father’s grandparents were sent to a forced labor camp of the Vichy regime during the Holocaust. They were due to be shipped to death camps in Europe. My Iraqi grandparents also were victimized by the Third Reich; they survived the Farhud, which was incited by Nazi supporters in the regime.

 But the truth is, that while I know the history of pain my Ashkenazi friends’ grandparents endured, they don’t know mine. While I know the names of the death camps and the horrific violence that happened to the Jews in Europe, my friends don’t even know what the Farhud was.

 It breaks my heart. It should break every Jewish person’s heart. I am not sure if there’s an intentional agenda behind erasing the Mizrahi Jewish community’s history from international academia and public discourse.

 Our exclusion does not feel deliberate on most days. But when we point out our absence from the conversation and are shamed as “divisive,” it’s hard not to see this erasure as an act of malice. As a grandson of a survivor, I have a responsibility to keep trying to get the world to bear witness, just as I have to the many Ashkenazi Jews who were slaughtered in the Holocaust.

Read article in full


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Esther Webman, scholar of Arab antisemitism, has died

The sudden death of Dr Esther Webman has been announced in Tel Aviv.



Egyptian-born Dr. Esther Webman was a senior research fellow at the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and Racism in Tel Aviv University.  She was the Principal Investigator for the Program for the Study of Jews in the Middle East and the author, with Meir Litvak, of From Empathy to Denial: Arab responses to the Holocaust.

  David Hirsh, lecturer in sociology at Goldsmith's College, writes: 

 "Esti was a friend, and a scholar of antisemitism. She was a core colleague in the European Sociological Association Research Network 31 on Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism, and had given papers at a number of its meetings and conferences over the years.

Esti was a Tel Avivian and an Israeli. She had been born in Egypt and was fluent in Arabic. She was driven out of Egypt with her family, when she was a child, because she was Jewish. Her work focused on antisemitism in 'the Arab World' and Islamist antisemitism. She wrote, with Meir Litvak, 'From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust' as well as many other articles and papers on related topics.

 She worked at the Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University. In 1968, in the period following the Six Day War, Esti was the highest ranking woman in Israel intelligence, she told me. She was a pioneer, a glass-ceiling breaker of great courage."