Sunday, July 21, 2019

Australian radio explores issue of Jews from Arab lands

 The Israel Connexion is a weekly radio podcast by David Schulberg of Melbourne. Recently David recorded two interviews to illustrate the issue of Jews from Arab lands. Researching documents in the Arabic original,  Dr Edy Cohen found evidence of a secret Arab Nazi party founded in Iraq by the Palestinian wartime Mufti. Lyn Julius is the author of the book Uprooted: how 3,000 years of Jewish civilisation in the Arb world vanished overnight'.

Dr Edy Cohen is chairman of the Kedem Forum for Middle East Studies and author of ‘The Mufti and the Jews’. He works for Bar-Ilan University as a Research Fellow in international politics, and he writes and speaks at various media outlets in Israel (such as Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom) and the Arab world. He is also involved in various projects, such as the Shoah Memorial in Paris.

 Edy Cohen was not born in Israel. He is a refugee from Lebanon, and his story belies the claim often made by anti-Zionists that Jewish Arabs left for Israel willingly. Unlike many other refugees, he is not waiting for handouts or international sympathy. He has made a life for himself in Israel while he continues to advocate for Jewish refugees from Arab lands. (0:41-19:52)

 Lyn Julius, the daughter of Iraqi refugees, is the author of ‘Uprooted’, which tells the story of how 3000 years of Jewish civilization culminating in the Arab World vanished overnight. Her book poses a number of important questions: Who are the Jews from Arab countries? What were relations with Muslims like? What made Jews leave countries where they had been settled for thousands of years? What lessons can we learn from the mass exodus of minorities from the Middle East? (24:30-49:36)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Elan Carr: 'antisemitism destroys societies generally'

He's the son of an Iraqi-Jewish mother, a fluent Hebrew speaker and now in charge of combating antisemitism, a growing problem in the US since the synagogue shootings in Pittsburg and Poway, but also on campus and in academia.

Jonny Gould with Elan Carr

 In this podcast interview with Jonny Gould at the US embassy in London, Elan Carr tells how his grandfather was arrested and dragged off to prison in leg-irons in Baghdad in 1950. Carr's mother remembers visiting him in prison. This was also a time when Iraq's Jews had a window of opportunity to leave the country. Carr's grandfather urged his family not to wait for him but to leave. They duly went to Israel via Iran. From Israel Elan's mother  moved to California.

 Elan Carr tells Jonny Gould how as a major in the US armed forces he was posted to Iraq during the American invasion in 2003. It was a great thrill, he recounts, to have celebrated Hanucah in the former presidential palace. Carr lit a menorah designed and donated by Oded Halahmi, himself an Iraqi Jewish refugee. Carr led Shabbat services for the US troops, and affirms that they were never short of a minyan.

Elan Carr lights the menorah in Saddam's former palace, Baghdad 2003

Listen to Jonny Gould's podcast interview with 'Antisemitism Tsar'  Elan Carr here

More about Elan Carr

Thursday, July 18, 2019

NY Times ignores Silwan's Jewish roots

A piece by Luke Moon in Providence magazine blasts  a New York Times article by David Halbfinger for automatically assuming that every part of 'East Jerusalem' is 'Palestinian'. Silwan was home to Yemenite Jews until the 1930s. Do they have a right to return to their homes?

One would think a story about the US ambassador to Israel celebrating the opening of a new archeology exhibit might include a bit of history. Perhaps it would mention that Silwan’s first inhabitants were Yemeni Jews who in 1881 spent six months traveling to Jerusalem. These Jews were inspired to travel the long, arduous journey on the promise that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem the following year. They arrived broke and were greeted with suspicion by the local Jewish community living in Jerusalem. Settling on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley, this group of Yemeni Jews built a thriving community and established a synagogue, the same synagogue that the “right-wing Jewish settler group” is rebuilding and living in.

Perhaps an article that mentions the five thousand Palestinian inhabitants might mention how Silwan became a Palestinian village when it started as a Yemeni Jewish village. As the inhabitants in Jerusalem felt more confident to move out of the walled city, the original village expanded to include not just Jews but also Muslim and Christian Arabs, too.

An early British Mandate period census shows Silwan to be a mixed village of almost two thousand people, of which the Jews made up about ten percent. But during the 1936–39 Arab Revolt, the village of Silwan was ethnically cleansed of all Jews, and Arab families moved into the homes of Yemeni Jews. One might wonder if the descendants of those Yemeni Jews still have the key to their homes.

Perhaps an article that praises former ambassadors for avoiding East Jerusalem—since “Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and then annexed it” and “most of the world considers it illegally occupied, and the Palestinians want it as the capital of a future state”—would inform readers that the British started the process of annexing Silwan into the Jerusalem municipality, and the Jordanians completed the process in 1952. It seems the problem is not with the annexation but with who is annexing.

Read article in full

More about Silwan 

Maly Mazal-Davidoff recalls her life in Kfar Shiloah (Silwan) and in the Old City (with thanks: JIMENA)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Pot-smoking Halimi murderer could be released

The case of Sarah Halimi, tortured and thrown to her death by a violent antisemite, has taken a worrying turn: her killer, who had been smoking marijuana,  may not be held criminally responsible for his actions. Ben Cohen reports in the Algemeiner

Sarah Halimi

Lawyers acting for the family of a French Jewish widow murdered in her own home during a frenzied antisemitic assault have vowed to appeal the ruling of a Paris court that will potentially allow her accused killer to be released without trial.

 Last Friday, the judges in charge of the preliminary investigation into the murder of Sarah Halimi —  a 65-year-old former teacher who was severely beaten and then tossed from a third-floor window on April 4, 2017, by 27-year-old Kobili Traore, her neighbor in a Paris public housing project — ruled that Traore could not be held criminally responsible for his actions because he had been smoking marijuana heavily in the hours before the killing.

 In addition, according to a source close to the case who was quoted by the leading news outlet Le Figaro, the preliminary judges also dismissed the contention that Traore’s crime was aggravated by his violent antisemitism.

 Read article in full

More about the Sarah Halimi case

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

How Chabad sheltered Moroccan Jews in 1971

The Jews of Morocco have always looked to the King to protect them. However,  this story reminds us  just how precarious his position was in the 1970s when there were repeated attempts on the King's life. Presciently cancelling a planned trip out of the country, the Casablanca Chabad branch led by Reb Leibel, was able to shelter local frightened Jews during one such assassination attempt in 1971. (With thanks: Michelle-Malca)

Reb Leibel of the Casablanca Chabad speaking at his son's Barmitzvah

Minutes before Shabbos ended, a Jew ran into the room in panic. “Did you hear what happened? The king was assassinated by revolutionaries; the streets are empty and all the Jews are barricaded in their homes!” The death of the king, the personal protector of the Jewish community, could spell disaster for the Yidden of Morocco.

The farbrengen ended immediately; the gates of the yeshiva were locked, and Maariv and havdalah were quickly recited. Reb Leibel rushed home, and found his house packed with Jews who lived in the surrounding area. Apparently, they felt the safest place in times of danger was the home of the Rebbe’s shliach.

As the night progressed, the news began to trickle out. The king had actually survived the assassination attempt by a hairbreadth, and he quickly regained control over the country. During the investigations that followed, the police found stashes of guns and knives prepared for the murder of the local Jewish community...

Although calm was restored, an intense investigation was held, and the airports were shut down for several days. If anyone insisted on flying, he would be immediately arrested and interrogated to see if he was somehow connected to the attempted assassination.

Read article in full (p52)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Iranian Jews, struggling to prove they are patriots

For two years, Hasan Sarbakhian was forbidden by the Iranian authorities from having his photos documenting the lives of Jews in Iran being seen or published. This Jerusalem Post by Zvi Joffre give background information to Sarbakhian's project, quoting from an article by Larry Cohler Esses, the first reporter from a Jewish medium (The Forward)  to be granted a visa to visit Iran. However,  Iran-born journalist Karmel Melamed warns that the regime controls tightly what foreign journalists see and hear (see his comment below). (With thanks: Lily)

"During my interrogation sessions, I was asked why I have decided to concentrate on the lives of Jewish citizens and why not Shiite Muslims," said Sarbakhshian. "My answer was that all the Iranian media are at the disposal of Shiite Muslim. These are the minorities who have no platforms.

 Sarbakhshian tried again ten years later when he was living in exile, and decided to focus on Iranian Jews who had fled to Israel. "In Israel, my concentration was on the concept of Motherland. To understand where these Israelis of Iranian descent perceived as their motherland. The photojournalist asked the same question of Jews in Iran. He showed a picture of an Iranian Jewish doctor with a baby he had just helped deliver. "It really doesn't matter if the baby is born Muslim or Jewish or whatever, he only has done his job."

Iranian Jews running a restaurant in Jerusalem: still in love with Iran (Photo: H Sarbakhshian)

Another example he presented was an Iranian Jew accused of spying for Israel who was jailed for several years. The first thing he did when he was released was to visit the grave of an Iranian Jewish soldier who was killed in the Iran-Iraq War defending Iran.

Sarbakhshian stressed that in Iran, the Jews constantly struggle to prove that they are patriots.

 There are an estimated 15,000 Jews still in the Islamic Republic, according to a 2018 report by JTA reporter Larry Cohler-Esses in the same year said that the Iranian census counted 9,000 Jews in the country.

A 2015 report in the Forward by Cohler-Esses described Iranian Jews as "well-protected second-class citizens." Cohler-Esses was the first reporter from a Jewish, pro-Israel publication to be granted a journalist's visa to Iran since the revolution in 1979.

Iranian Jews won't hesitate to walk the streets of Tehran with yarmulkes on, but under Iran's sharia law code, Jews and other non-Muslims are penalized differently than Muslims with some violations, usually in a way that is not favorable to the non-Muslims. Tehran's five Jewish schools are also run by a Muslim principal, which the head of the Jewish community condemned as "insulting," according to the JTA report by Cohler-Esses.

After years of lobbying by the Jewish community, President Hassan Rouhani's government recognized Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a Jewish holiday in 2018, allowing them to not go to school and work without being penalized, according to Cohler-Esses.

Until a few years ago, Muslims and non-Muslims were treated differently in civil suits involving the death of an individual due to negligence. The Jewish community consulted ayatollahs and took testimony from high-ranking clerics in order to convince the government that under sharia law, Muslims and non-Muslims must be treated equally in this regard. Eventually, they succeeded.

Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians in Iran are the only recognized religious minorities in the Islamic Republic's constitution and "are free to exercise matters of personal status and religious education and they follow their own rituals," according to the constitution."The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Muslims are required to treat the non-Muslim individuals with good conduct, in fairness and Islamic justice, and must respect their human rights," according to the constitution. Each religious minority has one representative in the Iranian Parliament.

Read article in full

Jewish Journal of LA reporter Karmel Melamed, who left Iran in 1979, comments on his Facebook page that he would never be granted a visa to report on the Jews of Iran:

1) The Iranian constitution DOES NOT offer Jews and other religious minorities equal rights or equal justice under the law. The regime's constitution and laws are based on radical Islamic Sharia law which gives non-Muslims inferior rights.

2) The article makes it appear as if Jews in Iran are safe there, which is 100% WRONG! It fails to mention the 3 torahs stolen from a synagogue in Tehran in Feb. 2019, the brutal murder of a Jewish woman in Isfahan in 2012, the 2017 attacks on synagogues in Shiraz, the 1999 random arrests and imprisonment of 13 Jews in Shiraz and other calamities the Iranian regime has brought upon the Jews of Iran since 1979. 3)

The article cites a 2015 report by the Jewish reporter Larry Cohler-Esses as a source for its information on Iran's Jews today, but fails to mention Esses was given a special visa by the regime go to Iran prior to the Iran Deal in order to write a lovely story about how the regime "treats the Jews well" in Iran. It also fails to mention that Esses was given a regime handler the entire time he was there to monitor his reporting and translate for him.

HOW ON EARTH WAS his report accurate, objective and not unfiltered when he had a regime thug following him around, translating Farsi for him, introducing him to Jewish stooges for the regime to parrot nice things about the regime to him and feeding him false info during his stay in Iran?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Two halves of an Algerian scroll reunited

What do the University of Kansas and a French chateau have in common? The first possesses  part of a torn Algerian scroll. The second, residence of the French Duc d'Orleans, was for a long time home to the other half of the same scroll. Here is the amazing Mosaic saga of how the two halves  were re-united by a University of Kansas professor of religious studies, Paul Mirecki (with thanks: Lily, Noga): 

Fragment of the Kansas scroll

But who did the ripping and why they did it developed into the most interesting aspect of the saga.

 In 1840, the scroll was intact and residing at a synagogue in the Algerian city of Medea. The Ottoman Empire controlled Algeria at the time. Then France invaded. Meanwhile, a local populace of Muslim extremists launched a pogrom against the Jewish community. Arab religious and military leader Abd-el-Kader intervened in hopes of preventing bloodshed, evacuating members of the Jewish community. But he couldn't protect their property. As synagogues were looted, the item was taken. (This was likely done by people who didn't even speak Hebrew and merely hoped to sell it. By ripping it, they had "two scrolls" and could double their profits.)

 Enter Henri d"Orléans, the Duke of Aumale. The son of the last king of France and governor-general during the French invasion of Algeria, the duke lived in Chateau Chantilly.

"I found a quotation from him in his diary," Mirecki said of the young military commander. "He says in reference to the scroll, "I took it with my own hands from Medea's synagogue in May 1840 when the town had been left to Muslims, and the Jews taken by Abd-el-Kader.""

The Emir Abdel Kader

The duke brought it back home, where it remains in the vast collection of antiquities he eventually donated to the Institut de France. KU acquired its half of the scroll thanks to Alpha Owens. A KU student in the early 1900s, she went on to earn her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. A woman of wealth, Owens traveled throughout Europe and Latin America "collecting valuable realia material for use in modern language teaching," according to a 1952 interview. Mirecki thinks she evidently came across the document for sale at a market (or possibly a bookstore) when visiting France, as she had been a student at Sorbonne University. Owens bequeathed it to KU when she died in 1965.

Read article in full 

How did the Jews fare in Algeria during this period?  This article gives the  background to the scroll story:  the 19th century war in Algeria between the French and the rebellious western tribes led by the Emir Abdel Kader. Before Abdel Kader surrendered in 1847, several towns in Algeria changed hands: one in particular, Mascara, was the scene of a bloody massacre of those Jews who had not fled.  As the Arabs had taken their revenge on the Jews, the French were welcomed as liberators.

"In the long and bloody war between this one to France, which was the fate of the Jews of western Algeria? Far from freeing the Jews taxes, chores and vexatious measures that were their lot, the emir did not hesitate to strengthen, especially after the resumption of hostilities in 1835.  Indeed, Abd el-Kader then needs the Jews who play a leading economic and financial role in the region: besides the exceptional contributions he imposes.  He uses Jewish middlemen for trade and supply of arms.Jews still make tents for his troops and, no doubt, are charged with coining money, an activity prohibited to Muslims, in the city of Tagdempt.  Jews, like other sections of the population, are thus forced to contribute to the war effort in all places controlled by Abd el-Kader. In addition, between 1835 and the final victory of France over the emir in 1847, several medium-sized cities, such as Tlemcen and Mascara, pass into the hands of the French, before being taken over by Abd el-Kader. The situation of Jews, Couloughlis and Arabs rallied to the French becomes critical. he civilian population is caught in the heat of battle and the Jews, suspected of sympathy for France, are massacred by the Arabs. This phenomenon can be measured through the example of the Jewish population of Mascara, which is directly affected by the violence of the war."

Read article in full (French)

Here is the bizarre Esther-like  story of the Algerian rabbi who decided to offer his 14 year-old daughter Yudah to Abdel Kader, although the Emir already had four wives. Yudah was sent to France where Abdel Kader was in exile. It seems she never even got to meet him and died in France in 1848.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Yad Vashem extends prayers to North African Shoah victims

An Israeli high school student has persuaded Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, to extend prayers for the souls of Holocaust victims to those from North Africa. Haaretz reports: (with thanks: Ido, Ruth, Imre, Michelle) 

Libyan Jews returning from Bergen-Belsen in 1945

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center has amended the memorial prayers recited on Holocaust Memorial Day to include Jews who lived in Arab countries and not only refer to Jews of European origin, after the complaint of a high school student whose grandfather was a Libyan Holocaust survivor.

The amendments appear on the center’s website. The Yizkor (“Remember”) prayer recited on Holocaust Memorial Day originally beseeched God to remember “all the souls of all the communities of Beit Israel in the European Diaspora” who died in the Holocaust. Now the word “European” has been removed.

 The version of the El Malei Rahamim (“Merciful God”) read on Holocaust Memorial Day also confined itself to European Jewry: “God, full of mercy, Who dwells above, give rest on the wings of the Divine Presence, amongst the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky, to the soul of all the souls of the six million Jews, victims of the Holocaust in Europe.”

In the new version, the words “in Europe” are gone. The change was initiated by a Yael Robinson, a 12th grader from Zichron Yaakov, south of Haifa.

 In May the town held a public ceremony on the eve of the last Holocaust Memorial Day, like it usually does. Robinson, whose grandfather Kalfo Janah was a Holocaust survivor from Tripoli, Libya, attended. Some years ago Janah even lit the torch at the ceremony and shared his story. This year, Robinson felt hurt because the prayers ignored the suffering of her grandfather (who has since died) during the Holocaust.

  Read article in full

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Egyptian-Jewish memoirist Lucette Lagnado dies

Photo taken of Lucette z""l and her husband Douglas Feiden celebrating New Year 2019 

The death has been announced of Lucette Lagnado, author and Wall Street Journal reporter, aged 62.

Lucette Lagnado, born in Cairo, probably did more to popularise the story of Jews driven out from Egypt, like her own family in the 1960s, than any other US writer. Her award-winning book The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit met with international acclaim. It was followed by The Arrogant Years.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit centres on her father Leon, with whom she was especially close. The stately Leon, known as the Captain, would stride through the boulevards of Cairo in his white sharkskin suit. An observant Jew, he would attend synagogue every morning without fail. Equally unfailingly, he would stay up all hours to play poker and flirt with women - a uniquely Sephardi blend of religious devotion and wordliness.

Lucette Lagnado 's funeral will take place under the auspices of Manhattan Sephardic Congregation on Friday 12th July at 11:30 am  at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, Manhattan and burial will be at Mount Hebron Cemetery. Her family will be sitting shiva.

Alec Nacamuli of the UK Association of Jews from Egypt writes:

Born in Cairo, Lucette Lagnado was seven when her family were expelled as Jews and eventually settled in Brooklyn. She survived cancer as a teenager and brought her personal experiences to her reporting in the Wall Street Journal on hospitals, healthcare and the plight of the uninsured. She won awards for her articles on women undergoing preventative mastectomies and the treatment of dementia in care homes.

After co-authoring Children of the Flames: Dr Josef Mengele and the untold Story of the Twins from Auschwitz on human experiments in the death camps, she won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in 2008 with The Man in the white Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World which concentrated on her father, a flamboyant businessman and dandy in Egypt and the humiliations he suffered in exile, unable to find employment in Paris and ultimately reduced to selling ties in the New York subway. This was followed in 2011 by The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for her lost Youth from Cairo to Brooklyn which focused on her life and her mother who supported the family as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

WSJ obituary 

Forward obituary (with thanks: Boruch) 

Aish obituary

More about Lucette Lagnado

Is Hen Mazzig a bad or true progressive?

The Israeli son of Iraqi and Tunisian Jews, Hen Mazzig is a most energetic advocate for Jewish refugees from the Middle East and an articulate champion of truth and balance in the portrayal of the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

In this 45-minute podcast interview with Jonny Gould (see links below), Mazzig emphasises that all Jews are indigenous to the Middle East, having originated in Judea. The interview ranges widely, from Hen's narrow escape from a suicide-bombing, to his period in the IDF liasing with Palestinians as a member of COGAT, to his 'coming out' as a gay soldier.

Hen's background and homosexuality puts him at loggerheads with 'progressives' in the West who brand all Jews as 'white colonialists' and even exclude Jewish gays from their parades. Hen Mazzig has not ruled out an eventual career in politics and it is there he might make his most effective contribution.

🌍 Bad Progressive or True Progressive?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Mizrahi professor Machluf pioneers cancer treatment

Her mother was an illiterate cleaning lady from Morocco, but Professor Marcelle Machluf is a leading Israeli biochemist who is pursuing a revolutionary new approach to fighting cancer. Profile in The Times of Israel: (with thanks: Michal)

Machluf immigrated to Israel from Morocco at the age of one with her mother and grandmother. The three lived in Ashdod, in a 48-square meter apartment (517 sq feet); none initially spoke the language. Her mother, a seamstress, earned a living by cleaning offices and schools and Machluf used to go with her to help after school. After her mother was injured, an 11-year-old Machluf did most of the cleaning work, together with her mother’s friend.

 Marcelle Machluf was chosen to light a torch at Israel's independence celebrations

Her mother, said Machluf, hadn’t gone to school and couldn’t read or write, but did everything for her family, from painting the walls of their one-and-a-half-bedroom apartment to bringing in an income. “She cooked and she took care of me,” she said. “She always told me: without education you are nothing. You need to pursue an education.”

Prof. Marcelle Machluf, right, with her mother Alice Abitbole (Courtesy)
So Machluf invested a lot of time in her studies, but she was also lucky, she said, because she really loved learning. “You need to have the will. Because if you don’t have the will, even if you have all the means, you can’t force someone to do what they don’t want to do. I had the will; I had the motivation.”

Machluf dreamed of being a doctor, but didn’t get accepted to medical school in Israel. So, she opted for biology studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and soon fell in love with the field and the research lab. She went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in biochemical engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a post-doctorate at Harvard.

Being a female researcher was not easy, she said, and being of Mizrahi — or Eastern — origin, when most of academia was dominated by men of Ashkenazi descent, was even more challenging, she said. Ashkenazi Jews have roots in Germany, France and Eastern Europe; Mizrahi Jews come from the Middle East of North Africa.

Climbing up the career ladder is difficult “because a woman has always the conflicts between family and career,” she said. “And always, when someone gives up on their career, it is usually the women to support their husbands.”
Her husband, she said, a driving instructor, was happy to take the backseat and let her forge ahead in her career.

Though Machluf is confident in her nano-ghost theory, she admits it faces a lot of skepticism in the academic, corporate and research world.

Hers is an”outside-the-box approach,” she said, “not the typical system that everyone is studying” to combat cancers.

Current cancer treatments involve radiotherapy and chemotherapy, usually conveyed via intravenous infusion. The cancer drugs that are available can be extremely effective, but they also cause damage to healthy tissues. Targeted drug delivery has thus become a major thrust of recent research, but existing solutions are limited to certain kinds of cancer at particular stages. Hence a universal carrier for targeted drugs, like that proposed by Machluf, would be a major breakthrough in cancer research.

Many drug delivery researchers use polymers or other substances to carry their medications. These do not necessarily target just the cancer, Machluf said.
Her product, she said, would be a new player in the market with the potential to take “a big chunk” of the existing research market.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Iraqi Jew tells her story to Irish newspaper

For the first time, the readership of the Irish Catholic, not known for their sympathy to Jews or Israel,  have been given the opportunity to learn about  the tragic story of the Iraqi Jews. Aida Phelops, who was two when her family escaped Iraq, gives voice to a history that has been silenced:

A boy plays outside one of the last remaining synagogues in Baghdad

Ms Phelops, who left Baghdad with her family at just two years old, has lived in the UK as well as Israel and has now been living in West Cork for over 11 years. In the last couple of years, she became an Irish Citizen and sees herself as an Irish Iraqi Jew.

“Growing up in the UK as an Iraqi Jew was very frustrating,” Ms Phelops said. “People would know I was Jewish and then, when they would hear where I was born, the question I always got was, ‘well, how can you be an Arab and a Jew?’” “I wasn’t Aida anymore,” she explained. “I became a political subject. It became so annoying that I used to lie.”

However, nearly 80 years after the Farhud pogrom, she still feels justice has eluded her people. “The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve wanted justice, not just for the Iraqi Jews but for all the Arab Jews.”

Throughout history, the story of the Iraqi and Arab Jews has gone mainly untold, and while parts of the timeline align with the Holocaust, Ms Phelops feels there is rarely a balanced representation of the persecution of the Jews in Arab states and their unique, long-term struggles.

 “Just because it happened that long ago doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed. It does need to be addressed,” said Ms Phelops. “They need to honour both histories, equally and separately.” One of the biggest divides between the two histories is the inability of Iraqi and Arab Jews to return to their birthplaces. Around 856,000 Arab Jews had to leave their homes, escaping to Israel, Canada, the UK, France and the Netherlands. Many had their citizenship and their passports revoked. Others were given new citizenships when moving to other countries.

“They were absorbed into those countries and had to recreate their lives,” she explained. “And when you’re actually the surviving generation, you have no room to visit the pain and trauma you’ve been through. You’ve got to get on with it, which is why it takes the next generation or even the next generation like myself…to tell the story. “

"Survivors and descendants of Holocaust survivors are all able to go back to their birthplace, to their ancestral birthplace. Arab Jews are not. And it was a history that has been silenced and nobody knew about, and only lately has it been spoken about.”

On Sunday, March 10, 2019, the Supreme Court of Israel found that Iraqi victims of the two-day 1941 Farhud pogrom would no longer be eligible for the same compensation or recognition as Nazi survivors. It was only in May of 2016 that Israel’s Arab Jews were originally granted recognition as Holocaust survivors.

However, some members of the Iraqi Jewish community have their sights set on returning to their birthplace. In 2018, Vice President of the European Jewish Congress Edwin Shuker and others said they would be petitioning the Federal Supreme Court in Baghdad to request the reinstatement of thousands of Iraqi Jews’ citizenship. 2018 also marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the transplanting of the Iraqi Jews to Israel and beyond.

 I suppose personally if I were to go back [to Iraq] it would be to see how I would feel…I do feel I have a hole that is my birthplace…” “Not only has he gone back [to Baghdad], but he’s also actually bought property there,” said Ms Phelops. “In his head, he believes that one day he can actually go back there.:

 “I suppose, for me, I’m scared,” she continued. “I think Shuker is fascinating and he goes back all the time. When I heard him speak I just sat there, and I wanted to say, ‘Take me with you. Keep me safe and bring me back safely.’”

“I am not brave, but if I was told I had a limited amount of time to live, I’d do it,” said Ms Phelops when asked if she herself has thought about returning. “Because if I’ve got a limited amount of time to live, I’m going to die anyhow so I would.”

Read article in full

Monday, July 08, 2019

What are we to make of Massoud Hayoun?

A new book has been making waves in the US: It is called When we were Arabs. Its author, Massoud Hayoun, is Jewish. So how can a Jew be an Arab?

Massoud Hayoun

In an interview with Tsach Yoked of Haaretz, California-based Massoud (was he once Messod?) explains that his Egyptian-Tunisian grandparents loved Muslim customs. They even observed Ramadan in solidarity with their Muslim friends and colleagues. It goes without saying that they loved Egyptian films and Arabic song. Massoud, 31,  is a talented journalist and writes about this lyrically here. He also writes about the desolation of his grandfather Oscar, a refugee from Egypt, trying to eke out a living in Paris, his plight mirroring that of so many Maghrebi Muslim immigrants to France.

But does liking Arab customs or sharing their plight make you an Arab? Massoud is not the first, and won't be the last, to think an overlap of culture is more important in defining identity than political  and ethnic differences.

It is an irony that many Egyptian non-Jews refuse to be labelled as Arabs: they claim a separate Egyptian identity. While Jews could be Egyptian nationalists, they were never pan-Arabists. Pan-Arabism, as promoted by President Gamal Abdul Nasser, never made any room for religious minorities in Egypt. The pan-Arabist Nasser did more to expel Jews from Egypt - such as Massoud's own grandfather Oscar - than any other. But Arab governments do not seem to have agency in Massoud's world view.

 Massoud, who has worked for Al-Jazeera, was not born or brought up in an Arab country. He has never visited Israel. Yet he has espoused an Arab narrative, in which the tragedy of the exodus of Arabs 'of the Jewish faith' is to be blamed on the twin evils of Zionism and colonialism.  The book, he frankly admits,  has a political agenda.

This puts him at loggerheads with his own family.  His own grandmother declared: 'I am Tunisian and I am Jewish, but I am not Arab.'

 Massoud's explanation for the dissonance is that his grandmother has had her body and mind 'colonised' by the West. 'The French divided the Jews from the Arabs,' he claims. More controversially, he contends that the Armenians, Phoenicians and Amazigh, some of whom have declared their intention to overthrow the yoke of Arab domination, are also subsets of the Arab people, divided from them by colonial concepts of identity and self-determination.

It is possible to argue the opposite: that Jews were already a community divided from Muslims under the Ottoman millet system; intermarriage was rare. But there was always social pressure from the Muslim majority for Jews to convert, and for Islam to appropriate what belonged to Jews.  Massoud admits that some members of his own family converted to Islam to marry Muslims and were ostracised by the Jewish family elders. 'I feel guilty that the elders were unable to find it within themselves to continue to allow them to be part of the family,' he says.  Massoud takes it for granted that the Jewish partners in these mixed marriages should always convert to Islam,  never the other way around.

It is equally possible to argue that Arabism is a 19th century product of European nationalism - an artificial identity based on culture and language imposed on  disparate people whose loyalty is primarily to clan and tribe.  Massoud does not stop to consider this.

What drove Massoud to write When we were Arabs? Brought up in a liberal Californian atmosphere obsessed with identity politics and  anti-western, anti-orientalism, he is perhaps the Jewish equivalent of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who spent years posing as black. She  has argued that identity is fluid and race is not binary.

Whatever his motive, Massoud could be accused of gaslighting. Most Jews would agree that they belong to a people with a unique history, culture, common language and separate identity. It is telling that to-date not a single Jewish writer or personality has seen fit to endorse When we were Arabs.  On the contrary, his book will be exploited to give respectability to an anti-Zionist narrative and blame the West for all Jewish suffering in Arab lands.


Sunday, July 07, 2019

Cairo Jewish community loses one more member

The Jewish Community of Cairo has announced the death of Marcelle, mother of the current president, Magda Haroun.

Marcelle Haroun

 Marcelle was married to politician Shehata Haroun  and they had three daughters: Nadia  predeceased Marcelle. Another had a terminal illness and died many years previously.

Announcing Marcelle's death aged 93, the JCC said: "With her passing, the Jewish Community in Cairo has regretfully lost one of its pillars who will be sorely missed."

The shiva for Marcelle will be held on on Sunday, July 7, 2019 at 2019 pm at the Adly St synagogue. 

Marcelle's passing reduces the total of Jews in the Egyptian capital to five.

Jerusalem Post article 

Magda blames antisemitism on ignorance

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Babylon is named UNESCO World Heritage site

The BBC reports that Iraq has pledged to allocate funds to the restoration of the 4,000-year-old city of Babylon, after it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO at a meeting last week in Azerbaijan.  Babylon, the reputed site of the famous Hanging Gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was popular with Iraqi Jews, who would visit the landmark on outings from Baghdad. But the damage in the last decades has been so great that it might never be undone.

Iraqi Jews visiting Babylon in  the 1950s (Photo: Eli Saleh)

In the early 1980s, former Iraqi leader Saddam razed a large part of the ancient city in order to build a replica on top of some of the original ruins.
After the Gulf War, he also built an extravagant modern palace for himself on another part of the ruins, overlooking the main site.
Then, in 2005, the British Museum warned that US-led coalition forces were causing severe damage to the ancient city.
Children celebrating outside a replica of the famous Ishtar gate (Photo: Reuters)

John Curtis, who was Keeper of the Middle East Department at the museum at the time, warned in a report that sandbags had been filled with precious archaeological fragments, and 2,600-year-old paving stones had been crushed by tanks.
He also found evidence of fuel leaks, and 12 trenches that had been dug through archaeological deposits.
It was "tantamount to establishing a military camp around Stonehenge", he said at the time.
Four years later, Unesco said that "the use of Babylon as a military base was a grave encroachment on this internationally known archaeological site".

Read article in full

Friday, July 05, 2019

The 'magnificent' five who put the fun into France

Theirs is a rags-to-riches story: five North African Jewish refugee arrive destitute in France and proceed to inject new life in the entertainment industry. Report in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily)
Enrico Macias

From eulogizing Anwar Sadat in song to sharing laughs onscreen with Jerry Lewis, five North African Jewish immigrants revolutionized French pop culture.

Their impact from the 1960s through the ’80s is now being further immortalized in a new documentary, “Les Magnifiques.” Algerian-born singer Enrico Macias became an international pop star. Philippe Clair of Morocco and Robert Castel of Algeria mastered the art of comedy. Tunisian producers Norbert Saada and Régis Talar excelled at finding talent.

“These five Magnifiques are part of the life of France, even if sometimes we ignore it,” Yves Azeroual, who co-directed the film with Mathieu Alterman, wrote in an email. “Through this film I wanted to pay homage to their work, their talent and also their tenacity.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Kushner: no Palestinian return because of Jewish refugees

Jared Kushner,  President Trump's son-in-law charged with Middle Eastern Affairs, has for the first time hinted that the Palestinians would not have a 'right of return' in the 'Deal of the Century' because Jewish refugees were forced out at the same time and were integrated. The Times of Israel reports (with thanks : Shimon) :

Speaking to reporters in a rare on-record telephone briefing, Kushner also indicated that his Middle East peace plan will seek to better integrate Palestinian refugees inside Arab countries rather than endorsing or advancing the Palestinian demand, rejected by Israel, for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to today’s Israel.

 Discussing the status of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced out of Israel when the Jewish state was established in 1948, as well as their descendants, Kushner noted that a similar number of Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries.

Read article in full

Newsweek article  

France 24 

Middle East Online

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Ottoman expulsion could have been worse

With thanks Michelle

The story of how the Ottomans expelled thousands of inhabitants of Tel-Aviv-Yafo in 1917 is one Israel would rather forget. Nadav Shragai of Haaretz reports in an article first published in April 2007:

Ottoman military governor of Syria Jamal Pasha

"In a section on the outskirts of the Yavne'el cemetery lie dispersed dozens of basalt tombstones, without names. Only one is engraved with a few clear lines, recounting a terrible tale that nearly disappeared into oblivion: "In memory of my dear parents, Yaakov and Creina Klein (Keter) aged 35-38 and my brother Yehoshua Yona (z"l) aged 5, among the deportees from Tel Aviv-Jaffa, in World War I 1917, who lie interred in this section and whose place of burial is unknown."

"The year 1917 was difficult for the Jews in pre-state Israel. The British army, pushing northward from Egypt, had conquered the southern part of the Land of Israel, and the Turks were waging fierce rearguard battles. The Turks were afraid Jews would help the British conquer the northern part as well. On March 28, 1917, the Ottoman military governor, Jamal Pasha, ordered the expulsion of Tel Aviv-Jaffa's residents. On Pesach eve, April 6, 1917, the first Hebrew city emptied out. Among the thousands expelled was author Yosef Haim Brenner, who was inspired by those days to write the short story "Hamotza" (The Way Out).

"Dr. Gur Alroey, who chairs the Land of Israel Studies Department at the University of Haifa, says there was nothing heroic about that expulsion. "It's almost impossible to grasp today," he said. "Thousands simply got up and left, without resisting, and maybe that is why nobody likes to remember or recall that expulsion."

"They scattered to Tiberias, Safed, Kfar Sava, Petah Tikva, Zichron Yaakov, Jerusalem. Some 2,500 of them, mainly the poor, wandered as far as the northern moshavim, or small farming communities. They had to contend with the climate, hunger, poverty and typhus. They survived the first few months, but in the winter of 1917-18, hundreds died of exposure, disease and hunger. Most of the dead were buried hastily, in unmarked graves around the country.

"Their descendants have been trying for years to persuade the Tel Aviv Municipality to commemorate those who died in the expulsion, or as a result of it, but to no avail."

Read article in full

Monday, July 01, 2019

When Turkey was a haven for Jews

The antisemitic rhetoric of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan  makes it easy to forget that  there was a time in Jewish history when relations were very much better between Turks and Jews. Anti-Jewish crises in the Ottoman empire were often caused by Christians, not Muslims, under Ottoman rule, argues Jerusalem Online.

Jewish couple from Sarajevo, under Ottoman rule

When the Ottoman Turks liberated Bursa in 1324 from the oppressive yoke of the Byzantine Empire, they discovered a heavily oppressed Jewish community. The Jews of Bursa treated the Ottoman Turks as their saviors. Sultan Orhan gave the Jews who previously couldn’t build synagogues permission to build the Etz Ha-Hayyim (Tree of Life) Synagogue. Indeed, the liberation of the Jews of Bursa in 1324 from the tyranny of the Byzantines represented the beginning of the Turkish-Jewish friendship.

 Starting in the early 14th century, Jews fleeing oppression began to settle in the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Turkey became the home to Jews expelled from Hungary in 1376, from France in 1394, and from Sicily in the early 15th century. In the 1420’s, Jews living under Venetian controlled Salonika also migrated to the Ottoman Empire. In 1453, Sultan Mehmet II started to actively encourage Jews to settle in Ottoman lands. He issued a proclamation to all Jews stating, “Who among you of all my people that is with me, may his G-d he with him, let him ascend to Istanbul, the site of my imperial throne. Let him dwell in the best of the land."(....)

 Mark Mazower, writing in Salonica: City of Ghosts, that the Jews of Salonikka did not want the Ottoman Turks to leave the city and were opposed to Greek rule. “Few Jews believed they would be better off in one of the Christian successor states than they were in an empire where their loyalty made them trusted and none can have thought that Salonica in particular—-the city they dominated—-would develop to their benefit if it became part of Greece or Bulgaria. The rise of Balkan nationalism thus increased the intensity of the Jews identification with the Ottoman state,” he wrote. Even when blood libels did arise within the Ottoman Empire, such as the infamous Damascus Blood Libel of 1840, it was the local Christians rather than the Ottoman Turks who instigated them.

Following the Damascus Blood Libel, Sultan Abdelmecid issued an edict to forbid blood libels within the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdelmecid asserted, “For the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth.”

 Given this history, it is hard not to have nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire. It represented a time period in history when Jews and Muslims worked and thrived together for the greater good. It was a time of peace, tranquility, and serenity regarding Jewish-Turkish relations. Many modern Turks also have nostalgia for this period in history. Let’s hope that one day Turkish-Jewish relations can return to this. Read article in full

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Ayelet Tsabari: How to be a Mizrahi woman writer

Ayelet Tsabari, Israel's only Yemenite author with a global audience, has written a second book, The Art of Leaving. This interview with Tsabari in Haaretz also looks at Mizrahi women artists through the prism of 'identity politics'. (With thanks: Lily)

Back in 1988, 21-year-old Ayelet Tsabari was just like thousands of other Israelis celebrating the end of their mandatory army service by backpacking to India and the Far East. But unlike the other young Israeli travelers, she never headed home, choosing instead to embark on a journey that would last for decades.

 Ayelet Tsabari

On a quest to escape Israel, the traditions of her large Yemeni family and the grief of losing her father at a young age, Tsabari exiled herself to New York, Thailand and India. She embraced the nomadic lifestyle, falling in and out of love with men and women, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and occasionally waiting tables in order to earn enough money to set out on the next adventure.

 Wind the tape ahead several years and Tsabari finds herself following her new husband — a fellow traveling spirit she met in India — to Canada. The marriage did not last, but she stayed on. This wild tale of a modern wandering Jew could have ended there but, tired from years of instability, Tsabari tried to reawaken her old passion: writing. She had been a promising young journalist in her teens, writing regularly for the Israeli daily Maariv.

 But now, in her thirties, the Israeli adventurer had not written in years. And when she did, what emerged were scrambled journal entries in a mixture of Hebrew and English. In 2006, she published her first work in English. In its wake came 2013’s debut collection of short stories, “The Best Place on Earth.” She continued trying her hand at essays — until it became clear that, together, the essays and stories were a joint attempt to explain to herself why she had fled her home and what she had been running away from.

 The fruits of her labor saw the light of day this February in the form of her befittingly titled memoir “The Art of Leaving.” In conversation with Haaretz in Tel Aviv — where the 46-year-old moved with her second husband and daughter 11 months ago — Tsabari admits she initially felt uncomfortable with the book being labeled a tell-all. “I never thought I was going to write a memoir, there’s something a little crazy about it,” she says, while acknowledging that these were stories she had to tell.

“I had lived my life making sure I would have them, I was collecting stories,” she notes. Some of those stories were not just her own. In one of the book’s first essays, “A Simple Girl,” Tsabari describes how marginalized she felt growing up as an orphan in a family of Yemenite descent in 1970s Israel.While many other Mizrahi Jewish writers have written about the racism directed at their families by Ashkenazi Jews in the early years of the state, accounts of the abuse suffered by the Yemenite community — which was historically looked down upon by other Jews — have only begun to emerge in recent decades.

  Read article in full

More about Ayelet Tsabari