Friday, June 30, 2006

Iranian Jews turn to showbusiness

LOS ANGELES, June 28 (JTA) —The generation of Persian Jews who escaped Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution with their parents and traded a fearful existence for lives in New York and Los Angeles are now emerging in the entertainment industry, JTA News reports. (With thanks: Albert)

Whether it’s producing Oscar-winning films, appearing on prime-time network television series or performing stand-up comedy, young Jews of Iranian heritage have been breaking with their community’s traditional norms and leaving their imprint on Hollywood.

Perhaps the most notable success came earlier this year when Iranian Jewish film producer Bob Yari’s independent film “Crash” won the Best Picture Oscar and generated $93 million in worldwide sales.

“I had a gut feeling that it would be something special but you never know, so I was hoping and my hopes came to fruition,” said Yari, 44, whose four production companies have backed 25 films in three years. (...)

“I’m always interested in telling stories that I think touch people and mean something to people,” he said. “One of the things that’s always attracted me to film is its power to influence people to put aside their prejudices or judging people based on their heritage or color of skin.”

Yari is not the only Iranian Jew doing well in Hollywood. Nightclub and hotel entrepreneur Sam Nazarian, 30, is financing and producing films through his L.A.-based SBE Entertainment Group.

His production company Element Films has produced five films so far and anticipates producing up to a dozen a year, each budgeted at less than $15 million, according to the Internet Movie Database Web site.

Young Iranian Jews also have been writing and directing independent features. Prior to forming her own production company, Azita Zendel worked for four years as an executive assistant to Oliver Stone and collaborated with him on films including “JFK,” “Nixon” and “Natural Born Killers.” (...)

Some Iranian Jewish filmmakers are trying to parlay their success to tell their own cultural narratives. Soly Haim, a Los Angeles-based independent producer, is seeking financing for a documentary about how Iranian Jews helped Jews flee Iraq in the middle of the 20th century.

“Documentaries are hard to get financing for because, unlike films, documentaries usually go for television broadcasts, and the revenues generated do not match the revenues generated from feature films,” said Haim, 44. (...)

Yari, for his part, said he’s looking to develop a feature film about the events that led to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the collapse of the shah’s regime.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Damascus's disappearing Jewish heritage

There was a Jewish community in Syria from the time of King David, but the fact that only 14 Jews still live in Syria makes the preservation of the Jewish heritage all the more urgent.

The Jerusalem Post reports on the tortuous efforts to set up a Damascus Heritage Centre in Israel. (With thanks: Albert)

"The Syrian Jewish community is the oldest Diaspora community in the world, dating back to the time of King David, Moshe Sasson (the man behind the heritage centre project) told (President) Katsav. He added that Damascus is mentioned no less than 36 times in the Bible.

"There is a cemetery in Damascus where only great Jewish sages were buried and each year on the eve of Yom Kippur, people would come to a window erected around the graves to pray that the sages should intercede on their behalf.

"Sasson, who was born in Damascus but taken to Turkey and then to the land of Israel as an infant, worries that the cemetery may have fallen into disrepair. "If peace ever comes we must do everything we can to restore it," he said. "It is one of the most important Jewish cemeteries in the world."

"Sasson said the Damascus Heritage Center was not a "nostalgia project," but rather a project of substance designed to preserve the history of Damascus Jewry for future generations.

"The initiators of the project had hoped to interest the remnants and descendants of the equally famous Aleppo, or Halab, community, but they wanted to do their own thing, said Shemer. He said that while Damascus was known as a stronghold of Zionism, even before modern political Zionism, Aleppo was known for its affluence.

"Damascus Jews helped to populate the pioneer kibbutzim, said Kalush, citing members of Afikim and Hulata who came as early as 1920. However many of the Syrian expatriates living in Israel today were brought on foot as children in 1944.

"The Association of Damascus Jews in Israel had been founded two years earlier, primarily to rescue Syrian Jews.

"Israeli prime ministers didn't allow the organization to engage in that work until Yitzhak Shamir came to power. He gave them his blessing, but advised them not to court the assistance of Europe because the Europeans were not well disposed toward Israel.

"He advised them instead to seek the help of then-US president George Bush.

"The older Bush was indeed instrumental in getting most of the remaining Jews out of Syria.
The Syrians allowed them to leave on condition that they did not go to Israel.

"Most went to America, and a large proportion continued to Israel.

"Shemer said the Central Bureau of Statistics estimates that there are approximately 40,000 Syrian Jews in Israel, but the community says there are more.

"Jews of Syrian origin with non-Israeli passports occasionally travel to Syria, where only 14 Jews remain, to see that Jewish community property such as synagogues are still intact.

"There are approximately 20 synagogues in Syria that are being cared for by the authorities, said Eliahu Sasson, who has launched a project in which elderly Syrian-born Jews, in Israel and abroad, are interviewed so that their memories can be recorded for posterity.

"Sasson also wants to bring to Israel all the sacred and ritual objects that were taken from Syria to the wider Diaspora, and have them permanently stored in the Heritage Center once it is constructed. He is desperately keen to bring a beautifully written and illustrated 300-year old Torah scroll that is currently in New York."

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Moroccan Muslim wants to stay in Israel

The Jerusalem Post has this unusual story: a Moroccan Muslim woman living in Israel wishes to convert to Judaism and is fighting extradition by the Israeli government. If she went back to Morocco, her own family would kill her. (With thanks: Albert)

"A Muslim woman from Morocco, who has been living in Israel for the last 10 years and dreams of converting to Judaism, is fighting an Interior Ministry decision to extradite her, where she claims she will be murdered by her family for deserting the faith of her birth.

"Sitting in the courtyard of the women's foreign worker section of Maasiyahu Prison near Ramle, Achoura Abbadi seems out of place among the sea of Eastern European and African faces. It is not only her Semitic features - olive skin, black hair and dark brown eyes - that set her apart from the others but also the small sparkling Star of David that hangs around her neck and her fluent Hebrew, peppered with standard Israeli phrases such as "motek" and "kapara." Abbadi, 49, came to Israel legally in 1996 to work as a caregiver for an elderly lady in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Kiryat Shaul near Haifa. It was during her two and a half years there that she started to become interested in Judaism.

"I had a few Jewish friends in Morocco but here I met some very religious people," says Abbadi. "There were so many things that I did not know about the religion. I liked the fact that the people I met seemed to really care for one another and for their religion. Even though I was born and raised a Muslim, I started to feel more Jewish."

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ahmadinejad keen to prove he is not anti-Jewish

The Guardian have discovered the Jews of Iran and their sole Majlis representative, Maurice Motamed. They have also managed to interview a childhood friend of President Ahmadinejad. To prove he is no antisemite the president is about to make some symbolic gesture towards the Jews of Iran, the friend confides.

We can hardly wait, Mr President... (With thanks: Albert)

"Although he took on Mr Ahmadinejad over the Holocaust, Mr Motamed supports the president on other issues, including the stand-off with the US, Europe and Israel over the country's nuclear programme. "I am an Iranian first and a Jew second," he said.

"He acknowledged there were problems with being a Jew in Iran, as there were for the country's other minorities. But he said that Iran was relatively tolerant. "There is no pressure on the synagogues, no problems of desecration. I think the problem in Europe is worse than here. There is a lot of anti-semitism in other countries."

"Most of his family, including his mother, father and sisters, left after the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, as did 75,000 other Jews, heading mainly for Israel, the US and Europe. But Mr Motamed, 61, an engineer, opted to remain. "I love my homeland."

"Jews have been living in Iran in large numbers since Cyrus the Great freed them from slavery when he captured Babylon in 539BC. Members of the Jewish community in Iran today, for the most part, keep a low profile and many Iranians are unaware of their presence. Mr Motamed said there were about 14,000 Jews in Tehran, which has 20 active synagogues; 6,000-7,000 in Shiraz; 2,000 in Estafan and small groups scattered throughout the rest of the country.

"He confirmed Jews and other minorities were all excluded from "sensitive" senior posts in the military and judiciary. And the authorities refuse to allow Jewish schools to close on the sabbath, a normal working day for the rest of Iran.

"But Mr Motamed said there had been improvements in other areas. Legislation was introduced three years ago overturning a judicial practice of awarding more compensation to the families of Muslim accident victims than to those of Jews. And when he complained in the chamber about a TV soap opera regularly portraying rabbis as evil, he said the speaker of the Majlis expressed support for him.

"Nasser Hadian-Jazy, associate professor of political science at Tehran University and a childhood friend of the president, said Mr Ahmadinejad was keen to put the Holocaust row behind him.

"I asked him, 'Are you anti-Jew?' He said, 'I am not.' I said, 'Why not go to a synagogue to express regret for what Iranians have done to Jews?' ... He said, 'I have another idea, a better idea.'

"He will do something to show he is not anti-Jewish. I hope he will do it soon. He will make a gesture to the Jews in Iran and that has implications for Jews elsewhere. What he will say is very important and will remove the idea that he is anti-semite."

Saeed Jalili, Iran's deputy foreign minister and another close friend of Mr Ahmadinejad, said the Jewish seat in the Majlis "tells you that we have no problems with Judaism" but he added that he had not heard of any planned gesture by Mr Ahmadinejad.

"The Jewish community in this country are very fairly treated ... Of course, a symbolic gesture is good and well, but we think that what we do is more than symbolic."

Read article in full

Further reading on the Farhud

The Farhud pogrom of June 1941 is the singlemost important event responsible for bringing about the end of the Jewish community of Iraq. Here is a list for further reading:

Dr Heskel Haddad's and Phyllis Rosenteur's 2001 article for Midstream magazine (subscription required). Dr Haddad is the author of Born in Baghdad (stocked by Amazon and Barnes & Noble).

The Sephardi Holocaust recognition project has a useful page about the Farhud compiled with the assistance of Banking on Baghdad author Edwin Black. Black devotes an entire chapter of this book to the Farhud.

In 1992 Dr Zvi Yehuda of the Babylonian Heritage Center at Or Yehuda and Professor Shmuel Moreh published Hatred of the Jews and the Farhud in Iraq.

Articles commmemorating the 50th anniversary of the Farhud appeared in the Babylonian Heritage Center's magazine Nehardea no.5 (June 1991).

In his weblog Emet Mi'Tsiyon Eliahu Mi'Tsyon has six posts about the Farhud, the role of the British army and a French historian's account.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Absorption hardships for Yemenite Jews

Touching story from Y-net News about the hardships facing new immigrants to Israel from Yemen. They are no longer eligible for state-subsidised mortgages, an anomaly that the government can surely rectify without too much difficulty. It has to be said that the numbers affected are minimal: fewer than 300 Jews still live in Yemen. (With thanks: Albert)

A year after arriving in Israel to be reunited with her son, Lauza Nahari asks to return to Yemen. 'Son, please get me a ticket back to Yemen. This place is bad for me,' she says.

Yechiel Nahari hadn't seen his mother for 12 years. A year and two months ago, his friends from the Border Guard surprised him and brought his mother straight from Yemen to the ceremony marking the end of his basic training. But the originally joyful immigration has turned into a nightmare for the mother, who wanders between homes of distant relatives. It turns out that, unlike new immigrants from Ethiopia, immigrants from Yemen are not entitled to a state-subsidized mortgage.

A year and two months ago, Border Guard policemen surprised cadet Yechiel Nahari, then 19-years-old, by bringing his mother, whom he had not seen for 12 years, to the concluding ceremony of his basic training. Still on the courtyard, Nahari burst into tears as he hugged his mother. "Don't cry, son. Don't let people see a soldier cry," scolded his mother. Yechiel Nahari was taken from his mother 12 years ago in Yemen, at the age of seven, by the Sumter hassidim (Sotmar? Ed) from the United States. After suffering from the strict regime at one of their yeshivot in New York, he wandered the streets until he met Shlomo Grafi, the patron of Yemeni immigrants to Israel in recent years. Grafi helped the boy immigrate to Israel and be accepted to the Border Guard. Grafi promised Nahari that he would do his best to help Nahari's mother come to Israel also. A year ago, he stood by his word and, indeed, brought her to Israel as a surprise for Nahari's military ceremony. Following the ceremony, the mother returned to Yemen and, a few months later, arrived in Israel, this time as a new immigrant.

Today, Nahari feels that he and his mother were abandoned in Israel. "They housed us in an absorption center in Ashdod, but all the immigrants there were Ethiopian or Russian. She doesn't speak the language and she felt lonely and neglected. Since then, she has been wandering from distant relative to distant relative. I serve as a combat officer in the Border Guard and come home only once every two weeks. It's heartbreaking to see my mother homeless."

Added Nahari: "My mother is a very sick woman. In Yemen, they tossed a grenade into her house and she suffers from shrapnel wounds and has trouble walking. She also suffers traumas from her difficult life in Yemen. Every time she sees me, she says: 'Son, please get me a ticket back to Yemen. This place is bad for me.'"

Yesterday, in her cousin's house in Rehovot, in Yemenite peppered with Arabic (they speak Hebrew of Biblical purity - Ed), Lauza Nahari said: "I wander from house to house and cry night and day. They made me a new immigrant, but I'm actually lonely and abandoned. I don't know the language and I have no possessions, not even a bed."

Shlomo Grafi, the man responsible for the Yemeni immigration in the past decade and, specifically, for bringing Lauza Nahari to Israel, appealed several times to the exceptions committee in the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption in order for Lauza to receive government assistance for public housing.

Says Grafi, "In March of 1995, the state decided to stop providing mortgages for apartments such as the ones they gave to Ethiopian immigrants. Recent immigrants (from Yemen) are neither able to leave the absorption centers or to become integrated within them." The spokeswoman from the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption said in response, "In the past, Yemeni immigrants were eligible to receive state-subsidized mortgages but today, pursuant to an order from the Ministry of Finance, only Ethiopian immigrants are eligible for them. The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption appealed to the Ministry of Finance to extend the eligibility also to Yemeni immigrants, but to no avail. The issue has since been appealed again and is awaiting Minister Zeev's response on whether all immigrants from troubled countries, including Yemen, will be eligible for mortgages. In the meantime, if Lauza would like to move to the absorption center in Ashkelon, where two Yemeni families are currently residing, we would be happy to help her."

Read article in full

More about the last Jews of Yemen here

Friday, June 23, 2006

Actor? Just the job for a Persian Jewish boy

Jonathan Ahdout is the latest Persian Jewish actor to 'make it' in Hollywood. Karmel Melamed interviewed him for the Iranian Jewish Chronicle.(With thanks: Albert)

Iranian Jewish parents seem to want their children to join professional occupations, what was your family’s reaction when you told them you wanted to act?

"We come from a very conservative culture where people like things that are practical and reasonable. Becoming an actor at the age of 13 is definitely not practical or reasonable. People just feel safe in our community sticking to stability. My parents from the start came to this country to give us a better life and give us opportunities and education. Their biggest concern for me was that I have to stay in school, I have to keep my head in school, and not go into this industry for money. It was about me pursuing something I loved, something I that I was good at, something that could be a good opportunity for me."

Read article in full

Naim Dangoor receives OBE

Congratulations to Naim Dangoor who received the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours List announced last week.

The 91-year-old Iraqi-born former property developer, who moved to Britain in 1964, was awarded the honour for education and Jewish communal philanthropy. As well as a generous donor to Bar-Ilan university and UK university projects, he has actively promoted Iraqi-Jewish education and history through his (now online) journal The Scribe.

In the six months since January 2006 The Scribe has had over 750,000 hits.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Naim Dangoor called on the Iraqi government to compensate Iraqi Jewish exiles for lost assets estimated at $20 billion. Recently he made £10 million available towards reviving Jewish life in Iraq.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jews 'support Iran's nuclear policy'

The Islamic Republic News Agency reports:(with thanks: Albert)

"The representative of the Jewish community in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), Maurice Motamed, said here that the Iranian Jews, along with other Iranian nationals, boast of the country's access to peaceful nuclear technology.

"Motamed, currently in Moscow to attend a seminar on Islam and Judaism and the prospect of cooperation, dialogue, told reporters that political pressures will not have any impact on the will of the Iranian nation for making use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

"Iran is an ancient country where various religious and national ethnic groups live freely, he added.

"Referring to the Jewish community as the most ancient minority group living in Iran, he said peaceful coexistence among different religions in Iran has a 2,700-year history.

"Some 25,000 Jews are living in Iran freely, he said stressing that the Jews, like other minorities, are free to perform their religious rituals."

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Urgent appeal for Jews to record their stories

The Historical Society of the Jews from Egypt has made the following appeal for Jews from Egypt to record their stories on video. In fact, in the face of denial and the rewriting of history, it is a matter of urgency that all Jews from all Arab countries should do so - before it's too late. (With thanks: Israel B)

Have you noticed that the voices of Holocaust denial are getting louder and more frequent? In Iran, in Arab countries, in other Islamic countries, in the West -- they seem to proliferate everywhere. Why do you think that is so? Simple: Holocaust survivors are dying out. Witnesses to man's inhumanity to man will soon completely disappear and will no longer be able to confront the liars face to face. Then -- who knows -- the lies may well become established history.

The same will happen to Jews from Arab countries. We, too, are dying out. For almost forty years, since the Six-Day War of 1967, Arab countries have been essentially "judenrein" -- devoid of Jews. The youngest among us who still remembers anything is in his early fifties.

That's why it is essential for us to record our history for posterity. Before we die. Before it's too late. We have to tell the world what happened to us. The expulsions, the expropriations, the jailings, the beatings, the exclusions, the discrimination, the tauntings, even the occasional killings. It must all come out. It must all be told.

You can, of course, write down your story. That is an essential first step. We at HSJE will post all individual stories we get, with your permission.But that is not enough. It can always be alleged that the stories are forged, that the authors never existed. How hard is it to type a fake story in a word processor and sign it "Joe Douek"?

"Remember, there is practically no professional recorded history of our experience. When these terrible things were happening to us, CNN and The Washington Post were not there to splash our misery at the top of their news programs. The United Nations was not passing resolutions highlighting our plight. Hardly any sympathizers wrote books about us. We simply started over and rebuilt our lives, in silence, with help from fellow Jews in the free world. For the world at large, we are the forgotten refugees -- all 850,000 of us, from Morocco to Yemen, not counting descendants.

We need oral histories: We need you to tell your story on video. We need you to have a friend or a member of your family videotape you telling your story and send it to us. You may simply read something you have already written, if that's easier. Better yet, you may ask your interviewer to prompt you with specific questions. Use any language you feel comfortable with.

Read the rest here

Send your story to

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Treatment of Iran's non-Muslims

'Some say the exodus (of non-Muslims) reflects less specific persecution than the opportunity to escape a country where almost everyone was being made miserable. The religious minorities, with concerned sponsors offering relocation funds, had a way out."Whatever the government does, they do it to all of us," said Ardeshir Bahrami, 64, a Zoroastrian in Yazd.'

Report in the Washington Post about Iran's non-Muslim faiths (with thanks: Albert).

"The same constitution that created the Islamic Republic of Iran explicitly protects three other faiths: Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Call for Farhud to be part of Holocaust studies

Speaking on the Farhud Memorial Day at Or-Yehuda's Babylonian Heritage Center, Professor Shmuel Moreh called on the Israeli government to recognise the Farhud as a part of the Nazi Solution to the Jewish Question. He called on the Israeli authorities to sponsor future Farhud memorials.

Here is his report of the proceedings. (With thanks: Linda)

On June 4, 2006, the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or-Yehuda held a Memorial Evening on the Farhud (the Pogrom of June 1-2, 1941 in Baghdad) in which the names of 129 Jewish victims were read by Dr. Zvi Yehuda, the Director of the Research Institute of Babylonian Jewry at the Center.

Candles were light by Dr. Nissim Qazzaz whose father was slaughtered in the Farhud, in memory of all those who were assassinated and Kaddish, followed by a Hebrew elegy, was recited by Cantor Arieh Ovadia.

Mr. Mordecai Ben-Porat, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center, gave a talk about the significance of the Farhud as a turning point in the attitudes of the Jewish community towards the Iraqi people and the rise of the Zionist Underground.

Prof. Shmuel Moreh, Chairman of the Academic Committee and Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, delivered a lecture on "The Attitude of Arab Intellectuals towards the Farhud", and dealt with the regret expressed by some Iraqi intellectuals for the notorious events which deprived Iraq from its most active and positive element in the fields of economy, finance, medicine, law, culture and literature.

Dr. Zvi Yehuda delivered a lecture on "Those who are accused of the Farhud", putting the blame on the Nazi German representatives in Iraq, Pro-Nazi Iraqi and Palestinian elements in the government, army and police as well as on the mobs.

The poets Herzl and Balfour Hakkak and Yehizkael Moriel read their poems on the slaughter of the Farhud and their reminiscences as children of the terrible events. The writer Salim Fattal, whose uncle was slaughtered in the Farhud, read a chapter from his realistic autobiographical novel In the Alleys of Baghdad, describing the chilling events of the slaughter of his uncle and his friend Nahum Qazzaz at Bab al-Sheykh quarter, the massacre and the looting of Jewish houses and how the tragic news of the assassination of the uncle was received by his family.

Prof. Shmuel Moreh urged the Israeli Government to recognize the Farhud, which was organized by Nazi representatives, and pro-Nazi elements in the Iraqi government, police and army, as a part of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, that it should be considered as an integral part of the Holocaust and the necessity of its inclusion in Yad Vashem projects. He added that the Memorial Day of the Farhud should be sponsored by the Israeli authorities. The speaker hailed the decision of the Holocaust Museum of Los Angeles, and the State University of California and Human Rights in the United States to consider the Farhud an integral part of the Holocaust studies at Universities and Museums.

Prof. Shmuel Moreh is Emeritus Professor, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Israel Prize Laureate in Oriental Studies (1999)

Is Bernard Lewis right about 'dhimmitude'?

Amid the tributes to Bernard Lewis on the eminent Islamic scholar's 90th birthday recently, comes this more ambivalent contribution from Dr Andrew Bostom. Writing in Front Page magazine Bostom takes issue with Lewis's approach to 'dhimmitude' (the institutionalised subordination of non-Muslims):

".... Lewis’ views have remained unchanged on the subject of the plight of those non-Muslims living under Islamic rule—what Bat Ye’or’s own remarkable scholarship has characterized with painstaking elegance as the civilization of dhimmitude (here, and here ). Writing in 1974 (vol. 2, p.217) Lewis maintained,

The dhimma on the whole worked well. The non-Muslims managed to thrive under Muslim rule, and even to make significant contributions to Islamic civilization. The restrictions were not onerous, and were usually less severe in practice than in theory. As long as the non-Muslim communities accepted and conformed to the status of tolerated subordination assigned to them, they were not troubled. The rare outbreaks of repression or violence directed against them are almost always the consequence of a feeling that they have failed to keep their place and honor their part of the covenant. The usual cause was the undue success of Christians or Jews in penetrating to positions of power and influence which Muslims regarded as rightly theirs. The position of the non-Muslims deteriorated during and after the Crusades and the Mongol invasions, partly because of the general heightening of religious loyalties and rivalries, partly because of the well-grounded suspicion that they were collaborating with the enemies of Islam.

"More recently, Lewis in a rather flippant pronouncement (included here), characterized the conception of “dhimmi-tude” (derisively hyphenated, as he wrote it), “…subservience and persecution and ill treatment” of Jews, specifically, under Islamic rule, as a 'myth'."

Could it be that Lewis and Bostom are both right? There is a marked discrepancy between the treatment of Jews at the centre of the Ottoman Empire, where Jews could and did rise to wealth and prominence under benign rulers, and conditions on the fringes. In Morocco, Persia and Yemen, the Jews lived in ghettoised degradation and isolation, did all the menial jobs, and were subject to a much stricter application of the rules of dhimmitude. Whereas in 1860 the Sultan declared all his subjects equal under the law, dhimmitude survived in North Africa into the early 20th century and in Yemen until 1950.

It is perhaps no accident that all the Christians had been 'ethnically cleansed' from these regions. Where Christians existed they, rather than the Jews, were more likely to bear the brunt of humiliation, and persecution, in the Ottoman centre.

In his memoir, The last Jews in Baghdad,
Nissim Rejwan remarks (page 6) that while he was growing up in ('emancipated') Baghdad in the 1920s and 30s the work of clearing the drains and toilets, the most menial of jobs, was undertaken almost exclusively by Christians from a town in northern Iraq called Talkeif. Jews also engaged in the work - but never, never a Muslim. 'Yet for some reason', Rejwan observes, the nightwatchmen were invariably Muslims.

What strikes Rejwan as a curiosity was in fact a vestige of dhimmitude. Nightwatchmen could not be anything other than Muslim because non-Muslims could not bear arms.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Tunisian victims of Nazism to be compensated

BERLIN, June 13 (JTA) — Former inmates of Nazi prison camps in Tunisia may now apply for compensation from Germany.

Tuesday’s announcement followed negotiations between the Claims Conference and Germany’s Finance Ministry. Germany committed some $280 million to this and several related causes.

“It is the first time that the suffering of women and children in Tunisia has been recognized,” Gideon Taylor, the Claims Conference’s executive vice president, told JTA in a phone interview after meeting with Karl Diller, Germany’s deputy finance minister. “This is one reason why we pursued the issue of North African camps so intensively.”

Those eligible may number only a few hundred, Taylor said, “but it’s still significant.” He added that the talks were generally positive, but “there were some issues we didn’t reach agreement on.” He didn’t elaborate. Former internees in Gabes, Marcia-Plage and Tniet-Agarev in Tunisia will be eligible for payments of about $320 per month under the Article 2 Fund if they meet other German-mandated eligibility requirements. Information on eligibility criteria is available at Additional compensation and social service funds will cover certain Western Europeans who have not received compensation, as well as increased funding for survivors’ home care, Taylor said. The Claims Conference delegation was chaired by President Israel Singer and included Taylor and Noach Flug, chairman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. The conference meets annually with the German Finance Ministry. Diller represented the past government under Gerhard Schroeder as well as the current government of Angela Merkel.

Beginning in July 1942, the French Vichy government and its dependent protectorate authorities in Tunisia interned Jews in camps there, prompted by the Nazis. Following German occupation of Tunisia in November 1942, the Nazis ran the camps.

Jews at the camps were fenced in and tightly guarded. Conditions and medical care were poor and food was scarce.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tajik synagogue looks set to be razed

Despite widespread international protests, authorities in Tajikistan are still planning to demolish the country's only synagogue to make way for the expansion of a presidential palace, The Jerusalem Post has learned. (With thanks:Albert)

And while the precise timing of the synagogue's destruction remains unclear, there are indications that it might be carried out before the end of the month.

In February, local demolition teams began tearing down the century-old synagogue in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, but halted in the wake of an outcry from abroad, though not before they had managed to raze the community's mikve, an office and a classroom.

Pressure mounted on the Tajik government to find a solution, with the US government, various Jewish organizations, and even the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) expressing their displeasure with the plan to flatten the country's sole Jewish house of worship.

But a recent report by Tajik news agency Avesta suggests that the fate of the present synagogue is once again in doubt.

According to the report, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmonov met last month with Alexander Mashkevich, head of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC), and "promised to allocate a suitable site in central Dushanbe for the construction of a new synagogue."

The new synagogue, which Mashkevich said would be financed by his organization together with unspecified Tajik sponsors and built at an alternative location, is intended to replace the current one, which remains on the chopping block.

Contacted by phone, a spokesman for the Tajik embassy in Washington confirmed this arrangement, telling the Post, "We do not like to speak about destroying the synagogue in Dushanbe, but rather about relocating it elsewhere."

"The synagogue was already partly destroyed, and soon it will be completely ruined," said Leonid Stonov, FSU Bureau Director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, a Washington-based advocacy group.

While expressing support for the construction of a new synagogue, Stonov said "it was not understandable" why Tajik authorities felt the need in the first place to enlarge the presidential palace at the synagogue's expense.

"We visited Dushanbe and the synagogue many times, and there was a lot of space for the new palace building without having to ruin the synagogue," he said.

In a telephone interview, Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement's Chief Rabbi of Central Asia, said(..) "it is one thing to move it, but to destroy it over something like this is entirely different. Harming a synagogue will not be good for the country." The rabbi added that he would continue with his efforts to save the building and to strengthen the local Jewish community, which numbers just a few hundred people, many of them elderly.

US officials have also conveyed their concerns to the Tajik government. Jon Larsen, public affairs officer at the US Embassy in Dushanbe, said via e-mail that both the American ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission "have raised this issue with appropriate Tajik authorities on a number of occasions." Tajik officials, he said, "understand the religious and cultural importance of the synagogue and the strong US interest in an outcome that meets the needs of the Jewish community in Dushanbe."

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Is Turkey a model Muslim democracy?

On Sunday 9th July, Yossi Eli, a Turkish-Israeli historian, will attempt to answer the question: is Turkey a model Muslim democracy? If you live in London and are concerned about the future of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim states, do try and attend what promises to be a fascinating lecture, organised jointly by Harif and Spiro Ark.

Turkish society is torn between old and new, symbolised in literature by two neighbourhoods of Istanbul. Fatih stands for the traditional, Muslim ways. Harbiye represents secular modernity and westernisation.

In 1923 Mustapha Kemal, the founder of modern Turkey, firmly chose modernity and separation between Mosque and State -the path to Harbiye. But is Turkey now rediscovering its Islamic roots - and heading back down the road to Fatih?

In the face of the growing challenge from political Islam, is Turkey a fitting model for other Muslim states to follow? What happens to civil rights, minorities, freedom of speech and worship in a country that defines itself as strictly secular?

For full details and to book tickets go to Harif or Spiro Ark websites.

Photo shows Hagia Sophia mosque, Istanbul.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Most Kurds want diplomatic relations with Israel

(Hawlati, Sixty-five per cent of Iraqi Kurds think that diplomatic relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Israel are "necessary." Of (1,519 people polled in Iraqi Kurdistan,) 22 per cent said it was not necessary for the two states to have relations, while 12 per cent responded that they did not have an opinion.

Those Kurds who believed that the Kurdistan Regional Government and Israel should have relations cited the possible strengthening of the Kurds' position in the region, Israel's democracy, trade (between the two states,) the existence of Kurds in Israel and that some Arab countries have relations with Israel. Those who didn't support establishing relations with Israel cited Israel as an occupying state, its instability and the fact that Kurdistan does not share borders with Israel. The Kuridistan Institute for Political Inquiries conducted the poll May 22 and May 27 in the provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah, Duhok and Kurdish inhabited areas of Kirkuk.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Refugees are the key to actual Mideast justice

Abe Wisse Schachter has this opinion piece on non-Palestinian Middle East refugees in today's New York Post: (With thanks: Israel B)

(June 12, 2006): OK, politics makes for strange bedfellows - but the pairing of lefty Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and righty Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has got to take the cake. The cause? Middle East refugees. Specifically, non-Palestinian Middle East refugees - Jews and Christians.

As Nadler put it in a press release, "When the Middle East peace process is discussed, Palestinian refugees are often addressed. However, Jewish refugees [from the 1948 war, when the Arab states attacked the just-declared state of Israel] outnumbered Palestinian refugees, and their forced exile from Arab lands must not be omitted from public discussion on the peace
process. It is simply not right to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees without recognizing the rights of Jewish refugees," said Nadler.

So along with Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Reps. Michael Ferguson (R-N.J.), Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Nadler and Santorum have introduced a bill to instruct U.S. diplomats how to handle the debate over Middle East refugees in international forums.

Under the resolutions, when the subject of Middle East refugees is raised at, say, the United Nations, U.S. representatives must ensure "that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity."

The fate of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of the Jewish state in 1948 has been touted as a major issue ever since - a problem that, it's argued, Israel is responsible for solving.

Ignored is the fate of all the Jews who at the same time were expelled or forced to flee from their homelands - the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa. (..)

Jews who had lived for generations in countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Morocco and Libya were made to leave their birth countries as soon as Israel was declared, most without their belongings or having been compensated for their lost property or lost income.

In fact, the two situations aren't parallel - and the difference is pretty telling. The Jewish refugees were resettled - mostly in Israel, the United States and elsewhere - and have become citizens of those countries. In other words, friendly nations helped them move on with their lives.

Not so, the Palestinians: Back in '48, the United Nations took up the task, not of resettling them in other Arab nations, but of maintaining them in refugee camps. For six decades, their "friends" have sacrificed these Palestinians' future in order to keep the grievance alive as a political issue.

The Arab League issued instructions barring the Arab states from granting citizenship to Palestinian refugees (or their descendants) "to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland." Jordan is the only country to grant citizenship rights to Palestinian refugees; its population is now more than half "Palestinian." And the United Nations has kept on obliging this Arab intransigence - so that today there are some 4.1 million "stateless" Palestinians (mostly the descendants of the original refugees) living in wretched towns (they're only called camps) across the Middle East.

Few Jews would want to return to the Arab states that exiled them or their ancestors. Meanwhile, the Arab world's intransigence has worked - insofar as most world diplomats now assume that the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees must be decided by Israel and the Palestinian Authority as part of any comprehensive peace settlement.

Raising the profile of "Jewish refugees" may be a longshot for shifting those expectations, but Santorum sees it as necessary: "For any comprehensive Middle East peace agreement to be credible, durable and enduring, [to] constitute an end to conflict in the Middle East and
provide for finality of all claims, the agreement must address and resolve all outstanding issues, including the legitimate rights of all peoples displaced from Arab countries."

Pushing for actual justice in Mideast diplomacy? Well, it's worth a try.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Questioners who seek to challenge...not learn

While most Jews are ready to acknowledge Palestinian rights, it disconcerts Israel Bonan to meet people who do not accept Jewish refugee rights. They try to 'dismantle the facts' and argue that the Jews have no right to return as they left nothing of worth in their countries of origin. Even more galling, they claim the Jews were never 'loyal citizens' anyway.

"It is always disconcerting, at least to me, when I realize that many -- and I mean a lot of -- people still have no idea what happened to Jews from Arab countries before as well as after the establishment of the State of Israel.

"Myself, (I am a Jew who was born in Egypt) as well as a lot of other Jews from Arab countries, we have found our voices, and we started to describe our own refugee plight to others, be it individually or in internet forums and lists.

"Once in a while we come across a few who ask probing questions and who genuinely want to know about our experiences, while others only seek to dismantle whatever factual stories we bring to the discussions.

"Of the questions that seem to pop up most often, two questions are most important to this discussion; because they are invariably asked to challenge and not to learn, to tear apart a conciliatory point of view or to simply present an in- your-face argument that purports to negate anything of value we may have contributed to the discussion thus far.

"One, “…. Of course you have the right to return to Egypt, but do you want to? The Palestinians who lived in refugee camps since 1948 do! …”

"The second, a bit more cynical than the first; “… Out of curiosity, where was your loyalty? To Egypt? To Israel? What about the Lavon affair? …”
Let us address the questions in sequence. The first question can also be parsed into two inter-related topics, the first, while we have the right to go back to Egypt, do we want to?; while the second half of the question deals with the flip side of the coin that the Palestinians do want to go back."

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Israelis who cheer for Iran's football team

Jerusalem Post reporter Orly Halpern finds some recent Jewish immigrants in Israel cheering for Iran: (with thanks: Albert)

"When Iran takes on Mexico in Nuremberg on Sunday evening in its opening encounter of the 2006 World Cup, these immigrants will be watching at the homes of relatives or in their own tiny apartments, and they will be cheering for captain Ali Daei and his men.

"I think it's great they got into the World Cup," said one of them, an 18-year-old Iranian Jew who recently made aliya. "I want Iran to win."

This man immigrated along with his two older sisters more than a year ago. Recently his father, mother and youngest sister followed. All of them, with the exception of his oldest sister, who resides in Rehovot, live in Ashdod.

"The 18-year-old and one of his sisters commute together every morning to study at a preparatory school for immigrants in Tel Aviv, returning late at night. The young man hopes to pass preparatory school exams in a month and to gain admission to university.

On Sunday, he hopes he'll finish his studies early enough for the game. "If I get home in
time, I want to see it," he said. "I think most of the Iranians, here and all over the world, hope that Iran will win. Because we remember the days we were in Iran and we were happy. And so we want them to win and we'll be happy again."

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Muslim laments loss of Iraqi Jews

Rashid Al-Kayoum praises the loyalty and contribution of the Jews to Iraq, while lamenting the recent deaths of Meir Basri and Sassoon Kadourie. (Via the Lebanese website Metransparent)

Some weeks ago we saw the loss of Shaoul Sasson Khadoorie,the son of the President of the Baghdad Jewish Community,which was followed soon after by the additional loss of the intellectual Meir Basri, the last President of that same Community. The deceased remained loyal to their memories of their sojourn on the shores of the Tigris River. That was the dream of the exiles from a land in which they lived for nearly three thousand years. (Sic).

Government decrees were passed against employing Jews, and against educating their children. They were also constantly harassed into leaving their homes and their country.

The Government sided with Nazi forces against them, in particular the Istiqlal Party, which culminated in the mayhem pf the Farhood in 1941, when their homes and businesses were looted by the mob. Legislation was passed to strip them of their citizenship. Contrary to the wishes of the public, the national government had the support of the higher Moslem Clergy .

The late Mohammad Al Sadr [d.1956] the Prime Minister at the time issued decrees requiring responsible parties to distinguish between Zionists and Iraqi Jews.The Shiite leader Muhsin Al Hakeem [d.1970] and the Sunni Mufti Najm El Deen Alwaeth [d.1976] issued fatwas against giving assistance to the Iraqi Jews.The Iraqi Communist Party stood against their harassment promoting the hatred of the Jews, who had formed a committee to fight against Zionism, in 1945.

This was encouraged by the Minister of the Internal Affairs, Saad Saleh [1950]. The committee was later disbanded and its members sent to trial for ostensibly supporting the Balfour Declaration which wanted to " solve the Jewish problem by committing itself to the Zionist ideal which was to be realized at the expense of the Palestinian Arab population. It wanted more than that in its intention to invade all the Arab homeland"[Al Safi, 'our struggle against Zionism'].

The leaders of the Iraqi Jewish Community said to the representative of the British Governor who gave them the 'good' news of the Balfour declaration [1917]. " Our country is this land. We have lived in it for thousands of years. We have benefited from it and enjoyed its resources. If you wish to help this land, and to revive its economy and to help its finances, then you should not promote the emigration of the Iraqi Jewish Community. The Sharq Al Awsat periodical of 17 Elul 1999 described them as ' a strong foreign, Zionist and Iraqi force.'

After their emigration, their property was frozen, and Palestinian refugees were allowed to use the abandoned Jewish homes, which was managed by Meir Basri in order to help them. He fulfilled his duty by continuing the supply of water and electricity to these homes. Is spite of all that happened, his position remained secure.To show again the difference of the Iraqi Jews, some of them displayed the picture of the Palestinian actor Naji al Ali in their offices in London to emphasize that not all Jews are Zionists.

"The real beneficiary of the expulsion of the Jews of Iraq was Zionism itself, which used the opportunity to destabilize the Jewish Community. When the Mufti of Jerusalem, Al Haj Amin Al Husseini [d.1975] stated that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' at the wrong occason as he got involved with Palestinian and Syrian teachers in Baghdad, and encouraging the robbing of Jews and promoted their hatred [reminders of Meir Basri [95] and Shaul Khadoorie [91] tried to prevent calamities by staying in their respective positions in Baghdad, which they did into the seventies, but calamities descended on them by the hanging of Jewish detainees in public in Baghdad, on which occasion the periodical Al Thawra published the heading 'Execution of a new batch of spies, and hanging their bodies in Independence Square.'

The group included Jews, Christians and Moslems. Two were imprisoned, Shaul Naji in the Nihaya Palace, and Meir Basri in the directorate of Public Security. The lawyer Anwar Shaul tried to get Basri freed by calling on the help of a friend, Mustapha Jawad, who did not acknowledge the friendship in such stressful times.(...)

We will never know why the Republican Authorities asked for the garments of the Hakam Sassoon Khadoorie after his death [1971]which were delivered by his grandson, Zuhair Shaul, contrary to tradition, in the era of the Baath Party. The day of the funeral of the Hakham was well attended in Baghdad, which was probably done to improve the local image in the world, after the hangings and the expulsions.

After the death of King Faisal l, the general attitude towards the Jews of Iraq deteriorated, until this attitude was reversed by Abd AlKarim Kassem who was an Iraqi free from racial and religious hatreds, who revoked all discriminatory decrees, including the loss of citizenship imposed upon the Jews, at which Meir Basri said "the Jews can enjoy all their religious and other rights "[From the shores of the Tigris to those of the Thames].Discrimination returned after power was assumed by Abd Al Salam Aref and the Baath Party.

There were not many Fatwas against the Jews of Baghad, who lived a comfortable life in a mixed society. A neighbour did not enquire about the religious affiliation of his neighbour. The Jews worked in all fields, including the army and the police, including the ministerial level.

Thanks to them Iraq benefited, when the Minister of Finance Sassoon Heskel [d.1932] insisted that Iraq retaines a position of partner in the development of its petroleum resources, and the royalties were to be paid in gold bullion which established a stable income to the country. Israel benefited from their immigration. Al Masoudi remembered that the Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb relied on an ancestor of Basri and Khadouri whom he sent on a mission to the exterior of the country said 'he was a Jew of golden value'.

Moslem Iraqis, among them turbaned gentlemen, resident in London came to pay respect to Basri, and quoted Arabic sayings, a language that continued to be used by Basri, Khadoorie, Nakkash, Sumaikh, Paulus and others. Moslems were present under appreciative looks of men and women. All these memories reminded people of the saying of Jamil Sudki Al Zahawi [d 1936]:"The Christians and the Jews lived in the area, and the Moslems, and they were all brothers."

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Iranian senior adviser calls Jews 'filthy'

A senior aide to Iranian president says Jews have been accused of spreading deadly plagues throughout history because they are filthy, according to Y-net News. (With thanks: Albert)

He said that as long as Israel exists, 'there will never be peace and security in Middle East'.

"Jews are filthy people, and that is why they have been accused throughout history of spreading deadly disease and plagues", President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s advisor Mohammad Ali Ramin told students during a visit at the town of Rasht, the Iranian news site Rooz Online reported Thursday.

Ramin, a historian who serves as the president's most senior aide, is believed to be the man behind the regime's recent statements that the Holocaust is a myth.

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Two Uzbek Jews murdered

(Taskhkent): The secretary of the chief rabbi of Uzbekistan and her mother have been found murdered, Y-net News reports.

The Uzbek Jewish community believes Karina Rivka Loiper and her mother Svetlana, who were found murdered in their apartment, were killed for 'nationalistic motives'.

The 20-year-old secretary of the Chief Rabbi of Central Asia, Karina Rivka Loiper, and her mother Svetlana Loiper were found dead Thursday in their Tashkent apartment. (...)

On Thursday night President of the Union of Jewish Communities of former soviet countries, Lev Leviev, demanded Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov order an intensive investigation to find the murderers. Leviev refused to be satisfied with the estimation that the murders were criminally motivated.

This is not the first time members of Tashkent’s Jewish community, which numbers some 30,000, have been targeted. In July 2004 the Islamic Jihad attacked Jewish sites in the city, including the Israeli embassy. In that attack two Uzbek workers and a police officer were killed. In May 2005 a man wearing an unseasonably long overcoat was shot to death by police after he approached the Israeli embassy yelling “Allahu Akbar.” A dummy bomb was found on his body. In February 2006 Avraham Hacohen Yagodiev, one of the leaders of the Jewish community, was murdered in the Tashkent market.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Farhud grew out of Arab Nazi sympathies

This comment piece by Abraham H Miller appeared last week in the Contra Costa Times to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Farhud massacre, which killed around 170 Iraqi Jews (with thanks: Monique).

"When the dispossession of Iraqi Jews is discussed, it is mistakenly attributed to events growing out of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

"Even Dr. Amir Araim, an Iraqi scholar and respected member of the Contra Costa Interfaith Community, writing in the May/June issue of the local interfaith newsletter "Ministering Together," makes a similar error -- ignoring that the Farhud occurred a full seven years before the Arab/Israeli war and eight years before there was a single Palestinian refugee.

"The Farhud was an outgrowth of the spread of Nazi sympathies within the Arab world. Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Islamic religious leader of Jerusalem, came to Iraq in 1939 to assist in staging a coup by a group of Iraqi Nazis known as the Golden Square.

"A vicious anti-Semite, the Mufti used Nazi propaganda techniques to make Iraqi Jews a scapegoat for unifying pro-Nazi sympathies.

"When the coup failed in 1941, the Mufti fled to Berlin where he spent the war years as the personal guest of SS Chief Henrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler.

"Although the Mufti was only in Iraq for a few years, he laid the foundations for marginalizing Iraq's Jews as "enemies of the state."

"The United Nations has passed hundreds of resolutions commemorating the tragedy of Palestinian refugees. Yet, to date, the U.N. has passed not one on behalf of the Mizrachim and Sephardim refugees of the Middle East and North Africa.

"Here in California, the California Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance at Chico State University and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust have recently recognized the Farhud as another act of Nazi aggression, albeit Iraqi Nazis.

"On Thursday, Arab and North African Jews, especially here in California, will begin to see that their tragedy is also becoming part of the world's acknowledgment of the evils of racism."

Article reprinted here

How the authorities harassed Iraqi Jews after 1948

This extract from Nissim Rejwan's memoir The last Jews in Baghdad (University of Texas Press, 2004) casts light on the systematic harassment of the Jewish community after the 1948 war, when Israelis inflicted a humiliating defeat on seven Arab armies, including a contingent from Iraq.

"The authorities soon penalised the whole of the community in various devious ways. No Jew who had even been involved in 'politics' of any kind was immune to one or another of the variety of rough and arbitrary harassments practised by the police and the makeshift military tribunals. One glaring example, incredbile for sheer transparency, was the way in which active anti-Zionist Jews were apprehended, brought to trial and convicted on charges of Zionist activities.

(..) "leading members were actually prosecuted and imprisoned (..) and it did not take the authorities much time or trouble to prove they were leading members of the Communist party. They duly joined their Muslim comrades for long terms in jail. The anti-Jewish operation, which sometimes looked like a form of revenge the Iraqis were taking for the humiliation their forces suffered at the hands of the Zionists, was waged mainly on the following 'fronts':

Employment: practically all Jewish government employees were given the sack - together with those working for state companies, certain foreign establishments in which the government had obvious interests, and banks, both local and foreign, who simply took the hint.

Trade and commerce: business licences, permits for exports and imports, foreign currency transactions, and all other business transactions that needed official approval were denied to Jews.

Censorship: At some date following the adoption of the Palestine Partition Plan the post office stopped delivering letters coming from Palestine. Later, when the wave of harassment and trials began, the accumulated sacks were opened and all Jewish addressees were summoned to the CID building individually. Without exception they were charged with 'contacting the enemy' and invariably sentenced to imprisonment or a high fine. The Security forces also had a look into their records and located Jews who had visited or stayed in Palestine at some earlier date - and these too were summoned and in may cases similarly tried and sentenced.

Students: Jewish students and high school pupils who had ever been caught taking part - or in any other way involved - in demonstrations were subjected to harassment and trial. Usually this took the form of search warrants which the police brought with them to the house of the 'suspect' and on the strength of which a search was conducted, the person in question taken for further investigation, and then a trial was staged in which no one was ever on record as having been acquitted. Evidence or no evidence, the person in question was almost invariably sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of two thousand Iraqi dinars - then the equivalent of two thousand pounds or $8,000, and a lot of money by any prevailing standard. One had the distinct impression at the time that, were they not quite certain that the Jews would somehow find the money to pay the fines rather than go to jail, the courts would never have passed so many prison sentences. There were simply not enough prisons to accommodate them all.

"On the strictly factual level, these measures notwithstanding, it was ultimately the pressure exerted by the Jews themselves, encouraged and led by the Zionist movements, and the fact that the borders had been forced open - often with the help of high security offcials who were not above accepting bribes - that finally forced the hand of the authorities. Once they were allowed to leave Iraq, the Jews showed an eagerness to leave Iraq that surprised both the Iraqi and Israeli authorities."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Too old, sick or poor to leave Iran

There is no organised effort to get Jews out of Iran, but Jews in the US are standing by to help those who wish to leave, reports Rachel Silverman in JTA News (With thanks: Albert)

What is life - and Jewish life - like for these Iranian Jews? How do they reconcile their dual identities? And why do they choose to stay in a land that, at least from an outsiders perspective, appears increasingly inhospitable?

History, in part, holds the answer to these questions.

Iranian Jews have lived in the region for more than 2,700 years. During that time, they've survived waves of forced conversion, anti-Semitic propaganda, derogatory dress codes and economic, legal and social persecution.

But there have also been times when they flourished, like they did under the pro-Western regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who ruled until the Islamists took over in the late 1970s.

Indeed, some 100,000 Jews lived in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution prompted an exodus.

Through these ebbs and flows, Iranian Jews have learned that oppressors, no matter how tyrannical, are only temporary masters.

For this reason, as George Haroonian, a community activist in Los Angeles put it, Iranian Jews tend to think of the current anti-Semitic, anti-Israel climate as only 'a temporary disruption in the long centuries of the relationship between Jews and Iranians.'

'These people know this government will vanish, but Israel will stay and Iran will stay,' Haroonian, who runs a magazine for Iranian Jewish emigres, said. 'We have to think of it in those terms.'

For many Iranian Jews, that means making their peace and carrying on.

'Right now, the situation is like a calm before a storm,' said Frank Nikbakht, the former public affairs director of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations. 'The problem is as long as the situation seems to be normal, it's very difficult to ask somebody to pack up and leave a country they've lived in for hundreds of generations.'

But there have been occasional anti-Semitic outbursts during the past decade or so.

In 1999, 13 Iranian Jews were accused of spying for Israel, and 10 were imprisoned. Though all were released by 2002, the incident sent shockwaves throughout Iran's Jewish community.

During that period, reports also rose about 11 others who went missing between 1994 and 1997. Haroonian said that Iranian American Jews are 'very much still following the issue,' since 'the Iranian government has not given straight answers of what happened to these people.'

In other ways, too, the situation for Iranian Jews is difficult.

Anti-Semitic propaganda is pervasive, say those interviewed for this article, and Jewish citizens have been stripped of many rights, such as their ability to provide testimony in court or hold a position superior to that of a Muslim.

Things have gotten so bad that several weeks ago, reports that Iran would be enacting a law mandating a Nazi-like uniform for Jews was widely believed in the West. That report, however, proved to be false.

To cope with their lack of freedoms, Jews in Iran have mastered the art of separating their private lives from their public ones.

Outwardly, Iranian Jews do their best to blend in and stay quiet.

'In order to be as safe as possible, you must hide most of your feelings,' Nikbakht explained. 'You keep a low profile and agree to the government position, whatever it is.'

Haroonian concurred. 'Many Jews have sort of accepted, internalized the idea of being inferior to the majority Muslims. It's the relationship of, You do your thing and I'll do my thing and we don't step over the lines.'

Iranian Jews, at least publicly, often mask their affiliations with both Judaism and Zionism. (...)

When an Iranian Jewish dance troupe traveled to Russia recently, several members refused to eat pieces of cake decorated with the Israeli flag.

And members of the community keep mezuzot on the inside of their doors instead of the outside.

What happens inside those houses is another story, however. (...)

Still, practising Judaism under the current regime has proved difficult. State law forces Jewish schools to remain open on the Sabbath, and specifies that Hebrew lessons are not permitted outside prayer time.

Schools are required to have Muslim principals, since Jews must occupy subordinate positions at all times, and prayer books are printed in Farsi instead of Hebrew, as a means of controlling what is studied.

These obstacles, perhaps, also account for the slow trickle of Jews out of Iran.

The Hebrew Immigration Aid Society holds a contract with the U.S. State Department to operate an immigration center in Vienna, where Iranian Jews are detained until they can enter the U.S. Refugee Program and emigrate. Statistics provided by the organization show that about 200 Iranian Jews were resettled in 2004, and about 300 in 2005.

Haroonian reported that relatives in the United States are 'giving messages to their families saying, 'think about your future, the future of your young kids.''

Many Jews in Iran are dismissive, he said.

'When they hear about assimilation and divorce rates here, and security issues in Israel, so many choose to stay,' Haroonian said. 'They think it's not very rosy here either.'

But Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Federation, pointed to other, more pragmatic reasons for staying put: Many are too old, or too sick to leave.

'Those who remain to a large extent would have a more difficult time adjusting to life in a different country,' he said.

He added that others may not have the financial means to leave.

But unless Iranian Jews speak up, agencies in a position to help them will continue to receive mixed messages.

'We certainly have noted with concern the flow of new stories of problems and statements by the government, ' Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS, said. 'But we really do leave it to the people on the ground to assess their own circumstances.'

Nikbakht reiterated this claim.

'Most of the Jewish organizations outside the country have made it clear to relatives or co-reglionists in Iran that whenever they want to leave, the Jews outside the country are ready to help them,' he said. 'Beyond that, there is no large-scale, organized effort to get them out. All we're doing is telling them, if you want to get out, we're ready to help you.'

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