Saturday, September 30, 2006

US Senator discovers Tunisian-Jewish link

US Senator George Allen did not know until recently that his mother was Jewish - not only Jewish, but Tunisian-Jewish. Haaretz reports:

"The new book by Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, enjoyed a moment of unexpected relevance this week. Before it even reached the bookstores - the book, which deals with what befell North African Jewry during the Holocaust, is scheduled for publication in about a month - the author was asked to comment urgently on the history of the Lumbrosos, a Tunisian family, in the period of the Nazi occupation. It turns out, incredibly, that one of the family's descendants is currently a United States senator.

(...)"Thanks to information from the Lumbroso group," writes Jacques Sabille, no fewer than 17 German transport planes were destroyed. Sabille wrote the authoritative 1954 book "The Jews of Tunisia Under Vichy and the Occupation," which Satloff quotes. Sylvain Lumbroso, who established the group of Tunisian Jewish insurgents, received a medal for his action.

"Sen. Allen's maternal grandfather, Felix Lumbroso, was arrested and held by the Germans, but he survived. Satloff does not know his exact relationship to Sylvain Lumbroso, the war hero, as he explained this week in writing about the family, but he believes there is a "high probability" they were related. The Lumbrosos are an important family of Jewish leaders in Tunisia."

Read article in full

More on the Lumbroso family in The Forward

Hear no evil, see no evil

This report by Larry Derfner of the Jerusalem Post seems to contradict Wikas' account immediately following. The Iranian Jews have 'never had it so good' economically, and are so impervious to the antisemitism around them that they believe they can work through anything. (With thanks: Albert).

"In telephone interviews with Kamran, Shahnaz and other former Iranian Jews, a picture emerges of a 2,000-year-old community that has become so steeped in denial since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and so adept at walking between the raindrops, that they believe they can keep on maneuvering even through the Ahmadinejad era - which has brought a little more rain their way, but not, after all, that much more.

"In fact, except for the few recent anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist incidents ... , life for Iran's Jews has not changed substantially for the worse with the new president, even though outsiders assume that his Israel-hating, Holocaust-denying obsessions have the community panicked, as if a noose is closing around its neck.

"Shahnaz even sees economic signs that Iran's Jews, or rather its middle-aged and elderly Jews, are planning more decisively than before to live out their lives in Iran, possibly as a result of the economic growth brought on by sky-high oil prices."

Read article in full


Friday, September 29, 2006

Everyone wants to leave Tehran

The Jerusalem Post sent Seth Wikas to Tehran. Here's a taster of what he saw and heard (You can read the full article here):

"For many older people like my host Fayzlallah Saketkhoo, the vice president of Teheran's Jewish Association, Iran is simply their home. As the owner of a successful carpet and souvenir shop, Saketkhoo has provided well for his three children, and devotes a good deal of time to Jewish Association activities. At his home on Friday night after services, where he showed me his collection of Kabbala books and a large tapestry of Moses splitting the sea, he told me about how he had traveled around the world only to learn that nothing was better than home.

"Asked about the future of the Iranian Jewish community, he replied: "Did you see how many children were there tonight?"

"He was right. It was hard to concentrate on praying in the synagogue, where at least 300 people had come, because of all the children running up and down the aisles and chattering outside.

"But there is a difference between children and young adults. Peyman, Saketkhoo's 27-year-old son, was fond of saying, "Everyone in Iran has a problem," meaning that everyone - Jewish and non-Jewish - wants to leave.

"It's not just the political situation, he said, but the fact that with the rise of Ahmadinejad, the economic situation has worsened and poverty has deepened. For college graduates, it is hard to find jobs in their field; Peyman is an architect by training but works in his father's shop. As he and other young Iranians attest, both the political and the economic situation are getting harder to bear."

Read article in full

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Origins and history of the Jews of Yemen

The Yemenite Golus (galut - exile) is possibly the most exotic story in the annals of Jewish history. The first question that comes to mind is: How -- and why -- did Jews get to such a backwater as Yemen?

Nehama C Nahmoud wrote a series of four articles in 1997 - 98 for the Jewish World Review about the origins and treatment of the Jews of Yemen.

You can read Part I here, Part II on the Jewish kings of Yemen here, and Part III on the Muslim period here. (Nahmoud wrote a Part IV but it does not seem to be posted on the Internet.)

With thanks: Albert

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Harif launches autumn programme


Harif, a UK association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, is launching its autumn programme with a showing of two films by the Israeli director of Iraqi-Jewish origin, Duki Dror.

The films, which will be screened on 25 October, deal respectively with Dror's own search for roots (My Fantasia) and the ambivalence of being a Vietnamese living in Israel (The journey of Vaan Nguyen). A discussion with the director himself will follow.

This year happens to be the 65th anniversary of the Farhoud, the pogrom which killed around 180 Iraqi Jews in 1941. It is also 2,600 years since Jews first settled in Babylon. Planned for November will be two evenings with the Iraqi-born broadcaster, Salim Fattal, who will be screening and discussing a documentary he made for Israeli TV on Iraqi Jewry.

Professor Ephraim Karsh of King's College and author of a new book on the subject, will talk about the impact of Islamic imperialism on the Jews.

The programme, which is being run jointly with Spiro Ark, concludes with a Forum on Iraq's minorities. Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrian Christians, Jews and Mandaeans will discuss whether the new Iraq will be safe for them.

The Harif programme coincides with an international campaign for rights and redress of Jews from Arab countries led by JJAC. Each family is urged to register online and record its story and any lost assets.

Last November, Harif - which was started in May 2005 - held a successful Jews from Arab Countries Week. Among the highlights was a lecture by Bat Ye'or, a Moroccan Henna and the premiere of the David Project's film, The forgotten refugees.

Photo: scene from
'My Fantasia'

Jewish versus Palestinian 'refugees'

A letter published in today's Independent. Scroll down to 'Humane solution for Palestinians'.


Sir: Dr F H Mikdadi (letter, 26 September) finds it "unbelievably arrogant" to suggest, as Professor Brian Reuben (letter, 20 September) does, that Arab states should spend just a fraction of their vast oil wealth resettling their Palestinian compatriots. In fact, Professor Reuben's is the only realistic and humane solution.

In the 1950s virtually the entire Jewish community of Iraq was expelled from a homeland they had lived in for 2,600 years. Their assets were frozen and they were allowed to take with them only three summer and three winter suits, one pair of shoes, a blanket, six pairs of underwear, socks and sheets, one wedding ring, a wristwatch and a thin bracelet. Some spent up to 12 years living in tent camps in Israel. But none would still describe themselves as refugees.

Face it, Dr Mikdadi, history is cruel. Millions of Hindus fled Pakistan; millions of Pakistanis left India. Greeks fled Turkey and Turkish refugees fled Greece. Almost a million Jews fled Arab countries. The tragedy of the displaced Palestinian Arabs is not unique. The world should find it supremely unnatural, and an obscene exploitation of human beings for political purposes, that Palestinian "refugees" should still exist four generations later.

LYN JULIUS, London

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Relatives still hope their imprisoned sons are alive

Some of the personal stories behind the move by seven Iranian families to sue ex-president Khatami for the disappearance and torture of their relatives. (With thanks: Albert)

"Before Youssef and Elana Tehrani flew from Iran to Austria, they entrusted their eldest son to smugglers who would transport him into Pakistan.

"Babak Tehrani was 16 and evading military service so he couldn't travel freely out of Iran. He expected to meet up with his parents and two brothers in Vienna, then travel with them to Los Angeles, where he would continue his studies and become a doctor.

"That was in 1994, and the Tehranis haven't seen him since.

"They are convinced their son was arrested and tortured as he tried to emigrate illegally through the flat desert near Zahedan. A former neighbor has testified he saw Babak in a notorious prison in Tehran, giving them hope he is alive.

"Imagine going 12 years not knowing where your son is - no news, no letters," Elana Tehrani said, brewing Persian tea in her Westside apartment. "How would you feel if you were in my situation?"

"This month, the Tehranis and six Iranian Jewish families living in Israel filed suit against former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, whom they hold responsible for the disappearance of 12 Iranian Jews between 1994 and 1997.

"Relatives believe the men, ages 15 to 60 when they disappeared, have been secretly incarcerated and tortured.

"It's a last hope," said Siamak Tehrani, the middle son, who was 14 when Babak vanished. "We've knocked on every door hoping one would work."



Read article in full

Blogger documents Tehran Jewish gravestones

Kudos to the son of David Ben Babae, who two-and-a-half years ago went to Tehran's Beheshtieh Jewish cemetery meticulously to document the gravestones. (Via Jewish +/- Irani , with thanks: Albert). Ben Babae Junior has now posted all his photographs on this website.

You will notice that some of the gravestones are broken up or in a state of disrepair while others are well tended.

The website makes a reference to 60 'Holocaust victims' buried at Beheshtieh. In fact these seem to have been Polish Jews en route to Palestine through Iran, or imprisoned in Tehran by the Russians, who died in a typhoid epidemic in 1942.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Novel inspired by 1840 Damascus blood libel

For the Independent, Moris Farhi reviews Aron Hilu's new novel Death of a Monk, translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg.

"Death of a Monk is a fictionalised account of the historical event known as "the Damascus Affair". Though Hilu has altered some facts - another family, the Hararis, were accused of killing (the monk) Tomaso while the Farhis were charged with killing the monk's servant - he remains faithful to events. (...)

"Yet, for this reviewer at least, the neglect of the affair's historical context and repercussions in favour of (the main protagonist Aslan Farhi) 's fantasies diminishes the potential power of the novel. The blood libel, following its first occurrence in Norwich in 1144 and despite Innocent IV's repudiation of it in 1247, caused enormous suffering to Jews. The accusation is rife even today in such countries as Syria, Iran and Russia.

"Paradoxically, the Damascus Affair proved to be a watershed. Its eruption in a Muslim country, in relatively modern times, served to unite the Diaspora Jews against the murderous prejudice they endured. This, in the first instance, ensured the release of the accused Jews. But it also led to the creation of such organisations as the Alliance Israélite Universelle and, indeed, of the Zionist movement."

Read article in full

Sunday, September 24, 2006

BBC's Newsnight reports on Jews of Iran

The BBC's Newsnight programme carried a report on Iran's Jews recently. You can watch it here (click on 'Special reports)

The TV report, by Frances Harrison, is generally more balanced than the article on the same subject that appeared on the BBC website (Here, *with thanks: Albert).

A Jew complains that as a child he had to avoid brushing against Muslims in the rain - reflecting the age-old Shi'ite prejudice that Jews are unclean. Moshe Katzav, the Iran-born president of Israel (who has a surprisingly youthful red-haired mother) says he would love to revisit his place of birth, Yazd. Jewish families still living in the city complain that family occasions just aren't as jolly as they used to be now that the community has dwindled to just a few people. The Jews have been prevented from building a wall to protect the cemetery. The report also reveals that that there were two violent incidents against the Jewish community in Shiraz and Tehran during the Hezbollah war after an Iranian newspaper falsely claimed that Jews in Iranian synagogues were waving Israeli flags.

*Frances Harrison's article is ably 'fisked' on the weblog 'Biased BBC' (Tuesday 26 September entry).



Friday, September 22, 2006

The Rosh Hashana seder, Persian style


The Jewish Ledger explores the peculiarly Sephardi tradition of the New Year seder. (With thanks: Albert)

"I've yet to have fewer than 20 people at my house for seder,” says Diana Gould, a Stamford-based realtor of Persian descent. Gould isn't referring to Passover, but to Rosh Hashanah. Persian Jews, like all Sephardim, mark the two nights of the holiday with large seders, surrounded by family and friends.

An ancient tradition mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, the seder gradually fell out of practice in many Ashkenazic communities, but has remained a Sephardic tradition. Participants recite prayers over several symbolic foods, thought to bring special blessings and protection in the new year. Each prayer begins with “Yehi ratzon,” “May it be Your will,” and relates either to the taste, name, shape, or characteristic of the food. Gould uses a cut-and-pasted booklet for the seder, with prayers in Hebrew, English, and Farsi.

She lists the ritual foods that adorn her seder table every Rosh Hashanah, blessed in this order:

Apple and honey; Chives (or leeks); Zucchini; Kidney beans or black-eyed peas; Beef tongue (traditionally, meat from a sheep’s head); Meringue; Beetroot; Dates; Pomegranate.

Symbolic foods may vary slightly from table to table, depending on the diaspora community Persian Jewish find themselves in. Gould’s meringue is actually her own invention, a modern stand-in for the traditional sheep’s lungs used at the seder of yore. The point, Gould says, is to have a food that represents airiness when the prayer is recited: “May it be Your will…that our sins be as light as lungs.”

While the symbolism of some of the foods may be obvious - apples and honey for a sweet year; pomegranate and beans for profusion - others are included because of word associations between their names in Hebrew or Aramaic, and their related prayers. For example, in Hebrew the date is called tamar. The blessing said over the date at the seder, using the word yitammoo, asks that evildoers be done away with. The root of yitammoo is tam, directly taken from tamar.

The blessings over chives and beets make the same request, also based on wordplay. Zucchini symbolizes a public recognition of good deeds and a “ripping up” of bad. (“Kra” in Hebrew means zucchini, but is also the root for “read” and “rip.”) Meat from the head of a cow or sheep represents intelligence or scholarly pursuits.

Read article in full



Shana Tova 5767 to all readers ...

Israel urges Tajikistan to protect synagogue

The governments of Israel and the United States have both condemned two recent attacks on the last remaining synagogue in Tajikistan and are pressing Tajik authorities to do more to ensure the site's security, according to the Jerusalem Post.

As first reported in Monday's Jerusalem Post, the synagogue in Dushanbe, capital of the small Central Asian nation, was the target of a firebomb attack last Wednesday, when two youths hurled a Molotov cocktail into the building's courtyard.

Read article in full

'We have no problem with people - just Zionists '

The Washington Post reports on Iranian President Ahmadinejad's news conference in New York: (with thanks: Albert)

"We love everyone around the world. Jews, Christians, Muslims, non-Muslims, non-Jews, non-Christians -- we have no problem with people," (president Ahmadinejad) told a news conference on the sidelines of a U.N. General Assembly meeting.

"Zionists are Zionists, period. They are not Jews, they are not Christians, and they are not Muslims," he said. "They are a power group, a power party, and we oppose the oppression and the aggression that any party that seeks pure raw power goes after."

Zionism is the name of the movement to establish a Jewish homeland that led to the creation of the state of Israel nearly 60 years ago. Ahmadinejad says he favors a return of Palestinians to the land now called Israel, and a referendum "with the participation of everyone" to determine its fate.

Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, dismissed the president's distinction between Jews and Zionists.

"Ahmadinejad's desire to rid the world of Israel is the transference of the classical bigoted treatment of the Jew to the state of the Jews," she said. "There is an inextricable historic Jewish connection with the land of Israel. As Martin Luther King said, 'When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews."'

Read article in full

It's time for Iranian Jews to speak out

The Jewish Journal of LA reports that the lawsuit served on ex-president Khatami by the families of 12 missing Iranian Jews indicates that the time for silent diplomacy has passed; public pressure must be brought to bear on the Iranian regime (with thanks: Albert).

In a rare display of unity, a variety of groups within the local Persian Jewish community have joined to voice support for a lawsuit filed against former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Sept. 9 by seven Persian Jewish families in Los Angeles and Israel. The suit holds Khatami responsible for the arrests and disappearance of their loved ones more than 10 years ago.

Filed in New York District Court under special U.S. laws that permit non-U.S. citizens to sue their oppressors in U.S. courts, the suit alleges that Khatami authorized the arrest and indefinite imprisonment of Persian Jews during his administration. It states that between 1994 and 1997, 12 Persian Jews were arrested by the Iranian secret police while attempting to flee from southwestern Iran into Pakistan. They have not been heard from since.

The most surprising show of public support for the victims' families suit came from the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), an umbrella organization for more than a dozen local Persian Jewish groups. For the past 12 years, IAJF representatives have pursued quiet diplomacy with various governments and human rights groups to help free the 12 missing Iranian Jews, avoiding creating a public campaign.

A statement released by the IAJF voiced support for the suit: "Our entire community is united in demanding the immediate release of these individuals and will support any legal and moral course of action that their families may choose to pursue."

Activists in the Persian Jewish community long have been at odds with the IAJF and other local Persian Jewish leaders who have advocated minimizing criticism of Teheran's regime out of fear of retributions against the roughly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

Some local Persian Jewish leaders applauded the suit as a step to dispel the image of Khatami in the West as a moderate leader.

Khatami "is a representative of an evil regime," said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. "During his tenure, more newspapers were forced to shut down, and more opposition leaders were assassinated abroad than before."

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney for the victims' families in Israel, said the suit targets Khatami personally, and they expect to be able to collect on any judgment the court might renders in their favor because of Terror Risk Insurance Act from 2002 that permits U.S. terror victims to be paid with frozen assets of terror sponsoring states.

"As such he'll probably default the case and try to ignore it," Darshan-Leitner said. "But slowly he'll begin to understand that these types of cases have a very long shelf life, and they cannot be ignored."

Darshan-Leitner said she is also involved in a case pending in Chicago against the Iranian government that for the first time has forced the regime to hire its own American attorneys and litigate its rights in a U.S. court. Likewise in December 2005, she was involved in an effort to attach Italian bank accounts with more than $600 million belonging to the National Oil Company of Iran.

"The Islamic Republic was trying to ignore the legal proceedings in Chicago and in Rome. Now they aren't laughing so loud," Darhsan-Leitner said. "Khatami might be able to hide in Iran and the Third World, but Mr. Moderate Reformer is going to have a hard time traveling and owning assets in civilized western nations that recognize U.S. court judgments." (...)


Local Iranian Jews say it's time finally to speak out.

"Sometimes you have to use diplomacy," said Frank Nikbakht, a Los Angeles activist who has worked on the case of the missing 12 for the last six years. "But for this case, because the Iranian government has been lying to the prisoners' families for so many years and promising to release them, we believe the time has long passed for silent diplomacy, and we have to use all sorts of public pressure on the Iranian government."

In 2000, with the assistance of various American Jewish groups, the local Iranian Jewish community was able to publicize the case of 13 Iranian Jews from the city of Shiraz who were imprisoned in 1999 on fabricated charges of spying for Israel. Ultimately the international exposure put pressure on the Iranian regime, and the "Shiraz 13" were eventually released.

Nikbakht said he and other activists attempted to bring the case of the other 12 missing Iranian Jews to public light in 2000, but were blocked from doing so by the American Jewish leadership.

"We wanted to bring out this case of these 12 prisoners, along with the case of the Shiraz prisoners, but many American Jewish organizations strongly disapproved of this approach, so we couldn't go ahead with it," Nikbakht said. "We thought that once we had the attention of the world we should have linked these two issues and solved them together."

According to a 2004 report prepared by Nikbakht, the Jewish community in Iran lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from terrorist Islamic factions. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews have been murdered or assassinated by the regime's agents, at least two Jews died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Yousefabad synagogue in Tehran, was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, according to the report.

Representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls for comment.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Israel 'caught training Iraqi Kurds'

This article from the BBC website reports 'Arab and Muslim outrage' that the Israelis could be giving military training to Iraqi Kurds. In fact cooperation between Israel and the Kurds goes back to the 1960s, and the Kurds helped smuggle out thousands of persecuted Iraqi Jews.

"The BBC has obtained evidence that Israelis have been giving military training to Kurds in northern Iraq.A report on the BBC TV programme Newsnight showed Israeli experts in Kurdish areas of north Iraq, drilling soldiers in shooting techniques. Kurdish officials have refused to comment on the report and Israel has denied it knows of any involvement. The revelation is set to cause enormous problems for the Kurds, not only in Iraq but also in the wider region. Inside Iraq as well as in the wider region Israel is seen as an enemy of Arabs and Muslims.

Kurdish politicians will most likely come under pressure to explain what their semi-autonomous government has been up too. Israeli security experts who spoke to the BBC said they could not have worked inside Kurdistan without the knowledge of the Kurdish authorities. "

Read article in full

Canadians promote Jewish refugee registration

Canadian Jewish News reports (with thanks:Albert):

"A new online registration program has been launched by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) as part of an International Rights and Redress Campaign that will be launched in November in Jewish communities worldwide.

"Stan Urman, the executive director of JJAC, which was founded in 2002, said the campaign is an attempt to bring the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries into the international political agenda.

“Clearly, when the world speaks of Middle Eastern refugees, they refer to Palestinians. Less known is the fact that there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries than there were Palestinians, who [both] became refugees as a result of the creation of the State of Israel,” Urman said.

"According to the American Sephardi Association, a partner of JJAC, discrimination against Jews increased after the creation of Israel in 1948, and Jews living in Arab countries were abused, discriminated against, persecuted and murdered, and their property was seized without compensation.

“We believe that the first injustice was the mass violation [of the rights] of Jews in Arab countries. Today, it would constitute a second injustice to allow the international community to recognize rights of one victim population, Palestinians, without also recognizing rights of another victim population of the very same conflict, Jews who were displaced from Arab countries,” Urman said.

"Components of the campaign include public education, the documentation of the 2,500-year history of Sephardi Jews who have settled in other countries, and to catalogue their loses, both individual and communal.

"Although he is a Montreal-born Ashkenazi, Urman said he devotes his time to this cause because “it’s right. It is important for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

"Last May, JJAC submitted a resolution to the U.S. Congress that would call on government officials to refer to both Palestinian and Jewish refugees when talking about Middle Eastern refugees.

"Urman said the resolution may not pass this session in light of the “Jewish community’s efforts to ensure strong representation for the needs of the government of Israel in the aftermath of the Lebanese war.

“The timing wasn’t the best, because we have to focus our efforts on the needs of Israel and this takes precedent over all resolutions.”

"Urman added that if it doesn’t pass in this congressional session, it will be immediately reintroduced to the next one."

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

US hails Morocco for 'religious tolerance'

Washington, Sep. 18 - US Department of State hailed Morocco's efforts aiming to promote the values of tolerance and dialogue between religions, highlighting the religious freedom and the friendly bonds between the various faiths in the Moroccan society.
Morocco continues to promote tolerance, respect and dialogue between the various faiths, said the US State Department in its annual International Religious Freedom Report, published on Friday.

The report, which notes that the Constitution provides for freedom of religion and that non-Muslim communities openly practice their faith, underlined that during the Holy month of Ramadan, King Mohammed VI chairs religious lectures that discuss, inter alia, "means to promote tolerance and mutual respect in Islam and between Islam and other religions."

For the third year in a row, a woman gave one of these religious lectures, pointed out the report, adding that a woman is member of the Higher Council of Ulemas (scholars) and that Morocco is the only Arab country where there is a Jewish museum (wow! ed).

Read article in full

(Forgive my cynicism, but a Jewish community that has been allowed to dwindle from 350,000 to under 5,000 in 50 years is proof of anything but tolerance! And the Jewish Museum sounds more like a memorial to a dying community.)


The Jews have been here before...

First they came for Salman Rushdie, then for the Danish cartoonists, and now for the Pope, say the pundits. But those who think that, following the Pope's controversial Regensburg speech, the venting of Muslim fury is something new - are mistaken. In fact vengeful reactions in the Muslim world have, sadly, a long pedigree: defenceless Jewish communities in Arab countries had long experienced the wrath of angry mobs. Either governments were complicit in orchestrating hostility towards the Jews, or they were helpless to protect their Jews. Either way, Jewish insecurity was a prime reason for getting out.

Those who were surprised that Greek orthodox churches were attacked in the West Bank and Gaza because of what the leader of the world's Catholics said - should not be. The subtle distinctions between one Chrstian sect and another are lost on the mob. Attempts to differentiate between Jews and Zionists, as President Ahmadinejad has tried to do in an interview with Time magazine, are equally vain.

Ali Salem, the Egyptian playwright, once told the story that an Iraqi Jewish communist named Abdullah once went to an anti-Zionist demonstration in Iraq. When he discovered that the mob had stopped chanting 'Death to the Zionists', but had changed their tune to 'Death to the Jews', he understood that there was no future for him in Iraq. He left for Israel and promptly changed his name from Abdullah to Ovadiah.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Tajikistan 's only synagogue attacked

For the second time in a month, vandals this past week attacked the last remaining synagogue in the city of Dushanbe, capital of the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan, in what is believed to have been an attempt to set the building on fire", Michael Freund of the Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Albert).

"Last Wednesday, two youths approached the synagogue and hurled a Molotov cocktail into the courtyard, which burst into flames," David Gourevich, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement's chief rabbi of Central Asia, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from neighboring Uzbekistan, where he is based.

"Two elderly Jews who were inside at the time saw the youths and began to chase them, but they managed to get away," he said, adding that local police were called but failed to intervene.

The incident marked the second time in the past month that the synagogue has come under attack, the rabbi said.

On August 18, unidentified assailants started a fire in the building and fled the scene. The flames damaged some curtains before being extinguished. The perpetrators were never caught.

"The authorities are refusing to provide protection for the site, and say that it is the Jewish community's responsibility to pay for security," Gourevich said. "But the community does not have any money to pay for guards or security on its own."

The Dushanbe synagogue garnered international attention earlier this year, when Tajik authorities announced plans to raze it in order to make way for the expansion of a presidential palace.

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

Read article in full

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Downplaying persecution makes it harder to fight

NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof, lambasted in the American Thinker recently, was not entirely to blame for downplaying Iranian antisemitism. The ex-Pentagon official he was quoting, Dov Zakheim, is equally, if not more, culpable, according to Israelnews (with thanks: Albert).

"Controversial ex-Pentagon official Dov Zakheim is drawing criticism for his statement claiming that the treatment of Iran's Jews is not as bad as some people may think.

"Zakheim, a former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense was quoted in the New York Times by columnist Nicholas Kristof saying “Iran doesn't treat its 20,000 Jews as wretchedly as its rhetoric would suggest.”

"The assessment drew fire from Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, who said, "Persecution should not be relativized – a regime's human rights record should be judged according to objective standards, not whether its behavior matches its rhetoric. If Iran persecutes its Jews, then it should be recognized as a persecutor, regardless of Teheran's level of anti-Jewish rhetoric."

"Kristof noted in his September 12 that "Iran continues to be home to more Jews than any Middle Eastern country save Israel." Medoff pointed out that the size of Iran’s Jewish community is unrelated to the treatment of its members. “In 1937,” he said, “four years after Adolf Hitler became chancellor - Germany was still home to more Jews than any other West European country."

"The Iranian Jewish community’s ability to leave the country is also not a given. The annual U.S. report on global religious freedom said that Iran’s Jews are "often are denied the multiple-exit permits normally issued to other citizens. With the exception of certain business travelers, the authorities require Jews to obtain clearance and pay additional fees before each trip abroad. The Government appears concerned about the emigration of Jewish citizens and permission generally is not granted for all members of a Jewish family to travel outside the country at the same time."

"Israeli Farsi-language radio host Menashe Amir, born in Iran, told The Scotsman newspaper that Iran’s Jews can hardly be said to live in anything resembling a free society. "Every Iranian Jew who had the financial possibility or courage has already left," he says. "While there are Jewish schools, the principals and most of the teachers are Muslim, the Bible is taught in Farsi [Persian], not in Hebrew, and the schools are forced to open on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. So while the regime declares that there is freedom of religion, it is all just for the sake of appearances."

Activists on behalf of Iranian Jewry, many of them formerly active on behalf of oppressed Soviet Jews, say Zakheim’s comments serve as a dangerous fig leaf obscuring the treatment of Iranian Jewry. Former director of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, New York activist Glenn Richter recalls similar comments made by Rev. Billy Graham upon his return from a visit to the Soviet Union in 1982. Graham had said there was more "religious freedom" in the USSR than people realized. "It made it more difficult to convince the public that Jews were being persecuted there," Richter says.

Read article in full

An article in the Evening Bulletin criticises Kristof for 'relativising' persecution (with thanks: Albert)

Alexandria's Jews: 20 women and three men

Yoav Stern of Ha'aretz reports on a Jewish community on the verge of extinction (with thanks: Lily):

ALEXANDRIA - Nabi Daniel Street was once the center of this cosmopolitan city. Elegant people dressed in clothes of every type and religion used to walk here. They made their way from the beachfront promenade, through Saad Zaghloul Square, inward to the city center - passing by the grand facades of the skyscrapers of that era, four to five stories high.

A few dozen meters back from the street, at number 69, stands the main synagogue of Alexandria, named for the prophet Elijah. It was completed in 1884, and it greatly resembles European churches of the time. All seats were filled by dues-paying members. From the dais to the back row, the dozens of seats are affixed with metal plates bearing members' names.

The array of names is staggering: Jews of Ashkenazi descent sat here alongside those born in Arab lands. Jews from throughout the world, locals and strangers, Arabic and French speakers, filled the hall on holidays. One community member, Nanda Hagar, recalls the women's section on the second floor was also filled to capacity: "My mother told me, when we came on the holidays, that we must pay or else we would not have seats," she said.

Today the congregation numbers 20 women and three men, and is headed by its eldest member, Dr. Max Salame, who is around 90. His deputy is Ben Gaon, 52, divorced with no children. The women make occasional appearances there. Some are married to Muslims; others are widowed. All their children have emigrated or else do not consider themselves part of the Jewish community. Those present plan to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with a fish dinner, accompanied by apples and honey, at the synagogue.

Hagar, like member Luli Saad, who visited the synagogue last week, are among the youngest women in the community. They were not asked their precise age, but they appear to be at least 70. With their coiffed hair and tailored suits, one could picture them living in any European city - or alternatively, in a community of Egyptian immigrants in Israel. They converse with visitors in a variety of languages. (...)

But Hagar and Saad represent a dying generation. Their parents and grandparents came here in the 19th and early 20th centuries from Europe and countries in the region. The city was in its prime then, and drew many immigrants. Things changed when Israel was founded in 1948, which created constant tension between the community and the regime that had fought to forestall it. In 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized Jewish property and revoked Jews' citizenship. Only an estimated 5 percent of the community managed to preserve its Egyptian citizenship. Many in Alexandria were left with no assets and had to leave the country. Dr. Salame, it is said, used to be the Nasser family's dentist.

Last week he received visitors at his modest office, and his deputy, Ben Gaon, served light refreshments. On the wall hung a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in his youth. The congregation was hoping for a complete minyan at the holiday prayer services, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee had decided to help, and last Thursday a JDC representative visited Alexandria with the president of the Jewish Community Council of Cairo, Carmen Weinstein. The small delegation was headed by the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen, who was joined by Israel's Consul General in Alexandria, Eli Entebi. The conversation in Dr. Salame's office was conducted in fluent French.

"I came to say Shana Tova on behalf of the government of Israel," Cohen said. Entebi promised to attend Yom Kippur services, thereby increasing to four the roster of Jewish men present on the holiday. What will be next year? "God only knows."


Read article in full

Canadian Jew helps war-torn Libyan communities

Canadian Jewish News reports on one businessman's initiative to help his fellow Libyan Jews in war-ravaged northern Israel (with thanks: Albert):

TEL AVIV — When prominent Toronto Jewish community member Walter Arbib learned of the damages to Israel’s northern communities during the Israeli/Hezbollah war, he jumped to help.

“I was mostly concerned about the children in the Libyan settlements of Moshav Dalton and Moshav Alma, which are right on the Lebanese border,” says Arbib, a Jew of Libyan descent, and CEO of the Skylink Group.

“I wanted to do whatever I could to help. I think it’s important for all Jews around the world to help Israel, not just during its times of need, but always. Even if you have to stretch yourself to help, it’s something you simply have to do.”

Israeli Jews of Libyan ancestry number around 100,000 in Israel. According to Arbib, the Libyan Jewish community in Toronto is very small, totalling only around 25 people.

This is one reason, he says, that his ties to the larger Israeli community are so strong. “We have to stick together,” says Arbib, who has long been involved in Jewish Libyan causes through the World Organization of Libyan Jews.

With help from the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the UJA in Israel, Arbib was able to aid Israel’s Libyan communities. “

In a matter of weeks, he managed to get bomb-shelter kindergarten facilities on two moshavim – which each service an estimated 120 kids – painted and furnished, and set up with air conditioning, televisions, games and toys.

“I am amazed at how much faster private initiatives can move,” says Arbib.

Arbib also donated a van to the communities to help them with transporting children to and from the kindergartens; subsidized a trip for 65 children from the communities to spend two weeks touring around Israel’s central and southern regions, to give them a break from the chaos at home; bought school uniforms and supplies for 100 Ethiopian children in a neighbouring community in preparation for the new school year; and distributed 300 iPods to soldiers who were stationed in Lebanon.

It was these soldiers who honoured Arbib on Sept. 7, at the Center for the Heritage of Libyan Jews in Or Yehuda, a suburb of Tel Aviv. There, with Likud Knesset member Silvan Shalom and the commanding officer of the Southern District of the Israeli Police, Uri Bar-Lev, attending, the soldiers presented Arbib with a plaque to thank him for his support during the war. (...)

Arbib recently donated some 100,000 shekels (about $23,000) to refurbish a wing of the museum and to create a special exhibition there about Libyan Jewry.(...)

Afterward, Arbib and his entourage headed to the two moshavim in the north. “It was surprising and terrible to see the damages to the northern part of Israel,” he says. They saw many buildings reduced to rubble and many fallen trees.

Read article in full

Friday, September 15, 2006

NYT columnist downplays antisemitism

Nicholas Kristof, who writes for the New York Times, has come in for a battering from Ed Lasky, editor of the American Thinker. (With thanks: Albert)

(In a column on 12 September called 'Starting a war' ) "he again shows his lack of concern for Jews who face the prospect of a nuclear armed-Iran run by a leadership that simultaneously denies the reality of the Holocaust and promises and boasts that they will bring about a new one as Israel is “wiped off the map”, Lasky writes." Dov Zakheim, who was under secretary of defense in Mr. Bush’s first term, recalls that fears of Pakistan’s “Islamic bomb” proved exaggerated and notes that Iran doesn’t treat its 20,000 Jews as wretchedly as its rhetoric would suggest (Iran continues to be home to more Jews than any Middle Eastern country save Israel).

"It is entirely unclear if the parenthetical comments are those of Zakheim or Kristof. This is the same regime that had an art show of cartoons celebrating or mocking the Holocaust and that spreads and promotes anti-Semitism around the world-all of which he conveniently neglects to mention. The Jews of Iran are a beleaguered minority-many have faced murder, imprisonment, blackmail, and intimidation. Many have escaped but up to 20,000 remain under dire threat. Does he care? No."


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Revealed:Shi'i Muslim behind Jews of Lebanon blog

The man behind the Jews of Lebanon weblog is a US-born Sh'ia Muslim university student named Aaron-Micael Beydoun. Beydoun recently unmasked himself in an interview titled 'Jewish brothers, come back to Lebanon' for a webzine called ResetDoc.

'Point of no return' has exposed Beydoun's blog as containing errors of fact. Beydoun admits that it has a political purpose:

"My attachment to the Lebanese Jewish community is derived foremost by my moral and humanitarian convictions and finally by my patriotic belief in the Lebanon the late Pope Jean Paul II believed in, that Lebanon "is not a country but a message".

"I believe sincerely, that if we fail to live together in Lebanon religious coexistence will fail throughout the world and the idea we have of a clash of civilizations today will only be reinforced. I believe it's the duty of the West to protect Lebanon and the message it can spread if they are truly concerned with the well-being of the world. Instead, Lebanon was left alone to bleed for decades. Its minorities emigrated and the Jewish sect in particular was destroyed. The Lebanese have a problem with tribalism, whereas normally people are loyal to their nation, in Lebanon people are more loyal to their sect.

"People are so amazed that a non-Jew, particularly a Shiite Muslim would be so compassionate and so attached to a Jewish community. But I believe we must end the ignorant tendency to blindly equate all Jews and the divine religion of Judaism to Israel (my emphasis - ed). The same way I tell non-Jews they are hypocrites for doing so, then people shouldn't be offended if people generalize and say that all Muslims are like Bin Laden or all Christians are like Hitler. This is a ridiculous trend we must help eradicate."

Isn't bracketing Israel with Bin Laden and Hitler going a little too far? Perhaps Beydoun ought to get out and meet some real Jews.

Cartoons mocking Holocaust a flop with Iranians

An exhibition of cartoons about the Holocaust, some suggesting it was fabricated or exaggerated, has been a flop in Tehran, Andy McDowall reports in The Independent (with thanks:Albert). It drew audiences of fewer than 300 a day in its first week and now, three weeks after sparking international furore when it opened, attracts just 50 people a day.(...)

Iran's Jewish community had a mixed reaction. "Iranian Jews didn't pay much attention," said Haroun Yashayaie, the former head of Tehran's Jewish community. "Iranians as a whole are not very sensitive to the issue of the Holocaust."

"But a Jewish student said: "This regime is crazy. Everybody knows the Holocaust happened. Over the past year things have become more difficult and this exhibition shows they do not care what we think."

Read article in full

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bigotry at interfaith conference

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Iran's Ayatollah Sadiki Roshed declined to meet with representatives of Israel at the second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan's capital city of Astana.

The conference, which ended Wednesday with a decision to reconvene in the same location in 2009, brought together a succession of Moslem, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious leaders from 29 countries who conveyed messages of inter-religious harmony during the two-day parley.

An Arabic speaking reporter from Haaretz approached the ayatollah and shook his hand, but once he introduced himself as an Israeli, the Iranian leader walked away.

An Egyptian journalist at the conference told The Jerusalem Post that the Iranian delegate took offense at the fact that the Jewish delegates used the event to "talk politics and accuse Moslems."

Read article in full

Iran's people are 'desperate to be rescued'

The Jerusalem Post carries this interesting interview with Menashe Amir of Israel Radio's Farsi service:

"Officially retired, yet unofficially as busy as ever, Voice of Israel Farsi broadcaster Menashe Amir greets me at the door of his home in a flurry of activity. With Iran the hot topic of the hour, Amir is in high demand these days. Having spent the better part of a century becoming a renowned radio personality in his native land through transmissions from his adopted one (he made aliya in 1959), his daily contact with Iranians who phone in comments to his programs is probably as good a gauge of Iranian public sentiment as you can get.

And his assessment - in a nutshell - is that the people of Iran are desperate to be rescued from the repression of their current regime."

Read article in full

There were more Jewish than Arab refugees

Good letter in the British newspaper The Independent, which lately seems to be having an anti-Israel hatefest in its columns and letters pages. But Jeremy Woolf has got his comparative numbers of refugees slightly wrong: it was not a similar number of Jewish refugees who were forced to leave Arab countries - but a greater number (870,000, of which some 600,000 went to Israel).

"Sir: Harry Perry (letter, 13 September) seeks to suggest that Israel should cease to exist because of its theft of Palestinian land. It is open to question whether Israel forced all these refugees to leave, and a number of Arabs remained in Israel. But even assuming some were forced to leave, he overlooks the similar number of Jews from Arab lands who, equally uncompensated, were forced to leave the countries where they had lived for centuries. Most of these Jews moved to Israel and joined the already sizeable Jewish population of that country.

"The truth is that the partition of Israel/Palestine has many similarities to the partition of India into India and Pakistan. However, I do not hear the critics of Israel's right to exist also claiming that those countries are apartheid countries with no right to exist.

"Israel has made it clear that it is prepared to accept a Palestinian state in most of the territories occupied in 1967. However, Hamas and similar groups have yet to reciprocate."

JEREMY WOOLF

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Scholarship fund in the name of the Jews of Egypt

The Jews of Egypt will not be entirely forgotten by generations to come.

Fifty thousand US dollars are to be donated to start a scholarship fund at Haifa University for the study of the Egyptian Jewish community and its past.

Joe Barda of Australia made the pledge - one of the many positive developments to emerge from the five-day World Congress of Jews from Egypt held in Haifa in July 2006.

The Nebi Daniel Association will repair the cemetery in Alexandria and rebuild the crumbling walls. The Bassatine cemetery in Cairo will also receive attention to prevent the marble tombstones being stolen for building materials.

But the most pressing matter is the future of Adly Pasha Geniza. Like Cerberus, Mrs Carmen Weinstein jealously guards these precious sacred texts stored at the synagogue in Adly Pasha St, Cairo, without even allowing photocopies to be made. The Congress voted to construct a Jewish Museum in Cairo.

Monday, September 11, 2006

'The last Jews in Baghdad', by Nissim Rejwan

The following book review by Lyn Julius of Nissim Rejwan's The last Jews in Baghdad was published in the Rosh Hashana 2006 issue of Sameah:

The last Jews in Baghdad is really the story of the last intellectuals of Baghdad. The storyteller is Nissim Rejwan, who is now in his 80s.

Rejwan had a very tough childhood. His father being both blind and housebound, the family breadwinner was Nissim’s elder brother Eliahu. The family moved house constantly in Baghdad. The roles were later to be reversed when Eliahu arrived penniless in Israel, and Nissim, by then an academic with a steady income, helped pay Eliahu’s rent in a Ramat Gan slum.

Life in Baghdad during the 1920s and 30s is vividly described, although some readers may find Nissim’s account of his romantic adventures embarrassing. He lived through the cataclysmic Farhoud pogrom which killed around 180 Jews, but, disappointing perhaps for the reader, saw nothing of it. We do, however, get a clear sense of how politics and discrimination managed to close in on this apolitical, non-Zionist, who was eventually sacked – purely for being a Jew - from his job at a bookshop and excluded from writing eclectic reviews for the Iraq Times. He was wrenched from his cosy bubble of an intellectual circle, forced to dispose of his cherished library, smuggle out his savings and join the mass exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1950. One senses that even now he is at a loss to explain how the deeply-rooted Jewish community of Iraq came to such a swiftly dramatic end.

One cannot but admire Nissim Rejwan: unlike the rest of the Alliance-educated Jewish elite, he attended government schools, supported and taught himself English and French. A voracious reader, he immersed himself in the English literature of the day. He flirted fashionably with Marxism and Communism. After 1950 his Jewish friends went their separate ways: Elie Kedourie, his close friend and literary mentor, became a celebrated professor of political science in London. Naim Kattan became a novelist in Canada. Only Charles Horesh stayed on in Baghdad, and ended up hanging from Saddam’s gallows in 1969.

The other members of Rejwan’s circle were mainly Shi’a intellectuals with whom he rarely discussed politics. Rejwan tried to re-establish contact with them after moving to Israel.

There is little about Rejwan’s life in Israel except an appreciation that the ‘Iraqi Jews came to Israel ill-equipped for the kind of political power struggle which awaited them’. The Zionist leadership of the Iraqi community in Israel failed to translate its almost mystical Zionism into influence within the Israeli establishment.

This is a well-written memoir with a somewhat banal title, but one cannot help feeling that Nissim Rejwan has padded out an earlier essay with reminiscences, a potted history of the Jews of Iraq and assorted esoteric reviews he wrote for the Iraq Times. The book does not come to any definite conclusions but the author epitomises the apolitical Iraqi Jew, uprooted by historical forces stronger than himself.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Families of missing Jews sue Khatami in US court

NEW YORK, Sept. 9: Seven Jewish-Iranian families have filed suit in an American federal court against former President Mohammad Khatami over charges that he is responsible for the kidnapping and torture of their missing family members. (With thanks: Albert)

The families, currently residing in Los Angeles and Israel, contend that Khatami instituted the policy of imprisoning their relatives without trials and refusing to provide them any information concerning their whereabouts. The Jews were arrested on different occasions during the years 1994 through 1997, as they sought to leave Iran across its border with Pakistan.

On Friday evening copies of the complaint and summons were served on Khatami at a reception in Arlington, Virginia hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Khatami has twenty days to file an answer denying the allegations or default the case.

The plaintiffs, who are not U.S. citizens, brought the suit under special laws - the Alien Torts Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act - which permit foreigners to sue their tormentors for torture and kidnapping in American courts. The lawsuit filed in the New York District Court is being represented by attorneys Robert Tolchin of New York, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Jerusalem and Pooya Dayanim of Los Angeles. The plaintiffs are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages against Khatami for his role in the on-going disappearance of their loved ones.

Since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, millions of Iranian citizens have sought to escape from the Islamic regime. In normal circumstances when Muslim citizens are arrested attempting to leave without official permission, the established punishment is a small fine or a short jail term. However, in the instances where Jewish citizens have been similarly arrested, the Islamic government has instituted much harsher penalties. The Plaintiffs allege that Khatami has singled out the Jewish community and authorized the policy of secretly imprisoning the Jews indefinitely.

Over the years, the Jewish families have received reports from other former prisoners and guards that the missing Jews are alive and being held in different prisons. In the case of the Tehrani family of Los Angeles, a former Muslim neighbor has sworn out an affidavit testifying that he has seen their missing son, Babak Tehrani, in a Tehran prison two years after his disappearance.

"These Persian Jewish families are seeking to bring Khatami before an American court for his involvement in the torture and imprisonment of their loved ones in Iran," stated the families' attorney Nitsana-Darshan-Leitner, "It is shocking that the State Department would grant this anti-Semitic criminal a travel visa instead of joining with the families in the struggle to bring him to justice. The court case will establish that these missing Jews are indeed still alive in Iranian prisons and that the former President violated international law with his policy of arrests and torture which targeted the Jewish community."

Read article in full

Khatami served with summons at gala dinner

More about ex-president Khatami here

Friday, September 08, 2006

Shock horror! The Guardian discovers Arab racism

Well I never. The Guardian's Middle East editor, Brian Whitaker, has discovered racism in Arab countries:

"Racism is a worldwide phenomenon. In some countries it's met with disapproval, in others with denial. The Arab countries, mostly, fall into the latter category. The A to Z of ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East embraces Alawites, Armenians, Assyrians, Baha'is, Berbers, Chaldeans, Copts, Druzes, Ibadis, Ismailis, Jews, Kurds, Maronites, Sahrawis, Tuareq, Turkmen, Yazidis and Zaidis (by no means an exhaustive list), and yet serious discussion of ethnic/religious diversity and its place in society is a long-standing taboo.

"If the existence of non-Arab or non-Muslim groups is acknowledged at all, it is usually only to declare how wonderfully everyone gets along. The roots of this attitude are partly a result of colonial history and, up to a point, the reasons are understandable. The trouble is that anyone who questions this make-believe harmony and tries to address the issue openly and honestly is liable to be accused of spreading "fitna", or social discord.

"And yet, you don't have to spend long in the Arab world to come across everyday examples of prejudice and discrimination - much of it linked to politics."

Read article in full

Jacqueline Rose book gets a roasting

In the September/October 2006 issue of Democratiya Professor Shalom Lappin writes a blistering critique of Professor Jacqueline Rose's book The Question of Zion. (Professor Rose's eurocentricity and ignorance of 'dhimmitude' - a major factor in shaping not only Arab rejectionism of the Jewish state but Israeli suspicions of Arabs - has already been challenged here).

"Given Rose’s professed reverence for Edward Said it is also strange to find her trapped in a thoroughly Eurocentric view of contemporary Israel. On her account, Israeli society is entirely the product of European Jewish immigrants and their neurotic reactions to persecution in Europe. The overwhelming majority of the (approximately) 850,000 Jews forced out of Middle Eastern and North African countries between 1948 and 1965 were absorbed in Israel, where they and their offspring now constitute approximately 50% of the Jewish population.

"The experiences of these people in their Arab and Muslim host countries, from which most fled as refugees, is a significant factor in determining their attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s rightwing parties in Israel successfully exploited both the social marginalisation of many Middle Eastern Jews and the deep suspicions with which some of them regard the Arab world in light of their encounters as a minority there, in order to gain support for hard line nationalist or ultra Orthodox religious agendas.

"Part of the populist propaganda that these parties employed in their campaigns painted supporters of the Israeli left and the peace movement as members of a European elite that dominates the economy and indulges hostile Arab interests through misguided liberal naivet√© (or worse), while disregarding the concerns of deprived Middle Eastern Jewish voters. This dimension of the Israeli political scene and its role in shaping Israeli-Palestinian relations escapes any mention in Rose’s psychological parable."

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Interesting thoughts of an Israeli diplomat

Still in his 30s, the talented Consul-General of Israel for the Southwestern region of the United States, Ehud Danoch, has been sharing his thoughts with the Iranian Jewish Chronicle: (with thanks: Albert)

Interviewer: Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Danoch about his background, the current situation in Israel, his efforts in the Consulate, as well as the Consulate’s outreaching to our community through a new program designed to encourage young Iranian Jews who have never been to Israel, to travel to their homeland. (...)

Q:This past May you spoke at the Magbit Foundation Gala in Beverly Hills about the local Iranian Jewish community being among the ones who have come to admire. Can you please elaborate on why you have such admiration for our community?

A: The Iranian Jewish community is a unique and special community. They are very warm, open, and very welcoming. When I mentioned what I said it was because I know what their families went through, I know what the parents and the grandparents went through. I myself have learned about Iranian history - not only Iranian Jewish history which is very cultural and traditional, I have also learned about the political history of Iran. If you follow the political issues that took place in Iran, you understand that it was not easy for the Jewish people there. There was a time that there were great political relations but after the revolution many of their families left for Europe, Israel, and the United States. When you take a community that is so strongly rooted and very traditional, it’s beautiful to see Shabbat dinners with Persian families. But they are the ones that understand it very well because in 1979 the majority of them came to Israel, now imagine God forbid if there was no State of Israel there. This specific community because they suffered a lot understands very well the importance of the State of Israel and I admire this.

Q: What else can the Iranian Jewish community specifically do at this time to support Israel in other ways?

Something that concerns me is that their children are getting wonderful educations and the parents are investing a lot in them, but I was surprised to see many of the students have not been to Israel. Many people between the age of 25 to 35 in the Iranian Jewish community have never been to Israel. You have to ask yourself what will happen in the future? (...) I am planning and I would like the help of the Iranian Jewish community here for a new project. I would like to arrange a trip for those young students from the Iranian Jewish community that have never been to Israel-maybe 30 students and we’ll do it every year. (...)

Q: Issues of Iran and the Iranian President’s calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map” have been on the minds of many Jews, particularly Iranian Jews here in Southern California. To what extent has Israel taken into consideration the potential reprisals Iran’s regime may take on the near 25,000 Jews still living in Iran in the event of a strike led by Israel or U.S.?

A: Israel will do everything in its power to protect every Jew that is living in the Diaspora. But with it, if you ask me, it’s very simple to come and to say “leave Iran”- but yes, leave Iran. Why are those Jewish people still living there? It’s a bit difficult. I know from people here that they are very concerned about some of their family living in Iran.

Q:Your family is of Yemenite descent and we also see many Iranian Jews in prominent position in Israeli government. How have the lives and opportunities for Sephardim in Israel changed since its establishment?

There is no question of Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Israel. It was an issue 50 years ago but there isn’t an issue today and the proof that it isn’t an issue is that fifty percent of the cabinet today [in the Israeli government] are Sephardim and also in the former cabinet. We have a President, Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief of the Army, who are all Sephardim as well.

Read article in full

Growing up as an 'obscure' Jew in Iran

Moving account in the New York Times by Roya Hakakian of what life was like growing up as a Jew in Iran (with thanks: Albert):

"The news of the exhibition of Holocaust cartoons in Tehran took me back to a moment in my childhood. In 1974, his first year at Tehran’s Academy for Visual Arts, my brother mounted an exhibition of his own cartoons. The drawings were a novice’s best attempt at political satire, but they were enough to alarm my law-abiding father into sending my brother away to America. Our family was never whole again.

"Back then, I thought my father had made the decision out of fear of Savak, the shah’s intelligence agency. Years later, I realized that it was not really fear but gratitude for all that a Jewish man had been able to achieve in Iran that prompted him to send my brother away.

"Born and raised in the largely Muslim town of Khonsar, my father was admitted to the university against all odds, got a master’s degree, joined the military as a second lieutenant, went back to his village dressed in the first Western-style suit the locals had ever seen, then moved to Tehran to become a leading educator.

"His childhood stories remain the most memorable features of our family gatherings. Once a bad mullah came to Khonsar, intent on making trouble for the Jews; two mischievous Jews drove him out by secretly spraying his prayer mat with liquor. Then there was the time a local fish peddler realized that my father had touched a fish, thereby “dirtying” the whole load. The peddler threw the rest away, providing a feast of free fish to the Jews of the town.

"And the best was this: When it rained for eight consecutive days, my grandmother stormed into the office of the school superintendent to protest the rule that Jewish students had to be kept home on rainy days. Moved by my grandmother’s plea, the superintendent escorted my father to his classroom, had him sip from a glass of water, then took the glass and gulped down the rest. He turned to the class and said: “If this water is good enough for me, it is good enough for all of you. From now on, Hakakian will come to class in all kinds of weather.”

"More than any religious instruction, these stories shaped my understanding of what it meant to be an Iranian Jew. In Persia, the land of Queen Esther, whose virtue overcame evil, one could, by wit or by wisdom, overcome every bigot. (...)

"Of all the pain that Muslim Iranians have inflicted upon the Jews, the most persistent is obscurity. We have always been admired for being “completely Iranian,” the euphemism for being invisible, indistinguishable from Muslims. We speak Persian. We celebrate the Iranian New Year with as much verve as the next Iranian. Our kitchens smell of Persian cuisine. At our Jewish festivities, we dance to Persian music. In the United States, we have often angered our American counterparts for not wishing to pray in their temples, because we insist on conducting our services in Persian.

"Yet Muslim Iranians, even those who have loved and befriended us, have never known us as Jews: in our synagogues, wrapped in prayer shawls, at our holiday tables recounting the history of our struggles. They lack even the proper vocabulary by which to speak about the Jews: “What shall I call you, ‘Kalimi’ or ‘Johoud?’ ” they sometimes ask. These words are the Persian equivalents of “Jew” and “kike.” And occasionally, as if to inflict punishment, they ask: “Do you consider Iran your real homeland?”

"Iranian Jews remain obscure to non-Iranian Jews, too. Sometimes they are shocked when I say that my generation was on the streets chanting “Death to the shah!” But 1979 was a blissful, egalitarian moment when young people shed everything that defined them as anything but Iranian.

"Four years later, the regime did its best to instate policies and practices hostile to religious minorities. Water fountains and toilets at my high school were segregated, some marked with signs that read “For Muslims Only.” But by and large, Iranians were not receptive to such bigotry. We crisscrossed among the stalls until the signs became meaningless.

"The post-revolutionary regime has had the misfortune of ruling a people reluctant to embrace its radical message. That is why Iran remains home to the second-largest community of Jews in the Middle East — second only to Israel.

"My father barely ventures out of his Queens apartment these days. When my siblings and I scold him for not getting out enough, he says that there is nothing here he wishes to see. “Tell me we’re going to Khonsar,” he says, “and I’ll see you at the door.”


Read article in full

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Testimony of Shaoul Hakham Sassoon Khedourie

Shaoul Hakham Sassoon Khedourie, who died almost a year ago aged 97, recorded in 2003 a moving testimony to his imprisonment and torture by Saddam 30 years previously. Scroll down to see the video here on the Democratiya site. (With thanks: Lily)

The son of the last Chief Rabbi of Iraq, Khedourie was dismissed from his job for being a Jew and suffered many indignities during the year he spent in the notorious Terminal Palace in Baghdad. On several occasions he tried to end his own life. He also witnessed the suffering of other inmates. Abdul Rahman al-Bazzaz, a former Prime Minister of Iraq, had his tongue burnt.

Khedourie's video is one of six testimonies to the atrocities of the Saddam era recorded on a DVD made by the Iraqi Memory Foundation. The Foundation both in Baghdad and Washington is 'engaged in a long-term effort to provide Iraqi society and the world with a view of the inner workings of the Ba'thist institutions or repression and social control that dominated all aspects of Iraqi life from 1968 to 2003.' The Foundation is preserving, digitizing, classifying and beginning to analyse more than 11 million pages of records in its holdings.
Contact the Iraq Memory Foundation at 1701 K Street, N.W.Suite 550, Washington, DC, 20006. Phone: +1 202 293 5910. Fax: +1 202 293 5911.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Jewish refugees can now register online

Over 50 years since nearly one million Jews were displaced from Arab countries, they now can register online in a process aimed at restoring their rights and helping them seek redress for their suffering and losses.

The new online registration program has been launched by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), as part of an International Rights and Redress Campaign being launched in November 2006 in over 20 Diaspora Jewish communities.

Jewish refugees and their descendants who fled Arab Countries can now visit www.justiceforjews.com to register their family narratives. The registration is quick, easy, secure, and vital. Persons with questions can contact Shelomo Alfassa, Director of the U.S. Campaign at (US Country code +) 917-606-8262.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

US Arabic students indoctrinated with Arabism

Americans, Irish, Scots, New Zealanders, Australians, Nigerians, Kenyans, and others are native English-speakers, but not English. Can anyone imagine an English language class in which students are assumed to be Anglican cricket fans who sing "Rule Britannia," post maps showing Her Majesty's empire at its pre-war height, and prefer shepherd's pie and mushy peas? Yet according to the hyper-nationalists who run Middlebury's Arabic language programs, all speakers of Arabic are Arabs--case closed.

Franck Salameh should know - he was a teacher at this US college (via DFME):


"At Middlebury College's Arabic Summer School, where I recently taught Arabic, students were exposed to more than intensive language instruction. Inside the classroom and across campus, administrators and language teachers adhered to a restrictive Arab-nationalist view of what is generically referred to as the "Arab world." In practice, this meant that the Middle East was presented as a mono-cultural, exclusively Arab region. The time-honored presence and deep-rooted histories of tens of millions of Kurds, Assyrians, Copts, Jews, Maronites, and Armenians--all of whom are indigenous Middle Easterners who object to an imputed "supra-Arab" identity--were dismissed in favor of a reductionist, ahistorical Arabist narrative. Those who didn't share this closed view of the Middle East were made to feel like dhimmi--the non-Muslim citizens of some Muslim-ruled lands whose rights are restricted because of their religious beliefs.

"In maps, textbooks, lectures, and other teaching materials used in the instruction of Arabic, Israel didn't exist, and the overarching watan 'Arabi (Arab fatherland) was substituted for the otherwise diverse and multi-faceted "Middle East." Curious and misleading geographical appellations, such as the "Arabian Gulf" in lieu of the time-honored "Persian Gulf," abounded. Syria's borders with its neighbors were marked "provisional," and Lebanon was referred to as a qutr (or "province") of an imagined Arab supra-state.

"Nor was the Arabic school's narrow definition of Middle Eastern culture restricted to the classroom. Alcohol was prohibited during school events and student parties, and although a school official claimed the ban reflected Middlebury's campus policy, beer and wine flowed freely during cookouts and gatherings organized by the German, French, and Spanish schools. Banning alcohol is a matter of Islamic practice and personal interpretation--not accepted behavior throughout the Middle East--and reflected the Arabic school's conflation of Arabic with Islamic.
Similarly, the Arabic school's dining services conformed to the halal dietary restrictions of Islam, an act implying that all Arabic speakers are Muslims, and that all Muslims are observant; yet less that 20 percent of the Arabic school community was Muslim. No such accommodations were made for Jewish students who kept kosher, even though they outnumbered the Muslims.

"Arab nationalism was also evident in the school's official posture toward America's national holidays. (...) Most students and faculty avoided contact altogether with those dubbed hukuma (government) or jaysh (army).

"Such attitudes and practices aren't confined to Middlebury. A former student of mine who recently took a summer Arabic course at Georgetown University relates that one of her professors, an otherwise excellent language instructor, refused to allow the word "Israel" to be uttered in class. And his bigotry wasn't confined to the Jewish state: during a class discussion on nationalism, my former student argued that "many Lebanese did not think of themselves as Arabs." The instructor's response: "while they might say that, it's just politics, because all Lebanese people know on the inside that they are indeed Arabs."

"Arabism flies in the face of historical fact. Ethnic minorities in Lebanon, as throughout the Middle East, have suffered at the hands of Arabs since the Arab-Islamic invasions in the early Muslim period. Of the efforts of Arab regimes and their ideological supporters in the West to de-legitimize regional identities other than Arab, Walid Phares, a well-known professor of Middle East studies, has written: "[The] denial of identity of millions of indigenous non-Arab natives can be equated to an organized ethnic cleansing on a politico-cultural level." This tradition of culturally suppressing minorities is the wellspring of the linguistic imperialism regnant at Middlebury's Arabic Summer School.

"Yet healthier models for language instruction are easy to find. In the Anglophone world, Americans, Irish, Scots, New Zealanders, Australians, Nigerians, Kenyans, and others are native English-speakers, but not English. Can anyone imagine an English language class in which students are assumed to be Anglican cricket fans who sing "Rule Britannia," post maps showing Her Majesty's empire at its pre-war height, and prefer shepherd's pie and mushy peas? Yet according to the hyper-nationalists who run Middlebury's Arabic language programs, all speakers of Arabic are Arabs--case closed.

A leading Arabic language program shouldn't imbue language instruction with political philosophy. It should instead concentrate on teaching a difficult language well--on promoting linguistic ability, not ideological conformity. Academics should never intellectualize their politics and then peddle them to students under the guise of scholarship. Those who do may force a temporary dhimmitude on their student subjects, but in the end they only marginalize their field and themselves.

"This marginalization has never been clearer than it is today, when Middle East studies scholars are depressingly consistent in their condemnation of American policy in the region, including its support for the democracies in Israel and Turkey. The same Arabist orthodoxy that seeks to indoctrinate summer language students in Vermont is at work every day in classrooms across the country, where professors whose vision is limited by ideological blinders ill serve their students and the nation. Set against this backdrop, Middlebury's Arabic Summer School is a window into an academic field in crisis."

Mr. Salameh teaches Arabic studies at Boston College. He writes for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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