Monday, December 31, 2007

When silence is golden for emigration operations

Yossi Melman of Haaretz adds his voice to the mutterings of disapproval at the high-profile exodus of 40 Iranian Jews to Israel, claiming such operations endanger the remaining community. (However, the opposite could be true: directing the media spotlight at the Jews still in Iran might be the best way to guarantee their safety. )

"The unnecessary media to-do surrounding the arrival of 40 Jews from Iran last week might harm immigration to Israel and the 28,000 Jews still in Iran. The Jewish Agency, the military censor and the government agency who contributed to these festivities, or who did not prevent them, might be sorry afterward.

"At the moment the response from Tehran has been minor. The leaders of Iran's Jewish community, obviously on the instructions of their government, quickly denounced the efforts of the "Zionist regime" to entice them to immigrate. But people familiar with the Iranian regime's behavior patterns say it will be difficult for them to act as if nothing has happened regarding an act they perceive as a callous Israeli provocation.

"Immigration to Israel from the Arab countries, Iran and the Soviet bloc became a key issue for all Israeli governments. For this reason two espionage organizations were put in charge of it: the Mossad (via the Bitzur unit) in Arab countries, and Nativ in Eastern Europe.

"Bitzur and Nativ organized impressive but secret immigration operations over the years. They were assisted by Jewish organizations like the American Joint Distribution Committee in bringing Jews to Israel from Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan - and according to foreign sources, from Iran as well.

"Their methods were essentially similar. Preparatory work was done in the community. Arrangements with the local government were preferable, so international pressure and pressure by Jewish organizations was used, and if necessary money changed hands. Only when an accommodation could not be reached to bring Jews out were other means invoked, such as smuggling them out. The Israeli press, and in many cases the foreign press as well, were in on the secret and knew how to keep it, recognizing that any report on the details might cost lives.

"The leaders of Muslim countries are ready to let Jews out as long as this does not become public knowledge. The moment details are leaked, their adversaries accuse them of strengthening the Zionist state and its army. That was the case when news of the immigration from Sudan leaked, and the country's president, Jaafar Nimeiri, had to fend off accusations by his opponents about cooperation with the Zionist enemy.

"The Jews of Iran enjoy reasonable treatment. They have an organized community life and are free to conduct their religious rituals and businesses. Like most Iranian citizens, they are also allowed to go abroad, and when they return they are not asked what they did on their vacation. It may be assumed that the Iranian authorities know that most of them have relatives in Israel.

"In other words, as long as things remain quiet and do not appear on the public agenda, the Iranian authorities can come to terms with the situation. When the relationship between Iranian Jews and Iran becomes vociferous and public, they must respond. That is what happened when Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein's International Fellowship of Christians and Jews announced in 2007 that it would pay tens of thousands of dollars to every Iranian Jew who came to live in Israel. Iranian spokesmen responded angrily and the heads of the Jewish community had to distance themselves from the rabbi's initiative."

Read article in full

JTA News article

Alexandria's Cecil Hotel could be test case

A major feature called 'It was their home' by Adi Schwartz has just appeared in Haaretz (Hebrew). It focuses on the case of the Cecil Hotel in Alexandria, where Winston Churchil once stayed. The hotel owners, the Metzger family, lived on the first floor.

The article tries to set the case of the Cecil Hotel in the context of the dispossession of close on one million Jews from Arab countries, and quotes the words of Irwin Cotler, Canadian ex-Justice minister, as well as those of Cairo-born Professor Ada Aharoni.

Here is an abstract (with thanks: Iraqijews):

In 1956 the Jewish owners of Cecil Hotel in Alexandria were expelled from Egypt. They left with one suitcase.

This year, after a 50-year struggle, the Egyptian government agreed to compensate them. The hotel's owner, Albert Metzger, died in Tanzania in the 1960s and his son Chris continued the struggle to recover the hotel. In 1996, the Egyptian Supreme Court in Cairo ruled that the hotel and all revenues accruing over the years belong to the Metzgers.

But only in June 2007 did the Egyptian government propose a deal whereby the government would agree to implement the court ruling but would immediately buy back the hotel from the Metzgers.

They are still deliberating about the price.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Publicity might endanger Jews remaining in Iran

The recent arrival of 40 olim from Iran was well publicised in the world's media - even attracting Arab interest. But could the publicity endanger those Jews still living in Iran? The Jerusalem Post reports.

"Israel's decision to publicize the arrival of a group of 40 Iranian immigrants Tuesday was intended to send a message to Iranian Jewry that they are wanted here, and that if emigration from Iran were one day prohibited, no one could say they did not have a chance to come to Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

"The decision to publicly reveal the Iranian Jews' arrival - something that has been kept secret in the past - was made in consultation between the Jewish Agency and other governmental bodies to send a message to the remaining Iranian Jews that the sooner they decide to leave Iran the better, the Post was informed.

"Not everyone, however, was happy with the decision. One source involved with the Iranian Jewish community expressed concern that publicizing the group's arrival, at a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was saying that Israel's Jews should be sent to Canada or Alaska, could complicate matters for those 25,000 Jews still in Iran.

"According to this source, the decision had less to do with sending a message to Iran's Jews, and more to do with gaining positive publicity for the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the organization granting a $10,000 gift to each of the immigrants.

"Another source said there was concern that the publicity could lead to an increase in surveillance of the Iranian Jewish community. The source said the publication also served to counter recent statements made by Iranian Jews declaring how good life was for the Jewish community there.

Read article in full

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime has reacted by marching out the community's leaders to do their PR damage control: see Karmel Melamed's post

Did Israel cause the rift between Jews and Arabs?

Did Jews and Arabs live in harmony before Israel caused a rift between them? Or was it the other way around, with Arab dictatorships needing the Jews and Israel to be their 'whipping boy'? Here is one reader's view, with my reply below. All are welcome to join the debate.

Dear Point of no Return

Your blog is new to me, though I come from an old Mizrahi family. I myself was born in Haleb (Aleppo), into a family that had lived there for almost 200 years, while my mother came from Haifa. One of my earliest memories is witnessing the burning of the synagogue in Aleppo, as at the time we lived opposite. We had to leave, and eventually ended in England.

I think it's unfortunate that your blog presents only one view of this history: as you state in your Introduction that `Israel is the legitimate expression of the self-determination of an oppressed, indigenous, Middle Eastern people'. In my view, it was the creation of the state of Israel that caused the rift between the various communities in the Middle East, which had lived there mostly in harmony for centuries.

Your blog tries to decry the `myth of a Golden Age' in the Middle East before the state of Israel. Whatever tensions and conflicts between communities there may have been, there were no pogroms, and certainly no holocaust. Both my parents told me stories of generally harmonious relations with their Arab neighbours.

Zionism as an ideology originated in eastern Europe, I think you must admit. The long struggle of Mizrahi Jews to gain anything approaching recognition in Israel testifies to the European colonial origins of the state of Israel. This was evident to me when I visited Israel as a boy, already in 1953, with my mother to visit her extended family, and saw through her eyes what was becoming of the Palestine she had known.

Even if you don't agree with this, I think it's a valid viewpoint held by very many Sephardi. Why can't we have some genuine debate about this crucial issue?

Sol Picciotto


Dear Sol

I too come from an old Mizrahi family. (Funnily enough, my ancestor also came from Aleppo, but moved to Baghdad in 1699.)

They were the most Arabised of Jews. My family was prosperous and had many Arab friends. However, their recollections are quite different to yours. They recall the 1941 pogrom which killed 179 Jews and that permanent feeling of insecurity so well captured in Albert Memmi's essay, "Who is an Arab Jew?"

One cannot deny that, as Memmi says, Jews did suffer from pogroms throughout their history among the Arabs. Let the 'golden age' myth not blind one to the fact that fundamentalist Muslims caused Maimonides to flee Spain. In Syria, there were dozens of blood libels* during the 19th century.

Of course there were good times and I know your family played an important part. But there were also bad times. I agree that the Jews suffered the repercussions of Arab hostility to Israel. But I happen to believe that the Jews would have been 'ethnically cleansed' in any case, due to the pressures of Arab nationalism, as were most of the non-Muslim minorities.

You are right that Zionism's origins are European. But then Arab nationalism too is a European import, and the 22 Arab states carved out of the Ottoman empire by the British and the French are nothing if not artificial.

When things got unbearable for them, your family was lucky enough to find refuge in England. As was mine. But would England have taken in the vast majority of destitute Mizrahi Jewish refugees, the Jews from Yemen and the Jews from Northern Iraq? Israel was ready to welcome them in and give them full citizens' rights. At least in their own state, for the first time, they would be masters of their own fate.

I'm surprised that your mother found 1953 Israel more European than the Palestine she had known. If you visited today you would find the country much more Middle Eastern than it was. Let's not forget - half the Jewish population are Mizrahi.


Account of the 1840 Damascus affair, in which Isaac Picciotto was one of the 16 accused Jews

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

After long dispute, Kfar Shalem residents evicted

The residents of the southern Tel-Aviv neighbourhood of Kfar Shalem - most of who came to Israel from Yemen - finally lost their fight to stay in their homes. It is not clear from this Haaretz article by Meron Rapoport whether they are receiving any compensation.

"Police evacuated roughly 30 families from the southern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Kfar Shalem Tuesday morning, after a long legal dispute over land slated for a housing project.

"The disputed section of the neighborhood lies between Mahal Street and Moshe Dayan Street. A bulldozer was brought in to begin demolition.

"Dozens of social activists were at the scene protesting the evacuation. Police arrested a total of seven people - two protesters and five residents.

"Hadash MK Dov Khenin called on Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to stop the evacuation immediately. "It's impossible to accept the expulsion of people from apartments they have lived in for years for the benefit of real estate entrepreneurs. The mayor must remember his duty to the city's residents," he said."

Read article in full

Kfar Shalem Yemenites win stay of eviction

Kfar Shalem: Gush Katif without the compensation ?(Jerusalem Post)

Sa'adia Marciano, Black Panther leader, dies at 58

The Sephardi Perspective blog pays this tribute to the late Sa'adia Marciano, whose Black Panther movement in the 1970s tried to put Sephardi deprivation on the political agenda:

"Last week, Saadia Marciano, 58, a former member of the Israeli Knesset who got his start in public life as a leader of the "Israeli Black Panthers" movement of poor Sephardi Jews, died in a Jerusalem hospital. Marciano died in the type of poverty that he fought against on behalf of all Sephardi Jews throughout his life.

"Marciano, who left his native Oujda, Morocco, after anti-Semitic pogroms and riots there in the wake of Israel's establishment in 1948, helped start the Israeli Black Panthers in his early 20s, along with other Sephardi Jews living in Jerusalem's Musrara neighborhood.

"Although largely forgotten today, the Israeli Black Panthers protested "ignorance from the establishment for the hard social problems", and wanted to fight for a different future. Other founders of the movement included Charlie Bitton, Reuven Abergil and Eli Avichzer. However, it was the face of Marciano that became recognizable after being brutally beaten by the police during a demonstration that was organized without a permit.

"This was the early 1970s and those that arrived from Arab countries saw that the 'establishment' did not treat them equally to other immigrant groups. After meeting with the Black Panthers in 1971, Prime Minister Golda Meir referred to them as "not nice people"; this was consistent with the patronizing attitude many in the Ashkenazi elite had for the Sephardi, socially underprivileged working classes. The Jerusalem mayor at the time, Teddy Kolek, called out to a demonstration in Kikar Safra from his office window, "Get off the lawn, you bastards!"

"The Israeli Black Panthers' main goal was to raise awareness of the discrimination that they felt. A particularly violent protest in May 1971, forced the government to seriously discuss the Panthers' claims and a public committee was established to find a solution to their distress.

"According to the conclusions of that committee, discrimination did indeed exist against certain immigrant groups on many levels in society. In accordance, the budgets of the offices dealing with social issues were enlarged significantly. However, the Yom Kippur War soon changed the government's list of priorities, and most of these resources were turned, again, towards security needs.

"Marciano would say in a 2003 documentary The Black Panthers Speak, "We raised the social struggle flag in spite of the difficult security conditions. Moshe Dayan argued that you can't wave both flags of security and social affairs simultaneously. But we strongly believed that a weak society could never be strong in its security."

"The turning point for Marciano, and many other Israeli Black Panthers, was the realization that to properly affect change, they needed to enter the political establishment. Like all once-great militant leaders, Marciano had decided that there was a point in time when political life was preferable to a life of militancy and as a fugitive. Comparing him with the likes of Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela would not be out of place, even without the overt nationalistic context.

"The Israeli Black Panthers had served as a vehicle to raise consciousness of their struggle and more Sephardi politicians were entering the corridors of power. Of course, one would be remiss not to tie this phenomenon to the electoral victory of the Likud at the end of the 1970s, who owed much of their victory to the Sephardim. However, the Sephardim were soon to realize that their chances for power were only slightly improved than under the almost uniformly Ashkenazi Labor party.

Read post in full

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Largest group since the Shah arrives in Israel

Just as a Christian group admits its scheme to offer a $10,000 stipend to new immigrants from Iran has failed, a record number of Jews arrives at Ben Gurion airport, Haaretz reports. (With thanks: Lily)

"A group of 40 new immigrants from Iran touched down at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday, the largest since the fall of the Shah and Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The immigrants, from Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan, each received a $10,000 grant from international Jewish organizations.

Relatives screamed in delight and threw candy at the newcomers as they emerged into the airport reception hall after a long bureaucratic procedure.

Two brothers, Yosef and Michael, said they were glad to be in Israel. They declined to give their family name in order to protect relatives.

"I feel so good," said Yosef, 16. "I just saw all of my family. You can't put that into words."

Michael, 15, said he told all his friends where he was going, and they wanted to come along. "I was scared in Iran as a Jew," he said. "I would never be able to wear a skullcap in the streets there."

Others said they felt safe in Iran, discounting warnings that Jews could become targets.

The brothers arrived with their parents and a sister and were greeted by their grandparents, whom they had not seen since the grandparents left for Israel six years ago.

"I'm in heaven," gushed Avraham Dayan, 63, waiting for his son, daughter-in-law and grandson. He said he had not seen his 38-year-old son in 11 years, missing his son's wedding and the birth of his grandson.

A total of 200 Iranian Jews have immigrated to Israel in 2007, compared to only 65 in 2006.

The immigrants who arrived Tuesday flew to Israel through a third country, although which country cannot be published at this time.

There are an estimated 25 to 28,000 Jews currently living in Iran. The Islamic government does grant them relative freedom of religion, although they are prevented from learning Hebrew and face certain emigration restrictions."

Read article in full

Jerusalem Post article: "We'll try to bring all Iranian Jews" - Jewish Agency

Washington Post article ( and slideshow)

Monday, December 24, 2007

My traumatic flight from Egypt, by Bat Ye'or

This moving interview was given by the well-known writer and expert in 'dhimmitude' Bat Yeor, to the Italian website Lisistra. (With thanks: Eliyahu, via

"I was born to an Italian-Jewish family which moved to Cairo a long time ago. My mother was French, her father was French and her mother British. I grew up in these three cultures. After Mussolini brought in all his racist laws, my father chose Egyptian nationality which was introduced after the dissolution of the Ottoman empire and Egyptian independence in 1922. He was able to obtain Egyptian nationality because the last Ottoman sultan had conferred on my grandfather the title 'Bey'.

Having become Egyptian my father was deprived of his Italian nationality, as was his wife and children. My mother therefore took out the children from an Italian school and registered them in a French school.

The conditions of our departure were draconian. My parents lost their Egyptian nationality. Mine was already removed in 1955 when Zionism was denounced. We were forced to sign that we renounced all our possessions in Egypt and to certify that we would never return. We could only take with us two cases and fifty pounds sterling. Every document was checked by the police. I was forced to burn everything I had ever written since my childhood. It was like dying - the end of a way of life that soon would no longer exist. We emptied the apartment and we left one night in a cart for fear of being arrested. At the airport, they threw our suitcases to the ground and destroyed all our clothes. We were thoroughly searched and my fifty pounds sterling were confiscated. The police decided to do this two hours before letting us leave.

We arrived in London where I had a sister whose Brtish husband had been expelled. We lived precariously, practically without money. We were like bankrupts in a city of 10 million, stateless and destitute. We didn't know a soul. My father was very ill, and to cap it all, my mother broke her foot.

The Jewish community in London had organised a support group for the Jewish refugees from Egypt.Thus people we did not know were selflessly offering to help us. At that moment I understood my role with pride and gratitude: I belonged to the Jewish people, to Israel, to that people made up of refugees who like us had been persecuted, hunted down, disposessed and humiliated. Finally I knew who I was: I had an identity whose value and meaning I understood. I belonged to a people who had helped me when I had nothing."

Read post in full (Italian)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jews who stay in Iran 'playing a dangerous game'

Following disappointing results, an international group of Christians and Jews are about to abandon their scheme to pay $10,000 to individual Jews who leave Iran for Israel. Karmel Melamed reports in The Jewish Journal of LA:

"Following the revelation in October that $10,000 per person was being offered by a Chicago-based Christian-Jewish nonprofit to encourage Jews to leave Iran and immigrate to Israel, organizers of the project in Israel and the United States admitted to being disappointed with the lack of response to their efforts.

The offer will end this month at the conclusion of the one-year project.

Begun in January by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), which has offices in Chicago and Jerusalem, the program offers funding through the Jewish Agency in Israel, which spearheaded it. IFCJ officials reported that of the 20,000 Jews still living in Iran, only 125 have accepted the funds."

Karmel Melamed follows up with a second article attributing the failure of the Fellowship's initiative to lure Iranian Jews out to too much wealth, and too much history:

"Imagine you have a large home, luxury cars, maids and butlers, real estate holdings, a multi-million dollar business and of course a substantial fortune in your bank accounts. Then imagine one day, you just simply walking away from that entire lifestyle and start your life again from nothing in a new country where you know no one and do not speak the language. This was the very sad reality thousands of Jews living in Iran faced in the late 1970's and early 1980's when they there forced to leave everything they owned behind. For many of us Jews living in the tranquility of the U.S. today, such harsh realities Iranian Jews had to endure is beyond all comprehension. It is even more difficult for us to understand why there are nearly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran despite that regime's past hostility to Jews and calls for Israel's destruction. I'd like to shed some light on the history and close ties Jews have had with Iran that may be a factor in their decisions not to leave that country.

"This week my story in the L.A. Jewish Journal reflects on the lack of interest on the part of Jews still living in Iran to leave that country despite efforts by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), to lure them out with offers of $10,000 to every Jew immigrating to Israel from Iran. When I chatted with the IFCJ's founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, he expressed his frustration at the fact that not many Jews in Iran were willing to take up the offer:"

"If there is an attack by either the United States or Israel on Iran, it seems clear to me that even the Iranian Jews know it would be too late at that point for them to get out or not be persecuted. In my opinion, they are playing a very dangerous game of not committing to come out to Israel. I think there are some stereotypes [in the greater American Jewish community] that these [Iranian Jewish] people are rich; that they'll only come to Israel to be rich -- when in fact, these people come out with nothing because of the inflation. And their money is worthless when they leave Iran. But the $10,000 has been enough to tip the scales for them to make the move, because it will help them get on their feet in Israel."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rabbi who revived Tunisian Judaism dies

While the Jewish population of Tunisia plummeted from 105,000 to 2,000 one dedicated Chabad rabbi stayed on, under steadily worsening conditions, for the few who remained. The Chabad-Lubavitch website printed this tribute to Rabbi Nissim Pinson (z''l).

""Rabbi Pinson and his wife Rochel created much of the Jewish educational infrastructure that saw Tunisia’s Jewish population through very tumultuous years and continues its work until today. Rabbi Pinson performed circumcisions and produced kosher meat. Elie Attoun, who attended Chabad’s schools in the ‘80s, recalled Rabbi Pinson’s work to re-establish and build “all the mikvahs of Tunisia, in Tunis, Djerba, Zarzis where the Jewish community remained.”

""Shortly after arriving in Tunis in 1960, Chabad-Lubavitch opened Tunisia’s first school for Jewish girls, Bet Rivkah, and built up the boys’ school there. At their peak, the schools had student body of 300. Mrs. Pinson, now in her late seventies and living with her children in France, flies in to Tunis each month to run teachers’ meetings, hire staff and keep tabs on the school she shepherded for decades.

"Along with students, the schools nurtured its teachers into leaders. A former Talmud teacher, Rabbi Meir Mazuz now heads Kisse Rahamim yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel.

"Yeshiva Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch, the boys’ school and Chabad synagogue in Tunis, was open seven days a week, the beating heart of Chabad’s work in the country. After school hours, boys from local public schools studied with Rabbi Pinson, moving from basic Hebrew phonics to Talmud and advanced Jewish philosophy texts. On Shabbat afternoons, they stayed after services, singing, listening to the rabbi’s teachings, developing a desire to continue Jewish traditions.

"During the summer, the Pinsons hosted a summer school at their home.“In 1960, when the Jewish community was dying, Rabbi Pinson filled the vacuum when people thought we would disappear,” said Daniel Brami, a psychologist from Tunis now living in France. “It was a revolution to create a Talmud Torah.”

"Sustaining that revolution in the sixties demanded a serious measure of self-sacrifice. “I remember peeking from behind the curtains of my father’s office, watching the mob surround the school,” said Faige Hecht, Rabbi Pinson’s daughter, today a Chabad representative in Nice, France, remembering a traumatic day in 1967, after Israel’s stunning victory in the Six Day War.

“They attacked the great synagogue, desecrated the Torah scrolls and burnt them.” Students had to be evacuated stealthily from the school. “They wanted to burn my father’s car. I remember seeing them open the car door, turning the pages of my father’s Jewish books in the car, looking at the Rebbe’s picture. My father, every inch a chossid with his beard and his hat, opened the door and tried to calm them down.”

"The school survived, but the community’s matzah bakery was left in cinders. Machine made matzahs could be imported from France, where many Tunisians Jews immigrated after those harrowing days, but handmade matzahs could not. Dana still savors Rabbi Pinson’s passion for performing the mitzvah. The rabbi personally oversaw the harvest, koshered and retrofitted an industrial coffee grinder to turn the wheat into flour, and built a matzah oven. Weeks before Passover, drifts of flour coated the desks, and the school became the matzah bakery.

“The only way to get handmade matzah in Tunisia was through Lubavitch. ” Dana reminisced. “We knew what he did was for the sake of heaven. He did not have a support system, and he stayed because he was sent by the Rebbe to sustain and revive Judaism in Tunisia.

”Stoking the flame of Jewish life meant being unafraid in an increasingly uneasy environment, despite government’s official cordial stance toward Tunisian Jews. The government underwrites the salary of the Grand Rabbi (not Rabbi Pinson) and finances the cost of restoration and maintenance for synagogues. Yet, when Egypt’s Pres. Nasser died days before Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year, the Jewish community moved to cancel public services lest the holiday traditions and services be misinterpreted as a celebration of the leader’s passing. That year, Chabad stayed open, shofars blowing, without incident.

Rabbi and Mrs. Pinson stayed, but they did not expect their community to embrace the hardships of Tunisia where small problems – like the paucity of kosher products – competed with larger ones like when the PLO set up headquarters in Borj Cedria near Tunis in 1982 or when Al Queda-claimed 2002 bombing of the ancient Ghirba synagogue on Djerba.

“The people who still have businesses in Tunisia and the well-to-do will stay for the time being. It is hard to foresee what will be with the rest of the community,” Mrs. Pinson told

"Transplanted Tunisians now living in France and Israel still turn to the Pinsons for leadership. They flock to the homes of the Pinsons’ sons on days that are significant to Tunisian Jews.Rabbi Yossef Yitschok Pinson>, Chabad representative in Nice, returns to Tunisia several times a year to lead community gatherings. Jewish life continues in Tunisia, mainly in Djerba, and thousands of Tunisian Jews return each year to celebrate Lag B’Omer."

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Timeline to disaster for the Jews of Iraq

Misinformation about how and why the Jews of Iraq were forced to leave abounds on the Internet. A favoured myth is that Jews and Arabs lived in harmony until the creation of Israel. Another is that 'the Zionists' set off bombs to scare the Jews into leaving in 1950. This timeline extracted from The Jews of Iraq: a forgotten case of ethnic cleansing by Carole Basri clearly shows, however, that persecution and insecurity dogged the Jews as early as the 1930s.

1918,19 and 20:
Fearful of local Muslim rule, Jews petition the Civil Commissioner for Baghdad for British citizenship, but are refused it.
1932: Iraq declares minority rights would be protected, but declines to appoint observer to supervise minority guarantees. Some 600 Assyrians massacred in 1933.
1932: German Charge d'affaires, Fritz Grobba, publishes instalments of Mein Kampf in Arabic daily newspaper. Radio Berlin begins Arabic broadcasts.
1934 - 36: 600 Jewish clerks dismissed from government
1934: regulation introduced requiring Jews to deposit £50 to travel abroad.
1935: state secondary schools impose quotas on Jewish students. Hebrew and Jewish history instruction forbidden. Only the Bible can be read without translation.
1936: government-licensed Jewish businesses must have a Muslim partner.
1939: Iraqi public school system begins to follow a Nazi education model.
1936: Three Jews murdered in Baghdad, one in Basra. Bomb thrown into synagogue on Yom Kippur.
1936 - 39: despite the Chief Rabbi officially dissociating himself from Zionism and a condemnation of Zionism signed by 33 Iraqi Jewish leaders, seven murders of Jews and six bombings take place.
1941: In the interregnum following a pro-Nazi coup, 179 Jews are killed and 911 houses looted in the Farhoud pogrom.
1947: Iraqi Foreign minister threatens expulsion of Jews as part of coordinated Arab League plan if Partition of Palestine goes ahead.
1948: state of emergency declared; 310 Jews court-martialed.
1948: Jews receiving letters from Palestine accused of Zionism.
September 1948: Shafik Ades, Iraq's richest Jew, hanged.
May 1948 - Dec 1949: 800 - 1,500 Jews dismissed from public service. Jewish banks lose their foreign exchange trading licences. Restrictions on high school and university students.
Jewish community 'donates' 113,000 dinars to war effort against Israel. Fines collected from Iraqi Jews: $80 million. Travel ban on Jews and on buying and selling property. Retroactive tax on Jews. Property of all Jews who had emigrated since 1933 confiscated. Government ceases to service Jewish areas. Property of Jewish prisoners impounded. Jewish newspapers shut down.
Feb and March 1949: 100 Jews tried for connections to Zionism.
March 1950: Iraqi Parliament Ordinance permits Jewish emigration upon forfeiture of citizenship. Some 120,000 Jews register to leave.
March 1951: Law no. 5 deprives all stateless Iraqi Jews of their property.

Celebrating Chanukah in Baghdad

Elizabeth Robbins, on a tour of duty with the US military in Iraq, is also a Jewish lay leader. Here's her account, on the website, of the Chanukah celebrations in the Green Zone - all the more moving since it involved one of the remaining eight Jews of Baghdad. (With thanks: Sami)

"Celebrating Chanukah 2007 in Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace, who would think? Yet tonight inside a marble encrusted hall in Baghdad, we lit the eighth light of a hand-made, 6-foot tall menorah. We prayed in Hebrew, joyfully sang a medley of Chanukah songs, ate latkes, and best of all, we were Jews together in the land of our earliest forefathers.

"The Jewish community at the US Embassy in Baghdad is growing and thriving to such an extent that we now reliably form a minyan. We call ourselves B'nai Baghdad -- a diverse group of US and Coalition uniformed service members and civilians stationed in the International Zone (IZ), known colloquially as the "green zone," an enclave in central Baghdad that houses Iraqi government officials, various embassies, military headquarters, and international aid organizations.

"The Republican Palace, now the temporary home of the US Embassy, is nestled in a scenic bend of the Tigris River, the view unfortunately hidden behind tall blast barriers. It is the largest of the palaces in the IZ and formerly housed the family of Saddam Hussein. But this year it houses our menorah!

"Soon after I arrived in Baghdad this past May, I earned the position of Jewish lay leader -- a volunteer authorized to meet the needs when military chaplains are not available. In addition to my military job, with the help of new friends in the congregation, I began organizing services, coordinating with military chaplains, ordering supplies, and managing the community's storage locker of prayer books, candles, leftover Passover foods, and even a few Purim groggers. This responsibility might seem a burden, but is truly a blessing; it anchors not only my week but my being.

"We meet in the multi-purpose chapel which is a large trailer near the Embassy surrounded by concrete blast walls. A sailor and I arrive early each Friday evening to drape tallits over the two podiums in the chapel. We set up Shabbat candles sent by loved ones, and break out bottles of Kedem wine and grape juice. We place a lovely wooden ark, hand-made by a congregant, on the bima. (...)

"It is challenging to be a practicing Jew in the military or the Foreign Service. But those of who have volunteered know that vibrant Jewish life and government service can coexist, albeit with challenges. The biggest problem is in the numbers, for on a remote post or installation it can be difficult to create a community. When I was briefly deployed to Kosovo, I was the only Jew to show up at services each week.

"But such challenges pale in comparison to those faced by our Jewish brethren in Iraq. In August of this year, a shy woman began occasionally to attend services, escorted into our secured area by a member of our congregation. She told us that she was one of the eight remaining Jews in Baghdad. Since she did not live in the International Zone, she calmly accepted the mortal risks entailed in joining us as conditions permitted. Even more sobering was her deep appreciation of our fellowship and the few things we could give her -- a siddur, a book of psalms, and a Chanukah menorah. In return she shared with us her experiences and pictures of her beautiful synagogue, now mostly empty.

Read article in full

Monday, December 17, 2007

Solidarity with Jewish refugees on Harry's Place

Irwin Cotler's eloquent piece for the Canadian National Post on the 60th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan resolution has struck a chord with David T, a regular poster on the influential website on the pro-Israel British left, Harry's Place. It is probably the first time the Jewish refugees have ever been the subject of a post, although they have been mentioned before by commenters. (With thanks: Avril)

David T: "In the few years following the Partition Resolution of Nov. 29, 1947, in the region of 850,000 Palestinian arabs, and 850,000 Jews from Arab countries, lost their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were displaced in subsequent decades, as an exclusive Arab Nationalism took place in those countries. These refugees deserve not only solidarity, and remembrance, but also security and self-determination.

"Most of those Jews from Arab states found a home in Israel, and in other countries. The lot of the Palestinian arabs was a dismal one: deprived of full citizenship rights in many of the countries in which they settled, and still without a secure, self-goverining national homeland.

"Any basis for peace and reconciliation requires not only a recognition of national rights, but also an acknowledgement of what both groups lost, sixty years ago this year.

Here's Irwin Cotler on the subject:

Yet the revisionist Mid-East narrative continues to hold that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees, and that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian naqba (catastrophe) of 1947.

The result was that the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries -- the forgotten exodus -- has been expunged from the historical narrative these past 60 years. Moreover, the revisionist narrative has not only eclipsed the forgotten exodus, but denies that it was also a forced exodus, for the Arab countries not only went to war to extinguish the fledgling Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries.
Indeed, evidence contained in a recent report, Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress, documents for the first time a pattern of state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries -- including Nuremberg-like laws -- that targeted Jews, and resulted in denationalization, forced expulsions, illegal sequestration of property, arbitrary arrest and detention and the like.

These massive human rights violations were reflective of a collusive blueprint, as embodied in the Draft Law of the Political Committee of the League of Arab States. This is a story that has not been heard. It is a truth that must now be acknowledged.

Read post and comments in full*

* Of the 100 + comments, most of them sympathetic to the Jewish refugees, my favourite is this one by Paul M: "I have a solution to propose to the refugee issue: For every Mizrahi Jewish Israeli who requests repatriation to the Arab state from which he or his ancestor were expelled, one Palestinian should be admitted into Israel. That way the Palestinians have only to wait until the last Mizrahi is welcomed home to see their problems solved."

An English gentleman 's mission to Morocco

The amazing story of Operation Mural, David Littman's mission to spirit hundreds of Jewish children out of Morocco into Israel in 1961, is now told in a documentary film which was shown last night on Israeli television, Yair Sheleg of Haaretz reports.

At the start of 1961, David Littman's life seemed to be moving along nicely. He was 28 years old at the time, from a wealthy Jewish family, a graduate of prestigious Anglican schools. About a year earlier he had married Giselle, the daughter of a Jewish family that had immigrated to Britain from Egypt (today Giselle Littman, under the pseudonym "Bat Yeor," is a well-known historian and writer focusing on Jews and Christians in Islamic countries). They already had their first child, Diana, and had moved to Switzerland. Littman's original plan was to continue the family's real estate business, but he was not pressed for time, as he had already inherited considerable wealth from his father. And so he spent his time reading journalist William Shirer's thick volume, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."

The book, he says, left him unsettled. "I asked myself two questions: What should a Jew who lived in neutral countries like Switzerland or Sweden have done in those times, and what could I do today for the sake of the Jewish people?" He decided to knock on the doors of all the Jewish organizations in Geneva to ask them to give him something to do. But none of the groups had anything to offer him. And then, just as he was about to give up, he approached an organization called OSE (Oeuvre de secours aux enfants - the Organization for the Rescue of Children), which dealt with rescuing Jewish children during and after the Holocaust.

For the director of the organization, Prof. Jacques Bloch, Littman was heaven-sent. Only two days earlier, the emissary of the Jewish Agency in Switzerland, Naftali Bar-Giora, had asked him for help in finding a volunteer for a secret mission to get Jewish children out of Morocco. Ever since 1956, when Morocco had won its independence from France, the authorities had prohibited Jews from leaving the country freely. Many Moroccan Jews suffered from harassment and the Mossad was organizing clandestine departures. But in January 1961, a disaster had occurred: The illegal immigrant ship Egoz, which had left Morocco in the dark of night, sank and all 44 passengers (about half of them children) perished.

A new route to Israel was needed, which was why the Mossad had come up with the following idea: One of the secret service's emissaries would pretend to be the representative of a Swiss humanitarian organization and would make the following proposal to the Moroccan government to take hundreds of children (not necessarily Jewish) for a vacation in Switzerland. The Jewish children gathered by the volunteer, who would be posted in Casablanca, would indeed go to Switzerland first - but after a brief stay they would continue on to Israel.

To carry out this mission, a person was needed whose appearance and biography would befit that of the representative of a Swiss humanitarian organization. The tall, wealthy and supremely self-confident Littman seemed to fit this description like a glove. Thus Operation Mural (a name chosen at random) was born, in the course of which 530 Jewish children from Morocco immigrated to Israel. Last night, Channel 1 aired a documentary film about the affair, directed by veteran documentary film-maker Yehuda Kaveh ("Operation Mural - Casablanca 1961").

Read article in full

Harif and Spiro Ark hope to organise a screening of the film Operation Mural - Casablanca 1961 in London in the autumn of 2008.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The politics behind honouring the King of Morocco

What is behind moves to have Yad Vashem declare the wartime Moroccan king, Mohammed V, a 'righteous gentile'? Did the king genuinely risk his life to save Jews, or are there more pragmatic diplomatic calculations afoot? Marc Perelman in The Forward reports:

"For Jerusalem, the Yad Vashem move would show its determination to normalize ties with Arab countries. And Morocco could project an image of moderation at a time when it is courting Washington’s support on Western Sahara, a disputed territory that Morocco claims, but also one that a separatist group supported by Algeria would like to become independent. After years of paralysis, Morocco recently unveiled an autonomy proposal for the region and won cautious support from the Bush administration after years of America’s neutrality on the issue.

"Morocco has no official diplomatic relationship with Israel, though it does not observe the Arab League boycott and was one of the few Arab countries to establish low-level diplomatic ties with Israel during the Oslo peace process.

"Over the years, Morocco has, on several occasions, helped the Israeli-Arab process through discreet diplomatic initiatives, such as facilitating the Israeli-Egyptian breakthrough of 1977 and hosting Israeli leaders. This started with a historic visit by Shimon Peres in 1986, at a time when there was no peace process. In addition, the intelligence services of both countries have enjoyed a good relationship over the years, including Israeli tips of plots against the royal family and negotiations over the exodus to Israel of hundreds of thousands of Moroccan Jews, according to books published in recent years. Both the diplomatic and the security ties, which are the exclusive purview of the king and his inner circle, are rarely discussed in Morocco, given the strong public pro-Palestinian sentiment.

"Whether Mohammed V, who died in 1961, will become a member of the Righteous remains uncertain, given Yad Vashem’s strict eligibility rules. Among the 22,000 Righteous, some 70 are Muslims, most of whom are from Turkey and the Balkans. There are no Arabs among them, according to Yad Vashem spokeswoman Estee Yaari, who added that no formal request had been submitted for the late Moroccan monarch.

"The trickiest criterion is determining whether the late king actually risked his life to save Jews during the rule of the pro-Nazi French authorities from mid-1940 to November 1942, when American troops arrived and changed the balance of power. Citing testimonies of the king’s quiet resistance campaign against the French antisemitic edicts, Berdugo claims that the king had indeed done so.

"When the Vichy regime extended its anti-Jewish laws to Morocco in October 1940, the king maneuvered to limit their implementation. A 1941 telegram from the French foreign ministry, uncovered in the mid-1980s, discussed the worsening tensions between the French authorities and the king because of Mohammed V’s unwillingness to distinguish among his subjects. Some Moroccan Jews even claim that he asked the French authorities to bring him yellow stars for his family to wear. Some observers have expressed doubt over the episode, which illustrates the near-mythical aura of the king among Moroccan Jews — the vast majority of whom immigrated to Israel and Europe after Israel’s independence and the 1967 war.

"Richard Prasquier, Yad Vashem’s representative in France, believes that Mohammed V did not risk his life. Prasquier also said that he was never confronted with an official request that they be deported to Nazi death camps. Others suspect that diplomatic calculations are the main impetus behind the campaign.

“It’s a nice political coup,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, editor of the leading independent weekly Tel Quel. The magazine published a story a few months ago about the existence of forced labor camps in Morocco for some 2,000 Jews who had fled Europe during World War II.

"At the time described in Tel Quel’s story, the French authorities were in control of Morocco and oversaw the camps’ administration, leaving little power to the king. But the article raised doubts over his willingness to protect Jews beyond Moroccan ones.

Read article in full

Was the king of Morocco a 'righteous gentile'?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Arabic version of Israeli novel to be sold in Egypt

Israeli novelist Eli Amir's novel 'Jasmine' will soon be available to readers shopping in Egyptian bookstores. While many Hebrew-language novels are translated around the world, rarely does an Israeli author get to see his work translated into Arabic and published in an Arab country, Ynet news reports.

"In the introduction to the Arabic version, translator Hussein al-Sarag, deputy editor-in-chief of 'October' magazine, wonders why only three Israeli novels have been published in Egypt so far.

"Al-Sarag also quotes Eli Amir's statements from a literary conference in Cairo: "After the peace agreement with Egypt was signed, many Egyptian authors were translated into Hebrew. We, Israelis, do not fear the spread of Arab culture in Israel. I wish the same would be true for you. How can there be peace without us knowing each other?"

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A word in your ear, Mr President

Two days ago, Maurice Shohet was at the White House together with 14 other Jews from different countries, where they met President Bush. Maurice raised the issue of the rights of Jews from Arab Countries. He mentioned that they were all absorbed in Israel and the western countries where they chose to live after they left their countries of origin during the last 60 years, while the Arab countries were only interested in perpetuating the miserable situation of the Palestinian refugees for political reasons. He said that the number of Jews who left Arab countries was higher than the number of Palestinian refugees.

Maurice requested that the President remember the right of the Jews from Arab countries to compensation, whenever the issue of the rights of Palestinian refugees is raised in the international arena, especially following the recent Arab-Israeli Annapolis conference held on November 27.

At the meeting were two Jews from Iran, Maurice from Iraq, one from Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Cuba, Afghanistan, Syria, two from Russia, the parents of Daniel Pearl, two Holocaust survivors.

At a Hanukka party at the White House in the evening, the White House Chief of Staff (Joshua) Bolton told Maurice, "you caught the President's attention".

Update: This JTA News report on the event mentions that Yuli Edelstein, MK, the only Israeli present, witnessed Maurice Shohet bringing up the subject of Jewish refugees with President Bush.

Edelstein's account of Shohet's conversation with Bush on Makor (Hebrew) (With thanks: Ivy): When Shohet asked the President to consider the parallels between Jewish and Arab refugees, Bush was said to have replied:"I never thought of it like that!" Edelstein then ponders whether Olmert and Sharon had ever broached the topic of Jewish refugees with Bush - such a simple thing to do.

Update: This Boston Globe report on the White House party reveals that Ruth Pearl, mother of Daniel Pearl, was born in Baghdad and forced to leave aged 15.

Jewish refugees issue raised in Al-Jazeera debate

Shmuel Moreh, the Iraq-born Head of Arabic Studies at the Hebrew University, recently took part in this post-Annapolis debate on al-Jazeera (Arabic service) with Ahmed Tibi, Arab Member of the Knesset, and Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Kuds University. The debate, chaired by Sami Haddad, ranged over whether Israel should be a Jewish state, whether Palestinians should return to Israel, or to a state of Palestine. The issue of the Jewish refugees was touched on, but never allowed to develop into a quid-pro-quo for the Palestinian refugees.

Here is an extract: (With thanks to Ivy for her summary and translation)

At the start of the interview Shmuel Moreh is given ample time to articulate what happened to nearly one million Jews from Arab lands. He says there was an exchange of populations. The Arab League made a covert decision to expel these Jews (they are known today as the silent million). Their assets were frozen after they fled.

Haddad: "this is what Maariv had in its article two days ago and I have it here, but the 'Jewish lobby...."

(Moreh tries to intervene but Haddad does not let him speak)

Haddad to Ahmed Tibi: "What Professor Moreh is saying is that there was a parallel exchange of populations. What do you think?"

Tibi:" I am afraid the subject is not that simple....the Jewish Agency made plans called essek kabbish - 'the shameful deal', and this Professor Moreh knows about...and this plan led to explosive operations in places frequented by Jews ...this in order to make them escape or to emigrate. From a moral viewpoint, there can be no parallel and no deal between citizens who left their country... and natives who belong there originally who were led to emigrate through aggressive war methods."

Haddad: fine (Moreh was not asked again to comment on this point by Haddad).

Professor Moreh is allowed to respond to Tibi's point that Arab refugees were within their rights to return to Israel: He says that would mean the return of the Jews to Arab lands where they saw bloodshed, etc...

The presenter Haddad interrupts him, saying that this is an eclectic debate and he is using unacceptable and low tactics unworthy of him.

Kurdish Jews make return visits

NPR has this story of a Kurdish Israeli girl returning to Kurdistan to get married. Note that the families in question who emigrated after the 1991 Gulf War with help from Israel were largely mixed Jewish-Muslim. (With thanks: a reader)

"Lana was a teenager when her family made a clandestine journey from Kurdistan to Israel.

"It was 1994, and Saddam Hussein had recently lost control of northern Iraq. Rival Kurdish militias were battling each other to fill the power vacuum. In a closely guarded emigration, Lana's family — and a dozen other Kurdish families of Jewish origin — traveled over land to neighboring Turkey in a trip organized and financed by Israel.

"Iraq's ancient Jewish community has virtually disappeared, a casualty of the conflict that continues to divide the Middle East. For the last 50 years, Iraq and Israel have been sworn enemies, part of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. Most of the ancient Jewish community in Iraq emigrated en masse in 1951. But unlike their Arab counterparts, Iraqi Kurds tend to be less suspicious of their former Jewish neighbors. And some Jewish Kurds have begun making discreet return visits to Kurdistan.

"Now Lana, 28, is a citizen of Israel who speaks Hebrew and Kurdish fluently. Last year, she returned for the first time since her emigration to live in Kurdistan with her new husband, Hano, an Iraqi Muslim Kurd. The couple asked that their full names not be used for fear of reprisal.

"I didn't think twice about marrying a Jewish woman," Hano said. "My parents always told me stories about how much they liked their old Jewish neighbors."

"Unlike the Arab majority in central and southern Iraq, the Kurds of northern Iraq don't see Jews or Israel as enemies. In the 1960s and 70s, Israel's Mossad intelligence agency provided equipment and training to Kurdish rebels who were battling the government in Baghdad. To this day, locals call a neighborhood of old sagging brick houses in the Kurdish city of Suleymaniyah, Jewlakan.

"In the former Jewish quarter of Suleymaniyah, Haji Abdullah Salah, an old Kurdish shopkeeper, says it was a sad day when almost all the Jews left town.

"The government ordered them to leave at that time, and they shouldn't take anything except their own clothes," Haji Abdullah recalls. He says that the last Jew in Jewlakan was a man they called Shalomo, who stayed behind long after the other Jews had left. Locals say Shalomo died in Suleymaniyah a few years ago.

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a small number of Kurdish Jews has been making discreet return visits from Israel to the land of their birth. Kak Ziad Aga, 71, says a Jewish classmate from his childhood recently got a warm welcome during a return visit to the Kurdish town of Koya Sinjak. It had been 50 years since he'd seen his classmate.

"Ziad Aga says he doesn't see any problem in allowing Kurdish Jews to come back to Kurdistan, but the subject is extremely sensitive for the Kurdish authorities, who are frequently accused by Arab media and Iraqi insurgent groups of collaborating with Israel. The Kurdish leadership denies the charges.

"Despite the difficult history for Kurdish Jews, Lana says she's proud of her mixed heritage. "Above all, I consider myself a Kurd," she says. "An Israeli Kurd."

Read article in full

Monday, December 10, 2007

Reaction to B. Lewis's 'On the Jewish question'

Three letters were published in The Wall St Journal in reaction to Bernard Lewis's piece On the Jewish question, in which he states that it is Israel's existence that is in question, not its size. Furthermore, Lewis writes, refugees were created by all major 20th century conflicts, including the war resulting from the partition into India and Pakistan. The Arab-Israeli conflict is no exception, it too having produced an exchange of refugee populations.

Both the first two letters miss the point about 'population exchange'. Steve Feldman is so outraged at the injustice of Palestinians 'losing their land' that he does not consider the issue of the Jewish refugees at all. Gary Goldman sees the Jews only as usurpers of Palestine. The fact that the Jews were indigenous to the Arab countries they were forced to leave, and not even party to the conflict in Palestine, has no effect whatsoever on his thinking. All that matters is that Palestinians were indigenous to Palestine, even though history has shown so many had been in the country for such a short time that they qualified for UNWRA refugee status if they had lived in Palestine for as little as two years.

So brainwashed are certain well-meaning westerners about the 'tragedy' of the Palestinians that they just cannot conceive that Jewish rights were violated as well. What would it take for a paradigm shift in western thinking to take place?

Friday, December 07, 2007

A story of Iran for Hanukka

Even though he experienced prejudice and pogroms in his youth, Farideh Goldin's father always regretted leaving Iran, where he did well under the Shah. But for Farideh it was different. The festival of Hanukka, with its stories of brave Maccabis standing up to the Greeks, does not suit the Jews of Iran so well as that of Purim, where Jews learnt to tread around their rulers to survive. From The Jerusalem Post:

During most of my adult life in Iran, I dreamed of leaving, finding a place where the words "Jew" and "woman" were not derogatory terms. My father, however, loved Iran. He never imagined a day that he would have to abandon the country of his ancestors. We had heated debates in Iran and later in his new home, Israel. Last year, he passed away on the last day of Hanukka, still dreaming of Iran, his views shared by many other Iranian Jews both in Israel and in the United States. Here are my conversations with my father.

Once upon a time, my daughter, after a brief journey, you and I yearned to return to Shiraz. Through the arched gateway adorned with blue tiles, passing underneath the holy book of Koran, we entered our forefathers' homeland for over 2,500 years. There was a time, my daughter, that your eyes, like mine, sparked with joy to see our city of roses and nightingales, the city of poets and writers.

Once upon a time, my father, winter came, the ground froze, the trees died; ice caps dropped on your city's mountain tops. I felt the familiar invisible yellow patch on my chest for being the daughter of my mothers' religion. The holy book nested on top of the gate to Shiraz did not give us, the Jews, security.

My daughter, scant were those who scorned our beliefs. People of Iran were decent and God-fearing. There is always the good and the bad wherever you go. I saw kindness, respect; I was somebody in the land of my fathers.

Don't forget that an Iranian king, Cyrus the Great, freed us from our bondage in Babylon. Our forefathers remained in Persia because we felt safe under the king's benevolent rule. Cyrus was a second Moses; Persia, our new Promised Land. We entered its borders as free men and not slaves.

Baba, didn't you tell me of dark nights of pogroms in the Jewish ghetto of your youth? Returning from his synagogue one rainy Shabbat morning, your white-bearded father, the community rabbi, was beaten bloody for daring to walk outside the walls of the ghetto.

Those were the old days of ignorance and fanaticism, of melee and mayhem - and even in the dark days, the kindness seeped through. A Muslim mullah brought us warm blankets, hot tea, bread and grapes after a long night of bedlam in the ghetto. My daughter, don't look at the ugliness. We were better off than the European Jewry, where the so called civilized Germany murdered six million of us.

Baba, we were not allowed to become six millions. We suffered in silence. Our history not recorded and publicized, our murdered ancestors die repeatedly in the elimination of their names, their stories and their faces. The Jews of Tabriz, men, women and children, were decimated in the eighth century. The Jews of Mashhad were forced to convert in the 17th century. Baba, don't help erase the past because you still yearn for your farms and orchards in Shiraz, because after such a long period of emotional and financial despair, you became a prosperous landowner under the shah's rule.(..)

"Baba, you talk of Queen Esther's story as our story, of the story of Iranian Jews. You are right, it exemplifies our position in Iranian history, as a people who had to tread gingerly around our rulers as Iranian Jews do today. The king bestowed upon Haman the power to annihilate a powerless people. Esther, even though a queen, approached the king trembling in fear. Baba a part of me prefers the story of Hanukka over Purim. I can't imagine Iranian Jews being brave enough, like the Maccabees, to rise up against those who try to annihilate us, to assimilate us, to kill our traditions.

"My daughter, Hanukka is not our story as much as Purim is. We conquered and survived through words and not swords. In your adopted country, Hanukka competes with Christmas, a commercial holiday. Don't forget that you are Persian.

"Baba, I remember you lighting the Hanukka candles in the corner, where no one could see from the outside. You mumbled the prayers so that no one could hear you beyond your family.

"I light my hanukkia by an unobstructed window. Let the candles light, growing more intense every night for eight nights, brightening my house, and the faces of those walking by the window. Let the neighbors and passersby know who I am - a Jew, no longer afraid."

Read article in full

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

March 1950: 'Iraqi Jews treated like US negroes'

Iraq, March 1950. A pathetic scene: the last Jewish senator in the parliament makes a last stand on behalf of the Jewish community of Iraq. ( To no avail: within a year most of the 140, 000 Jews would be gone and their property confiscated. A bill was passed which allowed Jews to leave Iraq legally, on condition they forfeited their nationality.)

Norman Stillman's book The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (Part 2) contains this (edited) summary by the British ambassador to Baghdad of the decisive Iraqi Parliamentary debate. The ambassador makes a startling comparison between the discriminatory treatment of the Jews in Iraq and the negroes in the American South. Contrary to revisionist accounts that they lived untroubled, harmonious lives, the Jews were repressed, jittery, and fearful of what the future might hold.

"The debate in the Iraqi Senate on March 4th on the Draft Law supplementary to the Ordinance for Cancellation of Iraqi Nationality produced two speeches of some pathos from the aged Jewish Senator, Sayyid Ezra Menahem Daniel.

"Senator Ezra (Daniel) said:" Doubtless the Government has brought forward this bill with reluctance in view of the painful condition in which Iraqi Jews find themselves today and in order to reduce the disturbances caused by illegal emigration. This bill deals with only one aspect of the Jewish question in Iraq. What can be done to reassure the Jews who do not wish to leave their homeland for good and who are loyal and law-abiding citizens? They are now deprived of their constitutional and legal rights as a result of administrative measures placing restrictions *on them alone of all Iraqi nationals.

"They have been discriminated against, and their liberties, actions, education and means of livelihood have been handicapped. Does not the Government consider it to be its duty to reassure this large section of loyal citizens by removing those extraordinary restrictions in order to restore to Iraqi Jews their sense of security, confidence and stability? The Jews have lived in Iraq for 3,500 years. That is why they are reluctant to emigrate unless they are really obliged to do so. History will reveal the real reason for this emigration and will show that the Iraqi Jews have nothing to do with the unhappy conditions of which their fellow citizens complain."

"Later in the debate the Senator spoke again saying he did not know what the Jew could do in Iraq after he had submitted to the exceptional conditions of the past two years. He had not been admitted to the Higher Colleges and was not allowed to study at his own expense abroad. Work was denied him and he suffered restrictions in business. But for these severe handicaps, Iraqi Jews would not have gone so far as to attempt large-scale flight from the country.

"The Senator added that if the Government wanted to reassure the Jews and induce them to resume their ordinary avocations it should remove these handicaps and encourage them to work.

"The Minister of the Interior, Sayyid Saleh Jabr, said in reply that the government was sympathetic with loyal citizens who did not put themselves in an attitude of opposition to the national interest. A not inconsiderable section of Jewish nationals, however, had committed acts which were not consistent with the country's interests and were in fact a disservice to the nation.Their motivation might have been political or religious. The Minister continued that the Government felt it was not in the national interest to prevent the emigration of these people to any destination they might choose...."

The British Ambassador to Baghdad adds: " It may be worthwhile to attempt to provide a more convincing answer to Senator Ezra Daniel's questions than did the Minister of the Interior. As I have already reported , the PM has told me there are now no administrative restrictions applied to Jews which do not apply to all other Iraqi citizens. I have no reason to believe this is untrue. Nevertheless, discrimination against Jews is applied in practice. In the Southern States of America, it is said to be difficult for a negro to obtain his rights against a white American in the Courts or to send his son to study alongside his white fellow citizen in higher colleges. An Iraqi Jew today suffers similar disabilities, which extends to many aspects of his life. Most educated Iraqis deplore this state of affairs,and the Iraqi governing class is increasingly perturbed by the stagnation which has been caused in the markets by the uncertainty with which the Jews regard their economic future.

"Governments in Iraq, however, are too weak to lead public opinion in a matter of this kind, and any direct attempts on their part to improve the position of Jews are immediately the object of Nationalist attack. I think the Iraqi government sincerely hoped that the departure of the Jewish malcontents under this new Ordnance would improve the atmosphere and facilitate good treatment for those who remained. Like many well-intentioned Iraqi measures its effects have been different from those intended. It has resulted in an increase in attacks by the Nationalist press on the Iraqi-Jewish community as such..."

* as recorded by Nissim Rejwan in his book The last Jews of Baghdad.

Search is on for Bosnian Muslims who helped Jews

Leaders of Bosnia's Jewish community appealed Tuesday for help locating Bosnians who aided Jews during World War II and have not been recognized, Haaretz reports (with thanks: Lily).

The search is aimed at locating people who offered help and documenting their stories, said the Bosnian Jewish Community. The effort is part of a broader project to record the lives of Bosnia's Muslim and Jewish communities over the past centuries.

Appearing on state TV, project leader Eli Tauber invited people to contact the Jewish Community or Bosnia's Institute for the Research of Crimes Against Humanity, which is also involved in the project.

This project is extremely important nowadays when Bosnia is full of negative examples of who hates whom. It sends a message of coexistence and we want to show to all peoples in Bosnia that the life of one nation with another is sacred and has to be preserved, said Muhamed Mesic, of the institute, on Bosnian TV.

One of the best-known stories of Bosnian involvement in preserving Jewish tradition during World War II involves efforts to safeguard a 600-year-old Jewish manuscript known as the Sarajevo Haggadah (pictured).

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

JJAC 'gratified' at Annapolis refugee mention

Advocates for Jewish refugees from Arab countries are “pleased and gratified” that Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni raised their issue during a speech to delegates attending last week’s summit in Annapolis, writes Paul Lungen in Canadian Jewish News. (It now appears that her words, quoted in Ynet News, were not quite accurately reported.)

“I think it was an appropriate reference. I think it was the first time such a reference was made in such a major speech by the foreign minister,” said Stan Urman, executive-director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an umbrella organization that speaks for an estimated 850,000 Jews who fled Arab countries following the establishment of Israel in 1948.

In an address to delegates that included senior Arab leaders, Livni reflected on the UN partition resolution of 1947 that created Israel as a Jewish state and was meant to create a Palestinian entity alongside it.

“I am proud of where Israel is today, she stated. “I am sorry that the Arab world rejected the principle of partition in the past, and I hope and pray that today there is an understanding that instead of fighting, the right thing to do is to build a shared future in two separate states: one – the State of Israel, which was established as a Jewish state, a national home for the Jewish people; and the other – Palestine, which will be established to give a full and complete solution to Palestinians wherever they may be, those who are in Gaza and the West Bank and those in refugee camps in other Arab countries with temporary status, waiting for a sense of belonging to a national state, the same feeling of wholeness that the establishment of the State of Israel gave to Jewish refugees who were forced to leave Arab countries and Europe and became partners in building Israel.” (My emphasis - ed)

In the months leading up to Annapolis, and even before, JJAC argued that the experience of Jewish refugees had to be incorporated into any narrative that described the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The public perception – even that of negotiators – focused exclusively on Palestinian refugees when an even larger number of Jews were made homeless as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, JJAC contended.

In the weeks leading up to Annapolis, JJAC revealed a 1947 Arab League policy of colluding to disenfranchise Jewish citizens in Arab countries, seize their property and force them to flee.

MP Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former justice minister, told The CJN that “we need to rectify the historic injustice in which Jewish refugees have been expunged from the peace and justice narrative of the last 60 years.”

As a victim refugee group, Jews from Arab lands should be given the same consideration as Palestinian refugees. In addition, Arab states and the Arab League must acknowledge their roles in creating Jewish refugees, he said.

Cotler noted that at Annapolis, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert referred to the suffering of Palestinian refugees but there was no reciprocal acknowledgement from any Arab delegate of their states’ role in creating Jewish refugees.

The Annapolis summit convened 60 years after the UN voted to create a Jewish and a Palestinian state, he continued. What has been forgotten in the widely accepted Palestinian narrative – which focuses on their displacement and suffering – is that all Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership rejected the UN partition plan and fought a war to prevent it.

Palestinian and Jewish refugees were created because the Arab countries rejected partition, Cotler stated.

He said Canada “has the refugee gavel” in multilateral refugee talks and should include the plight of Jewish refugees whenever Palestinian refugees are discussed.

Canadian Jewish Congress co-president Sylvain Abitbol said he was pleased at Livni’s reference to Jewish refugees. “It is a forgotten story in the sense you have about a million Jews [made homeless]. The moment they left their countries and entered Israel they were no longer refugees, while the Palestinians have been kept as refugees as an example against Israel.”

Abitbol, who is a member of JJAC’s executive, said Jewish refugees lost property with an estimated value of $20 billion, and their claims have to be addressed when those of Palestinian refugees are discussed.

Urman acknowledged that while Livni’s reference to Jewish refugees was brief, it was appropriate for the occasion, as Annapolis dealt with process and procedure, not with negotiations over substantive issues. He said he has been told the issue was also raised in private conversations.

JJAC plans to keep the issue alive as negotiations unfold, he continued. JJAC will meet in Israel early in the new year and, in co-operation with organizations representing “Mizrachi” (eastern) Jews, “we will try to put this on the radar screen forcefully in Israel.”

JJAC hopes to meet with Olmert, Livni and senior Israeli parliamentarians.

Read article in full

Dhimmitude in North Africa and Yemen

Writing in Front Page magazine Dr Andrew G Bostom savages Matthias Kunzel's new book: Jihad and Jew hatred, accusing him of failing to present the Islamic, doctrinal foundations for historic anti-Jewish hatred:

Kuntzel’s fleeting characterization of the dhimmi condition for Jews—the actual plight of Jews subjected to the discriminatory legal and social effects of the combined anti-dhimmi, and specific anti-Jewish hatred of Islam’s core texts—is equally wanting. The intimate doctrinal connection between the institution of jihad war, and its corollary institution, dhimmitude (most notably via Koran 9:29, and centuries of voluminous Islamic jurisprudence produced across the length and breadth of Islamic civilization), is ignored entirely (and perhaps not even understood) by the author. Kuntzel further endorses (on p. 66) the complete bowdlerization of dhimmitude as a form of benevolent, paternal “generosity,” which rewarded “appropriate humility”—ignoring the conclusions of serious scholars of the dhimmi condition in general, and for Jews in particular, S.D. Goitein, and Bat Ye’or. Both have amply demonstrated the vacuousness of such apologetics. Gotein for example (in 1970), stated explicitly,

Christians and Jews were not citizens of the state, not even second class citizens. They were outsiders under the protection of the Muslim state, a status characterized by the term dhimma, for which protection they had to pay a poll tax specific to them. They were also exposed to a great number of discriminatory and humiliating laws...As it lies in the very nature of such restrictions, soon additional humiliations were added, and before the second century of Islam was out, a complete body of legislation in this matter was in existence...In times and places in which they became too oppressive they lead to the dwindling or even complete extinction of the minorities.

With regard to North African Jewry, specifically, under Islam, Goitein, in a 1974 paper, described the Jews’ cultural narrowing to an “exclusively Talmudic sphere” as a result of “...the almost permanent state of oppression and vexations, if not outright persecutions.

Bat Ye’or’s extensive analyses of the dhimmi condition for both Jews and Christians published (in English) in 1985 and 1996, concluded:

[1985]…These examples are intended to indicate the general character of a system of oppression, sanctioned by contempt and justified by the principle of inequality between Muslims and dhimmis…Singled out as objects of hatred and contempt by visible signs of discrimination, they were progressively decimated during periods of massacres, forced conversions, and banishments. Sometimes it was the prosperity they had achieved through their labor or ability that aroused jealousy; oppressed and stripped of all their goods, the dhimmi often emigrated.

[1996]…in many places and at many periods [through] the nineteenth century, observers have described the wearing of discriminatory clothing, the rejection of dhimmi testimony, the prohibitions concerning places of worship and the riding of animals, as well as fiscal charges- particularly the protection charges levied by nomad chiefs- and the payment of the jizya…Not only was the dhimma imposed almost continuously, for one finds it being applied in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire…and in Persia, the Maghreb, and Yemen in the early twentieth century, but other additional abuses, not written into the laws, became absorbed into custom, such as the devshirme, the degrading corvees (as hangmen or gravediggers), the abduction of Jewish orphans (Yemen), the compulsory removal of footware (Morocco, Yemen), and other humiliations…The recording in multiple sources of eye-witness accounts, concerning unvarying regulations affecting the Peoples of the Book, perpetuated over the centuries from one end of the dar al-Islam to the other…proves sufficiently their entrenchment in customs

Two particularly humiliating “vocations” that were imposed upon Jews by their Muslim overlords in Yemen, and Morocco—where Jews formed the only substantive non-Muslim dhimmi populations—merit elaboration.

Moroccan Jews were confined to ghettos in the major cities, such as Fez (since the 13th century) called mellah(s) (salty earth) which derives from the fact it was here that they were forced to salt the decapitated heads of executed rebels for public exposition. This brutally imposed humiliating practice—which could be enforced even on the Jewish Sabbath—persisted through the late 19th century, as described by Eliezer Bashan:

In the 1870's, Jews were forced to salt the decapitated heads of rebels on the Sabbath. For example, Berber tribes frequently revolted against Sultan Muhammad XVIII. In order to force them to accept his authority, he would engage in punitive military campaigns. Among the tribes were the Musa, located south of Marrakesh. In 1872, the Sultan succeeded in quelling their revolt and forty-eight of their captives were condemned to death. In October 1872, on the order of the Sultan, they were dispatched to Rabat for beheading. Their decapitated heads were to be exposed on the gates of the town for three days. Since the heads were to be sent to Fez, Jewish ritual slaughterers (Hebrew, shohetim) were forced to salt them and hang them for exposure on the Sabbath. Despite threats by the governor of Rabat, the Jews refused to do so. He then ordered soldiers to enter the homes of those who refused and drag them outside. After they were flogged, the Jews complied and performed the task and the heads of the rebels were exposed in public.

Yemenite Jews had to remove human feces and other waste matter (urine which failed to evaporate, etc.) from Muslim areas, initially in Sanaa, and later in other communities such as Shibam, Yarim, and Dhamar. Decrees requiring this obligation were issued in the late 18th or early 19th century, and re-introduced in 1913. Yehuda Nini reproduces an 1874 letter written by a Yemenite Jew to the Alliance Israelite in Paris, lamenting the practice:

…it is 86 years since our forefathers suffered the cruel decree and great shame to the nation of Israel from the east to sundown…for in the days of our fathers, 86 years ago, there arose a judge known as Qadi, and said unto the king and his ministers who lived in that time that the Lord, Blessed be He, had only created the Jews out of love of the other nations, to do their work and be enslaved by them at their will, and to do the most contemptible and lowly of tasks. And of them all…the greatest contamination of all, to clear their privies and streets and pathways of the filthy dung and the great filth in that place and to collect all that is left of the dung, may your Honor pardon the expression.

See No Hatred, Record No Consequences: Kuntzel’s woefully inadequate “presentation” of Islam’s doctrinal anti-Jewish (and overlapping anti-dhimmi) hatred is accompanied, not surprisingly, by a complete failure to illustrate any of the historical consequences of these sacralized hatreds. Some brief examples are adduced in the following discussion.

Rigid conformity to a motif in the hadith (and sira) based on the putative death bed wish of Muhammad himself, as recorded by Umar (the second Rightly Guided Caliph), “Two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula of the Arabs,” had tragic consequences for the Jews of Yemen. (The hadith and sira further maintain that Umar did eventually expel the Jews of Khaybar.) Thus a pious 17th century Yemenite ruler, Al-Mahdi wishing to fulfill the mandate of this hadith in Yemen, as well, in 1679-1680, expelled the entire Jewish population of Yemen – men, women and children— deporting them to the inhospitable wastelands of the plain of Tihama. This expulsion was accompanied by the destruction of synagogues, desecration of Torah scrolls, and inducements for conversion to Islam. Three-quarters of the thousands of Jews expelled perished from exposure to the intense daytime heat (and evening cold), absence of potable water, and the subsequent spread of epidemic disease. The major Yemenite Jewish community in San’a experienced a 90 percent mortality rate from this catastrophic exile—of about 10,000 persons exiled, only about one tenth, i.e. 1,000, survived.

Read article in full

Irene Lancaster's review of Kuentzel's book

Monday, December 03, 2007

Scholars call for return of precious fragments

In the week marking 60 years since the outbreak of anti-Jewish riots in Syria, scholars at Yad Ben-Zvi research institute in Jerusalem have called on Jews around the world who originally come from Aleppo, Syria and may possess fragments of the ancient Aleppo Codex to turn them over to Israel, Haaretz reports (with thanks: Lily).

"The call came Sunday at an event marking the 60th anniversary of riots against the Jews in Aleppo during which most of the codex, the authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible written in the 10th century, was lost.

"The head of Yad Ben-Zvi's Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, Prof. Yom Tov Asis, who witnessed the riots from the window of his Aleppo home when he was five years old, said Sunday: "We know for a fact that pages are being kept in various places in the world and we hope we can touch the hearts of those who are holding them."

"The institute confirmed Sunday that talks are underway with former residents of Aleppo who are believed to be holding fragments of the texts, but declined to comment further so as not to jeopardize the negotiations. "This is the No. 1 asset of the Jewish people," Dr. Zvi Zameret, head of Yad Ben-Zvi said, "and I believe the Jewish people would do a great deal to have it back."

"Zameret was speaking at a press conference at which was presented a fragment of the codex that was brought to Israel a few days ago. A report about the fragment was published a month ago in Haaretz. This is only the second such piece to come to Israel since the bulk of the codex arrived here mysteriously in 1958.

The Aleppo Codex was written in Tiberias almost 1,100 years ago, and is the most accepted version of the Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the Masoretic, or transmitted, text.

The codex was originally brought to Jerusalem in antiquity, then taken to Cairo, and eventually to Aleppo, where it remained for more than 600 years. When riots broke out in Aleppo in December 1947, following the declaration of the partition plan by the United Nations, Aleppo's synagogue was burned and the codex was thought to have been lost.

In 1958, about 60 percent of the pages of the codex were brought to Israel and brought to Yad Ben-Zvi. It is now on display at the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The fragment shown Sunday, containing a portion of Exodus, had been held by the late businessman Sam Sabbagh, who immigrated to the United States. Sabbagh saw it as an amulet and would not part with it; however, his family agreed to donate it after his death.

Prof. Yossi Ofer of Bar-Ilan University said it was once believed that the 192 missing pages were mostly burned, but now it is thought that some were hidden in various places in Aleppo and others were taken by Jews who left Syria. Israel's second president, historian Yizhak Ben-Zvi, who founded the eponymous institute in 1947 (coincidently, Zameret told reporters, during the same week as the riots), mentions in his notes the names of those known to be in possession of the fragments, but all have denied it.

Read article in full

In-depth article by Guysen News(French)