Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reject the expression 'Arab Jew'

Philologos in the Jewish Daily Forward offers up this resounding rejection of the expression 'Arab Jew'. But he/she fails to make the point clearly that Jews were among the indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East, preceding the Arab conquest by 1,000 years:

‘A senior Saudi royal has offered Israel a vision of broad cooperation with the Arab world if it signs a peace treaty and withdraws from all occupied Arab territories,” a Reuters dispatch reported last week, citing an interview with former Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal. In the course of this interview, the prince was quoted as saying, “We will start thinking of Israelis as Arab Jews rather than simply as Israelis.”

Some vision of cooperation!

Needless to say, Prince Turki’s use of the term “Arab Jews” reflects either a comically naive misunderstanding on his part of who Israelis are, or the more sinister hope that they will one day cease to be who they are. In the best case, the prince’s remarks are ignorant and patronizing, and they reveal how even many supposedly sophisticated Arabs haven’t a clue that Israelis, although they live in the middle of an Arab expanse, are a people with a unique language, culture, history and identity of their own. If Prince Turki thinks that once peace is declared, Israelis will cheerfully agree to become another ethnic minority in the Arab Middle East, he is living in a cloud of nargileh smoke.

On the whole, however, one doesn’t come across the term “Arab Jews” in this context. Rather, it is used — mostly by Arabs but also by some anti-Israel and anti-Zionist intellectuals in the West — for the close to 1 million Jews who lived in Arab lands prior to the establishment of Israel, after which they left or were expelled from their native countries and immigrated to Israel or elsewhere. Thus, for instance, Ella Habiba Shohat, a professor of cultural and women’s studies at New York’s City University, writes of herself in an essay titled “Reflections by an Arab Jew”:

“I am an Arab Jew. Or, more specifically, an Iraqi Israeli woman living, writing and teaching in the U.S…. To be a European or American Jew has hardly been perceived as a contradiction, but to be an Arab Jew has been seen as a kind of logical paradox, even an ontological subversion [leading to] a profound and visceral schizophrenia, since for the first time in our history Arabness and Jewishness have been imposed as antonyms…. The same historical process [that is, the establishment of Israel] that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries….”

There is, of course, a cynical absurdity in blaming Israel for the wholesale plunder of Jewish property by Arab regimes in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and other countries that forbade Jews to take money or possessions with them when they emigrated from or were thrown out of these places. But apart from this, what is it that makes one wince at the term “Arab Jews”? After all, don’t Ms. Shohat and others like her have a point? If a Jew living in America is an American Jew, and a Jew living in Europe is a European Jew, why isn’t a Jew living in an Arab country an Arab Jew? Is not the objection to calling him that a form of Arabaphobia?

I think not. Anti-Arab prejudice has nothing to do with it. Historically speaking, Ms. Shohat is simply dead wrong.

It’s true that Jews lived for hundreds and even thousands of years throughout the Middle East, and that after the Arabization of the region that started with the spread of Islam in the seventh century, they became linguistically and culturally Arabized, just as Jews in America have become linguistically and culturally Americanized. But it’s also true that, in the course of these centuries, no Middle Eastern Jew, if asked whether he was an Arab, would have said yes, no matter how at home he felt in his environment. And for that matter, no Arab would have called his Jewish neighbor an Arab either. Jewishness and Arabness were perceived as antonyms in the sense of denoting two mutually exclusive ethnic identities, just as “Jew” and “goy” were antonyms in Eastern Europe. It was only in the 20th century that small numbers of Jews — most of them communists or on the Anti-Zionist political left — in cosmopolitan Arab cities like Cairo and Baghdad began to argue on behalf of an “Arab Jewish” identity as a way of repudiating Jewish nationalism and justifying their participation in Arab revolutionary politics. (..)

To refer to these communities as “Arab Jews” is not only to imply that Zionism tore them away from their true homelands for the false lure of a Jewish state; it is to demean them by denying them their own sense of themselves. It’s a term that justly deserves to be rejected.

Read article in full

NB The comments are worth reading too. They make the point that the term 'Arab' is an 'ethnic' not a 'geographic' signifier; that nobody used the term 'Arab' before the emergence of Arab nationalism in the 19th century; that people used to identify each other by religion; and that the term 'Arab' usually referred to Bedouin from the desert.

Ami Issseroff's essay

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Vast majority of Sephardim were Zionists

Ashley Perry of the Sephardi Perspective blog tackles the phenomenon of 'Sephardi skeptics' who disparage Zionism, claim Zionism was an Ashkenazi plot to 'dispossess' Sephardim of their 'Arab' heritage, and in extremis identify as Palestinians.

"Recently, I have held many discussions with certain Sephardim who have disparaged Zionism and the State of Israel. These 'intellectuals', all from North America, have only distaste for Sephardi Zionists, denigrating them as Ashkenazi dupes or worse. Many of the arguments revolve around the fact that Sephardim were dispossessed of their culture and heritage by the mainly Ashkenazi political activists who helped create modern secular Zionism.

"These Sephardi Zionist-skeptics have reinterpreted a version of Jewish history in Asia and North Africa which barely resembles the actual events that took place. For every individual that was cited as a success story for Jewish integration in the wider Muslim milieu, there were dozens of events which prove that these instances were the exception and not the rule. The Jewish status of al-Dhimma necessitated a repression which even in the best of circumstances meant that the Jew was never equal to the Muslim.

"The Zionist-skeptics also point to a rich Arab civilization which the new Israeli was being deprived of when returning to his ancestral homeland. They essentially whitewash a culture and civilization which had been in decline for many centuries: today, the whole Arab world translates fewer books than Spain in any one year. There are certainly numerous aspects of Arab culture which are very positive; but many were Jewish customs and norms long before there was such a thing as 'Arab culture'. It is certainly true that the modern State of Israel saw itself in Western terms and attempted to create a homogeny that did not allow for 'other' traditions. However, to use this element to call into question Zionism and the return to Jewish nationhood is extremely shoddy intellectual reasoning.

"As I have shown in previous articles, the vast majority of Sephardim were Zionists, whether they were religious or secular. The average Sephardi living in Israel is extremely patriotic and still retains a close connection to his traditions and religion. These skeptics thus remain on the extreme margins of the Sephardi discourse with Zionism.

"Any elements of Sephardi culture, however important, are still very secondary to the unity of the Jewish People as a whole and what unites us as a people is far greater than what divides us. Many use their Sephardi or Ashkenazi identity as a weapon against the other, hoping to score points sometimes at the cost of our unity as a people and nation. It is incredible that people like Professor Sami Shalom Chetrit consider themselves Palestinian and an 'Arab refugee' because they feel a deep sense of victimization. This understandable victimization has been misappropriated by these radical Sephardim into taking on the role of another people.

"In the debate of Arab versus Jew, Israeli versus Palestinian; they have looked to throw the proverbial "baby out with the bath water". Or in the words of Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Center in an article titled 'Post Zionism and the Sephardi Question', "the post-Zionist Mizrahi radical rejection of Zionism and the Israeli state is the wrong medicine for the disease. Rejecting Zionism is opting for a solution that is outside the Israeli political system. Such a solution will contribute little to solving the existing problems of Israeli society and its Mizrahi population. Destroying the state of Israel will not make the Mizrahim more equal or accepted by either Jewish or Arab societies."

"This disturbing view of 'Stockholm Syndrome' sees the Jews as beholden to their Arab captors, and the Jewish People who have come to rescue them as the bad guys. The situation was and is not great for many Sephardim in Israel, but to cleave to a memory of persecution, exclusion and discrimination shows that the true amount of historic and philosophical gymnastics necessary are enormous.

Read blog post in full

The Jewish intellectuals nostalgic for dhimmitude

Monday, January 28, 2008

Journey back to my Cairene roots

In October 2007, Maurice Maleh went back to his native Cairo for the first time since the 1950s. His journalist father Jacques had been expelled from Egypt in 1953, and the rest of the family followed a year later. Here are Maurice's impressions of his journey back to his roots. (Reprinted with thanks from the AJE newsletter, January 2008)

The unique occasion which prompted me, accompanied by my sister Lys, to return to my roots, for the first time since 1954, was the historic celebration for the centennial of the Shaar Hashamaim Synagogue (pictured above) in central Cairo. It lasted a few days starting on 30 October 2007.

This synagogue was built at a time when the Jewish community felt confident and prosperous. A wave of immigration in the 19th century of Sephardi Jews from Greece and Turkey, and Ashkenazi Jews from Palestine, had been attracted by the buoyant economic conditions in Egypt following the opening of the Suez Canal and the surging price of long cotton on the Alexandria Bourse.

My parents were married in 1940 by the Chief Rabbi Haim Nahoum in the Shaar Hashamaim synagogue, so it was natural that I should jump at the chance of attending the celebrations and reconnect to my past. My parents had discouraged me from going back. They had turned a new page in their lives, but I could not longer resist the constant call of my past. My own children and my wife had urged me to go many times. I was fated to come to these celebrations.

The synagogue has been refurbished and decorated so nicely it took my breath away. I had seen the pictures taken in 2003 by the Nebi Daniel Association but nothing prepared me for what I saw, which I captured on my camera.

Choral singing was drifting down from the ladies' gallery and people were mingling and admiring in seeming disbelief, capturing the moment on their cameras and in their hearts for ever. The 900-strong Jewish community in Thessaloniki managed to produce a 30-member choir of exquisite quality, brought over for the occasion.

There were two rabbis present: Rabbi Andrew Baker, of the American Jewish Committee, gave a wonderful sermon on the week's parashah: to quote a passage: "… standing here today in this synagogue, in Shaar Hashamayim, there is one thing that we can say for certain. The Jews who built this synagogue were not strangers in the land of Egypt". The other Rabbi present was Rabbi El Fassy of Paris. He blew the shofar at the end, its sound echoing in the high dome of the synagogue as if to state: this synagogue is alive and well and a beacon for the future. A pity there was no religious service, though.

Carmen Weinstein is the president of the 30-40 strong Jewish community, mostly women. She stayed on whilst others left. She is proud to be Egyptian and repeatedly thanked the Egyptian President in her introductory remarks. What will happen after she dies is an open question.

I made the trip to Heliopolis, my home town, which had celebrated its 100 years in 2004. My apartment block was in a very poor state of repair and I only recognised the balcony. Most buildings in Cairo have their rents frozen so little is spent on maintenance. We did not venture past the bottom of the stairs for fear of an accident. Heliopolis is still recognisable with its unique arcades, wide avenues and stylish buildings. The Baron Empain who build the town had great taste, that’s for sure!

From my flat I could see the path to the focal points of my young life: the Sporting Club where we spent our days after school, my uncle Phonsy’s corner shop (which is still a fashion shop), the raised restaurant near Nona’s flat (which we visited and where my parents used to go and watch the world go by) and my lovely little school (Abraham B'tesh) next to the synagogue. I walked down and noticed several bored, armed shawish guarding the place. They stopped me from taking pictures of the buildings. One policeman even pointed his rifle at me to move away. I reluctantly left, somewhat scared and dispirited.

In sharp contrast, we managed to be asked into my Nona’s flat. It was in a road parallel to ours and on the ground floor. After my father’s sudden expulsion in 1953, my mother, my sister, and I slept at my Nona’s. She had a two-bedroom flat and two balconies with a large oak front door. The layout was still fixed in my mind although I was seven when I rejoined my father in Paris. The flat, turned into a doctor’s surgery, was in quite good condition. We were welcomed in by the nice young lady doctor who spoke perfect English and allowed us to take pictures. She sensed our genuine need to reconnect with our former home. My Nona used to listen to the Arabic radio. I can sometimes still hear the soulful music wafting towards me. My sister and I loved our Nona very much. She went on to live in Nice and then left for Israel in 1966. This was our saddest visit.

Seeing the Sporting Club of Heliopolis again after all this time filled me with sadness and also excitement. The entrance I knew so well was unfortunately closed. We entered via the passage from the car park, after paying E£25 each. This is a lovely walk, bordered with jasmine and trees. I recalled large sitting rooms but did not remember the large fireplace. My sister did.

The swimming pool I did remember, especially the path alongside where I had once been pushed onto my back drawing the breath from my lungs. We sat by the pool in the lovely sunshine and ordered a Turkish coffee and visualized how it must have been in the 'golden age' of my parents.

Old black and white pictures speak volumes. The whole place was too quiet and not as I recalled it, with children playing marbles and climbing up trees in the large gardens with their nannies chasing after them to feed them. The clay tennis courts and the manicured croquet field were still there but the place lacked the vibrant Jewish life I had stored in my memory.

What of the ordinary people, the famous traffic jams, the degradation of the infrastructure, the overcrowding, the noise and smells ? Our sightings were mostly from a slow-moving coach on our way to and from the Ben Ezra synagogue simcha or a taxi ride. Adly street (where Shaar Hashamaim is situated) and surrounding streets buzzed with life, and on the face of it commerce was buoyant.

It was a pity that the still impressive apartment buildings stood underneath the grime of years of neglect. I did not notice anyone without shoes; people seemed to be dressed in western clothing. Some wore galabeyas as we entered Old Cairo where the poverty was obvious. We met a few rich Egyptians and noticed others in the expensive restaurants on the Nile and the rooftop bar of the Nile Hilton. We crossed Kasr el Nil (I remembered the lions on either side) to Zamalek where my aunt Claire used to live. The conditions here were much better. The few Egyptians we met were friendly to us (in spite of the incident at the Heliopolis synagogue). Why shouldn't they be, we meant them no harm!

Tourism has become the lifeblood of Egypt now. Arriving on our second day at the Ben Ezra synagogue, after skirting Old Cairo and its markets by coach, was a highpoint of the trip. I felt very privileged to be visiting the holy site of the oldest synagogue, restored by Canadians in 1999. This 9th century synagogue had existed at the time of Rav Moshé (Maimonides). According to Professor Reif of Cambridge University, Rav Moshe preferred to worship in his home which was yards away. Professor Reif explained the story of the Geniza and its documents as only he could. His presentation helped to set the scene for the visit. Later we visited the new annex describing the Geniza story.

We were immediately dumbstruck by the synagogue’s quiet magnificence. The trees lining the path to the doorway have gone. The synagogue was painted by my uncle André in 1955. We wandered round admiringly. How we would have loved to attend a religious service there, a rarity nowadays. Outside, in the distance, we could see church spires, but time did not allow for a good inspection of the surrounding area and places of Jewish interest.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Congress of Jews of Egypt proceedings published

The proceedings of the World Congress of the Jews of Egypt held in Haifa in July 2006 have now been published. The result is a unique book, titled History and culture of the Jews of Egypt in Modern Times. The book contains articles by 30 world-famous academic researchers, including the works of the three editors, Ada Aharoni, Aimee Pelletier and Levana Zamir.

This book describes the Golden Era history of the Jews of Egypt during the 19th and 20th centuries and contains sociological articles about their multiculturalism, culture, religion, women's status, and how they spent their leisure. It also tells how they became refugees, and how they were absorbed and rehabilitated in different countries. The book deals too with the need to accept 'The Other' and looks at the Mediterranean Option - how the merging of Western and Oriental cultures in the region, as in liberal Egypt until 1952, could foster peace and benefit all the countries in the Middle East.

The 554- page book is in English, French and Hebrew and contains beautiful historical pictures of a model multicultural society that is no more.

To order the book price $55 /£28/38 Euros (registered post and packing included) please
send cheque directly to the Publisher: Keness Hafakot, P.O.B. 18260, Tel-Aviv 61182 - Israel.
To pay by credit card or Paypal email
General enquiries to:

Moroccan Jews in Israel happiest, but not healthy

Moroccan Jews are happiest with life in Israel, while Polish Jews grumble the most, according to this report in Ynet News. But happiness does not guarantee good health:

"It has finally been scientifically proven: Israelis of Moroccan descent are extremely satisfied with life in Israel, where as Polish Jews appear decidedly less contented, this according to a unique study conducted by the Ruppin Academic Center Institute for Immigration and Integration and published in Yedioth Ahronoth Sunday. The study, which examined the quality of life of Israelis of various ethnic origins, also uncovered that Polish Jews appear to be in far better health than those of Moroccan descent.

"Coordinated by Dr. Karin Amit of the Institute for Immigration and Integration, the study examined the quality of life and health of 1,500 individuals over 50 who had immigrated to Israel.

"Amit found that Israelis born in Far-Eastern and African countries had rated their quality of life far higher than Jews of European descent. Ashkenazi Jews, paradoxically, seemed to be in far better health than their Sephardic counterparts."

Read article in full

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Moroccans meet Israel ex-Chief Rabbi Lau

A high ranking Moroccan delegation has met Israel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.

According to a press release issued by the World Association of Moroccans Abroad, talks held in Amsterdam between the Chief Rabbi of the state of Israel and the Moroccan delegation focused on peace, security and co-existence in the Middle East.

The press release said: "The Moroccan delegation stated that His Majesty the King has denounced the Hezbollah leader.

"The Moroccan delegates, Muslims and Jews together, stated that reaching a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement will allow the Arab States and Israel to confront common issues and threats.

"Israelis and Palestinians must fulfil their obligations in accordance with International Law, including humanitarian issues.

"The King maintains close ties to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Both sides stressed the importance of intensive cooperation with the White House and Brussels.

His Majesty calls upon President Shimon Peres to have the Israeli authorities banning 'the collective punishment' of Gaza residents following the recent closure of the borders and the halting of fuel, medical and food deliveries to the Strip.

"Ahead of the United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day (01.27.2008) the Moroccan delegation stressed the importance of teaching Holocaust Studies to younger generations.

Chief-Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a survivor of the Nazi Auschwitz extermination camp, blessed the individual members of the Moroccan delegation and conveyed his Barakah to His Majesty Mohamed VI, the King of Morocco."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sderot started life as the Gevim-Dorot transit camp

The pain of the town of Sderot, a mile from Gaza and battered by over 7,000 Kassam rockets in the last seven years, has attracted little interest from the international media - Mary Dejevsky's piece in the Independent notwithstanding. Still, even she probably doesn't know that Sderot started life as a transit camp for Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

"Sitting in the spacious dining room of her house in Sinai Street, Shula Sasson explains, with the weary voice of experience, that 15 seconds is not long enough for anyone except the most agile to get to the safer downstairs from upstairs. "If you have to carry a small child, you haven't a hope." So the upstairs of their large house is hardly used. Mattresses are piled up behind the settee. Everyone – seven people – now sleeps in the living room.

"A child of Sderot, Mrs Sasson was born in the fifties to Libyan-Jewish refugees and remembers happy childhood days, a close sense of community, with a sense of safety.

"She shows off an extension built by her grown-up son with his pay-off from the army. It includes a "safe" room, with a metal door and strengthened walls. At about 6ft by 4ft, it is just about big enough for everyone to squash in. After next door was hit last year, her 13-year-old son has taken to sleeping there every night – "like a dog in a kennel".

"Shula remembers to the minute when the rocket hit next door: 4.15pm on a Thursday. She saw the rocket coming in, heard the crashing and smashing as "windows, doors, everything exploded", and recalls the red-hot debris that she found on her porch.

"More than half of next door's roof was ripped off, and the house stands, apparently abandoned. The neighbours, who were not at home at the time, were evacuated; the Sassons have adopted their dogs, which mill around the tiled courtyard. And there, as the sun suddenly comes out, and the lush greenery casts its shade, you catch a glimpse of the agreeable life for which Mrs Sasson is so nostalgic.

"Now, though, hardly anyone walks outdoors unless they have to. Once-pleasant residential streets are deserted. Bus shelters double as rocket-shelters.

"At the Superdahan supermarket in what passes for the centre of Sderot, the manager, Dan Dahan, offers a range that would put most small British supermarkets to shame. He stocks everything any household would need, with colourful racks of fresh vegetables and fruit. He wonders, though, how much longer he will be able to stay in business. And if the supermarket closes, then so probably will the other remaining shops. Increasingly he has to collect goods from the wholesalers himself; no one will deliver in Sderot any more.

"His trade has halved in past year. It is not only because about 30 per cent of the population has left, it is because the exiles were the better-off residents, the ones without mortgages or with money to spare, who could afford to move. He observes, too, that shopping habits have changed. "Children are taken straight home from school by their parents; they don't drop in to buy sweets."

"There is fear in Sderot - fear of rockets and fear for the psychological damage to the next generation. But there is subdued anger, too. Far from hailing Israel's withdrawal from Gaza or the recent resumption of the peace process, Mrs Sasson and her family feel abandoned.

"Like Mr Dahan, she accuses the government of treating the residents of Sderot as "second-class citizens". If Sderot were wealthier, if the majority of its population were of European origin, if it were closer to Jerusalem – their inference is – then perhaps the government would have been tougher in its response."

The origins of Sderot, according to Wikipedia:

The first inhabitants of Sderot arrived in 1951 to what was then known as the Gevim-Dorot transit camp. Most of these residents were Kurdish and Persian refugees who lived in tents and shacks before building permanent structures almost four years later in 1954, with Sderot becaming the most easterly of the development towns in the northern Negev. In the 1961 census, the percentage of North African immigrants, mostly from Morocco, was 87% in the town, whilst another 11% of the residents were immigrants from Kurdistan.[1] In the 1950s, the city continued to absorb a large number of immigrants from Morocco and Romania, and was declared a local council in 1958.

Sderot again absorbed a large immigrant population during the Aliyah from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and its population doubled in this decade. In 1996 it was declared a city.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Interned Jews befriended Muslim Brothers in 1948

This account of Albert Oudiz's eight-month internment in 1948 at the Egyptian camp of Huckstep was given in October 2007 in London. Oudiz had been accused of political activities before being expelled from his beloved Egypt. Reproduced from the January 2008 AJE newsletter. (With thanks: Maurice)

"The 1948 war with Israel had given the Egyptian government the pretext to arrest anyone suspected of activities threatening the State. The arrests came out of the blue and had a marked effect on the young man Oudiz (then aged 26), although he was an active Communist at the time, driven by a deep sympathy for the poor and suffering in the world.

"On his arrival in prison he met up with his Communist group, including some hitherto unknown comrades. The group was swiftly depleted by transfer to other camps for security reasons, but a good number remained. There were other Communists in the camp and Zionists awaiting expulsion. Also, Jews from ex-German concentration camps later arrived. The camp was a fascinating mix of nationalities.

"After the defeat of the Arab armies, the Muslim Brotherhood laid siege to the camp with the clear intention of cutting the throats of the interned Jews (by then calling themselves Gama’ah). On seeing the Muslim Brotherhood, the prison guards fled the camp, led by the commanding officer, leaving the Jews defenceless. Always resourceful, the Jews set about collecting floor boards and other materials to protect their hut against attack. Meanwhile, one of their group attempted, successfully, to make contact with the Army using the deserted guard house. Rescue then came quickly. Muslim Brotherhood prisoners were later interned in the camp. After a period of hostility, eventually a friendly rapport developed with Gama’ah. The real enemy became boredom and laziness. The Jewish inmates organised all sorts of activities including sport, gardening, improvised orchestras etc."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Assimilation is best hope for Palestinian refugees

The Jewish refugees represent the most effective, but least popular solution to the Palestinian Arab refugee crisis: assimilation. But the success of the Jewish assimilation should not obscure the tragedy of being uprooted from their birthplaces. Thoughtful opinion piece written in December 2007 by Michael Gryboski in Broadside online magazine.

Few modern repatriation disputes evoke as much emotion in global politics as the Palestinian Right to Return. It began in 1948 with approximately 750,000 refugees who fled the Levant during the first Arab-Israeli War and it continues to be a situation to the present day, with as many as four million refugees and their descendants scattered mostly in other Middle Eastern nations and North America.

Many organizations have been founded with the intention of getting the whole population of refugees into the country they abandoned 60 years ago. For many, it is that easy to solve the problem. After all, Israel has already absorbed 850,000 refugees of Middle Eastern descent. However, that piece of information deserves clarification, for those 850,000 Middle Easterners were given refugee status when they entered Israel, having fled Arab nations due to violence that was often state-sponsored. These are the forgotten refugees. The acknowledgement of Jewish refugees in the Arab-Israeli conflict creates a new perspective on the Right to Return.

Important to stress regarding the Arab refugees is that contrary to what some believe Israel’s creation did not require their removal. When Zionist communities were first organized in the Levant during the Victorian Era, the influential leader Emir Faisal stated, “The Jewish Movement is national and not imperialistic. Our movement is national and not imperialistic, and there is room in Syria for us both.” The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, ratified May 14, 1948, calls for cooperation between the two: “We appeal . . . to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” During the initial violence of the 1948 war, British and Jewish officials urged Arab communities to remain in Israel proper.

Regardless, the reasons for the mass exodus, the fact remains that the Arab refugees were never allowed to return. Yet neither were the 850,000 Jewish refugees, a population much larger and much more ignored. Whole Middle Eastern Jewish communities, many which had existed for millennia by the time the Arabs first entered the Levant, were destroyed by hostile regimes and ethnic violence between the Israeli War of Independence and the Six Day War. Aden had virtually every native-born Jew either driven out or killed by the time the Israeli military occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Iraq, once an epicenter for Mizrahi culture, had its Jewish population decrease by 130,000 between 1948 and the Yom Kippur War. These are just samples of what was a trend found throughout the Middle East. Compensation of any kind for these refugees has yet to be seriously considered by the United Nations. They do not even get name recognition; when people think of Right to Return, Jews do not come to mind, Palestinians do.

So why then are these Jewish refugees overlooked and in particular when it comes to the debate over right to return? Because they present the most effective and least popular solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis: assimilation. Few believed in the 1950s that the Jewish refugees fleeing to Israel would ever return home, so what ended up happening over time was an arduous but successful absorption of these refugees. This is significant, since Israel, a country smaller than the Commonwealth of Virginia, incorporated 850,000-plus into its society while the neighboring Arab states did no such service for Palestinian Arab refugees. As historian Cyril Falls recorded in 1964, “It has been calculated that Syria alone could absorb all the refugees in the Jordan Valley, but the Arab states together still admit only a trickle.” Rather than aid their Arab brethren, Middle East nations like Jordan and Syria exploited the poor conditions of the refugee camps in order to further their political bashing of Israel. Breaking from the fold, the late King Hussein of Jordan admitted the reality of the situation: “Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible mannerthey have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal." (...)

A program of assimilation would have to include removing refugees from their squalid conditions and giving them homes and jobs, something that the Jordanian monarchy certainly could afford to fund. It would be harder for Lebanon to do the same. Certainly if all the wealthy intellectuals who say they want the Palestinians to have decent living standards combine their monetary efforts, their international charity would alleviate that problem area as well.

Assimilation is the best and most realistic solution for the Palestinian refugees, just as it was the best and most realistic solution for the Jewish refugees. Maybe that is why no one ever talks about them: the success of incorporation into Israeli society was such that it was as though they had never suffered the tragedy of being driven from their birthplaces. Just because the scars healed fast does not mean they were never inflicted. After 60 years, it should be realized that it is the obligation not of Israel but of Jordan et al to end the camps and welcome their Arab brethren to their new homes just as Israel did the same for the forgotten refugees, who get no recognition by those involved in this regional dispute.

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'We will think of Israelis as Arab Jews': Saudi prince

First Saeb Erekat and other Palestinian 'moderates' cast a shadow over Annapolis by confirming what Israeli wishful thinking has always ignored: the Arabs will never recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Now Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal has said much the same thing. Dhimmitude, anyone?

In an interview with Reuters, PrincePrince TurkiTurki al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the US and UK, again touted the 2002 Saudi peace initiative requiring full Israeli withdrawal from “occupied Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land” in return for “full normalization of relations.” But Turki added a refinement: If Israel signed a comprehensive peace, “one can imagine the integration of Israel into the Arab geographical entity.” He went on to say: "We will start thinking of Israelis as Arab Jews rather than simply as Israelis."

Debkafile's political sources note that this influential Saudi, a former intelligence chief and brother of foreign minister Saudi al Faisal, is keeping up the relentless Arab assault on the Zionist ideal of a sovereign Jewish state in its ancestral homeland.

Furthering his vision of an Arabized Israel, the Saudi prince holds out the promise of: "Exchange visits by people of both Israel and the rest of the Arab countries would take place."

Read article in full

Rabbi Shabazi's remains may be brought to Israel

After both the children and grandchild of Benjamin Ze'ev (Theodor) Herzl, the father of Zionism, were brought back to Israel for burial, Ynet News reports that great efforts are currently being made to bring the bones of Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, one of the great poets and rabbis of Yemenite Jewry, back to Israel for burial. (With thanks: a reader)

Rabbi Shalom Shabazi is one of the most admired, respected and revered rabbis among Yemenite Jews. He lived in Yemen during the 17th century, which was an extremely difficult time for Yemenite Jewry. During this time, many Jews living in Yemen were forced to remove their traditional hats, and some were even exiled to the desert. >Not only was a renowned rabbi, Shabazi also a highly accomplished poet. He wrote countless deeply symbolic and meaningful poems during his lifetime that were of great comfort to his fellow Yemenite Jews.

One of Shabazi’s most famous poems was called “Im Nin'Alu” (“Should They Be Closed”), which was been put to music and sung by Israeli singer Ofra Haza, Nissim Garame and others. Its first line states simply, “Even if the gates of the rich will be closed, the gates of heaven will never be closed."(...)

Roughly a month ago, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Gabbai, Chairman of the Ohalei Tzadikim Foundation, which works to preserve Jewish cemeteries all around the world, traveled to Ta'izz and put a new headstone on Shabazi’s grave.

Gabbai, unaware of the efforts to bring Shabazi to Israel, endured an incredibly difficult—not to mentions dangerous—journey to the Yemenite city of Ta’izz. Seeing as Israelis are not allowed into Yemen, Gabbai used a foreign passport to enter the country, arousing the suspicion of Yemenite authorities.

Ultimately arriving at Shabazi’s gravesite, Gabbai bought cement, rebuilt the grave’s headstone, and placed on it a large placard reading: “Here lies the man of God, the light of Yemenite Jewry, Aba Shalom Shabazi."

Read article in full

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bat Ye'or refused 'right of reply' by Jerusalem Post

Following the publication of Mark R Cohen's article, "The New Muslim Anti-Semitism, featured here, The Jerusalem Post has refused to publish a response by the noted historian of dhimmitude, Bat Ye'or. To be precise, the Jerusalem Post said it would publish a letter from Bat Ye'or or even an 'original' 1,000-word op-ed, but not what the editor called 'an attack on Cohen'. (With thanks: Jerusalem Posts, Eliyahu)

Professor Cohen's article repeated what Dhimmiwatch called 'many politically correct and comforting historical fictions', including:

The flip side of the discriminatory regulations imposed upon Jews is that they (as well as Christians) were a "protected people," 'ahl al-dhimma' or 'dhimmis' in Arabic, who enjoyed security of life and property, religious freedom, freedom from forced conversion, communal autonomy, and equality in the marketplace. For all its religious exclusivity and hostility towards the Jews, expressed in the Koran and in other Islamic literature, Islam contains a nucleus of pluralism that gave the Jews in Muslim lands greater security than Jews had in Christian Europe. For other important reasons, too, Jews in the Islamic orbit were spared the damaging stigma of "otherness" and anti-Semitism suffered by Jews in Europe. They were indigenous to the Near East - not immigrants, as in many parts of the Christian West - and largely indistinguishable physically from their Arab-Muslim neighbors.

Bat Ye'or, the pioneering historian of dhimmitude, wrote this unpublished response for the Post:

In his article “The New Muslim anti-Semitism” (Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2006), Mark R. Cohen unfortunately provides nothing new on a subject that now involves a global jihad war and a genocidal threat. It merely rehashes a short-sighted article he published over twenty years ago, “Islam and the Jews: Myth, counter-Myth, History” (The Jerusalem Quarterly, n° 38, spring 1986) to which I wrote a rejoinder, “Islam and the Dhimmis” (JQ n° 42, spring 1987)

Read Bat Yeor's response in full (scroll down)

The Jerusalem Post editor replied:

Frankly, I don't know what there is to "respond" to as Cohen's piece was a carefully nuanced balanced essay which could have been written by Bernard Lewis. You may disagree with his argument that Christian Jew-hatred influenced Muslim Jew-hatred but he did not downplay the nature of negative Muslim attitudes toward Jews.

I found Bat Ye'or's response something of an intemperate rant ( her Jerusalem Quarterly rejoinder was much more measured). But the Cohen article was controversial, simplistic and even insulting. It needs a response.

Syrian Jews turn out to greet author Marek Halter

In what is otherwise a puff-piece on behalf of the Syrian regime, the famous French Jewish author Marek Halter writes in Haaretz about meeeting Syrian Jews:

"The Syrians value their secular society. Even the Syrian Grand Mufti, Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, prides himself on his secularity. According to him, such a position implies respect for other religions. He invited me, a Polish Jew and French writer, to speak to the congregation during Friday prayers in one of the most famous mosques in the Muslim world, the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. The reason for my invitation, according to him, was that I am what he calls a khakham, which, both in Arabic and Hebrew means an "erudite."

"A few hundred Jews still live in Syria. Almost eighty live in Damascus and own 20 synagogues in the city, but due to a lack of attendance, only one actually functions. There is one restriction, however: all relations with Israel are forbidden. Syria and Israel may as well be at war.

"I visited the community center with Michel Duclos, the French ambassador to Syria. When we got out of the car, the entire Jewish population of Damascus was there waiting to greet us, and applause broke out. Both Albert Cameo, the president of the Jewish community and I were deeply moved. It is rare for anyone to come and visit them."

Read article in full

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Was Bush aware of Jewish refugees - or wasn't he?

News reports given prominence on Point of no Return that President George W Bush is aware of the plight of Jewish refugees now seem to have been contradicted by a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto.

According to an article in World Net Daily: "The Bush administration apparently hasn't given consideration to the Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab nations when Israel was launched as a nation six decades ago, according to a White House spokesman.

The question came up as a result of Bush's trip to the Middle East, and a Washington Post report that the president was lobbying for compensation for the Palestinian refugees who lost homes or property.

Les Kinsolving, WND's correspondent at the White House, raised the issue.

"The top of page one of The Washington Post reported from Jerusalem the president saying that Palestinian refugees in 1948 should receive compensation for loss of homes, when they fled or were forced to flee during the establishment of the state of the Israel. And my question: Is there any record of anyone asking the president about the 870,000 Jews who at that time were forcibly expelled from their homes in 10 Arab countries and have never been compensated for the lost property?"

"I'm not aware of the president having been asked that question," answered spokesman Tony Fratto.

"And do you have an answer to it, since I'm raising it?" Kinsolving continued.

"I'm not aware of the – you asked if I knew if the president has been asked, and I told you I'm not aware that he has or hasn't."

"Nobody's asked. All right," Kinsolving said.

"Not that I'm aware of."

"On the other hand, a senior US diplomat in Israel told Ynet News:

"Referencing the Palestinian refugee problem, (the US official noted that) the US president is well aware of the fact that post 1948 Jewish refugees from Arab countries immigrated only to Israel and nowhere else (not true: some 300,000 Jews emigrated to the West - ed) . He added that many of these Jews—Iraqi Jews especially—lost a great deal of their property, but just as these Jewish refuges came to the Jewish homeland, there is an analogous situation with Palestinian refugees nowadays."

So which official do we believe? It could be that the US spokesmen back in Washington are out of step with US diplomats on the ground.

Friday, January 18, 2008

JJAC pleased with Bush over Jewish refugees

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) has declared itself pleased that President Bush raised the matter of the Jewish refugees during his visit to Israel. JJAC attributes the president's interest in the plight of Jewish refugees to the efforts of Maurice Shohet, a member of the JJAC steering committee, among others. JJAC also pledges to continue promoting two Congressional resolutions which, when passed, would make it obligatory for Jewish refugees to be mentioned whenever Palestinian refugees are discussed.

Here is the full text of the JJAC press release (with thanks: Ezra):

January 17, 2008 - (New York, NY) Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) is pleased that President George Bush raised the issue of Jews from Arab countries while on his official visit to Israel in early January. In an article headlined, "Bush aware of Jewish Refugee' Plight," The Jerusalem Post said the U.S. President was "very conscious" that Jewish refugees fled to Israel from Arab lands after the 1947-49 war, and that one of the points that came up in Bush's discussion was the number of Jewish refugees that were created in the period after 1948.

"This report of President Bush's interest in the plight of Jews from Arab countries, comes after the December visit to the White House by Maurice Shohet, a long time member of JJAC's International Steering Committee. Joining Mr. Shohet at the White House were Professor Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl, parents of slain Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, all of whom spoke to President Bush on the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab counties. This followed the recent Annapolis Peace Conference, where JJAC issued a declaration which stated, inter alia: "The exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries will prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and undermine the justice and legitimacy of any agreement." In preparation for Annapolis, JJAC sent a letter to President Bush asking that the issue of Jews from Arab countries be discussed in the context of Middle East refugees.

"Stanley A. Urman, Executive Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries welcomed the news of Bush's remarks, "We are grateful that the President is cognizant of this important narrative - the violations of rights, and the displacement, of up to one million Jews from Arab countries. President's Bush's words come at the opening of the 2008 Congressional session, at which consideration will be given to two bi-partisanship resolutions which call attention to the fact that Jews living in Arab countries suffered human rights violations, were uprooted from their homes, and were made refugees."

"The Resolutions, Senate Res. 85 and House Res. 185, would signify that "it would be inappropriate and unjust for the United States to recognize rights for Palestinian refugees without recognizing equal rights for former Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries." Far-reaching and comprehensive, these Resolutions instruct the President to ensure that in all international forums, when the issue of 'Middle East refugees' is discussed, representatives of the United States must ensure that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity.

"Over the next several months, JJAC will be working with Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) on promoting the Resolutions. JJAC is a coalition of Jewish communal organizations operating under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Sephardi Federation in partnership with the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, B'nai Brith International, the Jewish Public Council for Public Affairs and the World Sephardic Congress."

Update: JIMENA has appealed for US citizens to lobby their Congressional representatives to support House resolution 185 on Jewish and other minority group refugees. The Bill is due to be marked up in the House Foreign Affairs Committee in February.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Muslims restore Jew-less Tunisian synagogues

Tunisia has been cashing in on its Jewish heritage by restoring the country's synagogues. But while the tourists are coming, Jewish life has dwindled to next to nothing outside Djerba. Larry Luxner of JTA News reports:

"The government clearly wants to encourage Jewish tourism from Europe, Israel and the United States. But Tunisians say it's not just about bringing in dollars and euros.

"Tunisia’s president “wants people to come back and visit the places where they were born and raised," said Monique Hayoun, a software engineer living in Paris who left her hometown of Nabeul in 1976 and occasionally returns to Tunisia to visit family and friends.

"The Israelis are nostalgic. For a long time, they wanted to come back here, but in the '60s and '70s it wasn't so easy," Hayoun told JTA. "Under President Ben-Ali, there's much more openness.”

"Nabeul is a five-minute drive from the popular Mediterranean resort of Hammamet. In 1956, on the eve of Tunisia's independence, nearly 1,200 Jews -- a quarter of Nabeul's population -- lived in the town. Up to 400 people would crowd into its Great Synagogue for Yom Kippur services, while six smaller shuls served the rest of the community.

But by 1976, Nabeul's Jewish population had dwindled to 115. Only four Jewish families are left now, and the Great Synagogue is of interest mainly to tourists, according to Hebrew-speaking tour guide Ben Mansour Seyfeddine.

"I feel very close to the Jews," Seyfeddine, 38, said as he showed a group of Israelis around the empty synagogue.

"Seyfeddine explained that in Nabeul there was never a specific Jewish neighborhood, and Muslim and Jewish families often lived together -- sometimes even in the same house.

"That wasn't the case in Le Kef, where Jews were clustered in a district adjacent to the synagogue, which is located only a few steps away from a Byzantine basilica that later became the town's grand mosque.

"In the early 1930s, as many as 900 Jews lived in the town, according to Mohamed Tlili, the former director of the Historical Society of Le Kef. But after 1967, most Tunisian Jews immigrated to Israel, and by the early 1980s barely a handful remained in Le Kef.

"We had a moral obligation to do something," said Tlili, the man responsible for restoring Le Kef's synagogue. "Everybody wanted to help, but they didn't know what to do. It was like chaos. There was nobody praying in there. It was dirty and in ruins."

"In the end, the office of the president stepped in, providing 50,000 Tunisian dinars -- about $40,000 -- for the three-month restoration project supervised by Tlili and his staff.

"Located in the heart of Le Kef's kasbah -- a neighborhood of whitewashed houses and turquoise-blue windows and doors -- the synagogue is a tidy little building open seven days a week, year round. Inside, the walls are decorated with 139 plaques honoring the memory of long-departed families with names like Sabbah, Levy and Sassoon.

"Among the more unusual features is its 600-year-old Torah scrolls written on sheepskin. A wooden circumcision chair is displayed prominently at the entrance, and black-and-white photos show the 1994 restoration at various stages.

"The president of the synagogue wanted to take the scrolls to Tunis or Djerba, but the local authorities said no, so they kept the scrolls in the local museum for 10 years until the synagogue was restored," Tlili said. "Our president himself took care of the financing. He insisted it be done because it was a part of our heritage."

"Tlili, 58, who owns a library and internet cafe in town, said he remembers his father, a devout Muslim, trusting only the rabbi of Le Kef to slaughter his lamb to ensure no kashrut laws would be broken. He added that it was traditional for the Jews and Muslims of Le Kef to share a festive meal after Sukkot.

"On the island of Djerba, home to two-thirds of Tunisia's 1,500 Jews, signs of Jewish life are hard to miss -- especially in Hara Sghira, a small village that is home to the Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in North Africa.

"In 1985, a security guard at the synagogue opened fire on congregants, killing three. In 2002, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing near the synagogue that killed 21 people, most of them German tourists.

"These days, 15 little boys learn the Hebrew alphabet at nearby Yeshivat Or Torah under the direction of a 23-year-old teacher named Yusef. Not far away, at Gan Bet Rachel, some 90 children spend every morning except Shabbat learning numbers, letters and the names of animals."

"We don't feel any different than anyone else," said kindergarten teacher Shoshana, who has family in Jerusalem. "My father stayed here, but everyone else left. The Jews who remain here are happy."

Read article in full

Picture: The Ghriba synagogue, Djerba, 1995. Micha Bar-Am

Tunisian Jews trade democratic rights for stability

Stability for Tunisia's remaining 1,500 Jews has come at the price of democratic rights, reports Larry Luxner in JTA News.

TUNIS (JTA) -- To the east is Libya, a vast desert nation ruled by strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi, where not a single Jew remains from the forced exodus that followed Israel’s founding in 1948.

To the west is Algeria, a bloodstained country that once boasted 140,000 Jews and today is home to barely 100.

Squeezed between these two oil-rich giants is Tunisia, a Wisconsin-sized oasis of tranquility that safeguards its 1,500 Jews, foots the bill to restore old synagogues and even welcomes Israeli tourists -- despite the lack of diplomatic relations between Tunis and Jerusalem and Tunisia's history as PLO leader Yasser Arafat's home during the 1980s.

In many ways, Tunisia is distinct in the Arab world.

The country is home to the Arab world’s only Jewish legislator, an 81-year-old senator who also is president of Tunisia’s Jewish community. In November, World ORT returned to the country after a 35-year absence, inaugurating a computer laboratory and IT center at the Chabad School of Tunis at a ceremony attended by Education Ministry officials.

And despite the absence of diplomatic ties with Israel, in 2005 an Israeli delegation that came to a U.N.-sponsored telecommunications conference in Tunis was headed by Tunisian-born Silvan Shalom, at the time Israel's foreign minister.

But stability in Tunisia -- for its Jews and for the country as a whole -- has come at a price, analysts say: democratic rights.

“Unfortunately, Tunisia is a long way from democracy,” said Nejib Ayachi, founder and president of the Maghreb Center, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on North Africa. “They keep saying they’re working on it, but I personally believe that institutions and the rule of law should come first, before establishing a democratic system that works effectively.”

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, after Ben Ali has been in power since ousting the ailing Habib Bourguiba in a bloodless coup in 1987.

Though Tunisia has held several presidential elections, few take them seriously. In 1999, Ben Ali's party won 99.66 percent of the vote. In 2004 he officially won 94.48 percent of the vote after a constitutional change two years earlier enabled him to seek re-election.

But supporters point out that under Ben Ali's rule, Tunisia has been able to develop one of the highest levels of literacy in the Arab world, as well as one of its lowest rates of infant mortality and unemployment.

Roger Bismuth, the Jewish member of Tunisia's Chamber of Deputies, credits the 71-year-old president for keeping Tunisia on a moderate course, promoting education and protecting Tunisian Jews from the chaos and religious extremism enveloping much of North Africa.

“The president is good to us,” Bismuth said, adding, “We are very careful. Our security is very tight, even if you don’t see it.”

"There is a national consensus around Ben Ali," Mohamed Nejib Hachana, Tunisia's ambassador to the United States, told JTA. "He is the savior of Tunisia, and he's putting our country on the right track in this very risky and difficult moment. He is deadly serious about democracy and pluralism."

The threat of Islamic terrorists groups like al-Qaida has given Arab dictatorships a handy excuse to crack down on civil liberties, even in monarchies where there’s been some nominal movement toward democracy, such as Jordan and Morocco, says Abdeslam Maghraoui, a North Africa expert and visiting associate professor at Duke University.

Read article in full

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bush 'very aware' of Jewish refugees

US President George W. Bush is "very conscious" that Jewish refugees fled to Israel from Arab lands after the 1947-49 war, and this came up in his discussions on the Palestinian refugee issue last week in Jerusalem, a senior Western diplomatic source said Tuesday, Herb Keinon of The Jerusalem Post reports. The question remains: why did Bush not mention them publically?

US President George W. Bush.
Photo: AP

"Jewish organizations have been trying for years to underline the similarities between the plight of Jewish and Arab refugees, and this was a clear indication that the narrative has begun to seep into US administration thinking.

"According to the official, "One of the points that came up in this [Bush's] discussion was the number of Jewish refugees that were created in this period after 1948. The president is very conscious that the Jewish refugees came to the Jewish state, and I think that's a parallel situation."

The official said, "A lot of the people now in Israel were refugees, they were one way or another made to feel unwelcome in the countries around the region. A lot of them lost property, and in some cases - in Iraq for example - they very narrowly escaped."

"The official made an analogy that just as Jewish refugees were absorbed in the Jewish state, the Palestinian refugees should be absorbed in a future Palestinian state.

"Both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have recently been highlighting in private conversations with guests from abroad the plight of the Jews who fled Arab countries after the creation of Israel.

"It is no coincidence that Bush has become aware of this," one Israeli government official said.

Read article in full

Update: JIMENA urges you to write and thank President Bush at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20500, USA.

Update: The Zionist Organisation of America has criticised President Bush for failing to mention the Jewish refugees: "This failure will only lead to a lack of balance in negotiations over compensation for the non-Arab refugees."

Israel must pursue redress for Jewish refugees

Further to President George Bush's allusion to an international fund to compensate refugees, a Jerusalem Post editorial hammers home the point that compensation for refugees must include Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Israel must pursue this in earnest:

"As the (Israeli) Foreign Ministry's web site explains, "Israel does not bear responsibility for the creation or the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Thus it cannot declare, even as a gesture, responsibility for the problem." Our diplomats and leaders need to hammer this point home, and also stress that if there is to be compensation, that the Jewish refugees of this period not be forgotten.

"The establishment of Israel afforded Arab tyrants the pretext to engage in massive ethnic cleansing against their own Jewish inhabitants. In effect a population exchange transpired in this region, with Jewish refugees from Arab countries outnumbering those Arabs who left Israel (about one million Jews compared to 600,000 Arabs).

"The Jews, though, were never compensated for the property they were forced to relinquish. If compensation mechanisms are to be set up, then by right they ought to include reimbursement for Jews as well, especially as these Jews did not initiate aggression against anyone and in many cases resided in the various Arab countries centuries before Arabs or Islam appeared there.

"The Jewish refugees' cause was first raised forcefully in the Knesset in 1975 by then-MK (later Israel Prize laureate) Mordechai Ben-Porat, who founded the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) to document property and assets left behind by Jews in Arab countries. In 2003, the government officially authorized WOJAC to list all that was confiscated from Jews by Arab governments.

"Jewish lands were wrested from Jews by order of Arab regimes, as were Jews' bank accounts and even jewelry. This wasn't only limited to the time of Israel's establishment. Egypt stripped its Jews of all they had in 1956.

"Occasionally there are murmured allusions to these facts from official Israel, such as from Menachem Begin in the first Camp David process and Ehud Barak in his 2000 Camp David talks. But the issue has not been pursued in earnest. It should be."

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bush implies compensation for Jewish refugees too

During his visit to Israel last week, President George Bush effectively threw down the gauntlet to the Arab League to compensate Palestinian refugees or resettle them in a Palestinian state. His King David Hotel declaration on 10 January put forward compensation, not return, as the answer to the Arab refugee problem. It may have escaped many observers, but his declaration was worded carefully enough also to cover Jewish refugees from Arab lands, although he did not mention them explicitly.

As David Singer writes in Israelinsider:

"The President had already made it clear in April 2004 that the Arab League needed to abandon its long standing demand that millions of Arabs be allowed to go and live in Israel when he stated :

"It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel."

The Arab League has failed to embrace this suggestion as the solution to the refugee issue.
The King David Declaration has now raised the diplomatic bar even higher with the President stating :

"I believe we need to look to the establishment of a Palestinian state and new international mechanisms, including compensation, to resolve the refugee issue."

"These well chosen and carefully crafted words make it clear that President Bush is proposing additional "international mechanisms" to solve the refugee issue -- other than resettlement in the proposed new Arab State. One of those "international mechanisms" will be "compensation" -- and Israel won't be the only country asked to pay it.

"The President has thereby tacitly acknowledged that Israel cannot be held solely responsible for what befell the Arab residents who left Palestine in the wake of the Arab-Jewish conflict in 1947-1948. Other countries -- including members of the Arab League who have perpetuated the refugee issue for the last 60 years -- will also be expected to contribute generously to an internationally administered and funded compensation package".

An international fund is also the preferred solution for the compensation of Jewish refugees. Here President Bush is re-iterating an idea first put forward by President Clinton in 2000:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made the following assertion after the rights of Jews displaced from Arab countries were discussed at ‘Camp David II’ in July, 2000 (From White House Transcript of Israeli television interview):

“There will have to be some sort of international fund set up for the refugees. There is, I think, some interest, interestingly enough, on both sides, in also having a fund which compensates the Israelis who were made refugees by the war, which occurred after the birth of the State of Israel. Israel is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in predominantly Arab countries who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land”.

Jews still in Lebanon do not feel safe

There could be over a hundred Jews still living in Lebanon, but they live in fear and do not feel safe, a young woman has written in a message to Point of no Return*:

"I was so glad when I found the blog on Lebanese Jews," she wrote." But of course being a Jew and a Lebanese young woman, living in Lebanon, I had to double-check before writing anything on that blog. YES, information is circulated that is a fraud. I agree that being a Jew cannot be dissociated with Israel.

"I think we are more than a hundred and that there are a few young Jews, of Jewish mothers still living in Lebanon. Unfortunately we live in fear and yes, we hide the fact of being Jewish. The religion of a person is specified on the identity cards in Lebanon, and we are registered as Christians (mostly).

" At the beginning of the war, we were targeted, I know that for a fact, because an aunt of mine was kidnapped and threatened with death. Her husband paid them. She left the country at her release.

" A few of us keep the traditions. Well it is difficult without a rabbi, etc. but in a few homes, candles are lit on Shabbat. I really advise any Lebanese Jew, let alone any Jew, NOT to visit Lebanon. We are not safe."

When asked why she did not leave, the young woman, who had travelled outside Lebanon, wrote that she had married a Christian, as had her mother and grandmother. Nevertheless, she tried to keep Jewish traditions, and even baked challah for Friday night.

*scroll down to comment of 8 January 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

Iranian Holocaust drama is 'problematic' for Jews

The Centre for Iranian Studies in Tel Aviv weighs in to condemn the Holocaust drama recently shown on Iranian television as an ahistorical, anti-Zionist and antisemitic enterprise, according to The Jerusalem Post.

"Although Western media outlets such as BBC, The Wall Street Journal and Der Spiegel have lauded the series for its admission that the Holocaust took place, and interpret it as a sympathetic reversal in the Iranian attitude toward Jews, Zero Degree Turn is nevertheless laden with problematic messages regarding Jews.

"The series purports to reflect the events leading up to WWII, yet it is fraught with anachronistic discrepancies, and blatantly falsifies the historical realities of the era. This is demonstrated, inter alia, by the false assertion that Zionists and Nazis collaborated to provoke Jewish emigration. Also, the series fails to address European anti-Semitism and the rise of the Zionist movement; it is as if Zionism emerged in a vacuum. While Iranian state TV finally draws a distinction between Jews and Zionists, the series likens Zionism to Nazism by placing them on the same immoral plane - unmistakably an intentional message of the series.

"The hardline Kayhan newspaper congratulated the series for conveying this idea: "The ground for [creating] Israel is prepared when Hitler's army puts pressure on activist Jews. In this sense... Nazism [is] parallel to Zionism."

"Here, Kayhan hits it on the mark: The ultimate goal of the series is to delegitimize the establishment of Israel, and therefore its right to exist.

"Given that the director has mentioned that the state intends to market the series beyond Iran's borders, the series should be seen as a sophisticated attempt to showcase the regime's virulent anti-Israel views abroad."

Read article in full

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Azeri Jews: a model of coexistence?

Tajikistan,Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are becoming increasingly hostile places for their Jewish citizens, but there is one Muslim ex-Soviet republic where the Jews seem to be thriving: Azerbaijan. Gabriel Lerner in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles asks whether the republic could provide a model of Jewish-Muslim coexistence. (With thanks: a reader)

"This is where the Jewses [sic] of Quba live," says the guide, pointing at the group of houses I was looking at. "They are very successful."

Behind us is a cemetery. While the rest of the group stares at the river and the city, I walk alone toward the cemetery's iron gates, where I immediately recognize a Mogen David. This gate is not unlike one at the cemetery outside Buenos Aires, where my father is buried, or one in Rishon Letzion, Israel, that contains my ex-father-in-law's remains, or even the cemetery where my sister rests in L.A.'s Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills. I walk slowly, reading the Russian and Hebrew inscriptions and staring at the photographs of the deceased etched in stone.

"They [the Jews] have the best cars," continues the guide. "Ferraris, Mercedes. They have them all. Jewses in Quba live very well." His face portrays satisfaction and pride, and the other members of my group -- journalists from Europe and the United States -- listen and nod. I am with this group to cover for La Opinión an international conference on the role of the media in the development of tolerance, organized by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Not unlike the Jews of Sefarad (Spain) during the First Caliphate, Azerbaijan's Jewry is interwoven into the fabric of this state, which emerged in August 1991 from the Soviet Union. And despite their minuscule numbers -- maybe 12,000 in a population of 8 million -- their presence is known and acknowledged, especially that of the Jews of Quba. These Mountain Jews, as they are called, have been living in this area for a very long time, perhaps 2,500 years; they consider themselves the descendants of those Jews exiled to Babylon after the destruction of the first Temple in 586 B.C.E., remaining in what is modern day Iran. In the eighth century, when the Muslims from the Arab Peninsula conquered the area, they brought the Jewish tribe, an ally, to the area of Baku to serve as a barrier against the Kazakhs to the north. In 1730, they were officially allowed to put down roots and own property in the Quba province.

Read article in full

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chelsea football manager had Iraqi-Jewish mother

Here's one factoid that not many football fans are likely to find out: the Israeli Chelsea team manager Avram Grant had an Iraqi-Jewish mother.

In its profile of Avram Grant focusing heavily on the tragic history of his father's family, The Jewish Chronicle reveals that Aliza Nisan from Iraq married Polish Holocaust survivor Meir Granat in Petach Tikvah. They had three children: Avram and two younger daughters. Aliza died in 1997.

Aliza did not approve of Avram's passion for football when he was growing up.
"My late wife had a fiery temperament and she gave Avram a hard time," Avram's father recalls." He was bright and did well at school. But as he got older, he was not prepared to invest in his studies and only wanted to play football.

" I remember Avram bought a new football and Aliza cut it up. She wanted him to become a doctor or lawyer."

So far, Aliza sounds like all Jewish mothers. But the article does not tell us the really important details:

Did Aliza feed Avram kibbeh? Does he hanker for her kitchri? Does he miss her tbeet? I suppose we'll never know.

Libyan concentration camp victims tell their story

The story of the Jewish experience in the Libyan concentration camp at Giado will finally be told in a new book by Eric Salerno to be published this month.

The book, in Italian and titled Uccideteli tutti ("Kill them all") echoes the words of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, who ordered that all the Jews of Cyrenaica, then subject to Italian Fascist racial laws, be rounded up and interned in 1943. Hundreds died of starvation and disease - especially the young and the old. Others were deported to Italy and then delivered into the hands of the SS in Germany.

This neglected chapter of the Holocaust is told through interviews with survivors in Italy, the US and Israel. An appendix lists the names of the thousands who were interned at Giado.

Eric Salerno has been the Middle East correspondent of the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero for 20 years. He divides his time between Rome, Melbourne and Jerusalem.

Uccideteli tutti: Libia 1943: gli ebrei nel campo di concentramento fascista di Giado di Eric Salerno ( Il Saggiatore) 17 euros.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Someone please tell Bush about Jewish refugees

Someone had better remind President Bush that there were more Jews from Arab countries than Palestinian refugees and more Jewish property was confiscated than Palestinian property.", says Menahem Benn writing an opinion piece in today's Israeli mass circulation newspaper Maariv entitled 'Justice for justice' (With thanks: Tom Gross)

Benn alludes to a recent major feature in Haaretz by Adi Schwarz and to a piece a few weeks ago in Maariv by the influential columnist Yaakov Achimeyer, as well as the words of Irwin Cotler, ex-Canadian minister of Justice. He says there were, according to the Arab states' own statistics, more than 850,000 Jews who were expelled or fled Arab countries, whereas the UN quotes 720,000 Palestinian refugees fleeing or expelled from Israel.

Benn makes the point that the Jews lost far more property than the Arab refugees, equivalent to 100,000 sq. kilometres.

"What does all this mean?" opines Benn. " It means that the suffering of the Palestinians was not more than the suffering of the Jews. Israel must declare this to the world. And what better opportunity than Bush's visit?"

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Iraq library director rescues 846 Hebrew books

Dr Saad Eskander returned to Baghdad from 21 years of exile in London, shortly after the fall of Saddam, to lead the rescue of the books and archival treasures of Iraq as director of Iraq's National Library. He found that 40 percent of them had been destroyed. (With thanks: Avril)

One of the first things he did was to search for and rescue 846 Hebrew books, dating back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. All Jewish schools, synagogues and colleges had been closed by Saddam's regime and the Ministry of Interior had seized all books and archives.

In an inspiring BBC interview with Fergal Keane (first broadcast on 8 January) to which you can listen online, Dr Eskander told how he had braved personal death threats and how some of his staff had suffered a horrific fate. His harrowing blog of the period November 06 to July 07 is hosted on the British Library website.

Despite all this, Dr Eskander, an ethnic Kurd vehemently against all sectarianism and tribalism, is as sure today as on the day Saddam's statue fell, still the happiest day of his life, that the US invasion was the right, the only solution. He believes that it had proved impossible for such a powerful regime to be destroyed from within.

Funds lacking to restore Jewish documents rescued from Baghdad (NPR)

Saddam's secret hoard of Jewish manuscripts (The Art newspaper - January 2004)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hard to believe: Arabs first welcomed Zionism....

It is easy to forget, now that Jews and Arabs have been at war over Palestine for 80 years, that initially Arabs welcomed Zionism. In the first chapter of his new book reproduced in The New York Times, Jihad and Jew-hatred, Matthias Kuntzel explains how the driving force behind the new Jew-hatred in Egypt was the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which synthesised Koranic antisemitism with European fascism. (Via Engage)

"On November 2, 1917 the British government, through its Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, announced its support for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. The Balfour Declaration has since then been accepted as the starting point for the Jewish-Arab conflict.

"This view, however, overlooks the fact that important representatives of the Arab world of the day supported the Zionist settlement process. They hoped that Jewish immigration would boost economic development thus bringing the Middle East closer to European levels. For example, Ziwar Pasha, later Egyptian Prime Minister, personally took part in the celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Five years later Ahmed Zaki, a former Egyptian cabinet minister, congratulated the Zionist Executive in Palestine on its progress: "The victory of the Zionist idea is the turning point for the fulfilment of an ideal which is so dear to me, the revival of the Orient." Two years later the Chairman of the Zionist Executive, Frederick H. Kisch, travelled to Cairo for talks with three high-ranking Egyptian officials on future relations. These officials "were equally emphatic in their pro-Zionist declarations", noted Kisch in his diary. All three "recognized that the progress of Zionism might help to secure the development of a new Eastern civilization." In 1925 the Egyptian Interior Minister Ismail Sidqi took action against a group of Palestinians protesting against the Balfour Declaration in Cairo. He was at the time on his way to Jerusalem to take part in the opening of the first Hebrew university.

"Twenty years later scarcely anything remained of this benevolent attitude. In 1945 the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egypt's history were perpetrated in Cairo. On November 2, 1945, on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, demonstrators "broke into the Jewish quarter, plundered houses and shops, attacked non-Muslims, and devastated the adjacent Ashkenazi synagogue before finally setting it on fire." The event left some 400 people injured and a policeman dead. Meanwhile in Alexandria, at least five people were killed in the course of even more violent riots "which according to a British embassy official were clearly anti-Jewish and, to his relief, not directed against the British." A few weeks later Islamist newspapers "launched a frontal attack against Egypt's Jews as being Zionists, Communists, capitalists, bloodsuckers, traffickers in arms, white slave-traders and, more generally, a 'subversive element' in all states and societies", and called for a boycott of Jewish goods.

"In the following sections, we shall look at the reasons why, between 1925 and 1945, a shift in direction was effected in Egypt from a rather neutral or pro-Jewish mood to a rabidly anti-Zionist or anti-Jewish one, a shift which changed the whole Arab world and affects it to this day. The driving force behind this development was the "Society of Muslim Brothers" (Gamiyyat alikhwan al-muslimin), founded in 1928. The significance of this organization goes far beyond Egypt. For today's global Islamist movement the Muslim Brothers are what the Bolsheviks were for the Communist movement of the 1920s: the ideological reference point and organizational core which decisively inspired all the subsequent tendencies and continues to do so to this day."

Read article in full

NY Times review

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

IDF chief of staff of Iraqi origin Moshe Levy dies

Lt. Gen. (Res.) Moshe Levy, the Israel Defense Forces' 12th chief of staff, who was born to Iraqi immigrant parents, passed away on Tuesday morning at the Emek Medical Center in Afula. He was 72-years-old, Ynet News reports.

Levy, who was a resident of Beit Alfa in the Beit Shean Valley, was hospitalized 10 days ago following a stroke, and has since lapsed into a coma. He is survived by his wife and five children.

Several years ago, Levy suffered his first stroke and was hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. Since then, he had been confined to a wheelchair but continued to be in the public eye, and even served as an advisor to a large Israel transportation corporation.

Nicknamed 'Moishe and a half' because of his height, Levy was the first IDF chief of staff to begin his career in the IDF as opposed to as a member of pre-1948 Jewish militias. Levy was born in Tel Aviv to Iraqi immigrants toIsrael. He was drafted into the IDF in 1954 serving first in the Golani brigade and later in the paratroopers.

Read article in full

Times obituary

Monday, January 07, 2008

It's uncool to be Ashkenazi in Israel. How sad

Lucky Joshua Freedman Berthoud. He's got a Sephardi girlfriend. He's sampled the delights of Sephardi food. But he misses his Ashkenazi, Eastern European heritage, which is substantial in Israel as the hole in a bagel. From The Jewish Chronicle of 4 January:

Beyond the familiar, flaking façades of the Dan and Daniel hotels, Israel can be quite a culture shock for the British visitor. It’s Jewish — but not as we know it: rich in a Mizrahi culture that Britain simply does not have.

Middle Eastern tradition pervades everything from food to music, styles and behaviour. And it’s attractive, of course, to explore these different elements of Jewish identity. Tasting an Iraqi sabih sandwich — with egg and aubergine — for the first time; hearing guttural Hebrew hacked out in the busy shuk; falling in love with dark, beautiful women — all attractive prospects for a young Ashkenazi visitor like myself.

Every time I visit my Sephardi girlfriend’s family home, I fall in love again — as much with her mother as with her, as I am fed delicious dishes that I’ve never heard of, let alone tasted. It would be a lie to say that I am not attracted to my girlfriend’s difference, much as I know it factors in her attraction for me. Little surprise, then, that a new Jewish race is being created in Israel, as Sephardim and Ashkenazim intermarry. “This is the real East meets West,” Israelis love to tell you.

But on closer examination, the “West” is revealed to be somewhat deficient, embodying not Eastern European Ashkenazi traditions, but modern, Americanised habits. Israeli popular culture is dominated by 50 Cent, McDonald’s and Nike on the one hand, and falafel, malawah and nargile on the other. Scratch the surface in an attempt to find Ashkenazi Judaism’s contributions to Israeli culture and you’ll dig deep, but find little treasure.

Although the first Zionists and the founders of the state were Ashkenazi Jews, steeped in the rich traditions of Eastern European Jewish culture, they deliberately rejected their European heritage, fostering a new Israeli identity, severed from the weakness and ignominy of their recent history. Europe was the shtetl, pogroms and the Holocaust — to be rejected for a new, strong, idealised Jewish people: the Israelis.

When Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews first arrived in Israel, they were culturally denigrated by this ruling Ashkenazi elite, their traditions suppressed. But as the Sephardim have found their voice, they have reclaimed their allotted space as the “other” to reposit their own heritage. It is now cool to be Sephardi; a counter culture has arisen to overthrow the dominant elite. Like black Britons and Americans, Sephardim dominate street cool, their food, styles, music and communities proudly giving backbone to the new Israeli identity.

However, having severed its links with its European heritage, Ashkenazi culture has become simply the Israeli mainstream: the stiff, canonical establishment against which it is cool to rebel. Where once it dominated Israel, without its Yiddisher heritage Ashkenazi culture has nowhere to go, beyond a generic Americanisation, following the advent of Israel’s new multiculturalism.

So while I laugh at the rather tired joke when I order falafel with extra chilli: “Harif?! Aval ata Ashkenazi, lo?” — “Hot sauce? But you’re Ashkenazi, no?” — one has to wonder where the restaurants are in which a Sephardi could order extra chraine with his gefilte fish and be met with a similar response. Likewise, despite a small Yiddish revival of late, the language that spoke volumes about Ashkenazi Jewish culture speaks no more — yet Jewish Arabic songs regularly feature on radio and TV.

An Ashkenazi move to Israel seems to necessitate an abandonment of some of the more European elements of Judaism, replacing them with either Sephardi or generic Israeli alternatives. Thus, when I asked two recent Ashkenazi olim where I could find a decent bagel — one that wasn’t just a piece of bread with a hole in the middle — I was not surprised when they replied, “That’s all a bagel is, isn’t it?”

Like their ancestors, new olim sadly continue to reject their Eastern European heritage in favour of a renewed Israeli ideal, leaving Israel’s Ashkenazi culture much like the Israeli bagel: bland, unrecognisable, and with a great big hole in the middle.

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