Thursday, July 31, 2008
On November 8, 1949, The New York Herald Tribune revealed that tens of thousands of Jews had been moved dramatically from Yemen to the then British colony of Aden, and were flown to Israel from there. The operation bore the legendary name "Magic Carpet." The immigrants themselves prefer to describe the event with a biblical image: "On the wings of eagles."
Israel's military censor only permitted publication of the operation's details once they were published abroad. The scoop belonged to U.S. reporter Ruth Gruber, who had been invited to join one of the flights from Yemen as the guest of the Joint Distribution Committee. A disagreement arose as to whether she had been invited to write "for publication," or only "for background" information. Nearly 60 years later, it is still important for her to stress that she did not break the story before having received explicit permission to do so.
Gruber is one of the world's most veteran journalists, perhaps even the most veteran: She will turn 97 in two months. Lucid, opinionated, vivacious and blessed with a sense of humor, she gives the impression that she is telling her stories for the first time - about how she got to Aden and decided to proceed to Yemen; how they told her that she was crazy, apparently with good reason, when she insisted on risking her life and heading for the desert to meet the Jews who had left their villages. Gruber will never forget the Torah scrolls they carried with them or how hard the journey was. "We are thirsty," they told her, and she chastised herself for not having taken some water along. One gains the impression that she is still agonizing over this even today. And no, it's not true what they say about Yemenite Jews: that they lit cooking fires on the plane during the flight to Israel.
Gruber followed their integration into Israeli society and was appalled. The newly arrived immigrants were lodged in army tents. Speaking this week, she said: "Armies always think 'tents.'" When she saw immigrants sinking to their knees in the mud, she demanded to see then prime minister David Ben-Gurion. She scolded him because she said Jews have no right to keep people in tents, not after what they had suffered. B-G claimed that before her, no one had told him about the harsh conditions in the camps, and he asked her to write him a report.
Read article in full
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Still in early 1948, still in Cairo, before the official end of the mandate. pp. 118-119:
"It was about this time that I found plastered on the walls of Cairo buildings huge, luridly colored posters, violently anti-Jewish. One of them, showing a bloodstained dagger with the Star of David on its handle, and blood dripping from it, exhorted: "Arm Arabism!" Other posters read: "Don't talk to the Jews...Don't do business with them...Kill their business and they die...Consider them as our deepest enemies." (...)
"Cairo's mood, the hour before our departure, was one of excitement or terror -- depending on your religion. Jews were imprisoned because they were Zionists, and beaten on streets because they were Jews. They huddled in their homes, afraid to leave, afraid to worship on the Sabbath because the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) had spread rumors that synagogues were used for "plotting." Newspapers daily whipped up new excitement with news from Palestine: FIERCE BATTLE IN HOLY CITY'S NO-MAN'S LAND...HAIFA EXPRESS BLOWN UP AGAIN...MARTIAL LAW PROCLAIMED...There were celebrations as news of the dynamiting of the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem, by a car carrying TNT and "flying an American flag," was announced, and later when Arabs ambushed a large convoy near Bethlehem, seized scores of vehicles, and killed many Jews. Under Arab League sponsorship, Fawzy Bey el Kawoukjy (who had spent the war years in Germany, marrying there) had begun to attack with his Yarmuk Army of Liberation.
"Arabs everywhere were confident of victory. They gloated over their arms, their money, their numbers. "If we Moslems choose to spit on the Jews we could drown them," one said contemptuously. From another: "We are like a ball of snow. We have just begun to roll. We will crush the microbe of Zionism forever."
"The Arab Goliath of eight States and forty-five million people would win over a tiny, sausage-shaped, "militarily indefensible" area, encircled by Arabs, and containing 650,000 poorly armed Jews and a fifth column of at least as many Arabs. There was no doubt that the Arabs would win easily. They said so."
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
This AFP piece on the Jews of Beirut reports that there are plans to restore the ruined synagogue with money from expatriate Jews. But any community revival would seem like 'pie in the sky' as long as the few Jews who remain are too terrified to reveal themselves. (With thanks: a reader)
BEIRUT (AFP) — It's not easy being Jewish in Beirut where the synagogue is crumbling, the rabbis have left, the community is dwindling and where Jews are commonly branded "Israelis".
The last vestiges of the Jewish community in Lebanon, the Magen Abraham synagogue in the Lebanese capital, reflects a community falling into oblivion.
Built in 1920 in the area of Wadi Abu Jamil, formerly known as Wadi al Yahud (the Jews' Valley), the synagogue is today a place of desolation.
The building is in a state of severe disrepair, the grounds overgrown and the gate shackled with lock and chain.
"Everything was looted during the (civil) war, marble benches and even windows," bemoaned Samuel, a member of the Jewish Community Council in Lebanon, who preferred to use a pseudonym.
Without a synagogue, or even a rabbi, the handful of Jews still left in the country -- about 300* according to official estimates -- are forced to pray at home.
"What we (also) lack is a place to buy locally produced kosher. We have no Jewish schools to teach our children prayer and Hebrew," said the 60-year-old Samuel, sitting in his shop near the seafront.
The seminary near the Beirut synagogue was destroyed during the war and the community has had no rabbi for years.
"We only speak Arabic. We just use Hebrew for prayer," added Samuel.
In the capital, along the former demarcation line between the Muslim and Christian areas, another vestige survives: the Jewish cemetery.
The inscriptions in Hebrew and stars of David on the entryway are covered with dust. "Very few people come," said Samuel.
Efforts are now being made, however, to revive the community, with plans under way to renovate the synagogue and the starting of an online blog called "Jews of Lebanon" (thejewsoflebanon.org). (This blog is not associated with the Jewish community, but was established by a Muslim - ed)
"We hope that this synagogue, one of the largest in the Arab world, will be renovated later this year or in 2009," said Samuel, adding that the renovations would be funded mainly by expatriate Lebanese Jews.
The blog seeks to raise the awareness of the Jewish community and to make it an active participant in public life.
Judaism is recognized as one of the 18 religious confessions in Lebanon, although the Jewish community has dwindled over the years, in the face of violence and prejudice.
"Before the (1975-1990) civil war, there were about 22,000* of us. It was after the 1982 (Israeli) invasion of Lebanon that our presence became considerably diminished," said Samuel.
For Efraim, also a merchant and a member of the Jewish Council, the community's official authority, one of the annoyances is living in a country where mixing the terms "Jewish" and "Israeli" is common.
Lebanon is technically in a state of war with Israel, which is commonly dubbed "the Zionist enemy."
"People still occasionally ask me if I am Israeli," said Efraim, also speaking under a pseudonym.
To him, "that's exactly as if we used the term Iranians to describe Lebanese Shiites."
"They do not understand that Israel means nothing to us. We consider it an enemy country as do all the Lebanese," he insisted.
* the usual figures given are: fewer than 100 are left of an original number of 14,000
NB There will be a showing of Yves Turquier's film Jews of Lebanon on 24 September in London. For details email email@example.com
Monday, July 28, 2008
The US professor of history Michael R Fischbach is about to publish a book on Jewish property claims in Arab countries. In this article in History News Network, Fischbach questions whether the linkage of Jewish refugees to Palestinian refugees, as exemplified by US Congressional resolution 185, is really an attempt to 'blunt Palestinian claims' and quash the Palestinian demand for a 'right of return'. Not for a moment does he ask whether the Palestinian demand 'to return' is itself politically-motivated. The article as a whole cries out for a thorough 'fisking' and I have interposed Fischbach's more controversial assertions with comments of my own (italics).
On April 1, 2008, the New York-based coalition Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) trumpeted the fact that the United States House of Representatives passed Resolution 185, a non-binding “sense of the House” resolution calling attention to the fate of 800,000 Jews who left Arab countries in the wake of the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948, some without their property. The resolution referred to these Jews as “refugees,” and furthermore called on the President to ensure that American representatives at meetings of the United Nations and elsewhere make specific reference to them whenever mention was made of the issue of Palestinian refugees from 1948. JJAC hailed the action as a step towards redressing the grievances of what some Jewish activists have called “the other refugees.”
But why had JJAC, established relatively recently in 2002, suddenly become active on behalf of the rights of ex-Arab Jews – called Mizrahi or Sephardic Jews, although both terms are problematic – decades after most of them left the Arab world to build new lives in relative obscurity?
There is no statute of limitations on the rights of refugees. The fact that JJAC became active decades after the main Jewish exodus is neither here nor there.
And why did the Resolution fail to call explicitly for Jewish property compensation or restitution? Furthermore, why did the Resolution, which JJAC helped to write, link the fates, rights, and avenues of possible redress of ex-Arab Jews with those of the Palestinian refugees from 1948, who were not responsible for the Jews’ dispossession in the first place? Were not the mass Jewish exodus from the Arab world and the resultant property losses important enough issues to merit congressional scrutiny on their own, without reference to the Palestinians?
Here Fischbach restates the common myth that the Palestinians were an innocent third party in the Arab war against Zionism. In fact, they were not only a willing party in the 1948 war of extermination against the Jewish state, but the Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had led a vicious campaign of violence against Jews in Palestine since the 1920s, was its driving force. Not only did he not confine his hostility to Jews inside Palestine, he fomented antisemitism all over the Arab world, and during his stay in Iraq between 1939 and 41 incited the local Arabs against the Jews, leading indirectly to the Farhoud pogrom of 1941 which may have killed as many as 600 Iraqi Jews. In reality, the peaceful Jewish citizens of Arab countries were the innocent third party, dragged into the Arab conflict with Israel through no fault of their own.
In fact, Resolution 185 was not the result of efforts to demand compensation for Jewish property losses in the Arab world, but rather to assist the government of Israel to blunt Palestinian refugee claims in any final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Such claims include not only property compensation, but also what Palestinian refugees called their “right of return” to their pre-1948 homes in Israel – Israel’s nightmare scenario.
One could equally ask of the Palestinians - why don't they simply ask for compensation and restitution, which, as Fischbach admits below, Israel has been willing to give them? Why a 'right of return'? No refugee group other than the Palestinians has ever asked for such a right, nor is it enshrined in international law.
The answer lies in these groups’ zeal in supporting Israeli diplomatic tactics and weakening Palestinian claims in advance of a final peace settlement. Ever since it confiscated the property of the 750,000 Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 war, Israel has stated that it will compensate them for some of their property losses as part of a permanent Arab-Israeli peace. Starting in 1951, however, the Israelis linked these compensation obligations with the property losses sustained by tens of thousands of Iraqi Jews who immigrated to Israel after the Iraqi government had sequestered their property.
Wrong. It is well documented that the linkage between Jews and Palestinians was the brainchild of the Iraqi government under Nuri al-Said. It was he who first linked Jewish with Palestinian losses.
Eventually, over 600,000 other Jews left the Arab world during and after 1948, with some of these suffering property losses as well. Outside of some efforts to register Jewish losses in the 1950s, Israel, the WJC, and other international Jewish groups did nothing to seek damages.
The onset of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 1993 meant that for the first time in decades, concrete talks on Palestinian refugee claims and Israeli counterclaims might become a reality. Israel accordingly mobilized, and sought help from international Jewish groups to document losses. To arrive at concrete figures, Jewish groups like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF), the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), as well as coalitions like the International Committee of Jews from Arab Lands, began distributing claims forms around the world starting in 1999 to collect data on Jewish losses to the Arab world. However, it soon became clear that this campaign was not working.
It is true that efforts to document Jewish losses have not been successful. This is largely because the Jewish refugees thought registering any claims would be futile. Jewish cynicism has been bourne out by Arab refusal to recognise that they were responsible for creating Jewish refugees, let alone acknowledging Jewish rights to compensation.
Statistics were hard to come by, and Israeli officials admitted that what figures they were able to document were dwarfed by Palestinian compensation claims. Even with its counterclaims, Israel would owe a considerable amount of money.
A highly contentious claim, contradicted by Sidney Zabludoff and WOJAC. There is much reason to believe that Palestinian claims are dwarfed by Jewish claims. Some Palestinian claims have been so wildly exaggerated (a claim for $670 billion was presented to the EU in 1999) as to completely lack credibility.
As a result, Israel proposed to Palestinian negotiators in 2000 and 2001 that an international fund be established, capitalized with Israeli and foreign contributions, which would entertain and pay out compensation claims from all sides to the conflict. With the compensation monkey shifted off its back to an international fund, Israel still faced another problem: the Palestinians’ demand for the right of return. Enter JJAC.
After the al-Aqsa Intifada put the peace process in deep freeze starting in 2001, the WJC developed a new strategy to prepare for the inevitable future resumption of talks. It decided to raise international awareness of the plight of the Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews by equating their experiences and claims with those of the Palestinian refugees. It began referring to the ex-Arab Jews as “refugees,” regardless of the reasons why they had left the Arab world.
Here is the old canard questioning Jews from Arab countries as legitimate refugees, while no such scepticism afflicts Palestinian 'refugees', despite ample evidence to suggest that not a few left the field of battle at the behest of their leaders or of their own free will.
The purpose of such an equation was to negate Palestinian demands for the right of return by arguing that a permanent, irrevocable Jewish-Arab population transfer had occurred in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948: the Arab world’s Jews and their property for Palestine’s Arabs and their property. In the end, the WJC argued, it was an even exchange. The former Arab Jews were not demanding the right of return to the countries of their birth, so neither should the Palestinians demand the right of return to what is now Israel.
What is wrong with the idea of an exchange? Exchanges of refugee populations have been a feature of all 20th century conflicts. How does Fishbach explain why, of all refugee populations, only the Palestinians have demanded a 'right of return'?
Following up on this, JJAC was established in the United States in September 2002 under the auspices of several American Jewish organizations. JJAC was, in fact, a new iteration of the same principle articulated by the WJC: support Israeli efforts to deflect Palestinian claims by enlisting the experience and losses of the Jews from the Arab world. JJAC pressed hard in its campaign to shift global thinking to accept the notion that Middle Eastern and North African Jews, most of whom now reside in Israel, were refugees deserving equal treatment and political legitimacy as the Palestinian refugees. JJAC took its campaign into the halls of power in the United States and Europe, and in March 2004, its congressional supporters first introduced a bill calling on the American administration to ensure that “any explicit reference [e.g., at international conferences] to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue is matched by a similar explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries” – an effort that eventually led to passage of House Resolution 185.
Is JJAC’s campaign likely to benefit Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews who suffered property losses when they left the Arab world? Is this even its intent? An “even exchange of populations and property” would leave claimants on all sides with nothing, except perhaps the possibility of seeking compensation from an international fund that does not yet exist. In fact, few efforts have been made over the decades by Israel or Jewish organizations to press for Mizrahi/Sephardic property compensation. This comes in marked contrast to efforts to obtain compensation, restitution, and reparations for European Holocaust survivors and heirs. In fact, individual ex-Arab Jews have on occasion sought compensation or restitution on their own, usually by appealing to Arab and foreign courts.
Some in Israel have even sued their own government to force it to act on their behalf; one such case is before the High Court of Justice at this time. Throughout, however, no largely compensation has been paid, nor has any party pushed hard for Mizrahi/Sephardic compensation. Even now that JJAC and others are raising the issue of ex-Arab Jews, they, too, refrain from raising specific demands for compensation.
Is it then proper for JJAC, Israel, or any one else, to use Jewish property losses as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Palestinians instead of demanding compensation? Why have they not championed compensation and restitution, as was done for Holocaust survivors and heirs?
Fischbach ignores a huge difference here: Germany has been more than willing to acknowledge its Nazi past, and has been ready to admit Holocaust survivors' rights to compensation and restitution. The Arab states have not. Even when the Iraqi (post-1968 claims) and the Libyan governments officially agreed to pay compensation, in reality not a single dinar has been recorded as ever having been paid out.
Have the groups bothered to ask ex-Arab Jews who should press their claims, and in what manner? Such questions are not simply political; they go to the heart of healing the wounds of Mizrahi/Sephardic history. Can justice truly be served, can recognition of Jewish suffering and loss truly be obtained, and can healing and renewal truly be achieved, if Jewish claims for dispossession at the hands of Arab regimes are not laid at the doorstep of the responsible parties, but rather used to deflect the claims and narrative of a third party?
While seeming to recognise that Jews have a case against individual Arab states, again Fischbach drives an artificial wedge between the Arab League states and the 'innocent' Palestinians. As I have already said, Palestinians were fully complicit in the annihalationist war of 1948.
And if in the end, neither Palestinians nor Jews from Arab countries receive compensation and proper recognition, but find their grievances canceling each other out by groups and negotiators, can true Arab-Israeli healing and reconciliation occur?
Whether part of Arab-Israeli diplomacy or not, whether on their own, or in groups, or through the agency of Israel and others, Jews who left Arab countries must come to feel that their grievances are heard and addressed in a way that is acceptable to them if the wounds of Mizrahi/Sephardic historical memory are to be healed. Resolving these claims and healing this memory will go far toward creating better relations between Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent and their Ashkenazic fellow citizens of Israel, between Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors, and between Jews and Arabs throughout the Middle East.
Well said, Michael, I think we can finally agree on this point. But mere recognition of Mizrahi grievances will probably be enough to achieve reconciliation. And reconciliation based on the healing of wounds is precisely what the JJAC campaign has been seeking to achieve.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
"The pillars of this continuous modern campaign of annihilationist antisemitism are the motifs from traditional Islamic Jew hatred, including, most significantly, Islamic eschatology. These deep-seated Islamic theological motifs are further conjoined to Holocaust denial, and the development of a nuclear weapons program intended expressly for Israel’s eradication.
Shah Ismail’s Living Legacy: At the outset of the 16th century, Iran’s Safavid rulers formally established Shi’a Islam as the state religion, while permitting a clerical hierarchy nearly unlimited control and influence over all aspects of public life. The profound influence of the Shi’ite clerical elite, continued for almost four centuries (although interrupted, between 1722-1795, during a period of [Sunni] Afghan invasion, and internecine struggle), through the later Qajar period (1795-1925), as characterized by the Persianophilic scholar E.G. Browne:
The Mujtahids and Mulla are a great force in Persia and concern themselves with every department of human activity from the minutest detail of personal purification to the largest issues of politics
"These Shi’ite clerics emphasized the notion of the ritual uncleanliness (najis) of Jews, in particular (but also Christians, Zoroastrians, and others), as the cornerstone of inter-confessional relationships toward non-Muslims. The impact of this najis conception was already apparent to European visitors to Persia during the reign of the first Safavid Shah, Ismail I (1502-1524). The Portuguese traveler Tome Pires observed (between 1512-1515), “Sheikh Ismail…never spares the life of any Jew,” while another European travelogue notes, “…the great hatred (Ismail I) bears against the Jews…”
"Two examples of the restrictive codes for Jews conceived and applied during the Safavid period (1502-1725) are appended below, in Table 1, and Table 2. Their persistent application into the Qajar period, which includes the modern era (1795-1925), is confirmed by the observations of the mid-19th century traveler Benjamin in Table 3, and a listing of the 1892 Hamadan edict conditions in Table 4.
A letter (dated October, 27, 1892) by S. Somekh of The Alliance Israelite Universale, regarding the Hamadan edict, provides this context:
The latter [i.e., the Jews] have a choice between automatic acceptance, conversion to Islam, or their annihilation. Some who live from hand to mouth have consented to these humiliating and cruel conditions through fear, without offering resistance; thirty of the most prominent members of the community were surprised in the telegraph office, where they had gone to telegraph their grievances to Teheran. They were compelled to embrace the Muslim faith to escape from certain death. But the majority is in hiding and does not dare to venture into the streets…
"The latter part of the reign of Shah Abbas I (1588-1629) was marked by progressively increasing measures of anti-Jewish persecution, from the strict imposition of dress regulations, to the confiscation (and destruction) of Hebrew books and writings, culminating in the forced conversion of the Jews of Isfahan, the center of Persian Jewry. The exploits of two renegade Jewish converts to Islam, Abul Hasan Lari (of Lar), and Simon Tob Mumin of Isfahan were instrumental in having the Shi’ite authorities enforce restrictive headdress and badging regulations as visible signs of discrimination and humiliation. Their success in having these discriminatory regulations applied to Jews was confirmed by the accounts of European travelers to Iran. For example, Jean de Theve´not (1633-1667) commented that Jews were required,
To wear a little square piece of stuff two or three fingers broad…it had to be sewn to their labor gown and it matters not what that piece be of, provided that the color be different from that of the clothes to which it is sewed.
"And when the British physician John Fryer visited Lar in 1676, he noted that, “…the Jews are only recognizable by the upper garment marked with a patch of different color.”
However the renegade Abul Hasan Lari’s “mission” foreshadowed more severe hardships imposed upon the Jews because of their image as sorcerers and practitioners of black magic, which, according to the pre-eminent historian of Persian Jewry, Walter Fischel, was “as deeply embedded in the minds of the [Muslim] masses as it had been in medieval Europe.” [emphasis added] The consequences of these bigoted superstitions were predictable, as Fischel observes:
It was therefore easy to arouse their [the Muslim masses] fears and suspicions at the slightest provocation, and to accuse them [the Jews] of possessing cabalistic Hebrew writings, amulets, talismans, segulot, goralot, and refu’ot, which they [the Jews] were using against the Islamic authorities. Encouraged by another Jewish renegade, Siman Tob Mumin from Isfahan, who denounced his co-religionists to the authorities, the Grand Vizier was quick in ordering the confiscation of all Hebrew cabalistic writings and having them thrown into the river.
"These punitive measures in turn forebode additional persecutions which culminated in the Jews of Isfahan being forcibly converted to Islam toward the end of Abbas I’s rule. Moreover, even when Isfahan’s Jews allowed living to return to Judaism under Shah Safi, they continued to live under the permanent threat posed by the “law of apostasy”, till the late 19th century.
One of the most dangerous measures which threatened the very existence of the Jewish community in Isfahan and elsewhere was the so-called “law of apostasy” promulgated at the end of Abbas I’s rule and renewed in the reign of Abbas II. According to this law, any Jew or Christian becoming a Muslim could claim the property of his relatives, however distant. This decree, making the transfer of goods and property a reward for those who became apostates from their former religion, became a great threat to the very survival of the Jews. While the Christian population in Isfahan protested, through the intervention of the Pope, and the Christian powers in Europe, against the injustice of this edict, there did not arise a defender of the rights of Jews in Persia. [emphasis added] Although the calamity which this law implied was lessened by the small number of Jewish apostates who made use of this inducement, it was a steady threat to the existence of Jewish community life and brought about untold hardship. It was only in the 19th century that leaders of European Jewry such as Sir Moses Montefiore and Adolph Cremieux took up the fight for their brethren in Persia against this discriminatory law. Apart from this legal discrimination, the Jews of Isfahan were particularly singled out for persecution and forced conversion in the seventeenth century. It is reported that they were forced to profess Islam publicly; that many of their rabbis were executed, and that only under Shah Safi (1629-1642), the successor of Abbas I, were the Jews of Isfahan, after seven years of Marrano life, permitted to return publicly to their Jewish religion…[emphasis added]
"After a relatively brief respite under Shah Saf’i (1629-1642), the severe persecutions wrought by his successor Shah Abbas II (1642-1666), nearly extinguished the Iranian Jewish community outright, as Fischel, explains:
Determined to purify the Persian soil from the “uncleanliness” caused by the presence of non-believers (Jews and Christians in Isfahan) a group of fanatical Shi’ites obtained a decree from the young Shah Abbas II in 1656 which gave the Grand Vizier, I’timad ad-Daula, full power to force the Jews to become Muslims. In consequence, a wave of persecution swept over Isfahan and the other Jewish communities, a tragedy which can only be compared with the persecution of the Jews in Spain in the fifteenth century [more appositely, the 13th century Almohad persecutions] 711
[the important eyewitness Jewish chronicles, the Kitab i Anusi]…describe in great detail how the Jews were compelled to abandon their religion, how they were drawn out of their quarters on Friday evening into the hills around the city and, after torture, 350 Jews are said to have been forced to [convert] to Islam. Their synagogues were closed and the Jews were lead to the Mosque, where they had to proclaim publicly the Muslim confession of faith, after which a Mullah, a Shi’a religious leader, instructed the newly-converted Muslims in the Koran and Islamic tradition and practice. These newly-converted Muslims had to break with the Jewish past, to allow their daughters to be married to Muslims, and to have their new Muslim names registered in a special Divan [council]. To test publicly their complete break with the Jewish tradition, some were even forced to eat a portion of camel meat boiled in milk. After their forced conversion, they were called New Muslims, Jadid al-Islam. They were then, of course, freed from the payment of the poll tax and from wearing a special headgear or badge.”
The resistance of the Jews developed the phenomenon of “Marranos”, Anusim, and for years they lived a dual religious life by remaining secretly Jews while confessing Islam officially
"Fischel also refers to the fact that contemporary Christians sources “confirm…with an astounding and tragic unanimity” the historical details of the Judaeo-Persian chronicle regarding the plight of the Jews of Isfahan (and Persia, more generally). For example, the Armenian chronicler Arakel of Tabriz, included a chapter entitled, “History of the Hebrews of the City of Isfahan and of all Hebrews in the Territory of the Kings of Persia-the Case of Their Conversion to Islam”. Arakel describes the escalating brutality employed to convert the hapless Jewish population to Islam—deportation, deliberately harsh exposure to the elements, starvation, imprisonment, and beatings.
"Mohammad Baqer Majlisi (d. 1699), the highest institutionalized clerical officer under both Shah Sulayman (1666-1694) and Shah Husayn (1694-1722), was perhaps the most influential cleric of the Safavid Shi’ite theocracy in Persia. By design, he wrote many works in Persian to disseminate key aspects of the Shi’a ethos among ordinary persons. His Persian treatise, “Lightning Bolts Against the Jews,” despite its title, was actually an overall guideline to anti-dhimmi regulations for all non-Muslims within the Shi’ite theocracy. Al-Majlisi, in this treatise, describes the standard humiliating requisites for non-Muslims living under the Shari’a, first and foremost, the blood ransom jizya, a poll-tax, based on Koran 9:29. He then enumerates six other restrictions relating to worship, housing, dress, transportation, and weapons (specifically, i.e., to render the dhimmis defenseless), before outlining the unique Shi’ite impurity or “najis” regulations. It is these latter najis prohibitions which lead Anthropology Professor Laurence Loeb (who studied and lived within the Jewish community of Southern Iran in the early 1970s) to observe, “Fear of pollution by Jews led to great excesses and peculiar behavior by Muslims.” According to Al-Majlisi,
And, that they should not enter the pool while a Muslim is bathing at the public baths…It is also incumbent upon Muslims that they should not accept from them victuals with which they had come into contact, such as distillates , which cannot be purified. In something can be purified, such as clothes, if they are dry, they can be accepted, they are clean. But if they [the dhimmis] had come into contact with those cloths in moisture they should be rinsed with water after being obtained. As for hide, or that which has been made of hide such as shoes and boots, and meat, whose religious cleanliness and lawfulness are conditional on the animal’s being slaughtered [according to the Shari’a], these may not be taken from them. Similarly, liquids that have been preserved in skins, such as oils, grape syrup, [fruit] juices, myrobalan [an astringent fruit extract used in tanning], and the like, if they have been put in skin containers or water skins, these should [also] not be accepted from them…It would also be better if the ruler of the Muslims would establish that all infidels could not move out of their homes on days when it rains or snows because they would make Muslims impure. [emphasis added]
"Far worse, the dehumanizing character of these popularized “impurity” regulations appears to have fomented recurring Muslim anti-Jewish violence, including pogroms and forced conversions, throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as opposed to merely unpleasant, “odd behaviors” by individual Muslims towards Jews. Indeed, the oppression of Persian Jewry continued unabated, perhaps even intensifying, during both Safavid successors of Shah Abbas II, Shah Sulayman (1666-1694), and Shah Husayn (1694-1722).
The overthrow of the Safavid dynasty was accompanied by an initial period of anarchy and rebellion. A contemporary Jewish chronicler of these struggles, Babai ibn Farhad, lamented, “At a time when the Muhammadans fight amongst each other, how much less safe were the Jews.” However, beyond this early stage of instability, Fischel maintains,
Only the downfall of the Safavid dynasty, through the successful invasion of the Afghans and the subsequent rise of a new tolerant ruler, Nadir Shah (1734-1747), saved the Jews of Isfahan and the Jews of Persia as a whole from complete annihilation.
"The advent of the Qajar dynasty in 1795 marked a return to Shi’ite theocratic orthodoxy. Thus, according to Fischel,
Since the religious and political foundations of the Qajar dynasty were but a continuation of those of the Safavids, the ‘law of apostasy’ and the notion of the ritual uncleanliness of the Jews remained the basis of the attitude toward the Jews.
The Jew being ritually unclean, had to be differentiated from the believer externally in every possible way. This became the decisive factor making the life of the Jews in the 19th century an uninterrupted sequence of persecution and oppression. They could not appear in public, much less perform their religious ceremonies, without being treated with scorn and contempt by the Muslim inhabitants of Persia.
"Fischel provides these observations based on the 19th century narrative of Rabbi David d’Beth Hillel, and additional eyewitness accounts, which describe the rendering of Tabriz, Judenrein, and the forced conversion of the Jews of Meshed to Islam:
Due to the persecution of their Moslem neighbors, many once flourishing communities entirely disappeared. Maragha, for example, ceased to be the seat of a Jewish community around 1800, when the Jews were driven out on account of a blood libel. Similarly, Tabriz, where over 50 Jewish families are supposed to have lived, became Judenrein towards the end of the 18th century through similar circumstances.
The peak of the forced elimination of Jewish communities occurred under Shah Mahmud (1834-48), during whose rule the Jewish population in Meshed, in eastern Persia, was forcibly converted, an event which not only remained unchallenged by Persian authorities, but also remained unknown and unnoticed by European Jews. (...)
"The Pahlavi Reforms: Reza Pahlavi’s spectacular rise to power in 1925 was accompanied by dramatic reforms, including secularization and westernization efforts, as well as a revitalization of Iran’s pre-Islamic spiritual and cultural heritage. This profound sociopolitical transformation had very positive consequences for Iranian Jewry. Walter Fischel’s analysis from the late 1940s (published in 1950), along with Laurence Loeb’s complementary insights three decades later, underscore the impact of the Pahlavis’ (i.e., Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah) reforms:
(Fischel) In breaking the power of the Shia clergy, which for centuries had stood in the way of progress, he [Reza Shah] shaped a modernized and secularized state, freed almost entirely from the fetters of a once fanatical and powerful clergy…The rebirth of the Persian state and the manifold reforms implied therein tended also to create conditions more favorable to Jews. It enabled them to enjoy, along with the other citizens of Persia, that freedom and liberty which they had long been denied.
(Loeb) The Pahlavi period…has been the most favorable era for Persian Jews since Parthian rule [175 B.C. to 226 C.E.]…the ‘Law of Apostasy’ was abrogated about 1930. While Reza Shah did prohibit political Zionism and condoned the execution of the popular liberal Jewish reformer Hayyim Effendi, his rule was on the whole, an era of new opportunities for the Persian Jew. Hostile outbreaks against the Jews have been prevented by the government. Jews are no longer legally barred from any profession. They are required to serve in the army and pay the same taxes as Muslims. The elimination of the face-veil removed a source of insult to Jewish women, who had been previously required have their faces uncovered; now all women are supposed to appear unveiled in public…Secular educations were available to Jewish girls as well as to boys, and, for the first time, Jews could become government-licensed teachers…Since the ascendance of Mohammad Reza Shah (Aryamehr) in 1941, the situation has further improved…Not only has the number of poor been reduced, but a new bourgeoisie is emerging…For the first time Jews are spending their money on cars, carpets, houses, travel, and clothing. Teheran has attracted provincial Jews in large numbers and has become the center of Iranian Jewish life…The Pahlavi era has seen vastly improved communications between Iranian Jewry and the rest of the world. Hundreds of boys and girls attend college and boarding school in the United States and Europe. Israeli emissaries come for periods of two years to teach in the Jewish schools…A small Jewish publication industry has arisen since 1925…Books on Jewish history, Zionism, the Hebrew language and classroom texts have since been published…On March 15, 1950, Iran extended de facto recognition to Israel. Relations with Israel are good and trade is growing.
"But Loeb, who finished his anthropological field work in southern Iran during the waning years of Pahlavi rule, concluded on this cautionary, prescient note, in 1976, emphasizing the Jews’ tenuous status:
Despite the favorable attitude of the government and the relative prosperity of the Jewish community, all Iranian Jews acknowledge the precarious nature of the present situation. There are still sporadic outbreaks against them because the Muslim clergy constantly berates Jews, inciting the masses who make no effort to hide their animosity towards the Jew. [emphasis added] Most Jews express the belief that it is only the personal strength and goodwill of the Shah that protects them: that plus God’s intervention! If either should fail… [emphasis added].
"The downward spiral of the Iraqi Jewish community, which numbered over 130,000 a mere 70 years ago, doesn’t have much further to go. The New York Times reported in June that not enough Jewish men remain in Baghdad to make up a minyan.
"Yet another of the wealthy and influential Sephardic Diasporas that were once common throughout the Arab world has been driven to the verge of extinction. Most of their members were able to escape to other countries, mainly Israel, and thrive there. Some kind of communal continuity was thus assured. But the lot of the exile is a shared memory of loss of home, status and identity. The vastly greater devastation that overtook the Jews of Europe has overshadowed the largely forced flight from the lands of Islam. Nonetheless, the sense of a vanished world of tolerance, culture, and respect still haunts the descendants of these communities.
Memories of Eden joins a number of recent works that successfully attempt to recover in literature something of this world, most notably Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, about her family’s move from Cairo to New York. Violette Shamash fled Iraq in 1941 with her husband and two small children after a murderous pogrom (known as the Farhud) took the lives of around 150 Jews (the precise figure is disputed), and originally intended her recollections of the Baghdad, she had called home for nearly 30 years, for her family alone.
She died two years ago, aged 93. But her memoir, edited by her daughter Mira and journalist son-in-law Tony Rocca, and interspersed with contemporary photographs, recreates the world in which Violette lived with unusual vividness. The sheer breadth of her recall and her eye for the smallest detail is astounding. She moves seamlessly from describing the architectural features of a Baghdad mansion that enabled its inhabitants to keep foodstuffs cool in the summer heat (a ventilation shaft funneled breezes from the roof down to specially constructed semi-basements), via expeditions in the open-air markets, to traditional home-made meat and vegetable dishes, flavored with vinegar, fruit juices and concentrates. Even such basic ingredients as bread, butter, date syrup and rosewater were prepared at home.
Almost every item she encounters is set in the context of her life story and given the word she called it by (one of the minor benefits of the book is the opportunity to pick up a smattering of Mesopotamian Arabic, with some Arabic-influenced Hebrew and French thrown in). Of course, her nostalgia for a world and way of life now gone is almost tangible. Her father, referred to throughout the book simply as Baba (her mother is likewise called Nana), was a wealthy merchant and banker, and her life was very comfortable. But underlying this richly textured and colorful account, written in simple yet lively language, are two motifs, which both darken and deepen the picture.
“In our community, the birth of a daughter was perceived as a blemish and a burden.” This sentence on the very first page of “Memories of Eden” is preceded by the matter-of-fact statement that as the fourth daughter of five children, her birth was an “unmitigated disaster” for her parents. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the serpent in her personal Eden was the status of her sex.
Even her success at school was greeted with parental disapproval: it was thought that too much learning too soon would “clog up her brains.” Needless to add her marriage (a happy one, it should be noted, to David Shamash, a charming, musically gifted man) was arranged for her by her father. (..)
Contrast this with a description of the two years the family spent in Mandatory Palestine in the early 1930s. “I could not believe the freedom of it,” she writes. For her, “swimming in the sea in full public view” was a liberating experience. But we are told nothing more. Her time there, in contrast to her life in Baghdad, is almost a blank home, however confining it may have been, at least gave her certainty.
The second theme that clouds the author’s world is the uneasy coexistence of the Jews and the majority Muslim community. Shamash emphasizes the warm relations that individual Jews and Muslims enjoyed. At odds with this idyll, though, are unmistakable signs of tension and hostility that surfaced well before the farhud. Some Jewish draftees into the Turkish Ottoman army were shot dead by their own officers rather than be released at the close of World War I.
During the war, prominent community leaders (including Baba) were briefly deported to Mosul by the Turks on suspicion of collaborating with the army. Even after they were allowed back to Baghdad, Baba judged it prudent to travel with a few friends across the border to Persia to wait there until hostilities ceased. His young family stayed behind.
Iraqi Jews unsuccessfully petitioned the post-war British occupation administration to be granted British citizenship. “The thought of any transfer of power to the Arabs filled us with apprehension,” she writes, revealingly, though their request was also motivated by pro-British feelings as well as commercial considerations: business relations between the British and the Baghdad community had long been good.
Throughout the interwar period, internal tensions exacerbated by the collapse of Ottoman rule and the weakness of the British-backed Hashemite monarchy increased. Anti-Jewish propaganda, fanned by the Germans, increased. After the outbreak of war in 1939, Muslim mobs began roaming the streets calling for a German victory.
The Farhud, perpetrated against the Baghdad Jewish community by the defeated Iraqi Muslim soldiers who had backed an ill-starred pro-Nazi uprising against King Faisal, ought not to have come as a surprise. But it ought to have been prevented. The hastily assembled, under-strength but victorious British troops who had quelled the uprising were left fretting outside Baghdad as looting and mayhem erupted in the city. Tony Rocca throws new light on this incident in an extended coda to these memoirs that takes up almost a quarter of the book. Drawing on Foreign Office documents and the memoirs of leading British political and military players in Iraq, he puts the blame on the British ambassador at the time, Sir Kinahan Cornwallis.
Apparently Cornwallis, an Arabist with lengthy experience in Iraq, was worried about having Hashemite rule restored too obviously by British arms. He therefore used his authority to keep British troops out of the city, thus making Faisal’s return to Baghdad appear to be the result of popular support. This charade fooled nobody. All he did was create a power vacuum, which a vengeful and greedy mob exploited to the hilt. The author had to shelter in her father’s home with her young children.
Luckily she was not harmed: a Muslim servant dispersed rioters trying to break in by yelling at them that only Muslims lived there. Nothing like it had happened to the Jews of Iraq for centuries, and the shock destabilized the community. A future of gradual social liberalization, modernity and prosperity, which seemed possible to Shamash and her circle until the late 1930s, was replaced by the realization that their Arab neighbors had turned covetous and hostile, and that the Iraqi authorities were too weak to perpetually hold them at bay.
The young couple, shaken by their ordeal, left Iraq for good a few months later. They ultimately settled in London in 1964 after spells in India, Palestine (the country’s descent into war in 1948 unnerved them and persuaded them to leave) and Cyprus.
“The sight of all that gold colour glinting in the sunshine as they turned the pans by hand was so pretty,” marveled Shamash at the sight of copper pans being relined in the souk. “When they hung them up, it was like Aladdin’s Cave.” Not a bad metaphor for the rest of this wonderfully engaging book, especially when you remember that even caves full of treasure contain darkness as well as light."
Read article in full
Sephardi Bulletin review
For more reviews see Memories of Eden website
Friday, July 25, 2008
The most in-depth account to emerge out of the JJAC London Conference, held at the end of June, comes from Nathan Jeffay of The Jerusalem Report in his piece 'The other Mideast refugees'. But Jeffay cannot help but inject now-fashionable scepticism into the issue, detecting 'deep cracks' within the Jewish community': the deepest crack being 'new historian' Avi Shlaim, who questions whether most Jews from Arab countries (except those from Libya in 1948 and Egypt in 1956) were refugees at all. (With thanks to all those who emailed me about this):
When the British public thinks of Middle East refugees, it is the Palestinians that come to mind. But when the issue was raised last month in the House of Lords and covered extensively on the BBC and in the Guardian, it was with a different twist.
The focus was not on the plight of the Palestinians - some 726,000 of whom became refugees in the wake of the creation of Israel, according to United Nations estimates - but on an even greater number of Jews who were displaced from their homes in Arab lands in the months and years following May, 1948.
The flutter of attention devoted to this lesser-known consequence of the conflict was sparked by a conference held in London last month by the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). The American-based organization brought 50 delegates from Israel, Europe, North and South America to highlight its claim that some 856,000 Jews were displaced from 10 Arab countries in the wake of 1948.
"Whenever there is a discussion on refugees in the Middle East, it must address the Palestinian plight and - if peace is to be durable and compelling - also the issue of Jewish refugees," JJAC executive director Stanley Urman told The Jerusalem Report. His organization scored a victory in April when the U.S. Congress passed a resolution urging that whenever international forums discuss refugee matters, every reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similarly explicit reference to the uprooting of Jewish communities from Arab countries.
The London congress was aimed at giving the organization and its agenda greater exposure in Europe. Indeed days after the congress wound up, JJAC representatives spoke at the first ever European Parliament hearing on the issue. British Labour Party parliamentarian Louise Ellman pledged that "the issue will now be raised (in Parliament) and ministers made aware of it." Ellman told The Report that the absence of the issue from the political agenda shows the "imbalance of the debate on Israel."
While the conference seems to have achieved its goal of catapulting the issue into the limelight, not all the attention was positive. In fact the topic highlighted deep cracks within the Jewish community and brought to the fore conflicting versions of history.
"The pain and plight of some 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries - not only a forgotten, but a forced exodus - has been expunged and eclipsed from both the Middle East peace and justice narratives these past 60 years," Irwin Cotler, Canadian parliamentarian, international human rights lawyer and JJAC board member, declared at a House of Lords briefing. "This is a story that has not been heard. It is a story that has not yet even been told. It is a truth that must now be acknowledged."
The conference included presentations of historical research including that of eminent scholar Martin Gilbert, as well as emotional testimonies like that of 80-year-old Londoner Sarah Fedida, who was expelled from Egypt during the 1956 Suez crisis. She told delegates and politicians how her husband arrived at his office to find himself unable to enter and "everything confiscated," and how shortly afterwards they were forced to leave without money or possessions. Edwin Shuker, an Iraqi-born Londoner who co-chairs JJAC also spoke of his family's forced departure from its home.
British-Jewry's leadership, mostly Ashkenazi and traditionally less attuned to issues facing the Sephardic communities, responded enthusiastically. The main representative organization, the Board of Deputies, gave its backing to the congress and promised to place the matters raised firmly on the communal agenda. The fact that "the narrative of the Arabs who left Israel is a partial one has been overlooked for far too long," said Board of Deputies Chief Executive Jon Benjamin.
Arye Mekel, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, told The Report that Jewish refugees from Arab countries will be an important factor in peace negotiations. "We believe that just as the Jewish refugees settled in the Jewish state, the Palestinian refugees, if they want it, should be settled in a future Palestinian state." In view of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, it is "an opportune time to raise the issue of Jewish refugees," and "if private organizations want to draw attention to this issue, it is very well with us," said Mekel.
Even some left-wing Jewish groups, often critical of the Jewish establishment's positions on the Middle East, were in agreement. Paul Usiskin, British Friends of Peace Now co-chair, welcomed the congress telling The Report that the issue "deserves to be addressed as a just cause."
But Avi Shlaim, a former Israeli and now an Oxford University professor of international relations and a well known anti-Zionist, sees things differently. Born in Baghdad in 1945, he says his family felt compelled to leave Iraq for Israel in 1950. Amid "an atmosphere of panic, Jews felt threatened, there were attacks, and in that atmosphere my family decided to leave," he says. Calling the claims put forward at the JJAC conference "disingenuous" he says his family left Iraq because of "hostility at a popular level to the new State of Israel" and not due to any official discrimination or expulsion. This makes him "not a refugee" - as the JJAC would classify him - but rather "a victim of the Arab-Israeli conflict" as he puts it.
Shlaim maintains that the only Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries by government officials were those who left Libya in 1948 and Egypt during and after the Suez crisis. Jews from other Arab countries are in the same boat as his family - they are not refugees at all, contends Shlaim.
Countering this argument, Cotler maintains that, "Had the U.N. Partition Resolution been accepted by the Arab states 60 years ago, there would have been no Arab-Israeli war, no refugees, Jewish or Arab, and none of the pain and suffering of these last 60 years." In his view, the blame for the entire refugee problem lies in the enmity of Arab countries to the Jewish state.
But Shlaim sees it differently. One of the so-called New Historians, the loosely-defined group of scholars who have challenged what they regard as myths associated with Israel's founding, he blames the Zionist establishment for much of the ensuing conflict. Claims about Jewish refugees, he says, are a distraction from the fact that Israel, in its treatment of the Palestinians, is responsible for "the most protracted refugee problem in the world." The departures of the two peoples from their homes "are not at all parallel," he says.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Thank you for your comments regarding this report.
We are sorry not to respond sooner. The question of Jewish refugees from Arab states is a controversial and disputed one. This is clearly the case with Palestinian refugees. We therefore attribute numbers in this regard. In the case of Palestinian refugees, we would attribute to the UN. In this case we are attributing to Jews for Justice. (No such organisation - do they mean Justice for Jews from Arab Countries? - ed)
The matter of the number of refugees must depend on how you define a refugee. There are, of course, many accounts of oppression and violence obliging Jewish refugees to leave Arab countries. There are also accounts of Jews leaving because they wanted to live in a Jewish state and others feeling that they were pressured to do so by Jewish or Zionist groups.
Several readers asked what “integration” into Arab states meant and disagreed that that this could fairly describe the status of Jews in the Arab world. Magdi Abdelhadi appears to have overstated the case here – clearly many Jews were integrated into Arab society, but many other were not and their status as dhimmis restricted cited certain rights as well as offering certain protections.
This news article is too brief and not detailed enough, considering the wider issues and the history, and the fact that this issue is so little reported on. We are seeking to rectify this by commissioning background articles and features on the issue.
Middle East BBC News website
Inna T sent the following rejoinder:
If I read you right, the BBC Middle East News Desk feels that while Palestinians are unquestionably refugees, Jews probably left because they really had not a whole lot better to do. You know—they sort of felt like a stroll in the Middle East.
Oh, and some Zionist groups (which ones? Or is that question too factual for you?) told them to go for a stroll in the Middle East.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
"The Jewish Iraqi community in London organised, under the leadership of Niran Basson-Timan and Edwin Shuker, a festival called Halahel celebrating the heritage of the Jewish community in Iraq, which is considered to be the oldest and most prominent of the Jewish communities in the world.
"Its history goes back to the Babylonian captivity when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzer captured Jerusalem and took its inhabitants back to Babylon as captives. There, they absorbed the rich Babylonian heritage and blended it with their own heritage to establish the structure of their religion and culture.
"The festival included different topics ranging from politics and history to music and the arts. Many prominent personalities from Israel and Britain participated in all these topics, having one
thing in common, namely their Iraqi roots. Iraqi Jews, unlike other Jewish communities could not get rid of their Iraqi roots and their longing for Baghdad and Basra. For instance,
the musician Sarah Manasseh's ancestors had left Iraq in the nineteenth century for India where she was born and brought up. She then emigrated to Britain without ever setting foot in Iraq. Yet
despite all that she devoted her life to Iraqi music and formed a musical group called The Rivers of Babylon.
"Wailing and lamentation are an important part of the Iraqi personality. The programme contained many such events like the Farhood ((The Looting in 1941) and the Taskit (The stripping of Iraqi nationality) and all the suffering that the Iraqi Jews had faced since the Thirties when the Palestinian problem erupted.
"I listened a lot and conversed with many of the people present. However, I did notice that the Palestinian subject was avoided in our conversation. Neither myself nor the people present breached the subject.
"To me, this is a very important point. Unlike other Middle Eastern Jews, Iraqi Jews were known for their political maturity plus their liberal and left-wing intellectual spirit. Many of them were communists and the Israeli society had a special respect for them as the grandchildren of Babylon. It was expected that they would play an important role as a bridge between the Arabs and Israel and also to direct their government towards an accord with the Arabs to achieve peace and respect the rights of the Palestinians.
"Unfortunately that never happened. Most of the peacemongers and friends of Palestine are Western Ashkenazi. The Eastern Jews supported the right-wing. That support has become an obstacle against achieving peace as the radical right-wing always get the Eastern Jewry's vote.
"I can understand their hesitation as in the beginning they had to prove to the European Ashkenazis their loyalty and enthusiasm for the country and their complete detachment from their original Arab countries. However, it has been 60 years since the establishment of
the State of Israel and their migration there. They have shown their loyalty and attained important positions in the country.
"There is no one now in Israel that doubts their loyalty. In fact they are more zealous than the Ashkenazis. It is time for them to speak up about reality and the need for a dialogue with the Arabs based on justice, fairness and the admission of mistakes on both parts. They need to do that for Israel's future and the future of their children and the children of all the inhabitants of the region."
Read original article (Arabic)
My comment: For all his sympathy with Iraqi Jews Khalid al-Kishtainy misunderstands them. If they have failed to be a bridge between Israel and the Arab world over the Palestinian question, if they continue to vote for rightwing parties, it is not because the Eastern Jews have needed to prove ther loyalty to the Ashkenazi establishment. They feel angry and hurt that the monstrous injustice committed against them by Arab regimes - their uprooting, loss of heritage and stolen property - has never been acknowledged. But Mr al-Kishtainy's view of justice is still disturbingly one-sided. His flippant line, 'wailing and lamentation are part of the Iraqi personality', suggests that Jewish suffering is exaggerated. If this is the best we can expect from 'sympathetic' figures such as al-Kishtainy, who have made a valiant effort to retain their links with Jews and are a welcome sight at events such as last June's Halalel, then what hope is there for reconciliation with Arabs and Muslims in general?
Update: Thanks to Eileen and Freddy K for translating the comments thread (13 July)
Ahmad Barbar, Germany:
Do the occupying Jews have the right to speak? Every Jew who immigrated to Palestine has the right to return to his original country with honour. There seem to be no reciprocal arrangements.
Salah Hamed Al Delany, Malaysia:
“Dear Khaled, thank you for your truthful words about an important sector of the noble Iraqi community. I believe the dialogue with the Palestinians will be logical and beneficial only if the Palestinians give up their slogans and agitation, and everything that affects the negotiations between them and the Israelis. The Palestinian leaders need to be more pragmatic in dealing with their own issues. Otherwise, the situation will go on for many more years.
Nabil Haniya, United States:
National affiliation is bigger than any other affiliation. Language is the unifying factor and it helps bring people together. I still remember when I used to visit my brother in an
Israeli prison in Ramallah, in the early 70’s, there used to be an Israeli soldier in his 50s who could speak Egyptian Arabic and used to treat the visitors kindly, and he used to listen to Em
Kelthoom songs on his radio. Our Arabic heritage cannot be erased from an individual’s life once it has been lived, it becomes part of the culture.
Amer Ammar, United States:
“My dear Sir, how can we confess in Iraq that we have wronged the Jews? Our fathers and us have been fed hatred against the Jews to the extent that their knowledge, their star (of David) and their dress have become our most feared things. Whereas, if we looked at the old pictures of Baghdad and the various cities then we would see that their dress and the star were present everywhere without any ill feeling towards them.
Our ancestors and their Jewish friends lived with each other and were neighbours. So what happened? What is the crime of the thousands of Iraqi Jews who loved their country and
contributed towards its advancement and construction, only to be rewarded with expulsion and persecution (Farhoud). It is important that the new generation should take the first step
towards rebuilding the trust and no better place to start when with our brothers who are already living in this country as it is certain that they never did commit any crimes, worst than the
crimes of the past dictatorial regime or the present democratic regime.”
Dr Nassar Al Dossari, Saudi Arabia:
“My Dear Sir Khalid Al Kushteini, It is unbelievable the way that I follow your writing as in God’s name I really admire you. My dear sir, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, they
are disunited between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas. The Arab mentality is a cause of that disunity as they do not believe in dialogue and the acceptance of the other party and building
itself properly. The strong countries in the world only respect other countries that are as strong or even stronger.
We (the Arabs) are sleepy nations. God to whom he ascribed all perfection and majesty said: “prepare for them whatever strength you can muster”. However, he did not define the strength whether it should be in numbers, in manufacturing, in morals, in military might, socially or
History shows that the harvest of the Arab brain differs from the harvest of the Western brain, so the Jews managed to be superior by hard work and infinite national unity. You have
also mentioned Jewish arts so I would like to add that those who taught the great Iraqi musicians Jamil Bashir how to play the oud (the lute) were originally Jewish. You have every respect from me my dear brother.”
Hamza Allewi, Kuwait:
There was a time when an an altogether different Iraqi society - different from the sectarian society at present - had progressed. This society comprised diverse individuals who adopted Iraq and in particular its culture. They were formed from immigrants, beginning with the Sumerians and ending with the Arabs. That is a special characteristic that is rarely found in other countries in the area. As those Jews who came as captives two thousand years ago managed to integrate deeply in Iraqi society. Qualified studies always confirm that the Jews made a major contribution to the renaissance of modern Iraq and that they were an educated group who had liberal leftwing ideals which made them differ a great deal from the other Jews who came from other Arab or Middle Eastern countries. Perhaps it is this reason that made Iraqi Jews different even after their expulsion as they kept their Iraqi identity in one way or another.
Saleh Buafby, Morocco:
Mr Khaled, you have spoken about Iraqi Jews in an effort to make them special but in reality you could have been talking about Moroccan Jews in Morocco. I believe that Jews in general have special qualities which they have kept wherever they settled.
Haidar Al-Bayatti, Malta :
“My respected Mr Khaled, can I enquire why these days you have increased your articles in relation to Jews and especially the Iraqis amongst them. With my respect to all the Jews and our cousins and to you all my respect.”
Linda Menuhin-Abdul Aziz, Israel:
“I have never missed reading your interesting articles and generally I tend to agree with your views. However, this time I must disagree with you regarding the political stance of Middle
Eastern Jews in Israel.
They are not afraid of the European Jews but are afraid of the reality of the Palestinian Issue, which pushed them to go toward the right.
The Middle Eastern Jews had liberal ideas in the beginning but sadly these conflicted with the reality of the Palestinian issue.
An Israeli film has been shown in Cairo for the first time since Egypt and Israel agreed a peace deal nearly 30 years ago. But only one third of the audience were Egyptian, the BBC's Cairo correspondent Magdi Abdelhadi admits.
It was shown for a selected audience at a hotel in Cairo on Thursday.
The screening took place amid tight security and the event was not advertised in advance.
Previous attempts by Israeli filmmakers to take part in film festivals in Egypt met fierce opposition from Egyptian and Arab artists.
The award-winning Israeli film, The Band's Visit, was not allowed to be shown at the Cairo International Film Festival last year.
The Israeli embassy in Cairo has been trying for nearly a year to find a venue that will allow a private screening.
About 100 guests attended the show. According to the Israeli embassy, only about 30% of them were Egyptians.(...)Opposition to any cultural or economic ties with Israel remains very strong in Egypt.
Writers or artists who go to Israel or even inadvertently happen to be associated with any event organised by the Israeli embassy come under a sustained barrage of attacks from the media.
The campaign against normalising ties with Israel enjoys broad support among the public and Israel is often described by Egyptian intellectuals as the enemy.
Some justify their hostility on the grounds that Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territories.
While others remain radically opposed to the idea of a Jewish state founded 60 years ago on what they still regard as Arab land.
Read article in full
The Band's Visit banned in Egypt
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Israel and Iran are at daggers drawn, as Iran's missile-rattling last week testifies. But it was not always thus, declares Claire M. Lopez, an intelligence specialist, in this succinct analysis for the Middle East Times.
" Jews and Persians have, in fact, millennia of cordial relations between them; it is only in the past three decades that the relationship has turned deadly.
The historical presence of a small Jewish minority in Iran dates to the Babylonian captivity of biblical times: when Cyrus the Great freed the captive Jewish people, not all chose to return home.
At the 1948 formation of the State of Israel, there were some 100,000 Jews living in Iran — a factor that must have figured to some extent in the quick establishment of good relations with the shah by Israel's first national leadership.
Over the next quarter century, this Jewish community in Iran prospered as they played an important role in the economic and cultural life of the country. A good fit in economic and trade matters saw a steady exchange of Iranian oil in return for Israeli technical expertise in agricultural areas and high quality military hardware for the shah's rapidly modernizing armed forces. The development of Israel's nuclear weapons program, discreet but hardly a secret, aroused no evident concern in the shah's Iran.
Strains of anti-Semitism, historically an integral element of Islamic jihadi ideology in general, had begun to expand anew in the first part of the 20th century. As the Zionist movement developed from 19th century dreams into the reality of fulfillment with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, key figures such as Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, stoked latent Arab hatred of Jews as he joined forces with Adolf Hitler's Nazi war machine.
But when Holocaust survivors actually succeeded in re-constituting the Jewish homeland, in one fell swoop, Jews achieved the impossible: they cast off their dhimmi status and established a modern nation state on land Muslims considered sacred (the waqf).
And while Iran's deeply conservative Shiite clergy did not automatically share the Arab world's resentment against the upstart Jewish nation, their own seething hostility toward the rule of the Pahlavi Dynasty, at once secular and repressive, had turned outward against the shah's friends and allies long before the 1979 revolution.
The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was among a minority of Iran's deeply traditional Shiite marjas who absorbed and nurtured the virulent anti-Semitic motifs that eddied up from early Koranic references, certain German political philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, and the full-fledged poison of Nazi ideology.
Khomeini's mentor, the Ayatollah Abol-Shassem Kahsani, an intensely anti-Semitic cleric himself, also played a defining role.
Of course, it's not just anti-Semitism that fuels today's enmity between Iran and Israel. Largely a creation of European Jews whose long centuries of exile steeped them in the thinking and values of Western civilization, today's State of Israel is also an outpost of modern, secular, democratic, civil society — which, of course, makes it anathema to the tradition-bound mores of an Islamic society hearkening back to the seventh century.
So it was that when Khomeini took power in his 1979 coup d'etat, tens of thousands of Iran's Jews fled to Israel, Israel's key world ally (the United States) became the Great Satan, and relations between the two countries took a nosedive.
Today, Iran's theocracy is seized with a millennialist fervor that harnesses the bitter resentments of its IRGC Iraq war survivors to spearhead its 21st century geo-strategic ambitions. The theological inspiration draws from belief in the return of the Disappeared 12th Imam (or Mahdi), who is expected to return to earth in time of great chaos and strife to usher in the Day of Judgment and preside over 1,000 years of peace and justice. The Shahab-3 missiles project the more earthly ambitions of a would-be nuclear power.
The lines are drawn; Iran and Israel are at swords' points. The implications for the United States and the world are incalculable. What is not known is what are Israel's ultimate red lines, what is the final tipping point that could spell the difference between militaristic posturing and war. Jews and Persians have never fought a war. They needn't now if tolerance and reason can somehow triumph over blind faith in thrall to seventh century zeal.
Monday, July 14, 2008
According to Zvi Gabay, writing in the Spring 2008 issue of Nehardea, the journal of the Babylonian heritage centre in Or Yehuda, Israel - the declared aim of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) is to represent Jews of Iraqi origin in any claim to the community property in Iraq.
The organisation would also aim to preserve the tombs of the Prophets Ezekiel, Ezra, Jonah, Daniel and Nahum and the tomb of Joshua the High Priest. It would also attempt to salvage the registries of marriage, deaths, and properties, currently in the community's offices in Baghdad, as well as Torah scrolls dispersed in synagogues, government and community offices inside Iraq and in Washington DC in the National Archives and Record Administration. Another important aim would be to locate the bodies of Jews who were executed during the regimes of Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein and grant them a proper Jewish burial.
During the preliminary discussions at the Or Yehuda centre, it was agreed to set up a General Assembly of 120 members made up of prominent public figures, heads of Iraqi communities outside Israel and non-profit organisations. Eighty would represent the Iraqi community in Israel and 40 the Jews of Iraqi origin living outside Israel.
A WOJI steering committee met in London on 23 June to fix the date for the General Assembly and determine its agenda.
According to Zvi Gabay, a former Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry, Jews of Iraq origin have responded very favourably to the idea of this organisation. "I strongly urge all Jews of Iraqi origin to take part in this important task of setting up the organisation", he writes." The recent end of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein provides us with a unique opportunity, which should enable us to reclaim our rights to Jewish property and assets in Iraq, as well as repossess artifacts and records of considerable historical value. Preserving the most influential Jewish community in the world is historically important for our generation and coming generations."
The roots of Babylonian Jewry go back to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC, the famous Yeshivot of Sura, Nehardea and Pumbedita and the codification of the Babylonian Talmud.
There are 240,000 Jews of Iraqi origin living in Israel and about 40,000 in other countries, from Sweden to Singapore. The Iraqi community is the third largest in Israel after the Russian and Moroccan.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
When Justice for Jews from Arab Countries held its conference in London last month, peers and MPs attended a special briefing at the House of Lords. Among the speakers were two witnesses, refugees from Iraq and Egypt respectively. Here is the full text of the statement by Sarah Fedida, one of 25,000 Jews expelled from Egypt after the 1956 Suez crisis.
Lords, ladies and gentlemen,
"My name is Sarah Fedida. I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1928. Both my parents were born in Jerusalem.
"I attended a French primary school. I won a scholarship to the Lycee in Alexandria,but war broke out in 1939 and no bursaries were forthcoming from France. I went happily instead to the Scottish School for Girls. The school is still standing: my eldest daughter visited it two years ago.
"In 1954 I married Joe Fedida. We both worked at the Societe Egyptienne des Petroles where Joe was a senior manager.
"The mainstay of the company was Egyptian, but the French and the Americans had an interest in it.
"That year a military coup overthrew the king of Egypt. The Pashas – the westernised aristocracy - fell with him.
"Two years later 25,000 Jews were kicked out, along with many foreigners.
"Alexandria was like little Paris. We lived well. We had a lovely flat on the Corniche. But my world was about to crumble.
"The Suez crisis broke out in October 1956. Colonel Nasser sequestrated all companies with foreign interests. Joe arrived at the office one morning to find red seals on the door.
"He was never allowed into the office again. He was not allowed to pick up his personal belongings and papers from the safe. Everything had been confiscated by the state. This was just a taste of things to come.
"The Jewish community was well-off, but Nasser expelled us and we were made to leave penniless, with only the knickers we were wearing on us!
"I was heavily pregnant with my first child. As soon as the baby was born, my husband Joe left Egypt for France to look for a job. He left me and the baby behind. I was so upset that fateful November that I went back to hospital after the birth of my baby. I was ill for weeks with postnatal depression.
"In spite of excellent references and letters of recommendation, Joe was unable to find a job in France.
"As he had a British passport, he decided to try his luck in England. He shared a room with his brother and scoured the newspaper every day for job vacancies.
"My sister-in-law and mother-in-law were sent to a refugee camp in Staffordshire, but the men had to be in London where the jobs were.
"The day finally arrived for me to leave Egypt with my mother and my five month-old baby girl. I was due to board a boat bound for Italy. But my departure turned into a nightmare.
"As I passed through customs, I was suspected of carrying valuables. The customs men called me back.
"My mother pleaded to come with me as I was in a fragile state of health, but they would not let her. I had nothing, but they searched me as if I had been carrying bombs.
"They turned everything I had upside down. They turned the baby’s carrycot upside down. They stole anything they could from my suitcase.
"I joined my husband in England. He had found work at £10 a week. He had no desk, just an old crate. But like most men from Egypt he was hardworking and intelligent, and led a full and busy life until 1985 when he developed a heart condition. He was operated on. He had a brainstem stroke during the operation and never recovered until his death in 1994.
"Our children received a good education and found good jobs.
"I should like to express my appreciation to the UK for serving as a safe haven and allowing my family to resettle and build new lives for themselves.
"We were not refugees for long. My motto has always been ‘never look back, ‘always look forwards’. Now that I am old, I can afford to look back!"
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Why did your family leave Egypt?
We left as part of the big exodus of Jews from Arab-Muslim countries. Jews suffered from severe anti-Semitism, especially in Egypt. There was a powerful Nazi community, established by [then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel] Nasser. There were many anti-Jewish laws. There was a general feeling of insecurity. There was open hatred expressed by the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in relation to the Palestine issue. As early as World War II - particularly after the November 1945 pogroms in Egypt - Jews began leaving the country. Many went to Israel. At that time there was a Zionist underground. Zionism was made a criminal offense for which you could be jailed or even tortured. So, many young people left. For the old people, of course, it was difficult, because many were members of the bourgeoisie, and it was forbidden for Jews to take any money or assets out of the country when they left. My parents' assets were confiscated, for example, which created economic problems for our family.
Are you saying that as World War II ended, and in Europe Nazism became taboo, it was gaining strength in the Arab world?
Yes, but even before and throughout the war, both Nazism and fascism were strong in the Arab world. Hitler and Mussolini were heroes. The whole Middle East was in turmoil because the Arab-Muslim populations were all favorable to Nazism and anti-Semitic policies.
How much of what was going on in the death camps in Europe were you and other Jews in Egypt aware of at the time?
We knew everything. I remember my parents listening very carefully to the radio. And it was also in the newspaper. But also, my mother's family was in France, and they were forced to wear the yellow star. So we knew.
When you heard about the peace treaty that Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin signed with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1979, how did you feel?
I wasn't following it that carefully, due to family problems. Nor was I familiar with Israeli politics at the time. But I trusted Begin to do the best thing for Israel. So, I did have hope. Still, what you have to understand is that the problem is much larger than Egypt. The whole Muslim world is becoming more and more radicalized - more rooted in Shari'a, and less open to anything outside the religion. This is due to the policies of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), with 57 Islamic member states and a permanent delegation to the UN. At its last summit in December 2005, it decided upon a 10-year plan, one of whose resolutions was to root the Islamic uma - the world Muslim community - in the Koran and the [oral tradition of the] Hadith, which, of course, means Wahabbism. They also resolved to make the Palestinian issue the central issue of international politics. This is why we see relentless pressure on Israel from different countries. Because the OIC is an extremely powerful body, demographically, politically and economically.
The OIC is an Islamic body. How has it managed to turn the Palestinian issue into a Western focus? And to what do you attribute the political and cultural success of its ideology in Europe and the United States?
First of all, a distinction has to be made here between Europe and America, which have chosen opposite paths in relation to the Middle East.
As for OIC influence on Europe: It is visible in immigration policy toward Muslims, and in the Muslims' refusal to integrate into European societies.
The OIC considers nationalist-European movements, European history, European culture, European religions and European languages as Islamophobic. Why? Because Europeans have begun to feel that they are losing their own identity, due to their efforts to welcome immigrants who don't want to integrate. As a result, they have adopted measures to stop illegal immigration, to control legal immigration and to curb terrorism. Europeans fear losing their historical and cultural assets - particularly those of democracy and human rights - to Shari'a law. They want one law for everybody - and it's not Shari'a, which involves things like honor killings. It is thus that in all international forums, the OIC attacks Europe and demands that it apply multiculturalism.
Now, Europeans do not want multiculturalism. But this is a problem, because European governments - and especially the European Union - do not want to fight the OIC, and so they collaborate with it. Therefore, what we have inside Europe is a clash of interests between the European citizens and their governments.
A similar claim is often made about Muslim-Arab citizens and their governments - that a majority of the former is moderate, while the latter is extremist. Do you agree with this assessment?
No, I don't agree with it at all. In fact, the opposite is the case. In the Arab world, it is the governments - as we see so well in Egypt - that are at the mercy of the radicalized, Islamized, anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israel masses who are in a dynamic of jihad. Certainly the majority of Muslims follow the ideology of conquest; it is in the Koran and the Hadith! And every time they go to the mosque, they hear it. I mean, the first shura, that is recited five times a day, is anti-Christian and anti-Jewish. So they cannot escape from it.
Unfortunately, the Muslims who are against this trend don't have the courage to make the effort to change it. And those who do have the courage are threatened with losing their jobs and having harm done to them and their families. So Islamism is the natural culture of the Arab-Muslim world. Even in Turkey an Islamist government has taken over. So, how can we deny the reality? And anyway, if the moderates were in the majority, they would be making protests and issuing manifestos against Osama bin Laden, instead of against America and Israel.
The environment is one of jihad on the one hand and of dhimmitude [the state of being a non-Muslim subject living in a country governed by Shari'a law] on the other. European countries are becoming dhimmi countries, and people don't realize it, because they don't know what jihad and dhimmitude are, so they don't recognize what condition they're in. When you have an illness, but are unfamiliar with its symptoms, you don't know that you are sick. You feel sick, but you don't know what you've got. You therefore can't make a diagnosis or embark upon a method of treatment to cure yourself. This is the current condition of Western civilization right now.
How, then, do you explain the electoral victories of France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany's Angela Merkel, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and London's replacement of mayor Ken Livingstone by Boris Johnson? Wouldn't you consider this phenomenon as indicative that Europeans are making a diagnosis of and seeking a cure to the illness you say they suffer from?
Oh yes, they are extremely important developments which prove what I am saying about European citizens having had enough of this attempt to merge - culturally, religiously and demographically - the Arab and European sides of the Mediterranean. But the pressure exerted by the OIC on European governments is very strong. In addition, there is the pressure of terrorism inside and out of Europe, and that of the oil. So the task of these new governments you refer to will not be easy, to say the least. I don't doubt their good intentions. But I don't know if they will succeed in bringing about the change their citizens want.
Furthermore, unlike President Bush - who recognizes that Israel has a legitimate right to exist as a normal nation in its homeland - the Europeans think that Israel's legitimacy should be granted by the Palestinians and the Arab states. In other words, Europe is putting Israel into a position of dhimmitude, whereby it will be recognized by Muslims if it abides by certain rules and duties.
This is in keeping with its own mentality. When the European community, in December 1973, published its document on European identity in the Copenhagen Declaration, they themselves were adopting a dhimmi mentality toward the Arab League countries. After World War II, Europeans decided that they didn't want any more wars. Then, when they suffered aggression, such as the oil boycott and Palestinian terrorism that emerged in Europe in the late 1960s, instead of fighting, they joined their aggressors. This was their concept of multilateralism - thinking that by joining those who attacked them, they would be protected. This is when a tremendous Muslim immigration into Europe began.