Monday, March 31, 2008

Congress to vote on Jewish refugees today

It has been sixty years since 850,000 Jews were victims of "ethnic cleansing" in 10 Arab lands, where some Jewish communities had existed for 2,500 years, reports The American Thinker. Today the US House of representatives votes to give them the recognition they deserve:

The number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands exceeds Arab refugees from Israel by more than 100,000 (United Nations Conciliation Commission, October 23, 1950). Yet, the claims of these forgotten refugees, who were never compensated for their loss of land, homes, businesses and personal property, are rarely part of the narrative.

The issue of refugees is the centerpiece to most discussions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with the sole focus being on Arab refugees, who have the unique honor of being the longest standing refugee population in modern history. The Jewish refugees were absorbed into Israel while the Arab refugees, who were denied entry to Arab countries, are dependent on UNRWA welfare, which allocates over $300 million annually to house, educate and provide social services to 4 million Palestinian refugees, with over one million still living in refugee camps. In political discourse, Palestinians exploit their refugee status by claiming a "Right to Return" to Israel and thereby demographically destroying the Jewish state of Israel. The argument, which is based on a spurious international right, is further diminished if there are other refugees to consider in a final settlement.

The U.S. Congress is poised to expand the issue of refugees to acknowledge, "Jews living in Arab countries suffered human rights violations and were made refugees." On February 27, 2008, in a unanimous bi-partisan decision, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.Res 185, recognizing the plight and flight of over 850,000 Jews from Arab countries. The legislation, co-sponsored by House of Representatives by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-NJ), and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). states in part that "any resolutions relating to the issue of Middle East refugees, and which include a reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, must also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries."

On March 31, 2008, the House Resolution 185 is going for a full and final vote in the House of Representatives. The resolution urges the international community to treat all refugees in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf equally and opens the public dialogue to include Jewish refugees who until now have been forgotten.

Justice for Jews telephone press conference, 4 pm EST. Congressional Dial-in number is (866) 914-0429, Access code: 863143#.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Moroccan film focuses on mass Jewish exodus

The director Hassan Benjelloun had wanted to call his film My brother the Jew, but the Moroccan authorities would not allow him to. At least they were open-minded enough to allow Benjalloun to make the film - now titled Ou vas-tu Moshe? - currently showing at a Moroccan festival in Toronto. The film is proof that there are Moroccan Muslims for whom the mass exodus of the Jews in the 1960s still rankles. Report in the Globe and Mail:

"When Moroccan filmmaker Hassan Benjelloun was a boy, he went out in the street one day to discover that half his neighbours had disappeared. Their doors were all shuttered. "I ran to my mother and asked, 'Why are the doors shut?' " he recalled in a recent interview, in French, from Casablanca. "She told me, 'They have all gone to Palestine.' It was the first time I had ever heard of Palestine."

"The Jewish exodus from Morocco in the 1960s, which decimated an ancient community, and separated friends, neighbours and business partners, has rankled Benjelloun ever since. As Morocco became increasingly liberalized in the 1990s, the filmmaker worked his way through the sore spots of his country's recent history, making feature films about the brutal political repression of the 1970s and the subjugation of women.

"Inevitably, he turned to the subject of the exodus. The result, surprisingly, is a bittersweet comedy entitled Où vas-tu Moshé? (Where Are You Going, Moshe?), a Moroccan-Canadian co-production. It is one of four Moroccan films in the French-language festival CinéFranco now under way in Toronto, and it will also enjoy a wider release in late April.

"The film suggests that both the government of Morocco, independent since 1956, and the young state of Israel were complicit in getting all but a few thousand of Morocco's 260,000 Jews to immigrate clandestinely in the early 1960s. But its story focuses on the little people buffeted by forces larger than themselves: If all the Jews of Bejjad leave town, and the local council succeeds in its program of Islamification, poor Mustapha will lose his bar licence. Luckily for him, the old watchmaker and musician Shlomo can't make up his mind to go, and he soon finds himself courted by the devout and the drinkers alike.

"The film portrays Moroccan Jews and Muslims living side by side, all speaking the mix of Arabic and French that is characteristic of North Africa. In one scene that surely owes much to Benjelloun's childhood memories, a young boy whose family is sneaking away at night runs back upstairs, bursts into the neighbouring apartment, and throws himself into the arms of the little Muslim friend from whom he cannot bear to be parted. "I wanted to remove the confusion of Jew and Zionist," says the filmmaker. "Today, if you say Jewish [in the Arab world], you mean Zionist. ... They were our friends and our neighbours."

Read article in full

Goodbye mothers film

Friday, March 28, 2008

Jewish asylum-seekers in Scotland tell their story

Leon Symons of The Jewish Chronicle tells the unlikely story of a Jewish family from Iran who ended up living on a tough council estate in Scotland. Why Scotland? Because Glasgow is a designated dispersal centre for asylum-seekers who come to the UK. The Jewish asylum-seekers are taken under the wing of Jewish Care in Scotland.

In the past eight years, 10 families officially identified as Jewish have sought asylum in the UK. These families have fled persecution and fear of death in countries such as Iran, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. They arrive here typically having made perilous journeys of thousands of miles. They are afraid, confused, disorientated. And then they get sent to Glasgow.(..)

Parham is a 50-year-old former samovar manufacturer from Tehran. He brought his wife Leila, who is 43, and their two young daughters to Britain in 2002 to avoid being arrested by the Iranian authorities for helping to smuggle fellow Jews out of the country.

The family were granted residents status by the Home Office last summer and can remain in Britain. Parham says their lives have changed dramatically — for good and bad — since they made it over the border to Turkey, the first step on the road that has taken them to Scotland.

“Glasgow is certainly very different from when we were in Iran,” says Parham. “We had a good life economically there, but there was no freedom. Here there is democracy and freedom. That is the good side. But there is another side which is not so good, because this is not my homeland and my family is not here, so that makes it much harder.

“After we escaped, my father was taken in several times for questioning by the police, and they kept him for half a day. He was 86 years old, and after one visit he had a heart attack and died. But we were here, and there was nothing I could do. It was also very difficult because for five years I could not work.

“I used to go to the library to read, or do exercise, because I could not do anything else until we had the right permission to stay here. Now we have been allowed to stay, and I am trying to get a qualification so that I can work for myself. I want to train as an electrician.”

Parham assumed the family would be housed in London, and was “surprised” when they were made to settle north of the border. “We knew nothing about Scotland apart from one thing — it was the place where whisky came from. But we have been here for over five years, and we have made some friends, so we would not want to go anywhere else.”

Now they have been granted leave to remain, they are relieved they can now move out of the “high flats”, the local term for the tower blocks where asylum-seekers are placed. “It was not a very nice place to live, compared to our life in Iran. I had a mezuzah on the door, and once someone tried to burn it off, but it was made of stone so they could not do it.”

For Leila, who is taking English and computer studies at a local college, the fear that surrounded their life in Iran still lingers. “Even here, I tell my children who go to school here not to say they are Jewish; we cannot say we are Jewish because there are many refugees and many of them are Muslims. I worry about it more than my husband. He tells everyone he is Jewish, but I am still nervous about it.”
Read article in full

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Israel: stop downplaying Jewish refugees issue

Writing in InFocus magazine (Spring 2008) Robert Ivker makes the point that the closest the Israeli government has ever come to putting the case for the Jewish refugees was in 1979 in the Camp David Accords with Egypt. The time has come for Israel to stop downplaying the issue, and use it to undercut the Palestinian 'right of return': (with thanks: Jerusalem Posts)

In February 2008, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were discussing "core issues" of the Middle East conflict: the status of Jerusalem, the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Absent from those discussions, however, was talk of the 900,000 Jews displaced from their ancestral homelands throughout North Africa and the Middle East since Israel's War of Independence in 1948. As Israel's 60th anniversary approaches, renewed attention must be paid to these "forgotten refugees." This would recognize the suffering of the Arab Jews who were forced from their homes, and also provide Israel with more leverage at the negotiating table.

Jews of Arab lands: The Palestinian narrative of "dispossession" is filled with falsified stories of Israeli "atrocities" in which Arabs were forced from their homes at gunpoint during the Israeli War of Independence, or the 1967 Six-Day War. The Palestinians often accuse Israel of having devised a plan to that effect, which essentially amounts to charges of ethnic cleansing. Most of these charges have been proven false by historians, yet the allegations continue, in a sustained effort to vilify Israel on the world stage.

Often referred to as "Jews from Arab Lands," nearly two-thirds of the 900,000 men, women, and children who were displaced from their homes made their way to Israel from the time of the 1948 war. While the circumstances surrounding the treatment of these Jews varied from country to country, the end result was nearly always the same. For example:

  • The Jews of Libya, numbering nearly 40,000, left because of mob violence and anti-Jewish riots. There are no Jews left there today.

  • The Jews of Iraq, perhaps the most historic Jewish community outside of Israel, were subject to government edicts that allowed emigration only after forfeiting their homes and businesses. Iraqi Jews, now numbering in the single digits, were more than 135,000 strong in 1948.

  • Yemenite Jews, who traced their community back to the time of the First Temple, had for years been subjected to anti-Semitic laws. Once the creation of Israel appeared imminent, the Yemenis burned businesses to the ground, and Jews were subjected to waves of violence. In order to save this community under siege, Israel airlifted nearly the entire Yemenite Jewish community to Israel in 1949 and 1950 in what was known as "Operation Magic Carpet."

Proof of Arab Plans: Libya, Iraq, and other Arab states that expelled their Jews have attempted to sweep this ignominious period of history under the rug. These governments often claim that the Arab Jews who left did so because they sought to make aliyah, and not because of the policies that forced them to leave. It is also asserted that these ancient Jewish communities were forced to leave for fear of the spontaneous rage of "the Arab street" in response to the creation of Israel.

A new report by the New York-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries provides incontrovertible evidence, for the first time, that these Arab states orchestrated the expulsion and persecution of their Jews. Indeed, documents reveal a well-planned, organized effort on the part of Arab countries to demonize and strip their own Jewish citizens of their wealth as punishment for Israel's declaration of independence.

A document entitled "Text of Law drafted by Political Committee of Arab League" proposes that Jews be required to "register with the authorities" in their own countries, and that their bank accounts be frozen. Thus, it has become clear that Jews were not the victims of an unplanned rage by the Arab citizenry. Rather, these and other documents demonstrate that stripping the Arab Jews of their rights and belongings was all part of a calculated plan on the part of nearly a dozen Arab states.

In January 1948, the World Jewish Congress brought the Arab League document before the United Nations in an appeal for assistance. However, the president of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Dr. Charles H. Malik, a representative of Lebanon to the U.N., refused to bring it to the floor.

Were it not for the efforts of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and other like-minded organizations, the story of the Arab League's plans would almost certainly remain unknown to the world.

The International Response: The response from the world community to the Jewish refugee problem in the Arab world was mixed. There was no doubt that these Jews qualified under the 1951 Convention of the United Nations. According to the convention, a refugee is someone "persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality," and who is unable "to avail himself of the protection of that country." By 1957, the U.N. officially determined that Arab Jews qualified.

Ten years later, following the Six- Day War, when more Jews were displaced from their Arab homes, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released an official statement based upon "recent discussion concerning Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries in consequence of recent events." The commissioner determined that they fell "within the mandate of this Office."

After the 1967 war, the United Nations released the carefully worded Resolution 242, which called for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." It is often noted that the resolution calls for Israel to leave territories, but does not say all territories. Similarly, Resolution 242 calls for "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem." However, it does not state which refugees. Palestinians typically claim ownership of this clause, claiming that it refers to those Arabs displaced by the 1948 and 1967 wars. Nonetheless, the ambiguity of this statement makes it applicable to the Jewish refugee problem.

However, any potential support from the United Nations about the Jewish refugee problem ended with resolution 242. Over 60 years, there have been no less than 126 United Nations resolutions expressing support for the Palestinian refugees, without even once specifically mentioning their Jewish counterparts. Countless U.N. agencies have doled out untold millions of dollars to Palestinian refugees and their heirs, but no serious discussion has ever taken place about compensating the Jews.

Redressing the Problem: More than 4 million Palestinians today claim refugee status. The status of many of them is questionable, given that many are the children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees who have long since passed. These Palestinians have become living symbols of a grievance that remains one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the Palestinian-Israeli peace. Many insist upon nothing less than the "right of return."The Jewish refugees, by stark contrast, have integrated into Israeli society or other countries, and have rebuilt their lives. Most of these refugees have invested in the future of their families, rather than dwell in a painful past.

Most of the Jewish refugees take their cue from the Israeli government, which has traditionally downplayed the issue. At different periods throughout Israel's 60-year history, the government has issued communiqu⁄s expressing their support for the refugees. The closest that Israel ever came to making demands on behalf of the refugees came in 1979. As part of the Camp David Accords with Egypt, Article 8 stated that, "the Parties agree to establish a claims commission for the mutual settlement of all financial claims." However, no such committee has ever been formed.

Only a handful of Jewish refugees and their families have decided to pursue justice for the wrongs they suffered decades ago. A recent high profile example is a case involving the Bigio family of Egypt. With land and factories just twenty minutes away from Cairo in the town of Heliopolis, the Bigio family enjoyed wealth and prominence in Egypt dating back to the 1930's. One of their businesses was a bottle-capping factory that they leased to Coca-Cola. After Israel's independence, the Egyptian regime stripped the Bigios of their citizenship and confiscated their wealth. They eventually left Egypt without any money, and without a home.

Their attempts to find justice through the Egyptian courts have proved futile. The family has since filed suit against Coca-Cola. The family has received death threats since taking their struggle public.

Repatriation: For a variety of reasons, the Jewish refugees seeking justice are typically careful not to demand repatriation to the Arab countries where they lived. For one, Arab countries will more than likely be happy to invite their Jewish compatriots to return. In doing so, they would open the door for Palestinians to expect the same from Israel. (...)

Moreover, as Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland explained to the U.S. Congress in May 2000, the Palestinians had one country with whom they sought to settle their grievances - Israel. Jews, by contrast, were victimized by at least 10 Arab states, making theirs a multilateral rather than bilateral negotiation.

Finally, and most importantly, few Jews would ever want to return to the Arab countries that ejected them. Living in Yemen, Egypt, or Libya as a Jew would mean a life of hardship. In those three countries, religious freedom is virtually non-existent, and the state-controlled media can be virulently anti-Semitic.

Toward A Settlement: In 2000, President Bill Clinton stated on Israeli television that he sought to explore "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."

The concept of an international fund for all the refugees of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to which all parties (including Israel) would contribute, has gained some traction over the years. However, successive Israeli governments have failed to make the solution to the Jewish refugee problem a priority.The Jewish refugees, for their part, appear to be more interested in having their story told than receiving compensation. But this does not mean that the Israeli government should place less of a priority on the issue.

Read article in full

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Yemenite Jewish flight led to loss of dress heritage

When the Jews left Yemen, they also abandoned part of their identity - their opulent, traditional bridal garments and jewellery whose style varied from community to community. Ofri Ilani writes in Haaretz:

"In 1949, tens of thousands of Jews from all over Yemen gathered in the southern city of Aden and waited there two months for planes that would take them to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet. Many of them brought with them from their homes their families' traditional bridal garments and valuable jewelry. But as they were about to board the plane, many found that they could not bring these items to Israel due to their weight. And so when the Yemenite Jews came to Israel, they left behind their local traditional garments.

"People said they just took off the garments, left them in bath houses and were left wearing lighter garments," says Dr. Carmela Abder, a folklore researcher who specializes in the culture of Yemenite Jewry. "But even if the reasons for removing the garments were technical, I see it as a kind of stripping of identity. A woman in Yemen had a very deep attachment to this garb, and she was familiar with each and every detail of her jewelry and clothing. And suddenly they were willing to part with the dresses and jewels that they were so attached to."

None of this prevented Yemenite bridal jewelry from becoming a kind of Israeli brand, one of the symbols of the fulfillment of the ideology of the ingathering of the exiles. Yemenite embroidery and jewelry went through a process of preservation and change at the hands of commercial and ideological groups, and of the Yemenite community as well. According to Dr. Abder, in the Israeli melting pot, the variety of regional traditions was replaced by a uniform item that became most identified with the community: the splendid bridal garb of Sana'a, the capital of Yemen.

Read article in full

The photo shows the famous Yemenite singer Ofra Haza in traditional bridal garb

The 'right of return' and the forgotten refugees

The American Thinker has this useful piece by Peggy Shapiro summarising the case for Jewish refugees from Arab Countries:

Enter "Right of Return" on any search engine and you will get some variation of the Palestinian claim that Palestinian Arabs who left Israel in 1948 and all of their descendants have the an "inalienable right" to return to Israel. The estimate of the number of Arab refugees (when five Arab nations attacked the new government of Israel in May, 1948) varies, but according to the U.N.'s report in 1949, there were approximately 700,000 refugees.

Today, Palestinians assert the "Right of Return" for around 4.5 million people, most of whom have never set foot in Israel.

On March 19, 2008, a group of Jewish representatives addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council to present The Case for Rights and Redress on behalf of refugees caused by the Arab-Israeli conflicts. These are not the ones who hold the title of "refugees for the longest period of time in recorded history" and who have been supported by UNRWA welfare in "refugee camps" for the past sixty years. No, the U.N. address was for Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries, the 850,000 Jews who were expelled from their homes in Arab lands. The report refers to documents recently uncovered in UN archives that "reveal a pattern of state-sanctioned oppression that precipitated the mass exodus of Jews from 10 Arab countries."

Read article in full

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

House to vote on Resolution 185 on 31 March

For the first time ever, a resolution dealing with the rights of Jewish refugees will be coming before the House of Representatives in Washington for a full and final vote. House resolution no.185, drawing attention to the human rights violations suffered by Jewish and other refugees of the Middle East, moves to a vote on 31 March.

If you are a US citizen, please contact your Congressman urgently to ask him to vote for the Resolution. Alternatively, register your support with the American Jewish Congress.

H.Res 185 calls attention to the fact that Jews living in Arab countries suffered human rights violations and were made refugees. The Resolution asks the President to ensure that in all international forums, when the issue of "Middle East refugees" is discussed, US representatives will ensure that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees.

On February 27, 2008, in a unanimous bi-partisan decision, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.Res 185, a Resolution recognizing the plight and flight of over 850,000 from Arab countries.

Sasson Somekh: how Jewish life in Baghdad ended

In this important Nextbook interview by Lee Smith with the emeritus professor of Arabic Studies at Tel Aviv university, Sasson Somekh, a picture emerges of a modus vivendi between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Baghdad of Somekh's youth. The Jews and Shi'a were especially close. All this changed when the Muslims began to call the Jews 'Zionists'.

What do you remember about the Baghdad of your youth and the Jewish community there?

It wasn’t a big city, maybe half a million, but it was a bustling city with the Jews very much in evidence, active in banking, export and import, and railroad station masters—most station masters were Jewish. The Jews learned French and English and this made them useful to the British. English was regarded by the middle class as more important than Arabic, and I was so fascinated by the beauty of British books, the windows of the English bookstores, like Mackenzie’s. So, the British looked for people to work with and they found the Jews, which I don’t think ever really caused problems with Muslims. I never heard this—that we were considered lackeys of the British.

As for the Muslims, the Jews were closer to the Shia in many ways. The Shia have a thing about all non-Muslims, they will touch nothing that has been touched by a non-Muslim, but the Jews used to work with the Shia and employed them. So some of the Shia wouldn’t go to the mosque on Fridays, which is the customary day for Muslims to go to prayer, because the Jews needed them. For instance, the Shia would light fires for Jews on Friday nights—so the Shia went to the mosque Saturday instead.

What I’m trying to say is that there was a modus vivendi between Muslims and non-Muslim minorities. We knew things had changed when you would walk through the streets and they started to say “Zionist” instead of “Jew.”

There was really no strong Zionist movement in Iraq. Some young Jews drifted towards communism, and a few others to Zionism, but these slogans about building a new life on a kibbutz didn’t impress me. If anyone ever thought of leaving, it was to the U.S. or England.

Then what made you move to Israel in 1951?

I went to Israel because I was afraid the police were going to take me away. I wasn’t a communist but I had leanings that way and my friends were, and the police had taken some of them away. I was only seventeen, so I went to court to say I was eighteen and was allowed to go to Israel and my parents arrived three months later. Iraq was very much changing at the time.

This was a decade after the farhoud?

Yes, 1941 was a real massacre, it was horrible. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, had come to Baghdad that year and lived not far from us; I used to see him and his men. He incited everyone against the Jews of Baghdad, who were not Zionists. He would appear on radio—“you Jews are snakes,” etcetera—and the simple people believed him. There were lots of Palestinians who had come to teach in Iraq, we needed so many teachers, and these were often under the guidance of the Mufti and his men, and this poisoned the atmosphere further. So, in 1941 there were 100,000 Jews in Baghdad and possibly 20,000 whose houses were attacked. But during the war, the British brought prosperity and the Jewish community forgot about that pogrom. That started to change in 1948 because of tensions over the war in Palestine when soldiers came back angry at Jews. With these new tensions in the air, the Jews remembered those days of the farhoud. The pro-Nazi party, al-Istiqlal (Independence) hinted at another farhoud, saying the Jews should get out before it happened to them again. It was not their official policy, but we heard it.

The real turning point was in 1948 with the hanging of Shafiq Adas, a rich Jew who was a friend of the Prince Regent. He was hanged in Basra, accused of buying scrap from the British and sending it to Israel. So Jews started to leave and the Muslims who were partners with Jews before were scared now, and a good life for the Jews was no more in the offing. Most of our neighbors were leaving and selling their property. My parents were not crazy about the idea of moving to Israel. My father was fifty and didn’t like the idea of such an adventure.

Read article in full

The last of the Arabic Jews

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Persian path through Los Angeles

In 30 years Persian Jews have put their 'oneg cookie' debacle with Ashkenazi old-timers behind them and are well on their way to becoming wealthy and successful, if cliquey, pillars of the Jewish community of California, writes Tom Tugend in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily):

"The Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles, the largest outside Israel, is in the midst of a transition, from odd and somewhat suspect outsiders to integral - though still distinctive - members of the larger civic and Jewish entities.

A little historical anecdote illustrates the change since the first large-scale arrival of Persian Jews in the late 1970s and early 1980s, following the fall of the shah's regime and the takeover by the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution.

Without their own places of worship, many of the new immigrants chose Sinai Temple, a Conservative synagogue on the city's affluent Westside, as their Shabbat gathering place. Soon their large, extended families, all speaking Farsi, socialized in the lobby on Friday evenings while munching oneg Shabbat cookies, and attended services the following morning.

Ashkenazi old-timers started grumbling about "free rides" for the newcomers, naturally unaware that, to the Persians, dues-paying membership in synagogues was an unknown concept and that it was considered a blessing for guests to take home some cookies and candy after a bar mitzva or wedding.

Tensions reached a point where a new and inexperienced temple president "solved" the cookie confrontation by canceling oneg Shabbat refreshments after Friday evening services.

Eventually, cooler and more perceptive heads prevailed as both sides came to understand each other's backgrounds and customs. These days, Sinai Temple is a model of "integration," with Persians representing about half of the membership, some 40 percent of the board of directors and even a former president.

There is no detailed demographic study of the Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles, though its size is generally given as 30,000, including the American-born children of the original immigrants. This figure is well below the 200,000 in Israel, but ahead of New York City's 12,000 - the only other large concentration in the US - and bigger than the 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran itself.

Read article in full

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The untold story of the Jews of Pakistan

It might come as a surprise to many readers of this blog that the articles that have attracted the most comment have been about the Jews of Pakistan. The vast majority of comments are from Muslims who regret the loss of Pakistan's Jews, or who hark back to an earlier, more tolerant age.

Although Pakistan has never been at war with Israel, it has, a Muslim state, shown a tragic solidarity with its fellow Muslim Arab states by 'ethnically cleansing' its Jews. These numbered several hundred - or even a couple of thousand at the turn of the last century - depending on which estimate you believe. Now the few that remain are terrified of revealing their identity.

Point of No Return received this email from Deborah Dorrian, whose family managed to leave after the 1947 Partition into India and the Muslim State of Pakistan, and who now lives in Australia.

Here is her story:

"My father was born in Karachi in 1927 to Jewish parents. He went to the Karachi grammar school. They all fled Karachi and Pakistan. Why does no one know that there were Jews for centuries in the carpet business living in Karachi?

"An article two years ago featured the woman who was the last custodian of the Magen synagogue. Rachel Joseph was my father's teacher. Rachel still holds the keys to the last synagogue, which was pulled down to make way for a shopping centre. My father was so distressed to read articles in the Indian newspapers and on the Internet describing her fight with developers for compensation.

"We now live in Sydney, Australia. A mother I know and her son fled Karachi when India was partitioned in 1947. Five brothers could not get out: they left in 1960 as they could not sell their property. The Pakistani government insisted that they leave without compensation. All money left behind had to be ploughed back into the Islamic community.

"Only two years ago, General Musharraf became the first leader of Pakistan to recognise the Jews of Karachi on his trip to New York City."

A story of Jewish nostalgia and British betrayal

The Haaretz columnist and 'new' historian Tom Segev reviews the late Violette Shamash's newly-published Memories of Eden:

"June 1, 1941 was the date of the festival of Shavuot. On that day, Arab hoodlums burst into the Jewish neighborhoods of Baghdad. The riots continued the next day, too. The rioters raided the houses, murdered, raped, looted, burned a synagogue and shops. Nobody knows for certain how many Jewish residents were killed; their number is generally estimated at over 150. Many hundreds were wounded. The pogrom, which is known as the Farhud, was stopped by the Baghdad police. Arabs, too, were killed and wounded.

"Less than 24 hours earlier, Baghdad had been transferred to British rule. Churchill ordered that the short-lived regime of Rashid Ali al-Gilani, who had seized power with the help of the Nazis, be brought down. The British entry into Iraq was considered part of World War II. The Farhud of Baghdad marked the beginning of the end of the most ancient Jewish community in the world, and some compare it to Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria 70 years ago.

"A young couple, Violette and David Shamash, were celebrating the holiday with relatives; they had left their baby, Mira, with an Arab nanny. They experienced hours of terrible anxiety until the nanny brought the child to them. Meanwhile they began to move the furniture, in order to block the doors. Violette heard women's screams from the neighboring houses. Afterward she discovered that many of the Arab neighbors had volunteered to protect the Jews.

"This is a very Jewish story, not a Zionist one. Violette and David Shamash described themselves as Arabic Jews. The Farhud spurred them to leave their country. Like many Iraqi Jews, they settled at first in Bombay, but the British were about to leave India; Violette and David Shamash came to Jerusalem. The British were about to leave the Land of Israel as well, so the Shamashes settled in Cyprus. After the British left there, too, the couple moved to London.

"Violette Shamash liked to write. When she died about two years ago at the age of 94, she left behind a large collection of letters and diary entries that describe the daily routine of the last generation of a community that had lived in Iraq consecutively for 2,500 years: What they ate and what they wore, how they fell in love and how they mourned. Aware of the changing times, she wrote about the appearance of the first matches and the first wristwatches, and also diligently recorded what happened to the Jews of Baghdad whenever a new ruler came to power.

"Mira, the baby, grew up and married Tony Rocca, who was a Sunday Times correspondent, and the two edited Violette Shamash's letters and diary entries into a captivating autobiography; shortly before her death, she managed to witness the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. The book, which has just been published, broadcasts nostalgia; it is entitled "Memories of Eden."

"Rocca researched the events of that day and for the first time suggests a fully documented answer to the question of why the British did not act to prevent the Farhud. Its essence: The British ambassador, Kinahan Cornwallis, did not obey the instructions he received from London; he did what he wanted. As one of those who had invented the Iraqi nation, the ambassador thought that the residents of Baghdad should not be angered and should not be given a feeling that the British were imposing a puppet government on them. Therefore he left the army outside the center of Baghdad and allowed the Arabs to harm the Jews. The Arabs hated them, one reason being that they were considered allies of the British in Iraq; and they also hated the British, one reason being that they were considered allies of the Jews in the Land of Israel.

"Everyone knew what was about to happen; ambassador Cornwallis didn't care. Lawrence of Arabia described him as a man "forged from one of those incredible metals with a melting point of thousands of degrees." The honorable ambassador spent the hours of the Farhud playing bridge."

Read article in full

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Israel's Farsi radio service gets Purim reprieve

With highly appropriate Purim timing, the Israel Broadcasting Authority has saved the Jews of Persia... as an audience, says The Jerusalem Post.

Four million shekels have been allocated in the IBA's budget to spare Israel Radio's budget-threatened shortwave Farsi broadcasts, which are widely listened to in Iran, and are regarded as a crucial bridge to the Jewish community there.

But the radio respite has not been extended to the IBA's other foreign language broadcasts, including English, which will no longer be available to radio listeners outside Israel after the end of this month. (..)

"It's terribly sad. We're shutting ourselves off from vast, passionate audiences," one veteran Israel Radio English staffer told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "The whole French Jewish community, the whole Latin American Spanish-speaking community, Ethiopian Jews - we're cutting them all off."

In Britain, the Post was told, concerned listeners apprised of the imminent move protested to the new Israeli ambassador, Ron Prosor, who said the matter was out of his hands.

Menashe Amir, the veteran director of the Persian broadcasts, hailed the Farsi-language respite as a case of salvaging victory from the jaws of defeat in the realm of Israeli public relations. "We could not have afforded another defeat in regards to Iran," he said.

The short-wave Persian broadcasts had been going out since 1958, serving not only as a cultural lifeline to Iran's Jewish community, but as a credible news source for Iranian Muslims too, said Amir.

"Our broadcasts aim to give information about Israel, and to explain the Israeli position toward the Palestinian issue and peace process, to the Iranians, who face vast, poisonous propaganda from the Iranian regime against Israel," he said. "The broadcasts also constitute great support and encouragement to the Jews in Iran, strengthening their position in the Persian community."

IBA spokeswoman Linda Bar said Chairman Moshe Gavish had stepped in with the funding to save the Persian broadcasts precisely because of that vital role.

Amir said Israel Radio's Farsi broadcasts were widely regarded in Iran as a non-biased and accurate counterpoint to the government-controlled news agencies there. "In [prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir's time," he recalled, "the IBA went on strike for two months. A joke came about that [Ayatollah] Khomenei had told Shamir, 'We'll pay the workers' salary demands. Just bring back Israel Radio in Persian. We want to know what's going on in Iran!'"

Read article in full

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jewish refugee confronts UN for the first time

For the first time ever at a UN Human Rights Council session, a Jewish refugee from Libya highlighted the plight of one million Jews driven out, like herself, of the Middle East.

In 1948 there were 36,000 Jews in Libya. Today there are none."Ma' fadhel ahad (there is no one left)," Gina Waldman said.

Mrs Waldman, wearing her grandmother's henni night bridal dress, told the UN session in Geneva on 19 March how, during the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and her Arab neighbours, the mobs took to the streets and shouted, “Edbah el Yehud!” “Slaughter the Jews!”

"They burned my father’s warehouse. Then they came to burn down our home. Honourable Muslim neighbours stopped them, and saved our family’s lives."

One month later, the Libyan government ordered the expulsion of all Jews. Mrs Waldman held up the one-way travel document - never to return to Libya - which the family were given. "We were being expelled from a country where my family had lived for hundreds of years. After we left, the government confiscated our homes and all of our assets.

"My family was put on a bus to the airport. The bus driver got out, and tried to burn the bus with us in it. We were rescued from death by two Christian friends."

Mrs Waldman affirmed that without historical truth, as in South Africa, there can be no reconciliation. Those truths were: That Jews are an indigenous people of the Middle East, having lived in the region for over 2,500 years, and that Jews were victimized by Arab regimes, as outlined in a JJAC report Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights and Redress” presented to the UN Human Rights Council. The UNHCR has ruled that Jews fleeing from Arab countries were ‘bona fide’ refugees, victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

To see Gina Waldman's webcast go to this link (scroll down to B'nai B'rith International slot in the 9 - 12 am session.)

Also on Youtube.

For full text of Gina Waldman's address see here.

JTA News

Canadian Jewish News

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jew collects stamps showing Iraq's bloody history

Freddy Khalastchy, a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London, who has built up the world’s finest collection of the stamps of Iraq, was born and brought up in Baghdad during the late 1950s and experienced at first-hand the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, The Times reported recently.

In order to appreciate the stamps of Iraq it is necessary to understand a little of the history of that country. During the First World War British and Indian troops occupied Basra on November 22, 1914, to protect the oil pipeline from Persia. These troops advanced up the Euphrates and Tigris and after a hard-fought campaign captured Baghdad on March 11, 1917. Turkish postage stamps were overprinted: “Baghdad In British Occupation”.

Under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey renounced its sovereignty over Iraq, formerly Mesopotamia. In April 1920 the Allied Supreme Council, meeting in San Remo, Italy, assigned Britain the mandate, under the League of Nations, for Iraq and Palestine. British personnel were employed in key positions throughout Iraq, including Posts and Telegraphs. The MEF (Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force) Field Post Office ceased to exist as a separate administration with effect from May 1, 1919, when all existing field post offices and their personnel were assigned to the Iraq Civil Post Office.

A member of a Jewish family, Mr Khalastchy vividly remembers his childhood in Baghdad. He said: “The Government issued various restrictions on the Jews and from 1963 till 1971 no Jews were allowed to leave the country. After the 1967 war with Israel all phone lines belonging to Jews were cut off. Jewish employees were kicked out of their jobs and a number of Jews were imprisoned. During those times, we relied on our non-Jewish friends and neighbours to help us, which they did with genuine care.

“When Saddam took power in 1968 the situation worsened. Between 1969 and 1971, 25 Jews were hanged (some in public squares) for allegedly being spies for Israel and the West. Another 25 Jews (one being 15 years old and a classmate of mine) were murdered in their homes or just disappeared from the streets. It became evident that the future for Jews in Iraq would be bleak; my parents had to find a way to leave. Between 1970 and 1971 the majority of the Jews started fleeing over the border to Iran. By 1971, because of world pressure, the Government allowed the Jews to leave. My brother, aged 10, and I, aged 16, left Iraq in 1973 for London. My parents joined us two years later. Luckily, they brought the stamp collection with them when they came to England.”

Mr Khalastchy started collecting stamps at the age of 10. He now collects mainly stamps from 1917, the first year that stamps for Iraq proper were issued. (Ottoman stamps were used before that.)

He comments: “The more I find out, the more I want to know. I especially love finding out the trail of owners pertaining to each stamp. The early stamps of Iraq up to July 14, 1958, when King Faisal II was killed and a republic was proclaimed, were beautifully designed and printed in splendid colours. The beautifully engraved first postage stamps of Iraq, printed by Bradbury Wilkinson & Co Ltd, issued in May 1923 are among the great classic stamps of the 20th century.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

French Jews flee suburbs for Paris 'ghettoes'

For French Jews, history is repeating itself. In moving their children to Jewish schools or their families out of the suburbs, many Sephardic families make a direct comparison between this migration and their families’ flights from North Africa some 40 years ago, JTA reports.

"They chased us from Algeria and they followed us here," Robert Sebbane, 81, says of the North African Muslims responsible for much of France’s anti-Jewish crime.

In 2000, "we were shocked because we didn't think this would happen here," says Sebbane, who lives in the town of Creteil.

Even in Seine-Saint-Denis, which community leaders say is a comparatively safe area, Jewish residents are subject to anti-Semitic taunts and youths regularly spit at synagogues as they walk past.

Some religious Jews in France have warned community members not to display their yarmulkes in public.

In Villepinte, Hannoun says families started departing "very rapidly" in 2004, when "the reality of the situation set in."

Read article in full

Tunisian-born Jew donates to Palestinians

A Tunisian-born Jewish philanthropist has made a donation to a Bethlehem hospital in order to further the prospects of peace:

JERUSALEM — A Toronto-based philanthropist is donating $300,000 worth of medicine to a West Bank hospital serving needy Palestinian mothers and their babies in a gesture he says he hopes will further goodwill in the region.

Walter Arbib, an Israeli-Canadian citizen who is chief executive officer of the SkyLink aviation company, is sending the donation to the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, which provides low-cost or free obstetrical care and runs the town's only neonatal intensive-care unit.

"I believe we have to try to bridge with the Palestinians," Mr. Arbib said in a telephone interview. (..)

It's Mr. Arbib's second donation to the occupied territories; others have gone to tsunami survivors in southeast Asia, earthquake survivors in Pakistan, Darfur's genocide refugees and AIDS sufferers in Ethiopia, as well as schoolchildren in northern Israel during the 2006 summer war between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.

Born to Jewish parents in Tunis and raised in Libya, Mr. Arbib fled as a young man during the backlash against the 1967 Mideast war, first to Italy, then Israel. He moved to Canada in 1988 to found SkyLink with his business partner, Surjit Babra, a Punjab-born Sikh. The two men specialize in the logistics of delivering humanitarian aid.

Read article in full

Monday, March 17, 2008

Libyan Jew in grandma's wedding dress to face UN

The UN will be forced to confront the issue of the forgotten Jewish refugees for the first time when a Jewish refugee from Libya wearing her grandmother's wedding dress appears before the UN Human Rights Council.

Here is the JJAC press release:

New York, NY (March 14, 2008) - For decades, the United Nations has ignored the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Now they will no longer will be able to do so.

Appearing in Geneva before the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 19, 2008, will be Regina Bublil Waldman, a Jewish refugee who fled Libya in 1967, in fear of her life.

Celebrating her heritage, Mrs. Waldman will be testifying wearing her grandmother’s Libyan wedding dress. At the same time, she will be “mourning” the loss of her heritage, as in 1948, there were 36,000 Jews living in Libya. Today, there are none left.

Mrs. Waldman will share traumatic and painful experiences from her native country:

-She was six years old when her madrassah teacher asked: “If you have 10 Jews, and you kill five of them, how many Jews do you have left to kill?

-She will testify, how, as a teenager, during the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab world, her Libyan neighbors took to the streets shouting, “Edbah el Yehud!” (Slaughter the Jews!).

Mrs. Bublil Waldman will be representing Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), which seeks rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries.

Arab League caused both Arab and Jewish refugees

Almost the entire Yemenite Jewish community (49,000) were airlifted to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet

Irwin Cotler, a Canadian MP and former justice minister in Canada, has said there is no legal or moral basis for the Palestinian demand that the Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to Israel. In an interview with IsraCast, Prof. Cotler contended that the Arab League rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan and its war against the new born state of Israel was responsible not only for the estimated 550,000 Palestinian refugees but also for the some 1,000,00 Jewish refugees who were driven out of Arab countries after their property and assets were sequestered.

'There is no moral or legal basis for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel - that's the professional opinion of Irwin Cotler, a McGill University law professor. After participating in an inquiry of the Palestinian and Jewish refugee issue in the Middle East, Cotler contends that it is the Arab League which bears responsibility not only for the estimated 550,000 Palestinian refugees but also for the estimated one million Jewish refugees who were forced to flee the Arab countries. Rather than accepting what was actually the first two state solution, the Arab countries declared war on the Jewish state and it was this Arab aggression that created two sets of refugees - the Palestinian and the Jewish refugees who were uprooted in the Arab countries who were forced to flee after their property and assets were sequestered.

"Cotler said the inquiry uncovered an official Arab League document instructing its member states to impose Nirenberg type laws against their Jewish citizens.This deliberate campaign caused the forced expulsion of considerably more Jewish refugees than Palestinians who fled Israel when the Arab armies attacked the Jewish state. Therefore, there was no moral or legal basis to the claim for the Palestinian right of return to the very state that the Arab side tried to destroy. However, Cotler adds that the plight and suffering of the Palestinian refugees should be addressed from a humanitarian point of view and this also applied to the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries.

"The McGill law professor also took issue with the total exclusion of the Jewish refugees form the Arab countries during all discussion at the United Nations for the past sixty years. Cotler notes that the U.N. General Assembly has passed over 130 resolutions on Palestinian refugees without once referring to the Jewish refugees who were forced to flee the Arab states. Nor was there any basis for the contention that Jews lived lives of equality in the Arab countries. On the contrary, on the basis of Islam, Jews were tolerated as second class citizens."

Listen to Isracast Parts 1 and 2

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Justice for Jews group to testify at UN in Geneva

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries has been invited to testify before the United Nations Human Rights Council during its upcoming 7th session in Geneva, on March 18, 2008.

JJAC plans to focus attention on the displacement of Jews and other minority populations from Arab countries. Testimony will include the fact that neither the mass violations of human rights nor the uprooting of Jews and others from Arab countries has ever been adequately addressed by the international community, specifically the United Nations.

JJAC will testify that since 1947, there have been some 824 resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, which have dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Of these, 126 dealt specifically and only with Palestinian refugees. Not one UN resolution has ever dealt with the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. JJAC seeks to restore the plight and the truth of Jews from Arab countries to the Middle East narrative from which they have been expunged and eclipsed.

See JJAC website

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Israel has a full role to play in a new Middle East

In this must-read article in the Turkish Daily News, the bright, young Egyptian political scientist Masri Feki articulates a new vision for the Middle East - one which is neither Arab nor Muslim, but where Israel takes its rightful place alongside Arab moderates and minorities.

Pan-Arabism — an ideology that is in ruins since the disappearance of Saddam Hussein's regime and with the weakening of Baathist Syria — did not lead to a project of construction because it did not take into account the diversity of the region, the specificities of its various identities and the communitarian preoccupations of its minorities. The complexity of national construction cannot be limited to the simple use of a single tongue, but also and necessarily reposes on the convergence of a number of political preoccupations and common interests. Its arbitrary conception of the nation —requiring one to be Arab whether one wishes or not, for the simple reason that one uses Arabic — has ignored legitimate national demands in the midst of a Middle East that, in its majority but not exclusively, speaks Arabic.

Like Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism is an exclusivist ideology. By rejecting the modern conception of citizenship, it rejects the idea of non-Muslim civilian participation. Its constitution is immutable (divine right), its program cannot be contested since it originates in the Creator of the world. Absolutist by nature, its discourse excludes non-believers and, consequently, non-Muslims, which explains why the flame of Pan-Arabism was often borne by Christian Arabs, uneasy about the hegemonic designs of political Islam. Finally, the transnational and militant nature of its action rapidly made it clandestine, in relation to existing governments.

In spite of the diplomatic blackmail that some authoritarian Arab regimes use by brandishing the Islamic threat (“It's me or the deluge”), this ideology has no future because it is devoid of a realistic or coherent project.A third and final regional framework is progressively taking shape, with the slow decline of the former two. It is “Middle Easternism”. Israel, that represents the region's only non-Arab and non-Muslim minority, must orient its diplomacy in this direction today. Non-Muslim Arabs (Christian Arabs, Druses, etc.) excluded from the pan Islamic club, still have an honorable place within Pan-Arabism. And non-Arab Muslims Turks, Iranians, Kurds), excluded from the Pan-Arab club can still join pan Islamism. But the Israelis, being neither Arabs nor Muslims, are doubly a minority.

The Jewish state is not an intruder in the Middle East. It is the extension and the representative of one of the most ancient civilizations of this part of the world. Everything links Israel to this region: geography, history, culture but also religion and language. The Jewish religion is the primary theological reference and the very foundation of Islam and Oriental Christianity. Hebrew and Arabic are as close to each other as two languages of Latin origin. The contribution of Hebrew civilization to the peoples of this region is undeniable.

To claim that this country is Western is synonymous with denying the legitimacy of its existence: Israel's salvation can only come from its uprooting. The Middle East is the only regional “club” the Jewish state can belong to. To support this membership is tantamount to moving closer to the more moderate elements in its Arab neighborhood and, in the first place, the minorities. To reject this option is to accept isolation and disappear. Israel has no choice.

Read article in full

More about Masri Feki

Crossposted on Harry's Place (13 March 2008)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

'The Jews are gone forever from Lebanon'

The Talmud Torah school in Wadi Abu Jamil, 1951

In this interview with Ronnie Chatah for Now! Lebanon, one of the last remaining Jews in Beirut, Lisa Srour, tells it like it is: Jews will never be accepted as Jews in Lebanon as long as there is conflict with Israel. Unlike some, who delude themselves that the community is about to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, Lisa is brutally realistic: the Jews are gone forever.

"NOW Lebanon sits down with Liza, one of the last Lebanese Jews to remain in Beirut. An internal refugee from the civil war, Liza now lives with several generations of pet cats in an abandoned building set for demolition in the old Jewish quarter of Wadi Abu Jamil. Her unique story traces the recent history of Jews in Lebanon, from a childhood of tolerance and acceptance to the dark days of suspicion, emigration and violence after 1967 and the civil war.

Liza reflects on her life and community, and the challenges of being Lebanese in a country that no longer accepts her.

Liza: Before anything else, I want you to know that I am Lebanese… and I am Jewish. Don’t ask me questions about Israel because I know nothing about that.

NOW Lebanon: I want to ask you about your Lebanese identity and whether it is perhaps even more complex for you, as a Jew in this country. What makes you, personally, feel Lebanese?

Liza: When I was a child, my family used to take trips to Bhamdoun and we would spend our summers there. I used to play with other families – Christians, Muslims, Druze, anyone you could imagine – and we would sing songs and find fun ways to spend our long days. The ability for me, a Jewish woman, to play with Christian and Muslim girls and boys, and never think anything of it, makes me as Lebanese as anyone else. Even at the Talmud Torah School [a Jewish school that once stood near to the synagogue], I would leave class and never think of myself as Jewish and different. I felt like any other child in Beirut, and it was great then.

NOW Lebanon: I’d like you to describe the changes you felt following the 1967 war.

Liza: I was 18 at the time, and had finished my ‘Brevet’ at the Alliance [French-Jewish school] when the war happened. My dad made sure my family stayed home during the tense days that followed. I remember our neighbors, Kurds from Syria, taking care of us at the time. We were too afraid to buy food from the supermarket, so they helped us until things calmed down. But to be honest, things never really calmed down after the war.

NOW Lebanon: What do you mean?

Liza: We didn’t feel safe, even at home. My father, God rest his soul, used to own a stationary shop down in the ‘Wadi’ [Wadi Abu Jamil]. He hired someone, a friend, to help him manage the shop because he didn’t want to work as much. That friend, a Jew, eventually left the country. We were one of the few families still here when the war broke out in 1975. We stayed one year in our old home, until things got so bad that we moved here, to this place.

NOW Lebanon: And you’ve been here, since?

Liza: My parents died during the war but from natural causes. I have two sisters who moved to Canada, to Quebec, and my younger brother stayed with me here. He passed away in 1996, and I’ve been here alone…but I have my other family…My cats are my friends, now. The Jewish friends I had from childhood, I don’t speak to them as much. They are gone, and sometimes they send me money, but it’s been such a long time. I have a few friends in the East [eastern Beirut], and now and then I visit them. But I am mostly alone, and I prefer it that way.

NOW Lebanon: Why is that?

Liza: You know, a lot of people know I am Jewish, and that is always dangerous for me. You never know who will want to hurt me because of my religion. They could be anyone – Sunni, Shia, Christian, I don’t care – the point is, the friends I have are the ones that accept me as Jewish, and the rest turned their backs and prefer to avoid contact with any Jew, including me.

NOW Lebanon: Are you in touch with the other remaining Jews in Lebanon? Most people say the number is less than 60.

Liza: We are here, we are the only ones who refused to leave, and we stayed for different reasons. Some were too old to leave when given the chance; others simply couldn’t afford to go. I was offered Israeli citizenship in 1982 when [Ariel] Sharon came to Beirut that summer. I wasn’t the only one then to simply turn it down. I am not, and will never be, Israeli. That is my story. As for the others, I know of them, but I don’t speak to them. They weren’t my friends before, and they will likely remain strangers to me.

NOW Lebanon: In your opinion, what will it take for you to feel safe as a Jew in Lebanon? What do you think is necessary for the Lebanese Jews living abroad to return to this country and invest their future here?

Liza: The Jews that left will never come back. They are gone, forever; trust me on that. You are asking for the impossible, for me, a Jew, to really feel part of this country. Don’t get me wrong, I am Lebanese, 100% Lebanese. But I am rejected, because people think I am Israeli, or a Zionist or a Mossad agent. For me to have a normal life here, you will need real peace between the Arabs and Israelis; for the Palestinians to get a fair deal; for the Syrians and Americans; the Iranians and the Israelis to get along. Until then, I will not be welcomed in this country, and actually, no one will feel stable here. Look here [pointing to the religion section on her Lebanese birth certificate]. Even the government is too afraid to list me as a Jew. I am ‘Moussawi,’ because I follow Moses. But the followers of Moses are Jews, so why can’t I be a Jew? I can’t because of the problem with Israel. Get that solved and I’ll be fine."

Read article in full

The 18th sect: background article in Now! Lebanon

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Egyptian expresses condolences for massacre

Samy Cohen is an Egyptian-born Jew now living in Tel-Aviv. From time to time, he has corresponded with a lecturer at an Egyptian college he has never met, trying to avoid politics as far as possible in order not to get his correspondent into trouble with the authorities. Imagine his astonishment then, when, in the aftermath of the Merkaz Harav massacre in Jerusalem, this email arrived in his inbox:

I am writing you this email, Samy, to express my deep sympathy and send you my condolences concerning the criminal attack against the innocent students in the Jerusalem school.

I do condemn the killing of innocent civilians everywhere including the Palestinian children in Gaza, but at least this last crime is intentionally and deliberately meant against the little innocent kids, in all brutality and in an attempt at providing more fuel for hatred and the mutual killing.

I don't even believe the criminals who did meant to avenge the dead among Palestinians; I believe they are simply hungry for more blood and wish the Israelis engage in the killing of more civilians too. All they want is war and hatred, without which, they will lose their grasp of the few deceived Palestinians who still believe in them.

They do not want an Independent Palestinian State next to Israel. All they want is the establishment of a fundamentalist Theocratic Princedom in Gaza, from which they set out to invade the rest of the Arab world! Please, accept my condolences and tell your fellow Israelis that there are several Egyptians who believe that such crimes are simply nothing but crimes. Take care.

This heartening little display of sympathy got me thinking:

Samy took care to remove the author's name from the email. It is a pity that honourable Egyptians - despite their peace treaty with the Zionist entity - are not expected - or even allowed - to express their sympathies with Israel or Jews in the current climate of virulent anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Samy felt the need to protect his Egyptian friend, but what might have happened if he had not? At best, the Egyptian would have have been embarrassed before his friends and colleagues. Worse, sacked. At worst, arrested. At the very very worst, lynched.

Have the Arabs always been incorrigibly hostile to Israel and the Jews? The media love to describe the Arab-Israeli conflict as 'intractable': Arab hostility is a natural, even understandable reaction to the creation of Israel.

But it was not always thus. Arabs were not, from the very beginning, ipso facto hostile to the Zionist project.The Feisal-Weizmann agreement, signed in 1919, shows clearly that they welcomed it.

In the words of Matthias Kuntzel, author of Jihad and Jew-hatred:

"They (The Arabs) 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.

"Around 1925 the Jews were an accepted and protected part of public life in Egypt: they had members of parliament, were employed at the royal palace and occupied important positions in the economic and political field; 25 years later, all that was in the past: in 1945, the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egyptian history took place. My book analyses “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-Jewish one, a shift which changed the whole Arab world and affects it to this day.” (my emphasis -ed)

Two things had happened to turn Arab attitudes upside-down. The first was the appointment by the British of the viciously judeophobic Mufti of Jerusalem as leader of the Palestinians. The second was that Nazism inspired an exclusivist and authoritarian form of Arab nationalism on the one hand, and spawned the virulently Judeophobic Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. Hamas is of course the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian branch.

And so we come full circle. How comforting that there are still decent and honourable Muslims who object to what is being done in their name.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Nazi antisemitism influenced Islamic Jew-hatred

The brutal murder of eight students at a Jerusalem Yeshiva by a Hamas-supporting resident of east Jerusalem fits almost seamlessly into the reactionary campaign waged against the Jews of Palestine and the Arab world as early as the 1920s and 30s. Neither the Mufti nor the Muslim Brotherhood were creations of European fascism, but both were immeasurably strengthened by it, writes Benjamin Weinthal in his Haaretz review of Matthias Kuntzel's groundbreaking book Jihad and Jew-hatred.

"In the book's opening chapter, "The Muslim Brotherhood and Palestine," Kuentzel demonstrates that the mufti was filled with loathing of Jews even before Hitler leveraged himself into power in 1933. That helps to explain why Kuentzel attaches significant empirical weight to Husseini's Judeophobia. In his role as the president of the Muslim Supreme Council in Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948, the mufti was the prime mover in shaping and influencing the formative stages of modern Arab-Jewish relations.

"Act II of the mufti's campaign to abolish Zionism - and participate in the Holocaust - begins with his passionate support of German fascism ("in the struggle against Jewry, Islam and National Socialism are very close," he said in a talk to the imams of the Bosnian SS division in 1944). Husseini traveled to Berlin in 1941 with a staff of 60 Arabs to unify his Islamic project with the Nazi movement. Via a Nazi-sponsored radio apparatus in Zeesen, Germany, Husseini was able to broadcast to the Arab world his anti-Jewish diatribes, into which he threaded selected quotations from the Koran.

"That the man who became Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was an avid listener of the mufti's Germany-based broadcasts, which were transmitted to Iran in Farsi, introduces a new perspective on the after-effects of Hitlerism on the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Kuentzel carves out new social-scientific territory as he covers the socialization of Khomeini, whose "anti-Jewish outlook, which contributed so much to his popularity from the beginning of the 1960s onwards, had been shaped during the 1930s."

"Kuentzel is dazzling in the way he shifts back and forth between German anti-Semitism and its ability to condition and influence extremist Islamic hatred of Jews. A telling example of his comparative analysis is the ideological language of the National Socialists when contrasted with Ahmadinejad's outbursts. "The extermination of Jewry throughout the world," according to a Nazi directive from 1943, is "the precondition for an enduring peace."

"Ahmadinejad states: "The Zionist regime will be wiped out and humanity will be liberated." There is a temptation to be lulled into a kind of psychological avoidance when reading and hearing such emotionally destructive language, as Kuentzel himself notes, but human history is riddled with totalitarian leaders whose rhetoric was filled with conviction and praxis.

The collaboration between the mufti and the Nazis almost culminated in the destruction of Jewry in Palestine. Referring to recent research by the German historians Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cueppers, Kuentzel writes that an "SS special unit had been on standby in Athens, ready to implement the Shoah in Palestine in alliance with the Nazis' Arab allies following an anticipated victory by Rommel in the North African theatre."

"The incorrigibly anti-liberal and anti-democratic ideas of the mufti and Nazism gained astonishingly fast momentum within the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt in the 1930s, triggering the Palestine campaign of 1936, in which a general strike was launched to stop Jewish refugee immigration. The Muslim Brotherhood introduced the oft-quoted notion of jihad; the pathological devotion to dying a martyr's death when waging war with the forces of non-believers. Kuentzel avoids the sweeping generalizations that tend to dominate the discourse about Nazism and Islamic anti-Semitism: "Neither the Mufti nor the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood were creations of European fascism. However, both were strengthened by it. Like an elder brother, National Socialism had backed the fledgling Islamist movement up with catchwords, intellectual encouragement and money."

"Kuentzel crisscrosses a host of academic disciplines in his account of the rise of Egyptian Islamism, from the time of Nasser to the present day. He assimilates vast quantities of information covering the Koran; the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna; the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's affinity for the mufti, and the role of "former Nazis who decamped there [Egypt] in droves in the 1950s." This enables him to apply his comparative methodology to bring to the fore the interconnections between Nazism and Islamism.

"The extension of the ultra-reactionary ideas of the mufti and the Muslim Brotherhood find their expression in Hamas, which is still viewed by many Germans - and Europeans - with a sort of incurable naivete; that is, as a fabulous social service organization with an army of social workers. Kuentzel carefully scrutinizes the Hamas charter's ideological justification for waging its war against Israel. He concludes that the Hamas program is reminiscent of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the famous czarist-era forgery, blaming international Jewry for the world's misfortunes. Hamas shifts the onus of world evil to "world Zionism." Kuentzel, invoking the powerful role of radical anti-Jewish ideology, writes: "Amazingly, this most obvious of explanatory sources, Hamas' program, very rarely gets a mention in the interminable journalistic musings about the motivation for suicide bombing."

"Kuentzel presents a strong case in his final chapter, on "September 11 and Israel," that there cannot be a separation between "the murder of American civilians by bin Laden and that of Israeli civilians by Hamas." The nexus between bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood, and their mutual enthusiasm about Khomeini's victory in Iran shows a commonality in the desire to dissolve Israel coupled with a virulent hatred of American democracy.

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Useful sources on Arab-Nazi collaboration (via Eliyahu M' Tsiyon)

When Jewish Baghdad ceased to be Eden

In the issue of the Manchester-based Jewish Telegraph of 7 March, the co-author and editors of Memories of Eden, Mira Shamash and Tony Rocca, talk to Simon Yaffe about the terrible pro-Nazi pogrom suffered by Iraq's Jews in 1941.

Known as the Farhud, Iraq's 2,000-year-old Jewish population was forced to shelter - terrified - in basements and blacked-out houses, hiding from gangs of angry Iraqi Muslims.

"It is an astonishing story", said Tony Rocca, who has co-authored a book, Memories of Eden, with his Iraq-born wife, Mira. The book is a journey through Jewish Baghdad, taken from the stories of Violette Shamash, who was forced to leave Iraq after the Farhud.

France-based Tony, a former journalist with The Sunday Times and Daily Mail, said: "When Mira and I left England in the 1980s to go and live in Italy, Violette was rather upset.

"In those days there was not as much communication as there is today with email and the internet.

"She was reluctant to do so, but we told her not to worry about the actual composition, just to write it down and send it to us in the post - which she did for 20 years."

When Violette was born in 1912, Mesopotamia (Iraq's former name) had been under the rule of the Ottoman Turks for 400 years and Baghdad was, amazingly, one-third Jewish. Today, there are an estimated six to eight Jews left in the whole of Iraq. Mira, 67, said: "My family and I are extremely proud of our Iraqi Jewish heritage.

"But I do have mixed feelings - I would love to go back to Iraq, but I know Jews who have been back have been disappointed - not a lot of what they remember is still standing."

Independence for Iraq in 1932 changed everything. The country slipped into the hands of Nazi sympathisers and during the Farhud, more than 180 Jews were killed. Mira added: "The Muslim religious leader (The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini - ed) whipped up feelings of antisemitism in Iraq for the young people."The older people there were not antisemitic or even anti-Zionist and lots of our Muslim neighbours sheltered the Jews.

"In the book, Violette describes the Jewish community of Baghdad as being "beautiful, civilised and full of cherished memories".

Mira - who has a brother, Simon, and sister, Lena - added: "My mother and father (David) longed to go back to Iraq.

"When they left, any chance they could they listened to the Arabic radio stations, trying to hear news on Iraq."

Non-Jewish Tony, who grew up in Gatley, south Manchester, said he was astonished to first learn of the Jews of Iraq. He recalled: "I did not realise just how big the community in Iraq was. " One of my favourite stories is that when Baghdad's chamber of commerce used to close on a Shabbat, because most of its members were Jewish, many shops came to a standstill. "The Muslim city of Baghdad closed down for the day because of the Jews."

Mira said she approved of the American and UK invasion of Iraq five years ago, but claimed that the Allied powers were not fully prepared.

She explained: "At the time I thought it was a good idea, because the Iraqi people were suffering under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime. "America and Britain did not prepare themselves for the aftermath - what is happening there now, with the Iraqis killing each other, is terrible."

Mira, who left Iraq with her parents when she was six months old, said she would like to return to visit one day.

She added: "What a lot of people do not realise is that there are many Jewish shrines in Iraq and members of the Jewish community used to visit regularly. Luckily, the shrines were venerated by the Muslims too, so they were not damaged."

Memories of Eden, published by Forum Books, is available for £14.99. Visit the website.

Guardian book review

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The unintended consequence of Resolution 185

The so-called 'new historian' and iconoclastic Haaretz journalist Tom Segev has just spotted a flaw with Resolution no.185 on Jewish refugees approved by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee last week:

"The House Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress, responding to pressure from Jewish organizations, passed a resolution this week saying that Jews from Arab lands should also be considered refugees who were uprooted from their countries, and that the suffering of these Jews must also be taken into account in any future negotiations over the future of the Palestinian refugees.

"Ostensibly, this would seem to be another one of the countless "pro-Israel" decisions that are meant to warm the heart of the Jewish voter. It's a bipartisan decision, due to be brought to a vote in the House of Representatives - before the elections, of course. The war in Palestine did force most of the Jews living in Arab lands to leave. But Israel's Declaration of Independence and textbooks say that, in every generation, the Jewish people has striven to return to its land - implying that the Jews came here not as expelled refugees but as exiles returning home.

"The comparison of the situation of "the forgotten refugees" - as the U.S. House of Representatives refers to Mizrahi Jews in Israel - to the situation of the Palestinians in the refugee camps, is not very flattering either. Members of Congress may be able to boast to their voters that they stuck one to the Arabs, but a spokesman for the Arab lobby in America might just welcome the decision: Terrific, he'll say; then all that's needed is for the Jews to return to their countries of origin and for the Palestinians to return to their homes, and everything will be fine. Apparently, this didn't occur to them there, in far-off Washington."

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Bring it on, Tom. In fact let one Palestinian refugee return to Israel for every Mizrahi refugee wishing to return to an Arab country. Let's see how many takers we get.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Iranian TV drama conquers and converts the Jews

Following the screening of the Holocaust drama 'Zero Degree Turn', Iranian TV put on another series recently featuring Jews, called '40 soldiers'. The series promises defeat and conversion to the recalcitrant Jews living in Khaybar in Muhammad's time, while in an episode set in the future 40 mythological Persian war heroes come forth to repel the US army. (Via MEMRI)

During the second half of 2007, Iran's Channel 2 aired a 28-episode series called "40 Soldiers." The series, created by Mohammad Nouri-zad, examines the development of Iranian culture from four historical perspectives: the mythological pre-Islamic period, the life of national poet Hakim Abol-Qasem Ferdowsi Tusi (935-1020 CE), the life of Imam Ali, and the modern era.

In his portrayal of the life of Imam Ali, the director depicts the Muslim siege of the Jewish fortress of Khaybar. The Muslim army, led by Imam Ali, manages to conquer the fortress, following a sword fight between Imam Ali himself and the Jewish military commanders.

The narrator sets the scene:"The Jews [who lived] in the suburbs of Al-Madina harassed the Muslims, especially the Prophet [Muhammad]. They repeatedly violated the agreements. This is Khaybar, an inhabited region far from Al-Madina. Some of the fortresses of the Jews have been liberated by the Muslims, but their most important fortress still stands, and all the Muslims efforts to take control of it have been unsuccessful. Hunger afflicts the Muslim army, making the campaign even more difficult. They are all hungry - even the commanders and the Prophet's companions."

In one scene the Jew Abu Aswad (literally Father of the Black) sees the Light and becomes a Muslim. But his fate is to be beheaded by the Jews for abandoning Judaism. Here's another telling moment when Ali tries to persuade the blood-thirsty Jew Marhab to convert to Islam:

Marhab: "You killed my brother, Al-Hareth, son of Zaynab from Khaybar, right?"

Ali: "I gave him a chance, but he did not use it. I told him that if he became a Muslim, he would be saved. I say the same to you."

Marhab: "Me, become a Muslim?! I drink Muslim blood. Me, a Muslim? Muhammad, you have come to your own graveyard of your own free will. Here I am - Marhab, the hunter and killer of lions. Here I am - Marhab, avenging my brother Al-Hareth."

Ali: "You are a well-known hero, but even great heroes do not rely only on their arms of steel, but use their minds too. Think about it. All the monotheistic religions continue one another, and do not run parallel to one another. The path that began with Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus culminates with Muhammad."

Marhab: "Enough talking, Ali. If you are a man, let's see you voice the battle cry. The people of Khaybar know that I, Marhab, am armed to the teeth with weapons and iron, and that I am experienced and well-versed in battle. The moment the sharp blades reach me, I will draw my sword and spear."


Ali: "Despite your thirst for our blood, we have an affinity to you."

Marhab: "Our path differs from yours."

Ali: "How can you say that? The paths of all the prophets are the same."

Marhab: "What you are saying is false. The path of Moses is different."

Ali: "Your Moses is our Moses too. A Muslims who does not respect and honor Moses is not a true Muslim."

Marhab: "Stop talking, Ali. You have your religion, and we have ours."

Marhab loses a sword. Ali delivers a deadly blow to Marhab. The Muslims charge the fortress.

Narrator: "Eventually, the last unconquered Khaybar fortress was taken. The great Prophet always gave the people of Khaybar a chance, except at times when they shut the door on compromise, with their continuous treachery and scheming. The events of Khaybar serve as a sacred lesson to those who doubt the distinction between truth and falsehood."

Muslim leader: "Dear Ali, I congratulate you and us on this victory."

See clip and article