Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Government 'cut off Yemeni Jews' allowances'

Jews in Sana'a are struggling to survive after their allowances were cut off, according to this report of 31 March by the humanitarian news agency IRIN:

SANAA, 31 March 2009 (IRIN) - Members of the tiny Jewish community in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, say they have not received their monthly food rations or any government financial assistance for the past three months.

Rabbi Yahya Yusuf, leader of the 65-member community, told IRIN the Jews had been "suffering terribly" of late; many had been finding it very difficult to even feed their children. "We have sold everything we possess to buy food for our families. We even sold our women's gold rings. We have run out of money," he said.

Yusuf said that two weeks ago they had staged a protest outside government headquarters to demand action. "Prime Minister Ali Mujawwar has ordered payment of our monthly allowances and so has the minister of finance. But so far we have not received anything," Yusuf said.

The community has been living in the Sanaa suburb of Tourist City. The assistance they had been getting was 58,000 riyals (US$290), as well as 40kg of sugar, 50kg of wheat, and 40kg of rice per family, according to Yusuf. Most families had 12-18 members. Yusuf said the cut in aid could be used as a pretext to remove them from the city.

"When we first lived here [in 2007], we got good food rations plus the financial assistance. But gradually the assistance has been reduced," he said. Appeal "We appeal to aid organisations and benevolent contributors to assist us," said Yusuf.

Habbob Salem, 27, is a member of the community in Sanaa. He said he and his 18 family members lived in a small apartment with only three rooms. "We have never gone through this hardship. We have no source of income to rely on and now we have run out of money. This is really very harsh for us," he told IRIN.

The community was moved to Sanaa in 2007 after a number of Shia rebels in Saada Governorate, northern Yemen, threatened to kill them if they did not leave the area within 10 days. Yusuf said their property in Saada had been seized by the rebels, though the rebels have denied this. "We have not received any compensation."

Saba News contradicts the above report:

SANA'A, March 23 (Saba) – The Yemeni government continues to give allowances for the Yemeni Jews of those who are living in the Tourist City, Sana'a, a source at the Yemen Economic Corporation has affirmed.

The source dismissed reports recently released on some websites that the government had suspended Jewish allowances as baseless.

All allowances approved for the Jewish families in Sana'a for the next six months have been released, the source said.

Recently, some reports were released citing rabbis and Jews in Yemen complaining about the suspension of their allowances.

Jews were relocated to Sana'a after harassment they had started to experience in Saada and Amran provinces.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New work explores end of Judaism in Muslim lands

Immediately following the Holocaust, between 1945 and 1970, 20 centuries of pre-Islamic civilisation vanished almost overnight, as the Jews from Arab countries and Iran found themselves pounding the paths to exile.

Professor Shmuel Trigano's latest work, La fin du judaisme en terres d'Islam is a compilation of the work of 10 academic historians from France and Israel. It casts light on one of the major dramas of the 20th century - one that its victims are themselves often loth to talk about. It asks key questions about the relationship of the Muslim world to the Jewish or Christian 'other', and puts the Palestinian refugee issue in a wider context.

The book launch in Paris on Tuesday 31 March at 7.30pm will be attended by four of the book's contributors.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

After 30 years, what of Egyptian-Jewish claims?

Presidents Sadat, Carter and Prime Minister Begin at the historic signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty on the White House lawn (AP)

Amid the fanfare marking the 30th anniversary of Israel's historic peace treaty with Egypt, signed on the White House lawn on 26 March 1979, one question has received little or no attention - have Egyptian-Jewish property claims been met?

The answer is a resounding no.

Between 1956 and 1976, Jewish refugees from Egypt, most now living in Israel, filed some 7,000 claims, as requested by the Israeli Ministry of Justice - a quarter of all claims by Jews from Arab Countries. These claims are worth billions of dollars in private property alone. Individuals suspended their claims in order to allow the Israel government to handle the matter of confiscated or stolen properties on their behalf.

The Camp David Treaty declared: "Egypt and Israel will work with each other and with other interested parties to establish agreed procedures for a prompt implementation of the resolution of the refugee problem," without specifying if the refugees were Jewish or Arab.

Under Article VIII of the Treaty, the two sides agreed to establish a Claims Commission for the mutual return of financial claims. But the Claims Commission was never established.

In 1980, an Egyptian Jew, Shlomo Cohen-Sidon, wrote to Menahem Begin, suggesting that in the absence of a Claims Commission the state of Israel was now responsible for meeting Egyptian-Jewish compensation claims. But Cohen-Sidon's interpretation was rejected by Israel's foreign ministry.

Why was the Claims Commission never established? Egypt has never pressed for it. According to Itamar Levin, writing in Locked Doors (p146), the Egyptians initially realized that Israeli claims could leave Egypt 'stripped bare', as one Israeli source put it.

Israel, for its part, feared that Egypt might file a massive claim for oil pumped from the Abu Rudeis fields in western Sinai between 1967 and 1975. In anticipation, Egyptian Jews formally asked the Israeli government in 1975 not to return the oilfields without claiming compensation for Jewish property claims.

Israel did not do so, and the Jews of Egypt Organisation sued the state of Israel before the High Court of Justice in September 1975. But they lost the case: the Attorney-General Gabriel Bach concluded that it was too late. The agreement returning Abu Rudeis to Egypt had just been signed.

Levana Zamir of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association argues that the U.N. Charter on Wars between countries stipulates that no natural resources need be returned in peacetime. Therefore the oil pumped by Israel from Abu Rudeis should not have been taken into account.

The Israel government produced a variety of excuses for not pursuing Egyptian-Jewish claims. In the end they claimed that at the time their property was taken from the Jewish refugees, they were not Israeli citizens. As one Egyptian Jew ruefully remarked, this argument never stopped Israel from claiming from Germany on behalf of Holocaust victims.

Michael Fischbach in his book Jewish property claims against Arab countries, suggests that Israel did not press the claims of Egyptian-Jewish refugees because it was 'saving' them for political linkage with the claims of Palestinian refugees in a final peace settlement.

But the late Israeli Minister of Justice, Tommy Lapid, declared in 2003 that the failure to resolve Egyptian-Jewish claims was a severe omission by Israel. Meanwhile, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) have given a renewed impetus to the collection of claims, although they now declare recognition of refugee rights, not redress, is their top priority.

The pressure on Egypt to settle Jewish claims has slackened since July 2000, when after the Wye Plantation talks, President Clinton declared that an International Fund will be established both for Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees from Arab Countries. Levana Zamir of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association says: 'It is high time to begin establishing this International Fund."

The vast amount of communal property such as synagogues left behind must also be considered. Jews of Egypt may be tempted to follow the example of the Jews of Iraq, who set up the World Organisation of Jews of Iraq in 2008, a separate body to pursue mainly communal property claims.

Watch 'Farhud' on Israel Channel 1 Monday

With thanks: Aida and Iraqijews

On 1st and 2 June 1941, the festival of Shavuoth, over 130 Jews were massacred by Arabs in Baghdad in a terrifying pogrom. Thousands more were injured and there was massive damage to property.

The 'Farhud' pogrom has its grisly place in the annals of Nazi persecution of the Jewish people during World War ll. The British army, encamped on the outskirts of Baghdad, also bears responsibility for failing to stop two days and nights of killing and looting.

The Israel Broadcast Authority is to air Yitzhak Halutzi's documentary about the Farhud tomorrow night (Monday) 30th March at 9.45 pm Israel time. Five surviving witnesses are interviewed.

Watch Channel 1 or click here to access the IBA's Hebrew internet site programme schedule.

Friday, March 27, 2009

102-year old Jewess moves from Iran to LA

She witnessed the rise and fall of three kings and the upheaval of an Islamic revolution 30 years ago. Now 102-year-old Heshmat Elyasian has become the oldest Jewish immigrant from Iran to resettle in Los Angeles. Karmel Melamed has the story in the Jewish Journal of L A.

Because of an age-related mental decline, Elyasian was not fully aware that she had resettled in the United States. However, she said she was in good spirits during an interview with The Journal.

“I have some pain in my arms and legs from arthritis, but otherwise, thank God,” she said in her native Persian, while seated in a wheelchair and surrounded by family members at a relative’s home in the Valley.

Elyasian immigrated to the United States with her son, Manouchehr Tabari, and his family with the help of the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). According to HIAS records, Elyasian is the oldest refugee they have helped.

“Making the transition to life in America is not easy for many reasons, especially since the Iranian currency is worth so much less when converted to dollars, but we’re grateful to be here,” said 68-year-old Tabari, who was a cinematographer and filmmaker in Iran.

Tabari said the decision for his immediate family to leave Iran was based on his desire to pursue better educational opportunities for his children in the United States. Since extended families typically live together in Iran for many years, it was only natural for Tabari to immigrate with his mother.

“The plane trip here was very difficult for all of us, especially for my mother, because it was for many hours, and they had seated all of us in different parts of the airplane,” said Tabari, who now lives at his niece’s Tarzana home. “We are still trying to get over the exhaustion of the trip and the shocks of this new environment.”

Elyasian’s long life in Iran has not been the easiest, her son explained. After her marriage, her husband, who was a butcher, lost his savings after livestock he had purchased and ritually slaughtered were not kosher due to some impurities. The couple and their six children barely survived while they lived in poor conditions in Tehran’s run-down Jewish ghetto. Her husband was forced to work small and low-paying odd jobs, while she raised their children and also earned a living helping other families with their cooking, sewing and hand-washing their laundry.

“I am the only person in my family that has had formal education, and my mother really sacrificed on my behalf so that I could get an education,” said Tabari, who produced documentary films for television networks in Iran after studying film and drama in New York during the 1960s. “I’ve taken care of her myself ever since my father suddenly died of a heart attack at age 62.”

Iranian Jewish historical scholars said they were excited about Elyasian’s arrival in the United States because of her life experience and the fact that her father was one of a few Jewish musicians to entertain the late Iranian king, Nasser-al-Din Shah Qajar, which could shed new light on how Jews were treated in the king’s court during the early 20th century.

“Life was not easy for Jews living in Iran during the time this woman was born,” said Daniel Tsadik, a professor of Iranian studies at Yeshiva University in New York. “They were typically living in poverty, faced persecution in various cities and their movement was restricted in the country, because they were considered ritually impure by the local Muslim leaders.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How US Holocaust museum whitewashes Mufti

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Wolfgang G Schwanitz uncovers more evidence that the Washington Holocaust Museum is whitewashing the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem's role as Hitler's principal ally in the Middle East:

"Etgar Lefkovits asks if the US Holocaust Memorial Museum is whitewashing the grand mufti's biography on-line ("US museum draws flak for pro-Nazi mufti bio," March 18). Not at all. It's not bad intention, but the wrong approach that has led to the thesis of "ideological and strategic incompatibility between Nazism and Arab nationalism."

"The main events of Hajj Amin al-Husseini's life were kept in the dark before the millennium. Then the mufti's memoirs and other studies appeared in Arabic. Obviously the museum's authors - surely not Middle East historians - do not know those books or that language.

"Big chunks of knowledge have been left out in the museum's narrative. Almost nothing relates to the 29 years he lived after World War II, though there is the fairy tale of his "escape" from Paris to Cairo in 1946. But escape? Before this happened, the French said he was free to go.

"Missing is his help in getting thousands of Nazis jobs in the Middle East in the military, security or propaganda (most converted to Islam). You wonder from where the deadly ideology came that pushed Israel into a spiral of struggle for survival. Here you learn nothing about the mufti's bases in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Indonesia or Pakistan. Nor is anything said about his involvement in the murder of those willing to come to terms with the young Jewish state, people like Jordan's King Abdullah I.

"Missing is the mufti's worldwide incitement of terror against Israel and Jews, the support for his protégé Yasser Arafat and his role in finding retreats for Muslim Brothers in cities like Geneva or Munich. You don't read anything about the global Islamic organizations he built until his death in 1974.

"Even the mufti's year of birth is in quotation marks, although he stated clearly it was 1897. It goes on with misguiding sections, mistakes and omissions. Hitler certainly recognized the Arabs' wish for independence, and the mufti as their foremost speaker. He stressed his basic position in a 1939 meeting with Ibn Saud's envoy, and publicly at the end of 1940, giving further secret assurances to the mufti in person a year later. The text of the museum misrepresents facts and evidence.

"Berlin and Rome had already done a joint broadcast declaring support for Arab aspirations. Hitler repeated it orally and in writing. The dictator was most compatible with the mufti. Until the very end, Hitler ordered full support for him - as explained by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in 1944. They even prepared a new financial agreement with the mufti as late as April 5, 1945.

"Hitler needed the mufti as an accomplice in the Holocaust planned for the Middle East and as an adviser in Muslim affairs. For his part, the mufti found much common ground with Hitler. Just read his appeal of 1937 to all Muslims (not mentioned in the text). In a time when even Berlin still had various projects on the table about "how to solve the Jewish question," the mufti called on Muslims for jihad to rid their lands of Jews. In a mixture of religious and racist hatred, he likened them to "microbes and scum of all countries."

Read article in full

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Roger Cohen berated in New York Times letters

The latest salvo has been fired against columnist Roger Cohen on the letters page of the New York Times of 23 March. All the letter-writers berate him for minimising the antisemitism of the Iranian regime. They also question Cohen s assertion that Iran is the least undemocratic state in the Middle East after Israel:

Re “Iran, Jews and Pragmatism” (column, March 16):

Roger Cohen says that the “rage” in response to his claim that Iran’s Jews are safe and secure erupted because “the hawks’ case against Iran depends on a vision of an apocalyptic regime” that is “frenziedly anti-Semitic.” He says that “the presence of these Jews” in Iran “undermines that vision.”

The status of the Jews in Iran should be evaluated based on the facts, regardless of hawks’ or doves’ political positions regarding United States policy toward Iran.

The State Department — which does not embrace the hawks’ position on Iran — in its “International Religious Freedom Report 2008” found that Iran’s Jews live in a “threatening atmosphere” and that religious minorities suffer “officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing.” The government “limited the distribution of Hebrew texts, particularly nonreligious texts, making it difficult to teach the language.”

Is the Iranian regime “frenziedly anti-Semitic,” as Mr. Cohen puts it? According to the State Department, “There was a rise in officially sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda involving official statements, media outlets, publications and books.”

Among other examples, the report noted the publication in the Iranian press of “anti-Semitic editorial cartoons depicting demonic and stereotypical images of Jews” and an Iranian television broadcast of a documentary describing “the Jewish plan for genocide of humanity.”

Three-quarters of Iran’s Jews have emigrated in the 30 years since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and the State Department report noted that some Iranian Jews are continuing to emigrate, “partially due to continued anti-Semitism by the government and within society.”

Rafael Medoff

The writer is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

I question Roger Cohen’s reference to Iran as “the Middle East’s least undemocratic state outside Israel.” Elections in Iran and the candidates for elections are determined by one man: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme authority in Iran.

The Jews in Iran should be seen as pawns or hostages in case Israel decides to attack Iran. Iran’s Jews have been imprisoned or executed, accused of spying for Israel. Their status is precarious.

If President Obama wants to prevent Iran from acquiring the atomic bomb, short of resorting to military action, he must talk only with Ayatollah Khamenei. Otherwise, he will be wasting his time and may be giving Israel no alternative but using force to protect itself.

Heskel M. Haddad

The writer is president of the World Organization of Jews From Arab Countries, which represents Jews from Islamic countries.

Roger Cohen first declares that Iran is “the Middle East’s least undemocratic state outside Israel,” but then later admits that “Iran is an un-free society.”

That is an understatement. According to the Freedom House “Freedom of the World” report for 2008, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are all more “free” than Iran.

Only Sudan, whose leader is being sought for crimes against humanity, Saudi Arabia and Syria received worse scores than Iran. Iran is one of the least “free” countries in the Middle East.

Freedom House also ranks countries according to “electoral process,” by which Yemen, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq all rank higher than Iran.

Mr. Cohen’s optimism regarding democracy and freedom in Iran, and the implications it has for United States policy, is undermined by Freedom House’s findings.

Gabriel M. Scheinmann

New York Times letters

Meeting Iranian Jews has taught Roger Cohen nothing

Monday, March 23, 2009

No room for Yemenites, Ethiopians and Moroccans

With thanks: Avril

Three cheers for Seth Frantzman. His piece at the Jerusalem Post rightly points out that the Israelis who feature in Arab or leftwing propaganda, such as Caryl Churchill's 10-minute post-Gaza play Seven Jewish children, are invariably blond European refugees from the Holocaust. Where are the Russians, the Jews from Arab countries and the Ethiopians who found a safe haven in Israel in more recent times?

The 40 percent of the Jewish population who took refuge in Israel from Arab antisemitism are notably invisible. Any mention of them would spoil the neat narrative that Israeli Jews are all colonials from Europe or Brooklyn who came to usurp the land from the 'indigenous' Palestinians.

This distorting fantasy also insinuates itself into sophisticated stories like The Lemon Tree, a book by Sandy Tolan.

The Lemon Tree is about the friendship between Dalia, who lives in a house in Ramla which used to belong to Palestinian Arab Bashir, displaced a few dozen kilometres away in Ramallah. Dalia is from a Jewish family who escaped persecution in Bulgaria. Bashir's family was forced out of Ramla. Of course the stories are not symmetrical: Dalia's family found itself in Israel on account of European antisemitism, while the author has chosen to focus on a Palestinian victim of one of the few examples of expulsion by the Israeli army during the war of independence. The simplisitc refrain is - why should Palestinians be made to pay for the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews?

The reader will have little inkling that the Arabs started the 1948 war itself following the Arab rejection of the UN partition plan for Palestine - much less that the Palestinian leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, himself a steadfast ally of the Nazis, was personally responsible for violence, hatred and incitement not just against Jews in Palestine, but in Arab lands.

The book refers to the dark-skinned Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries who moved to Ramla, but makes no attempt to romanticise the homes with lemon trees they were expelled from in Baghdad or Tripoli or Damascus - homes now occupied by Palestinians or other Arabs. The vicious antisemitism which propelled these Mizrahim to Israel has been passed over in silence. The reader will remain blissfully unaware that an entire millenarian Jewish civilisation has been wiped out in these countries. The Mizrahi Jews in the story are only useful to illustrate the tensions and discrimination between themselves and 'light-skinned' Ashkenazi Jews in Israel.

This fundamentally lopsided perception is responsible for the fiction that Palestinian Arabs are the real victims in this conflict.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How 530 Moroccan-Jewish kids were smuggled out

For 40 years David Littman kept a secret: his pivotal role in a Mossad plan to smuggle Jewish children from Morocco to Israel. Two years ago, this undercover project, which managed to spirit 530 Jewish children out on five flights, became the subject of an award-winning film, Operation Mural.

David Littman is known as a historian and the representative of the World Association for Education and The World Union for Progressive Judaism at the UN in Geneva. He is also the husband of Gisele, who has achieved fame under her pen name Bat Ye'or for her research about the dhimmi status of Jews and Christians in Muslim lands. She is also the author of the acclaimed Eurabia.

It was fifteen years since the end of the Second World War that the dashing, young, newly-married Littman, inspired by William Shirer's The rise and fall of the Third Reich, went about knocking on doors of Jewish organisations in Geneva asking what he could do to help the Jewish people.

Before he knew it he was entrusted with a dangerous mission: to pose as an English gentleman and arrange Swiss holidays for Jewish children from Casablanca. At first he did not realise that his handlers would be members of the secret Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad.

For five months, between March and July 1961, the tall, athletic, handsome Littman, equipped with the fearless self-confidence which only an English public-school education could provide, had, from his base at a Casablanca hotel, established his credentials as an English gentleman, playing tennis with the British consul, going to church on Sundays, and on first-name terms with the local police chief.

Littman advertised his Swiss holiday camp in the local press. Surprise, surprise - only Jewish children applied. Most came from the poverty-stricken Mellah - the traditional Jewish quarter. Despite Bat Ye'or's vigorous denials in the registration office, the families understood that the children's final destination was Israel and they would not be coming back. Parents did not know when they would see their children again. The parents were given the money for the holiday camp by Littman's underground 'contacts', paid it on registration and Littman returned the money to his 'contacts' that same night.

One child, now a senior officer in the Israeli army, said with tears in his eyes he did not understand to this day why, out of nine children his mother had chosen him, then a seven-year old, to travel with two of his siblings on a one-way ticket to the unknown.

One reason was desperation to reach Israel. From the time Morocco acquired its independence in 1956, the mass of the 260,000-strong Jewish community was banned from emigrating. Some were so desperate that they risked their lives sailing in rickety boats. One, the Egoz, sank with 44 lives lost. Although the king of Morocco had always been well-disposed towards the Jews, anti-Jewish hostility intensified following the visit of Nasser in 1960 and Morocco's alignment with the radical Arab League.

Littman soon came up against his first hurdle. The clerk who issued the collective passports for the children smelled a rat: all the children happened to be Jewish and Littman's project was a 'Zionist plot'. He refused to have anything to do with it. This is where Littman's skillful networking came into its own: he went to see his friend the (Berber) police chief, venting his outrage that anyone could doubt that he, a bona fide Englishman, was only trying to give children a break in Switzerland.

The police chief agreed, and gave Littman carte blanche to do whatever he needed to accomplish his mission.

But opposition to the mission brewed inside Israel itself. Religious groups asked how children could be made to travel by bus on Shabbat to catch a plane from Tangier, were torn away from their traditionally observant backgrounds and put in a godless, secular environment in Israel. Orthodox Jews at the waystation in Switzerland tried to lure the children to the local Yeshiva.

In addition the Israeli authorities themselves preferred individual passports for the children, some of whom were clearly delinquents.

The unexpected publicity made things dangerous for Littman and his young family. If his cover were blown he could have expected a long term in prison or even execution. The Mossad lost no time spiriting him out of Morocco.

But Operation Mural had done its job: it had paved the way for the mass emigration of 100,000 Jews from Morocco to Israel in the early 1960s. By agreement with the new king, Hassan ll, they were ransomed at 200 dollars per head, a princely sum in those days. The parents of the Casablanca children were given priority on Operation Yakhin, and could rejoin their children as little as nine months later.

Although Operation Mural was first publicised in 1986, and tributes to the Littmans were paid by then Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, it was only with the making of the film in 2007 that David Littman received due public acknowledgement for his role in the mission. In June 2008 President Shimon Peres, who as deputy Defence Minister in 1961 must have known about Operation Mural, invited the Littmans to his residence and paid tribute to their bravery.

For Mrs Littman, Bat Ye'or, virtue was its own reward. A Jewish refugee from Egypt in 1957, she had overcome resistance from her own family to return to an Arab country so soon after having endured persecution and expulsion from another one. She considered it a Mitzvah to do what she could to save Moroccan Jews.

The Littmans returned with an Israeli group of tourists to Morocco to make the film, but surrounded by guards and officials, had to pretend that they were shooting a home movie of their travels.

This week, introducing the UK film premiere (organised by Spiro Ark and Harif) in the grand surroundings of the Main Library at the Reform Club - where Phineas Fogg had embarked on his journey in the novel Around the World in 80 Days - the historian David Pryce-Jones said that Jews in Morocco lived as second-class dhimmis well into the 20th century. They had to wear distinctive clothing and lived in fear of random violence.

Pryce-Jones said that the king of Morocco, Mohammed V, was pro-Jewish, but his role in protecting his Jewish subjects during the Second World War has been romanticised. The story that he insisted on yellow stars for himself and his family was apocryphal. The Vichy government had imposed the discriminatory statut des juifs, and while no Jews were deported to death camps in Europe under his watch, the king was powerless to prevent Jews being interned in some 60 forced labour camps on the Moroccan-Algerian border and the practice of 'tombeau' torture. Inmates were punished by being made to lie in holes in the ground for weeks on end. Many died.

David Littman added that as late as 1911, a year before the establishment of the French protectorate, a Jew had written to the Sultan of Morocco pleading to be allowed to visit him wearing his baboush slippers. Jews who stepped out of the Mellah or Jewish quarter had to walk barefoot on burning or freezing paving stones. The Jew's request was refused.

It was a tribute to Israel's establishment as a refuge for all Jews that even the very poorest and most needy found a home there. Of almost 300,000 Moroccan Jews in 1948 the vast majority went to Israel ( a million Israelis are of Moroccan descent). Only some 4,000 remained behind.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Infighting imperils secret rescue of Yemen Jews

A secret and delicate operation to evacuate a substantial portion of Yemen’s tiny and beleaguered Jewish population has been thrust into public view and put at risk by infighting among rival Jewish organizations. In this story picked up by The Forward, the Israeli newspaper Maariv has disclosed that the organizations involved are now accusing one another of endangering Jewish lives. Some 113 Jews are being processed for emigration to the US (With thanks: grossly informed):

"The Jewish Agency, which has historically rescued Jews threatened by antisemitism and brought them to Israel, is locked in an apparent battle with a coalition of American Jewish organizations over the coalition’s operation to bring Yemeni Jews to the United States. The American coalition includes United Jewish Communities — one of the Jewish Agency’s main funders — and a leading figure in the Brooklyn-based Satmar Hasidic sect.

"The two groups have been working in parallel on evacuating Yemeni Jews: UJC and Satmar with the United States government, assisted by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and a number of other organizations to bring Yemeni Jews here, and the Jewish Agency, which has been working with the Israeli government to bring them to Israel.

"The Yemen government, which is friendly to the United States but faces militant Islamist sentiment domestically, has not opposed the Jews’ departure so long as it is done quietly.

"Representatives of each side have insisted that any revelation of their activities would endanger the lives of the Jews living in Yemen and the negotiations to bring them out of the country. Yet organizational leaks have brought both operations to light.

"UJC sent an e-mail to this newspaper March 17, seeking to avert publication of a news story disclosing the operation. The e-mail quoted Gregg Rickman, a former State Department official in charge of combating antisemitism who, according to a Jewish communal official close to the negotiations, is now employed by the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. In the e-mail, Rickman stated that if Yemeni Jews suffered harm after a news organization published information on America’s ongoing negotiations with the Yemeni government, the Jews’ “blood will be on their hands,” referring to the news organization.

"Rickman declined to comment for this article.

"The following day, an article appeared on the Website of the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv revealing UJC and Satmar’s plans to bring the Yemeni Jews to the United States. It quoted senior Jewish Agency officials who criticized UJC’s operations for violating the tradition that rescued Jews be brought to Israel, accusations that were repeated to this newspaper."

Read Forward article in full

Jerusalem Post article

JTA article

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jewish refugee issue can ease campus tensions

Speaking at a Canadian conference on 8 and 9 March, Israeli professor and peace activist Ada Aharoni (pictured) said that informing people about the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries decades ago can help ease tensions on campuses between Jewish and pro-Palestinian students. Canadian Jewish News reports:

Aharoni has taught at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the University of Haifa and founded IFLAC in 1999 to spread the culture of peace and build bridges between nations. She spoke at the conference about the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries and shared her story about being a Jewish refugee from Egypt.

“I presented it as a tool for students to be able to empower them, so when they hear that Palestinians were thrown out [of Israel], they’ll know there were two migrations, not only one, in the mid-20th century,” Aharoni said.

She said that in 1948, about 650,000 Palestinians fled Israel, while about 900,000 Jews from neighbouring Arab countries either fled or were thrown out of their homes and forced to leave all their possessions behind.

“I spoke about ethnic cleansing, because the Palestinians keep telling you about there was an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel, and it’s not true. There was an ethnic cleansing of Jews in the Middle East. So few are left in those Arab countries,” Aharoni said.

“Out of the 100,000 Jews in 1948, only 40 Jews are left in all of Egypt.”

She urged the students at the conference to share this information with their peers, because, based on a case study she conducted when she was teaching at Penn State University, this information can help change the minds of people who have anti-Israel views.

She said she was teaching a class made up of North American, Israeli, Arab and Palestinian students, and she assigned a research paper that had to contain only objective facts and statistics about the fate of Jews from Arab countries.

“My goal was to find out if their opinions [about the Arab-Israeli conflict] would be changed,” Aharoni said.

“By the last lesson, Palestinian students stood up and said… ‘We checked all your statistics, and you know what, you’re right… How come you Jews, who are supposed to be wise and intelligent, have kept all these facts in your drawers for more than 60 years?’” she recalled.

“I was so pleased, because my students understood what all the governments of Israel have never understood – that this [information] is really a tool.”

She said her Palestinian students said this information made them feel like they weren’t the only underdogs.

Aharoni said they told her that, “‘Until now, we’ve been told the Nazis killed six million Jews and that’s why you came and took our country. This has nothing to do with us – go to Germany. But when you come and tell us that half the citizens of Israel are Jews from Arab countries, that is a different story – we are responsible for what happened.’

“In Islamic philosophy, to be able to have peace, real peace, the side that has done wrong has to pay something concrete, and [the Palestinian students said] ‘You have already paid when you were robbed of all your property in the Arab countries.’”

Aharoni recalled reading a poem she wrote titled The Second Exodus at a lecture she gave at the Penn State Hillel with both Jewish and Palestinian students in attendance.

The poem was about her father, who died of a heart attack after he found out that all his property, money and assets – even money he had set aside in a Swiss bank – had been confiscated by the Egyptian government.

“Two Palestinian students wearing keffiyot had tears in their eyes, and one of them said, ‘That is exactly what happened to my father.’ Suddenly we were on the same side. We were not enemies anymore. We were refugees who had suffered from the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Aharoni said that there is a lot of Jewish history that people are simply unaware of, and becoming informed can help nations better understand each other and help the peace process along.

“Until now, we have been doing hasbara to the Americans, the Canadians, to the French, but not to the Arabs, and they are the ones who should listen to us. It’s not with you that we want to make peace. We want to make peace with them,” she said.

“Changing someone’s attitude from hatred to understanding and harmony and co-operation is something that is happening all the time. But to be able to speak about it, you have to know.”

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jews the same as other Iranians - only worse off

Doron Peskin in Ynet News shows that Iranian Jews do much the same, economically, as every one else - but also suffer institutional discrimination. If, as recent rumours have it, president Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots - it is no wonder he would have wanted to hide them.

" The recent years have seen a drop in the average Iranian citizen's standard of living, despite the considerable increase in the revenues from oil. The high inflation the Iranian economy is suffering from has not skipped the Jewish community members.

" A significant number of the Jewish community members in Iran are independent, operating small businesses in the trade and retail fields. This is, among other things, a result of the fact that the Ayatollahs regime prevents the Jews from obtaining senior posts in government ministries, in commissioned ranks (Jews are drafted by the army just like the rest of Iran's citizens), in the legal system and in the education system.

"Some of the Jews are employed by governmental bodies or state-owned companies, but their chances of being promoted to senior management posts are very small.

"In general, the Jews' level of integration in the Muslim population, including in the economic field, is lower today than before the revolution.

"In addition, despite public declarations on religious equality and a religious decree on the matter issued by Imam Khomeini, the Iranian law stresses the supremacy of Islam in different economy-related fields.

"In inheritance laws, for instance, if a member of a Jewish family converts to Islam he is entitled to the entire heritage if the rest of his siblings remain Jewish.

"Another example in this context refers to murder cases and compensating the victim's family. In such cases Iran acts in accordance with Islamic law and the principle of "money for the blood." In other words, the victim's family can leave the murderer free of punishment in exchange for compensation from him or his family. In today's Iran, the compensation given to a Jewish family in such a case totals 10% of the compensation given to the family of a Muslim victim.

"The Jewish community in Iran has adapted to the electronic era, and a special website helps the community raise funds to fulfill its needs. Donors from abroad, led by wealthy Iranian Jews who emigrated after the revolution, infuse millions of dollars every year to the community for charity purposes.

"The donations funds help operate Iran's 30 synagogues and the Jewish hospital in Tehran. Incidentally, this hospital is considered a particularly good medical center in the Iranian capital and nearly 95% of its patients today are Muslims. Part of the medical staff is Jewish, and its entire budget is based on donations.

"Recently, the hospital's offices even received a direct donation from the office of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, as opposed to the hospital, Iran refrains from providing financial aid to the Islamic republic's Hebrew schools.

"Several weeks ago, the Iranian president was slammed for allegedly hiding his Jewish roots. Mahdi Khazali, the son of one of the most prominent Muslim clerics in Iran, published a special article on the republic's Jewish community on his blog. In the article, he wrote that the Iranian president was a descendant of the Jewish Saborjian family from the village of Aradan.

"Khazali said that the president's harsh attacks on the Jews, Zionism and Israel were aimed at covering his origin. He stated that the president's Jewish family changed its name to Ahmadinejad in order to hide its Jewishness and help its sons pave their way in the Iranian society.

"The correct fact in this story is that Ahmadinejad did change his surname, and according to his relatives this was done for "religious and financial reasons."

"Even if they claim is wrong, it appears to point to the current situation in the Iranian society, in which Jews are limited in terms of their economic chances due to their religion.

"Iranian Jews' emigration levels in the past few years are tiny. This may be the result of their fear of the authorities' attitude towards those left behind, or the fact that the Jewish community in the country is growing old and prefers what it has in Tehran over the unknown in Israel.

"In any event, the financial incentives initiated by the State of Israel and offered to Iranian Jews by organizations abroad in order to emigrate have been publicly rejected by the community heads.

"At the time, the community leaders issued a harsh statement expressing their discontent with the thought that "their nationality can be negotiated".

"This statement may have been dictated by the Iranian regime, but statistical figures show that between the end of 2005 and the end of 2006 only 200 Jews agreed to emigrate from Iran in return for those same generous incentives.

"Those who emigrated stated that their main reason for leaving Iran was the poor economic situation they suffered from rather than the political situation.

"The Jewish community in Iran did not experience economic distress during the Shah's days. Before the Khomeini revolution Jews were considered the leading businessmen in Iran, and were part of the business elite. Jews held key positions in the oil and banking industry and in the legal system."

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Meeting Iranian Jews teaches Roger Cohen nothing

An encounter between the columnist Roger Cohen and the Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles appears to have taught Cohen nothing. He still believes that Iran is a pluralistic society (tell that to the Bahai's currently persecuted and awaiting execution on trumped-up charges). He still thinks Iran practises a semblance of democracy (tell that to the thousands of dissidents annually executed by the regime); and he still thinks that the regime is 'pragmatic' ( tell that to the Shi'a clerics in power driven by their messianic vision of the advent of the 12th Imam). My comments on his latest International Herald Tribune piece ( Iran, Jews and pragmatism) interposed in italics.

"I have, in a series of columns, and as a cautionary warning against the misguided view of Iran as nothing but a society of mad mullah terrorists bent on nukes, been examining distinctive characteristics of Persian society.

"Iran as compared to Arab countries including Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt has an old itch for representative government, evident in the 1906 Constitutional Revolution. The June presidential vote will be a genuine contest by the region's admittedly abject standards. This is the Middle East's least undemocratic state outside Israel.

What kind of democracy is it where the Iranian Parliament is a rubber stamp for the regime and 1,700 (90 percent reformist) candidates were banned from standing in the 2008 elections?

"Another Iranian exception is that it had its Islamic Revolution three decades ago. Been there, done that. So its lessons are important.

The Islamist revolution is far from losing its momentum. It is still fuelling Iran's desire to meddle in Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq and become the region's superpower.

"From Egypt to Algeria to Afghanistan, Islamist movements are radicalized by dreams of establishing everlasting dominion; democracy is feared because it could prove to be their means to power. In Iran, by contrast, life is a daily exercise in compromises that temper Islam with the demands of modern life. Iran is emerging from extremist fervor as clerical absolutism and pluralism spar.

"While Bernard Lewis, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, posits an epochal clash between "Islamic theocracy and liberal democracy" whose outcome will be decisive, I don't see any victor in this fight. Rather, beyond the regional autocratic model, a variety of compromises between the two forces will emerge, as in Iran.

A highly controversial statement resting on the false premise that the Iranian regime is to any degree democratic.

"It is therefore in America's strong interest to develop relations with the most dynamic society in the region.

"What autocrats from the Gulf to Cairo fear most is an Iranian-American breakthrough, precisely because it will shake up every cozy, static regional relationship, including Washington's with Israel.

"Another distinctive characteristic of Iran is the presence of the largest Jewish community in the Muslim Middle East in the country of the most vitriolic anti-Israel tirades.

A meaningless and decontextalised statement, given that Jews of Iran used to number over 100,000 before the Shah was deposed in 1979. You might as well argue that Morocco (with 4,000 Jews left of 260,000) is a model of pluralism given that it still has more Jews than any other Arab country.

"My evocation of this 25,000-strong community, in the taboo-ridden world of American Middle East debate, has prompted fury, nowhere more so than here in Los Angeles, where many of Iran's Jewish exiles live.

"At the invitation of Rabbi David Wolpe of the Sinai Temple, I came out to meet them. The evening was fiery; there was scant meeting of minds. Exile, expropriation and, in some cases, executions have left bitter feelings among the revolution's Jewish victims, as they have among the more than two million Muslims who have fled Iran since 1979. Abraham Berookhim gave me a moving account of his escape and his Jewish uncle's unconscionable 1980 murder by the regime.

"Earlier, Sam Kermanian, a leader of the Iranian Jewish community, argued that I had been used, that Iran's Jews are far worse off than they appear, and that my portrayal of them was pernicious in that it "leads people to believe Israel's enemies are not as real as you may think." He called the mullahs brilliantly manipulative: "They know their abilities and limitations."

"On at least this last point I agree. Just how repressive life is for Iran's Jews is impossible to know. Iran is an un-free society. But this much is clear: The hawks' case against Iran depends on a vision of an apocalyptic regime with no sense of its limitations so frenziedly anti-Semitic that it would accept inevitable nuclear annihilation if it can destroy Israel first.

"The presence of these Jews undermines that vision. It blunts the hawks' case; hence the rage.

Not at all. The Jewish presence testifies to them as hostages of their own personal circumstances: inertia, poverty, age, locked assets. Let's not forget that in 1939, one-fifth of the Jewish community still had not yet left Hitler's Germany.

"I think limitation-aware pragmatism lies at the core of the revolution's survival. It led to cooperation with Israel in Cold War days; it ended the Iraq war; it averted an invasion of Afghanistan in 1996 after Iranian diplomats were murdered; it brought post-9/11 cooperation with America on Afghanistan; it explains the ebb and flow of liberalization since 1979; and it makes sense of the Jewish presence.

"Pragmatism is also one way of looking at Iran's nuclear program. A state facing a nuclear-armed Israel and Pakistan, American invasions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and noting that North Korea was not hit, might reasonably conclude that preserving the revolution requires nuclear resolve.

"What's required is American pragmatism in return, one that convinces the mullahs that their survival is served by stopping short of a bomb.

"That, in turn, will require President Obama to jump over his own bonfire of indignation as the Middle East taboos that just caused the scandalous disqualification of Charles Freeman for a senior intelligence post are shed in the name of a new year of engagement and reason.

Readers are invited to comment at Roger Cohen's blog: www.iht.com/passages

Read article in full

Observer report

Jeffrey Goldberg's blog

Cohen spars with Iranian expats: JTA

Video (Jewish Journal of LA)

Roger and me: Jewish Journal blog

Roger Cohen has it wrong on the Jews of Iran

Iran is 'civil' towards its Jews

Moroccan-born Black Panther lurches rightwards

Whatever's happened to Charlie Biton? The Moroccan-born leader of the Israeli Black Panther movement has done a political about-turn. In the 1970s he became a Knesset member of the Arab-Jewish Communist party Hadash and met Yasser Arafat in 1987. Now, however, he would make a good Foreign Minister in the next right-wing government, according to Sarah Honig in the Jerusalem Post:

"In the spirit of Purim, I quipped a few days ago that if it were up to me, I'd appoint ex-Black Panther Charlie Biton our new foreign minister.

"It's actually not altogether preposterous. Tzipi Livni eminently proved that proficiency in the English idiom is no prerequisite for the job. Moreover, Charlie says it like it is, passionately, from the gut, without pedantic quibbling, pseudointellectual hairsplitting or any niceties to speak of. He doesn't try to be liked.

"Golda in her day remarked that he and his crowd weren't "nice." Menachem Begin used to refer to him tongue-in-cheek as "Sir Charles."

"But Sir Charles may be just the man of the hour. After all, the international community seems enamored of anyone who smacks of the Third World, and of any cause espoused with indignation and enunciated with aggressive conviction. Nobody can rise to that challenge better than Charlie. European dispensers of sanctimony, indeed, once adored him, hung on his every word and quoted him with undisguised relish.

That was during his 15-year Knesset stint (1977-1992) on the Hadash list, as protege of orthodox communist Meir Wilner. Charlie made Wilner's diatribes sound like decorous moderation. Biton remains outspoken, but his message is different.

Why aren't we aware of his political transformation? "Who'll give me a hearing?" he rhetorically responded to Makor Rishon recently. "Our media serves Israel's enemies... They love interviewing Hamas propagandists, but since I shifted my orientation, I've become taboo. If you're leftist, they'll grant you exposure. Once you switch rightward and try to tell the truth, you're blacklisted."

Be that as it may, Biton admits he "naively once believed that it's possible to arrive at a peaceful solution with the Palestinians - two states for two nations. I gradually got wiser."

Read article in full

Friday, March 13, 2009

A refugee from the Ayatollah

The Jewish Chronicle's account of how Jilla Youseffi (pictured in the 1970s) escaped the Iran of the Ayatollahs 30 years ago is a tribute to the work of the CBF (Central British Fund). A the time, the organisation did invaluable work in Britain resettling Jews in distress:
"When 18-year-old Jilla Youseffi said goodbye to her parents one morning in early 1979, she had no idea whether she would ever see them again. Youseffi was leaving her home in a well-heeled suburb of Tehran for the last time, heading for a new life in Britain where she would be safe from persecution by Islamic fundamentalists.
"The teenager was one of a number of young Iranian Jews who were being sent out of the country by their parents following the establishment of an Islamic state under Ayatollah Khomeini. 30 years ago, the US-backed Shah was deposed by the Ayatollah’s supporters in what has become known as the Iranian Revolution, resulting in the setting up of the most hard-line Muslim government in the Middle East.
"The move triggered a wave of fear among the country’s 80,000 Jews, who expected the peaceful co-existence they had enjoyed up until then to be replaced by harassment and oppression. Such was their anxiety that many parents were prepared to break up their families and send their children thousands of miles away to safety.
"Youseffi’s uncle, who was working with the pro-Zionist Alliance Israel organisation at the time, arranged for her departure with the help of the Central Bureau Federation (CBF), a welfare charity helping young Iranians to settle in Britain. CBF committed itself to looking after her and five other girls for two years, paying the rent on a home for them in Golders Green, north London.
“Everybody was in a panic about sending their children out after they started killing people,” says Youseffi, who is now 48 and living in Temple Fortune with her Iranian-born husband Faramarz and her twin 19-year-old daughters, Jessica and Tania. “I wasn’t that keen to come out all by myself, being so young, but my two brothers said it wasn’t easy to get a visa, so I should take this opportunity.
“A while after I left, people had to be smuggled over the border and it became very difficult to leave. But for me, it wasn’t like that. We got our visas.
“But they did take all our money and the jewellery that we had at the airport. The authorities said we were not allowed to take money. They said they would give it back to our families, but they didn’t.”
"Youseffi was fortunate in that she could speak a little English. CBF helped her get into a language school to improve her skills, which led her to securing a place in a secretarial school.
“It was very hard to settle in Britain, but a lot of other Iranian Jews were beginning to arrive because of the revolution,” she recalls.
“The majority of them came couldn’t speak any English. It was a trying time for everyone. We felt very lonely, we needed friends — the majority of us didn’t have family here.”
"After three years she married Faramarz, with whom she ran a hotel and restaurant business. Her biggest regret is that her mother and father were denied a visa to travel to Britain to be with them under the chuppah.
“After the [Iran-Iraq] war broke out [in 1980] nobody came out of the country. They weren’t allowed. So my parents never got to come to the wedding,” she says. “They got to know his family in Iran so they were happy about the match. I’m sure it was one of the hardest things they experienced, and it is something that I regret.”
"Her parents met her husband for the first time at her older brother’s wedding in Los Angeles 13 years later. “My brother was supposed to leave Iran immediately after me,” she says. “But they closed the borders and it took him three years to get out. He came to New York as a refugee [before settling in LA]. Then my sister came here for a year before moving to America.”
"Eight years ago, Youseffi’s parents finally left Tehran for good, but not before her father had been falsely imprisoned for three months after being blamed for a burglary. They settled in LA’s large community of Iranian Jews. “America is an immigrant country,” Youseffi argues. “You’re not an outsider, you’re part of the country.”
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rafi Eitan discusses Jewish refugees in London

In London during the final days of the Olmert administration, Senior Citizens' Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan met representatives of Jews from Arab countries yesterday.

Introduced by Edwin Shuker, President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), Minister Eitan told Jews from Libya, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and Egypt that the Gaza war with Hamas had made it even more imperative to solve the refugee problem.

A new unit had been set up inside his ministry to collect claims from Jews from Arab countries.
The ministry Director-General, Dr Avi Bitzur, explained that people in Israel were ignorant of the Jewish refugees' story. He was determined to map out as complete a picture as possible of Jewish property and assets lost in Arab lands. According to Israeli inheritance laws, the descendants of refugees are entitled to claim compensation and restitution.

Israel was ready to take a leadership role in the Jewish refugee compensation issue, Eitan declared. There was some discussion with the Jewish representatives, however, whether Jews from the diaspora or Israel should conduct claims negotiations with Arab countries. Edwin Shuker hailed the foundation of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq last June, which included both diaspora and Israeli Jews, as a possible model.

Eitan's attempts at the Annapolis conference in November 2007 to have Jewish refugees mentioned were thwarted by Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, who viewed the issue as an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The issue should be regarded as a bridge to reconciliation, said Edwin Shuker.

Rafi Eitan's Pensioners' party had lost all seven Knesset seats in the recent Israeli general election. However, he was hoping that his Senior Citizens' Affairs ministry will survive under the Netanyahu premiership, although he had not yet managed to secure the prime minister-designate's blessing.

Along the lines of the resolution passed by the US Congress in April 2008, the Senior Citizens' Affairs ministry has prepared a draft resolution for presentation to the government of Israel. If it is passed, the government will be committed to ensuring that any mention of Palestinian Arab refugees in official documents is matched by a mention of Jewish refugees.

Here is the full text of the proposed resolution:

*Whereas Jews lived throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf for approximately 2,500 years, more than a thousand years prior to the establishment of Islam;

*Whereas following the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict, a systematic campaign had begun to eliminate the Jewish presence, which included approximately 850,000 Jews, through blatant violation of fundamental human rights, including forced deportation and disinheritance of private and community property;

*Whereas only some 7,000 Jews now remain throughout the entire Middle East (mostly in Morocco);

*Whereas since 1947 the United Nations General Assembly adopted 842 resolutions regarding the Middle East conflict and 126 resolutions regarding the Palestinian refugees, but not one resolution pertaining to Jews from Arab countries, despite the fact that the number of Palestinian refugees is similar to that of Jews who were forced to
leave the Arab states during the Arab-Israeli conflict;

*Whereas the UN and the international community hurried to assist the Palestinian refugees with billions of dollars, while Jews from Arab countries received no aid or compensation;

*Whereas justice was not served with those Jews and they were deprived of their right for many years;

*Whereas the State of Israel is the sovereign entity responsible for the rights of its citizens, among them many Jews from Arab countries and their descendants, and whereas Israel is the center of the Jewish people, and many Jews from Arab countries and their descendants are now residing in the Jewish Diaspora;

*Whereas the State of Israel strives for a comprehensive peace agreement which will include a resolution of all outstanding issues between the State of Israel and the Arab states, including problems relating to the right of recognition and to correcting the historic injustice caused to Jews from Arab countries;

*Whereas the international definition of refugees applies also to Jews from Arab countries, and the UN High Commission for Refugees stipulated on two separate occasions (in 1957 and 1967) that Jews who fled Arab countries are refugees who are entitled to every right according to international law;

*Whereas UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 calls for a "just solution to the refugee problem" without making any distinction between Palestinian and Jewish refugees;

*Whereas Israeli governments emphasized on various occasions (Resolution 34 of 1969, Resolution 1544 of 2002, Resolution 1250 of 2003, Resolution 4279 of 2005, and Resolution 1263 of 2007) their obligation to promote the rights of Jews from Arab countries and to compensate them, and some even called for an effort to collect information, data, claims and documents regarding private and public property;

*Whereas all peace agreements, as well as other agreements, signed to date between Israel, Arab states and the Palestinians included a reference to the fact that a resolution to the conflict necessitated a "just solution" to the "refugee problem", which would include recognition of the rights and claims of all Middle Eastern refugees;

*Whereas developments in the field of human rights and international law support the right to compensate populations such as Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who suffered violations of fundamental human rights, and even include means of exercising the right for compensation;

*Whereas the United States proved, in a Congressional resolution of April 2008 (H. Res. 185), its concern about human rights violations, forced expulsion and disinheritance of Jews who were uprooted from Arab countries, and conditioned any assistance or restitution for Palestinian refugees on a similar aid or restitution for Jews from Arab
countries, as a precondition for a just and comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East;

In light of all the above, t
he Government of Israel:

*Sees fit to commend the members of the United States Congress,representatives of the American people, on their historic decision,which states that addressing the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is a precondition to a just and comprehensive peace
agreement in the Middle East.

*Defines the refugee problem as a multi-national problem, which includes the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were uprooted from their countries across the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf; it would be a distortion of history, as well as a fundamental injustice, to recognize the right of the Palestinians and to compensate them without simultaneously recognizing the rights and heritage of Jews from Arab countries and the need to correct the historic injustice that was inflicted on them. The case of displaced Jews is equivalent to, if not more than, the case of Palestinian refugees.

*Will act immediately to clarify its policy that a just, durable and comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East cannot be fulfilled without a resolution of the problem of Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf, and without an acknowledgment of their right to recognition and compensation.

The Government of Israel will instruct all its representatives in various countries and international organizations to act towards supporting and realizing this policy.

Will insist that a just, comprehensive and durable peace agreement in the region will be attained and realized only if it includes a just solution to the issue of Jews from Arab countries.

The Government of Israel will act so that in every debate on or implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 and its derivatives regarding a "just solution to the refugee problem" referring to a recognition of the refugees or defining the compensation mechanisms and the actual restitution for refugees the same rule will apply, in both principle and action, to Jewish and Palestinian refugees, according to the same criteria of justice and law.

*Will act so that every bilateral and multilateral agreement achieved in the framework of negotiations or settlement processes, which includes a reference to aid or compensation mechanisms for Arab refugees from the land of Israel, will also include an equal, specific reference, according to the same principle and law, to a solution to the problem of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

*Will instruct all its representatives in the various countries and international bodies to guarantee by stating, initiating proposed resolutions and engaging in public relations that all agreed upon decisions, including those adopted by the Government of Israel, pertaining to the Middle East refugees and referring to the Palestinian refugees, will include an equal, specific reference to a solution to the problem of Jewish refugees from Arab countries on the basis of the same principle and law.

*Will act through the Ministry of Senior Citizens, the Department for Restitution of Stolen Jewish Property, through the Ministry's project and in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, to locate, register and map the Jewish property in the various Arab countries, according to the country of origin, in order to use this information as a basis for future talks or future agreements.

*Will act to construct and expand the Department for the Restitution of Jewish Rights and Property, within the existing structure of the Ministry of Senior Citizens, and adapt it to the needs which may arise as the process to restore the rights and properties of Jews from Arab countries moves forward.

Deprived Yemen Jews stage sit-in

SANA'A, March 10 (Saba) – Yemeni Jews held a sit-in in front of the Cabinet Presidency on Tuesday to protest bad living conditions, a protest which coincides with the weekly meeting of the minister council.

Chief Rabbi Yahya Yousef said the living conditions of Jews in Yemen have deteriorated particularly after recently the Tourist City Administration in Sana'a, where they live after their relocation from Saada and Amran, has deprived them from their allowances approved by the government.

"Jews here have sold all they owned to feed their families," he said, urging the government led by the cabinet to ask the competent authorities to release their allowances.

Jews were transferred from Saada in 2002 after they were harassed by Houthis rebels in the northern province of Saada.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Are Mordechai and Esther buried in Iran or Israel?

As Jews the world over celebrate Purim, Michael Freund asks, which is the true tomb of Mordechai and Esther - the shrine in Hamadan, Persia (pictured), or a burial place in a village in the Galilee?

"A few months ago, the normally hostile Iranian regime took the rather unusual step of adding a Jewish holy site to its National Heritage List.

"On December 9, 2008, Iranian news outlets reported that the tomb of Mordechai and Esther, heroes of the Purim saga, would now be under official government protection and responsibility.

"The move cast a brief spotlight on the site, which is well-known to Iranian Jews but largely unfamiliar to those outside the country. And with Purim being celebrated this week, it is worth taking a moment to ponder this relic of our ancient past.

"The mausoleum housing the shrine of Mordechai and Esther consists of a simple brick structure crowned with a dome which was built some five to seven centuries ago over the underground gravesites. It is located in the northwestern Iranian city of Hamadan, which is about 335 kilometers west of the capital, Tehran. According to tradition, Hamadan is believed to be the site of the city of Shushan, which played such a central role in the events described in the Book of Esther.

"Various travelers down through the ages took note of the site, with the first having been Benjamin of Tudela, the famed 12th century Jewish explorer.

"Iranian Jews revered the shrine, and many would travel to Hamadan to observe Purim there by reading the Megillah alongside the tomb. Others held family celebrations, such as bar-mitzvahs or circumcisions, at the site.

"The entrance to the building is said to have been built intentionally low, in order to compel visitors to bow their heads upon entering, thereby engendering a requisite attitude of respect. Inside the main hall, which is adorned with Hebrew inscriptions, lie two large, decorated wooden boxes, or trunks, below which are said to be the final resting places of Mordechai and Esther.

"A small synagogue adjoins the tomb, and the site is also considered holy by Muslims and Christians, who come to pray there as well.

"Next to the mausoleum lies a large hollow in the ground, which Iranian Jews believe to be an entrance to a tunnel that stretches all the way to Jerusalem.

"Interestingly, there is a competing tradition which identifies the traditional burial place of Queen Esther and Mordechai as being on the outskirts of the village of Baram, in the upper Galilee, near Safed.

Read article in full

Sunday, March 08, 2009

French radio focuses on Jews from Egypt

The story of the 80,000 Jews of Egypt - now reduced to 40 - reached millions of French listeners last Thursday when the series 'Surpris par la nuit' devoted a programme to a portrait of the community by Simone Douek, entitled 'Une sortie d'Egypte' (Flight from Egypt).

Douek conjures up a vivid picture of this heterogeneous community for the popular radio station France Culture. Its members had migrated into Egypt from all over the Ottoman empire - from Baghdad, Aleppo, Corfu. There were even Ashkenazim from Poland and Germany. Together with indigenous Jews and Karaites, they testified to the fact that different communities coexisted in harmony for generations in Egypt. One interviewee tells how Jews attended a Greek Orthodox convent, while Muslims learned Hebrew at the Alliance Israelite school.

The 1840 Montefiore census recorded Jews in a great variety of occupations - from merchants and tradesmen, to servants, midwives and even a donkey driver.

Douek interviewed Yves Fedida, whose Nebi Daniel mission is to persuade the Egyptian government to release synagogue birth, marriage and death registers. Some 300,000 people had their details recorded in the 19th and 20th centuries. For the 40 percent of Egyptian Jews who were stateless these records are the only ones they had. Fedida argues that this information, which would allow a sociological picture of the community to be built up, no longer belongs to Egypt since the Jews were expelled. So far, however, the Egyptian government has refused Nebi Daniel access. As a result, the Jews from Egypt have been stripped of their history.

Taking part: Yves Fédida, (association Nebi Daniel), Mireille et Elie Michaali, Claudine Terem, Gaby Schinasi, Elie Cohen ; (Egyptian hazanut) Maurice Tibboul, Lucien Perez, Laurent, Laurent Elguir (minister): Clément Ménascé, Robert Farhi, Renée Stambouli ; Isabelle de Botton, actress, author of Moïse, Dalida et moi, Serge Héfez, psychoanalyst and his mother Régina Héfez.

Listen here (2 mins into programme) - 5 March until 5 April

Saturday, March 07, 2009

How the Ben Yisraels fled Yemen for Israel

You could be forgiven thinking that this interview with Rabbi Said Ben Yisrael, who was secretly spirited to Israel with his family from Yemen recently, appeared in an Israeli newpaper. Surprise, surprise - it was in the Saudi-owned London Arab paper Al-Sharq-al-Awsat. (With thanks: Tom Gross)
Bin Yisrael fell silent at this point, as revealing the details of how his family came to Israel is strictly forbidden. Israeli military classification prohibits the publication of any such details; all Bin Yisrael reveals is that following the hand-grenade incident, his wife informed him that she would not spend one more day in Yemen, and the next day Rabbi Bin Yisrael informed her that they would be leaving for Israel. He told his wife, along with his eldest daughter Esther, not to reveal this information to anyone but to say that they were all travelling to America to visit family. He sold his car for half its worth, and bought a new Yemeni oven for making bread, packed his things, and then he and the family went to a hotel in Sanaa where they awaited the signal from the Jewish Agency for Israel [JAFI]. When the family eventually arrived in Israel, they were greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by Israeli officials, members of JAFI, and members of the press. At the press conference [held there] Bin Yisrael said “Thank God we arrived safely. We are safe now. We have nothing against the Yemeni government; our problem lies only with the militants.”
From the airport the family was taken to the Immigrant Absorption Centre in the city of Beersheba for orientation on life in Israel. Here the family learnt about life in Israel, learning Hebrew, and participating in recreational programs and prayers, while also attending lectures on life in Israel and Zionism.
After three months at the Immigration Absorption Centre, the Bin Yisrael family will move to the city of Beit Shemesh, which lies between Jerusalem and Beersheba, where they will stay with relatives. State grants contribute 15 thousand dollars towards the price of a house, in addition to the availability of a loan. Bin Yisrael said, “Look at the joy of the children here! In Yemen they were trapped [in the house] as their mother forbade them from going out, but since our migration they are running all over the place…Here they don't want to stay still or go to sleep!"
While the emigration of the Yemeni Jewish family, which was carried out by Israeli Special Forces, was met with support throughout Israel, there are different feelings in Yemen, especially in light of the government's silence on this issue. According to a number of sources within the Yemeni Jewish community, Yemeni Jews have been subject to harassment by persons believed to be extremists even prior to the outbreak of the Gaza War last year, which may have been “the straw that broke the camel’s back” so to speak.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Brigadier General Mohamed Al-Ramli, Chairman of Yemeni Immigration and Passport Control, who declined to comment on the migration of the Yemeni Jews, and any link between this and the Ministry of Interior. Asked whether the Jewish family had passed through the airport, the Director of Sanaa Airport, along with the Chief of Security, both denied having any knowledge of this transfer.
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Yemen: Verdict will cause remaining Jews to leave

Yemeni Jews are expected to emigrate following a ruling on Monday that 5.5 million YR (US$ 27,500) in blood money for the murder of a Jewish man is to be paid by the family of 'mentally deranged' Abdul Azeez al-Abdi last December. The Yemen Observer reports.

The court, chaired by Judge Abdul Bari Aqaba, also ordered that the convict should be placed in a psychotic sanatorium. The father of the Jew refused the sentence and asked for an appeal to be made to demand the death penalty against the convict.

“As long as there is no justice for us, then (they should) deport us to Israel, it’s better for us.”

“We’ll go and complain to President Ali Abdull Saleh, and we’ll cut our hair in front of him, if he did justice to us ok, or we’ll cut our heads,” said the father of Mousa in the court room.

The lawyer of the Jewish family, Khaled al-Ansi, said,” The verdict is a big scandal, and declaring us killers of Jews is a big abuse to our values and faith.”

“The trial was not fair, and was not secure, the judge was afraid. The verdict will lead to the immigration of the remaining Jews from Yemen,” al-Ansi added.
On his part, The rabbi of the Jewish community in Amran, Yahya Yaeish, said “The verdict will encourage more killings of Jews.”

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

More letters reacting to the delusional Roger Cohen

Such is the outcry against Roger Cohen's two columns downplaying the Iranian regime's antisemitism that the New York Times seems to be publishing readers' letters daily. Almost all challenge Cohen's assumptions. Here are two in full: (with thanks: Tom Gross)

"As a Persian Jew whose family was sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic of Iran as “corrupters on earth” and “agents of Zionism,” I was amused by Roger Cohen’s vision of Iranian treatment of its Jewish population.

"Perhaps Mr. Cohen should have interviewed the Persian Jews living in exile in Los Angeles, who would have told him not to assume that the Jews left in Iran can honestly complain about their status. If Iran is such a haven, why has the Jewish population of Iran only declined from the Safavid period, to 100,000 at the time of the Islamic Revolution to only 25,000 today?

"Mr. Cohen could have asked my dad why Jews were called “ritually unclean” (a comment also reserved for stray dogs). He could talk to my grandfather about the pogroms that took place in Tehran and other cities when Jews walked on the same side of the street as a Muslim, or talk to the Jews of the city of Mashad who had to remain hidden as Jews for decades after being forced to convert to Islam.

"Just because the Persians were not as efficient in killing or exiling their Jews as others were or just because there are a few synagogues left in Iran doesn’t mean that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not mean it when he says that Israel should be wiped off the map, or that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei didn’t mean it when he said that Israel is a “cancerous tumor of a state” that “should be removed from the region.”

David Simantob Los Angeles, March 2, 2009


"Roger Cohen, apparently to indicate Iran’s genuine acceptance of Jews, mentions the visit in 2003 of Mohammad Khatami, the Iranian president at the time, to a Tehran synagogue.

"But one should take note of what Mr. Khatami actually said in the synagogue. He insisted on drawing a distinction between Judaism and Zionism and talked of “coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews in Palestine.”

"It took no bravery on the part of Mr. Khatami to visit the house of worship of a small minority who dare not publicly disagree with him. A more believable sign of Iran’s acceptance of Jews will be when Mr. Khatami returns to the synagogue and acknowledges Israel’s right to exist.

Marc Mandell
Norwich, Conn., March 2, 2009

See published letters here and here

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lucette Lagnado gives London talk

The journalist and author Lucette Lagnado, in London for Jewish Book Week, addressed an audience of 120 at the Sephardi Centre last week.

Whatever happened to Egypt's 80,000 Jews? Answer: They're all busy emailing Lucette Lagnado.

The prize-winning author of The man in the white sharkskin suit has received messages from all corners of the globe, expressing an extraordinary sense of longing for the vanished life they led in Egypt. "We had no chance to say goodbye,' wrote one correspondent from Philadelphia. An exiled Copt told how he could not even visit his home, now the Egyptian ministry of the interior. Another emailer from Alsace-Lorraine told how his parents had wished never to be buried there. Both parents were buried in Alsace-Lorraine.

Also buried has been the history of Egypt's Jews and the million Europeans who once made Egypt a shining example of sophistiscated multiculturalism. Most were brutally expelled, their passports stamped, 'one-way- no return'.

Bombarded by requests to die in Egypt, one diplomat could only apologise for what had befallen the exiles. Yet such is the amnesia and ignorance of the causes of this mass exodus that, the Egyptian government representative greeting Lucette Lagnado in 2005 on her return to the land of her birth after an absence of over 30 years, asked uncomprehendingly:" why did you leave?"

Lucette Lagnado's book centres on her father Leon, with whom she was especially close. The stately Leon, known as the Captain, would stride through the boulevards of Cairo in his white sharksin suit. An observant Jew, he would attend synagogue every morning without fail. Equally unfailingly, he would stay up all hours to play poker and flirt with women - a uniquely Sephardi blend of religious devotion and wordliness.

As the Nasser regime deposed the Jewish community's last guardian, King Farouk, so the Jewish way of life in Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said disintegrated. Twenty-five thousand Jews and hundreds of thousands of foreigners were forced out after the 1956 Suez crisis, but Leon hung on until 1963, when his wayward daughter Suzette's escapades landed her in jail and forced the family to plan their escape.

When they finally did, Lucette's abiding memory is of her father standing on the deck of the ship taking them from Alexandria to Marseille, crying out,'Ragaouna al-Masr' - 'take us back to Egypt'.

Leon never recovered from his uprooting. The impoverished family resettled in Brooklyn, New York, but Leon was never able to reconcile his oriental values with those required for assimilation in America, as personified by the 'social worker from hell' assigned to their case - Sylvia Kirshner.

Addressing an audience of 120 recently at the Sephardi Centre in London, Lucette confessed that she had never seen or felt white sharkskin, though the audiences she had addressed since her book had come out invariably contained a textile broker from Brooklyn or Queens who promised to send her a sample. (Members of the London audience attested to their fathers also possessing white sharkskin suits, worn on the High Holydays).

What Lucette missed most about Egypt was its sense of mysticism. As a six-year old child suffering from a mystery ailment she was taken to Maimonides' synagogue. Falling asleep in the crypt would guarantee a cure, it was said. In rational America, nobody believed in miracles.

In addition to her day job as a Wall Street Journal reporter, Lucette Lagnado is working on a sequel to 'Sharkskin', 'The Arrogant Years'. But it would be nice if Lucette's wayward sister Suzette - whose arrest for consorting with foreigners was the event which finally made the family flee their beloved Egypt - also told her story in print.

Hear interview on BBC radio (Outlook - 27 February, World Service)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

BBC pays surprising tribute to al-Kuwaity brothers

Welcome, even surprising, article on the BBC website by Tim Franks about the al-Kuwaity brothers, one of the most famous musical duos of the Arab world - in the centenary year of Saleh al-Kuwaity's birth. But the piece (and some of the comments) tend to downplay the pre-Israel antisemitism which caused the Al-Kuwaitys to flee Iraq, along with almost the entire Jewish community. Another flaw is that it makes an equivalence between the rejection they encountered in Israel, on the one hand, and that of the Arab world on the other. To have an Arab country name a street after the brothers is still unthinkable.

South Tel Aviv has a newly named street. As of just over two weeks ago, just off Bossem Street, you can now find Rechov Ha'achim al-Kuvaiti, or al-Kuwaiti Brothers Street.

On one corner, there is a handsome, white modernist villa. Opposite, there is a large, run-down apartment block. Many of the residents were not delighted that their street had been given a new, apparently Arabic name.

The Tel Aviv municipality had, though, decided to bestow posthumous recognition on two of its least celebrated residents.

Saleh and Daoud al-Kuwaiti had lived close by to their eponymous street, after they had joined the mass emigration of Jews from Iraq to Israel in 1951.

Theirs were lives of triumph and dejection. They had been the toast of Baghdad, in the words of Saleh's son Shlomo, "the national composers of Iraq, and the founders of Iraqi modern music".

In their pomp, the emir of Kuwait would visit the al-Kuwaiti family home, every six weeks, to listen to the brothers perform.

When Shlomo's oldest brother was born, his father called him Sabah, after the emir's family name.

The emir attended Sabah's circumcision, bringing with him a gold case, filled with gold coins.

But the establishment of the new Jewish state in 1948 brought in its wake a surge in anti-Semitism in Iraq. It reached a point where the al-Kuwaitis decided to move to Israel.

It was then that the brothers began to feel the slow crush of disillusion.

"My father," recalls Shlomo, "suffered twice." The first rejection was that of Israel, which in 1951 had little time for the al-Kuwaitis' music.

"His music was considered the music of the enemy," says Shlomo. "So immediately, they put his music in a ghetto. Instead of the concert hall, my father and his brother had to play weddings and barmitzvahs and family fiestas, with people eating and drinking... and not listening."

The second blow came from inside Iraq. Shlomo claims as much as 90% of Iraq's modern popular music was written by his father.

The new Iraqi regime "couldn't erase the music, because everyone was singing it. But the regime started to call it traditional music. They didn't mention his name. They sometimes forced another composer to take the credit".

Composite image showing Daoud Kuwaiti, Shlomo Kuwaiti and Dudu Tassa
Daoud Kuwaiti, Shlomo Kuwaiti and Dudu Tassa, who is now re-interpreting his grandfather's works

Daoud al-Kuwaiti died in 1976; his brother, Saleh, Shlomo's father, died, at the age of 78, in 1986. They were so dejected that they forbade their children from playing music themselves.

"We wanted to learn," says Shlomo. "They didn't allow us."

But now Daoud's grandson, Dudu, has broken the brothers' order. Dudu, 32, is a musician. He was born, three months after Daoud's death.

Only at the age of 15 did he begin to approach his grandfather's music. It was, he says, shockingly different: "They even invented certain scales that didn't exist at the time."

Dudu has now started to take their tunes, and re-interpret them.

"These days, songs last three or four minutes. Theirs are much longer and more complex and more serpentine," Dudu told me in his spartan Tel Aviv bed-sit.

He has produced three songs based on the brothers' music and has plans for an entire album.

Shlomo says there has been a new reckoning across the Middle East. He and his family sent discs of the brothers' music "through London to Arab countries".

It was, he says, a "revolution", as people realised that these "traditional" tunes were in fact the work of the al-Kuwaiti brothers.

Questions were asked in the Kuwaiti parliament: in the words of Shlomo, asking, "so what if they were Jewish?".

Shlomo says people from Arab countries sent him more than 650 songs which he did not know about, saying that they were the work of his father.

Then the family approached the Tel Aviv city council to ask for municipal recognition.

That process culminated with the re-naming of a small street in the south of the city.

Shlomo says that, during the ceremony, in February, the residents complained noisily.

They were, he says, "from the right, right-wing of Israeli society. They said we don't want this name because it's Arabic. We began to describe who these people were. And then the residents were angry with the municipality for not explaining."

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