Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kippa-wearing Jews feel safer in Djerba than Paris

The rubbish is piled high amongst the blue and white dwellings of Hara Seghira, the Jewish quarter of the Tunisian island of Djerba, but the locals are not worried. The government will do a thorough clean-up just before the holiday of Lag Ba'omer. That's when thousands of visitors will flock to take part in the Hillula or pilgrimage in honour of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

It may surprise outsiders to learn that the Hillula at the Al-Ghriba synagogue, which legend has it is over 2,000 years old, has been a fixture of the Djerba tourist calendar only for the last forty years. The Hillula was initiated by the Tunisian government and is a major revenue-earner.

Tourism is the mainstay of Tunisia, sandwiched between its oil and gas-producing neighbours Algeria and Libya. The al-Ghriba synagogue is the main attraction on Djerba, a must-see on every tourist's itinerary.

The 1,200 Jews who still live on the island around the synagogue and seven kilometres away in the Hara Kebira - the main Jewish ghetto with its 11 synagogues- are like highly-prized exhibits in the Tunisian shop window. A police station guards the entrance to the Hara Kebira. Keep the Jews safe and secure, so official thinking goes, and the thousands of German, French and even Israeli tourists to Djerba will keep on coming.

Jews visit the main Muslim town unmolested. They say the kippa on their heads is their insurance policy. They feel safer here than they would in Paris.

But tourist numbers have only been recovering in the last two years following the devastating al-Qaeda attack on the al-Ghriba synagogue in 2002, in which 21 people died. An explosives-laden truck positioned itself outside the main entrance so that the maximum number of Jews inside the synagogue would be killed. In the event, not a single Jew died - only German tourists and Tunisians.

The Tunisian government, under the long-term dictatorship of President Zine Ben Ali has taken draconian measures to protect the synagogue. You would not guess it from the tourist brochures, but the government keeps an iron grip on dissent and fundamentalism in the country. It was recently voted one of the most media-unfriendly of regimes by international reporters.

Journalist and academic Shaul Zadka, who gave a talk last week in London (arranged by Spiro Ark and Harif) about Jewish Djerba, was struck by the fact that the Jews who live on Djerba are free to visit Israel, although they must fly via Istanbul. The Jews of Djerba are increasingly devout but inward-looking.Whereas previous generations attended public schools and learned French and Arabic, the current generation is educated in the Jewish quarter's Yeshivot and speaks fluent Hebrew as well as Arabic. They appear to behave as Israeli expatriates, glued to Israel radio broadcasts all day-long.

Jews are permitted to hold joint Tunisian-Israeli nationality. In the last elections, some 400 cast their votes in a polling station in west Jerusalem for the only presidential candidate, Ben Ali, who secured over 90 percent of the votes. Supervising the proceedings was the Tunisian ambassador to the Palestinian territories.

While Ben Ali is in charge, the Jews of Djerba feel secure. But the president is now 71. The Djerba idyll may not continue forever.

The photos by Shaul Zadka show the interior of the al-Ghriba synagogue.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Full text of Knesset Law passed 22 February 2010

The rights to compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, 22 February 2010


The purpose of this Law is to protect the rights to compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in the framework of peace negotiations in the Middle East.


In this Law --

"Refugee Jews from Arab countries and Iran" - who are any of the following:

(1) He is a citizen of Israel*, or lived there before the establishment of the state;

(2) He was a resident of Arab countries or Iran, and left mostly because he was persecuted on account of his Jewishness and his inability to defend himself against such persecution.

(3) He left property** he owned in his country of origin

**"Property" - land, assets, cash, rights, and other property seized by government order.

3. Negotiations to achieve peace

In negotiations to achieve peace in the Middle East, the government must include the issue of providing compensation for loss of property to Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, including property owned by Jewish communities in these countries.


The Prime Minister is to be in charge of the implementation of this Law.

Signed by

Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister

Shimon Peres

Reuven Rivlin
Speaker of the Knesset

* Although the Law applies only to Israeli citizens, a mechanism is being sought to cover Jewish refugees living outside Israel, similar to that for Holocaust survivors resident outside Israel.

Purim and the obsessions of crackpot professors

Haman begging Esther for mercy, by Rembrandt

With the festival of Purim around the corner, Jews turn to Persia and tell the story of how the Jewess Esther and her uncle Mordechai saved their people from extermination by the wicked Haman.

Same story, different time. President Ahmadinejad has again just announced he is looking forward to a Middle East without Zionists.

In leftwing circles it's become fashionable to downplay Ahmadinejad's threats to annihilate Israel as just so much empty rhetoric, or a mistranslation of the Farsi. We are now seeing a breed of young (Ashkenazi) Israeli academics who see Marxist dichotomies and hifalutin' theories of cultural dissonance where there is just plain old antisemitism.

This book, by professor Haggai Ram, at Ben Gurion university, reviewed here, is no exception:

Employ­ing the soci­o­log­i­cal con­cept of “moral panic,” Ram takes on the com­monly held notion that Iran and Israel are “nat­ural” ene­mies. Instead, Ira­nopho­bia sug­gests that Israel’s “moral panic” finds its roots in cul­tural anx­i­eties relat­ing to Israel’s pre­car­i­ous con­cep­tion of itself as essen­tially “West­ern.” Ram’s analy­sis argues that fear of Iran is in fact deeply con­nected to ten­sions gen­er­ated by the pres­ence of non-Western Jew­ish immi­grants in Israel. These groups are seen as call­ing into ques­tion the state’s Ashke­nazi (Euro­pean) “eth­noc­racy” and com­pli­cat­ing Israeli society’s per­cep­tion of itself as fun­da­men­tally Euro­pean and “mod­ern.” The con­cep­tion of Iran and Iran­ian cul­ture as essen­tially non-Western, as some kind of “Other,” allows Israeli soci­ety to con­ceive of itself and build an iden­tity in con­trast to that coun­try and its people.

Well I'm sorry, Ram, your theory rests on the false Marxist premise that Israel's Mizrahi Jews want nothing more than to break away from their culturally-repressive Ashkenazi brethren in Israel and melt back into the surrounding Middle East landscape of corrupt and tinpot dictatorships. It's easy for crackpot professors in the Israel and the West who have never heard the knock on the door in the middle of the night to disparage Israeli democracy as some sort of alien 'western' concept foisted on the natives against their will. But democracy and the rule of law and the protection of human rights mean a great deal to Mizrahi Jews in Israel who suffered in their countries of birth from the absence of such things.

Ram's work seems to have nothing to say about Iran's long tradition of Shi'a discrimination, enshrined in the Islamic Republic's sharia law. Whether the Shah was Eastern or Western, the bottom line is that he was a good deal more tolerant of minorities than the Ayatollahs are nowadays. To trumpet the fact that there are 25,000 or 30,000 Jews in Iran today is nothing to be proud of. The truth is that 80,000 Jews got out when they could.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eli Amir, brilliant chronicler of the Iraqi exodus

Eli Amir

Surprisingly few books about the Jews of Iraq in English have dealt in detail with the Taskeet, the period of the mass Jewish exodus from Iraq to Israel in 1950. All this is about to change, now that famous Israeli writer Eli Amir's captivating novel The Dove Flyer has been hauled out of Hebrew language obscurity and published in English. In her review below, Lyn Julius hopes that the book will become a classic:

The Dove flyer by Eli Amir (Halban 2010, £10.99)
One wag once observed: if you want a book consigned to permanent obscurity, publish it in Hebrew.
Recent years have witnessed an explosion of books in English about Iraqi Jews. There was, Marina Benjamin’s ‘Last Jews of Babylon’ Violette Shamash’s Memories of Eden, Ariel Sabar’s In my father’s footsteps, Ivy Vernon’s Baghdad Memories, Mona Yahya’s When the Grey Beetles took over Baghdad, Naim Kattan’s Farewell Babylon. None, however, focus in any great detail on the period of the Taskeet - the forced exodus of the Iraqi Jews to Israel.
Eli Amir’s The Dove Flyer is the novel par excellence of the Taskeet. It came out in Hebrew as Mafriah hayonim as long ago as 1992, but British publishers Halban are to be congratulated for having dug it out of obscurity. The novel is set during the turbulent three years between the execution of Shafik Addas, the Jewish businessman on trumped-up charges, to the flight to Israel of almost the entire Jewish community in 1950- 51.
Kabi, the teenage, testosterone-driven narrator, is caught up in the turmoil gripping the Jews of Iraq following the first Arab-Israeli war. Hizkel, Kabi’s Zionist uncle and a key figure in ‘the Movement’ has just been arrested and thrown into jail, but Communists too are being hounded. The novel traces the increasingly desperate efforts of Kabi’s father, Hizkel’s brother, Abu Kabi, and Hizkel’s attractive young wife Rashel, to establish Hizkel’s whereabouts and get him released.
When consulting soothsayers and a dodgy kabbalist do not yield results, Rashel and Abu Kabi engage the services of Karim al-Huq, a Muslim lawyer. Al-Huq locates Hizkel, but Abu Kabi is forced to appeal to his wealthy relative Big Imari to use his influence with the Prime minister to secure Hizkel’s release. Abu Kabi has not spoken to Big Amari since the latter ‘stole’ Abu Kabi’s inheritance of rice fields, and that of another cousin, Salim Effendi, the headmaster of the Frank Iny Jewish school.
The feud with Big Amari is pivotal in propelling both men in opposite directions - Abu Kabi towards Zionism and fulfilling his dream of growing rice in Israel, and Salim Effendi - whose fantasy is to marry the famous Muslim belly dancer Bahia - to seek salvation in the universal Brotherhood of Man through Communism. By the end of the novel, both men find their dreams shattered.
Although The Dove Flyer is nominally fiction, the story is based on real people and real events. Eli Amir uses his characters as mouthpieces to rehearse the debates and attitudes current at the time. Even the names are symbolic: al-Hibaz, the baker, al-Huq, the lawyer, Rabbi Bashi, literally the Chief Rabbi , the Pasha, the leader. The Jewish singer Salima Murad is thinly disguised as Salima Pasha.
Abu Kabi argues the case for Zionism: '' a people without a land is not a people". The Jews will no longer be whipping boys and slaves to the Muslims. “Tolerance is a form of discrimination”, he says memorably.
In contrast to the Zionists and the Communists, the old tobacconist Hiyawi, a devout Jew, is the nostalgic link with the Turkish past and beyond. According to Hiyawi, the Muslims have never forgiven the Jews for not converting to Islam. Their motive is envy - because the Jews were the first monotheists, who preceded the Muslims in Babylon. The latter envy the Jews because they are still there.
Kabi’s mother does not share her husband’s dream of Jerusalem, hankering for a bygone age of coexistence with the Muslims. The Dove Flyer of the title, Abu Edouard, represents the Arabised Jew, rooted in Mesopotamia for the last 2,000 years, who thinks Abraham’s first mistake was to have forsaken the Land of the Two Rivers for Canaan.
The dove is a brilliant conceit, an allusion to the people of Israel ‘like a dove longing for its redeemer’. Abu Edouard’s doves have carved out their niche in Iraq under Muslim protection. They are at home in his dovecote. By the end of the book, however, the Jewish doves are jostling for space with the doves of Abu Edouard’s new Muslim neighbour as the Jews leave Baghdad in their droves.
Conflicting Arab tendencies are to be found within a single Muslim family: Ismail is the nationalist rabble-rouser. His father is the Islamist Hajj Yahya, who incites the mob to murder the Jews in the 1941 Farhoud, while his wife Hurriyya, Kabi’s wetnurse, is determined to defend her Jewish neighbours. The lawyer Karim represents the moderate view, seeing minority rights as key to the construction of the new Iraq. When Abu Kabi tells Karim the Jews can’t be expected to live in constant fear as eternal scapegoats, Karim tells him: “ A homeland isn’t a hotel you leave because it’s uncomfortable.”
Rabbi Bashi is modelled on the character of Rabbi Sassoon Kedouri: Kedouri was deposed as community leader as a result of pressure from women whose menfolk were in jail, protesting at his spineless approach to the authorities. The Pasha is based on the character of Nuri al-Said, the pro-British Iraqi Prime minister. In the book, the Pasha argues that the hanging of Shafik Addas provided an outlet for Iraqi fury at their humiliating defeat in Palestine, and prevented the outbreak of a second Farhoud. Moreover, the Pasha claims that by sanctioning the Taskeet exodus, originally conceived as an exchange of population with the Palestinian refugees, he was doing the Jews a favour.
When Abu Kabi and his family finally get to their new Israeli home, a fenced-in tent camp by the sea, his ambition to grow rice is frustrated by bureaucrat after bureaucrat. He wryly observes that in Israel, a democracy, “you can say what you like but no one listens to you; in Iraq you can’t say what you want but whatever you do say is listened to.”
His anti-Zionist wife, who had no expectations of Israel left to dash, adapts better to the new reality than her husband. Among others washed up unexpectedly on Israel’s shores are the Dove Flyer’s Arabised daughter Amira, and Salim Effendi. The Zionists are more successful at spiriting out Communists like Salim than their own people – Hizkel is left behind to languish in his Iraqi jail while his wife takes up with the Muslim lawyer.
The book is a breathless and captivating Cook’s tour of Iraqi Jewish life, sensual and full of colour, from a cruise on the Tigris to a pilgrimage to Ezekiel’s tomb. From the quemar to the okra, the zingoola to the umba, the food alone is a dazzling feast. But the Jews live under the spectre of a second Farhoud, and the constant sense of anxiety that minorities experience in the Middle East.
In truth Jews like Eli Amir grew up in fear of Muslims. Kabi is taught by his father to avoid certain quarters, to use a Muslim name, to disguise his Jewish dialect. Baghdad is far from paradise: Kabi is almost beaten up in the cinema and almost sodomised in the Turkish baths. Even an audience alone with the king is not advised because of the latter’s reputation for paedophilia. In its brutal frankness, The Dove Flyer today almost appears politically-incorrect.
Amir’s answer to the Jewish dilemma – should we stay or should we go? - is an unfashionable Zionist one, but he is saying that Zionism too has its disappointments. The book is an indispensable read for anyone who wants to understand Arab-Jewish relations, warts and all, and deserves to become a classic.
Eli Amir will be in conversation with Danna Harman of Haaretz at the Sephardi Centre in London on Wednesday 3 March at 7.30pm. (See Harif for details). Eli Amir will also be at Jewish Book Week on 4 March at 5.30pm.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pro-Arab MPS urge UK resettlement of Yemeni Jews

Diane Abbott MP
With thanks: Rona

This blog has been closely following the trials and tribulations of the tiny Jewish community still in Yemen. Over the last year, scores have left. But concern about their persecution now comes from an unlikely quarter. On 22 February three Westminster MPs, Diane Abbott, Lynne Jones and Peter Bottomley filed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the UK House of Commons, urging the resettlement of persecuted Yemeni Jews in the UK:

That this House is concerned that the small number of remaining Jews living in Yemen are facing ongoing religious persecution and systematic mistreatment which represents a critical threat to the health, safety and security of their community; notes that the United States administration has facilitated the resettlement of Yemeni Jews in the US for those with ties to that country; and urges the Government to follow this example and consider providing specific measures for those members of the group with ties to the UK who urgently need protection on humanitarian grounds.

These three MPs are not noted for being friends of the Jewish people. Peter Bottomley is a member of the Council of Arab-British Understanding and the Britain-Palestine All-Parliamentary Committee. Lynne Jones visited Syria last year and met Khaled Mashaal of Hamas. Diane Abbott has not been shy to speak up for Palestinians.

So why have these MPs experienced a sudden urge to show sympathy with Yemeni Jews? Notably absent from the EDM is any mention of Israel, which has taken in up to a hundred Jewish refugees from Yemen in the last year, some reuniting with relatives they had not seen for over 50 years. The EDM carries an implicit anti-Zionist message. It only considers as possible havens the US, where some 60 Jews have arrived in the Satmar enclave of Monsey in New York, and the UK, where the existing Yemenite community of Stamford Hill in London were preparing to receive their fleeing kin.

Clearly Diane Abbott, whose constituency encompasses the large Orthodox community of Stamford Hill, has come under pressure from Yemeni Jews already here to let more of their relatives join them.

Colour me cynical, but with a general election only weeks away, could this EDM also be a play for the Jewish vote?

Knesset passes Jewish refugees bill by 35 to 1

Israel's Knesset last night passed a landmark bill safeguarding the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries by 35 votes to one.

The law, proposed by MK Nissim Zev of Shas, requires the Israeli government to raise the issue of Jewish refugees when negotiating Arab demands. The Prime Minister will be responsible for raising the issue of Jewish refugees who fled their homes in Arab lands and Iran, including their right to compensation, in future peace negotiations.

According to Israel National News, the proposal passed an initial hearing in December but ran into opposition from the Justice Ministry. Jewish activists from Arab states were angry over the government's opposition, particularly in light of the fact that the United States Congress passed a similar measure in 2008. The U.S. decision requires American officials involved in Middle East peace talks to refer to the issue of Jewish refugees when the issue of Arab refugees is discussed.

The campaign for the rights of Jewish refugees in Israel will now promote amongst the Israeli public a website for the registration of property seized or lost in Arab countries. A film is in the pipeline, and a book published by Yale University Press about Jews under Islamic rule by Sir Martin Gilbert, the well-known British historian, is eagerly awaited in August.

Ynet News report

Israel National News

World Jewish Congress

Yeshiva World News

Israel's answer to the Palestinian 'right of return'

On Monday evening, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, quietly passed a bill that could change the Middle East agenda forever.

Up to a million Jews were forced to leave Arab countries and Iran in the decades following the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, due to state-sanctioned persecution and violence. Today only some 4,000 Jews are left in the Arab world, bringing to an end a Jewish presence that in many cases pre-dated Islam and the Arab conquest by 1,000 years.

The bill has taken two years, since its initiation by MK Nissim Ze’ev of the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party, to become law. The new law aims to protect the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in future peace negotiations in the Middle East. The bill defines a Jewish refugee as an Israeli citizen who left one of the Arab states, or Iran, following religious persecution. It stipulates that the Israeli government must include Jewish refugee rights, notably compensation, in all future peace talks.

Stanley Urman, the head of the advocacy group Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, welcomed the Knesset decision, saying: “The world must realise that Palestinians were not the only Middle East refugees; that there were Jewish refugees who also have rights under international law. This recognition is good for the State of Israel and it is good for the people of Israel."

Why is this bill so important? Because it holds the key to real peace in the Middle East. So many efforts at making peace between Israel and the Palestinians have run aground on the rock of the Palestinian ‘right of return’. Not content with a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, even the ‘moderates’ of the Fatah camp have been reluctant to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. The reason is that they are unwilling to drop their demand for the Arab refugees of 1948 – who now number upwards of four million if you include their descendants - to return to their homes in what is now Israel. This demand amounts to no less than the destruction of Israel by demographic means and the de facto creation of two Palestinian states, one in the West Bank, and one in place of Israel.

For too long the Arab refugees have occupied centre-stage in the Arab-Israeli drama. They are seen as the main victims of an Israeli injustice. By introducing the Jewish refugees into the picture - they and their descendants make up just under half the Jewish population of Israel - it will now be accepted that there were two sets of refugees, both with rights, who exchanged places in the Middle East.

Some people will say, why not also give the Jewish refugees a ‘right of return’ to Arab states ? Firstly, there is no precedent for such a return. The seven million Hindus and Muslims who swapped places in the Indian-Pakistani war of 1947 constituted a permanent exchange. So did the Greeks expelled from Turkey and Turks driven from Greece after the end of the First World War.

Secondly, apart from the chaos and turmoil generated by a mass population movement of this type, a Jewish ‘right of return’ to countries which spat out their Jews is like asking a prisoner who has tasted freedom to go back to jail. Three generations have now been happily resettled in Israel and the West. They have have lost most of their cultural and linguistic links with the Arab world. No Jew wishes to return to an Arab country, except perhaps as a tourist. These lands are not friendly, nor are they safe for Jews. Even in lands of apparent stability, things can change overnight. In Morocco, even the remaining 3,000 Jews have their suitcases ready-packed in case of sudden regime change.

That’s why the bill’s emphasis on compensation is quite deliberate. It is saying: let both sets of refugees stay where they are – the Jews in Israel and the Arab refugees in Arab states. Let both sets receive compensation – case closed.

Crossposted at the The Jewish Chronicle Blog

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cairo synagogue attack does not alarm local Jews

Israelis residing in Cairo, as well as members of the small Jewish community seem unperturbed by Sunday's attack on the main downtown synagogue in the Egyptian capital, according to Ynet News.

In the attack, a man hurled a suitcase containing a makeshift bomb made of gasoline canisters at the synagogue. There were no reports of injury or damage."We are not particularly alarmed by what happened; the synagogue is open to the public and anyone can visit," said Gabi Rosenbaum, director of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo.

He said daily prayer sessions are not routinely held in the attacked synagogue, but added that "events are held there during the holidays."

Despite the attack, Rosenbaum said he does plan on taking any special precautionary measures. "We are going about our business as usual. I am careful wherever I am in the world; in Cairo it is recommended to be careful on the road," he said.

Rosenbaum said he had no additional information on Sunday's attack. "The synagogue is usually empty because Egypt's Jewish community is so small; it consists of several dozen people in Cairo and Alexandria," he told Ynet.

However, Ynet reported last month that people who had visited the Academic Center in Cairo were harassed by Egyptian authorities and even warned not to come in contact with Israelis.

"I looked at him, alarmed, and asked if I had done anything wrong. He said he only wanted to ask a few questions and began asking me why I visited the center, who I met there, what I think about Israel and what do the Israelis write about Egypt in their newspapers," the student recalled.

Hussein Baker, 20, a fourth-year Hebrew student at Menoufia University who visited the center, said he was approached by a man who presented himself as Staff Sergeant Hossam of the state's security service.

Read article in full

Egypt 'not the most friendly' to Jews: Israel today

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Adly St synagogue in Cairo is firebombed

The Adly St synagogue, Cairo (AP)

Update: According to Ynet News, the suspect claims he acted in 'revenge for Israel's actions against the Palestinians'.

The Egyptian authorities are hesitating to call an attack on the Adly Street synagogue in Cairo a 'terrorist attack', the Egyptian newspaper Bikya Masr reports:

CAIRO: A Jewish synagogue was attempted to be set ablaze by unnamed assailants in downtown Cairo. According to ministry of interior officials, the fire broke out around 6:30 in the morning Cairo time after someone allegedly threw what police are reporting to be a makeshift Molotov cocktail onto the premises of the Adly Street synagogue.

Local news reports have already claimed the attack to be terrorist in nature, as officials reported a black bag was discovered on the sidewalk across from the Jewish temple. However, one official told Bikya Masr it is too early to put claims of terrorism to the public.

“We are looking into the situation and are attempting to understand what occurred,” the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said, adding that “we believe someone started the fire, but whether this is terrorism related or not is unclear.”

According to the official, the black bag contained clothes.

Despite the initial outpouring of news reports in English, which hit social-networking sites, the inside of the synagogue was left unscathed and police doubt further attacks, if indeed that was the case.

“Whoever did this was obviously acting alone and there is still no real evidence that it was an act of violence. It could have been a mistake, we don’t know at this point, but nothing happened inside the synagogue, so that is good,” said the official.

The Egyptian government positions police officers in front of the synagogue on a 24-hour period, which has some activists and observers concerned over the alleged attack, questioning whether the government is not responsible for the alleged attackers being able to get so close to the temple.

Read article in full

Associated Press report

Same article in Haaretz

Ynet News report

Arutz Sheva report

UPI report

Yad Vashem sidelines N. African victims of Nazism

A Jew who suffered under the Nazi occupation in Tunisia will have his story recorded by the Ben Zvi institute in Jerusalem, while the tribulations of a Jew who suffered in France will be studied at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Why the discrepancy? asks Edith Shaked, a Tunisian-born university lecturer who has dedicated the last ten years to teaching the Holocaust in the US. The remit of Yad Vashem, she points out in Opinion Forum, was originally to memorialise the Holocaust all over the world, not just its impact on the Jews of Europe.

Israel and the Holocaust – Is there an authentic historical perspective?

Jacques and Isabelle silently left the compound of Yad Vashem (YV), Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the world center for documentation, research, and education about the Holocaust. It was noon and they went for lunch. As per their French custom, they ordered a cappuccino. They talked about the period when defeated France was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Their stories were very similar, because they were both French Jews. They remembered how the Nazis went door-to-door to count them. They remembered the racist and discriminatory laws enacted to gradually purge the Jews from economic, professional, and educational public life. Jacques’ father couldn’t work as a doctor, and Isabelle’s mother couldn’t work as a lawyer.

Jacques listened to her attentively when she narrated her story. Her father, a member of the Jewish Council or Judenrat, told the family about the frightening meeting at the Kommandantur, with SS Colonel Walter Rauff, to be known later as the brutal and notorious killer involved in the development of death gas-vans. Rauff screamed at them: “Jew dogs! I have taken care of Jews in Poland and Russia. I’m going to show you!”[1] So, Jews were rounded up on that rainy day of December 9, 1942 for forced labor.

Gilbert, a young cripple, couldn’t walk fast enough, and he was shot in cold blood by a German soldier. That was followed by the yellow star, the fines, and the deportation to the death camps. Isabelle, with some sadness in her voice, mentioned how her brother Robert was deported to Auschwitz but did come back.

Unfortunately, though, in Israel Isabelle’s story will be recorded differently than Jacques’ story. You see, Jacques lived in France, on the continent, and Isabelle lived in Tunisia, a French North African colony (map) (German Occupation of Europe). In Israel, Jacques’s story will be researched, documented and told at Yad Vashem. Israeli school children will learn about this unspeakable crime in a history unit on the Jews of Europe in the Holocaust. However, they will study Robert and Isabelle’s stories in a new and separate chapter, “The Jews of Tunisia under Nazi Occupation”.

The reason seems connected to definitions of YV. In the past, it appears that YV stated that “the Final solution plan aspired to destroy all the Jews of the world.” YV now defines the Final Solution as “the Nazis’ plan to solve the Jewish question by murdering all the Jews in Europe.” So, Robert, who didn’t die in Auschwitz, suffered as a “Jew of Tunisia under Nazi-occupation” and not in the Holocaust. YV appears to ignore the historical fact that France’s colony of Tunisia was considered a European country, as per a German document relevant to the Final Solution to the Jewish question.

More importantly, the author of a historical essay Old Themes – New Archival Findingswrites about two German historians, Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, who uncovered new evidence in 2006. They found a document confirming that indeed the Final Solution was a master plan to kill all the Jews, wherever Hitler’s armies could catch them. After all, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler did say that “Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now during the war, without exception. …obliterate the biological basis of Jewry.’[2]

Despite that fact, Isabelle’s story will also be told, but outside Yad Vashem.

A new Israeli one-man project was created outside YV, at the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Studies of Oriental Jewish Communities in the East (deals with history of Sephardim, “Hebrew name for Hispanic Jews; and in Israel, Sephardim are Jews whose origins were in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia;” they usually have dark skin). Its name is “The Center for Information Documentation and Research on North-African Jewry during WWII.” Interestingly, Gilbert, the young cripple who died in Tunisia “perished in the Shoah” (Holocaust in Hebrew), as per the Page of Testimony by Yad Vashem’s project to collect the names of all the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

In 2008, Israeli Jews from Tunisia won a lawsuit against the Israeli government and became “eligible for the same Israeli government stipends paid to survivors of the Holocaust of European Jewry.” (Haaretz).

And the historical evidence is very clear. At the infamous Wannsee Conference where Nazi leaders discussed “the preparation for the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe,” when they counted the Jews marked for slaughter, “the figure for ‘unoccupied France, 700,000′ … included the Sephardi Jews in France’s North African possessions, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.” (mainland France had only ‘about 300,000 Jews’). This fact is found on page 281 in The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War, a book by Sir Martin Gilbert, a pre-eminent Holocaust historian. This title also shows that Gilbert considered the Jews of French North Africa as “Jews of Europe.” (...)

The historians at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also understand that according to an authentic historical perspective, Isabelle’s story is part of “The history of the Holocaust in France’s three North African colonies (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia), [because] it is intrinsically tied to France’s fate during this period.” And unlike Yad Vashem, the USHMM defines the Final Solution as the Nazi “plan to annihilate the Jewish people,” and not to murder the Jews in Europe.

It now looks like Israeli Holocaust scholars and some in the Israeli public are considering the number of the victims. “A total of 2,575 Tunisian Jews died.”[3]Ironically, though, Denmark with 60 is listed and Tunisia not among the countries in the Concise Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in the website of Yad Vashem.

But, as per the revealing title of the book by Sir Martin Gilbert, the Holocaust was a Jewish tragedy. It took place in World War II, an international conflict. Therefore all the documents are connected and interrelated, and must be researched for education and information in one place.

One cannot separate the stories of the victims, Jacques and Isabelle.

There was one Jewish question, one Jewish problem, and one Final Solution.

There was one Hitler’s war against the Jews. And there was one Holocaust. It is about one story of one master plan and one war against the Jews. It is one chapter in the history of the Jewish people, where all Jews were persecuted by the same perpetrators, and shared the same fate for the same racial ideological reason — because they were Jews.

Consequently, there should be one history unit called “The Holocaust.” And there should be one Israeli resource center and world center for documentation, research, and education about the Holocaust, Yad Vashem.

Read post in full

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Act now to ensure refugees bill protects your rights

The Knesset is expected to adopt a bill safeguarding the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries next Monday 22 February. Stan Urman, Executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) urges you to act now to ensure that the bill gets the widest support possible among MKs, and so that the interests of Jewish refugees living outside Israel are also protected :

FOR ISRAELI CITIZENS: Please e-mail or call any and all Knesset members that you can, urging them to get out and vote. This law must be adopted by the largest possible majority. (See link with the list of M"Ks)

FOR FOREIGN CITIZENS: Please write to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him that, in any upcoming negotiations, he must represent the rights of all Jewish refugees from Arab countries, as Israel did for Holocaust survivors, irrespective of whether they eventually settled in Israel or elsewhere ( the email of the PM is with cc to )

Jewish refugees must be tied to Palestinian issue

The fullest account yet of Monday's important Knesset reception, attended by 300, to mark the passing of Israel's prospective law tying compensation for Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries, to a future peace deal, comes from Rachel Kliger of The Media Line. There would be no discussion of Palestinian refugees unless the Jewish refugees problem was resolved. In heated exchanges with refugees in the audience deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon revealed that his father left his belongings behind in Algeria to come to Israel in 1948.

The Palestinian spokesman interviewed at the end admits that the Arabs have enough money to solve the plight of Palestinian refugees, but 'the problem belongs to Israel'. If Israel gave them their 'rights' - consenting to being overrun by the Arab 'right of return', perhaps? - the Arabs might compensate Israel, he concedes. (With thanks bh)

Israeli lawmakers are seeking a law that will make compensation for Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries after 1948 an integral part of any future peace negotiations.

Lawmakers put together a bill demanding compensation for current Jewish Israeli citizens, who were expelled from Arab countries after Israel was established in 1948, leaving behind significant valuable property.

Originally submitted almost a year ago in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, the bill passed its first hearing two weeks ago. Now various interest groups are pushing the bill with the Knesset’s 120 members before it is subjected to a second and third hearing next week.

The bill was sponsored by Member of Knesset (MK) Nissim Ze’ev from the Shas party and follows a resolution passed in the United States House of Representatives in 2008, calling for refugee recognition to be extended to Jews and Christians similar to that extended to Palestinians in the course of Middle East peace talks.

“I think the term compensation is too limited a term,” former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told The Media Line.

Cotler, a vocal advocate of the campaign, was one of several international representatives at the Knesset conference discussing the bill, organized by MK Nissim Ze’ev on Monday.

“We’re not just speaking about financial compensation or indemnification,” Cotler said. “We’re talking about justice for Jews from Arab countries. This speaks to the question of, among other things, rectifying the justice and peace narrative of the last 62 years where the question of Jews from Arab countries has not been part of the narrative.”

“There have been more than 160 U.N. resolutions on the matter of refugees,” he continued. “All 160 dealt with Palestinian refugees only. I’m not saying they shouldn’t address Palestinian refugees, but I’m saying there’s no justice and no truth if it does not also address the plight of Jews seeking justice from Arab countries.”

According to the international advocacy group, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), some 850,000 Jews were displaced from Arab countries after the State of Israel was established. (...)

Speaker of the Knesset Rubi Rivlin (Likud Party) said the issue was an important counterweight to Palestinian claims for a right of return to homes from which they were expelled or had to leave in 1948, and which are now part of Israel.

“The Arab peace initiative, based on the Saudi initiative, has a clause that calls for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue,” Rivlin said at the conference. “Israel is opposed to the right of return… we have to make an appeal today, to say that there is no room for bringing up the Palestinian right of return without the Jewish refugee issue being resolved. This has to be heard in the political discourse in Israel and in the international community.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D – NY), who supported the congressional resolution and attended Monday’s conference, said there was hypocrisy in the way the international community dealt with the Palestinian refugee community.

“The Arabs today, as they have done for 50 years, use the Palestinian refugee population as political pawns,” Engel said. “They want them to live in misery. They want them to suffer and then to blame the Jews. The fact of the matter is that the blame lies right at the foot of the Arab states, be it Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Egypt or any of those countries that have lots of petro-dollars and they don’t even spend a shekel to help their refugees.”

Monday’s conference was marked by heated arguments from members of the audience, which included Jews who were expelled from Arab countries in the years following the establishment of the state.

Gila Naftali, an Egyptian born Jew who was expelled with her family in 1956 when she was eight years old, said there has been a systematic marginalization of eastern Jews. She was almost banished from the auditorium by security when she lashed out at MK Danny Ayalon that “You don’t know what it’s like to be kicked out of your country within 24 hours.”

Ayalon, a proponent of the bill whose father left his belongings behind in Algeria to come to the fledgling country in 1948, shook Naftali’s hand on his way out, in a gesture of reconciliation.

The government came under criticism from Jews expelled from Arab states, who feel these initiatives are too little and too late. Others have questioned how the compensation, if acquired, will be allocated.

“I don’t just want compensation,” Naftali later told The Media Line. “Everybody will get the compensation. I want money for this building that was in our family for four generations,” she said, brandishing a sepia photograph of her former Cairo home.

Stanley Urman, executive director of JJAC said he was aware of these sentiments.

“I feel for their plight and their pain,” he told The Media Line. “We, the Jewish people and the State of Israel, must take responsibility for not being successful enough in bringing this to the world’s attention.”

The fact that the U.S. has already passed a resolution to this effect could serve to impact any future negotiations.

“They have sway,” Urman said, in reference to the U.S. brokers. “Whether they bring this up in a forceful manner is yet to be seen. The U.S. is a member of the Quartet and all seminal Middle East issues are going through the Quartet, so the U.S. certainly would be our voice at that table.”

The Israeli bill stipulates that “The state of Israel will not sign, directly or by proxy, any agreement or treaty with a country or authority dealing with a political settlement in the Middle East without ensuring the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries according to the U.N.’s refugee treaty.”

“In any discussion where the Palestinian refugee issue is brought up in the framework of peace negotiations in the Middle East,” it continues, “the Israeli government will bring up the issue of compensation for loss of property and giving equal status to Arab refugees who left their property after the state was established and to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”

Ze’ev stressed that Iran was also included in the bill, even though it was not defined as an Arab country.

Levana Zamir, chairman of the international organization of Egyptian Jews said she welcomed the initiative.

“Finally, after 62 years, the Knesset is accepting a law that recognizes our rights,” she told The Media Line. “I’m just sad that my father didn’t have the privilege of seeing this. He fought for this and after he passed away I took the matter into my hands. As Jews from Egypt we should be very happy because there’s a peace agreement with Egypt, so once there’s a law, we should start demanding money.”

Zvi Gabai, who represents Jews from Iraq, said it was a shame this was not done sooner.

“In the meantime,” he said, “the Palestinians and spin doctors have exploited the Palestinian refugee matter and presented it as though the Palestinian refugees were the only issue and that there were no Jewish refugees, without presenting two sides of the coin – that there were not only the Palestinians who suffered but also Jews from Arab countries who suffered and lost property, without bringing this matter to a decision, there will be no justice.”

The Palestinian Return Centre, a London-based organization defending the rights of Palestinian refugees with the aim of resettling them in their original homes, said it was not farfetched to believe that Jews would get compensation, but stressed that it was wrong to draw parallels between the two refugee populations.

“The Jews who were kicked out of Arab countries have found a place to live,” a spokesperson for the organization told The Media. “They have found luxury, work, good housing and a government. But the Palestinians have found nothing. They are not allowed to work in 70 professions in Lebanon. They’re not allowed to travel. They don’t have passports or basic freedoms and they’re being bombed in Gaza’s camps.”

“There is no parallel in the suffering,” the spokesperson continued. “The Palestinian suffered double what the Jews in the Arab countries suffered…. The [Arabs] have enough money and enough political will to solve the problem with Israel, but the problem is with Israel. If Israel is willing to conduct peace on the basis of giving rights to the Palestinians, I guess the Arabs would compensate the Jews, if that happened.”

Read article in full

The Jerusalem Post

Babylon and beyond blog

Word Jewish Congress

The Iraqi-Jewish vamps of Indian cinema

Who today has heard of Sulochana and Nadira? These actresses of the pre-Bollywood era of Indian cinema were Jewesses of Iraqi origin. Fascinating article on

Sulochana, aka Ruby Myers, and D. Bilimoria in the 1934 film “Indira M.A.” photo/courtesy of the national film archive of india

During the golden age of Indian cinema, one of the biggest and most glamorous stars, Sulochana, exuded an exotic flair that thrilled audiences from Bombay to Bangalore*.

Sulochana’s real name was Ruby Myers. She was Jewish.

It’s one of the secrets of the era before Bollywood. Unlike most Hindu and Muslim women, prohibited for modesty’s sake from working in film, India’s Jewish women were allowed to pursue movie careers.

And they did.

A special presentation on the subject, “A Bollywood Shabbat,” will take place Feb. 19 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. The event includes a lecture, film clips and a divine Indian feast.

“It was forbidden for Muslim and Hindu women to be onscreen or onstage,” says documentarian Eric Molinksy, one of the presenters. “It was like prostitution. But there were a lot of Anglo Indians, children of diplomats, and also Jewish women who could sing and dance.”

For the lecture, Molinsky will share the stage with Deborah Stein, a Mills College professor of Indian art and cinema, and Anuj Vaidya, an Indian cinema expert who works with the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

Based in Boston, Molinsky is known for his work in public radio. He took on an assignment last year to examine the story of Jewish movie stars in India.

What he learned fascinated him. For one thing, the Jewish saga in India stretches back more than 2,000 years. Jewish immigration came in three waves. The Bene Israel, according to legend, were shipwrecked there after Jews fled Roman rule in ancient Israel. Later another group of Jews settled in the area around Cochin, developing a unique religious culture.

Finally, Jews from Arab lands came to India in the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly as traders. They became known as Baghdadi Jews.

One thing all three waves faced in common: an Indian Hindu majority that welcomed them.

Stein says that for the Jewish actresses, their “ethnicity was hard to pin down for the audience. It allowed the actresses to be very malleable. They would play the good Indian girl in the village who is exposed to Western culture, becomes decadent, then goes back.”

As Sulochana and another star, Nadira (aka Florence Ezekiel, of a Baghdadi family), showed, they could also play the vamp.

“Nadira played the bad girl,” Molinsky says, “the women other Indian women couldn’t play. She was fiery, an incredibly strong screen persona and a very Hollywood look with arched eyebrows like Claudette Colbert and lips like Joan Crawford.”

Nadira spent her last years as a recluse in her Mumbai flat. After 1948, most Jews of India made aliyah — including Nadira’s brother — so she was left alone. She died in 2006 at the age of 73.

Even though Jews had an easier time of it in show business than their Hindu and Muslim sisters, the Jewish Indian stars faced their own slings and arrows. Nadira had two failed marriages, including a one that lasted only a week.

“She wanted to marry a Jewish man,” Molinsky says, “but it was very hard because of her reputation [as a movie vamp].”

Read article in full

*Now Mumbai to Bangaluru

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

'The Jews are the real refugees' - Rivlin

Desinfos reports Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin's remarks at the reception on Monday to mark the passage of the Knesset bill safeguarding Jewish refugee rights: "it's not a one-way street", he says. "Any future (peace) agreement must take into account the thousands of Jews who were driven from Arab countries, often leaving everything behind". (With thanks: Eliyahu)

Participant à un Colloque sur les « Juifs originaires des pays arabes », le Président de la Knesset a comparé leur situation à celle des ‘réfugiés’ palestiniens: « Alors qu’Israël est attaqué de toutes parts sur le dossier des ‘réfugiés palestiniens’, il est de notre devoir de dire que les choses ne sont pas à sens unique: tout accord futur entre Israël, les Palestiniens et le monde arabe, devra prendre en compte les centaines de milliers de Juifs qui ont dû quitter les pays arabes, laissant souvent tout derrière eux ».

« Contrairement aux pays arabes qui ont parqué leurs frères arabes palestiniens dans des camps de misère jusqu’à l’heure actuelle, Israël a accueilli et intégré depuis 1948 plus d’un demi-million de Juifs venus d’Afrique du Nord et du Moyen Orient », a-t-il ajouté. Rivline a demandé aux organisations représentées à ce Colloque « d’encourager les Juifs originaires des pays arabes à revendiquer leurs droits historiques et économiques face aux exigences des Palestiniens, car il ne fait aucun doute que les biens des Juifs des pays arabes dépassaient de loin ceux des Arabes qui vivaient en Palestine ».

Read article in full (French)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

'Justice cannot be one-sided': Knesset speaker

The Arab refugee problem was smaller than the Jewish problem, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said at yesterday's prestigious reception to mark the passage of the bill safeguarding the rights of Jewish refugees, reports Israel national News. Others attending were U.S. Congressman Mr. Eliot Engel, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab countries Stanley Urman, Former justice minister and member of the Canadian Parliament Prof. Irwin Cotler, former minister Mr Rafi Eitan, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Rabbi Eli Yishai, Minister Benny Begin, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Deputy Finance Minister Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen, and Immigration and Absorption Committee chairman Lia Shemtov, and representatives of organisations of Jews from Arab countries.

“While Israel is constantly under attack around the world,” Rivlin said, “regarding its approach to the Palestinians and the Palestinian refugees, the world must remember that historic justice cannot be allowed to be selective and one-sided. The fact is that since 1948, Israel has absorbed over a half-million Jewish refugees – and they, too, have rights and demands and financial claims.”

“This matter must be an inseparable part of all negotiations regarding the future of this region,” Rivlin said.

“Even if we accept the higher estimates regarding the number of [Arab] refugees,” Rivlin noted, “which range from a half-million to one million – the number of Jews living in northern Africa and the Middle East before 1948 was more than one million… The same is true with the monetary demands: If the [Arab] refugees’ property was estimated at $4 billion in today’s money, the property of the Jewish refugees is estimated at $6 billion.”

“Historic justice demands its own,” Rivlin continued. “We will not be able to ignore the thousands of Jewish refugees as if they never existed.

Read article in full

Hiller Fender has this second report in Israel National News:(with thanks: Lily)

In April 2008, the U.S. Congress approved Resolution 185, supporting rights for Jews from Arab countries and stating that whatever rights are granted to Palestinian refugees in any future Israeli-Arab accord must be similarly accorded to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

"We should have acted even before the US Congress," MK Ze'ev said after the conference, "but certainly now that the U.S. has recognized that the Jews and Arabs must be treated the same, certainly we should recognize that the Jews were robbed and were banished from their homes."

"In Damascus, we left all our property behind, including public and private property," one woman said at the conference. Another woman from Morocco said that the Arabs stole "our jewelry from off our necks," and another from Egypt said, “My grandfather owned two six-story buildings, and he wasn’t allowed to take a thing; we had to leave with just the clothes on our backs…”

Writing in a 2007 report published by the JJAC, Minister Cotler explained, "Let there be no doubt about it: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace.”

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Currents of denial run deep among the Left

Is denial of Arab and Muslim antisemitism fast becoming a pathology of the left? Read my guest post on CiFwatch.

Leopold1904 must be a bewildered man. His comment, on the Uri Dromi thread, stating the facts of the 1840 Damascus blood libel - which Dromi had invoked in his piece on the Jenny Tongue ‘Israel harvests organs in Haiti’ affair - was deleted by the Comment is Free moderator.

Does Leopold’s comment breach Comment is Free guidelines? Does it contain offensive or personal attacks? No. Is it defamatory? No. Is it irrelevant? No, it simply seeks to expand on Dromi’s cursory description of the Damascus blood libel. Its conclusion, that the affair ‘restoked the fires of European antisemitism’, is unassailable.

And not only the fires of European antisemitism. While the Damascus blood libel may have been started by Christians - and whether or not the sultan was wise enough to condemn the affair - the libel’s spread through the Ottoman Near East became unstoppable. The respected historian Bernard Lewis counts no less than 32 subsequent libel-fuelled antisemitic disturbances in Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Palestine in the late 19th century.

So why was Leopold1904 ‘s comment deleted? One can only surmise that it was removed because it lifts the veil on the precarious nature of Jewish existence under Muslim rule. Leopold's comment threatens one of the central tenets of the Guardian’s Middle East credo - that Jews and Arabs enjoyed peaceful and harmonious coexistence before those nasty Zionists came and spoilt it all with their absurd and unfair notion of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

What is worrying about this deletion is that not only are inconvenient facts being suppressed, but that any politically-incorrect statement casting doubt on the pre-Zionist nirvana in Arab lands is greeted with disbelief and denial.

I was reminded of how deeply this current of denial runs in the mindset of the anti-Zionist left in an exchange I had last week with Richard Silverstein of the Tikkun Olam blog . The fact that only seven Jews still remained in Iraq – it is actually six, as one has died - was proof positive that the 150,000 Jews of Iraq had been ‘ethnically-cleansed’, I argued.

Silverstein, an erstwhile CIF contributor, bristled with an almost allergic reaction to the expression ‘ethnic cleansing’. He threatened that if I dared to use it one more time, I would be banished from his blog. He went on:

How do you know there are 7 Jews left in Iraq? Who told you so? Who counted them? Besides, Jews leave a country for thousands of diff. reasons not all of which correspond to yr ideological diagnosis of ethnic cleansing. I have never read any serious scholar or journalist use this term, which indicates just how far out in right field you are. Personally, I think your alleged census numbers are not accurate. Pls. provide some authentification of them.

Well, I told him - we know who they are. There’s the ex-accountant, plus the nephew with whom he shares a rented house in Baghdad’s central Karrada district. There’s the man who lives near them, the man who leads the community, the very old woman, the male doctor and the female dentist. And the man whose brother was a goldsmith.The goldsmith married the dentist a few years ago. A few months later, he was abducted by gunmen.

Even this did not satisfy Silverstein: ... do you understand what evidence is? Not your listing the supposed occupations of specific Jews, but a credible piece of evidence that confirms yr claim.

In other words, nothing I told Silverstein would convince him that seven Jews remained in Baghdad - unless, perhaps, I went there, met each of those last Jews in the flesh and could name every last single one.

Silverstein’s attitude seems to tipify the scepticism of many commenters and observers of the Middle East. Everything Israel and its supporters say is an unsubstantiated claim, while what the Arabs and Palestinians say can be taken at face value. Baroness Tongue puts the onus on Israel to disprove her wild allegations of organ-harvesting. But when it comes to facts that show Arabs and Muslims in a bad light, everything must be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. How do you know that three Jews died under torture in Damascus and another converted to Islam, Leopold1904? Prove it. You weren’t there!

Read post and comments thread

Knesset bill will raise awareness of Jewish Nakba

Today is the day when a grand reception at the Knesset takes place, marking the passage of a bill recognising the rights of Jewish refugees. The bill is due to have its second and final readings. Linda Menuhin writing in The Jerusalem Post explains why the bill is important, not only to those victims in desperate need of compensation, but to peace in the Middle East (with thanks: Lily):

Last month, I went to visit Umm Rachel, an old lady who was a friend of our family in Iraq before I was born. I was shocked to see how fragile she had become; she could hardly talk. Although she receives a National Insurance allowance, it barely covers the basic requirements of old age.

As we talked, she seemed to lose interest and hope of retrieving any of her frozen assets in Iraq. She was very much offended and hurt by the misfortune that followed abandonment of her Iraqi nationality, along with around 130,000 other Jews who left Iraq between 1950 and 1951. She showed little faith in the news I brought her regarding the bill of compensation for Jews from Muslim countries which will be put to a vote in the Knesset in the coming weeks and the Conference of Leaders of Jews from Arab Countries taking place on Monday.

The goal of the conference, according to the press release, “is to increase public and international awareness to the almost total obliteration of the hundreds of ancient Jewish communities throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and the transformation of close to one million Jews to refugees who have never received just compensation for their personal and community assets.” The original bill was submitted by Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev two years ago but has yet to move forward.

Due to a combination of international cynicism and domestic suppression of the subject, around 850,000 Jewish refugees were cut off from theMiddle East narrative. The Jewish presence in the Middle East dates back almost 3,000 years, more than 1,000 years before Islam. As happens in bureaucracies, several government resolutions calling for the registration of all assets left behind in Arab countries were not carried out. In the best case, a small budget was allocated to a very small team in the Justice Ministry to accomplish this.

Meanwhile, people aged, their memory blurred and many lost their documentation. Now a new council has been established by the government, with two employees and a small budget to run a campaign to bring awareness of the registration of lost assets.

Looking back, it was essential for Israel to crystallize its narrative around Zionism as the main vehicle behind Jewish immigration. And indeed, Israel managed to absorb around 650,000 Jews from Arab countries, while the number of Palestinian refugees is still multiplying after more than 60 years.

In the eyes of the Jews from Arab countries and their descendants, the bill aims first at introducing justice both locally and internationally for the nakba – catastrophe – that befell them. They were dispossessed from flourishing businesses, orchards, a long heritage and their memories. They even had to discard the Arabic language. In short, they had to give up the culture they had cherished since birth.

After being reshaped in the Israeli melting pot, the Jewish refugees assumed responsibility for building their future in the new land, with the government’s assistance. They had to start from scratch, leaving behind assets worth $100 billion and property four times the size of modern Israel, according to the World Organization for Jews from Arab Countries. While it is true that many thousands have integrated in Israeli society, thousands more are still paying a high price for being in the North or South, with no access to the national pie.

Teaching this part of history in schools is another important issue that the bill needs to address. By no means is it acceptable for the new generation to know practically nothing about the history of Jews from Muslim countries, while learning about every small pogrom that hit European Jews. Bringing this issue to the awareness of the masses will promote mutual understanding among multicultural descendants.

According to the bill submitted by Ze’ev, the government should recognize the rights of Jewish refugees from Islamic countries and seek reparation andcompensation for violation of their human rights and confiscation of their assets.

Mizrahi Jews have also been frustrated due to lack of recognition in the international arena. While there were 150 UN resolutions dealing with the Palestinian problem, not one deals with the Jewish refugees, or with assisting them.

Most importantly, this bill does not affect or undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees. On the contrary, it provides an incredible opportunity to end the refugee problem on both sides. Previous governments ignored this issue, partly due to the absurd claim that it would encourage Palestinians to submit demands for compensation.

It is important to point out that in spite of the billions of dollars poured into refugee camps by UN agencies, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown steadily to more than four million. Not many are aware that the Palestinians are the only group of refugees, out of more than 100 million displaced in World War II, who came under a special UN umbrella.

Reaching a just and lasting peace should be based on the truth, so that each party is aware of the suffering of the other. The suffering, the oppression of the weak and displacement are the common ground that enable a dialogue between two populations of refugees: Jews and Palestinians.

On a psychological level, compensation is a symbol of ending enmity. Even in Arab perception, the family of the underdog gets compensation from the perpetrators through negotiations conducted by middle men or dignitaries respected by both sides.

The idea of symmetry between two types of refugees was first born at the Wye Plantation summit with former US president Bill Clinton, who demanded compensation for all refugees in the conflict by establishing an international fund.

During the Bush administration, Congress endorsed a resolution calling for the mention of Jewish refugees every time there is a mention of Palestinian refugees.

Read article in full

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nazi propaganda in the Arab world by Jeffrey Herf

What is remarkable about this interview with Jeffrey Herf, author of Nazi propaganda for the Arab world, is that it was conducted in an Egyptian newspaper, al-Masry-al-Youm. The book's findings are best summed up by Bassam Tibi of Cornell University, who writes on the flyleaf: "The traces of Germany's Nazi antisemtism disclosed in this groundbreaking analysis persist, despite the Islamization of this ideology":

"Jeffrey Herf, professor of modern European history at the University of Maryland, College Park, recently authored Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, published by Yale University Press. In 2006 he published The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust. Al-Masry Al-Youm spoke with Herf to discuss his latest publication.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: The West in general uses the term anti-Semitism, although both Arabs and Jews are Semitic. Are there other terms that are more apt?

Jeffrey Herf: The answer to this and other questions are in my book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. An entire chapter explores the extensive efforts made by the Nazi regime to avoid the use of the term "anti-Semitism." It was, its officials stressed, a regime animated by antagonism toward the Jews but not towards Arabs and Muslims in general. The term anti-Semitism has long entered academic discourse to refer to hatred of Jews.

Al-Masry: Most Arab historians agree that the Nazis did not contribute great ideas that grew in the region, but you posit the opposite. What evidence supports your position?

Herf: The Nazi Arabic language radio broadcasts during World War II to the Middle East simultaneously attacked Zionism and the Jews. The absurd and false notion that an international Jewish conspiracy existed and was a major force in world politics was a key theme of Nazism’s wartime propaganda. Conspiratorial thinking focused on the supposed power of the Jews persisted after the war in the Middle East. The pejorative and hateful depictions of Jews in Nazi propaganda, the belief that they were inherently evil and that they should be punished as a result found echoes in the postwar publications of the Muslim Brotherhood, the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the postwar activities of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Egyptian government’s propaganda under Nasser and in the Hamas Covenant of 1988.

Al-Masry: You claim in your book that the Nazis used Islamic heritage to increase hostility towards Jews. How was this done?

Herf: Nazi officials dealing with propaganda aimed at Arabs and Muslims concluded that a selective reading of the Quran and the commentaries about it was their most effective means of reaching this audience. In so doing they drew out the already existing anti-Jewish themes. They presented Islam -- not radical, fundamentalist, political or jihadist Islam, but Islam in general --as a religion infused with and inseparable from hatred for the Jews. In their view, from the time that the Jews rejected Prophet Mohammed’s demands that they convert to Islam, the Jews became an “enemy” of Islam. In so doing, Nazism’s Arabic-language propaganda placed the events of the mid-20th century into the far longer context of a supposed, but actually false, Jewish antagonism to Islam as a religion. They described Zionist aspirations as only the most recent chapter in a supposedly ancient Jewish effort to “destroy Islam.” In this effort they found quotations from the Quran and the commentaries on it that included pejorative and hateful comments about the Jews.

Al-Masry: You mention that the most important figure used by the Nazis in the region was Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948. Al-Husseini struggled against the English occupation and Zionism in Palestine long before going to Germany, where his ideas were not radically changed. Is there new evidence to support your position?

Herf: Al-Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazi regime was never only an alliance of convenience based on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In wartime Berlin there was a genuine meeting of hearts and minds between himself and other Arab and radical Islamist exiles with Hitler and officials in the German Foreign Ministry and the SS. On a number of occasions the Arabic language broadcasts which al-Husseini and the other pro-Nazi Arab and Islamist exiles helped to write and broadcast openly called on listeners to “kill the Jews.”

The new evidence in Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World includes more documentation of the Jew-hatred that al-Husseini brought with him to Berlin and of his skill at blending his bigotry with the conspiracy theories coming from the Nazi regime. This new evidence comes from the files of the American Embassy in wartime Cairo and the files of the German Foreign Ministry and SS in Germany. The Americans in wartime Cairo transcribed and translated the broadcasts by al-Husseini, Younis Bahri and others, and sent the texts back to the State Department in Washington. These documents in US government archives were important for my new book. This new evidence makes clear that one chapter in the longer history of radical Islamism was written in Berlin in World War II where there was not a clash of civilizations but a meeting of hearts and minds based on their worst elements.

Al-Masry: If we assume that Nazi propaganda against Jews had an impact in the Arab region, why did it not end with the fall of Nazism?

Herf: As I explained in my previous book, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust, the Nazi regime claimed that the Jews were responsible for starting World War II and that they controlled the governments of Britain, the US and the Soviet Union. In the minds of die-hard Nazis, the fact that the Allies won World War II meant that “the Jews” had won the war. The extermination of Europe’s Jews did not, in their minds, undermine this ideologically driven distortion. This idea was carried over to the Arab world by Nazi Germany’s Arabic language propaganda broadcasts, which asserted that a victory for the Allies, led by the US, Britain and the Soviet Union, would be a victory for the Jews. In the minds of Nazi sympathizers and their radical Islamist, Arab and Persian supporters, the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 appeared to confirm that the predictions of Nazi propaganda had been accurate.

Al-Masry: What do you think of the position that the founding of the Jewish state was the main reason for Arab hostility against Israelis?

Herf: Of course, the conflict between Israel and the Arab states, as well as with the Palestinians, has caused enormous hostility on all sides. But the question reverses the causality of the 1948 war and of the failure to reach a lasting peace since then. There have always been Arabs, including Palestinians, who were willing to reach a compromise solution with Israel. President Anwar Sadat was the most prominent among them. Yet from the beginning those who found common cause with Nazism, such as al-Husseini, and those who, like Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, fashioned a blend of Nazism and Islamism, always rejected any compromise with the state of Israel. They made no distinction between Jews and Zionists and rejected not just the policies of Israel but the very existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. As the assassination of Sadat made clear, those Arabs and Muslims who advocated compromise have faced the threat of assassination from nationalist and Islamist extremists.

Al-Masry: How do you explain Egyptian Jews maintaining rights as citizens until their departure from Egypt following the war in 1956?

Herf: The flight of Egyptian Jews began shortly after anti-Jewish violence in Egypt in the years following World War II. It dramatically increased during and after the war of 1948. About 700,000 Jews used to live in Arab countries before the state of Israel was founded. Faced with threats and hostility in their own countries, they too became refugees and fled for their lives and well-being to Israel. Yet somehow this massive exodus of the Jews from the Arab countries does not register in international politics.

Al-Masry: You claim Nazi propaganda influenced contemporary Islamic movements, how so?

Herf: The lineages are traceable from al-Husseini through Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood and related organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The Hamas Covenant of 1988 contains a host of the same absurdities about European history that one could find in Nazi propaganda of the 1940s. The blend of Jew-hatred with hatred of the United States and liberal democracy that one finds in the public statements of Al Qaeda also recall similar sentiments from the Nazi era."

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