Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Sir Martin Gilbert
Another 'lachrymose' and 'one-sided' version of the history of Jews in Muslim lands, concludes Avi Shlaim in his FT review of Sir Martin Gilbert's new book, In Ishmael's House. Predictably, Shlaim, whose family fled Arab nationalism in Iraq, refutes Gilbert's equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian refugees: 'we left because we felt insecure', he writes, falling back on the trope that Zionist agents 'encouraged the Jews to leave their homes because the fledgling state of Israel was desperately short of manpower.' Why fleeing for one's life should be insufficient reason, in Shlaim's book, for calling oneself a refugee 'in the proper sense of the word', is anyone's guess - mine is that Shlaim's political agenda only permits Palestinians to call themselves 'refugees'.
The Jews have a fair claim to be the most persecuted minority in human history. Salo Baron, the American Jewish historian, coined the label “the lachrymose version” for the conventional accounts of Jewish history as a never-ending chain of discrimination, degradation, persecution and suffering, culminating in the Holocaust.
In his new book, historian Martin Gilbert tackles a relatively neglected but fascinating subject: the history of the Jews in Muslim lands. The end result, however, is essentially an extension of this lachrymose version from Europe to the Near East.
The book is ambitious in scope, covering 1,400 years of Jewish-Arab history. The narrative covers the period from the rise of Islam in the 7th century to the present day. It includes the fraught relationship between the Jews of Medina and the Prophet Muhammad, the Crusader conquest of the Holy Land, the Ottoman Empire, the impact of Zionism in the first half of the 20th century and the creation of Israel in 1948. The emphasis throughout is on the fundamental uncertainty of life under Muslim rule: the dual prospects of opportunity and restriction, protection and persecution.
Jewish life under Muslim rule naturally invites comparison with that under Christian rule. Here Gilbert quotes with approval the eminent Jewish scholar Bernard Lewis, who concluded that the situation of the Jews living under Muslim rulers was “never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, nor ever as good as in Christendom at its best”. Lewis observes that “there is nothing in Islamic history to parallel the Spanish expulsion and Inquisition, the Russian pogroms, or the Nazi Holocaust”. But he goes on to point out that there is nothing in the history of the Jews under Islam “to compare with the progressive emancipation and acceptance accorded to the Jews in the democratic West during the last three centuries”.
Gilbert is an anecdotal historian, not an analytical one. He has produced a lively chronicle of the Jews in Muslim countries from Morocco to Afghanistan. He has rich materials at his disposal and he is attentive to the human voices of individuals. But his account is both highly selective and narrowly focused on the Jews. What is missing is the wider political, social and economic context to enable the reader to place the Jewish minority in each Muslim country within its proper historical perspective.
Some examples of Muslim openness, tolerance and courage are given by Gilbert. The bulk of the book, however, consists of examples of Muslim hatred, hostility and cruelty towards the Jews.
Some of the episodes related in the book are blood-curdling, such as the Ba’thi regime’s arrest, torture, conviction and public hanging of nine Jews in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up charges of being Zionist spies. But episodes of this kind are the exception rather than the rule. By piling one horror story on top of another so relentlessly, Gilbert paints a misleading picture of the life of Isaac in the house of Ishmael. The reality was far more complex. As even Lewis conceded: “The Jews were never free from discrimination, but only rarely subject to persecution.”
Nowhere is Gilbert more strikingly one-sided than in his account of the consequences of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In the course of this war, the name Palestine was wiped off the map and 726,000 Palestinians became refugees. In its wake, around 850,000 Jews left the Arab world, mostly to start a new life in the newborn State of Israel. For Gilbert, these Jews are simply the other half of the “double exodus” and he persistently refers to them as “refugees”. With few exceptions, however, these Jews left their native lands not as a result of officially sanctioned policies of persecution but because they felt threatened by the rising tide of Arab nationalism. Zionist agents actively encouraged the Jews to leave their ancestral homes because the fledgling State of Israel was desperately short of manpower.
Iraq exemplified this trend. The Iraqi army participated in the War for Palestine, and the Arab defeat provoked a backlash against the Jews back home. Out of a population of 138,000, roughly 120,000 left in 1950-51 in an atmosphere of panic and peril.
I was five years old in 1950 when my family reluctantly moved from Baghdad to Ramat Gan. We were Arab Jews, we spoke Arabic, our roots went back to the Babylonian exile two and a half millennia ago and my parents did not have the slightest sympathy with Zionism. We were not persecuted but opted to leave because we felt insecure. So, unlike the Palestinians who were driven out of their homes, we were not refugees in the proper sense of the word. But we were truly victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Despite all its shortcomings, Gilbert’s book is an illuminating and a moving account of the history of the Jews in Arab lands. But he is psychologically hard-wired to see anti-Semitism everywhere. The picture he paints is consequently unbalanced.
By dwelling so persistently on the deficits, he downplays the record of tolerance, creative co-existence and multi-culturalism in Muslim lands which constitutes the best model we have for a brighter future.
Read article in full
Two more reviews of In Ishmael's House
The Winnipeg Free Press
Monday, August 30, 2010
Baghdad - Israel should return rare Babylonian Jewish artifacts to Iraq, an official at the Tourism Ministry in Baghdad was quoted as saying Monday.
Iraq once had a large Jewish population, which numbered well over 100,000 people, prior to the formation of Israel in 1948. In the following decades, nearly all of Iraq's Jews migrated abroad under turbulent circumstances, leaving behind less than a dozen members of the community when US-led troops invaded in 2003.
Abd al-Zahra al-Talqani, a spokesman for the Iraqi Tourism Ministry, charged that the scroll was removed from Iraq illegally.
'A clear admission appeared on Israeli TV that shows there was a copy of the Torah which was smuggled from Iraq to Israel using bribery,' he told the pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat daily.
Similar claims by Iraqi officials regarding allegedly illicit exports to Israel have been made over the last seven years.
The latest charge followed internal investigations by the ministry into the missing artifacts, al-Talqani said.
The rare scroll was originally thought to have been looted, along with other precious items across Iraq, in the anarchy that reigned following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The United Nations believes thousands of items are missing from Iraq. Many have yet to be located, including dozens of pieces of high cultural or historical significance.
Earlier this year, Iraq pressed the United States for the return of key Jewish artifacts found by US soldiers as those artifacts were soaking in sewage water in the basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters.
The Jews of Iraq - whose presence in the Middle Eastern land goes back to the 6th century BC, during the reign of the ancient Babylonian empire - now mostly reside in Israel. This has prompted some to say the Jewish state should house artifacts related to the community.
Israeli-born Noam Nir has lived in Morocco for ten years. He is a one-man barometer of relations between Morocco and its Jews. But relations have taken a turn for the worse: the human rights activists of AMDH, who appear to have crossed the fine red line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, are attacking Nir. He is alarmed enough to have filed a formal complaint. The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Lily):
“I realized there was a demonstration on my doorstep, so I grabbed my camera and went outside,” Nir told The Media Line.
Outside, Nir encountered a group of high-school aged youth chanting anti-Zionist slogans.
“Standing across my property and shouting ‘Zionism get out of here,’ it was clear who they were referring to,” Nir said, implying it was directed at him.
“In a previous demonstration during Passover they chanted terrible Anti-Israeli slogans: ‘Netanyahu is a murderer, Israel is racist.’ They accused André Azoulay, the King’s Jewish advisor, of being a Mossad agent, and called on him to leave Morocco. These are unusual chants in Moroccan politics.”
Following the latest demonstration, Nir filed a police complaint against three members of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), which organized the youth camp assembling the young demonstrators. In early August, Moroccan legal authorities questioned two of the association’s activists on charges of incitement and Anti-Semitism.
Nir, 41, has been living in Morocco for 10 years. The son of a Moroccan Jew, he says he decided to immigrate to the country following an appeal by King Muhammad VI to “people of the land” to return to Morocco and build a thriving society.
Less than 7,000 Jews currently reside in Morocco, mainly in the city of Casablanca. Before 1948 the Jewish community was 250,000 strong, but over the years most Jews left for Israel or France.
“I am very active in the Jewish community here,” Nir said. “These people are trying to incite against me because I defended the King’s Jewish advisor. The organization does not miss an opportunity to criticize Jews who are active in international processes, that is: in normalization between Morocco and Israel.”
AMDH boasts a nationwide membership of 12,000 people. In a statement published on its website following the July incident, AMDH makes a clear distinction between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism.
“Just as all members of the Association oppose Zionism […] so they principally oppose Anti-Semitism and hatred towards Jews.”
AMDH goes on to blame Zionism for the confusion between Jews and Zionists.
“AMDH appeals to democrats and defenders of human rights abroad and points their attention to the danger of systematically mixing Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism, which stands at the base of Zionist Noam Nir’s lawsuit against members of the Association. This confusion was unfortunately successfully planted in the minds of many parts of public opinion.”
Nir claims the slogans shouted in the demonstrations could incite ordinary citizens to commit acts of violence against Jews.
“There is a danger to the Jewish community. All it takes is one man with a knife.”
According to Nir, the average Moroccan does not distinguish Anti-Zionism from Anti-Semitism.
“I have spoken to a wide array of Moroccans, from fish merchants in the market to government civil servants, and discovered that they make no distinction between anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist slogans. I tell AMDH: if you are not anti-Jewish but only anti-Zionist, go out and tell your public what the difference is.”
Khadija Riyadi, director of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights rejected Nir’s claims of Anti-Semitism on the part of her organization.
“We are responsible for what we say, not what others understand,” Riyadi told The Media Line. “Indeed there is confusion in Morocco between Judaism and Zionism, and we work to clarify the difference.”
According to Riyadi, the slogans shouted pose no danger to Jews in the Kingdom. She added that Anti-Jewish slogans run counter to the interests of her organization.
“Opposition to Judaism strengthens the Imperialistic goals of Zionism,” Riyadi says. “It encourages Jews to leave their countries and immigrate to Israel. We believe in complete freedom of religion for all citizens.”
Riyadi speculated that external powers stand behind Nir’s lawsuit. She said the Moroccan government has launched a campaign to de-legitimize her organization due to its harsh criticism of human rights abuses in Morocco, in an attempt to cut its foreign funding.
Read article in full
Noam Nir features in this article, the Last Jews of Essaouira
In his review for The Guardian of Sir Martin's new book, Liberal rabbi David Goldberg is at pains to qualify the broad sweep of Arab antisemitism uncovered by Sir Martin with references to the Spanish Golden Age and how Zionism 'fuelled' anti-Jewish Arab anger and violence, while reproaching the author for failing to come to conclusions of his own. On the other hand, Robert Fulford in the National Post takes the opposite view: Arab and Muslim antisemitism has its roots in the Koran and the trouncing of the Jews at Khaybar by Muhammed's army has a resonance amongst Islamists today (with thanks: Eliyahu):
David Goldberg writes in The Guardian:
"The feared doyen of Judaic scholars in the US is Professor Jacob Neusner, an abrasive curmudgeon who, to borrow football manager Sir Alex Ferguson's description of an opposition player, could start a fight in an empty room. (...)
"Neither a brash TV personality nor a young turk revisionist, Gilbert writes broad-brush narrative history of the old-fashioned kind. By now his method is well rehearsed: a balanced overview is produced, based on exhaustive research of all the available material, and then illuminated with individual case stories or a telling quotation. It is a technique that proved popular in his books about the Holocaust, the state of Israel and Churchill. Now he brings it to bear on the history of Jews in Muslim lands.
"Perhaps that well-oiled modus operandi is why there is a sense Gilbert is going through the motions here. He dedicates In Ishmael's House, somewhat preciously, to the 13 million Jews and 1,300 million Muslims in the world "in the hope that they may renew the mutual tolerance, respect and partnership that marked many periods in their history". In truth, however, there is little fresh to be said about that long and complex relationship because it has all been covered before by more specialist scholars. Gilbert simply quotes his sources and summarises their conclusions, without attempting to offer many of his own.
"Shrewdest of the quoted sources is Bernard Lewis, the foremost contemporary authority on Jews under Islam, who wrote in Semites and Anti-Semites that their situation was "never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, nor ever as good as in Christendom at its best". On the one hand, there is nothing in the history of Muslim-Jew relations to parallel the Spanish inquisition, the Russian pogroms or the Holocaust. On the other, there is nothing to compare with the progressive emancipation and civic equality accorded to Jews in the democratic west since the French revolution.
"Gilbert reveals his inexperience in this particular field on the very first page, when he misdates the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud by at least 500 years and the choice of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital by around 200. Thereafter – apart from appearing to regard the Biblical fable of Queen Esther as authentic – he provides a soberly accurate account of the 1,400 year propinquity between Jews and Muslims since Mohammed first proclaimed himself God's prophet, appropriating many of Judaism's beliefs and practices. The so-called Pact of Omar in the early 8th century formalised the rights of non-believers under Muslim rule: in return for personal safety, security of property, freedom of worship and communal autonomy, Jews and Christians had to accept inferior dhimmi status and consent to payment of the jizya (poll) tax to the local ruler.
"As in Christian Europe, the stringency or leniency with which these rules were applied – along with ancillary ones forbidding Jews to build new synagogues, wear certain clothing, ride horses or employ Muslims – varied from ruler to ruler and depending on Jewish utility to the state. Under the fanatical Almohad dynasty, Jews faced ferocious persecution – the great Moses Maimonides was one who temporarily converted to Islam to escape death during that period. But in Toledo, Seville and Granada, before Ferdinand and Isabella expelled both Jews and Muslims in 1492, many Jews rose to high office while relations with followers of Islam were so convivial that it is still referred to as the "Golden Age of Spanish Jewry". By the same measure, conditions for Jews were generally benign throughout the Ottoman empire for centuries.
"The influx of Zionist pioneers into Palestine from 1897 onwards, and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, had a fateful impact on Jewish-Muslim coexistence. In such a bitter conflict we are all parti pris and even a scrupulous recorder like Gilbert is drawn into polemics and apologetics. For example, in detailing the shocking Arab riots of 1929 – in which 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded – he might have mentioned that the violence was fuelled in large part by the provocations of Zionist activists at the Wailing Wall (as with Ariel Sharon's walkabout on the Temple Mount before the second intifada). And while it is pertinent to point out that 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands have been fed, housed and absorbed by Israel since 1948 while 750,000 Palestinian refugees languish in camps, dependent on United Nations handouts, this does not invalidate the crucial fact that the latter suffered a grave injustice at Israel's founding.
"The pogroms in Baghdad, Tripoli, Cairo and Tangier that followed events in 1948 were almost as bad as any atrocity perpetrated against Jews in medieval Europe, with its accusations of poisoned wells and revival of the "blood libel" – the accusation, recurrent throughout history, that Jews use Muslim or Christian blood in their religious rituals. The Suez crisis of 1956 and the 1967 six-day war intensified the hostility palpable in Arab streets and hastened the exodus of virtually all remaining Jews from countries such as Egypt where they had lived for over two millennia. In recent decades, growing religious fundamentalism on both sides has added a toxic new ingredient, exacerbating still further an intractable geopolitical dispute.
"For Gilbert to conclude with the wish that his book contribute to a better future for Muslims and Jews does credit to his faith in humanism – but also, some might say, signifies the triumph of hope over experience."The long history of Jews in Muslim lands by Robert Fulford (National Post):
Sunday, August 29, 2010
With thanks : Eliyahu
With hardly any Jews left in Lebanon and even fewer prepared to worship openly, this blog has always warned that the renovation of the Beirut synagogue would be exploited for its PR value.
But Hezbollah to be held up as a paragon of interfaith tolerance? And not by the Lebanese, but in the USA - by CNN, no less? By erstwhile Newsweek editor Fareed Zekariah, of all people, whom many thought once held quite sensible views on Islamism and the causes of 9/11?
Come on, pull the other leg.
Sadly, this expert analysis by the media watchdog CAMERA suggests that Zakaria has lost the plot. Not only does this CNN clip use the Beirut synagogue to score points against the US for its purported lack of tolerance towards the planned Ground Zero Mosque in Manhattan, but Zakaria shows that he does not really understand the bigotry and anti-Jewish hatred that makes Hezbollah tick.
Read this extract from Zakaria's comments on the CNN programme, Last Look, and weep:
" With all the talk about places of worship and where they do and don't belong, I wanted you to see this. This is the Magen Abraham synagogue. It's not in Miami. It's not in Tel Aviv. It's in Beirut. That's right, Beirut, Lebanon.
The synagogue is just now emerging from a painstaking restoration project. When the repairs began over a year ago, the temple was literally a shell of its former self. So why did this nation, often teetering on the brink of religious hostilities and hostilities with Israel, restore a Jewish house of worship? To show that Lebanon is an open and tolerant country.
And indeed, the project is said to have found support in many parts of the community, not just from the few remaining Jews there, but also Christians and Muslims and Hezbollah. Yes, Hezbollah -- the one that the United States has designated a foreign terrorist organization.
Hezbollah's view on the renovation goes like this. "We respect divine religions, including the Jewish religion. The problem is with Israel's occupation of Arab lands ... not with the Jews." Food for thought."
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Professor Shmuel Moreh has been taking the Arab world by storm with his amusing and engaging memoirs, published on an Arabic website. A translated instalment has now featured in Haaretz.
Writer, researcher and Israel Prize laureate Shmuel Moreh has published his memoirs in chapters, on the Arabic Internet site Elaph. An agile Arab publisher hastened to collect the chapters and publish them in book form, without the permission of the author, and has already brought out a second edition of the volume. Presented here is an adapted translation of one of those chapters.
I had completed my studies for a master's degree at the Hebrew University when my father arrived in Israel via Iran and Turkey (1961) . He expressed wonderment at this peculiar country, where everything is the reverse of what is usual in Iraq. It's a country that sends a student to learn Arabic language and literature, and whereto? To London, the capital of the Western world and of the empire on which the sun never sets!
"I can understand that they'd send someone to study chemistry, physics and economics," said my father. "But Arabic? What will they do with it here?" My father continued to think this way, with the worldview of an Iraqi merchant who asks every morning: What is the dollar exchange rate today? He bought shares on the stock market and purchased lands in Israel but nearly lost the money remaining to him from his savings in Iraq, which was smuggled to Israel via London.
He used to say, gritting his teeth: "By God, I don't understand this upside-down country. May the Lord have mercy on Iraq. There we knew how to calculate our steps. Open your hand a bit, slip a few dinars into the official's hand in order to grease the process of your request a bit and everything will fall right into place. Here there is no bribery, there is no cronyism and there isn't the magical religious saying: "Do it for the sake of God! Do it for the sake of the Prophet Mohammad!' Here everything is according to the dark law of the inhabitants, a law I don't understand."
My father obtained from the deputy director of the Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, Mr. Nahum Pessin, authorization to receive medical care whenever necessary. This, after he donated a considerable sum to the center. The certification was supposed to have enabled my father to be admitted in an emergency at any time, even if it was not the turn of this hospital, which he preferred, on the night duty roster. In this way my father felt protected, and took pride in the thought that modern medicine would protect him from old age and exhaustion.
But apparently he had ignored the Arabic proverb: "Since when is the apothecary able to repair what time has ruined?!" If he fell ill, my father would hospitalize himself in the best room at the hospital, and the man responsible for donor relations, Mr. Pessin, would come visit him with a basket of fresh fruit and reassure him. He also enjoyed the ministrations of the prettiest nurse in the hospital. They knew of his love (or weakness ) for beauty and the years did not change his taste and his admiration of the fair sex. He would become angry if they were tardy in examining him. I would comfort him and tell him there are lots of traffic accidents and emergency situations in the country because of the instability on the borders.
My father did not suffer from the cultural and psychological shock suffered in Israel by immigrants from Iraq and the countries of the East. In particular, he did not suffer from not knowing the Hebrew language or from the differences in customs and traditions. He did not suffer from the change in the role of the father - that is, the collapse of patriarchal sovereignty in the oriental family, with support of the family getting passed along to the daughters and sons who began to work and support their parents. The trait that helped him acclimatize was his mastery of six languages. Back in the time of the Ottomans, he had learned Turkish, French, English, Arabic and Hebrew. During the period he was in Persia in the 1920s, when he was an agent for the British automobile manufacturer Ford, he spoke and read Persian well. He had enough money to enable each of us to complete his studies abroad and to help each of his four sons buy a home and a car, after helping with the weddings of my two sisters.
He was not a burden to us. He had a strong will and pride in himself, and everyone respected him for his intelligence and his insistence on his dignity. He was not superstitious and he even donated some of his body parts to be taken from him after his death for medical research. He assumed people around him respected him because of his strong personality.
He attributed no importance to the smiles he received from doctors, officials and realtors when they heard his heavy Iraqi accent, which was obvious when he spoke Hebrew. He did not try at all to imitate the Ashkenazi accent but pronounced the letters bet, resh, ayin, qof and the soft gimel, as though they were Arabic consonants.
"And why not?" - he would say. "After all, Hebrew, as you know, is a Semitic language, and you Europeans messed it up and transformed the aspirated het into a guttural khet, the ayin into an aleph, the tet into a taf and the resh into a ghesh. Give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good! What do you want? For me to talk in a garbled and foreign accent? My accent is the correct Semitic accent and the Hebrew language is, after all, Arabic's twin sister."
He enjoyed speaking Arabic with the Arab doctors, pharmacists and patients at Shaare Zedek hospital and volunteered to translate for the Arab patients so the doctors would understand what was troubling them. He was happy to sit with Israeli Arabs and tell them about Iraq, life there, the island in the Euphrates in summer, when the current was weak and slow, the moonlit nights and the various kinds of grilled fish.
He would tell them: "You are impressed by the fish in the Kinneret? By the life of Allah, in Iraq every fish is the size of a whale. And what you call rivers - are those rivers at all, the Jordan and the Yarkon? If you could see the length and width of the Euphrates and the Tigris, then you would be impressed."
He spoke often about Iraq, and he didn't permit criticism or mockery of it. "There aren't any better dates than those in Iraq, or melons and watermelons, or grapes and oranges and there are no tastier lemons and apples. The size of a flower in Iraq is like the size of a tray. The soil in Iraq is so fertile that the watermelons grow there on both sides of the asphalt roads."
His Arab friends from Abu Ghosh and the hospital would say to him, "Tell me, if so, then Iraq is God's paradise."
To which he would respond: "Why not?"
And then they would ask him: "So why did you leave Iraq if it was paradise?" He would shake his head and say to them in despair: "It was paradise before the Ba'ath Party destroyed it. Everything is in the hands of God, everything is in the hands of heaven. Maybe it is punishment for those who massacred the Jews in the Farhud [the pogrom of Baghdad, in 1941]."
In his eyes, everything in Iraq was better: The people were more dignified and respected one another, they honored the elderly, the Iraqis were generous and hospitable. "There is no one like the Iraqis" - he would say. "For this I love them." Then he would sigh and say: "It is a pity about those vanished days. When the Muslims used to see how efficiently I managed my businesses, they would be amazed and say: "Ibrahim Efendi, ya Abu Jacques - it's too bad you are a Jew. Why don't you convert to Islam and we'll call it quits?!"
Then my father would remember Yehezkel, who remained in Iraq, converted to Islam and changed his name at the Interior Ministry to Haki, lived with a Muslim woman as his common-law-wife, took pride in being her companion, eating and drinking at her place and sleeping with her. She kept him on such a short leash that he couldn't move without her agreement.
One night "Haki" felt like rebelling and going out with his friends to the island in the Euphrates, with a quarter of a bottle of arak, a grilled fish, grilled onions and tomatoes, seasoned with hot Indian curry, warm esh tanur [Iraqi flatbread ], "genuine Indian mango pickle" and mezze - appetizers including salads and everything else he he longed for.
Yehezkel stayed out until after midnight and returned home in an elevated mood, humming Arab muwali songs and wobbling like a drunk with a bottle of Zahlawi arak in hand. When he arrived, he was unable to find the keyhole, banged on the door and continued in his attempts to find the keyhole, until his patience gave to and he started to shout: "Hey woman, open the door, I'm tired. Where are you, you ... ?"
The door opened slowly and when he stuck his head in to see who had opened it for him at long last, he immediately felt a stunning blow on his pate. It was the long heavy stick for pounding the bulgur for kubbeh. He fell to the floor, bloodstained and in a faint.
"You Jew son of a bitch," shouted the woman. "How dare you leave me and go to your whores? Are they more beautiful than I am or is their bottom larger? You stinking Jew villain."
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sol Stern, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, is one of the few to warn that the talks are doomed before they start. Hard on the heels of his acclaimed piece, the Nakba obsession, he nails the real issue for the benefit of Jerusalem Post readers: the talks are doomed to flounder on the Palestinian 'right of return' - the demand to flood Israel proper with the millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees who left their homes in 1948.
The very notion of Palestinian refugees is “a great hoax” as far as he is concerned.
“Why are there refugees 62 years after the creation of the State of Israel,” he asks. “If a baby is born today in the Balata refugee camp that baby is called a refugee. The very notion is absurd.
“There can’t be peace until some Palestinian leader is willing to go to the camps and say, in effect, ‘We’ve lied to you for 60 years and you’re not going back.’”
But Stern sees no Palestinian leader willing to take that step, certainly not PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who he says scuttled the last round of direct talks in 2008 with then prime minister Ehud Olmert despite receiving an offer that would have given him 98 percent of the West Bank.
“I believe that Abbas knew that at that point he would have to go to the refugee camps and say to the refugees in Balata, ‘You are not going back to Jaffa; you’ll get compensation, you can build a house, but you are not going back to Jaffa.’ They [the Palestinians] are trapped by their own propaganda and their own ideology.”(...)
The refugee issue is one that Stern says Israel needs to place more of an emphasis on in its public diplomacy efforts. He would, he says, challenge the international human rights community over the refugees. “I would say if you really care about human rights, what about the human rights of the refugees who have been locked up for 62 years. They’re not going back; no reasonable person thinks they are going back, so why don’t we start dealing with it now? Why aren’t they offered money to build a home outside of the Balata refugee camp? What would be wrong with that?”
Stern suggests taking a leaf out of the history books and running – in the style of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jews of Europe – some full page ads in The New York Times with a picture of a baby born last week in Balata and asking: “Why is this poor baby a refugee 62 years after the 1948 war?”
“In my view,” says Stern, “this is something that is very important to focus on. It’s not just background noise.
It’s right at the heart of the problem.”
But Sol Stern should have gone further. He should have drawn a parallel between Palestinian refugees, who are denied citizenship in every Arab state except Jordan, and Jewish refugees, a model of absorption and integration in Israel and the West. There were more Jews driven out of Arab countries than Palestinians who fled Israel, and they lost 50 percent more in assets, but Israeli public diplomacy has been criminally negligent in failing to put their case.For too long the Arab refugees have hogged the limelight in the Arab-Israeli drama. They are seen as the main victims of an Israeli injustice. By introducing the Jewish refugees into the equation - they and their descendants constitute just under half the Jewish population of Israel - it ought to be accepted that there were two sets of refugees, roughly equal in number, 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, nor is it enshrined in international law. 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, giving Jews ‘right of return’ to countries which spat out them out is like asking a prisoner who has tasted freedom to go back to jail. Three generations have now been resettled in Israel and the West after their painful uprooting. They have have lost most of their 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. The last of the Jews of Yemen are fleeing - a 3,000 -year old community is coming to an end. Even in lands of apparent stability, things can change overnight. In Morocco, the remaining 3,000 Jews likely have their suitcases ready-packed in case of sudden regime change.
Both Palestinian and Jewish refugees must be treated symmetrically. One can't give 'a right of return' to one set and not to the other, or impose such a 'right' against their will. The logical alternative is no 'right of return' for either. Compensation, not return, has to be the answer.
So if the next round of talks is not to be scuppered - let the parties get down to the nitty-gritty: let them discuss refugees, both Arab and Jewish.
Cross-posted at Harry's Place
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
RESTON, Va. (JTA) -- Former U.S. senator George Allen said he believed denying his Jewish past helped cost him re-election in 2006. (With thanks: Eliyahu)
Allen, who lost the Virginia seat in a razor-close election to James Webb, spoke Thursday for the first time of the fallout from the controversy of his denying his Jewish past. He also spoke of his Jewish roots. At the time of the election, Allen heatedly denied any Jewish heritage, although research by the Forward and other Jewish media outlets made it clear he had Jewish ancestors.
The journalistic digging into Allen's past was prompted by his use at a rally of the word "macaca," a slur against people of color that is commonplace in North Africa. Allen subsequently revealed that his Tunisian-born mother, traumatized by the Nazi occupation of her native land, had sworn him to secrecy about his Jewish roots.
He made clear that the controversy contributed to his loss. (...)
Speaking in Reston, Va. to the annual Jewish Learning Retreat of Chabad-Lubavitch's Jewish Learning Institute, Allen, a Republican, described the joy of researching the roots of his mother's heritage as a Lumbroso, a venerated Italian-Jewish line.
His biggest takeaway, he said, was greater sensitivity to minority rights -- he said using the word "macaca" to needle a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent was a mistake, but he denied knowing that the term was a slur.
From the moment his mother revealed her Jewish past to him in the summer of 2006, Allen said, "The core principle of freedom of conscience, beliefs and religion was no longer just a matter of enlightened philosophy to me -- it became deeply personal in my heartwrenching realization of how fear and persecution so tormented my loving, loyal mother."
Monday, August 23, 2010
Lebanon's parliament recently passed a law allowing Palestinian refugees to work legally in Lebanon. As a refugee myself, this news makes me reflect on my own experience.
I am also a refugee from the Arab countries. But I am not a Palestinian. I am a Jewish refugee forced out of the land of my birth in Libya.
I know that Jewish refugees from the Arab countries were larger in numbers than the Palestinian refugees. Yet, we have been successfully integrated. So I ask the question: "Why do the Palestinians still remain in squalid refugee camps?"
My thoughts turn to those savage days when my family fled Libya in 1967. We narrowly escaped death at the hands of a bus driver who, instead of taking us to the airport, tried to burn us alive inside the bus.
I am one of nearly one million Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa who were forced to flee their ancestral homes in the last 60 years. I am now the voice of an Arab minority culture that has been ethnically cleansed.
Jews are amongst the oldest existing indigenous group in the region. We have lived throughout the Middle East and North Africa for millennia, since long before the Arab Muslim conquest in the 7th century. Not that this simple historical fact gets the attention of certain international journalists and activists who at times seem obsessed with delegitimizing the modern Israeli state.
For all our contributions and success, we encountered racism and oppression that ultimately forced us out.
Under Islamic “dhimmi” rules, Jews (and Christians) were often subjugated and persecuted. This carried on to the modern era. In the 20th century, synagogues were bombed, family members thrown in jail on trumped-up charges, and innocent people lynched or hanged before cheering crowds. Arab governments froze bank accounts and allowed Jews to leave with just one suitcase.
Though the circumstances of the exodus differed from country-to-country, the anguish of being uprooted from the only homeland we ever knew was the same. No memorial exists to commemorate these once vibrant communities in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Yemen, and beyond.
My community in Libya, once 38,000 strong, is now extinct. Our cultural heritage has been obliterated. In short, over 2500 years of history has vanished.
As we say in Arabic, Ma fdel shei—there is nothing left. I cannot even go back to Libya to visit my grandfather’s grave.
Nevertheless, the plight of the two refugee populations, Jews and Palestinians, is a study in contrasts when it comes to refugee resettlement.
Israel absorbed 600,000 Jewish refugees. Indeed, it became the largest and most successful refugee camp in the Middle East because it gave the Jews from the Arab Countries dignity and hope.
We were successfully integrated us in Israeli society. The Mizrahi Jews now comprise over half the population of Israel and hold top positions in Israeli society. Other refugees went to the U.S. and Europe. We rapidly integrated in our new host countries. These Jews have been integrated without any money or help from the United Nations even though the UN recognized us as "bona fide" refugees.
By contrast, the UN pours millions of dollars a year to UNWRA United Nations Work and Relief Agency to provide for the Palestinian refugees. This they have done for the past 59 years.
Except for Jordan most Arab countries to this day refuse to integrate Palestinian refugees into their own societies. It is shameful that Lebanon with a population of 400,000 Palestinian refugees keeps them in 12 refugee camps According to the BBC, "many have open sewers running through tight mazes of alleys. There are severe restrictions on repairs and improvements to the cheaply- built dwellings."
Why is it that the Palestinians continue to live in squalid refugee camps? Why do they remain a people homeless and on welfare for over 60 years, even under their own Palestinian Authority?
The Arab leadership sinned doubly by driving the Jews from their own homes in nine Arab countries and at the same time refusing hospitality and integration to their own Palestinian brothers who sought refuge in Arab countries.
Lebanon is no exception. It is almost inconceivable that Palestinians have been living in Lebanon for over 60 years and still are not afforded the most basic human and civil rights which most countries grant to refugees.
The Arab countries continue to perpetuate the misery of their Palestinian “brothers” for their own political ends, stoking the flames of Palestinian "victimhood". Religious fanatics exploit the refugees’ suffering and sow hatred against Jews, delivering willing suicide bombers to Hezbollah and Hamas.
Hate is a weapon of mass destruction. The same forces of hatred that turned me into a refugee and nearly burned me alive on a bus in the Libyan desert continue to deliver terror around the world: Bus bombings in Israel, 9/11 in the United States, hostages in Bombay are all the result of hate education in Madrassah schools.
The Palestinians who have made their homes in Western countries, have been successfully integrated, they have a life and they are contributing to their host societies and their children are not recruited by Hezbollah.
Lebanon should take a moral inventory of their own treatment of the Palestinians before they join the flottilla of food for their poor Palestinians in Gaza.
Lebanon continues to deny 400,000 Palestinian refugees the most basic rights, like the right to buy a home, or the right to become citizens of a country they have lived in for over 60 years. I say to their government: "Haram Alekem." Shame on you for discriminating against your own brothers and sisters.
Bygone plight of Jewish refugees (Letter, Irish Independent)
IN his excellent article pitying the next Israeli ambassador to Ireland (Irish Independent, August 20), Kevin Myers remarks that people emote about Palestinian refugees without pausing to ask themselves why, after 60 years, they are still ‘refugees’.
What about the much larger numbers of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were given sanctuary in Israel and the West? Why are these refugees airbrushed from history, just because they were successfully integrated?
It is hardly ever pointed out that the Jewish refugees have been almost totally ‘ethnically cleansed’ from countries they lived in for over 2,000 years, having abandoned property and land four times the size of Israel itself.
We need to inject some balance into this distorted debate.
Mrs L Julius
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Rare photograph of Renee Dangoor in 1947, the year she was crowned Miss Baghdad
As bombs continue to wreak their havoc in Iraq, a wave of nostalgia harking back to a more settled era appears to have swept over the country. And ironically enough in a state where all but six Jews have been driven into exile, it's a trend in which the image of a young Jewish woman has acquired almost iconic status.
Renee Dangoor died two years ago, but seems to have acquired immortality in the minds of many. Her son David has been tracking mentions of his late mother on the Internet. Renee Dangoor has no less than 2,700 Arabic website references on Google.
The first Iraqi newspaper to write about Renee Dangoor was Al-Mutamer in 2003: "Baghdad used to be a city of peace and tolerance, where people enjoyed calmly drinking their coffee, strolling with ease, retiring at night with confidence, and waking up in the morning with a new hope. People were really living the good life.
"In those days, Iraqis were satisfied with the simplicity of their lives, feeling secure in their homes and streets. They were able to plan their days and nights without any fear for their lives or those of their children from primary school on to graduation, career and marriage. And they also had the opportunity to value beauty and appreciate it, and even to hold beauty contests."
In 2009 Abd-al-Jabbar Al-Otabi wrote a piece for the website Elaph. The author is aware that Renee Dangoor is Jewish, but says, 'I did neither care about her name, nor her affiliation':
"I was impressed by this very rare picture of the beautiful queen of Baghdad - 1947, Renée Dangoor, Iraq’s beauty queen. This picture of the young lady and the event in which she was awarded that title made me reflect on the situation in Iraq over the past several years, year after year. Over many months and days I was looking for similarities. However, I come back to contemplate the face of this beautiful quiet girl and the words embroidered on the sash on her chest. I did neither care about her name, affiliation nor its meaning, insofar as she is Iraqi. At that time, she was chosen to live in Baghdad, nearly sixty years ago, or other Iraqi areas.
"If she were alive now, I wonder what would she think about recalling the memories of those days when beauty reigned in the bosom of Baghdad."
Iraqi exile gives £3 million for UK university scholarships
In her review for The Evening Standard of Martin Gilbert's new book, Marina Benjamin, the daughter of Iraqi Jews, finds the Ashkenazi author less than comfortable with his material. She reproaches him a failure to take the stories of those she (irritatingly) calls 'Arab Jews' 'with a pinch of salt' - as if they would be inclined to exaggeration. She accuses them of being racist towards their former Arab hosts, as if this might excuse Arab behaviour towards Jews.
IN ISHMAEL'S HOUSE, A HISTORY OF JEWS IN MUSLIM LANDS by Martin Gilbert (Yale University Press, £25)
Martin Gilbert is well known for his accessible rendering of modern history. His trademark style, routinely praised, is comprehensive, often involving broad sweeps of time. His scholarship is meticulous, his tone balanced, and he takes care to include painstaking details -- often in the form of first-hand testimony, collected over many years as his quiet obsessions brew at the concept end of a well-oiled production line.(...)
It's all rather exhausting if your intention is to read for pleasure rather than to score points; for this kind of book is most handy when slammed on the table mid-argument with a determined "I told you so!" Gilbert says at the outset that his intention is to explore the fundamental tension that long governed relations between Muslim and Arab Jews. This tension, "that swung rulers between the two extremes of protection and intolerance", is rooted in the inherent duality of the dhimmi status, conferred on Jews in the eighth century by the Covenant of Omar. In return they were granted communal autonomy, freedom of religion and security of life and property.
But that freedom came at a price. Jews had to pay a hefty annual poll tax to the caliphate, and observe a host of restrictions (often ridiculous: for example, they couldn't wear turbans) that served as permanent reminders of their second-class status. There is meat in this tension -- for it is via the dhimmi concept that we've inherited the notion that merely tolerating a minority group is somehow a good thing. There is promise, too, of narrative possibility. Unfortunately, most chapters succumb to a structural inertia: on the one hand, they tell us, the Jews achieved x. On the other, they had to put up with y. What interest there is lies in the detail, in what particular individuals could or couldn't do -- become a powerful banker, or wellplaced physician -- and what idiosyncratic oppressions particular regimes managed to get away with.
What is plaintively lacking is story. There are vignettes aplenty, minibiographies of scholars, mystics, political advisers, social critics, bankers and enterprising rabbis. The trouble is, you forget them instantly: as soon as the page is turned you're on to the next country, next era, next slice of repetition.
My sense is that Gilbert doesn't feel quite at home with his material. Like the white boy in the hood, he likes the rap music but can't always understand the lyrics. Among Jews from Arab lands (I know this because I am one), there exists a culture of complaint, a cult of victimhood and a strong undertow of racism. "How we suffered!" they like to wail, before cursing their former overlords. Gilbert, as an Ashkenazi, can't tell when to listen respectfully from when a large pinch of salt is required.
There is no arguing with the fact that 850,000 Arab Jews were expelled from their native countries after Zionism trounced Arab Nationalism, brandishing the Israeli state as its trophy. Most Arab Jews are also furious that their forced exile has nothing like the profile given to the plight of Palestinians, spat out of Israel at the same time and in roughly equivalent numbers.
But that's where the self-pity ends. Arab Jews wouldn't dream of going back to countries they now see as primitive. For them, there is no homeland outside America, England, Holland, Israel or Canada. Gilbert tells us that some Muslims think of their Jewish compatriots as "dogs". Yet he appears clueless as to the slanders that Arab Jews reserve for Muslims in return.
Marina Benjamin is the author of Last Days in Babylon: The Story of the Jews of Baghdad (Bloomsbury).
Read article in full
The Economist review
Saturday, August 21, 2010
The 2,000 year-old Jewish communities of Syria and Lebanon ( 30,000 and 14,000 in 1948) have always been intertwined, as has the history of the two countries. Here's a timeline tracing their decline to less than 50 Jews in each country today.
19th century: an era of mass migration for Syrians of all faiths, driven by the 1860 Christian-Druze war and economic crises to move to Egypt and the New World.
1909: Young Jews leave to avoid Ottoman conscription law.
1917: exiles from Eretz Israel expose Jews to Zionism.
1918: Syrian and Lebanon under French mandate.
1930s: Anti-Jewish measures introduced, economy in crisis. 2,868 Jews move to Israel.
Nazi propaganda and incitement by the Mufti of Jerusalem spreads.
5, 286 Jews leave.
1945: 1,000 Jewish children go on aliya.
1945: Riots against Jews of Tripoli, Lebanon: 14 die. Temporary closure of Alliance Israelite School. End of French mandate.
1945: Syrian school curriculum becomes compulsory.
1947: Partition riots devastate Aleppo. All 18 synagogues, five schools, 150 shops, orphanage and youth club destroyed. Great synagogue of Aleppo badly damaged. Many Jews killed.
Jews cannot buy property. Hundreds arrested. Jews expelled from university of Beirut.
1949: Jewish bank accounts seized in Syria, property frozen, no freedom of movement.
1949: grenades thrown at al-Menashe synagogue, Damascus: 13 dead, 32 wounded.
1950: Jews of Qamishli banned from working in agriculture.
1950: Influx of provincial Jews to Beirut. 10,000 Jews move to Lebanon from Iraq and Syria. Only 5,700 remain in Syria.
1950: Syria passes a law seizing Jewish property. Palestinian refugees move into Jewish quarter of Damascus. Attacks on Jews in Damascus, Aleppo and Qamishli. Property and shops looted.
1951: Bomb explodes at Alliance Universelle Israelite school in Beirut. Jewish youth organisations banned. Civil servants sacked. Otherwise protected by Phalange militia and free to travel and do business.
1958 - 62: Jews can leave Syria on payment of a ransom. 2,800 Syrian Jews flee to Israel.
1962: Travel ban introduced.
1965: Arrest of Israeli spy Eli Cohen. Attacks increase.
1967: Anti-Jewish riots in Syria. Muslims control two Jewish schools. Travel ban. Jewish chemists and doctors sacked. Jewish jobs given to refugees from Golan Heights. 2,264 Jews go to Israel.
1967 - 70: Of 6,000 Jews in Lebanon, all but 2,000 leave.
1971: Wave of kidnappings. Albert Elia, community leader, abducted and murdered in Lebanon.
1973: following Yom Kippur War, Jewish homes in Syria have their telephone lines cut off, allowed no radios or postal links with outside world.
1974: four Syrian Jewish girls raped and murdered.
1975: rescue campaign for remaining Syrian Jews, including many single girls, initiated by Canadian Judy Feld Carr.
1978: 450 Jews left in Lebanon. Between 1979 and 1980, 30 Jews killed ( some estimates say 200) in civil war.
1992: President Assad allows 2,800 Jews to leave on tourist visas without assets.
1994: Jews allowed to leave with their assets. Syrian Chief Rabbi Abraham Hamra leaves for Israel.
1999: 60 Jews remain in Lebanon and between 50 and 100 in Syria.
From How Syria and Lebanon were totally emptied of their Jews by Yaron Harel, in La fin du judaisme en terres d'Islam by Shmuel Trigano.
Friday, August 20, 2010
With allegations of 'ethnic cleansing' hurled liberally by The Guardian at Israel, Medusa thought it was time to focus on the real victims of ethnic cleansing in the Middle East - the Jews. Writing on CiF Watch, she spotlights the story of the Jews of Iraq. The so-called Jewish archives, now being restored in the US, should only be returned to Iraq, she believes, when it pays reparations to Iraq's Jews for their losses and suffering (With thanks: Independent Observer, Silke):
We hear much from the Palestinian spokesmen and their Arab and other supporters about their right to return to what is now Israel, and their demands for compensation for Israel’s alleged displacement of them, but woefully little by comparison about the atrocities perpetrated against Jews from Arab countries, who lived (and in some cases still live) as second-class citizens or dhimmis, at the mercy of the Arab/Muslim governments throughout the Middle East (see also here in respect of the Jews of the Yemen). Lyn Julius, using the ready overidentification of CiF with its Palestinian focus, wrote about the plight of Jews from Arab lands on CiF and called their treatment in Arab/Muslim countries the Jewish Nakba .
She tells us that ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries began when the Arab League, then comprised of Egypt, Iraq, Trans Jordan (or Jordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, contemplated passing a law in November 1947 which would brand all their Jews, some of whom had been resident in their respective countries for many generations, as “enemy aliens.” Their governments’ attitude to and treatment of them was not therefore a reaction to the declaration of independence of the Jewish state and although the “enemy aliens” law was contemplated, it was enacted in their behaviour towards their Jews.
Lyn Julius tells us that
“The Jewish “Nakba” – Arabic for “catastrophe” – not only emptied cities like Baghdad (a third Jewish); it tore apart the cultural, social and economic fabric in Arab lands. Jews lost homes, synagogues, hospitals, schools, shrines and deeded land five times the size of Israel. Their ancient heritage – predating Islam by 1,000 years – was destroyed.”
It suits the anti-Zionists to ignore this ethnic cleansing in their gadarene rush to accuse Israel of the ethnic cleansing of its Arab population, often without foundation. I shall focus on the circumstances of Iraqi Jews, for reasons which I will explain later, but their circumstances may be said to be typical of all Jews who found themselves in Muslim countries:
Iraq arose out of ancient Babylonia and Assyria and has the oldest Jewish community in the world. There has been a continuous Jewish presence there from 721 BCE to 1949 CE, which is two thousand six hundred and seventy years. The status of Iraqi Jews fluctuated, some even held high positions in government, but at the same time they had to pay the jizya tax levied on non-Muslims. They fared reasonably well until Iraq became independent in 1932.
In June 1941, a pro-Nazi coup, inspired by Hajj Amin Al-Husseini and led by Rashid Ali, led to riots and pogroms in Baghdad. 180 Jews were murdered and over 1,000 wounded. More anti-Jewish rioting took place between 1946 and 1949. When Israel was established in 1948 it became a capital offence for an Iraqi Jew to be a Zionist.
The following sets out the Nakba of the Iraqi Jews from 1948 until the early 1970′s when, in response to international pressure, the then government in Baghdad allowed many of the remaining Jews to leave quietly. Those Jews who remained, only 61 in number as at 28 March 1998 according to the Associated Press, are too old to leave:
1950 – Iraqi Jews permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship.
1951 – Jews who emigrated had their property frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country.
1949 to 1951 - 104,000 Jews evacuated from Iraq (Operations Ezra and Nehemiah); another 20,000 smuggled out through Iran. The Jewish population of 150,000 in 1947 dwindled to a mere 6,000 after 1951.
1952 – Jews prevented from emigrating.
1963 – The rise of the Ba’ath factions resulted in additional restrictions being placed on those Jews who remained in Iraq. Jews forced to carry yellow identity cards and sale of property was forbidden.
1967 (After the Six Days War) – many of 3,000 Jews who remained were arrested and dismissed from their jobs. More repressive measures were introduced, including the expropriation of Jewish property, freezing of Jews’ bank accounts, shutting of Jewish businesses, trading permits were cancelled, telephones were disconnected. Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to cities.
1968 – Persecution at its worst. Scores of Jews were jailed allegedly for spying and eleven Jews sentenced to death in staged trials.
27th January 1969 – Fourteen men – eleven of them the Jews mentioned previously – publicly hanged in Baghdad and others died of torture. (Source: Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie, “Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf”, p. 34)
Thursday, August 19, 2010
(Photo: Zion Ozeri)
Yemenis take pride in their Jewish past - but live Jews are the object of hostility and contempt. If Arab culture has 'negative undertones' in Israel - a controversial statement - try the undertones of being a Jew in an Arab country. Poignant article in The Economist about the last of the Jews of Yemen. (Blame the misleading expression 'Jewish Arabs' in the title on an ignorant sub-editor)(With thanks: bh).
Yemenis rarely protest publicly against their own miserable circumstances at home. But when tensions rise in Gaza, they happily hold parades in Sana’a, the country’s capital. Comedies on television often feature stupid Israeli soldiers outwitted by plucky Palestinians.
Yet Yemenis also say they appreciate the heritage of their country’s Jews. In the Great Mosque in Sana’a’s ancient city, a guard, whispering as pious men pore over Korans, points out Jewish carvings. In the village of Jibla, south of Sana’a, locals show the star of David on an ancient synagogue, now a mosque. Market traders boast that their wares are made of traditional Jewish silver. A stern police officer gives a permit to a Jewish-American to let him visit an old Jewish village.
The village may soon be no more. The last hundred or so Yemeni Jews are set to leave after more than two millennia in the country. A century ago some 50,000 of them lived more or less peacefully alongside the Muslim majority, now numbering 23m. Life became harder for them after the creation of Israel in 1948, with outbreaks of violence against Jews. Most were spirited out over the next few years in Operation Magic Carpet on American aircraft. A second, much smaller wave of around 1,200 of them were resettled in the early 1990s. A few hundred stayed on, largely in the northern province of Saada. After Houthi rebels eroded the government’s grip there in recent fighting, they were evacuated to a compound in Sana’a. As the perceived threat to them grows, Jewish-American and Israeli groups and American diplomats are trying to establish refugee status for them and then pay for their resettlement in the United States or Israel.
Their departure will be a milestone. Yemen’s Jews, who speak Arabic, hark back to a time when it was possible to have a shared Jewish and Arab identity. Elsewhere in the Arab world most Jewish communities have shrivelled. In Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad (where Jews were once the largest single community) numbers have shrunk to a handful of old folk keeping a nervously low profile. Yemen’s few hundred Jews were some of the last who preserved their synagogues and continued to conduct ceremonies in them. Zion Ozeri, a Jewish photographer of Yemeni descent who has documented the last of Yemen’s Jews, says that, for those who settle in Israel, there are “negative undertones” attached to being an Arab Jew. “In Israel or the diaspora, hardly any Jew considers himself of Arab culture.”
Read article in full and comments thread