Friday, April 30, 2010

Lebanese Jews will not return to Beirut

Construction work goes on apace at the synagogue in Wadi Jamil, Beirut (La Presse)

Who is Isaac Arazi? The mysterious head of the Jewish communal council in Lebanon and instigator of the reconstruction of the Beirut synagogue has finally stepped out of the shadows for this interview with the Canadian magazine Cyberpresse. But Arazi's pipe-dream of rebuilding not just the Beirut synagogue, but the Jewish community in Lebanon, is greeted with scepticism both at home and abroad:

At the heart of the ancient valley of the Jews, between the deluxe new sand-coloured buildings, the synagogue, Maghen Abraham, is still standing. Since 2008, Isaac Arazi, an old man with glasses as thick as bottle bottoms, who directs the Lebanese Jewish Communal Council, is working against all odds to get the renovation of this last vestige of the neighborhood organised.

"It was desolate. And you see, Solidere (the property development company) is a jewel of the Middle East.'"It's silly to leave a ruined synagogue among these beautiful buildings, "he says.

But the ambition of Mr. Arazi does not stop there. The real purpose of the renovation project, he says, is to rebuild the Jewish community, and even persuade some expatriates to return to Lebanon. Lebanon's Jewish population is now estimated at 200 or 300 people (even this is an exaggeration - ed). "In 10 years", he promises, "it will be large."

Nada Abdelsamad, a journalist who recently published a book on the history of the Jews of Lebanon, is skeptical. "The synagogue was once very active. But after the reconstruction, will this be working synagogue or a tourist attraction? " she asks.

If the question arises, "says Abdelsamad, " it's because Jews are the object of a general feeling of antipathy in Lebanon. And this will not disappear as long as Arab States of the region are at war against their neighbor Israel."

In 2008, when Mr. Arazi announced plans for reconstruction, the tension was also palpable. The Lebanese particularly feared the reaction of the radical Islamist group Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of the Jewish state.

Against all expectations, a spokesman for the organization allayed fears by saying: "We respect Judaism, just as we respect Christianity. "Our only problem is Israel's occupation. "

In Canada, expatriate Selim Sasson admits that the Lebanese Jewish diaspora is bored with Wadi Abu Jamil and its synagogue.

So much so that some years ago the synagogue they attend in Montreal was named Maghen Abraham after its Beirut Siamese twin. But nostalgia for Mr.Sasson stops there.

"Maghen Abraham, he says, " is like a gravestone."It's over. It's been 40 years since we planted our roots elsewhere. It's very difficult to even think of returning to Lebanon. "

Under the sun of Beirut, Isaac Arazi still dreams of a happy tomorrow. "When the renovation of the synagogue ends, I hope that the Lebanese Jews abroad will come and see for themselves. Maybe they will change their minds, " he said.

Read article in full (French)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The 'nakba' of Morocco's Jews

Dina Gabay: we left in the night and rushed to the ship (photo: Jerusalem Post)

Timed to coincide with the Palestinians' imminent 'Nakba' day, Lela Gilbert's piece for the Jerusalem Post is a sobering reminder of the sufferings which Jews of Morocco endured. Since February, however, Moroccan-born Dina Gabay's's rights to compensation, like those of all Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran, have been enshrined in Israeli law:

Imagine a frightened six-year-old girl trying to catch her balance in the stifling and cramped hold of a violently tossing ship. She is not alone on the turbulent sea – her parents and sibling are nearby. But fear is in the air, along with the sight and smell of terrible sickness. The child understands little about her circumstances. She is aware that she is going to a place called Israel, where three of her brothers now live. She realizes that she is saying good-bye forever to her Morocco home. But that’s all she knows about her journey.

Meanwhile her present misery, and that of her beloved family, eclipses all else. The girl’s name is Dina Gabay. The year is 1955. Dina, her parents – Avraham and Rachel – and the family are fleeing ever-increasing dangers in their town of Sefrou, near Fez.

Only in later years did Dina come to appreciate the constant pressure her parents had endured before their departure. There were small things—insults and ceaseless intimidation. For example, her father, who owned a large and successful butcher shop, was at the mercy of local thieves, who sometimes simply walked into his business and demanded that he give them whatever they wanted – at no cost. “Not once and not twice,” Dina explains, “but whenever they wanted something. These were our good Muslim neighbors, you know?”

Avraham knew better than to argue. “If you said something they didn’t like, you were in danger,” Dina recalls. “Most of the time everybody got along. But when you are in a lower place in society, you don’t dare to stand up for yourself.”

There were bigger threats too, including mysterious disappearances. First her father’s best friend vanished. Then one of Dina’s cousins, a remarkably beautiful 14-year-old girl, also disappeared, never to be seen again. In the Moroccan Jewish community, such things weren’t exactly unusual. And they happened more and more frequently after 1948, when Israel declared itself an independent state. At that moment, the centuries-long, low-grade oppression Jews experienced in their role as dhimmis under Muslim rule was ignited into ugly confrontations, humiliation and random attacks. These episodes sometimes exploded into full-blown pogroms in which hundreds were killed or wounded.

An article in Commentary magazine published in September 1954 described the difficult circumstances of Morocco’s Jews during the early years of Dina Gabay Levin’s life. “In disputes with Muslims, or on civil commercial and criminal issues among themselves, Jews are almost entirely subject to Islamic courts... even under the best of circumstances [the courts] regard Jewish litigants as unclean, inferior beings.”

While Dina’s family felt increasing pressure from the surrounding Muslim community, Morocco itself was in political upheaval over French colonialism. As has often happened in anticolonial independence movements, Jews were stigmatized as enemies of the surging nationalist factions. Again, they paid the price.

In 1954 and 1955, Morocco’s Jews were attacked by pro-nationalist forces in Casablanca, Rabat, Mazagan and Petitjean, with numerous deaths and injuries. Throughout the country property was seized, and arsonists attacked Jewish schools. In the five years following Israel’s independence, around 30,000 Jews made aliya; the numbers increased in subsequent years.

Historian Heskel M. Haddad wrote, “The major cause of the Jewish exodus from Morocco is the two pogroms that occurred in 1948 and 1953. Within a few years, several thousand Moroccan Jews immigrated to Israel. But mass immigration of Jews from Morocco occurred in 1954 when it became clear that France intended to grant Morocco full independence. Tens of thousands of Jews left Morocco, thereby betraying the typical anxiety of Jews in an independent Arab country.”

“We left all of our property,” Dina remembers, “our house and my father’s business. We couldn’t take anything with us. We left in the night and rushed to the ship. All kinds of people were fleeing. In fact some of those that went to Israel were wealthy. My uncle, for example, was very rich. He was a carpenter and had a large factory. He had also built a school for Jewish children, which he owned. When he decided to go, he left everything behind – his home, his factory and the school.”

AS IN many Jewish communities that fled hostility in Muslim majority nations in the 20th century, numerous Jews who left Morocco had been leaders in their communities; they were wealthy, successful and comfortable in their way of life. Doctors, lawyers, merchants and bankers were among the frightened masses that sailed away from their homelands. The day of their departure has often been described as their Nakba – the Arabic word for catastrophe that is often used by Palestinian activists to describe Israel’s Independence Day. In their catastrophic departures from their homes – many families had lived in North Africa since the 15th century and some even before – most of the Jews of the Maghreb lost everything but the clothes they wore. In a stunning riches-to-rags reversal, they found themselves among the poorest of the poor.

After the terrible voyage – she can’t remember how long it took but it seemed interminable – Dina and her family were taken from the ship to a squalid tent city – one of many ma’abarot, where tens of thousands of refugees from the Maghreb were kept in almost unlivable conditions upon their arrival in Israel. The young nation, not yet 10 years old, was ill-prepared for such an influx of displaced people. The Gabay family felt utter desolation. “Every night we just wanted to run away, but there was nowhere to run.”

A Jewish Agency report describes the ma’abarot of the time.

The structure of the camps was essentially similar: Families lived in small shacks of cloth, tin or wood, no larger than 10 square meters to 15 sq.m. each. Other shacks housed the basic services: kindergarten, school, infirmary, small grocery, employment office, synagogue, etc. The living quarters were not connected to either water or electric systems. Running water was available from central faucets, but it had to be boiled before drinking. The public showers and lavatories were generally inadequate and often in disrepair. A paucity of teachers and educational resources severely hindered the attempts to provide the camp children with suitable education. Work, even relief work, was not always available.

There were tens of thousands of Moroccans in the ma’abarot, but they weren’t the only ones. A wholesale exodus was under way across the Maghreb. Soon the vibrant Jewish populations of North Africa would dwindle to almost nothing.

In 1948, Algeria had around 140,000 Jews. By 2008 there were none.

In 1948, Libya had more than 35,000 Jews. Today there are none.

In 1948, Tunisia had as many as 105,000; today there fewer than 2,000

And as for Morocco, there were around a quarter of a million Jews in 1948. Today there are fewer than 6,000.

DESPITE THEIR trauma, however, many Moroccans distinguished themselves in their new Israeli society. Author Yehuda Grinker wrote of them, “These Jews constitute the best and most suitable human element for settlement in Israel’s absorption centers. There were many positive aspects which I found among them: First and foremost, they all know [their agricultural] tasks, and their transfer to agricultural work in Israel will not involve physical and mental difficulties. They are satisfied with few [material needs], which will enable them to confront their early economic problems.” (...)

For over half a century, the flight of more than 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands has led to controversy both inside Israel and internationally. More Jews were forced to flee from Muslim persecution than the approximately 762,000 Palestinian Arabs, who left their homes in the newly declared State of Israel. The full story has rarely been told, except among dedicated organizations like,, and the David Project, which produced a powerful documentary, The Forgotten Refugees in 2005. For reasons too complex for brief analysis, Israel did not, as one writer tactfully said, “put the catastrophe that overtook the Arab Jews on its international public relations and national agenda...”

But all that changed in February. After years of effort, and by a majority of votes, a bill to seek compensation for Jews from Arab countries was passed in the Knesset. Zvi Gabay (no relation to Dina Gabay Levin), a reporter for Yisrael Hayom, writes, “For the first time since the establishment of the state the rights of the Jews from Arab countries are receiving legal recognition in Israel. Up until now, Israeli administrations have chosen to ignore the issue, even as the topic of the Arab refugees and their rights have been front and center on the public dialogue in Israel and the world, under the code name the ‘right of return.’ The time has come to rectify the situation.”

According to the bill, a “Jewish refugee” is defined as an Israeli citizen who left one of the Arab states, or Iran, following religious persecution. The landmark declaration – long awaited by those who lobbied for its passage – specifies that the question of compensation must be included by the government in all future peace negotiations.

Dina Levin, like so many others, finds this turn of events very gratifying. She says, “The new declaration is a very important historical step for the people of Israel, especially for the Jewish communities from Muslim nations. I hope this bill will be put into action and will not stay only as a declaration. That way, finally there will be justice for the tremendous number of Jews who left their property behind in the Muslim nations when they immigrated to Israel.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bibi asked to prevent erosion of Moroccan heritage

Portraits of hospital founder Haim Benchimol and his wife Donna grace the walls of the Jewish old people's home in Tangiers (Courtesy Diarna)

Following the unexpected demolition of the Benchimol hospital in Tangiers, the Israeli ministry responsible for Jewish property claims in Arab lands has asked Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, to ensure that there is no further erosion of Jewish heritage in Morocco, Arutz Sheva reports (with thanks: Noam):

Moroccan Jews fear the local cemetery might be next on the chopping block, after a former Jewish hospital in Tangiers, Morocco was abruptly razed by authorities.

Bulldozers arrived at the Benchimol (Ben-Shimol) Hospital very late Friday night in the midst of the Passover holiday, and by morning the buildings were leveled. “It’s by order of the governor,” the wreckers told the guard, who had no way to stop them. The hospital, which was built in 1889, has been abandoned for about a decade. Though it was known as the Jewish hospital, members of all religions were treated there.

Dr. Leah Ness, Deputy Minister for Pensioner Affairs, has turned to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to ensure that no further action will be taken against the dwindling Jewish community in Morocco. The Ministry of Pensioner Affairs oversees the recovery of stolen Jewish property left in Arab countries.

The two-square kilometer (500 acres) hospital complex was built by Chaim Benchimol, a translator for the French Consulate in Tangiers and a member of the Jewish Community Board. According to various reports, the land is owned by the Benchimol family, while the hospital itself was owned by the Jewish Community.

Read article in full

Ynet News reprint of Shalomlife post

Yemeni Jew is targeted for unwanted haircut

Jews living in Sana'a (photo: Rachel Straecher)

The 70 Jews living in in the Yemeni capital of San'a say they are perfectly happy under the protection of the President - but there is little the President could have done to stop a bigoted policeman from interfering with one Jew's sidecurls. The Yemen Observer reports, via VosizNeas: (with thanks: Daniel)

Heron Bin Salem, 22, a member of the Jewish community, was awaiting his cousin in front of al-Mustakbal School when an officer along with four security members approached him, “trying to get rid of his unfamiliar look,” Yahya Yousif, the head of the Jewish community in Sana’a told Yemen Observer.

“The officer looked at my cousin and said, ‘I do not like your look (meaning the long curls) and Heron said ‘I am a Jew from Sa’adah.’ The officer, however, got even more angry and said ‘We do not want Jews here,” Yousif said.

The long curls running down the side of their faces characterize Yemeni Jews.

The police held down Ben Salem and tried to cut off his hair.

“The security grabbed Ben Salem’s arms while the officer, armed with a large stick, grabbed his head. Then some people and I intervened and managed to break it off,” Yousif added. The officer was identified as Rashad al-Masri, who is working as the deputy director of al-Nasr police station.

Yousif expressed his thanks to the Minister of Interior, Mutahar Rashad al-Masri who, upon reporting the abuse, took the required measures. (We are not told what these were - ed)

Read article in full

Tourist hotels to be built near shrine of Ezekiel

The battle to save the shrine of Ezekiel from being converted into a mosque may be won, with the revelation that three tourist hotels are to be built in the nearby town of al-Kifl in central Iraq.

Baghdad-born Professor Shmuel Moreh received the news in a letter from a friend. The letter says that the people of al-Kifl are happy that the hotels, presumably for pilgrims, will be built. The letter also affirms that the authorities will work with UNESCO to preserve the Jewish character of the shrine.

It is not known on what information the friend has based his letter, but Professor Moreh deems him an influential man with connections.

Professor Shmuel Moreh of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has been spearheading a public campaign to preserve the shrine. Point of No Return has played its small part by setting up a petition requesting the immediate intervention of UNESCO and other western bodies. The petition has attracted over 280 signatures.

The latest campaign to save the shrine follows news reports that the Shi'a waqf, which is in charge of restoration work, wished to turn the site into a mosque, although a Shi'a Ayatollah has since denounced the plan. Fears for the future of the site were raised in January when it was revealed that workmen had accidentally painted over Hebrew inscriptions above the tomb.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jews 'not entitled to restitution' - Weinstein

Carmen Weinstein

In a display of arch-dimmitude, Carmen Weinstein, who heads the tiny Jewish community in Egypt, told al-Arabiya that it was 'illogical' for Egyptian Jews to be entitled to restitution 60 years on. Although showering the late president Sadat with praise for having achieved peace, Mrs Weinstein wants nothing to do with Israel and shuns the Jews from Egypt in Israel. She comes close to excusing the recent firebombing on the Shaar Shamayim synagogue as an expression of political frustration with Israel. On the other hand, she does disassociate herself from the Egyptian government's decision to cancel its inauguration ceremony of the Rambam synagogue. (With thanks: Levana and Elie Patan for his translation into French)

La présidente de la communauté juive du Caire, Mme. Carmen Weinstein, est convaincue que la relation entre les autorités egyptiennes et les juifs d'Egypte est bonne, dit-elle dans un entretien exclusif pour Alarabia.Net: Le président Moubarak est le père de tous les Egyptiens de diverses religions, qu'ils soient musulmans, chrétiens ou juifs, et que le gouvernement égyptien continue à payer les pensions sociales nécessaires pour les soins des personnes âgées juifs après leur retraite de leurs fonctions gouvernementales.

Weinstein a nié que les récents bombardements, qui ont eu lieu en face de la synagogue de la rue Adli au centre-ville du Caire visaient les juifs d'Egypte; mais, en dépit de leurs "simplicités" , c'était une expression d'opposition politique, une approche anti-israélienne dans le traitement de la cause palestinienne.

Le chef de la communauté juive du Caire a ajouté: "Comme tous les égyptiens, nous refusons d’exprimer nos convictions politiques par la violence, c'est le droit de chaque citoyen dans n'importe quel pays arabe ou autre, d'exprimer ses opinions politiques, sans préjudice et atteinte à la vie de personnes innocentes, sans distinction de religion ; et ce qui s’est passé en face de la synagogue Shaar Hashamayim en centre ville, "est purement accidentel et ne reflète pas le comportement de base de la population égyptienne."

En ce qui concerne l’attitude du gouvernement égyptien, qui refuse d’organiser une cérémonie officielle à l’occasion de la réouverture de la synagogue Moshé Ben Maïmoun connue sous le nom de « Rambam », Mme. Weinstein a déclaré : ”La communauté juive du Caire, sous ma présidence, a célébré sa réouverture après sa restauration, et nous n’avons aucun rapport avec la décision du gouvernement égyptien de célébrer ou d’annuler une cérémonie officielle à cette occasion ; nous n’intervenons pas sur les décisions et décrets ministériels, ni au conseil suprême des antiquités ni à d’autres instances égyptiennes”. Par la même occasion, Mme. Weinstein a nié et réfuté les rumeurs à propos de certains excès qui auraient eu lieu durant la cérémonie organisée par la communauté juive en cette manifestation.

Quant à l'activité de la communauté juive au Caire, elle a déclaré: Comme il semble maintenant, la communauté juive du Caire se composait de juifs égyptiens, qui sont nés et ont vécu en Egypte depuis le début du 19eme siècle de notre ère ; Mais la présence des juifs en Egypte - comme on le sait – a devancé cette période avec une longue histoire atteignant l’époque des prophètes des enfants d’Israël, y compris Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, Moïse, en notant qu'il n'existe pas actuellement en Egypte, un grand nombre de Juifs comme par le passé, en particulier peu après la révolution de Juillet 1952. Avant cette date, un grand nombre de communités juives existaient dans plusieurs villes et gouvernorats en Egypte. Chaque communauté avait ses synagogues, ses cimetières, son conseil d’administration particulier. Maintenant, il ne reste que deux communautés juives : l’une au Caire et l’autre à Alexandrie. La première compte environ 50 juifs, pour la plupart des personnes âgées, et la seconde, compte encore moins. Mais cette communité d’Alexandrie compte des hommes pour la plupart à l’inverse des juifs du Caire.

De l'avis de Mme. Weinstein, le nombre de Juifs en Egypte n’est pas aussi important, autant que l'importance de la richesse du patrimoine juif existant en Egypte, et à ce propos elle dit : « En parlant de cette richesse, je veux dire le nombre de synagogues en Egypte, il n’en demeure que 12, dont la plus importante est la synagogue « Ben Ezra » au vieux Caire (Masr Atika- Fostat), et la synagogue « Ben Maïmoun » dans le quartier juif du Caire (Haret el Yahoud). Ces deux synagogues célèbres sont d’une importance mondiale. A cela il faut ajouter la synagogue « Eliahou Hanabi » à Alexandrie; Quant à la synagogue « Shaar Hashamayim » (la porte du ciel), en centre ville du Caire, c’est la synagogue principale de la communauté. On y célèbre les prières et les rites religieux durant les principales fêtes juives. Et Mme. Weinstein d’ajouter: « Dans le passé, toutes ces pratiques avaient lieu dans différentes synagogues du Caire, soit à Héliopolis, au pont de « Koubbeh », à Méadi et à Helouan.

Sur les activités de la communauté qu’elle dirige, Mme. Weinstein a souligné que la présidence de la communauté s’occupe des juifs car ils sont agés et contribue autant que cela est possible à leur fournir les médicaments et les services médicaux, pour les aider à vivre.
Pour le financement de la communauté, Mme Weinstein déclare: « Le financement de la Communauté est limité aux fonds de vœux et des dons, en particulier dans les synagogues de Shaar Ha Shamayim et Ben Ezra. Les contributions et dons des juifs égyptiens et étrangers pourvoient à fournir une aide complète à leurs coreligionnaires; ceci en plus d’un soutien financier et en nature, que la communauté reçoit d’une des organisations juives américaines.

Mme. Carmen Weinstein a nié que la communauté juive du Caire reçoit n’importe quel financement en provenance d'Israël*, soulignant qu'il n'existe pas de relation directe ou indirecte, de près ou de loin, entre l'Etat Hébreu et les activités de la communauté juive du Caire, indiquant qu’elle avait refusé et continue à refuser plusieurs projets de la part des juifs israéliens, surtout ceux qui sont de souche égyptienne. A cet égard, elle a déclaré : « Il y avait une association nommée «Juifs d’Egypte en Israël» qui voulait tenir un congrès en Egypte**, mais nous avons refusé cela et avons déclaré que nous sommes la seule instance nommée à s’occuper des affaires des juifs égyptiens.

C’est avec le même langage que nous avons refusé les demandes des juifs égyptiens en Israël pour la restitution de leurs biens qu’ils ont laissé après leur émigration d’Egypte (my emphasis - ed); c’est illogique qu’après qu’ils aient quitté l’Egypte depuis plus de 60 ans, ils essayent en même temps de récupérer leurs propriétés ; Oui les juifs avaient de nombreuses entreprises commerciales et usines industrielles, mais petit à petit, elles ont cessé d’exister à l’ombre des conditions économiques difficiles qui ont chuté la situation en Egypte durant cette période.

Elle indique qu'elle ne se sent pas citoyenne de deuxième classe en Egypte ; mais au contraire, elle a de nombreuses bonnes relations avec les égyptiens de religion différente, et elle ajoute : "Je me souviens que l’ancien président Anouar El Sadate avait demandé à mon père d’imprimer les cartes d’invitation pour son mariage dans l’imprimerie que mon père avait ouverte au Caire ; Les relations entre les juifs, les musulmans et les chrétiens en Egypte sont pleins d’amour et de compassion ; Il suffit que je souligne que le rabbin Moshe Ben Maïmoun, dont l’une de nos importantes synagogues au Caire porte son nom, était le médecin personnel du commandant Salah El Dine El Ayoubi (Saladin) ; Ce dernier n’avait aucune confiance en aucun autre médecin que lui ; Aussi, il y avait l’oculiste juif, feu Dr. Max Salama, l’ancien président de la communauté juive d’Alexandrie, qui était le médecin personnel du président Gamal Abdel Nasser ; Max Salama était aussi l’un des fondateurs du fameux « Sporting club » d’Alexandrie.

La présidente de la communauté juive du Caire, avait son mot à dire dans la plupart des questions d'actualité politique, et en premier, le conflit israélo-arabe, et à ce propos elle dit : «en fin de compte il faut retablir les droits a leur proprietaires***, quelle que soit la rage et la puissance des incendies provoquées par les guerres, les batailles, les combats et les confrontations entre les peuples, les gouvernements doivent se rendre à l’évidence du besoin d’aboutir à la paix, et le défunt président Anouar El Sadat, en accord avec cette logique, était judicieux et prudent lors de ses rapports avec Israel ».

Et ses souvenirs des guerres qui ont éclaté entre les Arabes et Israël, que ce soit en 1967 ou 1973, Mme. Weinstein a dit: « Ce sont des souvenirs douloureux, il n'y a pas de personne normale qui aime la diffusion de sang, et j’ai souhaité que Sadate fasse un miracle et réussisse à aboutir à la paix avec les israéliens. C’est ce qu’il a fait et il a réalisé le rêve de tous.

Mme. Carmen Weinstein est née en Égypte de parents égyptiens, et a vécu avec son père dans la ville de Louxor en Haute Égypte où il apprit l’arabe ; avant cela, son grand-père et sa grand-mère avaient émigré d’Europe centrale vers l’Egypte et se sont établis dans la ville d’Alexandrie. Carmen a été éduquée dans les écoles françaises et après l'insistance de son père, elle apprit la langue arabe à la maison avec des professeurs égyptiens, car l'école française qu’elle fréquentait n’allouait qu’une heure par semaine pour l’enseignement de l’arabe.

En 1981, le père de Carmen déménagea de Louxor, où il avait vécu de nombreuses années, vers Le Caire. Il travailla dans l’impression de livres, et créa son imprimerie qui se trouve jusqu'à présent au centre de la capitale égyptienne. Carmen est diplômée de la Faculté des lettres, département d'anglais de l'Université du Caire, puis titulaire d'une maîtrise de l'American University (au Caire) ; le sujet de sa maîtrise était sur l’écriture dans le théatre.

Read original article (Arabic)

* incorrect: the community receives funding from the Joint in Israel
** at the time, the hotel due to accommodate the visitors said it could not guarantee their safety
*** contradicting Weinstein's previous denial of Jewish rights to restitution, or she may here be referring to the 'rights of the Palestinians'

Monday, April 26, 2010

Britain to admit 200 Jews from Yemen after all

Ynet News confirms rumours that Britain has cut a deal with the Yemeni authorities to take in 200 Yemeni Jews living in the war-torn north of the country. But it is hard to understand why the article spins the move as a victory for the Jewish Agency: the Jews will not be moving to Israel. They have not come under the influence of Neturei Karta, but of the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidim. As the Satmar live in Stamford Hill in London as well as Monsey, New York, there seems little to choose between them.

The 200 Jews living in Yemen under tight security will immigrate to Britain rather than to the United States as originally planned.

The move constitutes a dramatic change in the State of Israel's battle over the Yemeni Jews against anti-Israeli haredi elements interested in absorbing them in the US. Following secret negotiations, the British government declared three weeks ago that it would take in the Jews.

Jewish Agency officials expressed their satisfaction with the British decision, saying they hoped it marked a victory over the extreme Neturei Karta faction, which is operating among Yemen's Jews with the aim of convincing them not to immigrate to Israel.

Read article in full

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Party calls for ban on Israeli pilgrims to Djerba

The scene at the height of the annual Al-Ghriba pilgrimage (photo: AFP)

Antisemitic feeling seems to be mounting lately in Tunisia, one of the more 'moderate' of Arab states: an opposition party has called for the government to ban Israeli tourists from coming to the island of Djerba for the annual three-day Lag La'omer Al-Ghriba pilgrimage, due to begin on 30 April. And last Friday, two Israeli contestants were refused visas to a judo competition being held in Tunisia.

On 14 April Maya Jribi, the secretary-general of the leftist Progressive Democratic Party called on the government to ban Israeli tourists from the pilgrimage to the Al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba, one of the highlights of the Tunisian tourist calendar. The pilgrimage traditionally attracts thousands of tourists from France and Israel.

The two judokas, Arik Zeevi et Alice Shlessinger, were refused entry to heats leading up to the European championship. Arik Zeevi is himself of Tunisian origin. The Israeli Judo Federation is appealing to the World Federation, claiming the ban 'is against the spirit of sportsmanship and unfairly singles out Israel.'

In an altogether more bizarre instance of Tunisian bigotry, journalists and intellectuals lambasted Mohamed Zran for including a sympathetic portrait of a Jew in his documentary film Zarzis (Vivre Ici).

Critics objected to the fact that the Tunisian Jew Simon, a grocer and chemist,was 'projecting a positive image of the Jews, while Jews themselves denigrate the image of Arabs and Muslims'.

According to Souhail Ftouh, a Tunisian who runs a pro-Jewish website:,"this is just one more pretext provided by the Israel-Palestine conflict to demonise the Jews and present them as devillish and perverse. These (intellectuals) find their inspiration in the worst of sources, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the obscene cartoons in the Arabic press, the overblown programmes on the Hezbollah TV channel and the warlike preaching of racist and hysterical commentators (... ) It's sad for the whole of Tunisia because there is no excuse for the preaching of hatred, aversion, contempt, disdain and lack of respect. People like this brought on the Holocaust."

Jewish leader 'deeply shocked' at hospital rasing

Update: the wali (governor) of Tangiers agreed to meet a delegation from the Jewish communities of Morocco on 22 April. He claimed that the proper procedures had been followed. The community had not been the object of discrimination, nor of expropriation. The choice of Passover for the demolition had been an 'unfortunate coincidence'. The Jewish community were still the owners of the land and the authorities would do nothing which might reduce the site's value. The community would be either compensated or permitted a new building. The cemeteries were not under threat and the authorities would put at the disposal of the community its resources to help maintain them. Finally the wali had decided to submit an immediate request for the cultural sites of the Jews of Tangier to be classified as national heritage in order to ensure their preservation.


Uncertainty has surrounded what role the Jewish community of Tangiers played in the affair of the Benchimol hospital, rased to the ground overnight during Passover. Some have suggested that the local Jewish leadership was complicit in the 'sale' and demolition of the hospital. Now the leader of the 40-strong community, Abraham Azancot, has confirmed that the Benchimol hospital was demolished without his knowledge and consent.

In a 'phone conversation with 'Louli' reported on the website Darnna on 17 April, Mr Anzacot admitted that he had been in talks over several months with the Wilaya, the local authority. The latter wanted to clear the site in order to give an unobstructed view of the Moulay Hafid palace.

He said the hospital was valued at roughly $2,800,000. He had asked the Wilaya to pay the community this sum or give them a piece of land of equivalent value in exchange. A buyer did come forward.

Mr Azancot claimed that he had never sold it, nor given his consent for the hospital to be knocked down. When it has learned that the hospital had been rased on the first night of Passover, his deputy, Mr Gabay, had alerted Mr Berdugo (the Moroccan Jewish community leader) who was on his way to New York.

" As far as I am concerned to right to property is sacred and inviolable, and written into the Moroccan constitution. Besides, Moroccan law prohibits the authorities from entering private property between 10.30 pm and 6 am, " Mr Azancot said.

The Tangiers Jewish community head will inform His Majesty the King. There had been no official reaction to-date. Mr Azancot was unable to speak to the Wali who was out of town.

"All this is new to me and shocks me deeply, but there are many of us trying to get (the authorities) to shed light on this unacceptable act of aggression and apply sanctions."

JTA article :Antisemitism discounted

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gaza extremists want war on Jews of Yemen

There's nothing like Jew-hatred to unite terrorist groups. Haaretz reports that a group of Al-Qaeda sympathisers in Gaza has called on their fellow Salafists to wage war on the few beleaguered Jews still living in northern Yemen. (Why? Because they hate Hamas - such is the tortured nature of terrorist politics.) By the way, these are the Jews whom Britain recently said they would take in - or not.

A group of Muslim extremists in the Gaza Strip that is opposed to Hamas has called on Al-Qaida in Yemen to target Jews there in an effort to drive them from their country - part of what the group described as its war against Jews.

According to e-mails sent by a person identifying himself as Ali Hussein, who says he represents A group of Shi'ite guerrillas in northern Yemen opposed to Al-Qaida, a Salafi group based in the Gaza Strip and calling itself the "Abu Amir" group is allegedly calling for attacks on Jewish leaders in northern Yemen. As proof, Hussein sent a scanned hand-written note naming the Jewish targets in Yemen.

In another letter from Yemen, the Salafists detail their extremist views and request that Al-Qaida targets Jews, and also Hamas activists, because "the group has completed the work of the Jews by killing members of our group and we would like to deter Jews around the world through you by asking you to kill Yemenite Jews or do anything that you consider right, especially not allowing the representatives of the Hamas government to move about Yemen."

Another letter states that an Al-Qaida operative in Yemen, who goes by the name of Abdullah al-Hajj, is funding the activities of the Salafis in the Gaza Strip through Egyptian sources, including the transfer of arms into the Strip for their use.

Read article in full

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Moroccan Jews fear for future of their heritage

Above the main entrance to the Benchimol hospital, the inscription reads: "Heal me, G-d, and I will be healed".

Moroccan Jews are reeling from the shock that a landmark of Jewish heritage, the Benchimol hospital in Tangiers , was knocked down three weeks ago without prior warning. David Bensoussan, spokesman for the United Sephardic Community of Quebec (Communauté sépharade unifiée du Québec), has issued the following statement :

"Following the destruction of the Benchimol Hospital in Tangier, a letter was sent to Moroccan diplomats abroad expressing concern about the conditions under which the demolition took place.

"A faxed response argued that formal notice dated 26 November 2008 was sent to the Jewish community of Tangier. A review of the state of the building would have resulted in a demoliton order dated 15 March 2010.

"The Ambassador said that the demolition of 251 derelict mosques had also been announced by the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs.

"After we asked for numerous clarifications, it is clear that:

"The letter dated 26 November 2008 gave a deadline of eight days to demolish the edifice. According to representatives of the Jewish community of Tangier, the building posed no danger (which is far from being the case for neighbouring buildings not covered by the demolition order).

"Moreover, the Wali (Governor) of Tangier had announced his intention to create a garden that would give an unobstructed view of the entrance to the former palace of Sultan Abdelhafid. Read Jewish Chronicle blog

Shalomlife blog

More background: the building ceased to function as a hospital in the 1970s, and became an old people's home. As the community of Tangiers had two old people's homes, it put in an application to rebuild the Benchimol on a smaller scale. This request was approved in principle, but never given official Ministry of the Interior approval: the community contemplated selling. The authorities made a counter-proposal of a garden; the Jewish community refused. In November 2008 it rebuilt within eight days an outer 'unsafe' wall demolished by the authorities and submitted plans for a new building also allowing for a view of the Moulay Hafid palace. Nothing more was heard from the authorities until the demolition 16 months later.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Morocco's oldest Jewish hospital demolished

View from Tangiers

Morocco lost one of its historic landmarks when the oldest hospital in the land, the Jewish Benchimol hospital in Tangiers, was rased overnight on 2 April. And the Jewish cemetery might be next. (With thanks: Daniel)

Why did the demolition squads choose the dead of night and the middle of the festival of Passover to do the deed? And who ordered them in? The Moroccan newspaper Liberation, lamenting the destruction of Morocco's heritage, blames not just the local municipality for this act of historic vandalism, but the local Jewish community, which ostensibly 'sold' the pre-colonial, 110-year-old hospital in order to raise money for its poor - in spite of objections from the Fondation du Patrimoine Culturel Judeo-Marocain, whose aim is to safeguard Morocco's Jewish heritage. (Another report, however, says that the community did not own the site, which was the property of the Benchimol family, French nationals. Only the French consulate would have been able to give approval for the hospital to be torn down.)

Historian Ralph Toledano prefers to speculate that a rogue Wali is to blame, who acted without the knowledge and consent of the king. The deed was done while the few members of the tiny Jewish community were away.

"It is not just that this was a Jewish building which upsets me. All destruction of historic heritage is an irredeemable loss. A heritage cannot be reconstituted," Toledano writes. He admits that he had heard rumours that the local authorities had been wanting to demolish the building for some time. The (bizarre) aim was to turn the site into a public park, adjoining the ancient palace of Sultan Moulay Hafid. "One must never despise rumours, they often become fact."

Hence must be taken seriously a rumour that the municipality has next set its sights on the Jewish cemetery of dar el San’a, on rue du Portugal, opposite Bab America. The cemetery was an 18th century concession negotiated between the Sherifian king's representative and the Jewish community on the site of an old Portuguese fort.

The site measures more than a hectare, and commands a beautiful view over the straits. Mr Toledano is horrified at the thought that a site where venerable rabbis and community dignitaries are buried might be bulldozed. The 15th century Castille cemetery in Tetuan has a similarly breathtaking view.

Update: according to the Depeche du Nord (scroll down comments) security guards on the hospital site had their mobile phones confiscated by the demolition squad and were locked up, preventing them for preparing meals for the residents of an old people's home over Shabbat. The incident put the welfare of the residents at risk, the newspaper claims.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tunisian agency helps trace unclaimed property

Following the passing of a new Knesset law protecting the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, a new agency in Tunisia has been set up to trace abandoned property. However, it is doubtful whether Tunisian Jews who use this service will ever get the Tunisian government to acknowledge responsibility for compensating the erstwhile owners:

A new agency has been established to trace unclaimed Jewish property in Tunisia.

The new agency, Immoconsult Tunisia, was given the official green light days after the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law in February conditioning the signing of peace agreements with Arab countries on compensation to Jewish refugees driven from
their homes.

A native of Sfax in the south of Tunisia, but living in France, the man behind this initiative is Victor Cohen. Immoconsult Tunisia will provide a service to owners of unclaimed buildings, apartments, shops, land or property in cities or in rural Tunisia. Realites, a Tunisian website, carried an article on this service in its edition of 15 March in Arabic.

The Immoconsult team is permitted to conduct archival research in the Tunisian courts to trace goods and property deeds considered lost forever by their Tunisian-Jewish owners.
They are also working to find the titles to lost real estate listed in various land registries or other state agencies in Tunisia.

However, Immoconsult Tunisia claims that "the Tunisian government has never sought to appropriate or to deprive in any way non-residents and expatriates of their property, adding that Tunisia is a country of law, respects private property and all the rights of citizens and non citizens. "

The new agency has already begun posting its findings on its website. It has two offices in Tunisia, one in Sfax and one in Tunis.

Read article in full (French)
Google English translation

Monday, April 19, 2010

Once upon a time there were Jews in Morocco

David Bensoussan's new book, Il etait une fois le Maroc, a knowledgeable and succint overview of the history of Morocco, does not idealise the status of Jews before the era of the French protectorate: they suffered indignities and humiliations. The country's arabisation in 1958, following its joining the Arab League, hastened the marginalisation of the Jews and their emigration. Interview with the author in French:

Votre ouvrage fait un survol historique du Maroc durant les derniers siècles et commence par une description du Maroc traditionnel:

Le Maroc traditionnel, celui qui prévalut durant les derniers siècles précédant la période du Protectorat et de la modernisation n’est pas celui du Moyen Âge, époque où se tinrent les grandes invasions d'Espagne. Ce Maroc, le traditionnel, en fut un qui, comme la majorité des pays du monde arabe, vivait dans un état de léthargie et de stagnation tant au plan technologique qu'économique, à comparer avec l’Europe que la Renaissance et la découverte de l’Amérique avaient revitalisée. Ce Maroc fut souverain et résista aux pressions exercées par l’empire Ottoman qui s’étendit jusqu’à l’Algérie, pays voisin. Jusqu’au XIXe siècle, la piraterie régna tant sur les flancs de l’Atlantique que sur la côte de la Méditerranée. Elle donna lieu au commerce lucratif d’otages Chrétiens et Maures.

Le sultan fut l'autorité suprême mais la succession des monarques se fit rarement sans heurts. Pourtant, les tensions domestiques étaient grandes. Dans les régions de l’intérieur, la dissidence fut importante car certaines populations voulaient se soustraire à l’impôt du gouvernement central, c'est-à-dire au Makhzen.

Quelle fut la situation des Juifs au Maroc avant le Protectorat?

Bien des personnes ayant entretenu des relations avec les Juifs et les Musulmans du Maroc durant le Protectorat auront du mal à reconnaître le portrait de ce que fut jadis, au quotidien, la vie des Juifs du Maroc : Peu enviable, elle regorgeait d’indignités et d’humiliations institutionnalisées. Les voyageurs se demandaient comment les Juifs parvenaient à survivre ainsi. Les chroniqueurs juifs de l’époque ont maintes fois déploré les conditions difficiles de l’exil qu’ils finirent par admettre comme étant une fatalité. Toutefois, il existait un petit noyau de notables juifs qui bénéficiaient de la confiance du souverain et qui, de ce fait, jouissaient d’un statut de privilégié.

Au XIXe siècle, la communauté mondiale qui prit connaissance de la condition des Juifs du Maroc s’en émut. L’occidentalisation de la communauté juive se fit graduellement, à la suite des échanges commerciaux croissants avec l’Europe, mais surtout en raison de l’implantation du réseau des écoles francophones de l’Alliance Israélite Universelle. Dès le début du XIXe siècle, l’idée d'un sionisme moderne commença à germer et finit par représenter l’aboutissement naturel de l’émancipation de la communauté juive du Maroc.

Le Maroc a fait l’objet des ambitions des puissances coloniales?

La conquête de l’Algérie au XIXe siècle marqua le début de l’ère coloniale. Pour empêcher le Maroc de venir en aide à son voisin algérien, la France intervint en dépêchant la marine française pour bombarder les villes de Tanger et de Mogador ainsi que son armée stationnée en Algérie pour infliger une défaite cuisante à l’armée marocaine lors de la bataille d’Isly. Le pouvoir marocain prit conscience de son infériorité au plan militaire. Ne voulant pas demeurer en reste, l’Espagne se lança dans la guerre contre le Maroc en 1860.

Le Maroc était à l’image de l’empire Ottoman que l’on disait être l’homme malade de l’Europe. Il n’était plus la puissance militaire du passé. Sur la scène domestique, ses défaites militaires alimentèrent la dissidence. Les épidémies et les crises de disette accrurent le mécontentement général. L’insécurité régnait. Les Juifs tout comme le petit peuple en furent les premiers à en pâtir. De puissants contestataires du sultanat marocain allaient affaiblir encore plus le pays.

Au début du XXe siècle, la France troqua l’Égypte à l’Angleterre en échange d’une liberté d’action au Maroc, qu’elle partagea avec l’Espagne. Les dés en étaient donc jetés. L’institution du protectorat ne fut plus qu’une question de temps…

Quelle fut l’influence réelle du Protectorat ?

Le Protectorat fut entériné à Fès en 1912, mais l'armée française ne finit l'occupation du Maroc que vers 1932, en raison de l'opposition des populations de l'intérieur. Néanmoins, lors de la Première Guerre mondiale, des dizaines de milliers de Marocains s'engagèrent aux côtés des Français pour combattre l'Allemagne. Le Rif se souleva et Abd El-Krim y institua la République du Rif. Ce soulèvement ne put être réprimé qu'en 1925, soit une fois que plusieurs centaines de milliers de combattants tant français qu’espagnols intervinrent massivement. Dans les faits, la Résidence outrepassa le mandat de supervision que lui conférait l’entente du Protectorat pour gouverner le Maroc.

Le souverain Moulay Youssef signa les dahirs qui lui furent soumis : il en fut ainsi du dahir berbère confirmant la justice coutumière – non islamique – pour les Berbères du Maroc. Les nationalistes s’en saisirent comme d’un prétexte pour en faire l’objet d’un ralliement contre la France. Aussi, ce dahir fut révoqué. Il en fut également ainsi lorsque le sultan signa les lois racistes du gouvernement de Vichy qui collaborait avec l'Allemagne nazie avant de faire preuve de réticence par la suite. La Seconde Guerre mondiale mit en évidence l'absurdité d'un Maroc combattant aux côtés des Alliés et à qui on demandait de changer d'alliance. Par ailleurs, le sultan reçut de grands encouragements de l'Amérique qui, au nom même de la liberté, s'opposait au maintien des colonies. Il commença par refuser de signer les dahirs qu'on lui soumettait et alla jusqu'à réclamer l'indépendance lors de sa déclaration de 1947 à Tanger. Son appel eut un énorme retentissement. La volonté d'indépendance du peuple marocain sous l'égide du sultan Ben Youssef (qui prendra le titre de roi Mohammed V à l’indépendance) devint inéluctable.

Comment le Marc et sa communauté juive évoluèrent-ils au lendemain de l’indépendance?

Le Maroc fit ses premiers pas dans la démocratie et le roi Mohamed V assuma un rôle d'arbitre entre les mouvances socialiste et nationaliste avant de prendre la direction du gouvernement. L'arabisation du pays fut amorcée et le Maroc se joignit à la Ligue arabe. Sous le règne de Hassan II, le Parlement fut révoqué. Le roi régna en maître et échappa à de nombreux attentats. Sous Mohamed VI, des mesures d’ouverture à la liberté d’expression et au libre cours des idées contribuent à faire en sorte que la démocratie soit mieux assumée par le peuple.

Avant l'indépendance du Maroc, près de 90 000 Juifs quittèrent le pays pour aller s'établir en Israël. Beaucoup le firent par idéalisme, d'autres craignaient le retour de la période d’instabilité et d'insécurité qui avaient régné avant le Protectorat et dont ils avaient été jadis les victimes premières. Or, l'indépendance du Maroc se fit dans la joie et lorsqu'un ministre juif fut nommé au gouvernement en 1956, l'euphorie fut à son comble.

Toutefois, l’adhésion du Maroc à la Ligue arabe le 1e octobre 1958 fut accompagnée par une hargne anti-juive des plus prononcées dans la presse politisée. Aussi 29 000 autres Juifs quittèrent le pays dans la clandestinité. En 1961, les brutalités policières à l'endroit des Juifs lors de la visite du président égyptien Nasser et le naufrage du bateau Pisces au large des côtes méditerranéennes, alors qu’il transportait des immigrants clandestins à destination d’Israël, eurent un grand retentissement dans le monde. Désormais, l'émigration vers Israël devint semi-légale et 83 000 autres Juifs quittèrent le pays entre 1961 et 1965. Une campagne de boycottage des commerces appartenant à des Juifs fut déclenchée après la guerre des Six jours et 35 000 Juifs émigrèrent. Depuis, la communauté juive n’est plus que l'ombre de ce qu'elle avait été jadis.

Aujourd’hui, la quasi-totalité des Juifs du Maroc vit aux quatre coins du monde. La majorité d’entre eux réside en Israël et un nombre non négligeable d’entre eux se trouvent en France et au Canada. Cependant, les Juifs marocains ont conservé vivantes les traditions du pays où ils ont vu le jour. Les premières tentatives de rapprochement et les retrouvailles entre Juifs et Musulmans marocains furent empreintes d’émotion mais les relations entre eux continuent d’osciller selon les aléas du conflit au Proche-Orient. La qualité des rapports humains qui continuent de subsister entre eux en dépit de la séparation, de l'éloignement et des difficultés, est le symbole, envers et contre tous, d’une lueur d’espoir.

Il etait une fois le Maroc peut être commandé aux Éditions du Lys, 5170 Hingston, Montréal, Québec, H3X 3R4 Canada, DULYS@EDITIONSDULYS.COM FAX : 514 483 5566

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The verdict on Satloff's 'Among the righteous' film

So how was it for you? Was Robert Satloff's documentary film Among the righteous, broadcast earlier this week on PBS, a fair interpretation of Arab behaviour during the Holocaust in North Africa - neither angels nor devils, but mostly bystanders? Or did it infuriatingly sidestep what Phyllis Chesler calls 'a herd of elephants in the room right now'? Via Pyjamas Media (with thanks: Edith)

Tonight, Manhattan surrendered. Tonight, Manhattan, my own hometown, was “taken” by its own desire to turn Arabs and Muslims into heroes.

On the Upper East Side, where I now live, I saw a very important documentary about three — three! — known North African Muslims (referred to throughout as “Arabs”) who saved a number of North African Jews whom the Vichy French and German Nazi armies hunted down in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. It took the researcher nearly eight years to find and verify these stories. Nevertheless, the audience was packed, and eager to believe-and-be-saved.

The three Arabs Satloff found who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust.

The filmmakers and their funders hope that this view of Arab-Jewish relationships (based on three cases) will somehow “heal” the tattered relationship….which once was so Golden. Well, I don’t think so. Yes, biblically, the Jews and the Muslims are half-siblings, cousins; we are both Semites. Yes, things were always easier for wealthy Jews in Arab lands but most Jews were very poor. Yes, things were better for everyone, both Muslims and Jews, when modernization, feminism, and the separation of mosque and state were afoot, at least in Turkey and Egypt, at the turn of the early twentieth century–than they have been for the last fifty years.

Things soured Big Time after the end of the Second World War and the creation of Israel. See Pierre Rehov’s film, The Silent Exodus,the first of its kind which documents the persecution and flight of Arab Jews.

Don’t get me wrong. The documentary is useful and informative. For example, I had not known that the Nazis and their French collaborators had built concentration and labor camps in North Africa, where they worked North African Jews to death and tortured a good number along the way. (They also sent some poor unfortunate souls back to Europe.) In one instance, a Jewish North African father and his two sons were guillotined; the father was forced to watch the beheading of his sons before he himself was also decapitated. Nor had I known that the major imam of Algeria had issued an edict which prohibited any Muslim from helping himself to confiscated Jewish possessions.

Fascist salute in North Africa during World War II

According to Marion Dreyfus, (who was sitting two rows in front of me):

“Where(as) the European aspect of the murder of more than 6 million Jews was copiously recorded in film, photography, records (the meticulous Germanic obsession) and personal histories captured in book and tape and Spielberg’s Shoah recordings, few today have ever heard of this North African contingent of Holocaust that murdered so many, with so little remnant left. Professor Satloff is owed a huge debt, an enormous debt, for his massive digging in stubbornly opaque libraries and hamlets now crumbling.”

True, if a film can document the existence of the European Holocaust in North Africa, and can also show that at least three Muslims (there may be many more about whom we know nothing) saved Jews from Hitler’s executioners, then obviously, Arab and Muslim Holocaust Denial or Holocaust Indifference is being seriously challenged–and in the most “positive” of ways. The three Muslims are the heroes of the film, as is the author who set out to find them. His on-camera search and interviews constitute the film’s story.

Of course, I loved the film’s depictions of archways, winding lanes, bazaar street scenes, splendid mansions, colorful ceramic and tile work, natural vistas, as well as the grace, charm, generosity, emotionality, and beauty of the people shown on camera both now and long ago in Muslim North Africa. It’s my weak spot.

Beyond that, the film made me a little crazy because it neatly, carefully, smoothly, sidestepped the thundering herd of elephants in the room right now.

I am, of course, talking about the premiere of author Robert Satloff’s film Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands. The press release reads, in part, as follows: “Seeking a hopeful response to the problems of Holocaust ignorance and denial in the Arab world, and in the wake of 9/11, Middle East expert Robert Satloff set out on what would become an eight-year journey to find an Arab hero whose story would change the way Arabs view Jews, themselves, and their own history. Along the way, Rob Satloff found not only the (three) Arab heroes for whom he started his quest but a vast, lost history of what actually happened to the half-million Jews of the Arab lands of North Africa under Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist rule.”

Read post in full

Anothe view from Mystical Politics blog

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Threat to tomb of Ezekiel reported in press

The Jewish Chronicle is the first Western newspaper to report on the current international campaign (including the collection of signatures for this petition) to save the Jewish identity of the ancient shrine of the prophet Ezekiel. Anshel Pfeffer writes (no link available):

An international campaign is being organised to save an ancient monument in Iraq believed to be the grave of the prophet Ezekiel. The local Shia religious authority is planning to convert the site into a mosque.

For centuries the Jews of Iraq made pilgrimage to the grave of Ezekiel at Al-Kifl, 130 km south of Baghdad. In recent decades, since the great majority of Jews left the country in the 1950s, the site has been almost deserted.

In recent months, there have been reports on a plan by the Shia Waqf to build a mosque at thre monument, as the prophet Ezekiel is mentioned in the Koran as an Islamic prophet.
Professor Shmuel Moreh of Jerusalem was born in Baghdad and has recently been writing a series of childhood memoirs on an Arabic website.

"Many Iraqis who read my memoirs have been contacting me to share their memories of life alongside the Jews. They told me also about the plans to convert Ezekiel's tomb into a mosque and we have been trying to mobilise public opinion against it."

The campaign received a boost a few days ago when Ayatollah Sheikh Ayada al-Rikabi, a leading Shia cleric, published a letter calling upon the Waqf not to change the Jewish identity of the site.

Ayatollah clams islamicisation of Ezekiel's shrine

Interview (Jan 2010) with Maurice Shohet about the removal of Hebrew inscriptions (with thanks: Aida; Niran)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nazi obsession with Jews endures among Arabs

Recent works by academics Matthias Kuntzel and Jeffrey Herf point to the profound impact of Nazi ideas and propaganda on the Arab world, mixed with Islamic themes - an impact that endures to this day. Reading Jeffrey Herf's Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World convinced a sceptical Daniel Pipes of the fascist qualities of Islamism. Here is an extract from Pipes' review for Commentary magazine (April 2010) (with thanks: Michelle):

Herf emphasizes the remarkable symbiosis of German and Middle Eastern elements: "As a result of their shared passions and interests, they produced texts and broadcasts that each group could not have produced on its own." Specifically, Arabs learned "the finer points of anti-Semitic conspiracy thinking," while Nazis learned the value of focusing on Palestine. He describes the coming together of Nazi and Islamic themes in Berlin as "one of the most important cultural exchanges of the twentieth century."

Having detailed Nazi propaganda in Arabic, Herf then traces its impact. He begins by documenting the great energy and expense devoted to these messages—the quality of the personnel devoted to it, their high-level Nazi patronage, the thousands of hours of radio transmissions, and the millions of pamphlets.

He then rounds up assessments of the Axis impact, all pointing to its success. Allied estimates from 1942, for example, found that "the people were saturated with Axis talk," that "upwards of three-fourths of the Moslem world are in favor of the Axis" and that "90% of the Egyptians, including their government, believe that the Jews are mainly responsible for shortages and high prices of essentials." A report from 1944 found that "practically all Arabs who have radios … listen to Berlin."

Allied reluctance to contradict Nazi propaganda also points to Axis success. Fearful of alienating Middle Easterners, the Allies stayed humiliatingly silent about the genocide taking place against the Jews; failed to refute allegations about Jews dominating London, Washington, and Moscow; did not dispute the distorted Koranic interpretations; and shied away from endorsing Zionism. Merely to dispute Nazi accusations, the Allies worried, would only confirm Nazi claims about Britain, America, and Russia being stooges of Jewish power. An internal U.S. directive in late 1942 acknowledged that "the subject of Zionist aspirations cannot be mentioned, inasmuch as … [this] would jeopardize our strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean."

Thus, when two leading U.S. senators, Robert Taft of Ohio and Robert Wagner of New York, proposed a resolution in 1944 endorsing a Jewish national home in Palestine, Berlin radio in Arabic called this an attempt "to erase Islamic civilization" and "to eradicate the Koran." Panicked, the entire weight of the Executive Branch came down on the senators, who felt compelled to withdraw their resolution. Clearly, Nazi offerings resonated deeply in the Middle East.

They continued to do well after the Nazi collapse and the war's conclusion. The defeat of Nazi General Erwin Rommel's aggressive push into North Africa meant that Nazi ambitions in the Middle East, in particular the Final Solution to annihilate its million or so Jews, were never implemented. But years of hate from radio and pamphlets and the repetitive, grotesque, ambitious, anti-Semitic, and Islam-based message detailed by Herf had taken root. Not only did the Middle East's Nazis emerge nearly invulnerable to prosecution, but they also prospered and were feted. An example: in 1946, Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brethren, lavished praise on Hitler's favorite Arab, Haj Amin el-Husseini, calling him "a hero … a miracle of a man." Banna added for good measure: "Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin el-Husseini will continue the struggle." Acknowledging el-Husseini's exalted status, a British officer in 1948 described him as "the one hero in the Arab world."

Ideas the Nazis spread in the Middle East have had an enduring twofold legacy. First, as in Europe, they built on existing prejudices against Jews to transform that prejudice into something far more paranoid, aggressive, and murderous. One U.S. intelligence report from 1944 estimated that anti-Jewish materials constituted fully half of German propaganda directed to the Middle East. The Nazis saw virtually all developments in the region through the Jewish prism and exported this obsession.

The fruits of this effort are seen not only in decades of furious Muslim anti-Zionism, personified by Arafat and Ahmadinejad, but also in the persecution of ancient Jewish communities in countries like Egypt and Iraq, which have now shriveled to near-extinction, plus the employment of Nazis such as Johann van Leers and Aloïs Brunner in important government positions. Thus did the Nazi legacy oppress Jewry in the Middle East post-1945.

Second, Islamism took on a Nazi quality. As someone who has criticized the term Islamofascism on the grounds that it gratuitously conflates two distinct phenomena, I have to report that Herf's evidence now leads me to acknowledge deep fascist influences on Islamism. This includes the Islamist hatred of democracy and liberalism and its contempt for multiple political parties, preference for unity over division, cult of youth and militarism, authoritarian moralism, cultural repression, and illiberal economics.

Beyond specifics, that influence extends to what Herf calls an "ability to introduce a radical message in ways that resonated with, yet deepened and radicalized, already existing sentiments." Although a scholar of Europe by training, Herf's detective work in the U.S. archives has opened a new vista on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Islamism, as well as made a landmark contribution more broadly to an understanding of the modern Middle East.

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Review in the Daily Telegraph

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Now Yemen denies deal with Britain over Jews

Now you see them, now you don't. Whatever happened to the 'secret' deal that Britain claimed to have cut with Yemen to accept relatives of Jews already settled in Hackney? Well, it seems that embarrassment has give way to denial, and Yemen says there is no such deal.

The Jewish Chronicle:

"A small number of Yemeni Jews may "imminently" move to Britain, although there is confusion over the government's role in their possible resettlement here.

"There have been plans for more than a year to help Jews from Yemen escape persecution by moving to join family members already living in Stamford Hill's strictly Orthodox community.

"The Independent newspaper claimed this week that the Foreign Office is on the verge of agreeing a secret deal with Yemeni authorities.

"It is thought around 20 or 30 Jewish families living in the northern town of Raida already have relatives in Britain and could be brought out of Yemen using three-month visitor visas.

"This would avoid embarrassing the Yemeni government by allowing it to evade claims it can no longer protect its Jewish community. Once here the Yemenis would claim refugee status.

"Middle East Minister Ivan Lewis was quoted as saying the government wanted to "move quickly and discussions have started. It is wonderful news and will bring great relief to members of the Raida Jewish community."

"But the Foreign Office would not comment on Wednesday, citing the "purdah" rules which advise ministerial decisions to be delayed until after the election.

"A Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations spokesman said: "About 40 families are supposed to be coming imminently." English classes for young Yemenite mothers living in London already take place at a Lubavitch children's centre.

"In April last year Immigration Minister Phil Woolas tried to resolve the situation, but the possible move of 120 Yemeni Jews never materialised as they apparently refused to leave."

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The Yemen Post:

"Yemen dismissed on Thursday reports that a secret deal was due to be signed to transfer Jewish families to the United Kingdom as a tempest in a teapot, the September website reported.

"All reports on the issue were groundless because the Jewish community in Yemen is living peacefully and in a good condition, the website cited an official source as saying.

"The Yemeni Jews enjoy their rights as other Yemeni people, and they love their country and refuse to leave it because they are already stable, the source said.
"The community receives unlimited support for the Yemeni government all its members recognize this, the source added.

"Two days ago, reports surfaced that a deal was on the verge between Britain and Yemen to transfer a limited number of the Jewish families in the country of those who were, according to British source, persecuted.
"In the recent few years, many Jewish families left Yemen for the United States of America and Israel amid persecution allegations. Most of the families traveled secretly."

Sephardim rebut allegations of discrimination

The example of the Beit Yaakov girls' school in Immanuel discriminating against Sephardi pupils has not only been been turning the presses of the anti-Zionist media, but is touted by the New Israel Fund in Canada as typical of the treatment Sephardim can expect in Israel. But the state has imposed a fine on Beit Yaakov, and members of the Sephardi community in Israel have refuted the NIF allegations of discrimination. The Jewish Tribune reports:

TORONTO – Yifat Bitton, a lawyer and co-chair of the Tmura Centre, an Israeli civil rights group under the umbrella of the New Israel Fund (NIF), spoke recently at Adath Israel synagogue as a guest of NIF Canada on discrimination in the Jewish state.

She specifically addressed the alleged prejudice against Jews of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Caucasian and North African origin, known as Sephardim or Mizrahim. The talk was covered by a number of local Jewish newspapers, and it seems, according to the coverage, that no one questioned the validity of Bitton’s premise.

Bitton has been raising awareness of what she claims is bigotry against Jews of Sephardic origin, and in Toronto she discussed the highly unusual case of the Beit Yaakov school in Immanuel, Israel, which completely segregated Ashkenazi and Sephardi students.

“This Immanuel case is representative of what’s going on in Israel,” she declared.

The second-class status of Sephardim in Israel among many circles and institutions was prevalent in the early years of the state, when Jews of vastly different backgrounds came together for the first time in centuries. However, that sad chapter appears to have ended decades ago. The Jewish Tribune contacted several members of the Israeli Sephardic community for their impressions on the situation.

“The story is over,” asserted Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd., former advisor in the ministry of Foreign Affairs and editor of Shalom Toronto. Both of his parents were born in Yemen and his father was a political activist against discrimination in the ’70s and ’80s.

“I am clearly familiar with issues of discrimination,” Halevi told the Jewish Tribune. “No party today could grab votes for an agenda of discrimination against Sephardim. No marketing strategy today appeals specifically to them.”

Bitton’s claim of discrimination against Sephardim “is not the true picture of what’s happening in Israel – totally not,” he stated, referring to the equal chances of mobility in the army, government offices and universities.

“It’s not even a consideration. It’s absolutely irrelevant."

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Britain to let in Yemeni Jews, but not as refugees

UPI/Getty images

Britain is on the verge of signing a secret deal to allow a small number of Yemeni Jews facing severe persecution in their home country to move to the UK, The Independent has learnt. But on no account must the Jews be initially called 'refugees' (even if they will be eligible for refugee status within three months) - they are coming in as tourists. This is a 'face saving' device designed to spare the Yemeni authorities, who have failed to 'protect' their Jews, embarrassment: (with thanks bh)

The tentative agreement is the product of months of painstaking negotiations between the Foreign Office and the Yemeni authorities, who have struggled to contain rising anti-Jewish sentiment as they battle a sectarian insurgency in the north and growing al-Qa'ida-inspired militancy.

An estimated 20 or 30 families living in the northern town of Raida already have relatives living in the UK. They have been desperately trying to seek sanctuary here amid rising hate attacks, murders and forced conversions by the hostile Shia al-Houthi tribe, which dominates Yemen's mountainous border with Saudi Arabia.

Assaults against the country's small Jewish community intensified to such a level last year that the US State Department organised a series of airlifts to evacuate more than 100 Jews with connections to the Yemeni community already living in America.

Until now, Britain has always refused to offer a similar blanket refugee status to those with British relatives. Many Yemeni families in the UK have subsequently complained that their relatives' visa requests had been regularly turned down or held up. But under the terms of the new negotiations, Raida Jews with British connections will be invited to apply for a three-month visitor visa to see their relatives in Britain. There is still a group of 70 Jews living in the capital Sana'a under government protection, but they are not included in the negotiations with Britain.

Once out of the country, the Raida Jews will be able to claim refugee status, although each application will still be considered on an individual basis, unlike in the US where all Yemeni Jews are guaranteed asylum.

Spiriting the families out of the country on a visitor visa is important because it frees the Yemeni authorities from embarrassment and allows them to avoid claims that they can no longer protect the country's Jewish population, who have lived in the Arabian Peninsula for more than 2,000 years.

Foreign Office officials refused to confirm any deal last night, stating that "purdah" rules governing general elections forbade them from talking about any new policies until after 6 May. But sources close to the talks say the British embassy in Sana'a has begun informing the Raida Jews of their choices.

"The UK will allow the Raida Jews with UK ties to leave, but it's important that they don't officially leave the country as refugees," said one source, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak about the negotiations. "They have brokered a deal with the Yemenis and agreed to keep this low profile." Another source said: "We haven't signed off on everything quite yet but we're nearly there."

The vast majority of the estimated 50 Yemeni Jewish families living in Britain have chosen to settle in Hackney, east London, because their customs are closest to the Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) community who live in the Stamford Hill area. Many Charedi families, most of whom are Yiddish-speaking Jews who originate from central Europe, have already adopted Yemeni children and sponsored asylum applications.

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Persecuted Jews head for Stamford Hill

Pro-Arab MPS urge UK resettlement of Yemeni Jews

Get some perspective on Jewish losses, Obama!

How can President Obama object to the building of 1600 homes in Jerusalem when Jews have already given up 100,000 square kilometres in Arab countries? The newest advertisement from FLAME in the US press pleads for perspective, and puts the losses sustained by Jews from Arab countries at the heart of the argument:

The lesson we can all learn from this is that we must provide some perspective to those people (including President Obama and his administration) who simply don't get why Israel cannot simply continue to "take risks for peace." Outside of the United States, Israel is the only country where Jews can expect to feel at home---but even this tiny sliver of land is surrounded by an ocean of venomous, violent hatred.

To get some perspective, let's start with what Jews have already lost. Ruth Wisse does just that in this week's featured Hotline article. She points out that property deeds of the over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands amounted to 100,000 square miles (sic: it is actually 100,000 sq. km - ed), or five times the current size of Israel. These Jewish refugees have of course never been compensated for the theft of this land, nor for billions of dollars of other assets. So when President Obama expects us to believe that building an additional 1600 housing units in a Jewish neighborhood of the capital of Israel is a major catastrophe, how can he expect us to take him seriously, let alone believe him?

In addition to what Jewish refugees have already lost, Israel has given up even more in her search for peace with her Arab neighbors. Perhaps this administration should focus on the world's real catastrophes, rather than developing a UN-like obsession with Israel's behavior. When the Iranian regime stole the election and then brutally repressed and killed its citizens, President Obama didn't want to come across as meddling in Iran's internal affaires. When Israel builds in her capital, apparently meddling in her internal affairs is no problem at all.

As I told my friend loudly and clearly, and as we must all tell everyone loudly and clearly, Jews comprise the tiniest of minorities and have every right to govern their own very small country as they see fit. Without perspective, understanding Israel's impossible situation is simply not possible.

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