Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Farhud slaughter in Iraq haunts us still

The Farhud dead were buried in a mass grave

Seventy years ago, an event occurred whose repercussions are still being felt in the Middle East today. The Nazi pogrom known as the Farhud - or Iraq's Kristallnacht - cemented the Arab-Nazi alliance while marking the dissolution of the ancient Jewish community, writes Lyn Julius in The Jewish Chronicle:

There was a frenzied banging on the front door. When my mother answered it, she recognised her aunt's Jewish cook, ashen-faced, pleading to be let in: "I was on a bus, and the Muslims were pulling the Jewish passengers out and killing them. I said I was a Christian."

A month earlier, pro-Nazi officers led by Rashid Ali al-Ghailani, had staged a successful coup in Iraq. The German-backed Rashid Ali and his men were soon routed by British troops - but not before they had incited murder and mayhem against the Jewish "fifth column".

Seventy years ago, on June 1 1941, a group of Jews, wearing their Shavuot best, had ventured out for the first time in weeks to greet the returning pro-British Regent, only to be ambushed by an armed Arab mob. Terrified Jews barricaded themselves inside their houses, or ran for their lives across the flat rooftops.

The rioting went on for two days: around 180 Jews died in Baghdad and Basra (the exact figure is not known); hundreds were wounded, 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops were destroyed; there was looting, rape and mutilation. Stories abound of babies murdered and Jewish hospital patients refused treatment or poisoned. The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.

Jews recognised some assailants - the butcher, the gardener. But some brave Arabs saved Jews. My aunt tells how the neighbours sheltered her until the trouble had died down. The neighbour was a prominent Nazi, but his wife was "a lady --- she even made the beds for us," my aunt recounts.

The Farhud (Arabic for "violent dispossession") marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs in Iraq and paved the way for the dissolution of the 2,600-year-old Jewish community barely 10 years later.

A question mark hovers over the role of the British - encamped on the city outskirts, they delayed intervening until the looting had spread to Muslim districts. Yet the victims' screams reached the British ambassador, Cornwallis, who was enjoying a candlelit dinner and a game of bridge.

Loyal and productive citizens comprising a fifth of Baghdad, the Jews had not known anything like the Farhud in living memory. Before the victims' blood was dry, army and police warned the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958.

Despite their deep roots, the Jews understood that they would never, along with other minorities, be an integral part of an independent Iraq. Fear of a second Farhud was a major reason why 90 per cent of Iraq's Jewish community fled to Israel after 1948.

But the Farhud was not just another anti-Jewish pogrom.The Nazi supporters who planned it had a more sinister objective: the round-up, deportation and extermination in desert camps of the Baghdadi Jews.

The inspiration behind the coup, and the Farhud itself, came not from Baghdad, but Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, sought refuge in Iraq in 1939 with 400 Palestinian émigrés. Together, they whipped up local anti-Jewish feeling. An illiterate populace imbibed bigotry through Nazi radio propaganda. Days before the Farhud broke out, the Nazi youth movement, the Futuwa, went around daubing Jewish homes with a red palm print. Yunis al-Sabawi, who, together with the Mufti and Rashid Ali, spent the rest of the war in Berlin, instructed the Jews to stay in their homes so that they could more easily be rounded up.

The Farhud cemented a wartime Arab-Nazi alliance designed to rid Palestine, and the world, of the Jews. The Mufti's postwar legacy endured. The uprooting of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation - dismantlement, dispossession and expulsion. Nuremberg-style laws criminalised Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas and restrictions on jobs and movement. The result was the exodus of nearly a million Jews from the Arab world.

More Jews died than on Kristallnacht, yet the Farhud has not become part of Holocaust memory. Indeed, the Washington Holocaust Museum had to be vigorously lobbied to include the Farhud as a Holocaust event.

Nazism gave ideological inspiration both to Arab secular parties and the Muslim Brotherhood (Gaza branch: Hamas). The unremitting campaign to destroy Israel is simply a manifestation of the genocidal intentions of Arab nationalism and Islamism. The demons awakened by the Farhud are still with us today.

Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. The Farhud will be commemorated at 7.30pm on June 1 at Ohel David Eastern Synagogue, London NW11. For details see www.harif.org.

Read article in full

There will also be a Facebook Virtual Commemoration on 1 and 2 June.

Witness " The massacre of Baghdad's Jews" (BBC World Service radio) will be broadcast at 9.50;13.50;17.50 and 22.50 on 1 June and at 1.50 and 3.50 on 2 June (GMT + 1). Podcasts (with thanks: Silke)

CBC Radio The Current

Sarah Ehrlich's report on the BBC website.

Sarah Ehrlich in Haaretz

Recounting the Farhud (Jerusalem Post)

Remembering the Farhud (Galus Australis) - ( with thanks Antonio)

When Iraq had its Kristallnacht (Jewish Chronicle)

Remember the Farhud by Aryeh Tepper (Jewish Ideas Daily)

Remember the Farhud by Zvi Gabay (The Jerusalem Post)

Reut Cohen on the Persecution of the Jews in Iraq

Daphne Anson on the Farhud and its Nazi influences

Article in Norwegian (MIFF)

Svenska Dagladet (Swedish)

It's not about competing narratives, Anshel!

Reading Anshel Pfeffer's piece in Haaretz, in which he accuses Bibi Netanyahu of 'overusing the Holocaust' in his US speeches last week, I felt like the character in Moliere's Le malade imaginaire, hurling back the epithet: 'ignorant!':

Pfeffer:"The problem with Holocaust overuse is that it moves the focus from the present to history and allows all sides to the argument to get in on the game. When Netanyahu cites the six million, he is giving credence to the Palestinian claim that they were those made to suffer for the genocide of the Jews in Europe. He is directly bolstering the Nakba claims."


"Whatever the case, a battle of historical narratives, Holocaust versus Nakba (and it doesn't matter that they are incomparable ), will only perpetuate these claims."


"We don't have to give up on the Holocaust - it is our history and holds central lessons for all human beings - but we have to stop using it as a justification for Israeli policies."

Ignorantus. Ignoranta. Ignorantum.

In the week that we are commemorating the hundreds of Jewish victims of the Farhud, the pogrom perpetrated in Iraq by Arab Nazis in 1941, Anshel Pfeffer's words ring especially hollow. The Farhud is incontrovertible evidence - seven years before Israel was created - that the Arab-Israeli conflict has never been about competing narratives or claims, but antisemitism.

That antisemitism was exported from Nazi Germany to the Arab world with the active encouragement of the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem. It is still with us today.

We know that the Mufti was responsible for tens of thousands of Jewish deaths - both by pressuring the British into closing Palestine's borders to Jewish immigration, and by actively aiding the Nazi genocide.

Now new evidence (with thanks: Eze) of the Mufti's complicity with the Nazis comes from Klaus Gensicke. Karl Pfeifer has reviewed Gensicke's new book, The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: the Berlin Years (Vallentine Mitchell), in The Propagandist:

"Gensicke documents the efforts of the Mufti of Jerusalem to contribute to this mass murder. He demolishes the claim that Arabs had no share in that crime.

"Gensicke notes that Yasser Arafat and Amin al Husseini were not only related by blood. Arafat continued the legacy of the Mufti. Both Palestinian leaders were devoted to terrorism and fanaticism. As late as August 2, 2002 the Peace Nobel Prize winner Arafat referred to the Mufti as a “hero” and an inspiring symbol in “withstanding world pressure” and remaining “an Arab leader in spite of demands to have him replaced because of his Nazi ties.”

"The Mufti led the “disturbances” of 1936-39, when the number of Arabs murdered by Arabs exceeded the number of Jews murdered by Arabs. The late thirties was the period of England’s appeasement of the Axis. In Palestine this political strategy led to seeking out the bully in the situation, the one most likely to go over to the Axis if not adequately appeased. As such, England appeased the Palestinians with the White book (paper) issued in May 1939.

"The Mufti arrived 1941 in Germany and was received by Hitler on November 28, 1941 in the presence of Ribbentropp and Grobba. The Fuehrer assured the Mufti:

“Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews. That naturally included active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine, which was nothing other than a center, in the form of a state, for the exercise of destructive influence by Jewish interests. […] Germany was resolved, step by step, to ask one European nation after the other to solve its Jewish problem, and at the proper time direct a similar appeal to non-European nations as well.”

Read review in full

Ignorance may be bliss to some, but when its sufferers are 'top' mainstream journalists, the disease can be dangerous.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bibi breaks Israel's silence on Jewish refugees

Danny Ayalon with Gina Waldman at his 23rd May press conference (Photo: R Goldwasser)

Bibi Netanyahu 's mention of Jewish refugees to President Obama marks a welcome break with past silence, or at best, mealy-mouthed ministerial pronouncements. But he needs to go further still, thinks Michelle Huberman in her Jerusalem Post blog 'Clash of cultures':

Hallelujah. He said it.

Last week, as I watched Bibi sitting in the White House with President Obama, I raised a cheer when he mentioned Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries. At long last the subject has been mentioned in front of prime time TV viewers around the world.

I am amazed at the wide-scale ignorance on Jewish refugees from Arab Lands. When Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo in 2009 he made no reference to the 75,000 Jews that were ethnically cleansed from Egypt in the past 63 years. Today only a handful of elderly Jews remain. Or American-Lebanese journalist Helen Thomas believing Jews come from Germany and Poland. In Lebanon there were 10,000 Jews before 1948 and today Beirut has only 40 left. All in their eighties. Why do so few people know these facts?

Well now, whilst our Mizrachi/Sephardi witnesses to the expulsions across the Middle East and North Africa are still alive, it has to be instilled into our Jewish narrative and remembered as much as the Exodus from Egypt and the Holocaust. It is our duty to broadcast these facts to a blinkered world. We have to repeat over and over again that Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees whilst Arab countries did not absorb their Muslim brethren.

As Netanyahu said: “The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems – Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel's future as a Jewish state.”

It’s not the first time that as Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu mentioned Jewish refugees – he did so in his Bar Ilan speech but this time, the mention of Jewish refugees was explicit and most importantly, Netanyahu said it in front of Obama himself, confronting his ignorance on Jewish refugees from Arab Lands.

But why stop there? Bibi should be pressing Obama and EU leaders to put pressure on the neighboring Arab states to give citizenship to the Palestinian refugees huddled in squalid camps on their borders. Without citizenship they are not permitted to work in their host countries and are dependent on donations. They should have dignity with their Muslim brothers and compensation should be used to create wealth and jobs, rather than just handouts.

And the Jews who lost their wealth in the Arab countries must be remunerated too. In February 2010, the Knesset passed a law to ensure that Israel would sign no peace treaty which did not take account of Jewish refugee rights - notably compensation. Ever since he became Deputy Foreign Minister in the current cabinet, Danny Ayalon, himself the son of an Algerian refugee, has been spearheading a robust campaign to raise public awareness of Jewish refugees.

Netanyahu‘s words also mark a departure from the mealy-mouthed statements of the past. As foreign minister in 2007, Tzipi Livni made a fleeting and confused reference of Jewish refugees at the Annapolis conference by conflating them with Jewish refugees from Europe. She did not stress that those Jews from Arab countries had been resettled by Israel, only that they "longed for Israel." At the time this was at least an improvement on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He did not mention Jewish refugees at all, but empathized with 'Palestinian suffering' mumbling that he was sorry for both Jewish and Palestinian refugees.

Thankfully, we now seem to have made headway since the euphoric days of the Oslo accords, when Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin closed down a department headed by the late Professor Yaakov Meron dealing with Jewish refugees' property rights.

On the 23rd of May, Jimena organized a press briefing on Jewish refugees. Gina Waldman introduced a short 18 min video of the film 'The Forgotten Refugees' after which she described her own personal story of growing up in Libya and in 1967 after the Six Day War being forced to leave the country, barely escaping attempts to kill her and her family on their way to the airport.

Read post in full

Nazism inspired Iraqi and Palestinian Jew-hatred

The pro-Nazi Mufti

The Farhud against the Jews of Iraq, whose 70th anniversary is being marked this week, was not just another pogrom, but an extension of the project to exterminate the Jews, Arye Tepper explains in Jewish Ideas Daily:

The end of 2,500 years of Jewish life in Iraq began during two days in June 1941. For 30 terrifying hours, mobs of marauding Iraqi Arabs, soldiers and civilians alike, killed 137 Jews and injured thousands more, pillaged scores of homes, and destroyed more than 600 Jewish-owned businesses. The event came to be known as the Farhud, a Kurdish term for the murderous breakdown of law and order. Within ten years, almost the entire Jewish community of Iraq was gone.

Its exotic name aside, the Farhud wasn't an isolated eruption of anti-Jewish violence in some far corner of the world. According to the historians Shmuel Moreh and Robert Wistrich, it was at least in part an extension of the Nazi war of extermination against the Jews. Moreh is the editor of a 1992 collection of essays on the Farhud, recently revised and updated in English translation. Marking the seventieth anniversary of the attack, he and Wistrich, the distinguished historian of anti-Semitism, recently chaired a provocatively titled symposium, "Nazism in Iraq," in the hope of raising public awareness of the event and combating "Farhud denial" among today's Iraqi Arabs.

At the symposium, Wistrich noted that in 1941, Iraqi Jews "found themselves in the crossfire of three converging forms of anti-Semitism": the anti-Semitism of Iraqi nationalists, the anti-Semitism of Palestinian exiles in Iraq, and the anti-Semitism of German Nazis. Both the Iraqi and the Palestinian versions were deeply influenced by Nazism.

Consider the case of Yunus al-Sabawi, an Iraqi journalist who became the country's minister of economics and governor of Baghdad. Al-Sabawi also happened to be the author of an Arabic-language translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf. In the work's preface, he celebrated the "great adventurer, the great German leader who rose from being a simple soldier to the leadership of . . . one of the culturally and scientifically most developed nations in the world." During the Farhud itself, paramilitary groups organized by al-Sabawi were ordered to participate in the attacks.

Or consider the role played by Palestinian exiles. Approximately 400 leading Palestinian families had moved to Iraq after the anti-Jewish riots in Palestine in 1936-39. The most prominent was the orchestrator of those riots: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, whose connections to Nazism in general and Hitler in particular have been thoroughly documented. But the mufti wasn't alone in channeling Nazi ideals: in their own account of the events leading up to the Farhud, British officials—the British ruled Iraq off and on from 1914 until 1955—noted the electrifying effect on Iraqi youth groups of their pro-Nazi Palestinian teachers.

Then there is the role played by German Nazis themselves in the Farhud. Dr. Fritz Grobba was the German envoy stationed in Baghdad; fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, he successfully tailored the Nazi message to local sensibilities. Already in 1939 Grobba was predicting in a report to Berlin that "a day will come when the anger of the masses will erupt, and the result will be: a massacre of the Jews."

Nazism exercised a double appeal to Palestinian and Iraqi Arabs. Its anti-Semitism resonated with certain powerful streams in Arab and Islamic tradition, and its anti-British animus resonated with the anti-imperialism promoted by Arab nationalists who despised the British as occupiers bent on thwarting their aspirations. Ironically, many Jews in Palestine viewed the British in similar terms (which did not prevent them from throwing in their lot with the British in the struggle against Hitler). The Jews in Iraq, however, were naturally more sympathetic to Great Britain, and were accordingly regarded by Iraqi nationalists as a fifth column.

There were also deeper affinities between Nazism and Arab nationalism. Commenting on the Ba'athists, the nationalist group that would go on to dominate Iraq for the last four decades of the 20th century. Wistrich observed in an interview:

The kind of people who founded the Ba'athist movements . . . looked up to Nazi Germany. The German national rebirth, including its anti-Jewish ideology, really appealed to them. The Third Reich represented militarism, glory, obedience, national unity, a messianic political faith—and the removal of the Jews.

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What President Obama did not say

Barack Obama with AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg (Associated Press)

What was remarkable about President Obama's Middle East speeches last week was what he didn't say. While promising US government aid to the region, he made no call to oil-rich Arab states to play their part in integrating Palestinian refugees, as Israel has done with Jewish refugees. Sol Sanders writes in the Washington Times:

Mr. Obama’s new proposals were just about as vapid. And there was a glaring omission: His recommendations — debt relief, encouragement of private investment, expansion of trade — trumpeted no call for Arab petro-sheikhs to put their vast dollar holdings where their mouths are.

In Mr. Netanyahu’s somewhat condescending if accurate review before Congress of Mideast history since 1947, one base left untouched was the obvious parallel between the region’s Arab and Jewish refugees. Some 800,000 Arabs originally fled or were expelled from a small part of the British Mandate for Palestine when six Arab states tried to smash a U.N.-proposed but self-proclaimed Jewish state. Almost the same number of Jews, curiously enough, who had lived, many for centuries, in Muslim countries, simultaneously fled for their lives. The wealthier ones (particularly in French-colonial North Africa) immigrated to Europe. But the vast majority, with little more than the clothes on their backs, was absorbed by the nascent Israeli state funded by the Jewish diaspora Zionists and generous American taxpayers.

Nothing like that happened for those seeking refuge in the vast, oil-rich Arab world. Israel’s Arab neighbors mostly refused to accept the new arrivals, even many with tribal and family affiliations. Worse, the Arab regimes — with enthusiastic help from often incompetent, prejudiced United Nations do-gooders — chose to create “open political sores” — surrounding Israel with semi-permanent, fetid refugee camps. And despite occasional highly publicized “aid” checks, Arab regimes have not made any effort since to address the problem.

Read article in full

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Jerusalem refugees of 1948

With thanks: Frank

The media has an enormous impact on public policy. But when the media consistently tells lies, the effect is both destructive and unfair.

That's why the media watchdog HonestReporting has made this video exploding the myth of 'Arab East Jerusalem'. East Jerusalem was only under Arab control for 19 years. All the Jewish inhabitants were expelled. Before 1948 and since the city's re-unification under Israeli rule in 1967, Jews lived in the old city and the eastern sector.

Sima Nightingale 's family lived in Jerusalem's old city for eight generations. She tells how in 1948 Arab snipers on the roof of the nearby synagogue shot dead her grandfather, who had gone to fetch the last of the family's water supply.

Puah Shteiner 's family had been in Jerusalem for six generations, ever since her ancestor Rav Eliezer Bergman had arrived in the city in 1835. "The world has heard of Arab refugees, but there were also Jewish refugees," she says on the video. She remembers fleeing her home with only the clothes she was wearing.

As our regular reader Eliyahu patiently points out, the first refugees of the 1948 fighting were Jews expelled from the Shimon Hatsaddik area (now referred to by the media by its Arab name Sheikh Jarrah).

Perhaps HonestReporting will make a sequel about those Jewish refugees.

Read post in full

Jewish voices from Jerusalem (CiF watch)

Jerusalem in 1900 by Elliott A Green

Time Life photographs from 1948 (with thanks: Daphne Anson)

Friday, May 27, 2011

When Iraq had its Kristallnacht

The Mufti inspecting SS troops

For a dwindling number of Iraqi Jews, the holiday of Shavuot brings back each year the traumatic memory of one of the worst racial attacks in modern history. Over two days in 1941 around 800 Jews were murdered in their homes in Baghdad by a huge mob of Muslim rioters as the British army, forbidden from entering the city, looked on from the outskirts. Writing in the
Jewish Chronicle, Sarah Erlich describes what happened, seventy years after the event:

June 1 and 2 this year mark the 70th anniversary of what became known as the Farhud ( "violent dispossession" in Arabic). As significant as Kristallnacht, the pogrom sounded the death-knell for the oldest community in the diaspora and was a clear demonstration of the hatred exported to the Middle East by Hitler. The Farhud brought to an end 2,600 years of Jewish settlement, yet little has been written about it, very little is taught in Holocaust studies about it, and the British role has never been fully investigated, although many survivors still bear a lifelong distrust of Britain.

The Jews of Iraq had been living peacefully for millennia in Baghdad since the time of Babylon and by 1941 numbered around 150,000, over a third of the population. Professor Heskel Haddad, now an ophthalmologist in Manhattan, was 11-years- old at the time and recalls a happy and secure early childhood. "We had many Jewish and Arab Muslim neighbours and we were very friendly with them. I was Jewish in religion but I felt very much Iraqi. I loved Iraq and I loved the people, whether Muslim or Jew."

One month before the Farhud a violent coup brought a rabidly pro-Nazi lawyer, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, to power, forcing the country's regent, a friend of the Jews, to seek British protection. Rashid Ali brought to his side the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a man with strong ties to the Third Reich who had fled from Palestine. Together, they indoctrinated the country with Nazi propaganda; children in Iraqi schools were taught to praise Hitler and that Jews were the internal enemy; Radio Berlin began regular broadcasts in Arabic. Their aim was to rid Iraq of the British presence and turn the country's oil reserves over to the Germans.

Haddad: survived

Haddad: survived

Next, Rashid Ali ordered Iraq's military to destroy the British RAF base in Habbaniya, west of Baghdad –– a non-operational flight training centre equipped with antique planes, manned by cadets. Despite the odds, the Iraqi campaign failed drastically. With his forces humiliatingly defeated and British ground troops advancing on the city, on May 30 Rashid Ali fled the country leaving the capital in a vacuum.

The regent's return was announced two days later, to the relief of the Jews celebrating Shavuot. Their joy turned to horror however when the Muslims mistook their celebrations to be the result of the country's downfall at the hands of the British. A huge mob gathered, armed with knives, swords and guns, chanting "Ketaal al yehud" ("Slaughter the Jews"). Eleven-year-old Haddad was with his family having a festive meal. "Suddenly we heard screams, 'Allah Allah', and shots were fired," he recalls. "We went out to the roof to see what was happening - we saw fires, we saw people on the roofs screaming, begging God to help them. There was a guy across the street from our house screaming: 'Help me! Give me water!' and my father didn't let me give him water because he was afraid that I might be killed by the gangs. The voice of this man ended an hour or two later when I guess he died."

Salim Fattal was also 11, living with his family in the Jewish quarter of Tatran. Like everyone, they were completely unprepared for the violence that hit the city. "We were hiding with all the children and women in the cellar listening to the whistling of bullets around our house," he says. "We had no weapons and there were four men trying to defend 21 women and children with just some sticks and knives. We knew we couldn't defend the house against these armed invaders. It was terrifying."

Taken by surprise and with no protection, Jews either defended themselves with whatever they could find or else bribed Iraqi policemen to protect them. Fattal's mother found one near their alley and approached him with a parcel of money. The policeman agreed to stay with them until midnight.

The violence worsened during the night and the mob was soon in its tens of thousands, targeting every Jewish home in the city. The task was easy as a red hamsa - a traditional hand symbol - had been painted on the exteriors.

"We could hear screams from our neighbours which was a horrifying sound," continues Fattal, even now crying at the memory. "All of them all started to shout and scream and it would last for two minutes or so, and then the sound died. Then the same sound would renew from other directions. These voices have never left me. They were so strong, so close and so clear."

By the second day, Fattal could see from his balcony that the mob was attacking his neighbour's house. "We could see them right under our noses and if they had decided to attack us then, no one could have stopped them as it was very easy for the rioters to move from roof to roof. So we called our armed policeman from outside and begged him to fire a few bullets in the air to scare them away. Our policeman insisted on more payment and my Uncle Naim argued that we had already paid him generously. But our policeman kept repeating: 'How much will you pay?' while our situation was getting more and more threatening by the minute. Finally they agreed upon half a dinar per bullet. Had he refused, we would have taken his gun. The policeman fired two shots and paused and then two more shots, until he saw the rioters move away."

There were also accounts of Muslims acting heroically to save their Jewish neighbours. Steve Acre was nine at the time, living with his widowed mother and eight siblings in their landlord's house. "Our landlord was a devout Muslim called Hajji who wore a green turban, and when the mob came, he sat in front of them and told them that there were orphans in his house and that if they wanted to kill us, they would have to kill him first. So they moved on across the street."

Acre, who has been living in Montreal for over 50 years, sees Iraqi Nazism as the direct cause of the Farhud, but also blames the British for not having stopped it when it was within their power. (...)

Tony Rocca, who researched and co-wrote Memories of Eden with a survivor of the Farhud, Violette Shamash, agrees. "To Britain's shame, the army was stood down while hundreds of Jews were killed in rioting that raged over two days with damage estimated at £13 million by today's values. Archive material points to one man who deliberately kept the troops out. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain's ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct contradiction to express orders from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety."

The violence was stopped only when it appeared the rioters were getting carried away and entering Muslim areas. A curfew was called, and Iraqi troops began shooting looters. But the death toll of around 800 and thousands more injured is a memory Acre can never forget. "When you hear yelling and screaming of women and children, it stays with you forever."

Witness on BBC World Service will be remembering the 70th anniversary of the Farhud on June 1. Listen online on the BBC website.

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More Arabs believe Jews are a 'foreign imprint'

With thanks: Lily

Yasser Qashlaq, do me, and yourself, a favour. Become a follower of my blog. It might correct a few misapprehensions you have about the Jewish people - notably that the Jews all come from Europe.

Qashlaq is the Lebanese businessman who has called to throw the Jews “back to their true countries.”

In a recent interview on the Hizbullah terror group's Al-Manar television network which was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Qashlaq, a journalist who also heads the Free Palestine Movement, said: “The natural place for [Ehud] Barak is Poland, and the natural place for that idiot, Netanyahu, is Moscow, while the natural place for me is Safed [Tzfat -ed.].”

Apart from the fact that he looks too young to remember Safed, whose Arab population fled in 1948, Qashlaq is one of the new generation of 'denial merchants' who reject the 3,000-year old ties of the Jewish people with the Middle East. He and his ilk refuse to believe that Jews are the only people who have had a sovereign country in that sliver of land they call Eretz Yisrael.

It is a source of concern, moreover, that a majority of those Arabs who live with Jews in Israel now believe the propaganda that Jews are not indigenous to the Middle East.

The 2010 Arab Jewish Relations Survey, compiled by Prof. Sami Smoocha in collaboration with the Jewish-Arab Center at the University of Haifa, 'presents what its authors describe as a worrying decline in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel over the past decade.'

Over 62 percent of the Arab citizens of Israel believe Jews are a foreign imprint on the Middle East and are destined to be replaced by Palestinians, and a similar proportion believe that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state, according to a nationwide survey.

As a matter of urgency, Israel needs to educate Arabs that half of its Jewish population never left the Middle East. It needs to say to Arabs and Muslims that Jews now live in Israel because they and their parents were driven out by Arab and Muslim antisemitism. At the same time, Israel is their legitimate ancestral homeland.

It is the Arabs who are the 'interlopers and colonialists'. As the great Iraqi-Jewish author Naim Kattan says, one thing an Arab could never tell a Jew was to go back to where he came from: he had been there well before the Arabs conquered the region in the name of Islam.

Qashlaq 's venomous hatred - his rant seems even to elicit embarrassed giggles from the other studio guests - is mixed in with traditional contempt: how could the despised Jews - and so few of them - have humiliated the Arabs in Palestine?

“I would like to say to Ben-Gurion: You little boy, tomorrow, my little son will stomp on your grave. He will deport your remains to your true country in Europe, and we will return. “Like Imam Khomeini said, back in the day, if each of us were to spit, we would drown out all five million of them,” he continues. “The number of Jews – those human pieces of filth – in my land equals one third of the people of the Nasr City neighborhood in Cairo."

What also rankles with Quashlaq is that a dhimmi population has violated the natural order of things. Jews must always submit to their Muslim superiors, never the other way around.

The myth of Jewish colonialism

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Israeli song becomes Syrian protest soundtrack

Is the Arab Spring a Zionist conspiracy? First Zenga Zenga became the anthem of the Libyan uprising, now Zini is becoming the favoured soundtrack of the Syrian opposition. Both are the creations of Israeli songwriters. The Jerusalem Post reports:

At the request of Syrian opposition leaders, Israeli singer Amir Benayoun has recorded three songs in Arabic and dedicated them to activists in the Syrian uprising. One of the songs, “Zini,” has already become a YouTube hit and serves as the soundtrack on a number of Syrian opposition leaders’ Facebook pages.

The three tracks are part of an album – also called Zini – released earlier this month on Benayoun’s label, Nevel Asor. The album’s songs, all in Arabic, are adaptations of the Book of Ecclesiastes translated with the help of Benayoun’s Algerian-born father, Maxim.

In February, “Zenga Zenga,” a pop mash-up by Israeli DJ Noy Alooshe, became an Internet sensation and the unofficial anthem of the revolt against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. That success inspired Syrian opposition leaders to ask Ayoub Kara, deputy minister for development of the Negev and Galilee, whether he could convince Benayoun to record a similar track for their own protest movement.

Kara said Benayoun (above) is well known in Syria, and that he had previously received requests from Syrian opposition figures to translate the singer’s songs into Arabic.

Read article in full

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Libyan Jews cling to roots, but integrated in Israel

Libyan Jews, 90 percent of whom moved to Israel, remain tied to their Libyan roots. But their integration in Israel was successful and quiet, argues anthropologist Harvey Goldberg of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in The Dartmouth:

After World War II in 1948, over 80 percent of Libyan Jews moved to the newly founded state of Israel, Goldberg said.

“Did [Libyan Jews] still see themselves as Libyans?” Goldberg asked. “What about the impact of new governmental structures? It’s the truth that they have been depicting themselves as Libyan Jews and this has always preceded the Israel state.”

Libyan Jews who moved to Israel remained extremely tied to their Libyan roots, according to Goldberg. Goldberg presented an image to the audience that depicted Libyan Jews in Israel carrying signs indicating their village of origin as their sole means of identification.

A main coalition of Libyan Jews, called the Committee of Libyan Jewish Communities in Israel, further emphasizes how Libyan Jews choose to identify themselves geographically as separate communities, Goldberg said.

“These localities are an expression in a moment where becoming acutely aware of one’s wider engagement to the world was growing.” Goldberg said.

Despite the passionate cultural ties that Libyan Jews maintained while in Israel, struggles to preserve the Libyan Jewish identity persisted on a greater scale, Goldberg said.

When war broke out in Libya in the 1960s and Muammar el-Qaddafi assumed control of the country in 1969, the situation for Jews still living in Libya became “untenable,” Goldberg said.

In one instance of a lack of cultural awareness under Qaddafi’s regime, plans to construct a road in Tripoli destroyed a Jewish cemetery, Goldberg said. In response to discriminatory actions by the Libyan government, many Libyan Jewish leaders “took steps to make sure the memory of the dead and the past in Libya would be made elsewhere,” Goldberg said.

One of the most prominent efforts to “solidify” the Libyan Jewish identity included the creation of the Libyan Jews Heritage Center in Israel, he said. The heritage center includes an education and research center as well as a museum, according to Goldberg.

“The heritage center emphasizes the ethnic experience of Libyan Jews,” Goldberg said. “Part of its success is that it creates accessible generational connections between first generation Libyan Jews and future generations.”

While the Libyan Jewish population in Israel remains one of the smallest of North African Jews, Libyan Jews’ integration into Israeli life was successful and relatively quiet, Goldberg said.

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Mimouna: Israelis are adopting Sephardi culture

This year two million Israelis celebrated the Mimouna, the festival concluding Passover, thus nationalising a Moroccan-Jewish tradition. While intermarriage between Israelis of different origins is 'normal', the younger generation is rediscovering their grandparents' culture. Arye Tepper reports in Jewish Ideas Daily (with thanks: Kenneth):

From one perspective, the day's popularity reflects the degree to which the Moroccan Jewish experience has been "nationalized." From another, it reflects the degree to which a Jewish cultural practice rooted in a land of exile has survived under conditions of national sovereignty. And more than survived—flourished.

This is no small achievement. All such exilic practices faced an uphill battle during the first decades after the founding of the state, and none more so than those deriving from Arab or Muslim lands.

For bureaucratic purposes, Israeli Jews in those years were grouped into two categories: Ashkenazi and "Oriental." Local Jewish identities were ignored, or in some cases erased. Although simplistic, the categories were also understandable. With so many groups from different lands being absorbed by the re-born Jewish state, there was a danger of cognitive overload. Moreover, the nation-building project required de-emphasizing the role of ethnicity in favor of a shared sense of national unity, not to say national uniformity.

Of course, the uniform identity was not neutral; instead, it reflected Western intellectual and social norms. But deeply rooted cultural practices could be suppressed for only so long, and a multiplicity of Jewish cultures survived the early years of the state and into the present day. They are seen in the food people eat, the music they listen to, the religious rituals they maintain, and the holidays they observe.

Sometimes these elements have come through in bundles. Consider, in addition to Mimouna, the singing of bakkashot, a wintertime liturgical rite common throughout North Africa and parts of the Levant; in it, Jews meet in the synagogue from 3:00 to 6:00 on winter Sabbath mornings to sing sacred Hebrew poems in the style of Arab-Muslim "art music." You can find Moroccan Jews who zealously maintain this tradition in every major Israeli city, with the added twist that now many non-Moroccans participate as well.

Or consider the flourishing of Moroccan and Andalusian piyyut, another form of liturgical music. Existing until recently along the margins of Israeli society, it has now moved beyond the synagogue and become a major art form in its own right, sometimes even rearranged and improvised upon in the style of jazz and blues.
Such cultural tenacity is not without its ironies and paradoxes. For example, one of the aims of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in forming the Shas political party was to reclaim and reassert the enduring value of a Sephardi religious identity. Yet the very idea of a uniform Sephardi religious identity is to a certain extent an Israeli creation.

Historically speaking, "Sephardi" was never a homogeneous term; when Jewish communities moved southward and eastward after the expulsion from Spain at the end of the 15th century, tremendous tension prevailed between the newly arriving "Spanish" and the already established "Oriental" communities around the Mediterranean littoral. It is true that Josef Karo's 16th-century code of Jewish law, the Shulhan Arukh, contributed to fashioning a specifically "Sephardi" form of practice. But today, some of the most strident opponents of Rabbi Ovadia's program are rabbis representing North African communities whose traditions are threatened by a more global Sephardi identity.

Another irony: the theme of this year's Mimouna was the biblical injunction to "love the convert." In choosing it, the event's organizers were explicitly promoting a tolerant, North African form of Judaism as against the perceived intolerance of the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi establishment. But promoting it to whom? By appealing to Israeli society at large, the organizers were also acknowledging the primacy of a shared Israeli Judaism.

A final irony is suggested by a recent article in a leading American Jewish weekly claiming that "most young Israelis . . . often don't know and rarely care where anyone's parents or grandparents came from." This is too glib. Who, after all, is buying all the CD's by third-generation Israeli artists returning to the musical traditions of their grandparents? Kobi Oz (half-Tunisian), Dudu Tassa (half-Iraqi, half-Yemenite), Omer Avital (half-Moroccan, half-Yemenite), and others have all reclaimed particular Jewish cultures rooted in the Arab-Muslim milieu, in part for the purpose of exploring their own identity.

Yet if Israelis are indeed becoming interested in where their grandparents came from, this doesn't mean that the Jewish "melting pot" has failed. To the contrary: outside of ultra-Orthodox society, "intermarriage" between Jews from different ethnic communities is so normal that it's become too trivial to mention. Most significantly, the wide popularity of Mimouna itself—two million celebrants make up a formidable cohort—demonstrates the degree to which today's Israelis are open to absorbing Jewish traditions that in the strict sense, but only in the strict sense, are not their own.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

'Jewish 'right of return' should be on the table'

Update: Blogger David Schraub has gone back to the original material and concludes that the Foreign Policy journalist who wrote the story - Josh Rogin - made up the bit about the 'right of return', thus worryingly misrepresenting the issue as soon as it has gained prominence. He has emailed Rogin for confirmation. Watch this space.


We must be making progress when a senior White House official airs his views about the 'Jewish refugee issue'. He says that their 'right of return' should be on the table. Unfortunately, Ben Rhodes has got it backwards: Jewish refugees claim no such right, and neither should Palestinians. The Cable has the story:

The right of Jews to return to the Arab and predominantly Muslim countries they fled from or were kicked out of over several decades could be "on the table" as part of the Middle East peace negotiations, according to a senior White House official.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for communications and President Barack Obama's chief speechwriter on foreign policy, talked about what's known as the "Jewish right of return" during an off-the-record conference call with Jewish community leaders on May 20, only one day after Obama's major speech on the Middle East. A recording of the call was provided to The Cable.

In response to a question asking why there is a great deal of focus on the Palestinian refugee issue but almost no focus on the Jews who departed Arab lands, Rhodes declared that the Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate on the Jewish right of return to Arab and Muslim countries and that the United States could play in role in mediating that issue.

Here's the full exchange:

"While Palestinian refugees have concerns that are understandable and need to be dealt with in the peace process, there was no reference in the president's speech to the approximately one million Jewish refugees that emerged from the same Middle East conflict. I'm talking about Jews from Arab and Muslim countries who were forced out of their homelands where they had lived for centuries," said B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield.

"The international community has never acknowledged their rights and their grievances," Fusfield continued, "[C]an the U.S., as the peace process move forward, play a role in advancing the rights and concerns of these Jewish refugee groups and help ensure that as refugee issues are dealt with... that the focus will not just be on one refugee group but on all refugee groups emerging from the same conflict?"

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Jewish refugees must be addressed for true peace

Hard on the heels of Bibi Netanyahu's ground-breaking mention, in the White House, of Jewish refugees, deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon (pictured) says that the issue had to be addressed in any peace deal, The Jerusalem Post reports.

The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries must be addressed in any final peace settlement, said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Speaking to journalists on Monday at the headquarters of MediaCentral in Jerusalem, Ayalon said Israel has a moral and legal obligation to demand that the 850,000 Jews who fled Arab lands after the War of Independence be given attention equal to that afforded Palestinian refugees.

Ayalon said that bringing this issue to the forefront now emphasized that if a Palestinian state is created, then that country, not Israel, must assume responsibility for the Palestinian refugees, he said.

I do understand that at the end of the day we have to find a political solution,” but that will come only when the Palestinians realize that Israel was not responsible for the refugee problem, Ayalon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spotlighted the Jewish refugees during his joint press conference at the White House with US President Barack Obama on Friday.

“The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems: [the] Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands,” Netanyahu said. “Tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.”

In April 2008, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing the plight of the Jewish refugees. Last year, the Knesset passed a law mandating that the issue of restitution for Jewish refugees be addressed in any permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.

UN Security Council Resolution 242, which has been the basis for all Israeli agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians, calls for resolving “the refugee problem, full stop,” Ayalon said. “It talks about refugees. It doesn’t specify and doesn’t discriminate among refugees.”

Ayalon also quoted former US Supreme Court Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg, who helped draft the resolution while serving as US ambassador to the UN, as saying that the resolution’s reference to refugees includes both Arab and Jewish refugees.

“A young nation reborn absorbed 850,000 refugees – it was a daunting task but they did it,” Ayalon said. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in the Arab world, where until today we have refugee camps for the third and fourth generation. This is unprecedented in the annals of humanity.”

Ayalon also spoke of the massive refugee problem in Europe following World War II, when millions of Russians, Germans, Poles, Czechs and others were displaced. Those refugees were eventually resettled and today the world does not focus on their plight.

On the other hand, the Arab refugee population has grown from an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 who left Israel in 1948 to four million today.

These refugees are being kept in poor conditions so they can be used “as political pawns against Israel,” Ayalon said.

While none of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries threatened the existence or security of their native lands, some of the Arab refugees became refugees because they joined the campaign to destroy Israel in 1948, Ayalon said.

The issue of the Jewish refugees must be addressed if Jews and Arabs are to achieve true peace and reconciliation, said the deputy foreign minister, who was born in Israel but whose family originates from Algeria.

He noted that “some kind of redress may be appropriate,” and said former prime minister Menachem Begin spoke about the Jewish refugees with former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1978.

Ayalon referred to Obama’s speech last Thursday as “very important” and “very positive,” and he said it “attests to the great friendship between us and the United States and all like-minded countries in the Western world.”

The press briefing also included comments from Gina Bublil Waldman, who was forced to flee from Libya with her family after the Six Day War in 1967.

Today, Waldman is chair of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, a San Francisco-based organization which seeks recognition for Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting nowhere fast with the Egyptian archives

Antiquities head Zahi Hawass .. .busy fighting lawsuits

Seder night was cancelled in Alexandria this year. For the first time ever, the handful of Jews and Jewish tourists living in the Egyptian city were not able to celebrate the festival of Jewish freedom. The reason? The security forces could not guarantee their safety at night.

However - the security people told Ben Gaon, the timorous community head - they would allow a Seder during daylight hours. A Seder during the day? Whoever heard of such a thing! And so Ben Gaon cancelled it.

Mindful that Jewish life in Egypt is barely ticking over - it's on life support - the London/Paris-based Nebi Daniel Association has for some years been trying to salvage what it can of Egypt's glorious Jewish heritage.

In Alexandria , there is one functioning synagogue, and even that is mostly closed and heavily guarded. Nebi Daniel's efforts are focused on trying to gain access to the communal birth, deaths and marriage records still essential to Egyptian Jewish life in exile. These efforts concern only Alexandria: the community leader in Cairo, Carmen Weinstein, will not cooperate.

Roger Bilboul explains that the Egyptian authorities will not release the Jewish records, as they are considered part of the national heritage. But Jewish visitors have been known to tear pages out of communal registers, so Nebi Daniel has been trying to persuade the Egyptians to allow the documents to be made accessible yet safe, in case they are destroyed by fire or worse.

Nebi Daniel extracted a promise from the erstwhile culture minister Farouk Hosny, who in spite of his legendary antisemitism, wrote a letter delegating the task to a subordinate. But Hosny is now in disgrace as a member of the Mubarak old guard, and Nebi Daniel's only hope is invested in the Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority, Zahi Hawass (no friend of the Jews, he - either). Hawass miraculously survived a ministerial purge, even getting a promotion. But now Hawass is in trouble again, is busy fighting lawsuits, and has only just escaped a one-year jail sentence for corruption.

So the post-revolutionary future looks bleak to Nebi Daniel, as they run out of Egyptian officials they might interface with. Meanwhile, the fabric of Egyptian Jewish heritage carries on crumbling with each passing year.

Egypt's ping pong effect

Why President Obama is being unfair

Jewish wedding in Aleppo, 1914. Few Jews are left in Syria

Good on you, Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld. Reacting to the one-sidedness of President Obama's major foreign policy speech, you have some important home truths to tell the good citizens of Portland (Maine), according to the Portland Press Herald.

I believe that in the very way that our president tells the Israeli and Palestinian story, he himself has been unfair. It's a radical idea to fix current events by ignoring history.

Obama has ignored a critical story of the past, that of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, in his most recent speech about Israel.

A full knowledge of history should change our understanding of what is actually "fair" for the present.

The Palestinian refugee story has received much attention, but the parallel story of loss and exile endured by many Israeli refugees, despite its significance, has not received attention.

For example, last Monday The New York Times printed a commentary by the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Sixty-three years ago, Abbas writes, he was "forced to leave his home" in the city of the Safed and "flee with his family to Syria*."

Abbas explained that on Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations declared its approval of the partition of Palestine. The U.N. resolution called for the territory of Palestine to be divided between Israelis and Palestinians.

After that resolution, Abbas writes, "Zionist forces," in his words, "expelled" the Palestinians from their territory.

Abbas grew up in a refugee tent camp in Syria, exiled from his birthplace. This is the Palestinian story. They want sympathy for remaining in refugee camps, and they blame Israel and the Jews for their hardships, and for the current refugee problem.

The story that Israelis know as true is much different. The Jews were expelled from their homes in Arab lands in the same way that Mahmoud Abbas claims he was expelled from his home in Israel.

Before the 1947 U.N. resolution, there were hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab lands. Following the 1947 declaration, which advocated two states, one for Israel's Jews and one for Arab Palestinians, the Jews reacted with gratitude and happiness. The resolution did not meet all the Jewish needs, but there was willingness to compromise.

In contrast, the Palestinians and Arab states reacted with violence to the resolution. This would be a telling moment for the future. As many see it, with every Jewish compromise for peace, Arab violence is sure to follow.

On Nov. 30, 1947, The New York Times reported: "There was an open thread of warning running through all the Arab delegates' comments on the Assembly's action. They spoke of bloodshed to come."

On Dec. 1, the Times reported that in Damascus, "crowds converged on the American and French legations, stoning both buildings and hauling down the flag flying in front of the United States building."

Syrian President Shukri Bey al-Kuwatli assured the mob: "Partition will not be accepted and will not be enforced before the last Arab is annihilated."

He declared: "Partition threatens not only Syrian independence but the very being of all Arab nations."

That same day, the headline announced: "Palestine's Arabs Kill Seven Jews, Call 3-Day Strike." The chair of the Palestine Arab Higher Committee declared "a crusade against the Jews." The Arabs, he said, "would fight for every inch."

On the same day, rioters in Aleppo, Syria, set fire to one of the oldest Jewish synagogues in the world. As they burned down the holy synagogue, the Arab mob chanted: "Falastin Baladna al Yahud kalabna" -- "Palestine is ours, and the Jews are our dogs."

There are no Jews left in Syria (well, a handful - ed). The Jewish Syrians fled their birthplace. Behind them, they left personal property and emotional memories. This is just one Jewish community in just one Arab town.

Similar stories took place for the Jewish people in other Arab lands. As the children of Jewish refugees went to work building in Israel, the Arab countries to which Palestinians turned have made those Palestinians sit and wait.

The story of the past should be heard, but unfortunately, too often, only one story, the Palestinian story, is told. If Obama truly seeks a "just and fair" resolution, he must seek to understand the histories of both sides.

*Efraim Karsh questions whether Abbas was expelled at all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ayalon to brief press on Jewish refugees

With thanks: Eliyahu

It may have been ignored by most of the world, but we noticed. Yes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually said it. He mentioned Jewish refugees to President Obama (See clip). Now Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (above) is striking while the iron is hot. Here is the text of a Foreign Ministry media release:

Tomorrow, Monday 23rd May, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will speak at a media briefing on the subject of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands and its significance for negotiations and the peace process.

The briefing will also include speakers from JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and Northern Africa), who will talk about the history, significance and legal aspects of the Jewish refugee issue. This issue is especially relevant in light of the attention brought to it during Prime Minister Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama and the recent events surrounding the commemoration of the so-called Palestinian 'Nakba' .

The briefing will begin at 12:00 at MediaCentral (8 HaRav Kook Street, Jerusalem). The briefing is open to the media and will include a question and answer session.

MP asks Britain to take in 70 Yemenite Jews

Yemeni Jews at prayer in Sana'a (Photo: Rachael Strecher)

The British government has been asked to look at what steps can be taken to help Yemeni Jews escape the Middle East and settle in Britain, The Jewish Chronicle reports.

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, raised the plight of around 70 Jews in the Arabian peninsula during Home Office questions in the Commons.

They have links to families already living in Britain, and are among around 200 Jewish families (individuals? - ed) left in Yemen.

The MP asked what could be done to facilitate visa applications for those living in the town of Raydah, around 50 miles north of the capital, Sana'a.

He said political unrest, and the growing threat of Islamist extremists, meant many Jewish families feared for their lives and had been waiting "months" for visas. A number have had to go to the British embassy in Cairo (Sa'ana? -ed) to have their applications processed.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said he was aware of the issue.

Read article in full

Palestinians became victims of 'Arab apartheid'

In the latest of his well-researched and hard-hitting articles, the influential Maariv columnist Ben Dror Yemini (pictured) focuses on the real Palestinian Nakba: the story of Arab apartheid. Tens of millions, among them Jews, suffered from a 'nakba' of dispossession, expulsion and displacement, but only the Palestinians remained refugees because they were treated to abuse and oppression by the Arab countries.

In 1959, the Arab League passed Resolution 1457, which states as follows: “The Arab countries will not grant citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their assimilation into the host countries.” That is a stunning resolution, which was diametrically opposed to international norms in everything pertaining to refugees in those years, particularly in that decade. The story began, of course, in 1948, when the Palestinian “nakba” occurred. It was also the beginning of every discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, with the blame heaped on Israel, because it expelled the refugees, turning them into miserable wretches. This lie went public through academe and the media dealing with the issue.

In previous articles on the issue of the Palestinians, we explained that there is nothing special about the Israeli-Arab conflict. First, the Arab countries refused to accept the proposal of partition and they launched a war of annihilation against the State of Israel which had barely been established. All precedents in this matter showed that the party that starts the war - and with a declaration of annihilation, yet - pays a price for it. Second, this entails a population exchange: indeed, between 550,000 and 710,000 Arabs (the most precise calculation is that of Prof. Ephraim Karash, who calculated and found that their number ranges between 583,000 and 609,000). Most of them fled, a minority were expelled because of the war and a larger number of about 850,000 Jews were expelled or fled from Arab countries (the “Jewish nakba”). Third, the Palestinians are not alone in this story. Population exchanges and expulsions were the norm at that time. They occurred in dozens of other conflict points, and about 52 million people experienced dispossession, expulsion and uprooting (”And the World is lying”). And fourth, in all the population exchange precedents that occurred during or at the end of an armed conflict, or on the backdrop of the establishment of a national entity, or the disintegration of a multinational state and the establishment of a national entity - there was no return of refugees to the previous region, which had turned into a new national state. The displaced persons and the refugees, with almost no exceptions, found sanctuary in the place in which they joined a population with a similar background: the ethnic Germans who wore expelled from Central and Eastern Europe assimilated in Germany, the Hungarian refugees from Czechoslovakia and other places found sanctuary in Hungary, the Ukrainians who were expelled from Poland found sanctuary in Ukraine, and so forth. In this sense, the affinity between the Arabs who originated in mandatory Palestine and their neighbors in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, was similar or even greater than the affinity between many ethnic Germans and their country of origin in Germany, sometimes after a disconnect of many generations.

Only the Arab states acted completely differently from the rest of the world. They crushed the refugees despite the fact that they were their co-religionists and members of the Arab nation. They instituted a régime of apartheid to all intents and purposes. So we must remember that the “nakba” was not caused by the actual dispossession, which had also been experienced by tens of millions of others. The “nakba” is the story of the apartheid and abuse suffered by the Arab refugees (it was only later that they became “Palestinians”) in Arab countries.

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Muted pilgrimage takes place on Djerba

Inside the al-Ghriba synagogue(Photo: Mohamed Hammi/Reuters)

Under 100 arrived for the traditional Lag La'Omer celebration on the island of Djerba, despite its cancellation due to security concerns and travel warnings, The Jerusalem Post reports.

A small group of Jewish pilgrims gathered on an Tunisian island to visit one of Africa's oldest synagogues but worries over continued unrest kept many away from the annual event.

About 5,000 pilgrims from Tunisia and abroad usually travel each May to the El Ghriba synagogue on Djerba island in the south to mark Lag Ba'Omer.

But this year less than 100 took part and organizers cancelled traditional celebrations because of security concerns and lack of participants.

Only a few pilgrims came this year as the country struggles to restore order following the overthrow of Tunisia's authoritarian ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

"This year was an exception, the atmosphere is different because of security in the country. It is a real shame," Perez Trabesli, the head of the Jewish community in Djerba said late on Friday, the day that usually draws the most pilgrims.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Netanyahu remembers me after all!

With thanks: Michelle-Malka

A historic moment - Benjamin Netanyahu mentions Jewish refugees in the White House:

In remarks to President Obama after his 20 May meeting, the Israeli PM said the following:

The third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state, but certainly not in the borders of Israel.

The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems - Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel's future as a Jewish state.

So it's not going to happen. Everybody knows it's not going to happen. And I think it's time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it's not going to happen. The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved, and it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in a Palestinian state. So that's a real possibility. But it's not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.

The President and I discussed all these issues and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there's an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors; a peace that is defensible.

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Obama still hasn't remembered me

When President Obama made his Cairo speech in 2009, the Egyptian-Jewish author Andre Aciman wrote a heart-felt piece for the New York Times : "the President forgot me," he complained. Standing in the heart of Cairo, where 80,000 Jews once lived, Obama forgot to mention Aciman and the other 800,000 Jewish refugees driven out of the Arab world.

President Obama's major foreign policy speech yesterday has already generated reams of analysis and megabytes of reaction. But no pundit has yet pointed out that once again Obama still hasn't remembered 'me' - he failed to mention Jewish refugees.

He referred to Palestinian refugees all right, as one of the 'emotional' issues that should be deferred in talks between Israel and Palestinians - ignoring the fact that all official documents and UN Security Council resolutions to-date talk of the rights of 'refugees', not just Palestinian refugees.

You might argue - how can one expect Obama to mention Jewish refugees when Benjamin Netanyahu himself, in his rebuttal to Mahmoud Abbas' op-ed in the New York Times, chose not to. Yet a source in the Prime minister's office has given us reason to believe that Netanyahu was originally going to mention 'two sets of refugees'.

With the notable exception of deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, the present Israeli government has made little public mention of Jewish refugees. And amid such high- level timidity, how can we expect the press and media to highlight the issue?

So once again, here are the main reasons why the Jewish refugees must be taken into account:

1. The ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries is proof of the Arab world 's longstanding nationalist and Islamist genocidal intentions against the Jews of the region, now focusing on the eradication of the world's only Jewish state.

2. The subjugated history of Jews under Muslim rule, their sporadic persecution and forced conversions vindicates the creation of a sovereign Jewish State.

3. The main issue on the Israel-Palestine peace agenda is the 'right of return'. The Jewish refugee issue neutralises the Palestinian 'right of return' by a) drawing attention to an exchange of refugee populations of roughly equal proportions by b) by positing a model of absorption and integration for Palestinian refugees denied basic civil rights in their host countries.

4. Jewish refugees are a human rights issue deserving of justice (recognition and compensation).

Do you hear me, Mr President?

(See next post) Netanyahu remembers me after all