Friday, June 29, 2012

Yemen murder blamed on Al-Qaeda

The Times of Israel has this interview with Yahya Zindani, 28, the son of Aharon Zindani, murdered in May. Yahya accompanied the body to its last resting place in Israel. Yahya blames the murder on Al-Qaeda, saying half of Yemen supports them now. Yahya has such faith in the justice system (not!) that he has appointed a lawyer 'to ensure that the murderer is not released.'

The Zandanis are among the last Jews to stay in Yemen. They moved to Sanaa four years ago from the city of Saada, 150 miles north of the capital, after Al-Qaeda drove the Jews of that town out of their homes.

“They gave them one week’s written notice to leave and then began shooting at their homes,” says Shlomo Zandani, Aharon’s brother-in-law, who emigrated to Israel in 1961.

Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh provided the Jews with free housing in an ex-pat compound in Sanaa, as well as a financial stipend.

“But what use is money when you can’t leave your home?” chorus the family members.

Members of the Zandani family pray at Aharon's grave in Rehovot (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Members of the Zandani family pray at Aharon’s grave in Rehovot (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Yahya says that following the murder he would only leave his home for five-minute periods before rushing back, for fear of being attacked on the street. He tells of a man from the Jewish community in Raidah who recently had a landmine placed at his doorstep, and who exits his home through the window ever since.

The Zandani family takes pains to differentiate between the government of current President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi — which like his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, protects the Jews – and members of Al-Qaeda, who they say have taken effective control of the country.

“The government is good to us, but Al-Qaeda threatens it too,” says Yahya. “Half the country is Al-Qaeda, if not more than that.” Jews can still travel to and from Yemen, so the family is understandably wary of speaking out against the government.

‘We only have 20-30 relatives left in Yemen and we want them here with us, for better or worse.’

It is not with nostalgia that the Zandanis recall their former homeland, but with pity. As the community shrunk, educating the children became a true challenge.

“I want my children to grow up here and receive a proper education,” says Yahia, who left his wife and two children behind to escort his father’s body to Israel. “Once I bring my family here, I won’t go back.”

But an elderly man dressed in traditional Yemeni garb says he still travels back and forth to Yemen on business. “Look, the stones in Israel are good for being buried in,” he says with a smile.

Read article in full

Murder victim buried as fears grow for Yemenite community (Jewish Chronicle)

Jews are under my protection, says Erdogan

Prime minister Tayyip Erdogan (Photo:Flash 90)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to reassure the country’s Jewish community, saying that he will ensure its safety, Anatolia news agency reported.

Two American-Jewish men reportedly approached the Turkish PM while he was attending the Rio 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to ask him "to protect" Jewish people living in Turkey.

"Under my leadership, the Jewish community in Turkey is safe," Erdogan said. "They are under my protection. We see [Jewish people] as brothers."

"We have no problem with the Israeli people," Erdogan said in response to a question.

"Our problem is the aggressive behavior of the Israeli government. We have to find solutions to problems in the Middle East. The Israelis have to treat the Palestinians better."

The Algemeiner identified the men as brothers Avraham and Yirmi Berkowitz, rabbis of Chabad Lubavitch. “It was a chance meeting,” they said, adding, “we mentioned the ancient and prestigious history of Jews in Turkey, which the Prime Minister acknowledged.”

Read article in full (Arutz Sheva)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jewish teachings behind drugs trade: Iranian VP

Anti-Zionism in Iran slipped into outright antisemitism at a UN conference in Tehran when the First Vice President of Iran, Mohammed Reza Rahimi (pictured), blamed the international drugs trade on the teachings of the Talmud. Fox News covered this story - a rare diatribe by an Iranian official targeting the Jewish faith.

The teachings of the Jewish book of law, the Talmud, are a driving force behind the international drug trade, Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said in comments reported Wednesday.

Rahimi's remarks, at an international anti-drug conference in Tehran attended by many foreign diplomats Tuesday, were a rare diatribe by an Iranian official targeting the Jewish faith, rather than the state of Israel.

"The spread of narcotics in the world emanates from the teachings of the Talmud ... whose objective is the destruction of the world," Rahimi said in comments published by the official website of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and state media. "The Talmud teaches that it is lawful to acquire wealth through legal and illegal means ... which gives [the Jews] the right to destroy humanity."

Rahimi added, "If one seeks what lies behind all forms of corruption, there is the repugnant face of Zionists. This is the same case for the narcotics trade ... whose primary operator is the Zionist regime. The Zionists spread destruction not only by drugs, but also by [attacking] cultures."

Iranian officials have repeatedly courted international outrage with tirades against the state of Israel, but criticism of Judaism as a faith has been rare.

The Talmud is a book of oral tradition derived from the Jewish holy book, the Torah, that contains all the principles that govern daily life.

Egypt blocks pilgrims from visiting rabbi's tomb

The pilgrimage to the tomb of rabbi Yaakov Abuhatseira will be a thing of the past

Whatever other values the new Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Muhammed Morsi, might stand for, freedom of worship for Jews is not among them. Egypt puts the final nail in the coffin of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty by blocking Jewish pilgrims from visiting the tomb of a famous 19th century rabbi, Israel National News reports. (With thanks: Jeremy)

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it had told Israel that it would not be “appropriate” for Israeli pilgrims to make an annual visit to the tomb of a 19th-century Jewish holy man in the Nile Delta.

Egypt notified Israel two months ago that it would be “impossible to hold the annual ceremony because of the political and security situation in the country,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Wednesday's announcement came as Muslim Brotherhood activists mobilized to block the pilgrimage route.

Ceremonies at the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira have triggered yearly political sparring in Egypt throughout most of the last decade.

An Islamist politician involved in organizing protests against the march meanwhile said that visiting the gravesite in the village of Daymouta, 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Cairo would be a “suicide mission” for Israelis.

“Normalization (of relations) with Israel is forced on the people, and the visits too come against the will of the people and despite popular rejection,” said Gamal Heshmat of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt’s daily Al-Ahram newspaper reported Tuesday that 31 parties and groups had joined this year’s campaign to block Israeli pilgrims from reaching the site.

A son to a chief rabbi of Morocco, Yaakov Abuchatzeira was revered by some Jews as a mystic renowned for his piety and for performing miracles. The elderly rabbi was making his way from his native Morocco to the Holy Land in 1879, when he fell ill and died in the Egyptian city of Damanhour near Alexandria.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Save the Borgel cemetery in Tunis

With thanks: Ahoovah

This is a sad little clip by the Forward's Nate Lavey recording the sorry state of the Borgel Jewish cemetery, the largest in North Africa, which contains 30,000 Jewish graves. A small number were transferred from another Jewish cemetery in the centre of Tunis, including the tomb of the famous Rabbi Hai Taieb (Lo Met). This central cemetery was turned into a park shortly after Tunisia gained its independence in 1956, and the vast majority of tombs bulldozed into the ground.

Unless something is done urgently, fears lone campaigner Joseph Krief, the same fate awaits the Borgel. Once on the outskirts of Tunis, the cemetery is threatened by the encroaching city, and soaring land values make it ripe for redevelopment if it is declared 'abandoned'. Krief has been leading a drive to raise funds to clean up and restore the cemetery, so far without success. If nothing is done soon, another slice of Tunisian-Jewish history will be lost for ever.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Iraq cuts cooperation with US over Jewish archives

Latest chapter in the never-ending saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archives being restored in Washington: Iraq has cut cooperation with the United States on archaeological exploration because Washington has not returned the archives, Tourism and Archaeology Minister Liwaa Smaisim told AFP.

The fate of the archives, which were removed from Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, is a long-running point of contention between Washington and Baghdad, which has for years sought their return.

Smaisim, a member of powerful anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement, said in an interview with AFP that Iraq will use “all the means” to pursue the return of the archives.

“One of the means of pressure that I used against the American side is I stopped dealing with the American (archaeological) exploration missions because of the case of the Jewish archives and the antiquities that are in the United States,” said Smaisim.

“The American side made many moves and pressure (for Iraq) to resume work with them but this is a final decision,” he added.

The ministry of culture says that millions of documents including the Jewish archives were transferred to the United States.

Seventy percent of the Jewish archives are Hebrew-language documents, with another 25 percent in Arabic and five percent in other languages, according to the ministry.

The archives, which were found in the flooded basement of the intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, include Torah scrolls, Jewish law and children’s books, Arabic-language documents produced for Iraqi Jews and government reports about the Jewish community.

Iraq was home to a large Jewish community in ancient times but its members left en masse after the creation of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.*

Read article in full

JTA article (with thanks: Edwin)

*It is more accurate to say that the community left en masse not as a result of the creation of Israel, but the antisemitic backlash to Israel.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jewish Refugee Day: bring it on!

A scene from the Farhud, painted by Nessim Zalayett

Israel 's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon's proposal for a national and international Jewish Refugee Day is not new, but the idea of tying it to the anniversary of the Farhud pogrom is a shrewd move, says Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel:

Last week the Babylonian Heritage Centre at Or Yehuda near Tel Aviv welcomed a distinguished guest: Deputy Foreign minister Danny Ayalon came to deliver an address on the 71st anniversary of the Farhud.

This appalling pogrom, incited by neo-Nazis on 1 and 2 June 1941, the festival of Shavuot (the word Farhud means Violent Dispossession), claimed the lives of at least 137 Jews, injuring 1,000 and wrecking and looting 900 Jewish homes. It shook the 2,600-year-old community to the core: Iraq’s Jews would never recover their self-confidence. Within 10 years, 80 percent of the Iraqi-Jewish community had fled to Israel as refugees.

Danny Ayalon believes that a date as near to the Shavuot pogrom as possible should be declared Jewish Refugee Day. He has already submitted a proposal for a memorial day to Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, who heads the Knesset’s symbols and rituals committee.

The new memorial day would, he says, correct a historical injustice by finally recognizing the 850,000 Jewish refugees forced to leave their homes in Arab countries. Such recognition will have unavoidable political ramifications, by spotlighting a de facto, irreversible exchange of Jewish and Palestinian refugees between Israel and the Arab world. It goes hand in hand with another campaign to force the US government to distinguish between genuine Palestinian refugees on the one hand and their millions of descendants on the other.

In a conflict where symbolism has been ruthlessly exploited by the Palestinian side – from keffiyehs to keys to special commemorations like Land Day and Nakba Day – Ayalon’s initiative will have powerful resonance. Schools in Israel will be encouraged to teach the neglected history of pre-Islamic, millenarian Jewish communities native to the Middle East and North Africa, while diaspora groups all over the world will be invited to mark the occasion with films, lectures or exhibitions.

If the Jewish Refugee Day becomes an integral part of the Jewish calendar, the Israeli government will have come full circle. In the 1950s it insisted that Jews from Arab countries were Zionist immigrants returning to their homeland. A memorial day for displaced Jews will place the focus on the ‘push’ factors: Jews are being portrayed not as immigrants but as refugees, forced out against their will by violence and state-sanctioned persecution.

The idea of a memorial day is not new: it has been mooted by the Egyptian-born professor Ada Aharoni for some years now.

“A special day to mark ‘the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries’ can not only spread the word in Israel and abroad, but also leverage the subject to promote understanding and reconciliation between two peoples, and repel the worldwide wave of antisemitism”, she writes. “It also might lead researchers, sociologists, historians, media people and educators to research and disseminate information on the displacement of Jews from Arab countries in order to register it as an integral part of the general Jewish heritage and an important, but so far neglected, aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Professor Aharoni has been toying with a ‘Jewish Nakba Day’ to coincide with Palestinian Nakba Day on 15 May. But many have not been comfortable with the association with the ‘Nakba’, an euphemism for the failed Arab genocide of the Jews.

Some have suggested that Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be remembered at Passover – a uniquely Jewish commemoration of oppression and freedom. Egyptian Jews in particular can point to the irony of their Second Exodus in modern times.

But Ayalon’s idea of tying a nationwide memorial day to the Farhud is a shrewd one: this is a catastrophe that occurred seven years before Israel came into being. It cannot be rationalised as a backlash to the creation of the Jewish state. It is often argued that the Palestinians were not responsible for the plight of the Jews. In the case of the Farhud, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who spent two years in Baghdad before eventually joining Hitler in Berlin, had a direct hand in making the Farhud happen, by whipping up frenzied Jew-hatred in Iraq. The Farhud is a tragic example of unprovoked antisemitism. Its legacy of oppression and intolerance is still with us today.

Read post in full

Crossposted at Harry's Place

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ayalon proposes Jewish Refugee Day at Shavuot

Deputy Foreign minister Danny Ayalon in a Foreign Ministry video

According to Israel Hayom, the deputy foreign minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, has submitted a proposal to the Israeli Tourism minister for a memorial day - Jewish Refugee Day - to be declared near Shavuot - the date of the 1941 Farhud in which 137 Iraqi Jews were murdered. Dror Eykar of Israel Hayom endorses the idea, although his suggestion that schools teach the discredited From time immemorial by Joan Peters may be problematic. (With thanks: Daled Amos, Lily)

The way Palestinians are classified in terms of their refugee status holds both political and financial significance. Most of UNRWA's budget comes from the U.S., and so a shift in the way the U.S. Congress considers Palestinians can affect UNRWA's budget.

Congress is now asking the U.N. for a report detailing how many refugees aided by UNRWA were actually displaced during the War of Independence, and how many have been granted refugee status through "inheritance."

Congress' request comes after significant lobbying by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beytenu). Ayalon has also been promoting a new memorial day on the Jewish calendar - Jewish Refugee Day, during which students will learn about the 850,000 Jewish refugees who fled from their native Arab countries since the establishment of the state.

Ayalon has already submitted a request on the matter to Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beytenu), who heads the Knesset's symbols and rituals committee. Ayalon suggested the new memorial day be set near Shavuot, on the day of the 1941 Farhud pogrom, during which 137 Iraqi Jews were murdered. Ayalon said introducing the new memorial day would correct a historical injustice by finally recognizing the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and victims who were persecuted and forced to leave their homes in Arabs countries.

Read article in full

Dror Eykar comments in his Israel Hayom blog:

The U.S. Congress is seeking clarifications over why it is that only Palestinian refugees are able to pass the "refugee" status down from generation to generation, while every other refugee in the world cannot.

A lot has already been written about the U.N. body established specifically to assist Palestinian refugees – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA. It has become a professional organization, that provides many employees with a steady living, but it does very little to resolve the refugee status of the Palestinians. The bulk of UNRWA's budget comes from the U.S.

A key achievement can be credited to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. He is promoting a new memorial day on the Jewish calendar – Jewish refugee day. On this day, we will remember the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced to flee from Arab states. This would not just be a symbolic act; in our blood-soaked region, remembrance carries a political and diplomatic meaning. The Palestinians are speaking about refugees at length? Then we will too. While our refugees have assimilated into society, the Palestinian refuges have always been, and still remain, no more than a propaganda tool for their leaders.

On this day, our schools should teach Joan Peter's book "From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine" (on the demographics of the Arab population of Palestine and of the Jewish population of the Arab world before and after the establishment of the State of Israel). Peters found that only when it came to Palestinians did the U.N. alter its classification of refugees to apply to people who lived in the territory for only two years prior the establishment of Israel. Why did the criteria need to be changed? Because many of the refugees arrived in the area on the heels of the Zionist enterprise and the British mandate in search of work. Somebody should tell Israel's African infiltrator population – they have been here for more than two years, and they, too, can demand a right of return to Israel.

Read post in full

Aharoni seeks PM approval for Jewish 'Nakba' Day

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tunisian Jews too cautious to say much of anything

It takes a seasoned Middle East-watcher like Michael Totten to see conditions as they are - not as government minders and fixers would like them to be seen. This World Affairs Journal account of Totten's interview with the chief rabbi of Tunisia and a Catholic priest is a must-read (with thanks: Eliyahu):

Armin took Ahmed’s advice and greeted the rabbi and his assistant in Hebrew. Their faces lit up. It was an interesting moment. There were five of us in that room. Three Jews, one nominal Christian (me), and one nominal Muslim (Ahmed). For the first time since Armin arrived in the country, he wasn’t the token Jew in the room.

“How has the situation here changed for the Jews of Tunisia,” I said, “since the fall of Ben Ali?”

“Nothing has changed,” the rabbi said. “It’s the same situation since Ben Ali’s fall.”

Haim Bittan, chief rabbi of Tunisia...'evasive'

“This is a country ruled by an Islamist government,” Armin said. “Do you feel that presents any problems for the Jewish community?

“There’s no problem between the government and the Jewish community,” the rabbi said.

“But I have seen photographs of Salafists with their black flag in front of the synagogue here intimidating people,” I said. “Was that a one-time event, or are you worried they might become increasingly dangerous?”

“They don’t bother me,” the rabbi said. “They lived with us before. That incident was their business, not ours.”

What kind of answers were these?

Ahmed, our Tunisian translator and fixer, had a question of his own for the rabbi.

“Does it bother you that some people want Islamic law in the constitution?” he said.

“There’s no problem at all,” the rabbi said, “because the constitution is not written.”

“He doesn’t want to answer,” Ahmed said quietly to Armin and me as he leaned back in his chair.

I’m not even sure why the rabbi agreed to be interviewed. He answered almost all of our questions this way, as did his assistant. They answered as though the entire Arab world would judge them for what they said and pounce if they uttered a peep of complaint. They reminded me of citizens of police states who are asked on the record what they think of the government.

I didn’t want to get them in trouble or give them the third degree, but I needed something other than packaged boilerplate answers, so I chose a question that couldn’t be easily dodged. The rabbi’s assistant wore a black yarmulke or kippah on the top of his head, which marked him out as an obvious Jew, and I addressed my question to him.

“Do you walk around, either of you, on the street wearing the kippah?”

He vigorously shook his head. “We don’t,” he said. “People might think we’re Zionists and we don’t want that, so we wear a hat.”

They had at least one problem then. They felt the need to be closeted, at least on the street. That’s never a good sign.

Christians don’t have to hide the fact that they’re Christian. Everyone in Tunisia who so much as glanced at me surely assumed I’m a Christian (that is, if they gave the matter any thought in the first place) since I look European. Nearly all were perfectly friendly.

They were perfectly friendly to Armin, as well. His complexion makes him look ethnically ambiguous. He could be Hispanic, Arab, Italian, Israeli. He could be many things. He received no more and no less hospitality than I did. But what if he walked around wearing a kippah or a necklace with a six-pointed star? The rabbi’s assistant wouldn’t dare.

It’s hard to say, though, how much trouble Armin actually would have faced had he done that. Israelis can and do visit Tunisia. They can do so on their own passports. They don’t have to use second passports from a country like Britain or the United States the way Israeli visitors to Lebanon do.

And here’s the thing: when you visit Tunisia you have to produce your passport a lot. You have to produce your passport every time you check into a hotel. You have to produce your passport to rent a car. You have to show your passport to police officers and the national guard at checkpoints. (That happened to me a number times.) So Israelis—not just Jews, but Israelis—can and do wander around all over Tunisia and announce to the police and to the staff at hotels, airports, and car rental offices that they’re Israelis. And supposedly they don’t experience any problems.

I’m not sure what to make of it. I’d like to report that the Jews are doing just fine, but if that’s the case, why were the rabbi and his assistant so cagey? And why wouldn’t they go out in public looking like Jews? Ahmed didn’t even blink when Armin told him he’s Jewish, nor did he mind in the slightest that Armin and I have both been to Israel. Ahmed, though, is a well-educated tri-lingual professional, and his own views of the Arab-Israeli conflict are, shall we say, unconventional compared with those of his neighbors.

Armin asked the rabbi why Libya and Algeria are entirely free of Jews while Tunisia is not.

“Jews in Tunisia don’t have any problems living with other people,” the rabbi said. “In the other countries they did.”

And that’s all he had to say about that.

“But a lot of Tunisian Jews did leave and go to Israel,” I said. “Why did they leave while you stayed?”

“Only a few Tunisian Jews went to Israel,” he said, “but they went for economic reasons. Maybe they didn’t have a lot here and they wanted to go there for the economic opportunities. Those who had good lives here stayed.”

Such cautious answers! Move along, nothing to see.

He might have answered differently had I not been a reporter, but who knows? There’s always a chance he has internalized what he’s saying to keep his stress level down, but I don’t think so. I can’t psychoanalyze the man, but his tone of voice and body language suggested he was extremely reserved and not entirely sincere in what he was saying.

“What’s the Jewish community’s view on relations between Tunisia and Israel?” Armin said. Tunisia had low-level diplomatic relations with Israel during the 1990s, but Ben Ali severed those relations during the Second Intifada. “There’s talk of banning normalization with Israel in the constitution.”

“That’s a matter for the government to decide,” the rabbi said, “not the Jewish community here.”

“But the Jewish community surely has an opinion,” Armin said.

I understand that he has to be careful, but we wanted the truth even if we couldn’t quote him. “You can answer off the record,” I said. “I’ll turn my voice recorder off if you want.”

He didn’t want me to turn off the recorder, but he understood that I didn’t like his evasiveness so he gave me a better answer.

“If Tunisia normalized relations with Israel,” he said, “then the Muslims here might bother Jews. So we would rather Tunisia not have normal relations with Israel.”

That was an on-the-record response. So at least he was willing to acknowledge the potential for trouble for Tunisia’s Jews.

I don’t mean to suggest that they’re oppressed and that the chief rabbi of Tunis answered questions with a gun in his back. I do not believe they are oppressed. At least I’m unaware that they are oppressed. But it’s hard to be a minority anywhere in the world. And it has been so hard to be a Jew in the Arab world lately that there are almost none left.

The rabbi can’t be entirely wrong. Tunisia’s Jews are not prisoners. They’re free to leave if they like. They can visit Europe without any problems. They can visit Israel without any problems. Since they can visit Israel, they can make aliyah and receive citizenship automatically upon arrival. All a Tunisian Jew has to do if he wants to permanently relocate to Israel is buy a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv for 200 dollars. That’s less than an average month’s salary, so coming up with the money wouldn’t be hard.

Even if it’s more difficult to live as a Jew in Tunisia than the rabbi and his assistant let on, it’s possible to live there as a Jew. More than a thousand do so voluntarily. That’s something. Isn’t it?

I wanted to know if Tunisian Jews and Muslims socialize with each other or if they live entirely separate lives. Do they visit each other’s houses? Do they hang out in cafes?

The rabbi’s assistant answered by shaking his head.

It’s always a good idea to talk to minorities in the Middle East. They see things at a different angle from everyone else. The Jews I met in Tunisia, though, had no more to say about the revolution, the new government, or where Tunisia is heading than they did about their own circumstances. They were too cautious to say much of anything.

Read article in full

Alexandria synagogue comes to Tel Aviv museum

The model of Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue now at the Museum of the Jewish People, Beit Hatefutsot

A model of the largest synagogue in the Middle East, the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, has been unveiled at Beit Hatefutsot in Tel Aviv, the Museum of the Jewish People (formerly the Museum of the Diaspora). The model was built in memory of Sami Cohen with a donation from his sister Shosh Hadar. Both were born in Egypt and Shosh now lives in Jerusalem. The model of the Italian-designed synagogue, which rivals the Florence synagogue in size and beauty, took 18 months to build and will be on display at the entrance of Beit Hatefutsot for two months before joining 20 other models in the museum's permanent collection. Haaretz has this report:

The synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, is considered to be the biggest in the Middle East. It was built in its current form in the mid-19th century, but prior to that it was destroyed twice – the last time under the decree of Napoleon. It was later repaired by an Italian architect and financed by members of the local Jewish community together with Sir Moses Montefiore.

In the second century, Rabbi Judah bar Ilai praised the synagogue of Alexandria and its boulevard lined with columns, saying it was so large that he who stood by the chazzan had to wave a flag to signal the praying congregants when to say “Amen.”

In the ancient days of the synagogue, Alexandria was home to a thriving Jewish community. The masterpiece of the spiritual activities in the city was the “Seventy Translation,” which translated biblical verse to Greek. Even the Jewish philosopher, Philon (of Alexandria), lived in the city. In 1940, the Jewish community was 40,000 members strong, but in the years that followed, the numbers dwindled as a result of a fear that the Nazis would advance to Egypt, and following that as a result of the rise of Abdel Nasser’s regime. By the 1990s, only 50 Jews were registered as living there.

The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue still stands in Alexandria today and is maintained by one Jew living in the city and by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, which considers it both historically and archaeologically important. The authorities had intended to carry out wide-scale renovations of the place, but those plans fell through when Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

Levana Zamir, chairwoman of the International Association of Jews from Egypt, which was responsible for building the synagogue’s replica, said, “Despite the difficulty in arranging a program to renovate the synagogue, we decided to support the opportunity of building a replica in any way possible. To do this, we used the photos and sketches that were at our disposal.” Pesach Ruder, who built the model, added that he “saw a great challenge in building it. We recreated the synagogue and all the details that were in it, using the photos as inspiration.”

Read article in full

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Murdered Yemenite to be buried in Israel

The family of murdered Aharon Zindani arriving in Israel (Photo: Moshe Shai)

The remains of Aharon Zindani, a Jew murdered in Yemen's capital Sana'a three weeks ago, will be buried in Israel, The Jerusalem Post reports. His family has accompanied his body on a flight from Yemen. They plan to stay in Israel.

The body of a Jewish man murdered in Yemen three weeks ago will be laid to rest in Israel on Thursday. The Jewish Agency for Israel announced a plane carrying the remains of the victim Aharon Zindani landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday evening. It said his family members were also on the flight, which was organized by the Jewish group with assistance from the Foreign and Defense Ministries, and plan to stay in Israel.

Zindani was stabbed to death when he went shopping at a market in Sana'a, Yemen's capital. His son, who was reportedly with him at the time of the incident, was quoted as saying he knew the assailant and that the murderer believed Zindani "ruined and bewitched him." The Jewish Agency for Israel said the attack was apparently anti-Semitic in nature.

There are some 130 Jews living in Yemen, an impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.

Read article in full

When will the remaining Jews of Yemen get out?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kurd-Israel magazine editor 'kidnapped by Iranians'

 Israel-Kurd magazine editor Mawlud Afand

Update: The Jerusalem Post reports that the organisation Reporters without Borders 'fears the worst': Mawlud Afand has been missing for 11 days.

The editor of the Israel-Kurd Magazine, Mawlud Afand, has reportedly been kidnapped in Kurdistan and smuggled into Iran.

Magazine publisher Dawod Baghestani, who founded the Israeli-Kurdish Cultural Association monthly newspaper in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003, suspects that Sherzad Omar, a man working for Iranian intelligence in Kurdistan, slipped an anaesthetic drug into Afand's food and drove him across the Iranian border into Kermanshah. He was seen being given a bag by a man who spoke Farsi.

In an email to Point of No Return, Baghestani, who is believed now to be in Turkey, says that he has tried contacting Afand on his mobile but it is constantly busy. He is determined to find out what happened to Afand and is appealing for information.

Dawod Baghestani with the first issue of the Israel-Kurd magazine
Israel-Kurd magazine defies Iranian closure threat

Escape from Baghdad : Moshe Kahtan's story

This 34-minute film by David Kahtan is a must-see: it illustrates the treatment of Jews by the Iraqi regime in the mid-60s. In 1969, nine Jews were hanged in Baghdad's main square on trumped-up spying charges. Had he not managed to escape, Moshe Kahtan is convinced he would have been the tenth.

Moshe Kahtan, scion of an old and prominent Baghdad family, was the last Iraqi Jew to escape the country before the 1967 Six-Day War.

Having left Iraq in the 1950s to study in London, Moshe had to make the most difficult decision of his life and went back to Baghdad in 1965, knowing full well that as a Jew, he would be prevented from leaving again.

In this film, made by his son David, Moshe tells us of his “two years of hell” in the city of his birth, and gives an account of his near-capture by the Iraqi navy.

Also by David Kahtan:
Voices of the Farhud Part 1
Voices of the Farhud Part 2

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Talks on Libyan Jewish assets 'will begin next year'

Raphael Luzon visiting his home town of Benghazi under the Gaddafi regime

Talks over the restoration of Jewish property confiscated by slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi will commence next year, Raphael Luzon, an UK Jewish leader, told the Jerusalem Post last week, quoting a high-ranking Libyan government official. Forgive my cynicism, but promises to restore Jewish assets made by the previous regime never materialised. The Arabic saying Bukra fel meshmesh springs to mind: tomorrow the apricots (ie tomorrow never comes). (With thanks: Lily)

Raphael Luzon, a Libyan-born Jew whose family was forced into exile in 1967, said the general director of the Libyan Prime Minister’s Office promised talks would start after a constitution is drafted in 2013.

“They will start giving back lands taken by Gaddafi from Muslims and then there will be a second wave for Jews,” said Luzon, who just returned from the country where he met with political figures. “Whoever will present official documents will get back the money, but we need another year and only after the second election they will appoint such a man.”

Luzon would not disclose the name of the official he met, but said it was public knowledge in Libya.

Most Libyan Jews left for Israel during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Those who remained were forced out by Gaddafi in the late 1960s leaving their personal assets behind. The flamboyant dictator’s regime also confiscated Jewish communal property, in one case paving a highway over the ancient Jewish cemetery in Tripoli.

Luzon, who lives in the UK and is part of a group of Jews born in Libya with property claims in the country, said the assets involved were considerable.

“I saw files like my father’s who left $10 million, but there are others that left even $100m.,” he said.

Meanwhile, Libya continues to suffer from chronic political instability. General elections now set to take place next month have been postponed several times as violence between tribes has flared. In light of the circumstances the question of Jewish rights remains on the backburner.

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Jewish refugees cannot turn back wheel of history

On the 71st anniversary of the Farhud pogrom killing hundreds of Iraqi Jews, Arabs and Palestinians who parrot the 'right of return' should be mindful of the catastrophe that befell Jews in Arab countries, for whom the wheel of history cannot turn back, Zvi Gabay writes in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks Yoram, Shmuel) :

On June 17, 2012, Iraqi Jews will commemorate the 71st anniversary of the Farhud – the riots that took place on Shavuot in 1941. In the riots, reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany, 137 Jews (180 or more according to some sources), men, women and children, were murdered, hundreds more wounded and much Jewish property looted. The memory of the riots remains fresh in the minds of Iraqi Jews. This year’s ceremony will be held in the Babylonian Jewry Center in Or Yehuda and will be attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

The attacks occurred without provocation. The Jews, who had lived in Arab lands for thousands of years, did not declare war on their hosts. They never fought against them, as the Arabs in mandatory Palestine fought against the Jewish settlements and afterwards against the nascent Jewish State of Israel. The world has heard a great deal about the injustice visited upon the Palestinians, under the code name Nakba, or “catastrophe,” but knows almost nothing about the crimes committed against Jews in Arab lands. What happened in these countries was in effect ethnic cleansing.

While the Nakba is marked every year with demonstrations and wide media coverage, the “Jewish Nakba” does not merit any public or media notice. This despite the fact that the human and physical dimensions of the disaster that befell them were larger: the number of Jewish refugees forced out of their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs was about 856,000, while the Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine numbered about 650,000 according to UNRWA statistics.

The attacks against the Jews of Arab lands occurred before the establishment of the State of Israel. In Iraq they began with discrimination, in the economy, in education and public life.

Afterwards, Arab nationalism ignited rioting against the Jews, which came to a peak in the Farhud of 1941.

Similar tragedies befell the Jews of Libya, Aden and other Arab countries.

The combination of xenophobic Sunni nationalism and anti-Semitism produced a powerful hatred of the Jews. This hatred was abetted by Nazis such as the German envoy to Baghdad, Dr. Fritz Grobba, and pseudo- religious leaders such as Haj Amin al-Husseini (who fled from Mandatory Palestine and found in Iraq a convenient venue for his anti-Jewish activities). The Jews were left with no choice but to flee from the countries they had helped to found and bring into the modern era with their contributions to government, the economy, medicine, education, literature, poetry and music.

The threatening anti-Jewish climate that prevailed in every Arab country was accompanied by inflamed anti-Jewish declarations, even from the podium of the United Nations.

Government harassment and popular attacks drove the Jews of the Arab world to migrate en masse to Israel. In Egypt, a mass expulsion took place in the dead of night; the Jews were forced to leave behind their personal and communal property – including schools, ancient synagogues and cemeteries, prophets’ graves and hospitals. The Arab authorities confiscated the property.

There were certainly Muslims in the Arab countries who did not support the attacks on the Jews, but their voices were not heard.

The Jews were the scapegoats in internecine power struggles between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, just as today Israel is at the center of the struggle between the Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni states, with Turkey at the forefront.

In recent years, a process of awakening can be discerned in the Arab world, especially among intellectuals, who recognize that it was not only the Palestinian Arabs who suffered a “nakba,” but that the Jews of the Arab world had their own catastrophe. Arab leaders – Palestinians and others – would do well to stop parroting the slogan “the right of return” and deluding their people, because there is no turning back the wheel of history.

Only a dialogue with Israel for coexistence will bring a genuine basis of justice and truth.

Read article in full

Article in Cutting Edge News

Spanish version of Zvi Gabay's article on request: email

Israel Hayom article (Hebrew) by Zvi Gabay (click on 'Deyot' - 6th word down)

Zvi Gabay: how the Farhud led to a mass exodus

Monday, June 18, 2012

Saviour of Syrian Jews awarded President's medal

Israel's President Peres honours Toronto’s Judy Feld Carr (Photo: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Judy Feld Carr, the Canadian mother credited with helping Jews escape Syria in the 1990s, was finally granted the recognition she deserves this week, the Jerusalem Post reports. She was awarded Israel's Presidential medal.

Feld Carr – a musicologist, mother of six and grandmother of 13 who lives most of the year in Toronto – says she secretly and discreetly used money and connections to help Jews get out of Syria.

On Monday, she was given the Presidential Award of Distinction by Shimon Peres in recognition of her heroic role in the rescue of Syrian Jewry. Peres, who had phoned her in Toronto in February to inform her of her award, praised her “courageous action and exceptional contribution to the Jewish people.”

In an interview at the Jerusalem home in which she and her lawyer husband, Donald Carr, often spend part of their summers, Feld Carr smiles when asked why she was given the prize.

“I was awarded it because I secretly took out three-quarters of the Syrian Jewish community by escape routes and by ransom, and it was the biggest secret in the Jewish world,” she tells The Jerusalem Post. “Nobody, but I mean nobody, knew how I was doing it.”

Based in Toronto, she devoted herself to working with smugglers and bribing government officials to save Jews from the hostile Syrian regime, methodically keeping files on each one of them.

“I started a communication with Syria at the end of 1972. I took my first person out of Syria by ransom – a rabbi from Aleppo – in 1977; I finished the morning of September 11, 2001, an hour before the Trade Center tragedy happened,” she explains, matterof- factly.

“I was involved with [rescuing] 3,228 Jews out of a population of 4,500 when I started. Slowly, slowly, slowly, with a great deal of difficulty; it was not an easy thing to do, and I am not from Syria – I am an Ashkenazi from northern Canada originally – I figured out the system.”

Her interest in Syria started when she and her first husband, Rubin Feld, clandestinely started sending “religious books” to the country from Canada, and she was later approached by a couple of Syrian Jews who came to Toronto to visit her.

She makes a point of expressing her gratitude to her home country of Canada for enabling her to conduct her rescue operation there without word getting out to the rest of the world.

“Canada is another best-kept secret. I could do things quietly in Canada and not be seen by the press or the media,” she says, emphatically. “A lot of my neshama [soul] has been in this. I did this quietly for 28 years, and I raised all the money quietly – no dinners, no parties, no fund-raising. All the money was raised by my best friend and a few other people on a committee that I had in Toronto and me.

“It was all by word of mouth, and the money went into a fund in my synagogue, Beth Tzedec Congregation. The fund was named in memory of my late husband who died in 1973 of a heart attack, after a major threat against my life.”

Asked how she pulled it off, Feld Carr still cannot tell the whole story, which apparently involved paying smugglers to take Jews through other Muslim countries, or paying for their release and flying them to the United States. But, she stresses, it was extremely tough.

“There’s no one answer. Each person was done totally differently. One thing you have to understand right up front, I never made a contact to get anybody out of Syria and that’s the most important thing,” she says. “Syrian Jews had tried every single way they could think of to get out; their own ransoming, other escapes, people were caught, people were sent to prison. They had to find me; I was their last resort out of the country. They found me through a relative, a brother or a sister, or someone in Israel.”

Her face lights up as she gives an example: “As a matter of fact, one of the presidents of Israel was approached by a young man in the Israel Air Force who who came to him to say, ‘Please, I have a family in Syria, you have to get them out.’ And the president’s secretary called me in Toronto. That’s how I came to get his family out, part as a result of an escape and part by ransoming. “It was the most difficult thing. First they had to find me. They never saw me; I was the voice on the telephone, and they had to trust what I was going to do.”

When confronted with the current bloodshed in Syria, she expresses her relief that the majority of Jews are now out of the country, living mostly in the US, South America and Israel: “There’s certainly a civil war [in Syria], and as the so-called rebellious side gets more and more arms, there are going to be more and more murders,” she predicts. “I know what hell Syrian Jews went through. I can say to you, thank goodness there are only 17 Jews left there, all older people who did not want to leave. I’d hate to think what would happen from either side if there were Jews left in Syria.”

Feld Carr has been awarded a number of top honors over recent years, including an appointment as a member of the Order of Canada and the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

In 1995, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was the first to acknowledge her “extraordinary work,” in a letter which now hangs on her wall: “Now that for all practical purposes, the entire Syrian Jewish community has left Syria, the time for thanks is here – first and foremost to you,” Rabin wrote.

A book called The Rescuer by Canadian Jewish historian Harold Troper was written in 2007 about “the amazing, true story of how one woman helped save the Jews of Syria.”

Israel Broadcasting Authority Channel 1’s made a documentary about her work titled Miss Judy, which was shown at the Toronto Film Festival.

Read article in full

Friday, June 15, 2012

Roosevelt failed to give N. African Jews their rights

Imagine if part of the US had been occupied by the Germans and liberated by the British, only to leave Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh (two notorious pro-Nazis) to run the government. That's exactly what happened in 1942 , Raphael Medoff explains in the David S Wyman journal of Holocaust Studies when the Allies liberated North Africa, leaving Jews without their rights for a whole year. (with thanks: Eliyahu)

Writing in The Forward on Oct. 21, 2011, former district attorney Robert Morgenthau and law professor Frank Tuerkheimer claim to have discovered that President Franklin D. Roosevelt "saved the Jews of North Africa and the future State of Israel" by invading Axis-occupied North Africa.

It was a stroke of good fortune that the Allied victory in North Africa in 1942 happened to stop the Nazis from, among other things, massacring the Jews of Palestine. But for Morgenthau and Tuerkheimer to suggest that it was Roosevelt's intention to rescue those Jews is misleading, to put it mildly. It would be like saying that Stalin "saved the Jews of Moscow" when the Soviets stopped the advance of the German Army at Stalingrad, or that Churchill "saved the Jews of London" when the German attack on England was repulsed.

But what makes the Morgenthau-Tuerkheimer thesis especially ironic is that it fails to mention the explosive controversy over the anti-Jewish policies that FDR permitted in Allied-liberated North Africa.

On November 8, 1942, American and British forces invaded Nazi-occupied Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and, in eight days, defeated the Germans and their Vichy French partners.

For the 330,000 Jews of North Africa, the Allied conquest was heaven-sent--or so it seemed. The Vichy regime that had ruled since the summer of 1940 had stripped the region’s Jews of their civil rights (originally granted back in 1870), severely restricted their entrance to schools and some professions, confiscated Jewish property, and tolerated sporadic pogroms against Jews by local Muslims. In addition, thousands of Jewish men were hauled away to forced-labor camps.

President Roosevelt, in his victory announcement, pledged “the abrogation of all laws and decrees inspired by Nazi governments or Nazi ideologists."

Or so he said.

Behind the scenes, Roosevelt had cut a deal with Admiral Francois Darlan, a senior Vichy official who happened to be Algiers at the time of the Allied invasion. In exchange for persuading some of the local forces to surrender, Darlan was named High Commissioner for North Africa. Nearly all of the top officials of the local Vichy regime were permitted to remain in the new government. The Vichy “Office of Jewish Affairs” continued to operate, as did the forced labor camps in which thousands of Jews were imprisoned.

Charles de Gaulle and the anti-Nazi French resistance were of course outraged. And so were many prominent Americans. Mr. Morgenthau's father, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was "apoplectic," FDR biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin reports. She quotes Secretary of War Henry Stimson's observation: "Poor Henry was sunk. He was almost for giving up the war which he said had lost all interest for him." An editorial in The New Republic urged its readers to imagine how they would feel if the Germans had occupied part of the United States, and then when the British liberated the area, they permitted Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh to run the government.

Darlan and company claimed that rescinding the anti-Jewish laws would cause local Arabs to riot. Secretary of State Cordell Hull agreed. So did General George Patton, who warned from Morocco that "local Jews" would "try to take the lead here," thus angering the Arabs.

President Roosevelt, too, seemed to subscribe to Patton's "pushy Jews" theory. FDR discussed the question of rights for North African Jewry at a January 17, 1943 meeting in Casablanca with officials of the new "non-Vichy" regime. According to the official U.S. government transcript of the conversation, Roosevelt said: "The number of Jews engaged in the practice of the professions (law, medicine, etc) should be definitely limited to the percentage that the Jewish population in North Africa bears to the whole of the North African population...The President stated that his plan would further eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore toward the Jews in Germany, namely, that while they represented a small part of the population, over fifty percent of the lawyers, doctors, school teachers, college professors, etc., in Germany, were Jews." (It is not clear how FDR came up with that wildly exaggerated statistic.)

American Jewish leaders did not know of FDR's private comments about Jewish professionals. Undoubtedly they would have been shocked and horrified if word had leaked out. (The transcript was not made public until 1968.) But they did know that the promised restoration of the rights of North African Jewry had not taken place, and as the weeks turned into months, they started wondering why.

Although reluctant to take issue with the Roosevelt administration, by the spring of 1943, Jewish leaders began speaking out. The American Jewish Congress and World Jewish Congress charged that “the anti-Jewish legacy of the Nazis remains intact in North Africa” and urged FDR to eliminate the Vichy laws. Leaders of the American Jewish Committee met with Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to press for abrogation.

Read article in full

Purim 1943: US resisted repeal of Vichy laws

Did FDR save Jews?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Little Algeria on the Eastern Mediterranean

With thanks: Michelle

Are we in the Sahara? Somewhere in deepest North Africa?

No, this is Israel. Ashdod, then a town of 30,000, where modern blocks rise out of the dunes, was in the mid 1960s known as Little Algeria - home to several thousand Jews from that war-torn country.

The interviewer is delighted to see that even the policemen here speak French. As most Algerian Jews had French nationality, France would have been the logical choice for these refugees. Some of those interviewed still feel they made the wrong choice: "France is bigger, more beautiful, more fun for young people," says one teenager. He would like to go and live in France so that he could see the singer Enrico Macias.

Other reasons pull families back to France - one man working in immigrant absorption says that of 300 families who came to Ashdod, only 130 families remain. They move back for sentimental reasons, to join their families in France, or more likely because France gives them compensation (for lost property).

One doctor who plans to return to France blames the social divisions between Ashkenazim and Sephardim for his failure to integrate. But others, who feel professionally fulfilled, say discrimination has not been an issue for them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tunisian Jews seek place in the sun

Article in The Forward profiling the two most prominent Jews in Tunisia today and their varying responses to the previous and present regime. Nate Lavey reports:

Bismuth and Lellouche are secular Jews who live far more cosmopolitan lives in Tunis than their co-religionists in Djerba. Both hail originally from the seaside town of La Goulette, which used to have a significant Jewish population. But they are very much men of their respective, quite different, times.

Bismuth, who was born in 1926, is a survivor of the Nazi occupation of Tunisia. He became a multinational businessman and is, perhaps, the most famous Jew in the country. As a major figure in the community, Bismuth was close to Ben Ali. In 2005 he was listed in U.S. diplomatic cables, later leaked via WikiLeaks, as a “notable” Ben Ali loyalist. His election in 2005 to the Tunisian Senate made him one of the few Jewish legislators in the Arab world, though the body itself was toothless. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bismuth has fond memories of the old government — and contempt for Tunisian revolutionaries.

Speaking of Tunisia’s large numbers of unemployed college graduates, he said, “These are even more dangerous than the lower-class people, because the lower class can live with almost nothing, but these people, when they graduate, they expect they have a right to have a job.”

Jacob Lellouche, a kosher restaurant owner, ran for the Constituent Assembly following the revolution.
(Photo: Nate Lavey) Jacob Lellouche, a kosher restaurant owner, ran for the Constituent Assembly following the revolution.

High unemployment has been a central complaint for Tunisians with and without degrees, but not for Jews, Bismuth said. “The Jews work! These unemployed people… they don’t want a job, they want a salary. Working for them is not a need, where for us [Jews], we cannot think of not working,” he said.

Lellouche, who is more than 30 years younger than Bismuth, believes that the revolution had broader goals and that it “was made in the name of dignity and democracy.” He believes it holds opportunities, too, for Tunisia’s Jews. Under the Ben Ali regime, “it was not really possible to create a Jewish association,” he explained. For years, Lellouche wanted to found a group that, unlike Bismuth’s, operated independently of the Ben Ali government to promote Jewish cultural heritage in Tunisia. And after the revolution, he did just that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why is the Guardian promoting a genocidal fascist?

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, now a Guardian columnist

The Guardian's decision to post an online article by the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was too much to bear for Charlotte of the Digital Politico blog. From now on she will not read or buy an newspaper that flaunts its left-liberal credentials, but is actually in bed with a genocidal fascist. Lyn Julius traces Hamas's history of pro-Nazi antisemitism through the Muslim Brotherhood in this post for the Times of Israel.

From the 1930s – well before the creation of Israel – the Muslim Brotherhood was agitating against the Jews of Egypt, Palestine and Syria. By 1945 the Muslim Brotherhood had a million armed supporters in Egypt.

The Third Reich financed and trained the Muslim Brothers of Palestine and Egypt in terrorism. The Nazi concept of the Jews as the epitomy of all-controlling evil was exported to the Arab world, where it is entrenched to this day. Hitler shared his plans to kill the Jews of Europe with the main ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, the Mufti of Jerusalem. The Mufti ‘s machinations led to a pro-Nazi coup in Iraq, and the murder of hundreds of Iraqi Jews in the Farhud pogrom in June 1941. Meeting in Berlin a few months later, Hitler and the Mufti agreed a plan to exterminate all the Jews of the Middle East.

From 1947 Arab governments set about making the Arab Middle East Judenrein. They applied Nuremberg-style laws, criminalising Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas, imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. The result was the mass exodus and spoliation of a million Jews.

Nazi-style bigotry, coupled with traditional Islamic antisemitism, remains the driving force behind the marginalisation and exclusion of minorities from the Arab world on the one hand, and the unremitting campaign to destroy Israel on the other.

The ghost of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish fundamentalism was never exorcised from the Arab world. The Mufti of Jerusalem should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. He was indicted, tried and convicted by Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity. But the Allies shrank from offending the Arabs. That is why today in the Arab and Muslim world, antisemitism is epidemic.

The reason why The Guardian gives a platform to genocidal fascists is less easy to fathom. The Left has always dabbled in antisemitism – the ‘socialism of fools’. Israel has been cast as the US’s little imperialist helper. No-one seems to remember that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Iraq, Bahrain and much of the rest of the Arab world are also well within the US sphere of influence.

The so-called red-green alliance, for which The Guardian is a cheerleader, has bought into the myth that Israel is a colonial project. This brazen lie both denies the Jews’ 3,000–year-old connection to their ancestral homeland, and ignores the fact that 50 percent of Israel’s Jewish population descend from refugees indigenous to the Arab and Muslim world, predating Arab Muslim colonialism by centuries.

Then there is the misplaced belief that an extremist party like Hamas will be tamed by the responsibilities of power and needs to be engaged with. No sign of such moderation yet.

Finally, The Guardian’s decision to feature Haniyeh could simply be a hardnosed, commercial one: controversy sells. Losing principled readers such as Charlotte of Digital Politico is evidently a price it is prepared to pay.

Read article in full

Crossposted at Harry's Place

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rehoused refugees had rights to buy their homes

Refugees arriving from Kurdistan were moved into the Palestinian village of Lifta near Jerusalem

Last week the latest chapter in the Lifta saga unfolded, when a resident threatened with eviction produced a 1958 document indicating residents had rights to purchase their homes. Unmentioned in this Haaretz article is that the residents were from Kurdistan. Other residents rehoused in other former Palestinian villages were also from Arab countries :

A High Court of Justice petition submitted on Sunday claims that thousands of families were evacuated from Lifta, Shalem, Summayl and other villages in an illegal, discriminatory fashion to advance real estate deals.

The impetus for the claim was the discovery by a Lifta resident of a 1958 document which was allegedly hidden from residents in these villages, and which indicates they have rights to the homes.

Attorney Gilad Harish, who submitted the petition, says that for decades, the state concealed documents and decisions holding that the residents, most of them Jewish new immigrants, have rights to the dwellings, which were abandoned by Palestinians during the 1948 War of Independence. The documents were concealed, Harish maintains, so the residents could be designated as trespassers the properties re-allocated for real estate purposes.

The complaint has been submitted against the Ministry of Construction and Housing, the Israel Lands Administration and the state-owned Amidar public housing company.

The petition asks the court to issue an immediate injunction to halt evacuation procedures currently underway in Lifta, Shalem and other villages. Justice Yoram Danziger ordered the state to respond by July 15. The petition was submitted as a result of Lifta resident Yoni Yochanan's refusal to evacuate the home where he's lived for dozens of years to make way for a construction project. Yochanan conducted research about the history of Lifta and other local villages which previously belonged to Palestinians. In his research, Yochanan uncovered a 1958 Finance Ministry memorandum which held that "a resident who lacks a lease" but who can prove that he lived in a home in Lifta or other nearby village in April 1954 was entitled to a lease. This ruling indicates that residents evacuated over the years from Lifta and other areas could have obtained rights to their homes, and would now be entitled to compensation payments, the petition argues.

An additional 1958 document indicates that residents in Lifta and elsewhere were eligible for priority rights to purchase the dwellings where they lived.

Read article in full

Breaking the silence on Jewish property rights

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Peter Beinart blackens 'white' Eli Yishai

In case you haven't heard of him, Peter Beinart (pictured) is the new enfant terrible of the US Jewish community after he caused a stir with his new book The Crisis of Zion. In the post below he wrote for Open Zion, we can now see what Beinart thinks of Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews. What a bitter disappointment. Instead of gaining an insight into Middle East politics from his Egyptian grandmother, he naively concludes that Mizrahim must be freed from hatred and self-hatred! My comments are interposed in bold.

"In my youth, I noticed an odd dynamic in my extended family. My Sephardi grandmother, born in Alexandria, Egypt, often denounced “the Arabs,” a group toward which she felt a kind of intimate hostility. When I said something about the Middle East that she deemed naive, she’d insist that if I understood Arabic, as she did, I too would understand the capricious, treacherous Arab mind.

"Some of my Ashkenazi relatives shared similar stereotypes, but with one noteworthy difference: When they talked about Arabs, they included my grandmother and her Sephardi relatives in the definition. I remember one Shabbat dinner, many years ago, during which my grandmother lustily denounced Yasser Arafat. An Ashkenazi relative leaned across the table to me and whispered, “She is Arafat.”

With all due respect, what a bunch of ignoramuses Beinart’s Ashkenazi relatives are. Jews from Arab countries are not Arabs. Even Egyptian non-Jews do not see themselves as Arabs. (Beinart’s grandma came to Egypt from Rhodes, I believe. That makes her Greek/Italian.) It is undeniable, however, that there is an undercurrent of anti-Mizrahi prejudice amongst Ashkenazim. It is strongest on the Left (yes, those who often claim to be most tolerant). The reason is very simply because the Sephardim vote rightwing and appear to be embarrassingly bigoted against Arabs. One surmises that Beinart’s grandma had a healthy suspicion of the Arabs, borne of first-hand experience of being driven out of an Arab country.

"All this came flooding back when I noticed this weekend’s comments by Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai about the Eritrean and Sudanese migrants whose presence has sparked such ugliness in Israel in recent weeks. “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn't belong to us, the white man," Yishai the Israeli newspaper Maariv.

“Us, the white man.” Here’s a photograph of Eli Yishai, whose parents immigrated to Israel from Tunisia:

A little more Barack Obama than Mitt Romney, wouldn’t you say?

Well, Yishai may not be as white as Peter Beinart, but he is quoting what black African economic migrants who have flooded into Israel in their thousands say to Israelis. Beinart took his remarks out of context, trying to paint Yishai as a racist behaving like a 'white' colonialist in spite of the fact he is himself 'black.' Yishai is of course from Africa too, but as a Jew, he is entitled to live in the Jewish state. The economic migrants are not.

"Yishai’s comments illustrate the awful paradox of contemporary Sephardi (or more accurately, Mizrahi) identity. As in my own family, Jews from Arab lands were long seen by their haughty Ashkenazi cousins as, well, Arabs. Intra-Jewish bigotry has certainly declined since Israel’s early years, when David Ben Gurion said that Israel’s Mizrahi immigrants had “no Jewish education.” But it persists. A Mizrahi friend who speaks Hebrew with the guttural pronunciation indigenous to the Middle East recently told me that he is routinely hassled at Ben Gurion airport because his Hebrew sounds too much like Arabic. In her fascinating book, We Look Like the Enemy, Rachel Shabi tells of swarthy Mizrahi Jews who in order to avoid being mistaken for Palestinians by the Israeli police begin wearing kippot or Jewish stars.

There is no paradox, except in the minds of the ignorant. Rachel Shabi’s book (fisked here) belongs in the 1950s. She cherry-picks passe examples of ‘discrimination’ against Sephardi Jews. One could equally write a book illustrating what a success story the integration of Sephardi Jews has been; how many oriental Jews have done extremely well in Israel, reaching the highest echelons of army and government.

And historically, Israel’s Mizrahi Jews haven’t just been deemed Arabs. They’ve been deemed black. In Israel’s early years, Shabi notes, Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews sometimes called their Mizrahi counterparts “Schwarz.” In 1971, a group of radical Mizrahi activists even appropriated the term, calling themselves the “Black Panthers.”

Another sweeping generalisation, this. Some Ashkenazim may call Sephardim 'black' but their children are intermarrying with them in their droves. As Beinart himself admits, the age of intra-Jewish bigotry has passed.

"Now along comes Yishai, the leader of Shas--a party born to give voice to the very Mizrahi Jews long considered black--to declare that Israel must expel its African migrants because Israel is for “us, the white man.” (As you might imagine given the gendered language, Yishai doesn’t have particularly enlightened ideas about women either).

"This is the same Eli Yishai who in 2010 denounced a lawsuit by Mizrahi Jews protesting their school’s decision to segregate Mizrahi girls from their Askhenazi classmates. The lawsuit, Yishai feared, would upset the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox leadership that Shas’s rabbis mimic.

So despite being ‘black’, Yishai is upholding ‘white’, ultra-orthodox values. Yet this example shows that Yishai is not above using the ‘race card’ himself. How very confusing!

Partly out of disgust, a rebel Shas parliamentarian, Haim Amsalem, last year launched a new Mizrahi political party aimed at fighting discrimination and promoting a “unifying and tolerant Jewish approach” to social divides. Amsalem, an Israeli hero almost unknown among American Jews, represents a radically different Mizrahi spirit, freed from both hatred and self-hatred. His party is called Am Shalem (Whole Nation). Whole nation: black, white, Arab, Jew and yes, Arab Jew as well.

It is not disgust with Yishai propelling Amsalem, so much as a desire to revert to traditional Sephardi orthodoxy, outward-looking and integrated in secular life.

Read post in full

Hunting for Zionists in Tunisia

Anti-Zionist paranoia rules OK in the Tunisian hinterland, Armin Rosen finds - much to his disappointment. It is not enough be against normalisation of relations between Tunisia and Israel, one must be for criminalising normalisation, he reports in Jewcy. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

As journalists, we were in Kasserine to probe the poignant banality of the places and people that launched the greatest wave of civil protest the modern Arab world has ever seen. The two labor organizers we were scheduled to interview were typical of the kind of activists who had helped the Sidi Bouzid protests go national. Their concerns were local—the regional illiteracy rate hovered at 35%, and unemployment wasn’t much lower than that. But when the protests began, these were the people who had helped flood the streets with discontented union members, breaking Ben Ali’s meticulous illusion of absolute control.

I wanted to like and respect these people. But my colleague and I would find this quite impossible. “Are you a Zionist?” the plumper of the two men asked us, before we could even get a question in. If we were, the interview was off. My journalist friend had interviewed members of Hezbollah—actual terrorists, in other words—and they had never asked him such a question.

Later in the interview, the activists explained that their union encompassed the entire political spectrum in Tunisia, accommodating communists, Islamists, really anyone who stood up for the rights of the country’s workers. I asked if they would tolerate a party that wanted to restore the diplomatic relations that Israel and Tunisia had maintained until 2000.

“We’re not only against normalizing with Israel, “the balder one said. “We’re for criminalizing normalization with Israel…Being with Israel, or even thinking of normalizing with Israel, is almost like holding a Kalishnakov and shooting a Tunisian citizen.”

Now nothing feels more dishonest than mindlessly nodding along to something that I privately consider to be poisonous nonsense, but it’s a position that only the most timid of journalists will never find themselves in. When this happens, you know you’re not in immediate physical danger or anything, but you can feel the tension rise as your conscience bristles, and as your own self-censorship becomes a very real part of the news-gathering process. Will I give anything away? I wondered. Am I about to be angrily expelled from this office—from this town perhaps? The answers to these questions were “no” and “probably not,” but the discomfort was tangible.

As the meeting progressed, I found myself cycling through all the coastal stereotypes about those backwards and uneducated Tunisian country folk, and even guiltily agreeing with a few of them. Except that in Tunis, the prevailing views on Israel—even among members of the educated, liberal establishment—were even worse.

“I always explain,” Zeynab Farhat, the director of Tunisia’s national theatre, told my colleague the day before I arrived in the country, “that even though I am just a citizen without any importance in this world, I say shit for Israel. It doesn’t exist for me.”

“We are not people like Sadat,” Ahmed Ounaies, Foreign Minister for a few chaotic months after Ben Ali’s ouster, told us. “We will not land in occupied Jerusalem and embrace whoever claims to be the leader of Israel while they still occupy Arab territories.” But don’t worry, he said later in the interview. “We have no ideological complex with Israel. None at all.”

On one of our last nights in Tunis, a young Tunisian journalist who seemed to fear the recently elected and avowedly Islamist Ennahda party as much as he had once despised the corrupt and inflexible Ben Ali regime, gave us his opinion on the current situation in Syria. It’s bad, he said. But, he added, the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians is worse. (At that point, Bashar al-Assad’s government had killed over 9,000 civilians in a little under a year.)

Whenever Israel came up, I dutifully continued typing, recording opinions that were ignorant or uninformed, corrosive even, considering that Tunisia’s was the first society to demand and even affect the destruction of a modern Arab autocracy. In such a revolutionary environment it was notable that narrow-mindedness towards Israel was immune from reassessment. It was notable, but also discouraging, particularly in Kasserine. Whatever brief romance I had with rural Tunisia—with the country’s underdogs, the unheralded heroes of the Arab Spring—ended with the question, “Are you a Zionist?”

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