Sunday, September 30, 2012

Algerian Jews in 1818: miserable but moneyed

 As an exhibition on the Jews of Algeria opens in Paris to mark the 50th anniversary of their exodus when Algeria acquired its independence from France, Elder of Ziyon has found this astonishing diary entry by one Signor Pananti - reminding us of how things were for the Jews in 1818 before the French invasion:

 "The unhappy sons of Israel, so badly treated in other countries, can expect little indulgence from the barbarians ; consequently there is no species of outrage or vexation to which they are not exposed. They are prohibited from writing or speaking Arabic, to prevent their being able to read the divine Koran. They cannot ride on horseback, but are obliged to go on mules and asses ; the first being too noble an animal for them. When passing a mosque, they are obliged to go bare-footed. They dare not approach a well or fountain, if there be a Moor drinking there ; or sit down opposite a Mahometan. Their clothing Is obliged to be black ; which colour is held in contempt by the Moors. The Jewish women are only permitted to veil a part of their features. The indolent Moor, with a pipe in his mouth and his legs crossed, calls any Jew who is passing, and makes him perform the offices of a servant. Others amuse themselves by smearing the hands, visage, hair, and clothes of the Jewish boys, with paint or mud ; while the Turkish soldiers often enter their houses, insulting the females, without the heads of the family having the privilege of desiring them to retire.

"It is the business of Jews to execute all criminals, and afterwards bury their bodies. They are also employed to carry the Moors on their shoulders, when disembarking in shoal water. They feed the animals of the seraglio, and are incessantly exposed to the scoffings and derision of the young Moors, without the possibility of resenting it. Frequently beaten by their persecutors, if they lift a hand in their own defence, agreeable to the lex talionis of the Moors, it is taken off.

 "But that which is still more irksome, is the never ending contributions levied on them : the weekly sum of two thousand dollars is exacted as a general tax upon the whole tribe, besides various other individual assessments, particularly whenever any Moorish festival takes place. The Turks insist on borrowing money even by force ; and contrary to the European maxim, it is not he who forgets to pay, that is incarcerated, but the man who refuses to lend! A Jew cannot leave the regency without giving security to a large amount for his return. If any of the sect become bankrupts, and there happens to be a Turkish creditor, he is almost invariably accused of fraudulency and hung. Woe to those, who attempt to complain on such occasions : which is no trifling aggravation of their sufferings. There was once an imposition laid on fountains; upon which a poet wrote the following address: " You are loaded with imposts like us; but more happy than we — you are at least allowed to murmur."

"It is, however, astonishing with what stoical fortitude all this is borne by the followers of Abraham ; many of whom, underan appearance of the greatest poverty, accumulate large fortunes. " It is true," said a Jew, on my asking how he could remain in a country, where he suffered so many vexations; " we suffer a great deal; but then what money we make!!"
Read post in full

The exhibition at the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaisme in Paris runs until 27 January 2013

20 centuries of Jews in Algeria - June 2012 (French)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Now the Coptic chickens are coming home to roost

 Maikel Nabil spent 10 months in an Egyptian jail last year (photo: The New Yorker)

 The brave Coptic blogger, human rights campaigner and conscientious objector Maikel Nabil, writing in the Times of Israel, sees a common thread linking the sorry plight of Copts - 75 percent of whom have emigrated in the last 60 years - with the ethnic cleansing of Egyptian Jews. But Copts themselves have not always been as sympathetic as Nabil - and even took advantage of the 1956 exodus to take over Jewish property at knock-down prices ( as one commenter points out) :

After the Egyptian military took power in the country 1952, it started its campaign against Egyptian Jews, launching its propaganda against Jews in all the state-owned media. It freed all the terrorists who had committed violence against Jews before the coup, and jailed liberals and seculars instead. It encouraged aggression toward the Egyptian Jewish minority, which led to new terrorist attacks against Jewish individuals and properties in Egypt.

Between 1954 and 1956, 80,000 Egyptian Jews were expelled from Egypt, but not before they were robbed of their property. After that, Egypt revoked their citizenship, forbidding them from returning to their homeland. Of course, before they left, Egyptian authorities forced them to sign papers saying that they had been treated fairly and were leaving of their own will. There are currently around 300 Jews living in Egypt, isolated in an environment that is hostile to them.*

The Christian minority in Egypt (known as Copts) reacted in a very selfish way at the time, choosing not to interfere in the crisis so as to avoid any harm. They thought that if they took the side of the dictatorship, they would be safe. Obviously, it didn’t work.

After the Egyptian military expelled Jews and outlawed Bahais and Shias, they started their campaign against Christians.  The Egyptian regime has maintained since that time a very fundamental understanding of Islam, and forced it through the media and the education system. Violent attacks against Christians became increasingly frequent, and most of the time no one was prosecuted.
The Egyptian regime created an uncomfortable situation for Christians in order to force them to leave the country. And the evidence shows that it worked. Some 4 million Egyptian Christians have emigrated from Egypt over the last 60 years, representing one-third of the entire Coptic population, and comprising nearly 75% of Egyptians living abroad.

But Egyptian authorities are not satisfied with that. After Mohammed Morsi acceded to power, he decided to speed up this process. The Egyptian regime used the film “Innocence of Muslims” to start a huge propaganda campaign against Egyptian Christians. And of course, Christians in Egypt are becoming increasingly isolated under this propaganda. Violence against Christians occurs every day, and the state usually takes the side of the Muslim murderers.

Read article in full 

* These figures are not strictly accurate, and current estimates put Jews in Egypt at less than 50.

Friday, September 28, 2012

BBC breaks 64 years' silence on Jewish refugees

The BBC has broken its 64 years of virtual silence on the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, although, this being the BBC, it takes scrupulous care to give equal weight to the 'plight' of Palestinian refugees (who moved all of 19 miles from Ramle to Ramallah) and their claims. This must be hailed as a victory of sorts for Danny Ayalon's campaign to push the issue of Jewish refugees on the international stage.

At the edge of Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, elderly men sit playing backgammon - or shesh besh as it is known locally - wearing looks of intense concentration. 

It is a scene which can be found in coffee shops across the Middle East, such as in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. In fact many of the men here are Jewish Israelis who originally came from those Arab countries.

"We stayed in Baghdad until 1951, when we moved to Israel," Vardika Shabo says. "They hated the Jews in Iraq. They killed many of us in 1948. They took our belongings and burned our houses."
"We left with nothing except our suitcases. No money. We left the house, my parents' shops. Everything that we had, we left."

Another man, Baruch Cohen, left Qamishli in North-Eastern Syria in 1963. He tells me he was 13 when his father led a group of 97 Jews out of the area. They left secretly to avoid unwanted attention and were helped across the border into Turkey.

From there safe passage to his new home was arranged by the Jewish Agency, a government body which brought Jews from the Diaspora to live in Israel.

"We were persecuted. The regime was very cruel to the Syrian Jews," says Mr Cohen. "We escaped with just the clothes on our backs. It was like the exodus from Egypt in the Bible. We lost our lands and came here as refugees."

Vardika Shabo and friends in Mahane Yehuda market 
Vardika Shabo came from Iraq over 60 years ago
According to Israeli government figures, 856,000 Jews fled Arab countries in four years after the state was created in 1948. Officials say they lost billions of dollars' worth of property and assets.

A new government campaign aims to raise awareness of their plight. More controversially it aims to equate it with that of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in Israel. It insists that both cases are part of the same core issue that must be addressed by any future peace talks.

"The problem of refugees is probably the most thorny and painful one. Everyone agrees without solving this we won't be able to achieve true peace nor normalisation in the Middle East," says Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

"We have to, ahead of time, understand that refugees are not only on one side of the border but both sides. There are Arab refugees and there are also Jewish refugees and we should use the same yardstick for them all."

Mr Ayalon spoke at the first special conference on the issue at the UN headquarters in New York last week. He suggests that an international fund could be set up to deliver compensation for both sets of individuals.

'I am a Refugee': Palestinian leaders though are angry at the "I am a Refugee" campaign, which they see as an Israeli attempt to create a new obstacle for any future peace efforts.

"This is not an issue in the negotiations that we agreed on with them - they include Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements, water and security," says chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. 

"They continue loading issues to the overloaded wagon of complexities in order not to have a solution."

He suggests Israel's timing is designed to coincide with the latest plans to ask for the UN General Assembly to admit Palestine as a non-member state. This will enable the Palestinian leadership to pursue Israel through the international courts.

"These people are destroying the two-state solution and that is why we are going to the UN in order to preserve it," Mr Erekat says.

The refugee issue has proved so difficult that it was put off by the two sides to be tackled as part of any eventual final status discussions under the Oslo Accords in 1993.

It has been a key Palestinian grievance since 1948. Palestinians argue that their "right to return" is enshrined in UN resolution 194 passed that year, which states that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date".

Israel says that such a move would obliterate the country's Jewish majority.
While Jews from Arab countries are now naturalised citizens of Israel, many Palestinian refugees remain in camps; most are in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
At al-Jalazun refugee camp on a rocky hillside near Ramallah in the West Bank, 86-year-old Ahmed Safi lives with his family in a small, overcrowded house. His grandchildren have just arrived home from the local school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Ahmed Safi and his wife Um Hazem  
Um Hazem holds up the keys she says belonged to her original home in present-day Israel.
"We had a huge house in Beit Nabala in Ramla [in present-day Israel]," Mr Safi says. "All the family lived there. Our life was very nice. We had work and a good income, but when we left we couldn't take anything with us because we were scared and we left in a hurry."

His wife, Umm Hazem jangles some large keys, which she sees as symbols of her right to return.
"You see these? I grabbed them from the cupboard and took them with me. I couldn't take anything else as I had my new baby in my arms," she says.

Read article in full

BBC 'balancing' refugee claims (HonestReporting)

Justice for all refugees is essential for peace

Some 200,000 Jewish refugees were housed in tent camps or 'maabarot' on arrival in Israel in the 1950s. (Photo: Israel at the UN)

Zvi Gabay, a former Israeli ambassador and deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, has been a tireless advocate for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Only by granting justice to all refugees can any hope of peace come to the Middle East, he argues in The Huffington Post. (This is an English version of an article Gabay first published in Haaretz, entitled The Jewish Nakba)  :

 Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon's initiative in opening the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab states to public debate has met, as expected, with angry Arab reactions. One of the reactions was the accusation that the issue is an "invention." The reason for these reactions is that this issue has up to now been unknown. Successive Israeli governments ignored it and the media neglected it. It was treated with contempt, amidst the concern that raising it would awaken Palestinian claims and harm the peace process. So the world became accustomed to relating only to the Palestinian nakba that resulted in 650,000 refugees, according to UNWRA, the U.N. agency created specifically to deal with these refugees.

The Arab governments are careful to perpetuate the misery of the Palestinian refugees, not allowing them to be rehabilitated or to become citizens in their countries, due to the ideology that maintains that rehabilitating the Palestinians would be to Israel's advantage. The Arab leaders have repeatedly placed full responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem on Israel. At the same time, Israel never made a serious effort to exonerate itself of this accusation, even though U.N. Resolution 194 from 1948 did not hold Israel responsible for the problem.

Another claim made by the Arabs is that the Jews were not forced to flee from the Arab states, where they lived in peace and harmony. Here, a history lesson of the conflict would be in order. They would discover that, during the U.N. debates in 1947 about the proposal to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, their representatives (Heykal Pasha from Egypt, Dr. Fadhil Jamali from Iraq and Jamal al-Husayni, head of the Palestinian Arab delegation, and others) not only declared that "the partition line will be a line of fire and blood;" they also announced that partitioning Palestine would put the Jewish communities in the Arab states in mortal danger. Immediately after the 29 of November -- the day that the partition plan passed -- the Arab armies and the Palestinian Arab gangs attacked the Jewish community (the Yishuv) in Palestine and, simultaneously, rioted against the Jews in the Arab countries.

The war started by the Arabs led to killing, destruction and terrible human tragedy. Eight hundred and fifty-six thousand defenseless Jews fled to Israel and other countries, leaving behind their personal and communal property and assets, while six hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians abandoned their firing positions and their homes and went to Arab countries. In effect, a population exchange occurred between the State of Israel and the Arab countries, similar to the population exchange that occurred between India and Pakistan. However, the Arab states, following the instructions of the Arab League, refuse to recognize this situation and prevent the humane resolution of the problem that they created.

Despite the fact that the human dimensions of the catastrophe suffered by the Jews from Arab countries were greater than the dimensions of the catastrophe suffered by the Palestinians, the world's attention has always focused on the latter. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 1957 did indeed recognize the Jews from Arab countries as refugees, but the U.N. General Assembly did not pass a single resolution on their behalf. In contrast, it has passed more than 160 resolutions and declarations in support of the Palestinian refugees. This one-sided approach has not solved the problem and has exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It could be that the Jewish refugees were ignored because the Jews from the Arab countries rehabilitated themselves in Israel and in other countries and the conditions of their life in the camps became a thing of the past. All of the U.N. resolutions and the billions of dollars donated to the Palestinian refugees by the international community have not improved their situation and they continue to live in appalling conditions.

The time has come for the Arab states to acknowledge the reality created by their war on Israel and to stop toying with the possibility of turning back history, stop reciting the slogan "right of return" for the Palestinian refugees and stop sowing illusions in their hearts.

A solution to the tragedy of the refugees in the Middle East -- Palestinians and Jews -- can only be found by looking at the total picture. Any solution must be shared by the Arab states, Israel and the international community. It must be based on President Clinton's proposal in 2000, to establish an international fund to compensate Palestinian and Jewish refugees.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What will happen to Alexandria's Jewish heritage?

 Ben Gaon in the Eliyahou Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria

What will happen to Alexandria's priceless Jewish heritage now that the community is almost extinct? An international committee should take it over, but when is the right time to start talking to the new regime - and will they even answer? Anna Sheinman investigates for the Jewish Chronicle:

Ben Youssef Gaon is the last Jewish man in Alexandria. As the president of the Jewish community in the city, he controls huge swathes of property, including synagogues, cemeteries and commercial and residential properties, all administered by a large team of Egyptians. A campaign is under way to stop the property, much of it donated by Jews fleeing after the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, going to the Egyptian state when he retires.

In 1937, Egypt's second city had a Jewish community of 25,000. Now it has only one functioning place of worship. The imposing Eliahou Hanavi Synagogue on Nebi Daniel Street had only two men at the erev Rosh Hashanah service this year, Mr Gaon and an American embassy employee. In previous years, a minyan from Israel made the trip for the High Holy Days, but diplomatic relations have deteriorated following Egypt's revolution, and some sources say the group were refused visas.
Stored in the synagogue are many precious sifrei Torah. The community also holds genealogical records and other valuable religious and cultural material, all of which may soon go to the Egyptian state.

A former cantor at Eliahou Hanavi, 81-year-old Geoffrey Hanson, whose visa to visit Egypt has been refused for the past five years for reasons unknown to him, is on a mission to protect the property, which he estimates as worth 100 million euros.

Mr Hanson, who now lives in Israel, suggests a solution: "A group of [ex-pat] Alexandrian Jews must come together and say they will run the community after Mr Gaon."

Roger Bilboul, president of the Paris-based Nebi Daniel Association, which acts to preserve Jewish cultural and genealogical heritage in Egypt, is broadly in agreement. "The idea of creating an international committee which can take over is something we have put to the government, but we have never had a response."

Bureaucratic stumbling blocks have increased following the revolution, but Mr Bilboul is optimistic. "We need to start knocking on doors, establishing a relationship with the new people in power. We are hoping to start by the end of this year."

But the situation in Alexandria currently is "very, very dangerous," says Desiré Sakkal, director of the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt, which is based in New York. This week, there was a fire on Nebi Daniel Street, in which book kiosks were burned, showing the level of anti-cultural feeling in the city. Although he supports the plan in principle, to act now would be "pure madness," Mr Sakkal said.

Mr Gaon has himself come in for criticism. His rival for the presidency, Victor Balassiano, wrote an article for the Historical Society accusing Mr Gaon of seizing power and changing the locks on the synagogue while Mr Balassiano was on holiday.

He is also alleged to have converted to Islam, something required on marriage to a Muslim woman in Egypt. However, Roger Bilboul asserts that Mr Gaon is now divorced, and has documentation affirming his Jewish faith.

Additionally, Mr Sakkal said: "Mr Gaon is [allegedly] an appointee of the Egyptian state, so you have to be very suspicious". Ben Youssef Gaon himself was not available for comment.

Read article in full 

Save Egypt's heritage and assets now!

Dershowitz weighs in, but media stay mum

Adding his considerable weight to the campaign for Jewish refugees, leading lawyer Alan Dershowitz (pictured) has been writing in Haaretz: there he challenges Hanan Ashrawi, and others who dispute that Jews in Arab countries were indeed refugees, to a public debate. When Dershowitz sneezes, the mainstream media rushes in to write about it. But apart from an article in The Washington Times, the US press and media, says the watchdog CAMERA (see link below), have been curiously silent about Israel's historic UN meeting on Jewish refugees on 21 September. (With thanks: Lily)

Historical evidence conclusively establishes that the forced exile of Jews from Arab countries was part of a general plan to punish Jews in retaliation for the establishment of Israel.  There were organized pogroms against Jewish citizens.  Jewish leaders were hanged.  Jewish synagogues were torched.  Jewish bank accounts and other property were confiscated.  Jews remained in Arab lands at risk to their lives.

Yet Hanan Ashrawi and others dispute the applicability of the label of “refugee” to these Jews.  Their argument is that since they are not seeking a right to return to their native lands, they do not qualify as refugees.  Under that benighted definition, Jews who escaped from Germany and Poland in the early 1940s would not have been considered refugees, since they had no interest in returning to Berlin or Oświęcim.

In 1967, the United Nations’ Security Council took a different view of this matter.  I know, because I worked with Justice Arthur Goldberg, who was then the permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations, on the wording of Security Council Resolution 242, on which the Middle East peace process has long relied.  That resolution dealt with the refugee problem.  The Soviet Union introduced a draft which would have limited the definition of refugee to Palestinian refugees.  The United States, speaking through Justice Goldberg, insisted that attention must be paid to Jewish refugees as well.  The American view prevailed and the resulting language referred to a “just settlement of the refugee problem.”  Justice Goldberg explained:  “The Resolution addresses the objective of ‘achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.’ This language presumably refers to both Arab and Jewish refugees, for about an equal number of each abandoned their homes as a result of the several wars.”

Accordingly, the Jewish and Arab refugees have equal status under international law.  There is now pending in Congress H.R. 6242, a law which would grant Jewish refugees from Arab countries equal status under American law.  The time has now come, indeed it is long overdue, for these refugee problems to be granted equal status in the court of public opinion, and in the realm of morality.

If Hanan Ashrawi really believes that Jews who were forced to leave their homes are not refugees, let her defend her views in a public forum.  I hereby challenge her to a debate on that issue.

If there are those who doubt the historical accuracy of the Jewish refugee narrative, let an international commission of objective historians take testimony from living refugees.  Indeed, it would be useful for an archive now to be created of such testimonies, since many of those who were forced to flee from Arab lands are now aging.

There are some who argue that the issue of Jewish refugees is a makeweight being put forward by cynical Israeli politicians to blunt the impact of the Palestinian refugee narrative.  But this is not a new issue.  I and many others have long been concerned about this issue.  Since 1967, I have consulted with Iranian, Iraqi, Egyptian and Libyan families who lost everything—life, property and their original homeland—as the result of a concerted effort by Arab and Muslim governments.  What is cynical is any attempt to deflect attention from the real injustices that were suffered, and continue to be suffered, by hundreds of thousands of Jews and their families just because they were Jews who were born in Arab lands.

Read article in full (registration required)

Where's the coverage, asks the media-monitoring blog CAMERA: 

On September 21, 2012, Israel hosted an event at the United Nations highlighting the stories of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries in the last century. What? You thought all refugees in the Arab-Israeli conflict were Palestinian Arabs? Nope.

The event, "Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries," featured firsthand accounts from Jewish refugees, along with remarks by Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Israel's UN Ambassador Ron Prosor, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. Normally, when Alan Dershowitz sneezes, there's an article in the press. He's been mentioned in The New York Times on literally thousands of occasions.

But, when Israel tries to tell the story of the 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries who were dispossessed and forced out between 1947 and 1972, there is virtual media silence.

While CAMERA has covered the story of Jewish refugees from Arab countries extensively (see here, here, here, and here), few major media outlets cover the issue and fewer covered the symposium. There was an article in The Washington Times but, other than that, only Jewish and Israeli media covered the meeting.

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A very rare recording by Zaki and Leila Murad

Very rare recording of Zaki Murad, a Hazan (cantor) and his famous singer/actress daughter Leila Murad singing El-Nora Halila, the Sephardi piyyut which opens the concluding service of Yom Kippur.

Leila Murad ended her days in Egypt as a recluse, having converted to Islam. I wonder what her father Zaki would have made of that.

Wishing all readers observing the Day of Atonement Gmar Hatima Tova. 

Jewish refugee debate hots up in French

Jewish refugees from Libya

The French edition of the Huffington Post is becoming a debating ground over the Jewish refugee issue. In the red corner we have Larry Derfner, who has had to brush up his francais - perhaps because the English edition was getting already quite congested on this topic. Derfner is pitched against Israeli lawyer Johann Habib, who was actually responding to Hanan Ashrawi on the English Huffpost. Confusing, isn't it? (With thanks for her translation: Sylvia) 

 Larry Derfner writes:

"En résumé: "chers goys, ne vous apitoyez pas sur le sort des réfugiés Palestiniens tant que vous n'aurez pas versé quelques larmes pour nous, pour Israël, pour nos réfugiés Juifs des pays arabes, qui valent bien mieux que les fichus réfugiés Palestiniens qui se plaignent en se fichant éperdument de la souffrance de leurs hôtes".

Ce qui m'impressionne le plus ici est le fait que les leaders Israéliens ne se rendent même pas compte de combien ils embarrassent les goys en les forçant à assister à leur triste manège. Ils ne réalisent même pas qu'ils donnent une réputation de la pire sorte à Israël en comparant des Juifs Mizrahim (qu'ils appellent ainsi encore aujourd'hui) qui ont été expulsés de leurs domicile en 1948 à des réfugiés Palestiniens qui cherchent aujourd'hui l'asile."

 In sum, "dear Goyim, don't take pity on the Palestinian refugees until you have shed a few tears for us, for Israel, for our Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who are worth more than those wretched Palestinian refugees who whine while not caring a fig for their suffering hosts.

What impresses me most is that the Israeli leadership don't even realise how much they are embarrassing the Goyim by forcing them to watch their miserable circus. They don't even realise that they are giving Israel the worst name by comparing Mizrahi Jews (they still call them so today) who were expelled from their homes in 1948 to Palestinian refugees who today are still in search of a refuge.

Read article in full (French)

Johann Habib writes:  

"Rappelons qu'elle dénie aux centaines de milliers de juifs expulsés des pays arabes le droit de se revendiquer réfugiés, sous prétexte qu'ils auraient rejoint leur patrie ancestrale. Elle affirme, en quelque sorte, qu'il faut choisir: soit Israël est leur patrie et donc ils ne sont pas réfugiés, soit ils sont réellement réfugiés et peuvent retourner dans ces pays, avec en toile de fond, la délégitimation de l'Etat d'Israël comme Etat des juifs et l'accusation d'utilisation cynique de la notion de réfugiés. La véhémence des propos sur la forme et les arguments erronés sur le fond mettent en évidence la situation peu enviable d'une organisation (l'OLP) aux abois, gangrenée par la corruption et décrédibilisée au sein de sa population. Par ailleurs, elle laisse apparaître la crainte de l'Autorité palestinienne, que ceux qu'elle est censée représenter, ne soient plus les seules victimes au Proche-Orient après-guerre, point sur lequel elle prospère depuis plusieurs dizaines d'années.  

What an astonishing column published in the English version of the Huffington Post by Hanan Ashrawi, the distinguished representative of the PLO (Palestine Liberation organization)!  

 Let’s remind ourselves that she denies hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries the right to define themselves as refugees, just because they have rejoined their ancestral homeland. She affirms, in a way, that they must choose: either Israel is their homeland and therefore they are not refugees, or they are really refugees and can return to those countries, with, in the backdrop, the de-legitimization of Israel as the Jewish State and the charge of cynical use of the refugee concept. The vehement objections on the form and the faulty arguments on the substance highlight the unenviable position of a PLO in disarray, undermined by corruption and whose credibility among its population has been damaged. Furthermore, they reveal the Palestinian Authority’s fears that those it is supposed to represent are no longer the sole victims of the post-war Middle-East, a point that it has exploited for several decades.

 Read article in full (French)

'Arab Jews' are criminals, not refugees: Hamas

 Some of the last Jews of Yemen (Reuters)

Hamas betrays more Arab alarm as it lashes out at Israel over 'Arab Jews', decrying the meeting in the UN building on Friday to raise the Jewish refugee issue. Hamas reverses historical facts to suggest that 'Arab Jews' displaced Palestinians before expelling them. In fact the great MENA Jewish exodus took place after most Arab refugees had left.   The Jerusalem Post reports:

Hamas on Saturday denounced the Israeli call to recognize the suffering of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their material claims – the same way it acknowledges the plight of displaced Palestinians, the Ma’an News Agency reported on Sunday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder presented the recently launched diplomatic campaign to raise the issue of Jewish refugees, in a special gathering at the UN before Israeli officials, foreign diplomats, activists and journalists last Friday.

Following the gathering Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that, “those Jews are criminals rather than refugees.”

He added that, “Those Jews were not refugees as they claim. They were actually responsible for the displacement of the Palestinian people after they secretly migrated from Arab countries to Palestine before they expelled the Palestinians from their lands to build a Jewish state at their expense.”
Zuhri said it was the fault of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands who “turned the Palestinian people into refugees,” Ma’an reported.

Commenting on the conference, he said: “The Hamas movement views this conference as a dangerous, unprecedented move which contributes to the falsification of history and reversing of facts.”

Palestinian politicians like Hanan Ashrawi have argued that Jews from Arab lands are not refugees at all and that, either way, Israel is using their claims as a counter-balance to those of Palestinian refugees against it.

Read article in full

Media in disarray over Jewish refugees 

Hamas calls on 'Arab' Jews to return to Arab countries

Monday, September 24, 2012

UN hosts historic meeting on Jewish refugees

 Prior to the UN meeting on 21 September Danny Ayalon addressing a Jerusalem conference on Jewish refugees on 10 September (Photo: Oren Nachshon)

 It was a historic moment at the UN, but it will be the first of many occasions when Israel will raise the issue of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Deputy foreign minister  Danny Ayalon appealed to the UN to hear and document the stories of brutally expelled Jews; Referring to the issue's potential for achieving peace, UN Ambassador Ron Prosor said 'this is not about the past, it's about the future'; Ron Lauder of the WJC said peace had to be based on truth; law professor Alan Dershowitz said that Jewish refugees had one of the strongest claims to be refugees while Palestinians had one of the weakest. Dan Diker of the World Jewish Congress stated that Jews were card-carrying members of the Middle East, and one of its oldest peoples - an argument  not stated enough. Before a comprehensive list of links to the press coverage of the UN event, here's an extract from Jonathan Tobin's intelligent analysis on the Commentary  blog (with thanks to all those who emailed me with links):

The tragic fate of Palestinian Arab refugees has always loomed over the Middle East conflict. The descendants of those who fled the territory of the newborn state of Israel in 1948 have been kept stateless and dependent on United Nations charity rather than being absorbed into other Arab countries so as to perpetuate the war to extinguish the Jewish state.

The refugees and those who purport to advocate for their interests have consistently sought to veto any peace plans that might end the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. They have refused to accept any outcome that did not involve their “return” to what is now Israel, an idea that is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians have gotten away with this irresponsible behavior because they retained the sympathy of a world that saw them as the sole victims of Israel’s War of Independence. But the historical truth is far more complex.

Far from 1948 being a case of a one-sided population flight in which Palestinians left what is now Israel (something that most did voluntarily as they sought to escape the war or because they feared what would happen to them in a Jewish majority state), what actually occurred was a population exchange. At the same time that hundreds of thousands of Arabs left the Palestine Mandate, hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the Arab and Muslim world began to be pushed out of their homes. The story of the Jewish refugees has rarely been told in international forums or the mainstream media but it got a boost today when the first United Nations Conference on Jews expelled from Arab Countries was held at the world body’s New York headquarters. While Palestinian refugees deserve sympathy and perhaps some compensation in any agreement that would finally end the conflict, so, too, do the descendants of the Jews who lost their homes. As Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister rightly said today:
We will not arrive at peace without solving the refugee problem – but that includes the Jewish refugees. Justice does not lie on just one side and equal measures must be applied to both.

It is true that the descendants of the Jewish refugees are not still living in camps waiting for new homes. Though the process was not without its problems, rather than abuse those Jews who were dispossessed and using them as political props as the Arabs did, refugees from the Arab world found homes and lives in Israel and the West with the help of their brethren. But that does not diminish their right to compensation or a fair hearing for their grievances.

The truth about the Jewish refugees is something that foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians as well as the Arab nations who took part in the expulsion have never acknowledged, let alone refuted. As Ron Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador, pointed out in his speech at the conference, what occurred after Israel’s birth was nothing less than a campaign aimed at eliminating ancient Jewish communities. Arab leaders “launched a war of terror, incitement, and expulsion to decimate and destroy their Jewish communities. Their effort was systematic. It was deliberate. It was planned.”

Indeed, not only did Jews lose billions of dollars in property but were deprived of property that amounts to a land mass that is five times the size of the state of Israel. This is something that a lot of people, especially those to whom the peace process with the Palestinians has become an end unto itself don’t want to hear about. They believe that the putting forward of Jewish claims from 1948 is merely an obstacle to negotiations. But such arguments are absurd. Peace cannot be built merely by appeasing the Palestinian claim to sole victimhood. Just as the dispute over territory is one between two peoples with claims, so, too is the question of refugee compensation. Peace cannot be bought by pretending that only Palestinians suffered or that only Arabs have rights. Indeed, such a formulation is a guarantee that the struggle will continue indefinitely since the Palestinians are encouraged to think that they are the only ones with just claims.

For far too long the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been cast as one pitting the security of the former against the rights of the latter. Framed this way, it is no surprise that the more emotional appeals of the Palestinians have often prevailed over the arguments of Israelis. Rather than asserting their historic rights, the Jews have often allowed themselves to be cast in the false role of colonial oppressor. The Palestinian pose as the only victims of the war enables them to evade their historic responsibility for both the creation of a refugee problem in 1948 as well as their refusal to accept Israeli peace offers.

Read article in full 

UN webcast - 21 September 2012

Ynet News report 

Haaretz (Chemi Shalev - registration required)

Times of Israel report 

Israel Hayom report

JPost report 

Controversial Jerusalem Post op-ed 

The Tablet 

JTA News

Maariv (Hebrew)

Washington Times 

Jewish Weekly 

Jewish Voice (NY)

Blogger Elder of Ziyon says that this is not the first time the issue of Jewish refugees has been raised at the UN 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Media in disarray over Jewish refugees

Danny Ayalon's campign for Jewish refugee rights has put the cat among the pigeons, writes Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel. The Arab press and leftwing  media are in disarray. But a bigger challenge might be the mass ignorance of the issue among Israeli Jews.  (Full coverage of the UN meeting on 21 September will begin shortly.)

Last week’s Justice for Jews from Arab Countries conference in Jerusalem, staged by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in association with the World Jewish Congress (WJC), made history: it was the first official attempt in 64 years to introduce the plight of 850,000 Jewish refugees into mainstream public discourse. On September 21, the scene shifts to New York, when Danny Ayalon, WJC President Ron Lauder and leading lawyer Alan Dershowitz will call for UN recognition of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Reactions so far in the mainstream media range from bewilderment to hysteria. The campaign is a “cynical manipulation.” It’s about talking points, political point-scoring, “hasbara.”

In other words, the involvement of the Israeli MFA has raised the media’s worst suspicions. Haaretz and The Daily Telegraph report that the Israeli government is obeying a recommendation of the Israeli National Security Council. It’s a premeditated strategy. It’s a stumbling block to peace, proof of the Israeli government’s ‘insincerity’, an excuse to avoid a peace settlement even when peace talks are not going on. (Naturally, perpetuating Palestinian refugee status down through the generations is not political. And the Palestinian insistence on their “right of return” to Israel is not a stumbling block to peace. )

The Jewish refugees campaign has been referred to as a tactic intended to deflect attention from Israel’s African refugees crisis, according to Shayna Zamkanei, or divert public opinion from Israeli “discrimination” against Sephardim, according to Sigal Samuel. (You know, discrimination is that thing which makes every Sephardi girl reach for her hair-straightening tongs in order to look like her Ashkenazi friends.)

Much Arab criticism has claimed that Jews from Arab countries were not refugees at all. If they were, they would assert a “right of return” of their own to their countries of birth. Since they are now in their homeland of Israel, their aspirations have been fulfilled (Radical Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has now jumped on this bandwagon). Blogger Petra Marquardt-Bigman calls this vain attempt to “dezionize” Israel an own goal: Ironically, Hanan Ashrawi’s logic is a ringing endorsement of Zionism for the 650,000 Jews who did resettle in Israel.

A ringing endorsement for Zionism. Hanan Ashrawi (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A ringing endorsement for Zionism. Hanan Ashrawi (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

For Hussein Ibish (ably challenged by Ben Cohen), the very fact that the Jews are not asking for a “right of return” makes their campaign for justice “hollow.” They have no substantive claims, he alleges – barring a desire to delegitimise the Palestinian “right of return.”

According to Canadian refugee rights lawyer David Matas, however, you can’t both claim to be a refugee and assert a ”right of return.” “The very assertion of a ‘right of return’ is an acknowledgement that the conditions which led to refugee status no longer hold sway,” he told last week’s conference. Needless to say, the conditions in almost all Arab countries remain as hostile and unsafe for Jews – if not more so — as on the day they fled.

What the Jewish refugee issue does is to remove a stumbling block to peace by pricking the bubble of Palestinian exceptionalism. If one set of refugees from the conflict has been shown to have been absorbed without fuss, what does it say about the other?

Others on the Israeli left have objected to the linkage of the two sets of refugees. One Almog Behar, a young Israeli-born poet, has popped up on Facebook to speak on behalf of an unheard-of committee of Iraqi and Kurdish Jews in Ramat Gan against “renewed Israeli government propaganda efforts to counter Palestinian refugee rights by using the claims of Jews who left Arab countries in the 1950s.” Clutching at Behar’s straw, an Iraqi newspaper is now reporting that Iraqi Jews refuse to be associated with the “file on Palestinian refugees.”(...)

Leftist blogger Kung Fu Jew charges:
I would think that Jews of Arab origin would be outraged that their dispossession is again raised only as a talking point against Palestinian refugees.
Well actually, Jews from Arab countries are thrilled that their issue is finally being pushed to the fore. In much of the sniping at Ayalon’s campaign, there is sneering contempt; not compassion for Jewish refugees, nor appreciation for their human rights, from people who only seem to care about Palestinian rights. Under human rights law, Jewish refugees do have substantive claims for which there is no statute of limitations – to remembrance, recognition and redress, a notion that includes compensation.

The biggest obstacle to this campaign seems not the foreign or leftist press but mind-numbing ignorance among Israeli Jews. According to a poll released by the WJC to coincide with the international conference, 54% of Israeli Arabs are more likely to link Jewish refugees from Arab countries with Palestinians displaced from Israel, compared to only 48% of Israeli Jews. Even more worrying, 96% of the Jewish population was found to have no knowledge of the issue, compare to 89% of Israeli Arabs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Same old, same old from Yehouda Shenhav

Perhaps it's because he was sick of having his Haaretz article 'Hitching a ride on the magic carpet' of 2003 quoted ad nauseam that Sociology Professor Yehouda Shenhav, guru of the radical Left, has now written another piece decrying the linkage between Arab and Jewish refugees. This one appeared in ha'  Oketz a fringe publication produced by two North African Jewish professors.

Frankly, the new article is much the same as the old, although some detect a grudging acceptance of the current campaign for recognition and redress. Shenhav still maintains that Israel  has responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba (a controversial view) and fails to see that Jews from Arab countries could be refugees as well as Zionists. Why the collection of testimonies from Jewish refugees would reduce Palestinian testimonies of the isolated instances of expulsion and looting is beyond comprehension. Shenhav never comes to grips with the chief difference between the two groups: scapegoated Jewish non-combatants versus Palestinians caught up in, and some actively abetting, a war of genocidal aggression. To fail to see the difference is moral blindness of the first order.  Point of No Return is indebted to Sylvia for translating this article from Hebrew.

Calls to define the Jews from Arab countries as refugees have been silenced in the past by Israeli governments. The change of policy and Danny Ayalon’s intense activity are related to the relatively new realization that Israel can no longer evade its responsibility for the Nakba. It is, however, in the interest of those leading the campaign to learn the history of this unrealistic proposal.

For the past three years, we’ve witnessed an intensive campaign, the purpose of which is to achieve political and legal recognition for Jews of Arab countries  as “refugees”. The campaign seeks to create in the public mind an analogy between Palestinian refugees and the Mizrahis [Oriental Jews] who came to Israel in the fifties and sixties and present both populations as victims of the 1948 war. Israel Foreign Ministry, under the leadership of Danny Ayalon, is intensely involved in the collection of testimonies that will reduce (like an exercise of algebra), the Palestinian refugee testimonies on the expulsion, the looting and killing.

Two years ago, the Knesset passed a resolution obligating every Israeli government engaged in negotiations with Arab representatives (meaning Palestinians) to refer to Jews of Arab countries as refugees. Last week, the National Security Council published its administrative work recommending to the government “to create a bond between the Palestinian refugees and the Jews from Arab Lands”. It was Uzi Arad who decided upon his nomination as Head of the Council to set up  a special team that will consolidate the Israeli official position on the subject of “Jewish refugees from Arab countries”. To that end Arad received Netanyahu’s blessing. He founded a special administrative body at the National Security Council and even invited people from the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry to the discussions. Historians, economists, Jewish organization representatives such as WOJAC - the World Organization for Jews of Arab Countries - and the Jewish American Organization Justice for Jews of Arab Countries (JJAC) were invited to those discussions as well. The Council recommended to the Prime Minister to make “the Jewish refugees” and the compensation claim on their behalf an integral part in negotiations on the Palestinian refugees issue.

Calls to define the Jews of Arab countries as refugees have been silenced in the past by diverse Israeli governments. Why then the change of policy? Among other considerations, there is the relatively recent recognition that Israel can no longer evade its responsibility for the Nakba. This gross ploy by the Foreign Ministry testifies to fear of the Palestinian claim to return and compensation, a central component of Palestinian demands. It proves that Israel recognizes that the 67 paradigm will not bring an end to the conflict due to its denial of the Nakba. With that realization in mind the campaign leadership hopes by using the Orientals to block the implementation of the Palestinian “right of return” and reduce the amount of compensation that can be demanded of Israel for Palestinian assets expropriated by the Custodian of “absentee” properties. This idea is historically mistaken, is not politically smart, and is morally unjust as can be determined from its biography.

An unfortunate history that should be memorialized

The campaign to recognize the Jews of Arab Countries as refugees was in effect launched by Bill Clinton already in June 2000 in an interview with Channel One. Ehud Barak repeatedly stated his “achievement” in August 2000 in an interview with Dan Margalit. It is important to remember that in the past the Israeli governments avoided coming out with a declaration on the Jews of Arab countries as refugees. First, from fear that this kind of declaration will bring back what Israel has tried to erase and forget: the Palestinian claim to return. Secondly, for fear that such a declaration will spur Jewish claims against Arab Countries and Palestinian counter-claims; third, because Israel had then to update the history textbooks and rewrite the narrative according to which the Oriental Jews came to Israel not because of their Zionist yearnings but against their will.  Any historian who would have made that claim would have been called a Post-Zionist.

Those who at the time concocted the equation between the Oriental Jews and the Palestinian refugees for Barak and Clinton were the Prime Minister’s Adviser to Diaspora Affairs Bobi [Roni?] Bar-On with people from his office along with representatives of organizations such as the World Jewish Congress, the World Federation of Sephardic Jews and the Conference of Presidents. Dr. Avi Bekker, Secretary of the Jewish Congress, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Secretary General of the Conference of Presidents, met with Professor Irwin Cotler, member of the Canadian Parliament and expert in international law, and convinced him to join the campaign. The umbrella organization founded under the name “Justice for the Jews of Arab Countries” didn’t succeed in generating massive enthusiasm for the campaign, not even in the Jewish world. The campaign has failed, until recently, to generate any noteworthy statements on the part of major Israeli politicians. This isn’t surprising. This campaign has an unfortunate history that they should do well to remember because history can be a very practical business.

WOJAC, the World Organization for Jews of Arab Countries, was founded in the 1970s. Igal Alon, then Foreign Minister, feared that WOJAC would be used as a hotbed for what he dubbed “ethnic organizing”. As already mentioned, WOJAC was not founded to help the Oriental Jews but rather to create a deterring balance to bloc claims by the Palestinian National movement, principally refugee claims and right of return.  Allegedly, the use of the expression “refugees” was not unreasonable, indeed the concept has become central in the historical debate and international law after WWII. Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council of 1967 spoke of a “just solution to the problem of refugees in the Middle East”. In the 1970s the Arab countries demanded to mention explicitly the Palestinian refugees, however, the US government through its representative at the UN, Arthur Goldberg, opposed the move.

In a working paper prepared by Cyrus Vance, then Secretary of State, in 1977, in anticipation of a potential meeting of the Geneva Convention, it was introduced, under Israeli pressure, that a solution to “the refugee problem” must be found, without specifying to which refugees it is being referred.  WOJAC, who tried to popularize the concept “Jewish refugees”, has failed. In addition to the Arabs, many Zionist Jews throughout the world opposed the initiative as well. I recommend to the current campaign’s organizers to examine the anatomy of an organization that has turned in the course of its activities, from Zionist to Post-Zionist, and to learn a chapter in the theories of unexpected result of political action.

The advocate of the concept “Jewish refugees” inside WOJAC was Yaakov Meron, Director of the Department of Arabic Law at the Justice Ministry.  Meron redacted the equation in the most extreme thesis on the issue of the Jews of Arab Lands. He claimed that Jews were expelled from Arab countries in an operation coordinated with the Palestinian leadership and called it “ethnic cleansing”. Meron harshly criticized the Zionist Epos  which he claimed sprouted romantic nicknames such as “Magic carpet” or “Operation Ezra and Nehemiah” which led to forget “the fact” that the flight of the Jews was in fact the consequence of an “Arab policy of expulsion”. In order to complete the analogy between the Palestinians and the Oriental Jews, the   WOJAC people even claimed the Orientals lived in the 1950s in refugee camps (read: Maabarot) just like the Palestinian refugees. This claim gave rise to harsh reactions on the part of the Integrating institutions who called it “treason”.

The arguments of the Organization shocked many Mizrahim who defined themselves as Zionists. In 1975, immediately after WOJAC was founded, Israel Yeshayahu, then Chairman of the Knesset, clarified: ”We are not refugees. We also came to this country before the founding of the state... We had Messianic yearnings....” Shlomo Hillel, a Minister in the Israeli government who was active in bringing the Jews of Iraq to Israel, decisively opposed the claim: “I do not refer to the departure of Jews from Arab Countries as refugees. They came because they wanted to come. As Zionists”. An emotional Ran Cohen declared in a Knesset debate: “I am informing you: I am not a refugee.”  And he added: “I came drawn by the force of Zionism, drawn by the attracting force of this country and the idea of redemption. No one will define me as a refugee”. 

 The opposition was so strong that Orah Shweitzer, Chairwoman of WOJAC policy committee, asked the Secretariat of the organization to stop the campaign. She reported that the members of the Strasbourg community were so offended by the term that they threatened her and the Leader of the community that if the Sephardi Jews were to be defined as refugees again they will boycott the meetings. The Foreign Ministry too became fearful of WOJAC’s energy and advised to stop the campaign based on the argument that to define the Mizrahis as refugees is a two-edged sword. In the past, Israel has always maintained a policy of ambiguousness around this complex issue. In 1949, she even rejected a British-Arab offer of a population exchange (Iraqi Jews vs Palestinian refugees) for fear she would have to care for a “surplus of refugees” in Israel. The Foreign Ministry called WOJAC divisive and separatist and demanded that it stops managing itself independently in opposition to the country’s interests. 

The Foreign Ministry finally stopped its fund transfers to WOJAC. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin went as far as fire Yaakov Meron from his post at the Arabic Law Department at the Foreign Ministry.  Mention must be made of the fact that today, no serious researcher in Israel or out, has adopted the extreme claims of the organization. Furthermore, in an attempt to reinforce the Zionist thesis and assist in Israel’s war on Palestinian nationalism, WOJAC achieved the opposite. It presented a confused Zionist position on the conflict, angered many Oriental Jews throughout the world because it represented them as lacking positive motivation to come to Israel, and mortgaged the interests of Mizrahi Jews (mainly on the issue of Jewish assets in Arab countries) for what it mistakenly defined as national interests. The organization didn’t understand that to define Mizrahi Jews as “refugees” opens a Pandora box and harms every party involved in the conflict, Arabs and Jews alike.

    Refugees and Free Will
Out of a desire to find a magic solution to the refugee question, the State has again adopted the formula and is promoting it with great enthusiasm throughout the world. It would be interesting to hear the Education minister’s position with regard to the narrative presented by the Jewish representatives in the campaign.  Will the Ministry of Education form a committee to rewrite history textbooks to match the new Post-Zionist genre? Any honest person whether Zionist or not, must admit that the analogy between Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews is unrealistic.  The Palestinian refugees didn’t want to leave Palestine.  In 1948 many Palestinian villages were destroyed. And about 750 000 Palestinians were expelled from historic Palestine. Those who fled didn’t do so of their own free will. 

On the other hand, the Jews of Arab countries arrived here due to the initiative of the State of Israel and Jewish organizations. Some arrived of their own  will and some against their will. Part lived at ease and in security in the Arab countries, part in fear and oppression. The history of the Mizrahi immigration is complex and does not allow for one single simplistic explanation. A great number has lost a great amount of properties, and there is no doubt that they must be afforded the opportunity to file individual claims against Arab countries, which the State of Israel and WOJAC have blocked to this day. For example, the peace treaty with Egypt doesn’t allow the filing of individual claims against Egypt. Jewish Egyptian assets are perceived as being the State of Israel’s assets, and inventory is important in order to reduce future Palestinian property claims.  Another example: during the Gulf war, property belonging to a Ramat-Gan Jewish-Iraqi family was damaged.  In the framework of the claim for damages, a seasoned lawyer suggested to include the claim for the house that was confiscated by the Iraqi government in 1952. The Foreign ministry prohibited it, in keeping with Israeli government policy to hold those assets as part of the inventory in future negotiations with the Palestinians.

The analogy between the Palestinian refugees and the Oriental Jews is unrealistic, not to mention criminal and immoral. It causes friction between Orientals and Palestinians. It insults the dignity of many Orientals and harms chances for genuine peacemaking. Furthermore, it denotes lack of understanding of the meaning of the Nakba. The Nakba doesn’t refer only to the events of the war. The Nakba is essentially the prevention of the return of the expelled to their homes, their lands and their families in the aftermath of the founding of the State of Israel. The Nakba is a clear activity of the State of Israel, and not only a sequel of war chaos. 

 Israel’s temptation to use the reduction concept is understandable, but it should not use diverse scarecrows in order to dismiss the moral and political claims of the Palestinians. Such manipulation adds insult to injury and increases the psychological distance between Jews and Palestinians. Even if part of the Palestinians relinquish implementation of their right of return (as Dr. Halil Shakaki for example claims) that must not be obtained through ploys of this sort. Any peace accord must pass through Israeli recognition of past wrongs and a fair solution proposal. The accounting exercise is turning Israel into a bookkeeper lacking a political and moral backbone.  

The leftist blog +972 has now published its version of Shenhav's Hebrew article. See the very interesting comments

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Haj Amin al-Husseini forced Jews from Iraq

With apologists for the Palestinians busy denying the role and importance of the pro-Nazi Haj Amin al-Husseini in setting off the pogrom in Iraq known as the Farhud, it is as well to remind us that some brave Arabs are prepared to tell the truth. See this MEMRI clip made in 2009.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When you meet an Iraqi Jew today on the streets of Europe or elsewhere, he remembers his co-existence with his Muslim or Christian neighbor.

 Interviewer: When did the Iraqi Jews begin to lose that sense of security and tolerance?

 Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When pan-Arab nationalism grew stronger in Iraq, from the late 1940's to the early 1950's. The Jew began to be the target of deliberate affronts. Iraqi Jews are known for their patriotism. They have nothing to do with Israel. The issue of Israel and Zionism...

Interviewer: But many of the Jews moved to Israel.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They were coerced to move.

Interviewer: Who forced them?
Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: The wave of pan-Arab nationalism within Iraq.

Interviewer: So they thought that Israel would be better for them than Iraq?
Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They did not go [straight] to Israel. First, they went to European countries, to Iran... They tried to find an interim region from where they could later return to Iraq. You shouldn't be surprised if I told you that the first to study [the possibility] of expelling the Jews from Iraq was the so-called Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini.
Interviewer: What, Amin Al-Husseini banished the Jews of Iraq to Palestine?
Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: Yes, Amin Al-Husseini played a significant role, along with German Nazism, in dragging the Jews out of Iraq.
Interviewer: How?
Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: In the days of the "Farhoud" pogroms, at the end of May and the beginning of June 1941 – which was called the revolution of Rashid Ali Al-Kilani... This is well known. The "heroes" of the Farhoud were Amin Al-Husseini, and some Syrian and Palestinian teachers. I am not accusing these people of collaborating with Israel, but I am accusing them of political stupidity.

See clip and read transcript in full

*History Channel programme and clips of Haj Amin al-Husseini with Hitler and the Bosnian SS division he raised  here and here (with thanks: Neil)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jewish refugees deserve justice too

The truth about Middle Eastern refugees, like every other aspect of the conflict, is far more complex than meets the eye. Israel Hayom columnist Dror Eydar (pictured) explains why:

At the beginning of the week I had the chance to take part in a rare historic event: the first official conference on the issue of Jewish refugees, held under the auspices of Israel's Foreign Ministry in cooperation with the World Jewish Congress. The international conference was titled "Justice for Jewish Refugees From Arab Countries."

 For the first time in decades, the call for justice for the Jewish people was once again heard in Jerusalem. Not just a call for security, or apologetic Israeli discourse in the face of Palestinian calls for so-called justice, but a clear call, by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to bring the issue of Jewish refugees back into every international arena: the ethical, legal, diplomatic and political arenas. 

As one of the conference participants, former Canadian Minister of Justice Professor Irwin Cotler, said: “Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace – which we all seek.” 

Indeed, this is a serious issue that has been neglected and kept silent for years, in stark contrast with the Palestinian refugee issue, which has become self evident and universally recognized in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians have become experts at marketing their victimhood to the world, and thus, the concept of a “just solution” became unilaterally linked to the Palestinian narrative. But just like every aspect of the Middle East story, here, too, the truth is far more complex. 

With the exception of a few years prior to World War I, the Arabs living in this region never accepted the Jewish presence here. They rejected the various partition plans, ranging from the Peel Commission in 1937, through the 1947 Partition Plan, to the Oslo Accords and other generous Israeli offers. They were always willing to accept land, but never to sign a final agreement that would spell the end of the conflict.
In Nov. 1948, the U.N. appointed a task force to coordinate humanitarian aid work for Palestinian refugees. A short time later, the U.N.’s Economic Survey Mission issued its recommendation to resolve the Palestinian refugee problem by resettling them in Arab countries and integrating them in industry and agriculture there. That is how the United Nations Relief and Works Agency came about. Obviously, the plan never came to fruition, because the Arab countries refused to naturalize the Palestinian refugees. They were tasked with being the eternal victims — a means to bash Israel. 

The Twentieth Century saw millions upon millions of refugees, products of various wars. Population changes occurred in many places around the globe. Millions of Sikhs and Hindus, for example, were displaced from Pakistan to India in the 1950s, and millions of Muslims, meanwhile, took the opposite route. This population exchange involved a lot of violence, but ultimately, it happened. Incidentally, then-Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan visited Cairo in 1960 and voiced hope during a press conference there that the fact that his country absorbed some seven million refugees from India would serve as an example to Arab countries to absorb 750,000 Palestinian refugees. 

But the status of Palestinian refugees is unlike the status of any other kind of refugee. The U.N. has two agencies that deal with refugees: the UNHCR which handles all the refugees in the world, and a refugee agency just for the Palestinians: UNRWA. 

The U.N. also has two different definitions of refugee status: one is a general definition assigning refugee status to "people who are outside their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, and who, for persecution related reasons, are unable or unwilling to return home." This definition affords refugee status for a limited number of years, and only to the displaced persons themselves, not their offspring. Under this definition, refugee status is revoked when a displaced person settles in, and integrates into another country. But not so when it comes to Palestinian refugees. 

A Palestinian refugee is defined as “anyone whose normal place of residence was in Mandate Palestine during the period from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war." In short, anyone who lived here for two years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel is considered a Palestinian refugee who lived here “for thousands of years” since the biblical Jebusites ... And incidentally, only Palestinian refugee status can be passed down from generation to generation. Most of UNRWA’s budget comes from the U.S. and the EU, both of which are pushing Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinians but are simultaneously helping to perpetuate the conflict.
Opposite the 600,000 or 700,000 Palestinian refugees, there are more than 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forcibly expelled from Arab countries over the establishment of the State of Israel and its victory in the 1948 War of Independence. 

The Arab countries are ultimately responsible for creating the refugee problem, both the Palestinian refugee problem that resulted from a war waged by Arab countries against Israel, and the Jewish refugee problem, by stripping Jews of their citizenships, confiscating their property, murdering many of them and violently expelling the rest from the places they had populated for 2,500 years. All this, some 1,000 years before the rise of Islam. 

It is important to get familiar with the testimonies of Jewish refugees. A good starting point is a website called The Forgotten Million, operated by the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries. These Jews also lived in refugee camps for a time: the Israeli maabarot (refugee absorption camps). But, as opposed to the Palestinian refugee camps, the tents in the maabarot eventually became shacks, which then became permanent housing and ultimately cities. 

And so, in stark contrast with the U.N.-fueled eternal refugee-hood of the Palestinians, these Jewish refugees integrated into their old-new homeland and were no longer of any interest to anyone. The term "pogrom" was seen as referring to violence only European Jews were subjected to. Furthermore, as Cotler mentioned, in the case of Arab Jews, the violence, the loss of citizenship, the theft of property and the expulsion reflected the stated policy of the Arab League, which had suggested a similar course of action against Jewish nationals back in 1947. 

Now that the issue has gotten official state recognition, Israel’s representatives should raise the issue of Jewish refugees at every diplomatic event, and demand that justice be done. More than 150 resolutions having to do with Palestinian refugees have been adopted by the U.N. Not one has to do with their Jewish counterparts. It is time to change all that. By the way, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 talks about a “just settlement of the refugee problem” — all refugees, including the Jewish ones.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Moroccan Salafists whip up antisemitism

With thanks: Michelle
Morocco is not immune to the anti-US demonstrations sweeping the Arab world in the wake of the anti-Islam video clip released on Youtube. A Moroccan-Israeli living in Essaouira, Noam Nir, who blogs at The King and I, was 'verbally abused' in an increasingly antisemitic atmosphere. 
    A Salafist demonstration in Agadir. The media and Jewish leadership are playing down their presence in Morocco
Noam Nir writes:

"Earlier this evening I was verbally assaulted by a 15-16 years old boy just in front of the Atia synagogue in the Medina (old city) of Essaouira. While standing at the door after visiting Haim Aizenkot (Pinto) - who lives in terrible conditions - one of the boys playing football cursed the Jews ("F**K les juifs"). One thing led to another and before long 20 people surrounded us. I engaged with him. Things calmed down and I left. Apparently the youngster followed me 200 m, and asked me for forgiveness. Maybe someone told him something and that is why he followed me, who knows. I looked at him straight into his regretful eyes, smiled, and said: "Musamikha, hiya li kayna" ("Forgiveness is what we have" a local saying for reconciliation after a quarrel). I tapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand. Then the boy and his friends turned back to their neighborhood.

"This local incident could happen only in an antisemitic atmosphere, exactly the kind that followed the video (mistakenly attributed to Jews)  that according to Muslims offended their prophet.

"A wave of antisemitism is sweeping the kingdom. This wave has risen with the help of couple of hundred Salafists who in the past expressed their antisemitic agenda."

Noam Nir goes on to criticise the Moroccan media for failing to correct the impression that a Jew made the anti-Islam video which sparked protests and unrest across the Arab world.

He also criticises the Jewish community leader, Serge Berdugo, for playing down the importance of the resurgent Salafists, who are now leading the Morccan government with the king's blessing. Failing to condemn Salafist antisemitism will only sow the seeds of hatred in future generations.

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*Tunisian Salafists threaten imams who visited Tunisian synagogue: Speaking of Salafists, some 7,000 returned to Tunisia from exile in France. 'Moderate' French-based imam Hassen Chalghoumi told MEMRI: "On January 25 this year, I was at the synagogue in Tunis, along with 40 imams of different origins: from Senegal, Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. The Jewish community in Tunis was terrified. They said that it was the first time since the revolution that non-Jews had entered the synagogue. We, as imams, were in peril [because of our visit] there. This was not easy for us. Fortunately, we had police protection."