Saturday, June 14, 2014

UNESCO: Jewish refugees too hot to handle

 Rabbi Elie Abadie, Co-Vice-President of JJAC, stands where the missing panel on Jews from Arab countries should have been

The UNESCO exhibit People, Book, Land: the Jewish people's 3, 500 year relationship to the Holy Land has finally opened in Paris after much controversy. But  the exhibit has created a new controversy - by airbrushing out Jews from Arab lands. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:
It was indeed a historic achievement – ‘ a miracle’, as the Hebrew University professor and author Robert Wistrich, who wrote the 24 panels tracing the 
3, 500-year-old history of the Jewish people in the Land, put it. The exhibit, two-and-a-half years in the making, was a ‘political hot potato’, he said, wiping his brow. It had been due to open in January 2014, but Arab pressure had forced its postponement.
Exhibition architect professor Robert Wistrich

Not everyone is happy with the final result: the word ‘Israel’ does not feature in the title, and the Dead Sea Scrolls picture on the original advertising poster has been pulled.

But visiting members from the organisation Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) are hot under the collar about a different issue. They were shocked to discover that the resettlement in Israel of Jews driven from Arab states in the 1950s was missing from the exhibit. From two panels on the Holocaust, the narrative skips this important chunk of history altogether. The next panel deals with the rescue and resettlement of Soviet Jewry.

When the JJAC delegates confronted the exhibition architect Robert Wistrich with their grievance, he told them that he had written an entire panel on the suffering and ingathering of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. This panel, together with two others dealing with Israel’s wars, deemed too ‘political’, had been pulled at the request of cagey UNESCO officials. One surmises that the panel explaining why 600,000 Jews were forced to flee Arab lands for Israel was withdrawn because it would have offended the sensibilities of UNESCO’s Arab and Muslim members.

The next day, JJAC members asked the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova why Jews from Arab countries were absent from the exhibit. It was clear from her vague reply that her advisers had kept her in the dark on this issue.
To compensate for the pulled panel, Wistrich, whose wife is a Syrian Jew, had attempted to weave mentions of Jews from Arab countries into the text of the remaining panels. One sentence reads: “In 1968, Middle Eastern Jewry made up 48 percent of Israel’s Jewish immigration.”

This was the only statistic in the entire exhibit which disbelieving UNESCO officials had demanded that Wistrich back up with a reference to its source, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. 

Why had the leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center not fought to maintain the missing panel? Seemingly, they insisted in talks with UNESCO that the panel on Soviet Jewry be retained.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Center, told JJAC members that there was no reason why the missing three panels should not be restored to the exhibit when it goes on tour.

Nevertheless, omitting the story of Jewish refugees granted a haven by the state of Israel represents a lost opportunity to educate a non-Jewish audience in a prestige international venue.

Speaking at the exhibit’s inauguration, Rabbi Marvin Hier did not mince his words:” The purpose of the exhibition is very clear,” he had declared: “to put an end to the canard that a Jewish state came into being in 1948, not because Jews had any connection with the land of Israel, but because the world took pity on them as a result of the Holocaust.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier at the exhibition opening (photo: Simon Wiesenthal Center)

What a pity that Rabbi Hier did not assign equal weight to scotching the canard that Israelis are colonialist interlopers from Europe who had snatched Palestine from the native Arabs. Here was a golden opportunity to affirm that Jews not only had a 3, 500- year continuous presence in the Land of Israel, but were the original inhabitants in what is now known as the Arab world. Over 50 percent of the Jews are in Israel not because of the Nazis or the Soviets, but because they were displaced by Arab and Muslim antisemitism.

Once again, however, an Eurocentric view of Israel’s history has won the day, and truth was sacrificed to political correctness. In the eyes of the Jewish establishment and the international community, the mass flight of Jews from Arab countries remains, sadly, a taboo subject. Some ‘ hot potatoes’ are still too hot to handle.

Read article in full

Crossposted at Harry's Place
and Jews Down Under
and in Polish translation


Sylvia said...

I am not surprised.

Sylvia said...

The speech of Irina Bokova at least is very friendly.
This and several articles on your trip at the CRIF website.

I am looking for a detailed description of the panels so as to evaluate the damage.

Is there a video?

This is the big downside of not resisting the names of "Mizrahi" or "Arab Jews" rather than "Sephardi". Spain, after all is in Europe.

But surely, they had at least a mention of the Jewish Moghrabi quarter in Jerusalem on one of the panels?

bataween said...

Thanks for the
Thanks for the CRIF references, Sylvia.
No video. No detailed description of the panels.
All I can tell you is that there was a mention of Dona Gracia and the founding of Tiberias (although not of the Kabbalists of Safed), a panel devoted to 19th century Jews in Jerusalem and Montefiore's visits. Nothing about the modern exodus of Jews from Arab lands, as per the article.

Sylvia said...

I suggest you send this article or the relevant part to the CRIF as soon as possible because they don't seem to have noticed. The majority of French Jews are from Arab and Muslim countries from Algeria in particular.

Sylvia said...

Haaretz puzzling response to charges of anti-Sephardi racism: “ Sugarcoating isn’t our thing”.

As Anshel Pfeiffer cynically explains,

"yes, some of the sentences and phrases they use could be regarded as offensive, racist or anti-Semitic were they to appear originally in an American or European publication. But they haven’t. They were written by citizens of the Jewish state mainly for Jewish readers. As Israelis we are free of those complexes – Israelis criticizing Jews for not living up to Jewish standards is something we are not only allowed to do here, but we have a duty to do. We’re not going to sugarcoat that when we translate it for you."

I guess, as per last week’s oped by Salman Masalha published in Haaretz English edition, that Ophir the airport security man isn’t living up to Jewish standards since

"his black color looked very shabby, tattered and stained with evil."

By the way, this fixation by hard-core racists and anti-Semites with their targets' hair color and texture is well known. Drumont, the father of French anti-Semitism, used to write about German Jews that their hair had the color of “fish glue” whatever that means.

bataween said...

Pfeiffer:"Haaretz publishes the Israeli Arab writer who, trying to bring home to his Israeli readers the dreary predictability of being racially profiled at Ben-Gurion airport, employs irony to turn the racial paradigm on its head and remind Israelis that they, too, can be profiled."

Irony? So that's what it was..

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

what masalha wrote was pretty horrible, but HaArets has long taken such attitudes. Feffer once wrote for Maqor Rishon but I am sure that the money is better at Haarets. Now he sounds like an opportunistic toady to his employers. It's called "journalist integrity" at Haarets.

If Sylvia has time she could look up a comment by the saint of the Peace Movement, Gideon Levy. He wrote in June 2008 or 2009 [during the time of the Hebrew book fair where I picked up my free sample copies of Haarets] about a free concert given in Tel Aviv at about that time, I think at the Park haYarkon. He wrote that none of the tens of 1000s of folks at the concert were Mizrahim. Because they don't like classical music. He saw them all and he knew, all 30 or 40 thousand.
Anyhow, I may have clipped the article at the time but if so, I can't find it now. It would be useful if somebody would look up this article in the English edition and use it eventually as a part of a bill of indictment of haarets.
I am too busy to do the research.