Monday, August 31, 2015

Mizrahi pop means you're having a good time

They're remarkably free of cynicism, patriotic, romantic, and above all, they're happy, happy, happy. Israel's mainstream Israeli pop kings and queens are flaunting their Mizrahi roots: Israel is a Middle Eastern minority having a good time. Read Matti Friedman's latest piece in The Tablet:

Eden Ben-Zaken's hit 'Queen of Roses' has had 6 million Youtube views 

Sarit Haddad, queen of the Mizrahi scene for the past decade and a half, teamed up in a new video with the producers of Arisa, a line of gay Mizrahi parties named for a spicy Tunisian spread. This is the same crew behind the “Tel Aviv” video, and also the one for “This Isn’t Europe,” which gets my vote for the best Israeli clip in recent memory in any genre. Sung by Margalit San’ani, one of Mizrahi music’s elder stateswomen, this song is a patriotic ode of sorts making fun of Israeli (and, one suspects, Ashkenazi) hipsters’ trendy and pathetic love for places like Berlin. “You’re not from London or Amsterdam/ Your face, honey, is from Bat Yam,” she sings, naming one of Tel Aviv’s sweatier suburbs. The clip, which stars a guy flouncing around dirty streets in a ball gown, is a national document as poignant as “Hatikvah.” I can’t watch it without wondering what Herzl would think.

The neighbourhood may be going to pot, but Israeli youth are having a good time

As that song indicates, a kind of unapologetic national loyalty is present in Mizrahi music as it no longer is in most other Israeli songs, which these days tend to opt for angst, sarcasm, or attempts to pretend we’re all somewhere else. More and more Israeli artists sing in English. But rootlessness is not going to yield much worth listening to, and Israeli audiences know it. Mizrahi music doesn’t pretend to be from anywhere but right here in Bat Yam, honey. It’s not just Israeli music, in other words, but the most Israeli music there is. Many aspects of Israel’s politics and cultural life, like the film industry, are warped by international interest and money and tailored to foreign specifications. Mizrahi music is immune, and everything about it is local. In a new dance number by Eden Ben-Zaken we get the following patriotic expression, apropos of nothing in particular:
The whole city’s up on the roof, on the tables
Everyone’s clapping, raise your glasses!
Welcome to Israel
Can you tell the difference?
You’ve reached paradise, say, “Thank God!”
The same attitude is applied to Judaism. The nature of the current Mizrahi scene in this regard, and in general, can best be summed up with the following scraps from the Moshe Peretz/Omer Adam concert I went to in August:
• Songs about heartbreak performed with pathos, inspiring deep emotional involvement on the part of teenage girls near me, and only slightly less on the part of their mothers, who were next to them.

• A song about partying with the guys at a cheap weekend destination popular with Israelis—Bucharest. This is probably the only party song ever written about Bucharest, at least in a language that is not Romanian.

• Adam brings out a bottle of mineral water. Peretz puts his hand over Adam’s head in lieu of a kippah, and Adam recites the Hebrew blessing said before drinking water. About 8,000 people: “Amen!” The concert continues.

• A rendition of “Tel Aviv,” camels, gay pride, and all. Dancers strut with peacock feathers. Rainbow stripes flash on screens. Ya habibi!

• Adam sings “I Thank You,” based on the prayer recited by traditional Jews every morning upon rising. His movements—arms outstretched, turning from side to side—evoke a particularly devout worshipper in synagogue.

Or these, from the Facebook page of the young singer Haim Ifargan:
• Selfie in car with aviator glasses.
• Photo in pool with friends.
• Cellphone video of fans.
• Soulful selfie with kippah before the fast day of Tisha Be’av: “Have a meaningful fast [thumbs-up emoji]”
• Clip from a morning TV program in which Ifargan does a slow cover of the Arabic love song “Tamali Ma’ak,” made popular by Amr Diab of Egypt.

Zionism traditionally existed in tension with Judaism and the Middle East, and there are still quite a few Israelis who don’t think much of either. Mizrahi music embraces both. If you see Israel as a country of people who happen to be Jewish and are victims of an unfortunate accident that dumped them in the Middle East, this music and its success might grate. But if you accept Israel for what it is—a Middle Eastern Jewish country—it all makes sense.

Welding torches hiss in the rocket workshops of Gaza; centrifuges beep and whir under Persian mountains; farmers on our borders hear the tap-tap-tap of tunneling beneath their fields; up the road the crump of barrel bombs announces that the world that once expelled Mizrahi Jews is now destroying itself; from the radio comes the deep-toned blather of Israeli leaders adept only at confrontation; the odds against a normal future grow longer and longer—and here is a world of innocent love, of dancers on tables and lirdim on the town, a place near the sea where Arabic and Hebrew mix, where Judaism is everything and no big deal and God just another part of life, like sunshine and cigarettes. When you hear Mizrahi pop you’re hearing a minority in the Middle East having a good time. It’s a beautiful sound.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 30, 2015

'Jewish Schindler' 'has nothing to hide'

The Montreal Moroccan Jew who says that he and his non-profit group have rescued 128 Yazidis and Christians from enslavement by Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq is fighting back against those questioning his claims. The Forward reports:

Steve Maman

The attorney for Steve Maman, president of the Montreal-based group The Liberation of Yazidi and Christian Children of Iraq (CYCI), has sent the group of Yazidi activists and spiritual leaders that is demanding an inquiry into his claims a cease and desist letter ordering them to stop talking to or about him — and threatening to sue them for $5,000,000 if they don't.

Read article in full

Extract from Steven Maman's public statement:(with thanks: Michelle)

"During recent days, CYCI has been the target of accusations and scrutiny founded on poor journalism and lack of proper research. We have also seen deep activities of corruption within groups that claim to protect this oppressed religious group that are the Yazidis. I would like to publicly address the issues around this and make it known that CYCI has nothing to hide.

- First and foremost, I believe it to be a reckless request from the so called Yazidi representatives to demand CYCI for proof that would compromise our channels because identifying the victims is going to, by extension, identify the brokers that give us this unparalleled access to these victims and result in compromising our mission and our future ability to continue its execution.

- The allegations made are astonishing considering all the good will seen by CYCI, its volunteers and its avid supporters. This seems to hint of resentment at the success and not representative of a true expression of skepticism.

- We call on VICE News/VICE to get into contact with Non-Yazidi organizations (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross) to whom we will disclose evidence without further publication. Once this evidence is deemed satisfactory, we will ask Vice News to retract or edit its previous unfounded statements.

- VICE News has reported about a letter calling on CYCI to stop taking donations until it proves that it is doing what it claims. Let it be known that Vice decided to report about a letter that was not signed by any of its claimed participants. The letter had no official letterhead either. Basically, we received a letter lacking proper form with defamatory statements not based on facts but on assumptions.

- A cease and desist letter has been issued as our response. CYCI will not deal with pressure groups - we will deal only with authorities who have jurisdiction in the matter."

New Mizrahi music wave finds Arab success

 A-wa: success in the Arab world

A-wa, a new Israeli all-girl girl band inspired by Yemenite musical culture, are taking the Arab world by storm. They and Dana International, the late Ofra Haza and almost all the other Israeli artists who have found success in the Arab world have their Mizrahi heritage in common, Gaar Adams writes in 'Sick Beats and Sykes-Picot' (Foreign Policy):

Haza, the most famous Israeli musical artist to break into the Arab market, is also perhaps the most revered Israeli singer in the country’s history. Haza’s musical explorations of her Yemeni heritage won her tremendous popularity — and surprising adoration in the Arab world.

Born in 1957 to Jewish immigrants who fled Yemen to escape religious persecution less than two decades earlier, Haza was raised in the impoverished Tel Aviv slum of Hatikva. The youngest of nine children, she grew up surrounded by family members singing the songs of her ancestral homeland. After finding initial fame by winning a national singing competition as a teenager, Haza completed her compulsory two-year Israeli military service in the late 1970s and then returned to singing with a string of hit pop singles and albums in Israel.

As one of the first high-profile Israeli pop singers of Middle Eastern heritage, Haza was drawn back to the traditional songs of her childhood after her initial run of success in the early 1980s. It was these recordings — like her biggest album, Yemenite Songs, released in 1984 — that drew the attention of fans from outside of Israel and, particularly, inside the Arab world.

In an interview in 2008, one radio executive explained that the success of Aderet came in part because of the bridges that Ofra Haza had built years earlier: “We grew up in Beirut listening to Ofra Haza, “he said. “It is just music.”


One of Ofra Haza’s most popular songs, based on the Hebrew poem by  17th c. Rabbi Shalom Shabazi,  “Im Nin’alu” (If The Doors Are Unlocked).

Haza was vocal about her relationship with fans from the Arab world, going so far as attempt an unprecedented goodwill trip to Yemen in 1995 as an Israeli artist. (A month before the planned visit, the trip was abruptly canceled after local media harshly criticized Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul Karim al-Iryani for his quote in an Israeli newspaper assuring that he would help secure Haza a visa.)

When asked about her Arab following before her untimely death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 2000, Haza said, “I get fan letters from Cairo, Kuwait, Dubai, Jordan, Syria. It’s wonderful to see that music has nothing to do with politics. We don’t have the power of politicians, but we have our power to unite people.”

Dana International, Ofra Haza, and almost all of the Israeli artists who have found any measure of success in the Arab world have had one thing in common: their Mizrahi heritage, as Israeli Jews descended from the Middle East.

“Dana’s music issues from a wider and extremely rich phenomenon of Mizrahi pop music in Israel that is Levantine and Middle Eastern … and is therefore comprehensible and ‘local’ to Arab audiences in the Eastern Arab world,” Swedenburg wrote in Mass Mediations. “She pushes at the edges from inside a vibrant and innovating tradition, and this makes her music lively and exciting for many Egyptian young people…. Dana’s liminality, the fact that she is at once Arab and Jew, is precisely what makes her dialogue with Egyptian youths possible.”

Before World War II, these Arab-Jewish musicians were an integral part of the Middle Eastern musical landscape, and their music reflects their ancestral homelands. Mizrahi artists’ use of traditional Arabic sounds like the oud (a bulbous stringed instrument similar to the lute), the qanun (a large, stringed soundbox), and quartertone scales originated in North Africa, Arabia, and the Levant and came to the nation of Israel with the mass Jewish emigrations of the mid-20th century. But in fleeing their motherlands to escape persecution, Arab Jewish musicians did not always find a musical or cultural utopia.

As the new nation worked to forge an identity in the wake of its founding in 1948, the culture and rights of European — or Ashkenazi — Jews were perceived as superior to those of the incoming Arab world immigrants, and Mizrahis were systematically marginalized. This applied to the arts as well: The music of Arab Jews was dismissed as “bus station” or “cassette music” — a pejorative stemming from the phenomenon of Tel Aviv bus stations turning into giant informal marketplaces for Mizrahi cassettes — in the formation of the new Israeli national identity. It wasn’t until artists like Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov began melding traditional Arab-Jewish music with other forms in the early 1980s, that Mizrahi music truly entered the realm of greater Israeli pop culture. Indeed, some of the most talented Mizrahi musicians like the al-Kuwaiti Brothers, who were popular in the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s, are only now — 75 years later — being honored for their historical musical contributions.
* * *
A-Wa is now a part of this new wave of musicians declaring their Israeli identity while still exploring and reckoning with the implications of their Mizrahi ancestry. Through a combination of linguistics, cultural heritage, and some feisty beats, A-Wa is bridging an entrenched gap between the two musical markets — Israel and the Arab world — that has only been overcome by a very select group of musicians.

The sisters, who range in age between 25 and 31, are descendants of Yemeni Jews who relocated to Israel in 1949 through Operation Magic Carpet — the first wave of a secret operation to relocate some 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel after the country’s establishment. And like many Mizrahi Jews, the Haim sisters grew up singing the songs of their ancestral homeland, with its rich oral history having been passed down through the generations. “We used to steal all of our dad’s old records to listen to the old music,” says Tagel Haim, the youngest A-Wa sister.

In collecting this material for their debut album, the sisters decided to release a full LP of songs comprised of Yemeni poetry. Some of the songs they recorded were familiar from their childhood, with lyrics and melodies that were ingrained at an early age. Others were songs that they only discovered in ransacking Mizrahi musical catalogs, like those of Shlomo Moga’a, a Yemeni musician who immigrated to Israel after World War II — many of which included ancient Yemeni songs that were only first recorded in the mid-20th century, once these Yemeni-Jewish musicians landed in Israel.

Before immigrating, the Jewish women of Yemen recorded their own kind of oral history outside of the male-dominated synagogues by passing down poetry through the generations in the local Yemeni dialect. These records reckoned both with life’s mundane tasks — cooking food and gathering water — as well as its tragedies: a family torn apart, an infant lost too soon. Women often added their own verses and tinkered with their own melodies in the poems as they were passed through the years. It was in the spirit of this kind of flexible artistic license that A-Wa’s hit, “Habib Galbi,” was born.

“This tradition allowed us to use history but also do our own thing to the songs on our album,” said Tair Haim, the oldest Haim sister.
But initially, even the sisters’ father — who himself dreamed of being a musician when he was younger — was puzzled as to why they fixated on Yemeni oral culture.
“At first he didn’t understand why we chose this direction. But then he heard us sing it together like when we were younger,” said Liron Haim, 29, the middle sister of the A-Wa trio. “He remembered our connection to it.”
* * *
It was the Arab world’s relationship to poetry that helped Haza transform from a well-known singer into a global sensation — her album Yemenite Songs was a collection of classical Yemeni poetry much like A-Wa. “Nin’alu,” her biggest hit, was actually a poem written 400 years earlier by renowned 17th-century Yemeni-Jewish poet Shalom Shabazi on the glory of the divine:

If there be no mercy left in the world,
The doors of heaven will never be barred.
The Creator reigns supreme, and is higher
than the angels
All, in His spirit, will rise.

To this day, poetry is still highly regarded across the Middle East, and poetry from Yemen — in hailing from the region where the oral form originated and first flourished — is often revered as the region’s most pure and exalted. It is difficult to overstate poetry’s popularity: Even one of the Gulf’s largest television shows, Prince of Poets, cashes in on the phenomenon by pitting the region’s best against one other in the style of an American Idol competition. Like Ofra Haza, A-Wa is accessing the Arab market by tapping into the same proven cultural capital of this highly respected artistic form as ancestors and transmitters of the tradition.

Read article in full

Friday, August 28, 2015

Yazidis demand proof of Jew's rescue mission

Update: Steve Maman has responded to accusations against him.

Vice News is questioning whether the 'Jewish Schindler', a Moroccan-born Jew living in Montreal called Steve Maman, has indeed rescued as many Yazidis and Christians as he said he has. His partner in the rescue mission, Canon Andrew White, has poured scorn on the suggestion that Maman is dishonest or is misusing his funds. Maman himself responds on his website: (With thanks: Gina)

 Steven Maman (Photo: Brigitte Noel)

A group of Yazidi spiritual and political leaders, activists, and aid workers are demanding an inquiry into the work of a Montreal man who claims to have rescued 128 Yazidi and Christian women and children enslaved by Islamic State militants.

Steve Maman has attracted international attention for his Canadian non-profit group, The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI), which on its website claims to have "single handedly helped save over 120 Yazidi and Christian women and children from ISIS [Islamic State, or IS] controlled territories in Iraq" through a network of volunteers. Headlines affectionately dubbed the Moroccan-born Jew and luxury car and crystal dealer the "Jewish Schindler."

As of Tuesday, a GoFundMe page he set up in early July had swelled to more than $580,000 from donors around the world.

But now, concerned members of the Yazidi community in Iraq and the United States — including their top spiritual leader Baba Sheikh — have issued a written statement calling on Maman to cease taking donations until he proves that he's doing the work he says he's doing. (...)

Maman, on the other hand, argued that his group "actually were able to prove (...), with pictures, fingerprints and documents that the people that we have liberated were documented like no other liberators on the ground ... The only one that is able to show credibility so far is me."

Maman said Dawood (an assistant)  brought only 15 names because that is all they felt comfortable disclosing. "We didn't want to divulge anything else other than that. The reason behind it is simple: we knew that if we showed the other 113 names that are missing, these people were going to go running to them to…pay, to take photo-ops and take away those liberations from us."

Maman showed VICE News images of Dawood with the rescued girls and children, followed by photos of the Iraqi man with the Maman family. These, he says, prove that his organization is legitimate.

But when asked to provide proof of the 128 rescued people, Maman showed around 20 photos of the men, women, and children. A handful of these were members of Dawood's family, according to Maman, who showed VICE News an email he'd received, containing photocopies of the relatives' official documents and passports.

Maman explained that he trusts only one member of the Yazidi community. "It's the representative of the Yazidi prince in the world. He's in Baghdad at the head office of the prince. You know there was a king, a Yazidi king, did you know that?" he asked.

Maman said in a second phone call on Tuesday that he would be conducting a rescue mission in the Kurdistan region on Wednesday and that two journalists would be present to witness it. "There's going to be one very prominent United States journalist ... somebody on the ground representing Glenn Beck ... his name is Matt ..." said Maman, who couldn't recall Matt's last name. "He's already met with our team and all that, and he's going on a liberation, he's going to videotape."

"We're basically going to have a lot of people there, so we're going to end the rumors on the ground and we're going to show people how we do it compared to others," he added. (...)

The Reverend Canon Andrew White, who is affiliated with Maman's group, brushed off any concerns that the group isn't above board. In a phone interview with VICE News on Tuesday, he said the group has "evidence of everybody."
"I couldn't care less what they say. They're not on the ground doing it. Of course people will say this. They say this all the time. And I'm not going to argue. Now people are being killed doing it. We're not in here just to mess around with journalists," he said before hanging up the phone.

Read article in full 

Jewish 'Schindler' has nothing to hide'

Moroccan-Jewish saviour for Yazidis and Christians

Israel warns citizens not to visit Morocco

 Moroccan tourism  will be hard hit by an Israeli security alert warning Israeli tourists to avoid visiting the kingdom, Actu-Maroc reports.

A synagogue in Morocco

Israelis come to Morocco at different times of the year to visit family or take part in pilgrimages to saints' tombs, or simply to see the country of birth of their parents.

This bonanza will dry up in view of the Israeli authorities' firm insistence, on the basis of its information sources, that terrorist attacks are increasingly likely.

Moroccan tour operators have been pinning their hopes on increased Israeli tourism for the festival of Hanucah between 6 and 15 December. Whole families have tended to come to Morocco at that time to visit the graves of their ancestors.

Read article in full (French)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Iran: Holocaust denial contains an appeal to repeat it

Holocaust denial  is one of the the three key sides of an ideological triangle, together with elimination of Israel and demonisation of Jews, espoused by the Iranian regime. in this important interview by Karmel Melamed of the Jewish Journal, German academic Matthias Kuntzel says that current Iranian antisemitism has undoubted parallels with Nazism.

 Dr Matthias Kuntzel

Karmel Melamed: Can you please explain why the current Iranian regime for nearly 20 years has had such a massive public and overt obsession with the subject of Holocaust denial? Why do they keep bringing up this topic as a part of their foreign policy?
How can you wish to get rid of Israel and at the same time acknowledge the truth of the Holocaust? That is impossible. Anyone who accepts the reality of the Holocaust can’t at the same time believe that the Jews are the rulers of the world and that Israel of all countries is the root of all evil. These three items: elimination of Israel, demonization of Jews and Holocaust denial – are interwoven and belong together. They form what I call an ideological triangle. If any of the three sides of this ideological triangle is absent, the whole structure collapses.
Holocaust denial is at the same time antisemitism at its peak. Whoever declares Auschwitz to be a “myth” implicitly portrays the Jews as the enemy of humankind, who for filthy lucre has been duping the rest of humanity for the past seventy years. Whoever talks of the “so-called” Holocaust suggests that over ninety percent of the world’s media and university professorships are controlled by Jews and thereby cut off from the “real” truth. In this way, precisely the same sort of genocidal hatred gets incited that helped prepare the way for the Shoah. Every denial of the Holocaust thus tacitly contains an appeal to repeat it. And that is what the Iranian leadership does.
From the former Iranian president Ahmadinejad, to Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei and others in the Iranian regime, they unapologetically deny the Holocaust, embrace Holocaust deniers, sponsor Holocaust denial conferences and Holocaust denial cartoons which have caused an uproar in the West. Do you think they do not care about the negative public relations image this creates? Or is there another motivation?
They care about their negative image. That is why the tone of Holocaust denial has changed since President Rohani and Foreign Minister Zarif entered office. Previously, denial of the Holocaust was the leitmotif of Iran’s foreign policy. Today it is still an undisputed part of Iran’s state ideology, but is no longer the centerpiece of its public diplomacy.
However, even the internationally presentable Rohani is still far from acknowledging the Holocaust. Asked, for example, whether the Holocaust was real, Iran’s new president responded: “I am not a historian. I’m a politician.” To pretend that the facts of the Holocaust are a matter of serious historical dispute and available only for historians is a classic rhetorical evasion.
Later Rohani maintained that “a group of Jewish people” had been killed by the Nazis during WW II. But again: Holocaust deniers commonly acknowledge that Jews were killed while insisting that the number of Jewish victims was relatively small and that a systematic effort to wipe them out did not place.
In your new book, you discuss the role Radio Berlin broadcasted into Iran played and the works of Nazi academics played in exporting their form of anti-Semitism to Iran during World War II. Can you please shed light into why this is important for us to understand today regarding the current Iranian regime’s hatred for Jews?
In defending the nuclear deal with Tehran, President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry gave the impression that they view the regime’s anti-Semitism as an incidental problem; to take it seriously would be a waste of time. Others believe that Iranian anti-Semitism is merely a response to Israel’s policies. I show in my book, that both assumptions are wrong.
On the one hand, there was in the Shiite tradition always a strong anti-Jewish tendency. And there is, on other hand, still the after-effect of Nazi propaganda: Between 1939 and 1945 the Nazi’s anti-Semitism was exported via a daily Persian-language broadcast from Berlin to Iran. This broadcast was popular and its main radio speaker, Bahram Sharokh, a celebrity during those years.
The Nazis based their antisemitic incitement in Persian language on Islamic roots. They radicalized some anti-Jewish verses of the Koran and combined them with the European phantasm of a Jewish world conspiracy. Ruhollah Khomeini was, according to Amir Taheri, a regular and ardend listener of “Radio Berlin”. His claim of 1971 that “the Jews want to create a Jewish world state” mirrored a classical trope of Nazi antisemitism.
For more than 30 years the Iranian “propaganda ministry” has repeatedly marched out Iran’s sole Jewish members of Parliament and individual Jewish leaders in front of Western media outlets to claim the Iranian regime “loves Jews and treats Jews equally”. As Jews who fled this regime in Iran, my community in America knows these claims are false and the Iranian regime has no love for Jews. I believe the Iranian regime has taken a direct page out of Josef Goebbels propaganda play book in trying to spin a false media image of Jews being treated nicely to cover their true evil. What is your assessment of this phenomenon?
It is true that the Iranian regime distinguishes between Zionism as a menace and Judaism as a legitimate religion and at holiday time, wishing all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashana. However, a “Jew” is here characterized as someone who is willing to support Tehran’s antisemitic program and Israel’s elimination. Only this kind of Jew – the fanatical followers of the Neturei Karta sect, the intimidated leaders and members of the Iranian Jewish community, or the useful idiots of the Jewish radical left – are acceptable to Tehran. All other Jews are fair game.

The killing of five Jewish tourists in Bulgaria in 2012 and the attacks or planned attacks in Thailand, Georgia, and India perpetrated by Hezbollah terrorists and Iranian agents made headlines. Other Iranian attempts to kill Jews in Kenya, Nigeria and Bangkok are less well known.

The 1994 suicide bombing of the Jewish AMIA-Center in Buenos Aires caused the death of 85 persons and injured more than 150. This was the most deadly terror attack against Jews since World War II and it was the Iranian leadership including Khamenei and Rafsanjani that made this decision and instructed Hezbollah to commit the crime. The sole reason was the fact that Argentina did not want to continue its nuclear co-operation with Iran. Who, however, should be blamed and punished for Argentina’s independent decision? The AMIA example clearly shows that Iran’s anti-Jewish paranoid pattern contains a call to kill.
The Iranian regime and its leadership, spews hatred against Israel and “the Zionists” instead of using the word “Jews”. The regime’s leaders claim they have no “ill will” against the Jews but only hate for Israel. Is their hatred really against just Israel, or is this just a cover-up for a deeper rooted anti-Semitism?
You’re right. Though the regimes distributes thousands of antisemitic brochures such as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” it rarely mobilizes openly against “Jews” but agitates against the “Zionists”. It is important, however, to understand that this regime invests the word “Zionist” with exactly the same sense as that with which Hitler once invested the word “Jew”: namely that of being the incarnation of all evil. Destroying Israel is in their understanding the only way to stop that evil. Or in Ahmadinejad’s words: “The Zionist regime will be wiped out, and humanity will be liberated.”

This sentiment—liberation through destruction—is the one for which the Holocaust historian Saul Friedlaender coined the term “redemptive antisemitism”. It is not so far from that expressed in a Nazi directive of 1943: “This war will end with antisemitic world revolution and with the extermination of Jewry throughout the world, both of which are the precondition for an enduring peace.”

The regime’s hatred of Jews resembles Hitler’s ideology in this aspect: Both have a utopian element. Just as Hitler’s “German peace” required the extermination of the Jews, so the Iranian leadership’s “Islamic peace” depends on the elimination of Israel. It is high time that the White House recognizes this utopian element and takes it seriously.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Canon White partners Moroccan Jew in Yazidi rescue

 Steve Maman and his family: saving children is Tikkun Olam and Kiddush Hashem

In this interview with Moroccan World News the Moroccan-Jewish Canadian benefactor Steve Maman reveals that his partner in saving Christians and Yazidis from Da'esh (Islamic State) is Canon Andrew White. Point of No Return followers will be familiar with Canon White's devotion to the protection of Jews and their heritage in Iraq - before his stint as Vicar of St George's Church, Baghdad became too risky and he was relocated to Jerusalem. Maman's quid-pro-quo for the publicity is to pay tribute to Morocco as an 'example of tolerance to the world'.

Could you tell us about your foundation in few words and the choice of Yazidis and Christians?
Steve Maman: On June 26, 2015 I created a nonprofit organization called “The liberation of Christian and Yazidi children of Iraq (CYCI)” to support my mission.  Its goal is to negotiate the liberation of children held hostage and used a sex slaves in Mosul. We chose Christians and Yazidi because they are the ones held hostage after a fatwa authorized them to be used and sold as sex slaves for the benefit of ISIS (Daesh) combatants. I would have definitely added the Muslim children to my mission if they were part of this horror.

Does your foundation have other objectives?
Steve Maman: Our unique objective is to liberate as many children as possible. The project has been going on for 8 months now, and the role of this organization is to provide us, in our work, with donations. Until now, I had carried the project on my own and have moved multiple families out of harm’s way.

What made you come up with the idea for this project?
Steve Maman: Well, I as a Moroccan Jew, I found this cause to engage in a true world responsibility. The Torah talks about two things: “Tikkun Olam,” repairing the world, and “Kiddouch Hashem,” to make God’s presence respected.  As a Jew, it was a way to make this world better through actions of goodness and kindness. The goal here is for children to come out alive from this horrible war.

There is no question of religion, race, or nationality being discussed here. There are innocent children that are powerless, caught in the crossfire. But worse, they are being exploited in the crossfire, as if that alone were not enough pain to endure. The exploitations are beyond understanding.  Children beheaded, raped, beat, underfed, left to live in cages!  Why? Because they are Christian or Yazidi, and therefore this does not constitute a sin in the eyes of Islamic law in the way ISIS interprets it.  This is not Islam. I refuse to accept, as a Jew, that this is Islam. This is a deformation, a distortion of Islam. This has to be decried and it has to be fixed. The fixing starts with giving them a chance at life.

I need support. One year has gone by and it has been long enough for world leaders to react and plan a solution, yet we see little being done for those left behind at the mercy of ISIS.

The heroic Government of Canada, with its Prime Minister Stephen Harper,who has gone to Iraq and pledged nearly 140 million dollars in aid to the humanitarian cause, as well as sending Canadian troops, is sending a message to the world. I wish to see more world leaders unite forces in order to find a solution to end this.
May god bless my mission with world leaders being aware of what I do and of what can be done. My mission is centered on the ones who are held hostage. I refer tothe ones kept in cages being hurt, abused molested and raped. The ones I truly wish to help are praying to God after every rape that he ends their pain and humiliation. It is reported they wish they be killed rather than live with such a fate.

God give them the strength to hold on to life for a bit longer until I get to them, God willing.

How much is the amount you have collected until now?
Steve Maman: This is a question that I cannot answer and won’t disclose. But things are moving very well. Jews have been incredibly supportive of the mission, the majority being Moroccan Jews.

How long do you expect this project to last?
Steve Maman: One year maximum is my estimate. I figured that Mosul will be taken back and carnage will befall these children if they are not freed prior.

Does it have supporters and other funders? If so, who are they?
Steve Maman: Yes, until now, I have been funding the project myself. I founded CYCI in order to raise funds.  Jews can relate to this cause,since they lived a similar fate during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. They can relate to what it is to be saved and liberated, therefore granted freedom. I cite Oskar Schindler or Sir Winton as examples. They inspired me to act and do what I am currently doing, but I am definitely a long way from attaining their results.

Which means of communication did you use to approach donors?
Steve Maman: We use Facebook to create awareness.

Are there well known personalities (in Morocco, perhaps) who support this project?

Steve Maman: From Morocco, nothing yet, but God willing my country shall surprise me.
The most important aid I currently have is Canon Andrew White. He is a world-respected humanitarian figure, with many world leaders openly supporting his foundation that assists refugees and the persecuted.

How did you get in touch with him?
Steve Maman: I met Canon Andrew White through Facebook. We became very close. He actually travelled to Montreal and stayed with us. We planned this mission. I was already involved with him 8 months ago when I saved two complete families and moved them to Ankara,amongst numerous other missions. I am currently renting them a house and providingfor all their needs in Ankara. Canon White admired my actions, as he knew the family well. This strengthened our bond.

How did Canon Andrew White help in your work?
Steve Maman: He is instrumental to my success. He has a platform in Kurdistan and in Jordan with camps for handling the children I liberate.

Have you made concrete achievements together?
Steve Maman: Together we have saved more than 102 children so far, and it increases every day. Canon Andrew White has nothing to do with the liberation aspect. He handles and provides support after they are liberated.

Do you have any facilities for rescuing children? Do you make any negotiations there?
Steve Maman: I will explain it this way: I have, on the ground in Iraq, someone I call a brother. He is an Iraqi Christian. He is my hero. He is a young soldier, decorated by the US army and by the Iraqi Government. He is connected to every possible figure inIraq (Sunni, Shiite and Kurd, as well as all factions).

There are some people that seek means to make money around this war. I exploit that to my advantage. Tribal leaders are very helpful.
We never meet ISIS. We never negotiate with ISIS.

For the first time a Canadian Sephardic delegation was formed to be given, as Radio Shalom journalist Charles Lugassy says, its “title of nobility”. In what context was your meeting with the government and its leader organized? For what reason did you meet the Prime Minister? Do you have concrete political support?

Steve Maman: Well, the agenda of the day was specifically to honor Sephardic Jews that are influential.
The delegation was made up of people that make a difference in our world, by Sephardic Jews of all origins. I was chosen for my involvement in this project and mission. It was part of a group of 27 people from Canada.

I met the politicians in a context where the first delegation of Sephardic Jews was invited to Ottawa in a historical context (Purim day). We were greeted witha lunch, a tour, and exchanges with ministers while the Prime Minister was reserved for a select 7 people.

Has the constitution of this delegation been helpful for example in the fight you lead to rescue child victims of ISIS?

Steve Maman: Not at all. There was no relation with the agenda of that day.

You give in your video on YouTube the example of the Jordanian pilot. What was its impact on your project?

Steve Maman: Yes, this moved me very deeply. I wanted to act and not remain a spectator. I basically looked at my watch, and noticed how many lives I could save if I were to sell what was on my wrist. The next morning, I decided I would help children out, using my contacts in Iraq.

What message do you want to send to the world?
Steve Maman: This project is directed by a Moroccan Jew that was born in a country where there is tolerance for all religions that permits them to express themselves openly.

Morocco should serve as an example to the world. I could be more proud to be born to such country. My Moroccan identity is what makes me who I am, someone who cares, who loves and gives to strangers. This character is typical of Moroccans. We are definitely givers. The land inspired us with love for others. The land made us who we are: in my case, a Moroccan Jew with an attachment to my land that is irreproachable. This is proven again through the generosity of Moroccan Jews who are clearly standing with me in my fight to save and liberate these innocent girls and women.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jews don't trust Iran, with reason

Writing in Jewish Journal, Sarah Levin of JIMENA finds that Iranian Jews have good reason not to trust Iran to keep to the nuclear deal negotiated with the Obama administration +5.

Karmel Melamed, an Iranian-born JIMENA speaker and award-winning international journalist, seems to sum up the sentiments of many Iranian American Jews. “The nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is very disturbing for Iranian American Jews like myself,” he wrote, “because our families experienced first hand the sheer evil as well as random terror of anti-Semitism carried out by this Iranian regime for more than 35 years.”

Deeply concerned that the lifting of sanctions will have grave consequences, he continued: “We [Iranian American Jews] shudder at the thought of what chaos and destruction this regime will unleash on Jews, Christians and others worldwide who they consider ‘infidels,’ through their terror proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, once the regime is infused with $150 billion of their frozen assets after this deal is approved by Congress.”

The mistrust, anger and extremely negative sentiments of Iranian American Jews toward the regime, in the context of the nuclear agreement and beyond, are justified. Iranian Jews compose an ancient, culturally rich community that was subjected to severe human rights abuses by a regime that continues to treat them as second-class citizens. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, 90 percent of Iran’s Jews fled, often under duress with just the shirts on their backs. JIMENA has interviewed Iranian American Jews who risked their lives by illegally escaping through treacherous deserts to become homeless refugees in Pakistan.

This story is not uncommon. We’ve interviewed individuals whose family members were executed by the Revolutionary Guards simply for asserting their Jewishness and their right to their property. Despite the regime’s publicity-minded efforts to showcase themselves as a government that is tolerant of its Jewish citizens, JIMENA’s Iranian members continue to share stories of the discrimination, dispossession, torture and murder of Jews simply because of their faith.

George Haroonian, an prominent Iranian Jewish activist and friend of JIMENA, told me: “This regime, no matter how the personalities are branded as conservative or moderate or radical, has hegemonic plans for the Middle East and the world. … All agreements are only steps in achieving their long-term goal.”

Some of JIMENA’s Iranian members take a nuanced view of the nuclear agreement, but remain critical of the regime’s dismal human rights record. However, Elliott Benjamin, JIMENA advisory board member and Iranian American Jewish communal leader, expresses the opinion that seems to be shared by the majority of our membership: “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran deal, is a catastrophic mistake of historic proportions.

Read article in full 

Iranian Jews in US 'against Obama deal'

Monday, August 24, 2015

Israel's Moroccan youth project likened to Da'esh

Le récent voyage effectué par une trentaine de jeunes juifs marocains en Israël dans le cadre d’un programme sous le patronage du ministère de la Défense a relancé la campagne des milieux anti-normalisation au royaume. Ils demandent dans une lettre adressée au chef du gouvernement Abdelilah Benkirane d’ordonner l’ouverture d’une enquête « sincère » et « transparente » sur cet incident.
Les signataires de la missive réclament « d’identifier les responsables » derrière l’organisation de ce programme « et d’en prendre les mesures qui s’imposent ». Ils demandent également de « tout mettre en œuvre afin d’éviter que de nouveaux déplacements de ce genre ne soient enregistrés (…) et de poursuivre en justice tout personne ayant participé ou compte commettre des crimes de guerre et de crimes contre l’humanité en Palestine occupée ».
Poursuivre les jeunes avec la loi antiterrorisme comme ceux de Daesh
Les ONG qui qualifient l’Etat israélien de « régime d’apartheid », affirment que la visite est « aussi dangereuse que rallier l’organisation Daesh ». Elles expliquent que « la constitution d’une bande armée par des individus marocains menace la sécurité nationale quelque soit la partie terroriste qui les recrute et les entraine ».
Jouant à fond la carte sécuritaire, les auteurs de cette lettre affirment qu’ « il ne faut en aucun cas sous-estimer les entrainements militaires dans l’entité sioniste sous couvert de considérations politiques ou autre lorsque la stabilité et la sécurité dans notre pays sont en danger ». Ils rappellent également les révélations en octobre 2013 du général Amos Yadlin, ancien directeur des services secrets de l’armée « Aman », à une chaîne de télé de son pays affirmant qu’Israël compte un réseau d’espionnage et de subversion capable, en cas de besoin, de déstabiliser le Maroc.
Le chef du gouvernement est donc face à une nouvelle interpellation des milieux opposés à Israël lui demandant d’agir. Il y a une année, quasiment les mêmes ONG avaient adressé une lettre à l’homme fort du PJD sollicitant son intervention pour interdire les activités de la compagnie israélienne ZIM, une propriété d’un holding public, dans les ports marocains. Une requête jetée aux oubliettes. Le même sort sera-t-il réservé à cette nouvelle doléance des anciens amis de Benkirane ?

...Suite :
Le récent voyage effectué par une trentaine de jeunes juifs marocains en Israël dans le cadre d’un programme sous le patronage du ministère de la Défense a relancé la campagne des milieux anti-normalisation au royaume. Ils demandent dans une lettre adressée au chef du gouvernement Abdelilah Benkirane d’ordonner l’ouverture d’une enquête « sincère » et « transparente » sur cet incident.
Les signataires de la missive réclament « d’identifier les responsables » derrière l’organisation de ce programme « et d’en prendre les mesures qui s’imposent ». Ils demandent également de « tout mettre en œuvre afin d’éviter que de nouveaux déplacements de ce genre ne soient enregistrés (…) et de poursuivre en justice tout personne ayant participé ou compte commettre des crimes de guerre et de crimes contre l’humanité en Palestine occupée ».
Poursuivre les jeunes avec la loi antiterrorisme comme ceux de Daesh
Les ONG qui qualifient l’Etat israélien de « régime d’apartheid », affirment que la visite est « aussi dangereuse que rallier l’organisation Daesh ». Elles expliquent que « la constitution d’une bande armée par des individus marocains menace la sécurité nationale quelque soit la partie terroriste qui les recrute et les entraine ».
Jouant à fond la carte sécuritaire, les auteurs de cette lettre affirment qu’ « il ne faut en aucun cas sous-estimer les entrainements militaires dans l’entité sioniste sous couvert de considérations politiques ou autre lorsque la stabilité et la sécurité dans notre pays sont en danger ». Ils rappellent également les révélations en octobre 2013 du général Amos Yadlin, ancien directeur des services secrets de l’armée « Aman », à une chaîne de télé de son pays affirmant qu’Israël compte un réseau d’espionnage et de subversion capable, en cas de besoin, de déstabiliser le Maroc.
Le chef du gouvernement est donc face à une nouvelle interpellation des milieux opposés à Israël lui demandant d’agir. Il y a une année, quasiment les mêmes ONG avaient adressé une lettre à l’homme fort du PJD sollicitant son intervention pour interdire les activités de la compagnie israélienne ZIM, une propriété d’un holding public, dans les ports marocains. Une requête jetée aux oubliettes. Le même sort sera-t-il réservé à cette nouvelle doléance des anciens amis de Benkirane ?

...Suite :
The fallout from the report that 30 young Moroccan Jews had been on an IDF-sponsored training course in Israel was going to be inevitable. The Jerusalem Post pulled the original article, but the damage had already been done. Not content with smearing the IDF, anti-normalisers in Morocco have gone a step further, accusing Israel of being no different from Da'esh (Islamic state), and plotting to subvert the Moroccan regime itself. This report in Ya Biladi takes a swipe at the Islamist PJD party, who are behind the campaign.
Abdelilah Benkirane, head of government and leader of the Islamist PJD

The recent trip made by thirty young Moroccan Jews in Israel as part of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Defence has renewed the anti-normalization campaign in the kingdom. They have written a letter to Abdelilah Benkirane, head of government asking him to order a "sincere" and "transparent" investigation into the incident.

 Signatories of the letter demand "to identify those responsible" behind the organization of this program "and to take the necessary measures." They are also asking him to "make every effort to prevent further projects of this kind (...) and to prosecute any person involved in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in occupied Palestine."

 NGOs that call the Israeli state an"apartheid" state say that the visit is "as dangerous as allying with Daesh ."

They explain that "the formation of an armed group by Moroccan individuals threatens national security, regardless of the terrorists who recruit and train them."

Playing the security card, the authors of the letter say that "it should in any case not underestimate the military training in the Zionist entity under the cover of political or other considerations when stability and security in our country is in danger ".

They also recall the revelations in October 2013 by General Amos Yadlin , former director of the army secret service unit "Aman", to a TV channel in his country, saying that Israel has a network of espionage and subversion capable, if necessary, of destabilizing Morocco.

The head of government is facing new calls from circles opposed to Israel asking him to act. A year ago, almost all the same NGOs had sent a letter to the strong man of the PJD seeking his intervention in prohibiting the activities of the Israeli company ZIM, a public company, in Moroccan ports. The call was consigned to oblivion. Will this be the fate of this new protest by Benkirane's old friends ?

Read article in full (French)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jews went on hunger strike in 1950s Iraqi prisons

 In spite of the moral equivalence with a Palestinian terrorist hunger striker in the final paragraph, this article in +972 magazine by Orit Bashkin gives an interesting insight into how  Jews and Communists went on  hunger strike in the Iraq of the 1950s, leading, she claims, to 'regime change'. One Jewish hunger striker, Regina Lukai, was the subject of an Israeli TV film. (with thanks: Janet)

Many Jews were imprisoned for political reasons, because of anti-Semitism, or because of their connections to radical or Zionist organizations (including this writer’s own great grandfather, who was imprisoned in Russia because he was a Zionist and escaped to mandatory Palestine in 1927). And even in the prisons of mandatory Palestine, communists and revisionists used hunger strikes as part of their political battles.

In Iraq, the subject of my research, Jewish prisoners used hunger strikes in the 1950s.

Since the mid-1940s, two illegal underground organizations had been growing in influence in Iraq among Jewish youth and students: the Zionist and the Communist. The Zionist movement was smaller, in contrast to the Communists, who exerted influence throughout all of Iraq and included all faiths.

The Iraqi government brutally repressed both movements. Many Jews who were, in fact, neither Zionist nor communist, were arrested by the state in 1948 on the false accusations that they were members of those organizations.

One of the most infamous prisons in Iraq was Nuqrat al-Salman, a fortress in the desert where Jewish and non-Jewish political prisoners were kept. In 1951, Nukqat al-Salman held 50 Jewish prisoners out of the 162 political prisoners; 8 Jews had been stripped of their nationality. Paradoxically, moreover, the jails in Iraq became a hotbed for political activity, given that they contained such a concentrated number of Communists.

In July 1951, the prisoners began a hunger strike, which quickly became a nation-wide event. The political prisoners argued that the court which judged them did not have the authority to do so—part of them were, in fact, judged by emergency laws imposed in 1948—and demanded that the prison be closed.
The Iraqi opposition, from both the left and the right, reported on the hunger strikes and the tortures through their newspapers. Protests broke out in Baghdad and in Basra to display support for the hunger strikers. Until today, the 1950s hunger strike protests are remembered as one of the critical aspects of what became a wave of protests against the regime.

Another case relates to a 16-year-old girl, Regina Lukai (now Herzliya Lukai) from Irbil in northern Iraq, who had been arrested because she simply had a letter in Hebrew. She recalls being imprisoned in Irbil with male prisoners who protected her from the police guards.  She was then transferred to Baghdad, interrogated and, though she was not provided an attorney, was sentenced to a two year imprisonment on charges of cooperation with Zionism.

She served six months in Baghdad, and then was again transferred to a prison in Irbil, where she joined communist female prisoners and needed to pretend to be a communist in order to be in their graces. Together, the women began a hunger strike, and Regina was on her 21st day when she was force fed along with her fellow inmates. On the way to the force feeding, the women screamed that they were political prisoners. The strike itself was covered in the press.

Regina, who was ultimately released and celebrated in her city of birth, was the subject of a film shown on Israeli television in 1989 called “Tsamot.” The hunger strike frames the narrative and appears in the beginning and the end of the story.

I assume that at this point many readers might be annoyed, and rightly so. After all, there is nothing alike in the Zionist and Communist undergrounds and the Islamic Jihad of which Mohammad Allan is allegedly a member. The undergrounds in Iraq were secular and modern. The communists encompassed all religions and protested sectarianism. These organizations have nothing in common with Islamic Jihad in their world view or their tactics.

However, all hunger strikers – Iraqi and Palestinian, Muslims, Christians, and Jews – raised similar claims: that prisoners are entitled to the right of a fair trial, that an attorney present their case, that their imprisonment conditions be fair, and that torture would not be a part of their “interrogations.”

Read article in full

Friday, August 21, 2015

Iranian Jews score Sharia successes

Operating within the limits of 'sharia' law on minorities, Jews in Iran have managed to get equal 'blood money' compensation - except in cases where a Jew murders a Muslim,  the penalty being execution, and not 'blood money'. The community also seeks to tackle the ban on Jews in senior posts in the government and military and the issue of Muslims serving as heads of Jewish schools. The issue of Israel is still out-of-bounds. Larry Cohler- Esses reports for the Forward:

The community is vocal about the multiple forms of discrimination under which its members live — but without questioning the legitimacy of the regime or the system of Sharia, or Islamic law, by which it governs.

Image: Larry Cohler-Esses
Their approach could be seen in what community leaders consider one of their biggest recent victories: gaining equality in “blood money” compensation. That’s the amount a person must pay to a family when he is responsible for an accident that caused a family member’s death.

“We succeeded in getting blood money compensation equalized for minorities,”
Motamed said. “Before, there was a big difference between the money for minorities and the main population…. It was a very big achievement.”

But the community’s approach did not involve any criticism of Sharia, which rules on such matters. Instead, Motamed, recalled, “We consulted a lot of ayatollahs and took testimony from high-ranking clerics to show there must be equality” under Sharia.

Pleased as he was, Motamed noted that blood money compensation for non-Muslims remains unequal in cases of murder — and that they are continuing to push on this.

“Under Sharia… if a Muslim kills a Jew, there will be blood money payment. But if a Jew kills a Muslim, the penalty is execution,” he said. Here, too, “we’ve consulted with a lot of ayatollahs and gotten letters. But it’s still not solved.”

Other unresolved issues the leaders cited involved access to high-ranking posts in government ministries and the requirement that a Muslim serve as principal at Jewish schools.

“We have five schools,” Najafabadi said, “and the principals in all of them are Muslim. There’s no enmity. They’re very cooperative. But it’s kind of insulting.”

Then there is inheritance law: Under Sharia in Iran, if one sibling in a non-Muslim family converts to Islam, he inherits the entirety of his parents’ assets. This, too, community leaders are pushing to change.

Shiraz Jewish compound.

Shiraz Jewish compound. (Photo: Larry Cohler-Esses)
On Israel, the community’s leadership must be more circumspect. But it is no secret that many in the community have family there, or that a significant number of Jews in Iran have visited Israel themselves. One teenager in Shiraz told me how excited he had been to visit three years ago.

“There are people traveling to Israel,” Najafabadi volunteered. But since the Gaza War of last summer, the government had clamped down, he said. Some who go are imprisoned, fined and interrogated. Two community members had been sentenced to 91 days, though this was later reduced to 20 days. Travel to Israel “is declining now because of these problems,” he said.

Moreh Sedgh even voiced concern for Israel, in his way — his way being to criticize Israel’s policies as harmful for Israel’s own interests.

Speaking about Israel’s policy of opposing Syria’s regime under Bashar al-Assad, which Iran supports, Moreh Sedgh said, “The main enemy of Israel today is Daesh” — a reference to the extremist Islamic State fighting to oust Assad. “Of course, the Assad family are not the ideal leaders for Syria,” he said. But he noted that if Assad is ousted, they “must be ready for ISIS. What benefit for Israel would that be?”

Despite all these issues, those Iranian Jews who choose to stay can live a very active Jewish religious and communal life. My second-to-last night in Iran, I was invited to meet with the local leaders of the Shiraz community in the large open-air compound that serves as their community center. About the size of a football field, the compound is surrounded by high walls that ensure the privacy of those who come. Tables were spread out with ample food, and by 11 p.m., Jewish families totaling some 50 or 60 individuals, including children, were dining and moving around from table to table to catch up on the local gossip.

Iranian Jews in US ' against Obama nuclear deal'

An overwhelming majority of Iranian Jews in the US, many of whom were driven out of Iran after the 1979 revolution, are against President Obama's nuclear deal, according to the International Business Times.

Many in Iranian Jewish communities throughout the U.S. said their experiences with the regime during and in the years since the Islamic Revolution have provided them with unique insight into the current political situation in the country. As the broader American Jewish establishment remains split over the Iran nuclear agreement Congress is preparing to vote on next month, members of the Iranian-American Jewish community have come out overwhelmingly opposed to it.

“I look at this deal and I say, ‘Who knows better what Iranians are like than Iranians?’,” Sassouni, an active member in her community, said. “I live with people who have firsthand knowledge of what that regime is like.”

Sassouni, who believes the deal is a dangerous one, is not a lone voice in her community. In interviews with International Business Times, numerous leaders said their community members, some of whom have not lived in Iran for years, or ever, as well as more recent arrivals, widely stand against the deal. They said it would legitimize an unjust regime and pose a threat to world peace.

“Almost all of [my congregants] are against it,” said Jeremy Rosen, a rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center, a Manhattan congregation of several hundred mostly Iranian Jews, who is not himself Iranian. “There are of course nuanced opinions ... [but] most of them think [President Barack] Obama is deluded in thinking that this will improve things.”

Iranian Jews Praying According to a recent Iranian census, about 9,000 Jews remain in Iran. Above, Iranian Jews pray at the Yousefabad Synagogue in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2006.  Reuters/Raheb Homavandi
The deal reached last month between Iran, the United States and five other world powers would see Iran commit itself to abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for gradual relief from international sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy. The agreement has come under intense scrutiny by Republicans in Congress, as well as by the Israeli government, who say Iran cannot be trusted to abide by the agreement.

Several prominent Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, have heavily protested the accord. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been among the deal’s most vocal critics internationally. A recent poll, however, found 63 percent of American Jews support the nuclear deal.

Obama has sought to convince the American public – as well as Congress – that the agreement with Iran ultimately will prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons and will improve security for both the U.S. and its regional allies. He has reiterated that the deal is built on unprecedented access for inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities – not trust.

But some Iranian-American Jews, many of whom continue to hold the regime accountable for uprooting their families, are not so sure. The U.S.’s largest Iranian Jewish organizations have come out harshly opposed to the deal, and some synagogues and community organizations have encouraged community members to lobby against the accord.

“We think it’s a disaster, it’s an extremely bad agreement,” said Sam Kermanian, a senior adviser for the Iranian American Jewish Federation, a national organization based in Los Angeles that is opposed to the deal. “We do not believe that it will stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but at the same time it gives legitimacy to a tyrannical regime that is suppressing its own people at home and embarking on dangerous adventures abroad.”

Under the U.S.-backed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who led the country from 1941 until his overthrow in 1979, the Jewish community of more than 80,000 flourished in Iran. As Jews in other Middle Eastern countries flocked to Israel between the 1940s and 1970s, Iran’s Jews widely chose to remain. Community members recalled close ties, even respect from Muslim neighbors and classmates.

Their success under the Shah’s regime backfired, however, when following the 1979 revolution, young revolutionaries and the newly installed government placed part of the blame for the Shah’s repression and the country’s economic woes on the prosperous Jewish minority.

Today, only about 9,000 Jews remain in Iran, according to Iranian census data, and they keep a generally low profile. They distance themselves from Israel, which Iranian leaders continue to characterize as an enemy state.

Read article in full 

Iranian Jews : 'We blame ourselves'

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How poor were the Jews of Damascus?

Blogging in the Huffington Post Sami Moubayed takes issue with a book by Israeli professor Yaron Harel, Zionism in Damascus. Moubayed, who lived in Syria until the 1990s, feels that Harel exaggerates the poverty suffered by Syrian Jews. Yet it is well known that Syrians of all faiths were leaving the country in the 19th century to seek economic opportunities abroad.  

Wealthy Jews like Haim Farhi, owner of Beit Farhi in Damascus, hardly figure in the book

Harel's book tells the story of Damascus Jews story from 1875 until the early 1920s. His main theme is that they found solace in Zionism not as a religious/political movement, but as social and economic life jacket to save them from persecution and humiliation under Ottoman rule, and within their greater Syrian environment. He claims that class segregation, economic woes, religious/political bias against them by Muslims and Christians, were all behind their support for the Zionist project. The book implies that Damascene Jews never actually felt that Damascus was their home, and that it was the fault of Damascus society. I won't debate the well-documented research that the book offers into the covert and over activism of Zionism in Damascus from the late nineteenth century onward, or the persecution that they faced under Ottoman rule. Both are true and well-said in the book, making it a very important addition to the Middle East library. Simply, nobody has done the Herculean task before.
I have to differ with the author, however, about the status of Damascus Jews.

 Denying their persecution at certain epochs of Syrian history would obviously be incorrect, but so would to claim that Damascus was hell on earth for its Jewish community. That exactly is what the book tries to push through the reader's mind, quit intentionally. Without shadow of a doubt, the Damascus Jews had their problems, like being prohibited from building grand synagogues like the Ben Ezra one in Cairo, because Ottoman law obliged non-Muslim houses of worship to be inconspicuous, and they were forced to wear color-specific outfits to differentiate them from Muslims and Christians. They did not, however, live in misery.

The book starts with a quote by prominent Jewish musicologist and composer Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, who was born in Latvia and came to Palestine to set up a school for Jewish music in 1919. Speaking after World War I, Idelsohn sets the mood by saying says that the street life of the Damascus Jews reminds people "of the ancient ghettos from the Middle Ages." The author starts with the wide agony that swept throughout the Jewish Quarter of Damascus when the Ottoman Government went bankrupt in 1875, refusing to repay Jewish creditors who had invested in Ottoman bonds. The extreme wealth that the community enjoyed before 1875 is completely ignored. The Ottoman Government owned them 20 million French francs, and in 1877 it annulled all debts to Damascene Jews, "reducing them to overnight paupers."

The book then gives a horrifying statement, "In 1903, it was reported that no wealthy individuals remained in the (Jewish) community and that the veteran established families had either left Damascus or been completed impoverished. Some of them fell into such indigence that left them scraping for bread to feed their children. By 1904, there remained in Damascus only one Jew described as affluent." One Jew -- not a handful -- not a "few" but one single Jew who remained affluent in Damascus! The author, of course, does not name him, but adds that when the Great War started in 1914, the number of wealthy Jews who stayed behind in the city amounted to no more than "three or four." Meaning, the number of wealthy Jews in Damascus rose from one in 1904 to 3-4 by 1914, at a pace of three over a ten year period.

The author explains that the vast majority of Damascus Jews were poor, working in metal and wood engraving, weaving, painting and silk-weaving. He contradicts himself, however, saying that in the 1880s, some Jews were employed in the Ottoman Government in Damascus, which by all accounts, was a well-paying and respectable job. He states: "At the start of the 20th century, those few educated Jews who had not left Damascus found employment in the civil service, working for the Ottoman Railway Company, the Imperial Ottoman Bank, and as supervisors for the tramways that began running on the streets of Damascus." The state was reluctant to hire them, he adds, because they observed Sabbath and would not work on Saturdays, meaning that does who did work and make money were un-observant Jews. Among the Jews who worked in high places were Nissim Beik Ades, chief director of the Hejaz Railway, Yakov Moshli, its chief inspector, and the lawyer Josh Abbadi, a jurist at the trade court of Damascus. These men were the upper-crust of Damascus; well-educated and refined working professionals living in beautiful homes, addressed as "beys" by the Damascenes, who mingling well with Syrian high society.

Professor Harel describes the status of Damascus Jews at the late 19th and early 20th century as living in "grinding poverty," saying that in 1881, 25% were living in "abject poverty" while 50% were just poor, and 25% were lower middle class. This makes no mention of the bankers, money-lenders, and wealthy businessmen who owned some of the most magnificent mansions of Old Damascus, like Bait Lisbona, Bait Niyaden, or Bait Farhi, owned by Haim Farhi, one of the richest men Damascus ever know who was the banker of Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar, the governor of Sidon and Damascus in the late 18th century. He also fails to mention the beautiful three courtyard mansion of Yusuf Bey Anbar, another wealthy Damascene Jew who started construction in 1870 but eventually sold the property and it became Maktab Anbar, the elite school of Damascus -- named after him.

There is hardly any mention of wealthy and prominent Damascene Jews like the physician Ishak Totah, one of the most prominent doctors of internal medicine in Syria in the 1950s whose clinic on Abed Street was frequented by everybody who was somebody in Damascus, or the three-time Damascus MP Yusuf Linadu, who ran for parliament with President Shukri al-Quwatli on a National Bloc list in 1943. He actually served on every Syrian Chamber since 1928. The author dismisses all of them one shot, saying: "The few who had wealth weren't considered rich" by the standards of Damascus, which of course is utterly untrue.

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