Friday, December 30, 2016

Yemenite babies: Released data show negligence

Newly-released documents show that the authorities were guilty of gross negligence, but not state-sanctioned kidnappings in the saga of the disappeared  Yemenite children. The Times of Israel reports: 

As the Israeli public and media began perusing hundreds of thousands of newly released documents pertaining to the missing “Yemenite Children Affair,” early reports on the files from a 2001 government inquiry appeared to dispel notions of state-sponsored abductions of children during the early years of the state as has been alleged by many Yemenite families.

The declassified documents point to numerous cases of children being taken away from their families to receive medical treatment without parental approval, proper documentation, and identification procedures. Families subsequently lost all trace of their loved ones, with deaths going unreported and children being put up for adoption after authorities claimed their families had disappeared.

Read article in full

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Kerry fails to mention Jewish refugees

US Secretary of State John Kerry made a long-awaited speech yesterday about the outgoing US government's approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The speech enunciated six principles. On refugees, Kerry said: 

 The plight of many Palestinian refugees is heartbreaking, and all agree that their needs have to be addressed. "As part of a comprehensive resolution, they must be provided with compensation; their suffering must be acknowledged and there must be the need to have options and assistance in finding permanent homes. The international community can provide significant support and assistance. I know we are prepared to do that, including and raising money to help ensure the compensation and other needs of the refugees are met. And many have expressed willingness to contribute to that effort, particularly if it brings peace. But there is a general recognition that the solution must be consistent with two states for two peoples, and cannot affect the fundamental character of Israel."

John Kerry: speech

Read text in full 

David Harris , writing a letter to John Kerry in the Huffington Post , spotted that something was missing from Kerry's speech - 850,000 somethings, to be precise: 

"One of your six principles was resolution of the Palestinian refugee question. I waited for you to add in that section some reference to the Jewish refugee question, but, alas, there was none. Mr. Secretary, as you know, there were two, not one, refugee populations created by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and they were of roughly equal size. Just because one has been kept alive by UNRWA and the absence of any mandate to resettle refugees (and, I’d add, their descendants in perpetuity), while the other has been dealt with by people who refused to be instrumentalized and chose to move on with their lives, the tragedy - and the claims - of both populations require attention."

Read letter in full

Alan Dershowitz also notes that  Kerry omitted any mention of Jewish refugees.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

400,000 'Yemenite children' records accessible online

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurated an online database today that gives the public full access to some 400,000 pages of declassified documents that the state hopes will help bring closure to the decades-long controversy known as the “Yemenite Children Affair.”The Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Sylvia):

“Today we right a historic wrong,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony launching the database. “For close to 60 years people did not know the fate of their children, in a few minutes any person can access the pages containing all the information that the government of Israel has.” 

This is “a brave and important act,” said Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi, who was tasked by the prime minister with overseeing an investigation into the affair and who gave the go-ahead for the declassification of the documents.

Since the 1950s, over 1, 000 families — mostly immigrants from Yemen, but also dozens from the Balkans, North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries — have alleged their children were systematically kidnapped from Israeli hospitals and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad.

Read article in full

Yemenite immigrants in a camp near Ein Shemer in 1950. (Pinn Hans/GPO)

What about Jewish-owned land beyond the Green line?

 Israel is reeling from the passing of the controversial resolution UNSC 2334 last week. The resolution which passed without the usual US veto,  'breaks new ground' by declaring all Israeli settlement on the land east of the 1967 Green line  'illegal'. Time to revisit the Clash of Cultures blog on this fraught subject. The reality on the ground is far more complex than the international community believes.

A Jewish 'settlement'

The idea that the territories beyond the Green Line should be Jew-free received a ringing endorsement from Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas just as US secretary of state John Kerry sat Israelis and Palestinians down to peace talks in Washington DC. Not a single Israeli would be allowed in a Palestinian state, Abbas announced.

Like the Palestinians, the EU assumes that the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are ‘Arab land.’   But nothing is ever that simple in the Middle East. Land ownership is a tangled web, although that''s a point not often made by the Israeli government. 

The Golan Heights are almost universally considered ''Syrian'' territory and yet the Jewish National Fund lays claim to 73.974 dunams in southern Syria. The earliest purchase was made in the 1880s. 

Similarly, land ownership in Jerusalem and the ''West Bank'' is far more complex than the EU thinks. The ''Jewish settlements'' north of Jerusalem, Atarot and Neve Yaakov, were evacuated in 1948. Mount Scopus - technically in ''Arab'' East Jerusalem - remained a Jewish enclave in Jordanian-controlled territory. 

It is also little known that hundreds of thousands of Arab squatters in ''Arab East Jerusalem'' live on land still owned by the Jewish National Fund. The JNF purchased hundreds of individual parcels of land in and around Jerusalem during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. In 1948, on one of these parcels the UN built the Kalandia refugee camp. The Deheishe  refugee camp south of Bethlehem was also built on JNF land.

In the 1920s and 30s Iraqi and Iranian Jews queued up to buy parcels of JNF land; after the 1948 war, they  were cut off from their purchases when these came under Jordanian rule, as Gil Zohar explained in his 2007 Jerusalem Post piece.  In total 145. 976 dunams (I dunam = 1,000 sq. m) of Jewish land is said to have come under Jordanian control. (Jewish property claims against Arab countries by Michael Fischbach, p 85).

In Abu Dis, the site of the putative Palestinian parliament, some 598 dunams of land are actually Jewish-owned as even Palestinian organisations acknowledge
During the 1920s and 30s the ‘Agudat HaDayarim’ Jewish Cooperative Society was established in Jerusalem in order to create Jewish neighbourhoods outside  the Old City. The Society had over 210 members, from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds - including Persian, Iraqi and Yemenite Jews.  In 1928 the Aguda purchased 598 dunams of land on the city outskirts in Abu Dis  in order to build a ‘Garden Community’ (homes with agricultural plots). Although it acquired a legal title to the area, the Arab revolts of 1929 and 1936-9 prevented the Aguda from establishing the new community.  The War of Independence resulted in the Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis coming under the control of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property.
Another 16.684,421 dunams of Jewish land in the rural West Bank - including the Gush Etzion settlements, land between Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm, and in Bethlehem and Hebron - were seized by the Jordanians after 1948. 

Even before 1948, riots and massacres caused Jews of the centuries-old Yishuv to evacuate their homes in Hebron and parts of Jerusalem.

Before it fell to the Arab Legion in 1948, Jerusalem had a Jewish majority. The first refugees from eastern Jerusalem were Jews from the Shimon Hatzaddik quarter - the site of the tomb of Simon the High Priest. The Old City of Jerusalem became ''judenrein'' as thousands of Jews were expelled, leaving their property behind. The Old City was ransacked and some 58 synagogues were destroyed during the 19-year Jordanian occupation. Jews were banned from their holiest places.

There is a respectable body of  opinion which argues that most Israeli settlements are legal. Even if Israel were to agree that the Jewish settlements stigmatized by the EU are illegal under international law, the proportion of land ''built on Arab land'' in the West Bank represents a tiny fraction of the Jewish-owned land abandoned or seized as a matter of deliberate policy in Arab countries.
 The issue of Jewish settlements has to be seen in the context of the mass exchange of land and population between Jews and Arabs  across the entire region.

Read article in full

Monday, December 26, 2016

Iraqis warm to Jews at Hanucah

With thanks: Michelle and Kheder

Update: the US-backed Arabic channel Al Hurrah has an interview with kippa-wearing Steven Maman.  Maman draws parallels between the suffering of the Yazidis and the Jewish experience of persecution.

For the first time, an Iraqi newspaper has paid tribute to  Jewish philanthropist Steve Maman.

 Steve Maman and his family

Journalist Imran Hussein profiles Maman and his work to rescue Yazidis and Christians from Islamic State in Iraq.

However, Hussein describes Maman simply as a Montreal businessman with a wife and six chldren, making no reference to the fact that he is an observant Jew from Morocco. The mere mention of Maman is nevertheless a breakthrough, indicating that the Iraqi press is freeer than it has ever been in the past.

More about Steve Maman here.

In another example of Iraqis reaching out to Jews, the committee for the defence of religious and ethnic groups in Iraq  has extended its greetings to Iraqi Jews on the occasion of Hanucah. 
The logo of the Committee for the defence of religious and ethnic groups in Iraq.

Ala Mahdi sends congratulations and blessings. "Our brothers in humanity the Jews in particular loved us Iraqis wherever they were in the world. Merry Christmas free of all manifestations of mourning and sadness."

Bahrain hosts Hanucah-lighting ceremony


With  an extraordinary spectacle of Hasidim dancing with Arabs in traditional dress, the Bahraini monarchy hosted a Hanucah-lighting ceremony  for the second year running, the Times of Israel reports. The kingdom does have a synagogue, but it is never used by the 36 Jews still living there.

The small Muslim monarchy of Bahrain hosted a ceremony to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah, and the resulting video of kaffiyeh-wearing sheikhs dancing with Orthodox Jews to Hasidic music has been going viral on Facebook.

On Saturday night, the kingdom, ruled by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, held a candle-lighting ceremony in which Jews, businesspeople and other Bahraini people took part. 

Bahrain, a group of islands in Persian gulf with a population of 1.4 million, is the only Arab gulf state that has a synagogue. The country had a Jewish population of some 1, 500 Jews in 1948. However, after the declaration of the State of Israel many left, and almost all those who remained followed suit after 1967’s Six Day War. Today there are less than 50 Jews in the country.

Read article in full

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hanucah, Moroccan style

Tonight is the first night of the eight-day festival of Hanucah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. This year, unusually, it coincides with the festival of Christmas. Here is a rendition of Maoz Tzur, the traditional piyyut heard at this time. Rabbi David Kadoch sings Maoz Tsur to a Moroccan tune. Here are the lyrics in English translation:

  Maoz Tzur : Rock of Ages

O mighty stronghold of my salvation, to praise You is a delight.
Restore my House of Prayer and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering.
When You will have prepared the slaughter for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn the dedication of the Altar.

My soul had been sated with troubles, my strength has been consumed with grief. They had embittered my life with hardship, with the calf-like kingdom's bondage.
But with His great power He brought forth the treasured ones,
Pharaoh's army and all his offspring
Went down like a stone into the deep.

To the holy abode of His Word He brought me. But there, too, I had no rest And an oppressor came and exiled me.
For I had served aliens, And had drunk benumbing wine.
Scarcely had I departed At Babylon's end Zerubabel came.
At the end of seventy years I was saved.

 To sever the towering cypress sought the Aggagite, son of Hammedatha,
But it became [a snare and] a stumbling block to him and his arrogance was stilled.
The head of the Benjaminite You lifted and the enemy, his name You obliterated His numerous progeny - his possessions - on the gallows You hanged.

Greeks gathered against me then in Hasmonean days. They breached the walls of my towers and they defiled all the oils;
And from the one remnant of the flasks a miracle was wrought for the roses.
Men of insight - eight days established for song and jubilation
 Bare Your holy arm and hasten the End for salvation -

Avenge the vengeance of Your servants' blood from the wicked nation.
 For the triumph is too long delayed for us, and there is no end to days of evil, Repel the Red One in the nethermost shadow and establish for us the seven shepherds.

 Maoz Tzur translation courtesy of

Wishing all readers Happy Hanucah, Merry Christmas, or simply...Happy Holidays! 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Who cares about the non-Muslims of Aleppo?

Represented by liberals such as Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN,  the West seems only worried about the beleaguered Sunni Muslims of Aleppo, (although Prince Charles seems to have belatedly cottoned on to the dismal plight of Middle Eastern Christians).  Excellent piece by Daniel Greenfield in Front Page exposing the hypocrisy and lies over Aleppo: 

250, 000 Christians lived in Aleppo before the Sunni-Shiite Islamic civil war began. Today their numbers have fallen to 40, 000.

There were no worldwide protests over this ethnic cleansing of Christians from Aleppo as there are over the fall of the Sunni Islamic state whose Jihadis are euphemistically described as rebels. There were no photos of crying Christian children blanketing every media outlet. But today you can hardly open a newspaper without seeing a teary Sunni Muslim kid allegedly being evacuated from Aleppo.

Given a chance, the weeping Sunni Muslims did to their Christian neighbors in Aleppo what they had done to them back during the Aleppo Massacre a hundred years ago when they were upset that the decline of Islamic Sharia power led to Christians gaining some civil rights. The Jewish population of Aleppo, which had once made up 5% of the city, had already been wiped out in the 1947 Muslim riots.

The last Jewish family was evacuated from Aleppo to escape the Sunni Jihadis two years ago.

The destruction of the Jewish and Christian communities of Aleppo happened without a fraction of the hysterical tumult over the defeat of the Sunni Jihadis and their fellow Muslim religious dependents.

"Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later,” Samantha Power declared at the United Nations.

Why doesn’t the ethnic cleansing of 210,000 Christians stain Power’s conscience? Or the church bombings by Islamists in Egypt, the stabbings of Jewish women in Israel and the Boko Haram genocide of Christians in Nigeria? True modern evil is the righteous conviction of liberals that only Muslim lives matter and that their Christian, Jewish and other non-Muslim victims somehow have it coming. (...)

The Jewish population of the Middle East now exists almost entirely in Israel, protected by guns wielded, as often as not, by the descendants of Jewish refugees from Islamic oppression in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran. The Christian population, lacking an independent state of its own, continues to dwindle, dependent on the shaky goodwill of dictators like Mubarak or Assad who find them temporarily useful.

Read article in full

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Plain-speaking Bensoussan prosecuted for 'hate-speech'

First they came for the journalists. Now they are coming for the historians. Georges Bensoussan will appear before a tribunal next month accused of 'incitement to racial-hatred'.   To state politically-incorrect fact becomes 'hate speech' in France today. Thankfully, leading historians are rallying to Bensoussan's defence.

 Haaretz reports:

One of the world’s leading historians on the Jewish communities in Arab countries is being prosecuted in France for alleged hate speech against Muslims.

The Morocco-born French-Jewish scholar Georges Bensoussan, 64, is due to appear next month before a Paris criminal court over a complaint filed against him for incitement to racial hatred by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, the group recently announced on its website.

George Bensoussan: politically-incorrect to call out Muslim antisemitism
The complaint, which leading French scholars dismissed as attempt at “intimidation” in a statement Friday, was over remarks about anti-Semitism by Muslims that Bensoussan, author of a definitive 2012 work entitled “Jews in Arab Lands,” made last year during an interview aired by the France Culture radio station, the Collective said.

The Collective based its complaint on two remarks by Bensoussan.

“Today, we are witnessing a different people in the midst of the French nation, who are effecting a return on a certain number of democratic values to which we adhere,” read the first quote flagged.

The second quote cited read: “This visceral anti-Semitism proven by the Fondapol survey by Dominique Reynié last year cannot remain under a cover of silence.” Conducted in 2014 among 1, 580 French respondents, of whom one third were Muslim, the survey found that they were two times and even three times more anti-Jewish than French people as a whole.

Read article in full

Here is the background to the case, as featured on Point of No Return:

Georges Bensoussan, historian and editorial director at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris, is at the centre of a firestorm accusing him of 'incitement to racial hatred'.

A group of left-wing intellectuals, including the controversial academic Shlomo Sand,  lodged  a complaint against Bensoussan with MRAP, a French  anti-racist movement. Bensoussan may be called to face a tribunal.

During a TV discussion broadcast on 10 October 2015, Repliques, Bensoussan commented that France cannot hope to integrate its Maghrebi immigrants unless it recognised that these immigrants imbibe antisemitism 'with their mother's milk'.

Bensoussan, whose family comes from Morocco and who authored an 800-page volume on the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries Juifs en pays Arabes: le grand deracinement 1850 - 1975  in 2012 , claims that he was paraphrasing the words of a 'brave' Algerian sociologist, Smain Laachar." Everyone knows it but nobody will say it," Laachar had declared of Arab/Muslim antisemitism.

Laachar has since denied having said or written this 'ignominy'. He said it was outrageous for Bensoussan to have claimed that antisemitism was transmitted by blood.

Bensoussan has countered that Arab antisemitism was not transmitted biologically but culturally. He accused his critics of 'intellectual terrorism'.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Farhud is backdrop for new novel

The lives of two Jewish families, one from Hungary and the other from Iraq,  converge unexpectedly in London in the shadow of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq and the Nazi Holocaust. Interview by Keren David with the author of Nine love letters, Gerald Jacobs, in the Jewish Chronicle:

It is a slightly worrying thing, the task of reading a colleagues book and interviewing him about it, especially as in this case the colleague is Gerald Jacobs, literary editor of this newspaper since the late 1980s, who, as a result, knows as much about books, and Jewish books in particular,  as many a professor of literature.

Gerald’s latest book, out this week, is his first novel, and at first glance from the title — Nine Love Letters — and the cover, which features a girl in a 1940s style dress, sitting reading a letter, I wondered if he’d written a conventional romance. But the book, and the letters around which it is structured, offer a far wider exploration of love, with familial love as central to the story as the ardent missives exchanged between lovers.

The range of the novel is epic, taking in generations of Jewish families in Iraq and Hungary and their descendants in England, and he does not shy away from the horrors of the concentration camps, and the Farhud, Baghdad’s version of a pogrom, which brutally ended generations of Iraqi Jewish life in 1941. I was gripped by the story, and — even though our interview was imminent — found myself reading slowly, because I didn’t want the book to end.

The writing, too, stands out. It reminded me of a memoir or, at times, reportage, with its rush of anecdotes, telling the stories of family, friends and neighbours in a few packed pages, moving back and forward in time, with an omniscient third-person narrator. There was something about it that felt different from other novels covering similar ground.

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

'Syrian Jews can return and get their homes back'

A Druze Israeli, Mendi Safadi, former adviser to MK Ayub Kara, has declared that two Syrian opposition leaders have called on Jews to return to their homes and get their properties back. This JerusalemOnline News report by Rachel Avraham begs the question: how influential are these leaders after the fall of Aleppo to the Assad regime, and how many Jews would be seriously interested in returning to war-torn Syria? 

 Mendi Safadi (left) and MK Yehuda Glick (right) meet a Syrian opposition leader (Photo: Safadi Centre)

They also expressed their willingness to cooperate politically with Israel and to sign an agreement that will ensure regional stability. (...)

Fahd Al Masri, Chairman of the National Syrian Salvation Front, called upon Syrian Jews to return to their homes and regain their assets in a post-Assad Syria.  He also promised the Jews that they will receive compensation for all of the damaged Jewish property. He stressed that Syrian Jews are part of the landscape and history of Syria, emphasizing that they can be used as a bridge between Syria and Israel, noting that they should have rights like any other person in Syria.

Regarding Syrian Jews, he stated: “Syrian Jews were always like every other Syrian and post-Assad, the Jewish community can return to its glorious days. We want that you will return and to build together with us a new Syria. There cannot be a Syrian culture without the Jews that were part of this mosaic and any Jew that returns will get his home and assets back while lacking everything that had forced him to leave.”

“As someone who has been following the Syrian Revolution since its beginnings and has contacts with many Syrian Opposition groups, I was not surprised by the letters that I received recently,” Mendi Safadi told JerusalemOnline News. “The Syrian Opposition began to open channels with us since the first days of the Syrian Revolution.  Some wanted this but were afraid yet with the time got the courage to reach out. There are those like Kamal Labani that were against it initially who made contact with Israel and with the time exposed the truth about the country, thus invalidating all of the slogans they grew up with. They asked to get closer and today have turned into great supporters for the relationship with Israel. There are many other examples. What I hope is that the madness of the international community in Syria will stop and they will work to logically find a solution for Syria that will restore regional stability. Shelling civilian population centers and eradicating hundreds of women and children in Aleppo will not bring about a solution but will encourage more terrorism.”

Read article in full

Monday, December 19, 2016

Jews had to prove their loyalty to Turkey

The restored Edirne synagogue

 Following the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, the Ottoman sultan extended a warm welcome to Jews and permitted them to settle in his empire. But the honeymoon period was brief, and even Ataturk's secular Turkish Republic adopted a policy of Turkification of all minorities. Ferkan Sen paints a bleak picture in the Jerusalem Post:

In many parts of the empire, moreover, the Jews found positions, some quite high ones, in the imperial bureaucracy as well as private doctors to the sultan..

Sabbatai Zevi, born on August 1, 1626 in Izmir, declared that he was the messiah, basing his idea on some kabbalistic theories. Zevi, who was complained about to the sultan, Mehmed IV, by the Jews of Istanbul, was given the choice of death or conversion to Islam and chose the latter, with many of his followers also converting.

However, this was not a true conversion. Zevi and the Jewish minority who followed him continued to adhere to Judaism.* Today, there is still a significant Sabbatean-descendant population in Turkey.

Over time however, the Jews came to be regarded in a much poorer light, until in the last days of the Ottoman Empire they had become the targets of Muslims and Turkish hatred. The dialogue between Theodor Herzl and Sultan Abdul Hamid II (the sultan refused Herzl’s offer to pay down 150 million pounds sterling of the Ottoman debt in exchange for a charter allowing the Zionists to settle in Palestine) put the Jewish nation in the crosshairs, being blamed as for liquidating the Ottoman monarchy.

The secular Turkish nation state that emerged after the fall of the empire adopted the Turkification of all ethnic minorities as the primary state policy. The Greeks, Armenians and Jews, who were seen as “minority status” under the Lausanne peace treaty with the allies, were perceived at first as members of the Turkic community.

At a press conference held in Izmir in 1923 founder of the modern Turkish Republic Mistafa Kemal Ataturk said: “We have some loyal citizens who have combined their fate with the fate of the Turks who ruled them. Especially since the Jews proved their loyalty to this nation and their homeland, they have lived in prosperity and prosperity to this day, and will continue to live in prosperity and happiness.”

Yet, Ataturk, however, did not prevent the discriminatory policies later implemented by the republic. For example, the 1934 Thrace pogroms, a series of violent attacks against Jewish citizens of Turkey in June and July 1934, was condemned but not stopped by the government.

Jews were assaulted in Tekirda, Çanakkale, Kırklareli and Edirne, with many rapes, looting and and murders reported.

15, 000 Jews abandoned were forced to flee Turkey as a result. National writers such as Nihal Atsiz wrote anti-Jewish articles.

The Varlik Vergisi (“wealth tax”), which was declared on November 11, 1942, was ostensibly devised to raise funds against the eventuality of Nazi or Soviet invasion, but in actuality was intended to nationalize the Turkish economy by reducing the influence of minority populations on the country’s economy. It was imposed on all citizens, but inordinately higher rates were imposed on the country’s non-Muslim inhabitants. Those who suffered most severely were non-Muslims like the Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and others, though it was the Armenians who were most heavily taxed. The winds of nationalism blowing from Europe affects these policies against minorities. Following these events and the creation of the State of Israel, Jewish immigration from Turkey to Israel increased markedly.

The most important ideologies that influence Turkish politics are Islamism, Turkism and Kemalism, a secular ideology.

Read article in full 

*This is questionable. The followers of Zvi did not identify as Jews and their beliefs were in some cases quite the opposite of Judaism (-Ed)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Aramaic TV broadcasts Hebrew season's greetings

If you need a reminder that Iraq is a mosaic of different ethnicities and religions, watch this programme from the Arabic ABN TV Channel, broadcasting from the US. The Channel which is run by Aramaic-speaking Christians, asked all the different communities of Iraq now dispersed around the world - Armenians, Turkomans, Chaldeans, Mandaeans, Assyrians, Jews and others - to convey season's greetings to viewers in each of their languages.

At 31 minutes to 36 minutes you can hear a message in Hebrew from David Kheder Basson, who now lives in Israel. Basson also wished Jewish viewers a very Happy Hanucah, which this year coincides with Christmas. He followed it with a translation in Arabic.

Basson (pictured) reminded the programme's presenter that the Jews of Iraq did not speak Hebrew, but Judeo-Arabic. He ended his segment with a few words in that dialect. He told viewers that it is close to that spoken in Mosul.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Jewish writer shot dead in Turkey

The Turkish-Jewish community is concerned that antisemitism might be a motive for the murder of a well-known Jewish author in  Istanbul. The Times of Israel reports: (with thanks: Lily)

 Beki Ikala Erikli: gunned down outside her home

A Turkish Jewish writer was murdered at her Istanbul home Thursday by an unknown shooter, local media reported.

Beki İkala Erikli was shot at the entrance to her building in the Kabataş neighborhood of the city and her assailant fled on foot. She was struck by three bullets and paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene. 

Bystanders told the Hurriyet newspaper that they heard the gunshots and raced to where Erikli lay injured.

Police launched an investigation into her murder and were studying security camera footage to identify her shooter.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Albert Memmi : the colonizer not always to blame

Albert Memmi, who has turned  96, is a French-Jewish author of non-fiction and novels born in the Tunis Hara. At first a proponent of Tunisian independence, in his later years, he concluded that not every evil can be blamed on the colonizer. The colonized, too, must take responsibility for his actions. David B Green writes in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily):

His non-fiction works have titles like “The Colonizer and the Colonized” (1957, with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre), “Portrait of a Jew” (published in two parts, in 1962 and 1966), “Jews and Arabs” (1974) and “Racism” (1982). His unique identity – as Jew, as North African and as French intellectual -- gives him a unique point of view, which includes all the inherent contradictions one might expect from those multiple allegiances.

Memmi himself said the following about his writing in 1995: "All of my work has been in sum an inventory of my attachments; all of my work has been, it should be understood, a constant revolt against my attachments; all of my work, for certain, has been an attempt at...reconciliation between the different parts of myself."

With the dramatic changes that have taken place in the Arab and Muslim world, and in its relations with Europe and the West in recent years, Memmi moved to the right. Or at least, he began to place more blame for the dismal situation of the formerly colonized on them themselves, rather than attributing all of their problems to the imperial powers that once ruled them.

 “The Colonizer and the Colonized” made the argument that the institution of colonization does harm to both the perpetrator and the victim, and that its overthrow is necessary and inevitable. But Memmi’s 2006 follow-up work, “Decolonization and the Decolonized” laments all the things that didn’t happen, or that went wrong, when the colonial age came to its end.

The newly independent former colonies must take responsibility for the dire state that many of them are in, he wrote – and as an avowed secularist, he is convinced that religion is not the answer to their problems.

Read article in full (subscription required)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Israeli music loses one of its greats: Ahuva Ozeri

 Ahuva Ozeri playing the bulbul tarang. She lost her voice to cancer

The Israeli music world has just lost one of the greatest, most original voices heard  in the last 40 years, declares Haaretz. 

Ahuva Ozeri had an important role, akin to that of a founding mother, in the rise of Mizrahi music (originating in Arab countries) in Israel since the mid-1970s. In recent years she enjoyed the status of a musical heroine, as well a social and gender leader. Her stubborn fight against cancer and the fact that she continued to create even after her vocal cords were excised in 2000 added a heroic dimension to her character and work.

But above all these impressive facets came the fact that Ozeri was a unique and great musician. She left behind some wonderful songs and an artistic language that was uniquely her own.

Ozeri was born and raised in Kerem Hateimanim (Yemenite Quarter) neighborhood of Tel Aviv, the youngest of eight siblings. Her father died when she was four. She started singing at a young age, sometimes serving as a wailer at memorial services. From the age of 13 she started singing at parties, in which she appeared with the Shovalim band, which later inspired other bands such as Tzlilei Hakerem (Sounds of the Kerem) and Tzlilei Ha’Oud (Sounds of the Oud). The parties would start at eight in the evening and end before dawn.

Read article in full (subscription required)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Israel launches $2.6 m project to record Mizrahi stories

 Yemenite Jews in a transit camp, 1950

The stories, heritage and history of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands and Spain will be documented as part of a new national project, approved Sunday by the Israeli cabinet. Haaretz reports:

The project will collect personal testimonies, both filmed and written, from Jews of Sephardi and Mizrahi origins, referring to Jews who were displaced from the Iberian Peninsula following the Spanish Inquisition, and those of Middle Eastern or North African descent.

The subjects will document their lives before they made aliyah, their situations when they left, fled or were expelled from their countries, and the tales of their absorption in Israel.

The Social Equality Ministry, headed by Minister Gila Gamliel, will allocate 10 million shekels ($2.6 million) to the project, which Gamliel initiated. “This is not a uniquely Mizrahi interest but a national, Jewish and Zionist interest,” she said, after the project was approved. “From now on, the Jewish story will be more complete and Israeli citizens young and old will get to hear, study and become familiar with both the Eastern and Western sides of the glorious heritage of the Jewish people.”

Read article in full (subscription required)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ashkenazim are defining themselves as non-white

Has Sigal Samuel of the Forward had a Eureka moment? As a 'Mizrahi ' Jew she has always defined herself as non-white, in opposition to Ashkenazi 'whites'. Under pressure from Donald Trump and his 'white supremacist' supporters, Ashkenazi Jews are being pushed into joining her in that space, she claims. But well before Donald Trump Jews in Europe were being rejected as 'oily Levantines' who should go back to Palestine*. Or are these ethnic categories, borne of an obsession with identity politics, simply absurd? 

Sigal Samuel: non-white

“I have lived for 26 years under the illusion that I am unconditionally white…. Recently I have started looking at my face and going, ‘Oh man, do I look too Jewish?’” Sydney Brownstone, the reporter who voiced this question in a recent Blabbermouth podcast, is not alone in wondering this. Many Ashkenazi Jews who have always assumed that they’re white are noticing that they’re not white enough for Donald Trump’s white supremacists. Suddenly, they’re asking themselves: Wait, how white am I, exactly?

To tackle this question, try a little visualization. Picture all American Jews arranged along a spectrum. On one end are the Ashkenazi Jews who identify as white and get coded as white by society. On the other end are the Jews of color who can never pass as white: black Jews, Chinese Jews and others who get read as non-white on the street. In the middle of the spectrum are Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, who sometimes pass as white and sometimes don’t.

As a Mizrahi Jew — my ancestors come from India, Iraq and Morocco — I inhabit that ambiguous middle space. For a long time, it’s been a lonely place to be, since Ashkenazi is Judaism’s default setting in America. It’s also been massively confusing, since I often reap the privileges of being white-passing, even as I get selected for “random additional screenings” by the TSA or for “Where are you really from?” queries from strangers on the street.

But here’s how I think about what’s happening now: Ashkenazi Jews are increasingly getting pushed into the middle space with me. The ascendant discourse of white supremacy, which posits that Jews are not “pure” whites, has thrust them into this space — a space where the lines of your identity are perpetually blurry, where a sense of racial belonging constantly eludes you, and where the category of whiteness is always already in crisis, because your inability to situate yourself cleanly inside it (or cleanly outside it) shows how logically incoherent the category must be.

Read article in full

*The Israeli writer Amos Oz famously recalls: " When my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets of Europe were covered with graffiti, "Jews, go back to Palestine."

Monday, December 12, 2016

Encyclopedia will restore Jews to Islamic history

This new encyclopedia is a welcome corrective to the limited literature that exists about Jews in the Islamic world and those projects that downplay the importance of Jews and seek to idealise Jewish-Muslim relations. Daniel Pipes reviews it in Middle East Quarterly (Winter 2017). With thanks: Michelle, Flor)

Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World by Norman A Stillman

(Leiden: Brill, 2010. 5 vols. Vol. 1, A-C: 698 pp.; Vol. 2, D-I: 655 pp.; Vol. 3, J-O: 637 pp.; Vol. 4, P-Z: 695 pp.; Vol. 5, Index and Resources: 499 pp. $1,099.)

If Jews in Muslim-majority countries have now shrunk to a miniscule 50, 000 *souls, nearly all of them in Morocco, Turkey, and Iran, things were once different.

Indeed, until the seventeenth century, Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews outnumbered the Jews of Europe. More than that, as Stillman writes in his introduction, it was in the medieval Muslim world that "many aspects of Judaism as a religious civilization were formulated, codified, and disseminated, and this includes the domains of liturgy, law, and theology."

Indeed, until the seventeenth century Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews outnumbered the Jews of Europe. More than that, as Stillman writes in his introduction, it was in the medieval Muslim world that "many aspects of Judaism as a religious civilization were formulated, codified, and disseminated, and this includes the domains of liturgy, law, and theology."

But if the Mizrahi/Sephardi population has great importance for Judaism and for the Middle East, scholars have slighted it. Again, quoting Stillman: Until the 1970s, there was very little academic work on the Jews of the Islamic world, and most of that was dedicated to the medieval period, and within that period to intellectual history and literature. The 1.5 million-word Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World came into existence in part to rectify this weakness, in part to make a wealth of obscure knowledge available. It succeeds with great distinction.

In contrast to some other recent encyclopedias concerning the Middle East and Islam (notably John L. Esposito's dismal Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World),[1] EJIW's 350 contributors avoid post-modernism and other hazards to provide a well-written, reliable guide to 2200 topics from the seventh century to the present.

Read article in full 

*50,000 would seem to be an exaggeration. There may be no more than 30, 000 in these countries.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ministers call a truce over Mizrahi refugee project

 The two most senior Mizrahi women in the Israeli cabinet, Gila Gamliel and Miri Regev, have called a truce after weeks of fighting over who should take responsibility for preserving the heritage of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. The issue, according to this Walla News report, has been declared 'a national interest '. (With thanks: Levana)

 Fighting it out: Top, Miri Regev (whose parents are from Morocco) and bottom, Gila Gamliel of Libyan and Yemenite origin
The government will today debate a proposal submitted by minister for social equality Gila Gamliel , for documenting heritage communities of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. The Ministry of Culture tried to block the program in the past, but now they have reached a compromise.
Likud has become inured to the ongoing battle between the two top women in the party - Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel. For once, the two political rivals were able to agree a compromise: on Sunday the government's latest proposal is expected to be put forward : to establish a national program to document the heritage of Jewish communities from Arab countries and Iran -  and Regev is expected to support it.
Two weeks ago, a similar proposal fell off the agenda following the opposition of the Minister of Culture, who claimed that the field was under her aegis.
Tense relations between Regev and Gamliel became a byword in the Likud. The scene of the last tussle between the two, was the 'Yemenyada' (Yemenite festival) event in Eilat last August. They then clashed  on who should preserve Jewish heritage from Arab countries and Iran. Late last month, Gamliel organized, for the second year running,  a major evening dedicated to mark the day of departure and expulsion of immigrants from Oriental countries. At the Jerusalem convention center, attended by thousands of participants, Minister Gamliel declared her proposal for a Government-backed heritage center with a database that includes testimonials and stories of Jews from Arab countries.
According to the proposal,  ten million shekels will be allocated over  two years from the ministry's budget for social equality to set up a large version of  the film archive by Steven Spielberg. The project will include testimonies of Oriental origin and  personal and community biographies, while encouraging academic research on the subject of  Jewish community life in the East and their expulsion.
But ahead of the vote, the Ministry of Culture and Sport gave its opinion, opposing the decision and demanding that the issue be discussed jointly. Gamliel offered   (Miri Regev) an opportunity to endorse her proposed budget and even to add from her own Ministry of Culture budget, but  Regev refused. Gamliel accused her of sabotaging the decision in order to hurt Gamliel's major event taking place in the same week at Binyanei Ha-ouma in Jerusalem.
Over the last two weeks there were contacts between the two ministries and the two reached a compromise: they will approve the recording of testimonies, while how and where these will be stored will be a decision deferred to a later date. 
According to a new resolution, the Government Press Office will operate the project and will begin to build up the collection of personal testimonies written and filmed in cooperation with bodies who are accountable to Regev, including Yad Ben-Zvi and Beit Hatfutzot (the Diaspora Museum) - but it will not include the establishment of a physical heritage center at this stage.
The office of Regev said that the move went ahead after Gamliel promised that the powers of the Ministry of Culture and Sport will not be curtailed. "The initial proposal of the ministry for social equality dealt with a subject under the authority of the Ministry of Culture. After the Ministry for Social Equality  received  comments from the Ministry of Culture, it made the necessary adjustments, and after the usual consultations, resistance has been removed."
Gamliel welcomed their cooperation and said that this is a shared interest. "After 68 years during which the agenda of the Eastern Jews was pushed beyond the boundaries of the historical canon, it's time to fix it," said the Minister, who has been promoting projects for years to instil knowledge and public awareness of the heritage of the Eastern Jews.
"Facts and evidence will ensure that the Jewish story will be brought  out finally in full: East and well as West. It is not uniquely of interest to Mizrahim, it is of national interest, to all Jews and  Zionists. A people who are Chofetz Chaim (who choose life)  had to acknowledge their past and their legacy in a variety of fields, and this initiative to collect testimonies will ensure it. "

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Friday, December 09, 2016

Homage to a great scholar: Sylvia Kedourie

Sylvia Kedourie z"l

Sylvia Kedourie, who has died aged 90, was the widow of the historian Elie Kedourie and herself a distinguished scholar of the history of the Middle East. The Daily Telegraph carried this obituary:

She was born Sylvia Haim on December 19 1925 in Baghdad and educated there at the French-language Alliance Israélite Universelle girls’ school, where she experienced as an adolescent the growing oppression and persecution of Iraq’s two-and-a-half-millennia-old Jewish population.

Having travelled with her father and an elder sister to visit France and Britain in 1947, Sylvia enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study Philosophy.
She studied subsequently at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, before completing her doctoral thesis, at Edinburgh in 1953, on the ideas of Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, the Syrian writer who in the late-19th century advocated an Arabian caliphate and became seen in the 20th century as a precursor of pan-Arab nationalism.

Her work in this field led to the publication in 1962 of the highly regarded Arab Nationalism: An Anthology, a selection of texts, preceded by her introduction, that has been of use to countless scholars and diplomats.

Her academic interests largely matched those of her husband whom she had first met when they were teenagers in Baghdad. A year after their marriage, in 1950, he was elected senior scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford, before being appointed in 1953 to the staff of the London School of Economics.

Thereafter they settled in London and welcomed many a friend and visitor to their house in Belsize Park, where Sylvia Kedourie’s kindness, gentle sense of humour and intelligence were patent to all. Professionally, apart from contributing articles to various academic journals, she collaborated with her husband in the preparation of a number of edited volumes about aspects of the modern and contemporary history of the Middle East.

In recent decades she gave particular attention to Turkey. Such work was all connected to the founding (by Elie Kedourie in 1964) of Middle Eastern Studies – an international journal with a broad reach of subject, free of political slant and devoid of the tunnel vision and jargon so often dear to academia.

Initially, when her children were young, Sylvia Kedourie’s role was to assist in both the editing and production. But not long before her husband’s death in 1992, she had effectively become the joint editor in the full sense of the term, and she subsequently served as the editor right up to the time of her death.

After 1992 Sylvia Kedourie saw to the re-edition and posthumous publication of certain of her late husband’s writings and lectures, with help from her daughter, Helen. A notable fruit was a fine posthumous work on Hegel and Marx, whose preparation was a redoubtable challenge. She also edited two volumes: Elie Kedourie, CBE, FBA, 1926-1992 (1998) and Elie Kedourie’s Approaches to History and Political Theory (2006).

An ongoing legacy has been the series of Elie Kedourie Memorial Lectures at the British Academy, with which she was much involved from the time of their inception. The last such lecture took place at the British Academy only four days before her death.

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Yehudit Ronen of Bar Ilan university adds :  

(Sylvia was)...a super talented editor and academic observer, many times surpassing in her insights and knowledge those of the scholars sending her their articles with the hope she will find them worthy to be published in the highly prestigious Middle Eastern Studies.

Dr. Sylvia, who had  taken on  the editorial task of the MES from Prof. Elie after his untimely death in 1992 (we all were in deep sadness, hoping she will take on the torch) had a strong impact on the field of academic research on the ME's modern political history. Sylvia's skills and hard editorial work caused the MES to rise to the top of the list of academic journals in the area of Middle Eastern studies. To me, as well as to many other colleagues of mine, the MES has always been central to our academic life, being constantly regarded as a premium academic journal, led by an objective and devoted scholar. Sylvia and Elie obviously had founded and nourished a grandiose project of life, immensely contributing to the global academic research world while providing it with a great room for triggering professional debates, presenting new scholarly findings and exchanging views. 

I was honored to have had some of my articles published in the MES. Clearly, the MES has become not only a stage on which to hold an academic discourse but has also become a base of readership for scholars and students alike. Not surprising that both of your parents were highly appreciated for their distinguished professional standards and for their seminal contribution to the global academic community. I'm also so proud and content that the academic world had saluted to both Elie and Sylvia's MES when the excellent journal celebrated its fiftieth anniversary two years earlier.

Clearly, the death of Sylvia is a terrible loss, personally and academically. Yet, I'm sure that her unique and important contribution will be respected and remembered for ever.

Sylvia Kedourie, last of the old-school academics

WJC releases video on N. African Holocaust

In order to complement its work for survivors of the Holocaust in Europe, the World Jewish Congress has launched this two-minute long video to reveal the little-known story of the Holocaust in North Africa. The video summarises the impact of the Nazi, Vichy and Fascist regimes on the Jews of North Africa. It does, however, exaggerate the numbers who were killed. They did not amount to thousands - 600 Jews died in the Libyan labour camp of Giado. Libyan Jews returning from Bergen-Belsen after the war.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

It is you, Bisharat, who hath us offended

 Erez Biton submitting his report to Naftali Bennett, education minister. The Biton report looked at how to insert more Mizrahi content into schools.

Jews around the world have been marking the mass exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries over the last sixty years. True to form, Haaretz has not a positive word to say about it. The Arab-Israeli writer, Odeh Bisharat has just published a piece titled,  If I Were a Mizrahi Zionist, I Would Be Offended.  Sadly, it is a tissue of half-truths and wishful thinking. The gist of his argument is that you can't be a proud Israeli patriot and a refugee from an Arab country at the same time. I have inserted my comments in italics. (With thanks: Stan)

Instead of adding yet another day to widen the rift between them, I would have chosen a day to express the connection between Jews and Arabs.

After 2, 500 years (about a million days) during which they resided in Iraq, the Biton Committee couldn’t find a better way to raise the banner of Mizrahim than to focus on their tragedy.

Actually the Biton Committee did not invent the 30 November commemoration, it simply recommended that this Day, which became an official holiday by Knesset law in 2014,  should be observed in schools.

As result, the ministerial panel decided that their entire illustrious history would be remembered with a day "to mark the departure and expulsion of Jews from the Arab countries and Iran," which would henceforth fall on November 30.

This is not correct. The Biton report contains a raft of recommendations for the promotion of centuries of flourishing Mizrahi culture and heritage.  

First we must explain that versions of history change here according to the season. If it’s hot, a light shirt is enough. If it’s winter, you need a heavy coat, and during stormy weather at other times, you might dress differently every day.

Bisharat reduces the refugee issue to a matter of political opportunism by the Netanyahu government.

Thus, until the mid-1990s, we were taught in school about the bravery of the aliyah activists in the Arab countries, who through thick and thin and using strategies that wouldn’t have embarrassed James Bond, led to the departure – and even more importantly, to the immigration of – these Jews to the Promised Land. But when the clouds started rolling in, in the form of demands to resolve the resulting Palestinian refugee issue, the concept emerged of “Jewish refugees from the Arab states.”

In the early days of the state, Israel focused on the heroic exploits of the Zionist activists who risked their lives to rescue Jews from Arab countries. That focus actually helped integrate the refugees into Israel, and contributed to
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upgraded the concept and raised it to Olympic proportions. (...)

So now the Zionists have to explain whether the arrival here of Mizrahim was a "default" development that was the result of Arab oppression, or whether they arrived here as proud Jews returning to the Promised Land.

To focus on the 'pull' factors does not invalidate the 'push' factors. They are two sides of the same coin.

If I were a Mizrahi Zionist, I would be offended to be told that I’m living in my homeland as a refugee – and not as a proud patriot.

Jews came to Israel as refugees, but it is to the credit of the Israeli government that they are no longer refugees. To have come as a refugee and to become a proud patriot of one's new homeland are not mutually exclusive.

But the glaring truth, which cannot be glossed over either by the ruses of the right-wing leadership or Arab reactionary propaganda, is that the Jews in Arab lands played a very important role in those countries in all realms – culture, economics and politics.

True enough. But the fact that German Jewry also played an important role in German culture and society did not stop them from being persecuted and 'ethnically cleansed' by the Nazis.

The fact that these individuals were not immediately tempted when the Jewish state was founded to answer the Zionist call to emigrate there proves the degree to which they affiliated themselves with the Arab peoples.

 Untrue. As soon as the state of Israel was declared, Jews in Arab countries attempted to immigrate there in their thousands. Over 90 percent of the Jews of Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Libya had moved to Israel by 1951.

A great body of evidence shows that they were neither Zionists nor anti-Zionists. Like every person seeking peace and tranquility, they simply wanted to continue living in their natural environment.

All the more reason why the governments and mobs of Arab states were at fault for scapegoating  their loyal Jewish citizens.   Most Mizrahi Jews were non-Zionists, but they were forced from their 'natural environment' by state-sanctioned oppression and violence.  

The terrible tragedy occurred after the Jewish-Palestinian conflict erupted in Palestine, bringing all the so-called nationalist emotions among both peoples to the fore.

 Untrue.  Israel cannot be blamed for bursts of violence against Jews in Arab countries which predated its establishment: eg the 1912 Fez pogrom, the 1941 Farhud massacre, the Libyan riots of 1945.

And when the Zionists, on the one side, linked up with Arab reactionaries on the other, with the encouragement of the British Mandate – the tragedy of the Jews in Arab countries occurred.

Now there's an interesting piece of revisionism. What Arab 'reactionaries' did Zionists link up with? The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, whose declared aim was the extermination of the Jews not just in Palestine, but across the Arab world? And what 'encouragement' did the British furnish?

It’s hard to estimate the “contribution” of each side to this tragedy, but this “joint effort” wreaked havoc not just on the Jews, but on all the Arab nations, which lost their best and brightest.

In sum, the Zionists share the blame for the Mizrahi tragedy, even though their leaders accepted the Peel Commission Partition plan, the UN Partition Plan, and that Chaim Weizmann declared,'we will accept a Jewish state even if it were the size of a tablecloth'? Clearly Bisharat has a shaky grasp of history and does not recognise that the Arab position,  a maximalist one rejecting a Jewish state in any borders, caused the Mizrahi tragedy.

The unfortunate thing is that while we are witnessing the rise of Arab intellectuals who are sharply critical of the leadership in Arab states for abandoning the Jews, in Israel the opposite is happening. That’s why I am critical of my brethren on the Biton Committee, headed by poet Erez Biton, who instead of using the Jews of the East to help forge a connection between Arabs and Jews, chose to fan the flames.

There are plenty of days here for hatred. That’s why instead of adding yet another day to widen the rift, I would have chosen a day to express the connection between Jews and Arabs, whether it was the birthday of a poet, or the date of an event by means of which Jews left their mark on Arab culture.

Some Arab intellectuals, in Iraq and Egypt for instance,  are indeed beginning to come to terms with their countries' antisemitism - the Farhud, for instance.  They are recognising that their Jews were exposed to violence and persecution. They are more honest than Bisharat, who wishes to bury his head in the sand. He would rather talk about poetry than persecution.  Far from fanning the flames, the Biton commission and the campaign for Jewish refugees from Arab countries wishes to restore truth and balance to the historical record. You can't build peace on a lie.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Arab countries 'cursed' for discriminating Jews

WJC video telling the stories of Levana Zamir (Egypt), Gina Waldman (Libya), R. Elie Abadie (Lebanon) and Edwin Shuker (Iraq) (with thanks: Eliyahu)
There are many Arabs and Jews who believe all the calamities and wars that have beset the Arab world, including the Arab Spring, are part of Allah's curse on those states over the discriminatory treatment toward the Jews. Edy Cohen wrote this article in Israel Hayom to mark the Day to remember Jewish refugees on 30 November.

The leaders of those states didn't want to or couldn't defend the People of the Book, even though the Quran tells Muslims that they should treat non-Muslims, including Jews, with respect, if they accept Islamic rule.

Each Arab state had a different policy toward Jews, but generally speaking, they were treated as second-class citizens or even worse than that. Even though they were loyal to their states, they were forced to leave or were expelled, owing to the rampant anti-Jewish sentiment in those countries after the State of Israel was established in 1948. Those Jewish communities had been there for over 14 centuries, well before the Prophet Muhammad and Islam. They dealt with trade, medicine and law, as well as other fields, and were of great contribution to the economies and societies of every state. The Arabs, who had become accustomed to discriminating against the Jews, couldn't stand the fact that those inferior people had a state.

On December 1, 1947, two days after the U.N. General Assembly approved the Partition Plan, pogroms erupted in most Arab states. These pogroms were a result of the incitement in the state-run media in those countries, and was supposed serve as retribution for U.N. plan. The Arabs considered the partition to be a betrayal by the international community, and many in Arab world still hold that view today and refuse to accept the notion that the Jews should have a state.

The pogroms erupted in the British-ruled Aden Protectorate (now part of Yemen), in Libya, in Syria and in other countries. Hundreds of Jews were killed, dozens of synagogues were torched, and many Jewish homes were looted. In Aleppo alone some 100 Jews were killed, and thousands more fled to Lebanon or Damascus.

• • •
The belief that Allah cursed Arab leaders for their mistreatment of the Jews is very much alive. Some believe the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's demise was a result of his decision to execute dozens of innocent Jews in 1969, even before he was president. Their blood cried out from the grave, and this, say those who believe in the curse, led to Saddam ultimately being hanged by his own people. Some say deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was brutally executed by rebels because he targeted Libyan Jews and had many synagogues sealed.

Many Arabs have been gloating over the recent wildfires in Israel. This glee shows that some in the Arab world still believe the Jews are a thorn at their side and cannot be tolerated. It seems that not much has changed since the Jewish expulsion from Arab states; the hatred is still very much there.

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The 'uniqueness' of the Palestinian refugees

A new book by Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz will  soon be out to address the uniquely insoluble Palestinian refugee problem, the result of a 'foreign imperialist plot'. (But one wonders if it has only become so insoluble because of Israel's failure to stress 'the exchange of populations ' with Jewish refugees.) Here is an extract from a taster in Haaretz

 None of the millions who became refugees in the 1940s are seriously asking to return to their previous homes, and certainly they don’t receive international recognition and institutional support for such a demand. Slowly but surely, sometimes with the gnashing of teeth, the refugees were rehabilitated in the countries where they found refuge and began their lives again.

The unique nature of the Palestinian refugee problem and the reason for its continuation to this day are therefore unrelated to the circumstances of its creation: Even if Arabs were expelled during the war, that expulsion wasn’t exceptional in the global context – not in its scope, and certainly not in its cruelty. On the contrary, the Palestinian Arabs themselves carried out total ethnic cleansing against the Jews, and did not leave a single Jew in the territory remaining in their hands at the end of the war in 1949.

That was also the fate of many Jews who had lived in Arab countries for hundreds and thousands of years: Many of them were expelled or had to leave due to the hostile attitude of the local population and the Arab governments, and found refuge in Israel.

The problem of the Palestinian refugees, its centrality in Palestinian awareness and the fact that it is so acute can be understood only in their context within the Palestinian narrative. According to the Palestinians, this was not one of the usual, if regrettable, side-effects of wars, along with the dead and wounded; that’s why it’s different and cannot be compared to the death and expulsion of Jews in that very same war.

The expulsion and flight of the Palestinians is seen as part of a foreign imperialist plot, of which Zionism was the representative and in the first place was meant to expel a native people from its land. The Palestinians refuse to see their departure from the land as something that happens during wars (in their case, the side that started the war and lost was the side that left), but as part of a conspiracy by a population group that had no rights to the land, which forced itself on a country that didn’t belong to it.

The departure of the Arabs from the country during the war, whether through expulsion or flight, has become a symbol of the injustice which, according to them, characterizes the entire Zionist project. The deliberate Arab decision to continue to be refugees and not to be rehabilitated during all the decades that have passed since the end of the war was and remains a clear political statement, which means nonrecognition of the outcome of the war that centered around the right of the Jewish people to self-definition, at least in part of its homeland.

The Palestinian refugee problem, and particularly its continuation, is not a result of the events of the war itself, but of an Arab and Palestinian decision to convey a clear message: The war they began 69 years ago this week in response to the United Nations Partition Plan, a war whose objective was to prevent the Jewish people from realizing its right of self-definition in its homeland – that war isn’t over yet.

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Song composed for Jerusalem commemoration

This is a song composed by Kobi Oz, a musician of Tunisian origin,'We had nothing,' for the Remembrance Day for Jews from Arab countries. The clip begins with the Nazi occupation of Tunisia in 1942 and traces Oz's family's history through the rain-soaked tent camps in Israel and the Yom Kippur war. The video clip shows Jews from Arab countries now living in Israel - including Rahel Uzan,Kobi's mother - being interviewed about their family histories. The song concludes on an upbeat note:'we managed'. As they finish telling their stories, the emotional interviewees manage a smile.
Oz appeared at a musical extravaganza celebrated in Jerusalem before an audience of 3,000 in Jerusalem.

Levana Zamir (seen interviewed in French on i24News) ,president of the associations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel,poses with the Minister of Social Equality,Gila Gamliel, at the Jerusalem 30 November commemoration. 

 In her speech Minister Gamliel said that she had organised this big event in order to raise awareness of the expulsion and departure of Jews from Arab countries.

The Binyanei Ha'uma hall was packed to bursting point. Three hundred more people, who were left outside because it was fully booked, followed the proceeedings on a large screen. They stood watching for an hour and a half.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

WJC calls for recognition of Jewish refugees

As part of the worldwide commemoration of the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the World Jewish Congress held an event at the UN to call for the world to recognise the injustice done to them.
The WJC issued this video to mark 30 November to demonstrate the extent of 'ethnic cleansing' in the Arab world. Sadly the figures are out of date (five Jews in Iraq, 13 in Egypt, none in Algeria, less than 15 in Lebanon).
NEW YORK - The World Jewish Congress, together with Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, honored the 850,000 Jews forced to flee Arab lands after the creation of the State of Israel, at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Evelyn Sommer, Chair of World Jewish Congress, North America, said that “the time has come” for international community to take concrete steps to ensure that justice be served for the refugees, who unlike Palestinian refugees, have been neither recognized nor assisted in any manner by the United Nations.

 “For those of us old enough to remember what happened 69 years ago, it was a day of great celebration for Jews around the world, 2,000 years of exile had come to an end,” Sommer said, referring to November 29, 1947, when the UN approved a partition plan for the creation of the State of Israel.

 “But in the Middle East and North Africa, Jews could not celebrate because November 29, 1947 marked the beginning of the end for these communities.” “What we do in the WJC is try to tell the world the truth, that there are two sides to the story,” Sommer added.

 Sommer laid out several steps for the UN to take to assist the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, among them to recognize the existence of the Jewish refugees, to remember the suffering of these Jews in any future negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis; to, ensure a real and accurate report of the assets Jewish refugees left behind in their former communities, and to ensure the respect and preservation of the religious institutions, such as cemeteries and synagogues, still existing in Arab lands. “Only once these elements are taken seriously will justice be served,” Sommer said.

 Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also urged the United Nations to “finally recognize the forgotten refugees." "In the past seven decades, the UN has spent billions of dollars on Palestinian refugees, but not a dime on Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Read article in full

'I am a forgotten Jew' by David Harris of the AJC

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The refugees keffiyeh-wearers ignore

Lyrical sermon given by Rabbi Andrea Zanardo of Brighton today,  the Shabbat following 30 November, the Day to remember Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. Evoking the story of Jacob and Esau, he wonders if supporters of the Palestinians can ever stop thinking of them as the only victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict (With thanks: Michelle, Jonathan)

Nowadays I don't see many keffiyehs. You know: that scarf with fringes, usually black and white, which is a sort of a symbol of Palestinian identity. It used to be a regular feature of the uniform of Mr Arafat, and many Israeli haters wear it. But as I said, the number of people wearing such a scarf is dwindling nowadays, even in Brighton. Palestinian identity and fashion don't match anymore. 

Be as it may, I noticed the first keffiyeh of this year only this week. Just one. But it struck me, because it was on November 30th What's so special about such a date, you may ask. Well, in the Israeli calendar November 30th is the "Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran". The tragic end of those centuries’ old Jewish communities is remembered throughout the country, with official ceremonies of commemoration, at the Knesset and in various public places, such as schools and city halls. 

I must admit: I was tempted. There was this lady, wearing that Palestinian scarf, one which I haven't seen for a long time, on the day devoted to remember and to honour the tragically lost Jewish communities in the Arab Countries. I was tempted to ask that lady whether she knew the significance of the day in Israel, a State which I suppose she was not so fond of. I was tempted to ask that lady, who certainly cares very much about the Palestinians, if there was room for other Middle Eastern refugees, other victims, in her bleeding heart. If she knew that in 1948 there were more than 140.000 Jews in Algeria, and now there is none. 

Whether she know that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian autocrat, declared all the Jews enemies of the State in 1956, (yes, just like in Nazi Germany, less than 30 years before), and signed the death sentence for the oldest Jewish community of the Mediterranean. Whether she has heard about the pogroms in Libya in 1966, when the mob assaulted, of all places, the Jewish orphanage in Tripoli, and left the teachers beheaded: that is long before the army of the Islamic State decided to revamp that ancient tradition. 

I resisted the temptation and did nothing of that kind. But the comparison between the Palestinians and the Mizrahim, or North African Jews (and Jews from the Middle East - ed), lingered in my mind for a while. 

What a stark contrast. The Palestinians are kept in refugee camps, in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, (if there are still some there), and the Palestinian Authority: those who at the moment rule the West Bank, that of Abu Mazen. They cannot find a job out of these camps, let alone live. They have to live off the benefits provided by the UN. The United Nations has a special agency, a well funded agency, expressly for Palestinian refugees; while all the other refugees, of all the other conflicts in the world, are cared by another agency. The Agency devoted to the Palestinians needs to justify its existence in order to receive funding from the UN. So they constantly review the very definition of "Palestinian refugees" in order to have a larger number of clients to care for. At the moment if you are a son, or a grandson, or a great grandson, of someone who, prior to 1948, lived in, what is nowadays Israel, for two years in then Palestine, you can call yourself a "Palestinian refugee" and you and your family can receive money from the United Nations, that is from the Western Countries, including England, and of course, oh the irony, Israel. And so you have all these people living in so called refugee camps, that actually are slums of Arab capitals, dreaming of an impossible return, to places that they themselves have never seen and in which only a grandparent had lived, for two years. 

On the other hand think to the Mizrahim, the Jewish refugees from North African Countries (and the Middle East) . Part of them had also lived in refugee camps set up in France, Italy or (mostly) in Israel. But they had left those places after a few months. There is no such thing as a UN sponsored agency for the Jewish refugees. Mostly, because there is no need. They, their children and their grandchildren have moved on, and do not live in the shadow of the tragedy that happened in the past. They have been able to rebuild their lives and to turn the page. 

It helps to put things into perspective, doesn’t it? It is an interesting comparison between Palestinian refugees, and the way they have been treated, one would say even spoon-fed, by the international community. Who did not help the Jewish refugees, that much, as we all know. 

And it reminds me of the comparison between Jacob and Esau, which is narrated in this week’s Torah portion. Rebecca pushes Jacob, we are told, to steal the blessing that his father wanted to give to Esau, his brother. That is what we know from the text of the Torah. But think about what happened afterwards. Esau lived for years, for decades, in the shadow of the event, looking forward to the moment of revenge. While Jacob grew up and became a more mature person, through the vicissitudes that the Torah tells us: he met Rebecca, fell in love, worked for seven years to marry her, was cheated by Laban, found himself with Lea, whom he did not love, worked hard other seven years and finally could marry. 

On one side you have someone, Esau, who became obsessed of being a victim, who could think of himself only as a victim of his brother's tricks, which he had to suffer when he was young. While Jacob, on the other side, built a life for himself and became independent, mature. As a young man, he was so easily manipulated by his mother; as a mature human being, is able to see nuances and to understand complexities. He knows, he has learnt, that things are not always in black and white, that life is more than a perennial confrontation between victims and perpetrators. 

This is not, as we know, the way the media look at the Middle East. They want us to believe that the situation is in black and white, that the Jewish State is the perpetrator, that the Palestinians are victims, always victims, forever victims, the only victims. And by peddling this representation, they erase or ignore the Jewish victims of the conflict. Which of course we, children of Jacob, have the duty to remember. At least one day per year.