Friday, June 22, 2018

BDS supporters confuse Jewish and Arab refugees

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel scored an own goal when it inadvertently promoted the cause of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. On World Refugee Day, it attempted to draw attention to Palestinian refugees by sending out  a photo of Jewish refugees in a transit camp in Israel. The photo was re-tweeted by COSATU, the South African Trade Union group. Story in the Algemeiner (With thanks: Michelle)

 The photo used by BDS shows Jewish, not Arab refugees.

The group’s gaffe was mocked by several commentators on Twitter, one of whom sarcastically wrote, “Thank you Cosatu for bringing to the world attention the plight of Jewish refugees exiled from their homes in the 40’s and 50’s. Truly doing good work!!”

The issue of Palestinian refugees dates back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state less than a day after it declared independence. Some 750,000 Palestinians left or were expelled from their homes during the fighting, and they and their descendants are today considered refugees.
That year also saw the beginning of an exodus of an estimated 850,000 Jews from across the greater Middle East, whose communities were targeted with antisemitic pogroms and discriminatory laws following Israel’s creation. A majority of the refugees — hailing from countries including Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, and Libya — were resettled in Israel, where their descendants now make up half of the Jewish population. Others made their way to the United States and Europe.

Yet the issue of Palestinian refugees — which today number over five million, according to the United Nations — remains unsolved, and their “right of return” to Israel is a central tenant of the BDS campaign.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Story on missing Syrian Judaica is 'inaccurate and confused'

With thanks: Boruch, Lily

The veracity of an article by the Associated Press alleging that  Jewish artefacts have gone missing from the Syrian synagogue of Jobar has been lambasted as 'conflated, inaccurate and confused.' The story is not in fact new and is once again dependent upon an anonymous source by the name of Al-Dimashqi.

The article, by Beirut-based Bassem Mroue, quotes activists' claims that ancient parchment Torah scrolls, put into safe keeping in 2013, have gone missing:

"The main missing cache, they say, contained torahs written on gazelle leather as well as tapestries and chandeliers, and was given to a militia by a local council for safekeeping when rebels surrendered the neighborhood to government forces earlier this year. That group, the Islamist-inspired Failaq al-Rahman brigade, later said that it was not in possession of the items after the council arrived at a new rebel base in Syria’s north after evacuating earlier this year.
Another set of objects appears to have been stolen by a Syrian guardian entrusted by the local council to hide the items in his home. The man, who officials involved declined to name, disappeared with the artifacts in 2014 before some allegedly resurfaced in Turkey."

 The Jobar synagogue as it was before it was destroyed in May 2014

Adam Blitz, an anthropologist and expert in ancient Syrian synagogues, speaking by 'phone, was quick to point out the broader context of news coverage and to highlight reports from the BBC of deliberate cyber propaganda by the regime, notably at times of regime offensives. This is the case today, with the regime focusing not on the Ghouta, but the south.  'Cultural heritage has been weaponised and disseminated across mainstream and social media,' Blitz claims. Jewish heritage is a political football, with the regime and rebels accusing each other of the bombardment and theft of antiquities.

Predictably, an article has appeared in the Iranian press repeating many of the AP allegations and misconceptions.

There is indeed much trafficking of artefacts in Turkey but the Judaica mostly turn out to have been crude fakes . Jewish activists have been determined to 'rescue' endangered artefacts and smuggle them out of Syria, itself a crime, as Blitz notes.  At least two Torah scrolls have resurfaced, not in Israel, as the article alleges, but in the US, and have been publically re-dedicated.

The Jobar synagogue, which is dedicated to the prophet Elijah, was routinely bombed by regime forces for several years during rebel occupation and finally succumbed on 23 May 2014. Only a few structural pillars remain standing in the rubble. The synagogue does not date back to Biblical times, as is often claimed by the media, but is most likely medieval, according to Blitz, based on literary evidence, where archaeology is of little assistance.

The AP article makes other overstatements. Syria was never home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East. No more than 12,000 Jews lived in  Damascus at the turn of the 20th century, according to Blitz, who also refers to the Ottoman census.

Prior to the civil war, the Assad regime had a relatively good record for preserving Jewish heritage and has protected the few Jews still living in Damascus and the synagogues of the Old City. This is not to say that there has not been state-sponsored antisemitism, however.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Harif writes to Westminster MPs about the 'other' refugees

To mark World Jewish Refugee Day, Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, has written to all Members of the UK Parliament at Westminster to remind them of the existence of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

The catalyst for the campaign has been 'The Great March of Return' in Gaza. This demonstrates that the objective of the Hamas regime is not 'two states for two peoples', but 'a right of return' for Palestinian 'refugees', with the aim of overwhelming the state of Israel by demographic means.

The need to raise awareness of the Jewish refugees issue has become all the more acute since the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, reaffirmed his support for the 'rights of Palestinian refugees'.

 Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn: supports Palestinian refugee rights

'To acknowledge Palestinian refugee rights without also recognising Jewish rights would be a distortion of the truth and a grave injustice. No credible peace settlement could be reached,' says the letter. MPs who wish to find out more are advised to consult the Harif and Point of No Return websites, or to invite Harif in to give them a personal briefing.

Here is the text of the Harif letter to MPs:

 The Other Middle Eastern Refugees

You may be aware that the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, recently re-iterated his support for the rights of dispossessed Palestinian refugees.

While Palestinian suffering needs to be acknowledged, there is no question that in 1947-48 (and in some cases much earlier), Arab countries, with the encouragement of the Palestinian leadership, deliberately targeted their Jewish populations, stripping them of citizenship and forcibly depriving them of their property. Some 850,000 Jewish refugees also arose out of the 1948 conflict between Israel and the Arab states. In one of the worst examples of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century, violence, expropriations and expulsions ensured that ancient and long-standing Jewish communities, which in many cases had predated Islam by a  thousand  years, ceased to exist.

The majority of these Jews sought refuge in Israel where, after great hardships integrating in large numbers into a state that was struggling with many other economic, social and military challenges, they were fully absorbed. Unlike Palestinian refugees, no Jew still calls him or herself a refugee.


At the time this injustice was recognised by international actors: the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recognised on a number of occasions that the plight of the Jewish refugees fell within its remit. This is also why UNSC Resolution 242 refers to “a just settlement of the refugee problem” without specifying the “Arab” or “Palestinian” refugee problem.

It must be recognised that an exchange of roughly equal numbers of refugee populations took place between Jews and Palestinians. Today, the Jews from Arab and Muslim countries form over 50 percent of the Jews of Israel.

To acknowledge Palestinian refugee rights without also recognising Jewish rights would be a distortion of the truth and a grave injustice. No credible peace settlement could be reached, quite aside from the impact of a mass “right of return” on Israel’s character as a Jewish state, and the way in which this would undermine the principle of “two states for two peoples”.


StandWithUS video for World Refugee Day

Bahrain shrugs off Israel attendance at UNESCO meet

 Update: Bahrain does not view Israel as an enemy, a Bahraini official said Tuesday in an interview with the i24News website. The unnamed official spoke to i24News days before an Israeli delegation is scheduled to visit the islands nation for a meeting of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. He also said that it was important for Israel to take part in the meeting.

An article attempting to embarass the Bahraini ruler by claiming he is 'normalising' relations with Israel has appeared in Middle East Eye. Bahrain responds that Israel is just one of the countries attending a UNESCO meeting on the island next week. (With thanks: Lily)

 Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain will host an Israeli delegation this month for meetings of the World Heritage Committee, organised by Unesco and the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, local newspaper Akhbar al-Khaleej reports.
The meetings, scheduled to be held on 24 June, will be sponsored by Bahraini ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Like most Arab countries, Bahrain does not officially recognise Israel, though it has signalled over the past year that it could be on the cusp of normalising relations.
Last year, Bahrain hosted its first ever visit of an Israeli official at FIFA's 67th congress which was hosted in Manama.
Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities' world heritage advisor Mounir Bouchenaki told Akhbar al-Khaleej that Bahrain will avoid politicising the meetings, despite Israel's participation.
"The meeting is international, and any country in the United Nations has the right to participate, including Israel," he said, adding that the Palestinians will also attend.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why the Arab world declined after flight of Jews

With thanks: Ian

 Former Wall St Journal journalist Bret Stephens, now at the New York Times.

This Prager education video may be a year old, but it remains highly topical: the journalist Brett Stephens (now at the New York Times) explains why antisemitism is at the root of the Arab world's stunted growth and corrupts every aspect of Arab society.

You will not hear this explanation from journalists and academics, who assume that antisemitism in the Arab world is as natural as desert sand. The culprit is not colonialism, unemployed youth, the Sunni-Shia divide or any other politically-correct excuse.

The flight and expulsion of some 900,000  Jewish citizens led to a social, economic and intellectual decline. It is a documented fact that post-Inquisition Spain went into decline after expelling its Jews; so did Tsarist Russia at the turn of the 20th century. The Arab mind tries to find a scapegoat for its failures. Antisemitism makes the world seems simple: it all boils down to a malevolent Jewish conspiracy.

Nor is Israel the cause of antisemitism: pogroms in Palestine, Iraq and Libya predate the creation of Israel, and the 'Oslo peace' years saw the worst violence against Israel.

 Successful nations learn from their neighbours; Arab states have made a point of hating theirs. For Israel it's a pity, for the Arabs it's a calamity.

Monday, June 18, 2018

My grandfather practised Judaism in secret

Shirley tells the story of her family to Daisy Abboudi, who runs Tales of Jewish Sudan, a website dedicated to the Jews of the Sudan. These numbered around 1,000  at their peak; the community is today extinct. Shirley's grandfather was forced to convert to Islam by the fundamentalist Mahdi in the 1880s but continued to practise Judaism in secret. He eventually became president of the Jewish community.

Succoth lunch in Khartoum, 1948 (Courtesy: Daisy Abboudi)

My grandfather Moshe, they called him Mousa, was the first who built the community in Sudan.  Originally they were Spanish, and then from Spain they went to Turkey, and then from Turkey they came to Israel, at that time it was Palestine, they came to Hebron.  From there they went to Sudan, that was in 1842.  After that there was the Mahdi and so on.  There were very few Jews then, about three families all together. They were compelled to be Muslims, my grandfather remained Jewish, but he didn't do it openly.  He used to go to his house and to pray and to put on his tefillin and everything, but outside they thought he was Muslim.  They gave him the name - his name was Moshe Ben Zion Koshti - so they gave him the name 'Bassiouni'.  I don't remember him because he died in 1917, a very long time ago!

My grandparents were well-known; my grandfather was the president of the Jewish community until he died in 1917.  He also erected the first synagogue in Sudan a few years before he died in Omdurman.  He made a cemetery too for the Jews in Omdurman and he and my grandmother are buried there. My grandfather also sent for a Rabbi from Egypt to convert my grandmother to Judaism before she gave birth to the children, and this Rabbi also circumcised his first son.  He had four children and my mother is the second one.

My grandmother was very...she didn't study at all...but she was very wise.  She lived with us at home - with my mother and father, and she died around the age of seventy.  She wasn't born Jewish, she was a Copt, but the Mahdi forced everybody to marry again when he made them all convert.  My grandfather already had a wife from Turkey, her name was Bechora and she was Jewish, but he had to marry my grandmother.  The other wife was living at the same house but she died a few years after and she was also buried there in Sudan.

Read post in full

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Love it or hate it, amba is here to stay

Introduced into Iraq from India by Jewish merchants, amba is now a staple of contemporary Israeli cuisine, claim Daniel Monterescu and Joe Hart in Haaretz (with thanks: Lisette)

A seemingly innocent, tangy condiment – one popular in Israeli, Indian and Iraqi cuisines, among others – encapsulates the story of how ethnic, class, cultural and physical boundaries are crossed in the Middle East, and beyond. You can love amba, you can hate it, but you definitely cannot ignore it or its potent smell, which stems from a mixture of fenugreek, vinegar, turmeric and mango ("amba," means mango in the Indian language of Marathi). 

 A jar of amba is now an indispensable condiment accompanying  many dishes

The origin of amba reflects tortuous foodways across the Indian Ocean. The common urban legend is that it was invented in the late 19th century by members of the Baghdadi-born Sassoon family of Bombay, whose discovery of the mango led them to send barrels of it, coated in vinegar, to Basra port, thus confirming its role in the story of the Jewish culinary diaspora, with roots in Iraq. 

Remaining persistent in form and ingredients over the years, amba took global leaps across diasporic communities, while assuming different meanings and uses in the process. Israelis will often tell you it is Indian, even though Mumbai’s Jewish community typically eat locally made chutneys and pickles instead. In the Arabian Gulf, in a manner that’s similar to the way many Indian cuisines use pickles, it is eaten with rice yet retains the name amba. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Iraq beauty queen in Israel: 'people looked like my people'

An Iraqi beauty queen has made history by visiting Israel at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee. In one respect, Sarah Idan's visit is in keeping with the growing interest and sympathy that Iraq's youth and middle classes have been showing towards Iraqi Jews. In another respect, it is a sign of how hostile Iraq remains towards 'normalisation' with Israel: Sarah and her family were forced to flee Iraq for the US after receiving death threats. (with thanks: Michelle)

 Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman (left) with Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan in 2017.Click here  to see the video of Sarah Idan's tour through the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.

Iraqi-born beauty queen Sarah Idan -- whose selfie and unlikely friendship with Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman during the 2017 Miss Universe pageant earned her family death threats and forced them to flee their native country -- made an extraordinary visit to Israel where she was praised for her bravery and message of peace.

A Hadashot television news report which followed Miss Iraq on a tour of Jerusalem’s iconic Machne Yehuda market showed the 26-year-old being showered with praise by Israeli fans.

One woman thanked Idan “for being so brave” calling her “an inspiration to all the women in the world.”

Another Israeli woman, of Jewish-Iraqi descent, told Idan she hopes one day to return to Iraq to which Idan replied “Inshallah,” or God willing.

 Sarah Idan (right) with Lily shor, manager of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Museum during a visit to Or Yehuda. She was touched to see an exhibit explaining that Iraqi Jews could not return

“It actually felt weird — the people look like my people. And the city looks like Damascus, like Syria, and I’ve been there, so everything seems familiar to me,” Idan said of her visit to Jerusalem.

Idan, who lives in the United States, withstood a torrent of backlash in 2017 after she posted a selfie with Gandelsman with the caption "Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel".

Idan’s family was forced to flee Iraq after receiving death threats over the selfie as well as photos of her modeling in a bikini. Idan told Hadashot that she was surprised by the backlash sparked by the viral photo.

“I did not think it would blow up like this when I took this picture,” she said. “I lived for many years in the US, I have many friends who are Jewish or Israeli, I don’t think about people like that.”

Read article in full 

More on relations between Iraq and Israel

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What a Pakistani Muslim learnt from a Jew

A chance encounter with a Pakistani Jew in Israel leads Ibrahim Rashid to conclude that Israelis and Palestinians can never reconcile unless Muslim states come to terms with the disgraceful treatment of their Jews. Story in the Daily Times of Pakistan (But sadly, the comments show that many readers are still in denial):

On my first day in Jerusalem, I woke up, performed wudu (ablution) and donned a new shalwar kameez that my grandmother had sent from Pakistan.
I thought to myself, “Today, I am representing my culture, religion, and family – and I will do it with pride.”
As I boarded the bus for the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, my driver asked, “Where are you from?”
“Pakistan!” I responded, to which he replied, “I’m from Pakistan, too!”
I was stunned to know that there were Pakistanis in Israel.
“What’s your name?” I asked in Urdu.
“Shimshon!” “Shimshon?” That’s an odd-sounding Pakistani name, I thought.
“How long have you been in Israel for?”
“Since 1957.” “Wow, that’s a while. When were you last in Pakistan?”“1957.” Confused, I asked him, “Why haven’t you gone back since?”
“Because I can’t – it’s not safe for me.”
In that moment it hit me. Shimshon is Jewish! I was shocked. I never imagined there could be Pakistani-Jews.

With Shimshon, Ibrahim Rashid's  Pakistani-Jewish bus driver on the way to the Western Wall

He spoke about growing up in Karachi – the city my family is from – and fearing for his life during his stay. He was harassed in the street, his synagogue was targeted and along with the rest of Karachi’s Jews, he had to flee to the only country that would take him, Israel.

As we parted ways and I made my way for the Wall, he was all I could think about. We come from the same land, speak the same language, and he could even pass for one of my relatives but because of his religion, our country failed him and now he’s in Israel, the only place where he feels safe.

From feeling pride in my heritage, I was overcome with shame. How can I be proud of my country when this is how we treat our minorities?
When you enter the Wall, you’re taken aback by its beauty. People are dancing, children are singing, and everyone, irrespective of faith or nationality, is vibrating as one. And that’s when I got it.
No matter how I feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, upon witnessing the wall, I realised that Israel is a place where people like Shimshon can feel safe.

 Read article in full

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Diarna races to map Jewish heritage in the Arab world

Since 2010, Boston-based Diarna (“our home” in Judeo-Arabic) has used the latest in 3-D digital mapping technology alongside traditional scholarship and oral interviews to document more than 2,500 Jewish sites in the Middle East and North Africa. But the race is on to record these sites before they disappear altogether, Larry Luxner writes in the Times of Israel (With thanks: Vernon, Yvonne):

Jason Guberman, founder of the Jewish nonprofit organization Diarna, speaks at Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville, Maryland. (Larry Luxner/ Times of Israel)
Many of these sites are found in Morocco (460), Iraq (352), Algeria (320), Yemen (301), Tunisia (231) and Syria (63).

“When I talk about Jewish fortresses in Saudi Arabia, I get blank stares. But this highlights a forgotten history and also the sensitive nature of the work we’re doing,” said Jason Guberman, Diarna’s co-founder and coordinator.
“This is a historical project. We don’t get involved in the politics of the region. We focus on identifying and documenting sites, and on gathering data,” he said.
Guberman, interviewed during a recent speaking trip to the Washington, DC, area, said the concept behind Diarna took shape 10 years ago. It was spurred by his early graduation from college and a vague desire to chronicle the history of Middle Eastern Jewry outside of Israel.

 Jewish pilgrims at the al-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. 

“A friend who had just gotten back from Morocco said his daughter had Jewish roots there, and he was concerned how she’d connect with her Jewish heritage, as sites were decaying and getting destroyed,” Guberman recalled.

“We started thinking about how we could preserve this heritage and make it accessible. Then we struck upon this idea of using Google Earth to identify and document sites. We had two laptops — one showing Google Earth and other connecting pictures. With that gap year ahead of me, and this crazy network of friends throughout the Middle East, we launched in August 2008,” said Guberman.

Read article in full 

More about Diarna

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

NY Times: Jews 'magically disappeared' from Arab lands

 With thanks: Alain, Paulette

Writing in the New York Times, Michael David Lukas has been searching out  traces of a lost Jewish presence in Tunisia, Egypt and other places. So far, so very romantic. But as Elder of Ziyon points out, not once does he mention why these Jews left - the  result of Muslim antisemitism.

Exterior of the Ben Ezra synagogue, Cairo
"He ends off the article this way:
It might be difficult to find the traces of Jewish history in Kolkata or Cairo or Baghdad or Fez. And it might be difficult to imagine that now-vanished world in which Jewish bakers lived side by side with Muslim doctors, Armenian tailors and Zoroastrian jewelers.

But that’s all the more reason to search out those places. In visiting these semi-abandoned cemeteries and synagogues, in seeking out the remnants of this mostly forgotten past, I’ve tried, in my own small way, to pay my respects to the dead and to remember that lost world in which they lived.
Not once in the article is the reader given any context as to why the Jews who had lived in these places for so long suddenly disappeared.

The taboo of mentioning the obvious fact of Muslim antisemitism - especially after Israel was reborn, but also throughout history - is simply too strong.

Instead of being ethnically cleansed, the Jews who attended these synagogues just magically disappeared."

Read post in full

Monday, June 11, 2018

Hitler vanishes as Yad Vashem becomes 'politically-correct'

Is Yad Vashem rewriting history? Changes at the world's premier Holocaust museum in Jerusalem seem to be suggesting that it is seeking to downplay the links between Adolf Hitler and the Palestinian leadership during World War II. As a result, fewer visitors to Yad Vashem will learn of the Arab role in the Holocaust.

Infamous meeting between Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler in November 1941: the photo has been taken down

A veteran Israeli tour guide, Shalom Pollack, has noticed that a floor-to-ceiling photo of the infamous meeting between Hitler and the Mufti of Jerusalem has been replaced by a tiny photo of the Mufti with Himmler."Many structural and technical innovations have upgraded the visiting experience," he says.
"However, one very glaring content change has caught my eye now for a while and it leaves me no rest."

When Pollack complained, he was told that the new museum 'concentrates on the victims rather than the perpetrators, and therefore does not offer much space to them.'

However, Pollack points out, there is  a full wall of very large photos of German perpetrators just a few steps away from the Mufti-Himmler one.

"I assume that it was decided to tone down and hide the Arab (Palestinian) role due to the post-Oslo attitude and policies of building bridges with our new peace partners," Pollack complained in a letter to Avner Shalev, the Yad Vashem director.

"There are rumours that our popular peace partner, Faisal Hussaini himself, insisted that his uncle's photo be removed from the museum.
In any case, it is deeply disturbing and a national tragedy that a new generation of visitors, Jew and non-Jew, are not educated to a very basic and significant part of the Holocaust."

Individuals such as Edwin Black, author of Farhud, and the late Professor Shmuel Moreh have been campaigning for Holocaust Museums worldwide to  feature the Arab-Nazi alliance in their displays. It has been an uphill struggle.

Readers of Point of No Return are urged to write to Avner Shalev, demanding that the situation be rectified at once. Email:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

How Yemenite singers changed the face of Israel's music

In the wake of Israel's Eurovision victory with Toy by Netta Barzilai, The Tablet has been running a series about the stories behind some of Israel's most famous tunes, many of them performed by Yemenite singers like Izhar Cohen and Zohar Argov. (With thanks: Shulamit, Michelle)

Yemenite Jews in traditional costume participate as part of the American Sephardi Federation contingent in the Israel 70 parade in Manhattan on 8 June. To see video by Zakaria Siraj, click here.

In Israel today, Mizrahi, or “Eastern,” music is ubiquitous. In fact, to many it is practically synonymous with Israeli music. But that wasn’t always the case. For decades, Israeli radio stations exclusively played tunes rooted in Ashkenazi traditions. That began to change in the 1970s and early ’80s, due in no small part to a few veritable trailblazers.

Prologue: “A Mona Lisa Called Abanibi.” Exactly 40 years before Netta Barzilai’s feminist hymn “Toy” won the Eurovision Song Contest and propelled thousands of fully clothed Israelis to jump into the pool in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, another Israeli youngster conquered Europe with a set of bizarre utterances. He was skinny, had dark skin, black curly hair, and a million-dollar smile. His name was Izhar Cohen. Mishy Harman brings the story of the ongoing love affair between Israel and the Olympics of cheesy pop melodies.

Act 1: “The Flower of My Garden.” You may never have heard of Zohar Argov, but to Israelis he’s a kind of mix between Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, and Billie Holiday. “The King,” as he was called, forever changed the face of Israeli music. But he also paid for it with his life.

Listen to the full episode here, or download it from iTunes. You can hear all of Israel Story’s episodes in English here and in Hebrew here.

Read article in full

How the Italian ambassador saved Libya's last Jews

On the 51st anniversary of  the demise of the Jewish community in Libya, David Harris in the Algemeiner pays tribute to the Italian ambassador in 1967, who saved many lives (with thanks: Imre, Edward):

The new atmosphere of fear and insecurity, coupled with the powerful attraction of the rebirth of Israel for this deeply religious community, led to the emigration of all but 6,000 Jews by 1951, the year Libya gained independence.

Notwithstanding constitutional guarantees provided by the new Libyan nation, restrictions on Jews were gradually imposed. By 1961, Jews could not vote, hold public office, serve in the army, get passports, purchase new property, acquire majority ownership in any new business, or supervise their own communal affairs. Yet some Jews remained, umbilically linked to their ancestral land and hoping against hope, despite all the evidence to the contrary, for positive change.
Then, in June 1967, war broke out in the Middle East. Inspired by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab appeals, Libyans took to the streets and attacked the remaining Jewish community.

 Classroom in a Benghazi synagogue before WWII

By the time calm was restored, 18 Jews in Tripoli, the country’s capital, were dead. The toll might have been even higher had it not been for the courage of Cesare Pasquinelli, Italy’s ambassador to Libya. He ordered all Italian diplomatic missions in the country to extend their protection to the Jews. A very few Muslims helped as well, including one who, at personal risk, hid the teenager who was to become my wife, along with her parents and seven siblings, for two weeks until they were able to leave the country. Tellingly, however, this righteous Libyan refused any public recognition, lest his life be put in danger for saving Jews.

Within a matter of weeks, all the remaining Jews of Libya fled abroad, urged to do so “temporarily” by the government. Each was permitted one suitcase and the equivalent of 50 dollars. Most headed for Israel; 2,000 went to Italy. In many respects, the tragic fate of Libya’s Jews was no different from that of hundreds of thousands of Jews in other Arab countries.

To no one’s surprise, this temporary exodus became permanent. Colonel Muammar Qaddafi seized power in 1969 and the following year announced a series of laws to confiscate the assets of Libya’s Jews, issuing bonds providing for “fair compensation” within 15 years. But 1985 came and went with no compensation paid.

And so, with only a few scattered international protests, scant press attention, and deafening silence from the United Nations, another once-thriving Jewish community in the Arab world came to an end — and the once-rich tapestry of the region’s diversity took yet another irretrievable hit.

Read article in full

Friday, June 08, 2018

Saudi slams all-or-nothing approach to Palestine

In an article typical of the current Saudi mellowing towards Israel, a Saudi writer has slammed the Arab and Palestinian leadership for their rejectionism and the empty talk of Arab League conferences. 'He who wants everything loses everything,' writes Mash'al al-Sudairi in the Saudi news media, Al Sharq al Aswat. (With thanks: Lily)

Mash'al al Sudairi 
"In advance of [every] Arab League summit, I break out in hives writing on any political issue – particularly on the Palestinian issue, an extremely just issue that is handled in the worst possible way. To date, there have been 41 [Arab League] summits, from the 1946 Inshas summit in Egypt to the most recent Al-Quds Summit [in April 2018, in Saudi Arabia].[2] Heading the list [of subjects] at [all] these summits has of course been the Palestinian issue; all of them have concluded with nothing. Unfortunately, the Arabs are incapable of fighting and incapable of making peace, and this is their complex tragedy.

"We must admit frankly that the ones who damaged the [Palestinian] cause more than anyone else were some Palestinian leaders and some Arab leaders. Enumerating them one by one, [Jerusalem grand mufti] Amin Al-Husseini, during World War II, naively gambled on Hitler with the entire weight of the Palestinian issue. He said in a speech: 'The Arabs are the natural friends of Germany because they have common enemies – the British, the Jews, and the Communists – and they [the Arabs] are willing to participate in the war.' But Hitler had no position on these statements. Al-Husseini remained in Germany, receiving a monthly salary of 150,000 marks, but the moment Germany's defeat became clear, he fled to Cairo; he was the one who tried to combine the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazi ideology. This position of Al-Husseini brought the rage of Britain, Russia, and the U.S. down upon him, and he added fuel to the fire by opposing the [1947 U.N.] partition resolution giving the Palestinians 49% of the territory – such that as soon as the State of Israel was declared, Russia and the U.S. were the first to recognize it. 

"The same goes for Yasser Arafat, who refused to participate in the Mena House conference in Cairo,[3] which might possibly have regained the West Bank, even before a single [Israeli] settlement had been built in it.  Several years later, and after the West Bank filled up with settlers, our brother [Arafat] told us of the distorted solution called the 'Oslo [Accords].

"No practical or rational solution came out of all these serial [Arab League summit] conferences [over the years] except for two: the 1980 [sic; 1981] conference at which [Saudi] King Fahd's peace plan was proposed,[4] and the 2002 conference [at which Saudi] King Abdullah's Middle East peace initiative [was proposed]...

 Read article in full

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Israeli intellectuals need a history lesson

Albert Levy is amazed at the ignorance of Israeli intellectuals about the history of Jews in Arab countries. Article in the Jerusalem Post:

 A ruined synagogue in Baghdad (photo: Reuters)

I am amazed every time anew when I speak with an Israeli intellectual who tells me, “Jews received very good treatment in Arab states, they were well off there.”

This statement does not at all reflect the historical reality of Arab states that had significant Jewish population, that is: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran (Muslim, but not Arab, State), from which about 1,020,000 Jews left between 1945 and 1975. For the most part, they were forced to leave and lost all of their belongings at best. In the worst case, they were murdered.

Many Arab states succeeded where Hitler failed in Nazi Germany: they are truly “Judenrein,” that is, “clean” of any Jews. Today there are no Jews in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and more. And also not in… the Palestinian Authority’s administered territories! Mahmoud Abbas declared in 2013, “In a permanent agreement there will not be the presence of one Israeli upon our lands, citizen or soldier.”

When Abbas says, “Israeli,” he means “Jew.” Because the Arabs with Israeli citizenship freely enter and leave the PA without endangering themselves with being lynched – which is the traditional hospitality for Jewish guests.

In Islamic States before 1945, up until the period of Western colonization, the Jews lived under the painful and humiliating yoke of “dhimma.”

The Israeli intellectual asks me, “What’s dhimma?” After giving him an improvised history lesson, I add a quick lesson in Islamic theology and explain that dhimma is the status of dhimmis – the people of the book, Jews and Christians – in an Islamic State.

This Islamic ruling determines that dhimmis must always be humiliated and exploited habitants through a long list of obligations and prohibitions.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Iraqi politician al-Sadr would 'welcome' Jews back

Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon (On the Move) Alliance party narrowly won the majority of parliamentary seats in Iraq’s recent elections. Not for the first time (back in 2012/13), he has said he would welcome the return of Iraq's Jews, more evidence of 'pie-in-the-sky' thinking without acknowledgement of the wrongs done to this community. Report on the MEMO (Muslim Brotherhood) site (with thanks: Lily):

Leader of Iraq Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr (pictured), has welcomed the return of Iraqi Jews who immigrated from the country after 1948.
Answering a question from one of his supporters about the possibility of allowing Iraqi Jews who had been displaced from Iraq to return, Al-Sadr said: “If their loyalty is to Iraq then welcome.”
Jews represented more than two per cent of the Iraqi population before 1947 but the figure dramatically decreased in 1951 after many emigrating to the newly formed state of Israel.

Read article in full 

Baghdad-born poet Someck is not 'in exile' in Israel

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Book review: Exodus the world ignored

The figures of Jews driven from Arab lands are staggering, yes this massive act of 'ethnic cleansing' has gone relatively unremarked, asserts Bob Lowe in his Standpoint (May 2018) review of Uprooted by Lyn Julius.

Iraqi-Jewish wedding in the 1940s

A Jew in Baghdad in 1948 was unwise enough to wear his expensive wristwatch when walking in the street. Spotting this, a policeman approached him and asked him the time. Ascertaining that the man was Jewish, he confiscated the watch and arrested him. In court the policeman told the judge that the watch contained a wireless on which the Jew was transmitting secrets to the Zionists in Palestine, then on the verge of becoming Israel. The judge sent the Jew to prison and gave the watch to the policeman as a reward.

 The story, recounted by Lyn Julius in her authoritative history of the decline and virtual end of Jewish life in the Arab world, neatly encapsulates the situation of Iraq’s Jewish community, then numbering around 150,000 people. Although the Jews had been an integral part of Iraqi life for thousands of years, their time was coming to an end. Yet only a few years earlier, they had been enjoying a relatively golden age in Iraq, under the British mandate, which had begun in 1917. They made up about a third of Baghdad’s population, dominated trade and the civil service and played a big role in cultural life.

 It didn’t last. A pro-Nazi movement developed, promoted and financed by the German ambassador, and the Arab uprising in Palestine of 1936 led to attacks on synagogues and individuals, often fatal. Things got steadily worse until the birth of Israel in 1948, when Zionism was added to the penal code, Jews were prohibited from leaving the country and the slightest evidence of a connection to Israel — even the star of David on a prayer shawl — could lead to arrest. A thousand Jews a month fled illegally, via Iran, while others registered their wish to leave.

 By 1951, 119,000 of the remaining 140,000 had registered to go and were eventually allowed to do so, though they could take little with them: their property was frozen by decree in March 1951. Truly, by the waters of Babylon they sat down and wept. The remembrance of Zion was all they had left. Many of them did make it to the modern Zion, the new state of Israel, where most eventually prospered despite the shock of finding themselves destitute refugees living in tents, a bitter blow after the comfortable lives they had led in Iraq. Not all the Iraqi Jews went to Israel: they scattered all over the world.

 Lyn Julius’s own parents, newly married, fled from Iraq in 1950 for London. At one stage her mother had brothers in Iran and Canada, and sisters in France and the US, while another sister stayed in Iraq until 1991. One of her father’s sisters also got out but, widowed young, returned to Iraq in 1964 to sell some property. She was trapped there for six years, until smuggled out by Kurds via Iran disguised as a Muslim. The descendants of Iraqi Jews, like the Saatchi brothers, have made a huge contribution to the countries in which they have settled, out of all proportion to their numbers. If only Iraq had them now: but by 2016 only five Jews still lived there, the end of a 3,000-year epoch of Jewish life in Babylonia during which the community had at times been the glory of the Jewish world.

 But Iraq was not the only Arab country to persecute and expel its Jews in the 20th century. The same thing happened in Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, detailed in forensic detail by Lyn Julius. The figures are staggering: in the last 60 years, more than 99 per cent of the Arab world’s Jews fled — nearly a million people, 650,000 of whom went to Israel, the rest to the West. This huge rescue operation was carried out by Israel and the wider Jewish — largely American — world.

Yet this massive act of, in modern parlance, ethnic cleansing has gone relatively unremarked by the rest of the world, fixated as it is on the Palestinian cause. The difference is instructive: the Jews got on with rebuilding their lives in unfamiliar lands while the Palestinians have become perpetual welfare claimants living off the misguided generosity of the West.

 Lyn Julius concludes her absorbing book with the attempt — surely futile — of some descendants to claim compensation for their families’ confiscated and stolen property in Arab countries, and she tells one amusing story in this context. When Jehan Sadat, the widow of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, visited New York to give a speech, she met a member of the wealthy Castro family who had been expelled from Egypt by Nasser in 1956. Urging her to revisit Egypt with her children, Mrs Sadat added the traditional Egyptian courtesy, “My house is your house,” unaware that this was literally true: the Castros’ confiscated home had become the presidential villa. It is one of the few lighter moments in a book which tells a sombre and frequently tragic story. It does, however, have an uplifting outcome in the successful resettlement of an endlessly resourceful people: the Arab world’s loss is the wider world’s gain.

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The Jews driven out of their homes in Arab lands (Tom Gross - Jewish Chronicle)

Monday, June 04, 2018

Morocco trains up its own 'tolerant' imams

To counter the Wahabist influence in the mosques, Morocco is training imams (and female imams) in a moderate, 'tolerant 'version of Islam, and 'exporting' them to France. Story by Irina Tsukerman in the Algemeiner (With thanks: Michelle):

Training institute for Moroccan imams

So far, Morocco’s approach to countering religious extremism has been successful: the country has not had a terrorist attack since 2011.

The three-pronged approach relies on surveillance of mosques, social integration and outreach, and education. The education of male and female imams ensures both the study of substantive theology interpreted in a moderate and tolerant way, which has been central to Morocco’s thousands of years of interreligious and interethnic coexistence.

 This education is combined with other disciplines that complement the religious courses and expand the worldviews of the students. For instance, the Institute particularly encourages female imams, with the reasoning that they will then reach out to and educate other women in their communities and countries, thus combating the spread of extremism in countries where literacy is low, and women are frequently marginalized and easily manipulated  by poorly regulated religious authorities.

There are three tracks for all the students at the Institute — a year-long track for Moroccans, and 2/3 year tracks for other African and French students, who face tough competition and require nomination by a community or an organization to be considered for the program.

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Sunday, June 03, 2018

Is the lost Iraqi-Jewish language really lost?

With the demise of the Jewish community of Iraq, you would have thought that their distinctive Judeo-Arabic language will die with them. But a new generation is showing interest in reviving the language of their forefathers.  Mardean Isaac, an Assyrian, reports for the Tablet ( with thanks: Shulamit, Lily, Imre)

Jewish merchants in early 20th century Iraq

Between 1948 and 1951, the vast majority of Iraq’s Jewish population of around 150,000 left the country, interrupting a remarkable literary and linguistic heritage. The Talmud, some of which was composed in Iraq, was written partly in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, a literary dialect using the Hebrew alphabet. The Jews of northern Iraq spoke particular forms of Aramaic, closely related to the Aramaic spoken by their Assyrian neighbors. Ever-decreasing numbers of Jews in Israel speak those dialects—relics of obscure, mainly rural communities. Other Jewish Aramaic dialects are now only used in academic or religious study.

 The predominant Iraqi-Jewish language was a particular form of Judeo-Arabic, a term encompassing forms of Arabic spoken by Jews in Arab countries. Geoffrey Khan, a professor of Hebrew at Cambridge University, has done pioneering work on the spoken Aramaic dialects of the Assyrians and Jews of Iran and northern Iraq. “Jewish Baghdadi is different in all levels of structure, phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon, from Muslim and Christian dialects of Iraqi Arabic,” he told me. Regarding the influence of Aramaic in Judeo-Arabic, Khan noted: “There do seem to be some elements that have been influenced by an Aramaic substrate, though it is not always easy to prove it.”

As far as linguistic aspects that exist across Judeo-Arabic dialects, he selected as one case the pronunciation of the /r/ as in an uvular /r/, a feature of Judeo-Arabic both in Iraq and in North Africa. Following the Arab invasions in the 7th century, Arabic supplanted Aramaic as the lingua franca of the region. As the importance of Baghdad rose, Jews established a strong presence there. By the early 20th century, Baghdad was about a third Jewish. Some communities of Jews in northern Iraq—like Assyrians and Mandaeans—continued to speak Aramaic, adopting Arabic or Kurdish only for external use. Baghdadi Jews would imbue their own distinct heritage into the Arabic language. The phenomenon of Iraqi Judeo-Arabic mirrors the status of Jews in relation to Iraq, as a people whose culture and habits were deeply shaped by broader Iraqi society and politics, yet who lived in parallel to it.

 In that status, it joins not only other Jewish diaspora dialects, but a legacy of languages in the Middle East that bear the trace of communities who navigated all sorts of political transformations before the homogenizing cultural and demographic forces set in motion by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of often-murderous nation states. The disappearance from Iraq of Assyrians, Jews, and other ancient groups like the Mandaeans, who also have a fascinating religious literature in their own Aramaic dialect, has only laid bare the lack of literature reflecting the linguistic richness and particular experiences of Iraq’s various peoples.

“Like their Muslim and Christian peers, Jewish-Iraqi authors, poets, and journalists looked down on colloquial speech,” the Jewish-Iraqi scholar Eli Timan told me. “Their definition of ‘eloquence’ was confined entirely to Fus’ha [classical Arabic]. In my opinion, this was a tragedy for our community and explains the dearth of Jewish-Iraqi documents in the field of literature.”

 It is eloquent of its ghostly status that some of the best fiction written in Iraqi Judeo-Arabic will likely prove to be the last. Samir Naqqash, an Iraqi-born Israeli novelist, wrote exclusively in Arabic. He refused to accept that he had lost Iraq and become Israeli, and refused to adopt Hebrew despite the decision ruining his career prospects. Naqqash instead wrote novels that conjured a vanished past of Iraq’s dialectal and ethno-communal richness using the Judeo-Arabic (and other Baghdadi dialects) of his childhood that served as the keyhole to that past, and its only portable element. Since his death in 2004, no new literature featuring Iraqi Judeo-Arabic has been published.

  Read article in full

Friday, June 01, 2018

Today is the 77th anniversary of the Farhud in Iraq

To mark the 77th anniversary of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq on 1 and 2 June 1941, Point of No Return is reproducing a blog by Lyn Julius posted in the Huffington Post three years ago.
Salim Fattal, who died a year ago on the 76th anniversary of the Farhud. (Photo: K. Maclearie)
Salim Fattal was just eleven when the two-day Baghdad pogrom known as the Farhud erupted on Shavuot (Pentecost) 74 years ago, yet its memory is engraved deep in his soul. Despite the passage of time, the shrieks and wails of the pogrom’s 179 Jewish victims still echo in his ears.
On 1 June, the first day of Shavuot in 1941, Fattal, his widowed mother and four siblings witnessed unimaginable terror, as he describes in his vivid memoir In the Alleys of Baghdad:
Helpless Jews had been cornered in their homes and fallen easy prey to robbers, murderers and rapists, who abused their victims to their heart’s content, with no let or hindrance. They slit throats, slashed off limbs, smashed skulls. They made no distinction between women, children and old people. In that gory scene, blind hatred of Jews and the joy of murder for its own sake reinforced each other.
Salim’s uncle Meir was pulled off a bus by a raging mob baying for Jewish blood, and never seen again.
Salim and his family managed to get through the night unscathed by bribing a local policeman to stand guard over their house. Haggling over how much he would be paid for each bullet he fired at the rioters, the policeman finally settled with the family at a quarter of a dinar for each shot.
The Farhud (meaning “violent dispossession”) marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs in Iraq and paved the way for the dissolution of the 2,600-year-old Jewish community barely 10 years later. Loyal and productive citizens comprising a fifth of Baghdad, the Jews had not known anything like the Farhud in living memory. Before the victims’ blood was dry, army and police warned the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958.
Despite their deep roots, the Jews understood that they would never, along with other minorities, be an integral part of an independent Iraq. Fear of a second Farhud was a major reason why 90 per cent of Iraq’s Jewish community fled to Israel after 1948.
But the Farhud was not just another anti-Jewish pogrom.The Nazi supporters who planned it had a more sinister objective: the round-up, deportation and extermination in desert camps of the Baghdadi Jews.

The World Jewish Congress has produced a video about the Farhud and the demise of the Iraqi-Jewish community. (with thanks: Ruth)
The inspiration behind the short-lived pro-Nazi government led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani in May 1941, and the Farhud itself, came not from Baghdad, but Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, sought refuge in Iraq in 1939 with 400 Palestinian émigrés. Together, they whipped up local anti-Jewish feeling. An illiterate populace imbibed bigotry through Nazi radio propaganda. Days before the Farhud broke out, the proto-Nazi youth movement, the Futuwwa, went around daubing Jewish homes with a red palm print. Yunis al-Sabawi, who, together with the Mufti and Rashid Ali, spent the rest of the war in Berlin broadcasting propaganda, instructed the Jews to stay in their homes so that they could more easily be rounded up.
The Farhud and the coup which preceded it, a failed attempt to spark a pro-Nazi insurgency, cemented a wartime Arab-Nazi alliance designed to rid Palestine, and the world, of the Jews. The Mufti had secret plans to build crematoria near Nablus.
The Mufti’s postwar legacy endured. Six months after the end of WWll, and before Israel was established, vicious riots broke out in Egypt and Libya - the latter, incited by anti-Jewish hatred, claimed more than 130 lives. Barely three years after the full horror of the Holocaust had come to light, Arab League member states embarked on a programme of ethnic cleansing Hitler would have been proud of. The uprooting of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation - dismantlement, dispossession and expulsion. Nuremberg-style laws criminalised Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas and restrictions on jobs and movement. Every Arab state adopted all, or some, of these anti-Jewish measures. The result was the exodus of nearly a million Jews from the Arab world.
While the world has devoted all its attention to the Palestinian “Nakba,” until recently, Israel has said and done little to publicise the monumental injustice done to the 870,000 Jews driven from Arab countries.
More Jews died than on Kristallnacht, yet the Farhud has not become part of Holocaust memory. Indeed, the Washington Holocaust Museum had to be vigorously lobbied to include the Farhud as a Holocaust event.
Since that fateful event, so effectively has history been distorted that even Jews believe that Arabs had no part to play in Nazism. A body of opinion mainly on the Left has turned the facts on their head and is convinced that the Palestinians paid the price of the Holocaust, and that Israelis are the new Nazis.
Yet Nazism was popular in the Arab world - and not just because the Germans were fighting the British and French colonial powers. Nazism gave ideological inspiration both to Arab secular nationalist parties and the Muslim Brotherhood (Gaza branch: Hamas). Antisemitism - a synthesis of Nazi tropes and traditional Koranic prejudice - is at the core of Islamist beliefs. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of Islamic State (ISIL), was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Arab world’s most famous pro-Nazi, the Mufti of Jerusalem, should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. The unremitting campaign to destroy Israel through war, terror or political delegitimisation, is a manifestation of the unfulfilled genocidal intentions of Arab nationalism and Islamism.
The demons awakened by the Farhud are still with us today.