Sunday, August 19, 2018

History of Libyan Jews, seen through memories

This is a useful potted history of the Jews of Libya by Eness Elias in Haaretz, the differences between the Tripoli and the Benghazi communities, and the differences between the acculturated upper classes, who mainly went to Italy, and the great majority of Jews who went to Israel, where life was difficult. (With thanks: Imre) 
Nonna Eness Hasson, z'l

My grandmother died a little more than three weeks ago. Grandmother Eness, for whom I’m named, was born in Tripoli, Libya, and lived there until age 13, when she immigrated with her family to Israel. Here she met my grandfather, Tzion Hasson, who was born and raised in Benghazi. 

My grandmother’s house was filled with laughter, people and joy, and we all waited for Nonna, as we called her, to put on her show. Sometimes she emerged from the hallway dressed up like a gorilla and scared us to death. She had all kinds of masks in her closet, and we waited in suspense for the next thing. She told us stories, impersonated family members, stung us with loving sarcasm and was always there for the big family that she had brought into the world. 

Life in Tripoli wasn’t harder for Nonna than life in Israel. She was an educated girl who possessed joie de vivre, knew four languages even before she learned Hebrew (Arabic, Italian, English and Ladino), loved to sing the songs of the Egyptian artists Farid el-Atrash and Abdel Halim Hafez, was an avid dancer and later did all she could not to let the difficult life in Israel break her. The story of my grandfather and grandmother is the story of an ancient community that disappeared from Libya but found itself in Israel, where it carries on the customs that sustained it for thousands of years. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Jordanian calls for Jews to return to their countries

 There is only one word to describe the former Jordanian minister of culture Salah Jarrar: delusional. In his peace proposal, to compete with President Trump's, he suggests that all Jews who came to Israel after 1917 'will return to the countries from whence they came, taking nothing with them'. The 850, 000 Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries will certainly be keen to return (sarcasm off). And what about  the five million Arab refugees who have fled Syria and the four million Iraqis displaced from the country? Should they all go back? See this MEMRI report. (With thanks: Lily)

 Salah Jarrar: delusional
"Amid this dangerous reality... we must end our silence and idleness and declare, first of all, that we categorically oppose all the Zionist and American plans and that we will be the ones to choose the deal we want as a solution [to the conflict]. It will be the Deal of [our] Lifetimes, not the Deal of the Century, and will include the following clauses:
  1. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River will end.
  2. All the Jews who came to Israel after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, as well as their children and descendants, will return to the countries from which they came, without taking anything with them.
  3. The U.S. and Britain will compensate the Palestinians for all the damage caused by the Zionist occupation to the land and its people.
  4. The U.S. and Britain will compensate the Arab states for the damage caused to them by the Zionist aggression against their lands, and for hosting the [Palestinian] refugees throughout the years of occupation.
  5. All Israelis who took part in killing Palestinians will be turned over to the Palestinians to be prosecuted and to receive the punishment they deserve.
  6. The Palestinian refugees will return to their homes and their property.
  7. The leadership of the Zionist occupation will sign a document stating that they have no rights, historical or otherwise, in Palestine.
  8. Should the Israeli side, or its American ally, wish to negotiate about any of these clauses, this will be put to referendum among the Palestinian people, and [negotiations will occur] only if all the children of Palestine and the families of all the martyrs agree to this.
Some may claim that the above clauses [describe] a dream that cannot be realized given the current state of the Arab nation. [But] I say that the current state, grave as it is, does not deprive anyone of his rights, and that these clauses [describe] our rights and we must continue to demand them, whether we achieve them today or at a future time..."


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Iran discriminates against Jews and other minorities

Insightful Iranwire report into how the Iranian regime discriminates against Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. Zoroastrians and Christians are accused of proselytising and all minorities are subject to legal discrimination. Jews are not allowed to reprint religious books and there is no rabbi, as foreign-trained clerics are not allowed to take office in Iran.

 Zoroastrians praying at a temple dug into a mountainside

Robert is an Armenian Christian, and he echoes much of what Armaiti says about discrimination. “Many of our Muslim friends ask us about converting to Christianity but in Iran we are not allowed to proselytize,” he says. According to Robert, the official Armenian churches are carefully monitored by security forces to prevent any kind of proselytization.

Maryam is a Christian convert who was baptized in a home-church in the northwestern city of Urmia. “In home-churches they both teach about Christianity and hold prayers and ceremonies like official churches,” she says. “In recent years, holding prayers at home-churches has become very difficult and dangerous. Under the guise of being interested in Christianity, security agents infiltrate home-churches to identify Christian converts and proselytizers.”
According to Maryam, converts are now very cautious about going to home-churches for prayers and ceremonies after many converts were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. In less than two months in 2017, 11 converts and one priest were sentenced to a total of 125 years in prison.

Robert, however, says that the ban on proselytizing is not the only discrimination minorities face. It extends to many spheres of life. “For example,” he says, “no member of a religious minority can be elected president because, according to Article 115 of the Islamic Republic constitution, the president must be a believer in the official religion of the country — that is, Shi’ism. But this is only one of the most obvious examples. Religious minorities are clearly discriminated against in laws [which prevent them from taking on] government jobs, testimony in court, punishment for murder and so on.”

Members of religious minorities cannot join the armed forces and, according to the 1987 Law of the Islamic Republic Military, this option is reserved only for Muslims. Also, according to the Islamic Penal Code, if the victim of a murder is a Muslim then the murderer is punished by qisas (“retribution”), but if the victim belongs to a religious minority then the murderer has only to pay diya or “blood money.”

What is more, the diya for a murdered Muslim was higher than the blood money for a non-Muslim. But the sixth Islamic Republic Parliament (2000-2004) changed this, and ruled that the diya for both Muslims and non-Muslims must be equal. The Guardian Council, which must approve all laws, rejected this, but the parliamentarians insisted and the Expediency Council overruled the Guardian Council.

Another example of legal discrimination against minorities is testimony in court. Iranian law does not accept the testimony of a non-Muslim against a Muslim — whatever the case.

Pouya Dayanim, President of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee (IJPAC), tells IranWire about other areas of legal discrimination, including inheritance laws. “In inheritance laws, if one child of a minority family converts to Islam he gets all the inheritance and the rest of the family gets nothing,” he says.

Article 881 B of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic states: “An infidel does not get inheritance from a Muslim and if there are infidels among the heirs of a deceased infidel, the infidel heirs do not take inheritance even if they are prior to the Muslim as concerns class and degree.”

Iran’s official media also discriminates against minority religions on a regular basis. “The magazine Payam-e Daneshjou compared the Jews to monkeys and the weekly Yalasarat al-Hussein, which belongs to Ansar-e Hezbollah, compared them to mice,” says Dayanim. “Movie actor Akbar Abdi praised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for rubbing the noses of the Jews in the mud.”

Dayanim believes that the government’s anti-Israeli propaganda over the last 40 years has confused people, many of whom now do not distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and, as a result, insult Jews.

“Printing books in Hebrew is not permitted in Iran,” says Dayanim. “Most of the Hebrew and Siddur prayer books are from 40 years ago and reprinting them is not allowed. We are also not allowed to bring religious leaders from among foreign academics into Iran. Iran is the only country with a Jewish community that has no rabbi. A rabbi is a graduate of a Jewish university who returns to lead religious ceremonies. Iran has no rabbi because it has no schools for teaching Judaism and rabbis from other countries are not allowed to come to Iran. So a group of religious individuals who have learned the traditions from their parents teach others.”

Dayanim believes that the Islamic Republic’s inheritance laws are designed to encourage members of religious minorities to convert to Islam. “I know a rich Zoroastrian family whose son converted to Islam to get his hands on all his father’s inheritance,” he says. “His mother, sister and brother took him to court and the court ruled in their favor. Then he wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, asking him: ‘My family is Zoroastrian and I have converted to Islam, so does the family get the inheritance?’ Ayatollah Khamenei answered that if there is a Muslim inheritor then the infidel will not get the inheritance unless they convert to Islam.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mizrahi:'Israel's critics did not understand my films'

Revealing article by Uri Klein in Haaretz about the late Moshe Mizrahi, the only Israeli film director to win an Oscar. The Israeli establishment excluded Mizrahi's films from Israeli cinema, and its output of 1960s bourekas films, such as Sallah Shabati, were 'disgusting' in their representation of Jews from Arab countries, in Mizrahi's opinion.

 “Since my films tackled relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim differently [referring to European Jews and those of Spanish, Middle Eastern or North African origin, respectively], I suffered throughout my career from a lack of understanding on the part of both the Israeli establishment and the critics.

“For years, I wasn’t included in the narrative of Israeli cinema – and I really have no idea why. I have no idea how one can speak about the history of Israeli cinema without including my films. It’s possible that because of my biography, which led me from Alexandria to Jerusalem to Paris, I appear to be a foreigner. But, unless I’m mistaken, the films I make aren’t foreign.” 

Moshe Mizrahi: bourekas films were disgusting
No, Mizrahi was not mistaken. The films he directed in Israel – of which there are many, but especially “I Love You Rosa” (1972), and “The House on Chelouche Street” and “Daughters, Daughters” (both 1973) – are milestones in the history of Israeli cinema. Their quality even heralded the revolution in Israeli cinema in the present century. 

They were created in the midst of a wave of comedies dubbed “bourekas films” – comedies that flooded Israeli movie theaters at the time and were mostly concerned with relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim.
But there was a huge difference between Mizrahi’s films and those movies. In the same interview, he told me that the manner in which Sephardim – now more commonly known as Mizrahim – were presented during that period actually deterred him. He said it was “a disgrace” that they became cult films. 

“What does [Budapest-born filmmaker Ephraim] Kishon know about Mizrahim?” he asked, adding that “Sallah Shabati” – about a Yemenite Jewish family immigrating to Israel – was “a disgusting film in the way it presented Jews from Arab countries.” 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mahathir: Jews silence critics with antisemitism smears

In an interview on Monday, Malaysia’s avowedly anti-Semitic prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said accusations that he was anti-Semitic were meant to silence his criticism of Jews “for doing wrong things.” (Malaysia has almost no Jews.) Associated Press reports:

Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (photo: AP)

In an interview with the Associated Press that ranged from trade with China to the Rohingya crisis in nearby Myanmar, Mohamad, a longtime champion of Palestinian causes, was asked about his record of comments seen as anti-Semitic.
“We should be able to criticize everybody,” he said, and assailed laws against denying the scale of the Holocaust.
“Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things,” he said.

Mahathir led his opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition to a surprise victory in national elections in May. On Thursday he took his oath of office before the king, Sultan Muhammad V. He is a larger-than-life figure in Malaysia, with his influence dominating the multiethnic country’s politics from the Cold War into a new millennium. His first turn as prime minister stretched for 22 years, coming to an end in 2003.

He is also famous for his virulent anti-Semitism. He wrote on his personal blog in 2012 that “Jews rule this world by proxy,” the Associated Press has reported.

Read article in full

Monday, August 13, 2018

Chief Rabbi of Morocco Monsonego dies

 Rabbi Monsonego with the King of Morocco

The death of Rabbi Aaron Monsonego, Chief Rabbi of Morocco since 1998, was  reported on 7 August. He died in Shaare Tsedek hospital, Jerusalem according to Morocco News:

Monsonego was a significant figure in the history of Jewish Morocco. Born in 1929, he was the son of Yedidya, the rabbi of Fez. Between 1945 and 1952, he studied at the Talmudic and Science High School in Aix-les-Bains, eastern France, where he also taught between 1950 and 1952. He obtained his rabbinic diploma and (qualified as a) judge (dayan) at the Council of the Three Great Orthodox Rabbis of Paris in 1951.

In 1952, Monsonego returned to Morocco following the call of Itshak Chalom, president of the Jewish community of Casablanca. Monsonego ran the Talmud Torah school in Casablanca, which, at that time, had more than 1,500 students. Rabbi Aharon Monsonego has been head of Morocco’s chief rabbinate since 1998, when he was appointed to replace Shimon Suissa, his predecessor.

Due to his elderly age and worsening health, Monsonego decided to leave Morocco for Israel four years ago, in order to be able to live his last years with his children.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Eldar: Trump's plan should include Jewish refugee rights

Amazing! A former senior Haaretz journalist, Akiva Eldar, has called in Al-Monitor on the Trump administration, in its forthcoming blueprint for a peace settlement, to couple its expected demand for UNWRA to be shut down with compensation for Jewish refugees. Why has Eldar, who has never written about Jewish refugees before, woken up to their existence? He is right that Arab states would have no incentive to resettle  Palestinian refugees unless they are made to admit their responsibility for the expulsion and dispossession of their Jews. Eldar's other motive is domestic: to haul the Left out of the political wilderness by encouraging it to champion the rights of Israel's three million Jewish refugees and their descendants - an issue it has hitherto  viewed as an obstacle to peace. (With thanks: Gina)

In January, the Trump administration informed the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that it was cutting tens of millions of dollars in aid to the organization. Recently, the administration declared that UNRWA’s mandate must be changed.
The campaign launched by the Trump administration against the UNRWA has directed the spotlight once again at the issue of the Palestinian refugees who fled their homes or were expelled from them in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a tragedy they dubbed “Nakba,” Arabic for “catastrophe.”

 In emails he sent in January that were reported by Foreign Policy magazine, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner suggested that the Arab states take in the Palestinian refugees and ensure their rehabilitation. Someone should remind Kushner that the Arab states did not expel the Palestinians and turn them into refugees, nor did they confiscate their property. On the other hand, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, North Africa and the Gulf states did expel the Jews living there, confiscate their property and turn them into refugees.

What Trump calls the “ultimate deal” that presumes to find a regional solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must also offer a practical resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem and at the same time seek to rectify the injustice to the Jews who were expelled from their homes in Arab countries and Iran or fled from them. The riots against Jews and the anti-Semitic incidents that followed the UN’s 1947 Partition Resolution and the declaration of Israel’s independence turned 865,000 Jews into refugees. In 1957, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recognized them as refugees in accordance with the UN Convention on Refugees.

 Ambassador Zvi Gabbay, who died July 29, wrote in 2012 that while the UN has adopted dozens of resolutions in support of the Palestinian refugees, established the UNRWA to aid them and allocated huge budgets for its operation, the organization did nothing for the Jewish refugees. “This one-sided approach,” the Iraq-born diplomat said, “has not solved the problem and has exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

 Akiva Eldar: 'has woken up' to existence of Jewish refugees

(...) Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that a special section in his road map for Israeli-Palestinian peace refer to compensation for Jews from Arab lands. Special envoy Martin Indyk also spoke to Jewish leaders about the importance of recognizing the rights of those Jews who had been ignored for decades by the international community and Israeli society.

But Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who represented the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in negotiations with the Palestinians, gave Kerry’s proposal the cold shoulder. Israel’s peace camp views inclusion of the Jewish refugee issue in negotiations with the Palestinians as a right-wing ploy designed to forge a troubling link with resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem and thereby sink the peace process. Thus, for fear of undermining prospects of an agreement with the Palestinians, the Israeli left has ignored the pain and rights of Jews from the Arab world who, together with their descendants, constitute about one-half of Israel’s Jewish population, which means over 3 million people. Although the right wing has been in power longer than the left, this attitude has led to the left being solely blamed for “establishment” arrogance toward Israelis displaced from Arab lands.

A scathing special report issued in 2014 by the State Comptroller showed successive right-wing governments did not go out of their way, either, for these Israelis. Despite the “festive declarations” by Israeli governments about their commitment to act on behalf of these groups, the findings show “an unsatisfactory level of commitment by the government to carry out its decisions and very little work” to ensure that proper attention was given to the issue, according to the report.

The Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel are not responsible for the injustice perpetrated by Arab states against their Jewish communities. Nonetheless, promoting a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is an excellent opportunity, if not a crucial condition, for realizing the rights of the Jewish refugees. The “Israeli Regional Initiative,” an organization dedicated to advancing regional peace based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, has included compensation of Jews from Arab states in its blueprint. This section appears separately, deliberately so, from the chapter relating to a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution, alongside other regional issues such as security, economic cooperation, environmental protection and more.

Arab states are highly unlikely to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Trump, who has called for them to take in the Palestinian refugees, thereby freeing Israel and the international community from responsibility for them. Just as one cannot wave away the issue of Jerusalem from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating table (on a final-status solution), Trump’s declaration to the contrary notwithstanding, shutting down the UNRWA will not wipe out the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere. Either way, presenting the refugee issue in the context of a regional arrangement provides the Israeli left with an opportunity to wave the flag of regional peace with one hand and stretch out the other to Israelis whose mother tongue was Arabic, to recognize their narrative and to identify with them as equals. This may be the way to extricate them from the tentacles of the nationalist right and with them the entire state.

Read article in full 

Kerry deal to compensate Jews from Arab countries 

Knesset committee slams government 

Livni: no linkage of refugees

Friday, August 10, 2018

Egypt plans first ever 'tolerance' museum

In a bid to show how 'tolerant' Egypt is (it has fewer than 15 Jews still living there), the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities has announced that a committee will be appointed the task of creating Egypt’s very first museum of religious tolerance. Report in Egyptian Streets: (With thanks: Boruch)

 It is thought it will be located in the New Administrative Capital, near the city’s main mosque.

It will also include pieces from the ancient Egyptian period as well as the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish civilizations all while highlighting Islam’s teachings of tolerance and Egypt’s diverse religions.

The council is undergoing an election process of centerpieces  that will be made ready for display at the time of the museum’s construction, under the supervision of a panel of professionals.

Ex-Antiquities minister Zahi Hawass will be on the museum selection panel

According to local news, those on the panel are the General Director of the Tahrir Egyptian Museum Sabah Abde Razik, General Director of the Islamic Museum Mamdouh Othman and ex-Antiquities Minister and Egyptology Zahi Hawass.
Currently, there exists the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, as well as Islamic Art Museum near Tahrir, in Cairo’s downtown. Although there is an extremely small number of Jews in Egypt, the country  boasts a few synagogues, namely Ben Ezra which is open to the public unlike the others.

Magda Haroun, head of Egypt's Jewish Community Council, is said to be attempting to create a national Jewish museum.

Read article in full

Thursday, August 09, 2018

'The archive will not be safe in Iraq'

A Senate resolution sponsored by four US senators will attempt to delay and even reverse the US government's commitment to returning the 'Iraqi-Jewish archive' to Baghdad. One reason is that there are no longer any Jews able to care for or see it. Report in the Tribune Review:

 Dr Harold Rhode sifting through the waterlogged items of the Iraqi-Jewish archive in 2003. Dr Rhode was the first to identify the books and documents of the collection as Jewish.

The collection, known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive, is scheduled to be returned to Iraqi next month. If that happens, experts fear neglect could pose a new threat to the sensitive materials. 

“I really don’t think they’ll be safe in Iraq,” said Carole Basri, an attorney and documentary filmmaker who has deeply researched the archive and Iraq’s Jewish history. 

Heading an effort to postpone the archive’s return is U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, the prime sponsor of a resolution urging the U.S. State Department to renegotiate the return. 

“My concern is Iraq is really no longer a good place to store this Jewish historical treasure since there are no Jews to safeguard it, to see it, to care for this treasure,” Toomey told the Tribune-Review. 

Included in the archive is a 400-year-old Hebrew Bible, a German rabbi’s sermons from 1692, a 200-year-old Talmud and thousands of other books printed in Italy, Jerusalem, Turkey and Lithuania. Among the books are the writings of the famous late 19th-century Baghdadi interpreter of Jewish law Rabbi Yosef Hayyim, who is often referred to by the name of his most famous work, the Ben Ish Hai. 

New publications of the Ben Ish Hai’s work stand to influence how Jews interpret law today, said Rabbi Raymond Sultan, director of Sephardic Heritage Museum, which is about to publish a third book of the Ben Ish Hai’s work from the archive. 

“There is a lot of stuff people will definitely use to formulate law,” Sultan said.
Also included are school and financial records, lists of residents, university applications and other community records that document Jewish life in Iraq from the 1920s through 1953. 

Toomey’s resolution, cosponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, cites the Iraq government’s anti-Semitic policies from the 1930s onward — including making Zionism punishable by death and confiscating Jewish artifacts — to make a case against returning the archive. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Christians and Yazidis not getting international help

 Former BBC journalist Rebecca Tinsley reports on her visit to Kurdistan in Jewish News. While the region slowly recovers from the ravages of ISIS, she finds that Iraq simply pays lip service to minority rights, and Christians and Yazidis are not receiving the international aid they need. (With thanks: Jonathan)

Jewish woman from Kurdistan photographed in Israel

What do these three news items have in common?
1) The beautiful synagogue in Akra in Iraqi Kurdistan is crumbling to the point of collapse, as Iraq’s famous Jewish families (Sassoon, Saatchi, Gubbay, etc.) are written out of Iraqi history.

2) Thirty six Iraqi Christian churches were destroyed by Islamic State in 2014, but thousands of Christians cannot return from internal exile. Their homes are now occupied by Muslim Arabs, and their former communities are controlled by opposing Arab and Kurdish militias who each claim territory in the plain of Nineveh.

3) August 3rd marks the fourth anniversary of Islamic State’s jihad against the Yezidi minority. Tens of thousands of men were killed, and 6,000 women and girls were enslaved, being bought and sold on WhatsApp, even by men who used to be their Iraqi neighbours. No one has collected forensic evidence from the 94 mass graves, and 3,200 of the women are still missing. No one has been prosecuted for what the international community recognises as genocide against the Yezidi.

What these stories share is the disconnect between the theoretical protection of minorities in the Iraqi constitution, and the reality, particularly in the aftermath of Islamic State’s conquest and retreat.

The Jews of Iraq predated the Christians, and the Yezidi predated even the Jews. Yet, the prevailing narrative is that Iraq’s history began when Islam arrived in the fertile region between the Tigris and the Euphrates. In practice, this means that ethnic and religious groups with deep and ancient roots, including the Jewish businesspeople who played a central role in the commercial development of Baghdad a century ago, are absent from history. It also means that minorities are increasingly treated as if they don’t belong.

In the nineteenth century, Akra, a town perched on a promontory in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, had 19,000 Jewish residents. By 1930, following a wave of anti-Zionist feeling, there were only 1,000. The 1917 census recorded 80,000 Jews in Baghdad: is thought seven Jewish people remain now in the Iraqi capital.
With the rise of National Socialism in Germany, intolerance took hold in Iraq. Dohuk, Erbil, Ruwandiz, Barashi and Sukho, all ancient Jewish towns, saw thousands flee. In 1941, Nazi-inspired riots left 200 Jews dead. In 1945, the Kurdish Jews were expelled from Erbil. Finally, the founding of the state of Israel led to a wholesale exit from Iraq, as the Jewish population was made to feel unwelcome.

After two days on the road, during which I searched for remaining synagogues, my Kurdish driver admitted his mother and grandmother had been Jewish. However, like many families who stayed, they told people they had converted to Islam in a bid to fit in. The driver was proud of his Jewish roots, but he also knew to hide them for the sake of an easy life.

Now, the Kurdish Regional Government boasts it is The Other Iraq (meaning modern and tolerant). It is true that there is a greater acceptance of minorities, and the Iraqi Kurds gave refuge to hundreds of thousands of Yezidi and Christians when IS drove them from their homes. A 2015 law guarantees parliamentary seats to Christians, Turkmen and women. However, there is little political will in the Kurdish Regional Government to prosecute IS members for the deliberate targeting of the Yezidi, or the use of rape as a weapons of war (a precedent established in Bosnia), despite a wealth of survivor testimony which includes the names of IS perpetrators.

In the 1950s, an Iraqi rabbi reputedly warned a Christian cleric, “Sunday follows Saturday,” meaning that having forced out the Jewish population, the Christians were next. There have been Christians in Iraq since the first century – the world’s longest continual Christian presence. However, their numbers have recently collapsed from 1.5 million to fewer than 250,000.

Nuns in Qaraqosh on the plain of Nineveh told me how, in 2014, as IS rampaged across Iraq, the authorities assured the Christian communities they would be safe. Yet the Kurdish peshmerga militia withdrew suddenly without telling the Christians, leaving thousands of people scrambling to escape a mere 30 minutes before IS arrived.

The Iraqi government claims it respects the rights of minorities, and it is a signatory of sundry international conventions protecting the rights of different ethnic and religious groups. However, I was told that much of the humanitarian aid appears to have been directed at Muslim areas, even though the Christians and Yezidi suffered disproportionately.

Read article in full

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Silwan synagogue to be Yemeni heritage centre

 An official ceremony was held to inaugurate a cultural centre in a former synagogue in the Jerusalem district of Silwan, Haaretz reports. Silwan is 'overwhelmingly Palestinian' today only because its original Yemenite Jewish residents were driven out by Arab riots in the 1930s.

Two cabinet ministers, two candidates for Jerusalem mayor, the Sephardi chief rabbi of the city and a right-wing US former governor on Wednesday celebrated at a cornerstone ceremony for a heritage center in a former Yemenite synagogue, in overwhelmingly Palestinian Silwan, near the Temple Mount.

Also on hand was a representative of the Moskowitz family, which supports Jewish settlement in Palestinian neighborhoods of the capital.

The building — once the synagogue of Kfar Hashiloah, a village built for poor Yemenite immigrants in the early 1880s and evacuated during Arab riots in the early 20th century — was acquired in 2015 by the right-wing Ateret Cohanim organization, which settles Jews in East Jerusalem.
That was after a long legal battle that culminated in 2015 with a court ordering the Palestinian Abu Nab family living there to leave.

One member of the family still has an apartment in the complex, but the access to it is in the hands of Ateret Cohanim — an issue that is still being contested in the courts.

The Israeli flag flies atop a building which was once a Yemenite synagogue in the mainly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, East Jerusalem. The government is helping to fund the right-wing owners of the building, Ateret Cohanim, to turn into a Yemenite immigration heritage center. (Sue Surkes)
The Culture Ministry is to provide NIS 3 million ($816,000) and the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry NIS 1.5 million ($408,000) toward a $3 million project to establish the heritage center in the former synagogue for the preservation of Yemenite immigrant culture.

A Miami Beach synagogue has pledged to raise half a million dollars, while the US-based Rohr family has helped to fund a religious study center there.
Paying tribute to fellow Likud lawmaker Nurit Koren, who pushed for the project to be funded, and to Ateret Cohanim founder and chairman Matti Dan, whom she called “the greatest of all,” Culture Minister Miri Regev said, “Look around. We are surrounded by Jewish heritage. The archaeologists won’t find a single Palestinian coin here! We have come home.”

Eighty years after the British mandatory police evacuated the Jews to protect them from Arab rioters, the Jewish community returned to the synagogue, bringing with it “a Torah scroll, Torah learning, liturgical songs and the cultural richness of the great, modest, Israel-loving Yemenite people,” she said.

Ze’ev Elkin, the environmental protection minister, who also holds the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio and has announced that he is running for Jerusalem mayor, said, “Just as we are proud to be connected with everything happening in the City of David [another part of Silwan, where Jews associated with the right-wing El Ad organization are creating tourism projects and settling Jews], we are proud to be connecting with the history of the Yemenite immigration here.”

Read article in full 

More about the Yemenite village of Silwan

Monday, August 06, 2018

Film director Moshe Mizrahi dies aged 86

Egyptian-born Moshe Mizrahi, one of the first film directors to explore Sephardi themes in the 1970s, was the only Israeli director to ever win an Oscar award. He has died aged 86. The Times of Israel reports:

Born in Egypt in 1931, Mizrahi moved with his family to Israel in 1946, before setting off to France in the late 1950s to pursue his film career.

 Moshe Mizrahi z"l

After directing a number of movies in France, Mizrahi returned to Israel in the 1970s, where he directed “I Love You Rosa,” his first film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Two more of Mizrahi’s films — “The House on Chelouche Street” and “Madame Rosa” — would also be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, with the latter winning the prize in 1977.

The award made him the first and only Israeli director to ever win an Oscar, though the film was submitted by France.

Mizrahi went on to direct a number of other films and in 2001 was awarded with a lifetime achievement prize from the Israeli Academy of Film and Television.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Tunisia to allow Israeli to take part in chess tournament

 Liel Levitan, 7, will be allowed to compete in an international chess tournament in Tunisia after all. Israel National News reports:

Following pressure, the Tunisian Chess Federation has agreed to allow a 7-year-old Israeli girl to participate in an international tournament in Tunisia.
Tunisian authorities backtracked on their refusal to grant a visa to Liel Levitan for the World School Individual Championships next year in Sousse, France’s National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, said Friday in a statement.

The FIDE World Chess Federation pressured its Tunisian affiliate and the country’s authorities to allow her to compete, according to the report.

Many Arab countries place limitations on Israelis’ representation in sports and cultural events, prompting protests by Israel and professional associations that view it as political interference contrary to international standards on sportsmanship.

Read article in full

Friday, August 03, 2018

Books: The Great Escape from Arab countries

Emeritus professor of government and international affairs at Augustana University (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) Dr Peter Schotten has this lengthy review of Lyn Julius's book Uprooted in Jewish Ideas. Although it cannot hope to replace Sir Martin Gilbert's work In Ishmael's House, both books, he says, should be read by anyone interested in the problem of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

According to Lyn Julius, in her newly published Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight, it is this forced Jewish flight from Arab lands primarily in the twentieth century that constitutes one of the most consequential stories of religious persecution hardly ever told. Obviously, Arab states have not spoken of this phenomenon. But, as the author points out, there has also been relatively little discussion by the Israeli government or by the refugees and their families.

 The author wishes to remedy this omission. As the daughter of Jewish Iraqi refugees, she cares passionately about the topic. Julius is appalled by the general ignorance regarding the history of Jews and religious minorities in Arab lands and equally upset about the widespread acceptance of the progressive account of the Middle East that exclusively focuses upon Israel’s alleged Palestinian victims. Thus, Uprooted is an attempt to both inform the reader about Jewish history in Arab lands while arguing in favor of a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of Northern Africa and Middle East history and politics that affected that relationship. The author is largely successful on both fronts.

Julius' tone is occasionally polemical as she explicates history in the service of refuting the reigning leftist narrative. She adopts the contemporary leftist language of political oppression, lest anyone miss her meaning or her irony. Jews were an indigenous people in what were to become Arab lands. They lived there for a millennium before those lands were conquered by Mohammed in the 7th century. Afterwards, Muslim colonialism became the political norm of Jewish-Arab relationships in Arab lands for approximately a thousand years. When Islamic states made life intolerable for Jews and forced their exile, Julius labels it the Jewish Nakba. Lest anyone miss the import of her words, she also persistently describes the involuntary exile of Jews from Arab lands as a notable instance of ethnic cleansing.

Obviously, Jewish life under a thousand years of Islamic rule in different lands varied widely. Murderous violence and forced slavery represented one extreme; extended periods of Islamic toleration toward Jews amidst their participation in the professions and in government were the high point. The constant was dhimmi status, a kind of second class citizenship that was accorded Jews (and Christians) by Muslim rulers in the name of toleration. Almost everything about this time period proves controversial and Julius cites a variety of interpretations by different authorities. But the author will have no part of the notion that the toleration extended to Jews constituted good or respectful treatment. Peaceful co-existence between the two religions is a myth. Her point-of-view is well captured by her opening quotation at the front of the book. Citing Thomas Paine in The Rights of Man, she writes that toleration "is not the opposite of Intoleration, but is the counterfeit of it" for both "are despotisms."

 Regarding those worst moments in Islamic-Jewish relations, Julius' observations are equally critical. Excepting Stalin, Hitler's and Pol Pot's 20th century genocides, she comments "a comparison between pogroms in the Christian and the Muslim worlds are not easy to make, but Albert Memmi claims that, if you put all the pogroms end to end, you finish up with a picture of violence little different to that perpetuated under Christendom." European colonialism would replace Islamic colonialism beginning in the nineteenth century. It too would profoundly affect the lives of Jews living these Arab lands. Although colonialism has become a term of unqualified opprobrium, Julius supplies a rather different perspective. According to her, the European version somewhat improved the lives of Jews in Arab lands by weakening the dhimmi social structure within the Islamic states they governed. To be sure, the lives of Jews living under such circumstances varied over time from country to country but were always very short of idyllic. The safety and well-being of Jews, as well as Jewish -Arab relations, were simply one of many problems facing European colonial rulers that needed managing in so far as they could not be completely ignored..

 According to Julius, the most important factor defining Jewish-Arab relations through history is Islam's hostility toward other religions and peoples. "Muslim minorities can only be accepted in Arab Muslim society by surrendering their distinctive identity" asserts Julius. Accordingly, these peoples "must cease beings themselves." Generally, the effects of Islam's bigotry can be observed in its historical treatment of oppressed minorities including Berbers, Copts, Assyrians and Kurds. Specifically, in Julius' opinion, the animating cause of Arab-Jewish relations remains Islamic anti-Semitism (i. e. anti-Jewish prejudice). Its persistence holds the key to understanding past and present in the Middle East. It is here where Europe--and particularly European ideas--adversely affected Middle East and North African Jews. In the 20th century, Islamic anti-Semitism became infected with, and ultimately conflated with, European anti-Semitism generally, and Nazi ideology specifically.

"Traditionally, Jews were feminized in the Muslim imagination as being cowardly, submissive and unable to stand up for themselves." But Julius notes this attitudinal transformation had a disconcerting and dangerous effect: "as a result of saturation-levels of media and mosque anti-Semitic brainwashing, these stereotypes have been corrupted and replaced by the European concepts of the demonic, manipulative and all-powerful Jew." Relying upon the scholarship of academics like Jeffrey Herf and especially Matthias Küntzel, Julius emphasizes the great extent and profound effect of the collaboration between Nazi and Arab leadership during World War II. Two individuals are highlighted. Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was widely regarded as the leader of the Arab world. Rabidly anti-Jewish, the Grand Mufti spent World War II collaborating with the Nazis seeking to advance their genocidal agenda. Making common cause with the Nazis and the Grand Mufti also was Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna was another fanatical anti-Semite. During World War II, he helped create a substantial Arab army while glorifying martyrdom as a rationale for violence. According to Julius, both these individuals in numerous ways influenced Arab and Palestinian politics for decades.

 Julius's discussion of the changing face of Islamic anti-Semitism serves to undergird an important conclusion: Zionism was not the cause of Islamic hostility toward Jews in Arab lands. Anti-Semitism, in various forms, preceded Zionist sentiment in those countries. So did adverse living conditions. Nonetheless, Mideast Jews' alleged support of the Zionist cause became another name for traitor as well as an excuse for their persecution in Arab nations, particularly after the 1948 war. Then, as Julius notes, "Jews in Arab lands were victimized purely for sharing the same religion and ethnicity as the Israelis." The 1948 war displaced approximately 700,000 Arab residents. Arab states responded ruthlessly to the lost war and to the newly displaced Arab refugees by undertaking systematic and bold oppressive measures against their Jewish citizens. Their citizenship was stripped, arrests and detentions took place, religious restrictions were imposed, freedom of movement was curtailed, assets were frozen and property seized, employment opportunities were closed off and Zionism was criminalized. Jews, who had left their nations in far smaller numbers before, now fled in astounding numbers. Approximately 850,000 were driven out of their homes. Generally, the more affluent went to Europe and the United States. The other 650,000 or so went to Israel. Today, these Mideast and North African Jews constitute just over half of Israel's Jewish population.

Conversely, many Arab nations at the same time became Judenfrei. In 1948, Algeria had 140,000 Jews; by 2016 there were none. During that same time, Egypt's Jewish population declined from 75,000 to less than 15. Similar figures for Iraq show a reduction from 150,000 Jews to 5. Libya had 38,000 Jews in 1946; today there are no Jews at all there. Syria's Jewish population shrank from 30,000 to less than 15. Tunisia went from 105,000 Jews to 1,000 while Yemen's Jewish population dwindled to 50. Symbolic of all that happened is this fact: in Cairo today, the Swiss, German, Canadian, Dutch, South Korean and Pakistani embassies all occupy the homes of wealthy expelled Jews. Julius simultaneously emphasizes the heroic efforts undertaken by the newly created Jewish state on behalf of its new refugees as well as the formidable cultural and economic challenges the refugees immediately faced. The early days were characterized by remarkable Israeli airlifts and the creation of numerous transit camps consisting of fabric tents and wooden or tin huts. Chaos, poverty and illness in the camps were the norm. Furthermore, the integration of this immigrant population into the Israeli mainstream proved far from seamless. Cultural and class differences were pronounced between the European Jews who had founded Israel and the Jewish refugees who had fled their Arab dominated homelands and brought with them utterly different customs and traditions. Julius quotes one refugee who accurately reflects this mindset: "We left Iraq as Jews and entered Israel as Iraqis."

 These refugees are Julius' people and her cause. They are a victimized group who have been mostly ignored, if not forgotten, by history. No United Nations resolutions have been passed on their behalf. Nor has a right of return or reparations been championed on their behalf. Having become successfully integrated into a thriving Israeli society, the world has deemed their past suffering irrelevant, while Palestinians Arab refugees (and their descendants) are still held to be victims of oppression. Interestingly, Israel gets no credit for its successful social policy success while receiving constant world condemnation for the continued suffering of Palestinian refugees. This inconsistency proves particularly troubling in light of the origin of the area's refugee problem. To that end, Julius writes that two victim populations "arose out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Arab leadership bears responsibility for needlessly causing both Nakbas -- the Jewish and the Arab." Why? Had the Arab leadership accepted the 1947 United Nations Partition Resolution rather than resorting to war then neither Jewish nor Arab refugees would have existed.

 Julius' Uprooted reads like a historical brief dedicated to vindicating the memory of Jewish refugees in Arab lands. She informs or reminds her readers of the importance of her subject while demonstrating that the reigning leftist narrative of unending Israeli persecution of Palestinian refugees is simplistic if not utterly misleading. In this respect, her book performs a valuable educative service.

 When evaluating Julius's work, the vast chronological and geographical scale of her undertaking should be kept in mind. The author's attempt to supply a comprehensible historical account of Jewish life under Islamic rule as background to Jewish refugee problem proves to be a formidable task. This challenge helps explain most of the small annoyances that even a sympathetic reader may feel. Uprooted is organized historically, with each chronological period defined by a specific idea or motif. Still, these two organizational principles do not always neatly fit together, making the book a bit of an uneven read. For example, the myth that grassroots efforts today are able to bring Jews and Palestinians together is criticized early in a chapter dealing largely with the e myth of peaceful and even wholesome coexistence between Jews and Muslims that historically existed in Arab lands. Almost 200 pages later, the subject is revisited with different examples in the book's final chapter, "Myths, Lies and Omissions." More generally, Julius' chapter discussions encompass wide swaths of time and place and it is not always obvious which of these are specifically encompassed by a number of her broad generalizations. Numbers she provides also can be conflicting. In most (but not all) cases, the author acknowledges this by making reference to the different sources from which they derive.

 Unfortunately she usually makes no effort to explain more fully or reconcile such differences. An additional concern is that sourcing in places proves shallow or not authoritative. Finally, there is an occasional confusion or two. For, example, consider Julius' claim that the "theories of Jean-Francois Revel, Michael Foucault and Edward Said hover in the background of many a 'progressive' Westerners' view of the Middle East." Equating Said and Revel appears to be hopelessly mistaken on its face. The only way to rescue this quotation would be If the author is relying on some little known work of Revel. If so, at a minimum, the author owes us at least a citation, if not an explanation.

 Julius acknowledges the academic elephant in the room in a single sentence: "Only a handful of Western historians specialize in the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, and their work rarely penetrates the mainstream, with the possible exception of Sir Martin Gilbert's In Ishmael's House, published in 2010." But Gilbert's work, whose subtitle is "A History of Jews in Muslim Lands" is foundational and I have no doubt Julius relies upon it a great deal, even if that reliance is implicit. Of the two books, Gilbert's is more judicious generally and less condemning of Islam and Islamic anti-Judaism specifically (although it is important to point out that he makes no effort to whitewash it either). On this matter, there is a simple difference of emphasis between the two authors.

However, it is fair to say that Gilbert's In Ishmael's House is much less polemical than is Julius' Uprooted. Furthermore, Gilbert's geographical scope is larger. He discusses a greater number of countries than does Julius (for example, he references Afghanistan and Iran). The development of Gilbert's book tracks historically and therefore is straightforward. He does a masterful job of presenting his ideas clearly and contextually. As might be expected from such a distinguished historian, Gilbert's use of academic sources is exemplary.

 Anyone interested in the problem of Jewish refugees from Arab lands ought to read both these books. Most readers will learn a great deal from them. On the theory that life is short, and many of the readers of this article are not wanting for things to do, it must be said that Julius' Uprooted does not replace Martin Gilbert's In Ishmael's House as the standard work on this subject.

 Still, Lyn Julius' book serves an important purpose at a time when history has become a routine propaganda tool of ideological movements, particularly on the left. Julius demonstrates that the oft-repeated tale of Arab Palestinian suffering at the hands of a racist Israel proves utterly misleading as a comprehensive account of Middle East politics in general, or of Israel in particular. Race was not a factor in the Arab persecution of their Middle East Jewish population. This largely ignored Jewish refugee population had deep ancestral roots in the area and were racially indistinguishable from the Arab governments that dispossessed them.

 Conversely, Jews of all skin colors were welcomed into Israel. And while their integration into Israeli life was full of stumbles and missteps, that nation's effort often was also heroic and inspiring. It turns out that by describing the plight of Jewish refugees at a time when the Middle East was inundated by refugees caused by unnecessary warfare, she has also helped rescue Israel from oft-repeated but utterly irresponsible accusations of colonialism, racism and systematic evil-doing. Here is one more thing to consider. If the debate over the status of Palestinian and Jewish refugees (not to mention the status of Israel's Arab citizens) ultimately points to the merit and worth of Israel as a political experiment, It is no accident that current animus toward Israel unites enthusiasts of political Islam and radical western progressive thought even though they share radically different and fundamentally incompatible notions of what constitutes the good life. What unites them, as has often been pointed out, is a passionate loathing of the West. This is the sense behind the oft quoted Iranian mantra that the United States is the big Satan and Israel is the little Satan. The slogan recognizes that Israel, in many ways is the prototypical western country. It stands as a proxy for western civilization. Israel's foundational political ideas are derived from enlightenment ideas and encompasses a respect for majority rule, individual rights and the rule of law. Additionally, Israel embodies the outward directed modern western mindset of what V. S. Naipaul called the West's "universal society". This state of mind alone seeks to understand and engage the world while exercising "idea of individual responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement."

Simultaneously, Jerusalem today also endures as the West's continuing symbol of religion and revelation. Like Athens, its memory and presence continue to form, inform and energize Western civilization. Little wonder that Israel is so often singled out for condemnation by a postmodern political ideology that rejects the worth of Western Civilization as well as its underlying understanding of reason and revelation as central to human life. This ideological perspective would substitute in their place the primacy of emotion--particularly the emotion of a moral revulsion rooted in the application of identity politics to so-called oppressed peoples. Lyn Julius demonstrates that one possible object of this revulsion--Israel's Middle Eastern Jews--should be understood as a sympathetic people rather than condemned as a blameworthy part of a morally reprehensible state. For that reason alone, she deserves our gratitude.

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Some more reviews of UPROOTED