Friday, September 21, 2018

Jews of Kurdistan: 'afraid to complain'

 There is precious little information on the life of Kurdish Jews before their exodus to Israel, so  Mordechai Zaken's PhD thesis, published by the Hebrew University in 2003, is  valuable reference material. Here we are publishing an extract from his PhD thesis, later published as a book. Part II will follow on Sunday.

A common pattern of Jewish behavior reflecting their fragile position was the lack of response to violence and the reluctance to complain about wrong-doings in order not to fuel an atmosphere of hatred. A British traveler witnessed in 1840, in Arbil, an incident in which a young Shi'ite slapped a respectable Jewish store -owner, cursed him and spat at his face. A local companion explained: "he is only a Jew." The Jew was unable to respond. A Jewish emissary reported that seven Jews were murdered in Arbil within two years and it seemed that the governor did not care, "as if the blood of the Jews is free" and "the Jews are afraid to complain."

 The Jews were the weakest caste in the society and "gradually became the pariahs and outcast, despised and degraded." They were exploited, robbed and murdered by outlaws. Murder of Jews may have been justified by a socio-religious concept of " Kafir- Kuşt ," (Kurd., killing of infidels). The lack of proper, or any, police response and the leniency of both the tribal and judicial system towards murderers of Jews, further show the insignificant value of a Jewish life.

 When a murder of a Jew occurred in the tribal region in remote villages, it would generally lead to the migration of the whole family, which had been in a state of shock and distress, since it became apparent that the agha and the tribal society had failed, in practice, to provide protection. Their trust was exhausted. They would need to seek permission from the agha, as it meant for him loss of future income (in dues and services), and they had to seek permission from the agha under whose jurisdiction they wish to settle. These de facto rules had been gathered from the experience of the frequent migration patterns of rural Jews.

The Jews ’ non-tribal status and social inferiority facilitated acts of abduction either by force or through temptation of young Jewish women by Kurdish men for whom it was not as complicated and dangerous as the abduction of tribal women. Not only could Muslim Kurds marry in theory four wives, they also did not have to pay a dowry for the Jewish wife and her family.

 In retrospect, these abductions were counted as converts into Islam of Jewish women. Therefore, the Jewish communities opposed these abductions. In general, the Jewish communities employed three mechanisms in an attempt to bring back kidnapped Jewish daughters to their families: the first method was the appeal to the local authority (local leaders, police officers and tribal chieftains) for the return of the kidnapped girls; the second method was the establishment of a communal panel of deliberation, through which the Jews would challenge the tribal Kurds involved in an attempt to have them bring the Jewish woman back to her family; and the third method was to allow a period of seclusion for the Jewish woman in question, during which she would contemplate her decision while separated from her Muslim associate and far from his influence, under the supervision and the pressure of a respected Jewish person or family. In Mosul and the surrounding area, Sasson Tzemah, a member of parliament (1932-1951) would press the police and the army to search for the abducted Jewish women. In Aqra, the Jewish family of Khawaja Khinno would act the same.

 Interestingly, in 2011, I was introduced by a new source, through an email correspondence from Turkey which reads (with the necessary editing) as follows:

 I am a journalist from Turkey who has just found out that you have written a significant book regarding Kurdish Jews … . I have realized that I actually have links with the Khawaja Khinno (or Gabbai) family (originally from Aqra). The story, which you are telling in the book, is absolutely the same as what I have been told by my grandmother. My grandmother is a nephew of Khawaja Khinno (Turkish pronunciation: Xace Xino). She has been telling us her personal history and her family's history for many years. She is still alive and is most probably up to 100 years. She was married to a Kurdish man (my grandfather) in her early teen age [years] and moved (from Aqra, Iraq) to Turkey. She therefore has never ever seen any member of her family since then. We too basically, until now, had no idea of finding her family and had no clear knowledge of the family's survival. However, now, through your book, we know a lot. When I told these all to my grandma, she got excited about a possibility of which we could somehow find her family. If I understood correctly, one of her cousins, daughter of Yitzhak Khinno, Salima, is one of your sources in the work, or at least some members of the family were your sources. I would therefore be glad if you could help me find some of the members of the Gabbai family . I will be looking forward to hearing from you Mr. Zaken . Many thanks in advance , Hamza Aktan (Turkey).

Kurdish-Jewish women: abduction a problem

This was a recollection from the past. A young Jewish girl, named Nazê, was kidnapped from her home in Aqra, Iraqi Kurdistan, sometime between 1910 and 1920. In 2005, a grandchild of hers made a film called Nazê in which we learn that she  was tempted or seduced to leave her family and join a Muslim youth, a total stranger. She speaks about the status of her Jewish family (Khawaja Khinno) and their relationships with both officials and with Barzani chieftains. Irfan Aktan, another grandson, wrote a book in 2005 entitled "Nazê, a story of migration" (in Turkish). Interestingly, the quotes of Nazê in the film were identical with the quotes of the members of Khawaja Khinno whom I interviewed during the 1980s and the 1990s (even though there was no contact between the parties since 1920s). Nazê's voice and experience is an important testimony for abduction (via temptation) of Jewish girls by Kurds. In the movie she speaks of her escape while Barzani tribesmen (the patriarchs of Khawaja Khinno have been in close contact with the chieftains of Barzan) are chasing them and trying to trace the abducted Jewish girls (there were two girls).

Read paper in full 

  Mordechai Zaken, “Tribal Chieftains and their Jewish Subjects 
in Kurdistan: 
A Comparative Study in Survival,” 
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2003).

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Remember Baghdad? Mizrahim are in a better place

 Dudu Tassa, one of the new breed of M|izrahi  musicians making their mark on Israel

 Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, for it might make you long to be in a worse place than you happen to be. Rachel Wahba blogs in The Times of Israel:
Romanticizing the Jewish Quarter of Baghdad was the height of stupidity. “Booma” (unwise owl), she chided lovingly. Here we were, in California, in her San Francisco kitchen, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and I was talking about wanting to live where?

Abu Sifain, the Jewish Quarter, was the last resort, should her father’s business fail.

“I remember going there to visit relatives… at the entrance you had to pass a line of blind beggars sitting in their kaka.

“What? Jewish beggars?”

“Of course, lots of poor Jews in Iraq,” she sounded surprised I was so ignorant, but I live in America.

Ever pragmatic, “It’s a good thing it was so hot in Baghdad; it (the feces) dried up quickly,” she added.

“And not only that, where do you think they come first when they come for you?” The Jewish Quarter was the most vulnerable, “…always the poor get it first — we were all sitting ducks in the Farhud, they almost got to us, but luckily we lived in a suburb further out …”

She remembers the screams, “It was our pogrom.”
Even though I’ve heard the story before, it’s always as if I am hearing it for the first time. Rampaging mobs storming the alleys, the dwellings pillaged, the girls raped, the looting, the horror.

“The screams, the screams, they were coming for us…”
Mom never forgave the British for not intervening sooner. “What’s a few Jews to appease an appetite? Let the Arabs take it out on the Jews.”
It took 48 hours of terror before the British, who had a base nearby, gave the order to stop it.

“We went to see after, not a grain of rice left, the plundering was unbelievable… we will never know how many girls and women…thousands of lives ruined.” 
The Jewish Quarter was decimated, its residents broken, Baghdad’s ancient and strong-despite-it-all Jewish community traumatized.

But it took Sami Michael’s brilliantly executed novel, “Victoria,” set in the Jewish Quarter, to cure me of my romantic notions of community, continuity, and connection. I felt transported to a place I would only want to get out of.

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Moroccan version of the Kol Nidrei chant

Tonight, Jews all over the world observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The service that begins Yom Kippur is Kol Nidrei.It heralds 25 hours of prayer and fasting to atone for the individual's sins of the past year.

 The congregation chants a solemn prayer of the same name in Aramaic: "All vows, and prohibitions, and oaths, and consecrations, and konams and konasi and any synonymous terms, that we may vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves, •from the previous Day of Atonement until this Day of Atonement and ...• ♦from this Day of Atonement until the [next] Day of Atonement that will come for our benefit.♦ Regarding all of them, we repudiate them. All of them are undone, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, not in force, and not in effect. Our vows are no longer vows, and our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths. "

Rabbis have always pointed out that the dispensation from vows in Kol Nidrei refers only to those an individual voluntarily assumes for himself alone and in which no other persons or their interests are involved. According to Jewish doctrine, the sole purpose of this prayer is to give protection from divine punishment in case of violation of the vow.
This stirring version is sung by Rabbi Eliyahou Elbaz of Meknes, Morocco.  

Wishing all our readers who are observing Yom Kippur חתימה טובה and well over the fast.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tunisia names four streets after prominent Jews

A Tunisian city where Islamist terrorists struck in 2015 has named four streets for local prominent Jews. The municipality of Sousse, a popular tourist resort, has announced that the streets, in the north of the city, memorialise Claude Sitbon, a lawyer (not to be confused with the historian and sociologist of the same name); Daniel Uzan, a physician who died in 1985; Yvonne Bessis, a midwife; and the late Ichoua Ghouila-Houri, a city developer (who donated the Boujaafar park and a building for the disabled), the news site Kapitalis has reported.

 JTA (via The Times of Israel) reminds us that the official promotion of Tunisian Jewish heritage counters a growing current of Islamist antisemitism:

" In 2015, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack in Sousse that killed 38.

"The Tunisian Association for Support to Minorities, or ATSM, which often flags expressions of anti-Semitism, praised the Sousse municipality’s move and called it “important for encouraging multiculturalism.”

"Last year, Tunisia joined several other Arab countries in banning the film “Wonder Woman,” apparently because its lead character is portrayed by the Israeli film star Gal Gadot. The Jewish-French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who is not Israeli, was greeted during a 2014 visit to Tunisia by dozens of Islamists carrying signs calling on “Levy the Zionist” to leave.

"The invitation to a Tunisian festival in July 2017 of the Jewish comedian Michel Boujenah provoked protests in Tunisia that ATSM said were anti-Semitic. Tunisia has several pending bills, introduced by Islamist and secular nationalists, proposing a blanket boycott on Israel and a ban on any Israelis from entering the country."

A potted history of the Jews of Sousse

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The forgotten Palestinian refugees

 Nobody really knows how many Jews were forced to flee areas of Palestine that became Arab in the 1948 war. According to a new book on the subject, the number could be as high as 70,000. David Shayne reports in the Jerusalem Post: 

70 years ago, war ravaged what was, until May 15, 1948, the British-ruled “Palestine Mandate.” As is common in war, many civilians were uprooted. This well-publicized fact is the heart of the Great Debate over the justice or injustice of Israel’s founding. Arguments rage over the number of Palestinian Arab refugees – anywhere from 300,000 to 800,000 – and the causes of their dispossession.

However, a lesser known fact is that between 10% and 20% of “Palestinian” refugees were Jews. Not the 400,000-800,000 Jews who fled or were driven from Arab countries during the same time, but Palestinian Jews – or Israelis, as they were later called.

I first encountered this surprising fact in Benny Morris’s book 1948, where he puts the number of Jewish refugees at 70,000 but provides little discussion as to why the number is so large.

I asked acquaintances whom I consider to be knowledgeable, how many Jewish refugees the war created and all believed only few hundred to a couple of thousand – considering only the most devastating defeats, like the fall of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc.

I wondered whether Prof. Morris, among Israel’s most valuable and important historians, made a mistake in citing such a high number, or perhaps a typo – may be he meant 7,000?

Enter Dr. Nurit Cohen-Levinovsky, a historian with the Rabin Center and author of Jewish Refugees in Israel’s War of Independence (Hebrew). Her book supports Morris’s claim – she estimates closer to 60,000 Jewish refugees – and provides a broad analysis of the causes and scope of that Jewish flight.

Read article in full

Friday, September 14, 2018

Fund allocation reflects Arab-Israeli conflict

StandWithUs video about the conflict's refugees  After 1948, the US invested funds in a mini-Marshall plan for the Middle East. But while Israel spent the money on housing projects and infrastructure to rehabilitate the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, the Arab states allocated it to UNRWA or just kept it for themselves. The 2008 US Congress resolution to recognise the rights of Jewish refugees squares the circle, argues Kobby Barda in Mida.

Yeshayahu (Si) Kennan was the spokesman for the Israeli delegation to the UN during the Marshall Plan. Kennan’s boss, Ambassador Abba Eban, rejected his proposal to demand from the American administration a parallel plan in the Middle East, arguing that the Arabs would use the money they received against Israel. Kennan then joined the American Zionist Council (AZC) and in this framework began to lobby for the implementation of a similar program in the Middle East. At that time there were about 1.6 million refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East – half of them Jews and half Arabs. Kennan’s desire was for the countries to use grants to rehabilitate the refugees in the countries they came to after the war.

Jewish refugees from Yemen arriving in Israel (Wikipedia)
Encouraged by the success of the Marshall Plan in Europe, the Americans sought to rehabilitate the Middle East by the same means. The Truman administration’s support for the establishment of the State of Israel ( contrary to Marshall’s position) created a sense of responsibility among the administration for the consequences of the declaration of independence and the War of Independence.
Against this backdrop, Kennan’s initiative found a sympathetic ear in Congress and the State Department. 164 members of Congress signed a proposal to carry out the initiative, and in response the Arab countries began to exert counter-pressure. Kennan then harnessed leading economists to persuade Congress that aid to Israel was good not only for Israel but also for the United States.
In September 1951, nearly two years after the establishment of UNRWA, Kennan’s efforts bore fruit: Congress approved $160 million in aid to rehabilitate the region: $68 million was granted to Israel, and the rest were distributed between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.

The Story of the Whole Conflict
The manner in which these funds were distributed is one of those specific cases that in miniature, tell the story of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict: The young State of Israel invested these funds, which came several years ahead of reparations from Germany, in housing development and infrastructure, and in the tremendous effort to absorb the Jews who were escaping en-masse from Arab countries. In this way, Israel acted similarly to the European countries’ handling of the American aid funds that came from the Marshall Plan.
On the other hand, the Arab states allowed these funds to be swallowed up within UNRWA’s overall budget, or perhaps just kept it for themselves. Schwartz and Wilf’s book describes the mechanism used by the Arabs against the American administration: they allowed UNRWA to provide humanitarian aid to refugees and agreed in principle to huge projects for infrastructure construction that would advance their countries alongside the rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees. In practice, the Arab governments were dragging their feet and preventing reconstruction from happening. The motive was to leverage the plight of the refugees as a means of delegitimizing the State of Israel. In retrospect, then, it appears that Abba Eban was right in opposing the plan.

The UNRWA monster has become a petri dish in which anomalies have multiplied as far as the treatment of refugees goes: Palestinian refugee status is inherited, UNRWA itself is not working to rehabilitate the refugees but only involved in humanitarian aid, and a large majority of its workers are Palestinians themselves. UNRWA has become a decisive factor in perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather than in solving it.

In April 2008, a month before Israel’s 60th Independence Day, there were first signs of an American awakening: in the face of the “unquestionable rights” of the Palestinians, Congress decided to grant identical rights to the Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries. Congress instructed the president to determine that the rehabilitation of the refugees in their places is the way to solve the problem of the conflict in the Middle East, and the “refugees” refers to people who fled all Middle Eastern countries during the 1948 war.

The Trump administration’s decision to cease funding for UNRWA looks like closing a circle. Time will tell whether the move will succeed, but if this is indeed the case, it can be assumed that this is a significant step towards quelling the end of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Read article in full

For a sweet New Year go straight to Brooklyn

 How better to start off a sweet New Year than with a mouthful of sweet pastries from Mansoura, a Heliopolis (Cairo) pastry shop transplanted to Brooklyn and catering to the palates of Syrian and Egyptian Jews. However, Point of No Return has it on good authority that since Mansoura stopped using samna (buffalo milk) or butter so that desserts could be eaten after meat or chicken meals,  the taste has suffered, but  its ka3aks,  apricot paste rolls with pistachios, rolled konafa with pistachios and Egyptian bassboussa remain second to none. Feature in the New York Times (with thanks: Viviane, Alain):

For nearly six decades, Jews from near and far — especially those of Egyptian and Syrian heritage — as well as gentiles who appreciate a good pistachio treat —have flocked to Mansoura Pastries on Kings Highway. The kosher shop, with its glass counters of chocolate-covered orange peels and date-filled cookies called ma’amoul, is especially popular during the Jewish holidays.
Benjamin Douek, 68, an investment banker, trekked there recently from Scarsdale to pick up shortbread-like graybeh with his wife, Bunny, 66. He has known about the pastry shop since childhood. “Growing up in South Carolina, my father used to talk about Mansoura,” he said, “from the old country,” referring to the bakery’s previous iteration in Cairo.

Ms. Mansoura packs up an order of knafeh, described by one regular customer as “some of the best he’d ever tasted in New York.” (Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times)

At the front counter, Josiane Mansoura, 63, an owner, traced the history of the family business, all the while segmenting rows of glistening baklava. The ancestors of her late husband, Alan, ran a bakery in Aleppo called Mansoura during the 18th and 19th centuries, she said. By 1910, Alan’s grandfather had moved to Cairo and had opened another Mansoura, a bakery-turned-cafe, which would count King Farouk among its clientele.

In the 1950s, as animosity toward Jews grew in Egypt, the family fled to Paris, later settling in Brooklyn in 1961. There they planted their Mansoura flag, yet again. It would soon become a fixture in the burgeoning Sephardic neighborhoods around Ocean Parkway. Today, Ms. Mansoura and her sons Jack, 29, and David, 41, can be found sweating in between a FireMixer and sheet pan racks, shaping and cutting sweets like Turkish delight and basbousa, an orange blossom-tinged semolina cake.

Jack Mansoura delivers an order to a customer’s car in advance of Rosh Hashanah. (Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times)

“We make only what people like,” Ms. Mansoura said. “Rich stuff.”
These flavors were what Aviv Mosovich, 45, sought out when he first moved to Brooklyn from Israel 14 years ago, nostalgic for home.
“She uses the right products,” said Mr. Mosovich, a private chef, about Ms. Mansoura’s handiwork. Retrieving a package of cheese sambousek (small pies) from the wheezing refrigerator, Mr. Mosovich joked, “I don’t say good things for free stuff.”
The shop has customers all over the world. Ms. Mansoura can be found chatting on the phone in some combination of English, Hebrew, French or Arabic, scribbling orders for, say, a wedding in Argentina, or a medical conference in Minnesota.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cairo community marks Rosh Hashana

 Gentiles will have outnumbered Jews at the Rosh Hashana service at the Adly St synagogue in Cairo this year: seven elderly Jewish ladies comprise the Jewish community, under the leadership of Magda Haroun. Report in Egyptian Streets (with thanks: Viviane):

The ceremony was attended by the head of the Egyptian Jewish community Magda Haroun and members of the community, as well as the Egyptian “Drop of Milk” Association.

According to online magazine Manteqeti, a number of public figures, including Dr. Mohamed Abul-Ghar, writer Amina Shafiq, the writer and novelist Ashraf Ashraf Ashmawi, the French Ambassador to Egypt and the Ambassador of Singapore also attended.

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Why Rachel Shabi's 'alliance of colour' will go nowhere

Well hello again, Rachel Shabi.

Our token Mizrahi Corbynista has been gracing the columns of the Guardian as a  pundit commentating on local politics. But on the question of the antisemitism rampant in the far-left of the UK Labour party, a note of anguish has been creeping into our Shabi's writings.
Rachel Shabi

In response to a Labour centrist MP's charge that Labour is 'institutionally racist', her latest piece acknowledges that antisemitism is a real problem in Jeremy Corbyn's faction. What about anti-Zionism? Is there such a thing as antisemitic anti-Zionism? 'Zionism is both racist and anti-racist', she fence-sits unhelpfully, despite having written a book portraying Mizrahim as victims of Israel's Ashkenazi establishment.

She finds the view common among leftwing ideologues  that Jews are 'white' allies of the Christian West to be wrong. "We are a racialised minority' she protests.  She herself is a Mizrahi Jew of Iraqi origin.

Her answer is to start a Jewish-black-Asian-Muslim alliance that would relaunch Jews as 'people of colour'. This alliance is not based on shared Judeo-Christian values. 'If there is a historic sharing of values it is a Jewish-Muslim one,' she writes.

" Commonly but by no means exclusively used by the far right as a way of excluding Islam, this Judeo-Christian tradition is a surprise to those who recall that the deadly depictions of Jewish people as responsible for killing Christ or drinking the blood of babies came out of Christian Europe. Or that Jews and Muslims enjoyed the centuries-long creative coexistence of a Golden Age in Spain – until Christian armies rolled up and expelled both communities in 1492. Or that Jews living in Arab and Muslim lands did not suffer the regular pogroms and persecutions inflicted upon their co-religionists in Christian Europe during the same period. If there is a historic sharing of values, it is a Muslim-Jewish one." 

Here Shabi indulges in 'dhimmi denial' while trotting out the hoary and simplistic myth of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in medieval Golden Age Spain. The status of Jews in Spain was precarious, and expulsions of Jews by the Muslim fundamentalist Almoravids and Almohades did occur. (Christian armies did not simply 'roll up' in 1492, but the Reconquista had begun centuries earlier. )

Shabi's new alliance 'of colour' will go nowhere unless it admits that   Arabs/Muslims  could be antisemites, oppressors, colonialists and slave-traders. But that would mean taking a stance against the 'politically-correct', anti-western orthodoxy of our times.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Iran sends Rosh Hashana greetings to Jews

Along with Presidents Putin and Erdogan, Iran's Foreign Minister has sent greetings to Jews on the occasion of Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year. Yet Israel and Iran have clashed in Syria. A tweet from Mohammad Javad Zarif was accompanied by photos of Iranian Jews worshipping in a synagogue, underlying the assumption that Judaism is merely a religion.  The Times of Israel reports:

With one designated member of parliament, Iran’s Jewish community is one of three officially recognized religious minorities. Armenian Christians have two designated MPs, while Assyrian-Chaldeans and Zoroastrians have one each.
Still, many Iranian Jews complain they are not treated equally under the law. In July an Iranian court overturned a ban on religious minorities standing in municipal polls.

 Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Zarif’s wishes come after a year of heightened tensions between Jerusalem and Tehran that saw the largest ever direct clash between Israeli and Iranian forces and Israeli agents brazenly steal Iran’s nuclear archive — material that proves, according to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the regime has lied when claiming it has not sought to build a nuclear weapons arsenal and that it intends to resume its pursuit of nuclear weapons when it can.
In May, some 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military bases by Iranian forces from southern Syria with Israeli jets then targeting numerous Iranian-controlled sites across Syria.

The Israeli army said the initial missile barrage was carried out by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Forces. This appeared to be the first time that Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran, which generally operates through proxies.

In response, Israel launched an extensive retaliatory campaign, striking suspected Iranian bases throughout Syria for hours following the initial Iranian bombardment.

Senior Iranian officials have relentlessly encouraged the destruction of Israel, and Iran finances, arms and trains terror groups on Israel’s borders.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also sent Rosh Hahsanah greetings to the Jewish people and agreed to meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon after the holidays.

Read article in full

 Karmel Melamed slams western media who are eager to do Iran's bidding by portraying Iran's Jews as happy and peaceful:

 USA Today's report on Iran's Jews is both inaccurate and irresponsible (Jewish Journal)

Every so often the when the Iranian regime’s public image in the West has taken a hit, the regime’s leadership loves to invite various Western media outlets to Iran in order to parade members of the Jewish community in front of them in an effort to bolster their true negative image as an anti-Semitic repressive regime.  The regime’s Intelligence Ministry has hand-picked leaders of the Jewish community in Iran telling the Western reporters that Iran is a supposed a “safe and peaceful place” for Jews to live in. Unfortunately in the past Western media outlets such as the Guardian in England, the Forward in New York, the New York Times, CNN or NBC News have either been naïve enough to believe and report these lies, or just complicit in spreading them. Again such has been the case with USA Today recently publishing an article claiming the Jews of Iran feel “safe and respected”. As an Iranian Jewish journalist who has been covering Iranian Jewry worldwide for nearly two decades, I feel compelled to expose USA Today’s inaccurate and irresponsible reporting on Iran’s Jews.

Read article in full 

What is interesting here is that Al-Bawaba - an Arab-owned medium based in Jordan - is using the status of the Iranian-Jewish community as a tool to lambast the Iranian regime. 

Are Iranian Jews proud or frightened? (Al Bawaba)

 Given that he has been repeatedly re-elected by Iran’s Jewish community, one should not dismiss Morsadegh’s words outright. But nor can his rosy declarations of Iranian Jewish life be taken for granted. Iranian Jews are largely left in peace by the regime because the government trusts them not to protest. But there is justifiable suspicion that Jews keep quiet not because they don’t have grievances with the regime, but because they know that the consequences of expressing them would be dire. At a time when Israeli-Iranian relations are best described as hateful, it would be all too easy for ruthless parliamentarians to make Persian Jews a target. 

Read article in full

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Morocco's shrines to famous rabbis

Rabbi David Kadoch, an eminent Moroccan rabbi

The period of prayer, introspection and  atonement leading up to Rosh Hashana, which begins tonight, is called Selichot (forgiveness). Here is a clip of a Selichot chant according to the Moroccan tradition. The video is interesting as it criss-crosses the country showing famous rabbis' shrines in Morocco. These are visited by Muslims as well as Jews.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Sephardi recipes for a sweet New Year

 On Sunday Jews celebrate the start of the Rosh Hashana, the 5779th year since 'the creation of the world'. It is tradition to eat sweet foods to herald a happy, healthy and prosperous year.  Sephardi custom can draw on a rich selection of tasty dishes. Here are some suggestions from JIMENA. Wishing all readers who are celebrating Shana tova u'metuka! 



Zucca Sfranta in Forno (Baked Mashed Squash)
Moroccan Butternut Squash Chickpea Soup
Levana Cooks
Pumpkin Borekas
The Boreka Diary
Pastelicos With Meat and Rice Filling
The Boreka Diary
Black Eye Pea Stew imgres
Katherine Romanow for Jewish Women’s Archive
Keftes De Prasa and Keftes de Espinaca, Turkish Leek and Spinach Croquettes
Gilda Angel for The Forward

Main Course

False Mahshi: Layered Swiss Chard, Beets, Rice and Beef
Joan Nathan for New York Times
Moroccan-style lamb shanks
Danino family recipe adapted for Chicago Tribune 
Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts, and Honey
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for Epicurious


Khoresht Fesenjan (Persian Pomegranate Walnut Stew)
My Jerusalem Kitchen
Dried Fruit Couscous. Meat and Poultry Variations
Levana Cooks
Braised Short Rib Mujadara
Alon Shaya for Tasting Table


Chorosht’e Be (Quince Stew)
Reyna Simnegar for Epicurious
Sephardic Jeweled Rosh Hoshanah Rice
May I Have That Recipe?
Prassa Quajado, Leek and Potato Bake
The Boreka Diary
Honeyed Carrots and Roasted Chickpeas with Tahini
Tami Ganeles-Weiser for My Jewish Learning


Travados (Almond-filled, Honey drenched crescents)
Stella’s Cookbook
Apple Tarts with Goat Cheese and Honey
My Jerusalem Kitchen
Persian Saffron Pudding
Tori Avey
Pistachio Biscotti
Boreka Diary
Honey Cake Classic
Sarina’s Sephardic Cuisine

Recipes for breaking the Yom Kippur Fast

Avgolemono (Egg and Lemon Soup), Besce Al’Ebraica (Fish – Italian Jewish Style), Djadja Zetoon (Moroccan Style Lemon Chicken with Olives), Zucca Disfatta (Pumpkin Puree)
Linda Morel for JTA
Meme Suissa’s Moroccan Harira Soup
David Suissa for Jewish Journal
Sephardic Fish in Tomato Sauce (Pescado Helado)
Katherine Romanow for Jewish Women’s Archive

Read article in full

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Jewish refugees 'were lucky to be alive'

Concern over antisemitism in the British Labour party  is leading to some surprising revelations and articles, such as this one in The Times by convert to Judaism Stephen King, whose usual beat is Economics. (With thanks: Lily, Annie, Avril)
Stephen King

My mother-in-law was born in Baghdad to a Jewish mother who had grown up in Egypt. My mother-in-law moved to the British Mandate in Palestine in the early 1930s. My father-in-law was also born in Iraq — in his case, Basra — but spent his formative years at an English school in Mumbai. He then came to England before heading to Israel, where he met and married my mother-in-law. A few years later he returned to England with wife and first child in tow.

The specific reasons behind my mother-in-law’s family’s journey to the Mandate have been lost in the sands of time, but their departure from Iraq was ultimately repeated by thousands upon thousands of other Arab Jews. In the 1920s, the decade in which my in-laws were born, the population of Baghdad was about one-third Jewish. There were, remarkably, well over 800,000 Jews living across the Arab world as a whole.

They upped sticks for a variety of reasons. Some were enthusiastic Zionists. Others were fearful of rising support in the Arab world for Hitler and his henchmen. Many left because local attitudes towards Jews had considerably worsened.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to violent pogroms, partly a response to the growing clash between Arabs and Jews over Palestine. Things became much worse, however, after Israeli independence in 1948, an event that — too often forgotten — led to tragedies on both sides of the conflict: Jewish enclaves all over the Middle East and north Africa, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old, vanished almost overnight. Of the Arab Jews who headed to Israel, many did so as reluctant refugees. The rulers of the lands they had fled had confiscated their possessions. Often, the refugees were lucky to be alive.

My mother-in-law was Iraqi, of Egyptian parentage, but also a Jew, a Palestinian, an Israeli and, finally, an Englishwoman. Born in Baghdad, she’s buried in Bushey, Hertfordshire. In theory, she could have been attacked by European racists for hailing from Iraq; criticised by English nationalists for having a Middle Eastern accent; called out by antisemites because she was Jewish; treated as a second-class citizen by Ashkenazi Jews from Europe who frowned upon Sephardim from Arab lands; and condemned by Palestinian Arabs for being a “settler’’. More than anything else, however, she was a human being, someone who eventually made a home for her family in the UK, a country she loved for its tolerance.

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Telegraph : 'Jews are only safe because of Israel'

For perhaps the first time in a mainstream British newspaper, the narrative of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who found refuge from persecution and death in the Jewish state, is used as a moral argument against the anti-Zionism of the hard left. Column by Allister Heath in the Telegraph:

I’m a Zionist, dear reader, and I cannot understand how any mainstream politician in Britain today could not be. I find the fact that so many on the extreme Left and at the top of the Labour Party now routinely describe themselves as anti-Zionists to be not just baffling but absolutely horrifying. The implications of their ideology fill me with dread, and the fact that the Labour Party has now adopted, with a key caveat, the international definition of anti-Semitism resolves very little.

 Allister Heath: 'it is horrifying to be anti-Zionist'

Zionism involves accepting a simple proposition: the Jewish people should have their own country in the historic Land of Israel, from where they were expelled all those years ago. Zionism is not a programme for government; it is neither “Left-wing” or “Right-wing”. Apart from agreeing that there should be Jewish national self-determination in a viable, secure homeland in Israel, Zionists disagree on everything else, including on where borders should be drawn. Plenty believe that Palestinians have been very badly treated.

It was one thing to be an anti-Zionist in 1896, when Theodore Herzl published Der Judenstaat, launching the modern Zionist movement; or in 1898, when Emile Zola wrote J’accuse in defence of a Jewish officer set up by the French establishment; or even in 1917, when Lord Balfour issued his declaration officially supporting “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

Israel didn’t exist then, even though tens of thousands of Jewish refugees had already fled to Palestine. Some were even tempted by alternative locations, including Uganda, or by the view that America was the real promised land, despite the fact that Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the Western Wall are to be found in Jerusalem.

In fact, in the early 20th century, many Jews were opposed to Zionism, despite the pogroms and ambient anti-Semitism; the Holocaust proved these anti-Zionists catastrophically wrong but it was, at the time, perfectly legitimate to debate such issues.

But once Israel was created in 1948, following a vote by the UN General Assembly, anti-Zionism became either obsolete or an entirely different, malign proposition. The original debate is over: Israel now exists. Being a Zionist today thus means advocating the survival of Israel, a prosperous country of 8.5 million that has just turned 70. Being an anti-Zionist must therefore entail reversing this, seeking to undermine Israel to such an extent that it ceases, for all intents and purposes, to exist in any recognisable form, with all of the calamitous implications that this implies for its Jewish citizens, given the hostility of most of its Arab neighbours.

To be clear, those who rail endlessly against “the Zionists” aren’t merely demanding a two-state solution (a goal that most Israelis and all Western democracies rightly support), better treatment for Palestinians or even lobbying for a Left-wing party to win the Israeli elections: all of that would be compatible with Zionism. No, what today’s anti-Zionists are committed to is far more radical and extreme, which is why Left-wing Israeli politicians have fallen out with the Corbynites.

The hard-Left wants to dismantle the only truly democratic nation state in the region and, one way or the other, force the Jewish people, once again, into minority status, subsuming them into some greater, antagonistic regional autocracy. There would no longer be Jewish self-government, a majority Jewish state: the Zionist interlude would be over.

Imagine the implications of such a “one-state” solution and what would happen to Israel’s 6.5 million Jews under any realistic version of such a scenario: that is why anti-Zionism is such a shocking ideology, and why anybody in Labour who subscribes to it should be ashamed of themselves. Anti-Zionism of the sort propounded by the hard Left is racism of the worst kind: obsessed with delegitimising the world’s only Jewish country (and no other), in the full knowledge that its existence is what protects its people from persecution, misery and even death. How is that not anti-Semitic?

Jewish minorities in North Africa and the Middle East suffered immensely over the past 100 years, and are only safe today because of Israel’s existence. There were regular riots and outbreaks of murderous violence long before the rise of fascism in Europe, and it got much worse during the Second World War and its aftermath.

In Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab World Vanished Overnight, Lyn Julius recounts how almost the entire Jewish populations of North Africa and the Middle East were ethnically cleansed, partly in retaliation for the creation of Israel, even though they had been settled for thousands of years. Some 850,000 Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews were forced to leave, with the vast majority moving to Israel. So much for the idea that Israel is racist and that Jewish Israelis are all “white colonial settlers”, a claim that is hideously offensive as well as wrong on all counts.

Jeremy Corbyn's statement to the Labour NEC this week said that it should not be deemed “anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist"

There were 100,000 Jews in Tunisia during the Second World War; today there are barely 2,000. In Egypt, there were 80,000 Jews a century ago; now there are just a handful. The same happened in Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and everywhere else across the region. Yet in the hard-Left’s world-view, these refugees don’t seem to count. Why?

The reality is that Israel is the best place in the region to be a minority. Why do the Corbynites not care about the massive exodus of Christians from Iraq in the 2000s, or the fate of the Kurds, or the Baha’is in Iran and Yemen? Or the massacres in Syria, which amount to the worst crimes against humanity in recent history? Or, more generally, the hideous, never-ending violations of human rights across the region, and the fact that so many Muslims have been murdered by governments and the likes of Isil in recent years? Why do they only seem to care about Israel?

Why did Jeremy Corbyn’s statement to Labour’s NEC, which was rejected, include a passage stating that it shouldn’t be deemed “anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact”? What does the hard Left imagine a triumph of anti-Zionism would look like?

If Labour really wanted the best for the Middle East, it would return to its Zionist roots and dedicate all of its energy to seeking a genuine, workable peace and a two-state solution. Until then, it doesn’t deserve even the faintest whiff of power.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2018

A Tunisian Jew's tale

Yesterday, I met a Tunisian Jew now living in France.

Joseph H told me his story. His family left Tunisia at the time of the Bizerte crisis in 1961. His family did not have French nationality, and his is the only branch of his family not to be living in Israel (The Tunisian Jews arriving in the early 1960s were sent to Beersheva).

The port city of Bizerte, until 1961 an important French naval base

When the Bizerte crisis broke out, Jews were caught up in the conflict between the French and the Tunisian Muslims who wanted to expel the French from their naval base. There were about 1,000 Jews living in Bizerte at the time. Soon they were accused of collaborating with the French and threatened with violence.

The French government was ready to evacuate all their nationals from Bizerte, including the Jews who had French citizenship. But it was due to the powers of persuasion of Colonel Uzi Narkiss that the French  eventually agreed to include  300 (stateless, or)  Jews of Tunisian nationality in their rescue operation. (Click here to read the full account).

Joseph H's family let the country with nothing. The refugees were transported to the transit camp at Camp d'Arenas in Marseille. They had every intention of continuing their journey to Israel.

Even though Joseph's father was not allowed to take any assets out of Tunisia, he had managed to send a small sum of money in advance out to relatives in Bordeaux, France to pay for the onward journey. He went to retrieve what was his, but was told there was no money for him.

And so Joseph's family was forced to settle in France. It was a blessing in disguise for them, as they were spared some of the hardships that confronted new immigrants to Israel.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Congressmen write to Trump about archive

Three members of Congress have written to President Trump 'strongly objecting' to the Iraqi-Jewish archive returning to Iraq. Four members of the Senate have already introduced a bill to this effect. Israel Hayom reports:

Child's primer found in the archive (NARA)

Three members of Congress – Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), Daniel M. Donovan Jr. (R-NY) and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) – recently addressed a letter to President Donald Trump demanding that he prevent the documents from being returned to Iraq later this year.
“In 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters, U.S. forces in Iraq found a trove of Jewish artifacts,” the letter reads. “The U.S. rescued these precious documents and brought them to the United States. … We strongly object to these documents being returned.”
The three lawmakers said that although “they respect the right of any nation to have its rightful cultural and historical artifacts returned to it. … In this case, the return of these treasures to the custody of the Iraqi government would be extremely inappropriate.”

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Monday, September 03, 2018

Iraqi-Jewish refugees put their case on radio

The decision of the Trump administration to cut US funding to the agency dedicated to the care of Palestinian 'refugees' has provoked lively debate - not least on Maajid Nawaz's show on LBC radio on 1 September.

Maajid Nawaz

Maajid introduces the show by applauding the Trump decision, yet expressing misgivings that the demise of UNWRA would have a destabilising effect on an already unstable region.

The first caller to join the debate is Salman of Mill Hill (1:21 into the programme). Salman is an Iraqi Jew whose uncle's brother-in-law was executed in Basra by Saddam Hussein. He puts the case for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries: where is the fairness, he asks?

At 1:25 Niran from Edgware also rings the show. She mentions that there were almost a million Jewish refugees. No other set of refugees in any other conflict had an UNWRA or any other body to care for them, she says.They were some 52 million refugees since 1948.

Listen to programme

Sunday, September 02, 2018

UNWRA and the Jews

The news that the US is no longer funding UNWRA (the UN Works and Relief Agency) should remove one of the major obstacles to settling  the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. UNWRA has been perpetuating the delusion that the Palestinians are in transit to their permanent home in Israel and that one day they will return. If the ‘refugees’ come under the umbrella of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the focus will be on rehabilitation and resettlement in their host countries. Jewish refugees can serve as a model, writes Lyn Julius in The Times of Israel: 

Jewish refugees fleeing areas conquered by the Arab Legion in 1948. Some 3,000 Jews fled East Jerusalem. 
It is not generally known that UNWRA was established with the aim of helping refugees on both sides of the conflict.

According to Don Peretz (Who is a Refugee?)  initially UNRWA defined a refugee “as a needy person who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” This definition included some 17,000 Jews who had lived in areas of Palestine taken over by Arab forces during the 1948 war and about 50,000 Arabs living within Israel’s armistice frontiers. Israel took responsibility for these individuals, and by 1950 they were removed from the UNRWA rolls leaving only Palestine Arabs and a few hundred non-Arab Christian Palestinians outside Israel in UNRWA’s refugee category.

At the time there was no internationally recognised definition of what constituted a refugee. In 1951,  The UN Refugee Convention agreed the following definition:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

This definition certainly applies to the 850,000 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Arab countries, synagogue burnings, arrests and riots. Returning to these countries would have put – and still does -their lives at risk.
The burden of rehabilitating and resettling the 650,000  Jewish refugees who arrived in Israel was shouldered by the Jewish Agency and US Jewish relief organisations, such as the Joint Distribution Committee. They were shunted into transit camps or ma’abarot. The conditions were appalling.

From an early stage in the conflict, the UN was co-opted by the powerful Arab-Muslim voting bloc to skew its mandate and defend the rights of only one refugee population – the Palestinians. The UN dedicated an agency, UNWRA, to the exclusive care of Palestinian refugees.There are ten UN agencies solely concerned with Palestinian refugees. These even define refugee status for the Palestinians explicitly: one that stipulates that status depends on ‘two years’ residence’ in Palestine.The definition makes no mention of ‘fear of persecution’ nor of resettlement. Palestinian refugees are the only refugee population in the world, out of 65 million recognised refugees, permitted to pass on their refugee status to succeeding generations, even if they enjoy citizenship in their adoptive countries. It is estimated that the current population of Palestinian ‘refugees’ is 5,493, million. Instead of resettlement, they demand ‘repatriation’, an Israeli red line. (This begs the question: why would any Palestinian wish to return to an evil, ‘apartheid’ Israel?)

In contrast to the $17.7 billion allocated to the Palestinian refugees, no international aid has been earmarked for Jewish refugees. The exception was a $30,000 grant in 1957 which the UN, fearing protests from its Muslim members, did not want publicised. The grant was eventually converted into a loan and paid back by the American Joint Distribution Committee, the main agency caring for Jews in distress.

Yet on two occasions the UN did determine that Jews fleeing Egypt and North Africa were bona fide refugees. In 1957, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, August Lindt, declared that the Jews of Egypt who were ‘unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of the government of their nationality’ fell within his remit. In July 1967, the UNHCR recognised Jews fleeing Libya as refugees under the UNHCR mandate.

Needless to say, no Jew still defines himself as a refugee. Despite the initial hardships, they are now all full citizens of Israel and the West. As such, they are a model for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in their host countries or in a putative state of Palestine alongside Israel.

For any peace process to be credible and enduring, the international community would be expected to address the rights of all Middle East refugees, including Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries. 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. As the human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler observes: ‘Put simply, if the Arab leadership had accepted the UN Partition Resolution of 1947, there would have been no refugees, Arab or Jewish.'

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