Friday, December 14, 2018

18 groups petition Pompeo not to restrict import of Jewish items

Seventeen groups representing Jews from Arab Countries have joined JIMENA the San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes Jewish culture of the Middle East and North Africa,  to co-sign letter urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make sure Jewish heritage in the Middle East and North Africa is respected. Jewish Journal reports:

Dar al-Bishi synagogue in Tripoli, Libya

The letter, which concerns agreements made by the U.S. with other countries in order to prevent looting and theft of cultural heritage, asks Pompeo to exclude Jewish artifacts from the agreements, saying they don’t really belong to those countries’ governments. “

The signing of memoranda are based on the false premise that property confiscated from Jews when they fled or were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries constitutes the national heritage of these countries,” JIMENA director Sarah Levin said in an e-mail to J. JIMENA is concerned about important objects of Jewish heritage — from Torah cases to prayer books — left behind as Jews fled countries in which they were persecuted following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and says the State Department agreements deny Jews access to their own past.

“There are estimates that in today’s current values Jewish refugees were forced to leave behind six billion dollar’s worth of private and communal property and we are committed to pursuing justice for these losses,” she normal; line-height: The letter was co-signed by organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the World Jewish Congress North America. It calls on Pompeo to ensure “that a policy is in place that protects Jewish and Christian heritage by explicitly excluding them from any import restrictions and reject any stateclaims to communal or individual property."

Read article in full

Full text of letter:

Dear Secretary Pompeo,
On behalf of the undersigned Jewish organizations we are writing to encourage the State Department and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to explicitly recognize the rights of Jewish and minority heritage when negotiating future cultural property agreements with countries in North Africa and the Middle East. During the 20th century, 850,000 indigenous Jews from the region were ethnically-cleansed or forced to flee lands their ancestors lived in for over two-thousand years. Virtually all of their personal and communal property was confiscated. The dispossession and denationalization of nearly one million Jewish refugees was done under the color of law and today there are very few Jews remaining in most of these countries.
The State Department has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between the United States and other governments that deny Christians and Jews from Arab countries the right to their historic heritage. The Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was enacted to deter the looting of archeological sites by enacting temporary import restrictions on significant cultural items as part of a multilateral effort.  Unfortunately, over time these restrictions have expanded beyond both the law’s intent and its legal authority.
We recognize the importance of these MOU agreements in deterring the pillaging of archaeological and ethnological materials. However, an additional goal of these agreements, as noted in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, is to, “increase international access to cultural property.” This has a particular relevance with regard to Jewish heritage, which encompasses both moveable (e.g., Torah scrolls, ritual objects, libraries, communal registers) assets and immovable (e.g., synagogues, cemeteries, religious shrines) assets. Regrettably, it is not safe – and in many cases forbidden by national law – for Jewish refugees from Arab countries to return to the countries that exiled them.
On July 31st, 2018, during a public hearing at the Department of State on the Request of the Government of the People’s Republic of Algeria for U.S. import restrictions on virtually the entire cultural heritage of Algeria, representatives of exiled Middle Eastern Jews urged the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the President to withhold these import restrictions. Algeria has failed to meet the criteria set for restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act. It would be unconscionable for the United States to give the Algerian government authority and control over the property of its oppressed and exiled Jewish and Christian citizens.

As MOU agreements demand that the governments themselves show they are taking measures to preserve and protect the heritage in their own countries, North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Algeria, requesting MOUs should be asked to present an inventory of remaining Jewish moveable and non-movable patrimony and an account of what they are actively doing with respect to the care of synagogues, cemeteries and other sites and items of Jewish and Christian heritage.
The recent statement by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, Joan Polashick, that the State Department is working on an additional five MOUs with Middle Eastern and North African nations makes it essential that a policy is in place that protects Jewish and Christian heritage by explicitly excluding them from any import restrictions and rejecting any state claims to individual and communal property.
We ask that the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Heritage adheres to the limitations set by Congress under the Cultural Property Implementation Act by denying broad, excessive import restrictions to nations that have neither valued nor cherished the ancient heritage of Jewish, Christian, and other minority peoples. We  further request that all future MOUs from the region include provisions that list and name specific Jewish and Christian items to be excluded from the restricted list of items. Such items include: Torah scrolls, Torah cases, Jewish prayer books, Jewish manuscripts, religious ceremonial articles, and all Jewish ritual and prayer materials that include Hebrew inscriptions or references to original Jewish owners – whether they be individuals or Jewish institutions.
It is more important than ever for the United States to stand in solidarity and defense of Christian, Jewish and other religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa, to ensure that these living communities are not deprived of their rich cultural heritage. Thank you for your attention.  We look forward to remaining in communication with the State Department on this crucial issue.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Egypt to invest in renovation of its 'Jewish heritage'

 First the good news: Egypt is to invest millions in the restoration of crumbling synagogues. (Of the 13 synagogues in Cairo, only three are in use: the Ben Ezra, Shaare Shamayim in Adly St, and the Karaite synagogue). The not so good news is that moveable Jewish artefacts are also being declared the property of the Egyptian government.

My comment: while the restoration of synagogues is a welcome move, Jewish organisations outside Egypt will have no stake in the project, and therefore no say in how the restoration is undertaken. It must also be emphasised that several synagogues and their contents were private family property abandoned by  owners who were forced to flee. These owners never gave their consent to an Egyptian state takeover.   Jewish artefacts, which were the property of the community or of Jewish individuals,    are being appropriated to boost tourism.  In addition, the state sets a worrying precedent by asserting an unlimited  right to the  property of Egyptian Jews outside Egypt (while denying the right of Egyptian Jews abroad to access civil registers). Point of No Return has reported that Magda Haroun, the  Cairo Jewish leader, has called for four paintings in the Louvre belonging to an Egyptian Jew who died in WWII to be 'returned' to Egypt. Jewish community leaders  abroad have called the demand 'outrageous' and crazy'.

Inside the Ben Ezra synagogue, one of the few still functioning in Cairo

Israel National News quotes a report in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper:

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi will allocate $71 million for the renovation of synagogues and Jewish heritage sites in the country.

 The announcement about the grant was made by Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, Khaled El Anany, who said that "there is importance in renovating the Jewish synagogues, just like the renovation of the pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic heritage.

It is important to remember that the Jewish items and synagogues belong to the Egyptian government." “Most of the synagogues in Egypt are in poor condition, and must be renovated so they can be turned into visitors' centers," added El Anany, who was quoted in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

 The announcement said that the renovation will be carried out by the Egyptian government only, without the intervention of foreign governments and Jewish organizations from abroad.

Read article in full

  Smadar  Perry in  her Hebrew  Yediot Aharonot article reports that 500 Jewish  items collected from the synagogues will be put on public display.  "President El-Sisi  affirms that Jewish artefacts and synagogues belong to the Egyptian government.''

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tunisian-Jewish minister of tourism provokes protests

It was perhaps inevitable that the appointment of Rene Trabelsi as Tunisian minister of Tourism should have provoked street protests. The so-called 'moderate' Ennahda-led government is Islamist, but Jewish tourism to the island of Djerba is a major source of national income. The Times of Israel  reports (with thanks: Lily):

TUNIS, Tunisia — Dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged a protest in Tunisia’s capital against Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians Saturday.

 The protest was held outside the Tourism Ministry. The country’s newly named tourism minister, Rene Trabelsi, is Jewish, only the third Jewish person to ever be named a minister in the country. Protesters expressed anger about Israeli settlements and called for a Palestinian state, with posters reading “Palestine is Arab, no choice but rifles,” and “Tunisia is free, Zionists out.”

 The crowd included left-wing groups pushing a law that would make it a crime to normalize relations with Israel.

Tunisians hold anti-Israel posters outside the Tunisian Tourism Ministry in Tunis, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (AP/Hassene Dridi) 

 Tunisia’s government has downplayed the proposed law, and moderate Islamist party Ennahdha warned such a bill could hurt Tunisia’s relations with Western nations and international organizations. Tunisia, like most Arab countries, doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Trabelsi, a tour operator who also organizes a yearly pilgrimage to the country’s famous Ghriba synagogue, became the first Jewish minister in the country in decades when he was named to the post last month.

 Trabelsi grew up on the island of Djerba, the heartland of Tunisia’s Jewish community and the site of a pilgrimage which attracts thousands of people each year. Tunisia is seen as a model of tolerance in the region but has faced growing Islamic extremism.

  Read article in full

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Call for 'return' of Louvre paintings to Egypt 'outrageous'

 With thanks: Boruch

Magda Haroun, the head of the tiny Jewish community of Egypt, has asked for four paintings in the Louvre in Paris to be 'returned' to Egypt.

The paintings were owned by an Egyptian Jew who was killed during WWII. Mrs Haroun has written to the Egyptian Ministry of Culture  asking for the paintings to be displayed in Egypt, unless there are living heirs.

Paris-based Yves Fedida of the Nebi Daniel Association has called Mrs Haroun's suggestion 'rather outrageous and inadmissible.'  Mrs Haroun has not yet received an answer to her letter from the Egyptian government.

Magda Haroun endorses Egypt's claims to Jewish property, which it considers 'national heritage'.

As there are so few Jews still in Egypt, Mrs Haroun has for the first time opened up the Adly synagogue to the public for a Hanucah celebration.  News Africa Now reports:

 Magda Haroun: 'our numbers are no longer great'

For the first time in decades, Egyptian non-Jews have been invited to the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue to celebrate Hanukkah Day, or Eid al-Anwar, one of the faith’s most important holidays.

The celebration was also attended by members of the Drop of Milk Association for the preservation of Jewish heritage, a 24-person US-Jewish tourist delegation, and head of the Jewish community Magda Shehata Haroun, who opened the event with a welcoming speech:

“Our number as Egyptian Jews is no longer great, but we have Muslim and Christian friends who are interested in preserving the Jewish heritage. They are among us today, and there are many others who joined the Association of Drop of Milk…We have a great heritage, and personally, I’m not worried about it, because the young people of Egypt will preserve it,” she remarked.

Read article in full 

Egypt has almost completed the indexing of Jewish artefacts which Mrs Haroun has handed over to the government, Egypt Today reports:

CAIRO – 6 December 2018: Head of the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities Sector, Gamal Mostafa, presented the works of recording and documenting the fragments of the Jewish temples to Assistant Minister of Antiquities for Technical Affairs, Mostafa Amin.

The authorities thwarted the 'smuggling' out of Egypt of this silver Torah scroll crown

This comes within the framework of the Ministry of Antiquities' plan to record and document the artifacts of the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish civilizations.

Amin confirmed that this is the first time that the registration of 500 Jewish artifacts from various Egyptian synagogues has been completed.

Read article in full

Monday, December 10, 2018

'My refugee grandparents never played victim'

Moving reflections by Philippe Assouline, a Canadian Jew, on the trials and  tribulations endured by his Moroccan-born grandparents. Never once did they complain as they rebuilt their lives from discomfort and destitution.

My parents and amazing grand parents never even told me they FLED Morocco out of fear (how serious the danger was in Morocco is another matter, but it was serious enough, with Nasserist fascism rising) to exile -  an entire, large, 2,600 year-old community within 20 years). They never complained or informed us -- not even once amid thousands of often nostalgic, always very talkative and boisterous shabbat and holiday meals -- that they had to suddenly leave all of their friends, memories, culture, references and belongings behind -- to save their lives and families.

I found out only at the age of 24 that they came to Canada destitute, supported by charity and optimism, and had to start over with many kids in tow.

 To see video by Hen Mazzig, click here.

My grandfather z""l, a light unto mankind, lost a coffee making business and became a door to door salesman in the great Canadian north (imagine an African in -30 degree weather, smiling door to door while carrying encyclopedias). My grandmother -- a legend of a woman who made her home feel like the Temple in Jerusalem, z"l - became a seamstress, gathering what she could in extreme elegance. My other grandfather z"l, with his consummate warmth and charm, a heart on each of his sleeves to go with his endless smile, worked into the late night as a tailor, while my dad and others shared a living room as a bedroom, supported by the endless courage of my grandmother z"l, a pillar of knowledge and values, who pushed the entire family to focus on education, self -improvement and dignity.

Never did they whine, play victim or complain. It was unimaginable to even resort to social services in times of need, let alone make the world carry us. Never was I raised to believe that my misfortunes were caused by others or that the world owed me anything. I was raised to believe that I had no misfortunes, BH and that I owed the world to be good and happy. To look forward, be a good CITIZEN, be a good person, and enjoy life and family.

That blessed attitude is why we, ACTUAL refugees, entirely blameless and exiled by Arab regimes and a war we had no hand in starting or contact to, never got redress. This, while the people who chose to wage genocidal war and lost, have appropriated the "refugee" mantle while fitting neither its moral nor legal definition.

It is high time that our story be recognized, and even more than that, the incredible dignity and honor and class of our elders who suffered and kept moving forward with a smile.

And we're just getting started.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Egypt marks Laila Mourad's 100th birthday

 Has Egypt found new pride in the cultural contributions made by its Jews?  It is a measure of how far the Egyptian-Jewish iconic star, Laila Mourad, has been rehabilitated that the Egyptian media is celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth this year. (Mourad ended her career amid accusations of being a spy for Israel. )Tomorrow, the National Center for Theater, Music and Folklore will mark the occasion at Cairo Opera House's Hanager Theatre. Egypt Today reports (with thanks Boruch):

CAIRO – 6 December 2018:

Held under the auspices of Minister of Culture Inas Abdel Dayem and Head of the Cultural Production sector Khaled Galal, the ceremony will present a documentary film about the late actress. The documentary will be followed by a concert presented by the National Center for Theater, Music and Folklore’s band.

Laila was born in a Jewish family in Cairo in 1918 to a Syrian father, Zaki Mourad, and a Polish mother, Gamilah Salmon. Her father was a composer and a singer who encouraged Laila to sing in the radio in the 1930s. Being the eldest daughter, she later had to financially support her family.

Her debut as a singer in the cinema was in “The Victims”, six years before starting her acting career with "Long Live Love", starring singer Mohamed Abdel Wahab, who also made her sign a contract for ten musical records.

Producer, director, scriptwriter and actor Togo Mizraahy gave her roles in seven films, including “Laila Bent El-Reef” (Laila From the Countryside), “Laila Bent Madares” (Laila: The School Student), and “Laila”. Out of the 28 films of her career, 17 carried her real name.

Mizraahy was able to work on Laila’s shyness, which was her main obstacle to leading a great acting career. He taught her how to boldly face the camera and trained her on how to control her facial expressions and voice.

The marriage of Anwar Wagdi and Mourad in 1945 significantly contributed to the immortal booming success of this artistic duo, increasing both their credibility and popularity among the audience, especially that Mourad and Wagdy were the only artistic couple at the time.

Read article in full

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The West denies ethnic cleasing from the Muslim world

 Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries are the refugee fall-out of a clash of civilisations.  They are invisible to a world which never passed a resolution on them, never published a mainstream newspaper column on them and has never broadcast a documentary on a national network about them. Giulio Meotti writes in Israel National News:

Every year, on 30 November, Israel and the Jewish world remember the 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab-Islamic countries. Many of them live among us in Europe, in Rome as in Paris, in Milan as in Brussels.

Together with the Christians who have fled in the last five years under Islamic persecution, these Jews are the migrants of the clash of civilizations which the Western conscience, the UN, the EU, did not even want to hear about.

I have never seen a docufilm on them on the networks that matter. I have never heard of an international resolution on them.

Jews in France, the sons and grandsons of refugees from the Arab world, are now being targeted by Islamists.
 I have never read an article about them in the big newspapers. I have never seen a docufilm on them on the networks that matter. I have never heard of an international resolution on them.

Where are the Jews of Algeria?
Where are the Jews of Egypt?
Where are the Jews of Lebanon?
Where are the Jews of Iraq?
Where are the Jews of Syria?
Where are the Jews of Libya?

Italian Jewish communities, for example, would have been dead after the Holocaust if it was not for the Jewish emigration from Libya or Iran.
Islam decolonized itself with an anti-Semitic ethnic cleansing whose very existence has been denied by the West. These Jews had been confiscated of everything: wealth totalling hundreds of billions of dollars. they were prevented from practising religion, they were kicked out of their homes, they were massacred in the streets, they were robbed also of their own history.
And they became invisible.

But their sufferings didn't come to an end with their flight. In France it continues today. Most French Jews, in fact, are the sons and the grandsons of those who fled the Arab world: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt. And these Jews are targeted again by the Islamists.

Read article in full

Friday, December 07, 2018

Dubai Jewish community goes public

A synagogue has existed since 2008, but it is only now that the small Jewish expatriate community of Dubai has felt confident enough, in the wake of a warming relationship between Israel and the Gulf States,  to expose itself to publicity. It is a win-win situation for Dubai, too, since it can boast minority rights and religious tolerance. (With thanks: Lily, Violet)

The Times of Israel reports:

DUBAI — One Saturday last month, the handful of worshippers were waiting, chatting amiably to kill time. They had recited Sabbath morning preliminary prayers, but the tenth man was yet to arrive, and services could not proceed without the necessary quorum. Waiting for a minyan was an inconvenience as ancient and familiar as Jewish prayer itself. But the location was extraordinary: a barely-known synagogue in a residential neighborhood in the Emirate of Dubai.

The Dubai Synagogue is a welcoming haven for Jews in the Middle East business powerhouse — whether they are veteran residents, temporary sojourners or the few visitors lucky enough to learn of its existence. Established 10 years ago, it is the flagship, and, for now, sole, operating institution of The Jewish Community of the Emirates.

 Decorative lanterns separate the men's and women's sections in the Dubai synagogue

One of the community’s leaders, Ross Kriel, walks a fine line between the cardinal concern of insuring security, while also nurturing a vision of a sustainable, and, eventually, thriving organized Jewish life in Dubai. Kriel, an Orthodox Jew from South Africa, moved to Dubai with his wife and two young children to work as a lawyer at an energy company six years ago. He’s an adventurous sort of Jew who relishes finding creative solutions to the challenge of adhering to Halacha, Jewish law, in the remote locale.

 Read article in full

Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

For centuries, Jews did business and mixed socially—if warily—with Arab neighbors from Baghdad to Beirut, but most were expelled or emigrated when Israel was founded in 1948. Today, as the region’s economy grows and attitudes toward Israel soften, a fledgling Jewish community in Dubai has founded that city’s first synagogue.

After meeting for years in one another’s homes, Dubai’s Jews—expatriates in fields such as finance, law, energy, and diamonds—three years ago rented a villa in a quiet residential neighborhood for services. The unmarked building features a sanctuary for prayers, a kosher kitchen, and a few bedrooms for visitors or community members who don’t drive on the Sabbath.

“We’ve come a long way since I first started going to Dubai 30 years ago,” says Eli Epstein, a New Yorker who helped found the synagogue and donated a Torah. “Back then, people actually told me that I should avoid using my last name because it sounds too Jewish.”

Read article in full

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Lack of concern for Jewish plight 'extraordinary and an outrage' (updated)

 As part of the 30 November commemorations,   Jewish organisations and parliamentarians in the West ( both Jewish and non-Jewish) have been speaking out on the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran:

 *In the USA, the Zionist Organisation of America echoed recent calls for the UN to recognise the plight of the 800,000 Jews of Arab lands (with thanks: Gina):

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is supporting recent calls for the United Nations to recognize the plight of the 800,000 Jews of Arab lands who were variously attacked, intimidated, dispossessed, expelled and pressured to leave their ancient homes in Arab lands in the wake of the 1948-49 Arab war against Israel.

ZOA National President Morton A Klein: lack of international concern for Jewish refugees 'an outrage'

The international community has long fixated on the 350,000 to 650,000 Palestinian Arabs who left the territories of what became Israel during the 1948-49 war to destroy Israel, which they and neighboring Arab armies initiated in 1948, but have been largely silent about the plight of the 800,000 or more Jews that were forced to leave their homes and dismantle their often ancient communities under threat of death, massacre, persecution and intimidation.

Now, the head of Jewish communities that left Arab countries are demanding UN recognition of their plight, which includes lack of compensation for the loss of homes, businesses and all other assets seized from the departing Jews, most of whom were unable to take virtually any of their possessions with them. In a letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres, community leaders, among them Dr. Shimon Ohayon, Director of Bar-Ilan University’s Dahan Center and Chairman of the Alliance of Moroccan Immigrants wrote, “While the UN organizes events to mark the departure of 450,000 Palestinians from Israel upon the establishment of the state, following a war imposed on Israel, we do not see recognition of the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries … We believe the UN strives for justice for all refugees around the world, including Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands. We therefore seek to establish a memorial day for the Jews’ expulsion from Arab lands.”

 ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It its truly extraordinary and an outrage that the plight of Jews from Arab lands has never been a point of international concern and action, unlike the Palestinian Arabs who fled Israel largely on their own mainly as a result of a war to destroy Israel which they had initiated in defiance of the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947 calling for the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

 Read article in full 

* On the US West Coast, Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan (pictured in white), affirmed her support for Jews driven out of Muslim lands at an event hosted by JIMENA.

* In Canada, parliamentarian David Sweet was one of the few to pay tribute to the 850,000 expelled Jews (with thanks: Rona).
Liberal parliamentarian Marco Mendicino referred to 'devastated families, forced into exile and suffering injustice and human rights violations, violence and even genocide'.

* In the UK, MPs and member of the House of Lords attended a cross-party briefing by the Israel ambassador Mark Regev and Iraq-born refugee Edwin Shuker. (With thanks: Sandra)

Conservative Lord McInnes chaired the event, and Conservative parliamentarians in attendance included Zac Goldsmith MP, CFI Vice-Chair Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, CFI Honorary President Lord Polak CBE, CFI Officer Baroness Altmann CBE. Deputy Ambassador Sharon Bar-li was also in attendance, alongside parliamentarians from the Labour Party.

*In Norway, Hans-Frederik Grøvan (pictured), head of the parliamentary Friends of Israel, spoke at the first commemorative event ever held in Oslo for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

*In Australia, The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies organised a commemoration at the Sydney Jewish Museum. “This is the hardest conversation I’ve ever had – but the harder a conversation is to have, the more important it is to have it,” said David Tsor, 21, the descendant of Libyan Jews, as he began addressing the 250 guests. (With thanks: Vernon)

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Montreal consul : time to address Jewish refugees

There will be no just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict without addressing the Jewish refugee issue, said the Israeli Consul-General to Montreal, David Levy. CJN News reports on Montreal’s Commemoration of the Exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab  countries and Iran. 

Vivianne Schinasi-Silver calls herself “the last of the Mohicans,” the final generation to remember “the golden age” of the Jewish community of Egypt. The retired college teacher and her family were among the tens of thousands of Jews who were forced to leave the country in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis. They arrived in Montreal the following year.

 Schinasi-Silver recounted her story at an observance of the annual Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews From the Arab Countries and Iran, an event organized by the Israeli Consulate. The family of five – Schinasi-Silver, who was 15 at the time, was the eldest of three children – left behind a comfortable life in Cairo and nearly all their considerable assets, never to fully recover materially. Her parents and younger brothers also never completely adjusted, as she recounted in her candid 2007 memoir, 42 Keys to the Second Exodus. Five years ago, the Knesset designated Nov. 30 as a day to remember this neglected chapter in Jewish history.

 The date was chosen because it is the day after the United Nations adopted a plan to partition Palestine in 1947. Nov. 29 is also the UN-designated International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People.

 “Today, after decades of ethnic cleansing, there are perhaps no more than 2,000 to 5,000 Jews in all of the Arab countries combined, the majority of whom live in just one country, Morocco,” said Israeli Consul General David Levy, whose father was from Morocco. “Everyone speaks of the Palestinian refugees, yet nearly no one ever addresses the forgotten 800,000-plus Jewish refugees from Arab lands.”

 Israel continues to try to find peace with all its neighbours, including the Palestinians, Levy said, but “we know that no solution to our impasse will be considered just, unless it addresses the long-forgotten issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.”

Consul-general in Montreal David Levy with Vivianne Schinasi-Silver, Joshua Silver and Deputy Consul General Rotem Segev (Photo: Janice Arnold)

He said the day should also be a celebration of the rich Jewish history in the Middle East and North Africa, in cities as diverse as Tripoli, Aden, Damascus and Baghdad. “Established for centuries, these communities contributed enormously to the economic and cultural development and flourishing of these lands,” he said. But, as of 1947, it became “state policy to persecute, pillage and murder Jews. “This is why it is incumbent upon us all to remember, not only the plight of these refugees, but their presence and legacy in their native lands, which have since become devoid of any living Jewish presence.”

Read article in full

Monday, December 03, 2018

The little-known cause of the Syrian-Jewish refugees

Liat Collins was involved in campaigns for distressed Jewish communities and Soviet refuseniks at  the end of the 1960s. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, she examines the reasons why the Jewish refugees from Arab countries are so overlooked:

Percy Gourgey z"l, campaigner for Jews from Arab lands 

The work on behalf of Sephardi Jewry was much more low-key. I discovered a group called The Jews in Arab Lands Committee headed by the late Percy Gourgey MBE. Gourgey, born in India to an Iraqi-Jewish family, eagerly harnessed my youthful enthusiasm and together with a band of teenage friends I founded a student branch of the committee to help draw attention to the plight of our brethren and interest politicians and opinion makers in this little-known cause.

In many ways the fate of the remaining Jews in Arab lands was worse than that of Soviet Jewry. Drawing attention to a refusenik made the Soviet authorities realize there were international eyes following what they were doing and conditions might be improved as a result; drawing attention to a specific member of the Jewish community in Damascus was more likely to result in that person’s disappearance.

Still, with a huge amount of dedication and daring, many of the Jewish community were ultimately able to escape to freedom. When a couple of years ago I met a man who had fled from Syria as a teen I felt the same sort of satisfaction as I had meeting Sharansky and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
Today, I live in an area of Jerusalem’s Katamonim neighborhood fondly referred to as the “Kurdish enclave” thanks to the Kurdish and Iraqi Jews who compose the bulk of the local population. Further down the road there is a large pocket of Moroccan and Tunisian Jewish families, with more French-speakers moving in.

Anyone who thinks that Israel is some kind of Woody Allen-style, Yiddish-dominated culture planted in the Middle East is in for a surprise on their first visit. The descendants of Jews from Arab lands now make up more than 50% of the Jewish Israeli population and when Israelis talk of “mixed marriages” they are usually (jokingly) referring to Ashkenazi-Sephardi ties.
There are plenty of Sephardi (and Yemenite) families who have lived in the Land of Israel for centuries, but the majority of Sephardim arrived after the creation of the state in 1948 – the non-Palestinian refugees who are largely overlooked.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Belated and banal BBC reply to refugee bias

 The BBC consistently ignores Jewish refugees although claiming to have reported on them. War ‘breaks out ‘ to cause the refugee problem although it is never clear who started it. Other pertinent facts are a ‘matter of opinion’.  Here is how the BBC replied to one complaint. It does not allow the complainant to take the case further:
Thank you for getting in touch about our video article entitled ‘After 70 years, who are the Palestinian refugees?’  and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

To take your points in order:

1: The Palestinian refugee is a consequence of the Arab decision to reject the 1947 Partition plan and declare war on the fledgling state of Israel. 

The article doesn’t purport to be a history of the refugee problem and is only a brief video – it does though say early on that the refugees were created “as a result of war in the Holy Land”, which is true.

2: The Palestinians are the only 'refugees' in the world permitted to pass on their refugee status to succeeding generations ad infinitum. 
All the rest come under the remit of UNHCR whose mandate is resettlement, not return. (This sentence was in fact part of the complaint-above- ed) Thank you for getting in touch about our video article entitled ‘After 70 years, who are the Palestinian refugees?’  and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

3: An even greater number of Jewish refugees (850,000) fled Arab states at about the same time in the opposite direction, most resettling in Israel, in a 'de facto' exchange of refugee populations.  They were resettled with minimal international aid. Yet the BBC has never devoted much coverage to them, even though some spent years in Israeli refugee camps. (The BBC would not dream of covering the 1947 India-Pakistan war without mentioning that refugees fled in both directions, so why does it deliberately omit mention of the Jewish refugees?)
 We have on several occasions reported the issue of Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab lands in 1948, but because these communities have long been absorbed by Israel, their fate is not undetermined in the same way as that of the Palestinian refugees, who continue to live by-and-large in refugee camps. Hence the issue of Palestinian refugees arises much more often than that of the Jewish refugees who found a home in Israel.
4: Lebanon denies Palestinians the right to citizenship, to own property, and to do certain jobs.
The report includes a sociology professor saying: “Take the case of Palestinians in Lebanon. This is the fourth generation; they don’t have the right to work, or to own properties.”
It also includes a refugee saying “I don’t have a passport, I don’t have anything.”
5: Palestinian insistence on 'the right of return' (a right unrecognised in international law for people who were not citizens of the country they left) perpetuates the conflict by giving the Palestinians unrealistic expectations. 
This is a matter of opinion, and as such we would not give such a view without attributing it to a voice from one side or another.
6: UNWRA must bear responsibility for encouraging terrorism and incitement among Palestinians in the camps.
 The point above is also applicable here.
7: This is the context in which Trump's decision to cease funding UNWRA must be seen. 
Again, this is an opinion, and we have reported numerous times on President Trump’s decision to stop funding UNWRA and the reasons given why.
Best wishes, 
Sean Moss
BBC News website
NB: This is sent from an outgoing email account which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this address. If you need to contact us please do so via our formatted webform quoting any case number we may have provided.) Again, this is not the purpose of the video, though we have reported this point previously. (