Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Stop leaving Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews out of US Jewish life

Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews could comprise the single largest ethnic component among US Jews, yet they are consistently undercounted, misunderstood,  ignored and marginalised, argues JIMENA Executive Director Sarah Levin in this important article for Jewish Philanthropy. 

For many years at JIMENA, Jewish foundations and partner organizations have asked us to provide demographic statistics on Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews in North America. It’s been incredibly frustrating that we’ve never been able to adequately meet a single request for information as no empirical data on our communities exists. While Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews were intentionally excluded from the recent Counting Inconsistencies survey conducted by the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, the results of the study provided useful information affirming that Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, like Jews of Color, have been vastly undercounted, miscounted and inconsistently included in Jewish demographic studies across the board.

 Because so little reliable research has been conducted, JIMENA has relied heavily on anecdotal research and it’s very likely that Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, and their descendants, constitute the largest ethnic minority group amongst American Jews. We know that Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews are occupying greater spaces in organized Jewish life and in Jewish Day Schools, yet Sephardic and Mizrahi projects, organizations, and thought-leaders are still underfunded, underutilized and at times tokenized. Jewish institutions, have yet to design much needed programs and policies to ensure the inclusion of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Most troubling, is that as attention towards Jewish diversity is finally growing, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish leaders are frequently left out of initiatives, conversations, and projects that address and advance issues of Jewish diversity and inclusion.

  Read article in full

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Avi Shlaim drops a bombshell at London conference

Avi Shlaim, an emeritus professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, has been chairing sessions at a conference in London called 'Jews of Iraq: Engagement with Modernities'. Shlaim, who was born in Iraq but left for Israel as a five-year-old, revealed to the audience he has nearly completed a memoir. Its provisional title is : From Baghdad to Jerusalem: Memoir of an Arab-Jew. The main focus, he said,  was on 'The Baghdad Bombs and the Jewish exodus from Iraq, 1950 - 51.' Waving a piece of paper,  he then presented 'new evidence of Israeli involvement in the bombs'.

Emeritus professor Avi Shlaim

There followed uproar, as Shlaim's claim was fiercely disputed by members of the audience. (There was also some controversy over the expression 'Arab-Jew'.)

The venerable professor is no stranger to controversy. He has moved from  mildly critical of Israel to becoming a staunch anti-Zionist during his career. Now that he has resurrected the old 'Baghdad bombs' chestnut, it is perhaps time to  dig into Point of No Return's archives and revisit the subject.

Mordechai Ben Porat, Mossad's leading operative  in Baghdad, had his name cleared in an Israeli court when he sued an Israeli magazine for libel. The court heard evidence  in support of the theory that non - Jews threw the January 1951 bombs and that Muslim peddlars were tipped off to clear the scene just before grenades were thrown at the Messouda Shemtob synagogue, which was being used as a registration centre for would-be emigrants. This was  the only fatal bombing (four were killed).

The so-called new historian Tom Segev refuted the charge that Zionists were behind the bombs.

Read this post in full 

It is a mystery why the Mossad might have thought it necessary to set off bombs when by late 1950 there was a backlog of tens of thousands of Jews stranded in Iraq who had already registered to leave. When the Massouda Shemtob bombing occurred, there were only six weeks still to go before the deadline for emigration expired. Indeed, the Iraqi government toyed with the idea of dumping these Jews on Israel's borders or in the Kuwaiti desert because Israel was not shipping them out fast enough.

More about Avi Shlaim

Monday, September 16, 2019

An Israeli-Tunisian Jew 's trip to his ancestors' world

Jewish pilgrims visiting the Al Ghriba synagogue on Djerba (Photo: Gidon Uzan)

Tunisia likes to project an image of tolerance, yet has lost 99 percent of its Jews. A young Israeli of Tunisian heritage goes in search of his roots, and finds some surprising links with the past. Article by Gidon Uzan in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Janet)

My grandfather Yehuda Uzan had been a shop owner. After exploring the neighborhood for over two hours to no avail, another store owner suggested we ask an 86-year-old resident named Misira if he remembered anything about the old Jewish community.

We finally located Misira, who was practically blind, but after some probing recalled my grandfather, explaining that his father had worked in my grandfather’s shop for many years. As he stood on the doorstep of his house, Misira told us how he remembered the moment my grandmother informed him that they’d be leaving Tunisia for Palestine in three months’ time. He excitedly described to us how my grandfather would tear every loaf of bread in half and give half of it to his family. And with tears in his eyes he recalled the day my grandmother put a sizeable amount of cash in his hand so he could get an education. In fact, he did go on to learn to be a silversmith, and was then able to support his family for many good years until he retired.

 Our next stop was the local cemetery. The first gravestone we visited was that of Rabbi Yitzhak Chai Tayeb, who died nearly 200 years ago. According to a legend that’s described in an anthology put together by Dr. Michal Sharf, the rabbi once put on worker’s clothing and offered to carry a man’s belongings all the way from the port to a local hotel in Tunis. On the way, the rabbi answered all of the man’s questions with such brilliance that the man wondered if this worker was so clever, imagine how clever the rabbi of such a place must be. Next, we approached the headstone of Rabbi Yaakov Slama, also known as Morid Hageshem, and many other famous rabbis and mystics. For me, as a Jew with Tunisian heritage, hearing all the stories about these holy men and the society they lived in was most gratifying.

During our trip, in addition to visiting Jewish cemeteries, we also toured a number of cities where Jews had lived, each of which had remains of a synagogue. In addition to El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, there was another house of prayer there called Beit El. And in the city of Monastir, farther north on the Tunisian coast, there are remnants of the Keter Torah Synagogue, which served an active community in the 19th century. This city also happens to be the birthplace of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president, who is greatly revered by Tunisians. And I must say that even though I am not a religious person, I prayed with all my heart and soul each time we entered one of these ancient synagogues in Tunisia. I felt so close to God and my ancestors.

Read article in full

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jews contributed massively to Moroccan culture

This is an honest overview by Mohamed Chatou in Eurasia Review of the contribution of the Jewish exiles from Spain (Megorashim) to Moroccan society, culture and commerce. Today this huge Jewish influence  is recognised in the 2011 Moroccan constitution. (With thanks: Michelle) 

 A golden age of Judaism emerged under the Ummayads of Cordoba (756-1031); and the “adaptability of the Jew” proved forthright: Jews learned Arabic, climbed the socio-political ladder and held powerful positions in the palace as trusted advisors, controlled trade and maintained prestigious occupations.

The dhimmis were not supposed to be above Muslims in theory, this was commonly the practice in Moorish Spain. The Kingdom of Grenada, for instance, had a Muslim Emir and a Jewish vizier named Samuel ha-Naguid (d. 1056) 11, who was succeeded by his son Joseph.  This was not without retribution and indeed sparked a pogrom resulting in the death of 5,000 Jews and destruction of their quarter. Conditions oscillated under the Taifa kings, and worsened under the puritan rule of the Almoravid (1040-1147) and Almohad (1121-1269) dynasties.

Dhimmi Jews fared better under the Almoravids despite dhimmi status and regulations than the Almohads, wherein thousands of Jews were killed between 1130 and 1232, convert or death threatened again in 1147, Mellahs were created and the yellow star on clothing enforced; this encouraged many prominent Jewish families and figures (i.e. Abraham Ibn Exa, Seti Fatma, Juda Habri, Maimonides) to flee Spain. Thus, the dynasties’ relationship with the Megorashim shifted from coexistence, uneasy toleration, to brutal persecution throughout the centuries.

But the Jews by and large persevered until the Christian conquest in 1492.  Upon their expulsion, the Sultan of Morocco, Muhammad Sheikh al Wattasi, was amenable to the new arrivals and recognized the Megorashim as valuable assets. They were ushered into positions of authority as administrators, palace advisers in foreign and military affairs, and leaders in trade and commerce. They also thrived as doctors and moneylenders, especially in Fez, Sefrou 12, Marrakech, and Essaouria. Although the local Tovashim, rural and urban, had flourished in Morocco since the fall of the Temple in 70 AD, the Wattassid favored the new arrivals due to their education and sophistication. Animosity between the two Jewish communities grew, especially since the Megorashim spoke Hekitia (mixture of Spanish, Hebrew and Darija) and refused to speak Darija 13. They initially settled in Fez and the southern regions, while the Tovashimremained in the northern cities and rural areas. The two communities lived separately until the 18th century.

Jewish woman of Tangiers, painted by Charles Landelle
Jews, also, monopolized maritime trade and banking under Sa’di dynasty (1554-1655) and conducted business and diplomacy on the Sultan’s behalf. Moranos migrating to Morocco later on to Fez 14, Tetuan and Meknes developed the sugarcane industry and developed the tea trade with India and China propelling the Barbary state into prosperity. Rural Jews developed the caravan trade (gold, ostrich, feathers and women) in Fez and Sefrou as they were the trusted guides (azettat in Tamazight (Amazigh/Berber language)) and expert negotiators.

During Portuguese occupation of Safi and Azemmour, the Megorashim served as translators and negotiators, contributing to the roots of the would-be protégé system of the 19th century in Morocco. Megorashim adapted to Morocco, but they also infused their culture into the local milieu. So much so that within a few centuries it was indistinguishable from Moroccan culture. This included the “culture of expulsion”, especially Andalusian music and poetry from Grenada and Cordoba.

 The music stressed Kebbala spirituality that found easy reception with Sufism. Cuisines also overlapped and were no longer distinct, including sardine and garlic recipes of Safi and Essaouria; Mahya fig liquor; and baqeeya (Paella), just to name a few. Clothing customs also merged, most noticeably the colorful kaftans with gold embroidery worn by Moroccan brides.

  Read article in full

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sephardi weddings past and present in Izmir, Turkey

 A hearty besimantov to Beni and Veronica, who were married in Izmir  on 1 September 2019

 These two Youtube videos give a fascinating insight into Sephardi wedding rituals practised by the Jewish community of Izmir, Turkey over the decades.

As in other communities, weddings have become fancier: Ceremonies once  celebrated at home now take place in luxury hotels.

Similarly, the tevila, or ritual bath preceding the marriage,  used to take place at home. Now the bride immerses herself in the synagogue mikveh. A rosca (kind of beigel or cracker) is broken over the head of the bride to bring good luck.

The father of the bridegroom would send musicians to the bride's house in order to escort her to the wedding ceremony.  Another ritual is the breaking of the kezada, a round cake  of marzipan, containing three little birds. Pieces would be handed out to the single guests.

What is striking about these videos is that the older generation speaks ladino, the language of their ancestors expelled by the Spanish Inquisition, to describe their distinctive wedding customs. The younger generation speaks Turkish.

The community once saw four or five weddings take place in a single day. Nowadays, numbers have dwindled to such an extent that Izmir is lucky to witness four or five Jewish weddings a year. There might come a time when no Jews live in Izmir any longer, says one lady. But the unique heritage and culture of Turkish Jews will be preserved.

See Part 1 here:
 See Part 2 here:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sara Cohen passes away in Cochin, India

Sara Cohen, one of the best known  Paradesi Jews of Jew Town, Cochin, India, passed away last month. She was 96 years old. Two other Jews remain.

Sara used to pray at the Paradesi synagogue, which celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2018.
This is a portrait of Sara in her home in Mattancherry in 2015.

The White Jews of Cochin (not to be confused with the much older community of Black Jews) are the descendants of Sephardi Jews expelled from Iberia in 1492. They became known as Paradesi Jews (Foreign Jews). In the 19th century, Baghdadi Jews joined the Paradesi community.

Abandoned synagogue in Cochin, less than  a five-minute walk from the Paradesi synagogue.

Reconstruction of the Paradesi synagogue at the Israel Museum.

(All photographs are the copyright of Shalva Weil, and reproduced by kind permission.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

'As a Sephardi woman, I felt seen by the world'

TV critic of Syrian extraction Linda Maleh was ready to be disappointed by Netflix's news series 'The Spy'. But she needn't have worried - the show, which focused on the Egyptian-born Israeli spy Eli Cohen, introduced the mainstream viewing public to  'Sephardi culture', she writes in Alma.

A scene from the Netlix TV series 'The Spy'

The second I had a moment last Friday, I raced to my computer to watch Netflix’s new limited series,  Let me back up. The Spy  is about Eli Cohen (played brilliantly by Sacha Baron Cohen), Israel’s most famous spy that infiltrated Syria in the ‘60s and was eventually caught and executed by the Syrian government. (I’m not spoiling anything. Besides for the fact that this is decades old history, it’s also revealed within the first few minutes of the show.)

Why do I feel a personal connection to Eli Cohen? Because my ancestors, like his parents — Eli grew up in Egypt — were Jews from Aleppo, Syria. We have the same heritage.

What does this mean for my experience watching a show about him? Everything.Being from the Middle East means that Eli was a Sephardi Jew, and so the show, so grounded in portraying Eli’s family, has Sephardi culture on display. There aren’t a lot of Jewish characters on television. This may be surprising, considering Hollywood is full of Jewish filmmakers, but it’s true. And when there is a Jewish character, they’re often only Jewish in name, not in practice. When Jewish characters are actually made to be Jewish in practice, however, they rely on cliches. There are ultra-religious Jews with their “backwards ways” on display (especially in procedurals, like doctor or detective shows, or the infamous film,  

Read article in full

Eli Cohen story  dramatised on Netflix

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Why 'progressive' groups must not disrespect the rights of Jews

The rights  of Mizrahi Jews are ignored and their history distorted by 'progressive' groups who claim they are only being anti-Zionist, writes Rachel Wahba in her Times of Israel blog:

Rachel Wahba

Jewish Voice for Peace's (JVP) call for the destruction of Israel and turn it into an Arab state where Jews can live as a minority "other” in the region is not only insulting, it is the opposite of progressive.

This political organization openly promotes disrespect towards the experience of fellow Jews, 850,000 of us persecuted under Islam and turned into traumatized refugees, brutally forced out in the fifties and sixties. Israel deniers refuse to care or believe that close to a million Jews from Baghdad to Yemen have already lived that life as Dhimmi ever since the Islamic Conquest.  JVP’s claims of our charmed life under Islamic rule is offensive.

 Our pogroms, the Islamic version of Nuremberg Laws, and the bullying in the best of times, are meaningless to a group that features Linda Sarsour, “No Feminist can be a Zionist,” with convicted murderer and terrorist Rasmeah Odeh, on their stage.

 In their “From the River to the Sea” mentality, these Anti-Zionists claim Mizrahi Jews are so naively ignorant we were duped by evil Ashkenazi Zionist recruiters, to leave idyllic lives I would like to see them suffer before they open their mouths.

 It takes a lot of arrogance and contempt to believe we Jews in Arab lands just “left” everything, our communities, businesses, culture, penniless with nothing but a suitcase of clothing, for the maabarot, tent cities in a dirt-poor Israel is insane. Then again, Israel Denial, like Anti-Semitism is a mental illness.  A lot has changed since the ancient Romans renamed our country to distance Jews from Israel and destroy us as a People. And too much hasn’t changed.

 When a progressive LGBTQ organization, A Wider Bridge, is attacked by a mob calling for Israel’s demise, when queer women are kicked out from Pride and Dyke marches for carrying a rainbow flag with a Magen David on it, the time is now for the pro-Israel progressive community to come out as Jews, for Israel, for ourselves, louder than ever.

 Read article in full

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sudan invites Jews to return

Sudan has a new 'democratic' government. Its religious affairs minister has just broadcast a call for Jews to return to the country. To reinforce the notion that the Jews have an ancient presence there,  the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is rumoured to have been born in northern Sudan! Minister Nasr Al-Din Mufreh promised returning Jews full citizenship rights, claiming that the country is now governed by 'secular' law(With thanks: Samah; Lily)

 MEMRI has the transcript of the minister's interview on Al-Arabia ,which coincided with another on Sudania 24 TV with writer Haidar Al-Mukashafi  :

Nasr Al-Din Mufreh [on Al-Arabiya Network): Sudan is pluralistic in its views, its values, and its cultures. It is pluralistic in its ideologies and its Islamic schools of thought, and it is pluralistic even in its religions. We have Islam and Christianity, and there were Jewish minorities that may have left the country. I'd like to take this opportunity to call upon them to reclaim their right to citizenship. I call upon them to return to this country. Since Sudan [has become] a country rules by secular law, citizenship is the basis for rights and duties.

Haidar Al-Mukashafi [on Sudania 24 TV]:The Jewish presence in Sudan is very old, and perhaps dates back over 1,000 years. There is a quaint story being told in the city of Merowe. There is a rumor there that Benjamin Netanyahu was born and raised in Sudan. They say that he was born in the city of Nuri, in the northern state of Sudan, and that he was raised there. In any case, this is proof that there was a Jewish presence, at least in Merowe.

The chances of any Jews returning to Sudan, which is now undergoing a period of unrest after the ouster of President Omar Bashir in April 2019, are slim.

Nearly the entire Jewish community was forced to leave Sudan after  the 1967 Arab defeat by Israel. Because they could not get exit visas, they  had to pretend to be taking holidays or business trips,  leaving all of their belongings to sympathetic friends or neighbours.  They resettled in Israel, America, England and Switzerland.

In 1977, some remains were moved from the Jewish cemetery in Khartoum to Jerusalem, although many more remain in terrible condition in Sudan.

Times of Israel article 

Iraq will restore citizenship to Jews, but not to Israelis

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Eli Cohen's story dramatised on Netflix

A series about the spy Eli Cohen, who inflitrated the highest echelons of the Syrian regime in the 1960s, launched on 6 September on Netflix: it is likely to attract a global audience. The part of the ill-fated Egyptian-born Cohen, whose body was never returned, is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as a comic actor. Article by Harry de Quetteville in the Daily Telegraph:

Spying, Kipling describes so beautifully in the prototypical espionage novel Kim, is about living with many identities. Eli Cohen, the charming Israeli spy whose astonishing, nerveless, glamorous feats of derring do are now being serialised by The Spy (with Sacha Baron Cohen in the lead) was a master of the art.

 Born Eli Shaul Jundi Cohen in Alexandria in 1924, he studied at a lycee and Cairo Farouk University, where he spoke French, English and Arabic. In 1949 his family left for Israel even as he stayed behind. Eventually he would join them, only to acquire a new identity in Syria. But his first target was Britain.

His is an eye-popping tale, one of many told about the agents and operatives of the Israeli secret services, and one which proved tempting to Gideon Raff (creator of Homeland) and irresistible to Baron Cohen. The actor’s father - an Orthodox Jewish accountant - treasured the tale of Eli, and Baron Cohen was asked to play the spy role shortly after he died. “I felt compelled to do it,” he told Vanity Fair. 

 If the transformation of the comic actor into the deadly serious spy seems unlikely, it is as nothing to the contortions of identity required of Eli Cohen. How, after all, could a passionately Zionist Jew reach the zenith of Syrian society, passing himself off as a Arab nationalist of unimpeachably antisemitic persuasion? The answer, of course, lies in the mesmerising flux of the Middle East.

Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about living in Israel is discovering how much of the Middle East is there. You bump into Iraqis, and Syrians, Egyptians and lots of Iranians. You see elderly, craggy faces that would not look out of place in Baghdad, Damascus, and Tehran. These are the Jews of those cities and countries who have been expelled, or rescued, or have fled for the security and prosperity of Israel.

 Today they are citizens of a nuclear-armed country which is routinely threatened with destruction by their former homelands. And yet, for all the promises of mutual annihilation, contact between old communities flourish, diplomatic ties or no. When I was living in Jerusalem, marble was imported from Iran, routed via Turkey, and bought in to build Israel’s best homes. Old ties were literally moving mountains.

 Read article in full
More about Eli Cohen

Friday, September 06, 2019

Love could not keep apart two Yemenite Jews

They were young and in love. It was their secret. But now they were about to be separated. She had been offered a place on a flight as part of the 'Operation Magic Carpet' Operation. But he could yet secure one; they were giving priority to the women. He didn't want to be separated from her and risk losing her. He had to get on that flight! So he disguised himself as a woman. And in that way, he followed her to Israel where they married.

Yemenite Jews being airlifted to Israel during Operation Magic Carpet.

 This is the story of the grandparents of one visitor to the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv, as told to the Museum manager Sarah Ansbacher. Israeli-born, the granddaughter has Adeni roots on one side, Polish Holocaust survivors on the other. And she came to visit together with her husband whose roots are from Germany on one side and Iraqi on the other....

It is 70 years since the start of  Operation Magic Carpet. This is a widely known nickname for Operation 'On Wings of Eagles' (Hebrew: כנפי נשרים‎, Kanfei Nesharim). This operation between June 1949 and September 1950  brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the new state of Israel.

 During its course, the overwhelming majority of Yemenite Jews – some 47,000 from Yemen, 1,500 from Aden, as well as 500 from Djibouti and Eritrea and some 2,000 Jews from Saudi Arabia– were airlifted to Israel. British and American transport planes made some 380 flights from Aden, in a secret operation that was not made public until several months after it was over.

Another story from the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Netanyahu: 'we are not strangers in Hebron'

For the first time, as reported by the Times of Israel, an Israeli prime minister visited Hebron to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1929 massacre. The Jews of that city were evacuated soon afterwards and did not return until  after 1967.

HEBRON, West Bank — During a rare visit to Hebron on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israelis would remain in the flashpoint West Bank city forever, but stopped short of announcing new construction in the area as Jewish locals and right-wing lawmakers have been demanding.

 The premier also entered the Tomb of Patriarchs, along with his wife Sara, in what was his first visit there as prime minister. “Hebron will never be cleansed of Jews… We are not strangers in Hebron. We will remain here forever,”

Netanyahu declared at a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the Hebron massacre, in which Arab rioters murdered 67 of their Jewish neighbors in the ancient city.

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Bensoussan's comprehensive history of Jews in Arab lands

At last, Georges Bensoussan's groundbreaking book: Juifs en pays arabes: le grand deracinement is available in an English translation by Andrew Halper. Here is a review by Aaron Howard in Jewish Herald Voice, a newspaper published in the Houston area.

The history of Mizrahi Jews is largely silent, writes French Jewish historian Georges Bensoussan. One reason is that most Jewish historians take a Eurocentric view of history; Jewish history is the narrative of Ashkenazi Judaism. Second is that Anglo-American Jewry is overwhelmingly Ashkenazic. In contrast, about 60 percent of French Jewry is from North Africa and the Middle East.

Third is Arab archives are, for the most part, closed or not accessible unless the historian in fluent in Arabic.

Bensoussan is the author of “Jews In Arab Countries” (Indiana University Press). Originally published in France as “Juifs en Pays Arabes, le Grande Racincement 1850-1975,” the book is now available in an English translation.

 Much of the author’s source material comes from the archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. As the most important Jewish philanthropic organization of its day, the AIU first tasked emissaries to examine the state of the Jewish population and report on their needs. The AIU also established a comprehensive educational system in North Africa and parts of the Middle East.

 The narrative begins in the middle of the 19th century when Western nations began colonizing the Arab world. Granted, AIU agents carried certain prejudices with them. Yet, in location after location, agent after agent recorded a Jewish population marked by fear and submission to the point of “internalizing the idea that he was the natural inferior of the Arabs.”

 What emerges from these accounts, writes Bensoussan, “is the sense that humiliation had become so all-encompassing, so omnipresent, that words failed to express it.” Jews lived in the context of being a minority in an Islamic world, where tolerance was not a recognized value.

 But, there’s a deeper level of subjugation going on. Islam is fundamentally a religion of submission. Man submits to G-d’s authority. The ruled submits to the ruler. Women submit to men and so on in a highly hierarchical society. Freed slaves and dhimmis (Jews and other People of the Book) were next to the bottom rung, a status of inferiority.

 The general picture of Mizrahi Jewry, just prior to European colonization, with a few exceptions, is one of extreme poverty, filth, alcoholism (Jews distilled and consumed their own anisette), disease, ignorance and “diffused violence” suffered at the hands of local rulers and the general Muslim population, who had barely a leg up on the Jews.

 Read article in full

More about Georges Bensoussan

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Judge calls for Jewish convict to be deported to Yemen

For the first time, an Israeli judge has ordered the deportation of a Jewish convicted sex offender back to his native Yemen, reports Israel National News. There are thought to be about 50 Jews remaining there.

Jews living in Yemen. All save about 50 have now left

 The Makor Rishon daily reported Friday about the case of Avraham Salem Alhadad, who immigrated to Israel in 2007 on a student visa. Alhadad’s visa expired while he was serving a 5 1/2-year prison term handed down in 2014 for molesting and sexually assaulting a minor from his own family. The former student of a religious seminary, or yeshiva, in Bnei Brak was declared an illegal alien upon his release this year.

 His application to be naturalized under Israel’s Law of Return for Jews and their relatives was denied citing his criminal record.

His application for asylum, based on his claim that his leaving Yemen in 2007 for the Jewish state would expose him to persecution there, also was dismissed.

 Last week, a judge ordered the Interior Ministry, which was seeking Alhadad’s deportation to Yemen, to detail how it intended to deport him to a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations.

Read article in full

Monday, September 02, 2019

Egypt criticises own sportsman for shunning Israeli judoka

It's an indication of how far Egyptian policy has moved: it is now to show solidarity with  Israel. Instead of defending the Egyptian judoka who lost to Israeli Sagi Muki at a recent contest in Tokyo, the Egyptian government has criticised him for refusing to shake hands. Haaretz reports:

The moment when Egyptian Judoka Mohamed Abdelaal turned away from Sagi Muki's outstretched hand.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has criticized an Egyptian judoka, Mohamed Abdelaal, for refusing to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent, Sagi Muki, who defeated the Egyptian in the semifinals of the World Judo Championships. The Israeli went on to win the championship on Wednesday.

Despite Muki's historic gold medal on Wednesday at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Arab sports media devoted much of their attention to Abdelaal. Following his loss, Abdelaal refused to shake hands with Muki, who had extended his own hand. For its part, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that "sports needs to be kept separate from politics."

 On Thursday, Egyptian Judo Federation Vice President Marzouk Ali issued a statement saying that the Abdelaal's refusal to shake Muki's hand was the result of unfairness in the Egyptian's loss. "There was injustice behind Abdelaal's loss," Ali said. "The Israeli should have lost, which didn't happen, and the Egyptian judoka therefore didn't shake his hand."

  Read article in full

Iranian Judoka defects after being pressed not to face Israeli (Jerusalem Post)

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Did you escape Iraq? Write your story

Next year Iraqi Jews will be marking 70 years to the start of the "Tasqit" - the great exodus of de-nationalised Jews airlifted to Israel. The year 2020 will also mark 50 years since the first Iraqi Jew escaped illegally through northern Iraq. A book recording their personal stories is planned:

David Kheder Basson (pictured), chairman of Academics from Iraq in Israel, plans to publish a book of personal eyewitness accounts. He is calling for all those who escaped to contribute their personal stories so that they could be collated into a book.

The 3,000-member Iraqi Jewish community which stayed behind after the 1967 Six Day War became hostage to the regime. It suffered  one of the worst periods of persecution and liquidation, particularly after the Baath  party came to power in 1968.

The remaining community suffered a terrible period of persecution after 1967: nine Jews were hanged in Baghdad in 1969.

In the summer of 1970 Fouad Sawdayee z"l managed to escape with his family via Kurdistan to Iran and to freedom. This encouraged the majority of Iraqi Jews to follow in his footsteps (via different escape routes) and to leave Iraq in 1970 and 1971. Finally, in the autumn of 1971, the Iraqi government started granting passports and within few years most of the remaining community left. Most of the Iraqi Jews ended up in Israel, though there are many who chose to live in Canada, USA, the UK and the Netherlands.

Each one has his own personal and his family story to tell. No two stories are alike.

David Basson would like to collect some 50 “personal eyewitness accounts” of 4-7 pages each and publish them in a book in commemoration of the 50 years anniversary. The writers can either write in English or Hebrew, in whatever languagethey feel comfortable with. It is likely that the book will be published in English and Hebrew. Contact

Joe Shemtob's escape story 

Emil Somekh's story

Not without my grandmother

Friday, August 30, 2019

JIMENA launches Sephardic Studies school curriculum

JIMENA, the California-based organisation representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, has launched Journey to the Mizrah, a curriculum and website designed to educate middle and high school students in Sephardic Studies. 

To date,  JIMENA says, the study of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish heritage, Jewish multiculturalism, and the ethnic diversity of the Jewish people has not been integrated as a regular component of Jewish education in the USA. Despite the fact that over 50% of Israeli Jews and an estimated 20% of American Jews identify as Mizrahi and Sephardic, most North American Jewish educators are unprepared to teach  these subjects, it claims.

Anecdotally, JIMENA believes that one in four students at the Jewish Community High School of the San Francisco Bay identifies as Sephardic through a parent or grandparent. Sephardic students are becoming an increasing majority at Jewish Day Schools in Los Angeles and New York.

The curriculum was created for formal and informal Jewish education institutions using 'traditional Sephardic pedagogy'. Designed and written for middle schools, but easily adapted for high schools, the Journey to the Mizrah curriculum includes twelve lesson plans that incorporate text study, discussion and immersive Sephardic and Mizrahi activities such as Mimouna, Piyutim, Henna, and storytelling.

Click here to access Journey to the Mizrah website

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Israeli cities to mark 60th anniversary of Moroccan aliya

 Celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the great aliya (immigration) of Moroccan Jewry to Israel are being planned all over the country. The Jerusalem Post gives a useful overview of the events leading to the exodus: (with thanks: Michelle) 

The story of Moroccan Jewry’s immigration to Israel is not simple, beginning many years before the State of Israel was established.
To mark their difficult journey home, as well as the major contributions Moroccan Jewry has made to Israeli society, the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry has organized dozens of events in the forthcoming months for the approximately one million Israeli Jews who are Moroccan or of Moroccan descent.

Toward the end of the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and prior to the signing of the Fez Treaty in 1912 that entailed French protection of Moroccan Jews, there was a mass immigration of Jews from large cities – including Fez, Rabat and Marrakech – to the smaller towns and villages surrounding the cities.
However, the decline in the financial circumstances, overcrowding, and the need to pray in secret to avoid persecution by locals caused some young families to immigrate to Israel. Between 1908 and 1918, some 80 families moved to Tiberias and Jerusalem.

In the years prior to the Holocaust, Moroccan Jews were encouraged to enroll their children in French schools. The community was also prompted to receive a French education and integrate into French culture, as French influence in Morocco began to grow in the early part of the 20th century.

But as the Vichy regime came to power in 1940 and the Holocaust began, the situation for Moroccan Jewry began to change.

The David Amar Moroccan Jewish Heritage Center, Jerusalem

Although King Mohammed V is credited with blocking efforts by Vichy officials to impose anti-Jewish legislation upon Morocco and deport the country’s 250,000 Jews to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps in Europe, partial Nazi race measures were put in place in Morocco despite Mohammed’s objection.

Vichy officials also forced Mohammed to sign two decrees, which barred Jews from entering certain schools or obtaining certain positions.

Following the end of World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, Moroccan Jews were encouraged to move to Israel by Zionist groups and organizations.

With French rule remaining over Morocco, Jews were allowed to immigrate legally, and many young Moroccan Jews left to help fight during the War of Independence. Others left as they also felt mistreated by the French government.

With the establishment of the State and the country’s victory over several Arab nations, antisemitism skyrocketed. The Moroccan Nationalist Movement incited hatred against the Jews, and on June 7, 1948, 44 Jews were massacred in pogroms across the country.

This encouraged further immigration to Israel – in the five years following Israel’s independence, around 30,000 Jews made aliyah, and the numbers increased in subsequent years.

By 1954, when it became clear that France was advancing its plan to grant Morocco independence and pogroms and sporadic attacks against Jews started to increase, there was a massive wave of immigration to Israel.

As their situation deteriorated, more and more Jews began to leave. Following Morocco’s independence in 1956 and its joining the Arab League in 1958, immigration to Israel and Zionism were banned.

Although Jews had full rights as citizens following Morocco’s independence, they were still treated with disdain and subjected to antisemitism.

Viewed as one of the most tragic incidents to have happened to Moroccan Jews trying to escape persecution is that of the Egoz, which was a ship smuggling 43 Jewish Moroccans as well as an Israeli representative, Chaim Tzarfati. During the night between January 10 and 11, it sank.

Between 1948 and 1955 around 70,000 Jews left Morocco, and another 60,000 Jews left Morocco from 1955 to 1961.

WITH THE ascension of Hassan II to the throne in 1961, an agreement was made that he would accept a large per-capita bounty from the international Jewish community for each Jew who emigrated from Morocco, and under this agreement Jews were allowed the freedom to leave. By the eve of the Six Day War, some 120,000 emigrated during this six-year period alone.

According to the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, over 300,000 Moroccan Jews have immigrated to Israel since the 1960s.
“Today, before the Federation’s figures, more than one million immigrants [and their descendants] from Morocco live in Israel, making them the second-largest community after immigration from the Commonwealth,” it explained. “On Sunday, there will be a second salute on the eve marking the first series of events, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the mass immigration from Morocco.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Morocco demolishes Holocaust memorial (updated)

Update (with thanks: Lily): According to MEMRI, Ahmed Wihmane, the President of the Moroccan Observatory against Normalization with Israel, said that he salutes the Moroccan authorities for destroying the shameful "so-called Holocaust memorial." However, he criticized the government for, in its idleness, having allowed the building to be erected in the first place, particularly since, according to Wihmane, the owner of the project is a homosexual Freemason with Zionist ideologies. Wihmane compared the Moroccan government's inaction to previous inaction he claimed took place regarding firearms training camps in Morocco that had been under the supervision of "generals and rabbis from the Israeli War Forces" and that had the purpose of establishing a "second Israel" in Morocco.

It seems that Moroccco is not ready for a Shoah memorial, despite its strategy to memorialise its Jewish heritage.  Moroccan Authorities demolished a Holocaust memorial on Monday that was being built by German NGO PixelHelper in Ait Faska, southeast of Marrakesh on the grounds that it did not have the necessary building permits. This comes less than a week after The Jerusalem Post revealed that the Holocaust memorial was in the works. (With thanks: Lily; Imre)

Bulldozers had moved in to destroy the Memorial (Photo: O Bienkowski)

"We thought that there was acceptance of Jewish society in Morocco but it's not [the case],”  (Oliver Bienkowski, founder of PixelHelper)  told the Post. “We get a lot of antisemitic and anti LGBTQ+ messages.”

Late on Monday, Moroccan Authorities denied in a press statement that the memorial was being built, adding that such claims were “unfounded.”

Read article in full

  Huffpost Maroc had reported:

 For the first time in North Africa, a Holocaust memorial (Shoah) honoring the millions of Jews killed during the Second World War will be built by the German non-profit organization PixelHelper.

After the one in South Africa, this second memorial on the continental level will be built 26 kilometers from the city of Marrakech, on the road that leads to Ouarzazate, in the small town of Aït Faska.

Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post, Oliver Bienkowski, founder of PixelHelper and manager of the memorial in Morocco, said the project aims to "show Moroccans, especially students, and Jews in Israel the horror of the Holocaust", adding that the memorial will be composed of more than 10,000 blocks of stone that visitors can browse. A call for donations was launched to fund part of the project.

The monument will also dedicate a portion to homosexual victims of the Holocaust. "In the middle of the monument, there will be rainbow-colored blocks for LGBTQ + people who have died in concentration camps," Oliver Bienkowski said, adding that the project will be completed at the festival of Hanukkah in late December.

The Memorial was to include coloured blocks to remember the homosexuals who perished in the Nazi camps

Moroccan king acknowledges the Holocaust

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Debunking the myth of the ' Arab Jew'

Anyone who keeps abreast of the growing academic field of Mizrahi/Sephardic studies cannot help noticing that the vast majority of papers focus on the purported “discrimination” or “racism” of the Ashkenazi establishment. The expression 'Arab Jew' is widely used too, but is rejected by Jews born in Arab countries themselves, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News:

The 650,000 Jews who overwhelmed Israel in its early years were sent to languish in tent camps or deliberately consigned to the country's periphery - development towns in the far north or south of the country with little employment and prospects, their culture disparaged as 'primitive'.

Typical is this paper by one Sarah Louden, Israeli Nationalism: the Constructs of Zionism and its Effect on Inter-Jewish Racism, Politics, and Radical Discourse. It has 455 views, more than any other paper of its genre. It pulls no punches in attacking the 'racism' of Zionism. But its sources are drawn almost entirely from Mizrahi anti-Zionists like Ella Shohat.

Shohat, a professor at New York university, made her name by applying Edward Said's theory of 'Orientalism' to Israel,  claiming that both the Mizrahim and the Arabs are victims of the West (Ashkenazim). Mizrahi Jews and Arabs are assumed to have more in common with each other that Jews from the East have with Jews from the West. The former, they contend,  were 'torn away' from their comfortable 'Arab' environment by Zionism and colonialism.

 These academics widely assume that the Mizrahim support the Likud and rightwing parties  to 'get their own back' on the Labour-dominated Ashkenazi establishment. According to Sarah Louden, "Mizrahim support the rightwing in Israeli politics as a means of affection and maltreatment by the ruling left-wing Ashkenazi elite, and then set out to promote their own cultural and ideological thoughts."

 But Louden  and those like her hardly mention, or downplay, the  elephant in the room - the subliminal memory  of Arab and Muslim persecution experienced by parents and grandparents driven  from the Arab world. Is is not plausible that   Mizrahi Jews view the rocket  attacks and bombings afflicting Israel as just the latest chapter in a long history of Arab and Muslim antisemitism?  Do they vote Likud  because  they believe that only the right can deliver the necessary tough response?

Western academics almost invariably use the expression 'Arab Jew'. The term  figures in the title of a book by Professor Sasson Somekh - The Last Arab Jew.

Professor Sasson Somekh died last week. Far left media sites like +972  proceeded to mourn him as an 'Arab Jew'.

Born in Baghdad in 1933, Somekh (pictured) published two autobiographies, the first “Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew,” about his life in Iraq and the second, “Life After Baghdad: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew in Israel.”

Somekh was the guru of Arabic Literature studies at Tel Aviv University and spent two years in Cairo where he became a close a friend of the Egyptian Nobel prizewinning author Naguib Mahfouz, whose work he claims to have introduced to a wider audience.

Some of Somekh's disciples in the  Arabic Literature department of Tel Aviv university were anti-Zionists in the Shohat mould. But Somekh never thought of himself as an Arab Jew in their terms.

He told Almog Behar, one of his former students: " The tendency among leading Mizrahi intellectuals of the younger generation to speak of themselves as Arab Jews is first and foremost a political position, that is, their desire to protest sharply against the sense of discrimination that they feel has been directed at Mizrahim. They are, in fact, seeking to highlight their reluctance to be part of the Zionist existence of the state. I do not have a problem with these positions, but for me this is not how the Arab-Jewish identity is defined."

 For Somekh, Arab Jew is a “cultural definition of a Jew who speaks Arabic and grew up in a Muslim environment.” He wanted to emphasize that "his identity stemmed from his point of view as a person who grew up in an Arab culture and continues to engage with that culture."

Iraq was one of the few Arab countries where Jews took a leading role in the Arabic cultural and literary renaissance of the 1920s and 30s.  “I am the last Arab Jew,” Somekh said. "That is why I wrote Baghdad, Yesterday: to document the life of a Jewish Arab child. Anyone who defines himself as an Arab Jew to attack others but who does not speak Arabic… does not count as such. While I do not define myself as a Zionist, if being Zionist means all Jews should come here, I am an Israeli patriot.”

In other words, Somekh saw himself as being an Israeli Jew of Arab culture,  not of Arab ethnicity. Another professor of Iraqi origin, Reuven Snir of Haifa University, concurred: Jews who wrote literary works in Arabic in the early twentieth century felt no need to declare themselves as Arabs.

A conference held some 10 years ago among Iraqi Jews resoundingly rejected the expression 'Arab Jew' as a badge of identity. The vast majority of Jews from the Arab world have not historically  identified as Arabs - in fact many would be offended to be so labelled.

But post- and anti- Zionists academics continue to turn a deaf ear to what most Jews raised Arab countries themselves say and feel,  as long as 'discrimination' against Mizrahim can serve as a useful stick to bash Zionism.

Read article in full

Monday, August 26, 2019

Egyptian spy worked for Mossad 'for world peace'

This is the little-known story of Heba Selim, an Egyptian woman who spied for Israel. Heba was recruited into the Mossad while a financially-strapped student in Paris. Later she passed on military secrets through her husband Farouk Abdul Hamid el-Feki, which enabled Israel to bomb targets in Egypt with pinpoint accuracy at the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Both Heba and Farouk were later executed. A film was made in 1978 about her. Egyptian Streets has the story: 

If one were to list the most influential and important scenes in the history of Egyptian cinema, a strong contender would have to be the ending of the 1978 movie Climbing to the Bottom (El Soud Ela Al Hawia). Actress Madiha Kamel plays the character of Egyptian spy Heba Selim, or ‘Abla’ in the film, who was on a plane approaching Cairo airport after her arrest. Next to her was an intelligence officer, who pointed at the pyramids and the Nile and said the famous line, “and this is Egypt, Abla.”

Heba (Abla) Selim and her husbank Farouk el-Feki

 At a time when Egyptian President Sadat was planning his next step for peace with Israel as part of the Camp David Accords, young Heba Selim was in the shadows working with the Mossad to seduce an Egyptian army officer and gather confidential information to help Israel defeat Egypt during the Yom Kippur War. In her own words, she reckoned that she was also working for peace, telling General Rifaat Osman Gabriel in her last days, “I am not a spy, but I work in order to preserve the human race from destruction.”

Read article in full

Yolande Harmor

Shula Cohen

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Last known Hebron massacre survivor tells his story

In the week in which the 90th anniversary of the Hebron massacre is being marked, the last survivor, Avraham Kiryati, 98,  recalls the horrific events of that day in the Jerusalem Post:

Time has not dimmed the powerful memories that 98-yearold Avraham Kiryati has of the moment his grandfather Eliyahu Capilouto was stabbed during the Hebron massacre of 1929.

“My grandfather was dressed just like the Arabs,” said Kiryati. He went out to see what was going on. They [the rioters] pushed him inside and stabbed him on the side of his body. Kiryati was then a boy of eight.

He and his 18-year-old uncle Moshe Capilouto were in their grandparents’ home as Arabs made their way through the Hebron streets calling for Jews to be slaughtered. The two boys escaped out the back door of their grandparents’ home, safely making their way to the family chicken coup where they hid until it was safe.

When they came out of hiding, they found Eliyahu lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

He is a descendant of Jews who escaped the Spanish inquisition, settling first in Safed and then in Hebron.

His grandfather Eliyahu was a well-known carpenter and electrician, so well respected that he was even hired to work in the Tomb of the Patriarchs at the time when Jews were not allowed into the building – for 700 years, they could only pray up to the seventh step on the outside of what was then a mosque.

Eliyahu built a home a slight distance away from what Kiryati called the Jewish “ghetto,” on a road that led to Gaza.

Kiryati’s parents had moved to Jerusalem, but had sent him to spend some of his summer vacation with his grandparents, a decision that placed him in the wrong place at the wrong time.
> In a separate interview, Kiryati’s nephew, Yossi Saness, also described how in that moment Eliyahu and his wife, Rivka, a gold dealer, had initially stood outside their house to try and dissuade the rioters from entering. After her husband was stabbed, she was able to bribe the rioters to leave by offering them gold she had stashed in the house, Saness said.

“All the survivors were taken first to the police station and then to Jerusalem,” Kiryati said.
In the following months, his grandfather died of his wounds.

When he thinks about it now, he said, the events of that day “is more or less what happened in the Holocaust.” In the early 1930s, his grandmother Rivka was among a small number of families who returned to the city and attempted to resurrect the Jewish community in the biblical city. Their efforts came to naught, as the British insisted that they leave in 1936.

Read article in full

Friday, August 23, 2019

Agreement with Algeria will 'legalise theft of Jewish heritage'

 A Memorandum of Understanding signed earlier this week by the US State Department with Algeria is causing consternation among organisations representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. They argue that it is simply an instrument for legitimising the seizure of Jewish heritage in that country.

 The cultural property agreement negotiated by the State Department under the U.S. law implements the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The United States has similar bilateral agreements with 19 countries around the world, and has imposed emergency import restrictions on cultural property from Iraq and Syria as well.

 The primary aim of the agreement is to place U.S. import restrictions on categories of Algerian archaeological material dating from 2.4 million years ago to approximately 1750 A.D., including some of the earliest human remains found at Ain Boucherit and cultural objects from many of Algeria’s World Heritage sites, including the spectacular Roman ruins of Tipasa, Timgad, and Djémila.

The new MOU is intended to protect the prehistoric sites and Roman sruins at Tipasa, Timgad and Djemila (above) from looting. 

  In the past JIMENA, the US organisation representing Jews from the MENA, has clearly stated its objections to such MOUs: "These MOUs claim to be about looting, but their broad scope and limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a legal vehicle to legitimize foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership claims. Legitimate efforts to curb looting are essential, but they must be targeted to preserve archaeological resources, and not to disguise the brazen property confiscations of tyrants."

 The Jewish community of Algeria, once numbering 130,000, no longer exists. Synagogues, cemeteries, sifre torah and other Judaica were abandoned at the time of the great exodus of 1962, when Algeria acquired its independence.

In April 2019,Rep. Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) introduced the Protecting US Heritage Abroad Act. With North African Jews in mind who are now US citizens, the bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul (R, TX-10) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D, FL-23) would extend the current mandate of the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad to include the Middle East and North Africa, and would provide access to protected cemeteries, monuments and buildings.

More about the campaign against MOUs

Thursday, August 22, 2019

How did the Arabs help the Nazi war effort?

In this important 9-part series in Israel National News, historian Dr Alex Grobman examines the influence of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini on Arab opinion, and the Arab contribution to the Nazi war effort.  Here is an extract from Part 3, 'Enlisting Arabs for the Nazi cause':

Dr Alex Grobman

From 1941-1945, historian Antonio J. Muñoz estimated that about 5,000 Arab and Indian Muslims volunteered to serve in the German armed forces, hardly sufficient to constitute an army of liberation. Their worth as a military force was negligible compared with units created with Muslims in the Balkans and the USSR. Though the Germans failed to conquer the region, the units did have propaganda value which the Nazis exploited.

Joseph Schechtman credited the mufti in helping establish espionage networks to provide information about British troop movements. His news transmissions to the Middle East reported acts of sabotage that would normally have been censored. His agents, who infiltrated the Middle East by land or by air, cut pipe and telephone lines in Palestine and Transjordan and destroyed bridges and railways in Iraq.

His agents, who infiltrated the Middle East by land or by air, cut pipe and telephone lines in Palestine and Transjordan and destroyed bridges and railways in Iraq.

The Mufti's famous meeting with Hitler in November 1941

 He also organized an Axis-Arab Legion known as the Arabisches Freiheitskorps that wore German uniforms with “Free Arabia” patches Schechtman said. As part of the German Army, the unit guarded communications facilities in Macedonia and hunted down American and British paratroopers who jumped into Yugoslavia and were hiding among the local population. The legion also fought on the Russian front. Another major success was el-Husseini’s recruitment of tens of thousands of Balkan Muslims into the Wehrmacht.  Moshe Shertok (Sharett), chief of the political department of the Jewish Agency, reported that on a visit to Bosnia in 1943, the mufti appealed to local Muslims to join the Moslem Waffen-SS Units and met with the units that were already operational.
In addition, Middle East expert Robert Satloff said Haj Amin used his contacts with Muslim leaders in North Africa to urge them to obstruct the Allied advance in every way possible. After Allied troops invaded North Africa in November 1942, Vichy officers in Tunisia established the Phalange Africaine, also called the Légion des Volontaires Française de Tunisie. There were 400 men in the unit, approximately one-third Arab and the rest a mélange of European pro-Fascists. The German Army assumed command of the Phalange in February 1943, fighting the British and the Free French for most of 1944. In 1944, a French military court convicted the unit’s commander, Pierre Simon Cristofini, of treason and executed him.

A second all-Arab unit under German command, known as the Brigade Nord Africaine, Satloff noted was established by Mohamed el-Maadi, a former French officer and antisemite whose nickname was “SS Mohamed.” They fought the partisans, a group of resistance fighters, in the Dordogne region in South-West France.

In March 1944, Schechtman said the mufti urged the Arabs to “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion.” In keeping with this religious imperative, historian Raul Hilberg said the mufti asked the German Foreign Minister on May 13, 1943 “to do his utmost” to prohibit further departures of Jews from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary to Palestine.

Read article in full

The Arabs who fought with the Jews against the Nazis: 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Spain throws up hurdles to citizenship for Sephardim

As the deadline approaches,  Sephardi Jews applying for Spanish citizenship have been frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles and exams to demonstrate linguistic and historical knowledge. Fewer than 10,000 Jews are supposed to have been successful, Soeren Kern argues in The Gatestone Institute. The process to apply for Portuguese citizenship is much easier:

A piece of much-heralded legislation to grant Spanish citizenship to up to 3.5 million descendants of Jews expelled from the country in 1492 is about to end in failure: fewer than 10,000 Jews have been awarded Spanish passports ahead of an October 1, 2019 deadline.

 Spanish leaders promised that the law — which entered into force on October 1, 2015 for a period of three years and was extended for one additional year — would “right a historic wrong” and demonstrate that more than 500 years after the Inquisition began, Jews are once again welcome in Spain. The legislation, however, introduced so many cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles to obtain Spanish citizenship that most prospective hopefuls appear to have been deterred from even initiating the application process.

 Also known as the “Right of Return” for Sephardic Jews (Sepharad means “Spain” in Hebrew), the law purported to grant Spanish citizenship to anyone able to meet two seemingly straightforward requirements: prove Sephardic heritage and demonstrate a “special connection” to Spain. In practice, however, the process has been far more complicated.

 The legislation’s main barriers to Spanish citizenship have been obligatory exams on Spanish language and socio-cultural history, the need to travel to Spain and exorbitant fees and costs. Although prospective applicants do not need to be practicing Jews, they must prove their Sephardic background through a combination of factors, including ancestry, surnames and spoken language (either Ladino, a Jewish language that evolved from medieval Spanish, or Haketia, a mixture of Hebrew, Spanish and Judeo-Moroccan Arabic). According to the law, even if applicants speak Ladino or Haketia — essentially dying languages that are spoken mostly by the elderly in some parts of Latin America, Morocco and Turkey — they are still required to pass a Spanish-language proficiency exam.

Congregants at the synagogue in Porto, Portugal

 In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, the director of the Sephardic Center in Istanbul, Karen Gerson Şarhon, noted the paradox that even though Sephardic Jews have preserved Ladino or Haketia for hundreds of years, proficiency in those languages in and of itself does not qualify them for Spanish citizenship. “A Sephardic Jew who speaks Ladino perfectly understands spoken Spanish,” she said, “but fails the exam because the differences in the written and the oral are very great.”

Read article in full

Melanie Lidman article (Times of Israel)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Talkshow host Maher talks of Jewish ethnic cleansing

With thanks: Lily, Michelle

 By now, everyone has heard that  the two Democratic Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar were banned from visiting Israel on account of their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The debate has been raging in the press and media  - should they have been let in? Should they have not? - and was the subject of a recent discussion on  TV host Bill Maher's popular HBO talkshow.

While the panellists lamented the ahistorical nature of the discussion, Bill Maher wades in at 2:30 minutes in with a point not often heard on mainstream TV: Saudi Arabia won't let Jews in, and the Jewish population of Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran has declined dramatically. Maher cited figures which today are out of date (see table below), but the point was well made. ' It's not a one-way street," he said.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Professor Sasson Somekh passes away

One of the most prominent specialists in contemporary Arabic literature, Professor Sasson Somekh, has died. Born in 1933 in Iraq, Professor Somekh was a prolific writer on contemporary Arabic poets and authors. In the 1990s, he spent two years in Cairo and was a friend of the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 2005. 

  According to Wikipedia, Somekh did his doctorate at Oxford University in 1966–1968. His subject was the novels of Naguib Mahfouz, concentrating on the Cairo Trilogy. Over the years Mahfouz and Somekh became friends. The thesis supervisor was Egyptian scholar Mustafa Badawi. Upon his return to Israel he became a lecturer in Arabic Literature. He served as chairman of the Arabic Language and Literature department at Tel Aviv University in 1972–1984. In 1980, he became a full professor. Between 1982 and 2003, he held the Helmos Chair for Arabic Literature. In 1996–1998 he was head of the Israel Academic Center in Cairo. He was a visiting professor at Princeton University, St Antony's College, Oxford, Annenberg Research Institute, NYU and Uppsala University. In 2004, he received an honorary doctorate from Ben Gurion University

He is among the founders of the Arabic Language Academy in Israel, established in December 2007 in collaboration with several former students.

He wrote ten books, many translations from Arabic to Hebrew, among which are four anthologies of modern Arabic poetry, and about 90 articles in academic journals. Over the past 50 years Somekh published hundreds of articles in literary magazines and supplements such as Iton 77, Halikon and Moznayim. His articles deal mainly with modern Arabic literature and writers.

At the age of 70, Somekh wrote the first volume of his autobiography, Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew. The book was published in Hebrew and has been translated into Arabic, English and Turkish. In the book he describes his life as a Jewish child and teenager in Baghdad during the first 17 years of his life.

The second volume, Yamim Hazuyim ("Call it Dreaming") was published in 2008. It describes his life between Tel Aviv, Oxford, Princeton, and Cairo between 1951 and 2000. The book moves between the four major stations of his life: Tel Aviv - where he lived and worked for 40 years as a professor of Arabic literature; Oxford - where he received his PhD; Princeton - where he was occasionally a visiting professor in the 1970s and '80s; and Cairo - the city in which he did much literary research and where he headed the Israel Academic Center.

More about Sasson Somekh