Monday, January 14, 2019

Radicals: 'nation-state law is anti- Mizrahi'

  Over 50 prominent Israeli Jews of Mizrahi origin have filed a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding it strike down the Jewish Nation-State Law, saying it 'discriminates against both Palestinian citizens and Jewish Mizrahi citizens of Israel'. The signatories are a who's-who of radical leftists and activists. I have 'fisked' in italics this article from +972 by Orli Noy, one of the signatories. (With thanks: Daniel)

There is an assumption here that Arabs and Mizrahi Jews have common values - which is demonstrably untrue.

According to the petition, the law, which demotes Arabic from an official language to one with “special status,” is “anti-Jewish” for excluding the history and culture of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, “while strengthening the impression that Jewish-Arab culture is inferior…and anchoring the identity of the State of Israel as anti-Arab.”

Not all Jews from Arab countries speak Arabic, and when they do, it is a dialect often unintelligible to Muslims. What is Judeo-Arabic culture? You could define the mainstream trends in Israeli culture, music and food as Judeo-Arabic. It is absurd to claim that Israel discriminates against its dominant culture.

The petition, which was written and submitted by Attorney Netta Amar-Shiff, also refers to a clause in the law that establishes Jewish settlement “as a national value.” According to the petitioners, every time Israel takes it upon itself to demographically “re-engineer” the land, it harms Mizrahim by pushing them into the country’s underserved geographical periphery. This process hinders their access to highly-valued land through admissions committees, which allow communities across the country to reject housing applicants based on their “social suitability.”

There is a lot to be said against admissions committees but there is nothing in the nation-state law about them. Nor is there any force 'pushing Mizrahim to the periphery'.  
Author Sami Michael
Among the signatories are renowned author Sami Michael, Professor Yehuda Shenhav, Professor Henriette Dahan-Kalev, Israeli Black Panther and social justice activist Reuven Abergil, among others. (Full disclosure: the writer is one of the signatories of the petition). According to the petitioners, Mizrahim were largely excluded from the law’s formulation, despite the fact that it would affect their community’s right to preserve its heritage, and that its blatant anti-Arab bias would adversely affect Jews from Arab countries.

 Professor Yehouda Shenhav
These are all radical leftists. What proof is there that Mizrahim were excluded from the law's formulation ? The Knesset passed this law by a small majority and there is no evidence that Mizrahi MKs were excluded from the vote.

Following Israel’s establishment, authorities did everything they could to suppress Arab identity and culture among immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries through a forced “melting pot” doctrine, leaving them both materially and culturally disenfranchised. More than six decades ago, Israeli diplomat and Arabic scholar Abba Eban said: “The goal must be to instill in them a Western spirit, and not let them drag us into an unnatural Orient. One of the biggest fears… is the danger that the large number of immigrants of Mizrahi origin will force Israel to compare how cultured we are to our neighbors.”

Mizrahim walk around the Mamila neighborhood in West Jerusalem, 1957. Mamila, like countless other neighborhoods and communities, was empied of its Palestinian residents in the 1948 war. (GPO)
Mizrahim walk around the Mamila neighborhood in West Jerusalem, 1957. (GPO)
For 70 years, this worldview formed the basis for how Israel viewed Mizrahim.

Not true. One can cherry-pick similar quotes by Israel's founding fathers till kingdom come. There are also positive statements.

The political establishment demanded Mizrahi Jews renounce their Arab identity, while driving a wedge between them and their cultural histories. And yet, despite the establishment’s attempts at cultural erasure, expert opinions and affidavits attached to the petition show that many Mizrahim — including younger generations — continue to view Arabic as both culturally and linguistically relevant to their personal lives.

One can equally argue in its drive to create a new Hebrew-speaking Israeli out of its citizens, the state discriminated against Yiddish and the culture of Eastern Europe.

The expert opinions also seek to lay out the complex histories of Jews from Arab countries, in order to explain why the law, akin to a constitutional amendment, would be both harmful to the cultural legacy of Mizrahim and would continue to negatively affect them. According to Professor Elitzur Bar-Asher, a linguist and expert on the Hebrew language, the goal of the law is not to “strengthen Hebrew [at the expense of Arabic], but to lower its Arabic counterpart.”

In his expert opinion, Dr. Moshe Behar demonstrated how Arabic was an inseparable part the Jewish intellectual world in the Middle East during the Ottoman and British Mandate periods, respectively. According to Behar, Jewish intellectuals considered knowledge of Arabic as a necessity for all Jews in the region.

Cultural researcher Shira Ohayon described the influence of the Arabic language and its connection to the revival of the Hebrew language, poetry and Jewish liturgy, while cultural scholar and film director Eyal Sagui Bizawe noted how Jews living in Arab countries took an active part in the creation of Arab culture, and how that very culture became part of their own heritage.

The petition is an important, and perhaps revolutionary milestone in the Mizrahi struggle in Israel. Among the signatories are women and men, religious, secular and traditional, those who define themselves as Zionists and others who do not. The petitioners seek to anchor Mizrahi identity in its deepest sense by demanding our cultural and historical rights, while using all legal, academic, and moral tools to reject any attempt to isolate Mizrahi Jews from our natural environment — all for the benefit of Israel’s “melting pot” ideology.

Read article in full

Sunday, January 13, 2019

New video: The Untold Exodus from Arab Lands

Lyn Julius, author the book UPROOTED and co-founder of Harif, presents J-TV's new eight-minute video, The Untold Exodus of Jews from Arab Lands. In a week, the video has had over 80,000 views on Facebook and hundreds have seen it on Youtube.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Mind The Gap....

Posting will be light to non-existent while Point of No Return takes a short break. See you soon!

Friday, January 11, 2019

'An earthquake is shifting Iraqi opinion about the Jews'

Fascinating interview in Hamodia by Sara Lehmann with the protagonist of the film Shadow in Baghdad, Linda Menuhin, whose father was abducted in 1970s Iraq and never seen again. Linda will be showing the film at SOAS in London on 17 January 2019. 

 Yaakov Abdul Aziz, Linda's father, in dark suit and glasses with the last rabbi of Iraq (in turban and dark classes), Rabbi Sasson Khedouri.

 How did the war affect your everyday life as a Jew?
 They started to come after the Jews. They enacted many measures against the Jews. Jews were kicked out of social clubs, not admitted to university, not allowed to work anywhere. There was a kind of tightening of the rope around us. There was also incitement against Jews on the radio, in the newspapers. Even our Muslim friends and neighbors were scared to show any relationship with Jews. Just like in Germany.

What happened in Germany was the result of long-simmering anti-Semitism that gradually found expression in German laws against the Jews. But despite anti-Semitic allusions in the Koran, it seems as if this anti-Semitism had national and political origins.

Yes, you are absolutely right. Somehow those allusions didn’t float to the surface all these years. First of all, Jews pre-dated Islam in Iraq by 1300 years. So we were the indigenous people and we really didn’t feel anti-Semitism. Apart from the incident of the Farhud, anti-Semitic acts were exceptions to the rule. When the Baath Party came to power, they tried to intimidate the whole country. The best way is to start with the Jews, the most vulnerable component of the population. And then they went after the Christians and afterwards the Muslims themselves. I always say, first Saturday people, then Sunday people, and then Friday people.

In the documentary you talk about the public executions of Jews at Fahrir Square. Can you describe that episode and how it affected you?

 In 1969, following a fake trial, Iraqi authorities publicly hanged 14 people accused of spying for Israel, nine of whom were Jews. I remember there was a live transmission on the radio of the fake trials for months. It was a terrible period for the Jews. During that time, we used to fast every Monday and Thursday and pray, as was customary in a time of trepidation for Jews. We prayed things would improve. In 1968, more and more people were arrested, interrogated, beaten in prisons, and never returned home. A 40-year-old relative of mine was taken to be questioned and came back in a body bag. Eventually they even stopped returning bodies and there was no burial. It was a cruel and violent regime that affected everybody.  

Is that what drove you to leave Israel on your own in 1970?

Since childhood, my mother always told us stories about her family in Israel, and there was constant correspondence with our relatives there. So we grew up with the sense that we would eventually move there. But all these atrocities convinced me that we Jews will have the same fate in Iraq as those arrested and should move to Israel to join our brothers and sisters. I left with my brother in December 1970, and my mother and younger sister left six months after us. Our escape route took us through Iran, in the bitter cold. We left on a Friday and on Sunday my father was arrested, which proves that they were following every move of the Jews. He was arrested, released and then arrested again after my mother’s departure. We believe he was arrested because he bailed out 132 Jews who were caught trying to leave Iraq. My father signed an affidavit of support and was held responsible for their commitment to stay in Iraq and not run away again. He couldn’t do it for all of them because he had to pay a sum of money for each, so he had to find Muslim lawyers to do it. At that time, it wasn’t easy, because who would want to bail out a Jew? But he found some young Muslim lawyers trying to make a living who agreed to do it. Once these Jews started to leave again, my father didn’t have the capacity to pay all these amounts. I don’t know what happened to the other Muslim lawyers.  

On the one hand the Iraqis didn’t want the Jews, and on the other they didn’t want them to leave?

 It’s not that they didn’t want Jews to leave. That was a pretext. They were looking for ways to extort them. I was always trying to find a common denominator among those Jews who were arrested; the majority were rich people that the government would benefit from by arresting. But in the end my father didn’t have the capacity to pay all the amounts he obligated himself to. Also, it was easier to pick him up because he was alone and didn’t have family left to inquire about him.  

What prompted you to start searching for your father after so many years? 

 In 1991, during the Gulf War in Iraq, I was working as an Israeli television commentator and began having a very tough time. I started to have nightmares about Saddam Hussein and my position as an Iraqi working for Israelis. All of a sudden, I began to hate the Arabic language, which was my mother tongue. I eventually had to quit my job as a Middle East correspondent and editor with the IBA (Israeli Broadcast Authority) in Arabic and went to work for the Israeli police in intelligence. By 2003, the Iraq War put Iraq in the news again on a daily basis. But now things were different. Before then, there was an iron curtain which prevented me from even asking questions; now there was internet access to the Iraqi press. I approached the American embassy and then the Israeli Defense but nothing came out of it. Next, I went to London, because many Iraqis fled there from the Baath regime, primarily non-Jews. I met people who knew my father, but got no concrete information. I followed the news coming out from Iraq about the Baath regime’s mistreatment of Iraqis. I felt sympathy for all those who suffered. It wasn’t only me. I also saw sympathy expressed for the Jews. So I started to write and publish again in Arabic in a more personal way, and I started to get feedback.  

Through such feedback you describe meeting an Iraqi journalist who tried to help you solve the mystery of your father’s disappearance. Were you surprised to get help from an Iraqi?

 Yes. And I was very proud that I was able to penetrate the Arabic world. It used to be taboo. Who would ever publish something in Arabic by a Jew? Or an Israeli? But there were many people who wanted to help me who are not in the film. The Iraqi journalist spoke of his grandmother who remembered the “peace-loving Jewish neighbors who were forced to flee” and asks, “Why do we talk about the Christians and other minorities but not about the Jewish community? The community was here for over 2000 years.”

 Do you think he is an anomaly? 

  No. These days, on the contrary. I wrote many pieces about the earthquake that is shifting public opinion about the Jews. First of all, the Iraqi population was a collective victim of its rulers and I think the violence had touched everyone. And there was fear, so no one would stand up for a Jew. They wouldn’t stand up for their brother. Now Hebrew and English books about Iraqi Jews are being translated into Arabic. I even have a picture of an Iraqi minister buying books about Jews. I think this is because it’s an issue of Iraqi identity, not just a minority identity. Now that everything is ruined, they are trying to rebuild that identity.  

The Bush Doctrine that guided the Iraq War was intended to create democracy in Iraq but failed because of corruption and an ideological entrenchment of anti-democratic forces. Would you agree that it’s an uphill battle to change this mindset?

Yes, there was a culture of violence with political upheaval and indoctrination of entrenched violence. Bush came and wanted to change it, and it doesn’t change. But in relation to the Jews, it’s different. They look at the Jews as always having been part and parcel of the Iraqi fabric of society. Not only that, but the Iraqi Jews had contributed so much to the Iraqi society and economy. So dreaming of the Jews coming back is not just idealistic. They keep asking for their return. Looking for the Jews is not just a whim; it’s a practical goal. There’s a strong belief that since the Jews left, there’s no brachah in Iraq. There’s also a change of attitude towards Israel. The Iraqis see that Israel has done so much for the Palestinian cause and they think that the Palestinians have exempted themselves from the burden of responsibility. They feel that the Palestinians should focus on taking care of themselves.

 Do they contrast the Palestinian refugee problem with the successful Israeli absorption of close to a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries?

Yes, but this population swap wasn’t highlighted enough. The story of the Jewish refugees was cut off from the narrative, both in Israel and abroad. And that’s what made me start advocating for this case. I have been active with the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries initiative.

 I also helped to achieve the Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from Arab Countries, which was instituted in 2014. This day, celebrated on November 30, is commemorated in Israeli schools too, where it needs to be taught. There are two types of populations in Israel: Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews. 50 percent of Jews don’t know about their own history, which is not fair.

Read article in full 

More about Linda Menuhin 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Archive lawsuit may be brought against Iraq

Edwin Shuker is the lead in a potential lawsuit that could be brought against Iraq, should it insist that the Iraqi-Jewish archive, which contains Shuker's own school certificate, must be returned. Since the deadline expired in September 2018, however, the Iraqis have not formally asked for the archive to go back, although Shuker says that an unofficial extension has been agreed. He goes on to warn of the danger that Arab countries might lay claim to Jewish items even outside their countries if  the US keeps signing bilateral agreements. Long feature in the Jewish Chronicle:

Fast forward to 2013; Mr Shuker was in Washington, speaking to a group, when he found out that the National Archive was due to exhibit items from the Iraqi Jewish community. He went to the archive and persuaded the curator of the exhibition and the president of the museum to give him a preview.
“We started working through the exhibit. ‘This is the oldest Torah — 16th century. This is the oldest Talmud.’

They were exhibiting 24 items — out of 27,000.

US researchers with some of the Iraqi-Jewish documents (Photo:
“And then they said ‘these are personal items’ — divorce documents, marriage documents, very personal — and they said ‘We also have an example of the Iraqi Jewish school called Frank Iny School, and these are the school reports of children.’

“I said, ‘that’s where I went’.

“There were two school reports, one for a boy and one for a girl. And the boy was me. I swear to God. The boy was me.

“I thought, ‘This cannot be’. I was looking for a candid camera around. I asked, ‘Excuse me, why did you choose this boy and this girl out of all the thousands?’
“She said, ‘We are experts in preserving letters, but not pictures. These reports had pictures — almost all of them were underwater and we cannot recover them, except this little boy, whose picture was just perfect.’

“I said, ‘Well, that little boy is me’. And she looked up, and you can imagine the emotion. We hugged each other.”

This, however, was far from the end of the story — and this was where Mr Shuker asked his Limmud audience to consider some issues with potentially very far-reaching consequences for Jewish communities.

“Recently the West has become very conscious and sensitive about things they have taken from the East — antiquities and all sorts of things,” he said.
He described how, “on a recent visit to the Foreign Office here, as part of the Board of Deputies relationship with the British government, they told us, in a great announcement, that they had managed to convince the British Museum to send back to Iraq some surplus material… as a gesture saying, ‘This belongs to you, please have it back’.

“And the great news that they wanted to share with us is that most of these are Jewish heirlooms.

“Similarly, the State Department is now making bilateral agreements with all these countries, saying, ‘We will not allow any of your items, especially the failed states of Libya, Syria and Iraq — we will not allow stolen and looted things from your museums to be traded here. We will seize it as stolen property and return it.’

“Wonderful. But then it actually states in the agreement, ‘including all the Jewish items and Jewish archives that are there’ — which is a huge market, by the way, Sifrei Torah.

“That agreement would mean that anything that Jews from Arab countries have left behind now has to go back.

“There are synagogues in the United States thinking, ‘We are going to have to justify why we have a Sefer Torah from Baghdad, which has to be returned’. It could be interpreted like that, if somebody wanted to.”

The idea that Jewish items, which were seized by Middle Eastern countries from Jews, are now to be returned to the governments of those countries by the UK and US is a painful one to many Jews, especially those from Arab lands.

The Iraqi archive is a case in point,with ramifications and implications far beyond this collection.

“When the Americans took the items, they were very sensitive that the Iraqis should not think that they [the Americans] were taking their culture away from them,” Mr Shuker said.

“So the State Department signed an agreement in black and white that the United States are borrowing this archive for the purpose of preservation, and it will be returned to Iraq as soon as that is done.

“As soon as this 2013 exhibit came along, the Iraqi embassy and the Iraqi government said, ‘Thank you very much, you’ve done a fantastic job, now we want it back.’

“They made a temporary agreement which ended in September 2018, which said ‘in September 2018, the entire collection goes back’.”

However, Mr Shuker has, as he has described, been “the lead in a Class A lawsuit” on this issue. After all, one of the documents in question is demonstrably his.

He believes that the school report would have been placed with the other archival material because of what would have happened when his family fled the country.
“There is a racist, antisemitic law in Iraq, which is still there today, started in 1951, law number five, which states that any Jew who leaves Iraq for more than three months automatically is considered to have renounced his Iraqi nationality and has no right to get it back. Even today.

“When we escaped from Baghdad in 1971, there was an announcement in the newspaper: ‘These are the runaways, you have three months to report back, otherwise your nationality will be taken away and your assets’, meaning they would go back to our home and strip it.”

Mr Shuker on a visit returning to Baghdad
Mr Shuker on a visit returning to Baghdad (Photo: Courtesy of Edwin Shuker)
Much of the rest of the archival material was taken directly from the Iraqi Jewish community by Saddam Hussein’s officials, Mr Shuker said.

“We went to people — still, 50 years on, people who worked in the Iraqi Jewish community at the time — they would not give their names in court. Most of these files were at the offices of the Iraqi Jewish community.

“In the early 80s, people came to them and said, ‘Saddam Hussein would like to have a museum for his Iraqi Jewish community. We want all your papers, all your archives.’

“The leaders said, ‘Of course, we would love to — please take everything.’ What else would you say to Saddam Hussein?”

There are understandable fears that the archive will be mistreated if it is returned to the country, with concern centred on how Jewish shrines in the country have been treated — in particular, the shrine of the prophet Ezekiel — since 2003.

“Nouri al-Maliki [Prime Minister of Iraq from 2006-2014] gave a tender to an Iranian company,” Mr Shuker explained. “They took over a huge area and constructed a very large mosque, which completely incorporated the shrine of Ezekiel. The graves were desecrated, the bones thrown out.”

Despite the agreement being that the archived items would be returned in September 2018, Mr Shuker told the audience, “We have been managing to delay the sending back by telling the US State Department, ‘We will hold you responsible if these archives go back to the same sewage waste that they came out of. What guarantee have we got that they are actually going to be treasured?’”

He confirmed that there had been a “three-year extension, which is not yet formal, you will not see it on the internet... to allow the Iraqis to come up with a proposal as to where are they going to keep it, how are they going to make it accessible — especially to the owners of those things, so that Edwin Shuker can take his son and say, ‘This is my certificate, this is the place they took from me’ — is that going to be open for us?”

However, Mr Shuker suggested that there were grounds for hope.
He described how “the new Culture Minister of Iraq, appointed last Tuesday, is a wise, kind man who loves our culture — many of us can call him a friend.”
He also cited an upcoming deal in Egypt which might provide a road map for other Arab countries in dealing with this issue. “In the next few weeks, the Egyptian government will announce that it is going to take over responsibility for the upkeep of certain synagogues,” adding there will also be a new board which will include members of Egypt’s tiny remaining Jewish community as well as experienced former members of Egypt’s Jewish community who now live in the diaspora.

Whether other countries will follow suit remains to be seen, but in Iraq, certainly, such an initiative seems needed.

“There are fifty-four synagogue properties in Baghdad alone,” Mr Shuker said.
“And in the basement of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad, there are 400 Sifrei Torah”.

Read article in full

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Yemenite families to sue over disappeared children

 After three investigative commissions, the Yemenite children Affair refuses to die. Families whose children mysteriously disappeared  in the early years of the state are preparing to sue the government and Jewish Agency. Moving report in Ynet News (with thanks: Boruch)

The last time Shoshana Nahshon saw her son, he was sound asleep. The next day he disappeared, as did the next baby she gave birth to. Salma Ozeri was able to save one son out of two. Riki Avivi Hindi, Rami Hukayma and Havatzelet Asmi never got to meet their older siblings. They only knew the pain of their disappearance. Now, Yemenite families whose children disappeared are suing the State of Israel for reparations and fighting to get their tragedy acknowledged, with the hope it might shed some light on the mystery they have had to live with for their entire lives.
Shoshana Nahshon: her 'healthy' son Salem was taken away

Despite years of denial, the tragedy of the Yemenite children refuses to die. The stories that the families have been telling for decades have started to come to life with the chilling revelations about how the state acted. What really happened to the young children of Yemenite Jews who arrived in Israel in the first years of the state? How many children vanished? Where did they go?

Three investigative committees over the years have already looked into the abductions of the Yemenite children. But none delivered conclusive statements and all were heavily criticized for accepting evidence that the children had died without further questions. It was later discovered that many documents were either destroyed or never made their way to court.

The 2001 report from the Kedmi Commission, set up in 1995 by late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, did make some progress: It determined that, “69 children out of 800 are surely not deceased, and their fate is unknown. These babies were given by their parents to hospitals or children’s facilities and never returned. Some were taken by official representatives in order to receive medical treatments or be hospitalized and also never returned.” This is almost a confession when coming from the state, whose official position was that nothing ever happened.

But the committee’s final remark says it all: “This committee is sorry for the families’ loss.”

Lawyers who represent the families in their lawsuit against the state and the Jewish Agency (which operated some of the immigration facilities and process) said that this is the first time the families have demanded answers, acknowledgment of what happened and reparations.

“These children were under the establishment’s care, and it was determined (by the committee) that they were simply lost,” said one of the lawyers. “An advanced country would voluntarily pay reparations, instead of forcing them to sue. As is usual in such cases, the families aren’t suing for a specific sum but will leave it to the courts. We expect millions of shekels to be distributed among the families whose children disappeared.”

The State Prosecutor's Office said the lawsuit has not yet been filed and they therefore cannot comment at this stage.

“We were a part of the last wave of Yemenites to arrive. There was already a rumour going around the transit camp that children were being taken away, but we had just arrived so we didn’t know about it. Salem was my eldest and I was pregnant for the second time when we arrived, and my husband held him when we got off the plane so I wouldn’t have to carry him. We were brought to the camp and were given a tent, and I fell asleep.”

“When I got up in the morning Salem wasn’t there. I started screaming ‘where’s the boy? Where’s the boy?’ and my husband said he was sick. ‘Go to the hospital, you’ll see him there,’ he said, and I told him ‘What hospital? The boy is healthy!’

 Read article in full

More about the Yemenite children Affair

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The man who fought for persecuted Jews

As head of the umbrella group representing Jews from Arab and Muslim states, Meir Kahlon presided over the first 30 November commemorative day of the exodus of Jews from Arab countries in 2014. Before that, he fought to get Israel to recognise the suffering of Libyan Jewry during the Holocaust. He died last week. Obituary by Ofer Aderet in Haaretz (wth thanks: Lily, Itzik):

“Arab nations didn’t accept the UN’s partition plan, and launched riots against the Jews. Today we want to remember this as a Jewish nakba day in Arab countries,” Kahlon told Haaretz at the time, employing the Arabic word for “catastrophe” that Palestinians use for their mass exile and loss of their homeland in the 1948 war.

“It wasn’t only the Palestinians who had a nakba, it was also our nakba, the Jews of Arab lands who were expelled and massacred,” he said. His uncle, Bachar Kahlon, was born in 1938 in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, where the Jewish community numbered 40,000.

His father, Shalom Kahlon, had arrived there from El-Khoms in northern Libya and married Margalit Gita of the Fadlun clan. An uncle on his father’s side had been head of the Jewish community in Zuwarah on the Tunisian border. One of his ancestors had been Rabbi Hacham Binyamin Kahlon.

“We studied Hebrew. Zionism was in our blood, in a community of 2,500 years,” he said. When he was eight, his big sister taught him the words to a children’s song called “A dunam here and a dunam there.” Kahlon’s mother was killed in the Holocaust of Libyan Jews in 1942. “They came and took my father to a labor camp. My mother didn’t want to open the door. The Germans and Italian Fascists gave the door a bang, my mother fell down and a day later she died,” he said.

 He saw how Israel had shunted aside the history of his and many other families from Arab countries. “We were always second in importance. The education system never asked me to tell the story of my mother and father. They didn’t concern themselves with my learning about it. It hurt me. I was angry at how they only spoke about the riots, suffering and Holocaust of European Jews, and not about our holocaust,” he told Haaretz. 

“True the numbers of Jews killed among us was smaller than in Poland – but it isn’t right that we learned about the Kishinev riots for our matriculation exams while the pogroms against Arab Jews weren’t mentioned. In Libya people were also put in camps. Libyan Jews also hid and suffered.” Kahlon went to school in the Ben Shemen Youth Village. After his military service he went into teaching and counseling youths. Later he got involved in public and economic work in the moshavim and the Histadrut. Alongside this he dealt with memorializing Libyan Jewry, was among the founders of the Libyan Jewish Museum in Or Yehuda, and helped Libyan Jews persecuted during the Holocaust. Kahlon is survived by his wife, Malcha, five children, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Read article in full

Monday, January 07, 2019

Why Palestinians should accept compensation

 A thoughtful take by Jonathan Tobin in Haaretz following the announcement by minister of social equality, Gila Gamliel, that Israel would be seeking $250 billion  compensation for Jewish refugees driven from Arab countries: the Palestinians could strengthen their negotiating position if they agreed that both sides should be compensated. However,  maximalist demands have not hitherto dented support for the Palestinians; and this video shows that the issue is land, not money.

Whatever failings one might attribute to Israeli decision-makers, Palestinians Arabs have been cursed by shortsighted leaders over the last century. They have not only been allergic to compromises that might have given them a state long ago, but all too often remained trapped by rhetoric that treated their Jewish antagonists as lacking any legitimate claims. 

Though Palestinians may regard Israel’s bringing up compensation claims for Jews as irrelevant to the peace process, it actually provides them with an opportunity. This is exactly the moment when they might score some points in international forums by actually embracing them.

It’s true that the eight countries named by Israel as liable for up to a quarter of trillion dollars in lost property have no intention of paying dispossessed Jews a single cent. 

But why should the Palestinians, who have spent the last 70 years being used and abused by the Arab and Muslim world, care about that? That’s especially true now since many Sunni Arab governments have embraced Israel as a tacit ally against Iran, and are no longer willing to pay anything more than minimal lip service to the Palestinian cause. 

If instead of ignoring the Jewish claims as a ploy by the Netanyahu government to cause the world to think less about Palestinian refugees, if the Palestinian Authority were to say they agreed that both sides should be compensated, it would strengthen their current shaky negotiating position.

Palestinian children walk past paintings depicting the 1948 'Naqba' or catastrophe, and the UNRWA site in the Fawwar Palestinian refugee camp, near Hebron, on September 2, 2018

At the very least it would make their continuing demands for a "right of return" for their refugees - a term that is synonymous with the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state - seem less intransigent, and make it easier for European countries to pressure Israel about conditions in Gaza. 

Iraqi local leaders make secret visits to Israel

In an unprecedented series of visits, three delegations of local leaders from Iraq have reportedly made trips to Israel in recent months, and held meetings with Israeli officials. The Times of Israel has the story: (with thanks: Lily, Sandra)

The delegations, totaling 15 Iraqis, held meetings with Israeli academics, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, and, most significantly, met with Israeli government officials, Hadashot TV news reported on Sunday night.

 Iraq is at war with Israel and is a firm supporter of the Arab League boycott of Israel. Its passports are not valid for travel to Israel. The groups made the trips, which were firmly designated as unofficial visits, under conditions of great secrecy, the TV report noted, in part in order to avoid antagonizing Iraq’s Iranian neighbors.

The local Iraqi leaders were not from Iraqi Kurdistan, the TV report stressed, but rather from “Iraq proper — that is, Baghdad.” The three delegations comprised both Sunni and Shi’ite members — “influential figures in Iraq.”

 The trips were mainly of a “social-cultural nature,” the TV report said, and also featured meetings with organizations that deal with the Iraqi Jewish heritage. The goal, the report added, was “to build the infrastructure for future ties” between Iraq and Israel, with these delegates going back to Iraq as “kinds of future ambassadors” for Israel there.

Read article in full

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

More about relations between Iraq and Israel

* Iraqi Jews reminisce about the post-1958 commemoration parade to honour Abdul Karim Kassem (with thanks: Lisette, Aida): 

 A memory of the Kassem parade. To see full video (Arabic) click here.

A group of Iraq-born Jews now living in Israel have made a film recording their memories of  parades to commemorate the 14 July 1958 revolution led by Abdul Karim Kassem and a group of army officers. The parades were held every year for four years until the Kassem regime was overthrown.

The Jews, teenagers or children as young as eight, were chosen to represent the Jewish community. They had to gather on their float at midnight in order to be ready for the start of the parade at 7 am.

They recall how General Kassem stood to salute the kids when the Jewish float approached. The float had a golden statue of the general.

One year, the leg broke and one of the participants had to sit on the statue for three hours to hide the break. Another recalls presenting Kassem with flowers and asking him to autograph his photo.

In spite of its bloody beginning  - in 1958 the young king and members of the government were murdered and their bodies dragged through the Baghdad streets - the Kassem era is remembered as a brief 'golden age' for the remaining few thousand Jews. Their rights were restored and they were treated as equal citizens. But that era ended with the assassination of Kassem in 1962.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Where did Jews from the Arab world go?

This survey for Ynet News by Beit Hatefutsot (Israel's Museum of the Diaspora) does not reach any earth-shattering conclusions, but it does recognise that Jews did leave Arab countries  for destinations other than Israel - and in some cases well before Israel was established. (With thanks: Gina, Imre) 

 Jews began leaving Arab countries even before the establishment of Israel, and more left as the conflict between the Arab countries and the nascent Jewish state intensified. 
Yemenite Jews (Photo: Reuters)
Yemenite Jews (Photo: Reuters)
From some countries, the process was quick and most of their Jewish population left within a few short years. But in others, it was a drawn-out process in which the Jews left in various waves. 
The bottom line is that of the million or so Jews who lived in Arab countries in 1947, only a few thousand are left today. Hundreds of years of history disappeared, almost instantaneously. 
As opposed to most Moroccan Jews who left quietly, Jews of other countries did not have such an option. In Yemen and Iraq, most Jews left in operations organized by the State of Israel, often with the assistance of local Zionist movements. Many of those who did not join the mass exodus were left behind until this very day.
For most Jews, Israel was the natural and preferred destination. The excitement stemming from the very establishment of an independent Jewish state in the land of Israel was immense and was articulated the realization of generations of longing and prayers for the return to Zion, out of a desire to be part of the Zionist enterprise. 
There were other factors as well, often personal. Those who had family members who were already settled in other countries and were capable of financially supporting their relatives, often joined them instead of immigrating to Israel. 
In addition, wealthy or well-educated families, such as those who mastered English or French or had professions that would enable them to easily integrate into western countries, often preferred to immigrate to countries other than Israel, at least initially. 
The 6,000 or so Jews who lived in Libya in 1967 were transported to Italy due to the dangers they faced following the 1967 Six-Day War. Most of them then immigrated to Israel. 
Some Jewish communities from Arab lands left and settled in other countries long before the State of Israel was established. Jews from Morocco settled in the Amazon in northern Brazil and Peru during the 19th century rubber boom. 
The Sephardic community in the Canadian province of Quebec numbers some 25,000 today, mostly in Montreal. Many Jews left Morocco in the late 1950s and as French speakers found a home in the French-Canadian province. 
Jews from Syria settled in various communities in Latin America, such as Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Panama, around the turn of the 20th century. 
Sephardic synagogue
                      in Guatemala City (Photo: Beit Hatfutsot)
Sephardic synagogue in Guatemala City (Photo: Beit Hatfutsot)
There were also communities of Jews from Iraq who settled in India and the Far East, or in England, where Yemenite Jews from Aden settled. 
In most of the places where the Jews settled they established a traditional synagogue and made an effort to preserve the religious and cultural customs from their land of origin. Their customs served as an anchor to preserve their identity among the subsequent generations. 
As for language, many Jews spoke a unique Jewish-Arabic dialect which was different from that of Jews from other locations. The Baghdad dialect was different from that of the Jews of Tunis or Yemen. 
In countries that were colonized by France, many Jews adopted the French language. Many of those locations had Jewish schools founded by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a Paris-based international Jewish organization founded the French statesman Adolphe Crémieux to safeguard the human rights of Jews around the world. 
Most first-generation emigrants continued speaking their native language, at least at home. In Israel however, there was immense pressure to learn and adopt Hebrew. Arabic speakers were also viewed with suspicion, as it was this language of the enemy. Consequently, most first generation immigrants abandoned their mother tongue, aside from a few words and expressions, and failed to pass it on to the next generation. 

Read article in full

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Israel to demand $250 billion Jewish refugee compensation

Israeli TV news has announced that Israel is to seek  $250 billion compensation for Jews dispossessed in seven  Arab countries and Iran (not including Algeria and Lebanon). An accountancy firm  has been evaluating lost property and assets over the last 18 months. The announcement, by the Ministry of Social Equality and reported in the Times of Israel, is timed to influence the long-awaited Trump peace deal. The money would be distributed by the Israeli state via a special fund. It is not clear if this is the International Fund, first mooted by President Clinton in 2000. (With thanks: Shimon, Sandra, Sheila and others who flagged this article)

 The Bonan family before their expulsion from Egypt

Israel is preparing to demand compensation totaling a reported $250 billion from seven Arab countries and Iran for property and assets left behind by Jews who were forced to flee those countries following the establishment of the State of Israel.

 “The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” Israel’s Minister for Social Equality, Gila Gamliel, who is coordinating the Israeli government’s handling of the issue, said Saturday.

 According to figures cited Saturday night by Israel’s Hadashot TV news, compensation demands are now being finalized with regards to the first two of the eight countries involved, with Israel set to seek $35 billion dollars in compensation for lost Jewish assets from Tunisia, and $15 billion dollars from Libya. In total, the TV report said Israel will seek over $250 billion from those two countries plus Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an international umbrella group of Jewish community organizations, has estimated that some 856,000 Jews from 10 Arab countries — the other two were Algeria and Lebanon — fled or were expelled in 1948 and after, while violent Arab riots left many Jews dead or injured.

 For the past 18 months, utilizing the services of an international accountancy firm, the Israeli government has quietly been researching the value of property and assets that these Jews were forced to leave behind, the TV report said. It is now moving toward finalizing claims as the Trump Administration prepares for the possible unveiling of its much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal.

A 2010 Israeli law provides that any peace deal must provide for compensation for assets of Jewish communities and individual Jews forced out of Arab countries and Iran. “One cannot talk about the Middle East without taking into consideration the rights of the Jews who were forced to leave their thriving communities amid violence,” said Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

 “All the crimes that were carried out against those Jewish communities must be recognized.”

 The Palestinian Authority has sought over $100 billion in compensation from Israel for assets left behind by Arab residents of what is today Israel who fled or were forced to leave at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state, and presented documentation to that effect to the United States a decade ago, the TV report said.(...)

 Monies obtained from the eight countries would not be allocated to individual families, the TV report said, but would rather be distributed by the state via a special fund. Gamliel is coordinating the process, together with Israel’s National Security Council, which works out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Read article in full 

World Israel News 

Jewish News 

Morocco World News 


Levana Zamir on Qualita radio (French)

StandWithUs release

Thursday, January 03, 2019

How rigorously was Orphans' Decree in Yemen enforced?

 The Yaqin Institute has Islamist links and an interest in revising history in order to whitewash the less savoury aspects of Islamic history - such as forced conversions. This article downplays the impact of the Orphans' Decree in Yemen reintroduced by Imam Yahya in the 1920s. Turning a blind eye to Jews escaping Yemen to avoid conversion, is portrayed as a virtue. (Hitler, too, allowed Jews to escape persecution in the 1930s. This does not make Hitler any less of an tyrant.) (With thanks: Lily)                                      

Yemenite Jewish Children in 1901 (Hermann Burchardt)

Another case of forced conversion in Islamic history is that of the Orphans’ Decree issued by Imam Yahya al-Mutawakkil (d. 1948) in the early 20th century. After the First World War, the crumbling Ottoman Empire recognized Yahya as its successor in Yemen. Yahya then laid claim to “Greater Yemen,” parts of which were ruled by the British or Yahya’s political rivals. As a leader of the Zaydī community, Yahya also re-introduced Zaydī law, part of which contained the “Orphans’ Decree” requiring his government to forcibly convert orphaned Jewish children to Islam. [41]However, a closer look at the case of the Orphans’ Decree reveals that though Imam Yahya himself introduced the decree, he turned a blind eye to the smuggling of Jewish orphans out of Yemen to avoid conversion, and on some occasions even facilitated this process.[42] The Jews who fled from Yemen exaggerated the number of children forced to convert in an attempt to earn sympathy for the cause of helping more Jewish children escape.[43] However, the guardians of many Jewish children helped them to escape to Imam Yahya’s jurisdiction rather than from it, and they found refuge with the very regime that was ostensibly bent on forcing them to convert to Islam.[44]
 Imam Yahya, for his part, implemented the decree selectively, and in doing so he revealed his reason for introducing it in the first place: it had little to do with a desire to forcibly convert his Jewish subjects to Islam, and more to do with asserting his authority in an unstable political environment in post-WWI Yemen.[45] Though a reductionist narrative of the Orphans’ Decree may immediately present it as a case of Islam being “spread by the sword” among Yemen’s Jews, it is noteworthy that Jewish sources describe Imam Yahya in very favorable terms.[46] At the same time, “Yemeni Jewish writings discuss the forced conversion of Jewish orphans explicitly but are reluctant to mention voluntary conversions.” 

Read article in full

Here, in contrast, is the Wikipedia account:  

Tudor Parfitt compares the Orphans' Decree to "draconian measures introducing the forced conscription of Jewish children into the Czarist's army" in Russia.[4] Concerning the reintroduction of the Orphans' Decree in Yemen in 1921, after the end of Ottoman rule, Parfitt says that "in the first ten years" it "was implemented with great rigour."[4]
Once again the decree was not implemented equally in every part of Yemen. In some places the authorities turned "a blind eye" to escaped and hidden children, but, in the places the Decree was implemented, troops were sent to search for escaped children, and the leaders of Jewish communities that were suspected of hiding the children were "imprisoned and tortured".[4][2]
In 1923 the Jewish community of Al Hudaydah suffered the abduction of 42 orphaned children, some of whom managed to escape.[4]
A witness account from Sana'a recalls an abduction of two fatherless siblings, a brother and a sister. The children were forcibly taken from their mother's arms and beaten to make them convert to Islam. The Jewish community offered to pay for the children's release to their family, but Islamic law prohibits accepting money to avert such a conversion. The witness compares the ceremony of the conversion of the siblings to a "funeral procession".[4]
After getting out of the orphanage, converted Jewish boys were often enlisted as soldiers. The girls made a valuable asset as brides because there were no relatives who needed to be paid a bride price in order to marry them.[4]
Jewish communities responded by acting quickly when children were orphaned, sometimes taking children and placing them with Jewish families living in dense Jewish settlements, especially Sana, large enough that a Jewish family might lack Muslim neighbors who would notice the addition of a child to a family.[2]

  However, because "hidden" children might be discovered and forcibly converted, relatives or the Jewish community sometimes arranged to take them out of the Yemen; cases are recorded of Jews making the arduous journey to settle in the Land of Israel with orphaned relatives or unrelated children they had adopted in order to escape the threat that the children might be taken for conversion.[2] In the first-half of the twentieth-century, the Chief Rabbi of Yemen, Yihya Yitzhak Halevi, worked tirelessly to save Jewish orphans from falling into the hands of Muslims.[5] From about 1920, British imperial control of Aden provided a safe haven to which orphaned children could be taken; clandestine caravans carrying orphans and traveling by night are known to have gone from various parts of Yemen to take orphaned children to the sanctuary of the British Empire.[2]
An orphaned boy or boy or girl could also be very quickly married, since married people had the legal status of adults and could not be taken for forcible conversion.[2]

How one prisoner found inspiration in Evin prison

 The Book: a Humble quest into the Hebrew Scriptures is the result, soon after the Ayatollahs had taken power,  of one man's attempt to stay sane - and alive - in  Iran's most notorious prison: Evin. Lyn Julius reviews the book, one of the rare memoirs written by imprisoned Iranian Jews :

For decades the post-1979 government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been dispatching its enemies to Evin - those who have plotted to overthrow the regime, those who supported the Shah's regime and his western allies, suspected homosexuals, alleged spies. They rubbed shoulders with common criminals and drug smugglers.

Into a cell four feet by ten feet, shared by ten prisoners with two blankets between them, was flung a Jewish manufacturer of brake linings by the name of Joseph Koukou. It was not clear what crime Koukou had committed, nor did it matter to the regime. In the revolution that had brutally overturned the social and economic order, a group of greedy employees had turned against Koukou and denounced him as a renegade or a Zionist spy. Every day inmates would be executed by firing squad on the flimsiest of grounds.

Koukou was one of the lucky ones. If he got out alive from Evin after serving just under five years, it was thanks to his 23-year old daughter Sandra. She managed to waylay the car of the judge in charge of Koukou's case. She managed to locate her father's file -  enemies were known to pay bureaucrats bribes to have files lost in the pile of cases awaiting a verdict. Seemingly encouraged by the spectre of her dead grandfather, Sandra's objective was not to get her father released, so much as to lessen the chances of his execution and get closure on his case. This was no foregone conclusion. The judge was so ruthless that he later sentenced his own son to death.

Sandra's story is recounted in Chapter Three of Koukou's memoirs, titled simply 'The Book'. Sandra illustrated and edited the memoir, which was published in 2015.

While in jail each prisoner was allowed to read only his holy book. Joseph Koukou immersed himself in the Hebrew Bible. The greater part of The Book is devoted to Koukou's musings on the biblical scriptures. While several of his companions took their own lives in the shower, Koukou found in the Tanakh the spiritual strength to sustain him - and others. 'He was a true friend in what was the most difficult time of my life,' wrote a fellow inmate. 'His spiritual and mental support to me and many others during that horrible time will never be forgotten.'

Accounts of the experiences of Jews victimised by the Ayatollahs during the Eighties have been few and far between - the best known is 'Septembers of Shiraz' by Dalia Sofer. The Book is thus a precious resource. Sandra Koukou has produced a moving tribute to her late father, his intelligence and courage.

The Book: a Humble quest into the Hebrew Scriptures by Joseph Heskel Koukou is available in hardback, paperback and Kindle from Amazon.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Egypt to preserve 'unique' Jewish cemeteries

Following an announcement that it was spending 71 million dollars to preserve religious sites,  the Egyptian government appears to be extending its scope to cover Jewish cemeteries. Egyptian Streets has the story (with thanks: Boruch):

According to local media outlets, the Ministry of Antiquities is preparing to officially register three Jewish cemeteries in the ministry’s records.
The news, which is to be carried out by a central committee, was announced by Mohamed Mahran, chairman of the Central Department of Jewish Antiquities at the Ministry of Antiquities.

Mahran stated that rare and unique cemeteries belonging to Jewish figures and rabbis woud be registered, namely three in Alexandria’s Shatebi and Azarita areas.  Moreover, the central committee has been preparing a report of unique monuments pertaining to the Jewish heritage, including the cemeteries.

For years, the state of preservation of Egypt’s Jewish cemeteries has been lamented on social media. Pictures and videos of Jewish cemeteries filled with garbage or being disturbed by the construction of roads sparked outrage and incited authorities to take more action in preserving the culturally significant sites.

As such, out of the thousands of Jewish cemeteries existing in the country, approximately 60 were also chosen for registration and will be protected under the Antiquities Protection Law No. 117 of 1983.

Amongst the recorded sites would also be temples and villas belonging to famous Jewish families such as Jacob Mansha’s. The latter built a temple in the area of Mansheya.

One of the cemeteries to be registered contains as many as 20,000 tombstones. The three cemeteries, put together, date back to over 150 years ago and cover an area of 15 fedans.

In July, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities  approved a request to allocate EGP 40 million for the restoration of the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria.

The Synagogue, also known as the Jewish Temple, was shut down earlier this year after a part of the ceiling collapsed.

 Read article in full

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Why Jeremy Corbyn needs to know about Mizrahi Jews

 The author of a book on the treatment of Jews in Arab and Muslim lands has spoken about how the leader of Britain's opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn’s, understanding of Middle Eastern politics and history is a “complete inversion of the truth”, and has indicated that she would be happy to send him a copy of her work to read. Danny Silverman reports for the Jewish Chronicle:

Speaking at the Limmud Festival, Lyn Julius, the author of Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab World Vanished Overnight, described how a knowledge of the experience of Mizrachi Jews – Jews primarily from the Middle East and North Africa – may help the Labour leader to “learn something new.

“It would certainly enhance the prospects for peace if he were to have a less lopsided and negative view of the Jews and Israel.”

Ms Julius, who is also the co-founder of Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, cited, for example, the widespread belief on the far-left that Israel “is a white, colonial settler state.”

In fact, she said, “half the Jews of Israel are so-called ‘people of colour’ – they have their roots in Arab and Muslim lands. That’s just over 50 per cent of the Jewish population of Israel.

“If Corbyn knew about Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, he would learn that they were in the region 1,000 years before Islam.”

Ms Julius also said: “The Jews from Arab countries could have told both Corbyn and Livingstone that the Ha’avara Agreement was not evidence of collaboration between Zionists and Nazis, but that it was a desperate measure to save Jews. In the same way, Israel made a deal with Iraq, with Yemen and with Morocco to rescue tens of thousands of Jews in distress and airlift them to Israel. This does not mean that Israel was in any way complicit with Arab persecution.”

She also described how “the Jews from Arab countries know that the distinction between ‘Jew’ and ‘Zionist’ is a spurious one.

“Zionism was declared a crime in Arab League countries. But how to define Zionism? Does having a Magen David on a prayer shawl count as Zionist? Does having a letter from Israel count as Zionist? Jews in Iraq were arrested for having wristwatches, because the authorities thought they were sending secret signals to the Zionists – and therefore the Jews would be arrested and charged with spying.
“Sooner or later, Jews are persecuted for being Jews, no matter how much they declare that they are anti the State of Israel.”

She said she would be “definitely” be happy to give the Labour leader a copy of her book.

“It has been suggested that I should do so, and maybe I should. The trouble is, the chances of him reading are actually quite slim. Anything which does not confirm his worldview I don’t think he would read – but I could try.”
Ms Julius also called for the establishment of a museum in Israel which would tell the story of Mizrachi Jews and how they were in many cases forced to flee from places where they had lived for centuries, if not millennia.
"There is a plan to build such a museum", she said.

"Discussions are going on at the moment as to exactly where it should be and what should be in it. I think it would be a brilliant idea; visitors should not only go to Yad Vashem, but be taken to this museum. But we’ll need to wait a few years before it actually materialises."

Read article in full