Saturday, March 30, 2019

Palestinians share responsibilty for Jewish refugees

If Israel shares responsibility for Arab refugees with the Palestinians and Arab states, then the same logic applies to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Lyn Julius offers reasons why in JNS News:

Not long ago, I heard emeritus professor of Tel Aviv University Asher Susser give a talk on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He came to the following conclusion:
The conflict is insoluble because the Palestinians and Israelis have two irreconcilable narratives. And the Palestinians will never give up their so-called “right of return.”

Yet as I pointed out to him, two sets of refugees arose out of the conflict: one Arab and one Jewish. The Jewish-refugee issue has been solved, but there was an incontrovertible (and irrevocable) exchange of roughly equal refugee populations between what is now Israel and the Arab world. Such exchanges happened in the India-Pakistan conflict, between Greece and Turkey, and between Greek and Turkish Cyprus.

End of story.

Professor Susser acknowledged that Israel would never accept 5 million Arab refugees (this number, uniquely, includes their descendants). The responsibility, he said, should be shared with the Palestinians and the other Arab states.
Maybe the professor was playing Devil’s advocate, but his reply is one I have heard from Arab sources: What have the Palestinians got to do with the Jewish refugees?

When I replied that the Mufti of Jerusalem embodied Palestinian antisemitism, inciting the 1941 Farhud massacre of the Jews in Iraq, he countered by saying the Mufti was just one man, and there were other causal factors behind the Farhud.

 The Mufti of Jerusalem meeting Hitler in November 1941. He wanted a free hand to exterminate the Jews not just in Palestine, but across the Arab world

Yes, the Palestinian Mufti was just one man. But he was the de facto leader of the Arab world, where popular opinion was overwhelmingly pro-Nazi. He aligned himself with pro-Nazi nationalists to overthrow the Iraqi government. He took refuge in Berlin with 60 other influential Arabs, there to broadcast virulent anti-Jewish propaganda over Radio Berlin with a view to facilitating the extermination of the Jews, not just in Palestine, but across the Arab world.

Palestinian and Syrian pro-Nazi nationalists had taken control of levers of power in Iraq, and they, too, bore responsibility for inciting anti-Jewish hatred.
The Palestinians, therefore, helped lay the groundwork for the forced exodus and dispossession, under color of law, of the peaceful, non-combatant Jews from the Arab world – branded by Arab League states “the Jewish minority of Palestine.” Seven Arab League states, egged on by the Palestinian leadership, made the fateful decision to wage a war of annihilation against Israel. They must bear responsibility for creating both refugee problems.

Israel took responsibility for resettling 650,000 people over the years—the majority of Jewish refugees. But by Professor Susser’s logic, responsibility for causing the Jewish-refugee problem should also be shared with the Palestinians and Arab states.

The “right of return” is possibly the single greatest obstacle to peace. It is quite clear that the Palestinians, supported by their exclusive agency UNRWA, will never give it up. But this is a fictitious right in international law, a ruse to reverse Israel’s victory in the 1948 war by demographic means.

Why has the international community indulged this destructive fantasy?
Of the 135 million refugees produced through conflict in the 20th century, only the Palestinian refugees, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have not been absorbed 70 years on, even those who come under Palestinian control in the West Bank and Gaza.

If it really wants to encourage peace, the international community needs to show some tough love, by telling the Palestinians: Get real and stop trying to reverse history. You can choose your own narrative, but you can’t choose your own facts.

Read article in full

Friday, March 29, 2019

'Jews of color' push back at identity politics

The myth that all Jews are white is  gaining ground on US campuses and in politics - and nowhere more than in that crucible of liberalism on American's West Coast, where identity politics are the new orthodoxy. This week's Jewish Journal (of Los Angeles)  has as its cover story The Forgotten Jews of Color. The magazine aims to tackle two main myths: that all Israelis are from Europe; that all Ashkenazi Jews are white. The third article tells how Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Mizrahi can still be accepted as part of the Jewish people.

 Defining Israel in Black and White by Shahar Azani:

The narrative of Mizrahi Jews does not and should not exist only as a counterreaction to that of Palestinian refugees. It is much more than a bargaining chip on the table. It is a story very much worth telling. As mentioned above, Zionism drove many members of the ancient Yemenite Jewish community to arrive in Israel in 1881. Those early pioneers, who were lucky enough to survive the journey, faced difficulties upon arrival in the Land of Israel. They were rejected by some of their Ashkenazi brothers and sisters, who doubted their Judaism.

The ignorance did not end there. While Mizrahi Jews were many and present in Israel’s culture and everyday life, the country’s educational system for too long taught Western Jewish history to the letter while only slightly touching on the history of Mizrahi Jews, if at all. This lack of knowledge contributed to the marginalization of this important community in the overall Israeli narrative.

In response, the Israeli government has taken important steps in recent years to narrow the gap. Israel’s Ministry for Social Equality in 2016 allocated about $2.5 million in U.S. dollars for a special project to document the stories, heritage and history of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands. The goal is to collect personal testimonials from Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews — their lives before they made aliyah, their situation when they left or were expelled from their homes, and the story of their absorption into modern Israel. Upon announcing this national project, Minister Gila Gamliel stated: “This is not a uniquely Mizrahi interest but a national, Jewish and Zionist interest. From now on, the Jewish story will be more complete, and Israeli citizens young and old will get to hear, study and become familiar with both the Eastern and Western sides of the glorious heritage of the Jewish people.”

Read article in full 

 We're Jews, we're not white, we define ourselves by Karen Lehrman Bloch:

I wrote a column about that fact this past summer, titled, “We, the Israelites.” The response was mostly positive, but I was intrigued by the negative reactions. Some Jews, no matter how religious or Zionist, didn’t want their whiteness taken away from them. They essentially told me to back off.

I no longer discuss these types of things with my dad, who just turned 89. But if he were younger and I said to him that I no longer identify as white, he would flip out. He would be angry, but more than anything he would be scared. I realized the same fear was underlying the responses of some of my friends.
This conversation probably would have continued in the backwaters of the web if it weren’t for the current practitioners of identity politics. In the past six months, Jews have been told:
  • We are inexorably white and thus responsible for colonialism, the slave trade and mass incarceration.
  • We are white supremacists, and thus responsible for all racism and oppression.
  • We are white and thus incapable of being persecuted — past and present. 
  • The Holocaust was a white-on-white crime and thus of little import. We should stop “centering” ourselves!
  • As part of the white European ruling caste, we are the primary beneficiaries of white privilege.
  • We are responsible for tragedies like New Zealand, especially if we dare to call out anti-Semitism (which doesn’t really exist because we are white).
We are once again being defined by others, and not just by any others, but by others who have an agenda that includes, at the very least, the destruction of Israel.

Read article in full

One Nation, Many faces by Michael Freund

Thursday, March 28, 2019

'Turkey's Jews are unsafe and should leave'

Leaders Erdogan and Netanyahu, both facing imminent elections,  have repeatedly traded verbal insults recently. However,  a familiar pattern has emerged in Turkey of the government using incitement and threats against the local Jewish community in order to score domestic political points.  The result? Physical violence against Turkish Jews may not be far off, predicts Michael Rubin in the Washington Examiner. They should leave.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have clashed

Turkey’s mercurial leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan took his diplomatic spat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a new level on Wednesday when he implicitly threatened the well-being of Turkey’s already dwindling Jewish community.

“Do not provoke,” Erdogan said, before noting that he had not yet taken any action against Turkish Jews or their houses of worship. This is, of course, not the first Turkish government threat against its Jewish community. A decade ago, then-Foreign Minister Ali Babacan privately told Turkish Jewish leaders that if the U.S. Congress passed a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide, Erdogan’s government would feel no obligation from preventing Islamist mobs from attacking Turkish synagogues.

It may not have happened yet, but it will, and soon. It is true that Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire before it, has been more hospitable to Jews than many European and Arab countries. Jews received refuge in Ottoman domains upon their 15th century expulsion from Spain, and they remained generally welcome for centuries after. One of the reasons successive Turkish governments have welcomed and protected the Jewish community has been that Jews in Palestine were one of the few Ottoman groups which did not rise in rebellion against Istanbul. Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, and Serbs, on the other hand, all did. As for the Kurds, they of course rose up repeatedly after Turkish independence, and still do.

But early in his reign, Erdogan discovered that anti-Semitic incitement was a powerful political tool. For that matter, the same was long true for his ally-turned-rival Fethullah Gulen, although as Gulen has been targeted by Erdogan, he has had a change of heart.

The Erdogan years have been scary for Turkish Jews. The Turkish leader and his top aides have regularly peddled in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Wikileaks? The whole episode was a Jewish plot to embarrass Turkey. The 2013 environmental protests at Gezi Park? Another Jewish plot.

Read article in full

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Iraq's unsung Jewish airforce hero

A Jew  appointed  head of Iraq’s Air Force? Unlikely as it may sound, it almost became a reality.  This is the extraordinary story of Nagi Dabby, son of Messouda Sourani and Efraim Dabby, as told by Sami Sourani, his first cousin. (With thanks for their help to Sass, Miriam)

Growing up in the 1920s, Nagi Dabby was very intelligent, had a fantastic memory and a charming personality.  But his mother Messouda was very worried. When he was a young schoolboy he would come home and sit on the swing (jelala) every day.  He never opened a book. So she went to see the teacher to find out what was going on. She was told that he was the best in his class.

 Nagi Dabby had always wanted to be a pilot. He registered at the  Royal Military College, (Al-Madrasa Al-Askaria) at a time when  King Faisal of Iraq was encouraging Jews and other minorities to play their full part in contributing to Iraq’s prosperity. 

It is telling, however, that he felt the need to change his name to Nagi Ibrahim to conceal his ethnic background. 

After graduation, the Iraqi Government sent him to England for two years to be trained as a pilot. When he returned to Iraq, his career literally took off after Iraq acquired fighter 'planes from Italy and the United States.

Amazing as it might sound, Nagi Dabby was within a whisker of becoming Head of Iraq’s Airforce. He was offered the top job after a purge of the Iraqi military following a period of instability. On October 29,1936, the then Iraqi Defence Minister, Baker Sidqi,  had staged a coup. Sidqi was assassinated a few months later and matters returned to normal.

Nagi turned down the job. 

He went to England for a time, returning  to Iraq so that he would not be called a deserter. On his return, he  received a personal welcome from the Iraqi Armed Forces Chief of Staff.

While living in Iraq, he became a very close friend of King Ghazi (the son of King Faisal I) and his personal pilot. King Ghazi liked  fast cars and enjoyed flying at every opportunity.

After becoming an Iraqi officer Nagi never hid the fact that he was Jewish.

The Iraqi Minister of Interior  only flew in a plane if Nagi was the pilot.

However,  the Iraqi army and Defence Ministry became very antisemitic and refused him  the promotion to the rank of Major which he was due.

Nagi left  for England again just before King Ghazi was killed in a car accident. In England Nagi did a special training course  to attain the rank of Captain.

When WWII broke out, he volunteered to join  the Royal Air Force.

With the RAF, he was initially based in Wales where he trained young pilots. He survived the war because he was much more useful to the RAF as an instructor than to fly on missions. ( A pilot's life expectancy was less than four months, or five missions at the time).

Nevertheless, he went on at least two bombing raids in Germany.

Arabic Radio Berlin branded him a traitor and  bad-mouthed him on several occasions. A few days before the Farhud massacre in June 1941, a firebomb was thrown at his parents' home in Baghdad. His parents had to go and live with relatives. On the day of the Farhud, the mob broke into his parents’ home and looted everything, leaving the house stripped bare.

He had some expertise with bombs and he was sent to North Africa to investigate why certain bombs did not explode on impact.

From there he is believed to have visited  Baghdad. His nephew Sass remembers that Nagi stayed with  his family and the Regent sent a magnificent bouquet of flowers. Nagi went to see the Regent to "pay his respects".

He was also sent on  a secret mission in Spain. He went there as an Iraqi civilian using his Iraqi passport. He never gave away any detail of this mission to anyone. He is thought to have visited Baghdad from there too.

 Nagi's ID

Nagi was highly decorated and received medals both from the Iraqi and the British armed forces. King George VI of England awarded him a medal and an Administration Certificate.

 Nagi was decorated by both Britain and Iraq
Certificate from King George VI admitting Nagi to the wartime RAF Volunteer reserve
Nagi retired from the RAF with the rank of Squadron Leader. He was working in the Ministry of Defence in London toward the end of the war and for a short period after the war. The RAF wanted him to stay on but he decided to quit.

On leaving the RAF after the war, he acted as an intermediary for British companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He knew both Salih Jabr and Nuri Said (senior Iraqi politicians) . He was a close friend of Nuri Said's son (they may have trained as officers at the same time). Initially this work earned him a magnificent house in Wimbledon, London. Following the Kassem revolution in 1958, his finances deteriorated but he still carried on this sort of work. He maintained his contact with the Iraqi Embassy in London and helped very many Iraqi Jews with passport matters.

Nagi with his wife Soohad

 His wife,  a child bride, was very beautiful.  They had no children and separated in the mid 1960s. He had little to do with Israel but was very proud of its achievements.

He died in 2008 just short of his 100th birthday.  In his last days, in a London hospital, the staff treated him with respect and insisted on calling him The General.

There are plans to turn Nagi Dabby's story into a film and  to display his medals  at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage center in Israel.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jews owned more than 200,000 dunams in Golan

With thanks: Hadar and Yisrael

 President Trump's endorsement of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights has led to much comment assuming the territory has always been Syrian. But Jews did own land prior to 1948 in the Golan, and the JNF still own acres of land in the Houran, south-west Syria today. While ownership is a separate issue from sovereignty, the matter, like much else in the Middle East,  is not as clear-cut as some would have us believe. 

The Jews  had a farming community at Ramtania at the turn of the century.  The  Beit Yehuda Society on the western slopes of the Golan had 2 ,000 dunams of  land (One dunam equals one English acre or 1,000 sq. metres). Originally called Bir a Shagum,  the community was established by Jews from Safed. The original Bir a Shagum community suffered terribly from attacks by  Bedouin who used to arrive in the Golan every summer with their livestock. Families left because of the attacks and eventually just one family remained. They held out for a while but eventually left too.
Between  1891-4,  150,000 dunams were owned by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and  100,000 dunams bought  by Agudat Haim Society in Fiq & Daraa. Land was also owned by the  Shavei Zion Association.   Land in the Horan area of what is today south west Syria technically belongs to the Jewish National Fund like the rest of Rothschild's purchases now.

 The Golan Heights, looking towards Lake Kinneret (Photo: Roman Sulla)

Here is an extract from Manfred Lehmann's blog about the Baron Rothschild's purchases:
"After making acquisitions in various places west of the Jordan, he turned his attention to buying land east of the Jordan, on the Golan. Toward the end of 1891 a certain Ahmed Pasha made it known that some 120,000 dunam of prime land in the triangle formed by the Yarmuk and the Allane rivers were up for sale at the bargain price of around 1.5 franc per dunam, provided that the sale was made "en bloc," i.e., for the total area.

There followed intensive discussions among various Jewish groups interested in the offer, among them groups in Russia, New York and London. The Baron agreed to cover the whole cost of the purchase.

 Since the Baron was always keen to preserve his anonymity, he arranged for the deeds to be registered in the name of Emile Frank, the Representative of Alliance Israelite in Beirut.

The plan called for the Russian group, under Ekaterinoslav, to take 25,000 dunam and the Americans also 25,000, with other holders taking the balance. But since these groups did not come up with the money, it fell to the Baron to become the owner of the major part of the Golan Purchase.

 When the Baron died in 1934, 80,000 dunam on the Golan were owned by the Rothschild company, PICA (Palestine Jewish Colonization Association). The land had been registered in the name of PICA in 1929.

The Syrian government - Syria was then practically a French colony - tried in the 1940s to confiscate the land but failed.

In 1957, the son of Baron Edmond, Baron James de Rothschild (1878 - 1957), as one of his last acts in his life, transferred the deeds to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) and from there to the Land Office of Israel. All deeds and other documents were transferred to Israel's Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

 Books referring to Baron Rothschild's purchases on the Golan

Monday, March 25, 2019

Were Moroccan Jews refugees?

A few weeks ago, Abraham Elarar, head of the Canadian Sephardi Federation wrote in Canadian Jewish News that Moroccan Jews left their country of birth out of Zionism. Those who did not go to Israel could not possibly be refugees, since they still have links with Morocco: (but Jews who fled Nazi Germany might still have links with Germany. It is true that Morocco did not strip Jews of their citizenship, but it still criminalised Zionism, with all that entailed.)

Jews in Morocco

Of the 856,000 Jews who lived in Arab countries and Iran, over 257,000 – 30 per cent – lived in Morocco. There, already before the bitter experience with the Vichy period of the French protectorate, a growing segment of pro-Zionist youths had already begun to engage in tsiyonut magshima – active Zionism leading to aliyah. In his book, North African Jewry In The Twentieth Century, Michael Laskier notes that the Charles Netter Association was transformed into an important Zionist organization operated in Morocco from the late 1920s. (...)

In spite of Morocco’s reluctance under the French protectorate to allow a mass emigration of its Jewish subjects, and later the reassurances by Balafrej and the king’s declaration, 108,000 Jews made aliyah between 1948 and Morocco’s independence in 1956.

According to Israeli historian Yigal Ben-Nun, 237,800 Jews immigrated to Israel from Morocco between 1948 and 1967. Most did so out of a strong Zionist conviction, while the others longed for better economic conditions. To claim, however, that the Moroccan Jews who made aliyah were refugees denigrates them by distorting the historical facts and denies that they were ardent Zionists.

As for the other 20,000 Moroccan Jews who immigrated to France and Canada, where they established thriving communities, it would be likewise preposterous to call them refugees, especially since many continue to maintain strong economic, cultural and academic ties with Morocco. Indeed, unlike other countries, Morocco has never stripped its Jewish citizens of their citizenship.

Read article in full and see comment by Davka

For a comprehensive  response, see this piece by Mogador-born Professor David Bensoussan, a former president of the Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec :

 Were Moroccan Jews refugees in the same way as Jews from Egypt, driven out in 24 hours, or Jews from Iraq or Libya, who were subject to massacre?
What is the definition of a refugee? The Jews of Morocco were not war refugees, but a set of conditions prevailed which meant that they could no longer see their future in the land of their birth. This best describes the situation of the Jews of Morocco. That said, in 1948, there were massacres at Ouijda and Zellidja. There were other isolated incidents, but the persecution was not on the scale of Iraq, for instance.

What caused the exodus of the Jews of Morocco?
There was a feeling of liberation with the establishment of the state of Israel. There was also the fear, after the French left in 1956, that the condition of pre-Protectorate insecurity would return. Many thought by emigrating to Europe or the US they could improve their socio-economic circumstances. There was also the tragic issue of forced conversions of young Jewish girls in the early 1960s. At the same time, Morocco aligned itself with the radical stance of the Arab League, spreading a definite 'malaise' among the Jews of Morocco, which became more serious owing to the repercussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. All these factors forced them to leave.

How much of the emigration of the Jews of Morocco was influenced by the attraction of the Jewish state?Many saw the rebirth of the state of Israel as a messianic event marking the end of exile and its torments and the beginning of redemption. Their identification with the Judean motherland over the millennia had not dimmed; Jewish liturgy identified the return to Zion with the end of Humiliation. Jewish life on Moroccan soil certainly had its great peaks of symbiosis, but also troughs of great distress. Although many Jews served their rulers loyally, the great mass of people endured difficult conditions, and not only in times of crisis. But pride in the rebirth of the Jewish state was a feeling shared by many Jewish communities throughout the world, without their witnessing a massive exodus.

Read article in full

Sunday, March 24, 2019

No progress on Jewish claims since 1979 Treaty

 Forty years have passed since the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty but the Egyptian government has made no progress in meeting the property claims of Egyptian Jews. Lyn Julius explains the situation, in this extract from her book Uprooted: How 3000 years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab World Vanished Overnight.
The 1979 Camp David Treaty declared: ‘Egypt and Israel will work with each other and with other interested parties to establish agreed procedures for a prompt implementation of the resolution of the refugee problem’, without specifying if the refugees were Jewish or Arab. Under Article VIII of the Treaty, the two sides agreed to establish a Claims Commission for the mutual return of financial claims. But the Claims Commission was never established.
In 1980, an Egyptian Jew, Shlomo Kohen-Tsidon, wrote to Menahem Begin suggesting that, in the absence of a Claims Commission, the state of Israel was now responsible for meeting Egyptian-Jewish compensation claims. But Kohen-Tsidon’s interpretation was rejected by Israel’s foreign ministry.
Why was the Claims Commission never established? Egypt has never pressed for it. The Egyptians initially realised that Israeli claims could leave Egypt ‘stripped bare’, as one Israeli source put it.  Israel, for its part, feared that Egypt might file a massive claim for oil pumped from the Abu Rudeis fields in western Sinai between 1967 and 1975. In anticipation, Egyptian Jews formally asked the Israeli government in 1975 not to return the oilfields without claiming compensation for Jewish property claims. Israel did not do so, and the Organization of Jews from Egypt sued the state of Israel before the High Court of Justice in September 1975. They lost the case, however: the Attorney-General Gabriel Bach concluded that it was too late. The agreement returning Abu Rudeis to Egypt had just been signed.
Levana Zamir, then head of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association, argued that the UN Charter on Wars between countries stipulates that no natural resources need be returned in peacetime. Therefore, the oil pumped by Israel from Abu Rudeis should not have been taken into account.
The government of Israel produced a variety of excuses for not pursuing Egyptian-Jewish claims. In the end they claimed that, at the time their property was taken from the Jewish refugees, they were not Israeli citizens. As one Egyptian Jew ruefully remarked, this argument never stopped Israel from claiming from Germany on behalf of Holocaust victims.
The late Israeli minister of Justice, Yosef ‘Tommy’ Lapid, declared in 2003 that the failure to resolve Egyptian-Jewish claims was a severe omission by Israel – and its reticence on the question of Jewish refugees ‘one of the greatest blunders in the state’s history’.Meanwhile, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries has given a renewed impetus to the collection of claims, although they now declare recognition of refugee rights, not redress, is their top priority.  (…)
The Cecil Hotel is the only known example of property restituted to its Jewish owners. In 1956, the Jewish owners of Cecil Hotel in Alexandria were expelled from Egypt. They left with one suitcase. Nationalised five years before the family was expelled, the eighty-six-room hotel was resold to Egypt after its return.39 In its heyday the Cecil hosted such figures as Winston Churchill and Al Capone. In 1996, an Egyptian court ruled that the hotel should be returned to its owners, but the ruling wasn’t implemented for fear it would establish a precedent for the restitution of nationalised Jewish property.

After a fifty-year struggle, the Egyptian government agreed to compensate the Metzgers. The hotel’s owner, Albert Metzger, died in Tanzania in the 1960s and his son Chris continued the struggle to recover the hotel. In 1996, the Egyptian Supreme Court in Cairo ruled that the hotel and all revenues accruing over the years belong to the Metzgers. But only in June 2007 did the Egyptian government propose a deal whereby the government would agree to implement the court ruling but would immediately buy back the hotel from the Metzgers.
Now living in Canada, the Bigio familyhave been engaged in a long- running battle for justice against the giant multinational corporation Coca- Cola. The Bigios are among the many Egyptian Jews from whom the Egyptian authorities under Nasser’s ‘Arab socialist’ regime expropriated and nationalised land and property. In November 1961, the Beirut newspaper al- Hayat printed the text of a Nasser decree, which stated that ‘all Jews included in the list of sequestrations are deprived of their civic rights and cannot serve as guardians, caretakers or proxies in any business association or club’.
After Nasser’s regime expropriated the Bigios’ Heliopolis plants, producing Coca-Cola under licence and bottle caps, the family fled Egypt and the UN classified them as refugees. They made their way to France, where they were granted asylum. Determined to obtain compensation for the family’s assets, the Bigios undertook several trips to Egypt. In 1979, the Egyptian government finally issued an official decree returning their real estate assets. But when the time came to receive these
The Bigio family, fighting for restitution of their bottling plant in Egypt (Wikimedia Commons)

assets, a state-owned insurance company, which was holding the property, refused
to return them. The Bigios took their legal fight to the US when they learnt that their assets had been acquired by Coca-Cola International. In 2011, in the US federal court, the Bigio family lost their case for justice against the Coca-Cola Company: the latter had managed to avoid presenting detailed factual evidence of their direct involvement in the acquisition of the Bigio family’s real estate assets and factories. Instead, the US court, upholding (together with the Egyptian government) the family’s right to compensation, pointed to the liability of a subsidiary of Coca-Cola.
For its part, Egypt has reacted with paranoia to Jewish property claims. Media hysteria caused a roots trip fromIsrael to be cancelled in 2008 on the grounds that elderly Egyptian-born Jewish tourists were coming back to reclaim their property. From time to time, the press scaremongers about ‘Jewish documents’44 which it alleges Jews are attempting to steal and smuggle out of the country to support their claims for property restitution. But the vultures – unscrupulous lawyers and property developers – are circling: the Jewish community has untold assets in real estate. Its synagogues may be crumbling but they stand on prime property in Cairo and Alexandria. The sprawling Bassatine cemetery, where community leader Carmen Weinstein was buried and which she fought to salvage from squatters and vandals, used to be on the outskirts of Cairo; now it occupies precious acreage virtually in the centre. Then there are the thousands of homes and businesses seized from or abandoned by Egypt’s 80,000 Jews in their mass exodus. Egypt’s worst nightmare is that the Jews should return and claim it all back. In the meantime, property deeds are being forged and false ownership claims made.
In an ironic reversal of roles, an Egyptian bank is even suing the Israeli government for the return of shares in the King David Hotel, Jerusalem.

Cheque from the Palestine Hotels Ltd account with Banque Mosseri. Egyptian Jews held shares in hotels such as the King David in Jerusalem.
The Jewish-run Bank Zilkha, which held 1,000 shares in the hotel, was taken over by the huge Egyptian Banque Misr. Clearly, the sums owed to Banque Misr would be dwarfed if the Israeli Administrator General were to sue for the billions owed to Jewish refugees from Egypt.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Egyptian Jews: How five minutes turned into years of detention

 Hundreds of Jewish males were rounded up as 'Israeli PoWs' and imprisoned in Egypt in the wake of the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War. 'Cinq minutes tout au plus' is the ironic title of a new book by Ovadia Yeroushalmy, now available in French translation from Hebrew. The authorities came to arrest Jews, promising that they would be detained for no more than five minutes. For many their stay turned into two or three years and involved torture, deprivation and abuse.

 Maurice Maleh (Association of Jews from Egypt - UK) has sent in this review:

 Ovadia Yéroushalmy was born in Cairo in 1945 to an ordinary Jewish family typical of the Arabic-speaking Jewish community in Egypt.

Between 1964 and 1967 he attended the American University of Cairo to study Economics and Business Administration.

On  5thJune 1967, his world was turned upside-down as two policemen turned up demanding that he to follow them to the police station with the excuse that  it was only a ‘simple check, with no need to bring anything, as it will take just five minutes’.

Several hundred other Jews were being detained at the same time without rhyme or reason and with no judicial review.  For Ovadia, and many others, these so- called ‘five minutes’ turned into two long years of incarceration, a cruel waste of time for a mere 22 year old and his co-prisoners.  

This book evokes the drama experienced by those arrested and describes the roles played by the state, International Institutions, other actors and personalities.  Ovadia contacted former prisoners and collected their testimonies, whilst also exploring various archives and press articles,  building up a dramatic account of this turbulent period of history affecting the remaining Jews of Egypt after the Six-Day War.

From mid-March the book has been available to order at a reduced price of 18€ plus p+p. (regular price 25€ ). Book launch in the presence of the author on 12 April in Paris, 8, rue des Tanneries, 75013 Paris. Further details (Email: , Tel: 01 45 35 29 86)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Three Torah scrolls stolen from Iran synagogue

 As we celebrate Purim, the festival marking the salvation of Persia's Jews from an evil tyrant, news has trickled out in the Jewish Journal of LA of a theft of Torah scrolls from a synagogue - all the more shocking  since the state's extensive security apparatus did not manage to prevent it.

Iranian Jewish community leaders in the U.S. have confirmed reports that on Feb. 28 three antique Torah scrolls were stolen by unknown thieves from the centuries-old Ezra Yagoub synagogue located inside Tehran’s Jewish ghetto.
While the Iranian regime has not launched any official investigation into the incident and state-run media outlets have not reported on it, a statement released by the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) indicated that their organization is unaware of any specific motive behind the theft of the Torahs.

“The Iranian American Jewish Federation is deeply concerned and anxious about this incident and will be looking closely to learn the results of the investigation by the authorities and the law enforcement,” stated Susan Azizzadeh, president of the IAJF in the statement.

Shahram Yaghoubzadeh, chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York, said his group “hopes that the governmental authorities in Tehran will do the right thing and use their vast intelligence and power to ensure the apprehension of the perpetrators and return of these sacred scrolls to the synagogue”.

The modest synagogue which is a little more than 500 square feet was established 125 years ago after an affluent Jewish merchant Ezra Yagoub bequeath funds for the formation of the synagogue at his deathbed. Likewise, the synagogue’s Torah scrolls are from the same time period and encased in ornate wood and metallic cases with metallic ornaments on top called “rimonim”. (...)

The theft of the Torahs from the Ezra Yagoub synagogue is just the latest incident against Iran’s Jewish community. In late December 2017 two synagogues located in the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz were vandalized by unknown assailants who left a total of five Torah scrolls and numerous prayer books damaged or totally destroyed. Likewise, Tsedaka charity boxes were also stolen from the synagogues. The incident was never investigated by the regime’s authorities and no arrests were made in connection with the crime.

Inside Ezra Yagoub synagogue (Photo by

Moreover, in November 2012, Toobah Nehdaran, a 57-year-old married Jewish woman, was strangled, then repeatedly stabbed to death, and her body was mutilated in a ritual manner by thugs who had broken into her home located inside the Jewish ghetto within the Iranian city of Isfahan. Nehdaran’s gruesome murder was never investigated by Iranian authorities and suspects were never arrested in connection with her murder.

Also in January 2011, the Iranian student Basiji militia, of the Abu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University in the western Iranian province of Hamadan rioted outside the entrance of the Esther and Mordechai tomb and threatened to destroy it if Israel destroyed the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The Iranian state-run media news reported at that time that Basiji militia had removed the mausoleum’s entrance sign, covered the Star of David at the mausoleum’s entrance with a welded metal cover and demanded the site be placed under the supervision of the local Islamic religious authority. In the end the tombs, were not damaged nor destroyed.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Jews of North Africa have their own Purim stories

Tonight begins the festival of Purim. The original story took place in present-day Iran, but  Jews in North Africa had their modern-day celebrations of deliverance. Lyn Julius reports in Times of Israel: 

 The great festival of Purim celebrates how the Jews of Persia were saved from the wicked Haman some 2, 500 years ago, but Jewish communities have had their own local festivities to mark their miraculous deliverance from catastrophe.

On November 8, 1942 (Operation Torch), American and British forces invaded Vichy- occupied Morocco and Algeria. It took the Allies just eight days to defeat the  Vichy French partners of the Nazis.

 ‘Megillat Hitler,’ commissioned to mark the wartime liberation of the Jews of Casablanca

The Jews saw the Allied conquest as a miracle. The Vichy regime had stripped some 330,000 Jews of their civil rights, imposed quotas,  restricted their entrance to schools and some professions and forced them back into the Jewish ghettos.
The Jewish community of Casablanca commissioned a scribe called P. Hassine to write a  special commemorative scroll called ‘Megillat Hitler.’ The scroll is now on display at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.

Written in Hebrew, its text echoes the original Scroll of Esther. It describes the rise of “Hitler the painter,” who rose to become the ruler of all of Germany, and who took the advice of his chamberlain Himmler to destroy the Jews.

P. Hassine, a Hebrew teacher from Casablanca, tells how Hitler’s plan to deport the Jews of North Africa was foiled at the last minute by the decision of President Roosevelt, “who could not sleep,” and so “commanded that these states be rescued and given protection.” Thus the Jews “went from mourning into happiness because the Americans established their rule.” The scroll declares that every year,“we are obligated to establish this day of rescue,” a “fixed and grand festival”.

But the Casablanca Jews rejoiced too soon:  At the same time as Operation Torch,   the Nazis retreated to Tunisia and imposed direct control: thousands of Jewish men were marched to forced labour camps. It would take the Allies another year before the Jews of North Africa would have their rights restored to them.

What happened to the Jews of Djerba  during the six months of Nazi occupation during World War II? Isolated on their island in the farthest corner of eastern Tunisia,  the Jews of that community appear to have been spared the round-ups resulting in males between the ages of 16 and 60 being sent to do forced labour.
But one incident does stick in the collective memory. At the time of the reading of the parasha of Terumah, the Nazis sent out instructions that the Jews of Djerba should immediately give them 50 kg of gold.

The deeply religious Jews of Djerba had just read the verse: “God instructed Moses to tell all Israelites whose heart so moved them to bring gifts of gold.”
On that Shabbat, the residents knew that something was seriously amiss when the chief rabbi of the island drove around in his car collecting the gold. He did not manage to fill the quota of 50 kilos.

But retribution did not come. The occupation was on its last legs. The Nazis never returned to the island of Djerba  and two months later, in May 1943, the Allies re-conquered Tunisia. And so the Jews of Djerba, too,  mark their own mini-Purim.

More Purim celebrations

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Wishing all those who are celebrating Purim חג שמח!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Democratic drift towards criminalising Zionism

Alarmed at the drift of the left of the US Democratic party towards anti-Zionism, Sarah Levin* warns in the Times of Israel  that it could soon lead to fully fledged antisemitism. She draws on the experience of Jews  in Arab countries, where Zionism was criminalised. Moreover, anti-Zionism did nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians.

Earlier this month, when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar accused American Jews of dual-loyalty to the State of Israel, many former Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran recoiled, remembering the innocent Jewish lives imprisoned and lost in their countries of origin because of anti-Semitic accusations of dual loyalty. American Jews, including those from the Arab world and Iran, questioned why leaders of the Democratic party insist on keeping Congresswoman Omar on the House Foreign Affairs Committee after she repeatedly spouted the same anti-Semitic tropes that led to the oppression and ethnic cleansing of one million Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Why are they allowing a member who clearly knows so little about Israel and global anti-Semitism to sit on a committee that helps shape US Foreign Policy?
Jewish immigrants from Arab countries remember how seeds of anti-Semitism sprouted into full-fledged state-sanctioned, anti-Zionism as Arab-nationalism spread through the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century.  Upon the establishment of the modern-state of Israel in 1948, country after country throughout the region turned against their indigenous Jewish populations by passing numerous laws stripping Jews of their rights, and decrees criminalizing Zionism.

 Sarah Levin:'anti-Zionism 'othered' entire Jewish communities'. Right: Congresswoman  Ilhan Omar accused Jews of 'dual loyalty'. 
For example, in 1948, an Iraqi law was amended to equate Zionism with anarchism and immorality – a crime punishable by seven years imprisonment. A 1956 amendment to Egypt’s Nationality law stipulated that, “Zionists were barred from being Egyptian nationals.” In more severe cases, like Libya, laws were passed that completely restricted communication with individuals in Israel. Sadly, in 1961 Libya passed a law restricting citizenship to all but six Jews – leading to the ethnic cleansing of an entire Jewish community. When Ayatollah Khomeini took control of Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he promptly murdered a prominent leader in the Jewish community, Habib Elghanian (Z”L). Mr. Elghanian  was accused of being a Zionist spy and his sham trial and subsequent murder sent a very clear message to the Jews of Iran.
Zionism in the Middle East and North Africa was hardly ever defined by Arab governments and this ambiguity enabled terrible acts of anti-Semitism to happen under the color of law. Jews were denied legal representation in courts of justice and Jews throughout the region were regularly imprisoned, tortured and even hanged because of their supposed dual-loyalty and alleged relationships to the “Zionist regime.” Anti-Zionism in the Arab world contributed to the alienation and othering of entire Jewish communities – and a similar form of alienation is happening again today in the USA, but it’s perpetrators are ironically leaders in progressive movements.  This should have us all deeply concerned.
The irony of anti-Zionism laws in Arab countries is that they ultimately helped strengthen Israel. As Jews in Arab countries and Iran faced mounting anti-Semitism that was codified as part of national anti-Zionism agendas, daily life became untenable and led to the ultimate departure and ethnic cleansing of one million Jews from the region. 650,000 Jews from Arab countries fled to Israel as dispossessed refugees. This led to a population boom in Israel, and a “brain-drain” in the Arab world – the losses of which still reverberate today.
Another irony is that the anti-Zionism that pervaded the Arab world in the 20th century did nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians and this consequential story should be noted by those leaning towards anti-Zionism for the sake of Palestinian rights. Those supporting movements to isolate, boycott and divest from Israel are pushing a dangerous and divisive agenda that has proven to be counter-productive and totally ineffective. While they’ve failed to secure the rights of Palestinians, champions of BDS and anti-Zionism have excelled in exposing their anti-Semitic tendencies. Their narrow attitudes and approach seem not so dissimilar from the governments that expelled and ethnically cleansed Jews from Arab countries.
While anti-Zionist activists and leaders here in the USA continue to drum up anti-Semitic controversies, they are missing efforts taking place through diplomatic and grassroots channels to strengthen relations between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. It’s been widely reported, that this past winter three delegations from Iraq visited Israel, and there are a growing number of progressive groups in the Arab world eager to re-establish relationships with diverse Jewish communities around the world – including those in Israel. This is not to mention a range of Jewish groups in the US, including JIMENA, who work closely with Arab partners both here and in the Middle East. Not all of the organizations involved in normalization efforts are led by groups on the far left. We come from a diversity of backgrounds and outlooks and it’s a total fallacy to believe that only those groups and leaders labeled as “progressive” are able to lead and engage in productive normalization efforts.
Anti-Zionist leaders here in the USA could care less about diverse normalization efforts, because they are solely focused on mainstreaming the vilification of Israel and its supporters. Like Arab governments who criminalized Zionism as a means of persecuting Jews – anti-Zionist leaders here in the USA have proven time and again to center their activism more on the de-legitimization of Israel and the isolation of Jewish people, than the advancement of Palestinians.

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*Sarah Levin, executive director of JIMENA, will  be appearing on an AIPAC panel on 25 March together with Rabbi Elie Abadie, Shula Bahat and Carole Basri to discuss Jewish refugees from Arab countries. It will be for the first time that this issue is being discussed in this forum. To attend, register here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Why do the Jewish refugees still matter?

For years the story of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands was not told by those Jewish organisations in the forefront of fighting for a truthful account of all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That's why this background article by Pesach Benson of Honestreporting is welcome.

Why do the Jewish refugees from Arab countries still matter? Why is their story still relevant for today, rather than relegated to history books?

The number of Jews who fled their Arab homelands during Israel’s founding and early years amounts to a population exchange with the Palestinian refugees who fled their homes during the wars of 1948 and 1967. A peace agreement addressing compensating Palestinian refugees would also have to take into account Arab compensation for dispossessed Jews.
Some background is necessary to understand why.

An Iraqi immigrant working as a shoemaker at the Holon maabara in 1952.

Under Arab rule, Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims were considered dhimmis, or second-class citizens. This status meant Jews had to pay a special yearly tax, could not build synagogues or too openly practice their religion. To further reinforce their lower status, dhimmis could not build homes as tall as the Muslims, were required to dress differently, and weren’t allowed to ride horses — only donkeys. Jewish orphans were frequently removed from the community and forcibly converted to Islam. In North Africa, Jewish communities had to live in a ghetto (mellah). For better (and sometimes for worse), Arab rulers weren’t consistent on enforcing these rules.

Demonstrating the precariousness of Jews in the Arab world was the Damascus blood libel of 1840. When a Capuchin friar and his Muslim servant disappeared, a rumor began that the two had been murdered by Jews who wanted to use their blood for Passover. Several Jews were arrested, some of whom died under torture while others “confessed.” The remaining detainees were saved thanks to the intervention of Sir Moses Montefiore and others. However, Mitchell Bard explains, the affair left behind a bitter, lasting legacy:
The idea that the ritual murder case had been conclusively proved in Damascus and the prisoners only released for political reasons or because of bribery now became a key theme repeated at length in an extensive series of antisemitic journals and books,
Despite their “otherness,” Jews still managed to contribute to Arab culture and politics. Some of the notable personalities included:
By the early 1900s, much of the Arab world was ruled by the European powers. On one hand, this opened doors for Jews to advance in education, business and government. But it also placed them between the forces of European colonialism and restless Arab nationalism.

Although they were spared the hell of the German death camps in Europe, Jews in Arab countries faced their own difficulties which history has largely overlooked. The pro-Nazi Vichy French regimes of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia enacted discriminatory laws against the Jews. These including revoking the French citizenship some 110,000 Algerian Jews and sending 5,000 Tunisian Jews to forced labor camps. Nazi forces occupying Libya deported 2,000 Jews from Tripoli and Benghazi to work camps in the Sahara Desert.

In Iraq, Nazis whipped up the locals with antisemitic propaganda that led to the most violent pogrom against Jews known as the Farhud. On June 1–2, 1941, following Britain’s victory in the Anglo-Iraqi war and during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Arab rioters killed more than 180 Jews in Baghdad, injured hundreds more, looted property, and destroyed an estimated 900 Jewish homes.

Iraqi Jewish immigrants at Lod Airport, 1951
In the time leading up to Israel’s founding, the situation of Arab Jews further deteriorated. Arab authorities arrested Jews thought to be active Zionists. Rioting Syrians killed dozens of Jews in Aleppo and destroyed hundreds of homes, synagogues and shops, while 76 Jews were similarly killed in Aden. Iraqis boycotted Jewish businesses and hung Shafiq Ades, the Jewish community’s most prominent businessman, on trumped up charges of selling arms to Israel. Egypt passed discriminatory laws and 70 Jews  were killed in a wave of firebombings of Jewish businesses and homes.

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