Monday, June 17, 2019

Comic book traces Alexandrian family story

A month after his grandmother’s death, Jeremie Dres was forced to put his grandfather into a retirement home. It was then that the comic book author and multimedia artist realised how urgent it was to record his maternal grandparents’ story. This nostalgic foray into Egypt's past says nothing about the antisemitism which drove Dres's family out - not surprisingly, as Middle East Eye is  a Muslim Brotherhood publication. (With thanks: Lily)

 Dres, who is based in Paris, headed off on a two-week trip to Egypt, retracing the trail of his grandparents, both of whom were Jews born in Alexandria. “I’d already tried my hand at the family history genre, with We Won’t See Auschwitz,” he says of his previous work, in which he and his brother try to understand what it means to be Jewish and Polish.


 “My grandparents had always been a link for me to the world at large. When they died, I realised the link was going to disappear with them, and I was afraid my roots would too." His efforts to safeguard his family heritage led to Remembering Alexandria, a compelling graphic novel that captures the heyday of Egypt’s cosmopolitan past.

But what began as an investigation into resurrecting and preserving his family history led him to uncover the forgotten heritage of the Jewish community in Egypt – and sent him on a remarkable adventure, leading to encounters with a number of emblematic figures. When he reached Cairo, Dres immediately met the few remaining representatives of Egypt’s Jewish community, including Magda Haroun, a lawyer (incorrect - ed) and community leader based in the Egyptian capital, and Amir Ramses, a film-maker whose works include a documentary on the last Jews of the country. “I wanted to meet them because they could all tell the story of a bygone era,” he says.

 “And yet today, these people, who are part of the history of Egypt, are regrettably seen as objects of fascination.” Cairo’s Jewish community has now dwindled to less than a dozen people, yet it possesses a collection of unique cultural artefacts that its remaining members are determined to preserve.

Remembering Alexandria tells of how Jewish non-profit groups around the world are fighting over the pieces: while some believe the relics should remain in Egypt, others say they should be entrusted to the countries where their rightful heirs now live.

Read article in full

Sunday, June 16, 2019

No justice for the dispossessed: a tale of two Menashes

 Exclusive to Point of No Return


It is well known that  Jews forced out of Arab countries lost assets and property, but it is only when you hear of individual cases that the true extent of the dispossession hits home. This is a tale of two Menashes, one in Egypt and one in Iraq, which recently came to Point of No Return's attention. The names in the Iraqi case have been changed.

Jacques Mawas is an 87-year old pensioner living in rural Sussex, England. He was expelled from Egypt in 1956 together with some 25,000 other Jews. After 1956, Jewish property was sequestrated and little, if any, compensation was forthcoming.

Jacques Mawas's family on his mother's side were the Barons de Menasce. Felix de Menasce was the president of the Alexandria Jewish community and bought land in order to build housing for Jews fleeing from Europe in the 1930s.  The Menasces owned, and still do own, land in the suburbs of Alexandria.

 The  Menasce heirs instructed a lawyer to sell the land. He discovered that 700 feddans of land (1 feddan = 4200 sq. m) were still the property of the family. Some 240 feddans remained in their name as attested by official certificates from land taxes and the public registry office. The lawyer obtained final judgements from the French and British Courts of Appeal denying that the family had received compensation by the Egyptian government. But in the absence of the rightful heirs, three different Egyptian government authorities falsely claimed ownership. The family managed to obtain the annulment of these claims: some land had been sold to influential government people who pretended that they had bought the land in good faith.

"This is a massive claim which has been blocked by the Egyptian authorities, although we have the court judgements and certificates to prove it," says Jacques Mawas.  Considering the value of a square metre to be 1,000 Egyptian pounds, the compensation due to his family could amount to $100 million, he believes.

An Iraqi Jew also by the name of Menashe owned a substantial amount of land in Zafraniya (14.5 dunams: about 35,000 sq. metres), Baghdad. Like all Jews, he was forced to leave his assets behind when he escaped Iraq.  The family gave up any hope of ever seeing any compensation.

Recently, however, Menashe's daughter Charlotte was contacted out of the blue by Ahmed, an Iraqi Muslim whose grandfather was a security guard living on the land in a mud hut. Although they had never paid rent, Ahmed's family constructed brick homes on the site to accommodate their growing numbers.

But a wealthy businessman called Ali wanted to evict Ahmed and his family and sell the land, which at today's prices is very valuable.To do so, Ali falsified the deeds which were in Menashe's name and put the property in his own name.

Desperate to stop the eviction of his family, Ahmed pleaded with Charlotte to intervene so as to demonstrate that the genuine owners were Jews. But his pleas may have come too late.  The photo shows Ali's  bulldozers moving in.
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A bulldozer demolishes Ahmed's family home on Menashe's land

This case leaves Charlotte and her family with an opportunity.  But to engage expensive lawyers to support her family's claim may prove futile. It will only offer a slim hope of getting her father's property back. Even Jacques Mawas, whose claims were vindicated in the courts after embarking on a long legal process, seems to have no right to justice.

These cases have been duplicated across the Arab world: squatters have moved in and deeds have been falsified, often aided and abetted by powerful and well-placed individuals. The dispossession may have happened decades ago, but Jews are still haunted by the bitter ramifications.








Jewish refugees from Aden: more stories of frustration

 With thanks: Sarah.

Further to our post flagging a Jewish Chronicle article on the difficulties that Jewish refugees from Aden are encountering in renewing their British passports, more refugees have come forward to voice their frustration. 
Rami Kanzen had to produce five expired UK passports before he received his new passport

When the UK government does renew passports, it states as 'Yemen' the holder's birthplace. Aden ceased to be a British protectorate in 1967.

When Sammy David's father tried to renew his British passport, Sammy had to produce up to 50 documents to satisfy the UK Home office. The process took years. When his father finally received his passport, his place of birth was said to be 'Yemen' and not 'Aden'. It took more correspondence pointing out the family's important role in the colony before the UK government agreed to change his place of birth back to Aden.

However, Sammy's uncle has a passport stating 'Yemen' as his birthplace. The two brothers  do not travel together in order to avoid having to answer awkward questions.

Sammy David's great-uncle got so frustrated with the process that he gave up his British nationality and took out US nationality.

 There have been other similar cases. 'Aden' does not come up as an option if renewing one's passport online.

 It is hard to estimate when Jews from Aden first began to experience difficulties in renewing their passports. According to Sammy David, it could be as long  ago as ten years. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Jewish refugees to be debated at Westminster

The UK Parliament is for the first time to devote an hour-long debate to Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The debate has been called by MP Theresa Villiers and will take place on Wednesday 19 June at 16:30 in Westminster Hall.


"This is a neglected aspect of the Israel/Palestine conflict and this debate is a long-overdue  attempt to give this issue equal prominence with the far more familiar issue of Arab/Palestinian refugees," says Lyn Julius of Harif, a UK organisation representing Jews from the MENA.

Some 850,000 – a larger number of Jewish refugees – were driven out from Arab countries at the same time. The majority found a new home in Israel, but some tens of thousands were resettled in the UK .

In 1947-48 (and in some cases much earlier) Arab countries deliberately targeted their Jewish populations. In all Arab countries, violence, expropriations and expulsions ensured that Jewish communities, which in many cases had existed for thousands of years, ceased to exist. Most who left were forcibly deprived of their property.
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At the time this injustice was recognised by international actors: the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recognised on a number of occasions that the plight of the Jewish refugees fell within its remit. This is also why UNSC Resolution 242 refers to “a just settlement of the refugee problem” without specifying the “Arab” or “Palestinian” refugee problem.

Some countries today, namely the US and Canada,  have also recognised this refugee issue as the injustice it is.

Over 50 percent of the Israeli Jewish population has roots in Arab and Muslim countries. A peace settlement that ignores their rights to recognition and redress will not be credible.

It is hoped that as a result of the debate the  British government will take steps to recognise the injustice that was suffered by more than 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and to ensure that it recognises this tragedy alongside that of the Palestinian refugees in its stance on the Middle Eastern peace process.

There will be limited public access to the debate. It should be recorded on this website.


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Albert Memmi: Zionism is national liberation for colonised Jews

 Must-read by author of the Lions' Den Susie Linfield in Fathom magazine about the politics of Albert Memmi, one of the rare intellectuals on the left to see Zionism as a liberation movement. This owed much to his experience as a Tunisian Jew, the 'colonised of the colonised', and his disappointment with decolonisation in the Arab world, which 'preferred to do without its Jews'. Read the whole thing: Memmi's insights are worth it.

The social and political position of Tunisian Jews was complex. “We were not even citizens,” Memmi recalled. “But, after all, very few people were.” Physically and culturally, poor Jews were close to their Muslim neighbors. But Jewish Tunisians were a tiny minority, and in many ways a powerless one. “Even the most underprivileged” Arab, Memmi wrote, “feels in a position to despise and insult the Jew.”

With shame, Memmi remembered “the extraordinarily fearful timidity of our community in Tunis. We were taught to be nice to everyone—the French who were in power, the Arabs who were in the majority”; with no citizenship or real political power of their own, Jews were “emasculated, castrated.” Almost inevitably, the Jewish community looked to the French for protection—though not always successfully, as they would discover at great cost during the Vichy period. Tunisian Jews were colonisers and colonised, advantaged and disadvataged. Memmi described himself as “a sort of half-breed of colonization, understanding everyone because I belonged completely to no one.” Memmi was a preteen Zionist at a time when the movement seemed at best a utopian adventure and at worst a dangerous fantasy. His education in Zionist youth organizations included “tossing grenades” and learning “the doctrines and precepts of revolutionary action. . . .

On Sundays, we would set out for the country, pretending to be Israeli pioneers. We didn’t even forget to imitate the internal bickering of the distant, young national movement.” His adolescence corresponded to a particularly hopeful time in world politics, and he remembered the year 1936 with special affection: “The entire world seemed to invite me to a marvelous wedding celebration.” Though fascism was on the rise, the Popular Front had won the French elections, and in Tunisia there were “joyous open-air meetings” in which “we rubbed elbows with Arab peddlars, Sicilian bricklayers and French railroad workers, one and all dazzled by these new feelings of broth- erhood. In Spain, however, the war was beginning, never to end. Yet . . . we cried out joyously: ‘No pasarán!’ ” It was a perilous moment, but a confident one. That “they shall not pass” was a certainty.

In this atmosphere, a distinct Jewish identity seemed self-absorbed, cumbersome, and embarrassing. “I no longer wanted to be that invalid called a Jew, mostly because I wanted to be a man; and because I wanted to join with all men to reconquer the humanity which was denied me.”

 Memmi became an ardent Francophile, in love with French culture and republican principles. “After all, it was they who had invented the remedies after the ills: equality after domination, socialism after exploitation.” Zionism ceased to matter: “I thought no more about Palestine. . . . ‘The Jewish problem’ had been diluted with the honey of that universal embrace.” Memmi’s anti-nationalism was part of a more general rejection of all presumably bourgeois attitudes and institutions, common to young leftists of his time (and ours). Already, he could detect the death “of religions, families and nations. We had nothing but anger, scorn and irony for the die-hards of history who clung to those residues.”14 Energetic hope and energetic contempt braided together.

In 1939, Memmi graduated from his French lycée in Tunis, winning the country’s top philosophy prize. He enrolled at the University of Algiers, but his time there was brief. With the outbreak of war, he was expelled from Algeria and sent back to Tunisia, which was then occupied by the Nazis and the Vichy French. Memmi was sent to a forced labor camp for Jews, from which he escaped; some of his fellow prisoners were deported to the death camps. After the war he finished his degree in Algiers, then moved to Paris for further study in philosophy at the Sorbonne. But here, too, as a Jew and North African, he found that he belonged to “them,” not “us.”

 Albert Memmi

As with Deutscher, the war and the genocide dented Memmi’s faith in Western humanism. “The Europe we admired, respected and loved assumed strange faces: even France, democratic and fraternal, borrowed the face of Vichy.” And dented his faith, too, in a universal brotherhood into which Jews would be seamlessly integrated: “I had learned the harsh lesson that my destiny [as a Jew] did not necessarily coincide with the destiny of Europe.”

But his basic convictions remained. Surely a new world, a world of dignity for all, would emerge from the ashes. In 1949, the Tunisian independence movement drew him back home.

Tunisia was home, and Memmi viewed the fight for its independence as his own. “How could I, who applauded so wildly the struggle for freedom of other peoples, have refused to help the Tunisians in whose midst I had lived since birth and who, in so many ways, were my own people? . . . Thus, having ceased to be a universalist, I gradually became . . . a Tunisian nationalist.

 Memmi was a founding editor of the promi- nent pro-independence magazine Jeune Afrique, whose cultural pages he edited for several years. He wrote that he fought for Arab independence “with my pen, and sometimes physically.”


Alas, Memmi’s love for Tunisia was unrequited. The new state established Islam as the official religion, Arabized the education system, and quickly made it known that, as Memmi put it, “it preferred to do without” its Jews.

 Despite the Jews’ millennia-long presence in the country—“we were there before Christianity and long before Islam,” he protested—they were not viewed as genuine Tunisians.19 Following independence, a series of anti-Jewish decrees made it virtually impossible for poor Jews to make a living. Memmi’s hopes for a secular, multicultural republic of equal citizens were dashed. This rejection by his brothers felt deeply personal; it was not just a political wrong turn but an intimate, humiliating wound. An exodus of Tunisian Jews, most to Israel, some to France, ensued; an even larger group would leave after 1967.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Justice campaigner Raphael Bigio dies in Montreal

 Raphael Bigio z"l

A tenacious campaigner for restitution of his family's assets in Egypt, Raphael Bigio has passed away at his home in Montreal without seeing justice. His death on Shavuoth was announced by his daughter Esther on Facebook. The funeral took place on 11 June 2019.

Jewish refugee Raphael Bigio took the Egyptian government to court  for the expropriation of his family's Coca-Cola bottling works at Heliopolis. The Bigios then took their fight to the US  when they learnt that their assets  had been acquired by Coca-Cola International. The latter avoided presenting factual evidence of their direct involvement in the acquisition of the family's  real estate assets and factories, pointing to the liability of a subsidiary.

Although represented by the international lawyer Nat Lewin, Bigio seemed to give up the fight in 2011, citing his mother's death as the reason.

Click here for articles on the Bigio case


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Libyan-born leader Tesciuba dies in Rome

 Shalom Tesciuba, leader of Jews of Libyan descent for 50 years, has died in Rome.  He led the rebirth of the Tripoli Jewish community in Italy and helped revitalize Roman Judaism after the war, La Stampa reports. 



Born in Tripoli in 1934, Tesciuba escaped from the pogroms and the Arab riots against the Jews and managed to reach Italy in July of '67, during the mass exodus of the entire community. From there he immediately began to help newly-arrived refugees to integrate into the capital, and  keep alive the millennial traditions of Libyan Judaism, enriching and reviving the entire Roman Jewish community. 

"Relations with the Community of Rome were very close  straight away," Tesciuba said in an interview with La Stampa -Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff worked hard with us, and gave me carte blanche to enforce Jewish standards for everyone. " This is how Tesciuba helped Toaff to rebuild Judaism in Rome, still deeply affected and weakened by war and the Holocaust. (...)

Thanks also to its activity, the turnout in synagogues and study groups reached the highest levels in the 1980s. Thus Tesciuba transformed an old cinema into a synagogue, the Beth El, still one of the beating hearts of Jewish life in Rome.

In June 2017, together with Sion Burbea, another leader of Libyan Jews, he was given an award by the then Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, during the ceremony at the Tempio Maggiore di Roma marking  50 years since the arrival of the Jews of Libya in Italy.

Read article in full

Israel's new minister Ohana has Moroccan roots

Amir Ohana is Israel's first openly gay minister; he is also the son of Esther and Meir, who came from Morocco to build the Jewish state. Matti Friedman profiles Israel's new minister of justice in the New York Times:



Israelis sometimes speak about two Israels: one Western-oriented and left-leaning, with roots in Eastern Europe, and the other working-class, traditional and rooted in the lost Jewish communities of the Islamic world.

Although Mr. Ohana grew up in the middle class, in that simplified division his North African last name and family background place him in the second Israel. Mr. Ohana’s parents were raised in Morocco. Along with many other Arabic-speaking Jews who came to Israel, they landed in rough immigration camps in the southern desert, then fashioned new lives for themselves against steep odds.

The Ohanas’ social world was conservative, and their dusty city was far from the sexually liberal bubble of Tel Aviv; there weren’t many openly gay people around Beersheba in 1991. Having a gay son wasn’t something they’d planned.

But when he was 15, Mr. Ohana told his parents the truth. “That was me and there was nothing I could do about it,” he told me recently. “I couldn’t change and I didn’t want to.” They took it, he remembered, “very badly.”

 When Mr. Ohana was 18 he joined the army, serving as an officer in the military police. He was discharged in 2000, as peace negotiations collapsed and the Second Intifada began. He then joined a Shin Bet intelligence outfit tasked with stopping the Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks wreaking havoc on Israeli streets.

Polls show that Israelis of Mr. Ohana’s generation and younger are drawn increasingly to the right. (He says he was always there.) He spent six years in the security service, studying law at night.

Read article in full

Monday, June 10, 2019

Iraqi Jew's story: betrayal by a 'brother'

 Exclusive to Point of No Return

History books  tell us about major events as they happen. They fail to tell us the specific stories of individuals who suffer  as a result of those events. Many remain unrecorded, and are eventually forgotten. However, Iraq-born Sami Sourani has made sure to record this story for Point of No Return. Every word is true, although names have been changed.



Sami Sourani

 
The following is a true story: it happened in Baghdad after the establishment of the State of Israel. Jews in Arab countries, especially in Iraq, had a very hard time at the hands of the Iraqi government. Eventually, the Jews had to leave Iraq, bringing an end to a Diaspora that had lasted about 2,600 years.

This is a story about two men, one Jewish ( let us give him a name: Yusef) and the other Muslim  (let us call  him Hamid). They were partners in cultivating fruit orchards located by the Tigris river not very far from Baghdad. Both partners inherited this land from their ancestors who owned it for many generations.

For many years, the partners divided their profit in a way called “share cropping”. This means that they shared all costs involved - such as the cost of irrigation, fertilizers, seasonal workers, etc. Then they divided the crop equally: for example, one ton of oranges for this partner and one ton for the second partner. The produce was then delivered to the fruit market n Baghdad and sold by public auction.

Over the years, the two partners became very friendly. Hamid called Yusef, “my brother” and had  great respect for him. At the end of Jewish holidays, Hamid used to send to Yusuf’s house a big tray of fresh Iraqi pita, vegetables, fruits of the season and yogurt. When Hamid was sick, Yusef took him to the best Jewish doctors in Baghdad and took care of all his needs. He also looked after Hamid ‘s wife when she was seriously ill. On her death bed, she told her husband,” Take care of Yusef and do not betray him. He is more faithful to you than your brothers of your own flesh and blood”. Hamid replied, ”Yusef is my brother: I shall always protect him.”

In the 1950s, as the situation of the Jews became intolerable, Yusef’s  family escaped Baghdad  for Israel illegally. Yusef stayed in Baghdad hoping that he could sell his property and join his family soon.

It happened that Hamid had a son who finished high school and wanted to study further. Hamid did not like his son’s idea: he wanted his son to be a farmer like himself. Yusef convinced Hamid to let his son further his education. The son went to study at a university,  but at the end of the year he failed.  While  a student, he was  swept up in a fanatical  Muslim movement. He returned home and  tried to convince his father to tell the Iraqi authorities that Yusef  was a Zionist. This way, Yusef would be put in jail and his father  would benefit from the whole land, not just half of it. Some Muslim friends who overheard that scenario between  father and  son, came to Yusef telling him that his freedom was in danger. Yusef smiled, saying, 'Hamid is my brother -  he will never betray me'. A few days later, Yusef was arrested. He was taken for interrogation and jailed. For five years, Yusef was in and out of prison in Baghdad for interrogation and torture. As a result of the torture, he could not sleep on his back for the rest of his life.

There  were  still some good people in this world, Jews and Muslims, who knew Yusef. They tried to bribe the authorities to let him out of jail. The Iraqi government took possession of all his property. He was given a one-way permit to leave Iraq. He had to sign a document  to say that he was giving up his birthright,  assets, and that he would be persecuted for any attempt to come back to Iraq. He had no other choice but to accept this condition. His friends got him some clothes and  food and drove him to Iraq's international airport where he boarded a plane to Beirut, Lebanon and from there to Cyprus. He was allowed by the Iraqi authorities to take with him only five Iraqi dinars .

 Iraqi-Jewish merchants (Photo: Beit Hatfutsot)

At the airport in Cyprus, custom officers opened his suitcase as they did for all passengers. They were surprised to find that it contained no clothes, only garbage and scraps of old newspapers. It seems that the Iraqi prison guards who inspected his suitcase before he left had taken his clothes and replaced them with garbage.

In Cyprus, an Israeli agent arranged his flight to Tel Aviv. Yusef was re-united with his family in Tel Aviv, after five years. He was overwhelmed. He cried, saying that the Iraqi government had taken away all his assets and he had come empty-handed, with only five Iraqi dinars in his pocket. 

It is very hard to accept defeat. The situation  had been imposed on him. His confidence and willpower  were gone. He was a mental and physical wreck. The family tried to calm him down: the main thing was that he was  alive. A few days later, he realized that there was no other choice but to accept his situation. Like many Iraqi businessmen who lost their property, he went to work as a laborer in construction, thanking Hashem that he was alive. Friends who knew him from Baghdad could not believe that he had lost his assets. It was hard for him to speak about his situation and how he had suffered at the hands of the Iraqi prison guards.

A few years later, Yusef and his family decided to leave for Canada. A week before leaving Israel, an elderly close relative of the family arrived  in Israel.  Because of his  advanced age, that person had been allowed to leave Iraq.  He had tried very hard to reach Yusef: he had a message for him  from Hamid, his Muslim partner. Yusef was anxious to hear it. ” My dear brother Yusef, I am sending you those words and I am on my death bed, dying of cancer," Hamid 's message said. " I do not know how many days I have left in this world. I lost all the money I took from you, and I have nothing to pay you back. I can feel how hard life was for you and for your children, I left you penniless. My final request from you is just to send me a piece of paper saying that you forgive me for the hardship I caused you and your family. I want to stand before God and confess my sins, as long as you agree to forgive me. This is my last wish, dear brother. Please forgive me.”
 
When Yusef heard those words, he cried like a child. He said that they were like brothers in one family. "We respected each other, but it seems that he was motivated by greed to do what he did to me. " 

Yusef's children were very surprised that their father still felt pity for his partner. They told their father that they had had a hard time, until they had managed to study and stand on their feet. It was not easy to accept defeat and it is also very hard to stand  up to  the challenges of life when you are penniless, and all  you have is blind ambition. Yusef said that mistakes could happen in many families and that life was simply give-and-take. We had to learn to forgive  and forget. This is the only way to live in peace and harmony.

Upon arrival in  Canada, Yusef  wrote a letter to Hamid. He did not tell his family the contents of the letter. Yusef waited patiently for a reply from his partner, but no reply was ever received.
This episode or similar ones could have happened to many Jewish families, but they were kept unrecorded and eventually forgotten. However, many questions rise to the surface. Are there Iraqi Muslims who feel sorry for what was done to the Jews of Iraq, a country which made them leave after 2,600 years? Will there come a day when Jews and Muslims may live together under one roof,  working together to build the Middle East? At present this seems a mirage. Yet miracles can happen!
Let us pray for miracles.

Video of Sami Sourani

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Aden refugees must 'jump through UK passport hoops'

The Jewish Chronicle has an exclusive story about Jews who came to Britain as refugees from the former British protectorate of Aden (many of whom were secretly airlifted to the UK fifty-two years ago this week).  Lately, these have met unprecedented difficulties in their attempts to renew their UK passports, despite having lived in Britain for decades.

 Rami Kranzen had to produce five expired British passports for the authorities

Jewish refugees from Aden who have lived in Britain for decades have spoken of having to “jump through hoops” they have never previously encountered when applying to renew their passports, and being made to feel they are “not British citizens” .

One of those who fled the former British protectorate, which is now Yemen, said he had “been made to wait months and asked to produce documents never needed before”.

Nearly the entire Jewish population fled Aden between June 1947 and September 1967, mostly heading to Israel and Britain.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, those who remained had to be secretly airlifted out by the Royal Air Force in the middle of the night and were brought to the UK. Those who came were issued with British Overseas Passports.

Rami Kanzen was among the Jews who came to the UK in 1960 and applied to renew his passport using the express channel last month. Mr Kanzen, once given an appointment at the passport office, was told it would take a few hours and that he could come back to collect his passport the following day.

But after a delay over an issue with the first photo he provided, he encountered another setback when officials asked him to return and present copies of his older expired passports.

“I provided some five expired passports, all showing me to be a UK citizen even though I have never had to do that before,” he said.

But that did not appear to be enough for passport officials and they asked him to present his birth certificate, then his parent’s birth certificates and wedding certificate.


 Read article in full




Friday, June 07, 2019

Farhud mentioned in New South Wales Parliament

The Deputy Chair of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel, Walt Secord, has spoken in the NSW parliament, Australia,  about the Sydney Sephardi Jewish community’s commemoration of the Farhud on 2 June. During the commemoration,  pubished poet Yvonne Green read out the poem she  was commissioned to write on the 75th anniversary of the pogrom (41 mins into the video), in which at least 179 Jews lost their lives. In 2020 the Sydney Jewish Museum will stage an exhibition on Jews from Arab lands (with thanks: Vernon, Yvonne):

Walt Secord

Here is Walt Secord's address, as reported by J-Wire: 

"It is part of a welcome development in recent years to mark significant events involving the Sephardi and Mizrachi community and their history.

In 2015 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Sephardi community marked Farhud jointly for the first time and in 2020 the Sydney Jewish Museum is planning an exhibition on Jews from Arab lands.

While I have some knowledge of the Sephardi community, which stretches back to the 1980s when I was a journalist at The Australian Jewish News and my visits to Israel, I concede that I am more familiar with the Shoah and the destruction of European Jewry. However, I have become increasingly aware of the horrific events of 1941 and the expulsion of the Jewish community from Arab lands after the establishment of the State of Israel.

The Farhud was a pogrom in Iraq in 1 and 2 June 1941 and the phrase was coined by the Iraqi Kurdish population. It means “violent dispossession”, referring to the attacks on the Jewish community in Baghdad. Conservative estimates put the number of those murdered around 178, including 142 in Baghdad alone in the pogrom. Looting of Jewish property took place; 900 Jewish homes were destroyed and there were also rapes. A synagogue was invaded and its Torahs burned. Afraid to give the dead a proper burial, the corpses were buried in a mass grave.

The Farhud was an extraordinary development in the history of Iraq as there has been a Jewish presence there for more than 2,600 years, dating back to the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Jewish population of Iraq was estimated to be around 250,000, although it had decreased to 150,000 by the middle of the century.

From 1950 to 1952 up to 130,000 Jews were airlifted out of Iraq to Israel. They faced much discrimination, persecution and anti-Semitism after the establishment of the State of Israel and most were forced to flee from Iraq. The Sydney commemoration was a solemn and dignified affair.

I congratulate the Sephardi community and its president, Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel, on organising the event. The Sydney Sephardi community spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Chriqui, read a psalm.

One of the other highlights was chatting and meeting the award-winning British-Bukharan Jewish poet, translator and barrister, Yvonne Green, who read from her work, The Farhud. The poem was commissioned for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Farhud and was recited in the Israeli Knesset when it commemorated it.

Finally, I look forward to accepting the invitation from Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel to visit the Sephardi Synagogue at Bondi Junction in the near future. I thank the House for its consideration."

Read article in full 


Yvonne's journey to celebrate the power of poetry (Plus 61)




Articles in the Hebrew and Arabic Press:

The third generation battles to preserve the memory of the Farhud (Makor Rishon : with thanks, Yoel)

Why does the state not recognise the Farhud victims as victims of the Nazis (Nissim Kazzaz) (Makor Rishon)

Article in Al- Alam by Tsionit Fattal Kuperwasser


Podcast: Why did Jewish life vanish from Arab lands?

In the week of the 78th anniversary of the 'Farhud' massacre of Iraqi Jews, prominent radio presenter Jonny Gould chose to focus his 'Jewish state' podcast on the issue of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. You can hear his podcast interview with Lyn Julius  (38 minutes) by tuning into the following:

Lyn Julius campaigns for the culture, history and lives of the Mizrahim, the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa.

Click here to see a short video clip introducing Gould's 'Jewish State'  podcast.

Mizrahi is the Hebrew word for Easterners - and their story of life in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran and Algeria has perhaps been overlooked in the last century. After 3,000 years of vibrant Jewish life, interspersed with persecution and exile, the Mizrahim have all but been erased from those countries. Their 3,000 year existence in Arab and North African countries all but vanished overnight. Why?

 Lyn’s Iraqi parents came to England in 1950. She cofounded Harif, an organisation which promotes and represents Mizrahim. The podcast also includes Hillel Neuer and his “Where are your Jews?” speech at the UN. Gould secured his personal permission to do so as it chimed perfectly with Lyn’s message. Lyn also shares her thoughts about professor Marc Lamont Hill, who has controversially described Mizrahi Jews as an 'identity category detached from Palestinian identity'.


Thursday, June 06, 2019

Jews in Arab lands paid price for Israel's Six Day War victory

While the media focus on the events leading up to Israel's lightening victory in the Six-Day War, it is often forgotten that Jews still in Arab countries paid a heavy price. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:

The Great synagogue of Tunis was damaged by fire in the 1967 riots


“They had everything in their hands; fire, axes, knives, swords… They were banging, trying to break the doors and they set the curtains on fire.” Doris Keren-Gill, a Jew from Libya, well remembers the dark days of June 1967 when rioters destroyed her home and nearby synagogue. Doris escaped with her life. Today not a single Jew is left in Libya.

 While the media focus on the events leading to Israel’s lightening Six Day War victory, the impact on the few thousand Jews remaining in Arab countries is forgotten. In 1967 all these communities were shadows of their former selves, 90 percent of their Jews having already fled: some 76,000 Jews remained out of a 1948 population of 900,000. Almost all had been deprived of civil rights but could still quietly pursue their education, run businesses and enjoy a social life. But the vindictive Arab reaction to Israel’s victory changed all that.

 Sudan, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Jews in Libya, taunted by enraged mobs, and Aden, where Jewish property was set on fire, were evacuated for their own safety. In almost all Arab countries there were demonstrations and anti-Jewish riots. Some governments actively persecuted their Jews as if they were Israelis. Already Jews in Iraq had to carry yellow identity cards and were unable to leave.

 But Arab rage led to property seizures, beatings and arrests. Jews were sacked, telephones were cut off. On 27 January 1969, nine Jewish “spies” were executed and their bodies strung up in Baghdad’s Liberation Square. A million Iraqis came to celebrate. The arrests continued until 1972: some 50 Jews disappeared. Not permitted to leave, almost 2,000 Jews escaped Iraq with the help of Kurdish smugglers, leaving their homes and possessions behind.

 Jewish migration from Lebanon, which accelerated in 1964, reached epidemic levels after the 1967 war due to fears of impending riots. The mass exodus was followed by the abduction and murder of individual Jews.

 Some of the fiercest riots broke out in Tunisia on 5 June 1967. The Great Synagogue in  was set on fire. Panicking Jews abandoned their homes. Within five years, only about 7,000 remained.

In Morocco, a massive security deployment prevented loss of life during mass demonstrations. When the propaganda of an Arab victory turned out to be false, two Jews were murdered. An economic boycott against Jewish businesses was declared. Some 10,000 Jews left, mostly to France and North America.

In Syria, curfews were imposed. Jews were housebound hostages, deprived of telephones and radios. Some 2,300 Jews were smuggled into Israel from Syria, but it would be another 25 years before the rest would be allowed to emigrate. In the Libyan pogroms, more than 100 shops were destroyed and 18 Jews were killed. The Libyan exodus left fewer than 100 Jews behind.

In 1969, Colonel Qaddafi ordered all Jewish property confiscated and debts to Jews cancelled. In Egypt, the authorities arrested Jews  up to the age of 60 as ‘Israeli PoWs’.

They were interned for up to three years. The prisoners were abused and fed dirty bread containing cigarette butts and nails. The Rabbi of Alexandria was tied to the prison bars and beaten senseless.

The Six Day War thus marked the irrevocable and silent demise, within a few years, of Jewish communities which had pre-dated Islam by 1,000 years. Although they played no part in Israel’s victory and despite representations by Jewish groups and foreign governments, Jews in Arab countries paid a terrible price. Pursuing revenge, Arab regimes committed serious human rights abuses. They have never been held to account.

Read article in full


First Jewish mayor elected in Greece

Moses Elisaf, the head of the tiny Jewish community in the northern Greek city of Ioannina, was elected mayor in local elections on Sunday, reportedly becoming the country’s first-ever Jewish mayor. The Times of Israel reports: 



 Elisaf received 50.33 percent of the vote, narrowly beating incumbent mayor Thomas Bega, who got 49.67%, the Ekathimerini newspaper reported. According to the paper, this is first time that modern Greece has seen a Jew elected mayor. Elisaf, a professor of pathology at the local university, has been the head of the local Jewish community for 17 years, and formerly also served as the head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. [....]

 Elisaf ran as an independent Ioannina’s Jewish community numbers just some 50 people today, but was once the center of the unique 2,300 year-old Romaniote Jewish tradition. The Romaniote Jews, neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, emerged from the first Jewish communities of Europe. Records indicate the first Jewish presence in Greece dating back to 300 BCE.
These Jews became known as the Romaniotes, speaking their own language, Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek, a version of Greek infused with Hebrew and written with the Hebrew script.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

'Deal of the century' must include Jewish refugees

For the sake of truth and justice, Donald Trump's 'deal of the century' must include the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.  This could also be politically astute, given that over half Israel's population has roots in Arab and Muslim lands. David Dangoor writes in JNS News: 


President Donald Trump is about to announce his 'deal of the century'

 Over the next few weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump will put forward a new plan to resuscitate the almost moribund peace process. Dubbed “the deal of the century,” it is supposed to be an attempt to arrive at a deal that takes into account and solves all of the outstanding issues.

The first stage of the plan is the convening of an “economic workshop” in Bahrain to get countries and businessmen from around the world to invest in the peace deal. Precious few other details have been released about what is seen to be a holistic deal.

 However, if it is to succeed in ending the conflict and dealing with issues of justice and compensation, the issue of the Jewish refugees must be an important element of it. Perhaps it could borrow from the peace talks at Camp David in July 2000, when U.S. President Bill Clinton put into what would become known as the “Clinton Parameters” the idea of an international fund to compensate both Palestinian and Jewish refugees.

 Either way, it is not just a matter of correcting a historic injustice, it could also be politically astute to include the Jewish refugee issue when presenting the plan to Israelis. More than half of all Israeli Jews have roots in the Middle East and North Africa, and all have stories of how they were forced out of lands their families and communities had lived in, sometimes for millennia, without much more than the clothes on their back.

 Jews with tremendous assets and businesses in places like Baghdad and Cairo were rendered paupers nearly overnight. Some estimates have placed the lost communal and personal assets of Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa at $250 billion in today’s figures.

 Obviously what was lost will not be reclaimed, but it is vital that there be redress. If there is, then those who were forced to flee their homes and communities, as well as their descendants, will feel their grievances are being taken seriously and will view the U.S. plan more favorably as a result.

 For the “deal of the century” to succeed, it must deal with all the outstanding issues raised over the past century, including the forgotten issue—the Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Alexandria restoration reveals earlier synagogue

With thanks:  Heritage of the Jews of Egypt




Top: scaffolding covering the exterior. Bottom: the brass menorot have been polished up to their original shine

Restoration work on the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue (Nebi Daniel) in Alexandria has revealed the remains of an older synagogue beneath the 19th century structure. Following the partial collapse of the ladies' gallery ceiling, The  Egyptian government pledged to spend state funds to restore the Italianate synagogue, reputed to be the largest in the Middle East. In 2018, the synagogue was added to the World Monuments Fund: this body is headquartered in New York and collects private donations for the preservation of endangered sites.

As the photos indicate, the Alexandria synagogue is undergoing  total restoration. The team of experts working on the site have replaced all the  beams, set up individual workshops for cleaning and replacing the stained glass and mouldings, recasting pillars and replacing wood frames.

 They have protected the floors from rising damp and have cleaned each brick individually to scrape all the acid gnawing at them. They have numbered the tiles so each is put back in its proper place.  They have cleaned all the benches and seats. All the bronze candelabras and menorot seem to have been polished up to their original shine.

They have dug up the whole floor and found the remains of an older synagogue which will be visible through a glass floor. Work is expected to be finished in the last quarter of 2019.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Brave Iraqis get awards for advocating 'normalisation'

With thanks: Edwin, Yoel  

Two Iraqis have recently been honoured for advocating normal relations between Iraq and Israel. The American Jewish Committee meeting in the US chose Iraqi ex-MP Mithal al-Alusi to receive its Jan Karski award, named after a member of the wartime Polish resistance who tried to warn Franklin D Roosevelt of the Holocaust befalling European Jewry. Sarah Idan will be awarded a prize by UN Rights watch at a ceremony in Geneva on 13 June. 

Both individuals have suffered for their brave stance: Mithal al-Alusi 's two sons were assassinated and he was warned that his political career would be stunted by his position on Israel. Sarah Idan, Miss Iraq in 2017, was forced into exile in the US after death threats to herself and and her family following a 'selfie' she took with Miss Israel. She visited the Jewish state in 2018.

 
Click here to watch extract from Mithal al-Alusi's speech at the American Jewish Committee

Accepting the Jan Karski Award, Mithal al-Alusi said that it was being given to   all Iraqis who stand up against fascists and the Iranian threat. 'Help us to be free', he pleaded.

Advocating an alliance of the West with Iraq and Israel, against Islamo-fascists, Alusi said he dreamt of stability and human rights. 'Fascists' such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime needed to be taken seriously. "They have killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands, they steal our dreams."





MEMRI clip featuring an interview with Mithal al-Alusi.  

Sarah Idan to get award (Jerusalem Post):

Geneva-based non-governmental organization United Nations Watch has announced that Sarah Idan, who as Miss Iraq in 2017 faced death threats for posting a photo of herself with Miss Israel, will receive the Swiss organization’s Ambassador for Peace Award.

In recognition of her courageous and extraordinary actions to promote tolerance, build bridges for peace and spread a message of hope and unity, the prize will be presented to Idan at a Geneva ceremony attended by senior diplomats of the U.N. Human Rights Council, during U.N. Watch’s 2019 annual gala dinner on June 13.

Previous winners of the award include Nobel Peace Prize Laureate David Trimble; French Prime Minister Manuel Valls; Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar; Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar; Chinese dissident Yang Jianli; Antonio Ledezma, the Mayor of Caracas and former political prisoner; Russian dissident and world chess champion Garry Kasparov; Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s first Minister for Women’s Affairs; and Esther Mujawayo, an activist for victims of the genocide in Rwanda.

By awarding Idan with this honor, U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer hopes that the United Nations and human-rights agencies in Geneva will learn from Idan.



Sarah Idan (right), posing with Adar Gandlesman, Miss Israel

“Sadly, today, there are too many people, and especially on social media, who are only increasing polarization, hostility and isolating one community from another,” Neuer told JNS. “Sarah Idan is the opposite.”

“In all of her public activities, she is someone who is seeking only to bring people together and to underline our common humanity,” he said.

According to Neuer, Idan exemplifies an “Ambassador for Peace” in her public speeches and in her courageous November 2017 Instagram photo with Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman, as well as her 2018 visit to Israel, where she reunited with Miss Israel and bonded with Israeli Jews who fled Iraq decades ago.

Read article in full

Edwin Shuker tells his story at WJC


Sunday, June 02, 2019

Revisionist accuses UK of hiding Farhud facts

With thanks: Lily

On the 78th anniversary of the Farhud, it is beyond dispute that more and more people are aware of this brutal massacre of Iraq's Jews in June 1941, which sounded the death knell for Iraq's ancient Jewish community barely ten years later. But with increased knowledge come greater efforts to rewrite history and minimise the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini and his pro-Nazi cohorts, in inciting the pogrom.

Haj Amin spent two years in Baghdad in the company of pro-Nazi army officers, plotting to overthrow the pro-British government. In April 1941,  they succeeded, installing the pro-Nazi Rashid al- Geylani as prime minister, until the British army defeated the Iraqi army and forced the pro-Nazi ringleaders into eventual exile in Berlin. Under the Nazi government had begun two months of toxic propaganda and anti-Jewish incitement, culminating in the Farhud.

Thomas Suarez, anti-Zionist author of 'State of Terror: How terrorism created modern Israel', has form for antisemitic revisionism. Most recently on Mondoweiss, he boasted that in 2014 he had successfully persuaded the UK Archives to declassify the first part of a two-part archive (albeit it had been redacted), labelled “Activities of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem” and dated 1940-1941 in Britain’s National Archives in Kew. The second part, CO 733/420/19/1, 10 pages long, remains sealed until 2042, for security reasons.

The de-classified first part reveals nothing more than British anxiety at the Mufti's flirtations with the Italian fascists during 1940.

Typically, Suarez downplays al-Husseini's importance and motivation:

 "Al-Husseini’s motivation for embracing the Axis was likely a combination of selfish political opportunism and the belief that the alignment would help safeguard against the takeover of Palestine by the Zionists. The reasoning, however grotesque, was the same used by Lehi (the ‘Stern Gang’) in its own attempted collaboration with the fascists: Britain was the obstacle both to Palestinian liberation, and to unbridled Zionism, and for both the Mufti and Lehi, defeating that obstacle meant embracing its enemies."

The Mufti's ideological antisemitism went far beyond a pragmatic alliance with the Nazis: had they won the war, the Mufti would have proceeded with his plans for exterminating all Jews in the Middle East, not just in Palestine. Moreover, Suarez equates the de facto leader of the Arab world, the Mufti, with Lehi (the Stern Gang) an extremist splinter group of terrorists in Palestine with little mainstream support. Meanwhile, under the leadership of David Ben Gurion, thousands of Palestinian Jews joined the Allied armies in order to fight the Nazis. David Raziel, an Irgun leader, had even sought to help the British by engaging in a secret mission in Iraq.

But what might Britain be trying to hide by refusing to release  in the second part of the document ?

 Suarez speculates :
What could possibly be hidden in a World War II document about a long-dead Nazi sympathizer that would present such a risk to British national security eight decades later, that none of it can be revealed? At present, only the UK government censors know; but the answer may have less to do with the fascists and al-Husseini than with British misdeeds in Iraq, and less to do with Britain’s national security than with its historical embarrassment. (My emphasis).

According to Suarez, Britain was supporting regime change in Iraq all along (prefiguring the 2003 Coalition invasion) and sought a pretext for a military occupation of Iraq. The pretext could have been the Farhud, and Britain could have been behind it: a theory advanced by both the crackpot Iraqi Jew Naeim Giladi and a Lehi communique - and reason enough for Britain's 'historical embarrassment'.
It is widely recognised that the British were criminally negligent in failing to put an end swiftly to the wanton murder of Jews, rape and looting over those fateful two days in June 1941, despite the army having reached the gates of Baghdad. But to suggest that Britain had a hand in planning the Farhud seems like the height of perversion.
The Mufti meets Hitler in November 1941