Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Time to build a museum for Jews from Arab lands in Israel

As testified by the renovation of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria and other projects, there is remembrance of extinct Jewish communities in Arab and Muslims countries, while in Israel there is community without remembrance. It is time for Israel to build a museum dedicated to Jews from Arab and Muslim lands, argues Ashley Perry, who has been the impetus behind initiatives in government and the Knesset. Must-read in JNS News: 

Exterior of the renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria

The recent renovation projects involving Jewish synagogues and sites in Iraq, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Afghanistan are interesting developments.

 On the whole, it is a positive move back towards recognition of these nations’ Jewish communities that were either wholly erased or significantly reduced during the last century’s exodus and expulsion of almost a million Jews from Arab and Muslim countries.

 However, due to the lack of a significant Jewish community in these countries, these restoration projects are merely about bricks and mortar and rarely about reaching out to the communities, or their descendants, who remain largely unwelcome in the lands where their families lived for centuries and even millennia.

Nevertheless, if in these lands there is remembrance and memorial without community, in Israel there is community without remembrance and memorial. In the more than 71 years since the foundation of the State of Israel, there has yet to be built a single official memorial or institution dedicated to the memory and history of the Jews from Arab and Islamic countries.

Considering that the majority of Jews in Israel have ancestry in the Middle East or North Africa, this is negligence at best. For many decades the issue was almost completely ignored, or actively kept off the national agenda for a variety of reasons, from not wanting to further complicate complex relations with neighboring countries, to trying to sever Jews from these nations from their history and culture, which was largely associated with the Arab enemy.

 This permeated the mindset of subsequent generations of Mizrahi Jews in Israel, who were told explicitly or implicitly to forget about the past and look to the present and future. Of course, such an attitude was reserved solely for them; European Jews would have been rightly outraged had such an approach been taken with regard to them.

To ignore the history and culture of Mizrahi Jewry is not to tell the full Jewish story, whether to ourselves or outsiders. Thus, it is no surprise that most around the world fail to fully grasp Jewish indigenous and ancestral rights and see us as a foreign European import.

 Even when the issue was finally placed on the national and international agenda during the past decade, it was no easy undertaking. In 2011, the National Security Council, which sits in the Prime Minister’s Office, wrote a decision this author was proudly centrally involved in, to the effect that, among other recommendations on the issue, Israel was to build a museum dedicated to the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. However, nine years later, pitifully little action has been taken to achieve this.

Read article in full

Jerusalem museum proposed for Jews from Arab lands

Monday, February 24, 2020

Ethnic cleansing of Jews shows antisemitism of Palestinian cause

A simple tweet put out by activist David Collier has received over 2, 500 likes. But it also attracted a host of abusive or critical tweets. Collier categorises them as follows: 1. Those who don't care enough about human rights when it comes to the ethnic cleansing of Jews. 2. Those who deny that it happened. 3. Those who blame the Jews for their own plight. 4. Those who say the Zionists were responsible. 5. Those who say the Palestinians were not to blame, despite solid evidence that the Palestinian Mufti incited genocidal antisemitism across the Arab world.

Here is an extract from David Collier's blog:

Talking about the historical ethnic cleansing of Jews from the whole of North Africa and the Middle East is an easy method of proving the antisemitism within the Palestinian cause. This example started with a Tweet.

Not forgetting Yemen - ed
NB: The Jewish population of Morocco and Tunisia is actually 1%, but in another generation will be 0%

A tweet that clearly points out that whilst Arabs make up more than 20% of Israel’s population, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa has virtually no Jews in it anywhere. Given some of these areas, like Morocco and Iraq had large Jewish populations – it becomes obvious that the Jews were ethnically cleansed from the MENA region.

The tweet was popular – it was retweeted 2500 times and received over 6300 likes. Its message is clear and easy on the eye. There were a million Jews who lived in places such as Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia. In one way or another the Arabs in the region turned on their Jews, persecuted them and in most places drove them out.

 An act of quintessential antisemitic persecution. So when people reference ethnic cleansing in relation to the Arab / Israeli conflict – there is ONE obvious ethnic cleansing we really have to discuss. These people were not part of a civil conflict, they considered themselves at home and identified – as Jews always do – with the host nation. There were not even violent groups amongst them. They were simply othered, persecuted and driven out from their homes – often forced to leave all their posSessions behind.

The obvious conclusion: The first thing to remember is that this all came from one simple tweet. It isn’t the result of deep digging or long-term research. When you post something about the persecution of Jews – this is what you receive in response. This brutally exposes a clear and blatant truth. None of this has anything to do with international law or concern for human rights. These activists fail the most basic of tests. They simply do not care about people being persecuted. When the ethnic cleansing of Jewish people from Arab lands is placed before them – they respond with whataboutery, insults and antisemitism. If you need proof that the Palestinian cause is more about antisemitism than human rights, just look at the response to this tweet. It is *always* worth remembering this when you hear them talk about how much they care.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Seventy years since the immigration, an Iraqi Jew remembers

The 70th anniversary of the great airlift from Iraq is an occasion for Baruch Meiri, writing in Y-Net News, to reminisce about his arrival in Israel. His family went through name changes and several addresses, including a tent, but managed to fulfil their dreams through their children.

The 'No Return' stamp on Baruch's parents' passport

My family and I were part of the immigration from Iraq, which now marks its 70 th anniversary. Today it is 70 years since my parents' passport was stamped at Baghdad airport: لن يُسمح لك بالعودة إلى العراق.Meaning:  not allowed to return to Iraq.

Baruch Meiri reading about life in a tent camp

 This gave us, officially, the approval we had been expecting for 2, 500 years for a Homecoming. Among the three children listed on the Iraqi "passport", was my name, Farouk. I was about 10 years old. Approximately. Because almost none of us, among the 130,000 immigrants who arrived from Iraq in the early days of the State of Israel, had a birth certificate. Certainly enough reason not to celebrate birthdays.

 We were the third group in my family, numbering 11 people, who proudly bore our last name, Saig, a testament to Father Yehuda's occupation, the jewelry trade. And suddenly we found out here in Israel that we were in fact three separate families: the first group who immigrated to Israel, and numbered four brothers and sisters, kept the 'Iraqi' surname Saig. My brother Moshe, a member of the Zionist underground of Iraqi Jews, who was credited with the Bezeq trial in Baghdad and who immigrated the next day, came to Israel. The agency official at the Israeli airport decided to give him the surname "Meir". Maybe after his grandfather? The agency official did not explain.

We, the last five survivors of our family of the Babylonian exile were given a rather strange new name: Isaac.

 Not only were we given a different last name at Lod Airport (today Ben Gurion Airport), but many of our first names were changed too. Of course, the Jewish Agency clerk didn't even bother to get our consent. My brother Salim became Moshe; Brother Fuad Lavner; sister Shoshana, while the younger sister Puriel was given the name Hope (Tikva).

 It is worth noting that many of the girls who immigrated from Iraq were given the names Shoshana and Tikva. Sometimes I wonder if the Iraqi community had been assigned several thousand Shoshanas and Tikvas and it was imperative to use them all up.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Jewish minister dropped as Tunisia entrenches Israel boycott

Tunisia's Jewish minister of Tourism, Rene Trabelsi, will be leaving his post in a reshuffle announced by the prime minister last week. He will be replaced by Mohamed Ali Toumi.

Trabelsi, hitherto the Arab world's only Jewish minister, with an important stake in tourism on the island of Djerba,  will have served  in the Tunisian government just fifteen months. His appointment in November 2018 ignited a storm of controversy over his links with Israel, which he has visited several times.

But the nail in the coffin of his ministerial career was likely to have been the landslide election in September of Kais Saied, Tunisia's new president, a hardline opponent of 'normalisation' with Israel.

 According to the Times of Israel, the president called moves towards relations with the Jewish state 'high treason'. The Tunisian parliament was due to vote last year on a draft law criminalizing ties with Jerusalem, but the proposal did not get the endorsement of then-president Caid Essebsi, who died in July.

 During the debate, Saied said Tunisia was in a state of war with the Jewish state. Saied seemed to express tolerance of Jews, saying that Jewish people with no Israeli passport were welcome to visit the country’s synagogues. But he rejected “dealings with Zionists,” whom he accused of displacing  Palestinians'. Hundreds of Israelis, many of them of Tunisian origin, traditionally visit the country’s Ghriba Synagogue for an annual pilgrimage during the Lag Ba’Omer holiday.

Trabelsi had declared that lack of normalisation did not imply that Israelis did not have a right to visit.
Rene Trabelsi, dropped from the Tunisian government, and (right) Meyer Habib, representing French Israelis in the French parliament

In early February, however, Meyer Habib, who represents French Jews living in Israel in the French parliament and is himself of Tunisian origin, called on his Facebook page for a boycott of Tunisia which he claimed was descending into 'Iranian-style hatred' after it questioned the participation of a 17-year-old French-Israeli player in a tennis tournament. Although Habib took down his post, he and Trabelsi had a heated exchange.

Friday, February 21, 2020

After synagogue re-opening, Egypt sending mixed signals to Jews

The re-opening of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria demonstrates that Egypt is sending mixed signals to its former Jewish citizens: on the one hand it wants to revive the Jewish community, on the other hand Jews cannot practise openly (as in Morocco) and must be protected against real threats by strict security at al times. Insightful article in the Economist (with thanks: Alec): 

When it comes to Egypt’s Jewish community, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi says all the right things. Only a minuscule fraction of the 80,000 Jews who once lived in Egypt remain in this Arab, Muslim country.

 Nonetheless, Mr Sisi promises a resurgence of local Jewry. He has invited back Jews who were pushed out after Israel’s invasion in 1956. He has listed dilapidated Jewish cemeteries as heritage sites and spent millions of dollars restoring what was once the world’s largest synagogue, Eliyahu HaNavi, in Alexandria.

 On February 14th about 180 Jews of Alexandrian origin returned to rededicate the synagogue. They hammered a mezuzah onto its walls, danced with the Torah scrolls and sang psalms to the tune of “Inta Omri”, the anthem of Egypt’s most famous diva, Umm Kulthum.

Old men sipped espressos at nearby Café Delice, still playing Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien”, and swapped faded wedding photos taken on the synagogue’s steps. They cried over memories of leaving Egypt, surrendering their passports and signing documents promising not to return.

The service that followed was the largest in the synagogue for 60 years. The men promised to return a year later for a wedding—the first step to rebuilding a community which a century ago attracted more Jews than Palestine.

Read article in full

A bittersweet homecoming for Egypt's Jews (New York Times)

At last, the Trump peace plan grapples with refugees

Commentators and Middle East experts have now had a few weeks to scrutinize the Trump peace plan, whether to praise or bury it.  Remarkably, the plan is the first  explicitly to refer to the rights of Jewish refugees.  However,  it seems almost to have gone unnoticed that the plan puts paid to the primordial issue driving the conflict: the Palestinian “right of return.” Lyn Julius writes in JNS News (with thanks: Imre):

The Arab-Israeli conflict created both a Palestinian and Jewish refugee problem. Palestinian refugees, who have suffered over the past 70 years, have been treated as pawns on the broader Middle East chessboard, and empty promises have been made to them and to their host countries. A similar number of Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands shortly after the creation of the State of Israel, and have also suffered.

Announcing the Trump plan in Washington

The Trump plan states, clearly and unequivocally, that there shall be no “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees—code for overwhelming the state of Israel with millions of  “refugees” and their descendants. Instead, under the plan the “refugees” will be absorbed in their host countries or in a state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza.

As long as there is no humanitarian solution for the Palestinian refugee problem, Israel-Palestinian conflict will never end. The Trump plan understands this, and for the first time tries to come up with a “just, fair and realistic” solution that does not involve even a token return of “refugees” to Israel.
Moreover, for the first time in a peace document, the Trump plan explicitly mentions the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, in the same sentence with Palestinian refugees.

The document states: “A similar number of Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands shortly after the creation of the State of Israel, and have also suffered. … Most settled in the State of Israel and some settled elsewhere.” (In fact, more Jewish refugees [850,000] fled Arab countries than Palestinians fled Israel [711,00]. Some 200,000 settled outside Israel.)

An innovation is that the plan suggests that Israel ought to be compensated for absorbing Jewish refugees.

Some resent the comparison—Palestinian refugees are the byproduct of a war their side started and lost. The Jewish refugees were innocent non-combatants far from the theater of war, deliberately scapegoated by Arab regimes because they happened to have the same religion and ethnicity as Israelis.

Others have criticized the plan for affirming that “a just, fair and realistic solution for the issue relating to Jewish refugees must be implemented through an appropriate international mechanism separate from an Israel/Palestine Peace Agreement.” Quite what this international mechanism might be is not specified. Observers fear that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that detaches justice for Jewish refugees from the main peace agenda will end up kicking the Jewish refugee issue into the long grass.

The underlying premise behind the “separate international mechanism” approach is likely to be that the Palestinians are not responsible for the Jewish refugees. The Jewish refugees ought to be compensated by the Arab regimes which dispossessed them and expelled them. But seven Arab League states went to war with Israel—a regional war that created both sets of refugees. The logical conclusion is that a regional agreement ought to be signed that deals with both issues simultaneously.

Another disappointment is that nowhere does the Trump plan mention the International Fund proposed by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000. This was intended to  compensate individual refugees, both Palestinian and Israeli, for their lost assets. The fund would have also had the virtue of compensating Jewish refugees who settled outside Israel.

But whatever its shortcomings, the Trump plan is not intended to do more than sketch out the broad outlines of a deal. It has tried to grapple with the refugee elephant in the room, and for this alone deserves praise.

Read article in full

Same article at Algemeiner

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Five Jewish writers united by their attachment to Egypt

A new book, On the Mediterranean and the Nile (Indiana Press, 2018)  by an Egyptian-born Jew, Aimee Israel-Pelletier,  pays homage to the considerable literary contribution in French  made by five Jewish refugees from Egypt.

Review by Deborah Roumani in Sephardic Horizons (Winter 2020)

The title of this book, part of the Indiana Series in Sephardi and Mizrahi Studies, is something of a misnomer. This is not another ‘story of the Jews of Egypt’ as we have seen several in recent years. Nor is it a family memoir of someone born in and exiled from Egypt. It is a series of analyses, profound and reaching across disciplines, yet well-rooted in its own field, of the work of five key fiction writers from the last two generations of Egyptian Jews.

 The author is a professor of French, author of a study of Rimbaud’s poetics, and thus brings literary tools to a group of novelists who express the deep-felt anguish of the uprooted Jews of Egypt: not as in biblical times exiting with song and gratitude to God, but expelled unwillingly from the land that they deeply identified with, even loved.

 Read article in full 

  Extract of review by Deborah A. Starr of Cornell University in AJS Reviews 43 (2018): 

In recent years, there has been an encouraging increase in publications about the modern history and cultural production of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Aimée Israel-Pelletier’s new book On the Mediterranean and the Nile: The Jews of Egypt provides a much-needed addition to this burgeoning field.

Israel-Pelletier examines writings—poetry, prose, and essays—by five authors who were raised in the Francophone culture of the Egyptian Jewish bourgeoisie and elites: (Jacques Book Reviews 492 Downloaded from https://doi.org/10.1017/S0364009419000795 https://www.cambridge.org/core. UT Arlington, on 06 Nov 2019 at 01:06:59, subject to the Cambridge Core terms of use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms.)

Hassoun, Jacqueline Kahanoff, Edmond Jabès, Paula Jacques, and André Aciman. The works Israel-Pelletier discusses were all composed following the writers’ departures from Egypt and the dispersal of the Egyptian Jewish community in the mid-twentieth century. To date, little serious scholarly attention had been paid to the literature produced by Francophone Egyptian Jews as a unique corpus. Egyptian Jewish literature does not fit comfortably in the postcolonial paradigm of Francophone studies, dominated as it is by the Caribbean, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Further confounding classification, two of the writers—Kahanoff and Aciman—ultimately made careers writing in English. In the context of Jewish studies, paradoxically, while French served as the lingua franca of middle- and upper-class Egyptian Jews (and other foreign minorities, as well as the Egyptian elites), little scholarship has been published in English about the Francophone literary production of Egyptian Jews. Israel-Pelletier’s book fills this gap.

Review by Joyce Zonana (emerita, CUNY) in The French Review 93 (October 2019):

us', she elucidates the relevance of Egyptian-Jewish letters to all Jewish, French and contemporary literary and cultural studies.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tears of joy and regret flow at the re-dedication of Alexandria's synagogue

The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria had not witnessed a Shabbat like it for forty years, as 180 Jews from all over the world held a service on 17 February 2020. They sat in their fathers' seats, prayed, sang and danced. They hoped that the restoration  of the synagogue by the al-Sissi government will herald a new beginning in relations between Egypt and the Jewish people. But their joy was tempered by the fact that Egypt still holds the communal registers hostage. 
Here is a news round-up put together by Point of No Return (with thanks to all those who contacted us): 

The Times of Israel (JTA) reports:

Under heavy security — one participant quipped that there were more police than participants — the delegation entered the large synagogue compound on Friday afternoon, where, with prayer and song, they rededicated the prayer hall through affixing a new mezuza to the main door. Inside the synagogue, individuals lit memorial candles for deceased family members, which was followed by the traditional Sephardic custom of Friday evening Sabbath services. (The Jewish Sabbath runs from sundown Friday until an hour after sundown on Saturday.)

Rabbi Yosef Nefussi blesses the Friday night challah brought from Israel

There were two rabbis at the service, Rabbi Andrew Baker and the son of the final Alexandrian rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Nefussi. (There was also Rabbi Abraham Niño Dayan - ed) Additionally, the service was joined by the US Ambassador to Egypt Jonathan Cohen and the former Israeli ambassador David Govrin, as well as other local cultural attaches. On Friday night, with wine and braided Shabbat challah brought from Israel, the Eliyahu Hanavi congregation recited the traditional blessings as a community, and broke bread before heading to a festive meal. They regathered the next morning for more prayer and Torah reading.

The highlight of the day was when 12 of the synagogue’s circa 60-70 Torah scrolls were taken out and festively paraded throughout the hall. “It was certainly a very emotional and poignant moment,” said (Alec) Nacamuli of the Nebi Daniel Association. “The 12 Torah scrolls were in honour of the 12 tribes of Israel,” said Levana Zamir, the head of the International Association of Jews from Egypt.

Keisar Zamir carrying a sefer Torah

 Cairo-born Zamir arrived with a contingent of some 20 Jews from Israel, along with her daughter and two grandchildren. The scrolls, she said, had been stored for decades, unused for ritual purposes by the ever-dwindling community. Their use, along with the rededication of the synagogue, made her “very, very glad,” she said. “I never imagined I would see my grandson here, holding a Sefer Torah, with the tallit [prayer shawl] on his shoulder. I cried, of course, there is so much emotion. It was just like seeing my father there,” said Zamir.

Levana Zamir with her two grandchildren, Kochav and Keisar.

 But even amid the afterglow of the celebratory weekend, the expat Egyptians told The Times of Israel that their community registers — generations of annals of births, deaths, and marriages — are essentially being held hostage by the same government that sponsored the synagogue’s restoration. Under the Ottoman Empire’s Millet system, all lifecycle events were recorded through the local community’s central rabbinate. (Israel’s chief rabbinate is a direct descendent of this system.) In major hubs Alexandria and Cairo, the registers date back to the 1830s.

Three years ago, they were all taken to the Egyptian National Archives where, according to Nacamuli, nobody can gain access to them. According to the Nebi Daniel Association, none of the communal documents pertain to personal property, but they are nonetheless invaluable for the continuation of Jewish life. “In religious matters they are often the only proof of Jewish identity to enter into a Jewish marriage, determine Jewish lineage or be granted a Jewish burial, especially in the Diaspora,” reads the Nebi Daniel website. “In civil matters, they are used to establish civil identity related to nationality, marriage, divorce, etc,” it continues. And, “for historical and genealogical research, the Registers constitute a rare collection covering 150 years of the history of a thriving Jewish community.”

 The Nebi Daniel Association is working to obtain digital copies of these documents, said Nacamuli, and is now considering its next steps. “We’ve been working on it for 15 years, and I can honestly say we’ve been treading sand,” he said.

 Zamir is hopeful for incremental slow change under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and compared him to assassinated peacemaker president Anwar Sadat. Under president Hosni Mubarak, she said, almost all memory of the Jewish community was wiped out and a generation of Egyptians in their 20s and 30s now have no idea of the flourishing Jewish community that helped build their country.

 “A-Sissi is like Sadat, he will succeed [in normalizing relations],” said Zamir. “He is doing it slowly and has very good relations with the Israeli government,” she said, adding that the Egyptian people are not yet ready to embrace Israel. Relations between Israel and Egypt are still far from normal, as illustrated by the fact that out of the 40 Israelis who applied for visas, only 15 were granted. Most other western nations can purchase visas at the border.

More news:

This item, An unlikely friendship, on the BBC website demonstrates a Jew and a Palestinian coming together to save Egypt's Jewish heritage. What the BBC does not say is that Marwa is married to Sami Ibrahim, whose father Albert Arie is one of the last Jews of Egypt. Marwa is not a random Palestinian but is bound to the remnant Jewish community by ties of marriage.

On the Friday, prayers were held at the Jewish cemeteries in Alexandria.

The re-dedication ceremony began with a procession of sifrei torah carried into the synagogue. Above: Edwin Shuker of the British Board of Deputies carrying one.

Rabbi Avraham Niño Dayan, Levana Zamir and her daughter Tuli

Click here to see video of Levana Zamir, president  of the association of Jews from Egypt in Israel. During the re-dedication ceremony Levana was asked to thank President el-Sisi for allowing the restoration of this 2000-year-old synagogue  on behalf of the Israeli Mission of Jews from Egypt. She added a special blessing for the state of Israel. The emotion of the occasion was such that Levana burst into tears, and the congregation of 180 Jews from Egypt from all over the world cried with her.

US Jews hold first mission to Saudi Arabia in 30 years

A delegation of 30 Jewish American leaders was hosted by senior government officials last week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for a four-day summit organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the first such specifically Jewish delegation to the Sunni Muslim kingdom in nearly three decades, JNS reports.

Malcolm Hoeinlein, head of the delegation (Photo: Flash 90)

The mission to the Saudi Arabia took place just a week after a report that efforts are underway to organize a breakthrough public summit between Israel’s prime minister and Persian Gulf leaders in the coming months. The mission also takes place just two weeks after the rollout of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” vision for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians—a plan that is believed to be supported by numerous Gulf States.

 “We had an open dialogue. We met with high level officials and raised our concerns,” said Conference chairman Arthur Stark. “They raised their concerns, and we hope and believe that this is a step in a long and productive relationship, that mirrors other visits that we’ve had to Gulf States where the embrace of Israel is clearly already there.”

Read article in full

Monday, February 17, 2020

Report: students threaten to destroy tomb of Esther in Iran

According to an unconfirmed report highlighted in Jewish Press, the Basiji, a paramilitary Islamist organisation represented in schools, universities and other institutions, has threatened to destroy the tomb of Mordechai and Esther in Hamadan, Iran, in retaliation for the Trump 'Deal of the Century'. The threat gives the lie that the regime is not anti-Jewish, only anti-Zionist.

Iranian authorities allegedly threatened to destroy the historic tomb of Esther and Mordechai in the city of Hamedan, and convert the site to “a consular office for Palestine,” according to ARAM, the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities in Iran.

 The organization said Sunday in a statement posted to the Twitter social networking site, “members of the Iranian Basij attempted to raid the historic site yesterday in an act of revenge against the Israelis Palestinian peace plan by President Trump.”

There is no way to independently confirm the report, but if it is true, it would not be the first time the site has been threatened.

The tomb of Esther and Mordechai: threatened on numerous occasions

The mausoleum of the Biblical Esther, Queen of Xerxes I, and her cousin Mordechai, is the most important Jewish pilgrimage site in Iran. The tomb is visited by numerous people every year as Iran remains home to the largest Middle East Jewish community after Israel.

The Tomb was added by Iran to its National Heritage List on December 9 2008, where it was to be under official government protection and responsibility. But that didn’t last long.

In December 2010, a group of Islamists threatened to destroy the tomb claiming there were fears Israel might damage the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, according a report by Iran’s Mehr news agency.

 “Muslims beware they have started the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque while their second sacred site in Iran, the Esther and Mordecai tomb is at peace and no Muslims make a sound,” the protesters were quoted as saying by the agency at that time.

“We, the student basijis … warn Zionist regime leaders if they assault the Al-Aqsa mosque in any way we will destroy the tomb of these lowly murderers.”

 Those who threatened to destroy the tomb were Basij members from the Abu Ali Sina University. (The Basij [Persian for mobilization] is a large paramilitary organization acting as the eyes and ears of the Islamic regime in schools, universities, state and private institutions, factories and ethnic tribes throughout the country.)

Read article in full

More background at Elder of Ziyon (With thanks: Malka)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Nazi Islamists, and how the Mufti dragged the Arabs into war

It is a sign of the times - and its enmity for Iran -  that Saudi Arabia, once friendly with the Muslim Brotherhood -  is now spotlighting the links between the Nazis and the Islamist MB  in order to distance itself from the Palestinian cause, itself led by the pro-Nazi  Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh comments on an article in the Saudi newsmedium Okaz (with thanks: Lily): 

Haj Amin Husseini, who was appointed by the British High Commissioner as Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate for Palestine, was the link for managing the recruitment of Arab fighters to the Nazi army, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported in an article published on Friday.

 The Nazi Ikhawn (Brothers),” the article refers to the close connections between the Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the Nazis. Saudi Arabia formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization in 2014 and banned it in the kingdom.

The Mufti meeting Hitler in 1941

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Hamas, an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood, have been strained in the past few years. Last year Hamas accused the Saudi authorities of arresting several of its prominent figures and members in the kingdom. Husseini, who was the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, contributed with his friend and leader Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Muslim Brotherhood, to recruiting a Muslim Brotherhood army of Egyptians and Arabs, gathered from orphanages and poor rural areas, to work under the Nazi army led by Adolf Hitler,” the newspaper said in an article written by its assistant editor-in-chief, Khalid Tashkandi.

 According to Tashkandi, the number of Arabs recruited by Husseini and Muslim Brotherhood was estimated at 55,000, including 15,000 Egyptians. The Saudi editor said there were a number of reasons why the Nazis were interested in Islam.

“On the one hand, the Nazis were aware that the oppression of Muslims in a number of Islamic areas under occupation and colonial powers would facilitate the recruitment,” he said. “On the other hand, the Nazis saw the Muslims as stiff fighters ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their faith.”

Read article in full

This article by Mattias Kunzel, asking why a Palestinian state was not founded at the same time as Israel,  demonstrates how the Palestinian Mufti, crushing his opponents and defying the best interests of his people, dragged the Arab League states into declaring war against the Jewish state in 1948. The Palestinian leadership  must therefore be held accountable  for the ramifications and consequences of this war.

The Arab leaders rejected the partition decision, at least in public. However, the question of whether the UN decision should be crushed using regular armies remained controversial to the end.

While Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and the allied Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, campaigned for militant jihad against the Jews in Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia still refused military intervention in December 1947. The Arab League followed this stance in the same month.

 It agreed to establish recruitment centers for guerrilla volunteers in Palestine. However, it viewed "the struggles in Palestine as a civil war, which it would only intervene in with  regular forces if foreign armies attacked the country and enforced partition by force," Abd al-Rahman Azzam, secretary general, declared in  February1948.

There were several good reasons to shy away from a Palestine war: First, the United Nations decision was unusually well founded. In April 1947, for example, a debate over Palestine in the UN plenary for several weeks had begun. On May 14, the penultimate day, Andrej Gromyko, the then Soviet UN delegate and later foreign minister, campaigned for the partition  of Palestine. (...)

One reason was that in 1947 tens of thousands of them had found work in Jewish-dominated economic sectors, such as the citrus fields. Secondly, the military strength of the Zionists was known. "Most Palestinian Arabs," noted Ben Gurion in February 1948, "refused and still refuse to be drawn into the war." In his study  Army of Shadows, Hillel Cohen provides examples of the tenacity with which Palestinian Arabs oppose their leaders' calls for war and make non-aggression pacts with the Jews around them, or even support Jewish defences.

But why did the war, which was so devastating for both sides, take place anyway? Why did the most radical one, Haj Amin el-Husseini's, prevail at a time when various answers to the partition decision still seemed possible? The die was cast in June 1946. That month, el-Husseini, who had been in French custody since May 1945 and was supposed to be a war criminal, arrived in Cairo. At the same time, the Arab League met in the Syrian resort of Bludan. There  it made a grave decision: The Arab representative bodies in Palestine that had existed up to that point were quickly dissolved and replaced by a new Arab Higher Committee headed by Amin el-Husseini.

Opponents of the Mufti, who had previously organized under the name Arab Supreme Front , were denied participation in the Arab Higher Committee. "The Bludan 'dictation' was a complete victory for the Mufti," emphasizes the Mufti biographer Joseph Schechtman. David Thomas Schiller speaks of "a takeover, a coup d'état".

Although Amin al-Husseini was not even allowed to enter Palestine on instructions from the Egyptian authorities, this league decision enthroned him as the new leader of the Palestinian Arabs and gave him access to a £ 10,000 annual budget. This transfer of power had consequences for the Jews: the leadership of the Mufti was like a declaration of war against  the Yishuv - the community of Jews in Palestine.

Al-Husseini's alliance with Hitler and his active participation in the Holocaust were well known. It also had ramifications for the Arabs: By its decision (to go to war), the Arab League had destroyed any approach to Palestinian politics that was independent of the Mufti. This is how countless Arabs experienced a déjà vu between 1946 and 1948: As in the period between 1936 and 1939, the Mufti once again established a terror regime against dissenters. Whoever wanted to grant the Jews rights or otherwise deviate from the doctrines of the Mufti stood with one foot  in the grave.

Read article in full (German)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Jewish visitors attend inauguration of Alexandria synagogue

Some 180 Jews from Israel, the UK, France, the US and elsewhere descended on Alexandria's Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue to mark its re-opening after a three-year programme of restoration paid for by the Egyptian government. The visitors held a shabbat service, prayed in the cemeteries and lit candles in memory of their dead. But silence will return to the synagogue after the Jewish guests go home -  the Jewish community in Egypt itself is on the verge on extinction. Report in the Times of Israel: 

CAIRO — This weekend marks the largest Jewish prayer gathering in Egypt for decades. From across the Diaspora, some 180 Jews of Egyptian origin have flown to the land of their fathers for a Shabbat dedicated to marking the newly restored 14th-century Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria.

 The weekend was closed to media and organized in part by the Nebi Daniel Association, an organization that works to preserve Jewish sites in Egypt. Only four or five septuagenarian and octogenarian Jews currently reside in Alexandria, Nebi Daniel Association board member Alec Nacamuli told The Times of Israel.

The city used to house 12 synagogues, but most of them were sold over the years to support the Jewish community there, and its infrastructure and institutions, he said. Once the largest in the Arab world, the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue was recently reopened in a festive gathering of government officials and Egyptian Jews on January 10.

In cooperation with the military, Egypt’s antiquities ministry oversaw the 64 million Egyptian pound ($4 million) renovation which lasted over three years after the roof and staircase collapsed in 2016.

Read article in full

When Egypt decided to restore a beautiful synagogue (Andrew Baker)

Arab states switch from erasure to restoration of Jewish heritage

Friday, February 14, 2020

New forms of old Syrian hate must be confronted

 Rawan Osman is a Syrian of Muslim origin who grew up in an atmosphere of rabid antisemitism. Now in Germany, she witnesses the challenges presented by a large population of antisemitic Syrian refugees.  These refugees need a programme of re-education, she argues. Must-read on Fikra Forum at the Washington Institute:

The Nazi Alois Brunner took refuge in Syria. He set up the secret police apparatus

For decades, the Syrian Ba’athist regime systematically incited hatred and Anti-Semitic propaganda against the Jewish people. The influence of anti-Semitism is perhaps most overtly visible in Syria’s foreign policy; the Ba’athist regime has unapologetically supported terrorist organizations that target Israeli civilians, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Regime’s backing of these organizations should not be miscategorized as support for the Palestinian cause—the horrific state of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the southern outskirts of Damascus shows the Syrian regime’s blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.

Rather, support for these terrorist organizations should be seen as some combination of political expediency and its real hatred of Jews.

Emblematic of this trend is the Syrian Regime’s decision to take in Abu Daoud—one of the architects of the Munich Olympic attack—in 1993, making it the only country to agree to do so, thereby allowing this terrorist to evade international law up until his death from natural causes in 2010.

Decades earlier, the Syrian government also made the decision to harbor the Nazi fugitive Alois Brunner, who was responsible for the death of at least 128,000 Jews. Alois Brunner is also reported to have become instrumental in establishing the Syrian Intelligence Service—the feared Mukhabarat —which has been responsible for mass deaths and murders of Syrians.

 However, anti-Semitism is also endemic inside of Syria, and has taken root at every level of society. Religious leaders quote—out of historical and religious context—Quranic scriptures to drive this ideology of hate, while many Syrian intellectuals and the artists adopt the hateful rhetoric of this dictatorship without question. Syrian popular literature is one area that demonstrates the deep relationship between the Syrian state, state-mandated culture, and anti-Semitism.

In 1983, then Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlass published a book titled The Matzo of Zion that described ‘The Damascus Affair,’ a historical incident where thirteen Damascus Jews were arrested on accusations of ‘ritual murders’ in 1840. This book, presenting unfounded accusations as fact, repeats the ancient “Blood libel” myth that Jews murder non-Jews to use their blood for religious rituals. Tlass was an adamant anti-Semite, confident that all Jews––not just Israelis––are bloodthirsty by nature. He asserted that Judaism is a “‘vicious deviation,” and that Jews possess “black hatred against all humankind and religions.”

The anti-Semitic propaganda in The Matzo of Zion mirrors the language of both Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Matzo of Zion reached similar levels of popularity in international anti-Semitic circles, but is perhaps most easily purchased in Damascus, where it is effectively sold on almost every street corner for the affordable price of $2.

 In fact, none of the aforementioned Anti-Semitic literature appear on the lengthy list of banned works in Syria, which allows these works’ uncritical dissemination. But perhaps the best and most influential example of anti-Semtism in Syria since the start of Bashar al-Assad’s rule is the twenty-nine-part Syrian television series Ash-shatat—‘the Diaspora.’

The writer, along with some of the Syria’s most prominent actors, have delivered an appalling compilation of anti-Semitic canards and libels, presenting Jews as the most wicked and immoral people on earth. Ash-shatat is not the only Syrian or Egyptian television production to spread anti-Semitism, but it is the most influential. The television series achieved a regional audience, airing in Iran in 2004 and in Jordan in 2005.

Read article in full

The West's indiscriminate refugee policy discriminates

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Mysterious 'Jew' surfaces in Najran and invites visitors

Since 1949, there have been no Jews living in Najran, an area of Saudi Arabia that was conquered in the 1930s from Yemen. According to Elder of Ziyon, a mysterious video clip has been doing the rounds of Arab media. It shows a man who claims to be a Jew from Najran, a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border. He is inviting Jews to visit him, claiming that there are 1,000-year old synagogues to see in Najran. Is it possible that the man's family was converted to Islam, or simply refused to join the exodus? Or is he a vehicle for the regime to join the Arab chorus inviting Jews to return (see here, here, here and here) to the kingdom, in the light of warming relations with Israel?

A 'Jew' has surfaced in judenrein Najran. 

'There were a number of Jews originally from Yemen who had conquered Najran in pre-Islamic times', writes Elder. 'In 1934, the town came under Saudi rule and the Jews were persecuted. In 1949 the Jews fled back to Yemen and from there they went to Israel.

'This man, however, claims that he still lives in Najran as a Jew and he is inviting Jews from around the world to visit him, where he can show them ancient synagogues -one that is a thousand years old and one that is over 1500 years old.It shows a man who claims to be a Jew from Najran, a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border.'

Elder can find no evidence of synagogues in Najran on the web.

 The Jewish Virtual Library describes how Jews in Najran enjoyed more freedom and equality than Jews in Yemen: According to Yemenite Jewish tradition, the Jews of Najrān trace their origin to the Ten Tribes. They lived in the region of Najrān in Saudi Arabia and were the only group of Yemenite Jews who lived outside Yemen under the rule of another kingdom.

On the strength of the laws of the desert and tribal protection, they were not subjected to persecution as were the Jews of Yemen. They enjoyed the same equality of rights as the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, were not taxed, and did not pay the *jizya (the poll tax imposed on non-Muslims in the Muslim countries "in exchange for the protection" granted them by the government).

The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia, who belonged to the Sunni Islam sect, practiced religious tolerance toward them and ate meat slaughtered under their laws of sheḥitah. The Jews of Najrān carried weapons in self-defense, as did the other inhabitants, and were renowned for their courage and strength. There was no other place in the Arabian Peninsula where Jews lived in such dignity and freedom as in Najrān.

By profession they were craftsmen: they worked essentially in goldsmithing and repairing arms. They earned a good livelihood and their material conditions surpassed those of Yemenite Jews. Their settlements were scattered throughout Najrān in small units of two to forty families. They lived in clay houses or in huts. Their clothes, of both men and women, were slightly different from that of Saudi Arabians and Yemenite Jews.

 The strict barrier between men and women, which was customary in social life throughout Yemen, was nonexistent among them. At festivities and celebrations men and women sat together and women danced to the sound of the men's singing.

  Read post in full

  According to Wikipedia : There was a small Jewish community, mostly members of Bnei Chorath, lived in one border city from 1934 until 1950. The Yemeni city of Najran was conquered by Saudi forces in 1934, absorbing its Jewish community, which dates to pre-Islamic times.[10] With increased persecution, the Jews of Najran made plans to evacuate.

A Jewish family from Najran in an Israeli ma'abara.

The local governor at the time, Amir Turki ben Mahdi, allowed the 600 Najrani Jews[11] a single day on which to either evacuate or never leave again. Saudi soldiers accompanied them to the Yemeni border. These Jews arrived in Saada,[12] and some 200 continued south to Aden between September and October 1949.

The Saudi King Abdulaziz demanded their return, but the Yemeni king, Ahmad bin Yahya refused, because these refugees were Yemenite Jews. After settling in the Hashid Camp (also called Mahane Geula) they were airlifted to Israel as part of the larger Operation Magic Carpet.[13]

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The story of Iraq's Jews told in an animated book

It began as an animated movie; now it's a book. The Wolf of Baghdad is a collection of cartoons illustrating the story of Carol Isaacs' family and community - the Jews of Iraq. Jennifer Lipman interviews Carol in the Jewish Chronicle (with thanks: Sami)

How do you draw something you’ve never seen? How can you bring to life a world you were never part of? Those were the questions facing cartoonist Carol Isaacs as she embarked on her graphic novel, a tribute to the home her parents fled before she was born,

The Wolf of Baghdad, which follows that city’s Jews from the turn of the last century to the brutal Farhud pogrom of 1941 and their eventual departure, is a beautiful, startling piece of work, and a valuable contribution to the literature on the experiences of Jews in Arab lands.

The novel shows, for example, the Jewish family matriarch wearing the abbaya, the full body cloak worn by Iraqi women in public in the early 20th century. There are scenes from the souk and in the Jewish Quarter, of children sleeping on roofs during sultry summer nights or swimming in the Tigris, along with heartrending images portraying the terror as anti-Jewish prejudice closed in.

 It’s a portrait of a disappeared world. Isaacs undertook exhaustive research to ensure her illustrated Baghdad reflected the one her family knew. She spoke to many relatives, in some cases relying on testimony recorded decades earlier, including that of her father.

“We had hardly any photographs, as you didn’t bring many out, and none showing where people lived,” she explains, “I found this wonderful book on Jewish houses in Baghdad; I tracked it down to a second-hand store in Jerusalem, to see how the houses actually looked, because they were quite specifically built to certain designs.”

Much of what she was drawing no longer exists. “The Jewish Quarter is in terrible disrepair, all the old houses are just crumbling, We have an address for my late mother’s house by the river, but it’s no longer there. There’s nothing even in terms of tombstones.”

Read article in full

The Wolf of Baghdad, with accompaniment by the band 3yin, will be performed at JW3 on 5 March 2020.

More about Carol Isaacs

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

How Libyan Jews were deported during World War II

From 1940, attempts were made to deport foreign nationals from Libya. About half the 2.542 French nationals were Jews, expelled to Tunisia and interned as enemy aliens in camps. Fifty died in allied bombing at la Marsa, among them  13 members of Maurice Roumani's family. In this important article in Haaretz, he traces the effects of antisemitic laws on Libyan Jews during World War II.

I was a child when I was deported in a truck together with my parents from Benghazi to Tunisia, and I was a witness to the bombing of La Marsa, a suburb of Tunis, on March 10, 1943. Thirteen members of my family were killed there, among them my grandmother, aunts and uncles, and other relatives.
Mussolini visiting Libya in 1937

For many years, I have probed the circumstances of the bombing, and in the course of my searching, I discovered and reconstructed from archives new details about the evacuation and deportation of Libyan Jewry to French North Africa during World War II.

 The beginning lies in 1938, when fascist Italy under Mussolini enacted the Racial Laws against the Jews. Although Libya was under Italian rule, the laws were not implemented there, thanks to the country’s Italian governor-general, Italo Balbo, who considered the Jews to be an important element in Libya’s economy, and tried to downscale the discriminatory measures taken against them.

Following the tragic death of Balbo, in 1940, two temporary governors were appointed and dismissed in rapid succession, before the appointment of Gen. Ettore Bastico, in July 1941.

That September, Bastico demanded that the 7,000 foreigners in Libya, among them several Jews, be transferred to Italy. Bastico claimed that their loyalty was dubious and that their presence was aggravating the food shortage. The Italian Interior Ministry vetoed the idea, citing insufficient prison space, a lack of construction materials for new concentration camps and transportation problems. The ministry suggested that the “dangerous nationals” be interned in concentration camps in Libya itself – and if not, the French and Tunisian citizens (Jews and Muslims alike) among them should be deported to their countries of origin: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Despite the plan’s official authorization by Mussolini himself, on September 20, 1941, the operation turned out to be complex and difficult to execute. Over a period of almost two years, between February 1941 and November 1942, the Cyrenaica region in eastern Libya, where Benghazi is located, passed back and forth between the warring sides five times. When the Italians retook Benghazi in April 1941, the city’s Italian residents looted Jewish stores and homes on the pretext that the Jews had aided the Allies and were speculating on food prices. Two Jews who tried to ward off the rioters were murdered.

Read article in full

Monday, February 10, 2020

Arab states switch from erasure to restoration of Jewish heritage

Restoration of synagogues is seemingly the new normal  in the Arab world. For all the hype that these preserved sites are silent witnesses to a shared Jewish and Muslim heritage, they will never be more than monuments to the ethnic cleansing of Jewish communities.  Seth Frantzman writes in the Jerusalem Post: 

Throughout Middle Eastern countries where Jews were once prosperous, numerous Jewish sites are getting a makeover and Jewish history being remembered. It is a major change from the past decades when Jewish history in many Muslim countries was sidelined, or even purposely erased.

Recent stories from Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan and northern Iraq paint a surprisingly bright picture. In northern Iraq, US diplomatic staff visited the tomb of the Prophet Nahum in the town of Al-Qosh.

Ambassador Matthew Tueller attended with Acting US Consul Elisabeth Rosenstock-Siller. Tueller and Rosenstock-Siller saw the restoration work at Nahum’s tomb and the US Consulate in Erbil in the Kurdistan autonomous region tweeted that the site is “rich in cultural importance to region’s Jews, Christians and Muslims."

The US has contributed $1 million to fund this project, help safeguard history and attract tourists.

In Herat, Afghanistan an effort to restore some synagogues has taken place, according to an article in  Al-Jazeera. Most Jews fled Afghanistan and only synagogues remained in some places. In Herat there were six. They were neglected during Taliban rule in the 1990s. According to the report, some efforts were made after 2001 to restore the structures. “Of the six synagogues, one was given to be as a school, another was given to be turned into a mosque and four that were badly damaged were set to be restored,” a caretaker of heritage sites told the reporter.

The Yu Aw synagogue in Herat (Photo: Hikmat Noori/Al Jazeera)

“About 10 Afghan artists and architects worked on it for over a year,” the report notes, regarding the Yu Aw compound that included Jewish sites. The Aga Khan Foundation also provided collaboration with the tourism authorities in Herat. The restoration work has contributed to the skills of young professionals.

 In the Moroccan city of Essaouira, a new House of Memory of Bayt Dakira has been opened by King Mohammed, who visited it last month. More than $1.5 million was spent on the site, according to reports.

Arab News notes that “Bayt Dakira is part of a wider effort to restore the country’s Jewish legacy. This has included the renovation of a dozen synagogues, 167 cemeteries and 12,600 graves.”

Weeks after the ceremony in Essaouira, the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt also held an event commemorating its restoration. “The house of worship was recently reopened in a festive ceremony after a long period of restoration,” Deutsche Welle reported.

 The project took just over two years and around $6 million was  invested by the Egyptian government. The synagogue has space for 700 worshipers and has other important elements. The site dates to the 14th century but was rebuilt in 1850 after being damaged. The government has also helped secure and invest in sites in Cairo, such as the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat. Magda Haroun, leader of Cairo’s small Jewish community has praised the efforts.Arab countries are looking back more fondly on their Jewish heritage.

 A report at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies notes that funds were raised in Lebanon to restore the Maghen Abraham synagogue. A video by the World Jewish Congress notes the project took a decade with private funds from 2009 to 2019. The synagogue in downtown Beirut has now been fully restored.

 The news from Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan is part of larger context of recognition and investment in Jewish sites and heritage across the Middle East and neighboring countries in South Asia.

Read article in full

The shrine of Ezekiel, now rebuilt as a Shia shrine (photo: Judith Neurink)

An article by Judith Neurink in Haaretz claimng  that the shrine of Ezekiel in al-Kifl, Iraq, will be opened to visitors  seems to be based on wishful thinking.The authorities plan to open up a separate entrance leading directly into the shirne from the Daniel market, says her guide Ahmed Abdelrahman. But Ms Neurink only has Abdelrahman's word for this. She herself admits that the burial chamber, with its Hebrew inscriptions, needs restoration, but after the site's makeover as a Shi'ite shrine, the authorities seem reluctant to make the necessary investment.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

'Darbuka' remark by politician causes uproar

Critics have been slamming a Blue-and-White politician for remarks he made in an interview with Haaretz, inferring the cultural superiority of Ashkenazim over Mizrahim in their tastes in music. Yoaz Hendel has protested that his remarks were not racist and were taken out of context. In any event, the controversy is not likely to attract more much-needed votes from Mizrahim to the Blue-and-White party in the run-up to the 2 March elections.

MK Yoaz Handel

Israel National News reports: MK Yoaz Hendel (Blue and White) drew ire when he told Haaretz that "people came here from all sorts of countries, some people came with a concert mentality and some people came with a drum (darbuka)  mentality."

The party's MK Ofer Shelah said: "He expressed himself in an unfortunate fashion. It would have been better if they had not been said, and they do not at all reflect the spirit of Blue and White." MK Tamar Zandberg (Democratic Union) called Hendel a "Trojan horse," saying: "While we are working towards a left-wing government led by [Blue and White Chairman MK Benny] Gantz, there are those in Blue and White who are Trojan horses, whose purpose is to prevent such a government. We heard the racist voice of Hendel this week, and these people are trying to prevent a change of government in Israel."

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) slammed Hendel as a "white racist against Arabs and Middle Easterners alike."

Read article in full

Herzog blames failure on talisman kissers

Friday, February 07, 2020

How Jewish identity has developed in Morocco

The musicologist and academic Vanessa Paloma Elbaz muses on the fluidity of Jewish identity in Morocco. When the country first became independent,  components of its Berber and Jewish identity were suppressed. Now, however, they are emerging in surprising ways. Read her article, Muslim descendants of Jews in Morocco: identity and practice, published in the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Crypto-Jews in 2015.

One day a young Jewish girl from Fez had a fight with her family and ran out of the mellah and banged on the doors of the mechouar (surrounding the royal palace) They opened the doors, she ran in and was never seen again.

They raised her in the palace, she converted to Islam and was married to a Muslim. In 2014, she told her adult granddaughter of her story, that she was a Jewish girl from the mellah of Fez. Her granddaughter is Muslim but is puzzlingly attracted to us [older Jewish ladies],she looks just like a Jewish woman from Fez, blond with large green eyes.

 Since 2010 a small group of Moroccan Muslims with Jewish ancestry have been reintegrating parts of their Jewish identity and practice into their lives. As with any group that recaptures lost identities, identity reconstruction occurs on a continuum of practice and engagement. In Morocco, publicly identifying with Jewish ancestry seems to be emerging from being completely taboo as recently as ten years ago to some who are maintaining a firm connection to Muslim practice while recognizing Jewish ancestry.

At the furthest extreme of this continuum, a small number of young Moroccans (five cases known to me) are engaging with Jewish ritual practice. This article will address the negotiations around and development of this continuum of identity and practice in contemporary Morocco.

These Muslim Moroccans who are exploring the Jewish component of their ancestry are contemporary examples of the kinds of negotiations and decisions that Crypto-Jews made 300-400 years ago, only a few generations after the forced conversions of 1391 and 1492. Their experience is not an exact parallel but when taking a closer look, one observes many shared elements of a similar process. Catholic Spain had forced conversions, an expulsion, an Inquisition, hundreds of years of
terrorized Crypto-Jews.

In contrast, Morocco has been a country where the Jewish population felt protected by the government and only during brief time periods there were waves of forced conversions tied to periods of  political and religious unrest for the general population.

Morocco is the only country in the world, apart from Israel, where Jewish family law is legally binding as a national law for Jews in contemporary times.

The origin of this manner of structuring legal concerns of the Jewish minority started during Cher-ifian Morocco. Because of the status of Jews in Islam as People of the Book they could be judged by their own Rabbis. As such, the Jewish community had a contract with the authorities which provided protection and legal independence after the community payed a tax: dhimmi, protected non-citizen minority (Amar, 1980:223).

 In contemporary Morocco, Jews use the rabbinical courts  in reference to family law: marriage, divorce and inheritance. For Moroccans these issues are resolved according to religious law: for Jews and for Muslims.

During the French and Spanish protectorates (1912-1956)the religious courts were reorganized by two dahirs from May22, 1918. The first one addressed the reorganization of the Rabbinical tribunals and the Jewish notaries and the other one instituted a High Rabbinical Tribunal (Amar, 1980: 226). Moroccan Jews were considered by the French and Spanish Protectorates as “indigènes” just as Moroccan Muslims. Legally and politically Jews and Muslims were just Moroccan in the eyes of the Europeans. But, since the Jews had been dhimmi in the eyes of Moroccan Muslims and of some Jews, the perception of the (Moroccanness) of the Jews was not clear.This very “Moroccanness” of Moroccan Jews was questioned by both Jews and Muslims during the years after Moroccan independence in 1956 from both the French and Spanish protectorates.

The founding of the State of Israel and the tensions felt in Morocco during and after the wars of Israel with their Arab neighbors, as well as rising pan-Arabism, a visit of Nasser to Morocco in 1960 and a push by both a Moroccan Islamic political party (Istiqlal) and efforts from HIAS and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to encourage Jewish emigration, pushed thousands of Jewish Moroccan families to leave in the sixties and early seventies.

During those years saying the word Israel was frowned upon in mixed company (Jewish and non-Jewish), and people said they were going to eretz (the land),  le  pais (the country) or alla (there). In postcolonial Morocco, the Jewish component of Moroccan history (as well as the Berber portion) was omitted from the educational curriculum in the desire to build a homogeneous Arabic national Moroccan narrative. In other words, it was the time to build a Moroccan identity after the years of European government, and the de facto decision was that Moroccan meant Muslim and Arab. This definition eliminated the richness of Moroccan’s complex identity and erased the Jewish component, and more dramatically the Berber element, which is about 60% of the Moroccan population, from national discourse of identity.

The legal independence that the Jewish community has had historically and continues to have today in relationship to the Muslim majority has been an important element in the maintaining of a vibrant minority community. The government’s official respect of Jewish traditions, supported institutionally by the inclusion and financial support of Jewish courts within the national legal system is one of the ways that Moroccan society has confirmed the “Moroccanness” of the Jewish community.

 Considering the various historical waves of Jewish migration into Morocco, Moroccan Jews have various levels of layered influences in the formation of their identities as Jews and as Moroccans.

There are Berber Jews (Amazighen), Arab Jews and Sephardic Jews. They were traditionally based in different geographical areas, had different languages, dress and culinary traditions. The most recent influx was the Sephardic Jews who flowed into Morocco in the years before and after the expulsion. These communities were discrete from each other but none of the boundaries were impermeable. The internal migrations of Jewish populations throughout Morocco at different historical periods has brought members from every one of these communities into the other.

In his monograph “On Identity,”Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese Christian writer who explores the theme of identity and belonging, succinctly articulates the complex factors forming and developing one’s identity. What determines a person’s affiliation to a given group is essentially the influence of others: The influence of those about him, relatives, fellow-countrymen, co-religionists, who try to make him one of them; together with the influence of those on the other side, who do their best to exclude him […] He is not himself from the outset; nor does he just ‘grow aware’ of what he is; he becomes what he is […] Deliberately or otherwise, those around him mould him, shape him, instill into him family beliefs, rituals, attitudes and conventions, together of course with his native language and also certain fears, aspirations, prejudices and grudges, not forgetting various feelings of affiliation and non-affiliation, belonging or not belonging (Maalouf, 2000: 20-21).

In other words, identity is formed by connecting to a group with which there is an affinity and disconnecting from one where that does not exist.

Read article in full