Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Israel's great Syrian-born spy, Isaac Shoshan, dies

One of Israel's greatest Arabic-speaking spies, Isaac Shoshan, has died aged 96. Shoshan, who was one of the subjects of Matti Friedman's  book, Spies of No Country, was born to a poor Aleppo family and smuggled into Israel in the 1940s. Yvette Alt Miller  takes up the story for Aish: 

Isaac Shoshan

Finally, after hours of walking, the group of Syrian Jews arrived at a kibbutz. They were amazed to hear fellow Jews speaking Hebrew, and offered them tea, bread and jam. Years later, Isaac remembers being “shocked” to meet Jews working to build a Jewish state.

Isaac settled in a kibbutz, working on the collective farm. One day, some men arrived at the kibbutz looking for Arabic speakers. They were from the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Haganah, which was the underground army that Jews in the land of Israel formed in the years of British control of the land, and which later formed the foundation for the Israel Defense Force. Isaac volunteered to be part of the Palmach, and soon was one of a small group of Arabic-speaking Jews who formed a top secret elite unit, dedicated to collecting intelligence, sabotage and other actions in Arabic-speaking communities.

The group became known as the Arab Platoon. Made up of Jews who’d grown up in Arab-speaking environments, its members learned about Arab customs. Historian Matti Friedman notes: “The recruits were from the Islamic world, but at home they had known little of the majority religion beyond the dangers it posed to people like them. Now they learned laws, scripture, superstitions, and figures of speech.” (Quoted in Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel by Matti Friedman: 2019.)

If any of these Jews’ true identities were discovered, they'd face certain death. The Jews living in present-day Israel were ruled by Britain before 1948, and were barred from raising their own army. The Palmach was an underground organization. As Matti Friedman notes: “They (the fighters of the Palmach’s Arab Platoon) had no country – in early 1948, Israel was a wish, not a fact. If they disappeared, they’d be gone. No one might find them. No one might even look. The future was blank. And still they set out into those treacherous times, alone.”

If their true identities were discovered, they'd face certain death. Isaac was soon ready to work as a spy. His first missions were within the land of Israel. In one operation, he disguised himself as an Arab Muslim and attended services in the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he heard a sermon calling for local Arabs to rise up and wage a war against Jews.

In Spring 1948, Isaac was given his most dangerous order yet. Arabs were streaming out of Haifa, heading north into Lebanon ahead of an anticipated declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. Isaac was to pretend to be one of them. Adopting the name Abdul Karim, he caught a bus from Haifa going to Lebanon, alongside another Arabic speaking Jewish spy, Havakuk Cohen.

The two men had only one gun for defense. Once they crossed into Lebanon, a group of Arab military officers stopped the bus. Seeing two able-bodied young men, the Arab officers demanded to know why they weren’t fighting Jews. “We leave our homes, our wives, our kids, to help you fight the Jew, and you are running away?” they asked. Isaac reacted quickly. He showed the soldiers his gun. “We’re not escaping,” he told them in Arabic, “If this gun had a mouth, it would tell you how many Jews it killed.” Isaac’s local dialect and accent in Arabic was perfect. The officers never suspected they were speaking with a Syrian-born Jew, not a locally raised Arab man, and let Isaac and Havakuk go.

In Lebanon, Isaac and Havakuk observed the Arab Legion’s military convoys. Another Jewish spy brought them a wireless radio transmitter hidden inside an ordinary radio, and Isaac set up a makeshift intelligence center inside the small apartment he’d rented in Beirut. He began describing the military technology that Jewish fighters would soon be facing – and he heard a wondrous piece of news. Israel had declared itself a Jewish state. It was the first time he’d heard of the existence of his new country. He also learned that six Arab states had immediately declared war on Israel, and the new nation was desperately fighting for its very life.

Soon, Isaac and Havakuk were told that a car bomb was being assembled in a garage in Beirut and were tasked to stop it. The men asked a garage worker if they could come in to use the restroom. In the few minutes they were able to be inside the garage, they set a bomb, which destroyed the building, as well as some surrounding structures. Five people died in the bombing, and although he’d been acting to save Jewish lives in the course of Israel’s War of Independence, Isaac was profoundly shaken by the loss of life. Later on, still in disguise, Isaac met a man who’d lost both of his sons in the explosion. He often spoke about the experience and began to advocate for Israel to use less deadly means of spying and sabotage.

“Although we were sent to gather intelligence,” Isaac Shoshan later recalled, “we also saw ourselves as soldiers, and we looked for opportunities to act.” He and Havakuk set up a small snack kiosk in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, which they used as a cover for their spying activities. Isaac also drove a taxi part-time.

In 1948, Isaac and Havakuk were sent a coded message from Israel: a ship had docked in Beirut's harbor and Israeli sources indicated it might be there in order to be fitted with a cannon and used to attack the port of the northern Israeli city of Haifa. Isaac and Havakuk had to find the boat’s location.

This wasn’t any ordinary ship. Called the Aviso Grille, it had formerly been Adolf Hitler’s personal property. He and other senior Nazis enjoyed sailing in it, and Hitler planned to use it to travel to London in the event that he managed to defeat the British military. After the war, a wealthy Lebanese Christian bought the ship and sailed it to Beirut. Isaac managed to locate its whereabouts, and one dark night, he and Havakuk welcomed another Syrian-born Israeli Jew, Eliyahu Rika, who was dropped off along the Lebanese coast and swam to shore carrying two mines. With Isaac’s help, Rika swam to the ship and placed the mines on its hull. The resulting explosion – days later – rendered the boat inoperable.

In 1950 Isaac Shoshan, along with Havakuk Cohen, was relieved by yet more undercover Israeli Arabic-speakers. Isaac returned to Israel and helped other Jews infiltrate terror cells disguised as Arabs. Isaac helped create the cover for Eli Cohen, one of Israel’s most famous spies, who infiltrated the upper echelons of Syrian society in the 1960s – and who was discovered, tortured and executed in Syria in 1965.

“Generations of warriors learned their trade at his feet,” explained Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister and a former elite spy. “Me too,” he added, upon learning of Isaac Shoshan’s death.

Isaac continued to go on missions well into old age. He found that the persona of a helpless old man was a useful one for a spy. He also worked with Arab spies who cooperated with Israel. “He turned out to be blessed with a talent for this job too,” explained Rafi Sutton, a fellow intelligence officer with whom Isaac Shoshan wrote Men of Secrets, Men of Mystery (1990). “Agents are a problematic lot, and you have to know when they are lying to you or telling the truth, and how not to allow them to extort you and take control of the relationship between you, without damaging their readiness to work with you,” Rafi Sutton explained. Isaac was able to cut through the lies and recruit high quality spies, and support their work.

Most of the world will never know how many missions Isaac Shoshan went on, nor how many lives his decades of heroism saved. After his death at the age of 96 was announced on December 28, 2020, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak recalled that Isaac had “risked his life again and again” for the Jewish state.

Isaac Shoshan leaves behind a legacy of helping build and defend our homeland against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Kurdish 'Jewish' leader Mamsani exposed as an imposter

Some five years ago, the Jewish press began reporting on the activities of Sherzad Mamsani, who claimed to represent some 450 'Jewish' families in Kurdistan when all had been airlifted to Israel in 1950.  Point of No Return has always had its suspicions about Sherzad Mamsani's 'Jewish' identity. Now Times of Israel blogger Levi Clancy has exposed Mamsani as one of three imposters, who saw that there was money and influence to be gained if they posed as Jews. The one area Clancy does not investigate  is whether Mamsani was an Iranian agent, and  any part he might have played in the abduction of Mawlud Afand, the editor of the Israel-Kurd magazine in 2012.

Sherzad Mamsani hoodwinked the media  into believing he was a Kurdish Jew

For several years, the Kurdish Jewish leadership in Israel has tried to build constructively on their historic ties with the Kurdistan Region, but has been obstructed by a small group of impostors who rightly saw the actual Kurdish Jews as a challenge to their scheme. The impostors were led by publicity-seeking figures such as Sherzad Omar Mahmoud and Ranjdar Abdulrahman (under the aliases “Sherzad Mamsani” and “Ranj Cohen”), as well as Sherko Othman. These men pleaded in the media for visa cards and visa stamps — for themselves and their clients — under the false pretense of being forgotten and dispossessed Jews. 
The National Association’s press statement on this issue is available here. 

 The fabricated Jewish past of Sherzad Omar Mahmoud, a.k.a. “Sherzad Mamsani”: Sherzad insisted that he was born Jewish, but at different times claimed three entirely different backstories: in one version, he had Jewish parents who raised the family as Jews; in another, he had Jewish parents who raised the family as Muslims; and in yet another, he had two Muslim parents, but with unsubstantiated Jewish ancestry on his mother’s side. 

 “My two grandmothers were Jews,” stated Sherzad in an interview where he explained that both of his parents were Jewish. “We celebrated Jewish holidays very secretly” and “never learned about Islam at home” explained Sherzad in another interview. However, his level of knowledge indicated otherwise. “Clearly his first,” remarked an unimpressed Rabbi about a religious dinner attended by Sherzad overseas. 

“Hanukah is the Jewish New Year,” explained Sherzad incorrectly in a television interview. But at other times, Sherzad stated that his whole family “lived as Muslims” — and on this, there seemed to be some agreement. Sherzad’s brother Azad clarified that Sherzad came “from a family of Muslims” and offered photos of the family observing Ramadan, and doing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

 Sherzad weakly suggested in a report that his father and brothers became Hajjis as a ruse and that they secretly were observant Jews. 

 Levi Clancy's three-part series is here, here and here

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Shohat downplays antisemitism causing Iraqi-Jewish exodus

The 70th anniversary of the Tasqeet - the mass airlift  of the Jews of  Iraq to Israel - is an opportunity for New York university professor Ella Shohet to examine the causes in Jaddaliyya. From the start, her article obfuscates the reasons for leaving: it's because the Jews were 'caught in a vortex of political forces and conflicting ideologies' - an unsavoury soup of colonialism, monarchism, communism, Zionism and Iraq/ Arab nationalism.

Somehow she seems to miss the one 'ism' that overrode all the others: antisemitism.

'A new world order could not accommodate Jewishness and Arabness', she declares. And so she might, as Shohat effectively patented  the antonym 'Arab Jew'. But what was fatefully conflated  was not Jew and Arab, but Jew and Zionist. And it was not a new world order, it was a deliberate policy specific  to Arab League countries. The criminalisation of Zionism in Arab countries permitted arbitrary dispossession, arrest, trial and execution.  It turned every Jew into an enemy alien deserving of collective punishment, although they were not citizens of that enemy state. Yes, Arabs who remained in their hundreds of thousands in Israel were subject to limitations at first,  but Zionism did not scapegoat them in this way.

Ella Shohat

Although she recognises their suffering, Shohat cannot bring herself to call Iraqi Jews 'refugees' - only Palestinians can be refugees. Jews are neither refugees nor immigrants returning to their ancestral homeland.  To Shohat, the campaign for justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries is 'narrative envy' - an appropriation of the sacred Arab nakba.

The 1941 Farhud now recognised as a Holocaust event,  was the decisive break between Jews and Muslims in Iraq, but Shohat only mentions the massacre in order to suggest that Arabs were not Nazis. Did Arabs not save Jews in the Farhud? she complains, ignoring the part played  by Iraq's  pro-Nazi government.True, the history of Jews under Muslim rule should not be 'farhudised', but neither should one forget that Jews were second-class dhimmi until the colonial era.

While Iraq stole from Iraqi Jews, Israel 'betrayed' Iraqi Jews by 'excluding, rejecting and otherising them as Arabs  orientals'. Shohat meanders into an  inexplicable digression about the leader of the Iraqi Jewish community, Rabbi Sasson Khaduri, 'much maligned' in Israel for his declarations of loyalty to Iraq'  - and his son Shaul, who spent a year in the fearsome prison ' The Palace of the End'. But loyalty did not save the Jews.

Shohat's invective sounds embittered and  out of touch with today's Israel, where Iraqi Jews  have made their mark on  economy, society and culture. She may have a following in the sociology departments of US universities, but few Iraqi Jews would recognise themselves or their experiences  in her writings.

More about Ella Shohat

Friday, January 15, 2021

Sixty years since Operation Yakhin in Morocco

It is 60 years since Operation Yakhin, the rescue mission mounted by Israel to bring half of Morocco's Jewish community to Israel. 

Moroccan Jews arriving in Israel

According to Wikipedia, Operation Yakhin was an operation to secretly emigrate Moroccan Jews to Israel, conducted by Israel's Mossad between November 1961 and spring 1964. 

About 97,000 left for Israel by plane and ship from Casablanca and Tangier via France and Italy. The accession of Hassan II on 26 February 1961 enabled negotiations to begin on a secret agreement between Mossad's "Misgeret" division and the Moroccan authorities (principally Prince Moulay Ali and labour minister Abdelkader Benjelloun), together with the American organisation HIAS. 

An economic arrangement was agreed between Israel and Morocco, with the agreement of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and King Hassan II of Morocco, whereby $500,000 would be paid as a downpayment, plus $100 per emigrant for the first 50,000 Moroccan Jews, and then, $250 per emigrant thereafter.[1][2] The operation also received important help from Francoist Spain.[3] 

However, some Jews settled in France, Canada and the United States instead of in Israel. Morocco received "indemnities" for the loss of the Jews.[4] The operation was fronted by the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, who financed approximately $50 million of costs.[5] The Jewish community of Morocco spans nearly 2,000 years. 

During the 1948 anti-Jewish Riots in Oujda and Jerada 44 Jews were massacred in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada. This event contributed to a dramatic upsurge in the departure of Jews from Morocco, most of them to Israel. On May 14, 1948 – the Moroccan sultan, Mohammed V, delivered a speech in which he warned his country’s Jews not to demonstrate "solidarity with the Zionist aggression." If before Oujda and Jereda there had been a stream of Jews departing Morocco, afterward the immigration became even more extensive. 

During the next year, 18,000 of Morocco’s 250,000 or so Jews left for Israel. Between 1948 and 1956, when emigration was prohibited, the number reached about 110,000.[7] At the time, Morocco was home to the largest Jewish community in North Africa.[8] Fears that Moroccan independence, which appeared increasingly likely through the early 1950s, would lead to persecution of the Jewish community led to an initial wave of migrants. From 1948 to 1951, approximately 28,000 Jews emigrated from Morocco to Israel.[9] 

Upon Moroccan independence from French colonial rule in 1956, full rights and status were conferred to the Jewish population under the subsequent reign of Mohammed V. Nonetheless, immigration to Israel continued. In 1959, under pressure from the Arab League and facing the specter of the Jewish population's continued decline, emigration to Israel was prohibited, narrowing Jews' options for leaving the country. Despite retention efforts, Moroccan immigration to Israel rose to approximately 95,000 Jews for the period spanning 1952-1960.[9] 

The formal prohibition on emigration remained in place only through February 1961. While the formal prohibition was ended, Mohammed V maintained a clear public preference that the Jewish community remain within Morocco and barred foreign action to facilitate or encourage emigration.[10] Beginning in 1960, Israeli authorities engaged Moroccan officials in discussions intended to negotiate the facilitation of Jewish immigration to Israel with official (or, at least semi-official) blessing.[11] Even with the removal of the prohibition on such movement, these talks continued. Eventually, this evolved into Operation Yakhin. 

On 10 January 1961 a small boat called Egoz carrying 44 Jewish emigrants sank on the northern coast of Morocco.[12] This created a crisis both for the Moroccan authorities and for the foreign aid groups responsible for assisting the refugees.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Sign petition to have MENA Jews included in school curriculum

Unless public opinion mobilises, schools in California may fail to incorporate antisemitism and the experiences of Middle  East Jews in their Ethnic Studies curriculum.

The California-based organisation representing MENA Jews,  JIMENA is warning the public that it has its last opportunity to influence the California State Board California's Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC). The deadline is 21 January 2021. 

 As we are now in the very final stretch of public comment for the ESMC, JIMENA is urging people to sign a simple email petition. The petition is also endorsed by 30 Years After, the Iranian American Jewish Federation and the Sephardic Educational Center. Anyone can sign.

 According to Sarah Levin, executive director of JIMENA,"The lesson plan, Antisemitism and Jewish Middle Eastern Americans should be situated next to lessons focused on other forms of bigotry targeting Middle Eastern and South Asian Americans."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

1939 Yemenite hero memorialised in Shiloah

A plaque to  a man who tried  to save synagogue property during an Arab riot in 1939  has been unveiled in the vllage of Shiloah, on the southern slopes facing the old city of  Jerusalem. Following the riot, theYemenite residents were evacuated.  In 2019 the 19th century Yemenite synagogue was rededicated. Report in Israel National News: 

Rahamim Madmoni recited Kaddish for his father Shlomo, killed in the 1929 riot in Silwan

Today for the first time a memorial day was held in the village of Shiloah (Silwan) - also known as the Yemenite village - for Shlomo Madmoni, who was murdered in 1939 on his way to the village to save the Torah scroll and other synagogue property that was badly damaged during the Arab riots led by Haj Amin al-Husseini against the Jewish community. 

 The annual memorial day was initiated by the public council of the Shiloah village headed by Gadi Bashari, a member of the Zionist Archive. 

 During the memorial service, a marble plaque was placed in memory of Madmoni and his work to save the village, and for the first time in 82 years since the murder – the Kaddish was recited in the old Yemenite synagogue by Rahamim Madmoni, 86, the son of Shlomo Madmoni. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Two more Yemen families flown out to UAE

Two more Jewish families from Yemen have been flown out to the UAE, where they were reunited with members of their family living in the UK and Abu Dhabi respectively. The families were effusive in their thanks to the UAE. The Fayez family consists of the parents of Losa Fayez and her uncle. The Salem family were a family of four. By this blog's reckoning, this leaves just 31 Jews in Yemen, most living in a compound in the capital.  The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Jeremy):

 Yitzhak Fayez, 35, told WAM (Emirati News) that he had not seen his grandparents and uncle since he was a child, when he moved to the UK from Yemen. 

He and 11 family members from London, including five great grandchildren, met with Fayez's grandparents and uncle from Yemen. "They are today meeting their great grandchildren for the first time," said Fayez. "Today, the UAE made my family's dream come true after we had lost hope on getting reunited, after 21 years of separation." 

"The saying goes: those that give water to the thirsty, will live in prosperity for the rest of their lives," added Fayez. "This is what the UAE has done for us. The people of peace, of bliss, of love."


 Fayez's mother, Losa, said that the reunion had put an end to 21 years of suffering. "I'm living a dream, not quite sure if it's a dream or reality," said Losa. 

 "Only Almighty God is able to reward the UAE for this deed. What they have done for us is unparalleled by any means. Humans aren't capable to return this favor," said Yousif Habeeb, a family member. The second family, the Salem family, was reunited after 15 years apart. Haron Salem, his wife and two children flew from Yemen to visit their relative who lives in Abu Dhabi. 

"Words cannot express how grateful we are to the UAE. We are very happy being here reunited with our family member. The UAE is truly the homeland of love, tolerance and peace," said Salem. Rabbi Elie Abadie, the senior rabbi of the Jewish community in the UAE, thanked the government for reuniting the Jewish families, in a video on Twitter, adding in a separate tweet that he was honored to have taken part in uniting the families. 

 In August last year, the al-Nati family, who live in northern Yemen, were flown out to Abu Dhabi and reunited with relatives from the UK at the airport. (Story here.) Their departure left one old lady, her crazed brother and three others in Amran province. (As far as is known Levi Salem Musa Marhabi is still in jail there). It is probable that the Salem family were living in the government compound in Sana'a the capital..

Monday, January 11, 2021

Morocco plans for 200,000 Israeli tourists

Morocco is gearing up for hundreds of thousands of Israeli visitors in the wake of the announcement Morocco-Israel  peace accords. Clearly, Morocco views descendants of Moroccan Jews living in Israel as 'attached to their homeland'. It is interesting that  the reverse tourist traffic of Moroccans to Israel  is not really contemplated. Article via Dafina (with thanks: Leon)

Some 200,000 Israeli tourists  are expected in Morocco from 2021 The official flight on December 22 opened the way for air services between Israel and Morocco.

 In three months, direct daily flights will link  Tel Aviv, Casablanca, Rabat and Marrakesh, Nadia Fettah Alaoui, Morocco's Minister of Tourism, told  i24 television channel.  Some 200,000 Israeli tourists are expected  to visit the kingdom in the first instance, announced Nadia Fettah Alaoui, adding that, "this type of agreement (with Israel) will contribute to a better interaction between communities and populations". The very first who will land on Moroccan soil, says the Moroccan medium  L'Economiste, are mostly tourists of Moroccan origin who are eager to set foot on their homeland, to which they remain so attached.

Jews of Moroccan origin make up a large community in the Hebrew state, at 800, 000 or even one million people, roughly one-tenth of the Israeli population, the same source observed.  Sephardim  present  great potential:  the Israeli diaspora (in France, Belgium, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia ...), economic operators, investors or trips organized by tour operators, pilgrimages. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Evidence found of North African Jews killed at Sobibor

It is well documented (thanks to meticulous Nazi records)  that some 2,000 Mizrahi Jews living in Europe during WW2 (mostly, but not exclusively North African) were deported to Nazi concentration camps. Among the best known were Young Perez, flyweight boxing champion, who perished on the Death March, and Alfred Nacache, swimming champion, who survived Auschwitz. Now an Israeli archeologist of North African extraction has unearthed dog tags belonging to North African Jews who were murdered at Sobibor camp. Report in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily):

Maurice Ben Zaken, a relative of the archeologist Yoram Haimi, died in Sobibor champ

Messasud Aknine, from Marseilles, France, was arrested in 1943 and deported to the Drancy internment camp outside Paris. 

The 73-year-old Jew’s fate was sealed. Before long he was sent to the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland, where the Nazi German invaders killed him in the gas chambers. 

In all likelihood, no one would have heard about him again were it not for a recent find, deep underground, of a chilling memento. 

For several years now, Yoram Haimi of the Israel Antiquities Authority has been excavating at the Sobibor site with Polish colleague Wojtek Mazurek. 

Among the tens of thousands of items belonging to the camp’s prisoners that they have pulled from the earth, they recently found five ID tags. The Germans used the numbers etched on these dog tags to identify the prisoners, similar to the numbers tattooed on the arms of Jews at Auschwitz. 

Through archival research, Haimi was able to identify several of the names behind the numbers, shedding light on a little-known chapter of the camp’s history: Hundreds of the Jews killed at Sobibor, about 160 miles east of Warsaw, came from North Africa. Aknine, born in Tangier, Morocco in 1870, was one of them. 

Another victim, David Aknine, was born in 1900 in Tlemcen, Algeria. He too was killed at Sobibor in 1943. Such was also the fate of Shalom Levy from Boufarik, Algeria, whose ID tag was also unearthed by Haimi.

JewishGen Holocaust database (with thanks: Edna)

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Sudan signs Abraham accords with Israel

In another ground-breaking development , Sudan has joined the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in signing the Abraham Accords with Israel. The US will removed Sudan from the terrorist list, thus opening the way to Sudan receiving loans and access to know-how. The Voice of America reports:

KHARTOUM - Sudan has officially signed the Abraham Accords, agreeing to normalize relations with Israel. 

 The deal paves the way for Sudan to relieve its massive debt to the World Bank.The historic signing took place at the U.S embassy in Khartoum Wednesday. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signed on behalf of Washington, while Sudanese Minister of Justice Nasereldin Abdelbari signed on behalf of Khartoum. 

 Speaking to reporters after the signing, Abdelbari said Khartoum welcomes the rapprochement and the diplomatic ties between Sudan and Israel that Sudan will boost for its own benefit and for other countries in the region. 

He said Khartoum appreciates Mnuchin’s historical visit and hopes to strengthen ties between Sudan and the U.S.

In his brief statement, Mnuchin said it was "a great honor to be here with you today, and I think this will have a tremendous impact on the people of Israel and the people of Sudan as they continue to work together on cultural and economic opportunities.”  

Friday, January 08, 2021

The Jew who helped bring cinema to the Ottomans

Not much is known about Sigmund Weinberg, a Romanian Jew who opened a photographic and optical equipment shop in Istanbul. Official photographer to two Ottoman sultans, he became one of the pioneers of Turkish cinema. Now a film has been made about him by Savas Arslan. Profile in the Daily Sabah (with thanks: Edna):

Sigmund Weinberg: represented the French Pathé company

Weinberg was one of the photographers taken under the care of the palace. Sultan Abdülhamid II supported and directed all photographers in the country at the time. The earliest photographs of the Ottoman era date back to his reign. He had photographs taken of all the statesmen, including himself, the army and even inmates in prisons. The entire Ottoman territory, including Istanbul, Mecca and Medina, was also photographed upon his request.

Was Weinberg the one who brought cinema to the Ottomans? Yes, he was one of the people who brought this technology in his era, but he was not the only one. From the first quarter of the 1900s, cinema gradually became an important part of entertainment life in Istanbul, with longer and more extensive film screenings.

The organizers of film screenings in these years were Istanbul’s artisans, Ottoman merchants who followed the technologies of the period and businessmen from abroad. Among those who were instrumental in the introduction of cinema to the Ottomans were Weinberg, French painter Henri Delavallee, music hall and circus operator Ramirez, French palace illusionist Bertrand, engineer and film equipment manufacturer Pierre-Victor Continsouza and Yıldız Palace’s interpreter Sabuncuzade Louis Alberi.

The first film was screened in 1896 by a Frenchman named Bertrand who organized cultural and artistic activities at Yıldız Palace. Sultan Abdülhamid II watched the film with his family and took great interest in it.

In 1897, Weinberg started to show films to the people of Istanbul as the Istanbul representative of Pathé Film. These screenings were short but engaging pastimes attended by families, including children. From that year onward, film screenings continued to increase.

The machine used in this screening was brought by Weinberg from France. It was a projection machine that produced light through oxygen, used in early cinema technologies of the pre-electric era. He projected minute-long films on a 2-meter-wide screen.

After carrying out screenings in various places, Weinberg in 1908 opened the Pathé cinema, the first established cinema hall in Istanbul. He operated this hall until 1916.

Weinberg produced films of historical importance as well as operating the movie house and broadcasting and distributing films. In October 1899, he wrote a letter to the sultan in order to film the Ottoman army. He also presented the sultan with a catalog of cinematographers, which are motion picture film cameras also serving as film projectors and printers.

The French Pathé is one of the film companies that operated in the early years of cinema in the Ottoman Empire. As in many countries, they opened a representative office in Istanbul.

Nearly all of the films screened from 1902-1913 belonged to Pathé. The company was the sole dominator of the Ottoman market with its distribution network. It did not limit its investments to Istanbul and opened movie theaters in Izmir and Thessaloniki, two of the most cosmopolitan cities.

Weinberg also made records in the name of Pathé film that were watched in Ottoman territory. Thanks to him, many historical happenings were recorded on film. He filmed one of Sultan Abdülhamid II's Cuma Selamlığı, a tradition practiced by Ottoman sultans on their way to Friday prayers, in the Hamidiye Mosque in 1908. He also recorded other important events of the period, such as the election held in November 1908 and the opening of the Assembly in Istanbul.

Weinberg also filmed Sultan Mehmed V Reşad, who ascended to the throne after Sultan Abdülhamid II. He recorded the parade of the Ottoman navy at a ceremony at which Sultan Mehmed V Reşad was present in 1910. Documentary films, which he took by approaching the sultan as close as 5 meters away with special permission from the sultanate, were screened in various halls.

Additionally, he shot occupied Istanbul and filmed many current cases. These included sports competitions, the funeral of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Joachim of Constantinople and some large fires in Istanbul. He was documenting history with both films and photographs.

Weinberg was a figure with supreme commercial acumen, foreseeing the future of all kinds of innovation. Between 1885 and 1889, his shop both assumed representation of various foreign companies and imported photographic material.

Sultan Abdul Hamid II

By the time of World War I, the film industry had developed considerably. Thus, it was used as one of the most effective means of propaganda. The government of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which dragged the Ottomans into the war, wanted to use it well.

During this period, Weinberg was appointed head of the Central Army Cinema Department (MOSD), which was established by the order of Enver Pasha, minister of war and acting commander-in-chief. He was ordered to film the Romanian and Galician fronts. These important images were shown in the Palas Cinema on June 9, 1917.

However, the government of CUP, which cooperated with the Germans in the war, dismissed Weinberg. Surely, the ultra-nationalist CUP officers who cooperated with the Germans would not trust a Jew who was the representative of a French company. Romania was also a hostile force, and Weinberg descended from a Romanian family.

Grandparents of Edna-Anzarut-Turner (who alerted us to this article) after their wedding in Constantinople. They are sitting at the back. Signmund Weinberg is at the wheel. Next to him is Karl Karlmann, one of the first to found Bon Marché, an elegant and select department store in Constantinople.

Although he always considered himself an Ottoman citizen, the concept of the nation-state of the new world prevailed after the war.

What did Weinberg do after the founding of the Republic of Turkey? Information about him is scarce as he was pacified during the war years. His wife Caroline moved to Tel Aviv in 1927, with her son-in-law Josef and daughter Regina. Weinberg continued to live in Istanbul after 1927.

He died in 1936, and at the initiative of his other daughter Elsa and son-in-law Harry, who lived in Romania at the time, his body was brought to Bucharest and was buried there.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

The term 'Arab Jew' is an act of colonisation

Anti-Zionists have manipulated the Mizrahi story for the sole purpose of demonizing the Jewish state. UC Berkeley’s Bears for Palestine is the latest group to join this trend, as part of their Palestine 101 curriculum. (What is more worrying, is the trend has also been seeping into the mainstream academic curriculum - ed. ) Maya Reuven writes in Jewish Journal:

Jewish refugees arriving in Israel

Although much of the curriculum plays on routine anti-Zionist arguments and tropes, Bears for Palestine’s lesson materials for week five (“The Character of the Zionist Settler-State”) take a more creative approach to demonizing Israel by including an article by Ella Shohat titled, “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims.” 

The article proceeds to tell a story of “Arab Jews,” a majority of whom now seek to form a “Palestinian-Sephardi alliance” in order to combat the evils of Zionism. The article attempts to make an argument about settler-colonialism while indulging colonialist language. In the piece, Shohat routinely refers to Mizrahim as “Arab Jews” or even “Jewish Arabs,” terms that are themselves a product of Arab imperialism. 

Mizrahi Jews had been living in the Middle East long before the Arabization of the region, and pushing the use of the term “Arab Jew” over our preferred indigenous title is itself an act of colonization. As a result, a vast majority of Mizrahim today reject the term “Arab Jew” in favor of “Mizrahi Jew.” The irony of using this language of erasure for a unit entitled “The Character of the Zionist Settler-State” cannot be understated. Shohat also dodges the topic of the Jewish exodus from Arab lands in favor of a narrative that paints Israel, the place of refuge, as the ultimate oppressor. 

If we wish to have an honest discussion about the oppression of Mizrahi Jews, should we not begin with the Farhud in Iraq? The internment of Jews in Egypt? Nazi-inspired concentration camps in Libya? To gloss over all of these atrocities in favor of an argument that demonizes the country that gave my family and the families of the 850,000 refugees a future is disingenuous at best.

 But it is Shohat’s suggestion that there is a “Palestinian-Sephardi alliance” against the existence of Israel that is indicative of just how disconnected from reality and incredibly manipulative the article is. The mainstream Mizrahi perspective is a Zionist one.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

The hanging of Iraq's wealthiest Jew (Part 3)

Here is the final part of the report by Marvin Goldfine of the American Jewish Committee into the status of Iraqi Jews after Israel was declared in May 1948. (For Parts 1 and 2, see here and here). The crowning act of Iraq's expropriation of the Jews was the much publicized case of Shafiq Ades, of Syrian origin, who became one of the wealthiest residents and business men of Iraq. Ades was hanged in front of his family house in Basra in September 1948. The hanging sent shock waves through the Jewish community. 

The city of Basra where he lived had a record of more intense anti-Jewish activity, due in part to the personal bias of its chief of police. Prison sentences against Jews there during the period in question were more frequent and severe. That there took place a subsequent flight of Jews from Basra to Baghdad involving a very large part of its Jewish community clearly marks the difference in degree of treatment meted out in these two centers, This is further borne out by the fact that the brother and partner of Ades who lives in Baghdad was simply put under surveillance. Otherwise, he was not molested nor was his property touched. 

Ades was charged with complicity with the enemy in selling arms to the Israeli forces in Palestine, Military equipment which he had purchased from British surplus stock two years ago and which he claimed to have sold in Italy was discovered during the Arab-Israeli battle in Palestine, 

Curing the initial period after his arrest, Ades threatened he would expose several high government leaders. His trial was thus held huis-clos, only one witness was heard, and the court refused to admit into the chamber the defense counsel composed of three prominent Moslem attorneys. 

Shafiq Ades: his close connections with Muslims did not save him

For some time previous to the trial of Shafiq Ades in September, demonstrations and threats had been directed against him. As one whose close connections and business interests with the highest Moslem leaders were well known, his arrest came as a shock to many. Furthermore, the Jews did not immediately sense the incident as a threat against themselves, since Ades had never been part of their community. He neither identified himself with them nor helped their institutions.

 The circumstances surrounding the hanging of Ades and the barbarities which accompanied it have already been told to the world. His assets valued at 20,000, 000 dinars were officially confiscated, although it is claimed that he succeeded in disposing.of the title of much of it before his execution. 

None of Ades' Moslem business associates, involved as much as he was in the same deal in question, were arraigned before the law. That this represented a deliberate attempt by the Government to deal at one and the same time a coup against the wealthiest Jew — because he was a Jew —» and to get some easy capital for its empty Treasury, is a matter no longer questioned. 

Recent Developments

 In October there were some indications that the fury was abating. As one Iraqian testified, it seemed as though the thirst was assuaged after the Ades incident, '»/hat is more probable is that it became only too clear that the policy was leading the government headlong into confusion at an accelerated pace. The Minister of Defense, whose nationalistic policy was attacked as directly responsible for the chaos, had to resign. 

He pleaded in his statement that he had merely carried out the directives of the government. That some Jewish businesses were then encouraged to resume operations, and that a few Jewish officials, particularly accountants, were taken back into their old civil service -19- jobs reveal that the government felt it had carried matters too far for its own good. 

Whatever the motives, the trend during the past three months has unmistakably been towards a less violent course. In the debate in the lower house on the reply to the Speech from the Threw, one of the prominent members described the "staff reductions" as an "oppressive measure," and added, "we cannot fight communism by police, but by raising the social standard of the country." (The Iraq Times, December 20, 1948). Jews have come out of their hiding places and shops are beginning to reopen. 

The application of martial law has been eased and there is no longer the same fear of riots. By no means does this mean that tension has dissipated. On the contrary, arrests and arbitrary judgments seem to be almost as prevalent as before.

 The following excerpts from Iraqian newspapers give some idea of the steady pace with which these trials are proceeding? "The court nartial rules that Shaoul Yahya must deposit a guarantee of 200  dinars as it is alleged that he has committed acts which disturbed the public order." (Sawt al Ahrar, Dec. 19, 1948, liberal daily). "Shaoua Bekhar has been sentenced to one year of hard labor as the court martial rules that he is a Zionist, having quarreled with the witness, Mr. Thomas, when the latter insulted the Zionists and Moshe Shertok." (El Shaab, December 30, 1948, pro-Government paper).

 "It is ruled that R. Sasson Ghazale and Nissam Rahim must pay a 500 dinar guarantee assuring their good conduct and the maintenance of order, as it is alleged to the court that Nissam Rahim had received a letter from his aunt, Theresa Rabin, who is now in Palestine. 

It is further ruled to indict the latter, Theresa Rabin, in absentia." (El Shaab, December 30, 1948). "Ezra Hanania was fined 100 dinars for propagating false news and disturbing the public." (El Shaab, December 30, 1948). "Moshe Ezra was fined 100 dinars for propagating false news." (Liwa al Istiklal, November 30, 1948, extreme rightist}. "Youssef Khedouri was fined 50 dinars for propagating false news thus disturbing public order." (El Shaab, January 6, 1949)

 "It is ruled that Ezra Heskel and Murad Abraham must each pay 1,000 dinars as a guarantee that they will observe good conduct and maintain public order during the next two years. If they cannot pay the guarantee they will be imprisoned for two years as it is alleged to the court that they were involved in the smuggling of Jews to Palestine and such actions are dangerous to the security of the State." (El Shaab, January 6, 1949.) 

Furthermore, the general situation is such that the Jews cannot at all be sure that further trouble does not lie ahead. The growth of the Istaklal (Independence) Party is cause for much anxiety. Composed of pro-Nazi elements whom the British confined during the war, it is now receiving British support. 

Nationalistic, militaristic and anti-Semitic in temper, it is playing a more vocal role both in the government chambers and in framing public opinion. With the dissolution of the Democratic and Liberal parties during the past year, the Istaklal remains the only one of consequence officially permitted to operate. With the most recent change in Government of January, I949 ushering back into office the pro-British Prime Minister, Nuri es Said Pasha, one wonders whether this will mean further development of this group.

  England's Role in Iraq 

England's influence in the direction of the Government itself is said to be far-reaching and decisive. Through her Embassy and Consulate, her British Institutes, the oil companies and business firms, her presence is felt in shaping all official policy matters. That this included a share in the anti-Jewish activity is affirmed quite categorically by many who follow events closely. It was explained that her motive is identical with that of the Arab leaders — namely, to divert attention from opposition both to the government and to Britain, and to channel the wrathful emotions of the discontented toward a vulnerable and powerless minority.

 It is said that England has been encouraging the development of the Moslem business firms as opposed to the Jewish ones, and that her Embassy has a blacklist of about 100 business establishments, practically all of which are Jewish-owned, It is from this list that the names were  - supposedly - taken for the arrests made last July on the trumped-up charges of trading with Russia,

Thus, the Jewish community hardly looks to Britain as a source of protection in her present plight.Iraqian Jews also pointed out that American influence has not been relatively significant, and particularly now that the United States is considered pro-Zionist. Even though Iraq was one of the three countries which did not vote for the Human Rights Declaration, they feel that the drawing of the United Nations' attention to their plight would have positive results.


The main hope for an improvement in the situation rests on a speedy settlement of the Palestine conflict and the re-establishment of relations between Moslem and Jew. Iraqian Jews are well aware that renewed relations will not automatically take place because of the intense anti-Jewish sentiment which has recently become so current. But they know the Arabs to be fickle and gullible, easily stirred to commit violence, but as quickly prone to forget their animosity. 

Even the leaders of the Government who carried out the oppressive measures are not considered basically intolerant, and are capable of dealing fairly under a different set of circumstances. The Iraqian Government is conscious of world opinion and. very sensitive to pressure and newspaper publicity. But the Jews caution, however, that such revelations as are made should not be in the nature of attacks, but rather should appeal to the traditional harmony that has characterized Arab-Jewish relations in the past. 

Read AJC report in full

More about Shafiq Ades

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

How Iraq extorted money from the Jews of Iraq (Part 2)

Here is  Part 2 of a report on the situation of the Jews  of Iraq after 14 May 1948 by the American Jewish Committee's representative Marvin Goldfine. (For Part 1, see here).  By July, 1948, the trials and prison sentences of ordinary Jews gave way  to trials of the wealthier Jewish citizens. These were hauled before military courts, usually with the set purpose of extorting from them vast sums of money by way of fines for the benefit of the depleted Treasury. 

A banquet in Iraq

The following examples speak for themselves: In Baghdad, the Jewish millionaire and banker, Salman Zilkah, owner of the Zilkah bank which has branches all over Iraq, was brought before a military court on charges of 'smuggling money abroad and assisting Zionists'.

 The Baghdad millionaire Nathanel, whose employees had already been arrested on June 14, 1948, had at one time been the entrepreneur of a cross country automobile service, linking Baghdad with Aleppo, Damascus, Nazareth and Tel-Aviv. 

At the moment of the invasion of Palestine he happened to be in Aleppo, Syria. There he was arrested by the Syrian authorities, as a fugitive, at the request of the Iraqi government, and extradited to Iraq. He was detained for some time, and later hauled before a military court on unknown charges. In addition to his travelling agency and car service, this man was also the leading Iraqi agent of several European and U.S. automobile manufacturers. 

Another wealthy Jew, Salman Shamoun, was brought before a military court. He was sentenced on a charge of 'connection with bandits of the imaginary state of Israel', to a fine of one million dinars and one year imprisonment. 

When this wave of arrests of the rich was at its height, a number of them tried to get away. But the borders of Iraq had been tightly sealed before all Jews on May 15. 

The granting of special exit permits was introduced. This applied to Jews only, as by the Iraqi Constitution everyone is free to emigrate. By special decree it was made a condition for the granting of such exit permit to a Jew that he deposit 2,000 dinars as guarantee for his return at the time specified in the permit.

 In spite of the deposit, which was usually forfeited to the government with extra promptitude as soon as the date, or any other condition of the permit happened to be unobserved - only about 20 Jews were let out in the four months since May I4.

 The zealous forfeiture of the deposit went so far however,' that by analogy, families, of whom a member had gone abroad, were threatened with the sequestration of their entire property, if he did not return. But the number of those preferring return with probable arrest to forfeiting property by staying abroad, was rather small. 

During these months, when every Jew could be suspected as a fifth column-'ist and subject to arrest, he seldom ventured forth into the streets. Commerce in general was severely curtailed despite the frantic efforts to channel it through Moslem hands. Forty leading Jewish businessmen in Iraq were suddenly arrested early in July on the charge of trading with Russia and thus supporting a Communist regime. This could hardly be an offense when some of their transactions were the direct result of a Soviet-Iraqian trade arrangement, or else carried on semi-officially through the back door of the Russian Legation, with the assurance that the Government would keep one eye closed. All Iraqian commercial firms, Moslem and Jewish, engaged in this kind of trade.

 The real reason for the arrests of the Jews only became apparent when the trials revealed the conditions for their release — payment of sums up to 10, 000 dinars or else imprisonment, A number of 'spy trials' were also staged. In August, I948, a military court in Baghdad sentenced Joseph Kadourie Beibi to four years' imprisonment for 'spying and transmitting information to the Zionists'. 

Mr. Shohat, a Jew, and Deputy Director of Railways in Iraq, was accused of participation with others in smuggling military surplus stores out of Iraq. The result of his trial, if any, is not known. 

This wave of arrests and sentences was crowned in October, I948, by the arrest of the Chief Rabbi of Iraq, Rabbi Sassoon Kedourie, for having on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) "in the course of his sermon in the synagogue exhorted the Jews to do acts contrary to the safety of the state." 

Displacement of Officials 

The government also undertook a 'purge'of all Jewish officials and civil servants. This, of course, had no purpose other than to deprive Jewish officials of their position and livelihood, and to put in their stead Moslems, usually proteges of those who had these posts in their gift. 

In September, for instance, it was reported that the following, who had worked in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, had been dismissed; Khouji Yishak, Salman Youseph, Haikh Khouji, Tsyinn Halali, Saleh Shabath, Salim Zion Jacob, Elias Jacob Haboub, Abraham Rejwan, and Nissim Aaron. 

Following this, a general Government order was issued to all government departments on October 18, 19U8, to the effect that all Jewish employees are to be dismissed in order 'to ensure the better -guarding of state secrets'. In accordance with this order, most Jewish public servants were dismissed outright, without pension or compensation. 

Some of the senior officials, whom it was found too difficult to dispose of in this summary way, were retired on pension; and a few were merely suspended from actual service, by means of long leave, and the like. Among those retired on a pension was Ibrahim el-Kebir, the Jewish Comptroller-General of the Treasury, the man who only two months earlier had been one of three Iraqi delegates to London to negotiate new financial arrangements.

 In Parliament, too, a resolution was adopted to 'purge' all departments of 'Zionist elements'. Furthermore, this system of exclusion and discrimination was extended to government schools: whereas in former years a high percentage of Jews attended the Government High School for Trade and Commerce, none of the 100 new pupils admitted in 1948 was a Jew. In the result, the government services, once largely managed by Jews, are today virtually depleted of all their Jewish staff, and these are going about in search of new occupations, which in the present state of anti-semitism in Iraq they cannot find in the general community, and which by virtue of the state of depression in the Jewish community, they cannot find there either. 

Plundering of Jewish Property 

So much for the attack on the person of the Jews, and their freedom. The assault on their property was, if anything, a much better organized effort, pursued with much greater zest and promise of personal reward. Like Egypt, so Iraq had right from the day of the U.N. partition decision permitted and encouraged a wave of official, semi-official and unofficial blackmailing of Jews. 

Jews were forced to contribute immense sums to the various fighting and refugee funds to buy peace and stave off accusations of lack of patriotism, they spent vast sums in this way.

 For instance, Shafik Ades, of Basra, who was later tried and executed by a military court, contributed in March, I948, on one occasion 300,000 dinars to the Arab Liberation Army. But, it did not help him in the end. 

In Iraq, as well as in Egypt, there was a sufficiently large number of Jews to make their contributions to these funds a major part of the total donations. In Iraq, even more so than in Egypt, the Jews formed the leading class of bankers, financiers, and big merchants. They were a readily available and traceable source of funds. By their voluntary contributions earlier they had shown how much money they could voluntarily afford to throw away for the sake of appeasement. 

The Iraqi Government, and a number of officials and others learnt from this the great object lesson that it was possible and worthwhile to force the Jews to pay for the war in Palestine, in which Iraq had found herself engaged, and at the same time to tap these sources in order to replenish the impoverished State Treasury, as well as several private pockets. 

Fantastic as this may sound, it was not new. It was merely the lesson learned by the Orient from the Nazis, who had controlled Iraq seven years ago, and had never been forgotten. In addition to the trials of wealthy Jews, already referred to above, the following are some authentic details, which have leaked out, of steps taken to exact Jewish money: In Baghdad, a fresh fund raising campaign was begun after May 15.  It is reliably reported that the majority of the contributions were from Jews, to the tune of half a million dinars. The Government also started a fund campaign to help the 20,000 Palestine refugees, who had gathered in Baghdad. 

Every night in May and June, 1948, Radio Baghdad broadcast a long list of Jews who had contributed to the fund, thereby exerting strong pressure on all Jews to contribute. Another, and much more effective form of obtaining funds from the Jews was by sequestering and 'attaching' their property, mobile and immobile.

 In May, 1948, the Government requisitioned a great number of Jewish-owned houses in Baghdad in order to 'house in them Palestine refugees'. Many Jews were thus rendered homeless. Even schools, including the Baghdad Alliance School and the Kadourie School, were requisitioned for refugees, as well as synagogues, Jewish clubs, and Jewish hospitals. 

As far as banking was concerned, the Iraqi Defense Minister Sadek el Bassam Pasha, published a decree on July 17 1948 v/hereby all Jewish-owned banks, such as the Zilkah bank and the Credit Bank, were prohibited from doing any financial transactions or business, 'in order to avoid Jewish banks smuggling Iraqi capital out of the country'. 

The various political parties in Iraq gave their full support to these anti-Jewish measures of theft and plunder by confiscation. At a secret session of the Iraqi Senate and Chamber of Deputies on July 12, 1948, to which no Jewish member was invited, Hussein Jamil, a member of the National Democratic Party demanded "confiscation of all Jewish property in order to use it for building a concentration camp for the Jews", and to undertake various 'purges' against Jews.

The right-wing Istiklal Party supported this proposal. This latter party is known to have planned and organized a full scale assault on the Baghdad Jewish quarter on Friday, May14 in order (to quote their own words) "to liquidate the Jewish quarter." The plan was foiled when details leaked out to the Jews who alarmed the police.

 On the other hand, the fact that all Iraqi parties agreed in persecuting and impoverishing the Jews is abundantly clear from a joint letter which all the Iraqi parties sent to all foreign-owned banks, business houses, and to Government departments in June 1948, demanding the immediate dismissal of all their Jewish personnel. In order to facilitate the easier disposal over Jewish property, and particularly of laying hand on it, the Government of Iraq by special decree ordered all District Governors to arrange lists of all property belonging to Jews who had left Iraq. 

An informed source estimates the amount of money extracted from Iraqi Jews by blackmail and intimidation between May and November 1948 alone, at 4 million dinars. The climax of property sequestrations from Jews, and the refilling of the war-depleted State Treasury, and of private pockets came in 'the wake of the trial of Shafik Ades, a Jewish millionaire who had settled in Basra some years before.

 After being accused, of actively assisting the Zionists, and found guilty by a military court in Basra, he was hanged, and all his property to the tune of 5 million dinar was sequestered. (The trial of Ades is dealt with in Part 3 - ed). There is every ground .for believing however, that the conviction and execution were merely a means of bringing about the sequestration and actual cashing in of 5 million dinars.

Other instances, of a slightly less extreme nature, though in every respect alike in type, were reported from all over Iraq, In the township of Amara, a score of Jewish families had been residing for a long time, and had held honorable positions. When the storm broke in Iraq, these people fled the town from an instigated mob and went to Baghdad until the storm blew over. 

The local municipality, however, seized the occasion, and after a short time sequestered the property, which was considerable, of all those Jews who had fled and, not yet returned. A little later, the same pretext for sequestration was adopted by the Iraqi Treasury. In October, 1948, the Treasury issued an order to the effect that all Jews living abroad must return to Iraq at once. Those remaining abroad by the end of October would have their property in Iraq forfeited. It is to be especially noted that just as in the case of Ades property, and of several others, forfeiture was to the Ministry of Defense, and not to the Treasury, thereby emphasising the fact that Jewish property was directly being used to pay for the Iraqi army in Palestine. 

The sequestration of Ades' 5 million was by no means an isolated instance. Several days after his execution, the authorities acquired the taste for large scale penalty forfeitures. They proceeded to arrest some 60 of the wealthiest Jews in Iraq, the heads of the Jewish community, for the 'offense' of Zionist leanings.

 Later, 400 more Jews were arrested and sent to a concentration camp, because they had property in Palestine and had sent out of the country large sums of money. It is reliably known that in a large number of these arrests without trial, and particularly of the wealthy Jews, which were the vast majority, release was effected only by paying colossal bribes and ransom money. 

These organized persecutions and excesses have had  two public repercussions, and justify reproduction: After his return to the Senate sittings, from which he had apparently been absent during the rise of the storm, the only Jewish senator, Ezra Menahem Daniel, made a speech which is a sad but typical apologia for Iraq Jewry's attitude toward Zionism.

 It is also an example of the dignified manner in which Iraqi Jewry is bearing the humiliations and assaults upon it. Senator Daniel delivered an expose on the development of Zionism in Iraq, pointing out that both Emir Feisal I, former King, as well as the British authorities, had encouraged the movement. He indicated that the Jews of Iraq were not Zionist-minded, and that they chose to remain in the country where they dwelt for so many centuries, unless provoked by starvation or terror to leave. 

Other Iraqian Jews have supported this general view advanced by Mr, Daniel. They claim that most of the Jews of Iraq, particularly the wealthy class, are primarily Iraqian in spirit and temper. Zionism never attracted a large follow ing even before its interdiction. It is contended by some that of those who went to settle in Palestine, some have returned to their homes in Iraq, while many who remained feel a closer kinship to the Palestinian Arab than to their westernized co-religionists.

Only within the past one-and-a-half years has a strong urge to leave the country developed among the youth. About 1000 have already succeeded in crossing the border, often at great risk to themselves and with the hired help of some Arabs. It is paradoxical that the very action taken against Zionism has only served to generate it. 

On the other side of the line, among the persecuting government authorities, a no less symptomatic event needs recording. The Iraqi Defense Minister, Sadel el Bassam, resigned his post on September 27, 1948. Apart from his failure to prosecute the war in Palestine successfully, one of the principal reasons for the resignation was disagreement between him and some of his Cabinet colleagues over his extreme anti-semitic policy. 

In his letter of resignation to the Prime Minister he said alia: "...and considering the attitude taken by some ministers towards steps taken by the military courts against Zionism, and  especially Zionist officials, I find it imperative to resign.'

This reason was publicly confirmed by the Prime Minister in Parliament on September 28. The resignation has, however, not brought about any basic changes in the Government's declared policy against the Jews. True, the wave of arrests subsided to a certain extent. But, the Jews who were imprisoned by military courts on trumped up charges have not been released. 

Nor were any Jewish civil servants or merchants reinstalled in the positions from which they were ousted. Furthermore, in the field of sequestration and confiscation, no restitution whatever has been made. The reasons are near at hand: the political climate in Iraq regarding Palestine and the Jews has not changed in the least. 

Iraq having disengaged herself from the hapless Palestine affair by quiet withdrawal of her troops, the home population remain as keyed up as ever over the Palestine issue. The Iraqi state funds are too low to permit any restitution, even if there were the will to make it. This will is, however, as absent as before, and the Jews dare not raise a voice in that direction. They are anxiously content if no further apocalypse descends upon them. 

The present position is, however, that Iraqi Jewry has been excluded from commerce and industry and from most income sources. It is therefore quickly descending the slope of poverty, and large sections of the community are in urgent need of material assistance. In the spiritual sphere, the assaults and degradation as well as the poverty, are creating growing decay and ruination. 

Travel Prohibited 

The right to travel in and out of the country was one of the first measures adopted after the war which drew new distinctions between Moslems and Jews. Already in I946 no Jew could leave the country without guaranteeing the sum of 2,000 dinars that he would not go to Palestine and that he would return to Iraq. The provision was not the result of legislation but merely represented an administrative order by the Chief of the Passport Department.

 A Jew, Dr, Samuel, after giving his guarantee, did in fact visit Palestine in I946 and returned to Iraq to take up the matter as a test case but without any positive result. After November 29, 1947, the provision for a simple guarantee was changed to the requirement of an actual deposit of the same sum. The final step was taken on May 15, 1948 when no Jew could succeed in procuring a passport or exit visa to leave the country. Conversely, no Jew of whatever nationality can secure a visa to enter Iraq, The Jews are virtually trapped and have become veritable hostages in the hands of the authorities. 

Coming soon: Part 3: The trial of Shafik Ades

AJC report in full

Jewish woman 'temporarily' freed after visiting Israel

A Jewish woman who had travelled to Israel has been temporarily released from jail in Iran. Travel to Israel is a crime and carries a five-year sentence. The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Jeremy)

Iran’s clerical regime on Monday temporarily released an Iranian Jewish woman who was arrested for her alleged visit to Israel. 

“Farahnaz Kohan, an Iranian Jewish woman was released from Evin prison. The 50-year old woman was detained for undisclosed period, due to alleged travel to Israel---a crime in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities first reported in English. 

 Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, the founder of ARAM, told The Jerusalem Post: "Once again the Iranian regime is reminding the international community of its arbitrary and illogical 'justice' system that exercises cruelty and injustice on a daily basis. There’s a deluge of daily arrest, executions and accounts of torture that we can’t afford to ignore."

 She added that "For the sake of those lives, rather than turning a blind eye in the name of non-intervention, US and EU officials must hold the Iranian government accountable for their human rights violations and cruel treatment of fellow citizens."

Monday, January 04, 2021

After 14 May 1948, Iraq turned against its Jews (Part 1)

 What happened to Iraqi Jews after the state of Israel was declared on 14 May 1948? Iraq declared martial law and imposed severe restrictions of the 150,000-strong Jewish community. It then extorted thousands of dinars from Jewish individuals, arraigned them before military courts and sentenced dozens of Jews to prison terms for Zionism.  Marvin Goldfine of the American Jewish Committee paints a vivid picture of their predicament in 1948. His report is worth reprinting in full. (I have kept the original spelling) . Here is Part 1 of three :  subsequent Parts will appear over the next few days.

State of Siege 

On May 14, 1948, the government declared a state of siege and emergency in the country. The Iraqi Parliament passed a measure classing Zionist activities as treason, and according it capital punishment, and a minimum punishment of seven years. The term 'Zionist' received the widest interpretation. This was in fact merely an amendment of a law which existed since the 1930's, by which Zionist activities in Iraq were prohibited and persecuted. 

In order to carry out the policy of 'suppressing Zionist activities' and enforcing the state of emergency, special military courts were set up all over Iraq, to try people for such offences as possessing firearms, and 'endangering the security of the state', which latter crime too had the widest definition. These military courts were composed of army officers. They had exclusive jurisdiction over this vague and wide range of 'offences'. There lay no appeal from their sentences, nor any re-trial before a proper civil court. 

The New York Times of 16 May 1948 warned that Jews all  over Muslim  lands were in grave danger 

In the Iraq Parliament the declaration of the state of emergency, according special powers to the government, at once aroused the suspicious disapproval of certain members. They feared the government might also use it to suppress and persecute the opposition. In reply to this criticism, Prime Minister Al Pajaji Pasha promised that the emergency laws would be used against Jews only and only, for the effective prosecution of the war in Palestine. 

This turned out to be no mere paper measure. It was immediately translated into the most ruthless language of application. With the open invasion of Palestine, all Jews in Iraq were immediately regarded and treated as enemy aliens; but not as normal enemy aliens: they had neither the protection of an investigating Red Gross, nor the restraining, because retributive, power of a foreign state. No foreign consulate took over the affairs of the 120,000 'aliens' thus rendered outlaws in their own home.

 A resident of Bagdad vividly described the temper of those first few days of martial law. "Suspecting trouble, many Jews had been purchasing arms in order to be prepared to defend themselves on May 10. It is possible that the Government, knowing this, was cautious, allowing the day to pass with no announcement of any kind. Its silence created grave fears among the Jews and not knowing what to expect, many began leaving their homes. Those who lived in the old Jewish quarter, which is surrounded on all sides by Moslems, joined their fellow Jews 'in the newer Jewish section which is farther removed from the center of the city. At 10 P.M.'the Government established martial law. No demonstrations were permitted. 

It was clear that the Government wanted to avoid any sort of trouble because of the numerous groups and tribes which would take advantage of anti-Jewish disturbances to give vent to their anti-Government feelings. After a day or two of calm when, with martial law established, the Government felt itself secure enough to embark upon its program, many arrests were made on the pretense of rounding up oppositionists, Communists and Zionists. Most of those arrested, however, were Jews. The police searched most of the Jewish homes in Baghdad and made arrests on the slightest pretext, such as the discovery of a single letter from Palestine, or a Hebrew book. Those in whose homes arms were found were likewise arrested. However, the majority were released but only upon the payment of arbitrary sums, and once released, were kept under surveillance. Jews were imprisoned on the simple testimony of a Moslem.

The following is a list of activities tolerated, encouraged or initiated by the Iraqi government: 

Arrests and Trials 

A large series of searchers after arms were arranged in mid-May especially among the Jews of Baghdad. This proved a welcome opportunity for many Moslems to settle old feuds with Jews, neighbors or competitors. The method was to prefer baseless accusations, against them, which at once led to arrest and prolonged detention pending investigation. 

No arms were found at the time. But mass arrests of Jews took place nevertheless. All in all 310 persons were arrested by the Iraqi military authorities in the early days of the state of emergency, 160 of them were released after questioning, during varying periods of detention.  xx were held for further investigation and/or trial. Early in June the first trials by military courts began to take place. On June 3, 19148, six Jews were sentenced by a special military court in Baghdad to three years' imprisonment each for 'being in possession of arms'. On June 6, Baghdad radio boasted the arrest and sentencing of a number of 'Communists and Jews' to terms of imprisonment ranging from one to ten years. 

 It should  here be explained that wherever the authorities desired to prosecute a rich Jew, they labelled him Zionist. If he was poor they labelled him Zionist and Communist. The few people of non-Jewish extraction who were also persecuted at this time, in accordance with opposition fears, and not quite in keeping with the government promise, were for convenience sake called just 'communist'.- 

On June 14, all the employees of the Jewish-owned travelling agency Nathanel were arrested, as suspects, no doubt due to the firm's connections overseas. In Baghdad itself, a Jewish driver was killed by a mob on May 15, on the wild accusation having been spread that Jews had offered poisoned candies to Moslem children in the al-Kharjah quarter.

 In Basra, about the same time, a Jewish carpenter named Eliahu Daniel, was sentenced to life imprisonment for' 'having possessed a quantity of arms'. Early in June, a number of high Jewish officials of the port of Basra were arrested and detained for periods of 2-3 years on the fantastic charge of 'having handed the plans of the port of Basra to the Zionists'. 

A Jewish merchant, Eliahu Rajwan, of Basra, was sentenced to 12 months for "connections with the Zionists." In Basra again, a young Jew named Menashe, received a 20 -year sentence, when in the course of a search a booklet was found in his possession, containing first aid instructions in Arabic. The police said he had received the booklet from Russia. His brother, a local lawyer, received  a 10-year sentence, for having a revolver without a license. 

Named among others arrested in Basra at that time wore: Sali Sassoon Sameh, Naji Menahem, Morris, and the brothers Sedaka, In July 1948, a wealthy Jew, Salim Senah, who had been detained in a Baghdad prison since the end of May, was reported to have died in detention, in unexplained circumstances. In Karkouk, 12 Jews were arrested, accused of 'connection with the Zionists'. 

 In the township of Falujah, between Baghdad and Om'an, a mob attacked two Jewish merchants, injuring one of them severely. The police did not intervene. Later in the day, (May 15) the mob attacked and stormed the Jewish quarter in that township, damaging, destroying and pillaging Jewish real and mobile property. The community was forced to flee for their lives, and to seek refuge in the larger surroundings of Baghdad. In the 3rd military district of Iraq, a military court sentenced one Joseph Aaron to three years' hard labor and a 3,000 dinar (3,000 sterling ) fine, which was to be confiscated to the Treasury from his property, plus further police surveillance for two years, after release. 

One Jacob Joseph was sent by the same court to two years' hard labor, no details of the offense being given in either case, A number of Jews were also arrested and tried on charges of having bought land in Palestine, of course prior to May 15, 1948. Those sentenced for this 'crime' included one Shems, and Stanley Shashouah, to a fine of 10, 000 dinars each. Their offense was detected by the authorities by means of postal censorship. In Basra, a whole family, which received a letter from their son informing them that he had joined the Haganah in Palestine, was sent to be detained for three years, including their infant children. 

Similarly, a young man, who received a letter from his sister in the U,S., enclosing a press cutting of President Truman's de facto recognition of Israel, was sentenced to three years' detention. Generally all letters received by Iraqi Jews since the middle of May, especially those coming from Palestine, were opened by the censorship, and the recipients prosecuted as if they were responsible for the news and sentiments uttered therein. 

Postal censorship was one of the military emergency measures enforced on May 14, I9I48. By July, 1948, the trials and prison sentences of ordinary Jews gave way  to trials of the wealthier Jewish citizens. These were hauled before military courts, usually with the set purpose of extorting from them vast sums of money by way of fines for the benefit of the depleted Treasury. 

To be continued.

Part 2

Part 3

Full  AJC report. 

Sunday, January 03, 2021

When a 'Jewish state' was planned in Morocco

Morocco was one of the options considered for Herzl's Jewish state in 1903, although the idea was soon dismissed as 'illusory'. A Jewish warlord named Haroun ibn Mishal also had a plan for a Jewish domain in 17th century Morocco. Report in the Moroccan news medium Yabiladi: 

Theodor Herzl

In the 17th century, a Moroccan man of Jewish faith tried to establish a Jewish state in Taza, taking advantage of the decline of the Saadi dynasty and the arrival of the Alawites from Tafilalet. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement was also considering establishing a state for Jews in Morocco, before the leaders of the movement opted for Palestine.

After the decline of the Saadi Empire (1554-1659) and before the Alaouites gained control of the country in 1631, political unrest reigned in Morocco. Political figures or figures with a significant social status had attempted to govern their territories on their own. 

One of them was a Moroccan Jew named Haroun ibn Mishaal, who lived in Taza. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

How Jacques Haïk took a leading role in French cinema

We know that Hollywood was dominated by Jewish film moguls, but how many people know that Jews from the Middle East and North Africa also took a leading role in producing and distributing films? Some of the  venues built by Jacques Haïk in France are still in use today.


Tunisian-born Jacques Haïk was one of the biggest film producers of the interwar period in France.

 He was born in Tunis in 1893 and moved to France aged 13. At 17, he worked as an employee of a British film house. At 20, he ran a company importing American films. He introduced the first Charlie Chaplin movies to a French audience, nicknaming him Charlot.

 He imported American films and produced his first silent films. In 1924, he founded the company "Etablissements Jacques HAÏK". 

 The arrival of talkies in 1929 disrupted the production industry. In order to face the financial constraints and to build new studios, Jacques Hail joined forces with the Courvoisier bank. He turned the Olympia music hall into a huge movie theatre, started the Rex and several other prestigious venues throughout France. The Rex had a capacity of 3,300 in a space off 2,000 sq. m. The star-studded vaulted ceiling was more than 30 meters high. The facade was designed by architect Auguste Bluysens with Art Deco ornamentation by Maurice Dufrêne, who  also decorated the interior.  Despite his success, Jacques Haïk ran into financial trouble. The Rex cinema was bought by Gaumont.

 He built studios in Courbevoie and La Garenne. In a few years, he produced around thirty films. He gave their first roles in the talking cinema to Annabelia, Arletty and Jules Berry and employed Danièle Darrieux, Harry Baur and Victor Bouche, becoming one of the three biggest French producers. 

 The Courvoisier bank went bankrupt in 1931. Jacques Haïk lost his companies and all his property. He never fully recovered from the debacle. 

 In 1934, a loan permitted him to set up the company Les Films Régent. From 1934 to 1939, he produced a dozen films, including " Claudine à l'école ". He established the Le Français cinema, in boulevard des Italiens. 

He put new films into production, and built new cinemas. In 1939, his companies' financial situation  became healthy again. But war broke out. The Olympia was requisitioned for the military. In 1952 
Haïk was pursued by the Germans because he was Jewish, and for producing an anti-Hitler propaganda film entitled " After Mein kampf .. my crimes " with Alain Cuny. 

Jacques Haïk fled to Tunisia, hiding for five months in one room. In 1943, he carried out propaganda missions for the Free French Forces throughout the Arab world. During this time, in Paris, under the pretext of "aryanization", all his companies and venues were seized.

 On his return, in 1945, he had nothing left. He spent the rest of his life trying to recover his films and cinemas. He died in 1950. Bruno Coquatrix signed a lease with Haïk's widow for the Olympia and put on operettas there in 1953, before converting it back into a music hall in 1954.

 A film called 'Jacques from Tunis' was made about Haïk's life in 2013.