Thursday, June 24, 2021

Shooting of Algerian-Jewish musician marked turning point

Sixty years ago this month, the murder of Raymond Leyris, a famous Jewish musician in Constantine, Algeria (Enrico Macias's father-in-law) marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Algerian-Jewish community. A year later, almost all of them had fled. We re-post an article by Martin Evans in History Today:

Raymond Leyris, master of malouf music. Examples on Youtube.

On Wednesday June 22nd, 1961 the 48-year-old Jewish musician Raymond Leiris was shopping with his daughter in the crowded market of his home town, Constantine, in eastern Algeria. Suddenly, without warning, a young Muslim gunman surged forward to shoot him in the back of the neck. The defenceless Leiris was killed instantly, another victim of a round of shootings in Constantine that day, which left one Algerian woman dead and two other people seriously wounded.

 It was a shocking incident even if, after nearly seven years of war between the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and France, the colonial power, there was no shortage of horrific events to record. By no stretch of the imagination was Leiris a military target. Popularly known as Cheikh Raymond, he was one of the great figures of the Andalusian musical tradition, a gifted oud player, blessed with an astonishing voice.

 Studying under the greats of Algerian music – Cheikh Chakleb and Cheikh Bestandji – his Cheikh Raymond Orchestra encapsulated the style known as malouf. He was a living symbol of a shared Jewish-Muslim culture. We still do not know why he was murdered. Neither the FLN, nor the Secret Army Organisation (OAS), the hard-line pro-French Algeria terrorist group formed in January 1961, ever claimed responsibility for his murder. 

 The killing threw into sharp relief the dilemmas of Algeria’s Jewish community in 1961. Numbering 130,000, as opposed to nine million Arab-Berber Algerians and just under one million European settlers, this minority was faced with three choices: either they could accept independence, which by this point seemed inevitable given that the French government and the FLN had entered into negotiations; fight a last-ditch stand to defend colonial Algeria; or leave.

 With names like Derrida, Nouischi and Stora, Jews had lived in North Africa for over 2,000 years. Some had arrived with the Phoenicians between 1100 and 146 bc. Others sought refuge after their expulsion, along with the Muslim population, following the fall of Granada, the last bastion of Islamic Spain, in the Reconquista completed in 1492. As such the Jewish population was derived from a complex mosaic of Judeo-Berber, Judeo-Arab, Portuguese and Spanish roots, in which each locality had its own customs.

Under Islamic law Jews were accorded a protected status as the ‘people of the book’*. In return for a tax they were allowed to practice Judaism. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Moroccan students who came into the cold

 During the 1950s and 1960s, the student cohort in a yeshiva or religious school in the northern  English town of Sunderland was entirely made up  of Jews from Morocco.  The religious magazine Mishpacha tells their story: (with thanks: Nigel)

Remembering Rav Shammai Zahn, who taught many students at the Sunderland Yeshiva

From 1952 to 1967 and beyond, in the quiet, chilly British town of Sunderland, far from the Mediterranean sunshine, far from their parents in Tangiers, Fez, Casablanca, or Marrakesh, boys who had barely studied Gemara before blossomed into serious yeshivah students. 

 Some notable personages include Rav Nissim Rebibo ztz”l, who became rosh beis din of Marseille, then of Paris, then of the entire France; Rabbi Shimon Biton ztz”l, who served as the venerated av beis din of Marseille, his fascinating life recorded in the ArtScroll biography of his wife Rabbanit Shulamit Biton-Blau, From Djerba to Jerusalem; Dayan Saadia Amor ztz”l, rosh beth din of the Sephardi Beth Din of the UK and mechutan of Rav Mordechai Eliyahu; Rav Avraham Baddouch ztz”l, a rosh kollel in Mexico; Rav Refael Yisrael ztz”l; and yibadel lechayim tovim, Rav Gavriel Ittah of Strasbourg, among others.

 There’s also Kabbalist Rabbi David Pinto who has set up Torah institutions around the world, and Rav Shalom Gabbai, who went back to lead the community in Marrakesh.

 Dozens of others became shochtim and menakrim trusted by stringent kashrus authorities, and sincere, learned laymen.

Glossary of terms:
Bochurim: 'Yeshiva boys
Talmidei Hahamim: Rabbinical students
Av Beit din: senior religious court judge
Rosh Beit Din: Head of religious court
Rosh Kollel: Head of married students' yeshiva
Mechutan: relative by marriage
Shochtim: ritual slaughterers
Menakrim: inspectors

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Spanish Golden Age: myth or reality?

The debate rages on: did Jews experience a Golden Age in al-Andalus, in medieval Islamic Spain? Professor Mark R. Cohen of Princeton wrote an interesting prologue to the Encyclopedia of Jewish- Muslim relations published in 2014, admitting that it was to a certain extent a myth.

This image of a Jew playing a game with a Muslim  is often used to illustrate the Golden Age of al-Andalus.

It is true, he writes, that Jews were immersed in Arabic-Islamic culture  - language, poetry, science, medicine, philosophy. True, Jews became powerful advisers to Muslim rulers. True, Jews were not generally  confined to certain occupations as they were in Europe, and the idea of usury did not have the same stigma.

The Jewish intellectuals in 19th century Germany, alienated by the rise of antisemitism and unfulfilled promises of emancipation, idealised the situation of medieval Jews. They tended to ignore the Jews' legal inferiority, or dhimmi status. Yet the 'lachrymose' version of this history exaggerates the negative. The myth of the Golden Age, Cohen argues, contains a very large kernel of truth.

Yet, for over 100 years, Muslim fundamentalists, in the shape of the Amohads and Almoravid Berbers, compelled Jews to choose between conversion to Islam or death. Cohen argues that Jews could always 'pretend' to convert, as Maimonides did - so this was a mitigating factor. But he could not deny that Christianity was wiped out altogether in North Africa and the Jewish population dwindled dramatically.

It has also been argued that pogroms against Jews were unnecessary when Jews were already cowed and submissive. On the other hand, Cohen argues that the dhimmi rules were often breached in Muslim Spain. What he does not say is that while rulers were ready to breach those rules in order to promote useful and talented Jews to positions of power and influence, the masses did not take kindly to Jews behaving above their station - hence, for example,  the massacre of 3,000 Jews in 1066 when the mob was outraged at the actions of the 'haughty' Vizir Joseph Ibn Naghrela.

Cohen argues that persecution of Jews could not have been as bad as in Christendom. The proof was that they did not chronicle their persecution as Jews did in Europe. But the essence of being a 'dhimmi' was surely NOT to harp on these episodes of persecution in order not to antagonise their rulers.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Moroccan-born mogul moves into Britain

Art lover and founder of Israel's i24 News, Patrick Drahi is now the biggest shareholder in the British Telecoms company, BT. The Guardian profiles the Moroccan-born billionaire:

Patrick Drahi

 Born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1963 to two maths teachers, Drahi moved to France as a teenager and holds Israeli, French and Portuguese citizenships. 

He lives in Switzerland, where he has homes in Geneva and the ski resort of Zermatt. Drahi attended the École Polytechnique in Paris, the French university famed for turning out the country’s most successful business leaders and politicians.

 After working for a number of cable and satellite TV companies he co-founded two of his own in the south of France in the mid-1990s.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

On World Refugee Day, Jewish bodies remember refugees

 In honour of United Nations World Refugee Day today, Israel and Jewish organizations remembered the often forgotten story of the nearly one million Jews who were ethnically cleansed from Arab and Muslim countries over the past century. The Algemeiner reports:

Most were absorbed by Israel. The Jewish state issued a video chronicling the history of those refugees, their journey to Israel, and their absorption. 

 The Canadian branch of the Jewish rights group B’nai Brith tweeted, “On World Refugee Day we remember the nearly 1 million Jewish refugees who fled Arab Countries and Iran to resettle in the only safe haven for them, Israel, and which made Israel the largest refugee camp in the Middle East.”

 Hillel Neuer of the NGO UN Watch asked a pointed question about the UN’s double standard on Palestinian refugees, saying, “On World Refugee Day, we ask: How come the 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab world after 1948 were all successfully resettled in Israel and other countries—with 0 refugees left today—yet UNRWA has multiplied the number of Palestinian refugees from 700,000 to 5 million?”

Hamas chief meets Moroccan Islamists

In a bid to 'balance' its peace deal with Israel, Morocco has permitted Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh to visit the country and meet Morocco’s main opposition, the Islamist PJD party. Al Arabiya reports (with thanks: Michelle)

Ismail Haniyeh arriving in Morocco

 Haniyeh arrived in Morocco on Wednesday and met the Islamist PJD, the biggest party in the governing coalition, and will hold talks with several other main parties during his four-day visit. 

On Thursday he is meeting PAM and Istiqlal, two of the main opposition parties, with other party meetings scheduled before he leaves on Sunday.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Israeli rabbi wants millions to build community with no Jews

Exclusive to Point of No Return

 An Israeli rabbi is claiming to be Chief Rabbi of a non-existent community and is demanding $10 million to build a mega-synagogue for them.

Israeli Rabbi Daniel Edri, who headed the Haifa Beth Din and has no Kurdish roots, has produced a letter from the Kurdish Ministry of Religious Affairs nominating him as the Chief Rabbi of Kurdistan. But the Ministry itself has claimed that the letter is a forgery.

The forged letter nominating Rabbi Edri as Chief Rabbi of Kurdistan

This month, the rabbi claims to have been in touch with an old Jew in Baghdad called Daoud Benattar who told him that there were ''close to 100 Jews in Baghdad'. Benattar is not known to anyone who is familiar with the few Jews still in Iraq. According to Edwin Shuker, who visits Iraq regularly, there are only four Jews still living there.

Likewise, there are no Jews in Kurdistan, although some Kurds claim distant Jewish ancestry.  The entire community -  some 18,000 Jews -  was airlifted to Israel in 1950. 

A non-Jew called  Sherzad Mahmoud Mansani was exposed as an imposter after the Kurdistan Regional government sacked him as head of the Directorate of Jewish Affairs and exiled him. Mamsani's objective was to raise funds from the Jewish diaspora in order to 'rebuild' the Kurdish Jewish community.

Rabbi Edri was first introduced to Sherzad Mamsani in 2017 and has admitted knowing that he was not a Jew.  He is now believed to be working with  one of Sherzad's acolytes,  Ranjar Cohen. Rabbi Edri has been quoted as saying, 'Sherzad is out of Kurdistan so we are going ahead without him.'

Despite his name, Cohen is not a Jew either. After failing to  register a synagogue with the Ministry of Religious Affairs,  Ranjar Cohen  registered a non-profit humanitarian organisation named Aramaic Organisation which he promoted as a Jewish congregation. After the imposters were denied entry to the shrine of the Prophet Nahum, they organized a Hanucah ceremony at a hotel instead.


Rabbi Daniel Edri wearing traditional Kurdish headdress

Rabbi Edri 'supervised' the  Hanucah menorah lighting ceremony in December 2020. Of  the two founders of the Aramaic Organisation  one is now in jail, convicted of murder.

It is suspicious that in order to achieve his objective of reviving the Kurdish Jewish community, Rabbi Edri seems to have avoided working with the late Dr Moti Zaken, the leading authority on Jews of Kurdistan, who spoke out against any abuses. Rabbi Edri has preferred to use his own dubious Kurdish contacts. In order to minister to the phantom community he purportedly heads, Rabbi Edri would have to register Muslims as Jews.

It appears that the death of Dr Zaken  may have left a vacuum which imposters and fraudsters can freely fill.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Of 'Jewish Arabists' and 'Arab' Jews

Khaled Diab is an Egyptian journalist who has always had an interest in Jews from Arab countries. In fact he was one of the first to write about them and celebrate their contribution to Arab societies. But as this New Lines Magazine article demonstrates, he sees them as 'Arab' Jews 'in love ' with Arab culture and in some cases Islam. (Even Disraeil is a 'Mosaic Arab'). Here he writes about Sasson Somekh, who called himself the last Arab Jew. But Somekh also saw himself as an Israeli patriot and repudiated those young Mizrahim who claimed a political 'Arab' identity without having themselves been immersed  in Arab culture and language.

The late professor Sasson Somekh

Despite the hatred and animosity created by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the rampant scapegoating of local Jews that occurred across the Arab world, some Arab Jews continued to feel and express pride in their heritage and act as unofficial ambassadors between two worlds at war. 

 One such figure was the late Sasson Somekh, the Iraqi Israeli poet, writer, academic, and translator. Somekh had been a promising teen poet and leftist political activist in Baghdad, frequenting the city’s vibrant cultural cafes. “I recall the Tigris river where we used to go swimming in the summer. When the water level fell, small islands, which were known as jazra, would appear,” Somekh told me when I visited him at Tel Aviv University, where he was still allowed to keep an office despite having officially retired.

 “We would take a boat, load it up with fish and a grill, and go out to one of those small islands and have a good time — those were the most enjoyable days of my life.” The Baghdad that Somekh recalls from his youth was in some ways a very Jewish city.

 “When you walked down the main street, al-Rashid, which went from one end of Baghdad to the other,” he recounted, “half the names on the shops and offices, such as lawyers’ practices, were Jewish.” But a mix of popular anger at the Zionist project in Palestine, which was deftly exploited by Nazi propaganda during the war to spread a virile brand of antisemitism, made life progressively untenable for Iraq’s Jews. 

This forced Somekh’s family, along with the vast majority of Iraq’s Jewish minority, to depart the country in 1951, stripped of everything but the clothes on their backs. After a life of comfort in Iraq, the Somekhs found themselves, like the Palestinians who were forced to flee during the 1948 war, stuck in impoverished refugee camps. 

Caught between the racism and persecution they had experienced in their homelands and the racism and marginalization they experienced from Ashkenazi, or “European,” Jews in Israel, many Arab Jews quickly jettisoned their Arab identities in a bid to integrate in their new homes. 

 Somekh, who passed away in 2019, was among the minority who resisted this zero-sum identity game. He continued to identify as Arab as well as Israeli, write in Arabic, and dedicate his life to the study of Arabic literature. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Collective biography of Jewish doctors in Muslim Spain

A new book by Professor Efraim Lev focuses on  600 Jewish doctors  who lived in Islamic Spain in the Middle Ages. Review in the Jerusalem Post by Kenneth Collins: (with thanks: Jeremy)

A fragment from the Cairo Geniza

Using Geniza records and fragments along with extant medieval Muslim Arabic sources Lev has been able to present information on the lives of more than 600 Jewish physicians and pharmacists in the Islamic world of the Middle Ages. 

 He employs the technique of “prosopography,” a study that identifies and relates a group of persons or characters within a particular historical context, to create “a collective biography.” This shows how these practitioners functioned as they cared for Jewish, Christian and Muslim patients in the Islamic world, which stretched from Morocco and Andalusia to Iraq and Iran.

 Jewish physicians and pharmacists had mainly good relations with Christian and Muslim colleagues, and medical students of the three faiths learned together in the eastern Muslim lands, often in hospitals and at other times within family networks. Jews were attracted to the medical profession.

 Medicine carried prestige and offered opportunity where other scholarly options were closed to them.

 These physicians were literate in Arabic and Hebrew and had access to medical libraries. Even during times of restrictions on Jewish doctors, Muslim rulers and the public still consulted them.

 This work brought Jewish physicians close to the center of power and some Jewish court physicians were killed in court intrigues. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

First Arab world Holocaust exhibition staged in Dubai

An exhibition showcasing the events of the Holocaust has opened in Dubai at the Crossroads of Civilisations Museum. Under its open-minded founder, Ahmed Obaid al Mansour, the Museum, which previously hosted the first ever Yom Hashoah commemoration. While the Holocaust exhibition is a welcome and significant initiative, it is not known whether the exhibition covers the Nazi-inspired Farhud or the role played by pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem.

The Museum of the Crossroads of Civilsation in Dubai

(CNN) — A Holocaust memorial exhibition billed as the first of its kind has opened in the United Arab Emirates. "It reminds us that the unprecedented character of the Holocaust will always hold universal meaning." Kathrin Meyer, secretary general of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, told CNN. 

"As we witness the generation of Holocaust survivors sadly pass, memorials and museums become all the more important in ensuring that this horrific event is never forgotten." 

 The "We Remember" exhibition at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai showcases first-hand testimonies of Holocaust survivors and opened to the public last month Rabbi Elie Abadie, senior rabbi at the Jewish Council of the Emirates, says this new permanent exhibition is hugely significant as nothing similar has ever been staged in the region. 

"Although most people in the Middle East know the Holocaust took place, they do not speak or learn about it as much. Now, the region is opening up, and this exhibition gives tribute to what has happened and demonstrates the public recognition of history." 

He says the Holocaust also took place at a smaller scale in Middle Eastern countries in the 1940s, where Arab Jews in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq were persecuted because of Nazi-inspired teachings. He says Hitler's ideologies reached beyond Europe, and that it was important for those who live or travel to this region to be aware of that.

 The museum showcases art produced by different civilizations and cultures over several centuries. It's only fitting, then, that it should host this new display, the curators say. The mission is to educate and raise awareness about the Holocaust among Dubai's over 200 different nationalities.

 The one-room exhibition, which sits alongside the museum's six other galleries, takes you through the events leading up to, during, and after the Holocaust, through the eyes of people who lived it. The Nazis killed more than six million Jews during the Holocaust, along with millions of others including disabled and LGBT people, political dissidents, and religious and ethnic minorities. 

Ahmed Obaid Almansoori, an Emirati who founded the private museum, says the timing to open a Holocaust exhibition in the region felt right. "The Holocaust was a crime against humanity. And when you have an event like that, you must separate it from other events. A museum is not a political place, it's a journey through history." 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Bensoussan: 'Ashkenazim do not understand Arab antisemitism'

It may take another 15 years before French Jews living in their Ashkenazi bourgeois bubbles begin to  appreciate the full extent of Arab and Muslim antisemitism, warns historian Georges Bensoussan in this Israel Hayom piece questioning what the future holds for Jews in France. (With thanks: Lily)

Georges Bensoussan: Ashkenazim don't know the Arab world 

 Moroccan-born French historian Georges Bensoussan was one of the first ones to warn of the Arab-Muslim antisemitism in France in a book he published in 2002. He was and continues to be boycotted in France due to his academic views on the matter. 

"The dividing line among French Jews in terms of experiencing antisemitism is connected to each person's individual situation," he said. "Firstly, there is an economic dividing line: a Jew in Sarcelles felt the danger 20 years ago, and a Jews who live in Paris' bourgeois neighborhoods will need 15 more years in order to understand the new face of antisemitism. 

 "There is also a Sephardic-Ashkenazi dividing line, which is must stronger than people think. Ashkenazis live with the memory of the Holocaust, while Jews who came here from North Africa are much more open and happy. 

 "The level of religiosity is also a dividing line: children who go to Jewish schools and Jews who go to synagogues are clear targets for antisemitism. Whoever does not have a Jewish appearance, is not observant, who has an Ashkenazi name and lives in a bourgeois neighborhood, cannot understand what antisemitism is. 

 "They don't know the Arab world, they have not heard of the Farhud pogroms in Iraq, and therefore, when they talk about Arab antisemitism, they don't understand what they are talking about. Moreover, compared to the Holocaust, Arab antisemitism does not look terrible. "

Here in the neighborhood, there are Jewish schools, students walk around in kippahs and do not see an atmosphere of terror," said Bensoussan, whose interview was conducted not far from where the Halimi murder occurred. 

 "The situation is worrying. In modern history, there always were Jews who chose to look the other way and not see the situation for what it is. The rise of Arab antisemitism caused Jews to congregate with themselves and separate from French society

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Moroccan pogrom of 1948 is still not commemorated

Last week was the 73rd anniversary of the brutal pogrom of Oujda and Jerrada, in Morocco. Yet there is widespread ignorance of this event, and no commemoration or memorial of it in Israel. Moreshet Marocco, reprinting an account first published in 2012, harks back to those fateful days: 

This map shows Oujda, on the border with Algeria

It was exactly 64 years ago, on Monday, [June 7, 1948] at 9:30 a.m., in the coal market in the city of Ujda, that a minor incident of attacking a Jew in broad daylight caused a loud quarrel and a great brawl between Muslims and Jews

Near the scene and after a short time, a Muslim was stabbed by a Jew. The victim's stab woulds were  moderate, but soon the rumor spread: "A Jew murdered a Muslim!" That was enough to light the fire. A mob equipped with destroyers, knives, etc., a river to the Jewish neighborhood "Shuk al-Yehud" to avenge the wounded Muslim, who was allegedly killed: five people were killed, four Jews and one Frenchman, dozens wounded, eighty-two shops were looted (sixty-seven were completely emptied) Houses were looted.

 Police and soldiers who were called to the scene of the disaster took control of the situation and dispersed the raging crowd to neighborhoods and villages around Oujda. This event gave the signal for the terrible continuation: a bus full of bloodthirsty torturers drove to the village of Jarada, remote from Oujda, about fifty kilometers. 

These passengers, who arrived in the village of Jarada, spread rumors about Jews killing Muslims and destroying the roof of the Great Mosque tower in Oujda. An argument that began in the evening, between a Muslim and a Jew who sold him a lottery ticket, and continued in a brawl, ended in a horrific massacre committed by predators, in honest and innocent members of the community, laborers, manual laborers. These curses, indiscriminately and mercilessly, shed blood of old men, rewards of milk and also babies in the crib, stoned and slaughtered. 

The family of the rabbi of the community, Rabbi Moshe HaCohen Scully,  his mother, 52, his wife, 28, the five children (from 8 months to 13 years old), were slaughtered for the sanctification of God. The number of 14 murdered was 38 (one of them non-Jewish), ten women, ten children, and eighteen men, and the wounded many dozens.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Biden administration calls for release of Yemenite Jew

According to Arutz Sheva, the  Biden administration has called for the release of Levi Salem Musa Marhabi, who is still in jail in Yemen for allegedly helping to 'smuggle' out a Torah scroll. The scroll accompanied the last party of Jews to be airlifted out of Yemen in 2016. The former 'antisemitism Tsar' Elan Carr has drawn atention to Marhabi's case and the American Sephardi Federation has been running  a campaign for Marhabi's  release. There are six Jews still in Yemen, or fewer.

Benjamin Netanyahu poses with the Torah scroll which Marhabi is accused of helping to smuggle out to Israel

US State Department spokesman Ned Price has announced that the Biden Administration is calling for the release of Levi Marhabi, a young Yemeni Jew accused of helping Jews who immigrated to Israel take an ancient Torah scroll from Yemen with them.

For about four years, Levi Marhabi has been imprisoned in Yemen. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels say the Torah Scroll as a 'stolen national treasure.'

Among the detainees was Rabbi Yahya ben Yosef, who was arrested by the Houthi rebels on suspicion of aiding in the smuggling of a Torah scroll.

Three workers at the Sanaa airport were also arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting smuggling. But in the end everyone was released except Levi Marhabi, who remains imprisoned until this day.

A State Department spokesman said the US had repeatedly raised Marhabi's plight in the UN Security Council. The representative also confirmed the statement issued by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November 2020, calling on Houthis to "respect religious freedom, stop oppressing the Yemenite Jewish population and immediately release Levi Marhabi."

American Sephardi Federation (ASF) executive director  Jason Guberman said the US should be more aggressive on the issue. "The State Department has called for the release of Marhabi, but it is not enough" Guberman said.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 10, 2021

How Rachel Ben-Zvi brought Jewish girls from Syria to Israel

The 1941 Farhud massacre in Iraq was the trigger for Rachel Ben-Zvi, wife of Isaac, the future president of Israel, to begin to recruit 50 Jewish girls from Syria and Lebanon in 1943 to be trained and educated in the Land of Israel. But crucially, the girls needed to be taken to Palestine before they reached marriageable age. Many were then sent back as shlichot to encourage  local Jewish youth to join the Zonist enterprise. Report in The Librarians (with thanks: Motti) 


 Girls at the Ayanot training farm

 It was the events of the Farhud – the horrific massacre in Baghdad on June 1st, 1941, in which 179 members of the Jewish community were murdered – that convinced Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi that time was running out for the Jews of the Arab world. 

Since access to Baghdad was practically inaccessible, “an idea had come up; to​bring young women from the neighboring Arab countries – Lebanon and Syria.” Ben-Zvi met with Henrietta Szold, the coordinator of the Youth Aliyah organization, spoke with children who emigrated from Syria on their own and promised to bring as many young women as possible to Mandatory Palestine and train them in agriculture.

 Szold provided her with fifty immigration certificates (issued by the British) for the mission. There was concern that if she were to gather too many young women, the British would deny them entry into Israel.

 From Jerusalem, Ben-Zvi headed out to Beirut. She relied on connections she had formed with Beirut community leaders during their visit to Mandatory Palestine and promptly met with Joseph Farhi. Many were opposed to the journey, arguing that “in Jewish homes in these countries girls are not allowed to leave the house,” and concluded that she would not be able to persuade the families to let the young women leave. Despite the help she received from activists of HeChalutz, the Zionist underground organization, the task of swaying the families indeed turned out to be quite challenging: In many families, the father had immigrated to Latin America and mothers “looked forward to joining the head of the family overseas with their children, and, for the time being, were apprehensive about separating from the girls selected for Aliyah [Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel].” 

 “The mothers hear that I am looking for girls ages 13 and 14 and are already concerned about their future because at 16 or 17 years old they marry their daughters off. I reassure them, explaining that the girls will be accepted to the settlement project, where they will not be held back from getting married, raising families and bringing their relatives from Beirut to Israel.” 

 That was exactly the answer the worried families wanted to hear. From the moment she arrived in Damascus, Ben-Zvi was struck by the vibrant Zionist activity in the Syrian capital, which easily overshadowed the relatively dormant Beirut underground organization. She was impressed by the Jewish youth’s strong desire to immigrate to Israel, even at the price of bitter arguments with their parents. 

 The eagerness and urgency expressed by the Youth Aliyah representative alarmed the activists who accompanied her: They demanded that Ben-Zvi refrain from speaking Hebrew even inside the Jewish ghetto. Only at the home of the community leader was she allowed to speak freely. 

She spoke to the dignitaries in Hebrew and French and was pleased to see that “the idea of ​​bringing students to be trained on educational farms was willingly accepted.” After receiving unanimous approval, she scheduled a meeting for the next day with the high school students. “On my very first visit we informed the older high school girls of the idea of bringing young women to the Land of Israel for training and study.

 When the girls were asked if they would like to immigrate, they all raised their hands enthusiastically. In the more advanced grades, most high school students were girls, while there were few young men. I learned that the boys had to work to support their parents. The few young men in class immediately demanded an explanation: ‘Why? Why could only girls immigrate? What would be the fate of the boys?’ I tried to offer comfort: ‘Their time will come, too.’ 

During the long recess I felt that the news was spreading from one class to the next. As I walked through the yard, I was stared at, hundreds and hundreds of children were drawn to me, calling out, ‘Palestine, Palestine, Eretz Yisrael!'” After sorting out the immigration process in Damascus, Ben-Zvi moved on to Aleppo, arriving in November, 1943. She was shocked to see the location of the girls’ school – it was adjacent to a Syrian brothel frequented by soldiers around the clock.

 She heatedly told the school principal, “the whole neighborhood is a symbol of diasporic dispossession.” Just like in Beirut, Ben-Zvi was desperate to meet with the community members, who barely spoke Hebrew. And again, like in Beirut, she blamed the Jewish community in the Land of Israel for failing to send support for the few dedicated teachers of the community. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

When the British evacuated Jews from Silwan

Blogger Elder of Ziyon has been busy researching the plight of the Jews of Silwan (Shiloah), who were forced out by violence from their homes in the 1930s. Whereas the media have rewritten history to make out that 'Jewish settlers' are harassing Palestinians out of their homes, the truth is the reverse. A recntly-discovered letter testifies to the fact that the Jewish inhabitants were frequently attacked and the  British could no longer protect them. They evacuated the Jews, although they expected them to return shortly. See original post: 

Buried in a New York Times article about the claims of both Jews and Arabs to houses in Silwan we see this: In the late 1930s, the site was abandoned. Documents show the British authorities, which then ruled Palestine, evacuated the Jewish residents, fearing they were vulnerable to an Arab insurrection. After the British left and Jordan occupied the West Bank in 1948, Palestinian families moved onto the uninhabited plot. That is a sanitized way of saying that the Jews were constantly attacked by Arabs in Silwan. Here is the Palestine Post article about their evacuation, from August 15, 1938:
The British authorities were supposed to protect the homes. They didn't - Arabs broke into a synagogue and defiled the Torah there several months later:
UPDATE: Here is the letter from British officials about the evacuation - and the expectation that the Jews would return shortly. (h/t Stephen)
More about Silwan

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Jews in Arab countries paid price for Six Day War victory

The first week of June is often a time when the meda look back at Israel's lightening victory in the Six Day War. But the remnant Jews in Arab countries paid the price. We reprint a blog by Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel:

The Tunisian Great synagogue was damaged in the 1967 riots 

“They had everything in their hands; fire, axes, knives, swords… They were banging, trying to break the doors and they set the curtains on fire.” Doris Keren-Gill, a Jew from Libya, well remembers the dark days of June 1967 when rioters destroyed her home and nearby synagogue. Doris escaped with her life. 

Today not a single Jew is left in Libya. While the media focus on the events leading to Israel’s lightening Six Day War victory, the impact on the few thousand Jews remaining in Arab countries is forgotten. In 1967 all these communities were shadows of their former selves, 90 percent of their Jews having already fled: some 76,000 Jews remained out of a 1948 population of 900,000. 

Almost all had been deprived of civil rights but could still quietly pursue their education, run businesses and enjoy a social life. But the vindictive Arab reaction to Israel’s victory changed all that. Sudan, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Jews in Libya, taunted by enraged mobs, and Aden, where Jewish property was set on fire, were evacuated for their own safety. In almost all Arab countries there were demonstrations and anti-Jewish riots. 

Some governments actively persecuted their Jews as if they were Israelis. Already Jews in Iraq had to carry yellow identity cards and were unable to leave. But Arab rage led to property seizures, beatings and arrests. Jews were sacked, telephones were cut off. On 27 January 1969, nine Jewish “spies” were executed and their bodies strung up in Baghdad’s Liberation Square. A million Iraqis came to celebrate. The arrests continued until 1972: some 50 Jews disappeared. 

Not permitted to leave, almost 2,000 Jews escaped Iraq with the help of Kurdish smugglers, leaving their homes and possessions behind. Jewish migration from Lebanon, which accelerated in 1964, reached epidemic levels after the 1967 war due to fears of impending riots. The mass exodus was followed by the abduction and murder of individual Jews. Some of the fiercest riots broke out in Tunisia on 5 June 1967.

 The Great Synagogue in was set on fire. Panicking Jews abandoned their homes. Within five years, only about 7,000 remained. In Morocco, a massive security deployment prevented loss of life during mass demonstrations. When the propaganda of an Arab victory turned out to be false, two Jews were murdered. An economic boycott against Jewish businesses was declared. Some 10,000 Jews left, mostly to France and North America.

 In Syria, curfews were imposed. Jews were housebound hostages, deprived of telephones and radios. Some 2,300 Jews were smuggled into Israel from Syria, but it would be another 25 years before the rest would be allowed to emigrate. 

In the Libyan pogroms, more than 100 shops were destroyed and 18 Jews were killed. The Libyan exodus left fewer than 100 Jews behind. In 1969, Colonel Qaddafi ordered all Jewish property confiscated and debts to Jews cancelled.

 In Egypt, the authorities arrested Jews up to the age of 60 as ‘Israeli PoWs’. They were interned for up to three years. The prisoners were abused and fed dirty bread containing cigarette butts and nails. The Rabbi of Alexandria was tied to the prison bars and beaten senseless. The Six Day War thus marked the irrevocable and silent demise, within a few years, of Jewish communities which had pre-dated Islam by 1,000 years. 

Although they played no part in Israel’s victory and despite representations by Jewish groups and foreign governments, Jews in Arab countries paid a terrible price. Pursuing revenge, Arab regimes committed serious human rights abuses. They have never been held to account. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Mosul historian says sorry to the Jews

Photo taken in 2019 of  the remains of a synagogue in Mosul

The death of  the Jewish doctor Thafer Eliyahu, leaving just three Jews in Iraq, has prompted the BBC 's Lizzy Porter to file a report on the radio programme  'From our Own Correspondent' (segment begins at 11:38).

In a fairly balanced piece, Porter surveys the rubbish-strewn Baghdad Jewish cemetery and asks what will become of the millennia-old Jewish heritage in Iraq now that Eliyahu and his predecessor Sitt Marcelle, who administered the community assets and records, have departed this world. 'They don't want to hear about us,' despairs Edwin Shuker of the Iraqi authorities. Much of Iraq's Jewish heritage has been left to crumble away.

No mention of 'apartheid' or 'ethnic cleansing' here. But it is left to the Muslim historian of Mosul in the north, Mosul Eye blogger Omar Mohammed, to offer what the Iraqi government has never done to its Jews: an apology. He has interviewed elderly survivors of what he calls 'the deportation' - the exodus of 17,000 Jews from the north of Iraq in 1950 - in an effort to document their memories of Mosul before it's too late. Seemingly speaking for these Jews, Mohammed says, 'We can forgive, but we must never forget.'

And then there were three

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Jews in Morocco: a privileged but precarious history

This is a fascinating document, unearthed by Lhaj Mohamed Nacik and uploaded to the Academia website. Written in 1968 in Casablanca by the British Consul, Mr P. M. Johnston, the report focuses on the history of Jews in Morocco, their origin, relationship with the Muslim majority, emigration from Morocco and their future in the country after The Six-Day War. The author argues that throughout Moroccan history,  Jews have been a minority whose status has been both privileged and precarious. 

Jewish woman from Tangiers wearing the Berberisca pre-nuptial costume

 The first critical event of this chronology dates back to 320 BC when Palestine was invaded byPtolemy Lagos. It extends to The Six-Day War of 1967 that has tremendously impacted the Jewish community in Morocco.Overall, the report describes how Jews were treated under the successive
dynasties in Morocco from the Almohad (1143-1269) to the Alaouite(1631-present). It argues that Jews were subjected to continued oppression and suffering in their dhimmi status, forced to pay special taxes and wear distinctive clothing. 

However, they were exceptions in which their positions improved. In fact, the Saadian dynasty, for example, witnessed the appointment of many Moroccan Jews as ambassadors in various European countries. Namely, the Pellas Family (Simon Pellas, his brother and his son David,) in addition to Rabbi Sasportas, the brothers Joseph and Haim Toledano, and Samuel ben Sunbal. 

During the Alaouite Dynasty, Mawlay Suleyman assigned various Jews to positions of high authority including Abraham Sicsu as the de facto Minister of Finance, Isaac Pinto as Treasurer, and successively Mesod Cohen and his son Meir as ambassadors to the court of St. James. 

The mid-nineteenth century witnessed the establishment of the first Alliance Israelites chool in Tetouan in 1862, followed by the visit of Sir Moses Montefiore in1863 who obtained from Mohamed Ben Abd al-Raḥmān a Dahir granting protection to the Jews. 

The 30th March 1912 was marked by the establishment of French Protectorate by the Treaty of Fez. The author pointed out that theSultan Mohamed Ben Youssef (Future King Mohamed V) refused in 1940to give effect to anti-Jews legislations passed by the French government ofVichy.After the establishment of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, the UnitedHebrew Immigrant Aid Service (HIAS) representative visited the French zone and Tangier. 

On the same year, CADIMA (Caisse d’Aide aux Immigrants Marocains), a local organization that promotes emigration of Jews to Israel was founded. As King Mohamed V returned to Morocco in 1955, the FirstMoroccan government was formed including a Jew, Dr. Leon Ben Zaquen, as Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. Shortly after the independence, CADIMA closed down in 1956. This period has seen a big wave of emigration as well as the arrest of many Jews in 1961.

The paper reported that the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, MrAhmed Balafrej visited the U.S where it was said that he has agreed withAmerican Jewish organizations to permit Moroccan Jews to emigrate to Israel in return for a gift aid of wheat.

 In the eve of the Six-Day War of 1967,“al-’Alam” newspaper published by al-Istiqlal party called for the boycott of Jewish shops and the Minister of Information issued a statement condemninganti-Jewish boycott. On the 14 th of August, organized emigration to Israel resumed.

In part one, the report portrays the origin of Jews as well as the evolution of their status in Morocco. The events stated in this part are an extension to the ones mentioned above in the chronology. 


Friday, June 04, 2021

Foremost expert on Kurdish Jews, Mordechai Zaken, dies

Israel's relations with the government of Kurdistan have suffered a grievous loss with the death of one of its most influential experts, Mordechai Zaken.  Dr Zaken died on 14 May 2021 from lymphoma, aged 63.

Mordechai Zaken z"l

As Prime Minister 's adviser on Arab and minority affairs, he launched a forum for dialogue with local Arab leaders, and a forum for Christians.

In 1993, Dr Zaken founded the the Israeli-Kurdish Friendship League, possibly the first friendship association between Jews and any community in the Arab states.

Israel had clandestine relations with the Kurds, supplying them with arms, training and intelligence. When the Kurdish Regional Government was set up in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein,  Dr Zaken took on an active and  more public liaison  role. 

Dr Zaken was the foremost expert on the Jews of Kurdistan. The dearth of written sources drove him to embark on fieldwork  research for his PhD thesis. He conducted hundreds of oral interviews with more than sixty  elderly Kurdish Jews. The result was Jews of Kurdistan & Their tribal Chieftains: A study in survival, The book is considered the most important work on the topic. It was re-issued in 2015 and has been translated into Arabic, Kurdish, Persian and French.

 In 2019, he was awarded the Prime Minister Prize for the Empowerment of the research of the Jews of the Orient and Iran.

Dr Zaken's family had fled Kurdistan along with the entire community of 18,000 Jews in 1950. So his suspicions were aroused  when  over 1,000 Kurds demanded to be allowed to emigrate to Israel after 1991 on the grounds  that they had Jewish ancestry. Almost all of the emigrants have since moved on.

Dr Zaken also warned  against a group of Kurds mainly of Iranian origin who operated a scam designed to syphon off US money donated for the revival of the 'Jewish' community and Kurdish-Jewish heritage.

His last wishes were for a network of rabbis, academics and professionals to continue his work of liaising with the Kurdish Regional Government, and for his book to be made  available in Kurdish bookshops.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

As many as 1,000 Jews could have died in the Farhud

The 80th anniversary of the Farhud, the 1941 massacre of Jews in Iraq, has produced a plethora of articles. Carole Basri writes that the death toll could have been as many as 1,000 Jews murdered or disappeared, while lamenting the theft of Jewish history in Iraq. Edwin Black says that there is continuity between the Nazi-Arab alliance and the Jew-hatred still manifest today. Lyn Julius says that the ideology of Hamas is kindred to the Jew-hating ideology of the wartime Mufti, the driving force behind the Farhud.

First came the Farhud: The 2-stage ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Jewry by Carole Basri (Times of Israel)
The author's great grandfather, Hakham Ezra Reuben Dangoor (1848–1930), Chief Rabbi of Baghdad from 1923 to 1926, at the Shrine of Joshua, the High Priest in Baghdad 

 The official Iraqi government report, written soon after the Farhud took place, states that “110 Jews and Muslims” were killed.  Other reports state that “179 Jews of both sexes and all ages were killed.” 

However, a newly discovered document of the Religious Zionist Workers Archives, dated July 17, 1941, offers very different numbers along with a shocking new detail: “The height of the slaughter occurred at the local hospital where poison injections were administered, causing the deaths of 120 Jewish patients. …The hospital director in charge had his privileges to treat patients as a doctor taken away for five years.

 Based on estimates, the number of murdered and disappeared is over 1,000 people.” This startling number of more than 1,000 Jews murdered or disappeared makes sense when one looks at photos of the mass grave of the Jewish victims of the Farhud, where I was told by my family more than 800 Jews were buried together.

 Yet, the official estimate of 110 Jews and Muslims seemingly belies this fact. The official Iraqi government report includes “Jews and Muslims” and is supposedly based on Iraqi government sources.

 However, the newly discovered Intelligence Report 26 cited above was written based on eyewitness accounts and letters to relatives a mere month and a half after the Farhud to inform Jews in pre-state Israel of the dire plight of Iraqi Jews. 

 The Farhud victims were buried in a mass grave The stark discrepancy in casualty count is just one reason the perspective of the victims, those Jews in Iraq who witnessed the Farhud, is so essential to protect the accuracy of the historical narrative.

On Farhud Day, many ask: could it happen again? by Edwin Black (JNS News)

The mass expulsions of the 1950s were the fruit of an intense, fervent worldwide alliance of Arabs and Muslims with the Nazis during the Hitler regime, during the Holocaust and after World War II, with the embers of Jewish persecution still burning. 

 From 1933, Arabs immediately approved of what Hitler was doing, and many joined the Nazi movement led by the war criminal, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. German consulates from Tel Aviv to New Delhi were besieged with requests to join, emulate or recruit for the Nazi movement. 

 The Mufti met with Hitler in a highly-publicized newsreel-recorded event and agreed to join in exterminating the Jews in Palestine. Hitler agreed to recognize a Nazi-style Arab State. For his part, the Mufti recruited thousands of Arabs and Muslims to fight in three Waffen-SS divisions: the Handschar, the Skanderbeg and the Kama, fighting in Nazi battlefield trenches and operational garrisons from Paris to Poland and beyond. 

 These Islamic divisions were under the direct protection of Heinrich Himmler, architect of the Holocaust. The Mufti also worked closely with Holocaust engineer Adolf Eichmann and, in his post-war diary, called Eichmann a “rare diamond.”

 More than that, the Mufti visited Nazi concentration camps, and clearly understood the details of the “Final Solution.” He lobbied European governments and the Red Cross not to send more Jews, especially children, to Palestine—thus saving their lives—but instead to death camps in Poland.
Aribert Heim, 'Dr Death': converted to Islam 

 After Hitler’s Reich fell in May 1945, some 2,000 leading death-machine Nazis escaped Nuremberg justice and fled to Arab countries via various “rat lines” operated by the Catholic church and other post-war clandestine operations. Once in the main Arab “confrontation” countries neighboring Israel, the Nazis adopted Muslim identities and took up senior security and military positions to create the post-war Middle East our world knows today. 

 Dr. Aribert Heim was notoriously known as “Dr. Death” for his grotesque pseudo-medical experiments on Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps. He was fond of decapitating Jews with healthy teeth so he could cook the skulls clean to make desk decorations. Heim converted to Islam and became “Uncle Tarek” Hussein Farid in Cairo, where he lived a happy life as a medical doctor for the Egyptian police.

 Two of Goebbels’s best propagandists, Alfred Zingler and Dr. Johann von Leers, became Mahmoud Saleh and Omar Amin, respectively, working in the Egyptian Information Department. Erich Altern, a Gestapo agent and Himmler’s coordinator in Poland, became Ali Bella, working as a military instructor in training camps for Palestinian terrorists. 

 Franz Bartel, an assistant Gestapo chief in Katowice, Poland, became El Hussein and a member of Egypt’s Ministry of Information. Hans Becher, a Gestapo agent in Vienna, became a police instructor in Cairo. Wilhelm Boerner, a brutal Mauthausen guard, became Ali Ben Keshir, working in the Egyptian Interior Ministry and as an instructor for a Palestinian terrorist group. Space makes it impossible to list hundreds more. 

 But we know that after the Third Reich fell, the most popular name for a newborn, after “Mohammad,” was “Hitler.” Many will recall the highly visible Egyptian supreme military lead Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. His brother was a high official named “Hitler Tantawi.” Thus, the hate lines and battle lines of the modern post-war Middle East were constructed by, sharpened, politicized and made more lethal by actual senior Nazis carrying out Hitler’s final legacy. 

These well-placed Nazis also ensured that Iraq and other Arab nations applied the Eichmann method—identification, confiscation and deportation—to almost a million Jews who had long been citizens of those nations.

 Eventually, several of the Nazi transplants worked with the KGB to create the PLO and even helped train the Mufti’s nephew, Yasser Arafat. Israel is fighting the same Hitler principles today as civilization was in the 1940s. 

 The Arab-Nazi continuum was forgotten, obscured and reduced to a platen of smoldering dots until I connected them in my 2010 book, The Farhud: Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. The book coalesced a movement of Sephardic Jews who demanded that their persecution and expulsion be recognized. 

The inspiration behind the coup, and the Farhud itself, came from the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. He arrived in Iraq in 1939 with 400 Palestinian émigrés. Using Nazi propaganda, they whipped up local anti-Jewish incitement. 

 The Farhud marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs in Iraq and paved the way for the dissolution of the 2,600-year-old Jewish community barely 10 years later, after Israel achieved statehood in 1948. 

Ninety percent of the community fled to Israel for fear of a second Farhud. Other “Farhuds” followed in other Arab countries, resulting in the flight of their Jewish communities, stigmatised as the “Jewish minority of Palestine”. 

 Today, only 4,000 Jews out of a million in the late 1940s remain in the Arab world. Most of the displaced Jews now live in Israel, where they and their descendants comprise roughly half the Jewish population.
The Mufti meeting Adolph Hitler in November 1941

The Mufti’s postwar legacy of Islamised anti-Semitism endures in the kindred ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood – as seen in the latest conflagration between the Brotherhood’s Gaza branch, Hamas, and Israel.

 Political Islam is a product of the Nazi era. It seeks to complete the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East. That’s why it is shocking to see the West treat with moral equivalence Israel, a free democracy struggling to survive, and Hamas, a terrorist organisation that supports judeophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and ethnic cleansing. The cry heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the West: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is nothing less than a chilling call for genocide: “Palestine will be free… of Jews.” 

 Meanwhile anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have reached record levels. Those who know about the Farhud are experiencing a weary sense of déjà vu when Jews in the UK, the US, Canada, Germany and elsewhere are subject to verbal and physical attacks and intimidation. 

Mob violence, a time-honoured instrument of political coercion in the Muslim world, has migrated to the West. The lesson of the Farhud is that Jews, whatever their opinions, remain fair game for collective punishment.

Iraqi Jews remember persecution (Holly Johnston - Rudaw)

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

The lesson of the Farhud : invest in Jewish-Arab coexistence

There are those who would dismantle coexistence and collaboration between Jews and Arabs. Israel needs to show the way forward and be a beacon of light in a region where darkness has so often ruled. David A Dangoor writes in the Jerusalem Post:

David Dangoor

 It was a blow that the Jewish community never recovered from and led to the mass exodus of Iraqi Jews to the State of Israel after it was established.

Between 1948 and 1951, 121,633 Iraqi Jews were airlifted, bused or smuggled out of the country, leaving only a few thousand left who fled the country after public hangings of prominent Jews in the 1970s. Even up to the very end, many Jews and Arabs refused to be enemies and lived and worked side by side.

 Animosity was largely imported from outside and incitement as a tool for political goals. Unfortunately, we see many similar worrying signs in the violence in mixed Israeli towns and cities. There are many players in the region who seek to whip up the Arab citizens of Israel into a frenzy, whether Iran or extreme Sunni elements. They see Jewish-Arab coexistence as a challenge that needs to be dismantled and replaced with enmity and animosity.

 Lies about Jewish takeover attempts to invade and destroy al-Aqsa Mosque originated with the very same Haj Amin al-Husseini a century ago. Unfortunately, it is a canard that has not gone away since and raises its head whenever necessary for those who wish to sow divisions in Israel. It is exactly this type of incitement that Israeli politicians, religious leaders and other opinion-shapers should confront and demolish. 

Instead of driving communities apart, we should be investing in coexistence, collaboration and partnerships. We know that the silent minority in both communities do not seek violence and division, and we have witnessed in recent years tremendous steps in bringing Jews and Arabs together. 

 The creation of the State of Israel is a remarkable and unique event in Jewish history and became a refuge and a home to the hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa who had to flee their millennia-old homes. Israel is a beacon of light in a region where there has been such a history of darkness for so many, including Jews. Now that we have reestablished sovereignty in our indigenous and ancestral homeland, we need to learn the lessons of the past and use them to create a more peaceful and secure future for all who live within its borders. That would be the greatest memorial to the Jews murdered during the Farhud 80 years on

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Kuntzel: By 31 May, 'the Farhud was already a done deal'

The Farhud massacre of Jews in Iraq began 80 years ago to the day. Matthias Kuntzel, German political scientist, writes in MENA Watch, that it would not have happened without German support. 

Matthias Kuntzel

With this coup a red line was reached for London. On May 2, 1941, the brief British-Iraqi war began. The defeat of al-Gailani was foreseeable. Hitler, for whom the imminent campaign against the Soviet Union had priority, could not really support his regime. At the end of May, the British armed forces were already close to Baghdad. 

 On May 31, the putschists, led by Rashid Ali al-Gailani and Amin el-Husseini, fled to Iran. At this point in time, the Farhud , which began a day later, was probably already a done deal: Muslims' businesses had been marked in advance so that they would not also be destroyed.

 The massacre took place at the beginning of June in a power vacuum: the putschists had disappeared, the new government, which was close to the British, was not yet in office. A commission of inquiry later set up by the Iraqi government identified two causes for the pogrom: the agitation of Amin el-Husseini and the radio propaganda from Berlin. 

What is known about this propaganda? The British-Iraqi conflict "opens up a good field for our Arab broadcasts", rejoiced Joseph Goebbels on May 3, 1941, when the conflict was approaching its climax. "We should try to use the Arab instincts only for our own purposes." 

 In the coming weeks, Islam in particular was used for the purposes of National Socialism. During these weeks the Mufti al-Husseini was in constant contact with the makers of Nazi radio in Zeesen near Berlin. The Arabic-language program of this Nazi station was known and loved in Baghdad. Al-Gailani allowed it to be spread more massively than ever during his brief reign. 

 On May 5, 1941, Radio Zeesen reported on the Mufti's call to “take up arms against England”. Al-Husseini presented Iraqi clergymen who solemnly declared that “no more Muslims will fight on the side of Britain without sinning against the interests of Islam”. 

On May 11, 1941, the Nazi broadcaster quoted Amin el-Husseini again: "The Iraqi fight is a fight for all Mohammedans and thus a holy war of Islam." It quickly became apparent, however, that the putschists would have no chance without the support of Germany. But now the Mufti unceremoniously declared the 80,000 Jews living in Baghdad the scapegoat: They had transmitted information to the British and thus helped them advance. 

Without the slightest evidence, he also blamed them for the failure of the al-Gailani coup in his later memoirs. On May 26, a few days before the massacre, Junus Bahri finally had his say on Zeesen.

 Bahri, a former spokesman for Iraqi radio, was the figurehead of the Nazi broadcaster and extremely popular with his special address to the Arab masses.

 He also used religion as an instrument to cheer his Iraqi audience on. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Farhud Commemoration was a 'learning and healing experience'

Some 350 people from around the world Zoomed in to the 80th Anniversary Commemoration of the Farhud, June 1 and 2, 1941 Shavuot massacre of at least 179 Jews. The massacre sounded the death knell barely ten years later for the oldest Jewish diaspora, which had been in the country since Babylonian times, but had contemporary echoes in the antisemitism sweeping across the West in recent weeks.

A recording was heard of testimony by Steve Acre z"l. He had witnessed the Farhud from the top of a palm tree

 The Commemoration, held on 30 May 2021,  was arranged by the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal and Harif. It featured a film edited by Sephardi Voices UK showing witness testimonies to the murder, looting, rape and mayhem unleashed during those two days by soldiers of the defeated Iraqi army, Nazi sympathisers and Bedouins in search of loot. 

One witness told how her family had escaped one day before, at the same time as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and pro-Nazi coup leaders, and had stayed in the same hotel. Others told how they had narrowly escaped death by changing their route home. Muslims had protected Jews in several cases. The Jews could never feel at home in Iraq again, and those who were not able to leave turned to Communism or Zionism as their salvation. ( Event video recording to come soon). 

 The Hon Irwin Cotler spoke of how a resurgence in antisemitism had not provoked a sense of outrage among decent people in the West. Rabbi Joseph Dweck quoted the author Will Durant:" For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready to engulf it by arms, or mass migration, or unchecked fertility. Barbarism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.” 

 Some 28 organisations co-sponsored the event including representative bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, universities, such as the Tel Aviv university Moshe Dayan Center, and bodies fighting antisemitism, such as B'nai B'rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Thanking the participants,  organiser David Nathaniel, head of the Community of Babylon Iraqi Jews of Montreal, stated:

"We were able to share a deep history and a powerful collective message in a dynamic fashion and the feedback received both during the event and since has been numerous and overwhelmingly positive! It was a learning experience for many and I believe a healing opportunity for all of us who have been traumatized over the past few weeks. We honoured the victims of the Farhud, their families, and friends in a respectful and impactful way."

 Yvonne Green, poetess, brought tears to many eyes when she re-read a poem that Harif had commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the Farhud.  We are reprinting the full text below.

Yvonne Green recited her poem for the first time at the 75th Anniversary Farhud Commemoration at Lauderdale Road Synagogue in London.

The Farhud: Baghdad’s Shabu’ot 1st and 2nd June 1941

We walked on Shabbat
in the Bustan al-Khass
(lettuce orchards)
on the East bank
of The Dijla (The Tigris),
or in al-Saa’doun, built
to look like Hyde Park.

Watch us work, prosper, plod
tread the middle ground during
a two thousand six hundred year
sojourn with family, food, festivals.
Listen to us speak Aramaic, Qiltu,
then Gilit. You never learned
our languages after you arrived,
we wrote literatures preserved
for you now in different geographies.

Watch Britain’s renegade Grand Mufti
translate National Socialism into
his Promised-Land apartheid, listen
to the whispers that the Fuhrer
was born in an Egyptian village.

Watch him and hundreds of Palestinian
and Syrian intellectuals-in-exile train soldiers,
police, militia-men and children, watch
nothing stop the Golden Square Generals,
even once their leaders temporal and spiritual
run away from the British, for whose oil-fuelled
infantry eight kilometers was further than the walk
from Ambassador Cornwallis’ dinner plate
to his card table.
Look, there’s a man in a dark suit at Maqbra,
who’ll later press his cheek and arms up
against a semi-cylindrical grave where
one hundred and eighty Farhud-dead are buried.
This is not the only tomb, they were not the only dead.
     But go back before the Omer, watch us
tremble as we asked “Mnein Jitem”
that Erev Pesach after the lawyer,
Rashid al-Gaylani’s coup turned
the hilleq bitter. Watch our hopes surge
when within the month he and the Grand Mufti
escape from the British to Iran, plummet
when Yunis al-Sab’awi declares
himself Governor General and orders us
penned in our homes, soar again when it’s he
who’s deported within the day. Hear us attest
to our treble-terror reprieved when we eat
our Tbit on the Shabbat which runs
into Tikkun Leyl, and hear Regent
Abd al-Illah’s due back the next day,
Sunday June 1st. Watch us cheer him home
on the first day of ‘Eid al Ziyarah.
      Then watch soldiers, police, civilians attack us
on al-Khurr bridge, at al-Rusafa, Abu-Sifain
everywhere until 3 a.m. and silence. Watch
at 6 a.m. on the second day of Hag when
they start again. Not just the poor from al-Karkh
who cross the river empty handed,
then load-up having cruelly sacked
our homes, shops, synagogues,
but from everywhere they yelp
“Idhbahu al-Yehud” (butcher the Jews).
Drilled by Salah al-Din as-Sabbagh,
or by centuries of knowing our place,
keeping the rules, paying the price
being no guarantee of protection.
      They cut up Jewish babies and threw them
into the undertow, no Moses survived.
They raped girls and old women,
cut their breasts, no Dina survived.
They beheaded and severed, taunted
and tore. Dragged Jews from buses
which they used to run them over.
Every attack intended to humiliate.
The dead, hurt, stolen, destroyed
uncountable, even once the Regent
called in the cut that felled
the saturnine mob. Where was natural,
civil, military, sharia law? The assumed
duty to dhimmi?
         In the stand taken by Moslems
like Dr Sa’ib Shawkat, Dean
of Baghdad’s Medical College.
In the acts of landlords
who risked their lives to save those
whose houses the Hitler Youth-styled
Futuwwa had painted with red khamsas.
In the arms of neighbours
who caught children in blankets
when they were thrown to safety
and sheltered families who jumped
across flat roofs where Baghdad
used to spend its summer nights.
     Yes, we fought back, we boiled
siraj (sesame oil) and threw it
from our shnashil (latticed balconies)
where women, unseen, had watched
their households’ comings and goings.
We used the bricks from our parapets,
we had no guns, few had iron fists.
Since the funerals our children
remember with new knowledge
and their picnics of beith-bla’ham,
timman-ahmar, and kahi never go south
to al-Kifl for the pilgrimage, sing
Shirit Hagvarim at its seven
waystations, or hear the tomb
of Yehezkel cry for its Jews.

Yvonne Green