Sunday, December 08, 2019

The amazing story of the Jewish converts of Hebron

For some time now, rumour has it that some Palestinians living in the West Bank are of Jewish ancestry. To Point of No Return's attention comes conclusive information that three clans living in the Hebron area are the Muslim branches of Jewish families.

Rahamim S Dwek contends that a branch of his family, now known as Dweik,  converted to Islam in the 14th century under Egyptian Mamluk rule. Hebron is the only city where Jews converted in large numbers, says Dwek. The same thing happened to the Samaritans of Nablus (Shekhem) After every anti-Samaritan pogrom, more converted to Islam.  ( The last occurred in 1858. ) The Samaritan  sect would have become extinct had Palestine not come under British rule in the 1920s.

According to Rahamim Dwek,  other Arab clans refused to intermarry with the Muslim Dweik family for seven centuries. It is a sad irony that, to prove they are more 'Arab than Arab', members of the Dweik clan today comprise  the leadership of the  Hamas apparatus in Hebron, notably Abdel Aziz Dweik, Palestinian spokesman who has served long terms in Israel's prisons. Most Dweiks are still known for their fair complexion and blue eyes.

Issa Amro and Bad'ia Dweik are in the forefront of the propaganda campaign against Israel. Amro, says Rahamim Dwek, was born in a Jewish home stolen from its owners, members of the Masri Bajao clan, in what Arabs call Tel Rumeida, known to the Jews as Tel Yishai.

Apart from the Dweik clan, two other tribes converted from Judaism - the  al-Jabari and the al-Rajab clans.  These are not their original names. All three clans resent public discussion of their Jewish roots.

The tragedy of the 1929 Hebron massacre still casts a shadow. Issa Amro's grandfather murdered Jews, but his great-grandfather Abu Shaqer gallantly protected Rahamim's great-grandfather Rav Yaakov Yosef Slonim Dwek, by standing in the doorway of their house. He was one of 19 Arabs who helped save Jews in 1929 and almost had his foot severed by an axe in the process. Even as his attackers called him a traitor, he would not budge.

 Sheikh Shaqer's sons murdered Rahamim's ancestors, including his grandfather,  when Sheikh Marqah led the attack on the family home. Rahamim's father Shlomo,  then a babe in arms - survived, although injured, because his mother fell on top of him when her assailants sliced off her breasts.

Shlomo S Dwek, only survivor in his family's home of the Hebron massacre

His aunt Rivka, who later gave birth to Abraham Burg, father of the controversial Knesset speaker Yosef Burg, would also have been murdered had she not moved into another family property with her  father.

Rahamim Dwek is sceptical about the claims of Tzvi Misinai who amplified the theory first propounded by Israel's president  Ben Zvi that many Arabs in the Hebron area descend from Jews. A stone lintel with a star of David on an Arab house does not mean anything because Arabs always recycled extant materials from previous periods, he says. Similarly Arab culture in the area could have been influenced by Jewish custom when they circumcised their infants at eight days rather than at the Arab norm of 11 or 12 years.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Restored Mumbai synagogue gets UNESCO award

The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation 2019 has announced an Award of Merit for conservation work carried out to the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, in Mumbai. 

tained glass windows at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai  (Photo: Sakhin Gokhale/Firstpost)

Four landmarks in India have been recognised, of which three are in Mumbai. The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue and Our Lady of Glory Church both receive an Award of Merit, while Flora Fountain receives an Honourable Mention. An Award of Distinction has been given to Vikram Sarabhai Library, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, India.

The official ceremony for the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, hosted by Mr Solomon F. Sopher, Managing Trustee, President and Chairman of the Jacob Sassoon Charity Trusts, together with Mrs Sangita Jindal, Chairperson of the JSW Foundation, on behalf of the Jewish Community of India, will be held at the Synagogue on 8 December 2019.

The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Merit will be officially presented at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue by UNESCO's Dr Richard A. Engelhardt.

The book The Baghdadi Jews in India (Routledge, 2019) edited by Shalva Weil, will be launched in London on 18 December at an evening to celebrate the Jews of India in words, music and with food. For full details see here.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Exodus commemorated at UN, in Israel, England and Scandinavia

The exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran has been commemorated  in several countries. Here is a round-up of events in New York, Israel, England and Scandinavia:

At the United Nations:

JIMENA in partnership with Israel's Permanent Mission to the United Nations hosted a commemoration program honoring Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.

H.E.Danny Danon (pictured) - spoke of his Egyptian family and the imperative of recognizing the one million Jewish refugees from the region.

 U.S. Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism, Elan Carr shared the story of his Iraqi mother and challenged the Arab world to recall and reckon with the 2,500 years of Jewish life in the Middle East that came to an abrupt end as a result of antisemitism.

 Former Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan shared her hopes of a Middle East free from intolerance and bigotry that embraces the diversity that once existed throughout the region. You can watch the whole event here. 

JNS News

In Israel:

At the start of the annual Festival of Ethnic Dance and Song, organized by the Coalition of Organisations of Jews from Arab and Islamic countries, Professor Moshe Amar, President of the Orot Institute of Moroccan Jews in Israel, presented the annual Coalition Award to Levana Zamir.

The award is in recognition of the many years that  Levana Zamir, head of the Coalition, has  successfully  dedicated to advocating for and advancing the cause of Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim lands and  their  heritage, in Israel and all over the world.

Levana Zamir receiving this year's Coalition Award from Professor Moshe Amar

Levana Zamir was moved and surprised to receive this prestige award. Previous winners have included  Professor Uzi Arad,  Minister Gila Gamliel, MK Nissim Zeev and Dr. Stanley Urman - all dedicated to the cause.

There followed a rich and colourful programme of ethnic Dance and Song: Yemenite, Moroccan, Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanon, Tunisian, Afghanistan, etc. All  the performers wore authentic ethnic dress.

The academic part of the Festival was assured by Dr. Dany Bar-Maoz who chose as  his topic: "The triumph of Oriental multiculturalism over the melting pot in Israel". He gave many examples, especially in the field of music.

The Festival was held at the very impressive Museum of Yemenite Jews in Rehovot. It was arranged by Hanania Koresh and directed by Dr. Rahel Yadid, head of the "A'aleh Betamar" NGO.

More than  250  attended. Many could not resist getting up on their chairs to dance when the beautiful Varda sang Egyptian melodies.

 Yemenite folk dancers performed at the Rehovot Festival.

In London:

Harif, the Association of Jews from the  Middle East and North Africa, marked 30th November, the Day to remember the exodus of 850,000 Jews from Arab countries, with a lively evening celebrating Mizrahim music by Eastern Beats. The event, arranged jointly with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, attracted a capacity crowd.

For HE the Israel ambassador, Mark Regev, attending with his wife Vered, the occasion was personal.   Vered's family escaped Aleppo in Syria on foot through Lebanon to arrive, destitute, in Israel. Vered's great-grandmother died on the way and had to be buried by the roadside.

While there were periods when it was better to be a Jew in the Muslim world than in Europe, Jews always had an inferior, or dhimmi status,' Mr Regev said. 'Israel was seen as a 'dhimmi state' by the Arab world'.

Djerba-born S&P Rabbi Israel Elia recounted how, on a trip to Tunisia, he thanked his government hosts:

'We are not your hosts', they said, ' you were here before us'. The Jews had indeed settled North Africa 1,000 years before Islam.

Rabbi Israel Elia: 'Jews were in Tunisia before the Arabs'.

From L to R: Nizza Fluss, Michelle Huberman, Lyn Julius, Laurence Julius, Sandra Dangoor, Vered Regev and HE Ambassador of Israel Mark Regev at the London Commemoration

In Denmark:

Special Guests at the first official Commemoration in Copenhagen  were the Ambassador of Israel Benny Dagan and Social Democratic MP Lars Aslan  Rassmussen. Lyn Julius (pictured below) gave the keynote speech. The event was arranged by Rika Greenberg of Med Israel for Fred (MIFF).

In Norway: 

At the Official Commemorative event in Oslo, there were speeches from HE the Israeli Ambassador Alon Roth and from the leader of the Friends of Israel in the Norwegian Parliament, Hans Frederik Grøvan. Other events took place in Bergen and Kristiansand, arranged by MIFF and Hjelp Jødene Hjem.

Top: Ambassador Alon Roth. Below: MS Hans Frederik Grøvan.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Silence on Jewish refugees 'serves Palestinian narrative'

Israel's UN ambassador Danny Danon slammed the body's one-sided view of Middle Eastern refugees, as a dozen countries voted against the annual UN resolution affirming Palestinian refugee rights. Arutz Sheva reports:

According to Danon (pictured), the international community continues to adopt a one-sided agenda: "There were an estimated 850,000 Jews who were forced out of Arab countries and Iran and became refugees in the 20th century. These Jews were subject to brutal attacks and harassment and were forced to flee leaving everything behind: in Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, and many other countries. And still, we don’t hear the international community speak of them when they discuss the refugees of the conflict, perhaps because it doesn’t serve the Palestinian narrative."

 Danon announced that Israel would submit a resolution to formally recognize the Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, bring it for a vote in the General Assembly. "Israel took in these refugees and integrated them into our society. The international community on the other hand ignored them and built corrupt institutions that only serve so-called Palestinian refugees.

 In order to right the historical injustice that was done to the Jewish refugees of this conflict,
I will propose a resolution to the Assembly that will acknowledge the wrong done to the "forgotten" Jewish refugees and will make right the injustice that they suffered."

Read article in full

Envoys champion rights of Jews evicted from Arab countries (Israel Hayom):

To coincide with the commemoration of the 850,000 Jewish refugees expelled from the Middle East in the 20th century, Israel’s men in New York are doing what they can to ensure the victims are brought to Justice.

The Jerusalem Post reported, UN Ambassador Danny Danon will introduce a resolution recognizing Jewish refugees from Arab countries.  Danon will be competing with the UN’s Palestinian representative who plans to introduce pro-Palestinian resolutions like supporting their right to return to Israel.

 The UN discussion will coincide with the 72nd  anniversary of the Nov. 29 partition plan, which recommended Israel be divided up into an independent Jewish and Arab state.

 "The international community is comfotable focusing only on Palestinian refugees while erasing the story of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the history pages," Danon said told The Post."But the State of Israel will give voice to the truth and correct the historical injustice by putting an end to the deafening silence on the part of the international community."

Read article in full

Video of UN Event on Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands on 4 December

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Israel to demand recognition of Jewish refugees at the UN

For the first time, Israel will introduce a resolution asking the United Nations to recognise Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Although the resolution is not likely to pass, it should be interesting to see which countries vote for and against. The Jerusalem Post has the story.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, will announce later today (Tuesday) his intention to file a resolution recognizing Jewish refugees, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Danon will announce the resolution during a General Assembly discussion to mark 72 years since the November 29 partition plan.

During the event on Tuesday, the Palestinian representative to the UN is said to introduce a series of pro-Palestinian resolutions, including a resolution supporting the Palestinians' right of return. A similar session with similar resolutions will be taking place every year.

According to the Israeli Mission to the UN, the new resolution, asking the United Nations to recognize the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, is aimed to undermine the proposed Palestinian resolutions.

Read article in full

Academics: 'Israel is making Zionist propaganda out of Mizrahim'

Trust Haaretz to choose the 30 November as the date to trash the Israeli government 's attempts to honour the history and heritage of Mizrahi Jews. It's a distortion for propaganda purposes, argue two academics,  Dr Lior Sternfeld and Menashe Anzi. My comments are interspersed throughout the text  in italics.
Lior Sternfeld, who teaches at Penn State University

In 1928, the Jewish historian Salo W. Baron published his essay on the dangers of writing Jewish history as a “lachrymose” narrative. In Baron’s article, called “Ghetto and Emancipation” and published in the Menorah Journal, he explored how a distorted perception of the past and poor understanding of historical context can be misused to advance political goals, which are not necessarily inevitable, despite the way willful parties present them. Baron was talking mostly about European Jewish communities, and his words carried different meanings during the interwar period in which it was written.

Today, however, in a similar way, we are witnessing a large-scale national project – the writing of a “lachrymose” history of the Jews of the Middle East, so as to justify contemporary Israeli policies, and to make up for a generations-long marginalization of Oriental Jews in Zionist historiography.

The increased attention being given to the history of the MENA Jews is not to justify contemporary Israeli policies, whatever they may be - but to tell the long repressed truth.

 In 1999, the visual artist Meir Gal created an astonishing work called “Nine out of Four Hundred: The West and the Rest.” In it, he is seen holding an Israeli history textbook; only 9 out of its 400 pages deal with non-European Jewry. Gal was aiming to make a statement about the lack of interest among both the Israeli public and the academic establishment in giving Middle Eastern Jews their proper share of the history.

 In recent years, Israel’s ministries of culture and education, and others, have been investing efforts in rewriting early Zionist history. Even though during the course of most of Israel’s 71 years of existence, the country’s historiography became subservient to Zionist ideology and the worldview of the political echelon, it was not enough to justify the policies of the Israeli government.

Menashe Anzi of Ben Gurion University

 It appears as if present attempts to rewrite history are meant to prepare public opinion for certain political moves by giving historical justification to current events. In this way, for example, emphasizing the purported inherent anti-Semitism of the Muslim world is used to justify Israeli reluctance to promote a peace process in the Middle East or even to advance Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel.

On the contrary. By  conceding that Jews from MENA countries were refugees, Israel is emphasising push factors, altering the narrative that they came as Zionists returning to their ancestral homeland. By lifting the veil on the MENA exodus Israel is actually advancing the cause of peace, because a one-sided view that only Palestinians were refugees will not achieve reconciliation. A peace settlement that is not based on truth will not fly wth the over-50 percent of the Israeli public who have a memory of real, not 'purported', antisemitism. 

 Earlier this year, Nir Hasson reported here how Jerusalem’s official street-naming committee had decided to name new streets in the Silwan neighborhood after Yemenite rabbis, in commemoration of the Yemenite Jewish minority who lived in the village in late 19th century and early 20th centuries. For hundreds of years, if not longer, Silwan’s population has been overwhelmingly Palestinian.

That's because  Silwan's Jewish residents were forcibly expelled in 1929 -31. This fact is glossed over by the authors. 

They together with the extensive archaeological excavations intended to prove the ancient Jewish connection to the area, have incensed Silwan’s Palestinian residents. As one member of Jerusalem city council admitted, the move of naming the streets for the rabbis was intended to strengthen Israeli sovereignty, even though that had hardly been forgotten by any of the neighborhood’s Palestinians, even without the new street names.

The authors begrudge Israel's right to name streets  after Yemenite rabbis. Would they object to ,Jewish street names and Jewish quarters in Arab countries  being renamed after Arabs/ Muslims? 

The names of the Yemenite rabbis will not really get their place in the Israeli collective memory, since most Israeli Jews will never set foot in Silwan, to begin with. So, the “state” can try to wash its hands of decades of neglecting non-Ashkenazi history, since it has now paid lip service to that history and its legacy – but it is doing so in a location that assures that this history will never become part of the mainstream national story.

There are thousands of Jewish residents in the area today  - there would be more had pro-Palestinian activists not tried to stop them moving back. The authors can't have it both ways.

 In fact, a site such as Silwan could have been the perfect location for a more balanced version of Jewish history. One of the rabbis whose name now adorns a street sign there, the late Yossef Madmoni, was among those who signed the following letter, from 1929: “We, the undersigned, residents of Shiloach village, publicly announce that we are indebted to the dear, good-hearted Mr. Hajj Muhammad Gozlan, one of the dignitaries of our Arab brothers, the residents of Shiloah-Silwan and his good-hearted friends that acted in an extraordinary, humane manner toward their Jewish brothers of Shiloach during the riots of 1929 [...] we hope that this kind of courteous relationship will last between us for many years, and may the good God loyally repay them for their deeds.”

Of course there were 'good' Arabs who saved Jews, like Mohammad Gozlan. But there were many who did not. The 'good Arabs' are a footnote in a larger history, like the Righteous Gentile in the Holocaust, but they are not the story itself.  

In recent years, Israel has invested tremendous resources in showcasing, albeit in a very partial way, the history of Middle Eastern Jews. But simultaneously, there are parallel efforts to adjust and compartmentalize this history under the umbrella of Zionist history. This is the lachrymose historiographical approach that depicts Jewish history, including that in Muslim lands, as a series of tragedies – from the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, to the expulsion from Spain and Portugal and through the pogroms in late 19th-century Russia, until the eventual forced migrations to Israel.

No matter how hard the authors try to introduce chinks of light there is no doubt that Jewish history is marked by dark tragedy. The end of Jewish life in Arab and Muslim lands cannot be denied.  Jewish refugees did not all go to Israel, but Israel made it its mission to rescue vast numbers of Jews who had no chance of being given a refuge anywhere else.

Besides, the Israeli media has adopted the tendency to view contemporary Jewish life in Europe through Islamophobic lenses. This is most vividly seen in the obsession in Israel with seeing France as suffering from Muslim immigration and anti-Semitism, while imploring French Jews to rescue themselves and pursue Zionist redemption by emigrating to Israel, although this is actually part of a much bigger story of human tragedy and refugeeism.

The Israeli media is quite  justified, given that French Jews have been the targets of Islamist terrorism and several have been murdered for being Jews. The bigger story of refugeeism does not detract from Israel's role as a necessary haven for persecuted Jews. 

It seems like, after decades of Middle Eastern Jewish history being overlooked, and the framing of most developments as being related to the greater conflict between Jews and Muslims, the project of historical revisionism has landed on the desk of the cynical Zionist historian. This approach, as applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has tainted even scholars’ reading of Middle Eastern Jewish history. Much has already been written about the apparent lack of interest in the rich culture and history of the Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East, not to mention the highly problematic nature of lumping together the histories and cultures of Jews of more than 20 different lands in a single simplistic narrative.

The Jews in the Muslim world, so that narrative goes, lived humiliated lives as second-class dhimmis, just waiting for Zionist redemption. Once Israel was established, they immigrated there en masse – a story that also includes active deportation of Jews.This narrative is misleading in many ways. First, it ignores more than a thousand years of Jewish existence in the Muslim world, a reality that was neither good or bad exclusively, but one that included both aspects, and was characterized by complicated relationships with the majority population, with other minorities, and with the local and imperial political structures. This is the nature of all history.

It is misleading to ignore or minimise the dhimmi status, which defined the relationship between Jews and Muslims, even if it was not always strictly applied. Jews had few rights and could only ask for (or pay for) favours. There were times when they did thrive, but their situation was always precarious. The Jewish presence predated the Muslim world, and was responsible for a cultural symbiosis, but this is not the same as coexistence.

Second, the narrative denies the possibility that Middle Eastern Jewish communities were actually integral parts of their respective societies, and links the events and transformations those communities experienced to larger historical processes associated with Zionist history in Europe – rather than to developments that took place in the non-Western world. Third, this narrative subjugates the religious traditions of Middle Eastern Jews to the way Middle Eastern Jewry and Judaism was imagined by Israel society, while ignoring the immense variety of options that existed in that context as well, during the modern age: Orthodoxy next to local rabbinical traditions, communism with religious elements, Arab or Iranian or Turkish nationalism, and more.

The authors seem to ignore a major development: the advent of western colonialism, ending the dhimmi status. This was responsible for a golden age of cultural and economic blossoming, but other European ideas - including  European and Nazi antisemitism  - also penetrated the region at this point. 

Can we talk about the immigration of Yemenite Jews the same way that we describe the experiences of the Jews of Morocco or Egypt? Is it accurate to say that Egyptian Jews were forcibly expelled for reasons of anti-Semitism while, in fact, their leaving was part of a much broader policy of the Egyptian government of deporting foreign nationals, and not Jews in particular?Yes we can. Although the Egyptian expulsion also affected other foreigners, it was antisemitic in many ways.Can we ignore the role played by Israel in the deterioration of relations between the Jews and the governments of the region? Did Iraqi Jews leave in the exact same manner as the Jews of Lebanon? The way this story of expulsion on anti-Semitic grounds is being told today suggests a history that’s been unified and simplified.

Yes we can talk about a broad policy of persecution, resulting in expulsion or compulsion to leave, although there were variations between countries. Inevitably, the authors hint that  Israel is at least partly to blame for  antisemitism in Arab countries.

In 2014, the Knesset passed a bill making November 30 (the day after the anniversary of the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine, in 1947) a Remembrance Day for the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran. Despite the name, Jews were never expelled from Iran. How do we reconcile the fact that Iran, just like Morocco and Tunisia, for example, still has a small but vibrant Jewish community? And that in Iraq and Egypt, discussions about Jewish history have become part of a vast public national conversation on local culture? Is it correct to echo Francis Fukuyama and declare that Jewish history in the Middle East came to an end with the creation of Israel?

The 'small but vibrant community' of Iran is one tenth of its previous size, the others one percent. This can only indicate that the community suffered  a serious degree of  persecution and antisemitism.

This past summer, the Eretz Israel Museum hosted an exhibition called, “Leaving, Never to Return: A Tribute to the Jews of Arab Countries and Iran.” The title raises many questions concerning the nature of this “tribute.” The exhibition told the story of 10 Jewish communities – in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon. All were portrayed in the same way: Jews had lived for thousands of years in the same places; in recent generations, they suffered from harassment and riots, and in the end, they had to “leave, never to return.” The design of the space clarified the intent. The object repeated in different parts of the show was the tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl. But it was not presented as an object of sanctity or because of its use in worship, but as something Jewish prisoners in the Jadu labor camp in Libya used as a cleaning cloth during the Nazi occupation. Hence, the common denominator for all the Jewish communities is persecution and their being linked with the Holocaust.

Because that was what occurred. One can hardly talk of a thriving Jewish community of Libya because there is not one Jew left.

It appears that the “tribute” was really meant as a reminder of the bitter fate that awaited Mizrahi Jews had Zionism not rescued them. Each section of the exhibition was dedicated to the memory of one community and presented images and objects from it, often with a very Orientalist (as per the conception of Edward Said) simplicity, such as talismans and amulets for each community, as if superstitions were a signifier exclusive of Mizrahi culture. Each section ended with a list of events in which Jews were harmed, in an apparent effort to provide the necessary context for Zionist rescue, by presenting their lives as being lived in the shadow and threat of endless danger, plunder and persecution.

 Apart from the general approach, the ideological thread in the exhibition was reflected in various details and objects on show. The display on Iranian Jews described their lives as sheer misery, when actually their situation was very much dependent on the time and place. For example, there were periods when many of the Jews experienced upward mobility, becoming integrated and successful, while others were still poor and marginalized.

This applies to the 'golden age ' under the Shah, but dhimmi rules in Iran were only abolished in 1925.

 Also, special attention was given to the “list of events in which Jews suffered harm” – from a massacre of Mashhadi Jews in 1839, to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. As proof of this lachrymose trend, the curators included a telegram that Tehran’s chief rabbi sent in 1874 to the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris, in which he explained the hardships Iranian Jews faced. Nothing in this time line, however, conveyed the glorious history of some 100,000 Jews in Iran, up until the early 1980s – of their self-identification as proud Iranians, their connection to the language and culture, the vibrant Jewish press that numbered up to a dozen of newspapers in the 1940s and ‘50s, their poetry and literature, their disproportionately high representation in higher education and medical fields in the second half of the 20th century, their activism in communist and nationalist parties, or even of their many responses to Zionism.

Actually there were quotas on Jewish medical students,  eg in Iraq.

 The lay visitor to the exhibition learned about only six events, beginning with a massacre of Jews in 1839 and ending with the Islamic revolution. Also, one may ask, can we really consider Jewish life in Iran to have disappeared when there is still a community of some 20,000 Jews in the country? The same approach was reflected in the other displays as well, but a close and critical reading of history reveals the different faces of history.

Only then do we see the contribution by the Iraqi-Jewish merchant Avraham Jepani, a business associate of the country’s finance minister, Mohammad Hadidi, as part of the economic and cultural golden age of Iraq in the first half of the 20th century.

 In the same vein, we suggest considering the story of the idolized Jewish musician Habiba Masika as part of Tunisian history, as Tunisia itself is trying to do these days, and not just a tragic Jewish story, involving a murder. It emerged from this show at the Eretz Israel Museum that Masika’s piano will soon be on display at a museum under construction in her memory in Tunisia.

Forgive my cynicism, Tunisia is trying to exploit Jewish memory for tourism purposes. The fact remains that only one percent of its Jewish community remains.

 A similar lachrymose and simplistic history is presented in the book “The End of Judaism in Muslim Lands,” edited by sociologist Shmuel Trigano, and published in French in 2009. This volume, according to Trigano, was intended to offer for the first time a broad overview of developments that led to the expulsion of Oriental Jews from their countries. Trigano asserts as much while unifying the expulsion narratives of Jews from 10 different countries. His narrative claims that “the Jews of the Arab countries suffered from persecution and pogroms for many generations, hundreds of years prior to the emergence of Zionism [...] Their situation deteriorated in modern times and the appearance of Arab nationalism in the 20th century. The narrative that describes their immigration to Israel as colonialism is the opposite of the truth. These were fleeing refugees who found home and shelter in the State of Israel.”

 In fact, this is an overly generalized and narrow view, one that harnesses certain facts and omits many others, to suggest a process whose end is known and declared from the get-go. Israel today is undergoing profound sociological changes.

This exactly describes what the authors are doing - to support their own politicised agenda. They resent any attack on Palestinian exceptionalism. Their desire to raise the profile of Mizrahi heritage and history is confined to the positive, or  points of connection between Muslims and Jews. This is a distortion of history.

 Population groups that have been pushed away and marginalized in the central discourse, such as the large Middle Eastern Jewish communities, now have increasing opportunities to stake a claim in society and in venues of public memory. The price they are required to pay, though, is enormously high – one that stipulates the linking of Mizrahi history to the Zionist narrative: Haskalah (enlightenment), Zionism, persecution, escape or expulsion, and at the end of it, “redemption” in Israel.

As already stated, a third of these Jews did not go to Israel.

 There is not sufficient room here to tell the complex story more than a thousand years of relations between of Jews and Muslims. In general, though, it seems as if the erasure of Mizrahi or Oriental Jewish history from its Arab and Islamic context goes hand in hand with the eradication of Palestinian history from our surroundings.

 As historians who study and teach the pasts of Jews in Muslim societies, we welcome the expansion of the narrative and the inclusion of Mizrahi Jews into the national story, but at the same time we call for the presentation of many voices and faces, so that the broad context of the history of the Jews of Muslim lands can be better understood.

The authors ignore broad historical and political trends and give the exception to the rule  more importance than it deserves.

Selectively choosing facts and processes that serve narrow political objectives causes injustice to a magnificent tale of 2,000 years, that in many ways, is still alive and well. And half a truth is worse than a lie.

Dr. Lior Sternfeld teaches history and Jewish studies at Penn State University. Dr. Menashe Anzi teaches Jewish history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Read article in full

Dr Lior Sternfeld has form

Monday, December 02, 2019

Tobin: Don't forget the Jewish refugees

The 30 November commemoration of the exodus of Jews from Arab countries has passed without fanfare, while the Palestinian refugee issue remains far better known, writes Jonathan Tobin in JNS News.

Within a few years, Jewish communities that had been in existence since the first millennium or earlier were largely destroyed as riots and heightened official discrimination drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.

 The totals were staggering as the Mizrahi Jewish world was forced to flee. Some 259,000 Jews left Morocco. Approximately 140,000 left Algeria and another 100,000 from neighboring Tunisia. More than 120,000 Jews fled Iraq. Elsewhere in North Africa, 38,000 fled Libya and 75,000 from Egypt. Some 135,000 fled Iraq, 55,000 were airlifted from Yemen, while 20,000 moved out of Lebanon and 18,000 from Syria. The circumstances in each country varied, but the pattern was familiar.

The birth of Israel, which was seen as a humiliation by Muslims who believed that none but members of their faith could govern anywhere in the region, gave an excuse to those who wished to target Jews. Nevertheless, the notion that Jewish life in the Arab world was a golden age disrupted only by Zionism is a myth.

Egyptian Jew re-united with his family in Israel in 1957 after spending time in prison (Bet Hatefutsot)

At various points in history, the plight of Jews in the Muslim world was less awful than that faced by their co-religionists in Christian Europe. Still, to depict it as anything but one in which Jews existed at the sufferance of Muslims is fallacious.

 These communities had deep roots and enjoyed periods of prosperity, but Jews were rarely, if ever, fully accepted as equals. To the contrary, every period of peaceful coexistence was always punctuated with new outbursts of hatred and intolerance.

 What happened in the 20th century was not a complete break with history as Arab nationalists used Jews and Zionism as scapegoats for the failings of the Muslim world. Those who spread hate against Jews found it easy to do so because such discrimination was deeply embedded in the culture of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

 While we should mourn the destruction of these communities, the emigration of so many of their members to Israel enabled their culture and learning to flourish anew in a country where they were truly at home. And even though these immigrants suffered from discrimination at the hands of Ashkenazi elites, today their descendants constitute a majority of the Israeli Jewish population.

 That’s why, in addition to the fact that Israel is a democracy where equal rights are guaranteed under law, the notion that it is an apartheid state is a big lie. The Jews from the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as those who came out of Ethiopia, are “people of color” as defined by those who see the world exclusively through a racial lens.

Those who buy into intersectional ideology that sees the Palestinian war on Israel as akin to the struggle for civil rights in the United States are dead wrong.

We should learn the stories of these communities not just because doing so puts the suffering of the Palestinians into context, or because it also demonstrates the wrongs committed by Arabs and Muslims in the course of their war on Israel. Their heritage, which is integral to the culture of the Jewish state whose life they have enriched, is deserving of study and honor. Learning the history of these refugees is also a necessary response to those who accept the Palestinian. Once you recognize that the Palestinians weren’t the only refugees in the Middle East, the arguments of those who claim that their plight means that Israel has no right to exist are exposed as transparent falsehoods.

  Read article in full

Why Nina Avidar Weiner is going home to Israel

Alarmed at the rise of antisemitic anti-Zionism in the US, encouraged by a biased media, Nina Avidar Weiner is going home to Israel.  Her family was expelled from Egypt and she finds Israel is being held to an unfair double standard (with thanks: Robin):

I was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1933 into an educated middle-class Jewish family of mixed ethnic origins. My mother descended from a prominent Sephardic family that had settled a few generations ago in Jerusalem; my father was an Ashkenazi Jew from Kiev, Ukraine, who spoke 10 languages perfectly well and made aliyah in 1924.

Nina Avidar Weiner: going home

My parents were married in Tel Aviv in 1925 and moved to Alexandria in 1926 to be with one of my mother’s brothers. There was a cultured European atmosphere in Alexandria at the time. A dozen languages were heard in the streets. While I was growing up, we enjoyed going to operas, concerts, and ballets performed by Europeans companies; we spoke Hebrew and French at home.

Despite the many golden memories which some former Egyptian Jews have of their life in Egypt, the relationship between the 80,000-strong Egyptian Jewish community and the Muslim majority during the 1930s and ‘40s was tenuous at best, even prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Under the influence of Hadj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Egyptians hoped the Nazis would win World War II.

Antisemitism, a defining characteristic of the theocratic Arab countries, was on the rise in Egypt under the influence of the Islamic revivalist Muslim Brotherhood. It reached one of its many convulsive climaxes on May 15, 1948, when seven Arab countries invaded the newly created State of Israel. My father was taken by the Egyptian police at dawn and interned at Abukir, one of four camps erected at the time to intern Zionists and communists.

He stayed there for nearly a year until the police took him straight to the airport, where he was forcibly expelled from Egypt, never to return. My mother and I joined him with just three suitcases containing all our lifelong belongings.

Read article in full

Sunday, December 01, 2019

On 30 November, articles and services recalled the exodus

On 30 November, communities and individuals took the opportunity to remember the 850,000 Jews expelled or compelled to leave Arab countries. Below are extracts from two articles published to coincide with 'Jewish Refugee Day'. Rabbi Andrea Zanardo made the exodus the subject of his Shabbat sermon. 

In The Toronto Star (Canada) , Eta Yudin tells her Iraqi-Jewish mother's story:

As a teenager I was fascinated by my mother’s childhood and eventual escape from Iraq. Was it her reluctance to share or my youth? I don’t know, but related stories of those dispersed from the 2,500-year-old Iraqi Jewish community are indeed rare.

 I later came to understand that a reluctance to open up was common among survivors of one of the largest, and, sadly, almost forgotten, episodes of mass expulsion of the post-Second World War era.

 Born in Baghdad, where Jews comprised a third of the population, generations of my mother’s family deeply integrated. My grandfather served as Member of Parliament and legal adviser to the minister of finance. At home they spoke the local tongue – Arabic. Their neighbours were Muslim and Christian.

 Then, in 1941, the Farhoud, a deadly two-day pogrom inspired by European Nazis killed more than 180 Baghdadi Jews and destroyed nearly a thousand Jewish homes. This was the turning point. Anti-Jewish incitement and violence crept into everyday life of Iraq’s 150,000 Jews, now subject to restrictions and hostility fomented by the founding of a Jewish state.

Jewish Iraqis could be arrested as “Zionist spies,” their property seized, and their right to leave denied. Then, suddenly, in 1951, Jews were offered an escape – permission to leave – if they left everything, including their citizenship, behind.

 My own grandfather, a proud and passionate Iraqi, refused to leave, believing things would improve. My mother would not see or hear from him again. And thus, two and a half millennia of Jewish presence in Iraq was over.

Read article in full

In the Jewish Chronicle, Sandy Rashty interviews Efrat Sopher: 

Link to article here.

As part of the Shabbat service, Rabbi Andrea Zanardo of Brighton Reform Congregation read out a letter from artist and musician Herbert Pagani to Colonel Gaddafi. Pagani was forced to leave his native Libya in 1969 when the colonel took power: 

“…So, what are you complaining about?” the Colonel would say, in his tent. “You wanted to leave, and we let you leave.”

 Yes, of course, you even encouraged us to go, stripping of their rights and property the few crazy ones who were still attached to the land. Don’t worry, though, I’m not writing to you out of homesickness.

 I write to you to tell that this community of ours is very much alive. It’s growing, and is prospering. It has made a new life for itself, ‘hamdullah’, praised be God, because after we lost everything, we had no choice but to move ahead.

Herbert Pagani

  We’re like bees, Colonel. If the owner of the farm steals our honey in September, we make more of it, before winter comes. And if we continue stinging you with our requests for reparations, it’s more out of dignity than out of interest, it is to remind you of your debts, and above all, of your loss.

We are producers of goods, materials and morals, and we always have been, you know that, because we’re not afraid of work, because, for us, work has never been a punishment, but, rather, creativity. And a blessing.

 The proof: after just a month in refugee camps in Latina and Capua, our people left the hovels and set off in search of work. Italy, who gave us shelter, thought she was giving us alms, but soon realised that she had made an investment. But you, like all the governors of the new Arab world, wanted to wash out the Jews from the social fabric. In so doing, you’ve ruined its fibres: trade, craft, professions, everything has been lost, and has been swept away, like sand in the desert. And all the expertise you purchase from the Soviets will never replace the ancient wisdom and knowledge of us, whose vocation has always been communication: between human beings, groups, disciplines, kings, States, civilisations.

 That same vocation of ours had been indispensable for the grandeur of Islam, of the Russian Empire, of the Ottoman Empire, of pre-Nazi Germany. You could have made it yours, if you had just wanted to. Think about it, dear cousin. I am a songwriter, I was born in that slice of hell in the middle of nowhere that you govern. With the inexplicable love, almost perverse, that Jews have for the stepmother-land that adopts them, I could have made wings for your kings, for your heroes, for your saints and martyrs. I could have sung the praises of that desert of yours, with words that would have made blossom that sand rose you have instead decided to turn into a desert.

 But Allah, who is great, and sees everywhere in space and time, had chosen for me to depart, by your hand, so that I could go away and sing my songs under other skies. So that your nation could continue to fulfil the mission it has pursued for centuries: to be the empty white page in the Great Book of Islam.

 Shalom ve Salam "

Herbert Pagani

UN Watch: Where are your Jews?

JForum: Journee des refugies juifs du monde arabe

Friday, November 29, 2019

This Shabbat, 38 synagogues will recite prayers for dead in Arab lands

Update: the total is 44 plus one church*

This shabbat, prayers will be recited in synagogues around the world  for Jews killed in Arab lands and those buried in cemeteries inaccessible to relatives.

Baghdad Jewish cemetery

This is the second year running that this initiative is taking place. As at 9 am GMT the number of synagogues planning to take part in the mass kaddish, or Hashkaba, was 38, or about three times as many as took part last year.

 The man behind the initiative is Sass Peress, a Jew living in Montreal. It grew out of a  project to clean up Sass Peress's grandfather's grave in the Jewish cemetery in Baghdad.

This year Shabbat falls on 30 November, the date designated as 'Jewish Refugee Day'.

"The specific date for the commemoration was chosen as the day following the November 29th anniversary of the passage in 1947 of the UN Partition Plan, which recommended the establishment of two separate states, Jewish and Arab, in the territory of British Mandatory Palestine, because “the measures taken by the Arab League and its member states against their Jewish communities began then,” explains Ashley Perry, President of Reconectar and Director General of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Communities, who was involved in legislating the Knesset bill with then-MK Shimon Ohayon.

This year, the participating synagogues include Ashkenazi as well as Sephardi congregations, thus demonstrating solidarity across the diaspora and in Israel.

The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, Montreal
Chabad NDG, Montreal
Montreal Open Shul, Montreal
OR Shalom, Montreal
OR Hahayim , Montreal 
Shaar Hashomayim , Montreal
Mile End Chavurah Group, Montreal
Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation, Montreal
Kehila Synagogue, Toronto
Melech Israel, Toronto 
Congregation Beth Hamidrash, Vancouver
Kehillat Beth Israel, Ottawa
Hillel Lodge, Ottawa
Temple Israel, Ottawa
S&;P Holland Park Synagogue, London
Wembley S&P Synagogue, London
Lauderdale Road S&P Synagogue, London
Bevis Marks S&P Synagogue, London
Neveh Shalom, David Ishag Congregation, London
Ohel David, London
Temple Buffault, Paris
Temple Rodef Shalom, Alexandria, Virginia
Magen David Sephardic Congregation, San Francisco
Khalal Joseph, Los Angeles
Temple Israel, Columbus, Ohio
Chavurah Shir Ha-Yam , San Diego 
Sherith Yisrael, New York
Babylonian Jewish Center, Great Neck, New York
Bene Neharayim, Iraqi Synagogue, New York
Bnei Israel, Boca Raton , Florida
Edmond Safra Synagogue, Aventura , Florida
Temple Shalom, Port Charlotte, Florida
Tifereth Israel, Des Moines, Iowa
Chabad, TMR
Beth Tikvah, Montreal
Congregation Chazin Ovadis, Lakewood, NJ, USA
Zayit Raanan, Efrat
Shirat David, Efrat
Shaare Ratzon, S&;P Synagogue, Old City of Jerusalem
Kehillat Lechu Neranena, Buchman, Modiin
New North London Masorti
Sephardic Minyan at Beth Sholom Congregation, Potomac, Maryland, USA

*Missione de L'Annunziata, Montreal, CA 

  Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation in the UK, has composed a special prayer for the occasion:

תפלת אזכרה על מגורשי ישראל מארצות ערב
ֱאלֵֹהינוֵּואלֵֹהי ֲאבוֵֹתינוּ ָכּתוּב ְבִּדְבֵריְיֶחְזֵקאלְנִביֲאךָ)כא:יא-יב(:"ְוַאָתּה ֶבן ָאָדם ֵהָאַנח ְבִּשְׁברוֹן ָמְתַנִיםוִּבְמִרירוּת ֵתָּאַנח ְלֵעיֵניֶהם.ְוָהָיה ִכּייֹאְמרוּ ֵאֶליךָ ַעל ָמה ַא ָתּה ֶנ ֱא ָנח ְו ָא ַמ ְר ָתּ ֶאל ְשׁמוּ ָעה ִכי ָב ָאה ְו ָנ ֵמס ָכּל ֵלב ְו ָרפוּ ָכל ָי ַד ִים ְו ֵכ ַהת ָכל רוּ ַח ְו ָכל ִבּ ְר ַכּ ִים ֵתּ ַל ְכ ָנה ַמּ ִים ִה ֵנּה ָב ָאה ְו ִנ ְה ָי ָתה ְנ ֻאם ְי ָי ֱאלֹ ִהים"

וַּבֲעווֹנוֹתנו ָעָשׂהְיי ֲאֶשׁרָזָמם ִבַּצּעאְמָרתוֹ ֲאֶשׁר ִצָוּהְוָרִאינוּ ִבּדָאבוֹן ִלבינו ֲהִריַגת ַא ֵחינוּ ְו ַא ַחיּו ֵתנוּ וּ ְשֵׂר ַפת ָבּ ֵתּי ְכֵּנ ִסיּוֹת ְו ִס ְפֵרי תּוָֹרה ִבּיֵדי ְשׁ ֵכֵננוּ ָה ַעְר ִבים ֶשׁשכננוּ ָתִּמיד ְבִּקְרָבָתם.
ְיתוֹ ִמים ָה ִיינוּ ְו ֵאין ָאב ִא ֹמּ ֵתינוּ ְכּ ַא ְל ָמנוֹת׃ ַא ָתּה ְיי ְלעוֹ ָלם ֵתּ ֵשׁב ִכּ ְס ֲאךָ ְלדֹר ָודוֹר׃ ֲה ִשׁי ֵבנוּ ְיי ֵא ֶליךָ ְו ָנשׁוּ ָבה ַח ֵדּשׁ ָי ֵמינוּ ְכּ ֶק ֶדם׃

ֵאל ָמ ֵלא ַר ֲח ִמים שׁוֹ ֵכן ַבּ ְמּרוֹ ִמים, ַה ְמ ֵצא ְמנוּ ָחה ְנכוֹ ָנה ַעל ַכּ ְנ ֵפי ַה ְשּׁ ִכי ָנה, ְבּ ַמ ֲעלוֹת ְקדוִֹשׁיםוְּטהוִֹרים ַכּזַֹּהר ָהָרִקיַע ַמְזִהיִרים ֶאתְנָשׁמוֹת ַאֵחינוְּוַאְחיוֵֹתינוּ, ֶשֶׁנֶּהְרגוּ ְוֶשִׁנְּרְצחוּ ַעלְיֵדי ַאְכָזִריםְואוְֹיִבים ָבֲּאָרצוֹת ַהַהגרים.ֶנֶהְפכוּ ַאְרצוֹת ְמגוֵּריֶהם ְלִכְבְשֵׁני ֵאשְׁוַאְנֵשׁי ְשׁלוָֹמם ַלֲעִריִצים.ְיִהיָרצוֹן ִמְלָּפֶניךְָיָי ֱאלֵֹהינוּ, ַבַּעל ָהַרֲחִמים ֶשַׁתְּסִתּיֵרםבֵּסֶּתר ְכָּנֶפיךָ ְלעוָֹלִמים,וְּצרוֹר ִבְּצרוֹר ַהַחִיּים ֶאת ִנְשׁמוֵֹתיֶהם,ייהוּא ַנֲחָלָתם, ְבַּגן ֵעֶדן ְתֵּהא ְמנוָּחָתם, ַוַיַּעְמדוּ ְלגוָֹרָלם ְלֵקץ ַהָיִּמין, ִויֻקַיּםבּנו ִמְקָרא ֶשָׁכּתוּבוָּבא ְלִציּוּןגּוֵֹאלָיֵגלַיֲעקֹבִיְשַׂמחִיְשָׂרֵאל ְבּשׁוּבְיָי ְשׁבוּת ַעמּוֹ.ְוֵכןְיִהיָרצוֹן ְונֹאַמר ָאֵמן.

"Our God and God of our fathers, it is written in the words of Ezekiel your prophet (21:11-12) :
“And you, O mortal, sigh; with tottering limbs and bitter grief, sigh before their eyes. And when
they ask you, ‘Why do you sigh?’ answer, ‘Because of the tidings that have come.’ Every heart
shall sink and all hands hang nerveless; every spirit shall grow faint and all knees turn to water
because of the tidings that have come. It is approaching, it shall come to pass—declares the Lord

And for our iniquities, the Lord has done what He purposed, has carried out the decree. We have
seen with pained hearts the murder of our brothers and sisters and the burning of our synagogues
and our torah scrolls by the hands of our Arab neighbours amongst whom we have dwelt for
generations. We have become orphans, fatherless; Our mothers are like widows. But You, O Lord,
are enthroned forever, Your throne endures through the ages. Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself,
And let us come back; Renew our days as of old!

Lord full of mercy Who dwells in the heights, give rest on the wings of the Divine Presence,
amongst the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky to the souls of our brothers and sisters
who died and who were murdered by the hands of cruel enemies in the Arab Lands. Our dwelling
places became fiery furnaces and our friends turned to foes.

May it be Your will, Our Lord, that their souls be bound up in eternal life. God is their allotment.
And may they rest peacefully in their lying place.

And may God’s promise be fulfilled that a redeemer shall come to Zion, O that the deliverance of
Israel might come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of His people, Jacob will exult,

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Charges likely to be dropped against Paris murderer

The family of Sarah Halimi suffered another setback when it looked likely at a hearing this week  that charges would be dropped against her murderer. The Jewish Chronicle reports:

Sarah Halimi, murdered in April 2017

Local prosecutors in Paris initially argued that Kobili Traoré should be put on trial for his actions.

 But they were opposed by the more senior procureur général, which argued Traoré should be hospitalised.

 The different opinions come after separate panels of psychiatrists concluded Mr Traoré had suffered a psychotic episode after a massive use of cannabis, but disagreed over whether he was partially aware of his actions.

 During an earlier hearing, Halimi family lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel asked Traoré: “Do you think you should be tried? And get a sentence for what you have done?”

 Witnesses told Wednesday’s hearing that shortly before Ms Halimi was thrown from the balcony Traoré shouted “a woman is trying to kill herself”. Her family’s lawyers said it proved Traoré was already planning his defence.

 Mr Bidnic said there were “no good solutions in the case”, adding: “This is Sarah Halimi’s tragedy, her family’s tragedy and this boy’s tragedy, although I’m not comparing the two. Sending him to hospital is not ideal nor sending him to prison.”

 He said Traoré, who remains in a psychiatric hospital but is receiving limited amounts of medication, is “still a threat”.

 Francis Szpiner, another Halimi family lawyer, said the case was setting a historic precedent: “You’re saying that people can walk free after carrying out criminal action just because they were allegedly not aware of the effects of drugs or other substances? “Will this also apply to drunk drivers who kill children on the road?”

The court will rule on December 19 on whether Traoré should face trial.

Read article in full
More about the Halimi case

In the Middle East, there are only conquerors and conquered

The only way for a dhimmi people to survive in the Middle East is to defeat its foes, argues Nave Dromi in this must-read article in JNS News. Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries know this truth:
Nave Dromi

On Nov. 30, we will remember them on the Day of Commemoration for the Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran. We will remember their history, culture and tradition, maintained under difficult circumstances, and also their ethnic cleansing.

 However, there are also lessons we need to learn. Those of us whose origins are in lands now known as Arab countries and whose families were dhimmis understand well this history of defeat.

 Perhaps this is why, according to numerous surveys, Jews whose origins are in the Middle East and North Africa are disproportionately more hawkish than others—they understand, better than most, that in this region there are only two types of people: the conquerors and the conquered.

 They lived as the conquered for far too long, and that is why they push harder for Israel to defeat its enemies and those who seek to turn us once again into a stateless people.

 We have seen in recent years how the stateless are treated, whether it is the Kurds in Turkey, Syria or Iraq, the Christians in Egypt or the Yazidis in Iraq, among others.

 This was the lot of the Jewish people for 1,300 years in the region. When Islamist terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, and Islamist regimes like that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, talk about destroying Israel, their goal is to undo what they see as the unnatural emergence of Jewish sovereignty on territory previously conquered by Islam.

 They see Israel as dar al-harb (literally, “land of war”), territory ruled by non-Muslims that was previously governed by Muslims and which must be reclaimed in battle. A cursory examination of the Hamas Charter, or the comments of leaders like Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, prove that for them, this is a very real religious obligation.

 For Israel to survive in such a region, with such enemies, it unfortunately must prove itself on the battlefield by defeating its foes. The only reason Islamist extremists do not try to reclaim Spain or parts of the Balkans that were also once under Islamic rule is that they do not believe they can.

 Sadly, for many regimes and Islamist organizations in the region this is not true of Israel; they believe Israel can and will be defeated.

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Arab states are claiming the heritage of their expelled Jews

Update: US government urged to protect heritage of Jewish refugees in Arab world 

Arab states are legitimising the theft of their Jewish cultural heritage under cover of international law, instead of restoring Jewish property to their expelled Jews, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News. It is a worrying trend that Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey and Yemen are also queuing up to sign such legitimising agreements with the US.

 Please sign this JIMENA petition asking the US to rethink its position regarding minority rights to their heritage.

On or around Nov. 30, Jewish communities around the world will be holding events to remember the mass exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

Almost a million people were displaced in the past 50 years, leaving billions of dollars’ worth of property behind. Not only have Arab governments never compensated Jews for their stolen homes and businesses, they are waging a pernicious campaign to claim communal property and Jewish heritage as their national patrimony.

 Synagogues can’t be moved and clearly, it is better for Arab states to preserve them as memorials to an extinct community than not at all. However, these states are also declaring Torah scrolls, communal archives and books to be part of their cultural heritage.

 For instance, the Egyptian government claims that all Torah scrolls and Jewish archives, libraries, communal registers and any movable property over 100 years old are “Egyptian antiquities.” However, Jews consider Torah scrolls their exclusive property. It is forbidden to buy or sell them. Fleeing Jews have often prioritized scrolls and books over their personal possessions.

 What does international law have to say? The Hague Convention of 1954 “protecting cultural property in conflict” was brought in to stop the massive looting that has always occurred in war and specifically during WWII. There is also the post-colonial understanding that the new states that emerged in the 20th century have ownership of their own cultural heritage; the days when Britain could ship the Elgin Marbles from Greece, or Napoleon could plunder ancient Egyptian obelisks as “war booty,” are over.

 In Egypt, registers of births, marriages and deaths of Jews from Alexandria and Cairo dating back to the middle of the 19th century were once kept in the two main synagogues in each city. But in 2016, government officials took away the registers to be stored in the Egyptian National Archives. Egyptian Jews living abroad cannot even obtain photocopies of certificates, often the only formal Jewish identification Egyptian Jews have to prove lineage or identity for burial or marriage. Repeated efforts since 2005 to intercede with the Egyptian authorities have come to nothing.

 Egyptian government policy has been backed by the tiny remnant of the country’s Jewish community. Its leader, Magda Haroun, intends to leave the community’s assets to the government. She has even suggested that two paintings in the Louvre once owned by an Egyptian Jew should find their way back to Egypt.

 Under the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, thousands of books, manuscripts and other documents were seized from Jewish homes, schools and synagogues and stored at the headquarters of Iraq’s secret service in Baghdad. In 2003, the archive was discovered in the flooded basement after the building was bombed by the Americans.

 The Americans shipped the archive to Washington, D.C., for restoration and hastily signed a diplomatic agreement promising to return the material to the Iraqi government. The United States spent over $3 million to restore and digitize the archive, which has since been exhibited across the country. The collection includes a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793 and an 1815 version of the Jewish mystical text Zohar, as well as more mundane objects such school reports and a Baghdad telephone book.

 Although tens of thousands of Iraqi documents were shipped to the United States, the Iraqi government has only formalized its claim to the 2,700 books and 30,000 documents of the water-stained archive, which it claims are the country’s “precious cultural heritage,” a last emotional link with its ancient Jewish community and a reminder of Iraq’s former diversity.

 The Iraqi Jewish community in exile has been waging a bitter battle to recover the collection and prevent it being sent back to Iraq. They say that to return the archive, which was seized from Jewish community offices, schools and synagogues, would be like returning property looted by the Nazis to Germany.

 The Iraqi and Egyptian cases are symptomatic of a larger problem. Since 2004, the United States has been bound by law to impose import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material that constitutes a country’s cultural heritage and has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) to this effect with Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Libya.

 In January 2018, the International Council of Museums released a “Red List” for Yemen aimed at protecting Hebrew manuscripts and Torah finials from leaving the country. All but 50 Jews have fled the country, taking what possessions they could, but even these ultimately could be returned to Yemen.

 “These MOUs claim to be about [stopping] looting, but their broad scope and limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a legal vehicle to legitimize foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership claims. … The MOUs are based on a flawed premise. It is the heritage and patrimony of 850,000 indigenous Jews who fled their homes and property under duress,” said Sarah Levin of the California-based Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

 It is understandable that the international community should wish to prevent the looting and smuggling of ancient artifacts and their sale on the international art market. That is how Islamic State financed much of its conquest of northern Iraq and Syria. But there is a distinction between theft for financial gain, and legitimate salvage of Torah scrolls or books taken by fleeing Jews to be used for prayer.

 Eight Sumerian artifacts sold to the British Museum were recently sent back to Baghdad. But the Iraqi-Jewish archive does not belong to some long-extinct civilization—some of the owners are still alive.

 International law is based on the outmoded assumption of territorial sovereignty. It needs updating, specifically to resolve the tug-of-war between minority and national heritage, where the minority has been persecuted and displaced.

Read article in full

Also at The Algemeiner