Monday, June 27, 2005

The painful memories stirred by Gaza

The authorities want the Jewish homes of Gaza razed in case leaving them intact stirs some painful memories among those Israelis who were forced to flee Baghdad, Tripoli or Cairo, argues Clifford D May in Townhall.

"Such a display would lend credence to the claim that the Israelis had been forced to leave Gaza -- as they earlier had been driven out of Lebanon, and as they will, one day, be expelled from every inch of Israel. This week, Hamas pledged yet again that “the jihad” against “the Zionist entity” would “continue until victory or martyrdom” – i.e. until they wipe the Jewish state off the map or die trying.

In addition to concern about encouraging dreams of conquest and genocide, Israeli officials also must have worried about the psychological impact that images of Arabs taking over Jewish homes would have had on their own citizens -- particularly those Israelis who come from Arab lands.

It is often forgotten that half of all Israeli Jews trace their roots to such places as Baghdad, Cairo and Tripoli. Jewish communities were well established in many Middle Eastern and North African capitals hundreds of years before those capitals were conquered and occupied, beginning in the 7th century, by armies from the Arabian Peninsula, carrying the banner of the new faith of Islam.

Iraq, for example, was for millennia home to a prominent Jewish minority. As late as 1948 one of every four Baghdadis was Jewish. After the U.N. partition of Palestine, however, hundreds of Iraqi Jews were executed. Others were imprisoned. Jewish homes were confiscated. Eventually most Jews fled.

In Yemen, by contrast, Jews had long endured a kind of apartheid. They were not allowed to walk on pavements or ride horses. They were forced to clean the public toilets. By law, Jewish orphans had to be converted to Islam. Not surprisingly, once Israel was established, virtually all Yemeni Jews sought refuge there.

Egypt was among the leaders of the “jihad” declared against Israel in 1948. This was to be, in the words of Arab League Secretary Azzam Pasha, “a war of extermination.”

As Egyptian soldiers invaded Israel, mobs attacked the Jewish quarter of Cairo and Egyptian authorities shipped Jews suspected of sympathizing with Israel to concentration camps in the Sinai desert.

In all, close to 900,000 Jews are estimated to have fled Arab-majority countries, leaving behind houses, schools, synagogues, cemeteries and, in many cases, ancient cultures and traditions. " Read article in full.

Muslims empathise with Libyan Jew

The publication by Reuters of Jonathan Saul's article about compensation to the Jews of Libya led to reaction in the Arabic and Libyan press and websites. One of Saul's interviewees, Raphael Luzon - chairman of Jews of Libya UK - then decided to set out his personal viewpoint in his own words. The reaction was incredible: he received 65 emails and calls from Libyan Muslims - almost all of them empathising with him. Here is what Luzon wrote:

My position is based on historical, verifiable facts, which can only be distorted by fabricating the past.

1. The existence of the Jews of Libya goes back 2,400 years, or 1,300 years before the arrival of the Arabs there.

2. Jews always lived in harmony with the nations of the Middle East and the Islamic World. Although forcibly evicted from their homeland – at times by compulsory emigration or escaping with little but their lives - the Jews of Arab countries clung to their traditions, heritage, Arabic language, native music and food and they tried to pass them on to their children. Witnessing Iraqi Jews enthusiastically participating in the recent election in Iraq from overseas is proof that the Jew is not ready to let go of his roots and still feels a strong attachment.

3. Jews took an active and important part in administering the different countries conquered by the Arab armies during the Islamic conquests as well as under the Ottoman Empire and participated in the economical, commercial, social & cultural development of the area.

4. When the Italians and the Fascists occupied Libya in the 19th century, Jews fought side by side with the Libyan heroes against the fascists. My grandfather, Raphael Luzon, fought with the hero Ramadhan Al-Shteui in Musrata.

5. No Libyan Jew wanted to leave his homeland until 1945, when bloody street demonstrations against the Jews took place for no obvious reason. This incident led to loss of trust by some members of the Jewish community. The second wave of demonstrations in 1948 only confirmed their doubts. The number of fatalities soared to 400 people with many more injured. Shops, houses and other properties were looted and burnt down.

6. As a result, fear descended over the vast majority of the 38,000-strong Jewish population, which led to mass immigration to Italy and Israel - the only countries willing to offer asylum. Had these harmful events not taken place, I doubt that 10% of the Jews would have emigrated from their homeland. The vast majority of Jews who left Libya did so out of fear and not out of ideology.

7. Following Libya’s independence, the number of Jews in Tripoli and Benghazi hovered around the 7,000 mark. These were honest, decent, hardworking citizens who wanted nothing other than to be able to earn a living and discharge their duties and responsibilities (such as paying taxes) with honesty. In reality they were denied several human rights, including the right to vote or to stand for election, the right of application to work in the Public Services or Governmental posts and the right to serve in the army.

8. There are those who seek to imply that the matter of compensation to the Jews of Libya is connected to the Palestinian matter. I do not understand this logic: two wrongs do not make a right.

9. The Jewish Libyan community stayed close to their roots despite everything they went through. The community that numbered approximately 7,000 people, suffered again in 1967 with another wave of atrocities. Houses and other properties were burnt down, and 16 people - including 8 members of my own family (among them a woman and her 6 children) - were killed in cold blood and without any provocation by a Libyan officer heading a unit of the Royal Libyan Army. Soon after that, a law was passed to deport all the Jews (each person was allowed to take a small suitcase and 20 Libyan pounds only). They were forced to leave all their properties and monies - everything they had worked so hard to accumulate over the years and it was all then confiscated.

10. The Jews of Libya avoided involvement in any political activities or support of any political party, because their loyalty is purely to the homeland - Libya - and not to any ruling body. The proof of this is that when the Embargo was imposed on Libya, no Jew supported it; on the contrary. Unfortunately, Libyan activists in Human Rights matters never included the case of the Jews of Libya. I hope this is only an oversight and not a deliberate policy. As an optimist, I can see a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel with the announcements of Mr. Saef Al-Islam (Ghaddafi’s son) regarding the rights of the Jews of Libya and I am hopeful that I will, one day, be allowed to visit my homeland, Libya. In spite of these declarations, I have already applied twice for permission to visit but have been refused. I am eagerly waiting to do so again.

11. I am asking for my Libyan and Arabic identity to be recognised, and I see no conflict with the fact that I am a Jew. Just as an Arab who lives in Israel carries an Israeli passport and follows Islam or Christianity, or a Druze. My wish is to be able to visit my place of birth accompanied by my octogenarian mother, to fulfil her dream to visit Libya, just like many Libyans (Muslim, Christian and Jews) who are longing for the day of return. I also wish to accompany my daughter in whom I instilled a love of Libya through my childhood memories and my mother’s tales; I want my daughter to see with her own eyes the places where I and her ancestors were born and lived and to know more about Libya besides its location on the map.

12. I am not asking for compensations for me personally or only for Jews but I ask for justice for all my Libyan brothers, without any racial or religious discrimination, and for my murdered family.

13. As a person who is very interested in History, I do not deny that throughout many centuries the Jews lived under the umbrella of Islam. They prospered and contributed to many fields such as culture, science, commerce and economics. They were always proud of their Arabic roots and of their Judaism. I would like to add that Western Jews suffered much more under the Crusades and Nazism.

I hope there are Arab Muslims and Arab Jews who, like me, believe that we have to reach an understanding between us. In order to become closer, we must emphasise what we have in common NOT what sets us apart.

Let us look forward with optimism to a beautiful future for our beloved Libya.

Peace upon you all.

Raphael Luzon
Chairman of Jews of Libya- UK

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Spare a thought for Jews in Iran

With the election of an hardline conservative as the new Iranian president, spare a thought for the precarious plight of Iran 's 30,000 Jews, who have been living as dhimmis under sharia law since the 1979 Iranian revolution. As the article below shows, the community lives in a constant state of anxiety.

A 'golden' period for the Jews under the Shah, when Iran and Israel enjoyed excellent relations, ended in that year: 17 Jews were executed, including the head of the community. Some 50,000 Jews fled. Many had their property confiscated. As the regime became hostile to Israel, Jews were always vulnerable to arrest or worse as 'Zionist spies'. (In 2003 the last of 13 Jews arrested on trumped-up charges were released after international pressure). Today Jews are nominally allowed to leave but cannot send money out and restrictions still apply. Background articles here and here.

Exclusive: Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent joins Tehran's Jewish community for Friday night prayers

By Orly Azoulay

TEHRAN - "What do you want?" asked a suspicious and angry elderly local, as I entered the Mahariv synagogue in Tehran on Friday night.

When I explained to him that I was Jewish, and asked to join the prayer service, he was incredulous. "We haven't seen Jews from outside of Iran for 30 years," he said.

On my first day in Tehran, I asked my cab driver to take me to the local synagogue. I didn't have an exact address, only the name of the neighborhood.

Photo: Orly Azoulay
Tehran's Mahariv synagogue (Photo: Orly Azoulay)

After circling the area for a while, we arrived at a two-storey building on Street 15 in Tehran. Blue Hebrew letters decorated the front end of the building. The gate was locked, and our attempts to reach someone through the intercom went unanswered.

The driver sensed my disappointment.

"If you would like to see the Jewish cemetery, I can take you there," he said. "It will be interesting for you. The grandmother of the president of Israel is buried there."

I asked him who the president of Israel was.

"Moshe Dayan," said the cab driver. I didn't rush to correct him. It seemed to me that in the heart of Tehran, on a road that connected the synagogue to the Jewish cemetery, accompanied by an unknown driver, it was preferable not to reveal familiarity with Israeli affairs.

Red hilltops

We were soon on our way. 50 kilometers north of Tehran, on the road to the Caspian Sea, perched on red hilltops, spectacular in their beauty, is a small village by the name of Damavner. The dirt road leading to the grave stones was blocked with enormous concrete blocs.

The young driver suggested that we leave the car on the main road and climb up on foot. Children playing soccer in the neighborhood pointed us towards a winding road, littered with rocks and wild thorns. The cemetery had no fence, and lacked a gate, or guards. I walked through the graves and searched for a stone with the name Katsav. Article in full

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Shi'i Muslim friend of Israel

How could an erstwhile Shi'i Muslim fighter for the PDFLP become a fervent supporter of the Jews? Read this slightly ancient, but fascinating article from the Jerusalem Report.While his idea of bringing the Iraqi Jews back to Baghdad seems somewhat fanciful, one wishes there were more Dia Kashis about. (Note : since this article first appeared two years ago, Saddam has of course been toppled, the writer Samer Naqash has died, but Kashi is as enthusiastic about the Jews as ever.)

"Ironically, Kashi arrived at his own politics after a dramatic flirt with a radical Palestinian organization as a youth. In 1970, the 18-year old Kashi, having failed his university exams and on the suggestion of a friend, found himself on a bus headed toward Damascus to fight for the leftist Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He thought he was going to be a freedom fighter in the battle for democracy and basic human rights.

"Three months later he returned, worse than disillusioned, to Baghdad. The experience changed his view of the world. "I thought I was helping my brothers. What the Palestinian lecturer told me before sending me out to fight was that, should I run out of ammunition, I must surrender not to my fellow Arabs, but to the Israelis. The Arabs would kill me for fighting without permission, and they would rob me, whereas the Israelis, he said, would simply put me in jail. Then I could hear the fighters bartering, wheeling and dealing, discussing how much money they would get if they killed an Israeli soldier or officer, and how much if they captured him. I couldn't believe it. There was no ideology. I was risking my life for the Palestinian struggle, and I just couldn't take it." And so began his curiosity about, and affection for, Israel.

"Contemporary Iraq's relationship with its 2,700-year-old Jewish community has not been happy. In 1941, 180 Baghdad Jews were killed and about 1,000 injured in a pogrom by pro-Nazi and Palestinian elements. With the establishment of Israel in 1948, Zionism became a crime, and between 1949-51, over 100,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq, while another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran. Most ended up in Israel. After that, economic restrictions were placed on the Jews who'd chosen to stay and the gates were closed.

"By the time Kashi was born in 1952, all that was left of Iraq's ancient, once thriving Jewish community was a fractional percentage, probably fewer than 6,000.

"Kashi, however, has his own, fonder memories of how things were in Baghdad. It all began in Baghdad's Battaween district, where rich Jews and Arabs lived as neighbors. Daoud Hayim, the Chief Rabbi of Iraq, resided two doors away from the Kashi's extended family household. The rabbi's wife once called the 6-year-old Kashi to her home. Afraid of the old woman, he ran back to the safety of his devout grandmother. What the rabbi's wife wanted was for someone to turn on the lights and the stove on the Sabbath. Kashi's Shi'ite grandmother, who prayed five times a day, explained that these people were not only neighbors, but were like relatives. Read the whole thing!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Arab states' 'original sin'

This 'must-read' article by Professor Shmuel Trigano who teaches at the University of Paris was published in the French daily Le Figaro in 2001, but is as relevant as ever.

"A bizarre amnesia obscuring the fundamental truths of the Israel-Arab conflict afflicts the debate about the Palestinian 'right of return' for 3,700,000 refugees to the territory of the state of Israel.

"To frame the debate in terms of the 'right of return' is to falsify historical truth. In no way is the Arab world an innocent victim and Israel congenitally guilty. This distorted account obscures the experience and history of most of the Israeli population - the Jews from Arab countries - as if they never existed or as if their plight mattered less than that of Palestinians or of other Israelis."

Professor Trigano goes on to detail the 'original sin' of the Arabs - the ethnic cleansing of the Jews. Repression and pogroms were followed by a 1949 decision taken in concert by Arab diplomats in Beirut to expel their Jewish populations in revenge for the Palestinian exodus.

"Thus the Jews from Arab countries are critical to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Seen in this light, the creation of Israel (where they constitute a majority) in the heart of "the Arab world appears less as a humanitarian solution for Holocaust survivors than as the fruit of the struggle for liberation and self-determination of an oppressed minority of the Arab world. (My italics - Ed) Their situation is directly comparable to that of the Palestinians: there was a de facto exchange of populations between 600,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries and 540,000 Palestinians displaced after the creation of Israel. These 600,000 Jews were dispossessed and confined to transit camps (ma'abarot) - tents and low wooden huts - before they were settled more permanently in Israel. To date, they are still suffering from the economic, political and cultural effects of their uprooting.

"One can understand why Palestinian apologists should obscure this dimension of the conflict so inconvenient to their cause. Nonetheless, it will not go away. One can less easily understand how Israeli leaders, especially on the left, should have turned a blind eye to it - for ethnocentric reasons, no doubt. As for the Arab states, they are doubly responsible - for having expelled their Jewish residents, they not only failed to integrate the Palestinian refugees but transformed them into a weapon against Israel." Read article in full

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Canadians to push Jewish refugees' cause

The Canadian Jewish News of 16 June reports that Canadian Jews are joining an international effort to highlight the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

As part of a campaign that will kick off in March 2006 and involve as many as 14 international Jewish communities, Canadian Jewish Congress will reconstitute its moribund Jews from Arab lands committee and will make the pursuit of justice for north African and Middle Eastern Jews a key element for the current administration.

CEO Bernie Farber said Congress will undertake an education program that will target parliamentarians and inform the wider public about a mostly unknown international human rights issue. Congress will also push for a government statement in the House of Commons on Jewish refugees, and it is considering holding a conference in Ottawa to keep the issue alive.

“We want this on the radar screen,” he said. Read article in full

Canadian PM 'sensitive' to Jewish refugees

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is probably the first western leader to acknowledge the fate of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Questioned by the Canadian Jewish News on the issue of the claims by Jewish refugees he appeared to be 'informed and sensitive.'

"He is aware that between 750,000 and 850,000 Jews fled Arab or Muslim countries, and noted that one of his ministers, Tunisian-born Jacques Saada, is one of them. He said he has spoken to others over the years, and has heard of their loss of property and “historic connections.”

“A refugee is a refugee. I think we’ve got to be prepared [to take Jewish claims] into consideration,” he said. However, he hinted that the circumstances of today’s refugees still living in camps may have to take priority. Article here

To fill or not to fill in form:the Iraqi Jews' dilemma

A long feature in the Jerusalem Post explores the ambivalence among Jews who survived the Ba'athist regime towards the Iraqi government's property compensation offer.

"Sitting at his computer, (Samy) Hilleli shuddered as his mind flashed back to his childhood. Hilleli and his family fled Iraq in 1971, but not before a terrible tragedy befell them that would go down infamously in Jewish history. A year after Saddam and other Ba'athist revolutionary officers took over the country in 1968, Hilleli's brother, Naeem, was arrested along with seven other Jews from Basra and a Jew from Baghdad. They were accused of being members of spy and bomb cells working for Israel. Shortly thereafter, 20-year-old Naeem was taken to Baghdad, where he and the others were strung up on gallows in Liberation Square.

That black episode was enough to set the rest of the Jewish Iraqi population running. The majority – some 120,000 – had left by the early fifties. By the time the Ba'athists came to power, there were only a few thousand Jews left. They had little more than the clothes on their back as they made their escape. It took two years for Hilleli and his family to escape the country with the help of Kurds in northern Iraq to Iran and then to Turkey. There they contacted the Israeli consulate which arranged for them to be flown to Israel. He was 18.

Now, at the age of 52, he is exploring the question of compensation for all that his land-owning family left behind.

"I want to fill out the forms, but I haven't passed the psychological barrier," Hilleli told The Jerusalem Post this week. "It's like we are changing our pain into money. It's like the feeling of Holocaust survivors who are critical of getting money from [Germany]."Read article in full.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

When Iraqi society lost its humanity

"Imagine Iraq teeming with Jewish life and culture, with Jews occupying high positions in government and comprising nearly half the population of Baghdad", reported the Toronto Star recently.

"That scenario seems almost imponderable in today’s Iraq, where anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism flourish and a mere 22 Jews call the embattled country home. But it was the reality less than a century ago.

"The story of what happened to this dynamic community is the subject of a new documentary film titled The Last Jews of Baghdad: End of an Exile; Beginning of a Journey, which was screened recently at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

“It’s very interesting to delve into what happens when you take a whole group of people out of a society,” said Carole Basri, who co-directed and produced the film with Adriana Davis and Bryan Durr.“I think [that society] loses some of its humanity.”

"Human rights in the Middle East is the main issue explored in the film, which provides first-person reflections of Jews who experienced both peaceful and fruitful times in Iraq, as well as persecution and exile.

“I try to build bridges so that everybody can understand all the pain that’s occurred in the Middle East,” said Basri, a New York lawyer and scion of a well-known Iraqi Jewish family.

“I’ve shown this film to Arabs and Muslims who said, ‘We didn’t know this happened.’ When there is a feeling of common pain, then answers can be found.” Read article in full.

Further screenings of the Last Jews of Baghdad will take place in New York on 30 June and in Chicago on 21 August. For details please visit the film website.

Hero of Yemenite Jewish airlift dies

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times report on the death at 94 of a non-Jew who helped fly thousands of Yemenite Jewish refugees to Israel.

Robert Maguire, Jr, chief pilot of Operation Magic Carpet, died on June 10 of natural causes at his California home, according to the Los Angeles Times. An American of Irish and British origin who was raised Episcopalian, Maguire was working for Alaska Airlines in 1948 when it was contracted by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to fly Yemenite Jews to Israel. Maguire helped bring more than 40,000 refugees on nearly 400 flights to Israel, prompting Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to dub him the 'Irish Moses'.

The operation was kept secret for fear of sabotage by Arab forces. the 'planes were shot at, but none crashed and no one was killed. After Alaska Airlines withdrew from the operation, Maguire kept the project alive by buying or leasing 'planes and creating the Near East Air Transport Company. Maguire, whose father was a judge at the Nuremberg trials, was awarded a medal of valour last year by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Read the New York Times piece here.

Friday, June 17, 2005

'Redress must apply to all' - JJAC

The New York Jewish newspaper The Forward is among the first to have picked up the story of official compensation for the 5,000 or so Jews who were living in Iraq post-1968.

"Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, a coalition of major Jewish organizations, praised the newly created Iraq Property Claims Commission for accepting claims from "all persons, or their heirs, who have been wrongfully deprived of real property." They said it marked a watershed in their uphill struggle to gain recognition for the cause of an estimated 850,000 Jews who were forced to leave their Arab birthplace after the creation of Israel.

"It appears that the stage has been set for a new system of justice and the rule of law," S. Daniel Abraham said in a statement. Abraham, the founding chairman of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, also stated, "We hope that this signals the beginning of a process to rectify historical injustices and discriminatory measures perpetrated by previous Iraqi regimes."(...)

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, which brings together a total of 27 Jewish organizations, said: "Redress for the mass violations of human rights must apply equally to all Iraqis, irrespective of when these offenses took place; irrespective of which Iraqi regime was in power; and for those displaced from Iraq, wherever they may now reside."

(NB Since this interview took place with Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, the Iraqi authorities have tried to make the process easier for those living outside Iraq. As long as a claim is postmarked before 30 June it will be accepted -Ed)

Property claimants: go to Iraqi embassy or post form to Geneva office

You are thinking of filing a claim for property lost under the Ba'ath regime (from 17 July 1968 onwards), but are unsure how to go about it: you are living outside Iraq and the deadline of 30 June appears impossibly tight. Despair not - some new information produced by the IPCC (Iraq Property Claims Commission) seems to address foreign claimants' concerns. Most of it is available on a new website which is still being updated. (With thanks:Iraqijews)

"If you live outside Iraq and want to file a claim with the IPCC for property in Iraq or to file a response to a claim filed by someone else, please follow the following instructions:

1. All claims and responses must be filed on the official IPCC Claim Form and Response Form.

2. For additional assistance in completing the forms, claimants and respondents living outside Iraq may contact the IPCC at Tel. +96/ 41 816 11 39.

3. All Claim Forms must be filed on or before 30 June 2005. A Claim Form that is mailed by a claimant living outside Iraq and postmarked on or before 30 June 2005 will be considered to have been filed on time.


4. Claim and Response Forms filed by someone living outside Iraq may be filed in Arabic, Kurdish or English only.

5. Response Forms must be filed within 45 days after notice of the claim is served or posted by the IPCC. See Article 35 of the IPCC Instructions for Operation.

6. Claim and Response Forms filed by someone living outside Iraq may be filed one of the following ways:

* You may file the Claim or Response Form in person at any of the IPCC offices listed in this website in the “Contact Us” section.
* You may hire or arrange for someone to file a Claim or Response Form in person for you. If so, that person must present evidence that he/she has the right to represent you.
* You may contact any Iraqi Embassy or Consulate abroad.
* You may mail the Claim or Response Form to the following address:

PO BOX 472
CH 1211 GENEVE 19

7. If you do not have some of the information or documents requested in the Claim or Response Form, the IPCC will temporarily accept the form without them. In that case the IPCC will contact you later for further information and documentation. However, it is in your interest to provide as much of the information and as many of the documents as possible when you file your form.

8. Persons who believe they have a valid claim and who do not file with the IPCC by 30 June 2005 may still be able to pursue their claims in the Iraqi courts, but this process may be expensive and lengthy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bat Ye'or driven by hardships of exile

On a tour to promote her new book Eurabia, the Egyptian-born historian and researcher Bat Ye'or gave an interview at the US Rutherford Institute recently.

“I wrote these books,” said Bat Ye’or, “because I had witnessed the destruction, in a few short years, of a vibrant Jewish community living in Egypt for over 2,600 years and which had existed from the time of Jeremiah the Prophet. I saw the disintegration and flight of families, dispossessed and humiliated, the destruction of their synagogues, the bombing of the Jewish quarters and the terrorizing of a peaceful population. I have personally experienced the hardships of exile, the misery of statelessness− and I wanted to get to the root cause of all this. I wanted to understand why the Jews from Arab countries, nearly a million, had shared my experience.”

"Bat Ye’or’s wide historical research details the inferior condition accorded to Jews and Christian “dhimmis” (non-Muslim subjugated people) in Muslim lands, where they have survived through hardships and persecution ever since the rise of Islam in the 7th century. She pioneered the study of “dhimmitude” and the history and conditions of life of non-Muslims in their own lands, conquered by jihad and Islamized. According to Ye’or, “The conditions of Jews varied, but in general it was one of insecurity, humiliation and degradation for over 1,300 years, particularly in their own country, the Land of Israel.”

In 1997, Ye’or testified at a U.S. Congressional Hearing and the Human Rights Caucus on the subject “Past is Prologue: The Challenge of Islamism Today−An Historical Overview of the Persecution of Christians Under Islam.” “I discovered in my research that the Christian condition under Islam is similar and remarkably parallel to that of the Jews,” said Ye’or. “A historical tragedy has been going on for both religious groups. I realized that the fight for freedom from jihad and dhimmitude concerns us all, especially now in the 21st century. My research demonstrates that this is a very old problem, and it must be confronted now.” Read interview in full

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Nice try Karim, but...

The news that Jewish groups are launching an international campaign to promote the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries has prompted media-watcher Karim Kettani, who runs the French website 'Minorites', to launch his own critique of what he sees as a lame Israeli government attempt to refute the Palestinian 'right of return': "Nice try, better luck next time!", he concludes, triumphantly.

He gives three main reasons why the campaign is a non-starter. I'll try to present a convincing counter-argument to each one: (Please feel free to add your comments.)

Since the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty was signed in 1979 the Arab-Israeli conflict has become an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's demands must be dealt with bilaterally with individual Arab states as the Palestinians cannot be held legally responsible for the actions of other sovereign states.

Nice try, Karim, but let's not forget that the Palestinian refugee problem was itself a result of a multilateral war. Five Arab armies attacked the newly-declared state of Israel in 1948. The Arab states are arguably responsible for the plight of the Palestinians. Arguably too, the long-term solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is multilateral. It lies with those Arab countries hosting large numbers of Palestinian refugees (Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan). It is they who will ultimately have to resettle them.

Israeli agents planted bombs which caused 100,000 Iraqi Jews to flee. Similarly the Lavon affair in Egypt against Jewish targets severely weakens the Israeli case.

Nice try, Karim, but this popular canard won't fly. The 'bombs-planted-by-Israeli- agents' explanation does not excuse the Nuremburg-type legislation introduced against their Jewish citizens in almost every Arab country. It does not explain away the vicious rioting and mob violence which claimed hundreds of Jewish lives throughout the 1940s.

The March 1950 denationalisation law stripping departing Jews of their Iraqi nationality was brought in to formalise the fact that 30 - 40 Jews were already streaming out of the country daily.

There were bomb attacks in Baghdad between 1950 and 51. To this day nobody knows who was responsible - Israeli agents wishing to speed up Jewish emigration, or members of the far-right Istiqal party. The first, on 18 April 1950, injured four Jews. On 19 January 1951 a hand grenade was thrown into a group of Jews in the courtyard of one of the main registration centres, the Masouda Shemtob synagogue, killing five. The denationalisation law was due to expire on 9 March. Although 30,000 signed up to leave in the intervening two months, 85,893 Jews, or two-thirds of the community, had already renounced their Iraqi nationality, had left or were waiting to leave. Other bombs went off in April and June 1951 after the law allowing Jews to leave had expired and the Iraqi government had decreed Jewish property frozen.

The 1954 Lavon affair bombings in Egypt were NOT aimed at Jewish targets, but US government offices in Cairo and Alexandria. Nobody was killed. Again this canard does not explain why 25,000 Egyptian Jews fled following the violent riots of 1948. Nor did it cause the major Jewish exodus from Egypt which took place following the 1956 Suez war, fully two years after the Lavon affair.

Jews left Morocco against the will of their government: Mohammed V had always refused to let the Jews depart 'en masse' for Palestine. Hassan II relented after massive pressure from within and without. Same goes for Tunisia. True, the Algerian Jews fled a violent war of independence, but as they were all French nationals according to the Decret Cremieux of 1871 this issue should be settled between France and Algeria, not Israel.

Nice try, Karim, but to argue that King Mohammed did not expel the Jews - indeed did everything in his power to keep them, does not mean that the Jews did not have good cause to want to leave. Scores were killed in riots following the establishment of Israel. Most Jews were not convinced by assurances that they would be equal citizens in the new independent, democratic states. As well as sporadic violence there were restrictions and economic boycotts, although it is true that of all Arab states Morocco has been most fair-minded towards its Jews.

Karim, you have a point regarding the Algerian Jews. [But it is also true that in the democratic, secular state’ of Algeria the National Code granted Algerian nationality only to those whose fathers and paternal grandfathers were Muslims (Section 34, Law no 63 -69 of Mar 27, 1963)] .

Nice try, Karim. Better luck next time.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The 'Lourdes' of Jewish Egypt revisited

A charming personal account by Jewish journalist Lucette Lagnado of her first visit to her native Egypt in 40 years (with thanks:Lily).

CAIRO--Maimonides, the great rabbi, philosopher and healer, died 800 years ago in Egypt, but for many of those years he kept on working. Over the centuries his presence was said to be felt in the little synagogue deep in the heart of Cairo's old Jewish Quarter where, legend had it, he taught his disciples in a basement room. For the Jews of the Levant, Maimonides the doctor was as important as Maimonides the theologian and codifier of Jewish law. So it was to his small shul, known as Rav Moshe, that Jews from across Egypt journeyed in hopes that the man who believed in both God and science could cure them.

As it happens, I once went to this Jewish Lourdes as a little girl. When I was six, there was a small sleeping area in Rav Moshe, with worn-out mattresses. Anyone who came to be healed was handed a threadbare blanket and a pillow, and perhaps some holy rubbing oil, and urged to go to sleep and wait for the Rambam, as Maimonides was called. As a child, I was terrified of the place: It was so dark and spooky. But legend had it that once you were asleep, Maimonides would visit you in a dream and heal you. I was suffering at the time from a puzzling swelling in my left leg that mystified all the specialists my parents consulted.

I have no idea if Maimonides made one of his "house calls" for me. But I do know that my symptoms abated. My crisp, rational American upbringing in the decades since hasn't entirely cured me of my faith in the unseen hand of Maimonides and his presence in the little temple in the ghetto. Thus I wanted to pay my respects last month, when I visited Cairo some 40 years after my family had left in the diaspora that followed the flight of the Jews from Nasser's Egypt, a community once 80,000-strong. Read article in full.

68,000 Iraqi property claims already received

The Iraqi Property Claims Commission announced at a press conference on Thursday 9 June that 68,000 claims had already been received; 5,422 claims have already been dealt with.

For text of document see article posted below.

Many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis may file a claim if their property was confiscated (MUSADARA), controlled (HAJZ), seized (ISTIYLA'A) or appropriated (ISTIMLAK). The compensation offer concerns about 5,000 Jews who were still living in Iraq after the Ba'ath regime took power in 1968. Please note that the vast majority of Iraqi Jews, who left the country between 1950 - 51, are not eligible to claim under this scheme.

There is not much time left, as claims must be received by 30th June 2005. You will need to send your claim in by post to Iraq.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Iraq's Kurds support Israel ties

Baghdad, Iraq, Jun. 7 (UPI) -- The president of Iraq's Kurdistan province, Massoud Barzani, says he has no objection to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

"Establishing relations between the Kurds and Israel is not a crime since many Arab countries have ties with the Jewish state," Barzani said in an interview with the Saudi daily al-Hayat.

He said when the time comes and an Israeli Embassy is opened in Baghdad he will ask that an Israeli consulate be also established in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan.Read article in full

'Our stories must be told'

A new campaign across 14 countries to record the history and expulsion of 870,000 Jews from Arab countries was discussed in Paris this week. JTA NEWS interviewed Stan Urman, director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, who said that Israeli officials have collected the case histories of some 3,000 families.

“We would like to have 100,000 cases,” he said, “but honestly that figure may be too high. People should be telling their stories, but there is a process involved here to record everything.”

Jewish organizations have been willing to get involved in the campaign. Justice for Jews will finance projects on the international level, while groups in participating countries would pay to compile the case histories.

“This is a historical mobilization of the international Jewish community,” Urman said. “The same thing happened for Soviet Jews. Now these stories from Jews from Arab countries must be told.” Read article in full

International campaign for Jews from Arab countries planned

According to Haaretz of 8 June ( with thanks: Robin, Lily), Jewish activists and representatives of Jewish organizations from nine countries convening in Paris announced Wednesday their intention to open an International Advocacy Campaign on the rights of former Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

The proposed campaign will target governments, the media, Jewish organizations, synagogues and Jewish day schools in up to 14 different countries.

It will record and publicize what the organizers referred to as "the mass violations of human rights suffered by Jews under Arab and document the loss of extensive communal and individual assets."

(There will be a mini-campaign to raise awareness of the issue in London in November 2005: films, lectures and exhibitions are planned under the auspices of a new Association of Jews from Arab Countries, HARIF - Ed)

Read article in full.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Minorities in the shadow of Islam

Lyn Julius has written the following review in Sameah (June 2005) of a remarkable joint effort by an Egyptian, a Sephardi Jew and two Berbers.

A l’ombre de l’Islam: Minorites et Minorises by M Demnati, L.S.A Ouhlahbib, M Feki and M. Rahmani (Editions Filipson, Brussels, 2005) 32 Euros.

It is not often that the repressed minorities under Islam make their voices heard, still less make common cause, but this book is a joint effort between a Moroccan Berber, a Christian Berber, an Egyptian and a Sephardi Jew. The Sephardi Jew is none other than the indefatigable Moise Rahmani, founder of the Institut Sepharade Europeen and author of l’Exode oublie - the story of the expulsion of the Jews from Arab countries.

If Rahmani’s section of the book has a familiarity to it, that is because it is. His country-by-country history of the Jews in the Muslim world was published under the title Sous le joug du croissant ( and a review appeared in Sameah in September 2004) so I will not dwell on it here, except to say it is highly useful and informative, drawing on Rahmani’s personal experience of exile from Egypt.

All the minorities under Islam have one thing in common – they were the indigenous peoples of the Middle East and North Africa before the 7th century Arab invasion. The Berbers once contributed to Roman and then Christian civilisation. Among their women warriors was the famous Queen, the Kahena, who converted to Judaism. Although some tribes did convert to Judaism the Berbers as a whole embraced Islam – so successfully, in fact, that Christianity died out.

In a short essay addressed to her mother, Moroccan Meryam Demnati tells how she has tried to throw off the yoke of Islamic submission in order to retrieve her feisty Berber female persona.

Lucien Ouhlahbib gives a scholarly account of Berber history. The Berbers became Christian and produced St Augustine; with the advent of Islam they became the most zealous of Muslims. But Islamic Spain was in fact a Berber empire, and any advances in science, art and architecture were made by North African Berbers. Oulahbib even argues that the Berbers should apologise for the persecution of Maimonides and the Jews by the Almohads and Almoravids, just as they should be given credit for achievements usually attributed to the Arabs. What rankles most is that the Berbers have stifled their true personality and taken on the identity of others. They cannot be Muslim without also being Arab. Though two million Berbers speak their own tongue, they have to use Arabic in public and go along with the fiction of a pan-Arab identity.

Perhaps the most interesting contributor is the Egyptian-born  Masri Feki. 

He considers the marginalisation and persecution of minorities, namely the Christian Copts – once up to 25 percent, now barely 15 percent of the population – a litmus test of the health of the Egyptian state, arguably the only true nation state in the Arab world. Much of Feki’s writing deals with the Copts, not only because he is passionate about minority rights, the key to a democratic Egypt, but because Egypt’s national roots are to be found in Coptic history, culture and language.

It is easy to forget that as a country of 76 million Egypt accounts for a quarter of the Arab world’s population. But, the rot set in when a local purveyor of Nazism took power in 1952 – Gamal Abdel Nasser. If Nasser was bad, Feki believes Sadat was no better and Mubarak, who has jailed a record 55,000 political prisoners, is worse.

Increasingly the Egyptian regime derives legitimacy from Islamic fundamentalists, a useful channel for political expression as long as they remain unarmed. Thus the clergy produced by Cairo’s famous Al-Azhar university have been allowed to islamise Egypt, introduce the veil, control education and enforce sharia law. Whenever Islamists are perceived as a threat, however, the regime invokes the permanent state of emergency to arrest and execute them. Egypt’s regime also uses incitement against Israel, which Feki calls a ‘village to the North’, to distract the masses.

Without secularism there can be no democracy. The immediate challenge is for Egypt to safeguard minority rights through secularisation, according to the maxim: “ Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Feki’s conclusions could readily apply to the entire Arab world, where minorities have been scapegoated by ruthless and illegitimate rulers. But as the authors of this remarkable volume show, the malaise goes much deeper – by marginalising and losing its indigenous minorities, the Arab world has lost part of itself.

Jewish writers of 19th and 20th century Iraq

Writing in the Jerusalem Post Yona Sabar reviews a new book by Lev Hakak and published by the Babylonian Heritage Centre about the Jewish writers of Iraq.

The Jews of Iraq wrote in Hebrew, Arabic and Judeo Arabic. The Arabic literature they published targeted the general public. Writing in Arabic reflected their desire to participate in Iraqi nationalism and express universal themes at once. Most of these authors, such as Anwar Shaul, Shalom Darwish and Samir Naqash, continued writing in Arabic after they arrived in Israel. Others, such as Shmuel Moreh and Sasson Somekh (both winners of the Israel Prize) turned to academic life and research. Some, such as Shimon Balas and Sami Michael, shifted to writing in Hebrew.(...)

Shelomo Yishaq Nissim's poem is a dialogue with those Jews who hoped to assimilate into Iraqi society; he is calling on them to remain faithful to the deep roots of Judaism, to the Hebrew language and the Land of Israel while incorporating modernity and universalism.

Another author Hakak writes about is Shelomo Bekhor Hutsin (1843-1892). Hakak describes him as a man of intellectual energy who, among his other Hebrew activities, published more than 150 articles and missives in the periodicals of his time, and who reported about various events in the Jewish life of Iraq, Kurdistan and Persia.

In his written work, Hutsin emphasized tradition, faith, and knowledge of Judaism. He was also an advocate of studying foreign languages, honoring women, learning a craft and acquiring scientific knowledge. He did not find any contradiction between faith and secular knowledge and values. Read article in full.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Remembering lost Baghdad

Jacob Landau writes a review of Nissim Rejwan's latest work, The last Jews of Baghdad: Remembering a lost homeland, for the Jerusalem Post.

"In recent years, several memoirs by Jews from Iraq have been published in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Most of the authors were in their seventies when they started writing, and one may surmise that they wished to record their stories for family and others while their memories were still fresh.

One the most poignant of these accounts is that of Nissim Rejwan, covering his life and work in Iraq until 1951 when, together with many others, he immigrated to Israel. Read article in full

Friday, June 03, 2005

Iraqi property claims must be filed by end June

The Iraqi goverment is willing to compensate those who lost property, but only since 1968 under the Ba'ath regime.(This would exclude all except about 5,000 Jews). The catch is that the claims must be filed in Iraq and before 30 June 2005. Here is the official document:

In the Name of God
The Republic of Iraq Ministerial Council

Dear Sister/Brother, Fellow Citizens,

Following the promulgation of the IPCC law, which governs the consideration and resolution of real property claims, the IPCC shall receive such claims in accordance to the legal provisions published in the Iraqi Official Gazette no. (39850) of July 2004.

Dear Sister/Brother, Fellow Citizens,

The IPCC process is open to all persons, or their heirs, who have been wrongfully deprived of real property (for example, land, house or an orchard) or an interest in real property (for example, the right to farm the land) because of actions taken by the former governments from July 17, 1968 to April 9, 2003. This process also covers many actions carried out by some officials of the previous governments. -

Claims may also be made by people who lost or will lose real property or an interest in real property between March 18, 2003 and June 30, 2005 as a result of their ethnicity, religion, or sect; or for purposes of ethnic cleansing, or due to the return of individuals who had been previously dispossessed of their property as a result of the former government?s policy of property confiscation. - If you think that you have a claim under the circumstances described above, contact or visit the IPCC Bureau in the Governorate where you live for further information or to file a claim.

Justice is the Essence of Rule of Law Dear Sister/Brother, Fellow Citizens, - The Iraqi Property Claims Commission (IPCC) has fixed June 30, 2005 as the deadline for claims to be filed. Please contact your local IPCC office or the IPCC Headquarters in Baghdad to learn whether the deadline has been extended. - The recourse to the IPCC for filing a claim and its resolution does not require any payment from you. This service is given free of charge by the Iraqi Government under the motto: 'Justice is the essence of rule of law'. - If the property you are currently living in is being claimed by someone
else, the IPCC law clarifies your rights and requires you to file a response to the claim in order to protect those rights. If possible, the IPCC will contact persons who may have an interest in a real property that is the subject of a claim and give them assistance in responding to the claim. - The IPCC will resolve all claims fairly, taking into account the IPCC Law and all parties? arguments and evidence.
For further information, please contact IPPC Media Head Office:
Mohammed Jamil Abid,
Information Department Manager
Iraq Property Claims Commission.
0096418161139 1
The IPCC announces the reception of claims in accordance to the provisions of the law published in the Iraqi Official Gazette in July 2004 through its following bureaus in Iraq. You may also receive further information, assistance in filing a claim or a response at the IPCC bureaus. 1 Baghdad Governorate:
a. IPPC Headquarters: Baghdad-Al Rusafa- Area No. (109), Building No. (58), Al Jumhoriya Str. Al Khulani Circle (Office of Real Property Registration)

The Nazi roots of Muslim antisemitism

The silence over Islamist antisemitism persists alongside an accompanying silence over its roots in National Socialism, argues the German political scientist Matthias Kuntzel in this long but fascinating article published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Nazi-style antisemitism was transferred to the Muslim world in two ways: through the broadcasts between 1937 and 1945 of the German shortwave transmitter in Zeesen, and the role of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem. As well as giving money and ideological support to the Palestinians, the Nazis backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Perhaps Kuntzel sees too much of the history through a distorting prism which exaggerates the early influence of Islamism. No doubt it was shaped as an antisemitic and antimodern mass movement between 1936 and 1939. But to assert that 'until 1936 the moderate Arab forces, which welcomed or at least tolerated Zionism, had in no way been marginalized' is a controversial statement, given that the Jews were already being victimised by secular Arab nationalism. Read article in full.

'Nostalgeria' trip

A list of names in one hand and a prayer book in the other, 130 Jews on a return visit to their home town of Tlemcen in western Algeria at the end of May sift through dust and brambles to locate the tombstones of their ancestors. They rub the dust off to reveal the names of their relatives whom they had not honoured since their departure in 1962.

" We can go back now in peace. We found them," says Maurice Choukroun, a sixtysomething from Paris.

" I found my mother's and grandparents' graves," says Paul Levy, 69, with satisfaction.

The Tlemcen Jewish cemetery has never been vandalised but has fallen into disrepair, in contrast with the cemetery at neighbouring Ain Temouchen which is totally derelict and damaged by earthquakes.

As soon as a visitor finds a grave, ten men assemble, heads covered, to recite the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, intermingled with the muezzin's call to prayer.

Others are still looking. One man in tears, dressed entirely in white, calls his sister who remained in Paris so that she could tell him where their grandmother is buried. He finally finds the 'one he loved so dearly' behind some wild bushes.

Michele Choukroun, a 45-year old Frenchwoman who has been living in New York for the last 20 years, made the journey with her brother to 'reconnect with her roots'.

From Algiers the French ambassador joined the visitors, but the Algerian foreign minister, Mohamed Bedjaoui, had to cancel at the last moment.

The visitors were the first since 1956 to make the Hillula (pilgrimage) to the tomb of the 16th century rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua.

"People would come from all over - from Morocco, from Tunisia. We had parties in the town centre," Mr Choukroun remembers." We also came on the eve of exams because it would bring luck," remembers George Medioni, who came from Israel with his wife.

The faithful prostrate themselves on the tomb and sweets are distributed. Article here (in French)

Report condemns Egyptian antisemitism

June 3, 2005

WASHINGTON — A new report published Wednesday by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom slams the government of Egypt for allowing the deterioration of rights of religious minorities, including Jews. (...)

The report states that violations of religious minorities' freedoms are endemic and systemic in Egypt, citing the result of the role that the state security services play in monitoring and regulating religious affairs and the result of an article in the Egyptian penal code, which prohibits "insulting" religion. Read article in full.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Two Jewish converts and a lady

Much of the May 2005 issue of Egypt today is devoted to the Jews of Cairo. This profile of Albert Arie and Youssef Darwish, two Jews who converted to Islam, gives an interesting account of the Jewish contribution to Egyptian society. Understandably, the Egyptian government's role in causing the exodus of the Jewish community is somewhat played down. Read article in full.

Following last month's piece in Haaretz about Egypt's Jewish heritage, Egypt today has a profile of the lady who heads the Egyptian Jewish community, Carmen Weinstein, focusing on her frustrating struggle to have Jewish monuments restored.

Windows at the Adly synagogue, Cairo (

The last Jewess of Cairo

Azza Khattab writes a feature in the May issue of Egypt today about the last Jewish resident of the Cairo Hara. The Jewish Quarter, tellingly, has been renamed the Muslim Quarter since the departure of the Jews.

Searching for Mary in Haret El-Yahud (Jewish Alley), near the Khan El-Khalili’s Al-Moski district, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. All we wanted was to put a face to Mary, a woman often heard of, but rarely seen.

Mary is said to be the last Jewish resident of the Hara, one of Cairo’s most famous neighborhoods and once a center of the capital’s thriving Jewish community, which numbered as many as 70,000 early in the last century, accounting for the majority of what most scholars agree were 100,000 Egyptian Jews in 1948, the year Israel was founded. Read article in full

Is Libya backtracking on the Jews?

Overtures to Israel by Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, do not reflect official Libyan policy, according to Libya's deputy foreign minister.
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi has been making most of the running on the issue of Libya offering compensation to its exiled Jews, but a Jerusalem Post article suggests that Seif is now being sidelined. Read full article here.