Sunday, July 31, 2005

A long way from Aden

The Jerusalem Post of 29 July reported that 40 Jewish women, all in their seventies, recently took part in a school reunion in Tel Aviv. The school was the Convent school in Aden, where most of the girls were Jewish. The article, by Rimonah Traub, gives a rare and useful insight into this little-known community. Here are a few (edited) extracts:

The school the women had attended was the Convent School in Aden, then a British Crown colony on the South West tip of the Arabian peninsula.The Convent school, where most of the girls were Jewish, provided one of the only opportunities for Jewish female education. The Jewish girls belonged to a tight-knit community of 8,000. The community had existed for 3,000 years. Life for the girls revolved around the five streets of the Jewish quarter. The homes stood back to back without courtyards or gardens separating them. Much of the quarter's social life took place on the rooftops of the buildings.

The British took advantage of the the higher literacy rate among the Jews and placed them in positions of middle management, thus establishing a middle class that supported the Jewish shopkeepers and merchants. Members of the community supported one another and offered refuge and aid to the Jews arriving from Yemen en route to Israel.

In 1947, the life of the Jews of Aden was shattered. Three days after the UN vote on the partition of Palestine, the Arabs ran riot among their Jewish neighbours, murdering 82 Jews and wounding many more. Four synagogues and both the Jewish schools were burnt down. More than 100 businesses were looted.

Rachel Surkis managed to escape with her family during that night of horror. Scrambling over the roof of their home they found refuge with their Persian neighbour for three days, until the British army finally intervened. Nothing was left of the Surkis home. It had been razed to the ground.

Following the 1947 pogrom, the Jews began to leave Aden, making their way to Israel and England. Departure was difficult, as the Jews were unable to dispose of their property. The local Arabs contended that the property had been appropriated through the exploitation of the Muslim population and agitated against the purchase of Jewish property by the Muslims.

After the Six Day War in Israel, the Jews of Aden came under attack once more. This last attack, coupled with the withdrawal of the British from the protectorate, prompted the last of the Jews to leave Aden. With their departure, a long and rich chapter in Jewish history was completely closed.

Read article in full.

Literature award for Sami Michael

Listing the winners of Israel's prestigious President's Prize for Literature, the Jerusalem Post of 20 July reported that the Israel President's 'lifetime achievement award' has gone to Sami Michael, who has been the recipient of numerous literary awards both in Israel and abroad and who has been nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize(With thanks:Lily). Many adaptations of the 79-year-old Baghdad-born author have been produced on stage and screen. His writing, declared the adjudicators, reflects the East where he was weaned and the West where he flourished. It was also noted that Michael, who had initially written in Arabic before moving into the realm of Hebrew, had "infused Hebrew literature with a new spirit."

In response, Michael proclaimed literature to be "the spiritual territory of the nation." Writers keep trying to create out of collective memory, he explained, "and we keep going, because writers don't go out on pension."

The son of Israel's Iranian-born President Moshe Katzav, Noam, is himself a gifted writer but his relationship to his father seems to have disqualified him from the competition.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Iraqis split on rights of Jewish minority

One month before the deadline for the creation of the new Iraqi constitution, a debate on whether to include Jews as an official minority has broken out in the National Assembly, members of the assembly have told The Jerusalem Post of 18 July.

"There have been suggestions that when it comes to minority rights, we specify who are the minorities," Saad Jawad Qindeel, a Shi'ite member said in a phone call from Baghdad. "They [the Iraqi Jews] should not be included as a minority because their number is too small."

(...) In fact it is their small number that warrants Jews minority status, (says human rights lecturer Joshua) Castellino, who is working on his second book about minorities.

"In general, the Iraqi Jews' low number is more of a reason to extend them minority status as basic recognition of their existence in Iraq and as a means of further protection," he said.
Yet while only a few bachelors and old people remain in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Jews of Iraqi descent live abroad. Many of them even voted in Iraq's National Assembly elections in January, although they have not seen their native country for decades.

According to the present interim constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law, the expatriates are eligible for citizenship, meaning that their potential influence in the country is not negligible.

However, no Iraqi Jew has a seat on the special commission appointed to write Iraq's constitution by August 15. The document is meant to represent all the different ethnic and religious groups. Jews are the only minority group that does not have a seat on the commission.

Even the right of the descendants of Iraqi expatriates to gain citizenship is in question. According to Qindeel, the law may be changed to prevent descendants of Iraqis living abroad from obtaining a passport. At present, anyone whose father is Iraqi is eligible.

To many Iraqi Jews living abroad it would be a crime not to be mentioned in Iraq's constitution.
"In my opinion it's discrimination," said Hod Hasharon resident Albert Eini, 77, who left Baghdad 55 years ago.

"We were born in Iraq, our roots are in Iraq, we have more than 2,500 years of history in Iraq. It's not possible that they don't include us. We are part of the Iraqi people," he said.
"I wish that one day we can go back to Iraq as Iraqis, and not as foreigners, to live or visit as we like." Read article in full.

Feedback about Jews of Egypt coverage

The July 2005 issue of Egypt today printed three letters, all from Arab readers, praising Azza Khattab's articles in the May issue about the Jewish community. (You can read them here, here and here).

Fathy Abdel-Sattar of Switzerland writes: "It has been, and still is, my interest to read about our Jewish history for a host of reasons, but mainly to better understand the problem."

Sherif Agglan comments: You brought their hardships to light and the idea that we must preserve their heritage as part of our collective heritage was exactly “on the money.”

But Amira el-Ibiary feels that the magazine should have done more to highlight the community's hardships: "Egypt Today chose to write about a people that are often neglected and if not forgotten about. I have a question: Why didn’t you include more of the hardships that the community has faced?"

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cairo synagogue will re-open, thanks to Israeli help

According to JTA News, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo has agreed to help maintain a synagogue in the Egyptian capital.

The 70-year-old Meir Einayim synagogue is scheduled to reopen Friday, after an agreement between Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen, and the head of Egypt’s Jewish community. The synagogue, which opened in 1934 in what was once a heavily Jewish neighborhood, had been closed due to a lack of attendance as Egypt’s Jewish community dwindled.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

London bomb victim of Iraqi-Jewish origin

Miriam Hyman, 31, who died on the Number 30 bus in the London bombings of 7th July, was a daughter of Mavis Hyman, who was born in Calcutta of Iraqi-Jewish grandparents.

Mavis Hyman is the author of the Indian-Jewish Cookbook and books on the Iraqi Jews of India and the Jews who migrated from Baghdad to Shanghai in the 19th century.

Our heartfelt condolences go to the whole family.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

My right of return, by a Tunisian Jew

Jean-Pierre Chemla explodes the taboo about the true nature of relations between Arabs and Jews in North Africa.
It is about time we refuted the delusion that many of us have wished to nurture these last hundred years - the myth of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the Maghreb countries.

I was born in 1952 in a business district of central Tunis.

My earliest memories are of lights, smells and sounds : carts, horses' hooves on the asphalt, the cries of peddlars of all sorts.

There were ten of us - eight children and our parents - living in a three-room apartment in a business district of central Tunis. Noise was everywhere - not hushed and discreet conversations, but clatter in the kitchen, whistling cooking pots, breaking glass, heated discussions about news, politics and sport. Every square metre buzzed with life, impulsiveness, humour and love. As the youngest of this fabulous brood, I benefited from the enrichment which each of my siblings brought with him.

Our status was privileged compared to that of our immediate antecedents. To live in a sunny apartment overlooking a wide avenue on one side and a large garden on the other - built, unfortunately, over a desecrated Jewish cemetery* - would never have been possible for my grandfather on my father's side who was made to live in the Hara Hafsia, the Jewish ghetto, whose gates were shut at night to prevent Jews from wandering among the Arab population.

My father, who was a teacher at the Alliance Israelite Universelle, was probably the first white collar worker in his family. Such social promotion allowed his offspring access to higher education and jobs that were a far cry from the only trades open to Jews at the end of the 19th century - butcher, cobbler, grocer, etc.

Of course this improvement in our living conditions had not happened by accident nor because Arab leaders had willed it. Everything suddenly changed in 1881.

At that time, shut away in their Hara in rather wretched conditions, the Jews lived in hovels without light or ventilation. There was no sanitation, they were prey to epidemics, received only a rabbinic education and were 'dhimmis' subject to a special tax and to all sorts of humiliations and taunts (Read 'Dhimmitude' by Bat Ye'or).

The Jewish presence in these countries, which predated that of the Arabs, was a historical reality that many would not have known about at the time. In any case, if some did, it would have been carefully hidden in order to maintain intercommunal relations to the Arabs' advantage. The Jews were just 2 percent of the population of Tunisia (100,000 of 5 million).

France had already been in Algeria for 50 years and took advantage of a few incidents at the Algerian-Tunisian frontier in order to intervene and make Tunisia a protectorate. The Bey at the time was forced to sign the Treaty of Bardo to formalise its status.

France was anxious for all its subjects on Tunisian soil to have equal rights and created a new situation which allowed the Jews to emerge, like zombies out of the grave, from their age-old prison.

Very quickly a large number of them tried to draw closer to their saviours, abandoning Judeo-Arabic for French, adopting western dress, changing their first names and even their surnames in order to Frenchify them.

They threw themselves with gusto into a period of economic growth stimulated by the French, under the irritated gaze of their Arab co-citizens, who saw their power being usurped, something they were not used to.

As with any revolutionary change, there were excesses: denial and obliteration of any reference to the hardships of the past. Some flatly refused to express themselves in their mother tongue. Others abandoned religious customs which themselves symbolised centuries of humiliation. These surreal characters became the butt of Tunisian Jewish jokes.

Generally speaking, rather than lose its identity, the Tunisian Jewish community rediscovered and cultivated it during the enchanted interlude between 1881 - 1956, 1956 being the year when the first president, Habib Bourghiba, despite being a friend of the Jews, was not able to prevent them being excluded from Tunisian society.

It would be hard to list them all - top class artists, philosophers, scientists who benefited from the emancipation of this tiny community - but it is a fair bet that their success rate broke world records.

It was therefore during the euphoria of this dream period that the false notion of peaceful coexistence between the Jewish and Arab communities insinuated itself. The Jews were so happy to have gone up in the world that they put all vindictive sentiments behind them.

The Arabs were losing the race by a mile. They abdicated their position and even became underlings. The Jews even started to employ Arab maids - unthinkable 50 years previously.

The rise of Arab nationalism and the creation of the state of Israel, the epitomy of the dhimmi affront to their old masters, created the conditions for the departure of the Jews of Tunisia. I remember those muttered, almost whispered conversations about politics towards the end of the '50s as our departure drew near, while our father urged us to be careful -' Walls have ears,' he warned us.

1967 and the Six Day War sounded the death knell for the Jewish presence in Tunisia. Riots broke out in Tunis, Jewish residents were murdered and the Great Synagogue was set on fire.

The history of relations between Jews and Arabs in Tunisia is multifaceted. I'm already hearing objections from all those who would produce counter-examples to demonstrate the opposite of what I'm trying to say.

But it is undeniable that one facet has stayed buried in the memory. Up until recently it was 'historically incorrect' to consider the negative aspects of these relations which establish, unfortunately, that humiliations, massacres and exclusions of the Jews are not the prerogative of European societies.

It is impossible to comprehend Arab, and by extension Muslim, opposition to Israel without grasping the humiliating dimension that the success of their ancient dhimmis in creating a prosperous and ultra-inventive Jewish state represents.
In the light of this it would be interesting to learn what so-called progressive forces think. By denouncing Israel they are fighting against a struggle waged by ex-slaves for their freedom, people who have escaped the Arab yoke.

It is a curious thing that this genuine people's liberation movement has not been acclaimed by those political currents usually most keen on them.

For myself, the memory of this house, this avenue, this garden is still with me. I can still mentally trace my way to the Lycee Carnot.

The apricot stones, the silk worms, the honey pastries and others, the bunches of jasmine, I've told my children about them over and over again in case the colours sink for ever into oblivion, to preserve a small imprint of the person I am. I only spent the first 11 years of my life in Tunisia but they seem like a hundred and I am essentially the product of that child.

Yet there was never any question of an UNWRA for us. We never kept the key nor the title deeds in order to exploit them many years later.

On the 29th June 1964 we caught the plane for Marseille and chose to look straight ahead of us and build a new future. We are not dehumanised for having done so. To have acted otherwise would have been deadly.

To maintain in the heads of young Palestinians who have not even known 'the land that belongs to them' the idea of a right of return is a brazen political swizz. It's about time that the international community ceased conniving in it.

Today I proclaim, loud and clear, my right of return - to reason and intellectual honesty.

*My brother Gerard has this to add about the Jewish cemetery:
This garden was one of the factors behind our departure. It was a Jewish cemetery bought in the 19th century with the community's resources outside the town of Tunis. But the modern town spread from the porte de France to the Belvedere, gobbling up the cemetery where famous Sadikkim such as Rabbi Hai Taieb (Lo met) who 'protected the family when it was passing its school exams thanks to Mother's prayers.She opened the windows of the end room to appeal to him with arms outstretched.'

When independence came the government decided to expropriate the cemetery (without compensation). It had been agreed that the bodies would be exhumed grave by grave and sent to Israel. I spent many hours at the window witnessing the exhumation. When Rabbi Hai Taieb's bones were dug up there was a long prayer procession around the cemetery. But as far as the Tunisian authorities were concerned it was taking too long. Suddenly, one fine day, bulldozers broke through the cemetery boundary and overturned the earth, mixing it for all time with our ancestors' remains.

This was done despite the community's protests, but we no longer had a say. The community leader, Maitre Haddad, then decided to leave Tunisia. I should like to see a similar situation arise in Israel with a Muslim cemetery. The whole world would be up in arms.

The community was represented by a CRIF-style (Board of Deputies) body but at independence Tunisia refused 'a state within a state'and banned any civil organisation representing the Jewish community (the Beth Din was allowed to continue but under state control). The first article of the Tunisian constitution clearly stipulates that the Tunisian Republic is Muslim.' That means that all non-Muslims, even those of Tunisian nationality - 75,000 Jews - would from then on be considered second-class citizens.

Today Arabs claim that it is scandalous for Israel to see itself as a Jewish state and that the land must be shared between Jews and Arabs. What are they on about? We who lived there for millennia, we of Tunisian nationality, whose intellectuals fought for Tunisian independence, we do not have the right to share the land because we are non-Muslims.

I who have lived through independence I did not consider myself part and parcel of the country. I turned to France (of course my French nationality helped me. What a worry for Jews of Tunisian nationality).

I have to say that the many incidents I lived through (fights, actually) drove me further away every day from that country. We had no more rights and if the police turned up to an incident we were always in the wrong. We had become dhimmis again. So goodbye Tunisia and long live France ( - at least until October 2000).

Read original article (in French) here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Iraqi Jews: persecution began in 1930s

In this press interview published on 10 July 2003, lawyer and activist Carole Basri, explains that persecution of the Jews of Iraq began in the1930s and spread throughout the Middle East:(with thanks: Jerusalem Posts)

For more than 50 years, the plight of Palestinian refugees has remained at center stage of discussions of Middle East politics. The United Nations has passed dozens of resolutions deploring the status of refugees in that region and Arab representatives continue to insist on the Palestinians' "right of return" as a prerequisite to lasting peace between Arabs and Israelis.

Lost in this discussion, however, has been the memory of another flood of refugees created for the most part at the same time as the original Palestinian refugees left their home. This "forgotten exodus" of Jews from Arab lands involved just as many displaced people, and in some cases resulted in the virtual extinction of historic communities.

Carole Basri, adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of a case study of the "ethnic cleansing" of Iraqi Jews, will talk about the refugees at a conference at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Rodef Shalom Synagogue in Denver. The conference is sponsored in part by the World Jewish Congress and open to the public. She spoke with Vincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages.

Q: Why do you say there was an ethnic cleansing of Jews from Iraq?

Basri: It was an ethnic cleansing because out of 150,000 Jews who lived in Iraq in 1948 about 35 to 39 Jews remain. Through various kinds of persecution under the color of law all these people have left.

Q: It began in the 1930s?

Basri: Yes, there was a lot of playing out of European politics in the Middle East then. You had the British and French there and you had the counterweight of the Germans, who had been allies of the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I. So in 1933, with the coming of Hitler, the German Embassy became stocked with advocates of Nazi ideology, in particular the German ambassador. Iraq promulgated anti-Jewish laws as early as 1934. By 1939 there was a pro-Nazi curriculum in the schools in Iraq, also pro-Nazi youth groups. The German Embassy bought one of the newspapers so they could make sure the propaganda circulated. So you have this whole confluence of things finally leading to the pro-Nazi uprising in 1941 of Rashid Ali. It goes on for several months before it's put down by the British, but there's a pogrom against the Jews, and they kill a couple hundred Jews and thousands are injured and much property destroyed.

Later, in 1947 with the partition of Palestine, there again is a flurry of anti-Jewish laws and these laws deal with restrictions on attending the university, sale of land and the ability to teach your children. There were also restrictions on travel.

Q: Isn't this the period when Jews were banned from certain professions?

Basri: Exactly. So now you've got a population that's captive; they can't travel, they can't properly operate their businesses. They are losing their ability to function. Even sanitation to Jewish areas is cut off so that they have to resort to private sanitation.

There had been a Jewish press, but that was repressed as well. In March 1950 the Iraqi Parliament passed an Ordinance for the Cancellation of Iraqi Nationality for Jews. It required that Jews of their own free will and choice divest themselves of citizenship. In fact, because they couldn't travel and couldn't practice a profession, what ended up happening is that almost 120,000 Jews did register to leave. And 10,000 Jews ended up actually escaping. So you had all these people who felt they really couldn't live in Iraq any more. They didn't leave of their free will. It was coercion.

Q: I take it that some Jews did not sign up for this revocation of citizenship. What did that imply for them?

Basri: You could stay on but no one knew what it meant since you couldn't go to a university, practise a profession, take money out of the bank, and so on. You were going to probably be forced out of working for the government too because Jews were thrown out of government positions between 1947 and 1950.

Q: But if you did sign, you had crossed the Rubicon. You were committed in some fashion to leaving, right?

Basri: You lost your passport. But you hadn't lost your money, I mean the bank accounts were still there; your property was still there. But that's the next piece of legislation. On March 10, 1951, the Iraqi Parliament in an extraordinary session passed a law depriving all stateless Jews of their property. The Jews who had signed up had not realized that they were also going to be destitute. They thought they just had a one-way ticket out of the country. But now they lost all of their property, meaning they became homeless in their own country. At that time there was talk among the diplomatic corps of setting up concentration camps.

Q: They were saved by an airlift. How was that organized?

Basri: President Truman organized it. Israel in 1948 had 650,000 people. By 1951, three years later, it had 1,350,000 people. At first the Israelis basically said, we cannot absorb all these (Iraqi) people, and not only that, we don't have the money to even bring them here. They said if the Iraqi Jews could come with their money, because it was a wealthy community, fine, let them come, if they can't come with their money, we don't want them. But when the Israelis realized the dire straits these people were in then they concluded they would just have to take them in. And Truman said he would help at least to get the airlift going. The Israelis in fact put restrictions on Moroccan Jewish immigration in that period - unless they had a job waiting and money, they weren't going to be allowed in - because the situation with the Iraqi Jews was so desperate.

Q: Although the vast majority of Jews left Iraq, the persecutions didn't stop. There was a rather gruesome public hanging in 1969, for example.

Basri: Nine Jews were hung in the public square. Actually, Saddam Hussein was behind that hanging. In 1968 there was a coup by the Baathists, with al-Bakr, who is the uncle of Saddam Hussein, installed as president. He tells Saddam to put together a security force that was similar to the Gestapo and to start the torture chambers. As the first group of victims he picks the Jews; they were the most defenseless. At this point, the Jews were not allowed to have telephones in their homes or offices, and they were not permitted to travel more than three-quarters of a mile from their home - there were 3,500 Jewish people left at that point, and this was after the 1967 Six Day War.

Yet in a community under that kind of repression they were charged with being American spies. So under this situation Saddam brought to trial nine Jews, who are hung in the public square. Now what this does for Saddam is it gives him a way to test out how much repression he can allow in the country and whether anyone will speak out. He also hung a few other people, who were not Jewish. But there was an outcry after this incident, as well as after some hangings in August 1969 of Jews in Basra. After that, the Arab world said "We're looking barbaric to the world, we can't do this anymore." So then Saddam had his agents pull people who were Jewish off the streets and they were never seen again.

Q: You point out that there have been 101 U.N. resolutions involving the Palestinian refugees who came about at the creation of the state of Israel, but not a single U.N. resolution has mentioned specifically the refugee flood of Jews from Arab countries into Israel and elsewhere - some went to the United States, others to Canada and Europe.

Basri: Out of almost 900,000 Jews who lived in the Arab world (before the creation of Israel), there are only about 5,000 remaining. The sort of things that happened in Iraq occurred elsewhere, leading to a general feeling among Jews that you couldn't raise your children properly and safely and so had to leave.

Q: There were other famous airlifts too - out of Yemen, for example.

Basri: Right. And you had people who were given one month to leave Egypt. It was a very dire situation because the resources in Israel were not that great. When the Iraqi Jews left, they went to live in 10 refugee camps for almost 12 years. Yet those people didn't keep a refugee mentality and I think that's a very important piece to this whole picture, not to mention what it says about the human spirit. You can have very little if you to decide you're going to make something of yourself. So many of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries have never received any support from the U.N. or any of the relief agencies, and yet they have been incredibly successful as a group. I think it's unfair to the Palestinians that they were kept political refugees and that the U.N. defines them as generational refugees so that now you have millions of Palestinian refugees. You know, I would be considered a refugee because my parents came from Iraq.

Q: Israel never attempted to use them as political pawns in the fashion that the Palestinian refugees have been used.

Basri: They didn't and I think that was to the benefit of these people.

Q: Do Iraqi Jewish refugees share a basis for legal claims under international treaties?

Basri: There are certain remedies that can be pursued and I talk about some of those remedies. But to tell you the truth, I'm not sure what will come out of that. We're dealing with countries in the Middle East with negative gross domestic products for the past 10 years. I've had the privilege of knowing a number of people who had parents who were hung, who were tortured or whose husbands or brothers were hung, and they've had no sense of closure on this issue; they felt as if their culture was taken from them. They spoke Arabic when they got to Israel, but people didn't want to hear Arabic, they didn't want to talk about the Middle Eastern culture these refugees had left behind, with the music, food and all of the other things that were very important to them. So right now it's important to talk about the refugees in the context of what happened and what was lost.

Q: You've suggested a "truth and reconciliation" commission.

Basri: That's what I spend my time on, truth and reconciliation, because I believe that with more than 50 percent of Israelis made up of Jews from Arab countries we need to talk about what happened to these people. Without such talk, I don't think you can ask the Palestinians, who've also suffered, to understand that there are other people who suffered just as deeply, just as dramatically, and that this didn't happen in a period of war.

These people were living in these countries and had everything taken from them that made life beautiful and precious. They were part of a culture that went back 2,700 years. To me that's the issue. To talk about money in this context as if you're ever going to replace all of that, right now I don't think that makes sense.

Eli Amir comes to Cairo

Haaretz of 7 July reports : (with thanks:Lily)

Undercover Egyptian security spread out in Cairo's Semiramis Hotel on Wednesday night to secure an unusual event. The Israeli Embassy in Cairo held a literary soiree for Eli Amir, whose new book, "Yasmin," is arousing avid interest in Egypt.

This is the first time in many years that such an affair has been held. For many Egyptians, who object to strengthening the ties with Israel, this kind of event is like a red flag smelling of undesirable "normalization." Unlike previous occasions, the Egyptian authorities this time went out of their way to cooperate with preparations.

(...)Eli Amir was very excited in the days leading up to the event. "As a child, Cairo for me represented the big world," he said at the opening of his speech. "I left Baghdad at the age of 12, from a home in which there were always Egyptian newspapers. Since then I have been attached to Arab culture. I hear my stories in Arabic and then translate them."

Amir came to Cairo as a representative of Western culture and as an Israeli writer with all that this entails. "Arab culture's invasion of Israel," he said, "began the day after the peace with Egypt, and I am not afraid of it. And to you I say, `Don't be afraid of exposure to Hebrew culture.' If we can live in peace, then we should read and get to know each other's culture."
Read article in full.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Iraqi claims deadline extended

On 3 July the Iraqi Parliament voted to extend the deadline for submitting property claims, which officially expired on 30 June 2005, for another two years. (With thanks: Maurice S.)

By 15 June more than 77,000 applications had been submitted. All those Iraqis whose property was wrongfully confiscated under the Ba'ath regime (from 17 July 1968) are eligible to apply for compensation.

You can download a claims form here. This concerns some 5,000 Iraqi Jews of a total of 120,000. See background article here.

Yemenite Jews show their mettle

This article, written 18 months ago, spotlights the intimate relationship that the ancient Jewish community of Yemen had with metallurgy, skills which they successfully transferred to Israel when the vast majority were airlifted there in the 1950s 'on the wings of eagles.'

"Jews continued to trickle out of Yemen until 1954. The Yemenite hierarchy came to the distressing realization that the country's economy was hemorrhaging with the drain of basic industries and irreplaceable artisans. The government slammed shut the emigration doors so tightly that even sending a letter out of the country could land a Jew in Jail.

"Yemen launched a campaign of taking over Jewish enterprises and the replacement of Jewish artisans. Some success in this effort, plus delicate diplomatic maneuvering, created an opening for the removal of more Jews. Jonathan Mark noted in his article that in 1992, "Operation Magic Carpet II" began selectively shepherding several hundred more Jews to Israel.

"But 800 Yemenite Jews remained, locked into a country which held them hostage. Significantly, most reside in the industrial sectors of Raida and Sa'ada." Read article in full.

The Palestinians' latest weapon: Jewish Arabs

Revealed: the Palestinians' latest weapon in their demographic war against Israel - the Mizrahim, or Jews from Arab countries, who are really 'Jewish Arabs'.

Salim Tamari makes the improbable claim that there is already an Arab majority living in Israel and the Palestinian territories - if you include those Jews who like Arabic food and music. Of course they do vote for Likud in large numbers: that is because (surprise, surprise) they are self-hating Arabs!

"Most intriguing about this debate is the largely-ignored fact that Arabs already constitute a majority among Israeli citizens. This is one of the best kept secrets in the annals of contemporary Zionism. If we add the Palestinian Arabs to the vast number of Jews who come from Morocco and other Arab countries, we can see that Arabs constitute a plurality of any ethnic group in the country. Obviously those Arab Jews (Mizrahim) hardly identify with Palestinian independence and tend to be among the most vociferous supporters of right-wing parties and fundamentalist religious groups. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, they are self-hating Arabs. Nevertheless, they eat the same food, listen to the same music, and have cultural affinities similar to Palestinian Arabs. The systematic attempt by dominant Ashkenazi culture to de-Arabize this community has succeeded ideologically, yet failed to obliterate their "oriental features".

Well, that's a relief.

Arabic Jews or Jewish Arabs?

A while ago, the popular weblog 'Head Heeb' featured a discussion about the identity of Jews from Arab countries which I am reproducing below. Some confusion arises, in my view, from the fact that each community was defined in Ottoman times along religious lines: there were no Arabs then - only Jews, Christians and Muslims. (Besides, before Arab states were set up, 'Arab' was often a byword for 'Bedouin').

To talk of 'Jewish Arabs' is to assume that the Middle East was ethnically homogenous when in fact it was made up of a patchwork of different ethno-religious groups many of whom spoke Arabic or were Arabic in culture, but were not Arab. A more correct term would would be ' pre-Arab' Jews, as the Jews, like Christian groups, were indigenous to the region long before the 7th century Arab-Muslim invasion.

Here's what Head Heeb had to say:

"Two ways to be an Arab Jew:Until the pogrom of 1941, Iraqi Jews were a largely middle-class community and one of the most assimilated in the Arab world, so it is probably no accident that Iraqi Jews were among the few who really considered themselves Arabs. Two professors, one Israeli and one American, demonstrate that for some this identity has died hard. In the United States, we have Ella Shohat, a cultural studies professor at the City University of New York who has questioned the "Eurocentric opposition of Arab and Jew." Israel has Professor Sasson Somekh, who has followed a similar career path in Arabic literary studies and calls himself "the last Arabic Jew."

Being an Arab Jew is something very different for the two professors. For Shohat, it is a matter of identity politics, a means of opposing what she sees as the subjugation of the Mizrahi identity by the politics of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Somekh appears much more comfortable with the synthesis of the two cultures, and has made a life's work of making Arabic literature accessible to Hebrew-speaking Israelis. Shohat is an anti-Zionist, while Somekh has come to regard his Arab heritage as part of his Israeli identity.

The difference between the two may be a matter of age as much as personality. Somekh is 70 years old, Iraqi-born and educated in the 1950s, while Shohat was educated in the 1980s at a time when identity politics held greater sway in academia. Shohat is also a second-generation, Israeli-born immigrant at one remove from the political conflict between Iraqi Jews and Muslims, and has a more idealized view of the the prewar Iraqi Jewish middle class. To a certain extent, Shohat's Arab Jewish identity is something she reinvented as a political statement while Somekh's was part of him from birth. The very process of reinvention by the second generation, however, shows that it's premature for Somekh to call himself the last of anything.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Great Algerian-Moroccan-Jewish singer dies

Moroccan pop music lost one of its greatest stars last week when Salim Halali, 80, passed away in relative obscurity in Cannes.

Salim Halali (who was born in Algeria) belonged to the same generation as that other Jewish pop star, Sami al-Maghribi. Much of his life was spent at the 'Coq D'or' in Casablanca , a famous oriental music hall in the old Medina popular with visitors, where he nurtured a whole school of pop stars such as Hajja Hamdaouya, Omar Tantaoui and Latifa Amal.

In 1940 Salim Halali escaped deportation from his home in Paris to the Nazi concentration camps by order of the King of Morocco. The rector of the Paris Mosque, Kaddour Benghrabit, delivered him a certificate of conversion to Islam.

An energetic, dynamic and charming man, Halali was able to strike up a personal rapport with his audience, like Manitas de Plata. A Canadian journalist once noted that although his songs were nearly all Arab, they had a touch of the modernism which gave rise to flamenco. Read article (in French) in full.

Israel 'footdragging' on refugee claims

According to an article by Isabel Kershner in the Jerusalem Report, international campaigners seeking redress for the Jews who fled Arab countries point to signs of growing recognition in both the Arab world and the West of these individuals as former refugees with rights to compensation. Yet leading activists say that the Israeli Justice Ministry, responsible for documenting the former refugees' case histories and claims, is footdragging, and assert that only some 10 percent of the potential files have been collected.

Four Arab countries - Libya, Iraq, Algeria and Tunisia - have already gone on record and acknowledged that their Jews "were discriminated against, driven out and are entitled to compensation," notes Stanley Urman, executive director of the New York-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Various groups of former Libyan Jews have engaged in contacts with the Tripoli government while Iraq has opened up an application process for claims of Iraqi nationals who lost property "as a result of their ethnicity, religion or sect," including Jews.

Also in early June, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin told the Canadian Jewish News that "a refugee is a refugee" and that Jewish refugees' claims should be taken into consideration. Jewish activists see this development as particularly significant given that Canada is still officially the gavel holder of the Refugee Working Group, set up as part of the Madrid Mideast peace process. Read article in full.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

When history is a matter of opinion

In the summer 2005 issue of the Jewish Quarterly the Oxford philosopher Brian Klug and Professor Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University debate antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Wistrich challenges Klug's assertion that 'Israel is resented as an interloper and an outpost of the West, at odds with the rest of the region':

'Jews are an aboriginal people returning to their historical homeland and source of national indentity. Not only that, but over half the Israeli population is not 'European' at all. It was uprooted from the Arab Middle East by exclusivist pan-Arabism, Islamic fanaticism and the pressures of decolonisation. Yet 60 years ago there were more than a million Jews in Arab lands. Their exodus says it all. Israeli integrated them, providing a haven, pride, dignity and freedom as it did for the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Palestinian refugees, on the other hand, were left to rot in UN refugee camps by their Arab brethren.'

Klug replies as follows:

"(To regard Israel as an interloper or an outpost of the West) is one-sided: it is how the Jewish state is looked at through Arab eyes. The view that the Jews are an aboriginal people returning to their historical homeland' is a Jewish point of view.

"(..) Both sides also give partisan accounts. You say that the exodus of Jews from Arab lands 'says it all' and you excoriate the Arab states for the plight of the Palestinians. but there is an alternative narrative that blames Israel or Zionism on both counts. I can imagine someone from 'the other side' agreeing that the Jewish exodus 'says it all' - but meaning the opposite of what you mean."

In other words, in the strange postmodern world inhabited by Brian Klug, there is no such thing as objective truth. History is a matter of competing narratives. Yes, there was an exodus of Jews from Arab countries, but Israel or Zionism is guilty of causing it.

One would not for a moment imagine that Klug and other leftist anti-Zionists would attempt to deny or cherrypick the facts of the Holocaust - why then should Arab responsibility for the Jewish exodus be a matter of opinion?