Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why I am angry - by an Egyptian Jew

It took 37 years for Israel Bonan to pluck up the courage to talk about the ordeal of his imprisonment and expulsion from Egypt. Today, not only is he seething at the fact that the suffering of the Jewish refugees has been completely ignored, but that in the interests of fostering good relations with the Arabs, Jews are pretending that it never happened. Yet a prerequisite to reconciliation, as any married couple could vouch, is to air one's grievances before kissing and making up.

"It came as a surprise to me, during the past year, that the ageing Jewish community from Egypt is not of one mind on the subject of our history in Egypt. It is not that they were totally unaware of it, I was mostly surprised that for some they wished to deny it. Why bring it up? What purpose will it serve? We need to mute it out? And I ask myself why?

"I do not wish for anger, but anger is the only emotion I currently experience. When I referred to our community as an 'ageing' one, it was supposed to imply, the maturity and experience, the enhanced ability to reflect and measure our responses and finally our generation will gradually fade from the scene. So what do we want, to disappear without our stories being told? Do we have and need Six million of us dead before we react to what happened to us? Of course our miseries dwarfs by comparison to the Holocaust experience, but it was a tragic one nonetheless. How can we fathom reconciling without Egypt and her Government apologize to us, at a minimum, for what they did to us and our parents before us?

"Are our sensibilities so jarred, by the stories, that we chose to ignore them? It's only Palestinians and the Chairman (Arafat) that do that sort of thing, and not us? What will get you angry, with me? More than 3 years in jail, losing more than our self respect, more than abandoning our hard-earned fortunes?

"I ask you, what have we learned from old age? Some of us I am sure are married, maybe with their second or third mate; what have we learned from relationships? That we can slap each other, go to bed and forget about it the next morning? NO, we learned, to confront the problems, talk about them and apologize when apology is called for, and here we are, we were blissfully wedded to Egypt, only she slapped us silly, stomped on our human rights and took all our community property without even a judicial review; and now we go to bed and wake up in the morning and let's forgive and forget? What kind of logic is that? Please get angry, with me.

"True reconciliation that is so one sided, is abhorrent to me. I beg you to get angry with me, it is our right to ask for an apology, it is our right to ask for restitution and it is our right to ask for our self respect back. It is Egypt's turn to recognize what she did to a community that participated fully in her well being, only to be wronged in return.

"It is a two way street, reconciliation is. I crave it, but I also crave my self respect, I also crave my dignity and I also crave leaving a clean legacy to our children after us. I need to be able to tell my sons, looking them up in the eye, that we were wronged but did not accept it or rolled over and played dead. I ask you to join me in doing the right thing for our community, because I sincerely believe it is the right thing."

Read the whole thing!

Slightly adapted from the original at HSJE, The Historical Society of Jews from Egypt, at
Also excerpted at Hopeways.

Republished by permission of the author and the websites.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Silence engulfs the 'other refugees'

Erik Arnold is a freelance columnist who writes on a variety of cultural and political topics. Here is his take, featured on the weblog Dhimmiwatch on 24 November, on the refugee problem in the Middle East:

Arab aggression has created not one but two groups of refugees in the Middle East. The world has not been allowed to forget the first but has remained largely unaware of the second. The first group comprises those Arabs who abandoned their homes in Palestine during the 1947-1949 fighting. They numbered 587,000... The second group encompasses the Jews who, between 1947 and 1963, were uprooted from African and Middle Eastern countries where their ancestors had lived for generations and where they were full fledged citizens until they suddenly became anathema. They numbered about 650,000 [Note: The numbers are actually much higher than this, being closer to 800,000. E.A.]

... The overwhelming majority were poor people, but they collectively left behind property valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars... The world has not overly concerned itself about the Jews who were constrained by forces beyond their control --discriminatory laws, persecutions, physical violence, and purposeful exclusion from Arab societies -- to flee "to a place of safety," thus meeting Webster's definition of refugees.

Attention has been concentrated instead on the plight of the Arabs who left Palestine voluntarily -- persuaded by their own military commanders and politicians that the war against the Jews would be short and their victorious return would be sweet with booty -- hence might be categorized more properly as "fugitives" rather than as "refugees." (Frank Gervasi, The Case for Israel, Viking Press, New York, 1967, pgs. 108-109).

The above paragraph makes succinctly clear a problem long ignored by the world's governments: the history of the persecution and expulsion of the large Jewish population of the Middle East and North Africa. The story of the Arab refugees has occasioned much gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts among the collective court of international opinion, while the same sentiment has not been granted to their more numerous Jewish counterparts.

(..) The post-World War II period witnessed the end of the millennia-old history of Jewish life in the Near East. Across this huge area dictators arose who emphasized the purely Arab character of their countries, thus automatically excluding the Jews from the nation-building process. The growth of Zionism and the subsequent battle for Palestine were used to stress the alien-ness and the subversive-ness of the Jewish populations. The persecution, despoliation, and expulsion of whole communities proceeded apace, ending only with the impoverishment and ejection of the Jews of Libya following the Qaddafi coup of 1969. Yet when the issue of refugees is discussed, the group in question is always Arab.

The implications of this one-sided emphasis for the Israel-Arab problem have been profound. While Arabs and their supporters loudly declaim the unconditional demand that Israel open its doors to a flood of emigrants and their descendants, no Muslim country is expected to do the same for Jews. Indeed, in many instances the Jewish presence in certain areas predates that of both Arabs (North Africa), and Islam (Yemen), by several thousand years. Yet there is no large-scale effort to make restitution to these shattered communities.

A visit to any library will reveal a large amount of works devoted to the dilemma of the Arab runaways. In fact, a whole "Palestine industry" has arisen dedicated to the articulation of this group's point of view while systematically ignoring that of the Jews. The Israeli government, rather than making a case for its own victimized citizens and their progeny, simply allows a black silence to engulf the memory of the destroyed Levantine communities of the world's oldest diaspora."

Hear, hear.

Read article in full

End of the 'Ashkenazi era'?

Since Israeli domestic politics were shaken to their foundations by the surprise election to the leadership of the Labour party of the 'Moroccan' Amir Peretz, Haaretz has got all excited about the re-emergence of the 'ethnic demon' (real or imagined). Within Likud, it reports, there is support for the 'Tunisian ' Sylvain Shalom to become leader of the party rather than that other contender, Benjamin Netanyahu.

"A day before the Labor primaries, Silvan Shalom said that Amir Peretz's victory would pose a problem for the Likud. Peretz exploited this statement to score another few votes at the polls - an outcome that Shalom had not intended, of course. He had only wanted to help himself. Shalom meant to say that while an earthquake was underway in Labor and a Sephardi from a peripheral town was assuming the party leadership, the Likud could not remain behind. It had to place a suitable candidate at its head - a "Tunisian" to run against a "Moroccan."

"Uzi Cohen, the Likud's ubiquitous man in the field, openly said as much this week. Until now, he was a big supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but this week, Cohen defected to the Shalom camp, announcing: "After the upheaval in Labour, there are quite a few Knesset seats that are going to be distributed on an ethnic basis, so it would be best if Silvan were head of the Likud - There is no way that an Ashkenazi like Bibi could beat a Sephardi like Peretz." Shlomo Madmon, chairman of the Likud branch in Kfar Sava also joined Shalom's supporters, saying, "With all due respect to Bibi, we have to offer a response to Amir Peretz."

"MK Haim Katz (Likud) declares that out in the field, revolution is afoot. People of Moroccan descent - Likudniks included - are speaking in loving terms about Peretz. Dialna - one of ours, they're saying. Just as the Ashkenazim once used to say in Yiddish Unsere."

Read article in full

Meanwhile Al-Jazeera gets the wrong end of the stick by gleefully assuming that the end of the 'Ashkenazi era' means the end of Zionism.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

'My dearest friends were a Copt and a Jew'

In an article titled "We were born in a city of religious tolerance" in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, renowned Egyptian writer and columnist Anis Mansour discussed Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations in Egypt over the past decades. MEMRI prints the following excerpts:

"We residents of [the city of] Al-Mansoura were of French or Turkish origin, and among us lived large communities of foreign immigrants who had their [own] churches and schools. As children, we therefore spoke many languages. The foreigners taught us and gave us pocket money. Thus, as a boy I knew French, Italian and German, and so did many others. There wasn't a day in my life that I did not utter the names Jirjis, Hanna, Cohen, Levy, Jacques, Marianne, Violet, and Arlette. These were the names of my friends from school, or of my neighbors. We all played together in the street, met at the public library, or got together in the shop of Mr. Cohen, who sold shoe polish, pins, and matches. We helped our friend look after the shop when his father was away, and we [helped] our friend Jirjis and his father, the tailor, who [likewise] used to leave us [in charge of] the shop. We served the customers who wanted their clothes pressed, and cleaned the premises.

"We never wondered why [we should do this]. My father and mother did not disapprove when they heard about it. My mother regarded it as a proper and moral [act] that reflected brotherhood and friendship. She also visited the Christian and Jewish women, and they visited her. I used to accompany my mother when she visited the hospital, bringing flowers and fruit for a sick child - one of my schoolmates - or for his mother or father. Once, she asked me to put on some clean black clothes and shine my shoes. I had to go to the church, since the father of one of my friends had died. My mother advised me to sit quietly and not talk, no matter what I saw there. I went and sat in the last pew, with my head bowed, and without understanding anything I saw or heard.

"Until then, I did not understand what it meant for a person to be a Christian or a Jew, and what the difference was. [I did not understand] the significance of being kissed by a Christian or Jewish mother, of seeing her visiting our house, or of accompanying my mother on a visit to Jirjis' home or to the Cohen [household].

"Until [one day when] one of my relatives found me playing in the street, stopped me, and asked after my father and mother. Then he said: 'I heard you saying [the names] Jirjis and Cohen.'

"'Yes,' I replied.

"'Don't you realize that one is a Copt and the other is a Jew?' he asked (in an admonishing tone). 'How [can] you play with them? Does your mother know?'

"'Their mothers are friends of my mother's,' I answered.

"But he asked again in admonition: 'Does your father know?'

"'He visits them too,' I replied.

"My mother asked me [about it], and she denounced our relative's questions. At that point, I began to think and understand.

"[But] they [Jirjis and Cohen] have remained my dearest friends!"

Read article in full

Saturday, November 26, 2005

More about what Sylvain did in Tunisia

Sylvain Shalom's visit to Tunisia was more than an official visit by the Israeli foreign minister - it was an historic, personal pilgrimage. Here are some extracts from a piece in Guysen News.

"In the great synagogue in Tunis, the whole community was assembled. Elie Yishai (member of the Knesset) made a moving speeech in Tunisian Arabic. Dalia Itzik (a government minister) called on the Jews to make aliyah to Jerusalem.

This call to aliyah, made in all sincerity and freedom, was highly symbolic, explained the president of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou, who was part of the Israeli delegation. " We dreamed that an Israeli plane would touch down at Tunis airport and saw it with our very eyes. To dream of the Tunisian president, Ben Ali, visiting Israel is on a par with that dream we had a few years ago. Sometimes dreams come true.

(..) Economic, cultural, scientific and political interests come into play from now on. We have to try to break down the ideology of Jihad by the Muslim world against Israel or the West. Tunisia is today aware of this and has been brave enough to say so."

Warmly welcomed by the Tunisian authorities, Sylvain Shalom went in search of his family's past with his mother Myriam, who was returning to the land of her birth 47 years later.

"After the gentleness and timeless charm of white Djerba and its 2,500 year-old synagogue, and its typical Jewish community, Mr Shalom and 50 others, all of Tunisian origin, went to his hometown of Gabes, 370 km south of Tunis, which had been closed to traffic for the occasion.

"In the synagogue in Gabes, where Shalom read Minha, he felt the strongest of emotions during his pilgrimage. Here 50 years earlier, his mother Myriam and his father Shimon Shalom (a bank manager, shot dead during a hold-up in Beersheba in 1964) were married under the Hupa by the rabbi of the little town, today deserted by the Jews.

"Moved to be standing on the same spot where his father and grandfather had prayed the Jewish daily ritual, he said he felt deeply saddened that there was not a single Jew in the town. "They died, they went to Israel or France, but thankfully life goes on in Israel. I know I'm closing a circle," he said, not without nostalgia. The mayor of Gabes presented him with a certificate of honorary citizenship.

"The Jewish community leader, Roger Bismuth, called Shalom's visit 'fantastic' but some Tunisian bloggers were not impressed. " We do not accept that a representative of the state of Israel, especially its foreign minister, even one of Tunisian origin, should soil our country's earth while his country oppresses tortures and kills our brothers and deprives them of their inalienable right to live freely in an independent state", wrote one.

Read article in full (French)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Delusions of a people under siege

Jews should not blame themselves for the hostility shown by others toward them and the Jewish state, nor should they delude themselves that it is something they can influence or control, argues the psychiatrist Kenneth Levin in this must-read interview with Front page magazine. Moreover, Arab Jew-hatred should be seen in the context of the victimisation of all non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities of the region.

"It serves Jews badly to think of their own plight as unique and not to recognize other victims. Certainly, Jews have been more than sensitive to the victimization of others, including those subjected to the extremity of genocidal assault; yet there remain areas of myopia in drawing political conclusions from assaults on others.

"For example, many Jews are aware of the intense Jew-hatred that has for decades been promoted in media, mosques and schools throughout the Arab world. But a general assumption is that it has all been due to the conflict with Israel and will be resolved by a" land for peace" agreement, particularly between the Israelis and Palestinians. Perhaps once again Jews' reluctance to see their predicament in the context of larger forces reflects a wish to view themselves as more in control of their predicament than they actually are. But there is a larger pattern. For in reality virtually all the minorities living amid the Arab nations have been under siege, with a number suffering much worse depredations than the Jews of Israel.

"Christian communities are almost everywhere under intense pressure. Egypt, the most cosmopolitan of Arab states and run by a secular government, has long required its large Coptic Christian community, numbering perhaps ten million, to live with onerous restrictions; even renovation or addition to a church needs approval at the ministerial level. Pressures applied to Christian communities have led to high rates of Christian emigration from nations throughout the Arab world. Of course, in Saudi Arabia no citizen can be a Christian, Christian prayer is officially forbidden, and conversion from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death.

"The most horrific assault on Christians in the Arab world has been the decades-long campaign of enslavement, rape and murder waged against the Christian blacks of the southern Sudan. Begun virtually with Sudan's independence in the 1950s, the attacks and the killing have proceeded under both secular and Islamist regimes and have claimed more than two million lives –– one of the worst acts of genocide since World War II. Khartoum's murderous policies have consistently had the backing of its brother Arab states, some of which have lent active support to Khartoum's assault on the south.

"But even the longstanding denigration of and attacks upon Jews and Christians do not fully encompass the victimization of minorities by the Arab Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa; in addition to the assaults on non-Muslims, there is a targeting of those who may be fellow Muslims but are also non-Arabs.

"In Iraq, Saddam Hussein pursued the forced expulsion and mass murder of Kurds living in Iraq's north, killing some 200,000 before he was distracted by his adventure in Kuwait, and he did so without criticism from his fellow Arab leaders. In Algeria, the Muslim but non-Arab Berber population did more than its share of the fighting against the French in the war of independence; but, with independence won, the Arab-dominated government embarked on a campaign of forced "Arabization" of Berber communities. In addition, since the outbreak of an Islamist versus secular civil war in Algeria in 1992, the largely secularized Berbers have been particular targets not only of the Algerian government but also of the Islamist rebels, who have wrought widespread carnage in the country. The people of Darfur –– Muslim, but black –– now being raped and murdered by the Sudanese government with the support of other Arab nations are only the latest example of Arab assaults on non-Arab Muslim populations living within the Arab world.

"This chronic pattern of Arab intolerance and aggression on both religious and ethnic levels has implications for the Jews. It is noteworthy, for example, that none of the populations that have been subjected to murderous, at times genocidal, assault –– not the Kurds, for example, nor the Algerian Berbers, nor the Christian blacks of southern Sudan, nor the Muslim blacks of Darfur –– were sovereign communities or even enjoyed an autonomy to which the Arab regimes objected. Yet many Jews delude themselves that the Arab world is prepared to make an exception for the Jews and reconcile itself to a Jewish state in its midst if only Israel will make sufficient concessions on borders."

Read article in full

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Jews in Yemen suffer discrimination

A US report on freedom of religion in Yemen claims that Jews are still subject to restrictions on the practice of their faith and occasional anti-semitic attack. (Via JIMENA News, November issue).

"The country is predominantly Muslim. Apart from a small but undetermined number of Christians and Hindus of South Asian origin in Aden, Jews are the only indigenous religious minority. Religious minorities generally live in harmony with their Muslim neighbors. However, during the reporting period, Jews faced some incidents of popular anti-Semitism. Jewish visitors to Sana'a reported being attacked by a number of students chanting anti-American and anti-Israel slogans. The students caused damage to their car and kicked them. Jewish children rode to school in a covered truck to protect them from stones. Jewish residents reported being unable to construct official schools or synagogues for fear that they would be destroyed by Muslim neighbors.

"Isolated attacks in recent years by anti-Jewish extremists have convinced most of the country's Jews to relocate to the town of Raida for safety and to sustain their community. The Jewish population has diminished significantly over the last 50 years due to voluntary emigration, from tens of thousands to a few hundred."

Read article in full

We are all one people

A report published in Nations and nationalism, an academic journal published by the London School of Economics describes the history of the Jewish people as providing perhaps the best-documented example of how genetic similarity intersects culture, history, and even politics. (Via JIMENA News, November 2005 issue)

Jewish groups are genetically similar to each other even though they have been separated for two millennia. Jews from Iraq and Libya share more genes with Jews from Germany and Russia than either group shares with the non-Jewish populations among whom they have lived over the intervening centuries.

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The canary in the Iranian coalmine

Writing in the Washington Post of 20 November in the light of President Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped off the map, Roya Hakakian argues that Iranian intellectuals have failed to recognise that the Jews, despite their negligible numbers, have long been the canary in the post-1979 Iranian coalmine. But Iranian anti-Jewish bigotry has deep Shi'a roots, and the word Johoud still has pejorative connotations. (With thanks: Lily Amior)

"Even though Iran has long had a substantial Jewish population -- before 1979, it was between 80,000 and 100,000, including my family -- there is a dearth of reliable literature in the Persian language about Israel and Jewish history. Government-sponsored institutions, to be sure, have been prolific on the subject, publishing openly anti-Semitic titles ranging from The Jewish Lobby in America, History of the Jewish Plutocracy and Israel and the Shah's Secret Police to An Exploration of Judaism with chapters on The Crimes and Murders of the Jews, Jews: A Racist Nation and The Old Testament: A Pawn in Jewish Hands. But more than 2,000 years of Jewish presence in Iran has yielded no more than a handful of scholarly books and articles.

"This is not because the story of Jews in Iran belongs to a bygone era. Even with the standoff between Iran and Israel, and the 1999 arrest of 13 Iranian Jews on espionage charges, Iran continues to be home to the largest community of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel. Though the population has shrunk significantly -- to somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000, according to Maurice Motamed, the Iranian Jewish parliamentary representative -- the community's importance lies not in its size but in its ancient roots. The Jewish existence in Iran precedes that of the Muslims, dating to at least the 6th century B.C., when the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem and the fall of the First Temple drove the Jews into exile.

"It has been a bittersweet existence: sweet, because Jews living in Iran were spared the rampant pogroms of Russia and Europe; bitter, because they were nonetheless subjected to hostility. My generation, growing up before and during the 1979 revolution, knew little about this hostility and how it played out -- Jews being relegated to second-class status, forced to convert, barred from social and economic advancement, and denied rights as basic as walking on the sidewalk on rainy days. But they had deeply shaped our parents and our family narratives.

"And it is a life that, in print or otherwise, has been muted. Jews, who adopted Persian as their language and celebrate all the secular holidays with fervor, have made major contributions to Iranian art and culture. And yet, most non-Jewish Iranians' familiarity with Jewish life and tradition barely goes beyond a few fond accounts of neighbors who occasionally ask them to switch their lights on or off on the Sabbath, and who are admired not for their colorful ways, but for being so indistinguishable from the surrounding Muslim community. The term by which the majority of Iranians refer to a Jewish person is still the derogatory "Johoud," the equivalent of "dirty" in the Persian vernacular.

"The history of this particular ignorance is important. Nearly 50 years ago, Khomeini began to make his first public speeches, which were riddled with anti-feminist, anti-modernist and anti-Semitic sentiments. In them, he introduced Israel and the United States as the two evil pillars supporting the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This idea caught the imagination of the secularists fighting the Shah, and soon the struggle against him, against U.S. imperialism and against Zionism all became one.

"But in reality, the rhetoric was a facade for anti-Semitic sentiments that predated the politics of the pre-revolutionary era. When the Holocaust was still a recent memory, even diehard progressive Iranians had no second thoughts about calling for the destruction of Israel. Leftist organizations sent their recruits to Lebanon for military training, and many made their names by carrying out military operations against the Israeli army. When the leading intellectual of the '60s and '70s, Jalal Al-Ahmad -- who saw Westernization as the root of Iran's problems and coined the term "westoxification" -- returned to Iran from a 10-day trip to Israel, few of his fans were moved by the admiration he expressed for the kibbutz and the Jewish immigrants who had come together to build a utopia in the Middle East. In 1967, when the Israeli soccer team faced their Iranian counterparts in a historic match in Tehran, the fact that swastika-marked balloons flew over the stadium and that Iranian Jews were pelted with rocks and their businesses looted seemed as natural as the celebrations that followed Iran's victory.

"These realities should have inspired introspection among Iranian intellectuals (after all, self-criticism was as popular as the Beatles in those days). But they didn't, even though, from the '60s through the late '70s, Iran's elite championed the cause of the world's downtrodden: the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Eritrean Liberation Front, the Irish Republican Army, the Basques, the Chileans under Pinochet, even the Greeks long after the colonels were gone. In the euphoric post-revolutionary period, when a book about the suffering of Bolivian mineworkers became a bestseller, members of the Baha'i faith were disappearing by twos and threes, and Jews were fleeing Iran by the hundreds, my family eventually among them, without a mention in any books, or even a flier.

"With their silent consent to the ill treatment going on at home, Iran's intellectuals committed an error so common in history that they can almost be forgiven for it. The injustices suffered by a minority as small as the Jews must have seemed inconsequential at the time; only in hindsight, in light of the democratic movement's derailment and the loss of all the liberties that the 1979 revolution promised, does their significance grow.

"But they did foreshadow what was to come. In so blindly echoing the Ayatollah's bilious views, these intellectuals failed to differentiate themselves from the clerics -- the first grave step toward their loss of political power after the revolution. Fifty years after it was first spoken, Martin Niemoeller's famous warning proved true in Iran: First they came for the Baha'is, then the Jews, then the women, until they came for the average Iranian who, by then, had no choice but to subject himself to the dark rule of theocracy.

"While President Ahmadinejad does not truly represent Iran and its attitude toward the Jews today, he does represent an old bigotry that the nation has yet to address. When it does, Iranians will finally be granting long overdue recognition to some of the country's most loyal citizens. And they may also save the Jewish community from extinction. If Iran can continue to be a sanctuary to Jews and other minorities, it will have maintained the very elements that have, throughout history, brought it both glory and distinction."

Read article in full

Monday, November 21, 2005

Between Cyrus and Haman: the Jews of Iran

For the Jews, Persia has embodied both good and evil: the benevolence of Cyrus, who liberated them from Babylonian slavery and permitted them to rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem - and the evil of Haman, who had wanted to destroy them - explains Abbas Milani in the International Herald Tribune. (With thanks: Lily Amior).

"Today, there sits in place of Cyrus one who has inherited not the magnanimity of Cyrus, but the malice of Haman: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who openly calls for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

" Even in the modern history of Iran, the two strands, one lofty and humane, the other base, have continued to thrive side by side. In 1941, as Hitler was beginning to put in motion his murderous "final solution," the Iranian government convinced Nazi "race experts" that Iranian Jews had lived in Iran for 2,500 years, were fully assimilated members of the Persian nation and must be afforded all the rights of Iranian citizens.

"The Nazis accepted the argument, and the lives of Iranian Jews residing in Europe were saved. Moreover, thousands of European Jews were saved when Iranian diplomats provided them with Iranian passports. And in the years after World War II, the Iranian government and people were exceedingly helpful - according to Israel's first ambassador to Iran - in facilitating the travel of hundreds of Iraqi Jews escaping persecution and heading for what was soon to be Israel.

" Iran in fact was the first Muslim country to de facto recognize Israel and established close ties that lasted till 1979. But even then, the dread spirit of Haman was also in the air. As the Iranian government and many of its people were involved in helping Jews in their hour of need, there were also some ayatollahs who delivered fiery speeches against Jews, and against Israel. Clerical support for the oppression of Jews, which often hid its ugly head behind slogans against Zionism, began to emerge at the time.

"When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, he became the standard-bearer of this tradition. He paid lip service to the idea that Jews would be treated as equals in Iran. Islam, after all, affords Jews many rights as "people of the book." But in fact, Jews were subjected to many cruel and unjust punishments. The first nonmilitary, nongovernmental person sent to the firing squad by the Islamic revolutionary courts was a Jew, Habib Elganian, a prominent Iranian businessman.

Read article in full

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Harif puts Mizrahim on the map

This article by Alex Galbinski of European Jewish Press focuses on the Harif 'Jews from Arab Countries Week' now running in London. Harif was set up in May to represent Jews from the Middle East and North Africa now living in the UK. It is, among other things, seeking to change popular perceptions of Jewish culture.

"Maureen Lipman’s portrayal of the obsessive Jewish mother and grandmother in the British Telecom adverts of the 1980s may have amused a generation of Jews.

"But not all identified with the reference — for, surprisingly perhaps, the stereotypical ‘Jewish mother’ does not exist in Sephardi culture.

"Neither do smoked salmon bagels, nor klezmer music, and this week sees Harif, a new association committed to representing Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, putting on events to promote the history, culture and heritage of the Mizrahim, or Jews of the East.

"Harif, meaning pickle, was set up in May this year by Lionel Salama, whose father is Moroccan, and Lyn Julius, whose parents are Iraqi.

"Together, they want to make t’beet —the traditional Sabbath lunch of Iraqi Jews — and dafina — a Moroccan Sabbath stew, the Sephardic equivalent of Jewish Eastern Europe’s cholent — as resonant of Jewish culture as are gefilte fish and chopped liver.

(...) Upcoming events include the screening of From Tripoli to Bergen-Belsen, a film screening about the largely unknown story of the Libyan Jews deported to Nazi death camps followed by a discussion with specialist Dr Irit Abramsky of Yad Vashem, on Thursday 17 November and on Saturday, Israel’s acclaimed novelist Eli Amir, author of Farewell Baghdad, will be giving his personal recollections of his childhood in Iraq and his uprooting and absorption into Israel.

Next Sunday 20 November, David Project’s film, The Forgotten Refugees, will be premiering in London, detailing the flight of almost a million Jews from Arab countries, the loss of their rich Judeo-Arabic heritage and their absorption into Israel.

Harif’s Jews From Arab Countries Week runs from 14 to 20 November. For more information and full events listings, visit or call 00 44 7765 413 858

Read article in full

Update: Same article on Y-net News

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

'Just our arrival in Tunisia is news'

Tunisia's hosting of a UN summit at which foreign minister Silvan Shalom will represent Israel is an opportunity for the country to mend its fences with Jews and Israelis.

"When an Israir charter flight takes off Tuesday morning for Tunis it will be historic not only because it is the maiden trip of an Israeli airline to the North African Arab country. More significantly, it will be carrying a man who left Tunisia, his place of birth, at the age of one and is now returning for the first time as his adopted country’s foreign minister.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's trip to Tunisia to attend the UN World Summit on the Information Society will be a success from the moment that he lands.

“The story is simply the fact that we’re going there,” said Ofer Bavli, Shalom’s political advisor. “Just our arrival is news.”(...)

Israelis who immigrated from Tunisia continue to travel to visit their roots and spend Jewish holidays with the small Jewish community which still exists in Djerba and Gabbes.

Shalom will visit Gabbes, his hometown, and Djerba, with his mother, brother, uncle, and wife who are accompanying him on this trip. In Gabbes he will visit his first home, now occupied by a Muslim family. The house was reportedly renovated and painted by the Tunisian government in expectation of the high-ranking official’s visit.

Shalom does not expect diplomatic breakthroughs with other Arab countries this trip, said his advisors. But he does hope to promote them. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have showed more openness recently towards Israel.

Read article in full

Friday, November 11, 2005

Moroccan Jew might yet lead Israel

The prospect that Israel's next Prime Minister might be a Jew from Morocco becomes real with the surprise election as Labour Party leader of Amir Peretz, Histadrut leader and ex-mayor of the frontier town of Sderot. Here's what the Jerusalem Post had to say about his campaign:

"The campaign was first and foremost a battle for acceptance. Peretz began it as the quintessential outsider, like the youths who used to be sent from development towns and poor neighborhoods to kibbutz schools, but were never accepted as equals.

"As a politician, he was easily marginalized. A Moroccan-born trade unionist and mayor of Sderot at 31, like so many Sephardi leaders before him, he was deemed suitable only to deal with social affairs, while leaving the more weighty issues of defense and diplomacy to the generals who automatically traded their uniforms for cabinet positions."

Read Jerusalem Post article in full

Peretz heralds end of old guard - Daily Telegraph
Who is Amir Peretz? - Ynet News
Peretz knows both poverty and power -Israpundit (AP)
"Peretz, a Moroccan immigrant who grew up on the margins of Israeli society and whose formal education ended in high school, has turned Israel's political landscape on its head by taking control of the bastion of Israel's elite, with its European, or Ashkenazi, roots.

Moroccans and other Sephardi Jews of Middle Eastern descent turned their backs on the country's founding party decades ago. They felt _ and still feel _ disenfranchised by the Askhenazi elite that sent them to live in remote towns with few services, while siphoning off many of the best jobs for themselves and their cronies.

"And from this public emerges a proleterian prince who takes over the party and becomes its owner," said political commentator Daniel Ben-Simon. "And this is a sign that he will bring (to the party) not only the immigrants, but all those who are on the fringes and felt this party never spoke to them on their level, but always looked down on them."

"It's not an upheaval, it's a revolution," he said of Peretz, whose father used to toil in a Labor-backed kibbutz.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Jews are also an Arab-Islamic question

At last, an Arab voice in the Beirut Daily Star questions the standard propaganda line that the 'Jewish question' is a European matter. Palestinian Walid Salem asks more questions than he answers but, in my view, they are the right ones.

". . How do we deal with the "Jewish question" in the Israeli-Palestinian and also in the Israeli-Arab and Islamic contexts?

"The first point is the Jewish question itself: Do we in the Middle East ask ourselves about this question? With the exception of a book written a few years ago by the Lebanese journalist Joseph Samaha, I have not seen other Arabic writings that recognize the Jewish question as not only a European question, but also as an Arabic-Islamic one.

"The second point ... : if the Jewish question is recognized, then its phenomena should be discussed. ...frank questions need to be asked: Were the rights of the Jews throughout the ages guaranteed in Arabic and Islamic countries? If the answer to this question is yes, then why did the Jews of these countries emigrate to Israel? ... If it was only Zionist propaganda that led to their emigration, then why does a large portion of those who came to Israel from the Arabic and Islamic countries adopt right-wing positions toward the Palestinians and Arabs? Moreover, what have Arabs and Islamic countries done in order to maintain good relations with those Jews once they migrated to Israel? ... .

"My third point centers on the strategy toward Israel. Do Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others of his ilk think that their propaganda helps Palestinians? Do they ... , help Israel integrate into the Middle East? Or does their attitude just help to increase those trends that call for Israel to be part of the West and to disconnect itself from Eastern culture and ties - except those ties of hegemony and dominance?"

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Shalom to visit his Tunisian birthplace

JERUSALEM, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Israel's foreign minister will attend a summit in Tunisia next week in another sign of improving ties between the Jewish state and the Arab world after withdrawal from Gaza, the foreign ministry said on Monday.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom will lead the delegation to the World Summit on the Information Society, being held from Nov. 16 to 18 in the North African country, which downgraded limited ties at the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

Shalom, who was born in Tunisia and left as an infant, hopes to improve Israel's standing in an often hostile region on the back of its withdrawal in September from the Gaza Strip after 38 years of occupation.

(...)During the visit to Tunisia, Shalom also plans to visit his birthplace near Djerba, home to much of Tunisia's 2,000 strong Jewish community. Most of Tunisia's Jews left over the past five decades of Middle East conflict. Shalom arrived in Israel in 1959.

Read article in full

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Much traffic between Iran and Israel

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Orly Halpern spotlights the disillusion amongst some Iranian Jews who have moved to Israel. It is hardly surprising that a few should want to pack up and leave after struggling to make a living in the depressed and blighted Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, which suffered grievously from terror attacks during the intifada. In Iran, Jews 'live well'.

"...While most outsiders might believe that routine contact between the citizens of the two sworn enemies is impossible, in fact, not only are the phone lines between Teheran and Tel Aviv used actively, but so also are flight routes via Istanbul".

"Jewish Iranians travel frequently to Israel. To avoid getting the Iranians in trouble back in their home country, Israeli border authorities do not stamp entry visas into their passports. As with journalists, the entry visa is stamped on a separate slip of paper, which is later thrown away upon exit from the Zionist state."

Read article in full

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Israel invites king of Morocco

In a momentous development, President Katsav has issued a public invitation to the King of Morocco, Muhammed VI, to visit Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post. In a speech during a visit to Israel by leaders of the Moroccan Jewish community, Andre Azoulay, the Jewish adviser to the king, did not attempt to whitewash Jewish life in Morocco - "it was not exactly the Garden of Eden", he said. However, mindful of his official responsibilities, he was careful to express sympathy for the Palestinians: "We are, after all, partially Arab."

"In 1948, when the State of Israel was proclaimed, the Moroccan Jewish community numbered between 250,000-300,000 souls. Large-scale emigration to Israel, Canada, Venezuela and other parts of the world left a shrunken Jewish population that was an acute minority in a Moslem country.

"It was not always easy, acknowledged Azoulay, "but we never compromised on our identity, our values and our memories." Whatever suffering Moroccan Jews had endured, he said, could not compare to what was inflicted on the Jews of Europe. "It wasn't exactly the Garden of Eden, but we were a protected minority," he said.

"While maintaining their Jewish heritage, Moroccan Jews are also strongly nationalistic, said Azoulay, and are torn when they hear news reports of Palestinians killing Israeli Jews, and Israelis killing Palestinians. "We are after all partially Arab" he said, reflecting on centuries of Jewish existence in Morocco which is the last bastion of flourishing Jewish life in the Arab world.

"Though determined to remain on Moroccan soil to preserve its glorious Jewish heritage, Moroccan Jews are also eager for peace for Israel, he said, adding: "If you are a proud Jew, you cannot be indifferent to peace."

"Moroccan Jews live in a country which supports Palestinian aspirations but which is also committed to peace, said Azoulay. "We want peace to be equally shared by Jews and Moslems, Jews and Arabs and we work in the service of peace," he said."

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Only 12 days to go to HARIF Week

Got your tickets yet?

A reminder to book now for the exciting lectures, concerts and films to be shown as part of HARIF Jews from Arab Countries Week in London, which runs from 14 to 20 November 2005.

Among the highlights is a lecture by Bat Ye'or, the historian who coined the word dhimmitude. She will be speaking at a prestige central London venue on 'Jewish survival in Muslim lands.'

A must-see is the David Project film, the Forgotten refugees,which deals with the flight of a million Jews from Arab countries and Iran, and the loss of their heritage. There will be a stimulating discussion afterwards.

For full programme see Harif website.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Homage to Shaoul Haham Sassoon Khedourie

Shaoul Haham Sassoon Khedourie, who died on 1 October aged 97, was commemorated at Lauderdale Road Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London on 30 October. A sizeable contingent of Muslim Iraqi friends, including the imam Sayyeed Jawad Al-Khoei, grandson of a famous Ayatollah, attended the service, and tributes were received from Mordechai ben Porat in Israel; Ahmed Chalabi, Kenan Makiya, and other Iraqi politicians and journalists.

The sprightly son of the last Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, Shaoul Sassoon came to London in 1971. One of the two books he published privately was In the hell of Saddam Hussein, an account of the year he spent in prison in the notorious Terminal Palace in Baghdad.

At 3am on 11 November 1968, two months after the Baathists led by Saddam Hussein and Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr seized power, six men entered his house and took a blindfolded Shaoul Sassoon away.

At that stage the 5,000 Jews still left in Iraq lived in a state of harassment and persecution. Jews were forbidden to dispose of their assets and prevented from earning a proper living. Every Jew was assumed to be a dangerous spy.

In Saddam's Palace Sassoon was tortured along with other Jews and many opponents of the regime, including former Prime Minister Abdul Rahman al-Bazzaz. Sassoon stood trial with al-Bazzaz and they and a third man were acquitted. A fourth - a Jewish prisoner, Albert Nounou, was executed on false charges of spying for Israel.

In his elegy to Shaoul Hakham Sassoon, Edwin Shuker said that Sassoon's life mirrored that of the Iraqi Jewish community. In the 1930s and 40s, Sassoon worked in government service. Jews were then dismissed from their public posts and in the 50s Sassoon worked in private business, managing a car parts dealership. In the 60s he was prosecuted and persecuted and in the 1970s forced into exile.