Thursday, February 23, 2006

'My father would have been proud '- Amir Peretz

Guysen News has more detail on Israeli Labour Party leader Amir Peretz's lightning visit to Morocco:

"When I shook the King of Morocco's hand I thought of my father, David Peretz, of blessed memory. He was a community leader in Morocco. How he would have been proud of me at that moment, he who dreamt of it all his life without ever experiencing it." Peretz had gone back to Morocco with his father 12 years ago.

Four years after his father's death, Peretz could not hide his feelings when he entered Casablanca's synagogue. Meeting two of his cousins, he attended a Barmitzvah ceremony and was called up to the Law.

For the King Peretz had brought with him an ancient Koran, the gift of the Israel Museum. "I told him the Koran had more verses about peace than violence," Peretz reported. Received with honour Peretz lunched at the royal table where typical Moroccan but kosher dishes had been prepared.

Read article in full

Update: Interview with Peretz in Arabic newspaper

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Iran Jewish leader challenged to debate

An Iranian professor has challenged the leader of the Iran Jewish community to a debate. The professor says the Holocaust has been misused for 'systematic genocide' of Palestinians, reports Judeoscope in an article reprinted by Ynet News.

"Yet more Holocaust denial from the Islamic Republic of Iran, this time in a letter by a "professor" to the leader of Iran’s small Jewish community, who recently slammed Iran president Ahmadinejad’s repeated denials of the Holocaust.

"Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported that the director of the Tehran-based Department for Iranian Studies, Abbas Salimi Namin, said "the Holocaust is being used by the Zionists for a series of intertwined and targeted objectives."

In a letter to head of Iranian Jewish community, Haroon Yashayee, a copy of which was faxed to IRNA, Salimi Namin said, "As you know, Holocaust has only concentrated on the genocide of the Jews and made no mention of the large nomadic communities (the Gypsies) and Christian Slavs who were slaughtered by the Nazi army."

He pointed out, "Even the least support is not being given to victims from other communities slaughtered during World War II and large sums in compensation are being channeled from Europe and the US to the racist Zionists to continue their crimes against humanity."

Read article in full

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bernard Lewis on antisemitism

Bernard Lewis, one of the greatest living experts on Islamic history, wrote this must-read piece in the American Scholar, Winter 2006. He deconstructs the features of antisemitism: hatred is part of the human experience, but antisemitism is characterised by double standards and the accusation against Jews of cosmic evil. He also identifies a concomitant 'racism of low expectations' towards the Arabs which has led Judeophobia in the Arab world to grow and flourish. (History News Network blog, via Israpundit).

"There is a well-worn platitude that we have all heard many times before: it is perfectly legitimate to criticize the actions and policies of the state of Israel or the doctrines of Zionism without necessarily being motivated by antisemitism. The fact that this has been repeated ad nauseam does not detract from its truth. Not only do I accept it, but I would even take it a step further with another formulation that may perhaps evoke surprise if not shock: it is perfectly possible to hate and even to persecute Jews without necessarily being anti-Semitic."

Lewis then identifies the double standards at work here - slaughter by white people is bad; slaughter of or by people of colour is normal.

For Lewis antisemitism in the western world has gone through three distinct phases:religious antisemitism and demonisation of the Jews as Christ-killers; racial antisemitism, which began with the 16th century Spanish obsession with the 'purity of blood' and was systematised in 19th century Germany. The third, post-World War II phase of antisemitism Lewis calls 'political-cum-ideological judeophobia'.

"Turning from the Christian to the Islamic world, we find a very different history. If we look at the considerable literature available about the position of Jews in the Islamic world, we find two well-established myths. One is the story of a golden age of equality, of mutual respect and cooperation, especially but not exclusively in Moorish Spain; the other is of “dhimmi”-tude, of subservience and persecution and ill treatment. Both are myths. Like many myths, both contain significant elements of truth, and the historic truth is in its usual place, somewhere in the middle between the extremes.

"There are certain important differences between the treatment, the position, the perception of Jews in the pre-modern Islamic world and in the pre-modern and also modern Christian worlds.

"The story of a golden age of complete equality is, of course, nonsense. No such thing was possible or even conceivable. Indeed, among Christians and Muslims alike, giving equal rights or, more precisely, equal opportunities to unbelievers would have been seen not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. But until fairly modern times there was a much higher degree of tolerance in most of the Islamic lands than prevailed in the Christian world. For centuries, in most of Europe Christians were very busy persecuting each other; in their spare time, they were persecuting Jews and expelling Muslims—all at a time when, in the Ottoman Empire and some other Islamic states, Jews and several varieties of Christians were living side by side fairly freely and comfortably."(...)

"This was tolerance and no more than that. Tolerance is by modern standards an essentially intolerant idea. Tolerance means that I am in charge. I will allow you some though not all of the rights and privileges that I enjoy, provided that you behave yourself according to rules that I will lay down and enforce. That seems a fair definition of tolerance as usually understood and applied. It is, of course, an intolerant idea, but it is a lot better than intolerance as such, and the limited but substantial tolerance accorded to Jews and other non-Muslim communities in the Muslim states until early modern times was certainly vastly better than anything that was available in Christendom.(...)

"Obviously, this is not equality, but it is not antisemitism in any sense of the word either. The Ottomans’ treatment of the Jews even included a kind of respect. We do of course find expressions of prejudice against the Jews, as against any group of people that are different, but their general attitude was of amused, tolerant superiority.

"An interesting difference in hostile stereotypes can be found in anecdotes, jokes, and the like. The main negative quality attributed to Jews in Turkish and Arab folklore was that they were cowardly and unmilitary—very contemptible qualities in a martial society.

How unbearable the humiliation and shock when five Arab armies were defeated by half-a-million Jews in 1948. But the western version of antisemitism had already penetrated the Arab world in several stages, the last being Nazi antisemitism.

"Now that the German archives are open, we know that within weeks of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem got in touch with the German consul general in Jerusalem, Doctor Heinrich Wolff, and offered his services. It is interesting that the common image of the Germans pursuing the Arabs is the reverse of what happened. The Arabs were pursuing the Germans, and the Germans were very reluctant to get involved."

"The Nazi propaganda impact was immense. We see it in Arabic memoirs of the period, and of course in the foundation of the Ba’ath party. We use the word “party” in speaking of the Ba’ath in the same sense in which one speaks of the Fascist, Nazi, or Communist parties—not a party in the Western sense, an organization for seeking votes and winning elections, but a party as part of the apparatus of government, particularly concerned with indoctrination and repression. And anti-Semitism, European-style, became a very important part of that indoctrination. The basis was there. A certain amount of translated literature was there. It became much more important after the events of 1948, when the humiliated Arabs drew comfort from the doctrine of the Jews as a source of cosmic evil.

Lewis then turns to the double standards operating in favour of the Arabs:

"The United Nations’s handling of the 1948 war and the resulting problems shows some curious disparities—for example, on the question of refugees. At the end of the initial struggle in Palestine, part of the country was under the rule of the newly created Jewish state, part under the rule of neighboring Arab governments. A significant number of Arabs remained in the territories under Jewish rule. It was taken then as axiomatic, and has never been challenged since, that no Jews could remain in the areas of Palestine under Arab rule, so that as well as Arab refugees from the Jewish-controlled areas, there were Jewish refugees from the Arab-controlled areas of mandatary Palestine, not just settlers, but old, established groups, notably the ancient Jewish community in East Jerusalem, which was totally evicted and its monuments desecrated or destroyed. The United Nations seemed to have no problem with this; nor did international public opinion. When Jews were driven out, no provision was made for them, no help offered, no protest made. This surely sent a very clear message to the Arab world, a less clear message to the Jews.

"Jewish refugees came not only from those parts of Palestine that were under Arab rule, but also from Arab countries, where the Jewish communities either fled or were driven out, in numbers roughly equal to those of the Arab refugees from Israel. Again, the response of the United Nations to the two groups of refugees was very different. For Arab refugees in Palestine, very elaborate arrangements were made and very extensive financing provided. This contrasts not only with the treatment of Jews from Arab countries, but with the treatment of all the other refugees at the time. The partition of Palestine in 1948 was a trivial affair compared with the partition of India in the previous year, which resulted in millions of refugees—Hindus who fled or were driven from Pakistan into India, and Muslims who fled or were driven from India into Pakistan. This occurred entirely without any help from the United Nations, and perhaps for that reason the refugees were all resettled. One could go back a little further and talk about the millions of refugees in Central and Eastern Europe—Poles fleeing from the Eastern Polish areas annexed to the Soviet Union and Germans fleeing from the East German areas annexed to Poland. Millions of them, of both nationalities, were left entirely to their own people and their own resources.

"Some other measures adopted at the time may be worth noting. All the Arab governments involved announced two things. First, they would not recognize Israel. They were entitled to do that. Second, they would not admit Israelis of any religion to their territories, which meant that not only Israeli Jews but also Israeli Muslims and Christians were not allowed into East Jerusalem. Catholic and Protestant Christians were permitted to enter once a year on Christmas Day for a few hours, but otherwise there was no admittance to the holy places in Jerusalem for Jews or Christians. Worse than that, Muslims in Israel were unable to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. For Christians, pilgrimage is optional. For Muslims it is a basic obligation of the faith. A Muslim is required to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina at least once in a lifetime. The Saudi government of the time ruled that Muslims who were Israeli citizens could not go. Some years later, they modified this rule.

"At the same time, virtually all the Arab governments announced that they would not give visas to Jews of any nationality.(...)

Neither the United Nations nor the public protested any of this in any way, so it is hardly surprising that Arab governments concluded that they had license for this sort of action and worse. One other example: unlike the other Arab countries, the Jordanians were at that time willing to accept Palestinian refugees as citizens, and the Jordanian nationality law of February 4, 1954, offered Jordanian citizenship to Palestinians, defined as natives and residents of the mandated territory of Palestine—“except Jews.” This was clearly stated. Not a murmur of protest from anyone, anywhere.

"These examples may serve to illustrate the atmosphere within which the new Arab antisemitism grew and flourished.(...)

"The rationale has thus served two purposes—one for Jews, the other for their enemies. In antisemitism’s first stage, when the hostility was based in religion and expressed in religious terms, the Jew always had the option of changing sides. During the medieval and early modern periods, Jews persecuted by Christians could convert. Not only could they escape the persecution; they could join the persecutors if they so wished, and some indeed rose to high rank in the church and in the Inquisition. Racial antisemitism removed that option. The present-day ideological antisemitism has restored it, and now as in the Middle Ages, there seem to be some who are willing to avail themselves of this option.

"For non-Jews the rationale brought a different kind of relief. For more than half a century, any discussion of Jews and their problems has been overshadowed by the grim memories of the crimes of the Nazis and of the complicity, acquiescence, or indifference of so many others. But inevitably, the memory of those days is fading, and now Israel and its problems afford an opportunity to relinquish the unfamiliar and uncomfortable posture of guilt and contrition and to resume the more familiar and more comfortable position of stern reproof from an attitude of moral superiority. It is not surprising that this opportunity is widely welcomed and utilized."

Read article in full

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The plight of the Jews of Iran

Shelomo Alfassa asks:

If the US (or Israel) makes a preemptive strike against Iran to destroy their nuclear reactors, what will be the fate of the 30,000 Jews who live there? (with thanks: Albert)

The consequence of a preemptive salvo against Iran would set the Muslim world ablaze. Jews living in Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and other countries would become targets of angry Muslim crowds that have been indoctrinated, since birth, to blindly hate the Jews as part of their social and sacred responsibilities.

"In April 2005 an article entitled, "Mr. President, Please Call Tehran," by this author, was widely circulated in the media. It was a call for the Iranian-born President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, to facilitate communication between Israel and the Jewish community in Iran, in an effort to seek evacuation as the Iranian hatred for Jews was starting to simmer.

"Now, ten months later, the hatred toward the world Jewish community is boiling over. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for jihad against Israel with his proclamation that Israel must be, "Wiped off the face of the earth." Ahmadinejad is strategically fanning the flames of hatred among Islamic terrorist groups to unite against the Jews and the Western world. "

Read article in full

Friday, February 17, 2006

Amir Peretz meets King of Morocco

Labor party chairman Amir Peretz met on Friday with Morocco's King Muhammed VI at the king's palace in Fez, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Peretz, who arrived in Morocco on Thursday and was due to return to Israel on Sunday, said that he initiated the meeting in hopes of opening communication between Israel and the Arab world, and that Morocco played a pivotal role in that process, Israel Radio reported.

While Israel would fight an "uncompromising" war on Hamas and other terror organizations, Peretz asserted, the fight was with those groups and not with Arabs as a group.

Mohammed welcomed Peretz' overture, calling it a "brave step."

In November, President Moshe Katsav issued a public invitation to King Muhammad to come to Israel on an official visit and to help sow the seeds of peace in the region.

Katsav, who is aware of the extraordinary measures taken by the Moroccan king to safeguard his Jewish subjects, applauded him for his strong stand against anti- Semitism and expressed the hope that diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel would be renewed in the near future.

Read article in full

Article in Haaretz

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Is Iranian Jewish leader being sidelined?

Haroun Yeshaya, the leader of the Iranian Jewish community who wrote a letter criticising President Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust, may already have been sidelined by the regime, The Forward reports.

Sources familiar with the leadership dynamics of Iran's Jewish community say that the Iranian government had advised Yeshaya a few months ago not to run for a new term as chairman. The move was seen by some observers as part of a larger purge launched by the Iranian president against critics in various sectors of society. Other observers offer a different theory, saying that the government wanted a less vocal Jewish leader, even though Yeshaya generally supported the Islamic regime.

Yeshaya resisted for months but eventually agreed not to run again for chairman of the Jewish Central Committee. His term is set to expire in two months, after the Persian New Year.

A former communist who opposed the shah, Yeshaya was one of the first Jews to support the Ayatollah Khomeini. He used his connections to protect the Jewish community in the face of the rabid anti-Israel rhetoric of the early days of the Islamist regime.

To curry favor with the regime, he has issued anti-Zionist statements repeatedly. His recent letter to Ahmadinejad, protesting the questioning of the Holocaust, allegedly included anti-Zionist rhetoric.

According to a 1999 report in New York Jewish Week, some Iranian and American Jewish leaders have privately accused Yeshaya of playing a role in the imprisonment of 10 Jews in Shiraz that year on charges of spying for Israel. The sources said Yeshaya acted against the Shiraz Jews because their Orthodox views clashed with his secular leanings. However, even Yeshaya's critics agree that he was instrumental in securing the release of the prisoners in 2003 after years of international pressure on the regime. And he has at times protested the antisemitic content of popular television serials and books published in Iran, as has Maurice Motamed, Iran's only Jewish parliamentarian.

But questions remain among some of the regime's strongest opponents in the Iranian exile community.

"I'm a little suspicious about the publication of the letter given the loyalty of the author to the regime," said Pooya Dayanim, president of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee. The committee is staunchly opposed to Tehran's Islamic government. "This may in the end be to the detriment of Iranian Jewry."

Read article in full

Yemen-born diva dies

Born in 1923 in the city of Damar in Yemen, Shoshana Damari, diva of Israeli popular song and an Israel Prize laureate, has died aged 83.

She came to Israel at the age of two. She began her long musical career as a young child, accompanying her mother, who sang at functions. Damari left her parents' home at age 13 and moved to Tel Aviv, where she met her manager Shlomo Bushmi. The two married three years later.

That same year, 1949, Damari launched a solo musical act at the Li-La-Lo Theater and became a permanent cast member at the theater. One of the numbers written for the theater by poet Natan Alterman and composed by Shlomo Wilenski, Kalaniot (anemones) became her trademark song over the years.

Her alto voice was distinctive because of her Yemenite pronunciation of some Hebrew letters. She was very well known especially in the period before and after the founding of the State of Israel. She is considered by many as the "Queen of Israeli song".

She was also known for her popularity amongst Israeli soldiers, for whom she frequently performed over several decades.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The last three Jews of Qamishli, Syria

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Sasha Troy meets the last three Jews living in the Syrian town of Qamishli, 800 meters from the Turkish border. (With thanks:Lily)

"As we finish the rest of the grilled fish and order our sweet tea, I am invited to the Pinchases' home for Shabbat - my first Shabbat in Syria with Jews, in fact.

In Jerusalem, Jews are used to the Friday afternoon air siren that announces the arrival of Shabbat. In Qamishli, as in the rest of Syria, the muezzin (Muslim prayer caller) announces the maghreb prayer at sunset. For the Pinchas family, the muezzin's "Allahu Akbar" at sunset indicates the start of Shabbat.

"Musa lives with his parents, David and Simcha, in a rather large apartment. During a brief tour of the house, he shows me the spot on the wall of the living room commemorating Jerusalem, and a metal wall hanging with the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew in the dining room.

Then, as my eyes turn from the words in Hebrew to the adjacent wall, my jaw drops. There hangs a large, framed picture of the dictator with the caption, "General Hafez Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic."

"Isn't that a little strange, to have the Ten Commandments and Hafez Assad on display in the same room?" I ask Musa.

"Why should it be?" he replies. "In the United States, synagogues have the American flag on one side and the Israeli flag on the other. This is the same thing."

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The forgotten narrative: Jews from Arab countries

In his seminal, must-read piece published in the Fall 2005 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review Avi Beker asks two leading questions: Why was the story of the Jewish refugees from Arab Countries suppressed? How did it become a forgotten exodus?

"Historically, there was an exchange of populations in the Middle East and the number of displaced Jews exceeds the number of Palestinian Arab refugees. Most of the Jews were expelled as a result of an open policy of anti-Semitic incitement and even ethnic cleansing. However, unlike the Arab refugees, the Jews who fled are a forgotten case because of a combination of international cynicism and domestic Israeli suppression of the subject. The Palestinians are the only group of refugees out of the more than one hundred million who were displaced after World War II who have a special UN agency that, according to its mandate, cannot but perpetuate their tragedy. An open debate about the exodus of the Jews is critical for countering the Palestinian demand for the "right of return" and will require a more objective scrutiny of the myths about the origins of the Arab- Israeli conflict."

Why was the Israeli government and people silent on an issue that touches the very heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

On the Israeli Left, Beker identifies a reluctance to grant the Jewish side the moral high ground. The Right and Centre has preferred to stress that the Jews from the Arab states were drawn to Israel by Zionist ideals and did not come as refugees.

As a result of this silence, the Arabs have been able to delegitimise Israel based from the beginning on the tragedy of the Palestinians. UNWRA has not only prevented the rehabilitation of the refugees, but has played into the hands of the militant groups.

Furthermore, Beker alleges, history has been rewritten to suggest that Jews and Muslims have lived in an interfaith utopia under Islam. This myth is used to deny allegations that Jews were expelled from Arab states or faced threats or persecution there. Arab and Palestinian leaders have claimed that the Jews who left those countries can return and resume their peaceful lives. But the historical record of Jewish life under Arab rule is mixed and much less encouraging.

The denial of history and justice has become an important tool in the Arab-Palestinian narrative. The obfuscation of the Jewish exodus from Arab countries is part of a larger revisionist endeavour.

"The Arab demand for a 'right of return' is a formula for destroying Israel as a Jewish state and reflects the unwillingness to seek a realistic settlement. Open discussion of the Jews' flight from Arab countries will encourage a more objective scrutiny of the myths about the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arab and Palestinian responsibility for the population exchange that occurred weakens their argument for a 'return'; and highlights the double standard the UN has consistently applied to the conflict.

"The case of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their harsh expulsion is a critical element in transforming the refugee question from a political-military tool to a humanitarian issue and helping to set the Middle East narrative straight."

Read article in full

Monday, February 13, 2006

Beware the 'dhimmified' non-Arab

If you thought Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, ex-Secretary General of the UN, would, as a Christian Copt from Egypt, be more sympathetic to his fellow dhimmis, the Jews - you would be mistaken, argues Gerald Honigman.

"While dhimmitude primarily refers to the plight of conquered, native Christian and Jewish populations, the People of the Book, keep in mind that Arab racist attitudes also extended to those who – to jump on the winning bandwagon, escape taxation, and so forth – became Muslims. And those who were not ahl al-Kitab either usually converted or were massacred.

The Abbasid Revolution in the 8th century C. E. largely occurred because of the disgust of the converted Mawali populations with the blatant Arabism of the Umayyads. And in the age of nationalism centuries later, hundreds of thousands of Muslims–but non-Arabs–would continue to be slaughtered in the name of the Arab nation…Berbers, Black Africans, Kurds, and so forth. (...)

All of this made me think about some famous quotes I had come across during my own doctoral study days.

In Amos Elon’s Flight Into Egypt (New York, 1980), he reviewed his encounters with the late President Sadat’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The latter would later become Secretary General of the United Nations.

A Copt – i.e. a descendant of Egypt’s now subjugated, ancient, pre-Arab Christian people – it was largely believed that Boutros-Ghali was chosen for this post precisely because of his unquestioned, assured loyalty. Centuries of dhimmitude could be expected to have done its thing. And it did.

Listen carefully to some excerpts regarding this Copt’s advice to Elon, a prominent Israeli journalist:

In his office, there is a map of the Middle East on which Israel is still blacked out…Israel must integrate by accepting the nature of the area…that nature that is Arab…In a tape of a long discourse delivered in 1975 to Professor Brecher he proclaimed that…in the vast area between the Persian Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean everyone had to be Arab or risk continuing strife…Still, Boutros-Ghali felt that there might be a solution. How?…Well, Israel could become an Arab country. Most Israelis were (Jewish) immigrants from Arab countries anyway (pp.84-91).

While this might be a great answer to Iran’s Ahmadinejad, who likes to claim a European origin for all of Israel‘s Jews, please pardon my nausea anyway.

But now think about what’s going on all around the Middle East…the subjugation and at times outlawing of fellow Muslim – but non-Arab – Kurdish, Berber, and so forth languages and cultures ( i.e. Kurdish kids being forced to sing songs praising their “Arab” identities today in Syria and such), continuing slaughter of both Muslim and non-Muslim black Africans in the Sudan and elsewhere, etc. (...)

To learn more about this, other scholars, besides the Egyptian Jewess Bat Ye’or, have also made important contributions. One, in particular, Professor Albert Memmi, a Tunisian-born Jew at the Sorbonne, wrote a short but powerful work also exposing firsthand, like Bat Ye’or, dhimmitude… and what needs to be done about it. Memmi supported Tunisia’s struggle for independence from France, and the mere four lines on the opening page to his book, Jews And Arabs, say it all…

To my Jewish brothers
To my Arab brothers
so that we can all
be free men at last…

Compare this to Boutros-Ghali’s pathetic advice.

In fairness, in contrast to Copts who daily fear for their very lives in Egypt, a reading of what they have to say about these things when they flee abroad is telling as well. Ditto for Christian, pre-Arab Lebanese, Assyrians, Armenians, and others.

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe authored a famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which she wrote of the blacks’ expected servile behavior towards their white masters.

Indeed, this is the Arabs’ predominant idea of “tolerance”… a whole region of Uncle Boutroses.

So, the recent explosive episodes regarding the cartoons in Denmark should really have not been unexpected.

Arabs and too many of their non-Arab, but fellow Muslim wannabes typically believe that others may not indulge in what they routinely do to others, often many times worse.

The litmus test for the Muslim non-Arab too often becomes out-Arabing the Arab in hatred of the Jew, subjugation of the dhimmi, and/or defense of the faith…a faith which, after all, was shoved down their own throats, either directly or indirectly, centuries earlier by the imperial conquests of the Arabs.

Hopefully, the eyes of even the most naïve will at last open to the consequences of continuing to allow Arabs free reign with their hypocrisy and double standards.

And that thorn-in-the-side state of the scorned kilab yahud -“Jew dogs”, as Arabs like to call it –is on the front lines for all the rest of the Dar ul-Harb… the realm of war in Islam’s eyes.

While there are Muslims who disagree with the jihadists, the sad fact is that the militants are in the ascendancy, forcing all but a relatively few brave souls into silence or to cower behind them.

Wise up, World, before it’s too late."

Read article in full

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Iranian Jewish leader criticises President

The chairman of the Iranian Jewish commmunity, here reported as uneasy over the Iranian president's Holocaust denial, has plucked up courage to write a strongly-worded letter, the BBC reports. (With thanks: Albert)

The chairman of Iran's Jewish Council has strongly criticised the country's hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying the Holocaust was a myth. In a letter to the president, Haroun Yashayaei said the leader's remarks had shocked the international community and caused fear in Iran's Jewish community. Mr Yashayaei described the Holocaust as one of the most obvious and sad events in the 20th Century. Six million Jews were killed in Nazi persecution during World War II. This is the first time that a senior Iranian Jewish leader has openly criticised President Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust.

In his strongly-worded letter, Mr Yashayaei asked the president how he could justify what he termed the crimes of Hitler.

Mr Yashayaei said the Holocaust was a fact of history and not a myth and accused the Iranian president of ignorance and political prejudice.

An Iranian Jew lights candles of the Menorah
Iran's small Jewish community is recognised by the Islamic Republic

Iran's small Jewish community of about 30,000 is recognised by the Islamic Republic and there is even a Jewish member of parliament. Iranian Jews normally do not interfere in political issues and they often support the country's stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In a gesture of loyalty
to the Islamic Republic, Mr Yashayaei told the Iranian president that his comments on the Holocaust were against the teachings of the leader of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei. The letter was apparently sent about a week ago and there is no news whether President Ahmadinejad has responded to it.

Read article in full

Update : What the letter said:

"How is it possible to ignore all of the undeniable evidence existing for the exile and massacre of the Jews in Europe during World War Two?" said a copy of Yashayaei's letter faxed to Reuters on Sunday.

"Challenging one of the most obvious and saddening events of 20th-century humanity has created astonishment among the people of the world and spread fear and anxiety among the small Jewish community of Iran," the letter added.

Reuters report in Haaretz (with thanks:Lily)
Jerusalem Post article

Saturday, February 11, 2006

We are all dhimmis now

In the wake of the Danish cartoon controversy, we need to learn a new word: dhimmitude, writes Diana West in the Washington Post.

"I've written about dhimmitude periodically, lo, these many years since September 11, but it takes time to sink in. Dhimmitude is the coinage of a brilliant historian, Bat Ye'or, whose pioneering studies of the dhimmi, populations of Jews and Christians vanquished by Islamic jihad, have led her to conclude that a common culture has existed through the centuries among the varied dhimmi populations. From Egypt and Palestine to Iraq and Syria, from Morocco and Algeria to Spain, Sicily and Greece, "from Armenia and the Balkans to the Caucasus: Wherever Islam conquered, surrendering dhimmi, known to Muslims as "people of the book [the Bible]," were tolerated, allowed to practice their religion, but at a dehumanizing cost.

"There were literal taxes (jizya) to be paid; these bought the dhimmi the right to remain non-Muslim, the price not of religious freedom, but of religious identity. Freedom was lost, sorely circumscribed by a body of Islamic law (sharia) designed to subjugate, denigrate and humiliate the dhimmi. The resulting culture of self-abnegation, self-censorship and fear shared by far-flung dhimmi is the basis of dhimmitude. The extremely distressing but highly significant fact is, dhimmitude doesn't only exist in lands where Islamic law rules.

"This is the lesson of Cartoon Rage 2006, a cultural nuke set off by an Islamic chain reaction to those 12 cartoons of Muhammad appearing in a Danish newspaper. We have watched the Muslim meltdown with shocked attention, but there is little recognition that its poisonous fallout is fear. Fear in the State Department, which, like Islam, called the cartoons unacceptable. Fear in Whitehall, which did the same. Fear in the Vatican, which did the same. And fear in the media, which have failed, with few, few exceptions, to reprint or show the images. With only a small roll of brave journals, mainly in Europe, to salute, we have seen the proud Western tradition of a free press bow its head and submit to an Islamic law against depictions of Muhammad. That's dhimmitude.

"Not that we admit it: We dress up our capitulation in fancy talk of "tolerance," "responsibility" and "sensitivity." We even congratulate ourselves for having the "editorial judgment" to make "pluralism" possible. "Readers were well served... without publishing the cartoons," said a Wall Street Journal spokesman. "CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam," reported the cable network. On behalf of the BBC, which did show some of the cartoons on the air, a news editor subsequently apologized, adding: "We've taken a decision not to go further... in order not to gratuitously offend the significant number" of Muslim viewers worldwide. Left unmentioned is the understanding (editorial judgement?) that "gratuitous offense" leads to gratuitous violence. Hence, fear — not the inspiration of tolerance but of capitulation — and a condition of dhimmitude.

"How far does it go? Worth noting, for example, is that on the BBC Web site, a religion page about Islam presents the angels and revelations of Islamic belief as historical fact, rather than spiritual conjecture (as is the case with its Christianity Web page); plus, it follows every mention of Mohammed with "(pbuh)," which means "peace be upon him"—"as if," writes Will Wyatt, former BBC chief executive, in a letter to the Times of London, "the corporation itself were Muslim."

"Is it? Are we? These questions may not seem so outlandish if we assess the extent to which encroaching sharia has already changed the Western way. Calling these cartoons "unacceptable," and censoring ourselves "in respect" to Islam brings the West into compliance with a central statute of sharia. As Jyllands-Posten's Flemming Rose has noted, that's not respect, that's submission. And if that's not dhimmitude, what is?

"The publication of the Muhammad cartoons solicited by Denmark's Jyllands-Posten was an act of anti-dhimmitude. Since no Danish artist would dare illustrate a PC children's book about Muhammad for fear of Islamic law (and Islamic violence), the newspaper boldly set out to reassert the rule of (non-Islamic) Danish law. It's as simple as that. And as vital. The cartoons ran to establish — or re-establish — Denmark as bastion of Western-style liberty. But in trying to set up a force field against encroaching sharia, Jyllands-Posten and the Danes have showed us that no single bastion of Western liberty can stand alone.

So, how do you say solidarity in Danish? If we don't find out now, our future is more dhimmitude. "

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Friday, February 10, 2006

WJC Iran campaign may cause Jews to leave

The World Jewish Congress has launched a campaign against Iran following the nuclear crisis and the anti-Semitic statements of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even if this hastens the emigration of Iran's remaining Jews, Haaretz reports.

"In its bi-annual gathering in Jerusalem on Thursday the WJC called on Jewish communities throughout the world to pressure their governments to act against the Iranian nuclear program and urge economic and political sanctions against Iran.

"The WJC also called on Jewish communities to act to change their countries' energy policy so that they decrease the dependence on oil.

"President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress Alexander Mashkevich called on the WJC to prepare for the possible emigration of Iran's Jews. "It's our responsibility to prepare for the unexpected. It is not clear what their condition is and what their fate will be, and if they want to leave, we should not be surprised," he said.

"He said an estimated 30,000 Jews live in Iran, and that it is extremely hard to maintain contact with them.

"Mashkevich, who emigrated from Kazakhstan, said the former Iranian foreign minister had authorized his visit to the Jewish communities in Iran, but after Ahmadinejad's election, the visit was cancelled.

"The WJC is a world Jewish organization, not a Zionist one, and sees itself as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people.

"The chairman of the WJC's Policy Council, Rabbi Israel Singer, told Haaretz on Thursday that despite the risk of the Iranian regime's harming the Jewish community, the congress decided to debate the issue.

"The Jews in Iran have been living there for 2,700 years, from the days of Queen Esther. They remained there despite the wars and Zionism, and are aware of their situation. We are working for them, not against them," he said.

"Singer said Jewish communities around the world must make it clear to their governments that the Iranian regime threatens not only the Jews with its utterances and nuclear activity, but all the countries in the world."

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Dhimmi denial: confessions of an Ashkenazi

Avril Mailer is an Ashkenazi who confesses she once knew nothing about the history and experience of Jews in Arab countries. But nine years ago, attending her first Limmud - an annual educational event attended by thousands of British Jews - she embarked on a journey of discovery, which she describes here.

In its annual report on the Limmud conference of December 2005, the Jewish Chronicle gave a flavour of the wonderfully rich diversity of enlightenment on offer. Its survey of the sessions covered Zionism on the Couch, with Jacqueline Rose, where she described her book “The Question of Zion”as “an attempt to understand...the obduracy.. and ruthlessness at the heart of Zionism, long before the Shoah.”

I attended her session. Professor Rose, in her own words, “engages with”a Freudian psychoanlytic approach. She prescribes a process of recognition by Jews and Israelis of the pain they have caused the Palestinians, which she knows will be traumatic, as they have suppressed this knowledge, but really it will be very therapeutic. Soon enough, she referred to the Palestinian Other.

She also emphasised that the hostility to the Jews who came to establish the Jewish state was not against them as Jews, but was hostility to Europeans coming to create a European colony.

A questioner who identified herself as a Jungian psychoanalyst and Rabbi (such is the rich variety of Limmud), pointed out that anti -semitism was also fear of the Other. She cited the dhimmi as Other, referring to the particularly severe persecution of the Jews in Yemen.

I then commented that Rose's whole analysis was Eurocentric and ignored a huge component of the Palestinian and Jewish psychic drama she had described; namely the effect on both players of 1,000 years of dhimmitude. She had not recognised that the Arab objection was not just to a European state, or a Jewish state, but to the fact that it was a dhimmi state. The audience applauded and Prof Rose looked blank and asked, " a what state?" My impression was that even at the second mention, this term, the big Other, the dhimmi, had no resonance for her at all.

I continued that this suppressed history needed recognising, even more so than that of the Palestinians. There was already some recognition by Jews of the suffering of the Palestinians (whatever the contention over causality) whereas there was still almost total flat denial of the history and true nature of the dhimmi regime among Arab historians. She misunderstood the “even more so” and began berating me heatedly for valuing Jewish suffering above that of Palestinians, and calling shame upon the audience for applauding my points. I approached her after the session ended to explain my point about the suppression of dhimmi history. If that were the case, she said (indicating thereby this was not something she knew about) then it should be spoken of, but not, she emphasised vehemently, at the expense of the Palestinians. This indicated to me she has not grasped why it is important for her, and all of us, to understand the whole history and dynamic for a proper context, before prescribing the remedy for healing what she regards as the great guilt trauma on the Jewish psyche.

Here I confess my guilt: ignorance, as an Ashkenazi, of the history and experience as dhimmis of the Jews in the Arab lands, until I chanced upon a session at my first Limmud some nine years ago. There, fuzzy preconceptions about Jews under Arab rule, Golden Age of Spain, tolerance compared to Christian Inquisition and all that -were overturned and replaced with a painful complexity. I learned of a system of deliberate ritual humiliation in day-to-day life which long preceded the Nuremburg laws. There were times of greater leniency and flourishing which varied from country to country, but even in Spain it was always conditional on homage to superior power , always subject to the vagaries of the administration.

Another Limmud, another session, by a dedicated young man from the Israel Justice department, showing us the copious documentation in support of the move for compensation for the confiscation of property and businesses by Jews driven out by edict or intimidation, either direct, or bred of the dhimmi experience. He explained why these Jews did not tell their story in the early days of Israel: politically discouraged by Israel's need to emphasise the pull of Zionism rather than the push of the Arab regimes, out of deference to the trauma of the Holocaust survivors, the lack of a voice in Ashkenazi-dominated Israel, and the desire to put it behind them and start a fresh life.

An aspect of this silence is dealt with by Bat Ye'or in her magisterial first book on the subject The Dhimmi, in the chapter on the psychological effects of the dhimmi experience, an area which has unaccountably escaped the attention of Professor Rose. From the lack of status as witness in an Ottoman court, to the systematic obliteration of their history by the imperial powers of the umma, this reticence means that the Ashkenazi branch of Zionism has skewed the narrative, and in Bat Ye'or's words, “ a comprehensive vision of the people's endeavours along the road to independence is lacking.”

As the man from the Justice Ministry said, whatever the difficulties of their claim in international law, the claims procedure is a valuable part of the process of validating the history and sense of self of the claimants, by making their voices heard.

This is starting to happen, with showings of Pierre Rehov's film Silent Exodus and the events run by Harif and other organisations; for information, see 'Point of no return'. There was no excuse for ignorance at this year's Limmud with films and several talks, some, ironically, by Prof. Raphael Israeli, against whom Prof. Rose debated last year on Zionism.

A vital aspect in conflict healing, the Truth and Reconciliation process shows, is that suppressed voices need to be heard, telling their story in their own voices to the perpetrators, who need to acknowledge the wrong done, if not by individuals, then by the oppressing system.

As Jonathan Freedland concedes, plenty of Jews already criticise and debate Israel in a spirit of pluralism absent from most of the Muslim world.

In the face of meticulous documentation by Bat Ye'or, Muslim scholars respond with flat denial, as they do when Melanie Phillips debates them on the radio. These have now been joined by anti-Zionists, including Jews, who maintain in the debating halls of the internet, that “dhimmi history” (their sceptic quotation marks) is just a Zionist fantasy. This echoes the Holocaust deniers who claim the Holocaust, or the use of it, is just a Zionist tool.

This leads me to the realisation that what is happening is becoming the equivalent of Holocaust denial. Crucially, those anti-Zionists who prescribe remedies for the Zionist “trauma” that involve subsuming the Jewish state, fail utterly to deal first with the trauma to both sides in the dhimmi paradigm.

The Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi writes: 'The Arabs . . . have not yet recovered from the shock of seeing their former underlings raise their heads, attempting even to gain their national independence.”

Jews have a duty to educate on this history. There is a good programme on Holocaust education, and we must equally avail ourselves of the information now available on the Jews from the Arab lands.

Without this knowledge, remedies offered by the likes of Professor Rose will be deeply flawed, if not fatuous. As Bat Ye'or wrote all of 20 years ago in [page 149 the Dhimmi:Jews and Christians under Islam, 1985]:

“This shortcoming [ignorance or amnesia] is in part responsible for the difficulty of a dialogue with those who attribute the present situation of the Palestinian Arab refugees to European antisemitism and Nazism, whereas it is the consequence of a much more ancient tragedy. Only when the history of the dhimmis will have been taken into consideration will solutions be found to satisfy the rights of each party in conformity with historical realities.”

Monday, February 06, 2006

Iranian Jew fears for those who remain

“Some of the Jews in Iran (under the Shah) were like the Jews in Germany,” says Laudie Freed (with thanks: JIMENA February newsletter). “After all the oil money had poured in to the country in the 70s and the country was prosperous, they didn’t think anything could happen to them.”

Laudie’s family began leaving Iran years before most. In the 1940s and 50s her grandfather made a decision that life for his Jewish children would be much better in the United States. While all the female children had French names Laudie’s mother’s was Persian, Mahin. Of her six siblings, Mahin was the only one to stay in Tehran. She feared the anti-Semitism she saw from the lower rungs of the government. But, she felt she had found a solution when a marriage was arranged with her and a Jewish lieutenant and doctor in the Iranian army, Nassrolah.

“I remember people saluting my father,” Laudie says.“I remember his sword; big, long scary, steel sword.”

While his Muslim subordinates respected him, Iran was still Iran: a culture hostile to its large Jewish minority. And a country that continues to be hostile to its Jewish citizens under the stewardship of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“There were not same system of rules* as you have here [America],” Laudie says. “My father wanted to buy fruit off of a cart. He touched a cucumber. And the cart owner says, ‘get your hand off that cucumber you dirty Jew!’ The next day my father put on his uniform and went to the cart. ‘How are you lieutenant?’ said the man owning the cart. My father threw the cart on the ground. The man owning the cart asked why? My father said, ‘I am the dirty Jew, that’s why!’”

But such shows of bravado were not enough, and while Iran’s Jews felt safe under the Shah, Laudie says there was a feeling that it couldn’t last. “There was always talk of an overthrow. Iran was surround by countries against the Shah. The borders were hovering with insurgents.”In the mid 1960’s, someone told my father, ‘your house will be my house after the revolution.’ I am not going to argue with him. The house is probably his now.” It was that fear that had pushed Laudie’s grandfather to send his children away, even though he ran a very successful import and export business and lived in an enormous mansion protected by large iron gates.

“There were parties on the rooftop with lanterns and women wearing ornate dresses,” Laudie says. But the days of the parties on the roof were to come to an end. Laudie left Tehran definitively in 1966. To get visas from Iranian officials her family said that they were going on vacation in Israel. Her father was offered a job at Hadassah hospital, but life in the fledgling country was hard and they continued to America. “I thought I was taken from black and white and I was put in color. There were crayons and art supplies in school. There were nice teachers; there was a gentler kinder way here. It shocked me. It was like a different planet.”

Her Aunt’s family in New York had changed their name from Khajezedah to Karlin. Laudie’s aunt Louise Karlin was the first Iranian Jew to attend an American university, NYU. Like her aunt’s family, Laudie’s ran their fingers over a phone book looking to Americanize their name.

While Laudie’s family built a new life in America, danger grew for the rest of the family back in Iran. Soon after the revolution, in 1979, Laudie’s aunt’s uncle, Habib Elghanian, was executed. His crime – being the Jew who built Tehran’s first skyscraper. “You cannot build a building higher than a mosque,” Laudie says.

Because she arrived before the major exodus of Iranian Jews, which came in the hectic days during and after the revolution, Laudie remembers a Los Angeles with very few Persians.

“Whenever you saw someone from Iran you hugged and became instant family because there was just a handful in the 60’s.”(...)

Laudie is concerned for Jews who still live in Iran. “I don’t know how safe it is there,” she says. “I think that in Iran you take degradation and get used to it. I had a cousin who recently came from Iran. She didn’t think that having to write on your job application that you were a Jew was a big problem. She had gotten use to that requirement and just accepted it.”

While Laudie is fearful for those who remain under the current administration she is also glad about its leader’s ostentatious anti-Semitism. “I am grateful for a new president. At least he speaks the truth of his heart and doesn’t disguise it. He brings to light the true fanaticism in the Iranian government.

”While decades and a revolution separate Laudie’s memories of Iran to what the country is today, she sees the same simple hatred.

*In Shi'a Islam, Jews were considered najas, or unclean

Friday, February 03, 2006

Are Tunisian Jews blinded by nostalgia?

An article by Albert Bellaiche (French) in Guysen Israel News hails the Tunisian head of state Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as a symbol of relative moderation and hope. At a recent international conference on human civilisation and cultures, Ben Ali had said that the image of Arabs and Muslims should not be judged by the behaviour of extremists. "Relations between individuals, communities and peoples must be healthy. There are no superior and no inferior civilisations, any more than there are fertile and sterile cultures."

But the article attracted some fierce comment from Guysen readers:

Guez said that he had lived in Tunisia until the age of 15. " We (along with the Italians and the Maltese) were made to leave, not by force of course, but by what I would call a certain Arab-Muslim pressure (antisemitic insults, false accusations, intimidation). When they tell me Tunisia is a friendly country I say that 's all over with. The Tunisian street has remained deeply anti-Western and anti-Jewish since 1967. Nobody asked us to stay on." Denis seconded Guez, calling Bellaiche's nostalgia 'unbearable.'

Patrick Djebali said that he too had had to leave Tunisia two weeks before his Barmitzvah, but attitudes had changed and he had found a warm welcome in Tunisia, where the Tunisians are basically peaceful, and Ben Ali's pronouncements are to be encouraged.

Guez replied that Jews visiting Tunisia are always taken for foreigners, even if they speak Arabic. Georges said that Patrick's nostalgia was a form of 'Stockholm syndrome'. Andre thought Ben Ali's speech was a cynical exercise to boost tourist numbers to Tunisia.

Tributes to Meir Basri, 1911 - 2006

Meir Basri, the last president of the Iraqi Jewish community, was born on September 11, 1911. He died on January 3, 2006, aged 94. Here is his obituary in the Times of 26 January (scroll down).

A prolific writer, historian, biographer and poet, Basri was educated at the Alliance Israelite School in Baghdad, which he left in 1928 to join the inchoate Foreign Ministry of Iraq following the establishment of the new State under Hashemite rule; at the age of 17 he had already been fluent in Arabic, French, English and Hebrew.

With a notable Iraqi politician, Sayyid Ja’afar Abul- Timman, he was co-founder in the early Thirties of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce, which he continued to serve as secretary-general for many years.

Despite the high positions he held and the great respect he earned among Iraqi Muslims, he suffered great hardships under the Baathist regime; and on January 27, 1969, when nine members of the Jewish community were hanged in public, he was detained at the public security compound, where he was to spend three months.

It was not until 1974 that he was allowed to leave Iraq. He was given refuge in the Netherlands, which he left after six months to settle in London.

The Jewish Chronicle of 3rd February published the following:

A leader of Baghdad Jewry, Meer Basri was admired as a good administrator and accomplished scholar.
A grandson of the Iraqi Chief Rabbi Hakham Ezra Dangoor, he attended the Alliance Francaise (sic) school, graduating in 1928. He worked in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, then the Post and Telegraph Directorate and Baghdad Chamber of Commerce, where he became director in 1943 and led official missions abroad. As Jews were squeezed out of government, following Israel's statehood in 1948, he kept his links with public bodies such as the Iraqi Dates Association, until he was forced out entirely into the private sector in 1953.

His interest in Hebrew led him into Torah and Talmud Studies, Jewish history and literature. He was also adept at economics, Arabic poetry and literature, and was a fine poet in Arabic, English, French and Hebrew.

From an early age his literary work was published in Arabic journals.

He defended the remaining Iraqi Jewish community after the exodus to the new state, especially after Israel's stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, when the defeated Arab aggressors turned on their own Jewish communities. Persecution in Iraq reached new heights as Jews disappeared after being kidnapped , or were publically hanged.

On the death of the Chief Rabbi, Hakham Sassoon Khedouri in 1971, Meer Basri was elected acting president of the community. After being jailed himself, he reluctantly took his family out of Iraq in 1974 during a period of detente.

Settling in London he continued writing and meeting self-exiled Arab friends, who valued his kindness, compassion, honesty and moral strength, as well as his intellectual abilities.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years and loyal partner Marcelle, four daughters and 10 grandchildren.

Obituary by Prof Shmuel Moreh of the Hebrew University published by The Scribe

Tributes in al-Sharq-al-Awsat here and here

Meir Basri sets the record straight

Towards the end of his life, as a surviving witness to the persecution of the Jews, he fought to set the record straight on why the Iraqi Jews had left. In 2002 Haaretz reported that Basri, along with other Iraqi exiles, had begun to challenge the orthodox Iraqi account, which claimed that the Zionists themselves had caused the Jewish exodus. Here's an extract of that article reprinted by MEMRI:

"Less than two years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the events that caused all the Jews of Iraq to leave their homes and immigrate, for the most part, to Israel, an exiled Iraqi attorney and publicist living in Europe published an article in which he analyzed the reasons that he believes were responsible for this mass migration. The article by Khaled Issa Ta'a, which appeared in the London-based Arab newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, was similar in content to hundreds of articles on the subject published by Arab and Iraqi journalists and intellectuals over the past decades.

"The Jews, stated the article, enjoyed complete freedom and full and equal rights in Iraq, and they left only because they were responding to the subversive activity of emissaries of the Zionist movement in Iraq. By behaving this way, the article claimed, the Jews demonstrated ingratitude toward a country and a society that had treated them with great sympathy and consideration.

"Issa Ta'a's article was, in fact, routine, but the debate it aroused, which continues to this day, deviated from the familiar. Like articles by other Iraqi writers, it presented the usual positions accepted by Arab and Iraqi historiography. But this time, as opposed to in the past, these writers were confronted by a group of Iraqi journalists and intellectuals, virtually all of them exiles in Europe, who wanted to question the traditional narrative and to present a different view. Its main thrust: It was not a Zionist plot, but an outburst of Arab nationalism that caused the Jews to leave; it isn't Israel and its emissaries who should be blamed, but the Iraqi leaders who persecuted the Jews, identified them unjustly with Israel, and thus pushed them toward the planes en route to Israel.

"This fascinating debate, which is being conducted mainly in the pages of the Arab press published in London, was covered in a slim pamphlet published recently by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Jerusalem group that keeps track of the Arab media, and distributes translations of articles in the Arab press on Israeli and Jewish subjects. Yotam Feldner, who collected the articles about the Jews of Iraq, translated them into Hebrew and edited the pamphlet, wrote that "the development of a new historical narrative in relation to the Jews in Arab countries and to Zionism is an exceptional phenomenon of great importance," which can be compared to the phenomenon of the "new historians" in Israel.

"As opposed to the historical debate taking place in Israel regarding the 1948 war [of independence], the Iraqi debate doesn't rely on burrowing through the archives or on any documentation, but mainly on personal experiences and on intellectual analysis." The "new Iraqi narrative" that has been taking shape during this debate contradicts both the traditional Iraqi narrative, and the traditional Israeli-Zionist narrative. It's a new Iraqi narrative, which is strongly sympathetic toward the Jews of Iraq.

The first reaction to attorney Issa Ta'a's article was written by Meir Basri, a Jew who continued to live in Iraq even after most of the Jews had left. Until 1974, when he immigrated to London, he served as head of the Jewish community in Baghdad. In his article, also published in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, he claimed that the Jews were "loyal Iraqi citizens" who "were forced to leave their homeland during the years 1950-1951 and to move to Israel" only because of the "policy of persecuting the Jews" that was pursued by the government.

Issa Ta'a was quick to publish a reaction to Basri's article, demanding that he "bring proof" of his claim that the Jews were persecuted. "King Faisal I," he wrote, "never stopped nurturing the Jewish community, and gave it an important position in the hierarchy of honors and in the official royal ceremonies ... Nuri al-Sa'id, the most prominent figure during the era of royalty, represented a school of thought that never opposed the Jewish community. How can one claim that he opposed the Jews, when the school of thought he headed supported the policy of England, which had promised to established a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine?"

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Young Iranian Muslim visits Israel

Making the headlines in the Israeli press lately has been a young Iranian Muslim on a visit to Israel. His purpose: to build bridges between the two peoples, even though he knows his visit to the 'Zionist enemy' willl probably mean he will never be allowed back into Iran.

Hossein seems quite surprised at the number of Iranian-Israelis living in Israel. Most Israelis he meets greet him with warmth and enthusiasm - with the exception of the Iranian Jewish shop-owners on the Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, whose bitter experiences of the Iranian regime are probably still fresh in their minds. Here's why Hossein wanted to go to Israel:

"Some people keep forgetting that Iran and Israel are closer than ever to a war. And this is exactly why I'm here.

"I, as the peace activist who wants to make bridges and the citizen journalist who wants to humanize both sides for one another have not chosen to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Because it's a very complicated issue that I don't have enough expertise to explore, let alone comprehend and report about. I don't know any of the two languages of the two sides and haven't read enough to even have a specific opinion about the conflict and take sides.

"Does it mean that I don't care about it? Does it mean that I think Iran-Israel conflict is more important than Palestine-Israel? Of course not. But when I have limited resources (knowledge, time, and money), it's my right to chose my focus.

"In the past few days, I've meet with many Iranian-Israelis and have recorded extensive interviews with then in Persian. About their life in Iran, in Israel, and their hope and plans for the future. I'm going to meet a few more and interview them too. This is one side of the story."

Telling the truth about the Jews of Egypt

Reviewing the article The Jews of Egypt yesterday and today Rami Mangoubi, a Jewish refugee from Egypt, laments the absence of honesty when the fate of Jews living in Arab countries is discussed.

In “The Jews of Egypt” (Elaph, December 22, 2005) author Nabil Sharaf el Deen is respectful of Egyptian Jews, and even acknowledges that they suffered injustices, including expulsion, during the Nasser era. The reader will also be pleasantly surprised to see that Egyptian Jews who fled to Israel are not described as traitors, a common accusation, but as a community that is “bound by profound longing for the motherland, Egypt”.

Jews who fled persecution in Egypt are “full blooded Egyptians”, declares Sharaf Al Deen. The article describes at length their active role in Egyptian cultural and artistic life. By emphasizing the cultural contributions, the author helps dispel the commonly held belief among many Egyptians that Jews were rich foreigners (khawagat) whose only contributions to Egypt was limited to the economic sphere at best.

The article, however, contains serious historical errors. It wrongly asserts, or at least implies, that prior to the Nasser era, Jews lived in total harmony. While Jews in the twentieth centuries had cordial, warm and unforgettable relations with many other Egyptians, they still experienced suffering and exclusion long before the Nasser era, even long before Israel and Zionism.

Historically and through the middle of the nineteenth century, they, along with Christians, were tolerated as Ahl el Zemma, or Dhimmi. To be precise, they were shown condescending mercy provided they did not contest the inferior social and legal status imposed on them. The Dhimmi status implied the prohibition from testifying against Muslims in court, the prohibition from bearing arms or joining the army, and dress restrictions. Jews and Christians were also required to pay an extra poll tax, the guizyeh.

Shortly after Khedewi Said ordered the emancipation of Jews and Christians from the Dhimmi status in the middle of the nineteenth century, and cancelled the guizyeh, new and increasingly dangerous forms of marginalization and exclusion started to appear. As far back as 1869, long before political Zionism was born, nationality decrees were interpreted so as to deny Jews Egyptian citizenship. These decrees were consolidated into Egypt’s 1929 Nationality Law. As a result, more than 90 percent of Egyptian Jews were denied citizenship, regardless of how many centuries they resided in Egypt. The majority, or 60 percent, remained stateless (apatride or gheir mo’ayan lel genseyah), while others were able to obtain foreign documents. Despite the enormous Jewish contribution to Egypt’s economy, employment laws implemented during the 1930’s and 40’s thought to deny Jews opportunities even in the private sector. The most notorious of these laws was the 1947 Company Law, as a result of which a huge number of Jews, because they lacked citizenship, lost their livelihood.

Few Egyptians are aware that, while Egypt’s government denied employment and citizenship to Jews living in the country for centuries, Israel offered them both upon arrival. The largest percentage of Egyptian Jews, roughly 40 to 45 percent, fled to the Jewish state, while most of the other sixty percent or so spread to various English- or French-speaking countries, mainly the United States and France. We therefore are grateful, and indeed morally indebted, to Israel, and to the other countries that support her and took us.

The absence of any honest discussion of taboo subjects like Israel or the fate of Egyptian Jewry only reflects poorly on the country. Regrettably, in today’s Egypt, it is more common to hear Holocaust denial by high profile personalities like Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. And such criminal bigotry is not limited to fundamentalist circles. William Fisher, who for a long time managed for the state department economic development project in Egypt and in the Middle East, despairs that even graduates of the American University in Cairo whom he considers Egypt’s future leaders, consider the Holocaust “an idea that's been pushed by the Jewish lobby in America.

The sad irony is that such mindset constitutes an injustice not only to Jews who fled the country, but also to non-Jewish Egyptians who were tolerant to Jews.During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, accusations of ritual murders were also common in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world. Nor was the article’s author made aware of the destruction of the Jewish synagogue in Cairo’s Darb el Barabra quarter on November 2, 1945, or the two massacres of Egyptian Jews that occurred during the Summer and Fall of 1948, shortly after the Egyptian army invaded Israel. As many as 42 Jews were murdered, and many more wounded during these massacres No serious trial took place.

Also unbeknown to the well meaning author are the incarceration and torture between 1967 and 1970 of nearly all Egyptian Jewish males, in the notorious detention camps of Abu Za’abal and Tura. Nearly all were freed only on condition they leave the country, never to return; they were taken from prison to the airport without being allowed to see their homes, families, and neighbors.

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