Friday, March 31, 2006

British Board of Deputies backs campaign

The Board of Deputies of British Jews this week backed an international campaign to secure the rights of Jews forced out of Arab countries since 1948, the Jewish Chronicle reports.

The European Jewish Congress is due to launch the International Rights and Redress Campaign in November in order to raise awareness of the existence and heritage of Jewish refugees.

Board vice-president Flo Kaufman represented Anglo-Jewry in Brussels this week as delegates took their demand for compensation to politicians at the European Union.

She told the JC that the Board was very supportive of the campaign and was already considering ways to bring it to the attention of the British government.

"Once the campaign is launched we hope to have put the issue on the agenda in the UK," she said.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Jewish refugees campaign goes to EU

BRUSSELS, March 28 (JTA) — Jews who fled Arab countries following the creation of the State of Israel have taken their demands for restitution to the European Union.

More than 20 delegates from Jewish communities in seven countries gathered in Brussels on Sunday and Monday under the auspices of the International Rights and Redress Campaign, meeting members of the European Parliament to discuss their demands.

The global campaign aims to raise international awareness of the heritage of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and to document human rights violations and loss of assets.

The campaign’s official launch had been due to take place during Passover, but the sudden incapacitation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in January and Israeli elections delayed the launch until November.

Organizers hope to bring worldwide attention to the issue in November through media, politics and education.

The campaign was launched by the U.S.-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, in conjunction with the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries.

“We want to underscore the fact that Jews were also victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict and should be recognized as such,” said Stanley Urman, the campaign’s director. “It’s an injustice to recognize one victim population but not another.”

Read article in full

Reproduced in Jerusalem Post

CRIF report (French)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jewish culture disappears from Tajikistan

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — Even during Sabbath services on a Saturday in early March, as Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhimov read Hebrew prayers and the faithful followed along using Russian transliterations, the rumble of construction was distracting, the New York Times reports (with thanks: Albert).

This is a synagogue in its last moments of existence. While the congregants prayed, a bright orange bulldozer growled outside, continuing its work at the synagogue's edge.(..)

Judaism's declining influence in this region can be seen as this synagogue lives out its final days.

About 12,000 Jews left Dushanbe after the Soviet Union's collapse, encouraged, perhaps, by Islamic nationalism during a bloody civil war, from 1992 to 1997. "If they could fight among themselves like that, as if against a different nation or religion, what might they do to us?" Mr. Abdurakhimov said.

Most of the several hundred remaining Jews are elderly, and nearly all have relatives in Israel, Germany or the United States.

Julian Chilmodina, born in Volgograd, Russia, in 1931, was among many thousands of Ashkenazi Jews who moved to Central Asia during World War II, joining Persian-speaking Bukharian Jews who had settled in the region much earlier.

Now he wants to move to Israel, where his younger brother lives. In a bizarre twist reminiscent of Soviet times, he cannot get a visa, he says, because his official ethnicity is Russian, rather than Jewish.

Read article in full

Algeria limits non-Muslim freedoms

Hard on the heels of the case of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan sentenced to death for converting to Christianity, comes worrying news from Algeria on new restrictions introduced on the practice of Christianity and Judaism. (via Primo-Europe).

By an overwhelming majority the second chamber of the Algerian Parliament recently passed a law whereby anyone attempting to 'incite, coerce or attempts to seduce Muslims to convert' could be sentenced to prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to 1 million dinars (10,000 Euros). Printed or audio-visual material 'aimed at destroying the Muslim faith' are outlawed. The exercise of non-Muslim religions outside certain authorised buildings is banned.

The new law does not even recognise atheism and agnosticism, and follows hard on another restricting the teaching of French and languages other than Arabic in schools.

President Bouteflika claims that the new law aims to 'perpetuate the tradition of coexistence and mutual respect between the religions of the Peoples of the Book as well as to protect Islam'.

Worried Christians have pointed out unofficial meetings even in official buildings, declarations in sermons and quoting from the Bible could well earn them up to 10 years in prison. All this in the birthplace of St Augustine. Christianity and Judaism predated Islam in North Africa by at least 600 years.

Algeria is a signatory to the International Charter on Human Rights.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Playing the ethnic card won't work

As certain politicians prepare to attribute Labour's imminent failure to win in the Israeli elections to Amir Peretz's Moroccan origins, this sensible editorial from the Jerusalem Post argues that people in Israel are far more likely to be judged for who they are, not where they come from.

For decades, our political scene was burdened by the gaps between Jews of European and Middle Eastern origins. This gap reflected side-effects common to all immigration processes, and problems unique to the Israeli situation. As an immigrant society, Israel was built by layers of arrivals from assorted countries, who initially stuck together and subsequently kept a distance from those who arrived after them.

Similar rifts existed already before the state's establishment between traditionalist, revolutionary and bourgeois elements and, following the German immigration of the 1930s, between East and Central Europeans.

However, the arrival of massive immigration waves from the Muslim world in the 1950s introduced tensions that reflected deeper East-West gaps. The Jews, who until the 18th century were split evenly between the Christian and Muslim worlds, became 90 percent European by the 19th century, thanks to improving conditions.

The Jews of the Muslim world, meanwhile, declined not only in their numbers but also in their wealth, education and clout. After the Holocaust, the non-Ashkenazi share in the Jewish people in general, and the Jewish state in particular, rose sharply. Eventually, nearly half of Israeli Jews were non-Ashkenazi, while practically the entire political, cultural and financial elites remained Ashkenazi.

Fortunately, since this problem emerged a lot has happened here, and for the better.

Marriages between the two communities have risen steadily over the years and have now become so common that children are often no longer sure how to classify themselves or their friends. The business sector is brimming with world-class success stories like Yitzhak Tshuva, Tzadik Bino, Haim Saban, Shlomo Eliyahu and Benny Gaon, the army is now headed by its third non-Ashkenazi chief of General Staff, and the political scene has seen non-Ashkenazim serve as ministers of defense, finance, foreign affairs and president of Israel, in addition to practically any other position in the legislative, municipal and governmental hierarchies.

This is not to say that our ethnic gaps have vanished. Academia, for instance, remains excessively Ashkenazi, both at the graduate and faculty levels, as does the Supreme Court. Still, in terms of stereotypes, Israel is no longer where it once was, and people are judged not by where they came from, but by who they are.

Read article in full

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Moroccans root for native son

Aside from idealising past relations between Jews and Arabs and exaggerating the numbers of Jews still in Morocco ( there are probably no more than 2,700) this AP report from Amir Peretz's place of birth of Boujad makes for interesting reading. (With thanks: Albert)

"Old-timers are aware that a native son is campaigning to become Israel's prime minister and are cheering for him. They also know that of the three leading candidates, he is the most dovish toward the Palestinians.

"We hope he does become prime minister," said Mohammed Zine Eddine, Boujad's top municipal official. "It would be good if peace comes from Boujad."

The warm ties between Arabs and Jews in the town decades ago could have been a model for a different Middle East, untroubled by religious barriers and animosity, living and trading with each other and baby-sitting each other's kids.

"We treated the Jews well," said Mohammed Aloumi, 68, who owns a hardware store in Boujad, and hoped Peretz would reciprocate in his treatment of the Palestinians.

"But Peretz is the underdog in the election, partly because his background is in trade unionism and he is seen as too left-wing and too inexperienced in security issues."

Read article in full

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The view from Sderot

The Anglo-Jewish writer Linda Grant is covering the Israeli election campaign for the Guardian. Hurrah! She seems to be breaking out of the Eurocentric goldfish bowl inhabited by most reporters. She is actually meeting some real Jews from Arab countries in Amir Peretz's home town of Sderot.

"The current mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal, is a celebrity in Israel. He grew up in a small town north of Marrakech, the son of a rabbi and an illiterate mother. Like Peretz, his family came to Israel in the mid-50s when he was a child, and was placed in Sderot; his mother would later win the Israel prize, the most prestigious award the country offers, for sending all 11 of her children to university and into the professions. After nearly 50 years in Israel, she still speaks to the children in her native Moroccan Arabic and has only limited, broken Hebrew; their Sderot house remains, inside, a typical Moroccan home. Moyal studied law at Brandeis University in Boston and opened a law office in Jerusalem. Peretz has a similar biography: he was born in the Moroccan town of Boujad, where his father was the leader of the Jewish community and owned a petrol station, but where Peretz's ideology is working-class solidarity, Moyal represents something akin to Thatcherism: success through individual effort.

"Israelis like these, originating in Arab countries, have not historically shown a greater affinity with the Palestinians. The anger of the Moroccans at their treatment by the Ashkenazim when they arrived in Israel in the 50s, the racism they experienced, the menial jobs they were obliged to do, has festered for decades. In the early 70s, radical Moroccans formed a Black Panther party, fighting for civil rights and class struggle against the Ashkenazi elites. Seen from outside, the Moroccans ought to be heavily represented in any leftwing opposition party, and some Palestinians, such as the late Edward Said, have seen in the Sephardim a natural constituency which would join with Palestinians to press for a single state. What has happened is the exact opposite.

"While the history of the Jews in Arab and Muslim countries was considerably less bloody than in Christian eastern Europe, it has been far from untroubled, certainly not recently. Most Moroccan Israelis have first-hand tales about life before they came to Israel, or at least the stories their parents have passed down to them. "I can testify about the feelings of my parents," Moyal says. "We lived quietly and in peace as long as we obeyed the rules. We had no political power, no say. It was against the law for a Jew to be involved in politics. It was a ghetto we lived in ... We know the Arabs better than the Ashkenazim. We obeyed Arab regimes for centuries; we know their traditional and cultural way of life - we ran away from the Arabs."

(...)"The election should be about a question: why a society which enshrined Jewish values in its declaration of independence, and which promised "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex", should have abandoned the poor, the old and the sick, and left its Arab citizens feeling much as the Moyals and the Peretzes did when they were a minority in Morocco."

Beg your pardon, Linda? The Arab citizens of Israel have more civil and political rights than Arabs in Arab countries, including Morocco, while the flight of 90 percent of the Jewish community to Israel and France speaks for itself. Scores were killed in riots following the establishment of Israel. Most Jews were not convinced by assurances that they would be equal citizens in the new independent state. As well as sporadic violence there was an atmosphere of antisemitism, an emigration ban and economic boycotts, although it is true that of all Arab states Morocco has been most fair-minded towards its Jews.

Read article in full

Libya to compensate citizens for seized assets

TRIPOLI, March 22 (Reuters) - Libya will compensate citizens for properties seized in a wave of nationalisation in the early 1970s, a charity group run by a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said.(With thanks: Jonathan)

"The government has issued an executive order on the compensation matter which will be implemented in the next few days," the Gaddafi Foundation, which is led by Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, said late on Tuesday.

The government has yet to make an official statement on the issue but Saif al-Islam, who is widely seen as his father's most trusted representative, has voiced support for the compensation over the past three years.

The payout would be part of a drive to lure back exiles who fled the country after losing shops, farms and businesses to mass nationalisation shortly after Gaddafi toppled the monarchy in a bloodless military coup 37 years ago, diplomats say.

The compensation is also part of policy shift towards what Gaddafi called "mass capitalism" after three decades of strict socialist-style economy.

It was not immediately clear how many people will be able to get compensation or how much money might be paid out. Government officials were not available for comment.
But the Gaddafi Foundation said it had recorded at least 400 expropriation cases and said compensation will be made according to estimates based on current prices of the expropriated assets. (It is not clear if the 400 cases include Jews - Ed)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Jews fear being blamed for Iran's woes

TEHRAN -- Members of Iran's Jewish community fear they are being set up to take the blame if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's drive to establish a nuclear program ends badly for the country, The Washington Times reports (with thanks: Albert).

"Members of the 30,000-strong community say they already are being viewed as a potential fifth column after a series of speeches in which the firebrand president has spoken of a "Holocaust myth" and heaped scorn on Europe for its defense of the "Zionist entity."

"Ahmadinejad has decided to pick on the easiest victim, Israel," said Meir Javedanfar, a specialist on Iran and director of the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Co. "Every time Ahmadinejad has internal problems, he will attack Israel again, using it as a tool."

" Iranian Jews, many of whom have family ties with Israel, are hitting back with forceful public rebuttals. But privately, they acknowledge fears of orchestrated political attacks if the United States or Israel conducts air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. "

Read article in full

Monday, March 20, 2006

Jews of Aleppo, now of Brooklyn

Fascinating article by Sarina Roffe tracing the history of the Jews of Syria back to the time of Abraham and forward to the newest centre of Syrian Jewish life in Brooklyn.

(....) After the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, persecution of Jews remaining in Syria was common. The Jews were no longer permitted to own property, travel or practice their occupation. Jews who tried to leave the country were persecuted. The Muslim dhimmi laws were strictly enforced. Those Jews who were permitted to travel for business purposes could not travel with family members because the Syrian government feared that they would flee. The Syrian government feared that Jewish men would join forces with Israel and fight against them in the Israeli Army.

During a 10-year period in the 1980s, a collection of Jewish Holy objects was smuggled out of Syria through the efforts of then-Chief Rabbi Avraham Hamra. The collection included nine ancient Bible manuscripts, known as the Ketarim , each between 700 and 900 years old. In addition, there were 40 Torah scrolls and 32 decorative boxes in which the Sephardic Torah scrolls were held. The collection was taken via Turkey, in stages to the Jewish National and University Library of the Hebrew University in Israel. The smuggling was necessary since official requests for permission to take them out of Syria were denied.

Never forgetting their Syrian brethren, community members from Brooklyn, New York often bribed Syrian government officials to help get those relatives still in Syria out of the country. Negotiations between America’s President George H. Bush, with heavy lobbying from Jewish Americans of Syrian birth, and Syria’s President Assad, resulted in Syrian Jews being granted exit visas to America as tourists in the early 1990s. Ironically, Assad’s demand that they not leave the country as emigrĂ©s gave the Syrian Jews whom entered America yet another ten years of persecution. In the United States as tourists, they could not practice their chosen profession, obtain licenses, and apply for public assistance or travel outside the United States.

Read article in full

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mad to go back to Manouba?

Nothing better illustrates the ambivalence with which Jews from Arab countries view their past than this heated debate on Guysen News.

Writing about the antisemitic incident at the Tunisian university of Manouba described below, (when students hurled antisemitic insults at visitors attending the opening of a library bequeathed by the late Tunisian-Jewish sociologist Paul Sebag), Albert Bellaiche tries to playdown the episode as an aberration. "Tunisia has never shown anything but tolerance towards the Jews,"he states.

Several angry readers comment that Sebag's legacy should have gone to an Israeli university, and that Bellaiche had a short memory. How could Bellaiche say that Bourguiba (Tunisia's first president) was tolerant towards the Jews when 97 percent had left?

Maurice Amar berates Bellaiche: "You forget the insiduous ways in which Jews were forced to sell their businesses to the lowest bidder.. for every Jew heading a company or service there was an Arab 'shadowing' him....Anyone who has lived through the 1960s cannot claim that the Tunisians were tolerant. You forget the Bizerte affair (war between France and Tunisia over the town's naval base): it made scapegoats of the Jews and caused the first wave to leave with one suitcase and a dinar, leaving behind all our property to the Arabs. You forget our suitcases were broken into, tubes of toothpaste squirted (on our clothes), and men, women and children subject to humiliating searches in case they were hiding anything of value. In the 1960s any Arab could denounce a Jew to the police for 'insulting Bourguiba'. We knew we could only speak in whispers or be arrested and have all our goods confiscated. The Arabs used to say at the time: "You will be gone soon and we will have your homes and shops."

Amar declares that he could write a book about the humiliations and violations to which Jews were subject. Yes, the Jews had been welcomed back to Tunisia but it was only because they brought their hard currency with them and no hard feelings, while the Tunisians had taken what the Jews owned. He himself had been back to show his family, but only once - you would have had to be a masochist or mad to go back again, he writes.

Amar points out that Manouba was indeed synonymous with madness, as the largest mental home in the country was in that town. To say someone was mad you simply called him 'Manouba'.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Silenced Syrian synagogues

Until 24 March New Yorkers have the chance to catch a remarkable exhibition called 'Silent sacred spaces'. The exhibition is a unique collection of photographs by Robert Lyons of eight Syrian synagogues.

The photographs were taken by Lyons in April 1995 during a documentation project organized by the Jewish Heritage Program of the World Monuments Fund. Lyons' photographs, while designed to document Syrian synagogues threatened by closure and dismantling, also reflect his keen eye and sense of space. Great Synagogue in Aleppo

Unlike many other Jewish communities that have suffered willful destruction and abandonment in the 20th century, Syrian Jews remained in their native country, forbidden to emigrate since the mid-1940s. After emigration policies relaxed in 1990, thousands of Jews left Syria and reconstituted many of their traditional communal institutions in new settings -- notably the United States and Israel. However, they were obliged to leave behind much of the material legacy produced during the centuries of tolerant Ottoman rule when Jewish tradesmen had prospered and constructed many of the large synagogues.

Lyons encountered not only difficulties in arranging his visit, but also in the tight control of his work schedule by Syrian security officers. He was nevertheless able to document three-quarters of the known synagogues in the country. Some, such as the medieval synagogue at Tadeef, are in ruins; however, most others were still intact and fully furnished. Lyons captured the architecturally impressive and richly decorated synagogues in what is, for the most part, their complete state. Missing of course, are the congregants whose prayers made these synagogues truly sacred spaces. (The Great Synagogue, Aleppo, (pictured) dates back to 950BC)

Exhibition catalogue here

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Antisemitic incident in Tunisia

The French newspaper Liberation reports on this latest example of the radicalisation of young Tunisians:

On 10th March some 100 to 150 students shouting antisemitic slogans disrupted the start of a special colloquium marking the inauguration of a library donated to the Tunisian university of Manouba by the eminent Tunisian-Jewish historian and sociologist Paul Sebag, who died in 2004.

Shouting 'Down with Israel', 'Jews to the sea', 'Up Hamas','We don't want the books of a Stalinist Communist Jew', the students blocked the path of guests and scuffles broke out. The police were nowhere to be seen and the university staff linked arms to protect the guests. Among them were Sebag's daughter, the French cultural attache and the historian Claude Nataf, president of the Historical Society of Tunisian Jews.

CRIF, the body representing the Jewish community in France, has written to the Tunisian ambassador calling for the troublemakers to be punished. Fewer than 2,000 Jews still live in Tunisia.

Read article (in French)

Tajik synagogue demolition suspended

Authorities in Tajikistan have agreed to suspend the demolition of the ex-Soviet republic's only synagogue to clarify disputed issues, the synagogue's rabbi said Thursday, Israelinsider reports.

Mikhail Abdrakhmanov said that the authorities had postponed a final decision on the synagogue's fate until the second half of the year to allow more time to clarify ownership rights over the building. Officials in Tajikhistan confirmed the suspension but refused to provide more details.

Read article in full

Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri : 1898? - 2006

Some 250,000 mourners, including rabbis, public figures, politicians and showbiz personalities, attended the funeral in Israel of Baghdad-born Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, who died on 28 January aged about 106.

He was one of the last of the great Sephardi mystics and one of the last disciples of the famed Ben-Ish Hai (Hakham Yosef Haim).

His fame as a miracle worker spread far and wide, though he always shunned publicity.

On one occasion, according to the Jewish Chronicle of 10 March - ( subscription only), he exposed a thief at a Jerusalem yeshiva by linking every student's name to verses in the Bible which he knew by heart. The guilty man was so amazed he immediately owned up.

Rabbi Kadouri 'was more interested in studying Kabbalah amulet texts than using them for practical purposes. He was criticised by Sephardim as well as Ashkenazim for beliefs and practices considered superstitious. He was also blamed for allowing his naivete to be abused by others for political and commercial gain... but his charismatic presence helped Israel's Sephardi community regain a sense of pride.'

This article (thanks: Albert ) by the International Sephardic Leadership Council gives an account of Rabbi Kadouri's unusual relationship with King Hussein of Jordan.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

'Jewish cancer needs radiation cure'

To mark today's festival of Purim, Jeff Goldberg writes in the New York Times about Iranian antisemitism:

"Three years ago, while visiting Tehran, I was introduced to a charmless man named Muhammad Ali Samadi, who, I was told, would parse for me the Iranian theocracy's peculiar understanding of Judaism and Zionism. Mr. Samadi said that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, held no brief for anti-Semitism. Then, a moment later, he deployed an epidemiological metaphor to explain the role of Jews in history. "There are always infections and diseases in man," he said. "In the world there is an infection called international Jewry."

(...) As chance would have it, it was on Purim that I tried to cross from Iran to Iraq. Purim is the famously disorderly holiday, celebrated today, that commemorates the hairbreadth escape of Persia's Jews from annihilation at the hands of the evil vizier Haman. The Purim story is recounted in the Scroll of Esther, which was read last night, Purim eve, in synagogues all over the world — including those in Iran, which is home to a remnant of a great and exceedingly old Jewish community. Judaism predates Islam in Iran by 1,000 years.

"Purim is the ne plus ultra of the "They Tried to Murder Us, They Failed, Let's Eat" subcategory of Jewish holidays, and it is a self-consciously raucous day, a Jewish Mardi Gras when even rabbis are expected to drink themselves oblivious. It is possible to imagine, though, that Iran's intermittently persecuted Jews, living today under a president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the historical truth of the European Holocaust while threatening a new Middle Eastern one, might see Purim not as a story of tragedy averted but as one of tragedy foretold."

Read article in full

Monday, March 13, 2006

Vanished worlds preserved on film

Whatever you may think of his feature films, the filmmaker Steven Spielberg is to be congratulated for his invaluable, if little known, contribution to documenting Jewish life and experience. (With thanks: Sami)

The Steven Spielberg Jewish film archive at the Hebrew University contains rare archive film footage of communities that simply no longer exist. Take the 1961 film 'Edge of the West' about the Jews of the Moroccan Mellah. Traditional Jewish craftsmen are shown plying their trades, while the poor of the community are being fed by US Jewish charity organisations and their children schooled by Chabad. A prospective bride is decked out in sumptuous clothes and jewellery for her Henna ceremony. Moroccan Jews tend to be pious and are seen celebrating Jewish festivals at home and in the synagogue.

The archive also has also a remarkable film about music in the Yemenite Jewish community, the continuity of their religious observances since Biblical times and the influence they have had on modern Israeli culture.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Too Jewish for Cairo University

David Hamaoui knew there was no future for him in Egypt. He wanted to go to the university in Cairo. His teacher had told him that he should change his name from David to Daoud to make sure he would be admitted as David was too Jewish a name. That was enough for David to make a decision. So, in 1962, as a young man David decided to leave. (Via JIMENA March newsletter).

Before 1948 Jews in Egypt were very prosperous. Jews owned most of the big department stores, financial institutions and big businesses.

“I was sleeping and I heard a banging on the door,” he says. It was 1948 and he was six years old. The Egyptian secret police [el mokhabarat] had come to search his family’s Cairo home. “There were half a dozen of them. We were all scared and my father was even more so. I remember his face as white as the wall behind him.”

In the previous days the house had been filled with celebration over the engagement of David’s sister, Rosette. A neighbor had told the secret police that David’s family was holding Zionist meetings and the police came in the night to search for evidence and weapons.

They tore the house apart, David says. They ripped the mattresses in two and pulled outthe contents of drawers while the family huddled on the couch.

The same morning David’s father had a heart attack. David thinks the stress of the search brought the attack on. “My father was a very strong man.” For the next four years David’s father the patron of a textile-manufacturing firm and real estate developer,battled with his unhealthy heart and passed away at age 48.

“I also remember, as a Jew in Cairo during the revolution in July of 1952, that Cairo was covered in smoke,” David says. It was in the days after King Farouk had been deported to Italy and Nasser had taken control. “My father had passed away a few months before the revolution and we were alone with my mother. We didn’t know what our fate would be with Nasser. We knew that he was anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. So we were scared.”

In 1956, when the Suez Canal war broke out, David and his family hid in the countryside outside of Cairo. He remembers the roar of the planes and the crackle of the anti-aircraft guns. He remembers he hid under the bed. He helped to paint the light bulbs blue so that the planes would not see the house from above. During the same period Nasser started deporting Jews and nationalized all their belongings. David’s sister and brother- in-law were forced to leave. They got on the first plane out of Egypt with 20 Egyptian pounds; their bank accounts were closed; their home abandoned.

David’s family was spared. “My mother was a widow with small children. They didn’t think we were a threat.”

In 1962, when David left, he was confused. “I didn’t know what I was thinking.” He first went to France where HIAS (a Jewish agency, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) received him. “They were sent from God,” he says.

But he didn’t want to stay in France. “I was stopped by the French police while waiting for a bus and was asked for my identification. At the time they were looking for Algerians. I didn’t like it and decided not to stay in France and go to the United States”

So, again through HIAS, he made it to Syracuse, New York, where he saw snow for the first time, and met his wife Mireille whom he married in 1966.

Historic Canadian veto on UN resolution

Although no one expects the UN to take Jewish refugee rights seriously - over 100 resolutions have been passed in favour of Palestinian refugees, not one in favour of Jewish refugees - Friday's Canadian veto is a small but historic step in the right direction. Instead of abstaining, Canada voted against a (non-binding) UN resolution on Palestinian rights that included the so-called right of return. The US and Canada were the only countries to veto the Economic and Social Committee resolution; 41 voted in favour. Canada has an important role to play as it chairs a UN working group on refugees.

The Globe and Mail reports: " Canada voted against a controversial resolution on Palestinian rights at the United Nations yesterday, an early sign that the new Harper government is aligning its Middle East policy more closely with the views of Israel and the United States.The previous Liberal government had abstained on the identical resolution last year. But on instructions from Ottawa, the Canadian delegation at the UN joined the United States to vote against a non-binding motion calling on Israel to allow all Palestinian refugee women and children to return to their homes.

"Gilbert Laurin, Canada's representative at the UN council session, said Ottawa was switching its vote from abstention to a nay because of the failure of the sponsors of the resolution to come back this year with a balanced document. "We have consistently called for more balance in resolutions dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue."

Read article in full

Saturday, March 11, 2006

'Israel saved us' - Iranian Jew

Author of the memoir Wedding Song, Rafideh Goldin spoke in Cleveland, USA, last week of her youth, her family's plight and their 1979 emergency airlift to Israel after the Shah of Iran was overthrown. (With thanks: Albert)

"In 1979, when the rumblings in the university turned into attacks on the streets against minorities, her father returned to the Jewish ghetto to get more information "about what would turn out to be an Islamic revolution. "He knew the Jews would be next,” Goldin says.

"Israel came to their rescue, sending planes in the middle of the night to airlift the Iranian Jews to safety. Leaving almost everything behind, Goldin's family joined other Jews at the Tehran airport, where they were packed two and three to a seat and into the aisles of the waiting jets. The planes took off almost vertically, without lights or help from the control tower, to avoid detection, Goldin says.

"Her father, now 81, and her mother, now 70, live in Israel, as does her youngest sister. "My family lost everything in Iran. Israel saved them,” she says, expressing her gratitude to American Jews for their financial help for those resettling in Israel."

Read article in full

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wafa among friends

Arab-American psychologist Wafa Sultan, whose courageous appearance on al-Jazeera is the talk of the blogosphere, is a good friend of Raphael Luzon, the chairman of the Libyan Jews' Association in the UK. He is the gentleman in the centre of this picture. The other is Wafa's husband.

Update: NYTimes article (with thanks: Lily)

Why Shas will get my vote - by an Ashkenazi

In this insightful Jerusalem Post article, Ashkenazi academic Shira Leibowitz Schmidt explains why the Sephardi political party Shas will get her vote in the Israeli elections.

"The hopelessness of the Sephardi schoolmates of my children in Beersheba is seared into my memory. I tried to ameliorate their situation by introducing stamp clubs, tennis classes, trips with the Society for the Protection of Nature - all very Ashkenazi, middle-class activities that did not resonate with the background of these children and had no impact. I concluded that the problem was unsolvable.

"Then in the 1980s and 1990s Shas came on the scene and took children off the streets. Overcoming every possible obstacle local and national governments could throw at them, young rabbis and their wives established kindergartens in hundreds of neighborhoods and welcomed all - religious, traditional, secular. In the caravans they used for schools, they restored pride in Sephardi customs and instituted a long school day that kept the children busy with religious and secular studies."

Read article in full

Boy from Iraq 'has always felt Israeli'

Although he had never been to Israel before, Iraqi-born Simon Al-Moshe, 22, says he has felt Israeli his whole life. A touching story by Daphna Berman in Haaretz (with thanks:Lily).

"I was always treated like I was Israeli and so that's the way I was made to feel," he said of his childhood in Baghdad. "It was an identity that was forced on me from an early age, and that's one of the reasons that it's so important for me to finally be here and see the State of Israel."

For Al-Moshe, a participant in a recent 10-day trip sponsored by Birthright-Taglit, seeing Israel for the first time was a closure of sorts.

"I was taught that [Israel] was the source of all evil, that it was the perpetrator of all that is bad in the world," he says. "I always knew that wasn't true, that it was unfair, but I was never allowed to express that."

Al-Moshe left Iraq in 1997 at age 14, and lived in Amman for several months with his family before immigrating to Britain, where he is now a fourth-year medical school student in London.

Since he had never been to Israel, Al-Moshe, like thousands of his Jewish peers in the Diaspora, qualified for the UK birthright program, which took him all over the country to must-see places including the Western Wall, Masada, Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem.

"Iraq always felt foreign to me. My family always knew that we would eventually leave. It came to the point where there was just no community left there for us and it was harder to be in touch with our traditions. And so we finally made the decision," he said in fluent English.

As the only Jewish student in his primary school and secondary school, Al-Moshe says that he was always "discriminated against in Iraq and told that I should just go to Israel."

There were no Jewish kids growing up in the dwindling Baghdad Jewish community, but rather "one Jewish kid," he says, stressing the singular form of the word.

Though his classmates were not "physically hostile," Al-Moshe says that he was always made aware of his differences. "They didn't harm you, but they wouldn't be your friend either," he explained.

"The longer we stayed, the harder it was getting," he said of Jewish life in his native city. "I was proud of who I was, but I couldn't express myself, I wasn't allowed to be proud of being Jewish. I couldn't say that I was a Zionist or that I loved Israel."

Under Saddam Hussein, Al-Moshe says that life was quieter - despite the racism he describes as "part of the culture." His family, though not wealthy, was also better off than the average Iraqi family. Still, his parents could not study what they wanted in university, and his father was jailed for several days on charges of helping Jews escape the country.

"Growing up, I didn't think it was weird because I was Jewish," he says of his father's imprisonment. "But now that I've left Iraq, I realize, so what if someone is trying to help someone else leave the country?"

Al-Moshe still isn't sure why his family didn't leave earlier, although he says that his parents, unlike him, really did see Iraq as their homeland.

During his years in London, the friendly physician-to-be hasn't really looked back at the world he left behind. News of battles on the streets of Baghdad, he admits, don't really interest him. "I get worried when I hear there's an explosion in Israel, but honestly, I don't get worried when I hear about explosions in Baghdad. I just don't feel like it's my country."

But being in Israel, he says, is different: "Here, I feel that I'm in my land."

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Antisemitism in Iran - just in time for Purim

The festival of Purim, which Jews the world over celebrate next Monday night, marks the deliverance of the Jews of Persia from persecution by a wicked man. Two thousand years later, it seems, not much has changed.

But when it comes to everyday Jewish life, the website Persian Rabbi (with thanks: Albert) chooses its words carefully: "there are very few restrictions imposed on Jews in present day Iran with regard to the practice of Judaism," it claims. "Jews are relatively free to establish schools and organization as well disseminate publications.

"Although Iranian Jews are institutionally and publicly persecuted in pursuing some occupations, overall life is no more restricted than their fellow Muslim counterparts.

"With that said, anti-Semitic discourse can be seen bubbling in national broadcasts, where supposed professors, ministers, and Islamic leaders spread blatant lies and baseless claims against world Jewry and their Zionist agenda. "

MEMRI, Persian Rabbi continues, has singled out three particular government-approved broadcasts that show anti-Semitic discourse in Iranian Television:

*Tom and Jerry - a Jewish conspiracy to improve the image of mice because Jews were termed 'dirty mice' in Europe

*The Jews killed children and used their blood for Passover

*Zionists paid Denmark cartoonist to draw Muhammad cartoon

A Happy Purim to all.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Is this what life for Iranian Jews is really like?

A reader of Ynet news comments that the Persian Jews of today's Iran are treated like the Blacks were in 1950s America:

"I dated a Persian girl for a while who still had family in Iran. She told me that the Iranian government spies on the Jewish community, that Jews are forced to go to Sharia courts for legal battles and often lose because they are Jews even when they are clearly in the right; Jews are not allowed to enter the government and many universities; they are frequently attacked on the street; they cannot travel abroad without leaving most of their possessions (in case they try to escape), they cannot travel to Israel (even via a third country) or they are arrested and never heard from again; the only way Persian Jews have survived that long is by maintaining that they are "anti-Zionists" and hate Israel. She says that many Iranian Jews call their relatives in Israel via a special Turkish 'phone company which caters to them. "


JJAC to introduce new Congress resolution

Within the next month, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), headed by its director Stan Urman, will be introducing a resolution on Middle Eastern refugees to Congress, JT News reports.

"This bi-partisan resolution states that “multiple refugee populations have been caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict,” and “any explicit reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue [should be] matched by similar explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish, Christian and other refugees from Arab countries.” If adopted, any reference to Palestinian refugees would require mention of Jewish refugees as well. "

(...)Urman’s point is that when people talk about refugees from the Jewish-Arab conflict, they inevitably talk about Palestinians. He claims the Palestinians have mounted an incredibly powerful international publicity campaign aimed at creating a world perception of themselves as victims. His mission, he says, is to educate the world that there are refugees on both sides of the religious divide.

Urman says he is not looking for funds. However, he does want to change the language in legal, political and social circles, so that any time the Middle Eastern refugee question is discussed, people will know to talk about both Jewish and Arab refugees. And he wants Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and their descendants, to register as refugees so the world Jewish community has records of any injustices. He also hopes that when it comes time to speak about redressing these injustices, Jews have documentation to receive whatever benefits might become available.

According to Urman, the Palestinian documentation of their refugee status he has seen is tremendous and incredibly detailed, showing not only what each specific village lost in the way of land, but what each family lost in the way of tools, animals and income — all with photographs and first-hand accounts.

The documentation for Jewish refugees is significantly less established, however. So Urman’s plea is that local Jewish organizations use his curriculum and programmatic materials to educate their constituents about Jewish expulsions, and to get them to fill out registration cards about what they lost."

To find out more contact Stan Urman at To register for refugee status contact the American Sephardi Federation (
and Israel's Ministry of Justice (

Read article in full

Latest on the Dushanbe synagogue

The BBC has now caught up with the story of the ongoing destruction of the last synagogue in Tajikistan:

"Bulldozers have already destroyed part of the compound. The demolition of the synagogue building itself is expected to go ahead later in the year.

Dushanbe's small Jewish community, mostly poor and elderly, have almost resigned themselves to losing their only place of worship.

But they say the distant plot of land the government has given them in exchange is inadequate compensation. They cannot afford to build a new synagogue, and they say the new land, on the edge of the city, is too far away.

The rabbi says the community still hopes the government, or international Jewish groups, will help them to acquire an appropriate building for a new synagogue. But people familiar with the Jewish community in Dushanbe say those opposed to the demolition had been threatened by officials and most of the congregation are afraid to speak out."

Read article in full
This Jewsweek article gives useful background on the recent history and persecution of the Tajik Jewish community

Wikipedia entry

Monday, March 06, 2006

Prophet of Israel's 'levantine' culture

In this Haaretz review Sasson Somekh writes approvingly of the work of the late journalist and philosopher Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff, the 'prophet of the new Levantinism'. (With thanks: Lily)

"Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff was born in Cairo to a "mixed" family (a father of Iraqi descent and a mother from a Tunisian home). Although she grew up in an "Arab" household, her family did not speak Arabic, and like many Egyptian Jews between the two world wars, Jacqueline did not learn Arabic as a language in which to read and write. Kahanoff attended excellent French-speaking schools in her city, and at home she and her sister had a British nanny who endeavored to improve their English.

"At age 21 she married a doctor and went with him to the United States, where she lived from 1940 to 1951, in Chicago and New York. After a brief stay in Cairo and Paris, and a second marriage, Kahanoff arrived in Israel in 1954. (...)

"Kahanoff's journalistic and philosophical writing in her early years in Israel largely focused on questions concerning the nature of the people that was forming in this land: the ethnic groups, cultures and occupations; the place of women here; the elements that constituted "Israeli culture"; and so on. Occasionally her essays made their way into the local press, but most of them appeared in Jewish American newspapers, which provided her with most of her livelihood. In addition to the names Kahanoff (from her second marriage) and Shohet (her father's surname), in her first years in Israel she used a variety of pseudonyms. She kept to this practice, it seems, as long as her parents were still living in Egypt, for fear that her writing on "delicate" subjects would harm them. (..)

"What impressed Kahanoff's readers at the time was that the term "Levantine,"
as she employed it, was not necessarily a derogatory epithet for the shallow emulation of Western mannerisms. On the contrary: Real Levantinism could be a fertile blend for the emergent Israeli society (and not only for it).

"True, Israeli society's roots were "European," but the hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving from the "Levant" (the Arab world, Turkey, Persia and so on) had brought with them the potential for what we would now call "multiculturalism," a disparate society that can be united by its diversity.

"This had been the case during Kahanoff's childhood in Egypt, where she had fraternized with Jews, Muslims and Christians, Egyptians and Europeans - all of whom, according to her, fit together in an idyllic harmony. Furthermore, since Israel was surrounded by Arab countries, the emerging "Levantine" Israeli culture would eventually become a way to connect with the country's Arab environment without provoking radical antagonism."

Read article in full

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Congress on Jews of Egypt in Paris

This year marks the 50 th anniversary of the 'Second Exodus' - the mass flight of Egyptian Jews in the wake of the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Nasser in July 1956. Some 22,000 Jews were deported between November 1956 and June 1957 and their passports stamped with the chilling words 'da hay'safer MEN gher rugu : he will leave with NO return' (via Newsletter of the Association of Jews from Egypt UK) .

To commemorate this event, the AJOE at the French Senate in Paris is holding a Congress on 6th March .

Among the speakers will be Moise Rahmani, founder of the Institut Sepharade Europeen, and the journalist and historian Alexandre Adler.

Update: AJOE intends to make the congress papers available. For details check out their website.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Dushanbe synagogue can still be saved

Reports of the destruction of the only synagogue in Tajikistan turn out to have been exaggerated - only the outlying buildings have been destroyed, reports the Jerusalem Post. There's still time to save the synagogue itself - and react decisively, argues the newpaper, to hate or simply disdain for non-Muslim sensibilities.

"Just as it is possible to overreact to religious slights, it is possible to underreact as well. This is particularly true in light of the hypocritical Muslim response to cartoons that offend Muslims, while vicious anti-Semitic (and anti-American) cartoons are common in the Muslim world.

"Free nations must demonstrate that anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and anti-Western acts will provoke outrage, not soul searching on the part of the West. Acts filled with hate, or simply disdain, for non-Muslim sensibilities should have diplomatic consequences that reverberate widely in the West, as offenses to Muslims spread in the Muslim world. Stopping the destruction of the Dushanbe synagogue would be a good place to begin.

Read article in full

Friday, March 03, 2006

Persecution of Central Asian Jews unreported

The murder of an Uzbekistan Jewish leader and the destruction of a classroom, a kosher butcher's shop and ritual bath, part of the last remaining synagogue in in Tajikistan, are the latest disturbing examples of intensifying Islamist violence against Jewish communities of the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, writes Shelomo Alfassa in Israelinsider. But compared to the press coverage of the attack on the Shi'ite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, these shocking events have sparked no international outrage. (With thanks: Albert)

"The leader of the Tashkent Jewish community, 33-year old Avraham Hakohen Yagudayev, who was found severely injured in a road near the Synagogue in Tashkent on February 22nd, died last week in a local hospital. It is unclear how he sustained his injuries.

"The President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS and President of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews, Lev Leviev, has called on the Uzbek authorities to launch a detailed investigation into the incident, to determine the cause of death and whether this was an anti-Semitic attack. More here

(On the same day as Yagudayev was fatally injured), "decent people of the world were horrified by the destruction of the gold-domed mosque last week, but on the same day, the destruction of an active synagogue -- by a progressive government, supposedly based on civil law -- was hardly even noted.

"On February 22, 2006, an active mosque, much beloved by its Muslim congregation, was destroyed after a powerful bomb exploded inside it, destroying the gold dome on its roof. This was one of Iraq's most famous religious shrines. Terrorists detonated powerful explosives, destroying most of the building, and prompting thousands of people to flood into streets across the country in protest. (This attack, 60 miles north of Baghdad, caused extensive international outrage.)

"On February 22, 2006, an active synagogue, much beloved by its Jewish congregation, was destroyed after heavy construction equipment tore off the roof, crushed its concrete walls and drove through its sanctuary. This was the only active synagogue in the country of Tajikistan, a country north of Afghanistan and south of Russia. The synagogue was destroyed so the government can build a grand palace for its president. "If the Jews want to have [rebuild] a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds," said Shamsuddin Nuriddinov, head of the City of Dushanbe, Religious Affairs Department. (This attack, 280 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan, caused NO international outrage.)

"According to 'Google News,' 2,930 news articles appear for the mosque destruction, while only six exist on the synagogue destruction -- and those six are really just one brief mention that has been repeated through syndication in American newspapers."

The 2,000-year old community comprises 150 - 200 mostly elderly Bukharan Jews.

Read article in full

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Jewish cemetery in Algiers

The Jewish Chronicle of 24 February ran a story about the Jewish cemetery in Algiers. Journalist Paula Slier located it after a two-hour search ("No one ever ask me go Jewish cemetery! " declared Ebrahim, the taxi-driver).

" The Jewish cemetery - situated alongside a large Christian one - was completely restored by the Algerian authorities when President Jacques Chirac visited the country in 2003 and is clearly looked after. Some of the graves date back to the early 1800s. Almost all have a picture of the deceased on a small plaque adorning the tombstone. Against the wall, stones from older graves are lined up against each other. But Sherifa (the caretaker's daughter) unfortunately knows precious little about the history of Algerian Jews.

"For this I turn to the community's leader, lawyer Roger Said, who left Algeria for France some years ago, although he comes back several times a year. He has a house in both countries and maintains close ties with the few remaining Jews in this vast North African country."

M. Said is not about to upset his Algerian friends and clients, and softsoaps the Jewish exodus. There is no mention of attacks on the Jews, terrorist outrages and the brutalities of the Algerian war with the French, which drove out the majority of the Jews along with the pieds-noirs. According to him, 130,000 Jews simply 'emigrated' to France, and 25,000 'made aliyah' to Israel. Most recently, following the civil war, Jews remain 'here and there', but according to a Christian pastor fearful for his own flock, 'none will come forward and openly admit it'.

"When Algeria faced the (recent civil war) terror, three Jews were assassinated", remembers Said."I left for France with my family, as did most of the Jews. And, although the security situation is much better today, I will not give you the names or addresses of any Jews until it is completely safe."

"Before 1962 there were dozens of synagogues around Algeria," says Said." Especially in Algiers, there were many, many Jewish places of worship, but they were all taken over by the locals after the Jews left. There's still one synagogue but it's closed because of looters. The community runs a small one in a building.

"Said stresses that official government policy was never antisemitic, even after the country became independent. Whatever antisemitism there is, or was, is linked to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.Antisemitism in Algeria has increased because of this conflcit and some newspapers have been very anti-Israel and sometimes even anti-Jew.."

A reminder of the sort of antisemitism M. Said might be thinking of.

Students from Israel visit Egypt

Professor Yoram Meital, Chairman of the Herzog Middle East Studies Center at Ben-Gurion University, took BA and MA students for a two-week trip to visit Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reports.

I think visiting Egypt gave them a lot of food for thought," said Meital. "It revealed to them how much we don't know about Arab society, and how much we are fed on stereotypes and fear."
The students, 40 of whom were Jewish and Israeli, were usually open about their identities - but not always. "There were times when some of the Israelis felt comfortable and happy to say where they were from, and other times they didn't and made up a story like they were German students," said one, adding that reactions to the Israelis were usually positive. "There were a lot of people that said they would like the relations between the two countries to improve."

Begani was one of the Israelis who never hesitated to say where he was from, he said. "I am a person who is not ashamed to say where I am from and I spoke to everybody from the barber to the hotel guards - I told everyone that I'm Israeli," said Begani. "Most of the time I got a warm response. A small group was indifferent, and only one time someone said he was against it. Most of the time, people were warm and curious about where I'm from."

The group also visited Jewish synagogues in Alexandria and Cairo and spent a day cleaning up the latter one. Meital brought pesticide in spray cans and the students sprayed all the books in the library at the Cairo synagogue, which were being eaten by bugs. They also painted the synagogue.

"It was very sad to see that the Jewish community is over," said Begani. "The community is very old and there are very few [Jews] left. You see it is another tragic result of the conflict."

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