Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The forgotten 'Farhoud' against Iraqi Jewry

The festival of Shavuot, which falls tomorrow evening, has special poignancy for the Jews of Iraq. On 1 and 2 June 1941, hundreds were murdered, mutilated or raped and property wrecked in a devastating Nazi pogrom. Abraham Miller explains why it is important to grasp that it was the terrible events of Shavuot 65 years ago, and not, as Arab apologists would have it, the creation of Israel, which sounded the death knell for 26 centuries of Jewish life in the Land of the Two Rivers. (With thanks: Joseph)

is Arabic for “violent dispossession.” This is the word used to describe the pogrom of 1 June 1941 against the Jews of Baghdad. In its wake, the Farhud left some 200 dead, 2000 injured, and 900 Jewish homes destroyed. It was the beginning of the end of the Jewish community of Iraq, a community that existed for twenty-six centuries, preceded Islam by a thousand years, and once numbered over 125,000 souls.

Today, there is not a single Jew left in Iraq. (At any rate, no more than a dozen - ed)

Arab apologists trace the dismantling of the Jewish communities of the Arab world (Mizrachim) and of North Africa (Sephardim) to anti-Jewish sentiment growing out of the creation of Israel. Explicit in this is the imposition of collective responsibility, as if the Jews of the Arab world and North Africa were directly responsible for whatever Israeli Jews did or did not do.

Although the Arab and Muslim communities in America and West understandably have gone to great lengths to publicly cry, “foul” or “racial profiling,” when the events of 09/11 are linked to them or their religion, they are unhesitant and shameless in their invocation of collective responsibility when applied to Jews.

Writing in the interfaith newsletter here in Contra Costa County, Dr. Amir Araim, the Imam of Concord, California and himself an Iraqi who represented Saddam Hussein’s regime to the United Nations, directly links the dismantling of the Jewish community of Iraq to the controversial events of Deir Yassin in the Arab/Israeli war of 1948.

Among the many problems with this woefully unhistorical analysis, is that the Farhud occurred long before there was an Israel or even a single Palestinian refugee.

The Farhud began at 3:00 PM on 1 June 1941, the Jewish holy day of Shavuot. The violence began when a pro-Nazi mob attacked representatives of the Jewish community as they crossed Baghdad’s Al Khurr Bridge to greet the returning Iraqi Regent Abdul-al Ilah. The mob then murdered, burned and raped its way through the Jewish community. Jewish infants were special targets, killed as helpless parents looked on. The superintendent of police refused to stop the riots because he did not want to kill or injure Muslims to save Jews.

The Farhud is doubly embarrassing for Arab apologists. First, it resurrects the problem of the nearly one million Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. They received no recognition from the United Nations and no assistance outside of the Jewish community and the State of Israel. Instead of languishing for four generations in refugee camps, as have Palestinian refugees, within a few years, they became both contributing members and citizens of Israel and Western societies.

Second, the Farhud was a Nazi riot, and it is embarrassing because while Arab propagandists routinely use “Jew” and “Nazi” in the same breath, Nazism is in reality very much part of Arab political culture. Ba’ath socialists of Iraq and Syria, for example, draw their inspiration from Nazism. This further belies the Arab claim that antisemitism is exclusively a Western and not a Middle Eastern phenomenon.

The Farhud was the result of the work of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin el Husseini. The Mufti cut a deal with the Nazis to overthrow the British-sponsored government of Iraq and provide Hitler with Iraqi oil vital to Germany’s war efforts. In return, the Nazis would eliminate the “Jewish problem” in Mandate Palestine. In October of 1939, the Mufti came to Iraq to precipitate a coup that was to be led by Iraqi officers who embraced Nazism and were known as the “Golden Square.”

As a unifying inspiration for the coup, the Mufti invoked Nazi propaganda themes of antisemitism focusing on the Jews as “enemies of the state.”

The coup failed. The Mufti fled Iraq to Berlin and the hospitality of SS Chief Henrich Himmler and later Hitler himself. Although the Nazis held the Arabs in only slightly higher esteem than they held Jews, the Nazis saw the Mufti as a useful ally against the British, and his antisemitic propaganda broadcasts in Arabic from Berlin further served mutual purposes.

The Mufti’s legacy of antisemitism became part of Iraqi culture.

In 1947 when the United Nations took up the question of the Palestine Mandate, Iraqis organized new pogroms and used Nazi confiscation techniques to seize Jewish property.

On 23 September 1948, Safiq Ades, Iraq’s wealthiest Jew was publicly hanged on phony charges and his property seized. His body swung in the public square in Basara, where celebrant Iraqis mutilated it.

A month later, all of Iraq’s Jews employed in the civil service were summarily fired. Iraq then set about systematically seizing Jewish assets and impoverishing its Jews. With a degree of almost unmatched cynicism, the Iraqi political oligarchy profited from requiring the use of its travel agents for Iraqi Jews to flee to Israel. All the while, Iraq saw the imposition of 15,000 penniless Jews a month on the newly created Jewish state as a mechanism to defeat Israel by precipitating a major economic crisis. Indeed, Israel accepted these Jews at a time when there were not even enough tents or refugee camps to house them.

Iraqi Jews went to Israel and lived in refugee camps. So little is known about the plight of the Mizrachi and Sephardic Jewish refugees that even informed Jews are dumbfounded upon learning this. Yet, within a space of a few years, these refugees were absorbed into Israeli society and not left, as the Arabs have left the Palestinians, to languish for generation after generation in camps, in poverty, and without hope.

Slowly but inevitably the truth about the one million Jewish refugees from Arab lands is coming to light. Remembering the Farhud is part of restoring the history of an oppressed and forgotten people, whose suffering and persecution have been far and away too long ignored. Arabs and Muslims must ultimately take responsibility for the antisemitism of their world, a racism that resulted in Arab Jews becoming the largest ethnic group in Israel.

Abraham H. Miller is emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati.

Read article in full

Also published here

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

US Congress Resolution to be introduced this week

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries has just released the following press release:

Washington, D.C. (May 30, 2006) – In an important, unprecedented initiative, four Senators and four Congressmen, representing both political parties, have introduced landmark Resolutions* on Middle East refugees in the United States Senate and in the House of Representatives.

These far-reaching Resolutions urge the President to ensure that in all international forums, when the issue of ‘Middle East refugees is discussed, representatives of the United States should ensure: “That any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity.”The Resolutions will be the strongest declarations adopted by the U.S. Congress, acknowledging the rights of Jewish and others refugees that were forced to flee Arab countries.

This bi-partisan effort is being spearheaded by Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). On the House side, supporters include Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-CA) , Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Michael Ferguson (R-NJ).

Currently, when the issue of refugees is raised within the context of the Middle East at the United Nations or elsewhere, the reference is only to Palestinian refugees, not former Jewish refugees from Arab countries. However, there were two major population movements that occurred during years of Middle East turmoil – Arabs and Jews. Both groups were determined to be bona fide refugees under international law. In fact, there were more former Jewish refugees uprooted from Arab countries (over 850,000) than there were Palestinians who became refugees in 1948. (UN estimate: 726,000)

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) is a coalition of Jewish communal organizations operating under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Sephardi Federation and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries in partnership with the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai Brith International, the Jewish Public Council for Public Affairs and the World Sephardic Congress.

For a copy of the Senate resolution please Email me

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Why an Egyptian Jew should tell his story now

It took Israel Bonan more than 37 years before he was able to talk about his experience as a Jewish refugee from Egypt openly even with his own children, so why now? Because historical facts are being rewritten, as usual, by the Arab states. They keep repeating that 850,000 Jews just upped and left their countries of birth - old people, young, healthy as well as sick- all just upped and left.

Israel Bonan writes: Over the years the Middle East narrative took a shape of its own, mostly and unfortunately with a one-sided slant. The world only heard about the travail of the Palestinian refugees, their woes, their troubles, their claims and their aspirations. The world also witnessed the Palestinian refugees as a disenfranchised people, scattered in camps, sheltered in tents and only as wards of the United Nation for over 40 years.

With such a perspective, the world could not but empathize with the disenfranchised, it is natural and it is expected, lest the world at large and its inhabitants (the human race) are judged as a whole, as callous and uncaring.

While this story was being told, its counterpart was not. The untold story is that of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who suffered in silence; but whose dignity was preserved expressly by their fellow Jews in their respective communities worldwide, and who extended their helping hands and absorbed them in their midst, be it in Israel (to the extent of 52% of the total population), Europe, US, Canada, South America or Australia, among other nations.

But make no mistake, they were refugees in their own right; they were physically dislocated, the accumulated wealth in their countries of birth, for most of them expropriated, and their emotional well being adversely tested by having to leave their familiar surroundings and their age old environment they were brought up in.

In recent years several organizations were formed to address the issue of redress for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and to bring the proper leverage in order to assert the more than 850,000 refugees right of acknowledgement and redress and to ultimately balance the historical narrative of the Middle East so it ceases to be as one-sided as it currently is.

The latest such organization is called Justice for Jews from Arab countries (JJAC), and it is endorsed worldwide by several major Jewish organizations for its charter that is basically focused around that very same goal, the acknowledgement of their plight and redress for the rights that is long overdue the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries.

Read article in full (comments welcome)

JJAC unveils new website

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), the New-York based group spearheading this autumn's Jewish Refugees' Rights and Redress Campaign, has unveiled a new website. (With thanks:Israel B)

The website contains statistics about the numbers of Jews who fled Arab countries, a country-by-country history and official and research documentary evidence that many Jews left in response to discriminatory edicts and official persecution.

JJAC seeks to assemble as much information as possible about the Jewish refugees. This data will be deposited with a branch of the Ministry of Justice in Israel. If your family left under duress it is important that you register (download the forms here).

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Rita Katz, Iraqi-born terrorist hunter

Unmissable piece in The New Yorker about the driven 'terrorist hunter' Rita Katz, who was six when her father was hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up spying charges. (With thanks: Iraqijews)
"Rita Katz is tiny and dark, with volatile brown eyes, and when she is nervous or excited she can’t sit still. She speaks in torrents, ten minutes at a stretch. Everybody who works in intelligence calls her Rita, even people who don’t know her well. She sometimes telephones people she hasn’t met—important people in the government—to tell them things that she thinks they ought to know. She keeps copies of letters from officials whose investigations into terrorism she has assisted. “You and your staff . . . were invaluable additions to the investigative team,” the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Salt Lake City Division wrote; the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boise said, “You are a rare and extraordinary gem that has appeared too infrequently throughout the course of history.” The letters come in handy, she told me, when she meets with skepticism or lack of interest; they are her establishment bona fides. 

"Katz, who was born in Iraq and speaks fluent Arabic, spends hours each day monitoring the password-protected online chat rooms in which Islamic terrorists discuss politics and trade tips: how to disperse botulinum toxin or transfer funds, which suicide vests work best. Occasionally, a chat-room member will announce that he is turning in his user name and password and going to Iraq to become a martyr, a shaheed. Several weeks later, his friends will post a report of the young man blowing himself up. Katz usually logs on at six in the morning. When she has guests for dinner, she leaves a laptop open on the kitchen counter, so she can check for updates. “It is completely addicting,” she says. “You wake up thinking, I’ve been offline for seven hours, but the terrorists have been making plans.”(...)
“What makes Rita unique is her background,” Peter Probst, a terrorism consultant and retired C.I.A. officer who works with Katz, told me. “Because of what she’d been through, she understood the threat earlier and better than most of us.”

"Katz was born in Basra, Iraq, in 1963, one of four children of a wealthy Jewish businessman. In 1968, in the wake of the Six-Day War, the Baath government, with Saddam Hussein as its head of security, encouraged attacks against Iraqi Jews. Some Jews from prominent families were arrested and charged with spying for Israel, among them Katz’s father. After he was imprisoned, his wife and children were transported to Baghdad and kept under house arrest in a stone hut. Katz’s father was convicted in a military tribunal and executed, in 1969, with eight other Jews and five non-Jews, in a public hanging in Baghdad’s central square. Hundreds of thousands of cheering Iraqis attended; the government offered free transportation to people from the provinces, and belly dancers performed for the crowd. Katz was six years old.

"After the family had been living in the hut for months, Katz’s mother drugged the guards and escaped with the children. By pretending to be the wife of a well-known Iraqi general, a woman she faintly resembled, she got the family first to the Iranian border and then to Israel. They settled in a small seaside town called Bat-Yam. Katz did her military service in the Israel Defense Forces after high school, and studied politics and history at Tel Aviv University. She married a medical student, and went into business with her mother, manufacturing clothes; Katz handled sales. In 1997, Katz’s husband won a fellowship to do research in endocrinology at the National Institutes of Health, and they moved to Washington with their three children. (They later had a fourth.)

"The particulars of her biography—her father’s execution, her escape from Iraq, and her education in Israel—give Katz, in the eyes of some in the counterterrorism community, a kind of bionic character, as if she had been designed to hunt down terrorists."

Read article in full

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Acknowledging Jewish refugees should bring peace

After this week, a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen are expected to introduce a resolution * that would make the Arab-Israeli conflict a little easier to resolve--by making it a little more complicated to discuss, writes Joseph Braude in The New Republic (subscription required). (With thanks: Iraqijews)

The resolution urges the president to make sure that, during international discussions on refugees in the Middle East, "any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity." Sponsors of the measure include everyone from Rick Santorum on the right to Dick Durbin on the left, and a number of congressmen and senators in between.

The resolution constitutes a long-overdue acknowledgment of a tragedy which, for decades, Arab states have denied and the international community has ignored. Nine hundred thousand Jews have been forced to flee their homes in Arab countries and Iran since the years leading up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. (Most left in two waves--immediately before or after Israel's independence, and during the years following the Six Day War.) Some were deported outright; others faced widespread campaigns of violence and intimidation so unbearable as to render their ancestral homelands unlivable.

Though a small number of Jews from Arab countries identified as Zionists in the early twentieth century, most had been thoroughly integrated into their societies and embodied the fondest hopes for a progressive, pluralist form of Arab nationalism. They had started no war, yet they came to be overwhelmingly stigmatized as traitors by the majority culture.

Consider the infamous "Farhud," an event that took place in Baghdad in 1941 when Iraqis from the military and security services, German-backed fascist groups, and Baghdad's slums stormed Jewish neighborhoods and killed nearly 200 Jews. They also killed scores of Muslims, many of whom were fighting to protect their neighbors. Jewish businesses were destroyed and synagogues desecrated. Such violence against Jews, in Iraq and elsewhere, was an early manifestation of an ugly brand of Arab nationalism that exhibits little tolerance for ethnic and religious minorities--and, even today, continues to function as a crutch for dictators across the region.

Having served the Arab Middle East as government workers, professionals, merchants, and artists, the indigenous Jewish population left a profound economic and social void behind them as they fled for their lives--a void that some Arab countries still have not managed to fill, 60 years later.

These states' loss was Israel's gain: Today, 52 percent of the Jewish population of Israel consists of emigres from North Africa and the Middle East.

Acknowledgement of this tragedy has been slow in coming. Though the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has asserted that Jews fleeing Arab countries were "bona fide" refugees who "fall within the mandate of the [UNHCR] office," not so much as a single resolution was ever passed by the United Nations on their behalf. By contrast, 101 resolutions have been passed on behalf of Palestinian refugees.

To his credit, Bill Clinton understood that the refugee problem was not one-sided. In July 2000, he told Israeli television that "Israel is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in predominantly Arab countries who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land." He called for an "international fund [to be] set up for the refugees" to resolve the claims of "both sides."

Still, international discourse on the subject has remained startlingly lopsided; and that, in turn, has played a role in perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict. By only acknowledging one mass dislocation--the Palestinian one--the international community has made the Arab-Israeli "refugee problem" appear to be intractable. In fact, once you acknowledge that both Palestinians and Jews have suffered dislocations, it becomes much easier to imagine give-and-take that would lead to a fair resolution of historical grievances.

Such claims are more than a political matter, however; for families like my own, they are also personal. My mother was born into a Jewish family in Baghdad in 1944. Several of her siblings are old enough to have personal memories of the "Farhud." My late grandfather and his oldest daughter and son--then twelve and eleven, respectively--were caught trying to flee the country in the late 1940s. The children spent six months in an Iraqi prison, which my aunt recalls as having been "full of Jews." They were eventually released and flown out of Baghdad with their mother, four more siblings, and 120,000 other Jews in the celebrated airlifts to Israel of the early 1950s.

My grandfather suffered a year longer in prison before joining them on his own. They said goodbye to their friends, their home, almost all their belongings, and 2,500 years of Jewish history in Mesopotamia. Like many Palestinians, they too became refugees. And yet, somehow, over the last 50 years, their history has been largely ignored.

*To request full text of Senate Resolution (PDF) please email me

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Armenians massacred Azeri mountain Jews

An extraordinary but little-known episode in 1919 in which Armenians (Christians) massacred 3,000 'mountain' Jews in Azerbaijan for failing to fight Muslims. (via Tom Gross)

Day. Az presents exclusive interview with Rovshan Mustafayev, the Director of the Human Rights Institute of the National Academy of Science.

- Mr Mustafayev, the facts of Jews' genocide committed by Armenians in Guba region were annonced today within a framework of round table orginized by you. Tell our readers what was the point of origin for such researches?

- Recently the representatives of Mountain Jews community appealed to our Institute and told us about tragic events which took place during 1918-1919 in Guba city. According to them during those years there were mass killings of Mountain Jews committed by Armenian bandits.

Semen Ikhiilov, Head of Mountain Jews' community, writes to the Human Rights Institute of the National Academy of Scince: "In 1980s I discovered uknown facts regarding to mass killings of Jews during the period of Azerbaijanis' genocide in 1918-1919. According to the witnesses and some documents, together with Azerbaijanis more than 3000 Jews were killed. For the moment we identified 87 names. Each year on March 31st, on the day of Azerbaijanis' genocide of 1918-1919, special requiem prayers for 87 killed Jewish children, women and men are being read in the synagogues. We continue the researches of other places of mass burial in the regions of our Motherland, Azerbaijan. This letter is accompanied with the list of victims, who were killed by monsters on 19th Iyar, 5679, in Guba city," the letter says.

Moreover, you can find in archives facts that during those times the Jewish problem was presented as the Tat problem, without a national identity. That's why it was a problem of genocide committed by Armenians against the Tat ethnic group of Azerbaijan.

(...) Jews just rejected proposal to join the Dashnak's brigade against the Muslim population and tried to prevent a bloodshed. But Jewish envoy was brutally killed by the Amazasp's brigade and the mass killings were started.

Read article in full

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Taheri stands by Iranian 'dress codes' story

Amir Taheri, the distinguished commentator who broke the 'Iranian dress codes' story in the National Post, stands by it in face of official Iranian outrage and denial:

Regarding the dress code story it seems that my column was used as the basis for a number of reports that somehow jumped the gun.

As far as my article is concerned I stand by it.

The law has been passed by the Islamic Majlis and will now be submitted to the Council of Guardians. A committee has been appointed to work out the modalities of implementation.

Many ideas are being discussed with regard to implementation,including special markers, known as zonnars, for followers of Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, the only faiths other than Islam that are recognized as such. The zonnar was in use throughout the Muslim world until the early 20th century and marked out the dhimmis, or protected religious minorities. ( In Iran it was formally abolished in 1908).

I have been informed of the ideas under discussion thanks to my
sources in Tehran, including three members of the Majlis who had tried to block the bill since it was first drafted in 2004.

I do not know which of these ideas or any will be eventually adopted. We will know once the committee appointed to discuss them presents its report, perhaps in September.

Interestingly, the Islamic Republic authorities refuse to issue an
official statement categorically rejecting the concept of dhimmitude and the need for marking out religious minorities.

Read article in full

Update: The National Post has now apologised. Here is their statement in full

Monday, May 22, 2006

Israel is no redoubt of the West

For his four-part 'Sepharad' series on BBC Radio 3*, Dennis Marks has been on a journey through Sephardi history - in his words, 'an aspect of Jewish identity constantly overlooked'. His interview with the Israeli Sephardi novelist AB Yehoshua, who shares his view, appears in The Observer.

Although Yehoshua's family has lived in Israel for generations, his mother's ancestors come from Morocco and Salonika, and he has drawn on his own prehistory in his novels and political essays. A fierce and friendly 73-year-old with a shock of white hair, he contrasts Orthodox absolutism with the easy, hedonistic tolerance of the Sephardis. Most of all, he stresses what unifies Jew and Muslim - their common history in the Balkans and the Near East. 'When the Arabs say we are here to impose Western civilisation and cannot integrate in the East, I say, "No, we are not Western. We are Mediterranean, an identity that is composed of what you see in Turkey, in Greece and in Egypt".'

This part of Israeli history is most potently demonstrated by the Mimouna. When North African Jews flooded into Israel after Suez (in fact it was after these states gained their independence - ed), they were at the bottom of the social heap. So they asserted their identity by establishing a picnic 100 metres from the Israeli parliament. To nobody's surprise, it became a magnet for politicians. North Africans might have had the country's dirtiest jobs and the worst houses, but their votes were as valuable as those of Jews from New Jersey. This year, the politicians chose to visit the Moroccan communities in the Negev and the Mimouna in Jerusalem was quiet. However, the previous night made up for it. Car horns and sound systems pounded the air until 4am. Perhaps after the suicide bombing in early April, the youth of Jerusalem were reclaiming the streets.

Yehoshua's most recent novel, A Woman in Jerusalem, published a few weeks ago, reflects this desire to honour the civilian rather than the military casualties of the intifada. He tells the story of an unnamed personnel manager in a bakery who sets off to arrange a burial for a Russian migrant worker who has been one of those anonymous victims. In Yehoshua's words: 'It was written in the dark days of the intifada. I wanted to take the most anonymous death - a foreign worker with no family - and put love into this dark place.'

Like all his work, it offers glimpses of an alternative world. It is peopled by Moroccan merchants, Salonikan physicians, rabbis from the Rhineland and cleaners from Siberia: 'A thousand years ago, 90 per cent of Jews were living in the Islamic world. By the eve of the Holocaust, this was reversed. Now we are 50/50 and this can be the basis of a Mediterranean identity.'

While we are constantly told that Israel is a Western redoubt in the Middle East, it is a useful corrective to absorb the scents and sounds of Oriental Jewry. When the last day of Passover coincides with Orthodox Good Friday, the experience is even more surreal. At breakfast in my hotel near the Old City, Yemenite pop blended with the four-part harmony of a posse of chanting Russian Orthodox priests as they sat down to eat Jewish unleavened bread. In this nation of zealots, there is always something to deconstruct our preconceptions."

Read article in full

*To listen to the final programme, click on 'Listen again' and 'Sunday feature'

'The Independent' discovers Iranian Jews

This article by Angus McDowell in the left-leaning Independent does not attempt to whitewash the situation of Iranian Jews, but still uses the euphemism 'emigration' to describe their post-revolutionary flight.

"At more than 20,000, Iran remains home to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel, despite post-revolutionary emigration that saw tens of thousands leave. Those who remain say emigration has slowed and those who have stayed are unlikely to change their minds.

"Sapir Hospital is a venerable institution of Iranian Jewish life. Founded 60 years ago as a charitable body, it provides free and heavily subsidised care for people in its working class neighbourhood. In some ways, it continues a medical tradition in which Jewish physicians have been celebrated in Iran for centuries. Only a few staff are Jews - most Jewish doctors in Tehran run their own practices - but it is funded by Jewish donations.(...)

"This President has shown his extremism in all respects," the man in the butcher's said. "Some people think it doesn't apply to them because he's talking about Jews outside Iran. But a Jew is always a Jew."

"Iranian Jews have learnt the hard way that they must publicly renounce any connection to Israel or Zionism. In the first days after the revolution, several Jews were executed on charges of Zionism and relations with Israel. Since then, spokesmen for the community have protested their antipathy to Israel.

"Most of those spoken to professed their fundamentally Iranian nature, something they say would make it difficult for them to live as émigrés abroad. "Iranian Jews have been good Iranians for 2,700 years," Dr Morsatheghi says. "I can speak in English, but I only think in Persian. This is my language and my native culture. I'm not going to leave."

Read article in full

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Shi'ite tradition of religious discrimination

Dr Andrew Bostom in The American Thinker explains that the idea of a separate dress code for Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians has its roots in the Shi'ite concept that non-Muslims are unclean or najis - a concept dating back to the 16th century.

The Iranian Majlis or Parliament has reportedly passed (now disputed) a law requiring that, “Jews would have to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, while Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth.” An outraged Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Weisenthal Institute immediately responded to the provisions for Jews: “This is reminiscent of the Holocaust…Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis.”

Such a comparison sprang to the minds of many. But Rabbi Hier’s statement and this general view ignore the immediate context—most glaringly, the simultaneous dress badge requirements for Christians and Zoroastrians living in Iran—and more importantly, the sad historical legacy of Shi’ite religious persecution of all non-Muslims which dates back to the founding of the Shi’ite theocracy in (then) Persia, under Shah Ismail at the very outset of the 16th century.A reflexive invocation of the Nazi era is ahistorical, and symptomatic of a general failure to appreciate either Judenhass or much broader anti-“infidel” (i.e., in this case anti-Christian and anti-Zoroastrian) motifs to orthodox Islamic doctrine and practice—both Sunni and Shi’ite. The Iranian Parliament’s legislation reflects the profound influence of najis—a unique Shi’ite institution—not Nazism.

Read article in full

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dress codes for non-Muslims report 'untrue'

According to this latest report in the National Post, spokesmen for the Iranian government and the Jewish community are vigorously denying there is any truth to the news that Iran had passed a law requiring the country’s Jews and other religious minorities to wear coloured badges identifying them as non-Muslims. The original article by Chris Wattie has been pulled, though a comment piece by Amir Taheri is still accessible.

"The Iranian embassy in Otttawa also denied the Iranian government had passed such a law.

A news story and column by Iranian-born analyst Amir Taheri in yesterday’s National Post reported that the Iranian parliament had passed a sweeping new law this week outlining proper dress for Iran’s majority Muslims, including an order for Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians to wear special strips of cloth.

According to the reports, Jews were to wear yellow cloth strips, called zonnar, while Christians were to wear red and Zoroastrians blue.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre and Iranian expatriates living in Canada had confirmed that the order had been passed, although it still had to be approved by Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenehi before being put into effect.

Hormoz Ghahremani, a spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa, said in an e-mail to the Post yesterday that, “We wish to categorically reject the news item.

“These kinds of slanderous accusations are part of a smear campaign against Iran by vested interests, which needs to be denounced at every step.”

Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament — and they denied any such measure was in place.

Mr. Kermanian said the subject of “what to do with religious minorities” came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law.

“It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around,” he said. “But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups.”

Ali Reza Nourizadeh, an Iranian commentator on political affairs in London, suggested that the requirements for badges or insignia for religious minorities was part of a “secondary motion” introduced in parliament, addressing the changes specific to the attire of people of various religious backgrounds.

Mr. Nourizadeh said that motion was very minor and was far from being passed into law.

That account could not be confirmed.

Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran and the Middle East who was born and raised in Tehran, said yesterday that he was unable to find any evidence that such a law had been passed.

“None of my sources in Iran have heard of this,” he said. “I don’t know where this comes from.”

Mr. Javdanfar said that not all clauses of the law had been passed through the parliament and said the requirement that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians wear special insignia might be part of an older version of the Islamic dress law, which was first written two years ago.

“In any case, there is no way that they could have forced Iranian Jews to wear this,” he added. “The Iranian people would never stand for it.”

However, Mr. Kermanian added that Jews in Iran still face widespread, systematic discrimination. “For example if they sell food they have to identify themselves and their shops as non-Muslim,” he said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, acknowledged that he did not have independent confirmation of the requirement for Jews to wear badges, but said he still believes it was passed.

“We know that the national uniform law was passed and that certain colours were selected for Jews and other minorities,” he said. “[But] if the Iranian government is going to pass such a law then they are not likely to be forthcoming about what they are doing.”

Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, said yesterday that Iran is “very capable” of enacting such a law but could not confirm reports that members of religious minorities must wear identifiable markers on their clothing.

“Unfortunately we’ve seen enough already from the Iranian regime to suggest that it is very capable of this kind of action,” Mr. Harper said. “It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the earth would want to do anything that would remind people of Nazi Germany.”

Friday, May 19, 2006

My house is your house

Wonderfully moving account by a non-Jewish Lebanese on a visit to Israel of his unexpected encounter with a former compatriot.

The inevitable question came. The question that I hesitate to answer honestly when I’m unsure of my own personal security. “So then, where are you from my friend?”.

I gauged the situation. He didn’t seem like a fanatical person. He seemed friendly. His eyes spoke softly. He cared to know. I told him.

“I’m Lebanese.”

I felt that he wanted to lurch to the back of the car and grab me. But not in an aggressive manner.

Inta Libnanae? Ana Libnanae” (You’re Lebanese. I’m Lebanese.)

I was stunned. Speechless.

A Lebanese Jew. A Lebanese citizen who practiced Judaism. I’ve never met one before. I should have known he was Lebanese from the beginning. It was after all the nicest Mercedes taxi I’ve been in since coming to Tel Aviv. We have a weakness for brands.

He went on to tell me about his father and his grandfather before him. His youth in Lebanon. How his family still owns a house in Baabdat*. He talked warmly of his family’s business partner, a Lebanese gentleman, whom they still have relations with in Lebanon. This man who opened a bank account in Cyprus after they fled so that the financials can be shared by all shareholders. This man who ensures that their house in Baabdat* remains untouched by intruders. The man who saw beyond the politics of the day and did the right thing.

We arrived at my destination. 20 minutes late. And I didn’t care.

He turned around to me, gave me his personal mobile number and said “I always tell my son that one day he will return to our house in Baabat*. He must. It’s his country”.

His country, I pondered. This country that forced his family out. That looked down on them for nothing more than their faith. Then I realized that he was no different than me. I too was forced out, due to the civil war. I too was categorized by my faith. I too wanted to return to my home in the foothills of Lebanon’s mountains.

I wanted to say something smart. Something eloquent. But I couldn’t. I was still dazed by the short experience. I felt guilty, since my government doesn’t. So I smiled, and he understood.

He understood that as long as we maintain the dream, we maintain that hope.
And he understood that this Lebanese man of a different religious faith sitting across from him also identified with his longing. And that I didn’t categorize him by his faith. My God is his God. My country is his country. My land is his land. And my house is his house.

May I live to see the day his son returns. And greet him.

Read post in full

Separate dress codes for non-Muslims?

According to Amir Taheri writing in the Canadian National Post a new law mandates the government to make sure that all Iranians wear "standard Islamic garments" designed to remove ethnic and class distinctions reflected in clothing, and to eliminate "the influence of the infidel" on the way Iranians, especially, the young dress.

It also envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public. The new codes would enable Muslims to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus becoming najis (unclean).

Read article in full

Update: The Canadian National Post (with thanks: Soly) has more:

‘This is reminiscent of the Holocaust,’ said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. ‘Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis.’"

"Apparently, this has been confirmed by Iranians now living in Canada: “Iranian expatriates living in Canada yesterday confirmed reports that the Iranian parliament, called the Islamic Majlis, passed a law this week setting a dress code for all Iranians, requiring them to wear almost identical ‘standard Islamic garments.’"

"What are the facts: “The law, which must still be approved by Iran's ‘Supreme Guide’ Ali Khamenehi before being put into effect, also establishes special insignia to be worn by non-Muslims. Iran's roughly 25,000 Jews would have to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, while Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth.”

"Apparently, this law was first recommended two years ago, and has been stuck in the parliament since. However, it has been revived recently by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"The question is: will America’s media report this? At this point six hours after the National Post article was published, a Google news search identified that, other than Canadian and German news sites, no major American media apart from blogs have covered this story. Moreover, if someone from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A. was questioned on this matter, American media can’t be in the dark on this issue."

Update on the update: Iranian-Israeli expert Meir Javedanfar claims the whole story is false:

It's absolutely factually incorrect," he told The New 940 Montreal.
"Nowhere in the law is there any talk of Jews and Christians having to wear different colours. I've checked it with sources both inside Iran and outside."
"The Iranian people would never stand for it. The Iranian government wouldn't be stupid enough to do it."


The oldest reference to using mandatory articles of clothing to identify and distinguish Jews from the rest of society was under Islam. In 807 CE, Abbassid caliph Haroun al-Raschid ordered all Jews to wear a yellow belt and a tall, cone-like hat. Read more here

Iraq backs boycott of Israel

It looks like Iraq is reverting back to its pre-Saddam, knee-jerk antisemitic policies, according to this report by Michael Freund in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily).

The US-backed Iraqi government sent an official representative to this week's meeting of the Arab League Boycott Office in Damascus, The Jerusalem Post has learned, prompting criticism from members of Congress and the Bush administration.

Rep. Paul Ryan, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, told the Post that "the US government has been very successful in negotiating the cancellation of Israeli boycotts from many countries throughout the Arab world. This would appear to be a big step in the wrong direction on the part of the new Iraqi government." (...)

Contacted by phone, a spokesman for the Iraqi embassy in London declined to comment.

According to figures released this week by the Israel Export Institute, there has been a 46 percent rise in Israeli sales to Iraq (valued at $320,000), with 27 exporters active in that market dealing primarily with the US military.

Read article in full

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jews can be loyal to both Israel and Iran

NEW YORK, May 16 (JTA) — As an American citizen, Sam Kermanian would like to mitigate Iran’s threat to the United States. As a Jew, he wants to ensure Israel’s safety. (With thanks: Jonathan)

And as an Iranian, he’d like to see these changes brought about in a peaceful way, so as not to disrupt the homeland he loves dearly.

Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Federation, epitomizes the precarious situation in which Iranian-American Jews find themselves today.

As Iran continues to make hostile overtures toward Israel and the United States, Iranian-American Jews feel themselves pulled in opposing directions by their three identities — and three homelands.

Along with the rest of the West, many Iranian Jews view President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s fundamentalist leadership with trepidation.

Homa Sarshar, a prominent L.A.-based journalist who founded the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, described the regime as “a threat to the whole world,” citing Iran’s aid to terrorist organizations and its nuclear ambitions.

Fellow journalist Roya Hakakian, who lives in Connecticut, expressed concern over the “ultra-conservative Islamic fundamentalists” running the government.

Ahmadinejad “sees himself as a catalyst for a doomsday scenario,” she said. “One can assume there’s nothing he would relent from doing.”

Community members say they worry Ahmadinejad’s goals might include an attack on Israel. He has talked repeatedly in recent months about destroying the Jewish state, just as Iran is believed to be close to mastering the technology to develop nuclear weapons.

Lida Tabibian, a Persian Jew who chairs an American Israel Public Affairs Committee young leadership group, described the prospect of a nuclear Iran as frightening.

“As an Iranian Jew, I see myself first and foremost as a Jewish person,” said Tabibian, whose family moved to Israel after fleeing Iran in 1978, shortly before the Islamists took over. “The threat to Israel, and Iran’s relationship to Israel, is my No. 1 concern.”

Jimmy Delshad — who, as vice mayor of Beverly Hills, is believed to be the first Iranian Jew elected to public office in the United States — reiterated that sentiment.

“One of the biggest connections Persian Jews have is Israel,” he said. “Israel is always on their radar screen.”

Delshad has been involved in a $3.5 million fund-raising drive in the local Persian Jewish community to help victims of terrorism in Israel. He previously served as president of both the heavily Persian Sinai Temple and a philanthropic organization started by Persian Jews to fund Israeli students.

Roughly 300,000 Persian Jews — the largest concentration of Iranian Jews anywhere in the world — live in Israel. This community keeps Iranian-American Jews connected to what happens in the Jewish state.

Their loyalty to Israel doesn’t imply any disloyalty toward Iran, however. Despite a history of on-again, off-again persecution at the hands of Iranian Muslims, many Iranian Jews cling tightly to Persian culture.

They teach their children Farsi, cook traditional dishes and visit family and friends back home. Jews trace their legacy in Iran back 2,700 years, far longer than Islam has been there.

Iran has yet to become history for most of us,” Hakakian explained. “If we don’t have relatives remaining in Iran, we have places we have loved, neighbors we care about. There are a lot of Iranian Jews who even go back and forth for summers and keep an Iranian passport. If for no other reason but sentimental ones, what happens in Iran continues to affect us.” (...)

Reconciling these cultural ties to Iran with their American and Jewish identities is not always an easy task. For one thing, there are family members back home to consider: Roughly 25,000 Jews live in Iran today. Occasional and seemingly arbitrary jailing by the regime has kept the Jewish community cowed and fearful.

“The community has gone through tormenting debates on the subject of what to do,” Hakakian said. “The majority of the Iranian Jewish community here in the U.S. believes that we should lay low, let the Iranian Jewish community do what it needs to survive, to exit from Iran. There’s a belief that openly advocating for the cause of Iranian Jews would be damaging to their well-being and the progress of their case.”

But Iranian-American Jews know that their religious identity does not necessarily make them enemies of the Iranian government.

“The lines that have been drawn in Iran have not been ethnic or religious lines,” Hakakian explained. “They’ve been lines between fundamentalists and secular. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew, Christian or Muslim, if you’re not fundamentalist, you’re on the other side.”

Others stress that in many countries around the world, the government does not necessarily speak for the general population.

Read article in full

Israeli-Iranians worry for former homeland

TEL AVIV, May 18 (Reuters) - Tehran-born Israeli Meir Javedanfar fondly recalls sitting around a television set with his Muslim friends back in Iran drinking copious cups of sweet tea while proudly watching the national soccer team play, Jonathan Saul reports.

With a growing crisis between the West and Iran over its nuclear programme, Javedanfar is among many Iranian Jews living in Israel who fear a possible attack on their former homeland.

"I am strongly against any war with Iran as I do not want to see Iranian people hurt," said Javedanfar, a 32-year-old Iranian analyst, staring at the lapping waves on the beachfront of Tel Aviv, an Israeli city where many Iranian Jews live.

The history of Iran's Jewish community, once over 100,000 strong, stretches back over 2,500 years to the ancient Persian empire. They are sometimes called "Esther's Children" after a Jewish queen of Persia.

Jews faced intermittent persecution in Iran for centuries but flourished with the ascent of the pro-western Pahlavi dynasty in the 1920s.

Since Israel's creation in 1948, more than 40,000 Iranian Jews have moved to the Jewish state, with the last big wave arriving after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

Tel Aviv shop owner Siyamak Shirazi, 37, who was born in Tehran and moved to Israel in 1979, said he hoped ordinary Iranians would not be caught up in any military action.

"We are Israelis but we are still Iranians. I hope there are no air strikes," he said. "I would prefer the ruling leadership being removed by U.S. or Israeli special forces. Perhaps then the people there will be able to breathe again."

The United States and other countries including Israel accuse Iran of wanting to build nuclear bombs. Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity.

Washington has not ruled out military options if diplomacy fails to curb Iran's atomic ambitions.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ratcheted up tensions in recent months by calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map". He has also described the Jewish state as "a decaying and crumbling tree that will fall with a storm".

Close allies when Iran was ruled by a U.S.-backed Shah, Iran and Israel have been implacable foes since the 1979 revolution.

Tehran has said its armed forces would retaliate for any attack. Earlier this month, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said Israel would be the first target, a comment later played down by the deputy chief of military staff.

Israel, considered the only nuclear power in the Middle East, is within range of Iranian ballistic missiles.

Israeli officials have said Iran's nuclear programme is the most serious threat faced by Jews since the Nazi Holocaust. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Ahmadinejad should bear in mind that his own country could also be destroyed.

"I miss my friends in Iran and Tehran very much," said Morris Moradiyan, 42, originally from Iran's capital.

"At the same time, Israel faces an existential threat from a nuclear Iran," he said. "I know ordinary Iranian people will suffer like us. I just hope if it comes to any attack, it can be done quickly with as little bloodshed as possible."

The Jewish community in Iran now numbers some 25,000 out of a population of around 69 million.

Jews in Iran are often regarded with suspicion by the government. Earlier this year, the Jewish community in Iran took a dramatic step in criticising Ahmadinejad's description of the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews during World War Two as a myth.

Despite the growing tensions, contacts between Israel's Iranian Jews and friends and family in Iran continue in secret.

E-mail and telephone calls over the Internet have made it easier to stay in touch without alerting Iranian authorities. Some Iranian Jews in Israel call over regular telephone lines but use code words as a precaution.

"When I speak with my family in Iran we never mention the word Israel," said Shaharzad Amin-Zadeh, 45, who moved to Israel from the Kurdish Iranian city of Sanandaj. "People over there are worried."

Since the 1950s, Israel Radio has run a daily Farsi language service, which it says is widely listened to in Iran.

The service hosts a weekly phone-in talk show with people in Iran via a link through Europe. In the past, Israel's Iranian-born president, Moshe Katsav, has been a guest on the programme, which gets on average 10 callers a week from Iran.

"Listeners have called the programme saying they were embarrassed by Ahmadinejad's comments," said Menashe Amir, who works in the Farsi service.

"They also said they were happy for the U.S. to confront Iran but hoped it would not hit ordinary citizens and only target nuclear sites," Amir added.

Toronto-based Iranian activist Hossein Derakhshan, one of the best-known Farsi "bloggers" on the Internet, visited Israel this year -- a trip he described as a good opportunity to break "a long-established taboo" about the Jewish state.

"Because of the anti-Israel propaganda of the Iranian regime there is a backlash and people have become curious," said Derakhshan, who left Iran five years ago after working as a journalist with a reformist newspaper.

On his Web site, he wrote about his recent experiences in Israel and posted video clips of his visit, especially his meetings with Iranian Jews. He said more than 4,000 people, many of them in Iran, have viewed the recordings.

"People in Iran are intrigued by the idea of Israel and want to visit it," he said. "Tel Aviv could easily be the sister city to Tehran if Iran becomes open and democratic."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jews celebrate at El-Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia

DJERBA, Tunisia, May 16 (Reuters) - Thousands of Jews have flocked to a two-day celebration at the El Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia, where a suicide bomber killed 21 people in 2002.

Some 5,000 Jews have attended the two-day festival, which began on Monday. Some travelling from France, Germany and Israel to join the commemoration of the end of a plague 2,000 years ago which, legend says, killed thousands of Jews.

After the 2002 bombing, the number of people attending the festival shrank to hundreds from more than 7,000 in most years.

Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bomber, who rammed a tanker loaded with cooking gas into the synagogue.

In an inner courtyard lined with columns and arches, men recited prayers and blessings were made over glasses of Bokha fig liqueur.

A crowd of pilgrims wrote their names on eggs and threw them into a candle-lit grotto, hoping to realize dreams of marriage, pregnancy or better health.

"I'm happy to be in my country for the third successive year," said Tunisian-born Israeli Hayem Houri, noting it is an "opportunity to fraternise among Jews, Muslims and Christians".

"We must make a difference between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the necessity to talk with our Muslims brothers", Houri, 67, added.

The government encourages the festival on the southern island of Djerba and deploys security personnel to protect participants.

Revellers pray, dance, sing and burn bonfires for two days to commemorate victory over war, plague and suffering.

The present building is 75 years old but there has been a synagogue on the site for what some estimate to be 1,900 years.

According to legend, it was founded by Cohanim (priests) who brought a door from the destroyed first temple in Jerusalem and build the shrine around it.

Some 2,000 Jews live in Tunisia, a Muslim secular state of 10 million people. In the 1950s, there were some 100,000 Jews in the country.

See here for report on last year's celebrations

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dancing with a Yemenite accent

Review by Vered Lee in Haaretz of Story of a company, Gila Toledano's new book about the late Yemenite founder of the Inbal Dance company, Sara Levi-Tanai. (With thanks: Lily)

Story of a Company
is not the first book about Levi-Tanai (Giora Manor's The Choreography of Sara Levi-Tanai preceded it), but it is unique in that it examines Levi-Tanai and her work from the perspective of Mizrahi identity and the approach of Israeli society to the art and culture of the Mizrahim - Jews originating in Arab lands.

Levi-Tanai's childhood memories are tattered and frayed. She never knew her date of birth. She was born in Jerusalem around 1910 or 1911 to parents who came from Yemen in the late 19th century. From the Neveh Zedek neighborhood outside Jaffa, they moved to a refugee camp in Kfar Sava, where the entire family died in an epidemic. "I don't remember how many we were," Levi-Tanai said in 1999, "but the only ones who survived were my father and I."

Levi-Tanai was (also) drawn to theater, but she was turned down in auditions because of her strong Yemenite accent. "I was rejected by both Habimah and Ohel," she told Toledano. "I was very hurt because I sensed that it was only because of my accent." In 1940, she moved to Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh, where, aside from working as a kindergarten teacher, she organized holiday ceremonies and kibbutz events.

Operation Magic Carpet, which brought masses of Yemenite Jews to Israel in the early years of statehood, set her mind awhirl. As a woman who had grown up far from her community and had received a Western education, she was entranced by the culture of the Yemenites and began to explore their special style of dance. Levi-Tanai was not the first to be captivated by Yemenite dance. Rina Nikova, a Russian-born ballerina, established a Yemenite dance company in Tel Aviv in 1933. But while Nikova only gave Yemenite dance a platform, i.e., she organized performances of authentic dances without changing them, Levi-Tanai observed the steps closely and made Yemenite dance hers.(...)

In her book, Toledano follows the progress of Inbal's reception in Israel and abroad. She compares the snobbish criticism of Levi-Tanai's work in Israel, where it was labeled 'folklore,' to the high praise meted out in the world?s leading newspapers. The blindness of the critics who dismissed her work as "preserving Yemenite culture," and failed to see the deeper levels in it, is surprising and hard to accept. Even when Levi-Tanai used the Yemenite step, she turned it into a novelty by doing away with the separation of men and women that was part of traditional Yemenite dance.

"I knew Tolstoy and Shakespeare long before I ever heard the name 'Shalom Shabazi,'"Levi-Tanai told Maariv in 1968, defending herself against the critics [Rabbi Shabazi was a famous Yemenite mystic and poet]. Later in the interview she is even more outspoken: "The aversion to Mizrahi culture you feel in the Israeli street today is connected to the fear of Arabization, the fear of Israel becoming part of the Levant ... I'm not afraid. We are a culture-rich people. This richness flows in my blood. I'm no more worried about turning into an Arab than I am about turning into an American."

Read article in full

Monday, May 15, 2006

Remember the Jewish refugees on 'Nakba' Day

Amid the flurry of reports and articles (e.g here, here and here) mourning the 58th anniversary of the creation of Israel and the so-called Palestinian 'Nakba', it takes two 93-year-old ladies with long memories to set the record straight on the letters page of The Guardian:

"What about the thousands of Jews who were forced to flee from Arab countries where they had lived for centuries, albeit often as second-class citizens? They were able to find refuge in the new Israel, roughly the size of Cornwall. After great struggles they made a new life there. In contrast, the Palestinians who felt they had to leave Israel were thrown out of neighbouring countries. Offers by Israel to build houses, roads, sewerage and provide water in Gaza were not accepted. Instead, most Palestinians were isolated in primitive camps on the borders, where they wasted their lives harbouring resentment and hatred. Why did the Arab world fail to look after the Palestinians when Egypt occupied Gaza from 1948 to 1967, or Jordan the West Bank? We are two 93-year-olds who have long memories."

Kitty Freund and Malli Katz

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Egyptian Jews entitled to sue Coca Cola

JTA News reports: A US appeals court upheld the right of an Egyptian Jewish family to sue Coca Cola for use of the family’s former property in Egypt.

Egyptian authorities confiscated properties belonging to the Bigio family in the early 1960s because the family was Jewish. The Egyptian government later ordered the property returned, but the state-owned company that controlled the property refused and transferred it instead to a company held in part by Coca Cola. A district court in New York dismissed a lawsuit against Coca Cola, saying the case was properly Egypt’s jurisdiction.

The Bigios appealed and the Second Circuit federal appeals court ruled in their favor Tuesday, returning the case to the district court. In an amicus brief to the appeals court, the Zionist Organization of America argued that anti-Semitism was so deeply embedded in the Egyptian system that the Bigios could not get a fair hearing there.

The late flowering of a Syrian-born poet

You're never too old to become a poet, as The Jerusalem Post reports. (With thanks: Lily)

"Before the age of 70, Abraham Cohen had hardly ever written a line of poetry. There was a youthful effort, a poem about the curfews in Tel Aviv during the War of Independence, and some love poems he had written to his wife when they first met. But that was it.

"Cohen, now 72 and for many decades a successful psychotherapist in Manhattan, doesn't know exactly why the switch suddenly flipped. Why, unexpectedly, after years of being a voracious reader of Hebrew poetry - of Bialik and Altman and Amichai, among many others - he began to write himself.

"But it happened. And after two years of stealing hours and minutes in between sessions with his patients at his Upper East Side office, he has managed to produce a slim volume of Hebrew poetry, Reddening Leaf (not yet translated into English). It is a collection of almost 50 short poems written in a lyrical style - some even rhyming - and touching on a range of moods from nostalgia to the frustration of unrequited love. Most tell highly personal and often tragic stories drawn from an eventful life lived in three very different places.

"Cohen was born in Aleppo, Syria, or, as he calls it, by its original name, Chaleb, named after the Hebrew and Arabic name for milk. (It is said that Abraham stopped in the city to milk his cows). Cohen's family was part of the small Sephardic community that traced its origins back to Andalusia via Salonika. His father was a successful merchant, importing and selling cutlery and perfumes, and Cohen grew up in the closed world of the Jewish neighborhood, attending a local Talmud Torah and then a French Catholic school.

"In 1945, when Cohen was 12, misfortune struck his family. Both of his older brothers, one 18 and the other 17, died within a month. "First Rachamim, the older brother, fell ill with dysentery, lost a lot of blood and died in a few days," said Cohen. "Then the younger brother, Moshe, who already had a heart condition and who my parents had just taken to Palestine, to Hadassah Hospital, to be treated, suddenly died also. My father was just about to shave his 30-day mourning beard for the elder brother."

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Iran's murky pro-Nazi links

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush (shamelessly reprinted in The Guardian today) is shocking enough, but according to Banking on Baghdad author Edwin Black, his holocaust denial is more like self-denial. In a widely-syndicated article written in January this year Black argued that the president of Iran need only look to his country's Hitler-era past to discover that Iran and Iranians were strongly connected to the Holocaust and the Hitler regime, as was the entire Islamic world under the leadership of the mufti of Jerusalem. (With thanks: Albert)

Iran's axis with the Third Reich began during the prewar years, when it welcomed Nazi Gestapo agents and other operatives to Tehran, allowing them to use the city as a base for Middle East agitation against the British and the region's Jews.

Key among these German agents was Fritz Grobba, Berlin's envoy to the Middle East, who was often called "the German Lawrence," because he promised a Pan-Islamic state stretching from Casablanca to Tehran.

Relations between Berlin and Tehran were strong from the moment Hitler came to power in 1933. At that time, Reza Shah Pahlavi's nation was known as Persia. The shah became a stalwart admirer of Hitler, Nazism and the concept of the Aryan master race. He also sought the Reich's help in reducing British petro-political domination.

So intense was the shah's identification with the Third Reich that in 1935 he renamed his ancient country "Iran," which in Farsi means Aryan and refers to the Proto-Indo-European lineage that Nazi racial theorists and Persian ethnologists cherished.

The idea for the name change was suggested by the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who came under the influence of Hitler's trusted banker, Hjalmar Schacht. From that point, all Iranians were constantly reminded that their country shared a common bond with the Nazi regime.

Shortly after World War II broke out in 1939, the Mufti of Jerusalem crafted a strategic alliance with Hitler to exchange Iraqi oil for active Arab and Islamic participation in the murder of Jews in the Mideast and Eastern Europe. This was predicated on support for a pan-Arab state and Arab control over Palestine.

During the war years, Iran became a haven for Gestapo agents. It was from Iran that the seeds of the abortive 1941 pro-Nazi coup in Baghdad were planted. After Churchill's forces booted the Nazis out of Iraq in June 1941, German aircrews supporting Nazi bombers escaped across Iraq's northern border back into Iran.

Likewise, the mufti of Jerusalem was spirited across the border to Tehran, where he continued to call for the destruction of the Jews and the defeat of the British.

His venomous rhetoric filled the newspapers and radio broadcasts in Tehran. The mufti was a vocal opponent of allowing Jewish refugees to be transported or ransomed into Jewish Palestine. Instead, he wanted them shipped to the gas chambers of Poland.

In the summer of 1941, the mufti, with the support of key Iranian military and government leaders, advocated implementing in Iran what had failed months earlier in Iraq. The plan once again was for a total diversion of oil from the Allies to the Nazis, in exchange for the accelerated destruction of the Jews in Eastern Europe and the Nazis' support for an Arab state. Through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., Iran had already been supplying Hitler's forces in occupied Czechoslovakia and Austria.

Now, the mufti agitated to cut off the British and the Allies completely and supply Germany in its push against Russia.

In October 1941, British, USSR other allied forces invaded Iran to break up the Iran-Nazi alliance. Pro-Nazi generals and ministers were arrested, and the shah's son was installed in power. The mufti scampered into the Italian embassy, where he shaved his beard and dyed his hair. In this disguise, he was allowed to leave the country along with the rest of the Italian delegation. (...)

Iran and its leaders were not only aware of the Holocaust, they played both sides. The country offered overland escape routes for refugee Jews fleeing Nazi persecution to Israel -- and later fleeing postwar Iraqi fascist persecution -- but only in exchange for extortionate passage fees.

Thousands of Jews journeyed to Israel via Iran both during the Holocaust and during the years after the fall of Hitler, when Arab leaders, especially in Iraq, tried to continue Germany's anti-Jewish program. Iran profited handsomely.

Since the shah's downfall, Iran has become a center for organized international Holocaust denial and has helped elevate the endeavor from fringe hate speech to a state-approved pseudo-intellectual debate.

In international forums and on state-controlled radio, Iranian university experts and journalists help validate the revisionist views that Jews were never gassed or murdered in great numbers during the Holocaust.

Indeed, Iran has become a refuge for the biggest names in European Holocaust denial. When in 2000, revisionist author Jürgen Graf was sentenced in Switzerland to 15 months in prison for Holocaust falsification, Graf fled to Tehran "at the invitation of a group of Iranian scholars and university professors who are sympathetic to Holocaust revisionism," according to the Institute for Historical Review, a denial clearinghouse.

What's more, in May 2000, Iran's embassy in Vienna granted asylum to Austrian Holocaust denier Wolfgang Fröhlich, who testified as a so-called expert witness during Graf's 1998 trial. This saved Fröhlich from Austria's severe anti-Holocaust denial statutes. Fröhlich argued that evidence proved no Jews were killed by Zyklon B gassing.

Earlier, about 600 journalists and 160 members of the Iranian parliament signed petitions supporting French revisionist Roger Garaudy, who was fined $40,000 by French authorities for his book claiming the Holocaust was a myth. When Garaudy landed in Iran, the country's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sayyad Khamenei, granted him an audience and lauded his work.

Iran has played a leading role in the Holocaust drama and now tries to deny it. That should be very hard in a nation that was named for Hitler's master race.

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