Monday, July 31, 2006

New centre documents North African Jewish life

A state-of-the-art Documentation Centre on the heritage of the North African Jews is opening in Jerusalem. (Via Information juive July/August 2006)

The centre, housed in the World Centre of Sephardi Judaism, will have a video and CD library, hundreds of recorded testimonies, documents, virtual exhibitions and educational resources on North African communities and the Jewish cycle of life.

World Centre for North African Judaism, Hamaaravim St, POB 32211, Jerusalem 94184. (Tel 972 2 623 58 11)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The invisible exiles speak out

Hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners were dispossessed over the past six decades-yet unlike the Palestinians, their exodus barely registered a blip on history's radar screen. They are Jews and this is their story.

As told by Annette Kornblum (with Richard Greenberg) in B'nai Brith magazine. (With thanks: Israel B)

"It was the mid-1960s, and life was good for the Khedr family of Cairo, Egypt. Marc Khedr, then in his early 20s, was a well-paid technical drawing instructor, and his father was the co-owner of a major department store. Although the Khedrs were Jews, they mingled easily with their Christian and Muslim business partners, friends, and colleagues.

"And then on June 6, 1967, the same day that Egypt and Israel went to war, the lives of this prosperous and seemingly well-integrated family turned inside out. Marc and his father were rousted at 2 a.m. by Egyptian soldiers who ransacked their home. They soon found themselves in the back of a canopied truck that jounced over rutted roads in the darkness for hours. They had no idea where they were going or what to expect when they got there.

"The truck stopped, and there was wind," remembers Marc Khedr, now 60, a retired auto repair shop franchisee who lives in San Francisco. "And you could see big gates. We had to jump, and the old ones were pushed down." The Khedrs had arrived at Abu Zaabal, a prison two hours from Cairo, where they found themselves interned with 400 other Jewish political prisoners. Their crime: Being the wrong religion in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"The next morning, the inmates were forced to run in the courtyard as they were chased by an Egyptian soldier who swatted them with a belt. An 80-year-old man later fainted after hearing that his two sons had been forced to sodomize one another. The captives dined on stale bread laced with sand and cigarette butts, and slept in an overcrowded room with 60 other Jews, sometimes using the leathery bread as makeshift pillows. "Everyone had to sleep against each other, side by side, like sardines," Khedr recalls. "If you got up to go to the john, you had to step over bodies and by the time you got back your place was taken."

"Marc and his father were held in Abu Zabbel for eight months before being moved to Tora, another Egyptian prison camp. Altogether, they endured three years and one month of mistreatment in Egyptian gulags. (Khedr insists that the additional one month of captivity be noted.) In the meantime, they lost their property and their citizenship in a country that several generations of the family had called home for at least 150 years. Khedr's horrific memories of persecution and dispossession are echoed by hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries-the forgotten refugees of the Middle East.

"When people speak of Middle Eastern refugees, everyone thinks immediately of the Palestinians," says Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. "It's not well known that there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries [856,000] since 1948 than Palestinian refugees [725,000], according to United Nations estimates. It's time for this issue to assume its rightful place on the international agenda."

"The 20th-century dislocation of Jews from Arab and other Middle Eastern countries has been nearly absolute. By the hundreds of thousands they left Libya, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, and Aden, as well as Iran (which is not technically an Arab country.) In some of these countries, no Jews remain, and by most accounts, fewer than 3,500 now reside in the entire Arab world. But it wasn't always that way.

"The average Ashkenazi Jew might know that Warsaw was 40 percent Jewish before World War II, but he'd probably be surprised to learn that Baghdad was 40 percent Jewish, as well," notes Eric Fusfield, director of legislative affairs for B'nai B'rith International. "The subject of Jewish life in the Arab world is still largely unfamiliar to Ashkenazim, who make up the majority of the American Jewish community, so the tragic story of the Jewish exodus from the Middle Eastern countries has received far too little attention in the United States."

"The mass-exodus of Jews from Arab countries began immediately before the establishment of Israel in 1948 and escalated following subsequent Arab-Israeli wars and other political convulsions in the Middle East. The Jewish de-population eventually spilled over into neighboring non-Arab countries, primarily Iran, and continued through the deposition of the Shah in 1979.

"As Urman implies, the Jews' saga is one-half of a Tale of Two Peoples, the co-protagonist being the Palestinians. Over the past six decades, the paths of these two groups have both coincided and diverged radically. If both arguably began mid-century as exiles, only the Palestinians retain that status. According to a highly elastic definition of the term "refugee" used by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), there are now roughly 4 million Palestinian refugees worldwide.

"In contrast, the dispossessed Jews of the Middle East have long since found homes elsewhere (although judging by the UNRWA standard-which applies only to Palestinians and includes the descendants of exiles-there would now be about 4 million Jews scattered throughout the world who could claim the status of refugees, according to Urman). Roughly two-thirds of the Jewish exiles from Arab countries moved to Israel, where today, more than half of the populace is descended from Jews who fled the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century. Others resettled in the United States, Europe, and Canada."

Read article in full

Saturday, July 29, 2006

'Israeli attack on Iran' could backfire on the Jews

It is probably no bad thing that the Marxist Monthly Review (with thanks: Albert) is not a mainstream American magazine, given the distortions and outright lies in this piece by Rostam Pouzal, warning Israel that an attack on Iran could backfire on the country’s Jews. Sadly, it is the bitter experience of all Jews expelled from Arab or Muslim countries that hostile populations sooner or later turn on them on the flimiest of pretexts, often with the encouragement of their governments.

Here is Pouzal's article, followed by my comments:

"One of the neocon myths that has gained currency post-9/11 asserts, referring to opponents of Israel and the United States, that "they are against who we are, not what we do." Hence, the argument concludes, there is nothing we can do to diminish their antagonism. A variant of this fiction is that Iran's Islamic elite is simply anti-Semitic and, given a chance, would lob nuclear weapons at Israel to kill Jews. But Tehran's record over the past quarter-century demonstrates no distinct pattern of animosity to Jews."

The author is making a spurious distinction between Jews and Zionists. Martin Luther-King once said: "Antizionism is discrimination against Jews, my friend, because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism.”

"Sadly, this may change soon for Iran's Jewish community of 25,000, if Israel's frequently hinted threats of attacking Iran become reality."

The fact that Iran’s proxy Hezbollah began the present hostilities against Israel does not count.

"Iran's hostility toward the Jewish state, including Tehran's sponsorship of Hezbollah retaliations against it, is a result of the Israel's unique role as the main U.S. proxy in the Middle East. Washington has interfered in Iran ever since the CIA overthrew a popular prime minister and reinstated the hated Shah in 1953. After the coup, the U.S., and soon also Israel, trained the monarch's forces of repression until he was toppled again in 1979. Now, the duo support the exiled remnants of his administration, presumably in a bid to re-establish the old order. The most active center of these expatriates for regime change, Los Angeles, is also home to over a dozen television stations that beam Israel-friendly programming to Iran round the clock, probably with U.S. funding."

"Nevertheless, there is scant evidence that the Islamic Republic, despite its share of human rights outrages, targets Jews. Years of legal and diplomatic wrangling over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina failed to prove involvement by the ayatollahs."

There is firm evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for this atrocity.

"Ironically, every anti-Semitic remark I have heard from my compatriots has come from modern Iranians who share my skepticism of Islam and the ruling clergy. This is not a coincidence, as the faithful among Muslim Iranians are commanded to tolerate religions "of the book" that predated Islam."

As long as they know their place as inferior ‘dhimmis’.

"In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, an archenemy of Israel, personally assured a delegation of Jewish Iranians upon his return from exile that he guaranteed the minority's safety. Blind faith in Islam -- if that's what inspires policy in Iran -- has ironically protected Iranian Jews from exceptional mistreatment."

The author does not explain why 80,000 Jews came to flee after Ayatollah Khomeini took power.

"This was especially true following the Revolution of 1979, when Iranian Jews could have faced grievous popular wrath. The community had endangered itself by befriending the Shah, fitting a pattern described in Benjamin Ginsberg's The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State. It was also thought that the deposed Shah had owed his backing in Washington to "the Jewish Lobby." Nevertheless, Muslim and secular opposition groups bore the brunt of post-Revolutionary violence, and Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians were largely spared by Islamic authorities and vigilantes.

Astonishingly, in a country where Islamic credentials are indispensable for political advancement and Israel is widely held in contempt, election campaigns at all levels have totally abstained from denouncing Jews."

…Only Zionists (see quote from Martin Luther-King above) .. . and the Holocaust.

"Other constituencies that are thought to have foreign benefactors -- those who would liberalize women's dress codes, opposition press, and the Baha'i faith, for example -- have not been similarly exempted from partisan politicking."

An outrageous statement.

"Sometimes I think [Iranian Muslims] are kinder to the Jews than they are to themselves," Knight-Ridder reporter Barbara Demick was told at a Tehran synagogue in 1997. "If we are gathered in a house, and the family is having a ceremony with wine or the music is playing too loud, if they find out we are Jews, they don't bother us so much." Demick described the head of a local Jewish community as being worried "less about persecution than about the faltering Iranian economy." Similarly, in 1998, the nursing director at Tehran's Jewish hospital told The Christian Science Monitor's Michael Theodoulou: "Our position here is not as bad as people abroad may think. We practice our religion freely, we have all our festivals. . . ." Theodoulou then wrote: "The most pressing complaint is that, despite many petitions to parliament, [government-funded] Jewish schools must open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath."

"According to Roya Hakakian, the Jewish Iranian author of Journey From the Land of No, "There are signs in many parts of the world that attest to the rising tide of anti-Semitism. But Iran is another story." Jewish businesses, synagogues, and cemeteries have not come under attack in cleric-ruled Iran nearly as often as they have in countries friendly to Israel, such as Turkey, France, and Germany. "Tehran is still home to the largest community of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel," adds Hakakian, who sought and received asylum in the West for reasons unrelated to her Jewish identity. Even though there were instances of harassment of Jews in the chaos and war that followed the Revolution of 1979, it is not clear if Jews who left Iran by the thousands were fleeing discrimination. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims also left Iran in search of a better life or more freedom."

This statement would probably come as a surprise to Hakakian herself, who has written about Iran’s tradition of religious bigotry and her experience of anti-Semitism.

"The relative safety of Iran's Jews is rarely mentioned in the United States, as any indication that Jews may feel safe in countries unfriendly to Israel is not welcome here. According to political science professor Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, Israeli (and US ) foreign policy objectives depend on emphasizing Jewish victimhood."

Ah, Finkelstein. An unimpeachable, neutral source.

"Senior investigative correspondent Mike Wallace of CBS' 60 Minutes, himself Jewish, has been vilified ever since he reported in 1975 that Jewish Syrians did not receive unusual mistreatment.

Demick wrote in 1997: "Inside Iran, Jews say that they frequently receive alarmed telephone calls and letters from relatives in the United States concerned about their well-being, but that they themselves do not feel physically endangered. Their major complaint is the inability to visit family in Israel, and what they say is inadequate funding for Hebrew schools."

"Even the hawkish Jerusalem Post reported last year that some Iranian immigrants in Israel were packing to return to Iran, where "Jews . . . live very well." Said one, "If you have problems there, [Muslim Iranians] help you -- and they know you are Jewish. . . . But here [in Israel], everyone is looking out for himself. You can't trust anybody." Another added, "I thought that here it was good. I thought that all the Jews leave their doors unlocked and no one stole. But the Israeli people are not cultured. They are rude and disrespectful. In Iran people trust each other and when they give their word they keep it. Here you need a lawyer to get anyone to keep their promise." Haggai Ram, an Iran specialist at Ben Gurion University, agreed with this report in a conversation with me at this year's conference of the Middle East Studies Association of North America.

"In a rare exception, thirteen Iranian Jews were tried in 1999 with several Muslims on charges of spying for Israel, which could carry the death penalty. All were released two years later and none punished further. But news about certain Jewish Americans passing U.S. state secrets to Israel have not been used in Iran to discredit Jewish Iranians. This is remarkable, because Iran's national security would be compromised a great deal more than that of the United States by a mole working for Israel.

The author assumes the 13 Jews were all guilty as charged.

"Nor have Israel's recent threats to attack Iran led any wild ayatollah to suggest rounding up Iranian Jews, as the U.S. once did with its Japanese citizens. One is tempted to conclude that Iran's Muslim "zealots" can distinguish between the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The same cannot be said about Israel's government or its American defenders.

"Back during the 1960s and 70s, Tel Aviv's rationale for backing the Shah was that doing so bought goodwill for Jewish Iranians. By the same logic, an Israeli attack on Iran can be detrimental to the minority. I hope that Israel's leaders know privately that "they hate who we are, not what we do" is a fabrication and they do not put Iranian Jews at risk with an attack on Iran. The tolerance of the Muslim faithful in Iran may not be infinite."

Here is the US State Department Report 2005 on religious freedom in Iran.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Visit this site on the Jews of Libya

Anyone interested in the Jews of Libya is strongly encouraged to visit Armando Nahum's blog, The forgotten Jews. This attractively-designed site contains interesting information about Nahum's own family and community. There are some wonderful old photographs showing Tripoli, its synagogues and glimpses of family and communal life.

The history section gives an eloquent and concise summary of the final decades of the Libyan Jewish community, now extinct:

"In 1911, 350 years of Ottoman rule ended and the Italian colonial period began. At the time, Libya’s Jewish population numbered 20,000. The next quarter century was to prove a golden age for Libya’s Jews. By 1931, nearly 25,000 Jews lived in Libya. The introduction of anti-Jewish legislation in Fascist Italy was extended to Libya in 1936. By 1940, Libya became the scene of heavy fighting between the Axis and British armies.

Pan-Islamic and anti-Jewish propaganda, fueled by the Arab League and coupled with the rise of Libyan nationalism, led to Muslim rioting in 1945 in the Tripolitania province. Decades of reasonably cordial relations with Muslims came to an end. Jews began to consider “Aliyah”, immigration to Palestine, and by 1952, 33,000 Libyan Jews had emigrated to Israel.

In December 1951, Libya became an independent state ruled by King Idris, who had been the leader of Cyrenaica province. The 6,000 Jews who remained did so for a variety of reasons: ties to the land and culture, age, infirmity, non-transferable business interests, quality of life, indecision, missed opportunities, faith in the country’s leadership.

Notwithstanding constitutional guarantees, restrictions on the Jewish community were gradually imposed. As early as 1952, Jews were forbidden to return home If they visited Israel, and access to Libyan passports became virtually impossible. Few Libyan Jews were granted citizenship in the newly independent Libyan state.

In1953, Libya joined the Arab League and increasingly echoed its anti-Israel rhetoric. All contact with Israel was proscribed and in 1958, the Tripolitania Jewish Community Board was forcibly dissolved and the authorities appointed a Muslim to administer the affairs of the community.

Ten years after the independence, Jews could no longer vote, hold public office, serve in the army, obtain Libyan passports, purchase new property, acquire majority ownership in any new business, or supervise their own communal affairs. Yet the Jews remained. Their daily lives were, to a substantial degree, largely unaffected by these prohibitions. Their roots in Libya were deep, their attachment to the country strong, and their daily lives unhindered. They came to resign themselves, almost to take for granted, their political powerlessness and physical vulnerability. Without specific provocation, it would have been difficult to just get up and leave for an uncertain future.

As late as January 1967, Tripoli’s Jews felt sufficiently confident of their position to plan the construction of a new synagogue in the city center. But in the ensuing months, growing tension throughout the Middle East and North Africa was fueled by Egyptian President Nasser’s provocative actions against the Jewish state and fiery anti-Israeli rhetoric. Libya’s Jews hoped they would somehow remain untouched by events beyond their country’s borders, but the outbreak of war in the Middle East in June of that year dispelled any such hopes."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is the Middle East map about to change?

Is this the end of the Sunni Arab age, and the dawning of a new era of minority states? asks Lee Smith in the New Standard

"Arabs and Western Arabists typically describe Israel as a European invention stuck right in the center of a region where it does not belong, but this is ignoring the fact that almost half of the Jewish state's population originated not in Europe, or Russia, or even Brooklyn, but in the Middle East. The Jews belong here as much as the their Middle Eastern minorities do, the Christians, Shiites, Alawites, and Kurds. The "difference is that many of these minorities, unlike the Jews in Israel, have signed "on, willingly or not, to the triumphalist Sunni Arab narrative: We are all Arabs. It seems as though eventually this fiction will collapse and some of these minorities will, like Israel, want their own states.

"For decades now "Arabs" in the Middle East have feared Washington's ostensible designs to divide and weaken them. (Despite the obvious fact that America is working hard to see that Iraq, for instance, does not break into three parts.) But a region-wide reshuffling may be in the cards anyway. What might that look like?

"Perhaps Washington is most anxious about its NATO ally Turkey and how it would deal with a separate Kurdish state. But the time may be coming when the Kurds will weigh their choices and might prefer fighting for an independent Kurdistan to defending themselves against their Iraqi compatriots.

"Whether or not Israel manages to kill Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon may be immaterial. If his catastrophic foreign policy loses the Shiite population, the political gains Hezbollah's arms may have earned it over the last 20 years could evaporate. Who is to say that the 150,000 refugees now in Syria will return to Lebanon, rather than head east to Iraq, where Shiites are ascendant?

"Perhaps Syria will return to the days of its ancient Umayyad glory with an unquestionably Sunni Arab empire, and the minority Alawites will move to the Syrian coast, an escape hatch designed ages ago by Hafez al-Asad. The Mediterranean then would be lined with a strip of regional minorities turned toward the West, Alawites, Christians, Druze, and Jews.

Maybe the answer to the region's violence, the refusal of its citizens to accept difference, is in these fragments."

Read article in full

Jews under pressure to show loyalty to Iran

The Jews of Iran are under government pressure to show they are loyal Iranian citizens, AP reports (with thanks: Albert):

Last week, Jews in the southern city of Shiraz held a pro-Hezbollah rally that was covered by state-run television - a sign that the march was likely overseen by the Islamic regime to reinforce the idea of national solidarity.

The Web site of the Tehran Jewish Community includes statements opposing Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip and praising uranium enrichment by Iranian scientists. The U.S. and many of its allies - including Israel - believe Iran is using its nuclear reactor project as a cover for a weapons program.

"For Iranians, there is a distinction in their mind between Zionism and Judaism," said Motamed. "This is a very important distinction for us."

Iranian Jews face no restrictions on their religious practices, but they must follow Islamic codes such as head scarves for women in public. The same rules apply to the larger Christian and Zoroastrian communities.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Israel misrepresented as nation of European Jews

On July 18, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote that "Israel itself is a mistake" because "the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism." (See here for an analysis of Cohen's column.)

Cohen did not reckon on a response from CAMERA's senior research analyst, Gilead Ini, an Israeli of Iraqi origin. Here's Ini's letter which ran in the Post a few days later.

Righting History in the Middle East:

"Richard Cohen wrote that Israel, which he describes as "a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims," is "a mistake." This, he explains, is because the country faces hostility from the jihadists of the world.

"If Mr. Cohen believes the liberation of the Jewish people from a history of oppression is a mistake because anti-Semitic movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah object to Israel's existence, would he also have thought the emancipation of slaves in the United States was a mistake because white supremacists in the Jim Crow South objected to their freedom?

"Like other Israeli citizens, members of my (non-European) family do not believe their existence as Israelis is a mistake. As Iraqi Jews, they have been living in the Middle East since before the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest of the region. But as minorities in Iraq, they were second-class citizens; their rights were granted and removed based on the whims of their leaders, and they were forced to endure frequent anti-Jewish riots.

"Only when they came as refugees to Israel, their ancestral homeland, could they finally determine their own future with freedom and equality."

Senior Research Analyst
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America

New Berber-Israeli friendship association

A new Berber-Israeli friendship association aims to develop relations between Berbers (also known as Amazighs) and Berber-speaking Jews in Israel.

According to Boubaker Ouadaadid, a German teacher in Casablanca, the association aims to fight antisemitism in Morocco and to spread Amazigh culture among Jews in Israel.

"Where I grew up (in the country) there was no difference between Jews and Muslims. We were very close to our Jewish brethren. When I moved to Casablanca, I was shocked by people's attitudes. They were frankly antisemitic. For example they would say, lihoudi hachack. That's one reason why we decided to set up this association."

The association aims to organise trips for Moroccan and Israeli Berbers (sic) to meet, encourage economic exchanges between the two countries and promote Israeli aid to rural Berber areas. It bucks the official trend, which aims to foster total rupture between the Moroccan state and Israel and runs counter to the pro-Palestinian sentiment prevailing among the Moroccan people.

Ouadaadid, together with Brahim Amekraz, believes that the Palestinian cause has been exploited by the country's policies for personal gain. "We do not feel any animoisity towards Israel. The conflict is between Palestinians and Israelis. The war is taking place thousands of kilometres away. It does not interest us."

The Jews who lived in Tinghir, Timit, Ouarzazate and Sefrou used to speak Berber and Hebrew. They sang in Berber at weddings or circumcisions.

The founders of the friendship association hope to meet in August. They have members in Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes and Tangiers. In Israel, M. Ouadaadid mentions as his associates Dr Bruce Weitzmann, the researcher Moshe Benarouch and the journalist Mira Africh.

Read article in full (French)

Further reading on Amazigh (Berber) Jews

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bosnian Jews protest pro-Muslim property law

PRAGUE, July 21 (JTA) — Jewish groups are troubled by a new property restitution law in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that officially discriminates in favor of the country’s Muslims. (With thanks: Albert)

A law passed earlier this month allows people living in state-owned apartments that were nationalized under the former Yugoslavia’s socialist regime to purchase the dwellings. But the law — backed by lawmakers from the country’s Muslim majority — provides that any apartment previously owned by the Muslim community cannot be purchased if the community objects to the sale.

“Holders of tenant’s tenure for apartments whose formal owners are wakfs can not buy up those apartments without previous written approval of the apartment’s owner,” the law states, using the Arabic word for a Muslim community endowment.

The Jewish community, as well as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, was not given the same veto power.

A protest letter to the government and various international authorities from The Inter-Religious Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina states, “One of the fundamental principles of justice, equity and of the democracy in which we would like to believe is equality before the law. Unfortunately, this law definitely violates this principle.”

A group of ethnic Croatian lawmakers has challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, which should rule on it shortly, according to Bosnia-based diplomats.

The law has generated concern over the future of private-property return in Bosnia and Herzegovina at a time when the government is still formulating its approach to restitution. The law would mean that Holocaust survivors or their heirs wouldn’t obtain fair compensation for their former property, according to Jakub Finci, chairman of the country’s small Jewish community.

“I think it’s another injustice done not only to Jews but all other former owners who waited 50 years to get back their property,” Finci said. The Inter-Religious Council, which includes Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox representatives, says the legislation would leave people whose apartments were nationalized with little possibility of regaining their property. (...)

With parliamentary elections looming in October, legislators who backed the apartment law were seeking to gain votes from the vast number of people who still live in state-owned apartments, Finci said.

The law does offer some compensation to those who lose their property — in the form of property in another location — but there’s no requirement that the alternate property have the same value. “So someone can take up a property in Sarajevo and the original owner could get a plot in the forest somewhere,” Finci said. Restitution has been a thorny issue across the former Eastern bloc, with compensation often serving as a substitute for restitution.

Finci estimated that about 2,000 apartments in the city belonged to Jewish families when they were nationalized by the socialist government of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. The law also means that the Jewish community will lose 71 Sarajevo apartments that it owned communally before World War II.

There were 12,000 Jews living in Sarajevo before World War II. Before the Bosnian war of the early 1990s, there were 1,800.

Today there are about 1,000, including 700 in Sarajevo, where property prices have soared as a massive rebuilding plan has helped restore the city’s grandeur. Some Croatian politicians who say their Bosnian Muslim counterparts have been pushing an Islamic agenda cite the apartment legislation as an example.

Read article in full

Friday, July 21, 2006

Spotlight on the Jews of Lebanon

With the conflict raging between Israel and Hezbollah the moment is perhaps opportune to investigate the situation of the Jews of Lebanon.

Estimates of the current population range from one to 60. At its height the community numbered more than 10,000. Between 1948 and 1967 the Jewish community of Lebanon was the only one in an Arab country to increase in size, swollen by Jews from Syria and Iraq fleeing persecution. But many fled after the 1967 war; most of the remainder left in 1976 fearing the increasing influence of Syria during the civil war. Several Jews were abducted and murdered in the 1980s. Here's a potted history.

Unlike Jews in other Arab countries the rights of the Jews of Lebanon were constitutionally safeguarded by a confessional system where each religious community's 'inalienable rights' were acknowledged under Le Reglement - a set of rules written after the 1860 Civil War. This established a system of power-sharing in which all the major religious communities were represented. The Lebanese Jews were one of 17, the largest of six minor religious communities. Although the Jewish community is on the verge of extinction, some non-Jewish Lebanese* still aim to exploit the Jews to project the illusion that the multi-confessional system still exists, although the influx of Palestinian Arab refugees in 1970 and the 1975 civil war upset its delicate political and population balance between Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians, Shi'a, Sunni and Druze.

For anyone wishing to find out more, The Jews of Lebanon by Kirsten E Schulze (Sussex Academic Press, 2001) is a well-researched and detailed book. But it suffers from a common disease among comtemporary academic studies - a tendency to blame Israel for the demise of the Jewish community. Thus, while it is true that the Jews of Lebanon did not suffer from overt institutional antisemitism and persecution, social and religious antisemitism was rife. Schulze challenges the Jews' dhimmi status, ignores religious Islamic antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and minimises a rampant Greek Orthodox Christian antisemitism which still holds the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus.

In her zeal to promote a pluralist, interconfessional Lebanese ideal, Schulze cannot adequately explain how come the Jewish community was the only Lebanese minority to have been wiped out. Her claims that Lebanese Jews were anti-Zionist and did not emigrate to Israel are simply untrue.

*Warning: According to Lebanese Jewish contacts, this website purports to be by and about the Jews of Lebanon but is in fact a hoax and an exercise in disinformation. At least one picture is incorrectly captioned. The list of synagogues is not a list of Lebanese, but Sephardi synagogues. It also makes an extravagant (and unverifiable) claim that 250 Jews have actually returned to Lebanon.

(With thanks to Isaac K and Albert)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Iranians revise Judaism to condemn Israel

TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iranian Jewish Community condemned the recent statement of the Israeli rabbis here on Wednesday, stressing that the religious teachings of Judaism never allow for the killing of civilians (With thanks: Albert).

Speaking to FNA's political desk, Religious Expert of the Iranian Jewish Community Yunes Hammami Lalehzar (who is likely not a Jew - Ed) rejected the allegations of the Israeli rabbis who had claimed that "the Torah allows for the murder of women and children at the time of war."

"The phrase is not a Torah verse, rather it pertains to just the very exceptional case of seven Ummahs (nations) who lived on the Promised Land around 3500 years ago," he stressed.

He said the seven Ummahs practiced idolatry and did not embrace monotheism, adding that when Prophet Moses (PBUH) moved into the Promised Land, he warned the said nations to embrace monotheism or desert that land.

"Only those of the seven Ummahs were killed that not only didn't accept either of the said two choices, but also started a fight against Prophet Moses and his followers," the expert reminded.

Meantime, the Iranian Jewish Community strongly rejected the allegations of the Israeli rabbis, stressing that no part of the Torah mentioned such claims.

The Jewish Community underlined that the killing of innocent women and children at the time of war is a blatant violation of the religious teachings of the Torah.

Chairman of the Iranian Jewish Community Haroun Yashayati and representative of the Jewish Community at the Iranian Parliament, Morris Mo'tamed stressed in their joint statement that one of the first commandments and principles of Judaism frequently stressed by Prophet Moses (PBUH) is 'Like your neighbor as yourself'.

"Murdering women and children has never been mentioned in the Torah and the strong protest by the different Jewish communities and the true followers of Prophet Moses (PBUH) worldwide against the violent measures of the Zionist soldiers substantiates the very same fact," the two officials have underscored in their statement.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yes, there were once Jews in Pakistan

Yes, there were once Jews living in Pakistan. I met one yesterday.

Fritha, whose family was encouraged with others of the Bnei Israel community to move to Karachi by the British - they needed their linguistic skills and trade contacts - attended a British school. At its height the community in Pakistan numbered almost 1,000. Life was comfortable. They had servants, but social interaction with all Muslims, save those who had lived in East Africa, was minimal. Fritha never visited a Muslim home.

A few Jews stayed on after the 1947 Partition and the massive wartime population exchange between Muslims and Hindus. It was in 1964, when Fritha was 12, that persecution finally drove the family to flee Karachi for India, leaving all their possessions behind. They were allowed to take just one rug with them. Frita's mother sewed gold coins into the lining. The women left wearing saris weighed down with coins. Once in India the family managed to survive by converting the coins into cash.

The Jewish Agency then arranged for them to make aliya to Israel, where the Jews were welcomed and helped to find jobs and housing. Many Bnei Israel Jews, who speak good English, found work at Ben Gurion airport.

Fritha recalls that the neighbours were a family of Turkish Jews whose daughters had flame-red hair. They had no idea that there existed dark-skinned Jews from Pakistan, anymore than the Pakistani Jews knew that there were Jews from Turkey with red hair. Despite the language barrier, the two mothers found they had plenty in common - and spent hours discussing how to handle their teenage daughters.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Iraqi Parliament unanimously condemns Israel

Initial hopes, expressed by daring Iraqi politicians such as Mithal Al-Alusi that relations between post-Saddam Iraq and Israel should normalise, have been dashed: in the current crisis in Lebanon, the Iraqi Parliament has fallen back into the knee-jerk pattern of condemning Israel - according to this Reuters report.

Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers in Iraq's U.S.-backed parliament often fail to see eye to eye, but on Sunday they stood united in their condemnation of Israel's military offensive against Lebanon.

Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been pleading with fellow Iraqis to put aside deep sectarian and ethnic divisions of the kind that plunged Lebanon into civil war 30 years ago.

His pleas have gone largely unheeded, but Israel's five-day-old assault on Lebanon that has killed more than 116 people, all but four of them civilians, has evoked strong feelings of solidarity among Iraqis, bridging the sectarian divide.

"Support Hassan Nasrallah and stand by his side and you will be closer to the angels in heaven," wrote Hameed Abdullah, a Sunni, in an editorial in al-Mashriq newspaper, referring to the leader of Shi'ite Hizbollah, the target of the Israeli campaign.

The Iraqi media has closely followed developments in the offensive, and Iraqiya state television has flashed breaking news in red script across normal programming, a practice usually reserved for its coverage of the daily carnage in Iraq.

And whether by coincidence or design, communal and insurgent violence appears to have dipped slightly in Iraq since Israel began its campaign, launched after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight on Wednesday.

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the Sunni speaker of parliament, sent a personal message to his Lebanese counterpart on Sunday, telling him that Iraqis supported Lebanon's efforts to defend its "sovereignty ... against outrageous Israeli aggression".

The Iraqi parliament earlier passed a motion unanimously condemning the Israeli offensive and urging the U.N. Security Council and Group of Eight leaders meeting in St Petersburg to intervene "to stop the ... Israeli criminal aggression".

It followed a statement by Maliki a day earlier, in which the Shi'ite Islamist prime minister, making a rare foray into foreign affairs, denounced Israel and warned of the dangers of escalating tensions in the region.

His Shi'ite-dominated government, installed two months ago in a U.S.-sponsored electoral process, has focused its foreign policy on mending ties with its neighbours, partly to improve security by hindering foreign aid to guerrilla groups.

Other Arabs have been suspicious of Iraq's new rulers, partly because of the dominant U.S. military role in Baghdad. Maliki has been at pains to demonstrate independence and to improve ties with the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab leaders.

Popular Shi'ite-run al-Bayyna newspaper, praising the Hizbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel, said: "About half a million Jews are sitting in underground shelters. The Jihadi missiles were stronger than those of the warplanes of Zion."

In the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, civil servant Muhsin Hassan, 27, said he was prepared to join the fight against Israel: "If there is any chance of reaching south Lebanon, we'll be ready to go to fight with our brothers in Hizbollah."

Update: Iraqi PM condemned in US

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jews blamed for 1948 trouble in Libya

A letter written by a Libyan Jewish leader in November 1948 has come to light which strongly criticises the British administration in Tripoli for their handling of civil disturbances. (With thanks: Aldo)

The letter, by the vice-president of the Jewish community, Giuseppe Habib, protests that police efforts to find the perpetrators of an explosion on a Friday night had focused exclusively on the Jews. A young Jew, Lillo Mahleff, had been arrested.

"The Jewish population of Tripoli lives in a constant state of fear which deprives them of that serenity nexcessary to pursue their daily work and occupations in peace", Habib wrote.

The letter, found at the UK Public Records Office in Kew, points out to the British administration that it was highly improbable that a Jew should have violated the Sabbath to cause trouble. The Jewish population had welcomed Montgomery's eighth army in 1943 as liberators. But they were now reproaching Britain, known for its democratic values, for 'conduct which denies all moral values.'

During three days in November 1945, 130 Jews were murdered in three Libyan cities and property looted and damaged. The police were curiously absent and the British army failed to intervene for 48 hours. There were more anti-Jewish disturbances in June 1948.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

...What about Jewish property in the Arab world?

A surfer who calls himself Tamin Derby, and who claims to reside in Jenin, has documented in recent months for Google Earth hundreds of Palestinian villages that vanished from the face of the earth in 1948. Some were replaced by new Israeli communities and towns, Y-net News reports.

"During the 1948 war between the Israelis and Arabs, 800,000 Palestinians were expelled, or escaped from their villages in Palestine, where they had lived for thousands of years. Since then they have turned into refugees and their villages have been partly or completely destroyed," he wrote.

"The Right of Return is the main obstacle for achieving peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and for reaching a resolution for the dispute," he stated. (...)

In the Google Earth forum, one of the surfers asked him: "There were hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were forced to escape their homes in Arab states at the same time… maybe their property should also be documented, in order to maintain balance?"

And Derby replied: "I agree with you 100 percent. I wish I had time to document the Jewish residence in the Arab world, but I don't. I would be happy to see someone taking this project upon himself."

Any volunteers?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

First Egyptian Jews' Congress marks second exodus

One Jew was arrested while swimming in the Suez Canal after the 1956 crisis; the next day she and her entire family were expelled. Haaretz reports on the Congress of Egyptian Jews held in Haifa last week. (With thanks Lily, Albert)

Three hundred and twenty of the last Jews born in Egypt arrived from 15 countries last week to attend the first World Congress of Jews from Egypt that was held in Haifa 50 years after "the second exodus from Egypt." Many of the participants reported having an unusually intense emotional experience: elderly women from Israel, Britain and Brazil who were in the same class at the English Mission school in Cairo's Heliopolis neighborhood reconnected after more than 60 years, ate traditional Egyptian dishes, and sang the Ladino and French-Arabic chansons they used to sing when they were kids.

Amid all the excitement, a young Egyptian diplomat sent by the Egyptian embassy observed from the sidelines. He said he was very surprised to find that many of the Egyptian-born Jews do not even speak Arabic. The organizer and chairman of the congress, Prof. Ada Aharoni of Haifa, acknowledged that only recently did she start learning Arabic. "My parents didn't want to speak Arabic at home," she said. "It was not only due to snobbism, but also to protest the fact that we were treated as foreigners, and didn't receive Egyptian citizenship."

Aharoni's family fled to France in 1949. Soon thereafter, her father died of a heart attack after hearing that the Egyptians had nationalized the family's entire savings. "We never wanted to talk about our Nakba [catastrophe]," Aharoni said. "It seemed like a blow to our self-esteem."

The congress devoted a session to personal recollections. Several participants spoke for the first time about the trauma of leaving. One of them was Lilian Abda, who lives in Haifa. Abda, a native of the city of Suez, talked about being arrested in 1956 by Egyptian soldiers, while she was swimming leisurely in the canal. Abda was charged with trying to relay information to Israeli forces advancing across the Sinai Peninsula. "I was brought in my bathing suit to the police station, and I was questioned until they extracted a confession from me," she said. "The next day they expelled me and my entire family from the country. In the papers, they called me the Mata Hari of the canal."

The process of eliminating the Jewish community in Egypt began after World War II, and lasted around 20 years. Of the 80,000 Jews who lived there in 1948, 34,000 immigrated to Israel and the rest went to France, Brazil, the United States, Australia, and Canada.

A recent survey of native-born Egyptians in Australia found that each one speaks an average of 4.5 languages, with no distinction between the wealthy and the poor. The survey's author, Dr. Racheline Barda of the University of Sydney*, believes that knowledge of languages enabled the Egyptian natives to be easily absorbed in the West. But due to their successful integration, their Egyptian identity was lost and not transmitted to their children.

Barda's research revealed the diverse ethnic mosaic from which the Egyptian community was comprised. Only 15 percent of the survey's respondents were born to families that had lived in Egypt for several generations. Over 80 percent were children or grandchildren of immigrants who had arrived in Egypt following the economic boom created by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Half of the Jewish immigrants arrived in Egypt from across the Ottoman Empire, and the other half came from Europe. The overwhelming majority of the community underwent a secularization process in the 1930s. Inter-ethnic marriages were widespread. Professor Vivianne Schinasi-Silver of Toronto said that her grandparents had come to Egypt from Turkey, Lebanon, Russia and Spain.

Read article in full

*For a copy of a 30-page paper given by Racheline Barda at Sydney university in April, please Email me

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Iran's hostility to Israel 'an aberration'

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Stanley A. Weiss argues that Iran's present-day hostility to Israel is a historical aberration. And to solve the issue of Islamist terrorism, Israel would have to build bridges with Iran.

"As an American Jew visiting Iran, I apparently made an irresistible target. "Zionist Israel," an Iranian official instructed me, was the root of all problems in the Middle East; a Western "colonial imposition" on Muslim lands that must be reversed.

"It's Iran's own fault," I replied. "If Cyrus the Great hadn't freed the Jews from Persian slavery 2,500 years ago and told them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple, there wouldn't be an Israel." The official chuckled and changed the subject.

Today, it's hard to imagine two more bitter enemies than Iran and Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for Israel to be wiped off the map. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert calls a nuclear- armed Iran an existential threat to Israel.

Yet animosity between Iran and Israel is an historical aberration. Before Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, ancient cultural bonds and common strategic interests between Persians and Jews made Iran and Israel close allies. Even today, enduring strategic interests suggest that a revived Persian-Jewish partnership, while by no means imminent, is inevitable.

If he knew his history, Ahmadinejad would recall that Iranian diplomats in Europe saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and that Iran served as an escape route for Iraqi Jews fleeing to Israel after the 1948 war for Israeli independence. In fact, Iran was one of the first Muslim countries to establish diplomatic and trade relations with the state of Israel (...)

Israel will need Iran, and Syria, to reign in Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Iran will need Israel, and its powerful lobby in Washington, to repeal U.S. economic sanctions.

Indeed, now that Washington has ended its 27- year-old policy against direct talks with Tehran, the door has opened, if only slightly, to a broader Iranian-American rapprochement. But for both Tehran and Washington, the road to reconciliation runs through Jerusalem.

When their governments are ready, the best bridge between Iran and Israel will be the enduring cultural links between their peoples.

Israel's community of 200,000 Iranian Jews - including a deputy prime minister, military chief and a Farsi-speaking president - are well-placed to forge new ties and trade with their ancestral homeland.

Read article in full

A contrasting view from Edwin Black here about Iran's links to Nazism

Iranian Jews condemn Israel 'atrocities'

Another statement issued by the Jewish community in Iran condemning Israeli 'atrocities' in Gaza. The Tehran Times reports:

TEHRAN (Fars News Agency) -- Iranian Jewish Community in a statement released here on Monday condemned Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. In their statement, Iranian Jews have expressed their sympathy with the oppressed Palestinian people and stated their profound concern over the increasingly intensifying violence by the Zionist Regime, which has so far claimed the lives of many innocent human beings and resulted into growing usurpation of the Palestinian nation's rights.

The statement further calls on the international circles and bodies as well as human rights organizations to take immediate action to play a mediatory role to stop any further intensification of the ongoing unjust war which has and will yield no fruits but increasing cultural, economic, heath and hygiene weakening and poverty in the region and massacre of more and more Palestinian children, women and old persons.

The Iranian Jewish Community has also stressed, "The Zionist Regime's violence and genocide of the Palestinians do not at all comply with the religious fiats and decrees presented by Prophet Muses (sic) and all the God-fearing Jews and followers of Prophet Muses, thus, express their profound hatred for such movements and measures."

Baghdad once as Jewish as New York

It is easy to forget that before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 there were large Jewish communities spread across the Muslim world. One particularly prominent example was Baghdad. (Via The Scribe)
It has often been said that New York is a Jewish city. One can safely say the same about Baghdad of the first half of the twentieth century.

To have an idea of the city’s demography and the position of the Jews in those five decades, it is enough to glance at these few facts of statistics:

In 1904, the French vice-consul in Baghdad gave the number of Jews in the then Ottoman Baghdad vilayet as 40,000, out of a total population of 160,000.

In 1910, a British consular report estimated the number of Jews in Baghdad as ranging from 45,000 to 50,000.

In October 1921, a British publication quoted these population figures for the city as given in the last official yearbook of the Baghdad vilayet: total number of inhabitants, 202,200, of whom: 80,000 were Jews; 12,000 Christians; 8,000 Kurds, 800 Persians; and 101,400 Arabs, Turks and other Muslims.

A proclamation issued by the British military Governor in the early 1919’s fixed the number of sheep to be slaughtered daily in Baghdad East (al-Risafa, the more populous half of the city) at 220 for Jewish butchers and 160 for Muslim and other butchers.

In the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce most of the members were Jews and the administrative council consisted of 8 Jews and 8 Moslems.

Here's a potted history.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Official Egyptian policy towards non-Muslims

This article from this Egyptian Ministry of Religious Affairs website is proof, if proof were needed, that Islam's attitude of supremacy and contempt towards non-Muslims is now official policy:(via HSJE and US Copts' website)

"Islam is unique among all other religions in that it alone possesses an authentic scriptures. The Holy Quran informs us that the Jews and Christians have corrupted their scriptures by mixing the original revelation with human interpolations and interpretations until the former could not be distinguished from the latter. Under the devastating impact of "Higher Criticism" very few, if any, Jewish or Christian scholars today accept their Holy Books as infallible Divine revelation.

"Jews and Christians themselves admit that they do not possess their original Texts but only translations that have been undergoing numerous alterations for many centuries and are still being changed. The Holy Quran exists exactly as it was revealed to the Holy Prophet. It has been preserved in its original text forever. The languages of the former revelations to the Jews and Christians have long been dead. Today nobody can speak those languages and only a few scholars claim to be able to decipher them. Even if these scriptures had been preserved to this day in their original and unadulterated form, nobody could correctly understand them and interpret their injunctions, much less translate them into actual practice. In contrast, the language of the Holy Quran is a living language, spoken and understood by millions throughout the world.

"Even those who have no time to study Arabic, can easily find others who know it sufficiently to explain the meaning of the Quran. Each of the existing sacred books has been addressed to a particular people and contains commandments which seem to have been intended only for a restricted time and place, while the Holy Quran is explicitly addressed to the whole human race with an eternal code embracing life in its totality. The teachings of Judaism are restricted by their nationalist, racist emphasis while the acceptance of secularism on principle virtually negates Christianitys claim to universality. (...)

"The racism and nationalism of Judaism makes a mockery of its ethical teachings while Christianity's propagation of the doctrine of the Trinity and the vicarious atonement of mankind's sins by Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) nullifies all its moral values. In Islam there are no such loopholes. (...)

"Islam is the only religion which preaches a pure and unadulterated monotheism that tolerates no compromises with nationalism, racism, trinitarianism, saint-worship, veneration of images or priesthood. Wholehearted acceptance of the doctrine of Tauhid or the Unity of God makes the believer broadminded and sympathetic to all his fellow beings made by the same Creator..(...) His faith that God is the Master of all the universe, whose powers and mercy are infinite, gives him immense consolation in trouble so that he never yields to pessimism and despondency. Suicide is unthinkable. (...)

"Why does not Islam regard the non-Muslim as equal to the Muslim? If Muslims cannot regard Judaism or Christianity on a plane of equality with Islam, the non-Muslim will wonder what kind of treatment Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, agnostics and atheists can expect to receive under Muslim rule.

"Islam is a universal faith open to everyone without distinction of race, nationality, cultural or intellectual attainment, social status, age or sex. Because only God can give His faith to whom He will, the Muslim regards every non-Muslim as a potential Muslim. For this reason, he is commanded to be fair and just even to those non-Muslims who are his confirmed enemies and compassionate to non-Muslims who have never committed any overt, hostile act. Islam commands the Muslim to be kind and just to non-Muslims because if we do not set an example of virtue, how can we expect others to follow us? The conviction that Islam is the only Truth and that all divergent ways are false and evil, does not make the pious Muslim an arrogant fanatic. The Holy Quran forbids spying, backbiting and heretic-hunting. Nobody is compelled to accept Islam under Muslim rule by force. The Muslim always stands before God in the utmost humility. (...)

"The opposition of Islam to divergent faiths, philosophies and ideologies not directed towards any hatred of individuals but rather the system that has produced them. It is not persons which Islam opposes but perverted values and evil ways of life which lead only to ruin and disaster, but because all non-Islamic ways are wrong, the leaders who personify these values and are fighting with all sorts of cruel and treacherous means day and night to obliterate the truth of Islam from the world, become hateful and therefore must be bated and opposed with every resource we possess.(...)

Islam teaches that a common faith is the Only bond which can unite the human race. (...)
Conflicting ideologies, where the interest of one group cannot be attained except at the expense of its rivals, can never be united or even peacefully co-exist simply by proclaiming the fact that all are human beings. The utter failure of such world organizations as the League of Nations and the United Nations is proof of this fallacy. Universal peace and brotherhood can only be attained when the majority of mankind embrace common ideals. (..)

"On what foundation can a lasting reconciliation between Muslims, Jews and Christians be based? We must realize that under the existing circumstances, no friendship is possible. Jewry and Christendom have joined hands to destroy us and all we cherish. Zionism, freemasonry, Christian missionary activity and Orientalism have combined to annihilate us religiously, culturally and even physically. It would be sheer folly to kiss the hands that are beating us!.

"Peaceful relations and mutual respect among us can only be achieved through strength. We must cease indulging in apologetics and present the Islamic message to the world honestly and forthrightly. Before we can hope to succeed with Tabligh on a large scale, we must first convert the nominal Muslims into true believers. We must establish a full-blooded Islamic state where the world will witness our precepts translated into action. Finally, we must crush the conspiracies of Zionism, free-masonry, Orientalism and foreign missions both with the pen and with the sword. We cannot afford peace and reconciliation with the Ahl al Kitab (the People of the Book) until we can humble them and gain the upper hand."

Read article in full

Friday, July 07, 2006

The rags-to-riches story of Sir Ronald Cohen

Today's Guardian carries an interview with venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen:
"The panelled office may be large enough for a sizeable modern art collection but it is far too small to contain the ambitions of one of the pioneers of the British venture capital industry. "It's been a hugely intensive year," he says in a rare interview. "I left [Apax] in order to devote my efforts to social investment, among other things."
"The "other things" include an effort to help the Middle East crisis by funding Palestinian businesses, an attempt to "work out where the investment management business is going", and a book aimed at helping entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls. Worth some £250m, he is a major Labour donor. And next week he is set to announce the results of an official review into the £5bn left unclaimed in British bank accounts.
"The scope of his activities and flashes of hubris make it easy to be cynical about Cohen in a very English sort of way. Someone who knows him quite well said: "I got a letter from Ronnie when he left Apax announcing that he was going to address the financial problems of the Middle East. A noble and somewhat wide-ranging task."
"Yet it is hard not to be impressed by the "lofty ideals" of a man who came to Britain as an 11-year-old with almost no English and a sense that he wanted to restore his family fortunes and improve the world.

Read article in full

As this Times profile published earlier this year indicates, Sir Ronald's story is that of the refugee made good.
"He was born in 1945 in Cairo, although his paternal family of Sephardic Jews were originally from the Syrian town of Aleppo. His father, Michael Mourad Cohen, was a trader married to an Englishwoman, Sonia Douek. Forced to leave by Nasser, the Egyptian leader, after the Suez crisis of 1956, Ronald was 11 when he accompanied his parents and younger brother Andre to Britain. "Intelligent and driven, he soon made his mark at Orange Hill grammar school in Burnt Oak, north London. Laurence Geller, a schoolmate, noted: “As a kid, Ron was desperately competitive but never malicious. His desire to succeed, either on the rugby field or elsewhere, meant that he would always be a leader. He was always the one for greatness. He was in with everyone.”

Tunisian victims of Nazism to be compensated

Y-net news has more details of the German compensation payments Tunisian victims of the Nazi occupation will be eligible to receive :

In a historic breakthrough for Holocaust victims from North Africa, Jews imprisoned in internment camps in Tunisia by the Nazis may be eligible to receive ongoing German compensation payments.

Prisoners of Gabes, Marcia-Plage, and Tniet-Agarev may now receive pension payments from the Claims Conference Article 2 Fund, providing they meet other German-mandated eligibility criteria. For the first time, Jewish women and children in Tunisia will be eligible for Article 2 payments.

Jews were interned in these camps starting in July 1942 by the French Vichy government and its dependent protectorate authorities in Tunisia at the instigation of the Nazis. Following the German occupation of Tunisia in November 1942, the German authorities were solely responsible for the treatment of the Jews.

The camps were fenced in and tightly guarded. Leaving the camps was strictly forbidden. Hygienic conditions and medical care were extremely inadequate, with very poor living quarters, and prisoners suffered hunger and thirst.

The Claims Conference also obtained Article 2 payments for 4,000 new claimants from certain Western European countries. This will result in an 8-percent increase in the number of people receiving Article 2 payments, which is currently 49,000, and an additional Euro 15 million being paid annually. Eligibility for these survivors was obtained in negotiations in 2003, but the Claims Conference has received many more claims than was originally provided for by the German government and the German government has not previously provided sufficient funding to make these payments.

Every year, the Claims Conference meets with German officials to obtain changes in compensation programs to benefit more Jewish victims of Nazism. These ongoing talks have enabled thousands of additional people to receive these payments and ensured that the experiences of Nazi victims are recognized.Article 2 Fund payments are Euro 270 (approximately USD 320) per month.

Read article in full

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Cotler calls on Israel 'to take back the narrative'

As reported in Friday's Jerusalem Post, Professor Irwin Cotler, international human rights lawyer and former Canadian justice minister, called for Israel to "take back the narrative" in the Middle East conflict. (With thanks: Lily)

Professor Cotler, who spoke at the annual general meeting of the Israeli branch of the Lions of Judah - the international Jewish women's organization that raises money from women for Israel projects run by women for women - rejected as untrue the widely held idea that the root of the conflict is occupation, with Israel perceived as an apartheid state.

The conflict was not about borders, said Cotler, but about the refusal of the Hamas-led Palestinians and most Arab states to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East.

"It's double rejection" said Cotler. Not only did the Arabs reject Israel's right to exist at the dawn of Israel's statehood, they were prepared to forgo Palestinian independence if it meant accepting a Jewish state, he said.

"Now they're willing to destroy the Jewish state, even if it means not having a Palestinian state," he said.

In taking back the narrative, said Cotler, Israel must make it clear that radical transnational Islam is as much a danger to Muslims as it is to the rest of the world; and that the canards of dual loyalty is contrary to the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Focusing on the "escalating, virulent, global and even lethal new anti-Jewishness," Cotler said it went beyond equating Zionism with racism and denied Israel the right to live as an equal member of the family of nations.

This new anti-Semitism, he said, was expressed politically, ideologically, theologically and economically."

It is no coincidence that Professor Cotler should have made his speech at the home of Evelyn Douek, whose late father Leon Taman and Cotler were in 1975 among the founders of the World Organization of Jews of Arab Countries (WOJAC), a non-government organization recognized by the United Nations as representing the interests of Jews from Arab countries with regard to population exchanges and compensation for communal and personal property left behind when they were forced to flee their countries of origin.

Cotler has made the point in the past that 'taking back the narrative' includes restoring the narrative of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. As a honorary chairman of JJAC (Justice for Jews from Arab Countries), Cotler has stated:

"The time has come to restore the plight and the truth and the justice of Jewish refugees from Arab lands to the Middle East narrative from which they have been expunged and eclipsed.

"Arab regimes were guilty of "a pattern of ethnic cleansing" and "criminal conspiracy in dealing with their native Jewish populations.

"Any narrative of the Middle East including the Roadmap that does not include justice for Jewish refugees from Arab lands, is a case study in Middle East revisionism. It's an assault on truth and memory and justice. The United Nations has singled out Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena.

"Since 1947, there have been some 687 resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, which have dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict. 101 of those resolutions dealt with the question of refugees. All 101 dealt with Palestinian refugees only. Not one resolution dealt with the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

"There would not be an Arab refugee problem if the Arabs had not rejected the UN partition plan."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Iranian Jews attack Israel's Gaza operation

A statement published Sunday in the formal internet website of the Jewish community in Iran said that "the Jewish congregation in Iran censures the human rights violations of the Palestinians in the Gaza strip by the Zionists and is grieved by this occurrence."

It is not first time that the leaders of repressed Jewish communities have been coerced into making anti-Israel statements: after all 13 Jews were arrested on 'spying' charges in 1999, although all were released by 2002. Haron Ishayai's anti-Zionism is probably genuine: he is a communist. Nonetheless, it is disturbing that the Israeli presss should have run these reports without spelling out the essential context.

Ynet-news reports (with thanks: Albert):

"The letter was signed by head of the Iranian Jewish congregation, Harun Ishayai, and the Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament, Maurice Motamed. According to the two, "there is no good reason for the campaign of death being undertaken by Israeli soldiers to kidnap Palestinian government members and bomb population centers."

"We condemn this violent behavior by Israeli leaders and are sure that the Palestinian nation will firmly defend its right to exist and its other legitimate and natural rights," said the leaders of the congregation.

They added: "We deplore this aggressive behavior and are sure that it will exacerbate the situation with each passing day. Behavior such as this may lead to bloodshed among blameless men and women and among innocent children."

Leaders of the congregation claim that the IDF operation is antithetical to Judaism: "We are aware that these actions are in no way related to principles of the Jewish faith, the precepts of Moses or the holy books. They are antithetical to the Jewish faith."

"We call upon Jews around the globe to speak out to the world in protest against the behavior of the soldiers and the Israeli leaders," they continued. "It is the mission of Jews, more than any other people, to prevent a policy that tramples upon the humane tenets of the Jewish tradition."

Read article in full

Iranian Jews 'do not recognise Israel '

One expects it from the Islamic News Agency, but why should the Jerusalem Post report this story without context or qualification?

"Iran's Jews do not recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel," a senior Iranian Jewish leader reportedly declared on Sunday.(With thanks: Lily, Albert)

"According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, the Iranian state's official news organ, Haroun Yashai, head of the Committee of Teherani Jews, made the statement to the Russian daily Gazetta.

The report quoted Yashai as saying that "We [Jews] are citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Yashai ruled out allegations that religious minorities were deprived of their rights in Iran.

"Foreign journalists usually think that our comments on the good condition of religious minorities in Iran are false" and "expressed on the call and under pressure of Iranian officials." According to the report, Yashai said this belief was "wrong," and added that Jews were free to react to some government policies and even to write to government officials on the issues.

In addition, Yashai said, Jews were free to perform their religious duties and say their prayers in the "Jewish language."(Odd way of putting it - Ed)

Yashai added that 23 of Iran's 40 synagogues were active, and said that Jews had been observing their customs and had been living in Iran for 2,500 years, since Cyrus the Great ruled the country, and that today's Jewish population - quoted at 25,000 in the IRNA report - lived mostly in Teheran, Shiraz, and Isfahan."

Read article in full