Thursday, November 30, 2006

Spain's Golden Age 'lasted longer under Christians'

Writing in the New English Review Norman Berdichevsky claims that 'Golden Age' medieval Spain was more tolerant and lasted longer under Christian than Muslim rule.

The term “Golden Age” of Muslim Spain most correctly applies to a relatively short period from the eighth to the mid-eleventh century and is even more accurate when applied to the Christian North of the country for a period of more than three hundred years. (1050-1390).(...)

It is noteworthy that the most successful Christian rulers during the greatest advances made in the Christian re-conquest were also the most tolerant. Their kingdoms derived particular benefit from the active cooperation and participation of their Jewish communities. Alfonso VI, known as "The Brave" (1072-1090) appointed a Jewish minister and treasurer. The “philosopher king” Alfonso X (1252-1284) collaborated on many projects with Jewish scholars and translators and proclaimed them as valuable citizens, specifically forbidding the use of force to bring about conversions to Christianity. Jaime I, the conqueror of Valencia, was an enlightened king who promoted his Jewish subjects to positions of prestige and influence. As a sign of special favor, he offered a distinct part of the town for Jewish residence in 1239 at their own request.

Under Muslim rule, especially following the arrival of the Almoravids and the Almohades, both Christianity and Judaism were scarcely tolerated and regarded as decidedly “inferior” religions. Their adherents were either forced at sword point to convert or paid exorbitant tribute to remain “protected peoples” (dhimmis), who possessed a divinely inspired book of revelation. They had to pay a “head tax” from which Muslims were exempt. The Jews, being more literate and whose Hebrew closely resembled Arabic, felt much more able to adapt to the new State at once and began to specialize in those activities and professions that Arabs regarded as “beneath them” (especially trade and tax collecting), administration, or onerous and “defiling” (working with leather).

The arts, sciences, technology, literature, architecture, navigation, mapmaking, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and art that flourished in Medieval Spain are often credited to Islam but this is a distortion of the role played by adherents of all three religions. The United Visigothic kingdom of Spain prior to the Muslim invasions had inherited five centuries of Roman civilization and had made use of the achievements of the Greeks and earlier Carthaginians as well as the Assyrians in agriculture, irrigation, mathematics, time keeping, the calender, mining, architecture, road building, mosaic art, pottery, jewelry, law and civic responsibility. The Muslim conquerors who arrived in 711 had inherited these same arts and sciences on their path of conquest across the Byzantine empire, the Near East and Christian-Roman North Africa. Christian and Jewish artisans and scholars made major contributions enabling the Muslim conquerors to make use of these achievements. The Schools of Translation established in Granada and Toledo by Muslim and Christian rulers respectively relied heavily on Jewish scholarship.

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Troubled Yemeni immigrants go before Knesset

Y-net News reports: Jews who immigrated to Israel in recent years told Knesset members Tuesday that they were "deeply disappointed" with the government ministries' treatment of them and that they regret their decision to make aliyah.

Representatives of the community attended a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs and presented to the Knesset members the problems they have been facing since arriving in Israel.

According to current data, dozens of Yemen Jews have been brought to the country in recent years, and there are only 50 families who currently live in Yemen.

Read article in full

Monday, November 27, 2006

Have your family's story videotaped for the record

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries is collaborating with the University of Miami and Professor Henry Green on 'The Forgotten Exodus' project, a worldwide campaign to videotape testimonies of Jews from Arab and Islamic lands so as to preserve this important part of Jewish history.

There will be four regional video teams established in North and South America, Europe and Israel to tape family narratives.

The goal is to videotape, collect and preserve the personal testimonies of Jews who were displaced from North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region in the twentieth century, and in particular, between World War Two and the 1980s.

If you are interested in having your family's story videotaped, please register and tick the appropriate box on the form.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Syrian Jew: 'Israel should talk to Syria'

In a surprising move, a leader of Brooklyn's large, generally hawkish Syrian Jewish community has lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for refusing to talk with Syria, as pressure built on multiple fronts on Washington and Jerusalem to dialogue with Damascus.

Jack Avital, a longtime confidante of Ariel Sharon and chairman of the Sephardic National Alliance, told The Jewish Week last week he planned to publish an open letter to Olmert laying out his case against Israel's rejection of such talks to the Syrian Jewish community.

"Maybe we should remind you, he chides Olmert in the letter, that if any Arab leader is sending signs of peace, maybe the slightest ones, you should respond. You should immediately check his sincerity and seriousness. You do not have the moral permission to avoid him. You must do it for the sake of those you may demand to sacrifice their lives in case war commences."

Read article in full

Note : as this article shows, Jack Avital is known as something of a maverick. He led a 12-man delegation on a visit to Syria in 2004. The Zionist Organisation of America condemned the visit, which included a meeting with President Bashir Assad: " It is wrong for American Jews or any Americans to help sanitize the Syrian regime by visiting Syria", said ZOA president Morton Klein.

The last two Jews of Afghanistan

A play by Michael Flexer has opened in London about the last two (mutually-loathing) Jews of Afghanistan, the New Statesman reports.(With thanks: Albert)

"I was researching for a play I still haven't written about conspiracy theories," writes Michael Flexer," when I came across the story which forms the basis of My Brother's Keeper. A Reuters journalist had discovered the last two Jews of Afghanistan in late November 2001, hiding out in a dilapidated synagogue in Kabul.

"They claimed to be all that remained in the country of a Jewish community dating back to the Babylonian exile, and had survived the terrors of the Russian invasion, the civil war and the Taliban regime. But, most interesting of all, they hated each other."

Read article in full

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Finally, a push for Jewish refugees from Arab lands

Why, after more than 55 years, would 40 delegates, representing 20 countries on four continents, launch an International Rights and Redress Campaign on behalf of Jewish refugees from Arab countries? And why has the government of Israel announced new funding for a campaign to register minute details of events that occurred over a half a century ago?

Stan Urman answers the question in Jewish Week:

"Because no Middle East peace can be reached without recognition of, and redress for, the uprooting of centuries-old Jewish communities by Islamic regimes hostile to the State of Israel. (...)

"Notwithstanding the language and intent of Resolution 242, there was no UN recognition of the two refugee populations that emerged as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The statistics provide a damning indictment of the international community: since 1947, there have been 681 resolutions adopted the United Nations General Assembly’s on the Middle East conflict, including 101 resolutions on Palestinian refugees.

"In addition, 13 UN agencies and organizations were mandated or created to provide protection and relief to Palestinian refugees; and over the last 58 years, tens of billions of dollars have been disbursed by the international community to provide services and assistance to Palestinian refugees.

"During that same period, there were no UN resolutions, no support provided by UN agencies, nor any financial assistance forthcoming from the international community to ameliorate the plight of Jewish and other refugees from Arab countries.

"The differential and disproportionate treatment by the international community toward two Middle East refugee populations is a travesty of justice. Under international law, the rights of Jews displaced from Arab countries are at least as compelling as those of Palestinian refugees.

"This issue is a priority now because with memories fading, and elderly people passing on each day, this will be our last, best chance to obtain this important record of Jewish history and the evidence for future claims.

"That is why 20 diaspora Jewish communities and some 56 Jewish organizations will endeavor to register every Jewish family that fled an Arab country; and to document the historical narrative of their displacement and their claims. The objective is to record Jewish history and assert rights. It is not about money, nor about initiating legal proceedings."

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Israel as 'the Jewish quarter of an Arab town'

Revealing outburst by Ahmed Benhelli in the pages of Al-Ahram following the accidental shelling by the Israeli army of Beit Hanoun in Gaza. While he does not explicitly call for the destruction of the Jewish state, Benhelli seems to be calling on Israel to ‘know its place’. There is one word missing in his idealised account of coexistence of Jews and Arabs in the Arab town – ‘dhimmitude’. The Jews never did have equal rights with their Muslim neighbours, were always at their whim and whimsy and owed their achievements to the more benign of their rulers.

What Benhelli has in mind is a ‘dhimmi’ state in thrall to its Arab neighbours. Not many Israeli Jews would be too keen. But there is nothing the Jews of Israel would like better, as Benhelli suggests, than to devote their energies to progress and prosperity – if only their neighbours would let them.
(Via Guysen Israel News).

Guysen reports: "Ahmed Benhelli, assistant Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, uses the pages of the Egyptian Weekly Al-Ahram in order to pass on a clear message which he believes will settle the conflict once and for all. Israel must return to its historical place as ‘ the Jewish quarter of an Arab town’, and be cut ‘down to size’. His starting point is the Jewish state’s ‘inadequate’ behaviour. Israel is stubbornly clinging to the logic of overwhelming force towards its neighbours, the imposition of its hegemony on others without the slightest moral or human scruple. It lives in total denial of the geography of the region, the nature of its peoples and the composition of its societies. The dominant power in Israel, which is perpetually immune to international measures, is at loggerheads with nature and the logic of history. Israel’s politicians will perhaps draw lessons from the debacle in south Lebanon and previous to that in Gaza, in order to rethink Israel’s strategy in the region and the concept of their approach towards their neighbours, especially the Palestinian people.

For Ahmed Benhelli, one must learn the lessons of the past – before the creation of the state of Israel – in order to resolve the current conflict. “Throughout their history, the Jews have lived in the Jewish quarter of the Arab town. They enjoyed all rights and respect as citizens and had the same duties, in an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony. There were many Jewish ministers, governors, scientists and craftsmen. (My emphasis -ed).

"The time has come for Israel to agree to live in proportion to its ‘size’‘, like the Jewish quarter of an Arab town, as befits History and natural logic, to live in a State ‘to scale’ with its numbers of inhabitants, its surface area as defined by UN resolutions, in peace and security among the states of the region. And to devote its human and material resources to construction, progress and prosperity instead of wars, tears, suffering and selfishness."

Read article in full (French)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brindisi erects plaque to Jewish refugees of 1956

It is exactly 50 years since the bulk of the Jewish community of Egypt was sent into exile in the aftermath of the Suez crisis. On 29th November 1956 Jewish refugees expelled from Egypt disembarked from the ship Achylleos at Brindisi. They have not forgotten the warm welcome they received from the locals. (With thanks: Moise)

On the initiative of one of those refugees, Carolina Delburgo, the Puglia region and the Brindisi council have decided to erect a commemorative plaque. The plaque - a ship's prow in the shape of a Menorah - carries the following inscription:

"At dawn on 29th November 1956 the ship Achylleos, sailing from Egypt , anchored in Brindisi harbour. She was carrying Jewish refugees, some of them Italian nationals, torn from their homes in the dark and the silence of the night so that none could see them and show solidarity with them. They had all left Egypt and no one was waiting for them in Italy, but they found understanding, solidarity and friendship in Brindisi and at the 'Bocca di Puglie' centre. Sheltered by these walls they regained their confidence and henceforth began to rebuild their lives. This tale is an example of the warmth and solidarity which the inhabitants shared with these exiled and abandoned refugees. This stone plaque represents the gratitude engraved in the hearts of those who have never forgotten."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Making the case for the forgotten Oriental Jews

In the Jewish Chronicle's Open Forum column of 17 November, Lyn Julius says it is time for Israel's refugees from Arab lands to be brought back into the peace equation:

Do an Internet search for ‘Middle Eastern refugees’, and you get 16 million entries. These refer overwhelmingly to Palestinian refugees. A search for ‘Middle Eastern Jewish refugees’ turns up four million references. This is strange, as there were more Jewish refugees from Arab countries than Arab refugees from what is now Israel. The Mizrahim (Oriental Jews) were expelled from countries like Iraq, Egypt and Algeria - or ushered towards the exit by insidious marginalisation and intimidation, as in Morocco and Tunisia.

The dispossessed lost far more than the Palestinians. Of 870,000 Mizrahi refugees, 600,000 sought refuge in Israel, where they now form half the Jewish population. There were between 300,000 and 750, 000 Arab refugees, but four million is often quoted, as, uniquely, their descendants are allowed to inherit refugee status.

For almost 60 years peacemaking efforts have run aground on the Palestinian ‘right of return’. But what of the right of Jewish refugees not to return to despotic countries where civil and human rights violations are rife?

The Jewish refugees give the lie to the myth that the Israelis are western colonial interlopers who ‘stole the land from the native Arabs’. Jewish communities were founded 1,000 years before Islam. The Mizrahim, now integrated into Israel, never left the Middle East.

Israel today has over a million Arab citizens. Yet there are barely 5,000 Jews left in the ‘Arab’ world. Just who is guilty of 'ethnic cleansing'?

The Arabs need to come to terms with their own history of anti-Semitism. Until ‘dhimmitude’ was ended by the colonial powers, non-Muslim dhimmis lived in a system of institutionalised humiliation. Political rights were denied to all but Muslims. This is a huge but underrated factor in Arab and Muslim rejection of Israel’s right to exist.

The argument that Israel is the price paid by innocent Arabs for European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust ignores the Mizrahi need for a safe Jewish haven. The myth needs to be nailed that Jews and Arabs coexisted in total harmony before Israel. Jews were massacred in Morocco in 1912, Algeria in 1934, Iraq in 1941 and Libya in 1945 – all predating the modern state of Israel.

It is a mystery why Israel has not hitherto made the case for the Jewish refugees. By keeping shtum , it has vacated the moral high ground and allowed history to be distorted. This silence sets back the cause of peace by reinforcing the Arabs’ one-sided sense of victimhood, while alienating the Mizrahim, who tend to vote for right-wing parties.

Things are slowly changing. Organisations such as Justice for Jews from Arab Countries are trying to raise the refugee issue. They want familes to record their stories and lost assets on the website - before the last generation of Jews born in Arab countries dies out. But we still need to do more to raise awareness of the injustice committed against the Jews from Arab countries. Restoring them to the Middle East narrative can only advance prospects for peace and reconciliation.

Lyn Julius helped found Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Stolen Jewish land and property

This letter appeared in today's New Statesman:

"By manipulating statistics to show that the Arabs were always a majority in Palestine (Letters, 13 November), Roderick Walters fails to point out that the 1914 figures would have included Jordan. He omits to mention that Jerusalem had a Jewish majority, and that while the Arab population in Palestine increased eight-fold, mostly through illegal immigration in the Twenties and Thirties, growth of the Jewish population was artificially curtailed by the British.

"Still, today, some 66 per cent of Israel is desert. Arab absentee landowners were only too happy to sell to the Jews at inflated prices. If Israel "stole the land", what of the lands stolen from Jews expelled from elsewhere in the Middle East - an area the size of Hungary? What about their stolen assets: schools, hospitals, synagogues, businesses and homes? By rights, the Arabs would have to restore 40 per cent of Baghdad to the Jews, as well as most other Middle Eastern cities which were once heavily populated by them."

L Julius
London SW5

Jews unwilling participants in Iranian documentary

An Iranian Muslim film-maker found it hard to get Jews to speak freely in his documentary 'Jews of Iran', Haaretz reports. (With thanks: Albert)

"The leaders of the Jewish community did not directly state they were not willing to cooperate, but I sensed their lack of enthusiasm. I tried to win their trust, to become friendly with them, but they were not eager to cooperate on my film," Farahani says in a telephone interview from his home in the Netherlands.

Farahani spent three months in 2002 with the main Jewish communities in Iran, and documented their story as much as possible. He visited community members in their homes and at work, attended their celebrations, and filmed at Jewish schools and kindergartens, Hebrew classes and synagogues.

The resulting film, "Jews of Iran," will be screened at the Jewish Eye - World Jewish Film Festival, which opened yesterday in Be'er Sheva. It provides a rare if limited look into these individuals' lives.

The Jews' fear of freely expressing themselves in front of the camera, and, incidentally, in front of others who may see the film, is apparent throughout the film. One scene shows an elderly Jewish woman lying in her hospital bed. She says she is alone, that her children live abroad and that there is no one to look after her. When the director asks her where they live, she answers that she believes they live in Israel, but then quickly adds: "God is my witness that I don't have their address." She later relates that they tried to take her with them when they left, "but then something happened." She refuses to elaborate and bursts into tears.

A connection to Israel is the biggest danger facing Jews in Iran, and this is especially obvious in scenes filmed in Shiraz, where several Jews were convicted in 2000 of spying for Israel. Farahani talks with their defense lawyer, who claims their confessions were the only evidence against them. The director then asks community members what they think about the trial. Even though he states in the film that the community widely believes the confessions were improperly extracted, none of the interviewees were willing to address this. They were willing to say they knew the detainees, but refrained from expressing an opinion on the trial.

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Turks remember 2003 synagogue attacks

Dozens of Turkish Jews and Muslims cried and recited prayers of mourning Wednesday outside two synagogues to commemorate the third anniversary of two suicide bomb attacks blamed on a Turkish al-Qaida cell, The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Albert).

Local officials, religious leaders and family and friends, holding framed photos of victims and the shattered synagogues after the explosions, laid red carnations on the streets outside the rebuilt Neve Shalom and Beth Israel synagogues in solemn ceremonies in Istanbul.

The synagogues were targeted on Nov. 15, 2003 and similar attacks on the British Consulate and the local headquarters of HSBC bank followed just five days later. A total of 58 people died, along with four suicide bombers.

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Satloff on Arab anti-Zionism and antisemitism

Rob Satloff, author of a new book on Arabs and the Holocaust, is Rosner's guest at Haaretz. Rosner asks Satloff, who spent two years living in Morocco: are the Arabs anti-Zionist, antisemitic, or both? Here is his answer. (With thanks: Lily)

(...) "Of all of the ideas that stand out after a quarter-century studying the Middle East, one of the most important is that "Arab culture" is really many cultures, that "Arab people" are really many peoples, and that "Arab countries" are filled with a combustible mix of ethnicity, religion, nationality and race that produces the range of human passions. The "Arab world," as such, does not exist - an Omani has very little in common with a Tunisian; a Lebanese Christian has very little in common with a Sudanese Muslim. Of course, various ideologues would like to spread the image of an "Arab world" or a "Muslim world" but we in the West accept this context at our peril; we live and thrive in the world of nation-states and have no interest in advancing the concept of an "Arab world" or a "Muslim world." Indeed, to view the Middle East this way is to cede the ideological high-ground and lose half the "battle of ideas" even before we start.

"As to the specific question, there is no doubt that the political class in Arab countries is largely anti-Zionist - i.e,. most do not accept the proposition that the Jewish people have a right to exercise sovereignty in part or all of the former mandatory Palestine. At the same time, a large proportion of these people, in my view, have come to reconcile themselves to the fact of Israel's existence and have no desire to expend lives or fortunes to challenge it. Indeed, for a large proportion, the question of Israel is of intellectual, but not practical, interest. (This could change if many Arabs came to believe that Israel was vulnerable.) At the same time, there are those in the political class of the three regions of the Middle East - Levant, Maghreb and Gulf -- who recognize the positive role Israel plays in regional security and who appreciate Israel. They are quiet about this but this feeling is real and something to be nurtured. (I say "political class" because, in my view, the vast majority of people in Arab countries are animated by such more pressing issues as housing, sustenance, education and health care than they are the high politics of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.)

"In general, my experience is that the urgency of the "Israel/Palestine" issue connects to geography - i.e., the closer to the conflict, the more enduring the practical interest in its outcome. So, for example, Israel's neighbors care a lot about the conflict and have strong emotions about it that manifest themselves on virtually a daily basis but the interest in the conflict among people in the more distant countries of the Gulf and North Africa is episodic and driven by the news cycle. In other words, Bahrainis and Moroccans do not wake up in the morning worrying about what is going on in Gaza, unless it is the lead item on al-Jazeera. I doubt that a majority of Egyptians do either, but the percentage is higher. It is highest of all in Jordan, both for geographic and demographic reasons.

"To be sure, there are many who do wish to act on their anti-Zionism and try to destroy Israel. This remains, regrettably, a very real objective, especially for radical Islamist extremists and their fellow travelers. Some of them believe this objective needs to be their most urgent priority; others - the more dangerous group - believe they should first try to win influence and power in existing states, often via allegedly "democratic" means, and use that position eventually to carry on their anti-Zionist campaign. Israel and its friends need to be alive to this danger.

"What probably grabbed your attention about my first posting was my observation about the morphing of Arab anti-Semitism and Arab anti-Zionism. Basically, the story is this: the common Arab narrative is to make a distinction between Arab opposition to Israel and traditional Arab friendship toward Jews. According to this narrative, Arab-Jewish relations were wonderful until 1948, when Israel's founding soured everything. Even so, this narrative goes, Arabs have done everything they could to separate their enmity toward Israel from their relationship toward Jews.

"The reality is much more complex. First, life for Jews in Arab lands may, historically, have been far better than it was for Jews in Christian lands but - given the horrors of the Inquisition, York and the pogroms - that yardstick is pretty low. Apart from the "golden age of Andalusia," which was defined by both time and space, Jews generally lived as tolerated second-class citizens in most Arab lands, paying special taxes and suffering with special restrictions on residence, occupation, attire, etc. There were also sporadic outbursts of violence against Jewish communities in many Arab countries that dot the history of the modern Middle East.

Second, even a cursory look at post-1948 history and popular culture in Arab states shows that anti-Zionism frequently - even consistently - spilled (and continues to spill) over into anti-Semitism. The fact that so many hundreds of thousands of Jews left Arab lands in the years after 1948 - with a large percentage not making aliyah to Israel - is prima facie evidence of this blurring of anti-Jewishness and anti-Zionism. But it has many other manifestations, such as the use of the term Yahud as a common synonym for Israelis -- and the appalling frequency with which the adjective "Nazi" is applied for both. In this regard, it is impossible to separate out the phenomenon of anti-Zionism in Arab societies with the phenomenon of anti-Semitism.

"With the decline and disappearance of Jewish communities in Arab lands - the only two Arab countries still to have more than 1000 Jews are Morocco and Tunisia - this process will deepen. Fewer and fewer Arabs will live with Jews and see them as real human beings; instead, Jews will only be known as caricatures. This cannot be a positive trend. But are all Arabs anti-Semitic? Definitely not. And that ray of hope needs to be nurtured, too."

Read article in full

Monday, November 13, 2006

The 1941 Farhoud was premeditated

The Farhoud of June 1941, in which rioting mobs murdered some 180 of Iraq's Jewish citizens (as well as injuring, raping and pillaging) was premeditated, Salim Fattal's documentary film on the modern history of the Jews of Iraq, The land that devours the inhabitants thereof, clearly reveals.

In the interval between the deposing of Rashid Ali, the pro-Nazi Prime Minister who had seized power in a coup, and the arrival of the pro-British Regent in the Iraqi capital, Muslim houses in Baghdad were daubed 'Muslim', while Jewish homes were marked with the 'Hamsa' (hand). When the Chief Rabbi of Iraq went to the authorities to voice his safety concerns, he was told that the Jews should barricade themselves in their houses with enough food for three days.

Eye-witnesses described how minibuses of Jews were emptied and their passengers slaughtered. The rioting started on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot and went on for two days.

The British army, who were encamped on the outskirts of Baghdad, could have intervened to stop the death and destruction. A Jewish translator working with them was told that the British army had no 'instructions' to intervene. It was only when the rioting began to endanger the established Muslim quarters of Baghdad that the British army swiftly quelled the disturbances.

The dead were buried hurriedly in a mass grave without the usual Jewish mourning practices. The Farhoud had a traumatic effect and marked the beginning of the end of the Jewish commmunity, which traced its history back to 586 BC. Within 10 years all but 6,000 of Iraq's 150,000 Jews had fled.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Jewish translators salvaged Arab philosophy

What part did the Jews play in the transmission of knowledge from the Arabs to the West in medieval times? Paul Fenton, a professor of Hebrew language and civilisation at the Sorbonne and a leading expert on Islamic thought, says in an interview in Information juive (October 2006) that their role was significant, though not exclusive.

It all began when the Jews who fled Almohad (Muslim fundamentalist) persecutions in Andalusia in the 11th century took refuge in southern France. For the benefit of their non-Arabic speaking co-religionists they began to translate Jewish works written in Arabic, such as Duties of the heart by Bahya Ibn Paquda. They also translated the works of their contemporary Maimonides who himself had found refuge in Fostat (Old Cairo).

It was through these Jewish translators that the learned men of France, Italy and England discovered the treasures of the Graeco-Arab heritage. It was thanks to these Jewish translators that works by Averroes and Al Farrabi were translated first into Hebrew then Latin. Between the 11th and 15th centuries, the Jews translated countless Arab texts from the original, from Syriac or from Greek.

Five generations of the ibn Tibbon family were a veritable dynasty of translators over two centuries. Judah ibn Tibbon, the 'father of translators' , used to say in the 12th century that the Jews in Arab countries preferred to write in Arabic. This is because Hebrew was only a Talmudic language until the ibn Tibbons modernised and enriched it, making Hebrew more suited to expressing philosophical concepts. Neologisms invented by the ibn Tibbons are still in use in modern Hebrew. In the colonial period in Algeria and Morocco Jews fulfilled a similar role as Arabic translators for the French administration.

The Jews translated the work of ibn Rushd (Averroes) into Hebrew at a time when the Arabs were burning his books in Cordoba. If you wish to access Ibn Rushd's entire body of work you have no choice but to read it in Hebrew.

The translation process peaked in the 13th and 14th centuries. After that date philosophy went into decline and the dark ages set in. Averroes was banned. Muslim fundamentalism destroyed and marginalised this whole rich period.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

US Jews step up campaign on Jewish refugees

Following an international conference in Jerusalem last month, the US Jewish community is stepping up its efforts to educate people about Jews who fled the Middle East and North Africa since the 1940s, the Jewish Advocate reports. (With thanks: Albert)

"While some may automatically think of Palestinians when they hear the phrase “refugees from the Middle East,” Director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston Israel Action Center Seth Brysk said that U.N. statistics show that there were more Jews than Palestinians displaced as a result of the conflict in the Middle East.

"Now Jewish communities throughout the world – including Boston – are aiming to publicize the stories of these Jewish refugees, so that if the issue of compensating Palestinian refugees is laid on the negotiating table, the plight of Jewish refugees will be taken into account too.
“This campaign is not about denying the rights of the Palestinians,” Brysk said. “Rather this campaign is that no attention has been paid to Jewish refugees.”

"Since the 1940s, 856,000 Jews were forced to leave 10 Arab countries, while only 728,000 Palestinians were displaced during the same time period, Brysk added.

"Throughout history, Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa – such as Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon – were destroyed and Arab governments confiscated Jewish property.

"Today, people of Middle Eastern and North African descent account for nearly half of Israel’s Jewish population – yet their stories remain largely untold.

“We’re appalled that the international community recognizes only one refugee population who were victims of the Middle East conflict,” said Stanley Urman, the executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a New York organization. “In fact there were two: Palestinians and Jews.”

Read article in full

Friday, November 10, 2006

Can a Jew also be Arab? - Naim Kattan

Many non-Muslims speak Arabic; many Muslims do not. Could Arabic-speaking Jews ever have hoped to identify with a nationalism that defined Zionism as its main enemy? Or is this all academic now that Arab nationalism has been superseded by Islamism? Fascinating article in Covenant magazine by the Iraqi-Jewish author Naim Kattan, who now generally writes in French. (With thanks: Ranbir)

"Who is Jewish and who is Arab? It is easier to identify the Jew rather than define him: He accepts his origin and indicates his birth, either through his practice, or by affirming his affiliation.A person is Jewish by history, tradition or practice. A Jew can be part of a community and still be of different nationality or citizenship than the other members. And those who avoid declaring themselves as Jews, who attempt to hide or conceal their origin, are often called upon by others, because we are also Jewish through the eyes of others. The existence of Israel had an impact for the many Jews who were indifferent to their origins. It is enough to attest of one's sympathy for this state to implicitly affirm a feeling favorable to a certain origin, if not an adhesion or a sense of belonging.

"To say who is Arab is more complex. Arabic is first a language, the language of the Koran, a sacred language, through which Allah spoke to the Prophet. Yet, this language existed before Islam. At school, I learned the muallaqat, the poems that were publicly exposed in Mecca's fairs and markets. Mohammad belonged to a tribe, Koresh, which was Arab, mainly through the language. The pre-Islamic era was named jahaliyya, or ignorance; and, in the Koran, Mohammad warns against poets. The Koran revealed itself through a simpler language than that of the poets, and was supposed to become the popular language of the time. From then on, Arabic became associated with Islam. For Muslims, whatever their country, the Koran can only be read in Arabic and prayers are only conducted in this language. Yet, today, the majority of Muslims--Indonesians, Iranians, Turks, Africans, etc.--do not speak Arabic. After the Ottoman rule over the Arab world--which lasted almost five centuries and was followed by Western rule, notably Great-Britain and France--the nahda, the Arab world's awakening, which had initially consisted of a renewal of Islam, was significantly influenced by the West. The protagonists of Arab literature's rebirth, at the beginning of the 20th century, counted many Christians, mostly Lebanese such as Gibran, Mikhael Naima, Ilya Abu Madi and many others. In Egypt, Albert Cossery, Georges Henein and Edmond Jabes, like the Lebanese Salah Stetie, Amin Maalouf and Venus Khoury Ghata, among others, chose to write directly in French. Hence the question is, Is one Arab by his language, religion, place of birth? The answer cannot be clearly established.

"In Iraq, Jews spoke Arabic, and had, just like the others--Muslims, Christians, from the North or the South--their own dialect. The written language, used in schools and in the media, was the same for everyone. We had to learn it at school. The young Iraqi literature owes a lot to Jews like Anwar Shaul, Mourad Michael and Meir Basri. In the thirties, a group of young Jewish intellectuals founded one of the first literature reviews in Iraq: Al-Hassid.

"In 1941, a pro-Nazi government, under Rashid Ali al-Gailani, took power and declared war against Great-Britain. Its defeat was followed by the farhud, a pogrom that ended the feeling of belonging the Jews felt for this country. They are the descendants of Babylon's prisoners, who lived there for twenty six centuries, and to whom we owe the Talmud of Babylon. The trauma generated by the farhud's overthrow was never overcome.

"Ten years later, the Iraqi government gave the Jews the right to give up their citizenship and to leave, leaving behind their properties and valuables. Israel welcomed them in difficult, sometimes painful, conditions. The alternative was to remain in their country and endure harassment and persecution. In Israel, they managed to overcome the obstacles, and today they actively participate to various political, economical and cultural spheres.

"Let us come back to Arabs. During World War I, T.E. Lawrence, working for Great Britain, supported the Arab nations' uprising against the Ottomans. At the end of the war, Great Britain and France divided the region in two, and established apparently independent governments. The Arab countries' nationalism showed the aspirations and ambitions of the rising middle classes, which were increasingly supervised by military forces. The Nazi propaganda promised liberation from the colonial yoke, and was welcomed by Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat in Egypt. At that point, to be an Arab took a political meaning, beyond religion. (...)

"Even if the protagonist of the impulse to awaken was the Islamist Al-Afghani, the political nationalism that emerged during World War II was secular and often referred to as socialist. Its mastermind was Michel Aflaq, a Christian who taught at the American University of Beirut and who published the magazine Al-Tali'a. As soon as 1947, he created the base for the al-Ba'ath party, which took over the power in Syria and Iraq. As soon as he came to power, Nasser, for his part, wrote a book demonstrating that he was dreaming of transforming the mosques into places for political gathering. He instituted socialism, like Ben Bella in Algeria and Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia did. Thus, Arabism became a vector of social transformation, but it still remained a political affirmation of identity. What place could a Jew have in such gatherings? If he was not openly Zionist, he could potentially be, and was therefore considered an enemy, declared or not. Christians such as Boutros Ghali and Tariq Aziz participated to the Egyptian and Iraqi governments without disturbing the nationalist assertion. Eventually, the socialism paraded by several Arab states collapsed, along with the nationalism it was supposed to lead. Opposition from the left was decimated; another one was born, based on a glorious past that was unquestionable, and Muslim fundamentalism came out as the only way towards change and a new reign. Even when it is kept under cover, like in Egypt and Tunisia, fundamentalism continues to be destructive.

"The only way a Jew could be heard in this mess was if he loudly denounced Zionism and Israel--extremely rare phenomenon, but it did happen. Forced, more or less openly, to leave his country, it became quasi impossible for a Jew to define himself as Arab without asserting his adhesion to a form of nationalism that holds Zionism as its main enemy. For who was born there, the Arab language and culture remain part of him. About twenty years ago, an index of Arabic books published in Israel revealed that a quarter of them were written by Jews. Isaac Bar Moshe and Samir Naqqash, who were originally Iraqi, continued to write in Arabic, thus disassociating language from place of birth. Naturally, one would expect from a Jew who became Israeli to adopt the country's language. The majority of Iraqi Jews, such as Sami Michael, Shimon Ballas and Lev Hakak, adopted Hebrew as their language of expression. In Iraq, Jews learned Hebrew as the language of prayer and Torah.

(...) "I can clearly assert that the Arab culture is also and still mine, even if I became francophone, Canadian, montrealais through the language I express myself in, my interests, and the substance of my writings. The same applies to other Iraqi Jews like Elie Kedourie, who adopted English, or those aforementioned, who adopted Hebrew. Moreover, Arabic remains a cultural link between writers of different countries who, over the last few years, have been rediscovering themselves first Lebanese, Egyptian, Iraqi, etc. Language creates a mosaic among different countries, different life experiences, without causing fusion. Cultural unity, if there is one, originated from recorded, admitted and assumed differences. Hence, the Jew who was expelled or forced to leave his birth land can stay connected to his birth culture while still being able to declare himself Israeli, American, British, French, and, in my case, Canadian. Other elements can add up and intervene in my sense of belonging. I wrote a book, Les villes de naissances (Birth Cities), in which I state that I was born successively in three cities: Baghdad, Paris and Montreal. The latter became my elected place, a city that understands all the others.

"During a recent trip to Alexandria, I realized that this city, once cosmopolitan, is now essentially Egyptian and Muslim. The Arabic language is evidently very present, not only as the language of Egypt but also as the language of Islam. The reminders of Islamic belonging through Koranic quotes are everywhere, in every bus, every cafe, every street corner. From age 15 and over, all women wear the veil. I observed that Islam took over from Arabism, which had lost its political efficacy in uniting Arabic speaking countries. This makes the presence of Christians and the few Jews that remained in Arab countries problematic. Hence today the citizen of Alexandria is an Egyptian Muslim, Arab by culture and language, even if the present configuration of the Arab culture is not yet established. How will I situate myself? Jewish, Canadian, francophone? My mother tongue is Arabic and my culture of origin is Arab. My case is not unique. It is the case of thousands, even maybe millions of Christians and Muslims born in Arab countries and installed in Europe and in the Americas. A Jew can certainly keep the Arab culture as part of his inheritance. He can express himself in that language. It all depends on if he can find interlocutors."

Read article in full

Article in French

Naim Kattan and Andre Aciman in conversation at Jewish Book Week in 2004

Thursday, November 09, 2006

'Last Jews of Baghdad' screened in London

There was not a spare seat at the Screen on the Hill last night when Carole Basri's film Last Jews of Baghdad was shown for the first time in London as part of the Jewish Film Festival.

The film was one of the first in the Festival to sell out, proof of the public thirst for information on the neglected Jewish communities of Arab lands. It did not make for easy watching. We saw the progressive nazification of Iraq from the 1930s, as decree after decree was passed excluding Jews from jobs and education and pauperising them.

The community was made to pay $80 million to the Palestinians after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Traumatized by the hanging of Shafik Ades, an anti-Zionist businessman with influential Muslim friends, the great majority of the 150,000-strong community left in 1950 - 51 carrying nothing but a small suitcase. Exceeding both Israeli and Iraqi expectations, 60,000 registered to leave in the first two months. But the Jews soon regretted having left their comfortable lives back in Iraq when confined to the misery and squalor of the ma'abarot, the tent camps and wooden huts in Israel, while those who chose to stay in Iraq enjoyed the last few years of freedom and prosperity under Kassem. However, these 5,000 Jews were soon to regret bitterly having stayed, as discrimination, arrests, show trials and hangings took hold in earnest in the 1960s.

The film made clear the role of Saddam Hussein in the persecution of the Jews. Aged 22, he first came on the scene after an abortive attempt to assassinate the Iraqi leader Kassem. He was the driving force behind the summary arrest as Israeli spies and execution of nine Jews as the Ba'ath party cemented its hold on power in 1968.

One of the film's most poignant moments was the sight of Shaoul Haham Sassoon Kedourie, who spent a year in jail in 'Saddam's Palace', being told the news that Saddam Hussein had finally been caught." Is it true? asked the 95-year-old repeatedly." I would have liked to catch him myself!"

Carole Basri had begun collecting film footage since she was nine. She made the film because her family had never been open with her about their past. She disputed the Israeli government spin that the Jews from Arab countries were Zionist immigrants. The Jews were victims of human rights violations. What had happened to the Jews from Arab countries was 'ethnic cleansing'. Only when both sides in the conflict feel the pain of the other can reconciliation come about.

This film deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

Sephardi paupers'cemetery on Mount Zion

The squills covering the southern slopes of Jerusalem's Mount Zion artfully conceal an ancient Sephardic paupers cemetery, Haaretz reports.

The squills are part of the history of the Sambusky Cemetery, where rows of the tall flowers demarcated sections of the burial ground, taking the place of stone walls, for which there was no budget.

The squills remain, having spread out along the length and breadth of the hill, although complete headstones are long since a rarity. Many headstones were shattered to use as construction material when the Jordanian Legion built a camp nearby. Roads were paved across the cemetery, which long ago became a dumping ground for junk and other garbage. A chop shop was closed down, but it was replaced with chicken coops. Horses and goats graze here, and recently a mosque was built at the edge of the cemetery.

The origin of the cemetery's name is a point of some dispute. One version has it that Sambusky was the name of a family that used to bury its dead at the foot of Mount Zion. Another is that the nickname stuck because of its crescent shape, reminiscent of the sambusak pastry, once known as the pastry of the poor.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The three exiles of Algerian Jewry

The younger generation - Jewish and Muslim - are utterly ignorant of the history of Jewish communities in Arab lands. That is why the Algerian-Jewish historian Benjamin Stora decided to write Les trois exils. Juifs d'Algerie (Editions Stock). Stora gave an interview in the October 2006 issue of Information juive.

According to Stora, the Jews of Algeria went through three different exiles.

The first was an exile from tradition when the Jews acquired French citizenship under the Decret Cremieux of 1870. In just two generations, the Jews threw their love and loyalty in with France. The rabbis of the time warned against the dangers of assimilation. Jews were active on the Left and in human rights organisations.

The second exile was the traumatic loss of their French nationality in 1940 under the Vichy laws: Jews reverted to being native Algerians. This exile scarred Jews such as the philosopher Derrida for life and ruined the life of Stora's own grandfather.

The third exile was the departure from their homeland in 1962. This was not an internal exile but a physical displacement. The uprooted Jews did not want to single themselves out, but merged with the 'pieds noirs'.

The Algerian Jews were unique : they fought for the ideals of the French revolution. In the 1930s their views were not dissimilar from those of Ferhat Abbas. The writer Albert Camus shared with them what was essentially a minority view in the colonial society of the time.

In 1983 Stora was moved by his visit to the Jewish cemetery in Constantine. Suddenly he was aware of the many Jewish families who lived and died there, and their deep roots in Algeria.

The Jews were profoundly aware of a fierce European colonial antisemitism: a few supported the FLN and the OAS, but the vast majority were wary of extremism as a result. At the time of the Dreyfus affair in 1898 the masthead of the newspaper Le Petit Oranais proclaimed that "synagogues and Jewish schools should burn in hell, Jewish homes destroyed, Jewish capital seized and they must be chased into the countryside like rabid dogs."

This has led American historians Michael R Marrus and Robert O Paxton to conclude that Algerian antisemitism shaped Vichy policies, and not the other way around.

Nowadays Algerian history books have airbrushed out the history of the Jews, Stora claims. In Morocco, by contrast, historians like Kenbib have attempted to acknowledge the Jewish presence in the country.

Book review in Guysen News (French)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Revisionist backlash to refugees campaign begins...

No sooner than the international campaign for the rights and redress of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was launched than revisionist anti-Zionists began their counter-attack. Foremost amongst them is Iraq-born Yehouda Shenhav, a sociology professor at Tel-Aviv University, whose Marxist political agenda has been exposed here.

At the end of October Shenhav had an article circulated by email branding 'as folly politics' the campaign on behalf of people he views as Arabs of the Jewish faith.

"Any reasonable person, Zionist or non-Zionist, must acknowledge that the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Arab Jews is unfounded. Palestinian refugees did not want to leave Palestine. Many Palestinian communities were destroyed in 1948, and some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled, or fled, from the borders of historic Palestine. Those who left did not do so of their own volition. In contrast, Arab Jews arrived to Israel under the initiative of the State of Israel and Jewish organizations. Some arrived of their own free will; others arrived against their will. Some lived comfortably and securely in Arab lands; others suffered from fear and oppression.

"The history of this immigration is complex, and cannot be subsumed within a facile explanation. Many of the newcomers lost considerable property, and there can be no question that they should be allowed to submit individual property claims against Arab states (up to the present day, the State of Israel and WOJAC have blocked the submission of claims on this basis). The unfounded, immoral analogy between Palestinian refugees and Mizrahi immigrants needlessly embroils members of these two groups in a dispute, degrades the dignity of many Arab Jews, and harms prospects for genuine Jewish-Arab reconciliation.

It's reasonable to assume that as final status agreements between Israelis and Palestinians are reached, an international fund will be formed with the aim of compensating Palestinian refugees for the hardships caused them by the establishment of the State of Israel. Israel will surely be asked to contribute generously to such a fund.

"In this connection, the idea of reducing compensation obligations by designating Arab Jews as refugees might become very tempting. But it is wrong to use scarecrows to chase away politically and morally valid claims advanced by Palestinians. The "creative accounting" manipulation concocted by the refugee analogy only adds insult to injury, and widens the psychological gap between Jews and Palestinians. "

Shenhav restates his view that the Jews from Arab countries are by and large not refugees, a claim firmly rebutted by Israel Bonan who was jailed in an Egyptian internment camp in 1967:

"I am a Jew born in Egypt currently living in America, so I speak with some authority when I suggest that no matter how you dissect it, analyze it, turn it upside down or right side up, when someone is incarcerated (during the Six Days War of '67), beaten, humiliated, dispossessed of his basic human rights, of all his possessions and finally given a one way ticket to nowhere, stamped "Not to Return", after having lived in Egypt for 22 years, that person qualifies to be called something. Pray tell what should he be called, 'Banana' ? "

Shenhav makes the unfounded claim that the Israeli government and WOJAC have blocked the submission of individual claims.

He also asserts that by supporting Jewish claims the Israeli government will have to pay less to Palestinian refugees - a bizarre assumption, given that Jews from Arab countries lost far more than Palestinian Arabs.

For Shenhav the purpose of an international fund is purely to compensate Palestinian refugees. What is missing in his analysis is any suggestion that Arab states bear the slightest responsibility for the plight of their Jewish citizens.

Saddam's death sentence 'fair' - Iraqi Jews

According to the Jerusalem Post, Iraqi-born Jews had mixed reactions to the news that deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging Sunday. (With thanks: Albert)

According to Mordechai Ben-Porat, who led the underground Zionist movement in Iraq in the 1940s and '50s and today heads the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Hussein "was both good and bad for the Jews. When he was deputy president in 1969, he ordered 11 Jews hanged, but when he became president, sometimes he helped them."

Regarding the sentence, Ben-Porat said, "He deserves it. We are used to hanging in Iraq, now it's his turn to test it out."(...)

"Shaul Ben-Haim, a former Israeli diplomat from Iraq, called the ruling "adequate."

"The judicial procedure was inadequate, but politically speaking, the verdict was," he said.
Yehezkel Fattal, a lawyer originally from Iraq, believes the verdict was "fair enough."

"He's worthy of his punishment and the trial was very fair," he said. "As a matter of fact, it was more fair than the trials which he conducted for his enemies. This trial was a stage for him to express himself, that's what this trial was."

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

The unsung Canadian who saved Syrian Jewry

The amazing story of Judy Feld Carr, a Canadian housewife who over 30 years secretly smuggled out over 3,000 Jews out of Syria (as well as the priceless Biblical codex known as the Crown of Damascus), is revealed at last by Steve Plaut in The Jewish Press. Read it all! (With thanks: Albert)

The Keter or Crown of Damascus is neither as well known nor quite as authoritative as its cousin, the Keter of Aleppo. Each "crown" is actually a hand-written complete biblical codex, containing vowels and cantillation (trop) signs, printed out in book form.

The Crown of Aleppo was used by Maimonides and is considered the most precise and oldest surviving such manuscript of the Torah. But fewer than two-thirds of its pages have survived, and some of those are damaged or partly burnt.

The Crown of Damascus, by contrast, is in mint condition. Every page has survived intact. Its last page is an incredible calligraphy image of the final chapter of Chronicles in the form of a Kiddush cup.

The entire manuscript was written by a single scribe, in dark brown ink text letters and with lighter brown ink for the vowels and cantillation marks. In Damascus it was used for study only on the holiday of Shavuot by the congregation formed by those expelled from Spain. In some ways its recovery was the "crowning" achievement of one Judy Feld Carr.

Every schoolchild in North America has heard of Harriet Tubman, who smuggled slaves from the American South to freedom in the North via the "Underground Railroad" before the Civil War. Her smuggling operations rescued some 300 slaves.

Ironically, Judy Feld Carr is still largely unknown, even among North American Jews. In large part that is probably because of the secrecy in which she operated, for nearly three decades, as the Harriet Tubman of Syrian Jews.

But rescuing the Crown of Damascus is only one dramatic highlight of a heroic career: Judy saved the lives of 3,228 Syrian Jews (of about 4,500 who would eventually escape Syria) and she did so almost single-handedly. While some Syrian Jews were captured or killed in various escape attempts, Carr did not lose a single one in any of the escape operations she organized and managed.

Like so many strange things in this world, this story begins with a Plaut. Rabbi Gunther Plaut, a well-known Toronto figure and distant relative of your humble correspondent, was, in the early 1970’s, among the first to bring the plight of Syrian Jewry to the attention of the world.

While the persecution of Soviet Jews was making headlines, few were aware of the brutal persecutions in Syria. The organized Jewish community preferred to keep the subject under wraps and to pursue quiet, polite – and ineffective – lobbying on behalf of Syria’s Jews. Rabbi Plaut’s calls to action electrified Judy Feld, a musicologist and mother of three, who had grown up in small-town Ontario and later moved to Toronto. Together with her husband, Dr. Ronald Feld, they decided to commit themselves to doing something about the plight of Syrian Jews.

The Syrian Jewish community traces its origins back to biblical days. Much of Syria was incorporated into King David’s realm and parts were again later ruled by the Hasmoneans. Benjamin of Tudela, the famous traveler and writer, visited Damascus in 1170, reporting on a Jewish community there that numbered about 3,000. The Bartenura, a medieval Italian commentator on the Mishna, visited the community and described the lush gardens and luxurious homes of the Damascus Jews.

Before the arrival of the refugees from Spain, most Syrian Jews were musta’arabim, Arabic-speaking Jews, with their own liturgy. They were strongly influenced by the mystics of Safed and produced several leading kabbalists.

Syrian Jewry had been reinforced over the centuries by waves of immigrants, including Spanish Jews after the expulsion of 1492 and others from Italy, Sicily and Morocco. The menfolk worked in a variety of trades and engaged in commerce. The women developed a special local cuisine, which included samboosak (half-moon pastry filled with cheese or meat), coconut marmalade (especially for Passover) and sharbat loz, a cold drink made from almond syrup.

By the first half of the twentieth century, much of the Syrian Jewish community had emigrated. Many reached Israel, especially after the Syrian pogroms of 1947. Others went to Brazil, Brooklyn, and Deal, New Jersey. For one reason or another, several thousand Jews stayed behind in Syria. By the 1960’s they were living under a permanent state of siege, brutalized by the totalitarian Ba’ath regime, under surveillance of the secret police and facing the perpetual threat of violence.

Quite literally the host for German war criminals, the Syrian government carried on its own anti-Zionist jihad against its Jewish citizens. Jews had special identity cards stamped, in large red letters, "Mossawi," an Arabic expression for Jew (derived from the name Moses), and were prohibited from walking more than three kilometers from their homes. Judy and her husband committed themselves to helping and redeeming Syria’s Jews in any way possible. But they had to begin the battle from scratch, with no idea how to proceed.

They commenced with publicity campaigns and meetings with activists, trying to nudge the Jewish organizations of Canada and other countries into taking a stronger position on, and a more vocal interest in, the plight of Syrian Jews. They produced brochures and booklets that circulated throughout the Jewish world. (I can recall distributing them on campus as an undergraduate in Philadelphia.) More important, they began surreptitious activities to rescue as many Syrian Jews as possible. Most of the details of the rescue operations are still secret. While "Mrs. Judy," as Syrian Jews the world over affectionately call her, is reluctant to discuss those details, an indirect acknowledgment of their sophistication and importance came recently from the Israeli intelligence services, which published a cover story about her exploits in their newsletter.

Some of the stories of the rescues were revealed in The Ransomed of God, a 1999 book by University of Toronto historian Harold Troper. Evidently, there were two "exit strategies." In many cases Syrian Jews were ransomed, with monies greasing the right palms in Damascus. In other cases, "illegal" escape schemes were hatched, with the exact routes still unknown (my personal guess is through Turkey).

Judy’s code name for those involved in the operations was always "gin." An elaborate secret language was developed for communication with those inside Syria, based largely on Chinese cooking terminology, sometimes on biblical code citations. When some young Syrian Jews were arrested, a message reached her from Syria, citing Jeremiah on Rachel weeping for her children. The meaning was clear.

The personal mission of "Mrs. Judy" becomes all the more incredible when one realizes the circumstances under which she was forced to carry on. Before a single Jew had been successfully rescued, Judy’s husband died suddenly in 1973. It was only four months after they’d succeeded in sending in the first box of books to Jews in Syria.

Now a young widow with three children, Judy wasted no time on hesitation and doubt. She decided to pursue alone the mission she had shared with her husband, now with even more devotion and energy.A fund, named after her late husband, was set up by their Toronto synagogue, which raised the money needed for the operations. The amounts she collected are still unknown to the public. When her own father died, she was late for the funeral – she had to spend most of that day raising $50,000 to rescue an entire family in immediate danger. Only when they were safe did she allow herself the "luxury" of beginning the mourning process.The clandestine efforts and operations escalated.

"Canada was the perfect place from which to run the activities," she explained to me. "It’s a country that’s never on the front page, never the center of attention. I could operate without drawing media attention. And no one was mad at Canada, or paying it much mind."

The first ransomed Syrian Jew was an elderly rabbi from Aleppo. Early on, one person at a time was brought out; later, whole families. Sometimes parents in Syria were faced with a "Sophie’s Choice" type dilemma, having to select a single child to be taken out in any given ransom or escape operation.By that time Judy had married Donald Carr, a successful Toronto attorney and father of three who had lost his wife at a young age. She continued her work with the backing of her new family. The family always knew when she was about to leave for a trip related to her mission – the warning sign came when she would start cooking up unusually large quantities of food.

Outside her family, virtually no one knew what she was doing; even her beneficiaries did not know her name, only rumors about some mysterious woman in Canada managing the operations. If the Syrian secret police heard those same rumors they no doubt dismissed them as disinformation. The first public revelation of her role in the rescues came in 1995, when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to go public. The chief rabbi of Syria had just been allowed to leave the country. Judy would have preferred that Rabin hold his tongue a bit longer to allow the operations to continue in secret.Some months later she was to be presented with a Merit Award for her life’s work by my own school, the University of Haifa. Rabin insisted on personally presenting her with the award. But it was not to be. Three days before the ceremony he was assassinated by Yigal Amir.

Today a grandmother of thirteen, Judy doesn’t seek public accolades for her years of work and rescue, though she has received, in addition to the aforementioned recognition from the University of Haifa, a number of honors – among them the Order of Canada and the Simon Wiesenthal Award for Tolerance, Justice and Human Rights.

"I have always been reluctant to inject myself into the lives of the people I rescued," she explained to me. "I do not need to harvest expressions of thanks. I want them to get on with their lives.

"Besides human beings, there were many artifacts and books she managed to redeem from their Syrian prison. She herself traveled to pick up a Torah scroll that had just been smuggled out of Syria, carrying it to Canada inside a hockey bag. (One can only imagine the looks on the faces of the airport security people.) The books and artifacts were donated to museums in Israel. President Moshe Katsav invited her to his home to thank her in person on behalf of Israel.The Crown of Damascus was particularly difficult to rescue because the Syrian authorities were aware of its monetary value. When Judy at last had it safely in her possession in Toronto, the first thing she did was to make sure it was genuine. She asked a Tunisian-born scribe to inspect it carefully. After doing so, he burst into sobs.

"What’s wrong?" she asked.

"I have just seen the face of God," he replied.

Curiously, now that Syria is effectively judenrein, its leaders have been trying to improve its image (under intense pressure from an American administration that regards their country as part of the axis of evil) by extending "feelers" to Syria’s expatriate Jews. The former Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustapha, initiated meetings with some Syrian Jews in Brooklyn and in 2004 accompanied a small group of them on a visit to Syria.

Should a more moderate Syria ever emerge and abandon its devotion to terror and aggression against Israel and the West – something unlikely to happen as long as the junior Assad and his Ba’ath storm troopers hold power – then perhaps these Syrian Jews will play an important role.

As for the Crown of Damascus, it’s in its rightful home at last. When the chief rabbi of Syria was finally permitted to leave that country in 1995, it was officially for the purpose of a "visit" to the U.S. But once he was free, Rabbi Ibrahim Hamra traveled to Canada and then the U.S. before moving permanently to Israel.

When he arrived at Ben Gurion Airport he was carrying a plastic shopping bag. It contained the Crown of Damascus, which Judy and he were conveying to the Israel National Library in Jerusalem. And there it has remained. Judy had insisted that Rabbi Hamra (who, like so many of the Jews ransomed from Syria, named one of his own daughters Judy) carry it himself, restoring it from Aram to Zion with his own hands.Today, thanks in great measure to the untiring, heroic work of Judy Feld Carr, only about 30 Jews, most of them elderly, remain in Syria.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Australian artist inspired by her native Egypt

Artist Camille Fox reveals the forgotten world of 1930s Jewish Egypt in her current exhibition, Nostalgic Glimpses of a Bygone Era, at the Jewish Museum of Australia until 26 November. Australian Jewish News reports (with thanks: Albert):

Photo: Peter Haskin

"Revealing the glory days of Egyptian Jewry, Fox’s pieces recall her grandfather’s stories of the colourful place she lived until age seven.

“I feel that this collection of paintings has given voice to a voiceless people who were displaced from their country of birth,” Fox, who is based in Sydney, told the AJN.

“They left the place where their families had lived for generations and started their lives again in other countries. Gradually, as time passed, stories were lost, their sense of place dissolved, and nothing was passed down.”

"Although she was born in Alexandria, Fox always identified more strongly as French than Egyptian, until her husband Tony encouraged her to make a trip over to Egypt while visiting their son in Israel. It was a journey that inspired her latest exhibition.

“When I got there it was eerie and surreal,” she explains.

“Until then I hadn’t said anything about Egypt. [My family] left in 1956 during the Suez crisis when I was nearly seven, and we went to Israel and then to Australia but never back to Egypt.”

"After touring throughout Egypt, Fox and her husband took a bus to Alexandria to find some of the addresses written down by her mother – a task which became troublesome for Fox as the original street names and numbers had all been changed.

But after getting directions from an elderly man, Fox chanced upon her grandfather’s old house. She was overcome with emotion when she saw his initials carved into the property’s antique gate.

Read article in full

Thursday, November 02, 2006

US Holocaust Museum admits Nazi-Arab axis

Following pressure from Jewish groups the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has taken first steps towards including the Farhud and the Nazi/Arab conspiracy on its Internet site.

A press release issued by the International Sephardic Leadership Council quotes its director Shelomo Alfassa:“We salute this preliminary step by the Holocaust Museum, but it is only a start. We look forward to comprehensive future exhibits that will focus on the Holocaust and its effects outside of Europe particularly in the Arab countries.”

The Farhud (Arabic for violent dispossession), took place in 1941 when Arabs attacked Jews in several Iraqi cities, burning, raping, torturing and murdering members of the Jewish community. This event was the beginning of the end of 2,600 years of Jewish life in Iraq. “The Farhud was a Holocaust-era pogrom that took place outside of Europe, an event the Museum overlooked for political reasons,” said Edwin Black, author of IBM
and the Holocaust and Banking on Baghdad.

On January 18, 2006, a press conference was held at the National Press Club in Washington DC, that night, in front of a standing-room-only crowd, a colloquium was held at The National Synagogue, where several prominentJewish leaders met to discuss remedies to the USHMM’s failure to document the role Islamic groups played in the Holocaust.

Complaints included the fact that the Museum, a federally funded government institution, had never presented an exhibit or sponsored an event confronting Arab or Muslim anti-Semitism or the fate of Jews in Arab countries during the Holocaust. These countries include Jews from Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, as well as others.

A formal complaint and call for investigation was requested by the International Sephardic Leadership Council after it was discovered that the chief historian of the USHMM publicly minimized and obscured, even denied, well-settled historical facts regarding the extensive relationship between the Holocaust-era Arabs and the Third Reich. One of the initial
statements included the erroneous: “There was no collaboration between the
Arabs and the Nazis.”

On the occasion of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, April 25, 2006, the International Sephardic Leadership Council once again called on the Museum to explain why they continued to decline to address the historically documented collaboration between Arabs and Nazis during the Holocaust.

Now, after months of calls for action, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has finally acknowledged the relationship between Hitler and the Arab leadership, as well as the Farhud, through information recently posted on the Museum’s Website, authored by Dr. Esther Meir-Glitzenstein of Ben Gurion University.

“It’s important that the Museum teaches that during the Holocaust, the Nazis and the Arabs conspired against the Jewish people. The Mufti's pro-Hitler propaganda played a key role in shaping opinion in the Arab world then, as it remains now. The Mufti's legacy, far from a one-time phenomenon, remains alive and well throughout the region even to this day.” said Carol Greenwald of Holocaust Museum Watch.

Mr. Alfassa added, “We see this as a success, our goal was to ensure that history recorded and taught at the Museum be historically accurate by being fully inclusive, not selective; this is a good start, and the Museum should be applauded for their step in the right direction.”

Jerusalem meeting 'an outstanding success'

By all standards, the Oct. 22-23, 2006 launch of the International Rights and Redress Campaign was an outstanding success, according to JJAC director Stan Urman.

Participation: Participating in the launch of the International Rights and Redress Campaign were some forty leaders from Diaspora Jewish communities, representing 10 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Israel . Photos from the conference are online .

Support of the Government of Israel:Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit assured delegates of the Israeli Government's support for the international registration effort. "I pledge here to finance and reactivate a serious unit within the Justice Ministry to help in the global effort of recording the history and culture of our own dispossessed Jewish people, and to document their claims no less than the well-known claims of the Palestinians," he declared.

Financial Support: Minister Sheetrit affirmed that funding would be made available to conduct the registration campaign in Israel. In response to a question as to the level and extent of funding to be provided by the Ministry of Justice, the Minister responded: "As much as is needed for as long as it takes".

The Jewish Agency has agreed to match the Government's funding, thereby ensuring adequate resources to run a successful registration campaign in Israel.

Media Coverage: Over 25 news media outlets - both television and print - participated in the Press Conference with Minister Sheetrit. The event generated significant media coverage in Israel, Europe and in the US.

Follow Up: Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) has been requested by the Ministry of Justice to prepare a Business Plan; and then JJAC will be contracted to direct the implementation of the registration campaign in Israel.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Nina Weiner's Mizrahi elite

Nina Weiner is a remarkable woman who has devoted her life to bridging the gap between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews in Israel. Haaretz reports (with thanks: Albert):

" Nina Weiner lives in New York and belongs to what is known there as "high society" and is a regular visitor to the finest homes, but her life story is intertwined with the story of the Mizrahim in Israel. She was born in Egypt's Alexandria to parents who emigrated from Israel in the '20s to escape the economic hardship of the time. Her father, Reuven Perlmutter, immigrated as a pioneer from the Ukraine; her mother, Yona Papo, was born in Rishon Letzion, the daughter of a Sephardic Jew from Bulgaria, and among the graduates of the legendary first class of Tel Aviv's Gymnasia Herzliya. In October 1948 they returned from Egypt to Israel. Their daughter finished high school in Israel, and in 1954 she went to study psychology at the University of Geneva.

"Her first encounter with the plight of North African Jewry took place in Europe. One of the Israelis at the university in Geneva, renowned psychologist Reuven Feuerstein, was doing research on children who stayed at the transition camps run by Youth Aliyah in Southern France. He put her on his research team and she accompanied him on his travels there.

"I saw many shocking things," she says. "Parentless children who arrived there in a terrible state of neglect and abandonment." When Weiner concluded her studies and came back to Israel, she continued working with Feuerstein in Youth Aliyah, and was exposed to the gaps between ethnic groups in Israel.

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