Friday, March 30, 2007

This Passover, recall the Exodus from Muslim lands

As Jews all over the world prepare to mark the Passover Exodus from Egypt, spare a thought for those Jews who endured a recent exodus from Arab and Muslim lands. Israel Highway reports.

"As Passover approaches, Jewish families the world over are preparing to come together for the traditional Pesach seder commemorating the Jewish people’s Exodus from Egypt approximately 3300 years ago. While the Exodus is a universally known event, not that long ago there was another, less known, mass exodus of Jews from the Arab world to Eretz Yisrael. This time the Jews were fleeing modern day despotic rulers of the Arab world and this time they were arriving on the shores of a new, modern State of Israel.

"These Jewish communities had grown and often prospered throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa from as early as the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. On the eve of the birth of the State of Israel, in 1948, there were approximately one million Jews living throughout the Arab/Muslim world. Through forced emigration, pogroms and natural attrition, the once great Jewish communities of the Arab world have dwindled to no more than 10,000-12,000 scattered remnants. This mass migration from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, among others, has left most of the Arab world virtually devoid of the Jewish presence.

Read article in full (scroll down)

'Life for Jews in Iran is threatened'

This Canadian Jewish News interview with Menashe Amir of Israel's Farsi radio service shows that Jewish life in Iran is not all it seems (with thanks: Albert):

“Superficially, everything is fine,” Amir said of Iran’s Jewish community. “They have security. They have their businesses. They make a good living. Alcohol is forbidden for Muslim society, but permitted for Jews (for kiddush) and two Jewish schools are left. Every Jew can leave Iran anytime they want.

“But all these are superficial. In fact, the life for Jews in Iran is threatened. There is a great anti-Semitic propaganda, even on Iranian official TV and radio.”

The Jewish schools are run by Muslim principals and most of the teachers are Muslims. Torah studies are conducted in Farsi, not Hebrew, even by Jewish teachers.

His review of school texts suggests their treatment of Judaism “is very superficial. There is data and numbers, but nothing of the essence of Judaism.”

What’s more, “Jewish schools must be open on Shabbat by government order.”

Read article in full

Israel's voice heard in Iran

Iranian-Jewish mayor fulfils his American dream

Profile by Kelly Hartog in the Jerusalem Post of Jimmy Delshad, Beverly Hills' first Iranian-Jewish mayor.

Beverly Hills made history on March 6 when Jimmy Delshad, a 66-year-old Iranian Jewish immigrant, was elected mayor. It's certainly a coup for the man formerly known as Jamshid Delshad, who was born in Shiraz and moved to America when he was 19 to attend college. He settled in Beverly Hills in 1988 and has called the city home ever since.

"I'm unbelievably excited," Delshad says in a living room filled with glossy coffee table books, including several Haggadot and Jewish art books. "It's like a dream come true, and shows that the American dream is alive and well."

Read article in full

Washington Post report (with thanks: Albert)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

No right of complaint

Read this letter in today's Jerusalem Post :

Sir, - Historically, the only successful way hostilities between mixed populations have been resolved is via population exchanges: between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s, between India and Pakistan in 1947 and, closer to home, Cyprus in 1974. A lot of suffering was caused - but far less than the alternatives in Lebanon, Kashmir and Sri Lanka.

With Israel's establishment there was also a population exchange between local Arabs and Jews from Arab lands. This should be the refugee formula.

After 59 years almost all the displaced inhabitants have died. Yet, somehow, their "right of return" has been inherited by succeeding generations. If so, we Jews, whose ancestors are the original refugees, are here exercising our far more ancient and deeper right of return!

Whatever the local Arabs have chosen to call themselves, they are part of the Arab world, as we are continually reminded.

Collectively Arabs have about three times the area of Europe - some of it floating on oil - with only half its population.

Arabs have hardly been wronged as regards land allocation - so what's with their perennial bellyaching?


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Sephardim at a crossroads in history

The recent publication of the first study of its kind, Le monde sepharade - Volume 1 (Histoire) and 2 (Civilisation)- is the occasion for an-depth interview in French in Canadian Jewish News with its author, Shmuel Trigano, professor of sociology at the Paris university of Nanterre and leading expert on the Sephardim. Here is the gist of what the professor had to say:

Trigano believes that the Sephardi world is at a crossroads. It is a world which was profoundly shaken up and dislocated by the sinister events of the latter half of the 20th century. More worryingly, Sephardi institutions are not geared up for continuity or to transmit their unique Sephardi identity. In fact Sephardi identity may disappear altogether.

There is a rich Sephardi tradition very different from the Ashkenazi. Sephardim must not dwell cloistered in the nostalgia of the past, but think of creative ways of passing on their very different experience of politics, mysticism and philosophy.

Jews and Sephardim have no clue about their history. They have a short-term perception of themselves as victims. That is why the book meets an urgent need to build a picture of the Sephardi past. The authors have also restored Judeo-Arabism to the Sephardi world. To amputate the Jews from Arab countries would be like cutting off the Jews of Galicia from the Jews of Germany.

Sephardi liturgy is alive and well, but there are virtually no Sephardi Yeshivot left. Sephardi culture is in a lamentable state. There are libraries in private homes housing valuable manuscripts which have never been edited or published. The Israeli government did support heritage initiatives in the 1980s, but it's not enough. What we need is a blueprint. It's not simply a matter of collecting the costumes of a bygone age, we have to build a vision for the future.

The Sephardi world has no real leadership. Sephardi leaders are nice enough people, but they have no vision. When a Sephardi leader gets involved in the community, he has no clue of the intellectual and cultural dimension of the Sephardi tradition. In the USA, wealthy Jews have endowed university Chairs, research centres, libraries. When a Sephardi practises philanthropy, he plays to the gallery.

Multiculturalism is in vogue in Israel but Trigano finds the Sephardi revival puzzling. It is the stuff of folklore, a stage set. Where is the content? Where is the Sephardi intellectual and literary output? It's not just a matter of transmission but of re-invention. The Sephardim don't speak Arabic anymore: they must re-invent new cultural instruments.

Sephardim have made headway in politics, but at what price? That is the question. Shas follows a Lithuanian model, not a Sephardi one. They have rejected their ancestors' spiritual heritage and made Judaism into a monolith. Shas' leaders are above all Lithuanian.

It is a leftwing myth that Sephardim are better disposed towards making peace with the Arabs. The Sephardim have suffered in the Arab-Muslim world, whence they were unceremoniously put to flight. Their property was seized. As long as this source of tension between the Sephardi and the Arab world is not put on the table and settled, it will always stick in the craw. There will not be peace as long as the Arab world has not recognised its responsibility for this sinister chapter in Judeo-Arab history. The Israeli left will not admit it, because it has no clue of the experience of the Sephardi world, nor any respect for it: it is a convenient symbol enabling self-hatred and an assumption that Jews lived an idyll in Arab-Muslim society. It's not true. (My emphasis - ed)

The Golden Age is an absolute myth. When Trigano was a doctoral student, he found in the Archives of the Alliance Israelite Universelle a document written by a French emissary in Morocco about the 'vale of tears' before the Protectorate. Perhaps Morocco has good intentions, but don't tell us that the history of the Jews in Islamic lands was an idyll, it's a lie. Travellers' accounts, Jewish stories, elegies, all point to something unbearable, except for rare periods of peaceful coexistence. When a new Arab ruler took over, he needed the Jews. As soon as he was settled, they became his enemies. One must distinguish between the pre-colonial and the post-colonial period. For the Jews, the colonial period was a liberation. Unfortunately, they have short memories.

Read article in full

Israel's silence on Jewish refugees is deafening

Anyone who follows developments in the Middle East will have found it hard to escape the latest fuss about the resurrected Saudi peace initiative .

This is the plan that demands a full withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and 'the right of return' to Israel for Palestinian refugees - in exchange for 'normalisation' of relations between Israel and the Arab world.

While the Israeli government has rightly rejected the 'right of return for Palestinians' as asking Israel to commit demographic suicide, it is bizarre - and alarming - that neither the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, nor the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, has even mentioned the rights of Jewish refugees.

Because Israel has not even tried to widen the agenda for discussion, it reinforces the Arab perception that they are the sole victims of injustice. By ignoring the Jewish refugees, Israel is doing nothing to prepare the Arab world for any demands for compensation, let alone admission of guilt for causing the Jewish exodus.

The concept of an 'exchange of populations' of roughly equal numbers of refugees has not even penetrated Arab consciousness.

And as long as the Arabs are shielded from feeling any responsibility for the flight of a million Jews, there is little chance of true reconciliation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jews helped cause French conquest of Algeria

This interesting post by Nouri at The Moor Next Door blog about the history of Jews and Christians in Algeria explains that Jewish merchants provided the pretext for the French to take control of Algeria :

"In Algiers Jews gained some wealth, certainly enough to lay some of the economic ground work for the French invasion in 1830. Two Jewish merchants of the Houses of Bushnaq and Backri sold large amounts of grain to France from 1793-1798. The French state had not paid back its debt to the merchants (it was between 7,000,000 and 8,000,000 francs) by the time the Napoleonic wars were finished. The House of Backri, being in debt to the Algerian (Ottoman) state itself, convinced the Dey that the in order for its debt to the state to be repaid, the Dey had to force the French state to pay its debt back to him. The Restoration government refused to pay Backri back for years, believing that the original circumstances of the dealings with the Algerians were ethically murky and not want to pay back the debts of the Republic. This set the stage for unfriendly Franco-Algerian relations that would ultimately be set off by the infamous fly swatter incident of 1827*, among other factors."

Strangely absent from Nouri's account is any sense that the Jews, forced to live as oppressed and insecure dhimmis, welcomed the French with open arms. (Nouri is wrong to say that few Jews accepted French nationality under the Decret Cremieux. The entire Jewish community agreed to submit to French civil law and became French.)

Nouri tends to gloss over the reasons for their mass exodus in 1961 -62. While trying to remain neutral during the civil war the Jews were caught in the crossfire. (In the tragic case of the Levy family of Algiers, the socialist father was murdered by the OAS, while the son was killed by the FLN).

And Nouri omits one major cause of the Jewish exodus: the great synagogue of Algiers was ransacked by the FLN in December 1960, the Torah scrolls profaned and 'Death to the Jews' and swastikas daubed on the walls. The terrified Jews feared a rerun of the pogrom of Constantine in 1934. They did not need to be expelled to abandon personal and communal property in 70 different communities for which they have never been compensated. Many synagogues have been turned into mosques.

Today there are fewer than 50 Jews (not 1,000) living in Algeria and no organised Jewish life to speak of.

*The French consul was slapped by the Dey using a fly swatter

Read post in full

Nouri adds this comment:

The statement that "few" Jews accepted citizenship is a typo. It was originally "with few Muslims but many Jews" but when I pasted the piece over from Word it was cut off. It still reads this way in the Word file.

However, this did not all happen at once. It happened over several years. The second decree was more comprehensive and resulted in more Jewish citizens.

The status of dhimmitude is presumed to be well known, as it was the status of all non-Muslims in Ottoman and Islamic lands at the time.

As for "glossing over" aspects of the war, you are correct. However, neutrality in that struggle was perceived widely as siding with the opposite side. It does not surprise me that they were attacked from both sides (such is the fate of the weak and unarmed). It is not a post meant to survey every aspect of the war or the Jewish community; it is an overview. The
abandonment of Algeria by the Jews came at about the same time as it did with the rest of the European community (and Europeanized communities, such as the native Jews and harkis), and I think it would be unfair to go into great detail about the specific incidents that led the Jews to leave without doing the same for the Europeans.

As for "compensation"; I don't really see what they can be compensated for. What was taken from them? If they abandoned it, they left it to be filled. Feeling insecure and running away does not entitle one to lost property. The idea that they should be compensated
suggests that they were forcibly expelled by the state. I'm not sure where this kind of compensation would come from or for what reason. Though, I did mention this in the post. And as for the numbers of Jews in the country, the only estimates I have seen have been around 1000 (plus or minus). So, if you can give a citation for your figure, I would be grateful.

Bataween replies:

Dhimmitude: I should have thought a mention of 'dhimmitude' was essential to any overview of non-Muslim minorities.
Compensation: I am no lawyer but it is doubtful that a group of Algerian Jews would have brought a case for compensation of $144 million in 2005 if they had no legal leg to stand on.
Jews still in Algeria: my figure of 50 came from 'Jewish Communities of the World', published by the World Jewish Congress (1996). The figure is most probably less now.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Iranian Jews in US stand by President Katsav

Despite a flurry of criticism directed at Israeli President Moshe Katsav over rape and sexual harassment allegations, support for Israel's embattled president remains strong among Southern California's Iranian Jews, Karmel Melamed reports in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. (With thanks: Albert)

"Many in the community here know President Katsav on a personal basis," said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. "The feeling is that he is not the type of person who is capable of committing the sorts of crimes attributed to him."

Katsav's ascension to the presidency nearly seven years ago marked the first time an Iranian Jew was elected to such a high political office in any government. The achievement served as a source of pride for many Iranian Jews worldwide.

Katsav, 61, has been accused of sexual harassment and rape, but no formal charges have been filed. A hearing is scheduled for May 2, after which Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will determine whether to indict the president.

Read article in full

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Last five jailed Iranian Jews released 'on vacation'

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 4 (JTA) — The last five Iranian Jews still held in an Iranian prison have been released on “vacation,” although it remains uncertain whether they will be permanently freed. (With thanks: Albert)

The uncertain status of the five underscores the precarious situation faced by the entire Jewish community in Iran. They now number between 22,000 and 25,000, down from 100,000 or so prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The five were among 13 Jews who were arrested in January and March 1999 on charges of spying for Israel. Three were subsequently found innocent of the espionage charges and released. The other 10 were sentenced in July 2000 to jail terms of four to 13 years.

Read article in full

Friday, March 23, 2007

Jewish refugees' saviour Joan Stiebel dies

Many Jewish refugees and their families owe their admission to Britain to one remarkable woman - Joan Stiebel, who died aged 95 on 25 January 2007.

An obituary in the Jewish Chronicle of 23 March says that Joan Stiebel gave a lifetime of service to the Jewish community, although she was not Jewish.

Her involvement with refugees began before World War ll when she worked for the Central British Fund trying to help Jewish refugees from Germany enter Britain. Later she helped Jews secure admission to Britain from Hungary, Egypt, Poland, Algeria, Aden, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran. Chile and Argentina. She was awarded the MBE in 1978.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What caused the Jews to leave Iraq?

Lyn Julius's response to Rayyan Al-Shawaf's review of Abbas Shiblak's book Iraqi Jews: A History of Mass Exodus (Democratiya 7) is published in Democratiya's current issue.

"Rayyan Al-Shawaf's review of Abbas Shiblak's book starts off promisingly, by pointing out the discrepancies and errors in Shiblak's book. But instead of debunking Shiblak's assumption that Zionist agents set off bombs to 'cause' or 'speed up' the Jewish exodus during 1950 -51, he concludes that the bombs were the 'decisive' factor behind the Jewish exodus. (...)

"It is a pity that scholars expend an inordinate amount of time, energy - and (judging by the kilobytes devoted to this subject in Democratiya) cyberspace - discussing the futile 'bombs' issue whenever the exodus of the Iraqi Jews is debated. It is a bit like rearranging (or more like deconstructing) the deckchairs, when the Titanic of the Iraqi Jewish community had been on a fatal collision course with the iceberg of state repression and antisemitism almost as soon as Iraq became independent."

Read letter in full

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Watch out! The Persians are coming...

Is Beverly Hills going too Farsi? Chris Ayres of The Times has penned this tongue-in-cheek piece about the Persian invasion of California. 300 is now on our cinema screens, an Iranian-Jewish mayor has been elected and those faux palaces beloved of some Iranian Jews are mushrooming all over the place. (With thanks: Lily)

"So there is a conspiracy theory doing the rounds in the Middle East that 300, the new blood-soaked movie about the Ancient Greeks walloping the Persians back in 480BC, is actually neoconservative propaganda for a military strike on Iran.

"Now, as much as I hate to spoil a bout of nuclear paranoia, I suspect that the real explanation for 300 may be rather more boring than a plot to raze Tehran. In fact, it may have a little more to do with the recent elections in Beverly Hills; the city to which many of the Hollywood executives responsible for such big-budget movies such as 300 go home at night.

"Consider this, for example: about 8,000 of the 35,000 residents of Beverly Hills are Persians. On the whole they've done very well for themselves (and their community); you can see them cruising around in their two-tone Maybach 57s between the flashier restaurants and their sprawling faux palaces on Beverly Drive. And before you get any ideas about sleeper cells, I should point out that most of these Persians are Jews who fled Iran in the 1970s after the fall of the Shah."

Read article in full

Iraq steps up anti-Israel boycott

The Jerusalem Post reports disappointing news from Iraq, where the government, in diametric opposition to US policy, has reverted to knee-jerk hostility to Israel.

The US-backed Iraqi government is enforcing the Arab boycott of Israel with increasing frequency, The Jerusalem Post has learned, with the number of boycott-related incidents involving US firms operating in Iraq nearly quadrupling last year, according to official US statistics.

In its recently released annual report for 2006, the US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security noted that there had been 31 cases in which the Iraqi government had engaged in restrictive trade practices last year.

In 2005, according to the previous year's report, there were a total of just eight such cases involving Iraq.

Read article in full

Monday, March 19, 2007

Yemenite rabbi's wife helps Jerusalem poor

Heartening pre-Pesah story about the Yemenite Rabbi's wife who helps the poor of Jerusalem:

JERUSALEM (JTA) — On a quiet, little-known street in one of Jerusalem's poorer neighborhoods, the line on Fridays begins to form as early as 6 a.m. outside the home of Bracha Kapach.

They come from all over Jerusalem, particularly in the weeks before Passover: men down on their luck,elderly women with meager pensions, street kids living from fix to fix, mothers with too many mouths to feed.

Kapach treats them all the same. She hands them challahs or clothing or cash, wishes them a "Shabbat shalom" and sends them on their way.

This is how Kapach, a diminutive Yemenite octogenarian known all over Israel for her good works, has become a lifeline for some of Jerusalem's neediest, delivering hope in the form of food packages and small kindnesses.

Kapach says it's not charity; it's her responsibility. (...)

Born in Yemen's capital city of Sanaa to a prestigious Jewish family, Kapach married her first cousin at age 11 and had her first child at 14. She had two more children before she made aliyah with her husband in 1943.

Kapach's late husband, Rabbi Yosef Kapach, was a scholar and extraordinary person in his own right. The rabbi's research and commentary on Maimonides won him the venerated Israel Prize in 1969. His wife's charitable work won her the prize three decades later, in 1999.

Read article in full

Katsav turns to Iranian Jews in US for help

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli president Moshe Katsav has created a non-profit organisation to lobby Iranian-American Jews to help finance his defence against rape charges, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday. (With thanks: Albert)

The newly created "The truth will burst forth" group will focus its fundraising efforts on American Jews of Iranian origin, like Katsav, the daily Maariv reported.

"Katsav is operating discreetly, without publicity, to ask members of the Jewish community of Iranian origin to donate gifts to finance his defence against the lawsuit," the newspaper reported, quoting an anonymous philanthropist who had been asked for money.

"He isn't getting the support he expected because -- given the circumstances -- people fear being identified with him," the source added, according to Maariv.

Read article in full

Brave Iraqi Mithal al-Alusi still strives for peace

Personal tragedy has not dimmed Iraqi politician Mithal al-Alusi's enthusiasm for democracy, and he sees the Iraqi Jews in Israel as a vital component in building bridges to peace. Interview by Hilary Leila Krieger in the Jerusalem Post. (With thanks: Lily)

Alusi has done his fair share of working towards peace, particularly with Israel, as it is. Alusi made a seminal trip to Israel in September 2004 to participate in a counterterrorism conference. Apparently as payback, extremists murdered his two sons, 22 and 30. But that hasn't stopped him. (...)

Q:Is there, then, also a shared interest between Israel and Iraq in not seeing a nuclear Iran?

A: There are many politicians in Israel and in my country and in other countries in the Middle East. Either they are not clever enough to understand the real interest of their nations, or they have some complex, I don't know. That's why I really ask both countries' politicians to look for their clear interests and to forget the old books and problems. In reality, there is no Iraqi-Israeli problem. I think our interests are parallel, but we need powerful politicians to make a decision [for peace] in both countries.

Q: Is there a shared interest beyond dealing with Iran?

A: There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Iraqi origin. The Iraqis know that, they remember that. They're still alive, they have friends, partners, etc. Jews [were] in Iraq for thousands of years. They were part of the arts and politics. Our first Iraqi finance minister was an Iraqi Jew. They were very active in politics, in art, in society, in trading, in the economy, and I think now's the time that we should look at that reality. Why should we fight each other? For what?

Read article in full

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Are US resolutions on Jewish refugees 'dangerous'?

Resolutions introduced in both the US Senate and House of Representatives last month - belatedly recognizing that there was once a Jewish refugee crisis in the Middle East - have been described as both 'promising' and 'dangerous'.

Ryan Jones blogs at that it is 'promising' that a body with as much influence as the US Congress is pushing the issue of the international community’s need to address the fact that hundreds of thousands of Jews were dispossessed and expelled by the Arab states they called home just 50-some years ago.

But it is 'dangerous' that Congress wants to tie that to recognition of the “rights of Palestinian refugees.”

He goes on to list the 'glaring differences' between the two cases:

1.The so-called “Palestinians” who were displaced during Israel’s War of Independence for the most part did not move more than 20 miles, and still found themselves surrounded by people sharing the same ethnicity, language, culture and religion. To call them “refugees” is somewhat disingenuous, to say the least.

2.The majority of displaced “Palestinians” became displaced because their own leaders ordered them to get out of the way so the Jews could be more easily finished off. Again, not “refugees,” but rather members of the Arab “Ummah” who unfortunately found themselves having to start over when their leaders and armies failed to defeat Israel.

3.The Jews, on the other hand, were the defenseless minority in their host nations, and were stripped of their possessions, persecuted and thrown out by their Arab overlords, necessitating in many cases a long and arduous journey to the only place they would be safe - the State of Israel. Once there, they did share a religion with those around them, but they had to adapt to a new culture and learn a new language in order to survive. The very definition of refugees.

4. Perhaps the most glaring difference between the Jewish refugees from Arab state and the “Palestinian refugees” is that the Jewish refugees were promptly resettled. And not only that, they were promptly resettled by a nascent state that didn’t really have the means to resettle them.

5.The “Palestinians,” meanwhile, have been forced to remain “refugees” by their Arab brothers for 50+ years! Additionally, their children have been labeled as refugees too!

There is no precedent for this, no other refugee situation that was ever dealt with by perpetuating the refugee status of the displaced and actually transferring it to their children and grandchildren.

The only explanation can be that the “Palestinian” refugee issue is not really a refugee issue at all, but a cynical diplomatic ploy to demonize the Jewish state and force it to allow its borders to be flooded with Arab Muslims.

This is what Congress needs to recognize in its resolutions.

The Jews long ago dealt with their own refugee problem. Now it’s time for the Arabs to do the same - or admit that there never was one to begin with.

Congress’ current course of action is only going to further legitimize the myth of the “Palestinian refugee.”

You are right, Ryan, and all you say is true. My own view, however, is that the issue of Jewish refugees is so far off the radar of public discourse and opinion about the Arab-Israeli conflict that tying the two refugee issues together can only be a positive development.

The issue of Jewish refugees is brought up all too rarely - I have never actually heard an Israeli government spokesman or commentator even mention it. When the issue does come up, too many people question whether the Jewish refugees are bona fide. They claim that the Jews emigrated willingly to Israel, or that 'Zionist agents' engineered their exodus.

It would be counterproductive to question whether the Palestinians are legitimate refugees at this stage. Let's get the Jewish refugees on the map. People need to know that there are two sides to this issue.

Bringing Turkish coffee to Tel Aviv

The Jerusalem Post profiles two Turkish Jews, now making new lives for themselves in Tel Aviv. (With thanks: Albert)

By 6 p.m., the Choco-Latte cafe on Rehov Idelson in the heart of Tel Aviv is relatively quiet. The bright orange chairs on the glassed-in patio are empty, apart from one older gentleman in the corner who is savoring his second strawberry pastry and two girls inside on a retro couch sipping coffees.

"By this hour, things start to wind down," says Jackie Tsvi, 28, a Turkish immigrant who co-owns the caf with his friend and partner, Vedat Bahar, 30.(...)

Friends since childhood, Bahar and Tsvi grew up in Istanbul in the Jewish community but like many in the assimilated community, attended regular schools. Tsvi studied media and communications systems at the University of Bilgi, finishing his B.A. in 2002.

Bahar taught Zionist classes in the Jewish community, but says he chose to make aliya because he couldn't see a future in Turkey. "The Jewish community in Istanbul is very wealthy and snobby," Bahar explains. "I'm not like that, and I wanted a chance to do something else with my life so I came to Israel."

Read article in full

Friday, March 16, 2007

German refugees in wartime reparations row

Jewish refugees from Arab countries can perhaps draw inspiration from the struggle for reparations of wartime German refugees, as reported in the Daily Telegraph :

Felix Hoppe was 13 when he fled his home, one of an estimated 12 million Germans forced to abandon Eastern Europe as the Third Reich collapsed in 1945.

Then his house was on Adolf Hitler Strasse in a town called Heilsberg.

Map of areas of Poland annexed by Germany in 1939, War refugees reparation row confronts Merkel

Today that has become number six Bartoszycka street, a green stucco house in the small town of Lidzbark-Warminski in north-eastern Poland.

Nonetheless, Felix Hoppe, 75, now wants his childhood home back.

His claims for reparations, and hundreds more like them from those displaced in the turmoil of 1945 threaten to make Angela Merkel's visit to Warsaw, which begins today, her most delicate diplomatic mission as German Chancellor.

Read article in full

Israelis encouraged to invest in Iraq

A US defense official on Thursday encouraged Israelis to pump investments into the devastated Iraqi economy, according to an AP report in the Jerusalem Post.

Paul Brinkley, US deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation, told a business conference in Dubai that Israelis and any other investors were welcome in a country crying out for investment.

"Israeli business people, any business people, we would encourage them to come," said Brinkley, speaking on the sidelines of a conference aimed at spurring investment into Iraq's northern Kurdish-ruled region. Brinkley leads the task force charged with reinvigorating Iraqi industry.

"If they find business opportunities, as I think they will, we encourage them to reach out and engage their Iraqi business partners," he said.

Israel is believed to maintain discreet ties to Kurdish groups, including those in Iraq, although Kurdish officials in the country deny such links.

Read article in full

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Islamic antisemitism workshop cancelled

On March 14, just hours before the event was due to begin, the University of Leeds cancelled an invited, university-sponsored, two-day workshop by German scholar Matthias Kuentzel on "Hitler's Legacy: Islamic Antisemitism in the Middle East."

Dr Kuentzel’s talk would have been part of a series of scholars’ and artists’ talks at the German Department. The series is supported by a grant from the School of Modern Languages, who did not raise any issues during the grant application process. The University cited security reasons for cancelling the workshop based on threatening emails it received to the Office of Vice Chancellor.

Both The Times and the Daily Telegraph carry reports of the university's decision to cancel the Kuentzel event.

The episode is symptomatic of a wider problem. Either academics too easily bow to pressure and intimidation; or campus leftwingers and liberals have a natural tendency to deny, whitewash or apologise for Muslim antisemitism.

A recent example of the latter appears in an exchange between Timothy Furnish and David Slavin at History News Network (Via Augean Stables). Furnish argues that Muslim antisemitism has deeper roots than the establishment of Israel. Slavin produces a 'politically correct' counter-argument.

The blond boy who went on a Moroccan roots tour

Though a roots tour in Amsterdam would have been more fun, N.B. Simon found himself in a family pressure cooker in Morocco. To his surprise, he felt at home, ate nonstop and even got emotional. Ynet News has the story:

"I have a confession. I am as Moroccan as Arkady Gaydamak is Israeli: I do not go to Andalusia symphony concerts, I cannot stand Avi Toledano, I do not celebrate Mimouna, I do not establish protest movements, I do not read Maimonides’ writings, and I am a blond.

"If one morning my father would come to see and say, “Son, the time has come for you to know. Our last name is not B. Simon but Van der Koegen, we are Dutch, and we are going on a roots tour to Amsterdam. Go pack your bong,” no one would be happier than me. But this is how it is with Moroccans: They are faithful to their traditions. So we went on a roots tour to Morocco.

"Any annoying first year student of psychology can testify: To take a group of adults, whose only connection is that they are family, stick them in a crowded minibus for ten days to search the streets of North Africa looking for the place where Dad played soccer with Uncle David when they were eight, is no picnic. It is a family in a pressure cooker, and here are the consequences: hidden feelings come to the surface, traumas are revealed, and extreme nerves are torn out."

Read article in full and the comments thread

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

There's more to Iraq than oil

Iraq-born Israeli artist Oded Halahmy is more of a hit in New York than in Tel Aviv. He showcases the work of other Iraqi artists in his Pomegranate Gallery in New York. Two years ago he even visited Iraq. Haaretz reports:

"Halahmy never became a successful artist in Israel. After leaving Iraq, he lived with his family in a transit camp near Hadera, and they later moved to Jaffa. He served in the Nahal brigade, lived at Sde Boker and began making art, mostly sculptures and paintings. He attended a course in England, and in 1971 he moved to New York to study.

"Just as I had in Israel, I started from zero in New York," he says. "But unlike in Israel, after three difficult years, I began to make a living from art. And this went well enough for me to buy myself a home and gallery in Jaffa, as well as a studio and an apartment in New York. I converted the studio into my gallery. Now I spend three months in New York, three months in Jaffa."

"He also shows his own works at the gallery. "Apparently, no prophet is accepted in his own land," he says. "They exhibit me in various museums in America. For example, the Guggenheim has a work of mine. However, Israelis don't buy them. I show my works at my gallery in Jaffa, and the people who buy them are tourists.

"I don't want to address why there has been no openness to my works in Israel," he continues. "Of course there is discrimination. But even in the most difficult days, when we were living in the transit camps, we didn't sit and weep; we worked hard to get ahead and to get out of the transit camp, into a better world. And it has to be known that we came from a world of culture. We came from a world where we wore jackets and ties, as in the best British tradition, and in Israel we replaced them with khaki, because we wanted to look like the locals. People from my generation, like Menashe Kadishman and Igael Tumarkin, became famous and successful in Israel, and I didn't. But I am happy with my lot here in New York and there in Jaffa."

"About two years ago he visited Iraq, and he even voted in the elections there. "I was a guest of the government," he relates. "I met Jews. I met artists. I can visit Iraq whenever I want."

Read article in full

Jewish artist invited to Baghdad

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Iranian Jew triumphs in Beverly Hills

Jimmy Delshad's election as Beverly Hills' new mayor is a triumph for one who was a second-class citizen in his native Iran, the Jerusalem Post reports:

"I feel blessed to have been chosen by the people of Beverly Hills," Delshad told JTA in a phone interview. "As a Jewish youngster in Iran, I was a second-class citizen and kept running into closed doors. Through my example, I hope to open doors in America for other people like me."

"The English-language Tehran Times, published in the Iranian capital, reported the election as a straight news story. Delshad said he had received congratulatory e-mails from some Muslims in Iran, especially from former neighbors in his native city of Shiraz."

Read article in full

Andre Aciman of Alexandria: no place like home

For Andre Aciman, who left Egypt in 1967 and spent several years in Italy and France before settling in New York City, home is an elusive concept. All places turn into shadow cities: "you cannot leave, but you already long for the place from which you intend to leave."

An interview with the Alexandrian-born author in Nextbook (with thanks: Albert)

When André Aciman returned to Alexandria after 30 years in exile, he imagined what his life would have been like had he never left. He wandered around the city in a daze, halfheartedly taking in the landmarks of his youth, stumbling from bakery to cemetery, bewildered and overwhelmed. What gave him the most pleasure during this visit, as he recounts in his 1994 memoir, Out of Egypt, was musing on some future time when he might recall the sensation of being back in Egypt, pondering his inability to immediately appreciate the significance of this return trip. It is this longing to remember, this restlessness with experience, that characterizes Aciman's entire body of work: a memoir, a collection of essays, and now, a novel.

Read article in full

Another Nextbook feature

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Jewish intellectuals nostalgic for 'dhimmitude'

The phenomenon of the anti-Zionist, 'self-hating' Jewish intellectual is not new. France has its fair share: Edgar Morin, Rony Brauman, Théo Klein, Jean Daniel, Gisèle Halimi, Esther Benbassa, Michel Warshawski, Guy Sorman.

In the USA Noam Chomsky is the kingpin of a coterie of Jewish, anti-Zionist intellectuals and academics.

In Britain we have Harold Pinter, Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolis, Nicole Farhi - so-called 'Independent Jewish Voices', who claim that the Jewish establishment seeks to stifle their criticisms of Israel.

Now the highly-respected professor and publisher of the magazine Controverses, Shmuel Trigano, has coined a term to describe these people: Alterjuifs (alternative Jews). Delving into the psychology of the Alterjuif, Controverses identifies a particular sub-group, peopled by Jewish intellectuals from Arab countries:

"For the Alterjuifs of the Maghreb, their hostility to Israel is linked to their specific experience of exile: Israel is to blame for their leaving Arab countries. The creation of Israel is to blame for Arab Muslim hostility and antisemitism.

"These intellectuals are prisoners of a myth they cannot and will not abandon: the lost Arab paradise where all peoples lived in harmony. Some people look back with nostalgia to being slaves in Egypt; others to the nostalgia of the ghettos. Today we have the nostalgia of dhimmitude. To hear their complaints and their anger, the logical conclusion is as follows: for the lost paradise to be recovered and the golden age re-established, the Jews and Israel need to be put in their place, i.e in the leg-irons of servitude. The Arab Muslims would revert to being nice and peace would reign on earth.

"Israel" has always had on its margins lost, embarrassed Jews, Alterjuifs, virtual Jews. They are proof that Judaism is open and lively - far from being the closed world and prison some like to describe."

Read article in Guysen Israel News (French)

A plea to support reformists and dissidents

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me -
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemoller

Any blog such as this one, which supports the struggle for minority rights, is bound to support the struggle for democracy and basic human rights going on in Arab countries and Iran, for both struggles go hand in hand.

It is a basic human right to express oneself freely without fear of imprisonment or persecution.

Spare a thought, therefore, for the thousands of dissidents and reformists muzzled by brutal regimes or being tortured in jail.

The Jerusalem Post's Iranian blogger Reza Zarabi has made a desperate plea for the release of brutalised dissident Ahmad Batebi, who is 'on his death bed' in an Iranian jail. Please sign the petition for Batebi's release on Reza's blog, Persian Abyss.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Cairo Purim: a story of Jewish deliverance

For generations the Jews of Cairo celebrated the story of their own deliverance between Purim and Pesah:

After 1517 Egypt came under the rule of the Mamluks and became an Ottoman province. But the viceroy remained a Mamluk. Jews from Spain had taken refuge in Egypt after 1492. One was Abraham de Castro, whom the sultan of Constantinople, Selim 1st, had entrusted with minting new coinage.

But the viceroy, Ahmed Schaitan, wanted to get rid of the sultan's control and seize power for himself in an independent Egypt. He ordered Abraham de Castro to produce new coins stamped with his likeness. De Castro pretended to obey, left Egypt for Constantinople and told the sultan of Ahmed's rebellion.

Having got wind of De Castro's denunciation, Ahmed seized several Jews, threw them in jail and pillaged the Jewish quarter. He kidnapped 12 community leaders and unless he was paid a hefty ransom threatened to kill them.

A delegation offered Ahmed what money they were able to collect. Ahmed had them locked up and told them they would be executed together with the rest of the community on that very day.

Before the execution, Ahmed took a bath. One of his vizirs, Mohamed Bey, seized the opportunity to try to get rid of the viceroy. Ahmed was seriously wounded, fled the palace, but was caught and beheaded. Mohamed Bey freed the imprisoned Jews. It was 28 Adar and the Jews of Cairo celebrated the day for generations to come as the 'Cairo Purim.'

Read article in full on Arouts Sheva (French)


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Coca-Cola case may be heard in Egyptian court

NEW YORK (JTA) – For nearly three decades, Refael Bigio has struggled to recover assets taken from his family by the Egyptian government as part of the country's broad seizure of Jewish-owned property.

Bigio's grandfather had owned a factory 45 minutes from downtown Cairo

in an area he describes as "prime real estate." In the 1930s the Coca-Cola Company rented space from the Bigios for its first bottling operations in Egypt. Later the Bigios opened a factory that produced bottle caps for the company.

Egypt sequestered the property in 1962 and formed a new company, the El Nasr Bottling Company, from the merger of Bigio's company and Coca-Cola's Egyptian subsidiary. The Bigios were driven from the country three years later and since 1979 have been trying to recover the property.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether an Egyptian court is the appropriate venue for Bigio's lawsuit against Coca-Cola, which has moved repeatedly to have the case dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.

Jewish refugees from Arab lands have stepped up their efforts in recent years to document the losses they suffered and to balance the narrative of Palestinian refugees with international recognition of their histories.

But the Bigio family, which now resides in Canada, enjoys certain advantages over other Jewish refugees.

For one, the Egyptian government already has decreed that the property should be returned to the family, though the order was never carried out. Bigio also is pursuing litigation against an American company that is subject to American law and vulnerable to American public opinion.

The Bigio case has also benefited from the attention of the Zionist Organization of America, which is now calling for a boycott of the company.(...)

A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola told JTA that Egyptian courts have ruled in favor of Jewish families who lost property.

Moreover, she said there are outstanding questions regarding Bigio's claims that cannot be adequately considered in an American court.

"The company doesn't know what exactly transpired," the spokeswoman said. "There are a ton of questions that have been brought to bear, and we believe that if the case is addressed in Egypt, the questions can be answered."

But Bigio, now 63, says his claims are well documented and if they are allowed to be heard in an American court, he will surely prevail.

"I have no doubt," he said. "Because we are the owner of these assets, and these assets were stolen from us, and you can't go and buy stolen assets. All the profits that Coca-Cola is generating out of Egypt, my family, my mother has a share."

Read article in full

Zionist Organisation of America calls for boycott of Coca-Cola:

"The Arab and Islamic countries that persecuted their Jewish citizens have never had to answer for their conduct. The approximately 900,000 Jews who were uprooted from their homes were made instant refugees, yet they have never been compensated. It is truly shameful that an American company like Coca-Cola, regarding itself as a great corporate citizen, has been participating in and reaping the benefits from this campaign of anti-Semitism. Americans of every background should be appalled by Coca-Cola's actions."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Iranian Jew poised to become Beverly Hills mayor

The Jerusalem Post notes that Iranian Jews, having become economically successful in California, are now trying their hand at politics:

"After marking their votes on bilingual English-Farsi ballots, residents of this tony Los Angeles suburb awaited the final tally in City Council race that highlighted the growing clout of Iranian immigrants here and could lead to the city having its first Iranian mayor.

"City council incumbent Jimmy Delshad was one of three candidates of Jewish-Iranian descent running for two open council seats. The top two finishers will get seats on the council, and reelection would give the 66-year-old Delshad the seniority to be named mayor."

Read article in full

Three out of six City Council candidates Iranian-Jewish (with thanks: Albert)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Polyglot in the melting pot: an Iraqi Jew in Israel

Many Jews arriving in Israel from Iraq in the 1950s experienced 'culture shock'. It was often easier for those with no foreknowledge of Hebrew to adapt to life in Israel. Sasson Somekh recalls what it was like in this Haaretz article (with thanks: Albert)

"I arrived in Israel around Passover 1951 on what was known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. A ramshackle airplane, overflowing with some 200 Iraqi Jews of all ages and social classes, brought me from Baghdad to Lydda Airport in Israel. Upon arrival I saw no one kneeling down to kiss the sacred ground.

"For quite a few Iraqi Jews, immigration was an unexpected leap into the unknown. They were unprepared for the act; it came to them as a surprise. Get up, pack your things, give up your Iraqi identity (some 2,000 years old), and go up to Israel on eagles' wings. Apart from some young people who were active in the Zionist underground, and for whom Israel was their heart's desire, most of the approximately 120,000 Jews of Iraq were not ready for the drastic transition from an Arab country to the new Jewish State; for the shock of leaving their homes, their businesses, their well established educational and community networks, straight into a reality which was difficult and uncertain both spiritually and physically.

"During the flight, which lasted about three hours, I examined the faces of my fellow travelers. I saw little joy and a great deal of worry and anxiety about what lay ahead. My seatmate asked me if I was fluent in Hebrew, and I answered that I was not. He, on the other hand, had studied Hebrew as a child and had attended synagogue all his life, and could therefore speak at an advanced level.

"My generation, and even the one before mine, had already started to distance itself from religion. Our entire education had been conducted in literary Arabic, together with the study of English and/or French. Looking back, I am certain that my seatmate had greater difficulties acclimatising to Israel than I did, in spite of his abilities in Hebrew. It turned out that those among us who did not know the language, especially if they were young, had no difficulty learning Israeli Hebrew, whereas those who had studied Hebrew abroad had things no easier linguistically. In general, those who arrived tabula rasa in 1951, with regard to Israel, found their way with relative ease into normal life in the country, unlike those who thought that they were prepared for the move. Many such people experienced severe culture shock as they discovered that no great similarity existed between the picture they had created in their minds while they were abroad, and that which they encountered upon their arrival. Those who arrived without expectations were the ones who successfully survived the experience of the ma'abara, the immigrant transit camp.

Read article in full

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Confusion over Algerian Jews' French nationality

When Algeria came under French rule in the 19th century, it is nearly always assumed that the Jews of Algeria were granted French nationality under the 'Decret Cremieux', whereas the Muslims were not.

In fact, all native Algerians were offered French nationality in 1865, but only the Jews chose to take up French citizenship, an academic in law at the university of Aix-en-Province, Fernand Derrida, points out.

"One should never confuse nationality and citizenship," Derrida writes in a letter to Information juive (February 2007).

The leaders of the Jewish community agreed no longer to submit to Jewish law but to French civil law. The leaders of the Muslim communities refused to give up Islamic civil law. A French citizen then, as now, could not practise polygamy, for instance.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jews blamed for Yemen violence shelter in capital

A group of Jewish Yemenis have taken refuge in a hotel in the Yemen capital and are under government protection after allegedly being threatened by a group of rebels, a Yemen official said, according to Ynet News.

About 45 Jewish Yemenis belonging to seven families were first relocated in January to a hotel in the capital, San'a, about 112 miles (180 kilometers) south from their home in the northern Saada province where clashes between Shiite rebels and government forces have killed more than 500 people in recent months.

The group later returned to Saada after the government ordered a police station to be built in their town, said Mohammed al-Basha, a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, DC. But last week, the rebels allegedly approached the Jewish leaders in Saada and accused them of the violence, al-Basha said Monday. The group has since returned to San'a and are staying in a hotel, he said.

The group later returned to Saada after the government ordered a police station to be built in their town, said Mohammed al-Basha, a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, DC.

But last week, the rebels allegedly approached the Jewish leaders in Saada and accused them of the violence, al-Basha said Monday. The group has since returned to San'a and are staying in a hotel, he said.

Read article in full

Minority reports: Babylon book reviews

Joan Smith reviews Marina Benjamin's Last days in Babylon and Naim Kattan's Farewell Babylon in The Times:

"One of these books consists of recollections by an Iraqi Jew born in Baghdad who left in the 1940s. Written more than three decades ago, it is published for the first time in Britain.

"The other is by an Englishwoman who went to Iraq for the first time in 2004, to search for her Jewish family’s lost heritage. Their accounts reflect very different experiences but the question at the heart of Naim Kattan’s book, whether it is possible to be a Jew and an Arab, goes to the heart of unresolved conflicts in the Middle East today.

"Behind both books lies an extraordinary fact: the near-total exodus – actually a state-sanctioned expulsion – of Iraq’s Jewish population in the middle of the 20th century."

Read article in full

Review of Last days in Babylon in Jewish News

Review by Moris Farhi in The Independent

Review by Ian Thomson in The Sunday Times

Review by Jeremy Seal in The Sunday Telegraph

Monday, March 05, 2007

Jewish woman elected to Bahrain parliament

With thanks to Iraqijews for this abstract from Al Arabiya: Huda Ezra Noonoo, who is Jewish, was elected last December to Majlis AlShoura (the national assembly) in Bahrain. She replaces Abraham Noonoo (pictured right), who served for two terms in the Majlis. Huda's family emigrated from Iraq to Bahrain about a century ago. 

 There are now 10 women in the Majlis, among them one Christian (pictured). In all, there are 40 members in Majlis AlShoura. Huda Noonoo is head of a Bahraini human rights organization.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Purim still resonates with the Jews of Iran

Today Jews around the world celebrate the feast of Purim - when the Jewess Esther saves her people from destruction by the evil Haman - but the lessons of Purim still resonate especially with the Jews of Iran.

For Haaretz Esther Solomon interviews author Farideh Goldin, whose book is a corrective to the romanticisation of Jewish life in her native Iran (with thanks: Albert).

"The Book of Esther is set in Persia, and the themes of disguising one's identity, a minority's uneasy coexistence within a majority culture, and the latent and actual threat to life by hostile authorities are historical tropes that have been repeated throughout the history of the Iranian Jewish community.

"Until the breakup of the Jewish community following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the festival was celebrated there with particular devotion: the fast of Esther was widely observed, children burned effigies of Haman and set off firecrackers and women made halva ornamented with images from the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther.(...)

"Although nostalgia for the old country is a key part of many exiles' lives, "Wedding Song" is an articulate corrective to overly-romanticized depictions of life in Iran. Goldin describes the pervasive nature of anti-Semitism in the street and in school, the fear of the jude-koshi (pogrom) aimed at the mehaleh and the fear of isolation living outside it. Thirteen Iranian Jews were arrested in early 1999 in Shiraz, Goldin's hometown, accused of spying for the "Zionist regime" and of "world arrogance," (the standard Iranian regime term for Israel) and at least 17 Jews have been executed since the Revolution in 1979, most accused of spying for Israel and the United States.

"Goldin proclaims: "Enough humiliation, enough humbling of the body and the soul ... [we can live] without the chain of prejudice around our necks. We have managed to rebuild our stories, our history - and all done in exile."

"Goldin recounts in the interview that even during the apparently halcyon days for Jews of the Shah's regime in the 1970s, the fear of anti-Semitic attack was not far away. During the Yom Kippur War, Farideh's family desperately sought news of Israel's fate. The Persian broadcasts from Kol Israel were sometimes inaudible:

"We tried to get the regular Iranian station. The happy voice announced that Israel was on the verge of extinction. I remember feeling nauseous. My father looked like a ghost. The women hit themselves on the head. We knew very well how our existence and well-being were connected to that of Israel's ... we finally managed to hear the BBC and to realize that Israel was not quite finished.

"My father met with the other elders of the Jewish community, trying to figure out what to do. Should the children go to school the day after? What if we were harassed and harmed? Would our lives become harsh, would they harm us, calling us Zionists? The Jewish community, it was decided by the elders, had to fast again and gather at the synagogues, praying, as we had done during the Purim story. Those were frightening days."

Read article in full

Friday, March 02, 2007

Quest for 'Arab Schindler' is doomed from the start

Writing in The Times, Howard Jacobson detects an ineffectual emptiness at the heart of Robert Satloff's gentlemanly quest for an 'Arab Schindler'. (With thanks: Lily)

"This book has a twofold ambition: first, to remind us that the Nazis and their collaborators exported their persecution of Jews to Arab north Africa; second, to find an Arab Oscar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg who stood out against that persecution, and to have him honoured as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s monument to the Holocaust, where no Arab has yet been recognised. Thus it is not simply as a historian that Robert Satloff sets about raking through the ashes, but as a man on a mission of peace — to discover evidence of as much or as little humanity as it will take for all parties to Arab/Jewish hostilities over the past 60 years to feel better about one another.

"Considering which, Among the Righteous is a surprisingly muted book — an act of gentlemanly civility amid the shouting that seems to concede its ineffectiveness almost before it starts. Indeed, so careful is Satloff not to raise our hopes that he dashes them before the opening sentence is cold on the page. “Did any Arabs,” he asks, in a diminuendo of expectation, “save any Jews during the Holocaust?” Do I hear a hundred, do I hear fifty, do I hear one?"

Read article in full

Acknowledging Morocco's Jewish heritage

It is all too rare for Arab Muslims to recognise that there is a Jewish component to their national identity. The Moroccan blogger Cherqui's Whispers bucks the trend by acknowledging that Jews were integral to Moroccan culture and history. He has posted an interesting article on Morocco's Jewish heritage, illustrated by sumptuous photographs of religious artefacts and synagogues, and based on an original post in French by Larbi . (With thanks: Esra'a)

" It's a long story that started very early, around Roman times. A tradition says that the Kahina, the Berber Queen, who was last to resist Arabic conquest, was actually leading a Jewish tribe (Kahina would be a form of Cohen). However, jews were very early well integrated in the Berber tribes in the south. In spite of their dhimmi condition, they used to bear arms to defend their tribe in the endemic raids and feudal disputes. This was a privilege which was totally forbidden in most other countries, and especially in Europe !

"A second wave of Jewish immigration came with the fall of the Cordoba caliphate, and populated Fez and Essaouira.

"More recently, Moroccan Jews were protected during WWII, and the King gave them Moroccan citizenship. (,,,)

"The Jewish part of Moroccan identity is still not well known, and that's a pity. Islam and Moroccan Judaism bear many similarities (traditions, ritual) which in the past sustained a wonderful Jewish-Muslim fusion in Morocco."

Moïse Nahon synagogue in Tangiers

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