Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Andre Chouraqui dead at 89

Although his books are not as well known in the English-speaking world as in the French, the death of Andre Chouraqui, Algerian-born author, historian and lawyer on 9 July, is a great loss to North African Jewry. Here is what Aimee Kligman of the Women's Lens blog posted about him:

Born in Algeria in 1917, he obtained his law doctorate in France in 1948. Settled in Jerusalem in 1958. In the period 1959-1963, he served as advisor to David Ben-Gurion on how to best integrate the Jews from African countries into Israel. He was elected Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem in 1965, and was in charge of cultural affairs.

He is best known for his writings; he translated the bible and authored several books. In 2001, he said: "Let us bring the Hebrew Bible, the Greek New Testament and the Arab Koran back to what they originally stood for: peace and reconciliation. Let Jerusalem at last become the model capital for universal peace, as the prophets of the three religions stemming from Abraham had always dreamt."

His biography, originally published in 1984, "A Man In Three Worlds" is available on Amazon.Com, translated from the French. I couldn't resist looking for some of the other materials he wrote, and I did find two more that should provide fascinating reading. They are: Letter to an Arab Friend, 1972, co-written with William V. Gugli and
Between East & West - A History of the Jews of North Africa, 1968

See original post

Bridge-building religious scholar and linguist: Times obituary

Mizrahi Jews owned land in east Jerusalem

This article in The Jerusalem Post provides clear evidence that pre-1948, Jews, often from Iran and Iraq, owned land in what the media like to call 'Arab East Jerusalem'. Some of that land has now been abandoned to Bedouin squatters.

"Standing on the runway of the abandoned Atarot airport in northern Jerusalem, Aryeh King - an activist with the NGO Public Office of East Jerusalem (POEJ) - points out hundreds of illegal buildings erected by Arabs on Jewish-owned land. Over the past five months, Beduin have set up tents at the end of the runway, he notes.

"The desolate airport is a metaphor for what is happening across the eastern side of the city, says King. Whether by gross negligence or the efforts of shady land dealers and straw men, more than 3,000 dunams of land in east Jerusalem owned by Jewish individuals, the State of Israel or the Jewish National Fund (JNF) have been squatted on by Arab homesteaders, he says.

"In 1995 gunshots fired at airplanes taxiing on the runway from nearby buildings forced the closure of Jerusalem's only airport, he continues. Since then the Arab multi-family buildings, some as high as eight stories, have continued to encroach on the British Mandate era airfield.

"The construction of the security fence has only exacerbated the land grab, King says, since some of the Jewish-owned lands are "orphaned" on the eastern side of the barrier. De facto, he says, those dunams have been lost to the Jewish people.

"The nearby Kalandiya refugee camp was built on land acquired by the JNF and Baghdadi Jews before 1948, King explains. Housing Ministry officials estimate the Jewish-owned land in Kalandiya is worth $35 million.

"Land title is often complicated in Jerusalem, King explains. Some parcels of raw land in Abu Dis and other locations were purchased by Jews living in Iran before 1948. The real estate was never developed. The owners and the heirs ended up living in Beverly Hills, and neglected their purchases."

Read article in full

Worldnet Daily article

Monday, July 30, 2007

French Jewish leaders meet Tunisian ambassador

A delegation of French Jewish leaders raised the question of Tunisia's Jewish heritage in a meeting with France's Tunisian ambassador, Raouf Najar on 16 July, Actualite juive reports.

Jean-Pierre Allali, French coordinator of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries international campaign, mentioned the state of the Jewish cemetery at Gammarth. Meyer Habib asked if it was possible to access the precious archives of Tunisian synagogues. The ambassador replied that these documents could be photocopied or put on microfilm.

Allali and Habib, who went to see the ambassador with the president of the French-Jewish representative body CRIF, Richard Prasquier, praised the ambassador for his stance on antisemitism. In response to Prasquier's suggestion that books on the Holocaust in Arabic should be more widely made available in Tunisia, Mr Najar said he was ready to encourage any such private initiatives. He pointed out that there was no trace of antisemitism or revisionism in Tunisian schoolbooks.

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Yemen Chief Rabbi 'believes in Muhammad'

Has the Chief Rabbi of Yemen become a Muslim? The mind boggles at this statement which appeared in the Arabic newspaper Al-Thawra on 27 July.(With thanks: Kyle, and to Iraqijews for summarising it).

The Chief Rabbi of Yemenite Jewry Yahia Ben Yaish Ben Yahia says that he has a 54- part Torah scroll more than 500 years old which he inherited from his father. He claims that the scroll mentions the prophecy of the prophet Muhammad - the same as is written in the Koran. He says that he believes in Muhammad as much as he believes in Moses and in other prophets of God.

Read article in full (Arabic)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How the Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel

Read George Bryson's terrific profile in the Anchorage Daily News of Warren Metzger, the 87-year old Alaska Airlines pilot who helped transport 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel 'on the wings of eagles.'

The company planned to use C-46 transports to move what (company president James) Wooten initially thought was 1,000 refugees from Yemen on a mission underwritten by a Jewish American relief agency. Except the C-46 couldn't do the job, at least not by its manufacturer's specifications.

Normally a C-46 configured as a passenger plane could carry about 45 people, Metzger said. But Wooten wanted to carry twice that many, because the refugees weren't that heavy. Many of them were children and elderly, and even healthy adults weighed less than 100 pounds.

But the planes also needed to carry additional gas, since Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- the nations that bordered the flight zone up the center of the Red Sea -- wouldn't let them land and refuel. In fact, they wanted to shoot them down.

"They told us, 'If you go down in Arab land, you and your co-pilot -- since you aren't Jewish -- might survive, but all of the rest of the people won't,' " Metzger said.

So the range of the planes had to be extended to make the nine-hour flight from Aden to Tel Aviv.

The solution, Metzger said, was to tear out all the passenger seats and configure a new floor plan in which the passengers sat troop-style, with their backs to the side of the plane. That allowed room to install an auxiliary set of fuel tanks down the center of the fuselage.

The reconfigured planes could remain airborne about 10 hours, just a little longer than necessary, Metzger said. "But you had to stretch to make it."

First, however, they had to get the passengers on board.

As much as the Jewish refugees wanted to reach Israel, Metzger said, they still were reluctant to fly. A nomadic desert people who lived in tents, most of them had never seen a plane before, let alone gotten to ride in one.

Still, one of the refugees pointed out that the mode of their return to Palestine had already been foretold in a line from the Book of Isaiah: "They shall mount up with wings like eagles."

"So we were making their prophecy come true," Metzger said.

Just to make sure the point got across, crew members painted the image of an eagle with its wings outstretched on the door of each of the planes.

That got them inside, but once they were airborne, Metzger said, about half of the passengers got sick.

"They would vomit straight over the fuel tank."

Read article in full

Turkey's Jews unfazed by Islamic election victory

Turkish Jews are not worried by the victory of the AKP, Turkey's Islamic party, in the recent elections. Turkey is not Iran, Ynet news reports:(with thanks: Albert)

– "We do not fear the Islamization of Turkey. Even during the Ottoman Empire the Sultan was very congenial to the Jews, so we do not fear for Jewish life here," said Silvio Ovadia, president of Turkey’s Jewish community, to Ynet on Tuesday.

In a special interview following the general elections in Turkey, Ovadia said he was not overly concerned about the country's immediate future: "Turkey is not Iran; we do not have Mullahs here. There are indeed religious communities, but that it not the same. They are far more modern than Iran, and as opposed to the situation in Iran, the secular sector in Turkey is very strong."

"Besides," said Ovadia, "(Prime Minister Recep) Erdoğan's ruling party, AKP, doesn't think it is so strong that it can change the day-to-day agenda in Turkey. Unlike Iran, we don't have oil or gas, so we depend on other nations and that makes us much more vulnerable.

Read article in full

More analysis on Isranet briefing, 26 July 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Iraqi Jew fights to reclaim grandfather's estate

David Kahtan

The British-born son of an Iraqi Jew is fighting to reclaim his grandfather’s estate in the war-torn country, 25 years after his death, Dana Gloger of The Jewish Chronicle reports.

David Kahtan’s father fled Iraq in 1967, but his grandfather Saleh Kahtan was unable to leave. When he died in 1971, he left a sizeable estate.

“My grandfather was a lawyer, landowner and a member of parliament. He owned an important market in Baghdad, which under international law he technically still owns, as well as markets in Basra,” Mr Kahtan told the JC.

However, when he died, all his assets were frozen. “All the other members of his family had fled Iraq and the previous regime [Saddam Hussein’s] was not very approachable, so no-one had tried to get his estate back before,” Mr Kahtan, 31, said.

With his New-York based cousin, David Yudin, 29, he set about trying to retrieve the family inheritance.

In 2004, after Saddam Hussein’s ruling Ba’athist party was overthrown, The Iraqi Claims Commission invited anyone who had their property seized between 1968 and 2003 to apply to reclaim their assets.

“That’s what motivated me,” said Mr Kahtan, a banker from Surrey. He put in an application to reclaim the estate around three years ago, but has heard nothing, despite trying to chase it up.

He has now written to the British Foreign Office, in the hope that this will help him pursue his cause.

Meanwhile, he continues to conduct his own research into his family’s history. He has written a thesis on Jews in Iraq and has spent considerable time researching at Britain’s National Archives.

He has also become involved with the Iraq in Common project, which launched in May 2006. It aims to bring together people under 35 years, of all religions, with Iraqi heritage.

“Jews were very involved in Iraqi life. Even the country’s first financial minister was Jewish,” Mr Kahtan said.

“It is now high time for the world community to look beyond the Palestinian Arab refugees — refugees who fled as a result of wars — and turn their attention towards redressing the injustice inflicted on the nearly one million Jews of all Arab lands, who were law-abiding citizens and certainly not at war with the countries they were expelled from.”

Read article in full

Friday, July 27, 2007

At least 27 Jews have been killed by Iranian regime

The execution of reporter Karmel Melamed's cousin Ebi by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, one of 27 Jews known to have died at the hands of the Iranian regime, finally provoked the family's exit from Iran. Karmel Melamed tells a personal story in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles:(with thanks: Albert)

"He was shot with one bullet to his heart," said my cousin Abe Berookhim, a Los Angeles Iranian Jewish businessman.

At a Sinai Temple Men's Club meeting earlier this month, Berookhim publicly shared the 30-year-old heart-wrenching story of his 31-year-old uncle's arrest and execution at the hands of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Berookhim's story is not only remarkable in itself, but it also had special meaning to me, as it was related to my own family's tragic exit from Iran.

With Iran's Islamic government stirring up trouble in the Middle East, Berookhim is among the growing number of local Iranian Jews who are finally beginning to speak out about the horrors they faced in Iran, part of an effort to give Americans a better idea of the enormous threat Iran poses to world peace.

Now in his late 50's, Berookhim nostalgically recalled the prosperity and tranquility Jews living in Iran experienced prior to the revolution. His own family was among the many Jewish families who enjoyed that prosperity.

"We owned two hotels: Hotel Sina and Hotel Royal Gardens, which was a five-star hotel, with 500 rooms, five restaurants and different foreign visitors staying there," said Berookhim. "I remember U.S. diplomats having their July 4th parties in our hotel."

But the good times were short-lived as anti-Shah and anti-Western protests in 1978-9 flooded the streets of Tehran. When the Shah fled, chaos erupted in the streets, and angry Revolutionary Guards did not spare the Hotel Royal Gardens. The hotel was a symbol of the West, and as a result its windows were smashed, its curtains set ablaze, and one of its co-owners, Berookhim's uncle Ebrahim, was arrested by the regime's armed thugs.

"They blindfolded my uncle Ebi and took him to prison," Berookhim said. "I was told by someone working in the hotel not to come there because the men who took Ebi were also looking for me."

Read article in full

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Iraq's last Jews denied entry to Holland

Iraq's last remaining eight Jews want to move to Holland but are being refused entry, Canon Andrew White told a US commission on religious freedom. The Washington Times reports on the dire situation of Iraq's minorities. (With thanks: Jerusalem Posts, via Dhimmiwatch)

"In a hearing convened by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, and four other panelists unfolded tales of horrors overtaking Christians, Yezidis (angel worshippers) and Mandaeans, members of a pacifist faith that follows the teachings of John the Baptist.

"The situation is more than desperate," said Mr. White, who described how Christians in Baghdad have been told to convert to Islam or be killed. Hundreds of those who could not afford to flee the country are living in churches without adequate food or water, he said.

"In the past month, 36 members of my own congregation have been kidnapped," he said. "To date, only one has been returned."

Iraq's eight remaining Jews, now hiding in Baghdad, are "the oldest Jewish community in the world," he said, referring to the 597 B.C. Babylonian conquest of ancient Judah that brought the Jews to the region as captives.

"The international community has done nothing to help these people," Mr. White said, explaining that the group is trying to emigrate to an Iraqi Jewish enclave in the Netherlands, which won't admit them.

Michael Youash, director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, called the situation "soft ethnic cleansing." The "de-Christianization of Iraq" is not far off, he predicted, saying that Washington has refused to help Iraqi Christians, whose common faith with many Americans has made them loathed by Muslim radicals.

"The State Department just dismisses this as part of an overall conflict," he said. "But Christians are being disproportionately targeted. The attacks are purely vindictive and vicious. They are meant to give a message."

Read article in full

Congress mulls Jewish refugee cause

The Jerusalem Post carries a report by Michal Lando on the Congressional Human Rights Caucus hearing on Jewish refugees held on 19 July. (With thanks: Lily)

"The two resolutions currently before Congress were introduced at a Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing last week that addressed the mass displacement of minority populations from Arab countries. It is estimated that 850,000 Jews fled Arab states following the creation of the State of Israel.

"The resolutions - one in the House and the other in the Senate - instruct the president to ensure that any international discussion of Middle East refugees make mention of Jewish, Christian and other refugees "as a matter of law and equity."

"Since 1947, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted 681 resolutions on the Middle East conflict, including 101 resolutions on Palestinian refugees.

"During that same period there were no UN resolutions, nor any recognition or assistance from the international community, for Jewish and other refugees from Arab countries," said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), a member of the Caucus, at the briefing.

"The principal parties involved in the Mideast peace process must restore "fidelity" to the narrative, said Irwin Cotler, human rights activist and former justice minister and attorney-general of Canada. Cotler blamed the UN for "distorting" this narrative.

"We need to rectify a historical injustice that has gone on for 60 years, and return the narrative of Jews from Arab countries to the Mideast narrative," Cotler told The Jerusalem Post. Cotler was unable to attend the briefing, but submitted written testimony that focused on the themes of "truth, justice and reconciliation."

"Any Mideast peace process needed to address the "rights and redress" of Jews from Arab countries, said Cotler. More than that, he said, the US, in the course of its foreign policy, should ensure that any resolution regarding refugees must include reference to Jewish refugees.

"We are not saying we should exclude Palestinian refugees, but certainly should not be excluding consideration for Jewish refugees," said Cotler.

"The hearing is the latest in a series of ongoing efforts to give the cause a higher profile.

"There haven't been too many times that Jewish refugees have been mentioned in Congress, and this [briefing] certainly shows that we are putting it on the radar screen," said Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a coalition of Jewish communal organizations that worked with the Caucus to plan this briefing.

"Of late, interest in the issue has permeated beyond the Jewish world. In late June, The Guardian published an article on this very issue, "The other right of return," by Egyptian journalist Khaled Diab. And Al Hura, an Arabic television station, covered the Congressional briefing last week."

Read article in full

When the Jews were targets, the world was quiet

In his Jerusalem Post blog David Harris reflects on the unfair international double standard that has long ignored the ethnic cleansing of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and other minorities:(with thanks: Edwin)

The other evening, I attended a program in New York with Lucette Lagnado, an Egyptian-born Jew who writes for The Wall Street Journal and has just authored a moving book, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.

The audience was filled with Jews from the Arab world eager to hear about and discuss the life that is no longer theirs. They are part of a mass of people that were compelled to leave their ancestral homes because of intolerance and persecution.

So few popular books have been written on this history, so little media attention has been accorded it, that Lagnado’s new work was welcomed by many before it had actually been read, helped by a major and all-too-rare front-page story in The Wall Street Journal on June 30.

Among those in the audience was my wife. She had lived in Libya until the age of sixteen, at which time, together with her parents, seven siblings, and the remainder of what was once a thriving Jewish community, she was unceremoniously kicked out of the country, never to return. So-called constitutional guarantees were trampled on, as Jews became targets of hatred, violence, expropriation, and expulsion. In fact, exactly forty years ago this month, the 2000-year-old Jewish presence in Libya came to a screeching halt.

As if the forced exodus weren’t traumatic enough, there were two added insults.

First, in the years that followed, Libyan leaders erased every vestige of the Jewish presence. It was as if Jews had never lived there. Nothing was off limits – synagogues, cemeteries. They all disappeared.

And second, it’s no exaggeration to say that the world didn’t give a damn. The media barely covered the story, the United Nations didn’t utter a word, and democratic governments remained largely silent.

For years I’ve tried to grasp why we hear so much about the Palestinian refugee question and so little about the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands (and Iran). And I’ve sought to understand why, as I’ve witnessed quite often, diplomats and human rights activists can get so exercised about the Palestinian issue, while mentally turning off as soon as the fate of the Jews is mentioned.

Some would attribute it to anti-Semitism. Maybe. But even if that’s the case, there’s more.

However awful the experience, the Jews essentially accepted their fate; they started over in other countries and moved on.

They didn’t wallow in self-pity, or allow themselves to be instrumentalized by those with larger political agendas, or vie to become the poster children of victimization. Nor did they teach their children incitement or organize terrorist groups and suicide bombers to exact a price from those who cut them off from their heritage.

And, regrettably, I might add, they didn’t spend a lot of time writing books or articles, or going on the speaker’s circuit, to share their experiences with larger audiences.

So, as far as the international community was concerned, there was no problem, so why create one? The Jews had left; life goes on.

But apart from the inherent unfairness of this mindset, it was also shortsighted in the extreme.

The expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands was, in fact, a cautionary tale, a harbinger of what was to come in this part of the world. And that should have set off alarm bells. But, of course, it didn’t.

It didn’t because other nations were too focused on this region’s energy supplies or export markets.

Or because other nations adopted the patronizing attitude that Arab nations, unlike others, were incapable of protecting basic human rights and adopting genuine pluralism.

Or because other nations embraced a moral relativism that justified Arab behavior in the context of its purported distinctiveness and monoculturalism.

Or because other nations were fearful that speaking up for one minority might endanger other minorities, including their own nationals or co-religionists living in this part of the world.

And so, Jews who resided for thousands of years in the Arab world, and contributed so much to those societies, fled. Today, with small exceptions in Morocco and Tunisia, there’s virtually no one left.

Strikingly, that pattern of silence, blindness, self-censorship, fear, intimidation, you name it, goes on to this day. But it’s no longer about Jews—they’re gone—but others.

Christian communities in various countries are harassed and their numbers are declining, due to emigration.

Hatred and distrust of the “infidel”, i.e., non-Muslims, are being taught in Saudi Arabia and Saudi-funded schools around the world.

The Baha’i are hounded in Iran.

Black Africans in Darfur are victims of genocide by Sudan and Arab Janjaweed militias. This, of course, comes after the government-led war against Christians and Animists in Sudan’s south, which resulted in up to two million deaths.

Women suffer widespread abuse and physical violence, “honor” killings, unequal legal status, and countless other indignities.

Homosexuals are arrested in Egypt and sentenced to death in Iran.

Journalists in Iran are thrown in jail for their criticism of the regime.

Students in Iran are imprisoned for protesting government policies.

Labor unions are few and far between.

The list goes on.

When the Jews were the targets, the world was quiet. Some in the Arab world may have correctly concluded that “what goes on here, stays here.” They could do what they wished in the name of politics or religion, and there would be few, if any, consequences.

Isn’t it long overdue for those concerned with the protection of human rights to be heard in a strong and sustained manner on these issues? Are they only motivated by selective outrage? Or do they really choose to believe that human rights are divisible, with some people entitled to their protection and others not?

Read post in full

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cotler urges Congress to recognise Jewish refugees

NEW YORK -- Former justice minister Irwin Cotler and other Canadian scholars presented the U.S. Congress on Thursday (19 July) with its first testimony on Jews driven from Arab lands following Israel's creation in 1948,The Vancouver Sun reports. (With thanks: Frank B, nannette)

"The time has come to rectify this historical injustice," Cotler told members of the congressional human rights caucus in Washington in a written statement.

The witnesses were among experts helping U.S. lawmakers decide on a pair of bills that would oblige the Bush administration to actively oppose the Arab-led practice in Middle East peace efforts to speak only of Palestinian refugees.

While key Arab voices continue to push for a "right of return" for descendants of some 600,000 Palestinians whose pre-1948 homes are now inside Israel, the general discourse for decades has all but ignored the tens of thousands of Jews, Christians and other minorities who were similarly turned into refugees.

Cotler charged that the United Nations bears "express responsibility for the distorted narrative." Arab countries have mustered majority backing from Muslim and developing states to pass 101 UN resolutions that refer only to Palestinian refugees.

Jews in Arab lands totalled almost 900,000 in 1948, but there are fewer than 8,000 in 10 Arab countries today, Cotler said. Arab countries counter that 3.7 million Palestinians remain in refugee camps in the region, whereas Jewish refugees moved on to new lives in Israel and elsewhere.

Cotler is considered a leading expert on the issue, having helped produce a 2003 study entitled Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights and Redress.

Co-authored by fellow Canadian Stan Urman, who also testified in Washington, the study spoke of new evidence that Arab states reacted to the creation of Israel by orchestrating the persecution of their Jewish citizens.

"Today, we cannot allow a second injustice, namely for the international community to recognize rights for [only] one victim population," said Urman, executive director of New York-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.

The U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to vote before the end of the year on the bills that prompted the hearing.

The Senate bill urges President George W. Bush to ensure that the peace process acknowledges that the Arab-Israeli conflict has created "multiple refugee populations."

The House document would ensure that any peace agreement addresses the rights of all refugees, "including Jews, Christians, and other populations displaced from countries in the region."

The legislation is significant because the U.S., along with Russia, the UN and the European Union, is one of the four international powers seeking to restart the stalled Middle East peace process.

Read article in full

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries photos

Debka article (with thanks: Mark)

JTA News

National Post (Canada)

The American Spectator

Israel National News

Guysen News (French)

Remembering a mass Jewish exodus

Andrew Bostom, writing in Front Page Magazine, puts last Thursday's first ever congressional hearing on Jewish refugees from Arab countries in historical context:(with thanks Lily, Gavin)

(...) Although the Arab-Israeli conflict, combined with the end of French colonial rule in North Africa, may have served as catalysts for this mass exodus, these phenomena were antedated by a more powerful underlying dynamic set in motion during the century era of Western colonization. Historians Bat Ye’or and Norman Stillman have highlighted the profound political and psychosocial impact of the West’s penetration into the Islamic world through the 19th and 20th centuries, which undermined (at least temporarily, and in part) the prevailing system of dhimmitude:

Bat Ye’or: "They were no longer forbidden to have a position that might give them equality or superiority over a Muslim. They could revive their prohibited language, as well as their history and their culture. They were no longer dehumanized dhimmis, deprived of the right to speak, to defend themselves and to preserve their own history…The national liberation of a dhimmi people [i.e., the Jews of Israel] meant the abolition of the laws of dhimmitude…[in] their historical homeland."

Norman Stillman:…"the Jews and most native Christians…viewed it [European colonial governance] as a liberation from their traditional subordinate dhimmi status, which since the later Middle Ages [at least] had been rigorously imposed upon them. The Jews and Christians of the Muslim world were quick to see that increased European interference and penetration into the affairs of their region meant a weakening of the traditional Islamic norms of society and could only better their own position, which was one of religiously and legally defined inferiority."

Jewish and Christian dhimmi populations availed themselves eagerly of the modern educational programs provided by an array of Western religious and cultural representatives inundating the Middle East and North Africa. From the 1860s onward, the Alliance Israelite Universelle, for Jews, specifically, was the chief provider of modern education in the major cities and towns of most Arab countries. Concomitantly, French, rather than Arabic or Turkish, became the primary language of high culture for tens of thousands of Jews. The Alliance also instilled in its Jewish pupils an improved self-image, which fostered new expectations within them.Jews (and Christians, who benefited from missionary schools) took advantage of these educational opportunities, which produced cadres of westernized native non-Muslims who now had a distinct advantage over the largely uneducated Muslim masses, arousing the ire of the latter. The Western acculturation and economic success of the Jewish and Christian minorities, as well as their foreign ties, were deeply resented by the Muslim Arab majority."

Conspicuous overachievement by some Jews and Christians would contribute to their undoing in the twentieth century, as decolonization lead to the recrudescence of dhimmitude—an inevitable consequence when the aroused jihadist forces (whether traditional, or thinly veiled under the guise of “secular Arab nationalism”) helped end Western colonial rule. For Jews, traditional Islamic antisemitism accompanied this dhimmitude, intensified by a furious anti-Zionism, seamlessly interwoven with both Islamic and modern European antisemitism, especially Nazism. This predictable course of events was foreshadowed during the waning years of European colonialism when the policy of protecting non-Muslim minority rights was sacrificed in order to appease the restive majority Muslim populations.

The unleashing of this powerful tide through appeasing, or at least not offending the sensibilities of the Muslim majorities, eventually engulfed and destroyed the Jewish, and some of the Christian communities, in the Arab world.

Addressing the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly with regard to the proposed Partition Plan for Palestine (Resolution 181), on November 24, 1947, Egyptian delegate Heykal Pasha, a “well-known liberal” threatened:

"The United Nations…should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Muslim countries. Partition of Palestine might create Antisemitism in those countries even more difficult to root out than the Antisemitism which the Allies tried to eradicate in Germany…If the United Nations decides to partition Palestine, it might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of the large number of Jews…A million Jews live in peace in Egypt [and the other Muslim states] and enjoy all rights of citizenship. They have no desire to emigrate to Palestine. However, if a Jewish state were established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would break out in Palestine, would spread through all the Arab states and might lead to a war between two races."

Five days later on November 29, 1947 the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, known as the “Partition Plan.”

Read article in full

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mind the gap...

'Point of no return' will be taking a break. Posting will resume toward the end of July.

''Jews lived happily and untroubled amongst Arabs'

Next time somebody tells you that the Jews lived perfectly happily in Arab countries, think of the above images. Shocking, aren't they? Perhaps you think they must have happened after 1948, as an understandable backlash to the creation of Israel?

No, these horrific pictures of devastation date back to 1912. They took place in Fez, in 'moderate' Morocco, which proudly proclaims that it has always treated its Jews well. They show the destroyed house of a prosperous Jew, a vandalised shop and homeless Jews squatting in the ruins of their houses after the mob had run riot in the Mellah (Jewish quarter). Four years earlier, similar devastation took place in Casablanca*. For this you could not blame Israel, nor the colonial powers. Morocco was not yet a French protectorate.

The Jews were not expelled from Morocco, but is any no wonder that with anti-Jewish pogroms such as these deeply ingrained in their memories, Jews fled the country as soon as they could?

With acknowledgements to Joel Bettan

*5 - 6,000 men broke into the Mellah on 3rd August 1907. They looted, raped and murdered for three days. Only five or six houses were spared. More than 500 Jewish-owned shops were set on fire. All the synagogues were wrecked, but the Jews managed to save the Torah scrolls. There were 6,000 Jews in Casablanca. After these tragic events, one third had disappeared - some had been kidnapped, some had fled. (source: Histoire des juifs en Afrique du Nord by Andre Chouraqui, p45). I repeat, Morocco was not yet a French protectorate when these events took place.

Israel offers financial incentives to Iranian Jews

This report in Indian Muslims fails to set out the context in which the Israeli government is offering financial incentives to Iranian Jews immigrating to Israel. It says nothing about the repression of the community by the Islamic regime. It is safe to assume that of those 20,000 still in Iran many belong to the poorer sections of the Jewish community. They will be people who may like to leave but cannot afford to (the rich have fled long ago). It is also noteworthy that of the thousands of Jews who have 'immigrated' to Israel since 1948, the article chooses to mention Jews from Russia, the US and Europe, but leaves out the 41% from Arab and Muslim countries. (With thanks: Albert)

(Gaza) Israeli authorities have been exerting efforts to encourage Iranian Jews to immigrate to Israel, an Israeli newspaper said in a report published on Sunday.

Ma'ariv said the Tel Aviv authorities were trying to encourage 20,000 Jews in Iran to settle in Israel with financial incentives.

The Israeli Government offers $5,000 US to any Iranian Jew who may choose to live in Israel.

Donors also pay $10,000 to an Iranian Jewish family that comes to Israel for permanent living.

Thousands of Jews from around the globe, including Russia, the United States and some European countries, have immigrated to Israel since its proclamation in 1948.

The Iranian regime's response (with thanks: Albert)

Scenes from a Baghdad synagogue

This fascinating extract from the works of Lady Drower, a British orientalist who spent some 20 years in Iraq in the first half of the 20th century, describes her experience of a Baghdad synagogue. Although some of the practices she witnessed still survive in today's Sephardi synagogues, the rabbis would most certainly today forbid lighting up a cigarette within the sacred walls! (With thanks: Eli)

Although a place of prayer, the Oriental Jewish synagogue is not merely a place of worship, nor does it replace a temple. As in the day of Christ, people come to the synagogue to dis­cuss, or to listen to, the Scriptures or to a rabbi expounding the Torah or Talmud. It is, in fact, a meeting-place, a platform, the position of which varies, is in no way particularly sacred. Architecturally there is usually little of merit, and an inscription in Hebrew forms as a rule the only outward decoration. I visited many synagogues in Baghdad and Jerusalem in the years before 1950, that is, before the great flight from Arab countries to Israel.

"I was surprised to find that in countries where literacy was far from universal there were not many Jews, even of humble class, who could not read, and most, although probably without understanding it, read Hebrew, a language as foreign to them Latin to an Englishman: in fact, Hebrew prayers and religious exercises such as the Haggadah are printed with an Arabic translation.

"I will try to describe one typical Baghdad synagogue. It was frequented by a prosperous community outside the old Jewish quarter; electric lights were kept full on, day and night, and on each globe was painted in Hebrew characters the name of a deceased person and the date of his or her death. Only a very orthodox family provided a qandil, kept perpetually alight for twelve months, for the benefit of the soul of a dead relative. There was much which accentuated the essentially lay character of the building. At a wedding, for instance, I saw sweets and coffee handed round and, although some rabbis had attempted to discountenance it, many present lit cigarettes. Before an evening service there I noticed a man distributing books to a few sitting down, whereupon they at once began to read in a subdued chant. These "books represented the Psalms divided into fifteen parts. If 15 pious persons are present, the whole can be recited at a sitting for the benefit of a person recently deceased.

"At the morning service, devotional exercises began when the hazan arrived and mounted the tribune. On the Sabbath and other appointed days the precious scroll in its silver folding case was taken from the cupboard in which it was kept, and as it was borne to the reading-desk, men pressed forward to kiss it or, after touching it, carried their finger-tips to their lips. The case having been opened, the scroll was displayed to all present and the passage to be read indicated by a silver pointer.There should be eight readings from the Torah, and in the Yemen, according to Brauer, these are actually read by various members of the congregation called upon by the hazan.

"In most synagogues in the Near and Middle East the 'reading' is nominal; the man summoned to the platform stands to the right of the hazan, who reads as his proxy. The privilege of reading the sixth, seventh and eighth passages is auctioned, and this singular practice is extended on days of High Festivals to all the readings. The first reader must be a cohen. I was present on such an occasion in Iraq. The synagogue servant, the shammash,walked round the synagogue like an auctioneer, calling for bids. As few cohens were present, bidding was slack. At length the shammash declared the result: a boy aged about thirteen had won the honour for about two shillings. The child mounted the platform, repeated the prefatory prayer in a low voice and then the hazan chanted the passage for him.

"The next reader had to be a lewi (Levite) and, after a similar auction, an old man obtained the privilege for a small sum. His successor was, by rule, an ' Israelite' and competition was sharper. A comfortably-built tradesman wearing a morning coat capped the bids with a sum equivalent to twelve shillings. Had the congregation been larger, bidding would have run higher. This auctioning, I was informed, could be traced back to a similar practice in the Temple of Jerusalem. As the hazan was not himself a cohen, that is a priest, he could not give the blessing to the congregation. When it is time for this, any male cohen, usually several, stands before the cupboard where the holy rolls are kept and, after repeating a prayer, wheels round to face the people, praying shawl spread over the head, upper body and extended arms and hands. As he recites the words of benediction he turns like an automaton from side to side without moving the feet. One who sees such a blessing for a first time cannot fail to be impressed by the stiff, uncanny movements of the cohenim and the muffled voices chanting beneath the shawls. The purpose is comprehensible : in veiling himself a cohen veils his personality and becomes, as it were, an embodiment of the ancient priesthood.

"So much for the setting of ritual drama as any outsider may see it, a few sharply contrasting scenes drawn at random from the storehouse of memory."

The Yemenite who came into the cold

This must qualify as one of the odder stories about Jewish refugees: the Yemenite Jew who ended up in Alaska. The Anchorage Daily News reports:

He was born in Yemen and raised in one of the few Jewish families remaining in the Arab country, where religious persecution has driven almost all of the nation's 50,000 Jews to Israel.

He is not considered Yemeni, because the country doesn't recognize Jews as citizens. And although as a Jew he could claim to be Israeli, he has never lived in Israel.

"I am not a citizen of Yemen. I am not a citizen of Israel. I am not a citizen of anywhere," he explains.

Ah, but not for long.

A refugee since October 2003, Rebnechtine is counting the months and days till his five-year anniversary in the United States, a milestone he'll celebrate by applying for citizenship.

Until then, he's more than content to consider himself an Alaskan -- something other Alaskans should welcome.

Read article in full

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Don't forget the Jewish past in Muslim lands

Vida, an Iranian Jew now living in the US, sent this Email to Ola hadasha, a blog sympathetic to Palestinians. Recalling her visit to Israel in 1976, Vida questions the common Eurocentric view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which ignores 1,000 years of 'dhimmitude'. What she has to say must be seen against a background of Persian Shi'ite antisemitism, the forced conversions of Jews such as occurred in 19th century Meshed and an accepted Middle East narrative which has airbrushed out 2,500 years of Jewish history in Muslim lands. (With thanks: Leila)

"We stayed in a dingy hotel across from the beach in Tel Aviv and visited our family members - struggling members of the underclass in Israel. In those years, the European Jews were busy building the Israel that we see today. My family did not participate in the country's intellectual and cultural debates - they did not have the education and habits of inquiry that Jews from Europe had brought with them - perhaps their children and grandchildren are now living fuller, more engaged lives.

'There is one thing that bothered me in reading your blog and this is something I come across in the writings of many Jews who were not born in Islamic countries. Their only contact with Muslims is post -1948 and for them the feelings of Palestinians and other Arabs towards Jews is a product of the birth of Israel. For me, and for a lot of Jews from Arab/Muslim countries, being despised, being a non-entity, being erased from books, discussions, radio, TV, having the very name of my group/religion be a synonym for coward/filthy, having to dissemble and in fact live outwardly as a Muslim and only take off the mask at home predates 1948 by about 1,000 years.

' I want them to acknowledge that. I want to talk about my past - not in light of 1948 or 1967 or 1973 - but out of respect for the thousands of people who have come and gone and don't even have that marker in the desert that tells the world they were here. I hope that one day very soon, there will be a Palestine and a small measure of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. As for me, I will never forget.'

Read post in full

Abraham the blogger: the only Jew in Somalia

The Jerusalem Post discovers the only Jew living in Somalia (besides his mother). A 19-year old called Abraham, he writes a blog which gives an insight into what it is like to be a Jew in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

"Somalia is almost entirely Muslim, and Avraham could not feel more alone. "The hardest thing in my life is being Yehud, or Jewish, in a city where 99 percent of the people are Muslim," he writes in his blog. "Living as a Yehudi or Jewish person is not easy. I am surrounded by Muslim people all the time. Some are nice and some are full of hate. The people who are full of hate are ignorant people who are brainwashed in the Islamic school in Mogadishu."

"Unlike neighboring Ethiopia, there is essentially no Jewish community in Somalia. The closest thing seems to be a tribe called the Yibir, who are believed to be descendants of Jews, but even they are now wholly Muslim and have been for at least 800 years - though they are still discriminated against as if they were Jewish. Avraham writes that when his family came to Mogadishu from Yemen in 1901, there was no synagogue, but there was a Jewish cemetery. His grandparents and other family members are buried there, but he writes that the cemetery is now destroyed and houses have been built on it. "You can't do a thing or say something," he posted on his blog. "Just watch it and cry inside of your heart and soul."

"Somehow, against all odds, Avraham has embraced his Jewish heritage, even though it causes him both pain and danger. He wishes his readers "Shabbat shalom" and talks about his celebration of Jewish holidays, but occasionally laments the fact that he has no other Jews with whom to celebrate these occasions besides his mother. Meanwhile, he tries to stay home entirely on Friday, because otherwise he is questioned about why he is not attending services at a mosque."

Read article in full

Update: Abraham has stopped blogging due to safety fears

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Back to Cairo, my father's lost city

It is hard to imagine now, but Egypt was once home to a million 'foreigners'. Writing in the Wall St Journal, Lucette Lagnado's moving account of her trip back to her native Cairo - 'Searching for my father's lost city' - also sheds light on efforts to set up a Jewish Museum in the Egyptian capital.

"Egypt's efforts to chart an economic and political course separate from old colonial powers was important, many Egyptians believe, for the country to purge itself of foreigners whose influence and power were seen as oppressive. It was necessary for the country to pursue its own destiny. But it also left the country in some ways a shadow of its former self -- a country of lost splendor and faded splendor that has never been able to recover.

My father, who had lived in Egypt since the turn of the century, had been a prosperous businessman and pleasure seeker who gambled with King Farouk. My mother was a teacher and librarian in a private school supported by a Pasha and his wife. I attended the tony Lycée Français du Caire where at five, I wore a grey uniform with a crest. We left a year later, when my father, who had tried to hold on, succumbed to pressure from my older siblings who felt there was no future for them in Egypt.

Sadly, reluctantly, Dad gave away the lease to our apartment and signed papers known as aller sans retour. It meant that we were leaving and never coming back.

It was a wrenching departure, and we never got over it. No matter where we went we always looked back on Egypt with longing. "Ragaouna Masr," my dad would cry out in Arabic, especially as he fell on hard times in America. Colloquially, it meant "Take us back to Cairo!"

My father died in 1993, having never returned to Egypt. Recently, I returned to Cairo.

In Egypt, the Jews' departure went hand in hand with the ouster of foreigners who had settled years earlier and turned Cairo into a capital of all-night cafes and open-air cinemas, where it was possible to hear people conversing in four or five languages -- French, English, Italian, Greek, Arabic -- in the same breath. According to Khairi Abaza, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as many as a million Europeans once called Egypt home, every bit as much as Paris or London or Athens. Their influence was profound: From British clubs and legendary hotels like Shepheards with its graceful terrace to elegant streets and buildings designed to resemble Parisian boulevards and cafes that served Greek appetizers. The French, about 40,000 strong, were intent on spreading their culture. French became the second language for privileged Egyptians. A large community of Greeks, numbering from 200,000-400,000, prospered in the food and hospitality business, running hotels and selling groceries, wine and liquor. There were also 100,000-150,000 Italians who specialized in import-export, accounting or finance. A Belgian industrialist helped build the swank suburb of Heliopolis. About 100,000 Armenians lived in Egypt, and many distinguished themselves as craftsmen and merchants. Then there were Jewish entrepreneurs like my father.

Many ordinary Egyptians were mired in poverty, cut off from the cafes and nightlife. Beggars roamed the streets. There was also resentment of the foreigners -- the British in particular -- and the monarchy that deferred to them. An Egyptian driver took me back to Groppi's. As we pulled up, he said he remembered a different Cairo, too, but one not quite so wonderful. Once upon a time, my driver told me, ordinary Egyptians weren't welcome in Groppi's. Only colonialists went inside, he said. (...)

[Scenes from Cairo (clockwise from left): The author's apartment building  on Queen Nazli Street; Shepheard's Hotel;  identity card of the author's father; the author on the balcony of her old Cairo home.]
Scenes from Cairo (clockwise from left): The author's apartment building on Queen Nazli Street; Shepheard's Hotel; identity card of the author's father; the author on the balcony of her old Cairo home.

Within a space of 19 years, nearly all of Egypt's 80,000 Jews left. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans also fled -- British and French who were ordered out, as well as others who held foreign passports and had no choice but to leave because they had been stripped of their businesses and livelihood.

One upon a time, Cairo had more than 30 working synagogues, along with dozens of small "shuls" where men gathered to pray and study. There were Jewish schools, nursing homes, an Hôpital Israelite and a vast ancient Jewish cemetery where mystics were buried. These days, only about a dozen synagogues are left in Cairo and most lie vacant and neglected. The cemetery has been plundered of most marble headstones, so that it is almost impossible to identify graves of loved ones.

Jewish institutions fall under Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

While about 100 Jews are said to be still in Egypt the true number is probably far smaller. Many are elderly women, including some who married Muslims, are now widowed and have returned to the faith or never really left.

Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee has traveled to Egypt twice in the past year and a half to launch an effort to salvage and repair the synagogues and cemeteries and holy objects. He longs to build a Jewish museum that would preserve the Egypt Jewry's fabled history.

Rabbi Baker brings a unique vantage point to his mission. He has spent the past 17 years, since the fall of communism is the early 1990s, crisscrossing Russia and Eastern Europe rescuing Jewish properties from Torah scrolls to synagogues that were abandoned during the Holocaust.

"If you visited the cities of Eastern Europe in the early 1990s -- Warsaw, Lodz, Vilnius, Bratislava, Prague -- there were only faint reminders of their storied Jewish past," says Rabbi Baker, "One might see faded Yiddish inscriptions on some building, or a soot-covered Star of David. In Egypt, I felt similar echoes of that experience."

He is hopeful that Cairo -- hungry for tourist dollars -- may be motivated to fix up Jewish sites if only to attract visitors. But in his recent trips he encountered wariness. One morning, Rabbi Baker woke up to find an article in an independent Arabic newspaper disparaging his entire mission. "We do not owe the Jews anything -- we have neither taken part in the Holocaust nor denied it," the article stated. The press attaché for the Egyptian embassy in Washington D.C., Karim Haggag, said the newspaper "does not reflect any official position of the [Egyptian] government."

The attaché went on to say that Egypt considers Cairo's Jewish sites "an integral element of Egypt's overall cultural heritage and their preservation is a mission they take very seriously, irrespective of political considerations."

Rabbi Baker is working with Cairo's Jewish community - what is left of it. It is a one-woman show -- a crusty, tough-talking woman named Carmen Weinstein who has her admirers and detractors, but who the Rabbi and others credit with trying to safeguard Cairo's decaying Jewish sites. Their designation as antiquities is the work of Ms. Weinstein. Ms. Weinstein has been involved for years in a bitter fight over what to do with Jewish treasures. Egyptian Jewish expatriates in New York and elsewhere have demanded that prayer books and Torah scrolls be taken out of Egypt to be actively used in overseas temples rather than being left to wither away as they have for decades -- an idea Ms. Weinstein fiercely rejects.

As former leaders of Cairo's own Jewish community sold some houses of worship to be demolished and replaced with housing, Ms. Weinstein decided to place them under the Antiquities ministry for protection. The benefit? No synagogue can be sold or liquidated and security is tight as it is at any potential tourist attraction.

Ms. Weinstein has her hands full. There is the Jewish cemetery whose marble headstones have been pillaged. There are registry books dating back to the 19th century, noting every Jewish birth, marriage and death. Ms. Weinstein fields requests from people the world over seeking family records.

Ms. Weinstein is undaunted by the demographic reality that Cairo's Jews could vanish by the next generation; indeed she insists there will always be Jews in Egypt. She is determined to hold on to and refurbish whatever is left. "Do we have to sell and demolish the Pyramids because there is no more pharaoh?" she asks.

From the moment I got off the plane at Cairo International Airport, I wanted to go to Queen Nazli Street, to the house where I was born.

No one called it Queen Nazli Street anymore. After the 1952 revolution, Cairo's streets were renamed to eliminate any mention of the monarchy. Stately King Fuad Street became known as "26th of July Street," the day of the revolution. Queen Nazli Street was named Ramses Street, after the old pharaoh. My family like so many others always used the old name.

My father had moved to Queen Nazli Street as a bachelor in 1938, renting a spacious ground-floor apartment. He brought my mom there when they married in the 1940s. A handsome movie star lived upstairs, a popular heartthrob of the Egyptian cinema. My family paid three Egyptian pounds, or $6.90, a month. The front entrance was as imposing as I remembered it, though graffiti marred the building's facade. I pushed the door open and found myself in a dark, dingy hallway with a large staircase. Glancing at the stairs, I noticed with a sinking feeling how dusty and broken down they were. The walls were filthy.

I knocked on the door marked #2 -- my home -- and almost immediately, a man answered. It was Wageeh Androus, the son of the amiable Coptic Christian couple that took over our lease in 1963. His father had died a few years earlier, but Wageeh still lived there with his aging mother. Mother and son told me they were paying 20 Egyptian pounds, $3.50 or so, in monthly rent. The low rent reflects the continued grip of Egypt's rent-control laws, even as Cairo's population has exploded from six million in 1965 shortly after I left to about 16 million today

The apartment seemed worn but much as I'd remembered it. The Androus family told me an old woman upstairs, known as Om Sayeda ("Mother Sayeda"), wanted to meet me. She had been living in the building for more than 60 years and had known my family.

I knocked on the door and found an old woman seated in a velvet arm chair, a frail, regal figure with her hair swept under a white head covering. I went over to shake her hand, but she reached out to embrace me instead, her arms wrapping around me as she kissed both my cheeks, and brought me close to her chest.

"You look exactly like your mother," she declared. "You are the same as I remember her."

The old woman herself rose and beckoned me to join her at a balcony which she clearly loved with its ornate canopy and panoramic views of Queen Nazli Street.

As I prepared to leave, Om Sayeda suddenly shouted: "Wait." I stopped to look at her.

"I am old and I am lonely," she cried. "There is only me and my daughter here, and I have so many rooms."

"Why don't you stay?" she said. "Why don't you move in here? You can have any room you want," she added.

I looked at her, stunned. I, an American Jew, was being offered a chance to move back to Queen Nazli Street.

I didn't take her up on her offer. But when I ran to embrace the old woman, and she took both my hands in hers, I understood my father and his lament, "Ragaouna Masr," take us back to Cairo.

Groppi's, Queen Nazli Street, Cairo -- they hadn't simply been places, but a state of mind. They were home -- filled with mercy and compassion, tenderness and grace, those qualities that make and keep us human.

Read article in full

Friday, July 06, 2007

Djerba, island of dreams with a long Jewish history

Ethel Hofman in The Jewish Exponent finds Djerba, with its 2,000-year old Jewish history, an ideal tourist destination:

"According to our taxi driver -- dressed in the traditional long, loose, black tunic -- we were one of the fortunates to visit "the island of dreams." Driving past centuries-old olive groves, golden beaches, whitewashed fortress-like architecture and domed mosques, all made brighter by the Mediterranean sun, we were entranced.

"Although the island has been changed by tourism, fishing methods have not changed since the days of the Phoenicians. In villages, you can see the huge, unglazed, terra cotta pots belonging to local fisherman, who still use the ancient technique called gargoulette to catch octopus.

"Then, of course, there's modern luxury. Hotels where marble lobbies are the backdrop for gentle flowing fountains so that you feel you've been whisked into the Arabian nights. At the Khartagi Hotel, our suite filled with sunshine and the scent of jasmine, overlooked an Olympic-sized pool lined with yellow umbrellas and the sparkling Mediterranean.

"But we were drawn to Djerba by the thriving, ancient Jewish community. The site of El Ghriba synagogue, in the village of Hara Srira, is said to go back either to 586 B.C. or from the Roman conquest in A.D. 71, making it the oldest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel. The present building was constructed in the early 20th century, with additions made during more recent years.

"Certain historians are convinced that many Djerba Jews are descended from some of the Berbers -- Tunisia's oldest inhabitants, who converted to Judaism. The Jews of Djerba fervently believe that a stone from the altar of the destroyed First Temple in Jerusalem was brought to Djerba by a group of Cohanim (or priests), and now lies under one of the arches of El Ghriba.

Read article in full

Thursday, July 05, 2007

New book recalls lost world of Jews of Egypt

Liliane Dammond’s recently published The Lost World of the Egyptian Jews: First Person Accounts from Egypt’s Jewish Community in the Twentieth Century (New York: Universe, 2007 $22.95) provides an in-depth, fascinating glimpse of the rich, cosmopolitan, and now largely 'lost' world of the Egyptian Jews (With thanks: Sarah K)

A collection of oral histories gathered on two continents and over a period of five years, the book documents the flourishing and dispersal of this vibrant and unique community.

Jews lived in Egypt without interruption since Biblical times. Their community—consisting of southern and northern European, Middle Eastern, and indigenous Jews—knew an apogee in the first half of the twentieth century. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the Suez Crisis of 1956, and the 1967 Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel cumulatively led to the eventual exodus of the majority of the 100,000 Jews who had lived peacefully and happily in Egypt.

Dammond’s book, amplifying Andre Aciman’s memoir, Out of Egypt, offers the stories of 'working women' as well as women “born to power and wealth”; of men suspected of Zionism and interned in 1947, as well as of men who maintained their businesses in Cairo until after the 1967 War. It paints a portrait of extended families living in a sunlit, fragrant world of cousins, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents. Educated at French and British schools (Lycee Francais, The English School, La Goutte de Lait, Victoria College) the Jews of Egypt saw themselves as partaking in both European and Middle Eastern culture; true cosmopolitans, they experienced the mélange of identity that characterized Levantine culture at its height.

Among the lives that unfold in Dammond’s book is that of Colette Palacci Rossant—daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur who lived in the Garden City section of Cairo. Rossant, who spoke Arabic, French, Greek, and Italian, reports that her grandfather “considered himself Egyptian,” wearing a tarbouche and carrying worry beads; she herself spent part of her childhood in a convent where she was baptized and took communion. Dammond includes two interviews with members of the little-known Karaite community, a Jewish sect that does not follow the Talmud or rabbinical teachings, adhering instead solely to the Torah.—Dr.Ghi Massouda, who studied at Eins Shams Medical School in Cairo, and Esther Ovadia Abdallah Mourad, the daughter of a cotton farmer who also served as the Karaite community’s rabbi, performing “circumcisions, marriages, and all the important ceremonies.” Albert Guetta, Emile Harari, Josette Cohen Amhi, and the compiler’s father, Selim Shallon –all these and more people the pages of this unusually rich book.

Many of the individuals whom Dammond interviewed between 1993 and 1998 have since died; the records she has made of their lives are thus invaluable documents of an era that has vanished. Other interviewees continue to live vibrant lives in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Milan. Brought together in this volume, their voices intermingle again as they once did in Cairo and Alexandria. Dammond’s taped interviews are housed in the archives of the Oral History Division of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry in Jerusalem. This book of transcribed and edited narratives (completed with the assistance of Yvette M. Raby, an Iraqi Jew ) makes these stories available to anyone who is interested in this largely forgotten—but still vital—community.

Iranian Jew builds bridges with Azerbaijan

The energetic Los Angeles Billionaire businessman Ishak Nazarian has ties with both the Iranian Jewish community and the Azerbaijanis in California and is busy building good relations between them.

"...One of the interesting paradoxes of modern Iranian foreign policy (is that) Azerbaijan and Israel are natural strategic partners.

"Iranian Jews call Los Angeles Teheranistan. Iranian Jews living here have their own radio, television, newspapers published in Persian. But unfortunately, Turkish and Azerbaijani communities have no such opportunities. We can assist the Turkish and Azerbaijani communities to set up their own radio and television.

The other problem is connected with Iranian-Azerbaijanis. Though they are speaking Azerbaijani do not call themselves Azerbaijanis, but Iranians. Moreover, we can help the Azerbaijani community in Los Angeles to establish close relations with the Iranian Jewish community. We are from the same country and we respect the same country."

Read article in full (with thanks: Albert)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Israel-Morocco relations set to warm up again

Ynet News reports:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday held her first public meeting with Morocco's Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa in Paris. The two discussed the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and agreed to continue the dialogue between them.

Israel-Morocco relations have suffered a chill since the start of the second intifada seven years ago, after years of close relations after the signing of the Oslo Accords. The Paris meeting constitutes a turning point in the relations between the two countries.

Read article in full

Jerusalem Post article

Discussions with Libya on lost Jewish assets fail

The honeymoon between Libya and the Jews seems to be over now that Colonel Gaddafi has not fulfilled his promises to compensate them for their lost property, according to Nathan Guttman writing in The Forward.

"A year after the White House dropped all sanctions against Libya, relations with the African nation are once again becoming a sore subject, with Congress and Jewish groups both calling for new punitive measures against the government of Muammar el-Qaddafi.

"Last week, the Senate approved a measure that cut all funding for the construction of a new American embassy in Tripoli. A few days earlier, B’nai B’rith International had led opposition to Libya’s nomination to head the planning committee for the United Nations anti-racism conference, scheduled for 2009.

"Libya was first invited back into the good graces of the Western world in 2003, when Qaddafi agreed to end his nation’s nuclear program and strengthen relations with the West. The Libyan regime made particularly notable overtures toward Israel and the extensive community of Jewish refugees from Libya. (...)

"The rapprochement was presented in Washington as a model for ties with the Arab and Muslim world. But the hostile messages from the Senate and from Jewish groups suggest the degree to which the model has faltered.

"A separate prong in Libya’s warming relations with the West came during discussion with Jewish groups. In 2003, Jews of Libyan origin were invited to meetings with Libyan officials in which they were told of Qaddafi’s wish to see them return to their country and to build a new and promising relationship.

"A year and a half ago, the Libyan leader openly declared that he would be willing to discuss compensation for private and communal property that belonged to Jews in Libya. Yet as time passed, the discussions turned out to be fruitless and the forums were all but dissolved. Other discussions, regarding requests for preservation of Jewish heritage sites in Libya and commemorating the pogroms against the country’s Jews, also reached no conclusion.

“We are far from reaching our goals,” Stanley Urman said. Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, which is an advocacy group working for recognition and compensation for Jewish refugees, believes that the difficulties in resolving the issues relating to Libyan Jews reflect the larger political problems between Libya and the West.

"According to one Jewish official, who requested anonymity, the Libyans saw ties with the Jewish community as a way to improve their image in Washington, but as the formal ties with the United States have soured, the interest in the Jewish case also has declined.

"The latest cause for difficulties is the United Nations anti-racism conference. Libya was named to lead the planning for the conference, which has traditionally been a stage for criticizing Israel.

"While Libya initially showed signs of openness to Israel, little materialized on this front, and today Israelis would not be able to enter Libya if the conference were held there.

"B’nai B’rith International harshly criticized the decision to give Libya planning responsibilities.

“With its historic anti-Zionist agenda and poor human rights record, we question why Libya would be given the lead responsibility for planning the 2009 conference,” the B’nai B’rith statement reads.

"Sybil Kessler, the organization’s director of U.N. affairs, said that “Libya’s performance as chair of the preparatory committee can be a good indicator of how serious they are in showing moderation.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Conference gathers 300 testimonies from Egypt

Levana Zamir reports on a successful one-day conference organised by the Association for the Rights of the Jews of Egypt in Tel Aviv earlier this year:

"The extremely well-attended conference - there were 320 participants - took place on 7 February 2007, in the Hall of Beth Ha'Hayal in Tel Aviv. Once again, it marks the need, felt recently by our community of Egyptian Jews, to delve into our past.

"The goal this time was to gather the painful testimonies of our Exodus from Egypt as experienced by each participant, and to bring into focus the fact that there is not only one group of refugees - the Palestinians - but also a second group: almost one million Jews from Arab lands, among them the Jews from Egypt.

"It is true that in Israel we have found a second homeland, and that the second generation has finally managed to establish itself in a country where Oriental Jews have never been the favourites. But it is still a fact that our parents' world had collapsed overnight, that we all became refugees and many among us were thrown into jail just because we were Jews.

"Despite the seriousness of the subject, Egyptian good humour prevailed. The reunion was cheerful. The Hall of Beth Ha'hayal was filled to capacity and we had to turn away about 70 people who had not registered in time. To them we promised a wholehearted "next time."

"Stanley Urman of the US, Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, gave a summary of the goals of this important organization. Among its aims is the demand that the US Senate and the UN, whenever there is mention of the Palestinian Refugees, take into consideration the "million Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries." Mr. Urman added that JJAC is already in contact with the authorities in a number of Arab countries. The lawyer, Jean-Claude Niddam, head of the Department for the Rights of Jews from Arab Lands at the Ministry of Justice, succinctly expressed the importance of our testimonies, not only in memory of our parents who were subjected to this trauma, but also in memory of the glorious and flourishing community of Jews from Egypt, which practically no longer exists.

"The highlight of this gathering was a professional documentary, 30 minutes in length, produced by Levana Zamir. The screening premièred at this event. The film told of the trials and tribulations of our Exodus. It started with glorious pictures of the community before 1948 when most of us enjoyed financial security and joie de vivre - only to end up as 'hounded Jews'. There were pogroms in the Jewish Quarter in Cairo, explosions which killed a whole family, persecutions, mass arrests, insults, riots, discrimination, prison, forced exile in a matter of days, sometimes hours, leaving our assets behind and emptying Egypt of its Jews.

"The tragic demise of this glorious community that once was the Jews of Egypt, is not only our history, but that of the Jewish people in its entirety.

"The million Oriental Jews paid a heavy price for the beneficient, if not Messianic, establishment of the State of Israel, which most of the Arab countries still do not want to accept. As Bat Ye'or so eloquently stated in her book Yehoudei Misrayim, the Arab countries would
have liked to keep their Jews as 'dhimmi' (citizens paying for the privilege of being protected by the state), so that they could continue to develop their respective countries.

"After having viewed this film, in all its simplicity, with no exaggeration, and shining with truth, the participants identified themselves and testified in their own way to their experiences leaving Egypt.

"Demonstrating that a testimony, however painful, could be presented orally in two minutes, the following participants stepped up to the mike: Samuel Cohen, Lucie Calamaro (née Belbel), Ernest Abada, Esther Bar-David (née Galanti) and Levana Zamir (née Vidal). The participants continued, either in written form or orally, to testify to the atrocities they had been subjected to - the riots, the persecutions, the sudden arrests and imprisonment without reason and trial, the deportations, sequestrations, discrimination and the Human Rights violations marking their departure from Egypt. Even those who thought they had left Egypt voluntarily, finally understood that their parents had left because of the hostile and discriminatory climate vis-à-vis Jews, as well as the lack of a future for their children in that country.

"Moreover, those who thought they had left nothing behind in Egypt, understood that they had been uprooted and that their parents had been forced to leave a relatively comfortable life to become refugees and live in exile somewhere in the world. Even those who received some compensation after the Suez war as citizens of France and GreatBritain, obtained only a minimal sum for their properties. Nobody was compensated for his world collapsing overnight. We would not have liked to live in the Egypt of today, but we are equally aware that our roots are over there, in that Egypt that no longer exists, except in our hearts and memory.

"The 300 testimonies gathered will be the subject of a book which will be published in a few months' time and will be distributed to schools and university libraries. Those testimonies where each participant states his father's profession in Egypt will be used in a research study to disprove the oft-quoted, but incorrect fact that the Jews from Egypt who had settled in Israel were, for the most part, financially badly-off.

"The documentary on the 20th century Exodus from Egypt will be shown in primary and secondary schools in Israel by a group of volunteers from our Society.

"After lunch, Cecilia Cohen-Hemsi-Niza presented the book Notre combat, edited by her father, Joseph Cohen-Hemsi, in Alexandria in 1948. This book was banned by the Egyptian government upon publication and Joseph Cohen-Hemsi was jailed at the Aboukir Camp in September 1948 because of it.

"The book contains articles written by Joseph Cohen-Hemsi and published in various Egyptian newspapers between 1942 and 1947 at a time when the Egyptian authorities had no objection to them. Those same articles published again in 1948 dwelling on the anti-Semitism prevailing in
Europe--as opposed to the fraternal links between Jews and Muslims in Egypt emphasized by Azzam Pasha, Secretary of the Arab League in 1947 - were banned in 1948.

"Sharon Nizza of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, presented her thesis on the Zionist debate in Egypt in the '40s, based in part on the book Notre combat.

"At the end of the day, we slipped back into nostalgia for the Jews from Egypt - as incomparable as it is incomprehensible - with the songs of Leila Mourad in her movie "Yehia el-Hob," collected by Joseph Hakim of Jerusalem. Also shown was a 20-minute film on the last Jews from Alexandria, produced in 2001.

"Israeli TV Channel 1 , which had come to film the event and interview some of the participants, produced an excellent report broadcast in Arabic on 17 February 2007 between 7:00 PM and 7:30 PM. This channel is important as it is viewed by several leaders of Arab countries.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bat Ye'or comes to Canada

Bat Ye'or, the Egyptian-born Jewess who first coined the term 'dhimmitude', spoke at a conference in Toronto last week. Michael Coren of The National Post was there. (Via Israpundit)

"It appears to be a sign that you're doing something abundantly right when the leaders of the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Islamic Congress demand that your conference be monitored by the Police Hate Crime Unit. Which is the case with a Fraser Institute symposium taking place this week, entitled "On The Front Line of Immigration, Terrorism and Ethno-Politics."

"In an unintentionally amusing joint press release, the groups speak of "major Canadian bigots, Islamophobes, anti-Arab and anti-immigrant writers and media personalities." As opposed, one assumes, to minor Canadian bigots and Islamophobe media personalities. What it all means, of course, is that they disagree with their targets. Yet instead of simply debating with the conference speakers in a quintessentially Canadian manner, they insult them and try to have them silenced.

"In fact, the conference the comrades find so irksome boasts an extraordinarily impressive and diverse list of speakers. Columnist Margaret Wente, author Daniel Stoffman, a former director of CSIS, the retired executive director of the Canadian Immigration Service, ambassador Marisa Lino from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, MPs, numerous university professors, award-winning writers and decorated diplomats and scholars.

"And the internationally renowned author Bat Ye'or. If the other speakers provoke certain people, this diminutive, gentle and brilliant 74-year-old lady seems to positively terrify them. They urge immigration authorities "immediately to bar Bat Ye'or from entering Canada."

"Being deported because of Arab anger would, however, be nothing new to the author of a host of internationally acclaimed works on the history of Islam and its treatment of Jews and Christians. She and her family were forced to leave their native Egypt in 1957, part of the more than one million Jews who were exiled from Muslim states after the Second World War and the foundation of Israel. Bat Ye'or's name roars the horror of it all. It is a pseudonym, meaning "Daughter of the Nile" in Hebrew. Her name is Gisele Orebi.

"The persecuted Jews of the Middle East. The silenced catastrophe. A wave of innocents whose existence in Arab lands pre-dated the birth of Islam. Their numbers were greater than those of the Palestinian refugees and they were frequently treated far more harshly. Yet the world said very little, and today the Islamic bloc and their allies in the United Nations and elsewhere pretend this post-Biblical exodus did not happen.

"It is, I suppose, deeply ironic that I was told that I was not allowed to live in Egypt when I was a girl and now as a grown woman I'm told, in part by people from Egypt, that I shouldn't come to Canada either. As for Israel, they'd like that to disappear," she says, more bemused than bitter. "Where ought I to go? No matter. The story has to be told, the true story of how Islam has treated and still does treat its minorities."

"It is her collection of work on the Islamic conquest of the Christian heartlands of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and North Africa that have caused so much frustration among Muslim opponents. She writes in detail of Dhimmitude, the method in which Jews and Christians were subjugated and humiliated.

"As late as the early 20th century, in some Muslim countries Jews had to remove their shoes when they left their own quarter, were not allowed to ride a horse, were treated as second-class citizens. This idea of equality is nonsense. Their numbers were restricted, especially in the Holy Land, and the same was true of Christians. There were periodic pogroms, right up till the 1940s."

"A pause, searching for the right words. "What occurred back then is history, but history has to be understood and accepted. What we have now is revision, denial. Muslim immigrants are taking this false idea of the past to Europe and North America, along with a culture that does not share the Western notion of tolerance, equality, criticism of religion and freedom."

Read article in full

Text of Bat Ye'or speech ( with thanks: Jerusalem Posts)