Sunday, September 30, 2007

Arabs were allies and supporters of Nazism

The Sephardi Perspective blog nails the myth, articulated most recently by President Ahmadinejad, that the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, were innocent bystanders to Nazism (with thanks: Lily).

"There is a myth that has gained increasing currency in many quarters that the Palestinians and the Arabs should not suffer as a result of what was done to the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. This myth of course relies on another myth; that the State of Israel was created purely on the ashes of the Holocaust. The fact is that the Balfour Declaration, Weizmann-Feisal Agreement and the Peel Commission report, to name but a few events that pre-dated the Holocaust; all led significantly to the creation of the Jewish State.

"The more insidious myth is the fabrication of history that allows for complete innocence on the part of the Palestinian and Arab populations during the Holocaust. The Arab stance towards Hitler and the Nazis was as an ally and supporter. The Arab masses and leadership gleefully welcomed the Nazis taking power in 1933 and messages of support came from all over the Arab world especially from the Palestinian Arab leader, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was the first non-European to request admission to the Nazi party. The most influential party that emulated the Nazis in the Arab world was "Young Egypt," which was founded in October 1933.

"They had storm troopers, torch processions, and literal translations of Nazi slogans – like "One folk, One party, One leader." Nazi anti-Semitism was replicated, with calls to boycott Jewish businesses and physical attacks on Jews. Sami al-Joundi, one of the founders of the ruling Syrian Ba'ath Party, recalls: "We were racists. We admired the Nazis. We were immersed in reading Nazi literature and books... We were the first who thought of a translation of Mein Kampf. Anyone who lived in Damascus at that time was witness to the Arab inclination toward Nazism."

"There was of course the infamous pogrom in Iraq led by the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Kaylani in 1941. Kaylani also asked from Hitler the right to “deal with Jews” in Arab states, a request that was granted. Apart from the secular pro-Nazi stance, there were many other religious Arab leaders who issued fatwas that the Arabs should assist and support the Nazis against the Allies.

"However, the most infamous Arab figure most closely identified with the Holocaust was the leader of the Palestinians Arabs, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini had fled to Germany in 1941 and was immediately granted a special place amongst the Nazi hierarchy. The Mufti and Hitler relayed many declarations to each other explicitly stating that the main enemy they shared were the Jews. However, the Mufti’s ideology transcended words and directed his actions. In 1945, Yugoslavia sought to indict the Mufti as a war criminal for his role in recruiting 20,000 Muslim volunteers for the SS, who participated in the killing of Jews in Croatia and Hungary.

"Adolf Eichmann's deputy Dieter Wisliceny (subsequently executed as a war criminal) in his Nuremburg Trials testimony stated "The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan... He was one of Eichmann's best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures." On a visit to Auschwitz, Husseini reportedly admonished the guards running the gas chambers to work more diligently. Throughout the war, he appeared regularly on German radio broadcasts to the Middle East, preaching his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic message to the Arab masses back home.

"Even the Mufti himself explained that the main reason for his close cooperation with the Nazis was their shared hatred of the Jews and their joint wish for their extermination. “Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world,” the man who was known as the ‘Fuhrer of the Arab World’ wrote in his post World War Two memoirs. There is even evidence recently unearthed from British secretive records that the Palestinian Arabs had begun to draw up plans for a concentration/extermination camp in Palestine should the Nazis make their way there.

"In North Africa there were more than mere plans for concentration camps. From June 1940 to May 1943, the Nazis, their Vichy French collaborators and their Italian fascist allies applied in Arab lands many of the precursors to the Final Solution. These included not only ‘racial’ laws depriving Jews of property, education, livelihood, residence and free movement, but also torture, slave labor, deportation and execution. Thousands of Jews perished under Nazi and Axis control and in most cases, like their European counterparts, the local population at times assisted, collaborated and participated in this oppression and murder. Robert Satloff has written extensively on the Arabs and the Holocaust and he found that much of the local Arab population willingly participated in this institutional Jew-hatred. One example Staloff provides is in an interview with a survivor from the concentration camp in Djelfa, in the Algerian desert. When asked whether the local Arabs who administered the camp were just following orders, he replied "Nobody told them to beat us all the time. Nobody told them to chain us together. Nobody told them to tie us naked to a post and beat us and to hang us by our arms and hose us down, to bury us in the sand so our heads should look up and bash our brains in and urinate on our heads. . . . No, they took this into their own hands and they enjoyed what they did."

"(Robert) Satloff’s book “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Reach into Arab Lands” chronicles much of the nature of the Holocaust in Arab Lands and Sephardi communities in North Africa and the Middle East. He tries to show that there were Arabs who helped rescue and hide Jews during the Holocaust, but just like in Europe these examples are exceptions to a sadly more pervasive assistance or indifference to Jewish suffering and murder.

 In Libya, many Jews were sent not only to local concentration camps but also to European camps like Bergen-Belsen and Biberach. In a film titled "Goral Meshutaf" (Shared Fate), some Tunisian eyewitnesses claim that the Nazis had begun building gas chambers there. If the Allies had not won the decisive battle at El Alamain, perhaps the fate of North African Jews would have been the same as that befell European Jewry. A willing or indifferent local population was an important ingredient in the destruction of European Jewry and it was certainly present amongst the Arabs of North Africa.

 Many of the current leadership in the Middle East owe their power base to the emergence of their predecessors during these murky times. The Palestinians still revere Al-Husseini and many of the terrorist groups are named after groups he founded. Many have suggested strong links between the Baath parties of Assad’s Syria and formerly in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gamel Abdel Nasser, the founder of the modern Egyptian State and the greatest proponent of Pan-Arabism, was a friend of the Nazis and hid many fleeing Nazis after the war.

The Holocaust is often thought of as a disaster that befell only European Jews. However, more and more documentation is arising about the suffering of Sephardi Jewry outside of Europe, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East. The lie that the Arabs were innocent bystanders to the Nazi Holocaust is well known by Sephardim who lived through these dark times. It is about time that this capricious myth was exposed, not just for the sake of correcting false histories and their like, but also out of respect to those Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis everywhere."

See similar article in Front Page magazine by Professor Alan Dershowitz
Read post in full

Friday, September 28, 2007

Israeli reporter attends Damascus synagogue

Ynet News's intrepid man in Syria, Ron Ben-Yishai, bribes his way into a Yom Kippur service at the last functioning synagogue in Damascus. This article is an appetiser: the full report is yet to come.

SYRIA - As I walk along one of the alleys in the poorer district of the city, where the ancient houses tilt and threaten to crumble, I spot, sitting there against the wall, a young mustached man. When he saw me approaching he rose and moved forward to block my path.

He was wearing civilian clothes, but the gun sticking out of the belt of his trousers was noticeable.

Synagogue in Damascus

I explained to him in English-laced Arabic what I was seeking. You cannot, he answered. After a brief negotiation and the handing over of several bills, the plainclothes officer – or was he a member of the al-Mukhabarat (Syrian intelligence) – was content and walked over to a narrow alley between two houses.

A bridge over the Euphrates: the reporter is on the left

Ten minutes later a short man of about 50 came towards me, wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl. "What can I do for you?" the Jewish man asked in French. I decided to avoid taking a risk and identified myself as a tourist, a geography professor. Albert Kamao mulled this over for a moment and then without asking any further questions, told me to come in two hours time, towards the end of the prayer.

"Yom Kippur is a holy day for us, the Jews," he said, in English now. "We do not wish to be disturbed while we pray to the creator of the world and ask him for forgiveness." I did as he instructed.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Arab are 'Arab' Jews?

A young law student at Cornell recently had an article published in the university newspaper entitled Arab Jews - an oxymoron?

'Many people in the West have never heard of Jews from Arab countries," J. R. Rothstein writes. "They do not know that Jewish roots in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other 'Arab' countries stretch back thousands of years. "

Indeed. It is as well to point out to the legions of well-meaning peace and interfaith groups around the world that Jews and Arabs need no instruction in how to live together: they have done so for hundreds of years.

Others do know that Jews lived in Arab and Muslim countries, but they might think they were 'Jewish Arabs'. Anti-Zionists and Jewish communists add to the confusion. ( Ella Shohat and David Shasha talk about Arabs of the Jewish faith. They deny that the Jews are a separate people, and imply they are not entitled to a state of their own.)

In search of enlightenment I reached for my yellowing copy of Jews and Arabs by the late, eminent Princeton scholar SD Goitein (first published in 1955). Goitein made a speciality of studying those most genuine Jews living among the most genuine Arabs - in Yemen.

From Arabia in the 7th century the Arabs spread their language and religion - Arabic and Islam. But the Arabs did not necessarily always rule the areas they conquered, ceding that role to foreign soldiers from Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Was Israel just another Arabian tribe? After all, both peoples are said to be semitic. Goitein dismisses the myth of the semitic race: "The fact that negroes in the US talk and think exactly like other Americans does not prove they once formed a single race."Among the affinities between Jews and Arabs was a certain primitive democracy, a similar concept of the 'slave' and the existence of women in public life.

But the differences in values are considerable. The Jews grant more freedom to their women. The Arabs cling to appearances, and would be polite even if they felt like insulting you. Sabra Israelis can be rude, even if there is every reason to be polite.

Ancient Israel was an agricultural people to whom the desert, except for a short Biblical sojourn between Egypt and Canaan, was alien. Their calendar was agricultural. Yes, their social structure was tribal, but this does not mean that Israel was of Bedouin origin. Goitein points out there is a difference between sheep and cattle-raising semi-nomads - as the Patriarchs would have been - and camel-breeding Bedouins. The Israelite ideal was that each man should sit under his own vine or fig tree. This changed in Islamic times when the Jewish people, most of whom were living under Arab rule, transformed themselves into a nation of artisans and merchants.

The Jews tried to do everything to minimise the transfer of property, while to Arabs, everything was sellable. Their laws of inheritance differed. The Jews followed the law of 'primogeniture'. The Jews passed as much as property as possible to as few as possible, whereas Arabs divided property among as many as possible. A daughter inherited half as much property as a son. The central unit to Jews was the family; to Arabs it was the clan.

Although Judaism and Islam have much in common, there are also differences: for example, the Jewish Sabbath is a Day of Rest. The Bedouin, being on the move and working irregularly during the week, had little use for a Day of Rest but retained it as a day of assembly and prayer.

Arab classical literature was written down in sedentary environments, but 'its every page betrays the origin of its people in the Arabian desert. Nothing of that kind is to be found in the Bible', says Goitein,' where everything breathes the fragrance of the Palestinian soil and reflects the life of farmers and shepherds.'

Another big difference was the Arab attachment to language, and the emphasis on elegance and form. The Jews concentrated on ideas and paid very little attention to form. They readily gave up their own language, translating the Bible into other languages, including Arabic, while the Arabs clung tenaciously to theirs. Goitein describes Arab poetry as like an ornament, rigidly traditionalist. The fact that literary Arabic has not been allowed to evolve has led to spiritual stagnation. But Goitein also points out that without the influence of Arab Muslim language and literature, medieval Jewish philosophy, poetry and Hebrew grammar would not have developed in the way they did.

By adopting the Arabic language, however, the Jews did not become Arabs. They exchanged one language, Aramaic, for another, Arabic.

Can a Jew also be Arab? By Naim Kattan

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Iran friendly to Jews? Yes and no

In the wake of President Ahmadinejad's controversial visit to New York, this UPI report tries to give a balanced picture of Iran's treatment of its Jews. However, it fails to provide any sense of the fear and intimidation felt by non-Muslim minorities in Iran, nor does it refer to the traditional anti-Jewish bigotry inherent in Shi'ism.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- The Iranian president’s meeting with an anti-Israel Jewish group in New York Monday and a television series in Iran about the Holocaust reflect the country’s complex relationship with its Jewish population and reveal a sympathy from their Muslim compatriots that is hidden by Tehran’s bombastic rhetoric toward Israel.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has garnered international anger by denying that the Holocaust happened, while at the same time government-run television aired the series "Zero Degree Turn." Based on the actions of actual Iranian diplomats, the series tells the story of a fictional Iranian diplomat who provides passports for Jews to leave Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

The series has been a massive hit, and its airing on state-run television has been puzzling to some who note Iran’s history of Holocaust denial.

In 2005 Ahmadinejad called the genocide of Jews in World War II a myth, but during his speech at Columbia University in New York on Monday, he seemed to distance himself from the position, saying the subject needed more research to verify the details. (...)

Iranian leaders, including former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, have long questioned the Holocaust, according to Abbas William Samii, an Iran expert and regional analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses.

“So it is not just one guy spouting off crazy stuff, it is a perspective shared by leading officials in that regime. The distinction is that Ahmadinejad has no clue how his comments play out in the rest of the world, and so he seems to say whatever he is thinking. Other figures such as Rafsanjani and Khatami, the former presidents, recognize that their comments have an international impact, so they try to keep those views limited to their domestic speeches,” Samii said.

But the Iranian government, including Ahmadinejad, does claim sympathy with Jews.

“We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran living peacefully with security. You must understand that in our constitution, in our laws, in the parliamentary elections, for every 150,000 people we get one representative in the Parliament. For the Jewish community, one-fifth of this number they still get one independent representative in the Parliament,” Ahmadinejad said at Columbia University.

What is crucial to the Iranian government’s thinking is the somewhat fuzzy but bold line they draw between the Jewish religion and the state of Israel.

“What the government tries to do is to say, at home we respect Jews, and they go on to say what the Iranian government objects to is Zionism, rather than Judaism. So they try to make that distinction. And it is on that basis, according to the Iranian government, that it opposes the Israeli state,” Samii said.

As if to underscore this point, while in New York, Ahmadinejad met with the Neturei Karta, a very small organization of orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism and the state of Israel.(..)

The government also makes token gestures to the Jewish population. It funds a small part of a Jewish charitable hospital in Tehran and in September announced it would build a $3.2 million Jewish cultural and sports center in Tehran.

These actions by the government can also be attributed to self-interest, a self-interest that is apparent in the Iranian television series about the Holocaust.

“I think the reason they are doing this is, other than straight entertainment value, and showing the program as history of Iran, it is trying to make the regime look good. Demonstrating that Iranians are friendly towards Jews, that they are a kind and generous people,” Samii said.

The government’s relationship with Iranian Jews is not always cordial, however. In 2000, 10 Jews were prosecuted on charges of spying for Israel. Human Rights Watch, and international group that monitors religious freedom, among other things, condemned Iran at the time for persecuting the Jewish defendants and said the charges were unsubstantiated.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2007 International Religious Freedom Report, Iran guarantees freedom of worship for Jews in the country, but in practice they face persecution and “government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs.”

This discrimination is common, if not overt.

“It is not so clear that there is a state policy, but discrimination does take place against Jews in terms of getting jobs, in terms of economic, and in terms of access to education. For example, applicants for university places have to pass examinations on religious subjects. If you are a Muslim, the chances of passing a test on Islam are much greater than if you are a Jew or a Christian,” Samii said.

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

'Caspian rain' adds to shower of books on Iran

While Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked plenty of verbal fireworks on his visit to New York, an explosion of interest in books about Iran generally has been taking place.

Gina B Nahai is an Iranian Jewish author whose latest novel, Caspian Rain, is here reviewed in the San Jose Mercury News:

"Why do some have the ability to overcome loss, while others pass the sorrow down to their children, like blue eyes or a bad temper? In her fourth novel, "Caspian Rain," Gina B. Nahai demonstrates that suffering is a cultural imprint; that people, particularly in the East, don't make lemonade from lemons. Rather, they carry a ton of lemons on their hearts and shoulders for generations.

"In this case, the bearer of suffering is Yaas, a 12-year-old Jewish girl growing up in pre-revolutionary Iran. Her father, Omid, a well-bred socialite, mingles with Tehran's Muslims. He wanted an easy marriage, so he chose Bahar, a teenager from the Jewish ghetto who dreams of American movie stars. Yaas suffers not only from her parents' loveless marriage, but from a genetic illness that is robbing her of her hearing."

Read article in full

Monday, September 24, 2007

Film shows suppressed Jewish role in Iraqi music

An Australian film on Iraqi music in pre-Saddam Hussein days by an Iraqi Shi'a refugee, Majid Shokor, reveals the suppressed role of Jewish musicians, writes Arnold Zable in The Age.

"(..) With free access to the internet, Majid was also able to pursue his research on the fate of Iraqi-Jewish musicians. What he discovered reads both as a fable and a challenge to our divisive times: once upon a time, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived side by side in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. They shared a culture, and common source of pleasure, in music, art, foods, Arabic language and literature.

"This culture flourished, especially in Baghdad from the 1920s onwards. Music could be heard everywhere, in coffee houses, homes, and on the radio. Iraqi-Jewish musicians and composers were highly esteemed and wrote many songs loved by all Iraqis, and popular throughout the Arab world.

"They made up the majority of the first Iraqi Radio Ensemble, recorded discs, and performed throughout the country. They included the legendary composers Saleh and Daoud Al'Kuwaiti and the much-loved singer Salima Pasha Murad.

"I realised it was an important part of my country's history," says Majid, "and I knew that something should be done about it, but I was not sure what."

When Majid mentioned the idea in October 2004 to documentary filmmaker Marsha Emerman, she was immediately interested. It appealed to her as a story that explored music and culture as a means of uniting people. In 1991, in response to the first Gulf War, she had organised a Melbourne concert that brought together Jewish, Arabic and Kurdish performers.

(..) The filmmakers then flew to Israel for their long-awaited meeting with the ageing community of Iraqi-Jewish musicians.

"Wherever he went in Ramat Gan, Majid was greeted as a long-lost son. "Ramat Gan is a little Baghdad," he says.

"It is in the markets. The restaurants. In the pickles, the popular songs, and traditional sweets. It is in the body language, the way people speak to each other, the way they use their hands to express their ideas. Everyone wanted to touch me. I felt I was in a safe environment."

"Majid attended the weekly musicians' gatherings he had first heard of in Beirut, and he met Elias Shasha, Abraham Salman, and Alber Elias, now in their 80s, who had performed in Baghdad in the 1940s. They invited Majid into their homes and told him stories that recreated the lost Iraqi world of their youth.

"When Majid asked Elias Shasha to close his eyes and remember his life in Baghdad, he said, "I remember the beautiful days, beautiful hours, beautiful places. The Tigris and the Euphrates, the boats, the fish, my friends. It's very difficult. Love for the homeland is undeniable. I can't ignore I was born in Baghdad, I am an Iraqi."

"Majid also spent time with musician Yair Dalal. He is filmed performing, and teaching young Israelis who are enthralled by Arabic music. The son of Iraqi Jews, Yair is a celebrated performer on the world music circuit. A virtuoso oud player, violinist, singer, and composer, his music is a haunting blend of Jewish and Arabic influences.

"In recent times Yair has discovered the generation of older Iraqi Jewish musicians and brought them back into the spotlight. Passionate about peace initiatives, he was immediately pleased to participate in the film. As part of the project, Majid and Yair hope to stage a concert that brings together Jewish, Muslim and Christian musicians united in their mutual passion for Iraqi music.

"I have asked myself many times," says Majid, "if I am doing the right thing. But meeting these people and listening to them, has strengthened my conviction. These musicians and composers gave us such beautiful music, and loved Iraq. When I met them in Ramat Gan, they were like people I knew. We shared a lot of history.

"There is a bond I feel with them that I feel with all exiled Iraqis. It is very moving the way they recall cities like Baghdad over half a century later. They were victims of politics. We were all victims."

Majid was surprised by the extent of Arabic influence in Israeli culture. "It is in fact a Middle Eastern country," he says.

Read article in full

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Last Afghan Jew fasts alone on Yom Kippur

Another western journalist catches up with the last Jew of Afghanistan:

KABUL (AFP) — Zebulon Simentov, the last Jew in Afghanistan, is once again marking the Jewish holy day of fasting in solitude, in a deserted synagogue in the capital of a devoutly Islamic nation.

"I have everything I need for the 24 hours of praying and fasting," Simentov tells AFP before the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at sunset on Friday.

Around two decades ago, there were still about 20 Afghan Jewish families living in Kabul, although all were from Herat -- the largest city in northwestern Afghanistan near the border with Iran.

Read article in full

Israel should raise Jewish property issue

Writing in Ynet News Moshe Karif calls on Israel to raise the issue of billions' worth of lost Jewish property in Arab lands at the upcoming Middle East conference in November. It should set up an official 'mapping authority'.

"The approaching days of fall, we are told, are the days of a new international conference aimed at solving the Middle East conflict. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is rushing between the region's capitals, and the Saudis promise to take part but under one condition: We, they claim, are coming to discuss everything, even basic questions like Jerusalem's status and the refugee question. (...)

"Compensation to the Palestinian refugees is one of the main issues that must be solved when the historic reconciliation between us and the Palestinians is worded. But in the same breath we must remember that the Jews of the Arab states left behind property worth billions, and no one thinks about demanding this historic loss back.

"The Jews who lived in Arab countries, many of whom came here after their relations with their Arab neighbors were severed following hundreds of years of coexistence, lost their entire world in one moment. (This is an idealised view of Arab-Jewish relations before 1948: Arab nationalism excluded and oppressed ALL minorities, not just the Jews - ed)

"The national awakening which generated the establishment of the State of Israel, created hostility between Jews and Muslims, which led to big waves of immigration that left behind not only a rich tradition, but also a lot of private and public property.

"The young state did not believe the stories about the great wealth left behind. In the few times when the attention was focused on the issue of the Jewish property in Arab countries, this was not in order to compensate the immigrants from Tunisia, Morocco or Iraq, but in order to arrogantly offset between the Jewish property left there and the Palestinian property left here.

"Moshe Sharett, who served as foreign minister in 1951, told the Knesset that "the value of the Jewish property frozen in Iraq will be taken into account by us in the compensation we promised to pay the Arabs who left their property in Israel."

"Forty-eight years ago, when there was another opportunity to finally conclude the unresolved saga between us and the Palestinians, the State of Israel exerted more efforts in mapping the Jewish property through the American Sephardi Federation. The federation's president admitted at the time that "it is clear no one believes that the Arab countries will compensate Israel, but we need to have a counter-claim against the Palestinian claim."(In fact the ASF and Justice for Jews for Arab Countries relaunched a drive to collect claims in the last two years -ed)

"The State of Israel never won the public's cooperation in its attempt to trace the property, mainly due to the deep lack of trust in the process and due to the offset intentions. ( More plausibly, the Jews never bothered to register their losses because they were sceptical of ever receiving compensation- ed)

"In order to know how much Jewish property was left in Arab countries, we are in need of quite a difficult mapping process: Private houses, businesses, stores, public buildings, synagogues, mikvaot (ritual baths), clubs – all was left behind. There are those who estimate the value of Jewish property at $10 billion to $30 billion. Others argue that the property of the Jews of Iraq alone reaches $100 billion and that the property of Egyptian Jews is worth $60 billion.

"Now, when the Saudis want to finally resolve the big questions, it is time to also discuss the solution to the question of the Jewish property in Arab states. Prime Minister Olmert can repair the year-long injustice in the periphery of Israeli society, which is populated with people from Arab countries, their children and grandchildren.

"Israel must establish a transparent public authority for the mapping of the Jewish property in Arab countries. We must appoint teams to collect information from the generation of the parents who are still living amongst us and can prove their ownership of this property.

"After the mapping stage, the findings will be presented to anyone who really wants to end the conflict here. We will talk to them next fall about everything, about Jewish property and Palestinian property. We shall not offset: We shall finally build the suitable infrastructure for those who left their property behind, here and there.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Still in love with Tunisia after all these years

Three hundred people thronged the Centre Rashi in Paris for an evening on 17 September on the exodus of the Jews of Tunisia. More had to be turned away.

By way of introduction, Jean-Pierre Allali, member of the French-Jewish representative body CRIF and French coordinator of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) campaign, emphasised that the event was not directed against Tunisia in any way: "We passionately love our homeland. The number of Tunisian Jews who go back every summer for the holidays is proof enough. On the other hand we have a duty to record the past and see justice done. We must clearly establish why almost an entire community (120,000 or more Jews) left, who had been settled in Tunisia since Antiquity and well before the Arabs."

After the screening of Nedjma Scialom's film Tunis-Paris, the Tunisian exiles told of their difficult integration into France, with journalist Jean Corcos on the panel with Jean-Pierre Attali, Armand Attal, Claude Sitbon and Andre Nahum.

During the discussion with the audience it became clear that the reasons for their exile were not unique to Tunisian Jews. More reasons to leave arose between 1954, when Tunisia became independent, and 1967, when serious antisemitic incidents took place including the destruction of the Great Synagogue.

Milestone dates were the dissolution of the Beth Bin in July 1957, the dissolution by Presidential decree of the Council of the Jewish Community of Tunisia, the Bizerte affair in 1961 and local repercussions of the Israeli-Arab wars. The expropriation of the Tunis Jewish cemetery, turned into a park, and the demolition of the Great synagogue of the Hara as part of a urban renewal scheme, were also key events.

The speakers were unanimous that Jews were pushed towards the exit by a series of small steps - taxes, financial controls by stealth, the miserly distribution of commercial licences, the blocking of Jewish civil servants' careers. The young professor Armand Attal found his career frustrated by what the historian Paul Sebag called 'Muslim preference'.

The President of CRIF, Richard Prasquier, noted the difference between himself, a native Pole, and these Tunisians who were still viscerally in love with their dear Tunisia 50 years after their exodus. He asked the key question: "were these Jews who left Tunisia really refugees?" Jean Pierre Allali made the distinction between those with French or other European nationality, who were given logistical and financial help, and the majority Tunisian nationals, whose suitcases were searched with a fine tooth comb and were only allowed to bring out the equivalent of one Euro. Some, the more Zionist among them, chose Israel, while 50,000 opted for France. They were people of modest means who stood for hours in humiliating queues waiting for permits, who slept in maids' rooms or on the floor, crowded in temporary accommodation provided by friends or relatives in Belleville, Sarcelles or Montmartre, subsisting in misery and patiently rebuilding their lives. Yes, these were refugees.

Claude Sitbon, who had come from Israel, said that "the tears of exile had given way to the lights of exile". Andre Nahum drew a parallel between the Palestinian refugees and the Jewish refugees, saying there had been a population exchange. " Our Arab friends," he hammered the table," must understand and admit it." All the speakers noted that the younger generation of Tunisians were unaware of the existence of an ancestral, dynamic and prosperous Jewish community.

A minority expressed different views: a Jewish air hostess was recruited into a Tunisian company and her sportsman husband represented Tunisia at high level international events. Another, who said she still lived in Tunisia, said that people still had assets which they were free to buy and sell.

Read article in French

Future CRIF events: Jews of Yemen: 20 November; Jews of Libya: 5 December

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Algeria takes a step backward for religious freedom

Some five thousand non-Muslim citizens live in Algeria, according to the International Religious Freedom Report 2007 released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on September 14, according to the Algerian Echouroukonline.

"There are three thousand members of evangelical churches in Algeria (mostly in the Kabylia region) and three hundred Catholics, said the report. As for Jews, there was no active Jewish community although a very small number of Jews continue to live in Algiers.

"According to the report, Christians concentrated in the large cities of Algiers, Annaba, and Oran in the mid-1990s for security reasons. Evangelical proselytizing led to increases in the size of the Christian community in the eastern Berber region of Kabylia.

"Stringent measures have been taken by the Algerian government to punish any one who incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion, according to the same report.

"The report pointed out the Ordinance 06-03 that gives the Government the power to regulate the locations of all non-Muslim worship and monitor participation. It enables the Government to shut down informal Christian religious services that take place in private homes or in secluded outdoor settings.

"On the other hand, the Government argues that the new requirement that non-Muslim religious services be conducted only in registered facilities puts the treatment of all religions on an equal basis before the law, said the report.

"Although Ordinance 06-03 marked a step backward for religious freedom there were no reported instances of the law's implementation."

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yad Vashem will not honour 'Schindler of Iran'

As Iranian TV broadcasts a soap opera on the Holocaust, Yad Vashem has been considering whether to honour Abdol Hossein Sardari - but has decided he did not risk his life to save Jews, the Jerusalem Post reports.

"Yad Vashem has been considering bestowing its highest honor on a diplomat known as the "Schindler of Iran" for saving Jews during the Holocaust, but tentatively decided not to due to "inconclusive documentation" on the risk he took, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority said Monday.

"Deliberation over whether to confer upon Abdol Hossain Sardari the title of "Righteous Among the Nations," which was last taken up by Yad Vashem in 2005, would be reopened should new information arrive, a Yad Vashem spokesperson said Monday.

"Sardari, who headed the Iranian consular office in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941, saved many Jews during the Holocaust by issuing them blank Iranian passports.

"His story is the subject of an Iranian state-run TV series* on the Holocaust. It is seen as a government attempt to differentiate between Israel and the Jewish people, and to moderate its anti-Semitic image after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth" and repeatedly said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

"The issue over whether to posthumously bestow the title on Sardari, who died in 1981, has been taken up twice by Yad Vashem, most recently two years ago. But it has been tentatively turned down due to a lack of evidence that the Iranian diplomat acted at personal risk to himself, a key criteria for the award.

"Thus far, the documentation is inconclusive insofar as the criteria for recognition as Righteous Among the Nations," a Yad Vashem spokesperson said. "Should material arrive that would shed more light on the case, it will be re-referred to the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nation."

"Yad Vashem said it was clear that Sardari had helped Jews living in Paris during the Holocaust who held Iranian citizenship, but it was not clear if he did so at any risk.

"This is admirable conduct, but it appears he acted in compliance with his [government] instruction," the spokesperson said.

"Due to the involvement of a diplomat, it appears that Iranian Foreign Ministry archives would offer historians the clearest picture on the case.

"After a profound exploration of the case and the historical circumstances, the commission decided then that based on the information at hand, it was unable to bestow the title on Sardari," the spokesperson said.

Sardari sent a letter to Yad Vashem in April 1978, setting the process in motion.

"As you may know," he wrote, "I had the pleasure of being the Iranian consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews."

In 2004 the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center posthumously awarded Sardari for his actions during the Holocaust. The award ceremony was attended by Ibrahim Moradi, an Iranian-born Jew who Sardari saved. The award was presented to Sardari's nephew, Fereydoun Hoveyda, who served as Iran's ambassador to the UN in the 1970s, Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said Monday. Moradi was saved from the Nazis by a passport that Sardari provided, he said.

Moradi, who has since passed away, noted at the ceremony that Sardari acted without getting any money in exchange, Cooper said. That contradicts the Iranian TV series, which depicts the diplomat giving out the passports for cash, he added.

According to Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's Israel director, the Iranian TV show indicated that the situation in Iran was not as monolithic as some might think.

"On the one hand we have the president of Iran who denies the very existence of the Holocaust, and on the other hand we have a flagship project of Iranian TV which presents the Holocaust as historical fact," he said Monday.

Read article in full

* Not all media agree that the series is sympathetic to the Jews, eg Der Spiegel

Monday, September 17, 2007

My return to Algiers, 20 years on

Albert Bensoussan's return to his native Algiers was an unsettling and unrewarding experience (via Los Muestros):

"When I returned to Algeria in 1982, 20 years after the exodus, my city did not find grace in my eyes - no grace whatsoever. I wandered ceaselessly in the curiously shrunken streets and on the seafront, excising distance, beauty and splendour from the disorienting, present-day city.

"Yes, Algiers was abandoned, and hard as I tried to remember faces and things, nothing stayed with me. I 'repatriated' myself (to France) proclaiming as the only souvenir of my trip the emptiness of human geography. For in the new landscape of the 'independent' city, where street names had changed, where the sea was out of bounds and the Admiralty enclosed by barbed wire, where the language I heard was obviously different, where the city was so oddly the same yet so stubbornly other, I recognised no face, no friendly look, nor the slightest empathy.

"The Great Temple where we prayed, in the very heart of the Casbah - no longer Rabbi Abraham Bloch square as it had changed its name - appeared to me incongruously disguised with a tacked-on tall minaret on the left-hand side. The very present escaped me as in a porous dream, or a persistent nightmare. I know I cut short my stay as I could bear it no longer, as if in a restless sleep I had suddenly turned over and fallen out of bed."

The rest of Albert Bensoussan's article (French) describes how the Algerian synagogue in Netanya has been endeavouring to maintain the continuity of the Algerian-Jewish tradition in the Land of Israel.

'Life was better under Taliban' - last Afghan Jew

Zebulon Simentov, the last Jew of Afghanistan, continues to fascinate journalists. Jason Motlagh of The Jerusalem Post is the latest to meet him : (with thanks: Lily)

"The first question Zebulon Simentov asked his uninvited guest, eyes wide open at the prospect, was, "Are you Jewish?" There was a tinge of disappointment when the reply came back negative, but the last Jew in Afghanistan didn't miss a beat.

"Humanity is one, religion doesn't matter," he said.

"Moments later, a Muslim friend entered the room, unfurled a prayer rug in the corner and bowed toward Mecca. An open box of Manischewitz matza sat next to an empty bottle of whiskey on a table nearby.

"Locals refer to Simentov, 47, simply as "the Jew." Originally from the western city of Herat, he wears a kippa with his shalwar kameez and swears "half of Kabul" knows him - though probably not for the reasons he'd like to believe.

"His only other coreligionist in the country, Yitzhak Levin, died in January 2005 and was later buried on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives. The pair had lived together in the Flower Street synagogue through the Soviet invasion, the civil war and the Taliban regime.

"And they famously grew to hate each other.

"Among other antics, they held separate services, had vicious shouting matches neighbors say could be heard down the street and denounced each other to the Taliban as spies for the Mossad.

"Both received beatings for their trouble."

Read article in full

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In search of Aleppo pepper

The distinctive spice ' Aleppo pepper' seems to be staging a comeback in north America, Sasha Chapman discovers in the Canadian Globe and Mail:

"There are no new ingredients - at least not natural ones. And yet it seems I am constantly discovering, or rediscovering, new flavours in the city. Take Aleppo pepper, a cayenne substitute that hails from the northern Syrian city of the same name. The moderately hot peppers are dried in the sun before they are crushed into a coarse rust-hued powder that sharpens the taste of everything from tabbouleh to baba ghanouj. Its flavour is far more complex than cayenne: at once fruity, sweet and slightly sour.

"Older Middle Eastern cookbooks, such as Claudia Roden's excellent Book of Middle Eastern Food, rarely mention the ingredient (also known as Halab pepper), even though Ms. Roden calls Aleppo the pearl of Sephardic Jewish cuisine. But I've been noticing the ingredient popping up on New York menus and in cookbooks like the newly published Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck.

Read article in full

Mourning loved ones from her Egyptian past

'Yizkor' - a service for the dead recited in Ashkenazi synagogues on Yom Kippur - is an occasion for Lucette Lagnado, writing in Opinion Journal, to mourn the departed members of her Egyptian-Jewish family: (with thanks: Lily)

"I have always loved the rituals of the Jewish High Holidays--hearing the wail of the shofar, or ram's horn; chanting the ancient hymns; taking part in the festive meal, punctuated by honey and sweet jam, to mark the New Year.

"Still, it is the brief, sober service known as Yizkor--literally, "May God remember"--that has come to affect me most. Recited on Yom Kippur, which begins next Friday at sundown, Yizkor is the memorial prayer for the dead.

"But unlike the Kaddish recited daily by a mourner, which never mentions the person who has passed, Yizkor is an explicit expression of yearning for the person lost and must include his name."

Read article in full

Friday, September 14, 2007

Jews fail to win seats in Moroccan parliament

None of the five Jews who stood for the Moroccan parliamentary elections last week - including high-profile Maggie Cacoun - managed to win a seat, Marc Perelman of The Forward reports.

All the Jewish candidates declared fierce loyalty to the Moroccan state, saying they were campaigning as Moroccans first, and Jews a long way second. But off the record, The Forward found that antisemitism could have played a part in their non-election.

Also following the Moroccan election campaign was a certain wanted terrorist hiding from the Americans in the wilder reaches of Pakistan.

Perelman writes:

"The effects of this campaign have apparently reached far and wide. In a speech that Al Qaeda released last week, Osama bin Laden said that “the Jewish community in Morocco today is one of the largest communities in the world. They are alive with us, and we have not incinerated them.”

"Bin Laden had some of his facts wrong: Morocco’s Jewish community is hardly one of the largest — and even the campaign-trail picture of tolerance painted by ( Jewish candidate Susan) Abittan differs sharply from the accounts of two Moroccan reporters who followed the race and spoke to The Forward on condition of anonymity. Locals to whom the reporters talked about the candidates consistently asked why foreign candidates had entered Morocco’s elections, or stated that voting for a Jew was against Islam. (My emphasis - ed)

"Abittan disputes this claim, stating that her 25 years of social work had earned the respect of local Jews and Muslims alike. She noted that an Islamist baker in her neighborhood had offered his support, and that one of the other Jewish candidates, banker Solange Cohen, ran in a well-known Islamist stronghold in Casablanca’s suburbs.

“We didn’t get the votes, because we started too late,” she said, “People, when they heard ‘Cohen,’ did not run away; they were curious.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The forgotten Ottoman expulsion of 1917

The story of how the Ottomans expelled thousands of inhabitants of Tel-Aviv-Yafo in 1917 is one Israel would rather forget. Nadav Shragai of Haaretz reports:

"In a section on the outskirts of the Yavne'el cemetery lie dispersed dozens of basalt tombstones, without names. Only one is engraved with a few clear lines, recounting a terrible tale that nearly disappeared into oblivion: "In memory of my dear parents, Yaakov and Creina Klein (Keter) aged 35-38 and my brother Yehoshua Yona (z"l) aged 5, among the deportees from Tel Aviv-Jaffa, in World War I 1917, who lie interred in this section and whose place of burial is unknown."

"The year 1917 was difficult for the Jews in pre-state Israel. The British army, pushing northward from Egypt, had conquered the southern part of the Land of Israel, and the Turks were waging fierce rearguard battles. The Turks were afraid Jews would help the British conquer the northern part as well. On March 28, 1917, the Ottoman military governor, Jamal Pasha, ordered the expulsion of Tel Aviv-Jaffa's residents. On Pesach eve, April 6, 1917, the first Hebrew city emptied out. Among the thousands expelled was author Yosef Haim Brenner, who was inspired by those days to write the short story "Hamotza" (The Way Out).

"Dr. Gur Alroey, who chairs the Land of Israel Studies Department at the University of Haifa, says there was nothing heroic about that expulsion. "It's almost impossible to grasp today," he said. "Thousands simply got up and left, without resisting, and maybe that is why nobody likes to remember or recall that expulsion."

"They scattered to Tiberias, Safed, Kfar Sava, Petah Tikva, Zichron Yaakov, Jerusalem. Some 2,500 of them, mainly the poor, wandered as far as the northern moshavim, or small farming communities. They had to contend with the climate, hunger, poverty and typhus. They survived the first few months, but in the winter of 1917-18, hundreds died of exposure, disease and hunger. Most of the dead were buried hastily, in unmarked graves around the country.

"Their descendants have been trying for years to persuade the Tel Aviv Municipality to commemorate those who died in the expulsion, or as a result of it, but to no avail."

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

1,000s of Yemenite Jews have converted to Islam

Sympathetic portrayal of the Jews of Yemen by Mohamed Bin Sallam in The Yemen Times. Bin Sallam is brave enough to point out that Jews are deprived of formal state education, although the state has built a school recently for refugees from the war in Sa'ada. He claims that 350,000 Jews have converted to Islam since 1948, an alarming thought - although this number, along with other figures he quotes throughout the article, appears exaggerated.

"Yemeni Jews are natives of Yemen as they had been here for centuries before Christ and Islam. They had maintained their religion throughout the years and lived in communities within Yemeni society until they migrated to the “Promised Land” in Jerusalem.

"Yet Yemen also contains some religious sites visited by Jews from all placed. Salem Yousef Al-Shebzi (Shabazi), was a Jewish religious cleric, who lived in Taiz in the 16th Century after he moved from a nearby village. He was a well-respected Yemeni Jew, and Jews from Yemen and all around the world come to visit his grave, known as the “Shebzi Grave”. Although the exact location of the grave is not known, Jews flock to a site near Al-Qaherah Fort in Taiz city, and camp there for several hours. They take blessin
Yemeni dance from the South performed by Yemeni Jews in Israel. The group of 200 artistes tours the world presenting Jewish arts.
gs from a small water stream in that area.

"Between 1949 and 1950 the majority of Yemeni Jews migrated. The migration operation was termed ‘The Magic Carpet’, when more than 48,000 Yemeni Jews migrated to Israel. Thousands of the Yemeni Jews remained in Yemen, some held to their religion, while others converted to Islam whether by force or by choice. Some 350,000 Yemeni Jews have been converted to Islam since 1948.

"Today, the Jewish remnant in Yemen doesn’t exceed one thousand living in small communities in Sana’a, Amran, and Sa’ada. They freely exercise their religious rituals and have several religious occasions, which they mark every year such as Eid Al-Gufran or Eid Naisan, Khudhaira, Mudhalat or the Return.

"However, they are not integrated completely in all aspects of the public life such as the education system. True, they share the difficult living conditions with all Yemenis, yet their children are generally deprived of formal education in public schools. Yemeni Jewish children go to religious teaching sessions established by the elders of their community members. Recently a small school containing 25 students was constructed by the state for the Jews displaced from their homes because of war in Sa’ada, north of Yemen.

Read article in full

Monday, September 10, 2007

How the British brought change to south Arabia

British rule in south Arabia from 1939 to 1967 brought education, modernity and equal rights. The Jews of Aden owe to the British the abolition of the poll tax paid by non-Muslims - the first time in a majority-Muslim country. Review of Without glory in Arabia: the British retreat from Aden by Aviva Klein-Franke in The Yemen Times.

"The British contributed much to social change in the area. The British changed the tribal, religious and social law: girls should not marry before the age of 16 and later the age of 18. Eating Qat * was allowed on weekends only and forbidden during the week. The sale of liquor was permitted under special circumstances. All inhabitants were considered equal before the law. Jews, Christians and Indians were not classified as Dhimmis and were free from paying the poll tax to the Sultan of Lahej. For the first time the poll tax was abolished in a country with a Muslim majority. The British established a new legal system for the entire population, which took hold alongside the Muslim Sharia and the Jewish Halakha.

"All the groups who were serving the British or working under the British enjoyed an urban environment. A proletariat was created in Aden who felt itself less committed to the traditional tribal order. Its members earned money, made an income, lived in houses or flats in the city and enjoyed the benefits of the city, such as food, health services and infrastructures. The younger generation of Aden was able to absorb western education in the past couple of generations. There were also a number of students who could continue their high school studies in Bombay and in Great Britain. A new elite class was created in Aden. Young educated people became advocates, physicians and businessmen. There were scholars and academics who were now teachers in British schools and colleges. The leading educated groups in Aden spoke openly on political issues, seeking ways to liberate Aden from the rule of the British, and succeeded in influencing the tribes and the local groups to join them. The population of Aden enjoyed patterns of democracy: they were allowed to assemble, to express their opinion even against the rulers, to establish parties, to demonstrate and to publish their decrees and aims in newspapers. The disruption of the tribal order enabled them to lead their folks towards a new national identity.

"Where else in the Arab world was it possible at this time?"

Read article in full

*popular plant chewed for its narcotic properties

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Nazi roots of Islamist Jew-hatred in Egypt

In this article in the Weekly Standard Matthias Kuntzel traces the roots of 9/11 terrorism back to the birth of the Nazi-inspired Muslim Brotherhood in the 1930s. Their first targets were not Western colonialism, but Jews in Egypt. (With thanks: Lily)

"Despite common misconceptions, Islamism was born not during the 1960s but during the 1930s. Its rise was inspired not by the failure of Nasserism but by the rise of Nazism, and prior to 1951 all its campaigns were directed not against colonialism but against the Jews. It was the Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, that established Islamism as a mass movement. The significance of the Brotherhood to Islamism is comparable to that of the Bolshevik party to communism: It was and remains to this day the ideological reference point and organizational core for all later Islamist groups, including al Qaeda and Hamas.

"It is true that British colonial policy produced Islamism, insofar as Islamism viewed itself as a resistance movement against "cultural modernity." The Islamists' solution was the call for a new order based on sharia. But the Brotherhood's jihad was not directed primarily against the British. Rather, it focused almost exclusively on Zionism and the Jews. Membership in the Brotherhood shot up from 800 to 200,000 between 1936 and 1938, according to the research of Abd Al-Fattah Muhammad El-Awaisi for his book The Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Question 1928-1947. In those two years the Brotherhood conducted only one major campaign in Egypt, and it was against Zionism and the Jews.

"This campaign, which established the Brotherhood as a mass movement, was set off by a rebellion in Palestine directed against Jewish immigration and initiated by the notorious grand mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al--Husseini. The Brotherhood organized mass demonstrations in Egyptian cities under the slogans "Down With the Jews!" and "Jews Get Out of Egypt and Palestine!" Leaflets called for a boycott of Jewish goods and Jewish shops, and the Brotherhood's newspaper, al-Nadhir, carried a regular column on "The Danger of the Jews of Egypt," which published the names and addresses of Jewish businessmen and allegedly Jewish newspaper publishers all over the world, attributing every evil, from communism to brothels, to the "Jewish danger."

"The Brotherhood's campaign against the Jews used not only Nazi-like tactics but also German funding. As the historian Brynjar Lia recounted in his monograph on the Brotherhood, "Documents seized in the flat of Wilhelm Stellbogen, the Director of the German News Agency affiliated to the German Legation in Cairo, show that prior to October 1939 the Muslim Brothers received subsidies from this organization. Stellbogen was instrumental in transferring these funds to the Brothers, which were considerably larger than the subsidies offered to other anti-British activists."

"At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood was the first modern organization to propagate the archaic idea of a belligerent jihad and the longing for death. In 1938, Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood's charismatic founder, published his concept of jihad in an article entitled "The Industry of Death." He wrote: "To a nation that perfects the industry of death and which knows how to die nobly, God gives proud life in this world and eternal grace in the life to come." This slogan was enthusiastically taken up by the "Troops of God," as the Brothers called themselves. As their battalions marched down Cairo's boulevards in semi-fascist formation they would burst into song: "We are not afraid of death, we desire it. . . . Let us die to redeem the Muslims!"

"The death cult that became a hallmark of modern jihadism was laced with Jew-hatred from the very beginning. Moreover, this attitude sprang not only from European influences; it also drew directly on Islamic sources. First, Islamists considered, and still consider, Palestine an Islamic territory, Dar al-Islam, where Jews must not run a single village, let alone a state. At best, in their view, this land should be judenrein; at the very least, Jews there should be relegated to subservient status. Second, Islamists justify their aspiration to eliminate the Jews of Palestine by invoking the example of Muhammad, who in the 7th century not only expelled two Jewish tribes from Medina, but also beheaded the entire male population of a third Jewish tribe, before proceeding to sell all the women and children into slavery. Third, they find support and encouragement for their actions and plans in the anti-Jewish passages of the Koran.

"After World War II it became apparent that the center of global Jew-hatred was shifting from Nazi Germany to the Arab world. In November 1945, just half a year after the end of the Third Reich, the Muslim Brothers carried out the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egypt's history, when demonstrators penetrated the Jewish quarters of Cairo on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. They ransacked houses and shops, attacked non-Muslims, and torched the synagogues. Six people were killed, and some hundred more injured. A few weeks later the Islamists' newspapers "turned to a frontal attack against the Egyptian Jews, slandering them as Zionists, Communists, capitalists and bloodsuckers, as pimps and merchants of war, or in general, as subversive elements within all states and societies," as Gudrun Krämer wrote in her study The Jews in Egypt 1914-1952.

"In 1946, the Brotherhood made sure that Heinrich Himmler's friend Amin al-Husseini, the former grand mufti who was being sought as a war criminal by Britain and the United States, was granted asylum and a new lease on political life in Egypt. As leader of the Palestine National Movement, al-Husseini had been a close ally of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazis. Based in Berlin from 1941 to 1945, he had directed the Muslim SS divisions in the Balkans and had been personally responsible for blocking negotiations late in the war that might have saved thousands of Jewish children from the gas chambers. All this was known in 1946. Nonetheless, Britain and the United States chose to forgo criminal prosecution of al-Husseini in order to avoid spoiling their relations with the Arab world. France, which was holding al-Husseini, deliberately let him get away.

"For many in the Arab world, what amounted to amnesty for this prominent Islamic authority who had spent the war years broadcasting Nazi propaganda from Berlin was a vindication of his actions. They started to view his Nazi past with pride, not shame, and Nazi criminals on the wanted list in Europe now flooded into the Arab world. Large print-runs of the most infamous libel of the Jews, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were published in the following decades at the behest of two well-known former members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. Both the Muslim Brothers' unconditional solidarity with al-Husseini and their anti-Jewish riots mere months after Auschwitz show that the Brotherhood did not object, to say the least, to Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

"The consequences of this attitude, this blindness to the international impact of the Holocaust, continue to affect the course of the Arab-Jewish conflict today. How do Islamists explain international support for Israel in 1947? Ignoring the actual fate of the Jews during World War II, they revert to conspiracy theories, viewing the creation of the Jewish state as a Jewish-inspired attack by the United States and the Soviet Union on the Arab world. Accordingly, El-Awaisi writes, the Brotherhood "considered the whole United Nations intervention to be an international plot carried out by the Americans, the Russians and the British, under the influence of Zionism." The mad notion of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, suppressed in Germany since May 8, 1945, survived and flourished in the political culture of the Arab world."

Read article in full

Uzbek Jewish theatre director murdered

Another Jew is murdered in Uzbekistan, Ynet news reports:

Uzbek Jewish director Mark Weil was found dead Thursday night outside his home in Tashkent. Local police are investigating suspicions that the murder was an anti-Semitic attack.

At around 11 pm Thursday, Tashkent police received a call that the 51-year-old theatre director was found dead at the entrance to his home, with multiple stab wounds all over his body.

Police believe Weil was stabbed to death by two men, possibly due to his Jewish identity. The Jewish Agency said the director was well known for keeping close ties with the local Jewish community.

Read article in full

Two Uzbek Jews murdered

Friday, September 07, 2007

Never misty-eyed about Jewish dispossession

In response to Howard Jacobson's column arguing that Jews seem to come last in the liberal pecking order among the dispossessed, The Independent has been printing a large number of critical letters. Here, in today's edition, is an exception:

Misty-eyed about a people's wrongs

Sir: The Independent's letter writers come over all misty-eyed when lamenting the Palestinians' right of return to Israel, yet western liberals consistently fail to put history into any kind of context.

What about the right of return of 800,000 Jews kicked out of their Arab homelands in 1948, from lands they had lived in for centuries. Their communal assets were frozen and their property confiscated. The majority of these Jews from Arab lands were absorbed, mainly into Israel.

This was a few years after six million Jewish men women and children were incinerated in the crematoria of Europe. The Arab world's contribution to humanity was none too misty-eyed.

Sara Cohen

Hove, East Sussex

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Jewish centre is no substitute for rights

The Armenians already have one: now it's the turn of the Jews. Iran is building a Jewish cultural and sports centre to show how well it treats its minorities. (No doubt the Baha'is can't wait for theirs). Perhaps someone should point out to president Ahmadinejad that there is more to minority rights than a showpiece in concrete and glass.

Ynet News reports:

Iran started building a huge new cultural and sports complex for its Jewish minority in central Tehran Sunday, billing the project as proof of the freedoms enjoyed by its religious minorities.

Housing and urban development minister Mohammad Saidi-Kia broke the ground for the new building alongside Morris Motamed, the representative of Iran's Jewish community in parliament, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The total cost for the project is 30 billion riyals ($3.2 million) and the building will extend for 6,800 square meters (73,194 square feet), around half of which will be devoted to sport, and half to cultural activities, Motamed said.

It is expected to be finished in two-and-a-half years.

(...) Iranian officials vehemently deny charges of anti-Semitism, saying the Jewish minority is well treated, and the president's attacks are only against Israel - which the Islamic republic has always refused to recognize. The officially-recognized religious minorities in Iran are Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, all of whom are represented in parliament. The Armenians - by far the largest Christian community - already have a well-established sports and cultural center in the north of Tehran.

However, Iran considers Bahais, who advocate the unity of all religions, to be apostate, and the sect has none of the rights enjoyed by the other minorities.

The UN General Assembly in December denounced what it said was "increasing discrimination" against minorities, but Iran has always insisted all its recognized religious communities enjoy full rights.

Read article in full

Comment: just another publicity stunt, by Karmel Melamed

About 250 Israelis travel to Iraq every year

About 250 Israelis have been traveling to Iraq every year, most of them businesspeople, who include a number of defense industry representatives, Haaretz reports (with thanks: Lily).

Most of the Iraq-bound travellers fly through Amman on Royal Jordanian Airlines, according to confidential figures from the airline that TheMarker has obtained.

Some of the Israelis hold dual citizenship and enter Iraq on non-Israeli passports.

None of the travelers, though, are tourists. There are also no groups of Israelis born in Iraq returning to visit their birthplace (although some had plans for a visit - ed).

Others traveling from Israel include journalists, and employees of the UN and other international organizations.

Many Israelis fly Royal Jordanian through Amman on their way to the Far East, and now also to Europe.

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jewish woman stands for Moroccan parliament

The Jerusalem Post reports that Maggie Cacoun, a Jewish woman, is campaigning for a seat in the Moroccan parliament (with thanks: Lily):

Maggie Cacoun, a centrist politician known for her work on women's rights, is considered among front-runners in an election for the Rabat assembly to be held later this week.

Since details on her ethnic background emerged, Cacoun, 54, has been at pains to stress her patriotism as a Moroccan.

"I do not want to be treated as a Jew," Cacoun said in one interview. "I did not seek permission to run from the Jewish community. The only person I consulted with was my husband, and he gave me his blessing."

Most of Morocco's Jews left decades ago, mainly for Israel or Europe, but the 5,000 or so who remained tend to voice satisfaction about living in the moderate Muslim Arab country.

Read article in full

Y-net News


Interview in Maghrebia