Friday, February 29, 2008

The Forward's 'Arab Jew' controversy runs and runs

Yossi Alpher leaps into the debate conducted over the last several weeks in The Forward (here, here and here) over the expression 'Arab Jews'. But Alpher almost excuses Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia's controversial remark - that Arabs will start thinking of Israelis as Arab Jews when peace comes. He said it, says Alpher, for the benefit of his Arab audience to 'sweeten the bitter pill' of Israeli coexistence with Arab countries. Alpher's apologia makes him complicit in the very myths and delusions which have kept misunderstanding and conflict going. To prepare his audience for true normalisation, Turki should have told them a few home truths: Jews are not just a religious group, they are not a European implant, and and have as much right to a sovereign state in the Middle East as the Arabs do.
"The debate among Forward readers about Turki’s “Arab Jews” remark has, quite understandably, focused largely on Diaspora Jewish perceptions of Judaism and Arab culture. But it is important to remember that Turki’s statement for publication was made very much in a Middle Eastern context.
"The former longtime ambassador is a sophisticated and intelligent man. I believe he knows perfectly well that almost no Jewish Israelis identify as Arab Jews.
"But in describing his vision of normalization for publication, which invariably means translation into Arabic for the Arab media, Turki threw in the “Arab Jews” reference for the benefit of his Arab audience. He threw it in to soften the bitter pill of coexistence with Israel for Arabs, many of whom, Turki told Reuters, “historically saw the Israeli state as a European entity imposed on Arab land after World War II.”
"This, then, is the regional-historic context of “Arab Jew.” Most Arabs, and not a few Westerners and others, insist on seeing Jews as members of a religion and not of a people. For this they have both Islamic religious backing and the legacy of their pre-Zionist history, when they forced Jews into dhimmi, or second-class citizenship status, and, rightly or wrongly, considered the Arab-Jewish relationship to be tranquil.
"Hence most Arabs view Israel as the artificial creation of Western Jews who had no business founding a state, and certainly not one on what Arabs believe was Arab, and even Islamic, land. Turki was selling normalization with Israel to his constituents by way of soft-pedaling the Israeli nationalist face.
"While we Israelis may not like to be portrayed as Arab Jews, Turki nevertheless deserves a lot of credit for pointing the way for Arabs to live at peace with Israel.
"There is also a specifically Israeli context to the Arab Jew debate. A very small minority of post-Zionist Jews in Israel does indeed envisage Israel so closely integrating into the region that we become Arab Jews. They can even draw encouragement from the naive remarks of a few peace-minded politicians like Shimon Peres — back during the euphoric Oslo days, not during his current presidency — to the effect that comprehensive peace could mean Israel joining the Arab League.
"Then there are some Israeli Jews of eastern origin who harbor strong resentment of Ashkenazic dominance of Israeli life — which is hardly an item any more in view of the degree of integration in Israeli institutions like the military and the Knesset — or simply long for the language and culture of their or their grandparents’ land of birth, and call themselves Arab Jews. No one gets very excited over this; you almost certainly will not encounter them on a flight to Cairo or at the bridge crossing into Jordan.
"Finally, and perhaps of greatest importance, there is a very immediate peace process-related context to the Arab Jew issue. When Turki talks about Arabs welcoming Israelis back into the fold as Arab Jews, when Arab citizens of Israel increasingly demand that Israel cease to be a Jewish state, when Palestinians and other Arab neighbors warn us that if the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fail they will have to reconsider the entire two-state concept, when even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declares that the collapse of his current negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will mean that “Israel as a Jewish state is finished” — they are in effect stating that the only alternative to a two-state solution is a single, bi-national state solution in which, eventually, an Arab majority determines that we are all Arabs, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian.
"Yet nothing could be farther from the minds of 95% of Israeli Jews, who insist on continuing to live in a Jewish state. Most want it to be Jewish and democratic and therefore have supported withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza. Even those settlers who have no problem subjugating Palestinians in order to hold onto the territories insist that the latter remain second-class citizens and that Israel remain Jewish, not Arab."
Read article in full
Philologos on 'Arab Jews' - Part lll

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jewish refugees resolution passes committee stage

Great news from Congress:
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee has finally passed House Resolution no. 185. The resolution, which requires any official reference to Palestinian refugees to be matched by a mention of Jewish and other refugees, was passed unanimously. The next step is for the full House to vote the bill into law.

Here is the full text of the US Congress press release issued today: (with thanks: Doug)

"WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan group of lawmakers today welcomed the approval by the House Foreign Affairs committee of a bi-partisan Congressional Resolution (H.Res.185), which recognizes the plight of hundreds of thousands Jewish refugees who were displaced from countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf. The resolution was introduced by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-NJ). It was adopted by unanimous consent.

“Today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee recognized the suffering and terrible injustices visited upon Jewish refugees in the Middle East,” said Rep. Nadler. “It is simply not right to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees without recognizing the rights of Jewish refugees, who, in fact, outnumbered their Palestinian counterparts. The forced exile of Jewish refugees from Arab lands must not be omitted from public dialogue on the peace process. By any definition, these displaced Jews are refugees, and we should recognize them as such. Seeking justice for those who suffered is a critical component of enduring peace.”

"In past Congresses, I have sponsored similar resolutions urging greater recognition of the plight of these refugees, and emphasizing that any comprehensive Middle East peace agreement can only be credible and enduring if it does justice for the rights of all refugees in the Middle East,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. “In particular, it is imperative that we recognize the history and plight of history’s forgotten refugees, along with the circumstances surrounding their departure. Failure to do so only serves to perpetuate their suffering."

“The plight and injustices of Jewish, and other displaced, refugees in the greater Middle Eastern region must be recognized by the United Nations and dealt with in a fair and balanced manner,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley. “This recognition will fulfill a very necessary step in the effort to establish lasting peace and stability in a critically important and historic part of the world.”

“This important resolution urges the international community to treat all refugees in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf equally,” said Congressman Ferguson. “All religions – including Judaism and Christianity – must be treated equally and fairly in any credible Middle East peace agreement.”

"Following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the status of Jews in Arab and Muslim countries changed dramatically. When virtually all of Israel’s neighbors declared or supported war on the Jewish state, approximately 850,000 refugees were forcibly expelled from their homes. Others became political hostages. In virtually all cases, individual and communal properties were seized and/or confiscated by governments without any compensation provided."

"The Nadler Resolution urges the President to ensure that when the issue of Middle East refugees is discussed in international forums, any reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similarly explicit reference to Jewish and other refugee populations. "

JJAC press release

JTA article

Debka article

Has Sephardi cinema finally come of age ?

The recent New York Sephardic Film Festival has been attracting record attendances and it's been a bumper year for Sephardi cinema, Nick Johnstone writes in The Jewish Chronicle.

"Ravit Turjeman is excited. She has just finished her first stint as programme director for the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, in collaboration with the Yeshiva University Museum and American Sephardi Federation/ Sephardi House. It is now in its 12th year, having launched in 1990 and gone annual in 2001. Turjeman hopes this year’s selection of films, co-programmed with Lynne Winters, director of programming for the American Sephardi Federation, will further broaden the audience for Sephardic-themed film.

“The point of the festival,” explains the New York-based Israeli, whose parents left Morocco for Israel in 1964, “was to show through culture, through film, a type of Judaism that people are not very familiar with. Right now, it’s still exotic for people to see these Sephardic traditions in Judaism because whenever one thinks about a Jewish person, the immediate image is a white male Eastern European. These films offer a new, refreshing look at the different Jewish traditions and at the same time they’re really great cinema.”

"This year, on account of a big publicity push and the trickle-down effect from a golden year for Israeli cinema, she and Winters are expecting record attendance. Highlights of the festival’s line-up include Rina Papish’s Ladino — 500 Years Young (a documentary about Ladino singer Yasmin Levy), Operation Mural (a documentary retracing the 1961 Mossad operation which saw 500 Jewish children escape Morocco for Israel), Tomer Heymann’s Black Over White (a documentary following musician Idan Raichel to Ethiopia), Vivienne Roumani-Denn’s The Last Jews Of Libya (the history of a Jewish family for whom Benghazi was once home), and Mohamed Ismail’s Goodbye Mothers (a controversial Moroccan film made by a Muslim director telling of intimate Muslim-Jewish relations in Casablanca in 1960).

Read article in full

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cotler: end distorted framing of final status issues

Don't miss this Youtube video of the interview on the prestigious Ro'im Olam (Israel Channel 11, 23 February), with former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler MP, an indefatigable campaigner for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab Countries. (With thanks Eliyahu, Bezalal)

To a question by interviewer Yaakov Achimeyer, "Are they really refugees?" Cotler responds that the Jews from Arab countries certainly fit the international definition of a refugee: uprooted, denationalised by law, their assets plundered and sequestered.

Cotler refers to the partisan role of the UN and the draft law threatening Jewish rights in Arab countries which the Arab League prepared as early as November 1947.

But the heart of the whole matter is beautifully articulated in this exchange.

Yaakov Achimeyer:"What is the responsibility of the Israeli government? As an Israeli citizen I don't hear the Israeli government, Israeli ministers bringing up the issue of the Jewish refugees."

Cotler: "That's part of the problem, a selectivity in the narrative: We talk about Palestinian refugees, not Jewish refugees; an independent Palestinian state, not the legitimacy of the Israeli state; settlements, not an end to terror and incitement.

"We need an inclusive approach to final status issues, including a reference to Jewish refugees. If you don't, you have a false framing of the issues. If you don't, you won't have a just solution."

Jewish leader slams Arab writers' boycott

A Sephardi leader has slammed Arab writers for boycotting the Turin Book Fair, where the guest country is Israel, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The move will only hold back Jewish-Arab dialogue - the key to an inevitable peace - he maintains.

"The Union of Arab Writers is falling into a trap which discredits it," David Bensoussan, President of the Communaute Sepharade Unifiee du Quebec, told Canadian Jewish News. " It is sad to see how far poisonous messages of hatred and disinformation about Israel and the West put out by the media have reached the intellectual classes. In a world of mass communications the Union wants to go back to the gagging era of the old totalitarianism."

Bensoussan was especially disappointed that Moroccan publishers were being discouraged from attending. "This boycott is happening at a time when we are trying to revive Jewish-Arab dialogue, and especially Jewish-Moroccan dialogue. Instead of going backwards, writers should be helping to get the Middle East out of its present stalemate."

Bensoussan has just visited Morocco for the first time in 40 years. He noted a sameness of attitudes, with extreme left-wing and marginal Jewish ideas in evidence in intellectual circles. "They do not ask the right questions, or wish confront the truth about Jewish-Moroccan relations in all their diversity, the good times as well as the bad. There should be no limits to freedom of thought."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Last Algerian Jews left as late as 1967

The vast majority of Algerian Jews left with the French in 1962 in the wake of the Algerian War, but Benaya BenHamou's family stayed on in Oran. They remained another five years until conditions were so unsafe that even their Muslim friends were advising them to leave. Benaya told his story to Point of No Return.

"It always stuns people when I tell them that not all Algerian Jews left when Algeria became independent.

My family sided with the Algerians in the late 1950s, when the FLN asked all Jews to choose (between the Algerians and the French). There were only about 1,000 Jews in Oran. My father was well-loved in the city. We thought that nothing would happen to us. But in 1965 Islamists spread rumours about Jewish spies working for the Mossad. At that time we realized that we had better leave the country. But it all happened so fast. I was 15, and all I wanted to do was see my other cousins and friends in France.

"At school I used to be bullied because of my Jewish origins. People would ask me explanations for the suffering of the Palestinians. Everybody in the neighbourhood knew we were Jewish. The synagogues and graveyards had been vandalized. In 1967, when war broke out in Israel, my father's Algerian friends advised him to leave the country before it was too late. That is how, in a rush, I left my beloved city of Oran. I never saw it again.

"I do not know any Jews still living in Algeria. Most emigrated to France. Some went to Morocco."


About the Decret Cremieux:

Following the French conquest of Algeria, the Decret Cremieux offered French citizenship to Algerians - Muslims as well as Jews. The Muslims declined. Initially fewer than 5% of Jews accepted to become French citizens. Then it was imposed on them. Benaya believes that French citizenship not only weakened the Jews' ties to their religion, but caused tension with Muslim Algerians. (On the positive side, however, it enabled the Jews to escape the humiliations of dhimmitude, which historically placed the Jews last in the social pecking order.)

Scroll down to a post by Hubert Hannoun, setting the context for the Decret Cremieux on Zlabia, the Algerian Jews' website.

Benaya adds:

"When the French passed the Décret Crémieux in 1870 most Jews accepted French citizenship but some were reluctant. The Décret Crémieux sparked debate and soul-searching, especially among important families in Oran, Tlemcen and Constantine. Algerian Jews asked themselves whether the Jews would be better off under French law or whether tradition and religion would suffer under France's lay legislation.

"When the French saw that very few Jews were interested they went even further. They didn't allow Algerian Jews to decide for themselves. Anyone who was born Jewish automatically became French. The other Algerians did not benefit from that law - if they wanted to become French they could, but they did not want to. (And neither did the Jews at the beginning). So the history of Algerian Jews is very complex: they became French, and they threw in their lot with the French against the Arabs. Than in 1940 they lost their citizenship. So they had to face French antisemitism on one side, and the Arabs' anger (because they felt betrayed) on the other. We were trapped!

"It was a kind of a trap, for two reasons.

"First, most French in Algeria were antisemites. There even was an 'anti-Jewish' party. In the 1940s the French betrayed the Jews by stripping them of their citizenship under Vichy law. The Jews were caught between two stools: most Arabs had not forgiven them for accepting French citizenship; the French spread antisemitism throughout Algeria.

"Secondly, the religious argument turned out to be true: As Algerian Jews arrived in France they became less religious, and lost their traditions from fear of being considered 'Arab'.

"I consider that if the French had not introduced the Décret Crémieux in the first place this would have never happened. Giving citizenship to the Jews and not to the Muslims aroused jealousy and tension between the two communities. The French translated antisemitic texts into Arabic during the 1940s. That is why Algerian Jews had to deny their origins.

"It is possible to hear a Moroccan Jew say he is proud to be Moroccan, or a Tunisian Jew say he is proud to be Tunisian. But an Algerian Jew can only be proud to be French, and nothing else."

Jewish refugees bill has 39 co-sponsors

A bill addressing the rights of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries during Israel’s war of independence was scheduled to come up for discussion in the House of Representatives last week but has been delayed in committee, the New Jersey Jewish Standard reports.

"Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced House Res. 185 last February and it has waited to come before the Foreign Affairs Committee. It had been scheduled for mark-up last Wednesday but the death of the committee’s chair, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), last week delayed the bill’s retrieval from its yearlong limbo.

"Despite the delay, the resolution’s author remained steadfast in his support.

"We must recognize the rights of Jewish refugees — the forced exile of Jewish refugees from Arab lands must not be omitted from the public dialogue on the peace process," Nadler said in a statement to The Jewish Standard. "My resolution, which enjoys bipartisan support, would help bring recognition to these forgotten refugees. I am hopeful that Congress will adopt this resolution in a timely manner."

"As of Wednesday, the bill had 39 co-sponsors, including Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).

"Any comprehensive Middle East peace agreement that only addresses Palestinians would be shamefully and inexcusably incomplete," Rothman said in a statement to the Standard. "The plight of nearly 1 million Jews, Christians, and other minority groups displaced from Arab countries since the birth of Israel in 1948 must also be recognized and addressed."

"The bill, according to a Nadler spokesman, should come up the next time the Foreign Affairs Committee meets. The spokesman did not know when that would be, though.

Read article in full

Friday, February 22, 2008

More Arab media focusing on Jewish refugees

Saudi Columnist Hussein Shobokshi's piece in Asharq alawsat, picked up by Point of no Return (and now reproduced by MEMRI), lamented the exodus of first the Jews and now the Christians from the Middle East.

He writes:

"The Arab East was [once] a paragon of peaceful coexistence between different religious groups. Abundant evidence of this model arrangement could be found in school classrooms, trading companies, and cultural projects. [This situation existed] until the Jews were expelled from the Arab countries for the first time, which took place in the wake of the declaration of the Zionist state. The response [to this declaration] by the security apparatuses of several Arab governments was inane, in that they came to regard the Jewish communities with suspicion, skepticism, and apprehension, and tormented them in order to force them to emigrate [from Arab countries]."

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries points out with some satisfaction that within the last three years, references to Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries have appeared in the following Arab media:

Al Arabia (Bahrain) Al-Ayat
Al-Haram (Egypt) Al-Jazeera (Kuwait) Atlasvista Maroc (Morocco) Dar Al Hayat (Lebanon) IDC Mideast News (United Arab Emirates) Islam Online Jordan Times (Jordan) Radio Free Iraq (Iraq)

Articles such as Shobokshi's betray a growing awareness of the catastrophic cost of the Jewish exodus. This has left a gaping void at the heart of the Arab world from which it has not yet recovered . As Shubakshi puts it:

"[Jewish emigration from Arab countries] had a significant negative impact on the material wellbeing of society, and on economic diversity, in the Arab world. It helped invalidate the claim that religious moderation, coexistence, and 'acceptance of the other' [prevailed in Arab countries].

Let's hope this self-critical trend continues.

Morocco foils terrorist plot against local Jews

Morocco says it has dismantled a terrorist network plotting to assassinate Jews, cabinet ministers and army officers in the North African kingdom, Haaretz reports.

The official MAP news agency reported Wednesday night that the North African kingdom also banned an Islamist political party, Al Badil Al Hadari, because some members were linked to the network.The network apparently raised funds through holdups and jewelry thefts in Europe.

Read article in full

Article in The Jerusalem Post

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Weinstock: Trotskyist to 'Mizrahi' historian

Nathan Weinstock is not the man he once was. The iconoclastic Trotskyist of the 1970s has had a change of heart about Israel and the Jews, claiming to have ordered all unsold copies of his controversial book, Zionism: false Messiah, to be destroyed. As explained in his Histoires de chiens: la dhimmitude et le conflict israelo-palestinien, he now believes that anti-Jewish racism, viewing Jews as inferior dhimmis, is a key factor driving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Now Weinstock has produced a new book on the Jews in Arab countries, 'Une si longue presence'. Here is the transcript in English of an interview he gave to Information juive (February 2008).

Why do you think that the exodus of nearly all the Jews from Arab countries has been shrouded in silence?

Nathan Weinstock:
Several reasons. First, the Jews themselves were embarrassed (it is not something to be proud of, to be 'cleansed' like so much dirt). They wanted to draw a line over their past. And until recently, many Ashkenazim showed a certain contempt of all things Sephardi. Secondly, they felt 'cornered' by the prevailing, simplistic, politically-correct notion of colonialism. The exodus of the Jews from Arab lands was perceived by progressives as a 'settling of scores' with the effects of colonialism. Add to this the unwritten law that only the West can embody evil. Everything coming from the Third Word must necessarily escape criticism. The exiled Jews would therefore be ill-advised to muddy the waters of the simplistic ideology of the onward march to progress. Sympathy with the Palestinians has only reinforced this tendency.

The conditions in the countries you examine in your book are not comparable. What, if anything, do they have in common?

There is a huge range, geographical as well as chronological. Jews and Muslims lived together over 14 centuries and over three continents. You cannot generalise. On the other hand, one could venture to suggest that the Jewish condition under Islam was one of subjugation as a dhimmi. Humiliation is inherent in being 'protected': this does not exclude periods when Jews thrived under benevolent rulers. But even eminent Jews had an inferior status. For instance, during the Algerian Regency, Christian slaves were last in the pecking order to drink from the public fountains. But they had precedence over the native Jews. The Jew was worth symbolically less than a slave.

Has dhimmitude played a major role in causing the exodus?

I would put it differently. Let's say that anything relating to Jews in the Arab-Muslim world is tainted by their subjugated status. The Arab world finds it extremely difficult fully to recognise religious or national difference. The plight of Copts or Christians in Iraq provide striking examples, to say nothing of the tragedy in Sudan. It was to escape dhimmitude and benefit from (albeit limited) civic equality with Muslim colonial subjects, that the Jews looked to the West. This placed them in an existential impasse, torn between democratic western values and the nationalist Arab awakening that willingly exploited an imported antisemitism and claimed to be founded on Islam. Even the Algerian FLN shunned its original Jewish comrades-in-arms.

Despite (dhimmi) status, there was in certain Arab countries a great symbiosis between Jews and Muslims.

I have been struck and moved by signs of cultural interpenetration which went well beyond tolerating Jewish difference. When Muslim neighbours brought bread and butter during the Maimouna, they too were celebrating the end of Passover. It was not simply an acceptance of the Other's presence, but of mutual relations steeped in respect. In Tunisia, the notables went to the synagogue on Shavuoth to hear Saadia Gaon's commentary on the Ten Commandments in classical arabic. The Geniza of Old Cairo also reveals that Jewish families lived in close proximity with Muslim families in the same building, for instance. There were business partnerships where the Muslim replaced his Jewish associate on Shabbat. Many Jewish merchants in medieval Tunisia preferred to have their business disputes settled by Muslim, rather than Jewish courts. One must jettison all preconceived ideas.

How do explain that UNESCO allowed the Alexandria library (proudly, you say) to exhibit The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as one of the founding texts of the monotheistic religions?

One must not bury one's head in the sand. All international institutions where Muslims are strongly represented suffer from the gangrene of the Jewish conspiracy theory. This is the legacy of Hitler (which the Arab world supported at the time) and of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The paranoid vision of the Protocols impregnates the Hamas charter, the Ba'athist regime in Syria, Iran and the radical Islamist movements, insidiously contaminating most of the Arab-Muslim world and its acritical leftist admirers.

The Jewish community of Iraq numbered up to 130,000. In 1917, 80,000 of Baghdad's 200,000 inhabitants were Jews. You write that if there was one Jewish community in the Arab world which could legitimately hope to find its place in national life in symbiosis with the surrounding population, it was the Jews of Iraq. Why?

Of all the Jewish communities of Arab lands, that of Iraq was undoubtedly the most deeply integrated. Thanks to the Jews, local literature blossomed, Jewish musicians played traditional music, local Jewish communist activists played a key role against British rule. In the truly Jewish city that was Baghdad, there was reason to believe that the local Jews - who had their reservations about Zionism, even after the terrible Farhoud pogrom of 1941 - would define the contours of harmonious coexistence with the Muslim majority. Nothing of the sort occurred. With hindsight one could say that Kurdish participation in the Armenian genocide and the terrible massacres of the Assyro-Chaldean Christians, as well as the Farhoud itself, were portents of the expulsion of the Jews and the dreadful massacres of the Kurds to come, and in our times, the bloodbath in the name of religion or politics which continues to ravage the country.

What would you say was the situation of the Jews of Iran?
All the reports about the Jews of Iran cannot help but remind one of Eastern Europe in the blackest days of Stalinism. The community's leaders use eulogistical cliches to affirm how happy a Jew is under the regime of the Ayatollahs in the presence of the regime's henchmen, but one senses an anxiety about the future bubbling up. And unlike the Sunni branch of Islam, Sh'ism has also had an obsessive fear of Jewish 'uncleanliness'. The atmosphere is full of menace while this regime persists.

As far as the Jewish community of Morocco is concerned, you are left with a sense of huge loss.

As it happens, my wife and I have a great number of friends and acquaintances of Moroccan Jewish origin. While many Ashkenazim struggle with their identity, I am attracted to the ease with which Jews of Moroccan origin handle and transmit their traditions in spite of their uprooting. Theirs was an exodus which has remained touchingly faithful to its roots and upheld the richness of its culture, but the Moroccan nation has suffered an enormous loss as a result. I wish (the Jews) could build bridges with the Arab-Muslim world of which they were such an integral part.

You believe the Jews of Turkey have survived due to their discretion. Was this not the case in other Islamic countries?

Yes, it's even been the key to their survival. As my friend Jacques Hassoun (who died before his time) wrote about Egypt, "they had to learn to sing less loudly in the synagogues". Although dhimmitude has been formally abrogated, it still haunts the Arab-Muslim cultural sphere and requires the Jew (and indeed the Christian) to 'know their place'. On the streets in Turkey you will note that Jewish community buildings all fly the national flag - as if to affirm their 'Turkishness', to escape being stigmatised and vaunt the secular values of Ataturk. In Turkey, a number of factors have ensured that a substantial Jewish community has survived. However, under the surface, as it were, many community leaders are worried.

What conclusions do you draw from this piece of historical research?

I would say that wonderful examples of Judeo-Arab cultural interchange should give us hope for the future. Alas, the future remains heavily mortgaged to the Israel-Palestine conflict. I am encouraged to see the rise of several young iconoclastic Arab thinkers in the Maghreb. They are not afraid to question the sacred myths of their culture. Israel is not the only country to give rise to a new generation of historians. There is a glimmer of hope for the future.

Cross-posted on Z-blog,
Harry's Place and Engage

Review in Le Monde (French)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jewish refugees debate on Harry's Place

If you hurry you might still be in time to catch a debate on Harry's Place where the final comments of the thread deal with Jewish refugees from Arab countries. (With thanks: Avril)

'Moroccan tolerance' extends to Jews in Israel

When the Moroccan ambassador to Turkey meets a Turkish journalist writing for Zaman, what do they talk about? Answer: the Jews. The ambassador is keen to show that Morocco was as much a safe haven as the Ottoman empire for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition after 1492. His rosy portrait of 'Moroccan tolerance' does not always square up to the facts. But it is heartening that the ambassador is trying to build bridges with Moroccan Jews in Israel.

"During the interview, held at the ambassador's residence, we were served green Moroccan tea and sweets and listened to some very nice music. The ambassador explained that the music stemmed from the heritage of Granada. His country contributed a lot for the preservation of what was left from Granada, and this affected his country's culture, too. "We call it Morocco-Andalusia music," explains Ambassador Zagour.

"It is a kind of classical music that comes from Andalusia -- southern Spain. After the fall of Granada, lots of people migrated to Morocco -- especially to cities like Fez, Rabat and coastal cities. Some of these traditions have been kept from that time. The people that migrated were generally white and some of them had blue eyes. (The ambassador is presumably referring to fair Visigoth and Slav converts to Islam). Even the names lots of Moroccans use are Spanish; for example, names like Toledano*, Gassius, Palanino and Castillo* are used. We have a 14-kilometer-long coast that we share with Spain. Morocco was the closest predominantly Muslim territory at the time of the migrations, so it is only normal that the migrants would settle in Morocco. Before the fall of Granada most scientists and authors lived in the south of Andalusia and central Morocco. Most the famous Arab poets lived between Fez, the capital of Morocco, and Granada, Cordoba and Seville in Spain. The founder of sociology, Ibn Khaldun, is but one of many examples," the ambassador proudly notes.

"Morocco is also home to the world's first university, the University of al-Karaouine. This university is located in Fez and is considered to be the oldest university in the world, a center of learning for more than 1,000 years. (...)

"Morocco has also contributed to the preservation of the Jewish culture from Granada: It was one of the safe havens for the Jewish community of Granada following the fall of the city. "Israel is home to about 500,000 Moroccan Jews who have kept their Moroccan citizenships. If an Israeli who left Morocco in the 1960s comes with a paper which proves s/he is of Moroccan origin, s/he can get a Moroccan passport. They are still Moroccan. Moroccans cannot lose their citizenship. We can be Israeli, French or German but we are still Moroccan. Jews in Morocco have been there for more than 3,000 years and can be found in all of Morocco's regions. After the fall of Granada to Queen Isabella, Jews and Muslims left Spain. Many of them settled in Morocco -- particularly in Fez, but also in Rabat and other cities. Today we have a small community of around 30,000 or 40,000 Jews. (The ambassador is out by a factor of 10..The true figure is 2,400 - ed.) Morocco has also been a safe haven for Jews throughout history. (Not always - the Christian kingdom of Aragon welcomed Jews fleeing the fanatical Almohads of North Africa - ed)

During World War II when Hitler adopted his policy of exterminating Jews and was occupying France under the regime of Vichy, Morocco was a French protectorate. Laws applied in France had to be applied in Morocco as well, but the sultan of Morocco opposed the French policy of deporting Jews from Morocco. Even today Israelis of Moroccan origin keep the photograph of King Hassan and his father, King Mohammed V. They still respect them. Israelis of Moroccan origin still live the same way -- in a Moroccan style," Ambassador Zagour says and, recalling one of his memories of Moroccan Jews, adds:

"Two or three years ago I met an Israeli woman who left Morocco in the 1960s at the age of two. She spoke in the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. I could not believe it. Her family kept speaking in the Moroccan dialect! They still celebrate their events in the Moroccan way as they did in Morocco."

"Speaking about the various groups within Morocco, the ambassador wishes to highlight several points: "Ten or 12 years ago our minister of tourism was Jewish. During the last term we had a Jewish deputy in parliament. We also have many Jewish businessmen. Morocco has always been a land of tolerance and safety for Jews and all minorities. There has always been a spirit of tolerance and coexistence between communities. ( Berber nationalists may not agree - ed). An example is the Berbers and Arabs. Before the Arabs came to Morocco in the seventh century, this was Berber territory. After the Arabs settled here, it became half Arab and half Berber. But there isn't any distinction between the communities. My grandfather from my mother's side was a Berber and my mother speaks Berber. There are four dialects in our country, though our official language is Arabic. We also have 'Amazieh,' which is a Berber dialect. People don't speak classical Arabic; rather, they speak the Moroccan dialect of it. Arabic dialects differ from one region to another and it is possible to hear many dialects of Arabic in Morocco," he says.(..)

Morocco was the only Maghreb (North African) country not ruled by the Ottoman Empire, though the two did always have good relations.

Read article in full

*Jewish names

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

'The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit' wins prize

Lucette Lagnado, a senior special writer and investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was announced as the recipient of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, The Jerusalem Post reports.

"Lagnado's memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World (HarperCollins/Ecco) was chosen for its fresh vision, which demonstrates her future potential to further contribute to Jewish literature.

"The memoir chronicles her family's heartbreaking tale of their exodus from Egypt and eventual resettling in Brooklyn. Lagnado sheds light on the untold stories of the nearly one million Jewish refugees across the Middle East, cast out from homelands they cherished and longed to return to until their deaths."

Read article in full

Sunday, February 17, 2008

200 Iranian Jews visit the tomb of Daniel

Members of Iran's tiny Jewish minority gathered at the holy shrine of the Prophet Daniel in the southwest of the country Thursday to celebrate their Persian roots and keep alive a dwindling community, Haaretz reports.

"More than 200 Iranian Jews embarked on the long journey to Susa from cities across Iran to celebrate their Jewishness in an event organized by a local Jewish youth group to support the community. (..)

Bahador Michael, 26, of the Yaran organization that began organizing the trips five years ago, said: "It has been a great success and local authorities have been very cooperative."

"Iran's 25,000 Jews, the largest community in the Middle East outside Israel, face no restriction on their religious practice, though they must follow Islamic dress codes such as head scarves for women.

"The Jewish population in Iran, however, has been shrinking from emigration to Israel, the United States and elsewhere. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, nearly 100,000 Jews lived in Iran.

"Just in December, some 40 Jews secretly immigrated to Israel in a trip sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a charity receiving millions of dollars from evangelical donors each year. Jewish leaders in Iran denied that it was an organized immigration.

"Prophet Daniel is the symbol of our proud Persian roots. The gathering in Susa is to highlight our presence in Iran since ancient times," said Farhad Aframian, the editor of the monthly Jewish magazine, who described the gathering as an opportunity for Jews from all over the country to socialize and keep in touch.

"Inside the shrine, Jewish women sat reciting verses from the Torah, while nearby men in skull cups prayed loudly in Hebrew.(..)

"In addition to the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, Iran is also home to another of Judaism's important sites, the shrine of Mordechai an Esther, who became a Persian queen and persuaded King Xerxes not to slaughter the Jews in an event subsequently celebrated by the festival of Purim. "

Read article in full

Friday, February 15, 2008

'Arab' Jew? It's like saying 'Hispanic' countryside...

Following his column of two weeks ago, Philologos in The Forward has a second go at explaining why the expression 'Arab' Jew is not a legitimate one.

"I have received two long letters arguing with my column of two weeks ago, in which I objected to the term “Arab Jew.” Here are parts of them.

"From Jack Warga of Boynton Beach, Fla.:

My family lived for at least 150, and probably several hundred, years in Poland. I spoke Polish and attended a Jewish school that taught Hebrew, Bible, and Jewish history in Hebrew but all the other subjects in Polish. Now, seventy years after leaving Poland, I still continue to read Polish books and correspond with a Polish fellow-mathematician in his language. This does not make me a Pole, but it does make me a Polish Jew. So why should the term Arab Jew not be analogous to the term Polish Jew? It should just refer to one’s previous residence in a particular country or part of the world.

"And from David Shasha, director of Brooklyn’s Center for Sephardic Heritage:

In an ethnographic sense the Jews who lived in Arab lands were Arab Jews just as Jews who live in the United States are American Jews. The term was isolated under strong Zionist influence from the standard Jewish nomenclature that had little difficulty identifying other Jews by their places of origin, such English Jews, French Jews, Polish Jews, Russian Jews, and the like. Even after the Holocaust, Jews from Germany are still identified as German Jews. To object to the term Arab Jew is yet another attempt to break off the ties of Jews from the Middle East to their lands of origin and cultural traditions.

"Both Mr. Warga and Mr. Shasha have fallen victims to a linguistic confusion whose nature I perhaps failed to explain clearly enough in my original column. I suggest they consider the following terms and tell me which make sense and which don’t:

"The French countryside. The Hispanic countryside. Russian citizens. Celtic citizens. English weather. Arab weather.

"The answer is obvious. One can speak of the French countryside, Russian citizens and English weather, because these things can be restated as the countryside of France, the citizens of Russia and the weather of England. One cannot speak of the Hispanic countryside, Celtic citizens or Arab weather, because these cannot be restated as the countryside of Hispania, the citizens of Celtland or the weather of Arabia. Words like Slavic, Celtic and Arab denote linguistic, cultural and ethnic affinities, not nationality or discrete countries or geographical areas. And for this reason, too, although one can logically speak of French Jews, Russian Jews and English Jews, one can’t really speak of Hispanic Jews, Celtic Jews or Arab Jews.

"Let’s take the case of Polish Jews, a term no one would quarrel with. How are we to understand the adjective Polish in it? Not linguistically, because for most of their history, Polish Jews did not speak Polish as their first language and often did not know it at all. Not culturally or ethnically, because, again for most of their history, Polish Jews had a cultural and ethnic identity totally different from that of Polish Catholics. And not in terms of nationality, because for most of its history, Poland was not a sovereign state and had no nationals. The word’s use is geographical. A Polish Jew was a Jew who lived in Poland. If asked whether they identified as Poles, nearly all Polish Jews prior to the late 19th century, and most 20th-century Polish Jews up to the time of the Holocaust, would have given the same answer that Mr. Warga gives.

"One can grant Mr. Sasha that, ethnographically, the Jews of Arab lands were far more acculturated to their Arab environment than the Jews of Poland were to their Polish environment. And yet these Jews were exactly like the Jews of Poland in having their own strong sense of group identity and drawing a clear line between themselves and their Arab neighbors, who drew a similar line. In the countries of the Arab world, a Jew was a Jew and an Arab was an Arab. Jews and Arabs never intermarried; as a rule, they did not mix socially, and they led separate communal lives. No Jew could be an Arab because, unlike “Polish,” “Russian” or “German,” the words “Arab” and “Jew” could not be restricted to a geographical, juridical or even cultural meaning; they denoted one’s deepest allegiances and sense of self.

"This is not a matter of Zionism or Eurocentric Judaism, as Mr. Sasha seems to think. The modern Middle Eastern equivalent to Polish Jew, Russian Jew and English Jew is not Arab Jew, but Iraqi Jew, Egyptian Jew and Syrian Jew. No one could possibly object to such terms, because Iraqi, Egyptian and Syrian Jews did not object to them either and used them self-referentially. They lived in Iraq, Egypt or Syria; they had Iraqi, Egyptian or Syrian citizenship, and they were even capable of being Iraqi, Egyptian or Syrian patriots. But they never, never thought of themselves as Arabs. To come along now and tell them they were wrong is inaccurate at best and insulting at worst."

Read article in full

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Scared, loyal, oppressed - Lebanese Jews speak up

Aaron-Micael Beydoun

The ruins of the Maghen Avraham synagogue (above) in Beirut mirror the pitiful state of the Jewish community of Lebanon. This week, however, the last Jews of Beirut were the focus of a major feature in the local newspaper, L'Orient-Le jour. Two members of the community council emerge from the shadows to speak surprisingly bluntly. They go as far as to reveal that a legal case has been brought by the Darwiche family of Milan to reclaim their property.

Here's a summary of Mahmoud Harb's articles of 11 February. (With thanks: Lisette)

Harb interviews two members of the Jewish community council, Jacob and David (not their real names). They do not wish to reveal their true identities in case they are attacked by people who 'confuse Jews with Israelis'. Before the (Civil) War, Jews could serve in governmental administration, but are now banned from the civil service. There are 5,500 Jews registered as voters, but they are too scared to vote. One Jewess got into trouble for voting for Rafik Hariri. (We are not told how it became public knowledge that she had voted for him, nor why she was singled out for unpleasant treatment from among Hariri's numerous supporters).

The Syrian National Social Party (PSNS) does not hide its wish to eradicate Zionism and Judaism. Hezbollah does not distinguish between Jews and Israelis either. David therefore passes for an Armenian and his son as a Christian. "I'm Lebanese," he protests. "The Lebanese Shi'ites are not Iranians, the Catholics in the country do not represent the Vatican. We are real Lebanese and not Israelis. In any case we've been here for 1,200 years . Israel 's only been around for 60," he says.

Jacob says there are fewer than 100 Jews. There were once 30,000 ( other sources say there were never more than 10,000 - ed) in 1967. The Jews literally found themselves on the Beirut front line at Wadi Abou Jamil in the civil war. Fifteen Jews were abducted. Four were murdered and the rest simply vanished. Like all Lebanese citizens, the Jews await the restoration of the rule of law which would allow the Jews to live in peace.

The Council's main project was to refurbish the Sodeco cemetery, which has been cleared of mines by the army, and to restore the Maghen Avraham synagogue, the only one of 18 city centre synagogues 'to be saved by Solidere'. The building, financed by David Sassoon, dates back to 1925 and was 'protected' by the PLO in the 1970s. After their departure it was looted and sacked by fighters and turned into a dispensary by the Amal militia. The Torah scrolls were transferred to Lebanese synagogues abroad. If the synagogue is restored, the Jews will be able to practise their faith once again.

" As for the extremists,"adds Jacob, "we are not afraid of them, as they are everywhere."

Jacob insists that other community property has been systematically seized. "People have built on our cemetery at Saida. Others have moved in on our lands. For the moment we are keeping a low profile for security reasons. But the Darwiche family in Milan have brought a case against two parties who tried to appropriate their properties, and it was upheld."

*Harb's second interview, conducted by email with Karl Darwiche in Milan, disappointingly does not mention the court case. Darwiche blandly praises Lebanese tolerance and distances himself from Israel. The reporter waxes lyrical about young Lebanese Jews reminiscing about kebbeh and tabbouleh on Facebook. The article also mentions the site where Lebanese Jews exchange information, and the film The little story of the Jews of Lebanon by Yves Turkieh.

*A third article profiles 'Sarah', who is most likely Lisa Srour. This pathetic case, living in misery, tells how she once offered some Syrian soldiers searching her home some coffee." We don't take drinks from Jews," came the answer. She then destroyed her grandfather's books, in case the soldiers returned to seize them from her. "Here you know, people get killed," she said.

Read feature in full (French - subscription required)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who will preserve Egypt's Jewish heritage?

This interesting in-depth feature in Egypt today, 'Second Exodus' by Sarah Mishkin, profiles those inside the country and out who are working to preserve Egypt's Jewish heritage, now that there are fewer than 100 Jews left. (With thanks: Roger)

"Diplomats choose their words carefully, and US Ambassador to Egypt Francis J. Ricciardone is no exception. Ricciardone delivered short remarks in late October at a celebration Weinstein organized for the centennial of Shaar Hashamayim, the synagogue on Adly Street still used occasionally for religious celebrations.

“This is a symbol of something beautiful and something that Egyptians hold dear,” the Ambassador said. “I congratulate the small but proud community of Egyptians who are Jewish.”

That contortion — “Egyptians who are Jewish” — sums up the main problem facing those, Jewish and otherwise, working to preserve Cairo’s Jewish sites: convincing Egyptians to see the story of Egypt’s Jews as part of the story of Egypt.

“This synagogue was built as an integral part of the local history and culture,” says Professor Yoram Meital of Israel’s Ben Gurion University, speaking at Shaar Hashamayim’s centennial. Meital, who specializes in modern Egyptian history, points to marble panels at the front of the synagogue, inscribed with the names of the congregation’s members. “Think about the names that were so instrumental to the Egyptian economy of the beginning of the twentieth century!”

"Some Egyptians, he says, are beginning to write about Egypt’s Jewish heritage, including a book from top publishing house Dar Al-Shorouk entitled Al-Yahud fi Misr (The Jews in Egypt, 1993) by writer Kasim Abdul Kasim and a 2007 Arabic translation of Beinin’s book on Jewish emigration, also from Dar Al-Shorouk. Although much of what is published about Judaism is anti-Semitic — reprints of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for example — Meital says that every two or three years a new book of serious scholarship is published.

Muslim-Jewish relations in Egypt deteriorated as a result of the 1948 war, but the period before the war was a sort of golden age of cohabitation. Maimonides, Meital points out, whose synagogue and school are most in need of conservation, is himself a symbol of positive interfaith relations: He served as an advisor to medieval Muslim leaders, and his work on classical Greek philosophy would heavily influence Christian philosophers in the centuries to come.

“I would be among the people who would ask the Egyptian society in general to see this synagogue as part of their identity, their general, broader identity as Egyptians and not, of course, to exclude these Jewish institutions and [push] the whole of this issue into the arms of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Meital says.

Jews as prominent as Rene Qattawi, a community leader during the Second World War, opposed Zionism, a philosophy led mostly by European Jews. According to Beinin’s documentation, Qattawi encouraged Jewish war refugees to come to Egypt rather than overburden Mandate Palestine. But acts of espionage and sabotage by a handful of Egyptian Jews against Egypt in the early 1950s — known as Operation Susannah — tainted the perception of Jewish loyalty to the Egyptian nation.

Some of those Jews who left Egypt ended up in Israel, and Cairo’s Israeli Academic Center contributes some funds for the upkeep of libraries in a few synagogues, including Shaar Hashamayim. But the ties today stop there. Members of the local community are quick to point out that ‘Jewish’ and ‘Israeli,’ or ‘Jewish’ and ‘Zionist’ are not synonyms. (Magda) Haroun, for one, has never been to Israel, in deference to her father’s strongly anti-Zionist views.

“I’m independent in my things; she’s independent in her things,” says Professor Gabriel Rosenbaum, director of Cairo’s Israeli Academic Center, about(Carmen) Weinstein’s leadership of the Jewish Community of Cairo. “She doesn’t ask what we think.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Your questions answered...

Have you got a question about Mizrahim/Sephardim? If so, I'll try my best to answer it. Here are some replies to Antony D.'s questions, which other readers might also find useful.

Why is the number of Mizrahim so small compared to Ashkenazi Jews ?

There are roughly 13 million Jews in the world today. Of the total some 3,5 million are Mizrahim/ Sephardim. [Sephardim are Jews who trace their ancestry back through Spain. Mizrahim are Jews from the Middle East. I use the terms interchangeably because a large proportion of the Jewish communities of North Africa, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt came from Spain]. The overwhelming majority of Sephardim/Mizrahim (over 3 million) today live in Israel. The Sephardi/Mizrahi proportion of world Jewry is greater because the Nazi Holocaust wiped out a third of Ashkenazi Jewry.

The Sephardim/Mizrahim were not always a minority. A thousand years ago, an estimated 90 percent of the Jews of the world lived in Spain and Islamic lands. With the Spanish massacres of 1391 and the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of 1492 ( coupled with persecution in Ashkenaz - Germany and France), the centre of gravity of Judaism moved to Eastern Europe, which became the heartland of Ashkenazi Jewry.

Did most Jews living in the Middle East after the Babylonian era convert to the local religion and customs (Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism) ?

The majority of people living in the Middle East 2,000 years ago were Jews or Christians. In Persia, the population was Zoroastrian. (I 'm not aware of any Jews converting to Zoroastrianism.) With the 7th century Islamic conquest, Judaism and Christianity, as well as Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, lost many, many of their adherents to Islam. Christianity was in fact wiped out altogether in the Maghreb (North Africa).

Why do Ashkenazi Haredim rate themselves higher than the Mizrahim ?

You have probably heard stories of religious Sephardi/Mizrahi students being turned away by Ashkenazi Yeshivot (religious seminaries) in Israel today. It is a known fact that the most popular have a numerus clausus for Sephardim. While intermarriage between Ashkenazi and Sephardi secular couples is increasingly common, intermarriage between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredim is not. Why, you may ask, are Sephardi families fighting to get their children into Ashkenazi Yeshivot which do not want them, instead of starting their own? The answer is that Sephardim in Israel have never really recovered from the destruction of their religious heritage in Arab lands and simply do not have an educational structure reflecting their philosophy and traditions. Shmuel Trigano argues that on arrival in Israel, many religious Sephardim adopted a Lithuanian model.

The Ashkenazi Yeshivot have been accused of discrimination, even racism, but I don't think they 'rate themselves higher' than Sephardim, just different. And it is the prerogative of Ashkenazi Yeshivot, as with all educational institutions, to give priority to some students over others. In this case it is those who share their liturgy and traditions.

I read once that the Hebrew dialect of Yemeni Jews is the most authentic among the Jews living today, which might indicate they preserved the culture for thousands of years, thus making them the 'purest' of the Jews.

You are right: for centuries the Yemeni Jews were the most Jewish of Jews living among the most Arab of Arabs. This does not make Jews from other communities inferior, or less 'authentic' or 'pure'. In fact, given the geographical divide, the similarities between Western and Eastern Jews are astonishing.

Of course Mizrahim did encounter discrimination and prejudice when they arrived in Israel. Poverty and deprivation is still an enormous problem. But few if any countries in the world has had to integrate people from 80 different countries, and in the circumstances, Israel has been relatively successful.

Death of Tom Lantos sets back refugees resolution

The passage through Congress of the first resolution to recognise the existence of Jewish refugees from the Middle East has suffered a major setback with the death of one of its driving forces, Congressman Tom Lantos, yesterday.

Tom Lantos, 80, a champion of human rights worldwide and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, had been suffering from cancer of the aesophagus. He was to have shepherded House resolution no. 185 through the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which he was chairman. The resolution was due for 'marking up' - a prelude to being voted on by the full House of Representatives - on the day he died. It is not clear what happens next.

Photograph of Tom Lantos courtesy of CNN

Monday, February 11, 2008

Iran president's threats 'should not be taken lightly'

The Israeli news agency The Media Line profiles a young Iranian-Jewish couple now living in Israel. They are careful to draw a distinction between the fanatically anti-Zionist government of President Ahmadinejad, and their Iranian neighbours, with whom their families had good relations.

It was a cold, moonless night in 1990 when Danni (pictured), a 15-year-old Jewish boy, began his journey from Tehran to Jerusalem. Along with a group of 14 other Jews, Danni put his faith in the hands of professional smugglers, said a quick goodbye to his parents, and crossed the deserts of Afghanistan and Pakistan on his way to Israel.

In 2001, 18 year-old Linda also left her family in Tehran. Linda and Danni, today a married couple, reside in Jerusalem and can offer us a unique perspective on the life of the Jewish community in Iran. They also share their feelings with us regarding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad's threats to wipe their new homeland – Israel - off the map.

Ahmadi Nejad's threats were preceded by those of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah 'Ali Khamanai, who in December 2000 said that "Iran's stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon [Israel]. We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region." Back then however, the Iranian nuclear program was still in its early stages and the threat seemed less sinister.

"Ahmadi Nejad is an extreme person and one can’t tell what he'll do next. If he produces a nuclear bomb and uses it, it could spark a world war," says Danni.

Danni still lived in Tehran when Ahmadi Nejad was elected mayor of Tehran in the late 1980s. He remembers that back then, women and men used separate elevators in the municipality. Danni says this was just one indication of his extremism. When asked if Ahmadi Nejad means business about destroying Israel, Danni laughs uncomfortably.

"He's full of air, but I am scared nonetheless. You never know what he might do," he says.
Soli Karmi, Director General of the non-profit organization, Iranian Zionists in Israel, believes the Iranian president's threats should not be taken lightly.

"These are dangerous statements. We have a very short memory. Sixty years ago people did not pay attention to Hitler and called him a lunatic. If these statements are not denounced, they will eventually gain legitimacy," Karmi warns.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

20,000 Tunisian Jews eligible for reparations

The Tel Aviv District Court has ruled that Tunisian Jews living under the Nazi regime merit equal legal standing to their European counterparts, and are eligible for reparations under the Victims of Nazi Persecution Law, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.
"Up until the court’s decision, the Finance Ministry rejected all claims made by Tunisian Jews for a government stipend as victims of Nazi persecution, claiming that the law in question applies only to refugees forced to flee their homeland following Nazi occupation.

"Tunisian Jews, the ministry stated, remained Tunisian citizens all throughout the Holocaust, even though the Nazis occupied the country for six months and clearly persecuted Jewish residents living therein.

"Two prominent activists working towards garnering legal standing for Tunisian Jews as Nazi victims, Yehudha Teshuvha and attorney David Etzion, said Thursday that there are approximately 20,000 Tunisian Jews living in Israel today that can be legally recognized as victims of Nazi persecution. This would make them eligible for a monthly government stipend of roughly $333.

"During World War II, two separate regimes operated in Tunisia simultaneously. On the one hand, the country was a French protectorate, but on the other hand it also enjoyed its own independent government. For six months, however, between November 1942 and May 1943, the country found itself under Nazi rule. Whereas the Nazis were not allowed to exterminate the local Jewish population and implement the “final solution” in Tunisia, chiefly due to resistance by the local community and the independent Tunisian government, many within the Jewish community were arrested, and forced to don the infamous “yellow star”. Tunisian Jews were also forced to pay fines and were often physically harassed.

Israel instituted the Law of Invalids (Victims of Nazi Persecution), entitling anyone who was persecuted by the Nazis, and who was left a refugee during Nazi occupation, to a government stipend. Whereas European Jews qualified for such reparations, Tunisian Jews did not, since they were never forced to leave their homeland during Nazi occupation.

"In the court’s decision, justices noted that whereas Tunisian Jews theoretically maintained their Tunisian citizenship during Nazi occupation, this was a meaningless designation seeing as the country was not independent at the time, but rather a French protectorate.

"Furthermore, France did not recognize Tunisia’s residents as French citizens. The court thus ruled that the Finance Ministry cannot categorically deny all reparation claims made by Tunisian Jews."

Read article in full

Haaretz article

Jerusalem Post article (AP)

Friday, February 08, 2008

California DJ Sabbeh fled Algeria with a mattress

Cheb i. Sabbeh, like the vast a majority of Algerian Jews, fled the land of his birth in 1962. But not many Algerian Jews ended up like him in California, spinning discs. He tells his story to the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California. (With thanks: Shelomo)

"The thick, black vinyl discs were hot to the touch in the repressive, North African sun. But the sound they made was just so — cool.

"Cheb i. Sabbeh remembers those days, when the sound of Andalusian music echoed around the concrete walls in the Jewish quarter of his hometown of Constantine, Algeria. Sometimes a neighbor pulled a radio or turntable out into the street and sometimes there was even a band. The men played and the women danced.

"Those were good times, and he smiles at the memory.

"It was not to last.

"Sabbeh, a San Francisco DJ and record producer for the past 20-odd years, is an easy man to spot. On the day of our interview, the 60-year-old walked into the café bundled tightly in a green coat — he was battling a cold — that clashed with his maroon pants and chartreuse boots. His long salt-and-pepper hair was bundled into a topknot, and bright gold earrings dangled from both lobes.

"Sabbeh was born Haïm El Baz, the only surviving child of a secretary mother and a father who stained furniture to the desired wood tone (his stage name roughly translates from Arabic as “young man of the sunshine,” a humorously self-applied moniker for a man who spins records until four or five every morning).

"As Jews in Algeria, Sabbeh’s family found itself caught in the middle between Muslim revolutionaries and right-wing French colonists. As a teenager, Sabbeh remembers days when bullets soared through the neighborhood and car bombs exploded nearby. Someone — he’s not sure who — put razor blades in the community’s food.

"In 1960, the beloved Jewish musician Cheb Raymond was assassinated.

“This was a signal things were finished for us in Algeria,” he recalls. “Maybe it was time to go.”

"Two years later, clutching a mattress and a few small boxes, his family fled to Paris after France ceded its former territory to Islamic revolutionaries after a horrifically bloody war. Other than a hitchhiking jaunt across North Africa in 1968, Sabbeh never returned to the nation of his birth."

Read article in full

Hear some of Cheb i Sabbeh's productions and remixes here (with thanks: Women's Lens)

Moroccan Judaism festival enthuses about the past

A celebration of Moroccan Judaism - lectures, films, exhibitions - is underway in Paris. At the opening last Sunday reported enthusiastically by Maghreb Arabe Presse, the king's Jewish adviser, Andre Azoulay (pictured), said that Moroccan Jews "had resisted the temptation of amnesia" - meaning that Morocco's Jewish heritage was something to recall and be proud of. Cynics would say, however, when it comes to the dhimmitude of the pre-colonial past, amnesia seems to be the order of the day.

Paris, Feb. 4 - "Moroccan Jews were able to resist to the temptation of amnesia," said advisor to king Mohammed VI, André Azoulay, underlining that today, nearly a million of Jews in the world refer with force and conviction to their "deep Moroccan roots."

Speaking on Sunday at the opening of "Moroccan Judaism Days", held in Paris (February 3-17), Mr. Azoulay described the meeting as a "historic and exceptional moment". "We are celebrating Moroccan Judaism and the happiness and pride for many of us to have been able to resist the temptation of amnesia."

"Generally, we Jews, we have a painful memory. Inquisition, millions who perished in the Holocaust, pogroms (…). In Morocco, our memory tells us something else and our history has, fortunately, taught us another lesson", said Mr Azoulay of Jewish confession. "In Morocco, Muslims and Jews were able to triumph over adversity and together we managed to free ourselves gradually from our respective alienation."

Read article in full

"Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully" - Moroccan ambassador to France

Thursday, February 07, 2008

First the Saturday people, now the Sunday people

In his article in Asharq-alawsat, 'A great loss', columnist and businessman Hussein Shobokshi acknowledges that the exodus of the Jews from Arab lands marked the end of the multicultural Levant. Now, he notes with alarm, it is the turn of the Christians to flee the Middle East.

"The Levant was a model example of coexistence among the followers of different religions; you could witness examples in classrooms, business companies and art or cultural projects. This was the case until the first wave of displacement of Jews from Arab states started to occur.

"However, this also coincided with the declaration of the Zionist state to which security agencies in some of the Arab countries reacted to foolishly; Arab governments began to deal with the Jewish communities with suspicion and concern. The outcome was that the Jews were subjected to forced migration (that is not to neglect the malicious practices* that the Zionist aid agencies used to undertake to instill fear among the community to compel them to go back to Israel).

"This had a hugely detrimental impact on the social and economic diversity in the Arab world. It was also the practical downfall of the understanding of tolerance, coexistence and the acceptance of others.

"Today, there is a blatant codified mobility for the "second exodus", meaning the evacuation of Christian citizens from the Arab world. The percentages of Christians leaving Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, and Syria have reached staggering heights. Palestine, in particular, is subjected to a "blueprint" to evacuate all the original national Christians living on its territories."

Read article in full

*It is not clear to which 'malicious practices' the author refers. The myth of the 'Zionist bombs' in Iraq has been discredited here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The truth about the Jews of Morocco

The Jews of Morocco were the largest Jewish community in any Arab country, but today there are fewer than 3,000 left. What is the truth about their exodus? David Bensoussan, President of the Communaute Sepharade Unifiee du Quebec (United Sephardi community of Quebec), Canada, gave this interview recently.

Were Moroccan Jews refugees in the same way as Jews from Egypt, driven out in 24 hours, or Jews from Iraq or Libya, who were subject to massacre?

What is the definition of a refugee? The Jews of Morocco were not war refugees, but a set of conditions prevailed which meant that they could no longer see their future in the land of their birth. This best describes the situation of the Jews of Morocco. That said, in 1948, there were massacres at Ouijda and Zellidja. There were other isolated incidents, but the persecution was not on the scale of Iraq, for instance.

What caused the exodus of the Jews of Morocco?
There was a feeling of liberation with the establishment of the state of Israel. There was also the fear, after the French left in 1956, that the condition of pre-Protectorate insecurity would return. Many thought by emigrating to Europe or the US they could improve their socio-economic circumstances. There was also the tragic issue of forced conversions of young Jewish girls in the early 1960s. At the same time, Morocco aligned itself with the radical stance of the Arab League, spreading a definite 'malaise' among the Jews of Morocco, which became more serious owing to the repercussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. All these factors forced them to leave.

How much of the emigration of the Jews of Morocco was influenced by the attraction of the Jewish state?
Many saw the rebirth of the state of Israel as a messianic event marking the end of exile and its torments and the beginning of redemption. Their identification with the Judean motherland over the millennia had not dimmed; Jewish liturgy identified the return to Zion with the end of Humiliation. Jewish life on Moroccan soil certainly had its great peaks of symbiosis, but also troughs of great distress. Although many Jews served their rulers loyally, the great mass of people endured difficult conditions, and not only in times of crisis. But pride in the rebirth of the Jewish state was a feeling shared by many Jewish communities throughout the world, without their witnessing a massive exodus.

Was there a second wave of emigration at the end of the French Protectorate?
Prior to the Protectorate, the roads were not safe. Offences committed against Jews largely went unpunished. The archives of the Alliance Israelite Universelle abound with examples of flagrant injustice, the reason for many diplomatic interventions. The Protectorate saw to it that the Moroccan legal system it presided over was scrupulously applied. All crimes had to come before the authorities. When independence came - something accepted with great pride by the Jewish community - a latent and growing fear tormented many Jewish souls: they asked themselves whether they would find themselves once more without protection.

What were the effects of Morocco's alignment with the radicalism of the Arab League?
As soon as Morocco became independent, postal links with Israel were cut off. The Arab countries threw themselves into initiatives aimed at strangling the state of Israel - e.g. the economic boycott and opposition to the diversion of the waters of the river Jordan. In addition, during the visit of the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the police interned men wearing kippot. A diplomatic incident caused by the arrest of a Swiss rabbi put an end to this sort of harassment. The shipwreck off the Straights of Gibraltar of the Pisces, carrying illegal emigrants, shed light on, and increased awareness of, just how precarious life was for the Jews of Morocco. The Jews became more and more anxious faced with the difficulties of obtaining passports. The Moroccan authorities ended up agreeing to the discreet emigration of the Jewish communities of Morocco.

To these factors we should add the 'forced conversions' affair.
In the early 60s the great majority of the Jews of Morocco left for good. The Istiqlal (nationalist) Party newspaper used to run the photos of young Jewish girls - who were said to have converted to Islam of their own free will, and cut themselves off from their parents - under the headline
'Another victory for Islam'. There was even a stall boasting about the kidnapping of these young girls at the Casablanca International Fair. These conversions, orchestrated by the Islamic affairs ministry were halted only after a few years. But the damage they did was enormous.

Did they leave also because they aspired to better economic conditions?
Many young people were drawn to study abroad for limited periods. Many saw the West as a place to carve out a more prosperous future and valued the open democracy there where they could talk about Israel without fear. That said, they could have returned to Morocco where there was no shortage of business opportunities. But they worried about security and stability.

How did the Middle East conflict impact on Judeo-Muslim relations in Morocco?
Just after the Six-Day War, Jews were assaulted. Jewish pharmacies were boycotted on the grounds that their owners were supplying Israel. Morocco sent a military detachment to the Golan Heights. Morocco expressed its solidarity with the warring Arab states, never considering the Moroccan Jews who had settled in Israel. It was only after the 1973 Yom Kippur War that Morocco attempted to encourage Arab-Israeli peace initiatives. But the biased coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Moroccan media and the extraordinary incitement against Israel or even against the Jews in the Arabic media have definitely had a negative impact on the Jewish community.

What position did the monarchy take?
The Allawite monarchy protected the Jews against extremes. Nonetheless, they were caught between the two stools of the rightwing opposition parties (the Istiqlal) and the leftwing opposition. The former, nationalist and Islamist, promised to ban emigration and the latter dogmatically promised to target the Jews, the symbol of capitalism. It is clear that if ever the monarchy were overthrown, the Jews would get it in the neck first. King Mohamed V had a real affection for his Jewish subjects. During the Second World War he had bravely refused to implement the racist Vichy laws. King Hassan ll undertook to encourage peace initiatives between Israel and Egypt after the Yom Kippur war. He was very upset when President Anwar Sadat signed a separate peace treaty with Israel, because he hoped there would be a pan-Arab agreement. The subsequent contacts and openings made between Morocco and Israel were put on the backburner during the Intifada. Mohamed Vl has continued to apply the policy of protecting the Jews. However, he has to cox and box with the Islamic party (PJD) and its warhorse of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda. This being said, it should be noted that Morocco is one of the few Arab countries to have looked after its Jewish heritage and the only one to have a Museum of Judaism.

What does the future hold for the Jews of Morocco?
It is deplorable that the young generation should not have known the harmony that existed between Jews, Arabs and Berbers. That harmony did exist despite the difficult conditions of subjugation which Jews endured throughout history and whose effects are still felt today. The younger generation in Morocco is subject to a barrage of propaganda which sometimes horrifies an earlier generation sympathetic or even very friendly with Jews.

As for the Jews of Morocco, they went through changes throughout history - from the Graeco-Roman age through to modern times. Another mutation is happening in our times. The Judeo-Moroccan cultural imprint is still very strong and will shape Jewish life to come.

Read original interview in French:

L’exode des Juifs du Maroc - Entrevue avec David Bensoussan (La Voix Sepharade, Canada - Jan 2008)

Peut-on dire des Juifs marocains qu’ils sont des réfugiés au même titre que les Juifs d’Égypte chassés dans les vingt-quatre heures ou les Juifs d’Irak ou de Lybie qui firent l’objet de massacres ?

Il faut s’entendre sur la définition d’un réfugié. En effet, il y a des réfugiés en temps de guerre et cela ne s’applique pas au cas des Juifs marocains. Il y a un ensemble de conditions qui font que l’on ne voit plus son avenir dans son pays natal et cela convient mieux à la condition des Juifs marocains. Ceci dit, en 1948, il y eut des massacres à Oujda et à Zellidja. Il y eut d’autres incidents isolés mais ceux-ci n’atteignirent pas la dimension des persécutions des Juifs à l’échelle de l’ensemble de l’Irak par exemple.

Quelles sont donc les raisons de l’exode des Juifs marocains ?

Il y a eu un sentiment de libération avec l’établissement de l’État d’Israël. Il y a eu également la crainte qu’après le départ des Français en 1956, l’insécurité reviendrait comme aux temps qui prévalurent avant le Protectorat. Beaucoup voyaient dans l’émigration vers l’Europe ou l’Amérique la possibilité d’améliorer leurs conditions socio-économiques. Il y a eu aussi les conversions forcées de jeunes juives au début des années soixante. En parallèle à cela, le Maroc s’est aligné sur les positions radicales de la Ligue arabe, ce qui a eu pour effet de créer un malaise certain parmi les Juifs du Maroc et les répercussions des conflits du Moyen Orient les ont poussés à quitter le pays.

En quoi l’attrait de l’État hébreu a-t-il influé sur l’émigration des Juifs du Maroc?

Pour beaucoup, la renaissance de l’État d’Israël a constitué un évènement messianique marquant la fin de l’exil et de ses tourments et le début de la rédemption. L’identification avec la mère patrie judéenne ne s’est jamais estompée au cours des millénaires et la liturgie juive a identifié le retour à Sion avec la fin de l’humiliation : Le vécu des Juifs en terre marocaine a connu de grands moments de symbiose certes, mais aussi de grands moments de détresse. Bien que de nombreuses personnalités juives servirent les souverains avec loyauté, il n’en demeure pas moins que le petit peuple a traversé des conditions d’humiliation difficiles et pas seulement en temps de crise. Mais la fierté ressentie avec la renaissance de l’État hébreu a été partagée par de nombreuses communautés juives à travers le monde sans qu’elles n’aient pour autant connu d’exode massif.

Il y eut une seconde vague d’émigration après la fin du Protectorat français

Avant le Protectorat, les routes n’étaient pas sécuritaires. Les exactions commises contre les ressortissants juifs sont restées pour la plupart impunies. Les Archives de l’Alliance israélite universelle abondent d’exemples d’injustice flagrante qui ont été à l’origine de très nombreuses interventions diplomatiques. Le Protectorat a veillé à ce que le système judiciaire marocain qu’il supervisait soit mis en application de façon rigoureuse. Tout crime devenait imputable devant les autorités. Avec l’indépendance du Maroc, acceptée avec grande fierté par la communauté juive, une crainte latente et croissante n’en tourmentait pas moins les esprits et les Juifs se demandaient s’ils se retrouveraient à nouveau sans protection.

Quelles furent les conséquences de l’alignement du Maroc sur les positions radicales de la Ligue arabe?

Au lendemain de l’Indépendance, le courrier avec Israël fut interrompu. Les pays arabes se sont lancés dans des initiatives visant à étouffer l’État d’Israël, tout comme le boycott économique et l’opposition au détournement des eaux du Jourdain. Par ailleurs, lors de la visite du président égyptien Gamal Abdel Nasser, la police interna ceux qui se promenaient avec des kippot, et l’incident diplomatique causé par l’emprisonnement d’un rabbin suisse mit fin à cette mesure sans nom. Le naufrage du bateau Pisces avec ses émigrants clandestins au large du Détroit de Gibraltar a mis à jour la condition précaire des Juifs marocains et a suscité chez ces derniers une prise de conscience de la précarité de leur état. Les difficultés faites aux Juifs pour l’obtention d’un passeport ne firent qu’augmenter leurs inquiétudes. Les autorités marocaines finiront par accepter que se tienne une émigration discrète des communautés juives du Maroc.

À ces facteurs vint s’ajouter l’affaire des conversions forcées…

Au cours de la première moitié des années soixante, la grande majorité des Juifs marocains quitta à tout jamais le Maroc. Le journal du parti Istiqlal affichait régulièrement sous le titre Encore une victoire de l’Islam les photos de filles juives mineures qui se seraient converties de leur plein gré sans permettre à leurs parents de les voir. Il y eut même un kiosque qui vantait ces rapts de mineures juives à la Foire internationale de Casablanca. Ces conversions orchestrées par le Ministère des affaires islamiques ne prirent fin qu’après plusieurs années. Mais les dommages qu’elles causèrent furent énormes.

L’aspiration à de meilleures conditions économiques fut aussi une des causes de migration…

L’attrait de la possibilité de faire des études universitaires à l’étranger a incité de nombreux jeunes à partir pour un certain temps. Beaucoup voyaient dans l’Occident la possibilité de se tailler une meilleure situation économique et enviaient la démocratie ouverte qui y prévalait, sans crainte de parler d’Israël. Ceci dit, beaucoup auraient pu revenir au Maroc car les opportunités d’affaires ne manquaient pas. Mais d’autres considérations de stabilité et de sécurité furent prises en considération.

Comment les conflits du Proche Orient ont-ils influé sur les relations judéo-musulmanes au Maroc?

Au lendemain de la guerre des Six jours, il y eut des incidents isolés perpétrées contre des personnes juives. Il y eut aussi une campagne de boycottage contre les pharmacies juives sous prétexte que leurs propriétaires auraient pu faire parvenir une aide à Israël. Le Maroc envoya un détachement militaire sur les hauteurs du Golan. La solidarité exprimée par le Maroc envers les états arabes belligérants n’avait jamais jusque là pris en considération le sort des Juifs marocains établis en Israël. Ce ne sera qu’après la Guerre de Kippour en 1973 que le Maroc visera à encourager des initiatives de paix israélo-arabe. À cela vient s’ajouter en filigrane la reprise de thèses biaisées sur le conflit israélo-arabe par les médias marocains et l’influence dénaturante de l’enseignement de la haine que déversent les médias arabes contre Israël ou même contre les Juifs.

Quelle a été la position de la monarchie ?

La monarchie alaouite a protégé les Juifs contre les excès. Néanmoins, ceux-ci étaient pris en étau entre les oppositions de droite (L’Istiqlal) et l’opposition de gauche. La première, nationaliste et islamiste, se promettait d’interdire l’émigration et la seconde, doctrinaire, se promettait de s’en prendre aux Juifs en qui elle voulait voir le symbole du capitalisme. Il a toujours été clair que si la monarchie venait à être renversée, les Juifs seraient les premiers à écoper. Le roi Mohamed V avait une affection réelle envers ses sujets juifs et il en avait courageusement fait état durant la Seconde guerre mondiale en refusant d’appliquer les lois racistes du Gouvernement de Vichy. Le roi Hassan II entreprit d’encourager les initiatives de paix entre Israël et l’Égypte après la guerre de Kippour. Il fut extrêmement déçu que le président égyptien Anouar El Sadate signât un traité de paix séparé avec Israël car il espérait parvenir à un accord global. Les contacts et les ouvertures faites par la suite entre le Maroc et Israël furent mis en veilleuse durant l’Intifada. Le roi Mohamed VI continue d’appliquer la politique de protection des Juifs. Il doit cependant composer avec le parti islamique du PJD qui fait de la propagande antijuive et anti-israélienne son cheval de bataille.

Il faut cependant noter que le Maroc a été un des rares pays arabes qui a respecté le patrimoine religieux des Juifs marocains et qu’il est le seul pays arabe ou il existe un musée sur le judaïsme.

Qu’est-ce que le futur réserve aux Juifs marocains ?

Il est déplorable que la nouvelle génération n’ait pas connu la bonne harmonie qui existait entre Juifs, Arabes et Berbères. Cette harmonie a existé malgré les conditions d’humiliation difficiles subies par les Juifs au cours de l’histoire et dont les séquelles perdurent. La nouvelle génération au Maroc est soumise à un barrage de propagande qui horrifie parfois la génération précédente qui a connu des rapports de compassion et parfois même d’amitié réelle avec les Juifs.

Quant aux Juifs du Maroc, ceux-ci ont subi plusieurs mutations au cours de l’histoire, de l’époque gréco-romaine jusqu’à l’époque contemporaine. Ils en subissent une autre aujourd’hui. Toutefois, l’empreinte culturelle judéo-marocaine est très forte et contribue à modeler le vécu des Juifs des générations futures.