Sunday, November 30, 2008
Now it is clear that Islamist terrorists went out of their way to target foreign businessmen and tourists - British and Americans - and Jews, six of whom were murdered in cold blood, some after being tortured. For contrary to media reports that the terrorists showed a "wanton disregard for race or creed", in the words of Charles Moore, "they deliberately attacked people and places where such disregard for creed and race is, in a friendly sense, a way of life".
The city owes its best-known landmarks to Jewish philanthropists, most notably the Sassoon family who arrived from Iraq in the 19th century. Four schools, two synagogues, a magnificent library and a dockyard all bear the Sassoon name. A lesser known fact is that Sir Jacob Sassoon was the largest individual donor to the famous Gateway Of India, just a few steps away from the Taj Mahal hotel.
India prides itself on the tolerance it has shown towards its 2,500 year old Jewish community. If the numbers of Jews have dwindled in the last sixty years to some 5,000, it is not because of antisemitism, but because many of India's Bene Israel Jews have sought a better life in the Jewish state, where 60,000 emigrated.
But with jihadists shamelessly murdering Jews just for being Jews on Wednesday night, all this has changed.
As Naresh Fernandes writes in The New Republic:
"When I spoke to (Indian Jew) Robin David on the phone on Friday, he was still trying to make sense of it all. "The Indian Jewish identity is the only one that hasn't been created by persecution," he said. "We've never felt scared. This is the first time we've been made to feel like Jews."
"That, to me, has been among the most tragic casualties of this terrorist attack. In a barrage of grenades and bullets, a part of the Indian dream that's 2,500 years old has now been buried in a pile of bloody concrete shards."
Friday, November 28, 2008
There will be no peace between Israel and Arab states unless Jews forced out of Arab lands are compensated, a government minister told a ground-breaking conference at Bar Ilan University in Israel on 24 November. The conference marks a turning point in the campaign for the rights of Jews from Arab Countries, assembling for the first time academics, four associations (Iraq, Egypt, Libya and North Africa) and the Israeli ministries of Justice, Culture Religious Affairs and Pensions. Levana Zamir sent us this report:
This conference, the first of its kind and well attended by Israelis from all Arab countries, dealt with two subjects: firstly, persecution of Jews in Arab Countries during the first half of the 20th century, long before the creation of the State of Israel and before the Balfour declaration; secondly, the rights of the Jews from all Arab countries, and their right to financial restitution and compensation. Academic presentations were given by Dr. Shimon Ohayon, Dr. Yehudit Ronen, Dr. Moshe Zafarani, Dr. Orly Rahmyan and others.
Expert Dr. Haim Sadoun, detailed the persecutions of Jews country by country - bombings, riots and murders. He stressed that the life of Jews in Arab countries was never the symbiosis and utopian coexistence some would like us to believe. Before colonialism in those Arab countries, the Jews were always under Dhimmi status, paying the jiziah tax for their protection. They had their ups and downs, but were always second-class citizens. There was a respite under colonialism, and violence was directed at foreign rule.
Dr. Haim Sadoun gave a partial list of those persecutions, which killed any number from a few to several hundred Jews each time, and left many wounded. In Morocco, riots already began in 1907 in Fez, and continued in 1912, 1942, 1948, 1955 and 1967. Tunisia - 1917, 1967. Algeria - 1930 and 1932 (Constantine). Aden – 1935 and again 1947. Iraq - 1941 with the Farhoud, where more than 130 Jews were killed. Libya, the massacre of 1945 in Tripoli, and again in 1967. Syria – 1947, 1948, 1949, 1967. Egypt – 1945, with synagogue burnt, in 1948 with 50 Jews killed and many wounded, in 1952, in 1956 – with mass expulsion and confiscations, etc. The Jews from Arab lands, where they lived for more then two millennia before the Arabs conquered those countries, were thus 'ethnicially cleansed'.
All these riots caused damage and looting to businesses, homes and shops, leaving often thousands of families without homes and livelihood. "The life of one million Jews in Muslim countries would be endangered by partition",declared Hussein Heykal in November 1947 and so it proved. But those massacres became rare after the creation of the State of Israel, concluded Dr. Sadoun, and the animosity turned towards the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Stanley Urman, Executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), gave a presentation about the perennial refugee status of the Palestinians, whose numbers have grown hugely, in contrast to the 900,000 Jews from Arab countries, none of whom are still refugees.
The topic of sequestration and financial restitution was presented by the presidents of each Association of Jews from Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Libya and North Africa). They made the point that non-sequestrated businesses were abandoned or 'sold for peanuts'. Lawyer Jean- Claude Niddam from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that he already collected 20,000 claims of Jews from Arab countries.
David Nawi, a lawyer at the Jews of Iraq Association, then declared that as long as the state of Israel fails to present claims against Arab countries, the Association will sue the state of Israel in the Israeli High Court. If this does not work, they will present their claims to the International Court in The Hague. Mordechai Ben-Porat, head of the Jews of Iraq Association reminded the audience that President Clinton had already declared in July 2000 that an international Fund will be established to cover compensation for Palestinian refugees as well as Jewish refugees from Arab Countries. Levana Zamir, President of the International Association of the Jews from Egypt said that the state of Israel had declared long ago that compensation for Palestinian refugees will be offset against that of the Jews from Arab lands. Now that all the associations are working together, we will not let this happen.
At the Bar Ilan Conference, Itzhak Cohen, Minister of Religious Affairs, said "that no peace agreement will be implemented without solving the problem of the Jews from Middle Eastern states". This is of course the kind of declaration politicians make before elections, but now that the subject is becoming hot, it will only get bigger. The next JJAC International meeting promises to be even hotter.
Picture caption: Left to right: lawyer Jean-Claude Niddam, Levana Zamir of the International Association of Jews from Egypt and Meir Kahlon of the Association of Jews from Libya (photo Joe Cohen)
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Iraq’s JewsAdam Shatz casts a spotlight on the destruction of one of the oldest Jewish diasporas, but his article contains errors and subtle distortions whose effect is to minimise the proximate cause of the Jewish exodus from Iraq: anti-semitism (LRB, 6 November). The rich man’s paradise Shatz evokes only really existed towards the end of the 19th century. Before the Ottomans were forced by the Western powers to emancipate their Jews and Christians, the Jews were despised, persecuted and never really secure; the Sassoons, Ezras and Kedouries fled the tyrannical rule of Daoud Pasha to make their fortunes outside Meso-potamia in India and the Far East. The Jews of Iraq petitioned for British citizenship not out of an ‘instant connection’ with Britain, but out of fear that Arab rule would be ‘politically irresponsible . . . fanatic and intolerant’, to quote Elie Kedourie. And so it proved.
The Jews did not leave because they were pushed by Zionist rumours or bombs. Bombs and murders in 1936 had not led to a mass exodus, and sixty thousand Jews had registered to leave before the only fatal bombing in January 1951. Until Iraq permitted legal emigration, Jews were being smuggled out at a rate of a thousand a month – because they were banned from higher education, could not travel abroad, were denied work and suffered restrictions in business. ‘But for these severe handicaps, Iraqi Jews would not have gone so far as to attempt large-scale flight from the country,’ the Jewish senator Ezra Daniel said, making his last futile appeal against the Denaturalisation Bill in March 1950.
Shatz implies that Israel encouraged the Jewish exodus, but already in 1949 the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Said, had floated the idea of a population exchange and threatened to expel the Jews as revenge for the Iraqi army’s defeat in Palestine. He schemed to bring Israel to its knees by dumping thousands of stateless and destitute Jews on Israel’s borders. The Jewish Agency could not cope with the influx and told the Zionist movement in Baghdad not to rush. It was only when Iraq passed a law in March 1951 freezing Jewish assets that Israel said it would be forced to confiscate the property of Palestinian refugees. Iraq reneged on its part of the exchange, accepting only fourteen thousand Palestinian Arabs, while Israel took in 120,000 Iraqi Jews.
The Iraqi Jews had every right to be bitter when they arrived in Israel, having lost everything. They were housed in dusty refugee camps for up to 12 years. At the time, they did experience prejudice, but so did Holocaust survivors, taunted on arrival as ‘sabon’ (soap). Today the Iraqi community is one of the most successfully integrated in Israel. Iraq-born Palestinians, meanwhile, have been denied citizenship and expelled from Iraq.
Incidentally, the airlift to Israel was named Operation Ezra (not Ezekiel) and Nehemiah. It ended in 1951, not 1952.
Adam Shatz writes:: The evocation of Mesopotamia as a lost paradise can be found not only in Violette Shamash’s book but in countless memoirs by Iraqi Jews.
And I bet none of these 'countless memoirs' predate the colonial era, when the Jews 'never had it so good'.
Like all non-Muslim minorities, Jews experienced periods of difficulty and injustice, but if they had been persecuted to the degree Lyn Julius suggests, it’s not likely so many would have continued to describe themselves as ‘Ottomans’ long after the empire’s collapse.
A non-sequitur, in my humble opinion.
It was Shamash who said that Iraq’s Jews petitioned for British citizenship out of an ‘instant connection’ with their new rulers. And while Elie Kedourie cited the concern of Jewish notables that the Arabs would be fanatical and intolerant, he went on to deride the petition for British citizenship for its ‘pathetic caution’ and ‘anxiety to pay lip-service to the shibboleths of the age’.
Elie Kedourie proves my point. The petition must have pussyfooted around the subject, using euphemisms instead of words like 'fanatical' and 'intolerant'.
Julius cites Ezra Daniel’s protest against the Denaturalisation Bill, but she doesn’t quote his plea to ‘restore to Iraqi Jews their sense of security, confidence and stability’,
I don't see any contradiction... Alright then, the Iraqi government removed the Iraqi Jews' sense of security as well as their basic rights.
and while Daniel was speaking out against the bill, the Israeli government and Mossad were doing everything in their power to speed its passage.
With 1,000 Jews fleeing illegally every month, even the Iraqi government could see that it had a serious problem on its hands, with law and order breaking down in the South. Something had to be done. Both the Iraqi government and the Israeli government and Mossad( to which Shatz attributes disproportionate influence) never imagined that more than 10,000 Jews would leave after the Denaturalisation Bill was passed.
Shlomo Hillel, Mossad’s man in Baghdad, makes no secret of the fact that in setting up Zionist cells, he had only one objective: to promote mass emigration.
So what? The Zionist Federation in the UK would also like to promote mass emigration to Israel. The crucial difference is that in Iraq in 1949 Jews felt insecure, were denied work, travel and the means to earn a living. All they were missing previously was a country willing to take them in.
He collaborated covertly with the Iraqi government to co-ordinate Operation Ezra and Nehemiah (as Julius rightly calls it). ‘We are carrying on our usual activity in order to push the law through faster and faster,’ the Mossad office in Baghdad reported to Tel Aviv before the Denaturalisation Act was passed, according to Tom Segev in 1949: The First Israelis. Israel wanted to populate the land with Jews, and their emigration from Arab countries had the advantage of supplying a further alibi for denying Palestinians their right of return.
Writers often contrast Israel’s generous absorption of more than a hundred thousand Iraqi Jewish refugees with Iraq’s paltry acceptance of ‘only’ fourteen thousand Palestinian Arabs. But the situations are not symmetrical: Israel was determined to settle the Iraqi Jews in the Jewish state, while Iraq had no interest in settling Palestinian refugees (who for their part wanted to return home).
So Iraq was perfectly justified in not resettling Palestinian refugees - instead it politically exploited people with whom they shared a common language, religion and culture, denying them and their children citizenship, and eventually summarily expelling them.
And though Nuri al-Said flirted in 1949 with the idea of a population exchange, an idea that had been circulating in Zionist circles for two decades, the Iraqi government’s position was that Palestinians should return home or be compensated by Israel. It could not ‘renege’ on an agreement it had never reached with Israel.
More feeble excuses from Adam Shatz.
Restrictions on movement and employment, and the rise in anti-Jewish incitement and violence, certainly encouraged Jews to emigrate. But these developments were not unrelated to the British presence and the war in Palestine – or to the pressures exerted by Israel and its intelligence services.
Well Adam - you've read Tom Segev's book so you must know best. However, some of us had parents and relatives actually living in Baghdad at the time. The British government had precious little to do with the Jews' pitiful situation - the restrictions were pretty serious if you wanted to earn a living, pursue your higher education or travel abroad.
We may never know whether the bombs were laid by Zionist agents, but we do know that Mossad’s responsibility is taken for granted by many Iraqi Jews: Morad Qazzaz, a leader of the Iraqi-Jewish underground, was known as Morad Abu al-Knabel, or ‘Morad, Father of the Bombs’. Folklore or not, it’s an indication that Iraq’s Jews have long believed that Israel had a hand in their exodus.
Why suggest that the Iraqi government might have had a hand in the Jewish exodus when it can all be blamed on the Zionists? Could not Iraq have deliberately intended the massive despoliation of its Jews? Of course Iraq was responsible for the official theft of Jewish land and property on a massive scale when it passed the Nationalisation Act in March 1951 - a fact barely mentioned by Shatz. And never mind that three of the five bombing incidents happened after the legal emigration window had closed. Never mind that Morad Qazzaz, aka Mordechai ben Porat, went to court to fight the 'bombs' libel, and won.
"With Jewish groups estimating that at least 900,000 Jews have been forced to leave their homes in Arab or Muslim countries since 1948, Cohen says that the issue does not get the same attention as that of the Arabs who fled Israeli territory as a result of the War of Independence. However, the issue is officially on the government's agenda, under the aegis of Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan.
"Israel must state that no peace agreement will be implemented without solving the problem of the Jews from Middle Eastern states," Minister Cohen told a gathering at Bar Ilan University. Shas will condition approval for any compensation to Arab refugees on approval of a similar scheme for Jewish refugees.
Jewish property left behind and confiscated by Muslim authorities "is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars," Cohen said. Shas intends to generate a database of property left behind by Jewish owners who fled the Arab states.
"Of the Jewish refugees from Arab states, at least 600,000 came to Israel. Currently, roughly half of Israel's Jewish citizens are descendants of Jews who immigrated from Muslim countries. Unlike the Arab refugees from Israel, who have an entire United Nations apparatus dedicated to supporting them, Middle Eastern Jews have never received refugee aid from the UN.(...)
"Unlike the UN, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) of the US legislature held a first-of-its-kind hearing on the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in July. Three months earlier, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution conditioning any compensation for Arab refugees on compensation to Jewish refugees.
"In 2004, Saif Al-Islam, a son of Libyan leader Moammar Kaddafi, said that his nation is prepared to compensate Jews who left Libya and whose assets were seized. However, the compensation would be conditional on the Jews returning to Libya. "It is a responsibility to invite Libyan Jews, including from Israel," Al-Islam said. They are welcome to return to "their ancestral land, and to abandon the land they acquired from the Palestinians."
"In August of this year, the king of Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, called for the Jews who emigrated from the Gulf nation to return.
Even more curiously, in the 1970s the late dictator Saddam Hussein officially and publicly invited the Jews who fled Iraq to return. Under the new Iraqi government, however, Jews are excluded from the list of exiles offered the right to return or to reclaim assets lost during the Hussein regime. (not true - Jews who left after 1968 are entitled to claim restitution, but those who left in 1950 are not - ed)
Another Ba'ath dictator, Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, reportedly told a delegation of Syrian expatriate Jews who visited his country in 2004 that there was no need to "invite" them back. According to a one-time Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustapha, Assad said, "I can't invite you back. I can't invite Syrians back to Syria. You are always welcome."Read article in full
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
"Shas is launching a campaign to seek compensation for Jewish refugees who came to Israel from Arab states. The campaign, part of the ultra-Orthodox party's election platform, counters Palestinian demands for the right of return of their refugees.
"Israel must state that no peace agreement would be implemented without solving the problem of the Jews from Middle Eastern states, with an emphasis on restituting their property, which is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars," Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen, of Shas, said Monday at Bar-Ilan University.
"Part of Shas' plan consists of tracking down and registering Jewish property in Arab states, as a basis for future negotiations or agreements regarding the compensation for the Jewish refugees.
"Cohen told Haaretz Monday that there are some 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states, most of whom are living in Israel.
"It must be proclaimed that any system of compensating Palestinian refugees as part of a peace agreement will include a parallel one to compensate the Jewish refugees," he said.
"The issue was raised in Israel's negotiations with the Palestinian Authority during Prime Minister Ehud Barak's term, including at the Camp David conference in July 2000. Today Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan (Pensioners Party) is in charge of the issue.
"Cohen's move is meant to appeal to Shas' voters, most of whom have their origins or ancestry in Muslim lands, ahead of the elections. He outlined the party's plan in his address yesterday, beginning with the need to define the refugee problem as a multi-national issue, one that affected hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Persian Gulf.
"The uprooted Jews' problem is equal to, if not greater than, the Palestinian refugees' problem," Cohen said.
"Israel will make it clear in negotiations with the Palestinians and in international forums that "a just solution to the refugee problem," as defined in UN Security Council Resolution 194, includes the Jewish refugees as well, he said.
"Cohen suggests that the Foreign Ministry start a public campaign in the UN and European countries."
Read article in full
Monday, November 24, 2008
Two men from states nominally at war with Israel visited the Jewish state. One, from Iraq, has been acquitted of his 'misdemeanour' - the other, from Iran, has not been heard of for some weeks.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
"An Iraqi MP prosecuted for visiting Israel where he attended a conference at the International Institute for Counterterrorism was acquitted on Monday.
"In September, Mithal al-Alusi's fellow lawmakers had voted overwhelmingly to strip him of his immunity and allow his prosecution for visiting an enemy state - a crime punishable by death under a 1950s-era law.
"Nevertheless, an Iraqi court ruled that there was no explicit law against visiting Israel.
"There is no law preventing any Iraqi from traveling to any country," Alusi's lawyer Tariq Harb told Reuters. "Alusi will regain all his rights."
"Because he had visited Israel, many Iraqis assume Alusi was the real target of assassins who killed his sons in 2005, while he escaped unharmed.
"Alusi has a German passport, allowing him to travel without visa restrictions imposed on other Iraqis. Lawmakers accused him of humiliating the nation with a trip to the 'enemy' state.
"He said he went to Israel to seek international support for Iraq as it struggles against terrorism, and insisted that the outcry reflects Iranian meddling in Iraq's internal affairs - an accusation often leveled by Sunnis like himself against Iraq's mostly Shi'ite neighbor.
"Alusi, 55, has a long history of clashes with authority and has spent half his life in exile.
He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1976 - he was studying in Cairo at the time - for allegedly trying to undermine Saddam Hussein. He went to Syria and Germany, returning in 2003 after the dictator was overthrown.
"Even in exile, he caused a commotion, leading a group that stormed the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin in 2002 to protest against Saddam's regime. A German court convicted him of hostage-taking and other charges, but he appealed and never served his full sentence of three years.
"In 2004, he was expelled from Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress for his earlier visit to Israel, also for a terrorism conference.
"In February 2005 came the ambush. Asad Kamal al- Hashimi, a former culture minister in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death last month on charges he planned it. Hashimi remains a fugitive."
Meanwhile, the mysterious disappearance in Iran of Hossein Derakhshan, a Canadian-based blogger who visited Israel in 2005, has been worrying Brian Whitaker at The Guardian. Derakhshan has not updated his blog since 1 November, fuelling speculation that he has been arrested as an Israeli spy. Others argue, however, that a report from an Iranian news agency has not been confirmed. Derakhshan's blogging in recent months shows that he was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the West.
Speaking at the symposium will be Stanley Urman, director of Justice for Jews from Arab countries. The question of the two groups of refugees and property claims will be covered in the fourth session.
Having scored successes during this year in Europe, at the UN, and in the United States, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) looks set to focus its campaign on Israel in 2009.
JJAC and the Atlantic Forum in Herzliya have been in talks to open a JJAC affiliate office in Israel that would promote strong support for the rights and redress of Jews displaced from Arab countries, some two-thirds of whom immigrated to Israel.
The office will target government leaders and the Knesset, as well as carrying out public education, outreach to Mizrahi leaders and media, and conferences and briefings.
In the light of the general elections called for February 2009, it is imperative for Jewish refugees to be included on the political agenda. JJAC hopes that the rights of Jews from Arab countries could be made a campaign issue. It also feels that Israel's support for Jewish refugees must be clear and unequivocal if 'refugees' come up in multilateral discussions of the Arab League/Saudi Peace Initiative.
JJAC has been concerned at the reluctance of representatives of the government of Israel to promote the rights of Jews from Arab countries in current negotiations with the Palestinians.
"This uncertainty has not helped in promoting rights and redress - particularly in Europe and the Diaspora - where Government and Jewish leadership were constantly waiting for a clear signal from Israel that this is an issue of importance for the State of Israel and the Jewish people," JJAC says in its Annual Report.
Over the past year, JJAC has made numerous representations to Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni and other ministers and officials, urging them to speak out more forcefully on the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Recently JJAC claims to have scored some victories. The news agency Medialine reported Foreign Ministry confirmation that the issue has been formally raised in talks with the Palestinians. JJAC also cites as a success Tsipi Livni's statement to the Foreign Press Association in August that Israel gave refuge to Jews 'who had to leave not only Europe but also Arab states'. It hails Ehud Olmert's September statement to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence committee of 'sorrow for what happened to the Palestinians and also for what happened to the Jews who were expelled from Arab states.'
Critics would say, however, that both Livni's and Olmert's statements stopped well short of calling Arab states to account for perpetrating a massive injustice against their Jews, and that Olmert has set a dangerous precedent by appearing to admit that the plight of the Palestinians was Israel's fault.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
This report in The Yemen Observer says that the Jews have decided to cast their votes in the constituency in which they now live.
The rabbi of the al-Salem Jews , Yahya Yousef Mosa, said that the Jews decided to transfer their votes from Sa'ada to Sana'a so as to be able to practise their democratic right as voters and candidates . "None of us intends to nominate himself for the upcoming parliamentary elections because we are a minority, though we will practise our right as voters," said Mosa.
The Al-Salem Jews fled Sa'ada province after they had received threats from the supporters of the al-Hothi rebels in 2007.
The government granted them accommodation in the tourist city of Sana'a. Yahya Yousef Mosa said that he and the other al-Salem Jews will not go back to their home village al-Hayd in Sa'ada because it is not safe, and because living in the capital is much better. "Here in Sana'a is safer and better for educating our kids," said Mosa. However, he appealed to the president of the Republic Ali Abdullah Saleh 'to instruct the authorities concerned to write ownership contracts for the apartments that were given to al-Salem families to live in.' (By this he most probably means he would like to be given legal ownership of the apartments where the Jews now live.)
Read article in full
Friday, November 21, 2008
The global financial crisis has put paid to plans to restore the Maghen Avraham synagogue, reports AP. But could Lebanon's continuing instability be the real reason why would-be donors have cold feet?
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — One of Lebanon's sole remaining synagogues was set to get a restoration that has the rare blessing of all the factions in this divided country — even that of the anti-Israeli Hezbollah. But the global financial crisis has scuttled the effort for now, leaving the Magen Abraham chained, padlocked, badly damaged and rife with weeds.
The synagogue, like the country's once-thriving Jewish community, fell prey to the savage 1975-90 civil war (In fact 90 percent left after 1967 - ed). Once the fighting ended, the few dozen Jews who remained could not maintain the proud old structure.
A $1 million project set to begin in November had been organized by the Lebanese Jewish community to restore the two-story ramshackle building which is now surrounded by the gleaming new skyscrapers of Beirut's downtown building boom.
But potential overseas Jewish donors who were to provide the bulk of the funds said the reconstruction would have to wait because of the hard times brought on by the global financial crisis, said Isaac Arazi, leader of the country's tiny Jewish community ('self-proclaimed' leader, as nobody in the Lebanese Jewish diaspora appears to have heard of him -ed).
"I'll wait for two or three months. If no money is forthcoming, I'll launch a fundraising campaign in America and Europe for the rebuilding project," he told The Associated Press.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
As this excellent JTA News report shows, the King of Bahrain is making bold and remarkable efforts to lure his former Jewish subjects back to the tiny kingdom, promising to reinstate their citizenship and even give them land for housing. But the younger generation's links are now remote, and it is difficult to see his campaign as more than a public relations exercise designed to curry favour with the Americans.
NEW YORK (JTA)—Bahrain, the little Persian Gulf nation where pluralism has been the exception to the regional hegemonic rule, is learning that the best way for democracy to survive is to replicate.
Without explicitly saying so, Bahrain is softly encouraging the U.S.-led push for democratization in the Middle East as the means toward stabilization. Its rulers have made their treatment of the tiny Jewish community in Bahrain a showcase of how to achieve peaceful pluralism.
King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa met last week in New York with about 50 Bahraini Jews who had immigrated to the United States, and did something almost unheard of in the Arab world: He invited them home.
“It’s open, it’s your country,” he said.
The offer extended to younger generations and included specifics, including allocation of land for homes.
In a region where efforts to export ideology have often exploded into conflict, Bahraini officials are careful to say that they are pleased only to serve as an example, not as a beach head.
"What we do in Bahrain is for sure for Bahrain, it’s not to be exported," King Hamad said in an interview with JTA.
Yet it is clear that the nation, host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a major non-NATO ally of the United States, regards the Bush administration’s efforts in keeping with its own reforms. Bahrain officials subtly hint that the U.S. push for democracy in the region is playing catch-up to a country that launched a transition to constitutional monarchy in 1999.
"Our reforms were before Sept. 11," Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, the Bahraini foreign minister, said in an interview, referring to the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. "The American democratic program for the Middle East came after Sept. 11. They thought that extremism is linked to lack of freedom and democracy. Well fine, we agree with that."(...)Taking the lead in reaching out to Israel and to Jews internationally is part of that equation. King Hamad stressed that such outreach was made in the context of the Saudi-led "Arab initiative," which posits comprehensive peace in exchange for a return to the borders prior to the 1967 Six-Day War.
"It has been declared that we have this Arab initiative which would really normalize the relationship with Israel as soon as this conflict is over," he told JTA. "And you know very well Bahrain would love to have this conflict gone away from the scene a long time ago, we would love to see that day."
Still, Bahrain is more out front than its neighbors. The nation ended its participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel last year, something al-Khalifa is still called to defend before the Bahraini parliament.
"I said, we are democratizing, why should we tell people what to do or not to do?" the foreign minister recalled. "If they don’t want to buy something, it’s up to them. This boycott office is really contrary to our philosophy."
"Al-Khalifa cast such thinking as critical to bringing peace to the region, especially ahead of Israeli elections in February that could return hawks to power.
"We need to comfort and put the Israeli mind, citizens, at peace when he goes to the ballot box, that there are partners, not only Mahmoud Abbas," the Palestinian Authority president, "but others in the region."
Al-Khalifa recently proposed a regional grouping that would include Iran and Israel even before agreements are in place as a means to reaching accommodation. Such a grouping would start by dealing with the removal of weapons of mass destruction, sharing diminishing water supplies and cooperating on environmental controls.
"We need to lay these foundations for the future," the foreign minister said. "Israel is there to stay, Iran is there to stay. (...)
"In Bahrain we are caught between many places and hard places," he said, riffing on the old line about a rock and a hard place. A causeway separates Bahrain from one major theocracy, Saudi Arabia; a gulf separates it from another, Iran.
Bahrain, ruled for centuries by Sunni Muslims, has a Shi’a Muslim majority, and that has led to tensions, at times stoked by Shi’a Iran. Indigenous Shi’a have criticized the king’s outreach to Bahraini expatriates, Jewish and otherwise, as a way of containing Shi’a growth. They also note that the island’s democracy, although exemplary in the region, is limited: The king still appoints his own cabinet, and the parliament’s powers are limited.
Still, the Western-oriented pluralism that King Hamad is nurturing arises out of indigenous traditions. Starting in the late 18th century, the al-Khalifa family sough British protections from Persian hegemony, and the country has since welcomed traders, infusing the island with its multicultural sensibility.
The tiny Jewish community—just under 100 (in fact there are no more than 30 - ed) in a population of about 800,000—is descended from Iraqi Jews who sought opportunities in the 19th century British Empire. Before the creation of Israel in 1948, some 600 Jews lived in Bahrain. After the war, some emigrated, mostly to the United States and Britain.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Some $18 million worth of Jewish property has been confiscated in Iraq, a former adviser to the Iraqi president has told The Jerusalem Post. Quoting a German study by the university of Hanover, Mirzan Hassan Dinayi, a Kurdish Yazidi, said that the Iraqi government has ignored minority rights to compensation, while it has failed to protect minorities generally from Islamic radicalism.
Religious extremism is the biggest threat facing minorities in Iraq today and could ultimately see the war-torn country emptied of these populations, a former adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
More than 40 percent of Christians are believed to have emigrated from Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein and Iraq was now seeing a mass migration of the Yazidi religious minority to Europe, said Mirzan Hassan Dinnayi, a Kurdish Yazidi who was Talabani's adviser on minorities in the first half of 2005, and now lives in Germany.
Just last month, large numbers of Christians were driven out of Mosul in northern Iraq and other cities, he said.
"The biggest danger for them is Islamic religious extremism in Iraq and the 'Islamization' of the street - this is what scares religious minority communities," Dinnayi said in an interview, before giving a lecture at the Hebrew University's Harry S. Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace.
The danger "is the killing based on [religious] identity," he said.
The worst-case scenario, he said, was "that the displacement that is happening will empty Iraq of its minority communities."
Other religious minorities in the country include the Mandaeans, the Shabaks and a small number of Jews. Roughly 60% of Iraqis are Shi'ites, and 34% are Sunnis.
The Yazidis, for example, who make up an estimated 2.5% of Iraq's population and practice one of the most ancient religions in the Middle East, were targeted in three large-scale attacks in 2007.
On February 15, 2007, in the Yazidi city of Shaikhan, "hundreds of radical Muslims" destroyed and burned the Yazidi temple, cultural centers, cars and shops, shot aimlessly at houses and citizens and demanded that the Yazidi people leave the area and emigrate, Dinnayi said in his lecture.
The next day, they beheaded a Yazidi mother of four children.
On April 22, 2007, 24 Yazidi workers were killed in Mosul by a group of gunmen. The attackers were aided by the police, whose headquarters ordered all checkpoints to move away from the area.
The next day, an intensifying anti-Yazidi movement caused 820 students to leave their faculties at the University of Mosul, where all Yazidi families have now left.
And in August 2007, extremists attacked in the Sinjar district, killing 311 people, wounding 800 and leaving 70 missing.
Not only was there a lack of laws to protect these minorities, Dinnayi said, there are few mechanisms to implement the laws that did exist.
While the Iraqi constitution protects the rights of all its citizens, "nothing from the constitution until now has been implemented regarding minorities," he said.
One solution was "international solidarity" for all minorities, he said. Another would be the stabilization of the security situation in Iraq and an eventual transition to a democratic state and "a state of laws."
In addition, one Kurdish official in northern Iraq has proposed establishing a "safe zone" in the Nineveh Plain for the Christian minority. The autonomous region, where Assyrian would be the official language, would have legislative and executive authorities.
However, Dinnayi said, there were many questions about the feasibility and even the wisdom of such a move.
"If this 'Islamization' of the street and radicalization in Iraq becomes stronger," something he expects, "which written law can protect this small island in an ocean of Islamic radicalism?"
Meanwhile, most of the minority members who suffered from "Arabization" measures imposed by Saddam Hussein's regime in northern Iraq, including displacement, forced relocation and confiscation of property, had still not been compensated, said attorney Said Pirmurat, a specialist in Iraqi criminal law who also lectured at the Truman Center on Tuesday.
While a solution to these policies was sought with the adoption of Article 140 of the Constitution of 2005, the measures have not been implemented.
In addition, Article 58 of the Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law of 2004 says that all confiscated lands must be returned to their owners or be compensated for, "but the Iraqi government has ignored this article," said Pirmurat, a Yazidi who also lives in Germany.
Both Yazidis and Jews had suffered from measures instituted by Saddam's regime, such as sequestration of property and displacement and destruction of villages. Yazidis in particular had suffered because they were both Kurds and members of a religious minority, he said.
One study from the University of Hanover in Germany estimated that some $18 billion worth of property was confiscated from the Jews, Pirmurat said.
"Article 58 leaves an opportunity also for Jews to claim what was confiscated from them during these years," he said.
Read article in full
Monday, November 17, 2008
How much of a friend to the Jews was the wartime king of Morocco, Mohammed V? Some go as far as to say he saved Jews from deportation by the Nazis; others that he simply did not have the authority.
Morocco was not under Nazi occupation, unlike Tunisia in 1942. The Vichy government imposed its own anti-Jewish regime in Morocco, the 'statut des juifs'. According to the historian Nathan Weinstock,the Moroccan king did not object to a single Vichy law, but placed his seal on each decree. He could have used his right of veto but chose not to. The rights of his Jewish subjects were just not worth a confrontation with Vichy.
Jews were thus banned from public office, quotas applied and they were forced back into the Mellahs. The king not only ratified (Weinstock,'Une si longue presence' p142) but EXTENDED a 1941 decree banning Jews from having Muslim maids.
The discriminatory Dhimma legislation was integrated into Moroccan law, and the king was complicit in this.
On the other hand, a 1941 telegram from the French foreign ministry, uncovered in the mid-1980s, discussed the worsening tensions between the French authorities and the king because of Mohammed V’s unwillingness to distinguish among his subjects."There are no Jews, only Moroccans," the king was reputed to have said. Some Moroccan Jews even claim that he asked the French authorities to bring him yellow stars for his family to wear; others say the story is apocryphal.
Michel Abitbol, the eminent historian and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has a different take. He makes a distinction between Mohammed V, the man, and the statesman.
"People forget that real power lay with the Resident-general of the French protectorate, he told Information juive (July/ Aug 2008 - Les juifs d'Afrique du Nord sous Vichy). The king kept the trappings of sovereignty, but had no way of opposing the French, unless he put his throne at risk, as he did in the early 1950s. In the 1940s, however, the king had no choice but to countersign French edicts, such as the notorious 1930 Berber Dahir, a real blow against Islam, and the anti-Jewish Vichy laws. On the personal level, however, he was sympathetic to the many Jews in his entourage. But as the 'statesman', he was forced to sign. "
Saturday, November 15, 2008
As the Babylon exhibition, London's latest hot ticket, opens at the British Museum, Eli Timan - writing in a special issue of the Iraqi magazine Muntada (no 96) - makes sure that the place Babylon occupies in Jewish history is not forgotten:
Babylonia, the cradle of civilisation, was also the birthplace of the Patriarch Abraham, who left Mesopotamia for the land of Canaan. Conquest of that land was followed several centuries later by 12 Hebrew tribes descended from Abraham.
After a short period of a united kingdom under King David and his son Solomon, a northern kingdom was established by 10 tribes, called Israel and a separate southern kingdom called Judah (Yehuda). Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in around 721 B.C.E* and a vast number of its population exiled to Mesopotamia.
In 701 B.C.E the Assyrian king, Sanherib (Sennacherib) attacked Lachish in southern Judah. This campaign was vividly depicted in his palace and you can see this massive depiction on two walls in a section at the British Museum. In the annals of his 3rd campaign, Sanherib states that “I drove out of them 200,150 people”. Allowing for exaggeration, a considerable number of captive Jews (inhabitants of Judah) must have been taken to Mesopotamia. In 597 B.C.E. Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, followed in 586 B.C.E by his destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. It is said that some 50,000 Jews were exiled to Babylonia.
Thus began 2,600 years of history of the Jews of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). In captivity, the new exiles from Judah soon learned to adjust to the new environment. In a fertile and prosperous land, they enjoyed a freedom similar to the rest of the population. They were considered “resident foreigners” and paid taxes accordingly. They maintained their spirit with the support of the Prophet Yeheskel whose tomb is in the village of Kifl on the Euphrates River near the town of Hilla. He is venerated by Jews and Muslims alike since he was mentioned in the Qur’an as “Dhul Kifl”. Indeed, all the prophets in the Bible are venerated by Muslims and there are around 12 Jewish shrines in Iraq looked after today by non-Jews.
Shrines include those of the famous Ezra the Scribe (Al-‘Uzair) near the town of Amara on the Tigris River, Jonah (Yunis) in Nabi-Yunis, a suburb of Mosul, Nahum in El-Qosh, and Daniel in Kirkuk.
The Jewish exiles soon prospered, engaging in agriculture, the professions, commerce and trade, helped by their brethren from earlier exiles. There is evidence that a Jewish banking firm existed already and lasted for some hundred years.
We have to appreciate that the Assyrians had by 1800 B.C.E developed quite a sophisticated system of banking for their commerce with various trading colonies in Anatolia such as Kanesh. Caravans from Ashur to Kanesh were financed by Assyrian families and partners and a sophisticated system of Limited Companies with shareholders was devised. Bills of exchange between headquarters in Ashur and Assyrian agents in Kanesh were used for payments to minimise the transportation of cash which was mainly in silver currency. It is not surprising therefore that there were Jewish banking firms in the 6th century B.C.E.
In 537 B.C.E Babylon opened its gates to Cyrus the Persian without a fight. Cyrus gave the nations in his empire autonomy and the freedom to practise their religion; hence his proclamation to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its Temple. A few returned and built a simple temple, but in 458 B.C.E a large number returned with Ezra the Scribe and later with Nehemiah who was given the governorship of Jerusalem by Artaxerses I. Ezra and Nehemiah established official rites and prayers and it is said that Ezra completed the Torah scrolls and deposited them in the Temple.
Jewish law, both written and oral, would have been coloured extensively by life in Mesopotamia. The Persian Achaemanian era of Mesopotamia ended in 331 B.C.E by Alexander the Great in a battle near Arbil in today’s Kurdistan. There followed two centuries of Greek rule (331 - 126 B.C.E) with their capital Seleucia, south of Baghdad, on the opposite bank of the Tigris from Ctesiphon, the later Parthian and Sassanian capital in Mesopotamia (today only the ruins of the palace of Taq Kusra at Salman Pak village remains). The Parthians ruled to 227 C.E.** and the Sassanians to 636 C.E., the year they were defeated by the Arabs.
Thoughout this period (720 B.C.E to 636 C.E.), the Babylonian Jews spoke Aramaic. It was the main language spoken in Mesopotamia and was the official language of the Persian Empire. Babylon was a great centre of commerce, industry, trade and finance. Babylonian trade routes took the Jews to every corner of the known world, making them men of commerce and international trade. However the most common occupation was agriculture. A few of them had large tracts of agricultural land which they parcelled out among others by lease or by rent. A considerable proportion were farmhands who worked for a daily wage and endured great hardships as they toiled to convey the waters from the canals to the irrigation ditches or strove to keep them from overflowing.
Craftsmen had a happier lot and worked as bakers and brewers, weavers, dyers, and tailors; shipbuilders and woodcutters, blacksmiths, tanners, fishermen, sailors and porters. There were princes of commerce who exported wine, wool and flax, and imported silk, iron and precious stones; these rich merchants led a life of luxury amid a retinue of slaves and menials. In urban centres, a significant class of Jews engaged in manual labour, hiring themselves out by the day or week as masons, carpenters, potters, tailors, weavers and others. In around 218 C.E., a religious academy was founded in Sura by the Euphrates.
An earlier academy had already been established at Neherdea on the Euphrates at the junction of the Royal canal which connected the Euphrates to the Tigris at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. A third academy was founded some decades later at Pumbeditha, north of Neherdea, and it was followed by that at Mahoza on the Tigris, and others. In these academies, written and codified oral laws were studied and interpreted.
Centuries of interpretations, arguments, teachings, with topics including ethics, history and legend as well as law, resulted in the production of the Babylonian Talmud. Its codification began in Sura circa 367 C.E. and was completed circa 500 C.E. No other book has played so important a role in the history of the Jewish people as The Talmud. It served the Jewish Diasporas for generations, right down to our present day. It also serves as a reliable historical source on family and business life in that period.
It was in Babylonia rather than Jerusalem that the Jewish religion was preserved and codified. Judaism was present and influenced every aspect of the life of Babylonian Jews and that made them a distinct faith group. Education was greatly emphasised by the rabbis, and the communities developed a comprehensive and efficient school system.
Another feature of Jewish life which was to flourish and fully develop was the Synagogue. The Synagogue (Greek for “assembly”) was a gathering of the people to advance their communal and spiritual interests. It could be held in any convenient place in the midst of the local community. Portions of the Torah (Mosaic Law) were read there every week. The Synagogue was the centre of worship, of teaching and instruction for its local Jewish community. With no temple worship, the model of the Synagogue was instrumental in the spread of the concept of monotheism and later the rapid spread of the two universal religions of Christianity and Islam, with worship in church and mosque respectively. Follow-up article in the next issue of the Muntada.
The article combines extracts from various sources, mainly “The Jews of Baghdad” by Nissim Rejwan, London 1985 and “The story of an exile” by Nir Shohet, Tel-Aviv 1982. The author is currently engaged in a project to preserve the spoken dialect of Iraqi Jews.
*B.C.E: Before Christian Era
**C.E.: Christian Era
Thursday, November 13, 2008
While the LRB's focus on the Jews of Iraq is to be welcomed, the author's post-Zionism obfuscates the primary cause of the destruction of the Jewish community - Arab hostility - by spreading blame around. The Jews themselves are to blame for identifying too strongly with the colonialist British; and Zionism is to blame for making coexistence between Muslims and Jews in Iraq impossible. "If Israel was a sanctuary for the Jews of Iraq, it was also the reason why they desperately needed one," Shatz claims.
Perhaps his subtle rewriting of history is not surprising: recall that The London Review of Books was the only journal to accept Walt and Mearsheimer's 'Israel lobby ' essay, the basis for their controversial book of the same name.
I have 'fisked' some of the more controversial passages (italics) in the piece.
Recent polemics – and pro-Israeli websites – have made much of the indignities of Jewish life under Ottoman rule, seeking to expose the ‘myth’ of Muslim tolerance. This tolerance, it’s argued, is a euphemism for dependence on the goodwill of capricious, if not cruel Muslim overlords. The memoirs of Iraqi Jews, however, tell a very different story...Memories of Eden provides as sumptuous an account of the world of the Baghdadi Jewish elite as we’re likely to get.
Not exactly. By demolishing one myth, Shatz is creating another: paradise only really existed for the better-off Iraqi Jews towards the end of the 19th century, following the establishment of the Alliance Israelite Universelle school and the emancipation of Jews and Christians foisted on the Ottomans by the Western powers.
Shamash writes that Baghdad’s Jews and the British felt an ‘instant connection’: ‘the British saw that there was much to gain from befriending us, with whom they had already had contact during a century of trade under colonial rule in India.’ True: but the wealthier members of the community expected more from this friendship than the British could offer if they hoped to maintain peaceful relations with the Muslim majority of what, in 1921, would become the Arab kingdom of Iraq.
(Stop beating about the bush, Shatz!) The Jews feared Arab rule would be 'politically irresponsible, fanatic and intolerant', in the words of Professor Elie Kedourie.
Jewish fear of majority rule led, early on, to fateful miscalculations. When the British conquered Baghdad in 1918, the president of the Jewish lay council and the acting chief rabbi appealed for direct British rule, on the grounds that their Muslim neighbours weren’t ready ‘to undertake with success the management of their own affairs’. After this was rejected, a group of Jewish notables petitioned for British citizenship, giving the distinct impression that they regarded themselves as separate from and superior to the emerging national community. The British, seeking to harness – and neutralise – the energies of Arab nationalism, were in no position to grant this request.
In other words, Shatz promotes the (to my mind, outrageous) notion that the Jews petitioning for British citizenship sowed the seeds of their own downfall by appearing superior to the Arab Muslims.
Whatever pride some took in the creation of a Jewish ‘national home’ was more than offset by the worry that it would endanger them in Iraq. But the Zionists in Palestine claimed to speak in the name of the Jewish people, and thus in their name as well.
This crude side-swipe at Zionism is also a red herring. The issue here is the absence of minority rights in Iraq for Assyrians and Kurds, as well as Jews. How much more anti-Zionist could the behaviour of Iraqi Jews have been?
Note how only the Zionists have agency, never the Arabs. It was the Arabs who conflated the non- or anti-Zionist Jews of Iraq with Zionism, not the other way around. Later on in his piece, Shatz contradicts himself somewhat by describing how the anti-Zionist communist party had huge Jewish support.
The farhud continued for two days, an orgy of murder, rape and arson that left two hundred Jews and a number of Muslims dead.
(Who were these Muslims? Shatz does not tell us, but hints at a revisionist theory put about by some Iraqi Jews, including Somekh, that some Muslims died saving Jews.)
Mossad’s objective was not to improve the position of the Jews in Iraq, but to hasten their departure. Pamphlets appeared discouraging Jews from mixing with Arabs, and arguing that any attempt to do so ‘leads to butchery’.
The Israeli government circulated stories about Iraqi ‘pogroms’ and ‘concentration camps’ and denounced the hanging of seven Jews charged with Zionist activism in March 1949 – executions that Mossad’s own agents in Baghdad insisted had never occurred. Unless Iraqi Jews were allowed to emigrate, Israel warned, it would back armed resistance to al-Said’s government, or find itself unable to prevent Iraqi Jews already in Israel from killing Palestinians in revenge."
I don't know where Shatz got this from, but his introduction into the picture of Zionist scaremongering and the infamous bombs beloved of Arab propaganda obviously mitigates the effect of Arab hostility by making Israel at least partly responsible for the plight of Iraqi Jews. Absent from Shatz's account is any suggestion, documented in Elie Kedourie's essay in The break between Jews and Arabs, that it was the Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Said who was the driving force behind the expulsion of the Jews and the idea of an exchange of populations. Also absent is the fact, sorrowfully stated by the Jewish senator Ezra Daniel, that by 1950 the Jews had been deprived of their rights.
But soon after the Baath Party seized power in 1963, in a CIA-backed coup, Jews were forced to carry yellow identity cards.
Note how responsiblity for putting the Ba'ath in power (and thus the treatment of the Jews) devolves away from the Arabs on to the Americans.
Shatz's article ends with a long paragraph about the shoddy treatment of the Iraqi Jews by the Ashkenazi establishment in Israel. This was no doubt true then, but is no longer true now. Its only purpose is to denigrate Israel's ruling elite as racists and snobs:
We don’t want Israelis to become Arabs,’ (Ben Gurion) said with his usual bluntness, and the Iraqi Jews were dangerously close to being Arabs in Israel. An elite in their own country, they were now cast as a ‘primitive’, inferior people, requiring tutelage from Ashkenazi Jews, descendants of the despised Ostjuden, who were now determined to erase any trace of the East. And though many Iraqi Jews, bitter at their treatment at the hands of Arabs, became supporters of the political right in Israel, the racism they encountered made it impossible for them to identify fully with the movement that brought them ‘home’.
If resentment of Ashkenazim was as significant as Shatz makes out, the Iraqi Jews in Israel would have been expected to vote for the Left or in alliance wiht the Arabs. But this is not the case, as Shatz admits. The Israelification of immigrants was not confined to Mizrahim. Yiddish-speaking Jews were encouraged to jettison their language and change their names to Hebrew ones. And prejudice was demonstrated to other Ashkenazim too - Holocaust survivors were taunted as 'sabon' (soap). Harping on about Ashkenazi contempt for Mizrahim tends to seem hopelessly out-of-date in today's Israel, where intermarriage is at an all time high, Mizrahim have reached the highest echelons of power, and Middle Eastern culture is all the fashion.
In the early 1990s, Somekh tried to establish a solidarity association with the Iraqi people with the aim of documenting ‘the co-operation and good neighbourliness between the Jews and other Iraqis, so that the coming generations would know about this wonderful connection that had characterised Jewish life in the Arab world for 1500 years.’ His application was rejected by the Registrar of Non-Profit Associations in Jerusalem, which thought it unwise to revive such memories, a potential ‘source of Saddamist subversion’.
Shatz ends on this indignant note. Earlier he describes Somekh's memoir as an 'experiment in coexistence, rather than a Zionist parable about its impossibility'. Here in a nutshell is Shatz's own philosophy: Zionism is confrontational. No word about Arab aggression preventing coexistence. No understanding that at the time Somekh was promoting 'la-la land' solidarity with the Iraqi people, Saddam's brutal regime was in a state of war with Israel, having just fired dozens of missiles at Tel Aviv.
There is a time for peace, and a time for war.
Crossposted on Z-word blog
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Mikey argues essentially that before it was infiltrated by Christian antisemitism, Muslim antisemitism was not specifically anti-Jewish, but anti-dhimmi, and that Jews under Islam may have had it better than Christians, and in any event were treated better than in Christian Europe.
The king of Bahrain is continuing his campaign to lure Bahraini Jews back to the land of their birth, JTA reports:
NEW YORK (JTA) - The king of Bahrain said he would facilitate the return of Jewish expatriates through restored citizenship and land offers.
King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa met in New York Tuesday with about 50 Bahraini Jews who had immigrated to the United States, following on a similar meeting in London this summer.
The king said that all expatriate Bahrainis, whatever their religion, were welcome to return.
“It’s open, it’s your country,” he said in New York. He had reversed a law that banned dual citizenship and was ready to restore the citizenship of Bahrainis who had lost it in the interim, and to offer it to their children as well.
“The younger ones can’t remember much, but we want them to know,” he said of Bahraini heritage.Returning Bahrainis would be eligible for land allocations, he said.
Read article in full
King will offer London Bahraini Jews dual citizenship
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
A member of the Jewish community council in Alexandria has challenged the new head's suitability to lead the community because he is a Jewish convert to Islam. (Via HSJE)
Victor Balassanio claims that as a convert to Islam Yousef Yousef Gaon had no right to replace the last community leader, Max Salama, whose death we reported here. Balassanio has complained that Gaon had changed all the locks at the Nebi Daniel synagogue (pictured) and had cut him off from community decision-making.
When Balassanio asked for a letter of reference he was made to sign various papers abdicating his authority in community matters. Balassanio and his wife Denise have now decided to pack their bags and join their children in the US.
When the controversy was reported by Aimee Kligman on her blog Women's Lens, Yousef Gaon (proudly proclaiming his Jewish credentials as the nephew of Nissim Gaon, president of the World Sephardi Federation and owner of the Noga Hilton in Geneva) queried the facts as described and told Ms Kligman she could be in violation of Egyptian law.
Ms Kligman responded that Mr Gaon had the opportunity to correct the facts if he disagreed with them. In the US people could publish freely, unlike Egypt, where bloggers could be thrown into jail, she wrote.
Mr Gaon did not reply.
Max Salama z''l
Intrepid travellers Laurence Ben-Nathan and his wife Marianne took these pictures of the Great Synagogue in the Old Town of Tripoli. Once a quarter of Tripoli's inhabitants were Jews, but no Jews live in Libya now. Laurence describes how he came to find the synagogue:
"After our guided tour of the Old Town of Tripoli, we (with our four friends) decided to do our own tour which followed a route set out in the Lonely Planet guide book. We noticed that this route made mention of a synagogue. We eventually found this magnificent building which is now somewhat derelict. To be fair, this may be a reason why tour groups are not shown the building. We should probably have wore hard hats to enter it, if European Health and Safety rules applied there. Clearly it was a centre of the thriving Jewish community there before 1967 but was abandoned with the rest of the area in 1967 and has been left to decay. You must remember that the present Libyan regime does not undertake restoration of sites that we would consider historic; most of the present restoration work of the Roman and Greek sites has been carried out by the Italians.
"My name is, I would have thought, obviously Jewish and I never disguise my roots in this respect. This also applies to our other recent group travels to places such Syria and Iran. I also make a point of asking the local guides about the history of Jews in the areas we visit and I have generally received positive answers to my questions. Invariably any mention of Jews by the guides is peripheral but that may be because we are principally visiting ancient Roman and Greek sites and the Jews are not renowned for building grand cities and monuments.
"Nevertheless Jews have played prominent roles at times dating back before the great Roman and Greek empires and they do seem to be somewhat airbrushed out of the history. The Jews put up great resistance to the Roman invasion of Libya during the time of Trajan and helped destroy the Roman city now known as Cyrene. This was rebuilt after the Jewish uprising in 116 AD by Hadrian who wanted to restore it to the magnificent city it was originally. I think he succeeded.
"In Tripoli we had a Berber guide who took us around the Old City. As little mention was made of the Jews there, I asked him to tell us about their presence, which he willing did. He stopped at the old Jewish quarter, which he may have done anyway, as it was on our route. He told us that over a quarter of the Old Town was Jewish and in his view the Jews would almost certainly have eventually taken over the entire Old Town. However they abandoned the city completely at the time of the Six-Day war (1967) never to return. This area of the Old Town is now derelict with many of the building partly or completely destroyed. He pointed out buildings with typical dark blue doors.
"I pressed the guide a bit further about Judaism in Libya and he told me that many of the Berbers had followed the Jewish religion. Indeed there is a synagogue in the Berber regions in the Western Mountains but it was not on our route. When we got to the Berber town of Ghadames I asked the guide there about the previous religions followed by the Berbers but he said that nothing is specifically known about that!
"I also must say that we were welcomed very openly wherever we went by the ordinary people and, surprisingly, by the policemen and felt extremely comfortable and safe there. We also found that to be the case in Syria and Iran. Perhaps it is the politicians that cause all the hatred and difficulties, not unlike most countries of the world."
For pictures of the interior of the synagogue taken by Sadok click here.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Two members of the Israeli Knesset last week put forward, before hundreds of European Parliamentarians, their proposals for the absorption of Palestinian refugees in third countries, mirorring the absorption of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The Jerusalem Post reports:
A gathering of hundreds of European parliamentarians who support Israel concluded over the weekend in Paris with a politically loaded discussion on the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees - one of the most sensitive issues facing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
The debate, part of a conference sponsored by the Brussels-based European Friends of Israel, came amid a groundswell of parliamentary activity around the world, including in the US and Canada, to reroute funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the mammoth UN body that deals with Palestinian refugees and their descendants, towards the resettlement of some of the refugees and their descendants in third countries.
The session, which was hosted by the Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, the international arm of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, included addresses by European parliamentarians as well as by MK Benny Elon of the National Union-National Religious Party and MK Amira Dotan of Kadima. The two co-chair a new Knesset caucus on the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians - estimates range from 400,000 to 750,000 - left their homes during the War of Independence in 1948 and 1949. They, along with their millions of descendants, constitute one of the prickliest issues that must be dealt with as part of any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel flatly rejects the Palestinian demand that these refugees be allowed to return to their ancestral homes within Israel, saying that such a move would indelibly alter the character of the country.
Israel has also pointed to the 850,000 Jews who fled Arab countries after Israel's founding in 1948 and were integrated and absorbed in Israeli society as counterweight to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Recently, some Israeli parliamentarians have begun to openly advocate dealing tackling the Palestinian refugee issue after decades of avoiding it as a non-starter.
Much of the focus at Friday's discussion centered on the difference between UNRWA and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), the main UN body that handles all other refugees around the world.
While UNRWA's 25,000-strong almost exclusively Palestinian staff care for 4.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, the UNHCR employs a staff of around 6,300 people to help nearly 33 million people in more than 110 countries.
The event also dwelt on UNRWA's definition of Palestinian refugees, which includes not only the refugees themselves, but also their descendants, which critics say only serves to perpetuate the refugee crisis.
"We are asking why the UNHCR has the mandate to solve the problem of refugees and UNRWA does not," Elon said. "There are cynical political reasons to maintain the status of the refugees."
Iran's only Jewish MP has admitted that Jews do have problems, but not major ones, compared to the early years of the Iranian revolution. The government turns a blind eye to visits to Israel, he said. And president Ahmadinejad's 'Holocaust denial' was not shared by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Report by European Jewish Press. (With thanks: a reader)
BRUSSELS (EJP)---A Jewish Iranian parliamentarian, on a visit to the European Parliament this week , said Iran’s Jewish community doesn’t face major problems today and stressed that Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s statements on the Holocaust “are not shared by other leaders in the country.”
Read article in full
Sunday, November 09, 2008
" Because we are Jewish he knows we can do nothing."
Perhaps the most telling sentence of this Reuters piece: one of the last of eight Jews left in Iraq thinks he will get more leverage over his landlord if he talks to the press.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - One of the last eight Jews in Baghdad, a portly retired accountant, erupts in a bellyful of laughter when asked why he never married.
"I was a playboy. Don't write that!" he jokes, grinning. "How old do you think I am? Wrong. I'm 65! Don't write that! Write that I am 55!"
His government ID proves his age, and on the back it says, unmistakably: "Religion: Jewish."
He has made contact with a reporter, not because he wants to tell the story of his persecuted community, but because he wants to complain about the landlord who is raising his rent.
"Because we are Jewish he knows we can do nothing. He isn't afraid because he knows we have no tribe here. Don't use my name."
Once one of the largest Jewish communities in the Middle East, Baghdad Jews have now nearly vanished while the country has been consumed by sectarian war.
Speaking in fluent English, the ex-accountant launches into a description of the Baghdad of his youth, one of the Muslim world's most cosmopolitan cities.
He recites the names of legendary social clubs where Jews, Christians and Muslims mingled in better days, with music and whisky and parties that ran through the night.
"So many people -- Muslim people -- say if the Jewish people come back it will be nicer," he says.
His family have left. Some are in London, some in the United States. His father was offered a chance to move to Canada, but turned it down because he wanted to die and be buried in Iraq.
The ex-accounted himself stayed, but if he can sell his father's house -- now a ruin bombed out in the Iran war in the 1980s -- he will finally leave.
"I want to sell the house and go. I like Iraq, but I am fed up. We had very nice times in Iraq, but now we don't like it."
Iraq's Jewish community dates from biblical times. According to Charles Tripp's History of Iraq, the country was home to 117,000 Jews in 1947.
Under Ottoman rule, well into the first half of the 20th century, Jews made up about a fifth of the population of the capital. Some of the villas in neighborhoods along the Tigris still have six-pointed stars of David in their stucco.How many Jews are there now?
"We know them all," says the ex-accountant, counting.
There's the ex-accountant himself, plus the nephew with whom he shares a rented house in Baghdad's central Karrada district. There's the man who lives near them, the man who leads the community, the very old woman, the male doctor and the female dentist. And the man whose brother was a goldsmith.
The goldsmith married the dentist a few years ago. A few months later, he was abducted by gunmen.
"They came to his house and took him. He disappeared. They left his car, they left his mobile. They just took him."
So that leaves eight. Eight Jews left.
The synagogue in central Baghdad has been boarded up since 2003. The ex-accountant occasionally runs into some of the other Jews on the street, but confesses he isn't much for religion.
"We don't know how to pray," he says. "Hebrew books we have everywhere in the synagogue, but we don't know how to read it. Some words I know. The important one is Adonai. Adonai is God. We believe in God."
In the old days, Jews were an integral part of Iraqi life. A relative of the ex-accountant was finance minister decades ago. But beginning in the late 1940s, successive Arab governments accused Baghdad's Jews of supporting Zionism.
Some were jailed, others were barred from government posts, and thousands upon thousands left for Israel or the West.
By the time of Saddam Hussein's fall, the ex-accountant estimates there were only a few dozen Jews left. Western organizations came and evacuated most of the rest.
"A woman called Rachel, she came here took some of them to the Jewish community in London, I think," he said.
In 2003, he went to the Green Zone to meet a cousin who was born in the United States and had come to Iraq to work for the U.S.-run administration. The American woman was shocked when her mother put them in touch.
"She said: incredible! You are still here? She did not know she had a cousin in Iraq," he said.
Apart from his quarrel with his landlord, the ex-accountant says he has had few problems with the neighbors, most of whom don't know he is Jewish, some of whom don't care.
"Somebody says 'You are Christian', I don't say anything. Somebody says 'You are Muslim', I don't say anything. I think most people think we are Christian because they don't know there are still Jews in Iraq."
Saturday, November 08, 2008
The Israeli town of Bat-Yam, where many Egyptian Jews live, was the setting for a conference organised by the International Association of Jews from Egypt (headed by Levana Zamir) on 3 November, to highlight the multiculturalism of the Second Exodus. Successful though the conference was, however, Israeli schoolbooks still do not mention the ethnic cleansing of Egyptian Jews. A summary report follows:
Days before the conference it had already sold out. Some 200 participants of Egyptian origin attended, not only from Bat-Yam, Holon, Rishon, but also Haifa, Yokneam, Kiryat Ata in the north, and Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon in the south. For the first time, the conference was attended by quite a few younger members born in Israel to Egyptian parents. Mr Uri Bouskila, deputy Mayor of Bat-Yam, and Mrs Ester Peron, Council member for Education at the Bat-Yam Municipality, welcomed the fact that a significant percentage of Bat-Yam citizens were of Egyptian origin. Multiculturalism and tradition being a priority in Bat-Yam, the town this year won the national prize for Education.
Multiculturalism, the main characteristic of the Jewish refugees of Egypt and their contribution to the Mediterranean Union: "After 50 years of aliyah," said Levana Zamir, the conference chairwoman and organiser, "the Jewish refugees from Egypt are finally being labelled a multicultural Aliya, and Jacqueline Kahanof – an Israeli writer born in Egypt - recognized as the precursor of the Mediterranean Option, now becoming a regional trend for the Mediterranean and the Middle East Union. Egyptian Jewry was heterogeneous, but those born in Egypt from non-Egyptian parents naturally absorbed that multiculturalism, its tolerance and the loving acceptance of the Other, a characteristic of Egyptian Jews around the world.
The Academic Session on the Multiculturalism of the Jews of Egypt was chaired by Moshe Zafarani - the National Supervisor for Communities Heritage at the Ministry of Education. Participating was Mrs Miryam Frenkel – Vice-Chairman of Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem, Prof. Nahem Ilan – from the Lander Institute Jerusalem, and Levana Zamir – President of the International Association of Jews from Egypt.
Mr Moshe Zafarani urged the Egyptian Jews to tell their story to researchers and students at school, so as to preserve their heritage. Prof Nahem Ilan presented the series of books edited in Hebrew by the Ben-Zvi Institute about Oriental Jewish Communities in the 19th and the 20th centuries, and his last volume about Egypt. Miryam Frenkel outlined Egyptian multiculturalism over centuries before it became known as Levantine. "Jacqueline Kahanof, an Egyptian Jew writer who made aliya in the Fifties, after winning prestigious literature prizes in the United States, was a courageous warrior," said Frenkel. "She managed to transform the negative meaning of Levantine into a positive." The Ben-Zvi Institute is now translating her autobiographical book Soulam Yaacov (Jacob's ladder) from English to Hebrew. It describes her childhood and adolescence in Egypt.
Political Aspects between the Palestinian Refugees and the Jewish-Arab Refugees was presented by Yossi Ben-Aharon from his research on the subject. Mr. Ben-Aharon, born in Egypt, was Ambassador of Israel and Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office under Itzhak Shamir. "After the 29 November 1947 UN Partition resolution, "defenseless Jewish communities throughout the Arab world were victims of pogroms, seizure of property and persecution, he said. Palestinian Arabs began to flee from their homes much later, when Jewish militias began to respond to Arab attacks on them. The responsibility for the creation of the Arab refugee problem rests primarily on the shoulders of the Arab governments and on the Palestinian leadership," concluded Ben-Aharon.
After a buffet break, where delicious Egyptian Kobeba, Pasteles etc. were served, as well as the succulent Bassboussa and Menenas, the audience watched the beautiful and poignant movie:
And you shall tell your children – The Second Exodus of the Jews of Egypt, produced in Israel by Levana Zamir, with the help of the Ministry of Justice: this professionally-made 30-minute film, shining with truth, reported without exaggeration the trials and tribulation of the Second Exodus, starting with glorious pictures of the Community before 1948, when most enjoyed financial security and joie de vivre, only to end as "hounded Jews". Pogroms in the Jewish Quarter in Cairo, bombs killing entire families, persecutions, mass arrests, abuse, riots, discrimination, prison, forced exile in a matter of days, sometimes hours, emptied Egypt of its Jews, who were 'ethnically cleansed', leaving their assets behind.
The more one talks about the Second Exodus of Egypt, the better - translated from Hebrew "Kol Hamarbeh Lessaper 'al Yetssiyat Mitzrayim Hasheniya, Harei Ze Meshoubah" (from the Hagada): The leaders of various Associations of Jews from Egypt, participated in this round table: Arieh Ohanna (Tel-Aviv), Dr. Ada Aharoni (WCJE), Lucy Kalamaro and Baroukh Zamir (Bat-Yam) - chaired by Levana Zamir.
Arieh Ohanna deplored the fact that the mass expulsion of the Jews from Egypt, their painful ethnic cleansing and their becoming refugees, are not documented in Hebrew school books in Israel, not even the latest.
Benoit Belbel, today known as Barukh Zamir, brought his own testimony as Assir-Tzion in Egypt (Prisoner of Zion ) following the Suez War in 1956. For the first time, an Assir-Tzion from Egypt testified LIVE in front of a large audience about the tortures he suffered at the El-Al'aa prison in Cairo, leaving physical signs on his back until today. He had been expelled in 1957, and in spite of his French nationality he choose to make aliya. This testimony is encouraging others to testify too, because our parents, who saw their whole life collapsing overnight, are not here to testify anymore, and we are the Last of the Mohicans to do so.
Lucy Kalamaro, who left Egypt with her family in 1964, preferred not to talk about her good and bad days in Egypt on this occasion, but about her own Zionist feelings, aroused in Egypt out fear of Gamal Abdel Nasser's policy towards the Jews. She understood then that the only place to live for her and for her family is Eretz Israel. She choose to make aliya, although she had other choices.
Dr. Ada Aharoni stressed the importance of the Second Exodus narrative for the advancement of peace. She reported how astonished a group of young Palestinians were when she told them about the expulsion of the Jews of Egypt – "We are quits, then," they exclaimed.
The multicultural contribution of the Jews of Egypt to the Egyptian movie industry: To end the conference on a happier note, Eyal Sagui-Bizawi – born in Bat-Yam to Egyptian parents, and working today on his thesis on the Jews of Egypt at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem - gave a fascinating presentation about the contribution of the Jews of Egypt to the Egyptian movie industry until the mid-twentieth century. He drew us back to nostalgia while screening some lovely clips of Egyptian movies, produced by Togo Mizrahi and others with Egyptian Jewish artists Layla Mourad, Rakya Ibrahim, Nagua Salem, Camelia, Elias Mouhadab etc., showing the multiculturalism of this bygone cosmopolitan Golden Era.
The liberal but still traditional religious attitude of the Jews of Egypt was wonderfully presented by Rabbi Shay Peron, born in Israel to Egyptian-Jewish parents. This liberal but still traditional attitude was no doubt influenced by the bygone cosmopolitan atmosphere in Egypt.
Closing the event with live songs in Arabic, French and Hebrew, the famous singer Varda, a second generation Egyptian, closed this enjoyable, historic and most successful event, with songs in Egyptian Arabic, French and Hebrew.
Top photo left to right: Esther Peron of the Bat Yam Council, Uri Bouskila, Bat Yam deputy mayor, and Levana Zamir, conference chairwoman and organiser. Bottom: menenas and kahk b'semsem, typical delicacies served in the conference break