Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Will Obama mention this Jew from Cairo?

Daniel Dagan is excited that Obama is visiting Cairo, his home town. Dare he hope the US president might depart from his prepared speech to mention him, and the 850,000 other forgotten Jewish refugees from Arab lands? Obama owes it not just to historical truth and to promoting accommodation between Jews and Arabs, but also to the Muslim and Arab world with its more pressing worries, Dagan says in this passionate plea in The Jerusalem Post : (with thanks: Lily)

When US President Barack Obama speaks tomorrow in Cairo, the whole world will tune in to see how he addresses one of the most serious, long-standing problems facing mankind: the unresolved, unabated encounter between the largely Christian-shaped West and the largely Muslim-shaped Orient.

I for one will also be watching for signs that he has taken notice of my own, personal story. And in the process I hope to discover whether Obama is really seeking the truth - or is simply after an accommodation based on a fictitious narrative that ignores my plight.

By way of illustration, consider this happy encounter I had a few years ago with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when I covered a visit to Cairo by former German president Johannes Rau.

I was in the reception line, among a row of political bigwigs and illustrious guests, at Mubarak's Cairo palace. A routine handshake, with a word of greeting in Arabic. Then I took Mubarak by surprise with the comment that I used to play on the property as a child.

But he simply didn't believe me, so I dipped into my vest pocket and pulled out my birth certificate. He read it out loud - in Arabic, of course: "Born at 1 Ibrahim Street, Heliopolis, Cairo..."

The president was almost left speechless. "Ibrahim? I know this street; it's just around the corner. So you grew up here?"

"Yes, I did," I confirmed. And I told him that the headquarters of his regime used to be called the Heliopolis Palace Hotel and was considered the most beautiful residence in Africa. When I was a child living in the neighborhood, I played there often, as the manager of the hotel, the Belgian Baron Empain, was a friend of our family.

Spontaneously, Mubarak invited me to stay in Egypt a little longer and to come back (which I did a number of times). To Rau standing next to him, he said with feeling: "Thank you for bringing an Egyptian brother with you."

During that brief meeting I was too polite to react on the spot. But the dramatic events now unfolding in my native town offer a good opportunity to put a straight question not just to Mubarak and other Arab and Muslim leaders, but also to Obama: When you address the problem of refugees forced to leave their homes as a consequence of the Arab-Israeli conflict - as surely you will - do you intend to consider all the refugees affected by this ongoing confrontation? Why have you failed until now to mention the 1 million Jews who fled Arab countries and sought a new home in Israel? Why have you ignored the fate of these large, ancient communities across the Arab and the Muslim world that have all but disappeared?

Why don't you ever mention me?

For much too long Israel has been portrayed as a project of Western immigrants who seized a foreign country in the Orient and drove out its population. Yet I am an Israeli, and I come from the Orient. So I know for sure that I don't fit this routine story - and I am certainly not alone. Nearly half the Jewish population in Israel are refugees from Arab or Muslim countries. Considering their plight is an indispensable part of any debate on promoting accommodation between Muslims and Jews, let alone between Arabs and Israelis.

A truthful approach is also important in order to tackle other problems facing many Muslim nations - problems which are far more serious and pressing than the conflict with Israel: poverty, technological backwardness, the status of women, the widespread abuse of religious values to promote violence.

I trust that Obama's advisers will add a few more items to the list.

Read article in full


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

it seems that Obama did not mention anything about Arab/Muslim offenses against Jews in history nor did he say anything about Jewish rights. He opined that Jews did not have the right to live in certain places, like Judea-Samaria, the heart of the ancient Jewish homeland. Arabs were not asked to repent in any way of their historical oppression of Jews, nor of their Nazi/Holocaust collaboration nor of driving Jews out of Egypt while confiscating their possessions, as Daniel Dagan describes.

Levana Zamir said...

Daniel Dagan article is the voice of 100,000 Silent Egyptian Jews Refugees. Those who have been expelled overnight as well as those who left 'of their own free will', after being imprisoned, sequestrated, fired, sometimes beaten till death, bombed, and humiliated. Thousands of those men, our parents, lost in their exile not only their  assets, but their own identity. Many of them died heart broken, soon after the disaster.
Let us hope, that Obama did homework on this sad subject. 

Anonymous said...

If you expect anything better, you've got to be dreaming....


barbara said...

You are making a wonderful work in this wonderful blog!

Anonymous said...

I was born in Cairo Egypt. Nice blog. We left in 1970 after three year of concentration camp for jews in egypt. Where is the cries of the world for us. We left Egypt and we had good countries which opened their arms for us. Why don't the arab countries do the same to the Palestinian people, It is an even exchange. We lost everything, properties, home, we left with nothing.