Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brotherhood is not sorry Hosni lost UNESCO post

The Egyptians are still seething over the defeat of their UNESCO candidate for director-general, Farouk Hosni. It's a defeat that probably cost them millions. (At the time the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot carried a report that envelopes stuffed with 50,000 Euros apiece were offered to members of the UNESCO executive committee.) But not everyone is sorry that Hosni lost, Masry-al Yom reports:

"(Muslim) Brotherhood deputy leader Mohamed Habib told news website Al-Youm Al-Saaba that Hosni had lost due to “American-Zionist bullying." Habib went on to say that the culture minister should not have pandered for Western approval in his electoral campaign but rather "should have stuck to his Arab cultural identity."

"Hussein Ibrahim, the brotherhood's deputy parliamentary spokesman, holds the Egyptian government responsible for Hosni’s failure since it nominated “an incompetent and ineffective" candidate to begin with. Hosni’s nomination, Ibrahim told brotherhood website Iknwanonline, “was undermined on a local level thanks to the minister's tireless crusade against Islamic morals and values such as the Hijab headscarf."

"Some local writers, viewing Egypt’s longest-serving minister as a symbol of Egyptian autocracy, even welcomed Hosni's defeat.

"In independent daily Al-Dustour, Wael Abdel Fattah claimed that Hosni had lost due to "the very short distance between him and the Egyptian regime." Abdel Fattah went on to say that Hosni, over the course of his long tenure as culture minister, had "successfully pressed Egypt’s cultural elite into serving the regime," occasionally supporting the censorship of books and the suppression of free expression. "

Read article in full

While the entire Al-Ahram publishing group has announced a boycott of Israel, conspiracy theories abound in the Egyptian press to explain Hosni's failure. French journalist Richard Labeviere, an anti-Zionist ex-journalist for the radio station RF1, is quoted in Al-Masry - al Yom as claiming that the Mossad had sent a team of ten agents to Paris to lobby diplomats and journalists:

"Labeviere a assuré (...) que la Présidence de la République française a reçu une déclaration du département du renseignement militaire, sur l'arrivée de 8 agents du Mokhabarat (renseignements) israéliens à Paris, et deux autres les ont rejoint, et ils ont séjourné dans un hôtel populaire sans contact direct avec leur Ambassade, ou avec leurs collègues français de cette visite.

"Labeviere a expliqué que la cellule israélienne est arrivée le 21 septembre, et ils ont prouvé qu'ils sont experts dans les médias occidentaux dans «les techniques impact psychologique», et leur mission était de lancer une campagne visant à contrecarrer l'élection du candidat Farouk Hosni dans la phase critique des élections.

"Il a souligné qu'ils étaient plus d'une fois au siège de l'UNESCO et ont eu de fréquents contacts avec un certain nombre d'ambassadeurs européens et des fonctionnaires de l'ONU. Ils se sont également entretenu avec des éditeurs de journaux Français, et étaient derrière la campagne de presse virulente contre Farouk Hosni, qui fit rage dans les jours avant le cycle des élections. "

Qui a perdu a l'UNESCO? Alaa al-Aswany in Le Monde (French)

Monday, September 28, 2009

German apologists downplay Arab-Nazi axis

An exhibition in Berlin detailing Arab-Nazi collaboration was initially cancelled, then scaled down. The episode is typical of how German apologists play down Arab identification with Nazi antisemitism - a collaboration which was never discredited in the Arab world - the exhibit organiser Karl Rossel told Daniel Schwammenthal of the Wall St Journal. (With thanks: Lily)

One widespread myth about the Mideast conflict is that the Arabs are paying the price for Germany's sins. The notion that the Palestinians are the "second victims" of the Holocaust contains two falsehoods: It suggests that without Auschwitz, there would be no justification for Israel, ignoring 3,000 years of Jewish history in the land. It also suggests Arab innocence in German crimes, ignoring especially the fascist past of Palestinian leader Haj Amin al Husseini, who was not only Grand Mufti of Jerusalem but also Waffen SS recruiter and Nazi propagandist in Berlin. When a German journalist recently tried to shed some light on this history, he encountered the wrath of the Arab collaborators' German apologists.

Karl Rössel's exhibition "The Third World in the Second World War" was supposed to premier on Sept. 1 in the "Werkstatt der Kulturen," a publicly funded multicultural center in Berlin's heavily Turkish and Arab neighborhood of Neukölln. Outraged by the exhibition's small section on Arab complicity in Nazi crimes, Philippa Ebéné, who runs the center, cancelled the event. Among the facts Ms. Ebéné didn't want the visitors of her center to learn is that the Palestinian wartime leader "was one of the worst and fanatical fascists and anti-Semites," as Mr. Rössel put it to me.

The mufti orchestrated the 1920/1921 anti-Jewish riots in Palestine and the 1929 Arab pogroms that destroyed the ancient Jewish community of Hebron. An early admirer of Hitler, Husseini received Nazi funding—as did Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood—for his 1936-1939 Palestinian revolt, during which his thugs killed hundreds of British soldiers, Jews and also Arabs who rejected his Islamo-Nazi agenda. After participating in a failed fascist coup in Iraq*, he fled to Berlin in 1941 as Hitler's personal guest. In the service of the Third Reich, the mufti recruited thousands of Muslims to the Waffen SS. He intervened with the Nazis to prevent the escape to Palestine of thousands of European Jews, who were sent instead to the death camps. He also conspired with the Nazis to bring the Holocaust to Palestine. Rommel's defeat in El Alamein spoiled these plans.

(Associated Press) Hezbollah terrorists practising a familiar salute in 2008.

After canceling the exhibition, Ms. Ebéné clumsily tried to counter the impression that she had pre-emptively caved to Arab pressure. As a "non-white" person (her father is Cameroonian), she said, she didn't have to fear Arabs, an explanation that indirectly suggested that ordinary, "white," Germans might have reason to feel less safe speaking truth to Arabs.

Berlin's integration commissioner, Günter Piening, initially seemed to defend her. "We need, in a community like Neukölln, a differentiated presentation of the involvement of the Arabic world in the Second World War," Der Tagesspiegel quoted him as saying. He later said he was misquoted and following media criticism allowed a smaller version of the exhibit to be shown.

(Corbis) Palestinian leader Haj Amin al Husseini inspecting a Muslim SS parade in 1944.

Mr. Rössel says this episode is typical of how German historians, Arabists and Islam scholars deny or downplay Arab-Nazi collaboration. What Mr. Rössel says about Germany applies to most of the Western world, where it is often claimed that the mufti's Hitler alliance later discredited him in the region. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the Mideast, Nazis were not only popular during but also after the war—scores of them found refuge in the Arab world, including Eichman's deputy, Alois Brunner, who escaped to Damascus. The German war criminals became trusted military and security advisers in the region, particularly of Nazi sympathizer Gamal Nasser, then Egypt's president. The mufti himself escaped to Egypt in 1946. Far from being shunned for his Nazi past, he was elected president of the National Palestinian Council. The mufti was at the forefront of pushing the Arabs to reject the 1948 United Nations partition plan and to wage a "war of destruction" against the fledgling Jewish state. His great admirer, Yasser Arafat, would later succeed him as Palestinian leader.

The other line of defense is that Arab collaboration with the Nazis supposedly wasn't ideological but pragmatic, following the old dictum that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." This "excuse" not only fails to consider what would have happened to the Jews and British in the Mideast had the Arabs' German friends won. It also overlooks the mufti's and his followers' virulent anti-Semitism, which continues to poison the minds of many Muslims even today.

The mufti "invented a new form of Jew-hatred by recasting it in an Islamic mold," according to German scholar Matthias Küntzel. The mufti's fusion of European anti-Semtism—particularly the genocidal variety—with Koranic views of Jewish wickedness has become the hallmark of Islamists world-wide, from al Qaeda to Hamas and Hezbollah. During his time in Berlin, the mufti ran the Nazis' Arab-language propaganda radio program, which incited Muslims in the Mideast to "kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion." Among the many listeners was also the man later known as Ayatollah Khomeini, who used to tune in to Radio Berlin every evening, according to Amir Taheri's biography of the Iranian leader. Khomeini's disciple Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still spews the same venom pioneered by the mufti as do Islamic hate preachers around the world.

Muslim Judeophobia is not—as is commonly claimed—a reaction to the Mideast conflict but one of its main "root causes." It has been fueling Arab rejection of a Jewish state long before Israel's creation.

Read article in full

* this was followed by the Farhoud in Iraq which killed some 179 Jews

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The decline and fall of the Jews of Libya

The Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi knows all about Jews. Jews dressed like Arabs and lived in harmony with Arabs, he tells Time magazine. But they are heading to disaster because they dared have their Jewish state, instead of one state shared with the Palestinians. Gaddafi here restates the old dhimmi idea - the Jews are 'our Jews' who must defer to Arabs for protection.

So successful was coexistence in Libya that, under Gaddafi's watch, Libya became
judenrein! For the benefit of Time readers and others who are tempted to believe Gaddafi's lies, Point of No Return charts the decline and fall of Libyan Jewry:

1938 Italian racial laws applied to Libya's 30,000 Jews. 600 Jews die in Giado work camp
1945 two-day pogrom: 130 Jews killed
1948: 14 Jews killed in pogrom
1949 - 1952 : 90 percent of Jews flee for Israel
1951 Constitution abolished. PM Mahmud Muntassar says Jews can have no future in Libya.
1952 Independent Libya bans emigration, joins the Arab League
1953 Libya signs up to anti-Jewish economic boycott. Night-time searches of Jewish homes for 'Zionist' material
1954 Maccabi sports club closed
1958 Jewish Community Council dissolved by law
1961 Law requires a special permit to prove true Libyan citizenship - denied to all but six Jews
1961 Assets belonging to Libyan Jews in Israel seized. Only Libyan nationals can buy property (excludes Jews). Jews cannot vote.
1963 Nasserists press for closure of US and UK bases
1963 Murder of Jewish leader Halfalla Nahum, 84
1967 Six-Day War. Jews donate to Palestinian cause. 60 percent of Jewish assets destroyed in Tripoli. Italian and Jewish shops burnt. 10 Jews killed.
300 Benghazi Jews detained for own safety. Two families (14 people) massacred. Almost all Libya's remaining 5,000 Jews evacuated out of the country.
1970 Gaddafi government sequesters all property of Jews abroad
2002 Esmeralda Meghnagi, Libya's last Jew, dies.

From Le processus de discrimination des juifs de Libye by Maurice Roumani, in La fin du judaisme en terres d'Islam (ed Shmuel Trigano)

Friday, September 25, 2009

North Africans live in peace in Paris - or do they?

Belleville is a district of Paris known as La Goulette-sur-Seine, after the Tunisian resort once popular with Jews. Ilan Moss in JTA News extolls Belleville as a model of North African Jewish-Muslim coexistence. But outside it, Jews live in segregated fortress suburbs, tension between Jews and Arabs flares up periodically, and even in Belleville itself numbers of Jews have dwindled. Still, the article tries to play down such incidents as the blatantly antisemitic murder of Ilan Halimi as 'gang warfare'.

"Some 350,000 Jews live in the Paris metropolitan area. In Belleville, the North African heritage shared by most French Jews is overt, which may help explain why Jews and Muslims here get along. Most Jewish residents and workers here are of Tunisian descent, and the neighborhood is affectionately known as La Goulette on Seine -- named after a coastal town on the Mediterranean.

“Tunisians are the most open-minded Jews, they are basically like us,” says a Muslim customer at Soltane, a Belleville halal butchery.

"Like the Jews from Algeria and Morocco, Tunisian Jews lived side by side with Arabs for centuries, sharing common food, language and music. Following the dissolution of the French colonial empire in the 1950s and 1960s, North African Jews and Muslims flocked to the urban hills of northern Paris. Many Tunisian Jews settled in Belleville, replacing an older Polish Jewish community.

"On a typical Sunday on the grimy side streets off the Boulevard de Belleville, old men drink mint tea and argue in Arabic outside cafes adorned with photos of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, while restaurants feature live bands with Arab musicians playing for enthusiastic Jewish dancers.

“The older Jews feel at home in Belleville because it reminds them of Tunisia, where Jews and Arabs interacted daily,” says Laurent Allouche, director of a Jewish funeral home. “But northeast Paris is the only place where this exists.”

"Belleville has not always been peaceful. Significant clashes between Tunisian Jews and Arabs broke out here following the 1967 Six-Day War, and again in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War.

"Last summer, tensions ran high in the district neighboring Belleville, Paris’ 19th arrondissement, when street fights between youth gangs culminated in the savage beating of a 17-year-old Jew, Rudy Haddad. And many French Jews remain shaken by the kidnapping, torture and murder of a 23-year-old Jew, Ilan Halimi, in 2006.

"This summer, 14 of the 27 gang members responsible for Halimi’s death were convicted of abetting his murder.

"Some Jews, however, say Halimi’s death had less to do with anti-Semitism than gang and class warfare.

“It could have been anyone,” the butcher at Henrino’s says. “Even this guy,” he says, grabbing his Sri Lankan assistant as his workers, slicing spicy merguez sausages, look on. “Or it could have been someone named Mohammed.”

"About half a mile uphill, in the Menilmontant district, Kamel Amriou says more needs to be done to make sure Jews and Muslims in Paris get along. Born in Paris to Algerian Muslims, he grew up in a building with plenty of Jewish North Africans.

“My mother would slap me if I refused to help the Atlan family during Shabbat,” he recalls.

"Amriou now runs a successful printing business -- with a Jewish partner -- and has political aspirations. He wants to launch a political party that reflects the multicultural character of northern Paris.

"While France officialdom holds that successful integration can take place only if minorities renounce their ethnic factionalism, pejoratively known as communautarisme, Amriou thinks the U.S. model would work better.

“America offers the most lasting model of integration in that communities keep their customs while respecting the other,” Amriou says. “I want to create a movement inspired by my neighborhood, where Jews and Arabs coexist but maintain their own traditions and religions.”

"Annie Paule Derczansky, director of a grass-roots organization called Peace Builders, is working to deepen coexistence by organizing meetings between Jewish and Arab women from the neighborhood. This summer she held a halal/kosher picnic with some 150 local Jews and Arabs in the Butte Chaumont, a hot spot for intercommunal violence in 2008.

“We held the picnic without any police security,” she says. “Observant Jews and Muslims attended, mingled and enjoyed kosher ice cream and cotton candy -- served by Muslim vendors in the park.”

"Back in La Goulette, it remains to be seen if the next generation will continue the tradition of coexistence practiced by their ancestors."

Read article in full

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Failed Farouk Hosni put vindictiveness above vision

Farouk Hosni, whose bid for the leadership of UNESCO has failed, will now blame the Jooz. And with good reason: Jews worldwide ran a vigorous campaign to frustrate his ambitions. Ultimately, though, the veteran Egyptian Minister of culture did not have the vision required for the job. (It remains to be seen whether he will keep his promise, made in the last stages of his election campaign, to open up Jewish community registers.) Here are extracts of a 23 September piece by Maariv's Jacky Hougy and Maya Bengal, UN said no to Egyptian minister who called for Israeli books to be burnt (With thanks for her translation to Levana) :

"So comes to an end a two-year Egyptian campaign recruiting dozens of diplomats around the world, along with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. This campaign convinced the leaders of Oman, Morocco and Algeria, not to put forward their representatives, to avoid hurting Hosni 's chances as Arab candidate.

"Towards the end, Mubarak also asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the international Israeli Foreign Ministry campaign against Hosni. During their meeting in May, Netanyahu responded positively to the request. Since Mubarak's request to Netanyahu, Israel avoided attacking Hosni, and the guidelines were not to react strongly to Hosni's defeat but with restraint. Indeed, Jerusalem expressed satisfaction yesterday, and chose to congratulate Bukova on her victory and not to defame the Egyptian. "Israel is convinced that cooperation with UNESCO will continue,"‬ said Yossi Levy, director of communication at the Foreign Ministry, "and will be enlarged and extended."

"Furthermore, Levana Zamir, Chair of the International Organization of Jews from Egypt in Israel, expressed regrets. "Too bad Farouk Hosni dit not obtain this position," she‬ said, "he expressed repentance for his statements against Jews, and even in court they accept repentance."

Farouk Hosni will surely claim during the next days, that the Jews spoiled his victory. He is not wrong. Until the last moment yesterday when the board members of UNESCO dropped their card votes, Jewish organizations and non-official Israelis acted behind the scenes to steal the Egyptian candidate's dream.

This had to be done, they said, to the man who promised to burn Hebrew books, and as a badge of pride, said he would be the last Egyptian to visit Israel. But if Hosni looks around, he will realize that he should complain only to himself. After 22 years as Minister of Culture, he did not achieve the kind of accomplishments which could make of him a natural candidate to the UNESCO Secretary-General's position. The Pyramids remain the same as when the pharaohs disappeared. The International Films Festival of Cairo, which the Ministry of Culture is proud of, failed to break through the boundaries of the Arab world.

Egypt is indeed a powerhouse of dance, history, literature, archeology and cinema - but Egypt had all these despite Farouk Hosni and long before him, not because of him. Instead of upgrading Egyptian culture to the level it deserves, Hosni restrained Egyptian artists, who wished to open up and show the world the fruits of their creativity in Tel Aviv.

He supported the denunciation of Egyptian journalists who visited Israel and returned to Cairo having concluded that the monster is not so bad.

His office had opposed Hebrew literature translations in Egypt, which would have exposed the Egyptian reader to another culture. He refused to open to the Jews the Jewish community's registers in Egypt, under the pretext it could give rise to property claims.

"His proud resistance to normalization, Hosni explained, is due to Israeli occupation. This position may impress the Egyptian street. But to become head of UNESCO, one must have a vision, not vindictiveness. What became suddenly clear too, is that Farouk Hosni's ideology is a matter of politics.

"One day, sometime in May this year, the Egyptian Minister abandoned his old views and began suddenly to express fresh positions. He gave order to translate Hebrew books in Cairo, to open and expose the community registers, and stated that he will not be deterred from visiting Israel if elected Secretary-General of UNESCO.

"Last night it emerged that even the innocent Europeans did not buy into this election propaganda. Now he could be proud of a consolation prize: if he did not receive the coveted title, at least he has added a few Jewish friends."

Original article in Hebrew, no online link.

Hosni's loss at UNESCO quietly pleases Israel (Jerusalem Post)

Egypt's press fumes over UNESCO vote (Jerusalem Post)

Hosni declares a 'culture war' on Israel (Ynet News)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

All creeds to demonstrate against Ahmadinejad

Muslims, Bahais and Jews will unite in a demonstration against Iran's Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is visiting the US, Karmel Melamed reports. The Iranian president learned his antisemitism from two mentors, Melamed reveals. One, Ahmed Fardid, taught courses on Nazi ideology :

"What seems most interesting about this rally is the fact that local leaders and activists from the Iranian Muslim, Bahai and Zoroastrian communities will also be at hand to protest side by side with Jews against Ahmadinejad’s behavior and statements.

"Non-Jewish Iranian groups have indicated they expect a large turn out of individuals from their groups at the demonstration in Westwood as Ahmadinejad represents the brutal and totalitarian regime in Iran that has cracked down on basic freedoms of their countrymen. Yet this demonstration in my assessment will not necessarily be one where the Iranian dictator is bashed. To the contrary, this gathering will allow individuals from a whole host of groups to stand up and proclaim “NO, we do not think a man who preaches genocide, hate, intolerance and radical Shiite Islamic theology as one that deserves any kind of welcome at an international forum that supposedly promotes peace on earth!”. This gathering of humanity will represent human beings who believe in speaking up when the forces of pure evil like Ahmadinejad are trying to cause chaos in the world.

"On an interesting note, many of us who speak and understand the Persian language know very well that while Ahmadinejad may very well be pure evil, he does not necessarily sound like an insane person. His spoken words in denying the existence of the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of Israel are said in a very plain or “matter-of-fact’ manner. Many don’t know that Ahmadinejad’s own education was influenced by his mentor, the anti-Semitic Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, and by the late Ahmad Fardid, a self-appointed professor of philosophy at Tehran University. First in the 1940s and later after the 1979 revolution, Fardid taught university courses on Nazi ideology, racial purity and Holocaust revisionism to thousands of students in Iran. Fardid was also a follower of Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger. When one understands the roots of the Iranian dictator’s education, it becomes clear that he truly and honestly believes the hateful rhetoric he’s been taught."

Read article in full

Protesters await Ahmadinejad (Jerusalem Post)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Newsflash: Hosni loses to Bokova in UNESCO race

Tarek Heggy writes (with thanks: Desi)

"It is confirmed that Irina Bokova (from Bulgaria) is now (formally) the new head of the UNESCO, "the world's minister of culture". Bokova won in the fifth round of elections in Paris less than 100 minutes ago. However, the result was known to some people since
today morning.

Bokova has a track record of being a competent executive and also as a remarkable intellectual. Being a lady and from a relatively small country (together with her managerial and cultural qualities) are all promising factors."

UNESCO has issued this news release:

The 58 members of UNESCO’s Executive Board on 22 September designated Irina Gueorguieva Bokova (Bulgaria) as candidate to the post of Director-General. On 15 October, the nomination will be submitted to the approval of the General Conference, which brings together representatives of the Organization’s 193 Member States. Once confirmed, she will be the first woman Director-General of the Organization.

Read article in full

Message from Bernard-Henri Lévy, one of three French intellectuals publically to protest against Hosni :

"Nous avons gagné. La liberté a gagné. La tolérance a gagné. Et, grâce a vous tous, le respect a gagné. Je tiens à vous remercier, vous internautes, qui vous êtes impliqués dans ce combat pour la démocratie et la paix. Merci à tout ceux qui ont refusé l’inacceptable et qui ont aidé à cette belle victoire. Merci à Liliane Lazar. Merci à tous ses étudiants qu’elle a engagés derrière elle et qui nous ont suivis dans cette campagne. Merci à Laurence Roblin, devenue experte en twittering, digging et autres flux RSS. Merci à l’équipe de Jean-Baptiste Descroix-Vernier qui, comme moi, a trouvé juste insupportable qu’un censeur, un ennemi de la vraie culture, un chasseur d’internautes et de bloggers, un adversaire de la liberté de la presse et de la pensée, puisse accéder à la direction de la plus haute institution culturelle mondiale. Merci à tout ceux qui, jusqu’à la dernière minute, quand nous avons découvert que Farouk Hosni avait aussi été un homme de l’ombre mêlé, dans une autre vie, à des opérations peu avouables, ont relayé nos messages et nos colères."

Read post in full

My comment: The defeat of the avowedly Judeophobic Hosni is a victory for Jews from Egypt. UNESCO has hitherto been one of the less politicised of UN bodies: this is why Jews from Egypt had put their faith in UNESCO, under its previous Japanese director-general, to act as a counterweight to the Egyptian government on matters concerning the country's deteriorating Jewish heritage. If necessary, they could - and did - call on UNESCO to step in and take custody of the community's treasures and archives. The election of Farouk Hosni would have removed that option. If Farouk Hosni fails to keep his promise, made to Nebi Daniel, that he would make Jewish archives and registers accessible, the community will now have recourse to a 'neutral' third party.

Jerusalem Post article (with thanks: Lily)

UNESCO candidates tie, but Hosni might still win

Farouk Hosni, Egypt's culture minister, has tied with the Bulgarian candidate, Irina Bokova, in the race to be the next UNESCO head, according to the New York Times. Already criticised for his judeophobia, Hosni is being further discredited by rumours on an Arabic website over his murky role in spiriting the hijackers of the Achille Lauro out of Italy in 1985. But if the vote goes to the UNESCO general assembly, Hosni might still win:

PARIS — The United Nations agency on education, science and culture was split down the middle on Monday night over a new director general, with fierce lobbying for votes before a final round of voting Tuesday evening.

The last two candidates are the Egyptian culture minister, Farouk Hosny, who has been accused of anti-Semitism and censorship, and Irina Bokova, 57, the Bulgarian ambassador to the agency, Unesco, who was briefly her country’s foreign minister.

In the fourth round of voting of Unesco’s 58-nation executive board, the two candidates were tied, 29-29. If the vote remains tied on Tuesday, the 193-member General Conference will choose a new director general next month, and Mr. Hosny is expected to win in the larger body, where Egypt is thought to have more influence.

The original field of nine candidates has been slowly thinned, with Ms. Bokova, who comes from a family that was prominent in the old Communist government, becoming the alternative to Mr. Hosny, 71, who has been Egypt’s culture minister for 22 years.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has pressed hard for his candidate, who had hoped to win with 30 votes in the first round.

But some of the countries that had pledged to Mr. Mubarak to vote for Mr. Hosny — like France, Italy and even Israel — have not felt obliged to keep that commitment in later rounds.

Some American Jewish organizations and civil libertarians have fiercely opposed Mr. Hosny.

In the Egyptian context he is considered liberal, but last year, in a parliamentary debate, defending himself against charges that he was soft on Israel, he said he would personally burn any Israeli book found in the Alexandria library, Egypt’s most important.

Other charges have surfaced. Mr. Hosny has been accused of keeping restrictions on Egypt’s carefully edited press and censoring some films and books, while Unesco is supposed to defend press freedom., an Arabic-language Web site, published Saturday what it said were private admissions by Mr. Hosny that when he was the Egyptian cultural attaché in Rome, he helped to organize the escape from Italy in 1985 of the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. In that episode, a retired American Jewish tourist in a wheelchair was shot and pushed into the sea, horrifying much of the world.

Read article in full

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stop ethnic cleansing of minorities, you are next

The Arab world has rid itself of its Jews. Now it's the turn of Christians. Writing in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, liberal Kuwaiti writer and commentator Ahmad Al-Sarraf contends that ethnically cleansing Christian minorities in Arab countries leads to increasing intolerance and extremism. Treat your non-Muslims as you would be treated as Muslims in the West, he advises. Via MEMRI:

"What sustained this stream of enforced emigration [of Christians from the Middle East] is the innumerable incidents of injustice to which local Christian minorities have been constantly subjected, and which in many areas have become routine. Thus, heads of [Christian] communities have been murdered; [Christian] places of worship have been set on fire; [Christian-owned] shops have been plundered; the Christians have been marginalized in their [host] societies, and their lives have been embittered - and this is only a partial list.

"These [iniquities] have prompted many [Christians] to leave their homeland, sometimes temporarily but more often for good, and to direct their steps westward, entrusting their fate to the munificence of Western countries and their citizens - which is precisely what [the anti-Christian elements] had set out to accomplish in the first place.

"What these aggressive [elements] do not realize, however, is that even when a particular religion, movement, or ethnic community is entirely annihilated, the ethnic cleansing will not stop; other ethnic communities and religions will be targeted, one by one, and ultimately large groups will attempt to annihilate one another. (My emphasis - ed)

"If we put Iraq aside for the present… we will find that the situation of Christians in some parts of Lebanon, in Gaza, and in Egypt is not good, and that their number is steadily decreasing. Yet despite this, a contemptible [columnist has published] a hostile article contending that Christians are about to invade and take over the East, and that the hordes of [Christian] missionaries [are advancing] at full speed. I really don't know what he is talking about.

"It is imperative to try to prevent the steady decrease in the Christian population of Arab and Muslim countries, [especially since] most of their Jewish residents emigrated in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The fewer Christians are left, the more extremist and the less accepting of the other we become, and the less able to understand the other's [position] or appreciate the conditions [in which he lives].

"The claim that [the Christians living in our midst] present a danger is nothing but loathsome and irrational extremism. Their centuries-long presence among us has not rendered us less dependent on our customs and traditions - and I say this despite of my distaste for both these notions. Our comparatively tolerant [attitudes]… have not prevented our region from becoming a breeding ground for benighted fundamentalism, which spreads outside it in all directions.

"I do not know when we will acknowledge that we are part of this world, and that just as we demand that all world countries, in particular Western countries, respect the beliefs of their Muslim citizens, enable them to practice their religion, and ensure their wellbeing - so must we act [fairly] towards non-Muslims in our midst. The extremists and boors in this wretched nation, [however,] think the exact opposite - namely, that while our coreligionists are entitled to every mark of respect, we are not obligated [to honor members of other religions] - since we alone are messengers of the true [religion]; we are right, while all the others have gone astray."

Read article in full

Magdi Allam: Arabs without Jews, roots of a tragedy (scroll down)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Voting for UNESCO chief moves into fourth round

The voting for UNESCO chief moved to a fourth ballot last Friday as the front-runner, Farouk Hosni, the controversial Egyptian candidate, failed to secure a majority, according to UN news sources. The night before, Mr Hosni went on a 'charm offensive' with Egyptian Jews in Geneva:

"20 September 2009 – A fourth round of voting will be held on Monday to try to select the next head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after none of the candidates for the post were able to obtain a majority of ballots yesterday.

"The candidates from Benin, Lithuania, Russian and Tanzania withdrew from the race to be Director-General before yesterday''s third round vote, leaving five names on the ballot slated for 6:30 p.m. tomorrow in Paris, UNESCO said on its website.

"The remaining candidates are: Algeria''s Mohammed Bedjaoui European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Austria) Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny Bulgarian former foreign minister Irina Gueorguieva Bokova and Ivonne Juez de A. Baki of Ecuador.

Earlier this week, the agency''s 58-member Executive Board interviewed all nine candidates and then discussed those interviews in a private meeting. Voting is by secret ballot and a winner is chosen by a simple majority of the board.

The person elected will serve an initial four-year term. The current Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, ends his second term in November and is not eligible for another stint.

Read article in full

Pierre Emerhach, who writes a blog on the Tribune de Geneve, was impressed by Farouk Hosni who was a guest at a reception held by Jews from Egypt in Geneva on 16 September. Mr Hosni reiterated his promise that he would allow access to the Jewish community archives in Egypt. But he also added (rather ominously - ed) that the decision was not up to him alone. The meeting was also addressed by Yves Fedida of Nebi Daniel, who eloquently evoked the good neighbourly relations between Jews and Muslims. (With thanks: Roger)

"Nul n’ignore que cette réception vise effectivement à «cacheriser» Monsieur Farouk Hosni qui m’a, je dois le reconnaître, fait bonne impression. Ce ministre a mis en route la rénovation des biens sacrés de la communauté juive, notamment des synagogues du Caire et d’Alexandrie, en l’occurrence des immeubles attachés à la mémoire du plus célèbre des juifs ayant choisis l’Egypte comme seconde patrie, Moïse Maimonide de Fostat (1138-1204). Or, l’auteur du a fui le régime almohade de Cordoue et de Fès, fanatique et convertisseur, pour se réfugier en Egypte, considérée alors comme une terre d’aile pour les juifs. Depuis, les choses ont quelque peu changé. Mais elle évoluent désormais dans le bon sens. En fait, les Egyptiens qui sont des gens fins et de qualité, ont compris que ce patrimoine faisait intégrante de la culture égyptienne : leurs compatriotes juifs sont ce qu’ils sont, mais ils n’en sont pas moins égyptiens. C’est ce que notait un journaliste du New York Times du 12 septembre…

"J’ai été ému, mais très sincèrement, par l’évocation des racines judéo-égyptiennes de Monsieur Gabbay qui a rappelé au ministre Hosni sa promesse de permettre l’accès aux archives des communautés juives de son pays. C’est que celles-ci constituent l’état civil des intéressés. Il a rappelé son âge et souhaité connaître ses propres racines tant qu’il est vivant.

"Avec une émotion et une sincérité visibles, M. Hosni lui a réitéré sa promesse d’agir dans ce sens tout en rappelant qu’il n’était pas le seul à décider."

Read post in full

Don't talk about the Taliban, eat! - last Afghan Jew

Photo: LA Times

In-depth feature on the gruff, whisky-loving Zebulon Simantov, Afghanistan's only Jew, by Mark Magnier in the Los Angeles Times. Simantov manages to keep kosher, slaughtering his own chickens, and celebrates the Jewish New Year with all the symbolic foods.

It's not easy representing centuries of Jewish tradition single-handedly. Especially if you're in a war-torn Muslim country. But Zebulon Simantov, who claims to be the last Jew in Afghanistan, is doing his best.

At the start of this weekend's Jewish New Year, he lighted three candles, changed into a traditional Afghan shalwar kameez outfit and donned a black yarmulke. He navigated around his Muslim helper, who was wrapping up his Ramadan prayers, and, for 45 minutes, swayed, bowed and intoned Rosh Hashanah prayers while an Indian game show blared from a corner TV.

"I'm the only Jew in Afghanistan," the 57-year-old said. "It's a big responsibility. Yes, I wish there was a larger community. But I keep kosher and maintain the tradition."

Simantov lives like the confirmed bachelor he is in a broken-down building that houses Kabul's last synagogue. His living area is lighted with a single fluorescent bulb, and well-worn Afghan carpets serve as his bed, floor covering and eating surface. A few feet away is his soot-blackened kitchen, from whose open window he periodically tosses waste water down onto a rubble-filled courtyard.

He slaughters his own chickens and sheep in keeping with kosher dietary laws. Normally only a specially designated person can do this, but Simantov said he has obtained permission from a rabbi in Uzbekistan.

"Sometimes he washes the sheep meat so many times, I wonder if he'll wash all the protein out," said Shir Gul Ameri, 22, an Afghan who helps with Simantov's chores.

There's a lot Simantov doesn't discuss, either because he can't remember or prefers not to talk about it. For instance, why he decided to stay in Kabul, enduring civil wars, the Soviet occupation and Taliban rule. That took some doggedness, which may partly explain his gruff personality.

"Don't talk about the Taliban, just eat," he barked. "Everyone had trouble with the Taliban. Very bad people."

But after a few whiskeys -- he favors Johnnie Walker -- a less intimidating side emerges as he welcomes strangers to his Rosh Hashanah Seder replete with heaping plates of mutton kebabs, chicken, okra, squash and grapes.

"From my Muslim friend in Herat," he said, pointing to the grapes. "Most all my friends are Muslims now, since there are no Jews left."

Legend has it that the first Jews arrived in Afghanistan 2,700 years ago, with historical records suggesting a continuous population since the 8th century. By the mid-19th century, the country had 40,000 Jews, many of whom had fled from forced conversion in Persia, now Iran.

But the numbers dwindled, from 5,000 by the middle of the 20th century to a few hundred by the time the Soviets invaded in 1979, with many relocating in Israel. The last rabbi left in 1987, and by the late 1990s, reports suggested that only Simantov and Isaac Levy (more on him later) remained.

As Simantov celebrated the arrival of the year 5770 of the Jewish calendar, he interspersed prayers with symbolic New Year's food -- leeks, apples dipped in honey, dates, beets and pomegranate -- in rapid-fire, often mumbled Hebrew. Midway through the meal, he produced a box of matzo sent by a friend in the United States. "Crunchy with a good snap," the box reads.

The main synagogue area, down the hall, is a large, dusty space with an altar near a plaque marking the temple's dedication in 1966. There are a few sheets of Hebrew text, but the antique Torah is gone, much of the Star of David grillwork is in disrepair, and a host of broken lights bears testament to a congregation that no longer comes, laughs or celebrates.

Born in Herat, in Afghanistan's northwest, Simantov attended Hebrew school before moving to Kabul, the capital, when he was 27. In 1992, he fled to Tajikistan to get away from Afghanistan's growing violence, married a Tajik Jew and had two daughters. The family emigrated to Israel in 1998, but he returned to Kabul two months later, leaving his wife and children behind.

"Personal problems," he said, waving off further questions with a growl.

Read article in full

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wishing a sweet Rosh Hashana to all our readers

Tonight Jews all over the world will celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. They will wish for sweetness in the year to come as they eat apples dipped in honey, or stewed in rosewater.

The festival comes at the end of a whole month of reflection. The Sephardi custom is to rise early every day of the month of Elul preceding Rosh Hashana and recite the Selichot, the prayer for forgiveness. One particular psalm is a great favourite, Adon Haselichot. It would have been sung in the synagogues of the Orient during the Selichot and on Yom Kippur but is absent from the Ashkenazi, or western Jewish tradition.

Here is a version of Adon Haselichot to a techno beat. Enjoy!

Lord of pardons, examines thoughts, reveals secrets, speaks righteousness
We have sinned before you, have mercy on us

Magnificent in miracles, skillful in comforting, recalls fathers covenant, investigates emotions
We have sinned before you, have mercy on us

Good and does good for creations, knows all hidden things, excuses sins, dress with righteousness
We have sinned before you, have mercy on us

Full of merits, majestic in praises, pardons sins, answers in time of crises
We have sinned before you, have mercy on us

Performs salvation, predicts events, calls the future generations, rides in the heavens, hears prayers, perfect in knowledge
We have sinned before you, have mercy on us

Wishing all readers Shana tova: A happy, heathy and prosperous year full of blessings and peace.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

UNESCO is warned against electing Farouk Hosni

Photo: EJP
Today, voting begins to elect the next director-general of UNESCO. Will it be the Egyptian candidate Farouk Hosni, who once said he would burn 'Israeli' books in Egypt? The leading US-based organisation fighting antisemitism, ADL, has weighed into the fray, the European Jewish Press reports. (With thanks: Desi)

(EJP)---A leading Jewish organization fighting anti-Semitism has urged UNESCO member states to reject the candidacy of Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni for the UN bodu top post, calling him “unfit for the position.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued an open letter in advance of this week’s vote for the next head of UNESCO. ">Hosni, who is a leading candidate for the post of director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has a history of rejecting cultural relations with Israel and once advocated the burning of Hebrew books in Egyptian libraries , ADL stresses.

A first-round vote by the 58 member-states of UNESCO’s Executive Board is set for September 17 in Paris where the organization is headquartered.

“As Egyptian Culture Minister for over two decades, Mr. Hosni has a long history of expressing hotility toward Israeli culture and opposing cultural exchanges with Israel,” the open letter says. It is signed by Glen S. Lewy, ADL’s national chairman and Abraham H. Foxman, national director.

“These views are emblematic of the rampant anti-Jewish sentiment that pervades Egypt’s cultural elites and is a trend UNESCO is meant to counter, not to legitimate,” they add.

"The letter cites several examples of Mr. Hosni’s past rhetoric vis-à-vis Israel and Israeli culture where he openly expressed hostility toward Israeli culture and Jews.

“Given the hatred which Mr. Hosni has promoted, it is not surprising that, as Minister of Culture, he has refused to permit any Israeli participation in Egypt’s major cultural events, such as the annual Cairo Book Fair and Film Festival,” it says.

“His banning of Israeli culture is just the tip of the iceberg. During his 22-year tenure, Mr. Hosni has restricted freedom of expression and used censorship to stifle cultural and intellectual freedom. His role in banning books from the Cairo Book Fair, films from the Alexandria Film Festival, and television shows from being broadcast has come under fire from artists, journalists and intellectuals from Egypt and around the world.”

The ADL letter also notes that Faruq Hosni reportedly said that the US Ambassador to UNESCO was working against his candidacy because the ambassador is Jewish.

Read article in full

Farouk Hosni, minister who threatened to burn Hebrew books, set for UN post - Times

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tasty food, bland Rosh Hashana message

The Los Angeles Times is laying out a gastronomic feast for Rosh Hashana. These innocuous articles always follow a pattern: the food is tasty and exotic, the stories told redolent of nostalgia. Lord forbid that readers should get the message that Tunisian Jewry has dwindled from 100,000 to 2,000.

"Alain Cohen holds out a gorgeous spiral-shaped loaf of challah, the color of cherry wood. On the top of the bread is a graceful open hand made of dough. Cohen and his baker, Yuri Amsellen, have been experimenting again. From the crowded kitchen of Cohen's Pico Boulevard takeout shop, Got Kosher? Provisions, comes the hypnotic smell of yeast.

"In the weeks before the Jewish new year, the store has baked loaves in the shape of Jacob's ladder, and others in a circle with a well in the center, meant to hold honey for dipping. They've added dried fruits, apples and raisins.

"For Rosh Hashana, which begins Friday at sunset, challah is essential. The braided oval bread that Jews break and share after lighting candles each Sabbath gets reworked once a year into a spiral to call to mind the cycle of life.

"A loaf topped with an open hand, however, is uncommon. But in this, as in other food customs, Tunisian Jews have their own way.

"It's something from Djerba, to mark a period of reflection before Yom Kippur, a time when Jews are asking for and receiving judgment from God," says Cohen, whose mother's family comes from that island, located off the coast of Tunisia, where a small community of Jews traces its heritage back more than 2,500 years. (...)

"There's a joke that's told of a Jew who invites a non-Jewish friend to a Passover meal. Afterward, the guest remarks that the food wasn't too good. "It's not supposed to be," the Jew says.

"That joke "never would have been told in a Sephardic community," says Clifford Wright, a Santa Monica cookbook author, teacher and expert on Mediterranean food. In Tunisia, "the food is so exotic and interesting and spicy hot," Wright says.

"For this Rosh Hashana, a couple of dozen people will join Cohen and his partner in life and in business, Evelyn Baran, at their table. Like for a Passover Seder, many Tunisian holiday tables will hold about a dozen symbolic foods over which prayers are said.

"Figs, apples and honey are there for prayers for a sweet year. Dates are included so "that we elevate ourselves like palm trees and that our sins disappear forever," Cohen says. Sesame seeds suggest a proliferation of virtues. A fish symbolizes fertility.

"Most powerful to Cohen are spinach leaves, thinly sliced pumpkin and garlic cloves, which are fried in an egg batter and dipped in honey or a sugar syrup. The garlic and pumpkin are to ward off enemies, the spinach a symbol of renewal.

"Just an amazing taste. It's amazing. For me, it's like Proust's memories," says Cohen, 53. "It is those tastes I am looking forward to." He also recalls that Jews would pierce a quince with cloves, to make a pomander they'd keep for the nine days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur.

Read article in full

Mouthwatering recipes from Tunisia (French - with thanks: Michelle)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Journalists hassle last Jews of Baghdad

Reporters nowadays will stop at nothing for a story - even if people get killed in the process. By way of example, the blog Iraqpundit uncovers the harassment by a journalist of an elderly Jewish lady in Baghdad, one of eight Jews remaining. The lady in question is most probably this woman. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

"If anyone ever needed further proof that most reporters care little or nothing about the people they cover, NYT's Stephen Farrell just gave them more evidence than anyone could ask for. The reporter ignored advice and pursued a story into a dangerous area in Afghanistan. The reporter's lust for the story eventually led to the death of his interpreter, another civilian, and a British paratrooper. The Afghan and British people are furious. Why would he do such a thing? Perhaps because we live in a world that rewards selfish behavior.

"There was a time when reporters were the fly on the wall, quietly observing and reporting the story. Now we mistake risky behavior for courage and professionalism. I can see it here in Baghdad. Anything goes to get the story.

"An elderly Iraqi woman was recently harassed by a reporter. The woman said the pest, who knocked on the window from 9 until 1 O'Clock, works for the Guardian newspaper. The goal of the determined reporter presumably was to interview one of eight remaining Jews in Baghdad. Most people in the neighbourhood think the woman is Christian, and she wants to keep it that way. The reporter asked for the keys to the synagogue. The tiny woman tearfully begged the journalist to go away. The reporter threatened to bring the office of minority affairs to open the synagogue. The woman asked to be left alone. The small community says most people think the synagogue is a storage facility, and they want to keep it that way. They don't want to call attention to themselves. They lead very quiet lives.

"Of course the woman, who is in her 70s, could be exaggerating bits of the story. I was not at her house. Maybe the reporter tapped on her window for just an hour, but that would still qualify as harassment. Maybe the reporter asked nicely to see the synagogue, but the elderly woman was definitely frightened by the ordeal. Why didn't the journalist respect the wishes of the woman? Because she's irrelevant. And surely the paper's editor would say it was all fair in pursuit of a story."

Read post in full

Private motive for Egypt's embrace of Jewish past

Politics account for Egypt's sudden renewed interest in its Jewish heritage, Michael Slackman argues in The Sunday San Francisco Chronicle, in an article reprinted from The New York Times: the politics of persuading the world that Egypt's judeophobic culture minister Farouk Hosni is the best man to head UNESCO (voting begins this week).

While Egyptians are now being forced to acknowledge that 'their history was intervowen with Jewish history', it is striking that they consider Egypt's Jewish heritage as belonging to them. The dictum springs to mind - 'what's ours is ours and what's yours is ours' (with thanks: Victor):

CAIRO — Egyptians generally do not make any distinction between Jewish people and Israelis. Israelis are seen as the enemy, so Jews are, too.

Restoration work being done last month at a synagogue where Moses Maimonides once worked and studied in Cairo. (Shawn Baldwin)

Khalid Badr, 40, is pretty typical in that regard, living in a neighborhood of winding, rutted roads in Old Cairo, selling snacks from a kiosk while listening to the Koran on the radio. Asked his feelings about Jews, he replied matter-of-factly. “We hate them for everything they have done to us,” Mr. Badr said, as casually as if he had been asked the time.

But Mr. Badr’s ideas have recently been challenged. He has had to confront the reality that his neighborhood was once filled with Jews — Egyptian Jews — and that his nation’s history is interwoven with Jewish history. Not far from his shop, down another narrow, winding alley once called the Alley of the Jews, the government is busy renovating an abandoned, dilapidated synagogue.

In fact, the government is not just renovating the crumbling, flooded old building. It is publicly embracing its Jewish past — not the kind of thing you ordinarily hear from Egyptian officials.

“If you don’t restore the Jewish synagogues, you lose a part of your history,” said Zaki Hawass, general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who in the past has written negatively about Jews because of the clash between Israel and the Palestinians. “It is part of our heritage.”(...)

For Egyptians like Mr. Hawass, who seems most comfortable around Pharaonic tombs and mummies, speaking about Egypt’s Jewish past with pride has required a degree of finesse. Mr. Hawass has in the past refused a suggestion by the American Jewish Committee to consider building a small museum to house Egypt’s historic Jewish artifacts, as the government has done to preserve many of Egypt’s Christian artifacts.

As he strode through the old Jewish quarter recently, waving his handwritten list of all the Jewish preservation projects he is now overseeing, Mr. Hawass said that he would not build a Jewish museum in Cairo until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved.

“If you make a museum like that while Israel is killing Palestinian children, people will kill me,” he said. “What we are doing now is not for the Jews; it is for us, for our heritage,” Egypt’s Jewish heritage.

This tends to be the thinking throughout the neighborhood. The older residents, like El Sayyid Yousef, 62, who moved here when he was 12, had a perspective shaped by the sweep of history. Mr. Yousef said he remembered having Jewish neighbors but never thought of them as Jewish. They were just Egyptians, like everyone else, he said.

“When we grew up, after 1967 we started to understand the sensitivities,” he said. “Because of what happened in the war, you would walk in the street and if you saw a Jew you would want to kill him.”

That was the case for Jews all over Egypt, who with each Arab-Israeli war left or were forced out. There are fewer than 100, some say fewer than 80, Jews left in Egypt today, making the preservation projects all the more important, Rabbi Baker said.

It is unclear whether the projects will help Mr. Hosny in his bid for the Unesco position. And they may cause many residents to attack the government for spending money on them. “We can remove it and build a mosque in its place” was Mr. Badr’s suggestion.

Even so, the effort has already inspired Mr. Yousef and his son, and perhaps others, to begin to see beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict, which for so many has defined faith, culture and heritage.

“As Muslims or as Christians, it might not be ours, but as Egyptians it is ours,” Mr. Yousef’s son, Sameh, 27, said of the synagogue after sitting quietly for much of the conversation. “It may not be our religion, but as a building it is our heritage.”

Read article in full

NB The suggestion that Egypt has been spending lots of public money on Jewish restoration is misleading. The Geneva philanthropist Nessim Gaon donated one million dollars forthe restoration of the Cairo synagogue Shaar Hashamayim (Adly St.) The Egyptian Antiquities Authorities only contributed a small sum towards a facelift for the synagogue's 100th anniversary. Another one million dollars was given by Mrs Phyllis Lambert of the USA to pay for the restoration of the Ben Ezra synagogue, today one of Egypt's prime tourist sites. No doubt the government's investment in restoring the Maimonides synagogue will also pay tourist dividends. (Ed)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wartime spies against Israel fill Ramadan screens

This Ramadan, Arab viewers glued to their TVs have been regaled with 'patriotic' spy dramas based on true stories, according to Islam Online. Samia Fahmi is an Egyptian double agent who betrayed her fiance, a spy for Israel. Point of No Return has already flagged a series on Leyla Mourad, the Egyptian-Jewish diva, an 'Arab Jew' who professes ultimate loyalty to her 'homeland' by converting to Islam.

Egypt has already released the Spy War series, which features budding Egyptian female actress Menah Shalabi and iconic TV star Hesham Selim.

Selim, playing the role of an Egyptian intelligence officer, manages to reveal the classified story of Samia Fahmi, an Egyptian war reporter who covered the 1967 war between the Arabs and Israel.

Caught in a bizarre conflict between her love and her duty toward her country, Fahmi finds herself obliged to tell the authorities in Egypt about her fiancé who is recruited by the Israeli intelligence to provide information about the Egyptian army after the 1967 war.

Spy War director Nadir Galal says his series is not a departure from the reality of the relationship between the Arabs and the Israelis. On the contrary, it is a work that speaks aloud about this relationship.

"Based on a true story, the series is a treasure trove of great material that speaks of the intelligence war, which has not ended yet," Galal said. "The war is still on and at the highest pitch. Those who can’t agree are dreaming," he added in an interview.

After the 1967 war, during which the Egyptian army dealt a heavy blow, Egyptian intelligence officers were baffled by a series of Israeli air attacks on secret military installations near the Suez Canal.

They came to discover later that sensitive military information was leaked from Cairo to Tel Aviv.

It was Fahmi’s fiancé, Nabil Salem, who delivered this information to the Israelis as Egypt prepared for the 1973 war.

Through the series, a counter-espionage officer tracks down Samia Fahmi’s fiancé and arrests him for spying for Israel.

"Still the series, which was shot in a host of European capitals, including Romania, was carefully scrubbed to exclude intelligence sources or sensitive information that could be harmful national security at present," Galal said.

Another Syrian drama reflects the feverish intelligence war that has erupted between Syria and Israel after the later occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967.

Iconic Syrian director Nagdat Anzour has already started showing his work Men of Decision, which is also based on a true story.

Men of Decision focuses on the story of Shehadah, a Syrian schoolteacher in his late twenties from the Golan who joins the Syrian army in 1967 to fight against the Israelis.

When he comes back from the battlefield, Shehadah discovers that his mother is killed and his sister is severely injured because one of the Israeli raids on the Golan.

He decides to retaliate.

But his bid to make a suicide attack in the occupied territories is foiled.

"The series boasts a galaxy of Syrian and Arab stars who dramatize a spy scandal that hit Israel hard, Anzour said. "The leading character in the story was a real asset to Syrian intelligence as he supplied Damascus with gross defense material from Israel," he added.

The series tells Arab viewers how the leading character in the series, called Faris, obtains information about Israel and its intelligence service and how he passes it on to Syria.

Read article in full

Mossad spy story plays in Lebanese cinemas

Shula Cohen in her Beirut days

A film about a Mossad spy in Beirut, Shula Cohen, has been playing in Lebanon's cinemas. The film, Shula Cohen the Pearl, shows her as a Madam in the worst possible light. Cohen underwent torture during seven years of imprisonment. She was honoured by Israel for her services to the Jewish people. (Via Lost tribe of Lebanon)

"Shula Cohen, the true story of a Jewish-Lebanese woman living in the 1940s, in Wadi Abu-Jmil, an area in Beirut that used to gather a big community of Lebanese Jews.

"For those of you who never heard of her, Shula Cohen was born in Jerusalem; at seventeen she married a wealthy Beirut merchant, with whom she raised seven children. She became a spy for Israel in Beirut, where her acceptance in Lebanese/Syrian social circles gave her unprecedented access to secret intelligence information.

"It started in 1947, on the eve of Israel's war of Independence, when she stumbled on some military intelligence and sent it on to Israel. Immediately, the nascent intelligence services tapped her to smuggle Jewish refugees from Syria across the Lebanese border. Shula helped thousands of Jews from Syria and Iraq come through Lebanon to Israel. She found escape routes for them by land, sea and air.

"In the 1950s, she organized a spy ring based in a Beirut nightclub (Rambo Club), and obtained for the Mossad secret Lebanese and Syrian documents.

"She was able to work for fourteen years before she was caught.

"Shula was arrested and convicted by the Lebanese government in the late 1950s, she spent seven years in prison –where she was repeatedly tortured - and was released in 1967, following the Six Day War as part of a prisoner's exchange.

"Amazing that a movie, entitled Shula Cohen, the pearl, was playing in cinema theatres in Lebanon.

"The reason they allowed it to play is that it distorts the truth and presents Shula as a prostitute/Madam/spy, who slept with high government officials, who gave away young girls to trap important Lebanese personalities; and who smuggled Jewish thieves into Israel.

"Because of course, when Jews escape pogroms, it can’t be only to save their lives. In the narrow minded Lebanese mentality, they must be guilty of something. In the movie, the Lebanese Jews are accused of stealing and embezzling money, while escaping; and they are accused of doing a huge damage to the Lebanese economy (!) In fact, the money they took along was only theirs and their only asset while they left behind lands and houses.

"Shula, at the end of the “movie” is shown in prison, as a privileged convict. The torture scenes are omitted."

Read post in full

Friday, September 11, 2009

A 1910 visit to the tomb of Ezekiel

Next Friday Jews will celebrate the New Year (Rosh Hashana). Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jews in Iraq went on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Ezekiel the Prophet (Yeheskel Hanabi) at al-Kifl, near Hillah, south of Baghdad. Sages and great men were also buried there, including members of the prominent Daniel family.

On his family's journey from Bombay to Iraq in 1910, escorted by the Daniels, David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), grandson of the great philanthropist David Sassoon, kept a diary
in Hebrew. David Sassoon Junior found the Jews of Hillah oppressed by the local sheikhs, who had rigorously applied the strictures of dhimmitude (including the Shi'a idea that a Jew was 'unclean' or najas) until a few years before. As rumours this week of a plan to build a mosque on the site of Ezekiel's tomb are being denied, Sassoon records earlier Muslim attempts to claim the holy site as theirs.

Here are extracts from David Solomon Sassoon's diary, via The Scribe:

"Hillah is a very small town surrounded by a wall built not in very good fashion from bricks taken from the ruins of ancient Babylon. The colour of the water is so bad that one is frightened to drink. To the north and south, the city is surrounded by date palms.

"The number of Jews in Hillah is 500 persons and they have two synagogues. The first is called the big synagogue not for its great size but because it is larger than the small one. I found a stone tablet on a small well in the big synagogue. It turned out to be a tombstone dated 1232. The land of Babel is not stony and thus such a tombstone is a rarity in these parts. It would be required to bring it from distance of 10 days journey at least. This shows the importance of the person buried. It was found by Arab farmers 4 1/2 hours distance from Hillah 120 years ago, and was brought to Hillah by a Jew named Shikuri who had it put in the synagogue by the Hechal (Ark).

"Twenty years ago when they rebuilt the synagogue it was placed in its present position where I found it and subsequently bought it.The second synagogue was built by David Sasson in 1862/3 and is named after him. It is near the big synagogue. At the entrance there is a plaque which reads that David Sasson built this synagogue and a condition was made with the community of Hillah that half the proceeds of the synagogue should go for the upkeep of the Yeshiva of our master, Yehezkel Hanabi.The Tebah (pulpit) is very large in this small synagogue. Nearby is a very big tree said to be over 100 years old.

"The order of the prayers is as in Baghdad. The Jews are very poor and oppressed by the Sheikhs. Till a few years ago the Jews had limited rights. They had to wear a red patch on their outer garments. They were not allowed to ride on a donkey or horse in town. They were not allowed to walk in the streets on a rainy day in case they would splash water on a Moslem. They were not allowed to wear green – the holy colour of the Moslems. If they would, the Moslem would take it from him and give him a good beating. When they walked in the streets they had to keep a good distance away from the Moslems in case their clothes would touch and defile them. They were not allowed to touch the fruit or vegetables in the shop before buying and if they did touch anything it was considered defiled and they had to buy it. They were not allowed to build their houses higher than the Moslems or to build a balcony over the streets because a Moslem could not walk under a Jewish house and other similar restrictions.

"On Shabbat morning the 2nd Kislev – December we went to the David Sasson synagogue where I was given to read the Maftir. The Parashah was read in a Sefer Torah donated by my great grandfather Sheikh Sassoon. I saw the two houses of Menahem Sliman Daniel, which are now in a very forsaken condition, also the spot where an Arab shot him in 1890. The office of the Daniel family is here from where they run their land business. In these days the working on the land is not successful, as the Euphrates has changed course causing a detrimental effect on the area.

Shrine of Yehezkel Hanabi: "At 5.00 pm we arrived at Al-kifil a small village by the Euphrates. When we arrived there was a funeral procession going to the Cemetery. It was the aunt of Sasson Effendi the sister of his mother who passed away yesterday in Hindiyah at the age of ninety. We went straight to the grave of Yehezkel Hanabi. We arrived just in time to pray Minha and we prayed in the synagogue next to the grave. In my opinion the lovely building over the grave is extremely old, built from very big stones said to be the work of King Yahoyakhin. Above the doorway was a plaque dated 1809/10, which has inscribed on it – ‘this is the tomb of our master Yehezkel the prophet, the son of Buzi the Kohen, may his merit shield us and all Israel. Amen."

"The room with the grave is very high and has flowers painted on the walls and the names of important visitors to the grave. It is mentioned that my grandfather David Sassoon repaired the building in 1859. The grave is very large: 12 feet 9 inches long, 5 feet 3 inches wide and 5 feet 1 inch high. It is covered with a decorated Parochet, which was sent by David Sassoon from Bombay. It is also written on the walls of the visit of Menahem Saleh Daniel to the grave in 1897/8 and his donation to redecorate the grave. Nearby, in another room, which has 5 tombs of Geonim (Sages).

"In another part of the courtyard is another room in which is buried Saleh Menahem Daniel, between the graves of two Sadikim who without a doubt are also Geonim. He was the father of Menahem and Sasson Daniel. Hakham Yosef Haim made the words on his tomb. Saleh Daniel spent his last years in Al-kifil because his desire was to be buried there. When he became very ill he was carried to the doctor in Hillah for treatment and died there but he was subsequently brought back to Al-kifil to be buried in the grave that he bought in his lifetime.

"Since our intention was to leave early morning, I spent the remainder of the evening in search of manuscripts. In the synagogue are 16 Sefer Torahs in silver cases. However, I did not find books or a library, neither did I see or hear about a Sefer Torah which was said to have been written by the prophet Yehezkel. Binyamin of Tudela mentions such a Sefer Torah, which is read from only on Yom Kippur. In my opinion he should have said a scroll on which was written extracts from the book of Yehezkel, some examples of which I found here. They are read at the grave by visitors. Apart from these scrolls I bought some other scrolls but these are just transcripts from the book Mamlechet Cohanim by Hakham Yosef Haim. This holy shrine was really nearby to us. This happened in 1860 at the time of the rule of Mustafa Pasha in Baghdad.

"Two influential Moslems claimed that the tomb belonged to Moslems on the pretext that only mosques have minarets. The Ministry of Holy Sites instructed to list it as Moslem property and this caused great suffering to the Jews. Hakham Sasson Smouha the Hakham Bashi of Baghdad and the Dayanim, together with the help of Saliman Daniel, objected to this and a special Minister was sent from Constantinople to investigate the matter and he ruled in favour of the Jews. Sir Moshe Montefiore’s name is also mentioned in this connection for his support in this matter.

"In the village lived one hundred and fifty Jews. The time for visiting the grave is from the middle of Iyar until the beginning of Sivan. There are the Khan hotels by the tomb, one donated by a Yaakob Semah in 1844/5. The house of the Daniel family is close to the tomb. From the roof we enjoyed the wonderful sunset and the beautiful view.

4th Kislev – December 1910 : "We woke early to pray Shahrit (morning service). The group travelled back to Hillah except for Ezra and Saleh Daniel who agreed to wait for me and accompany me back to Hillah. I decided to remain until I had photographed the place, especially the internal view of the tomb since this had never been done previously. After I completed this job we then travelled back to Hillah arriving at the Mashad gate at 6.30 pm.

Shrines of Sadikim in Babel: In Babel there are four known shrines of great men:

The prophet Ezekiel in Al-Kifil – a distance of seventeen hours by caravan riding on animals or eleven hours by cart pulled by animals till Hillah. From Hillah till the village Kifil six hours riding on animals. (According to Hakham Yosef Hayim in 1908).

Ezra HaSofer (Ezra the Scribe)

Yehoshua Cohen Gadol – near Baghdad. Baghdad is built on the banks of the river Tigris, mainly on the eastern bank where the Jewish Quarter was. On the western bank was the Quarter where only Moslems lived. About one mile from this settlement was the grave.

Sheikh Yishak Gaon – died in 688 CE. Buried in Baghdad in the Jewish Quarter.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sephardim 'Ashkenazify' names to gain school entry

Following the controversy over Ethiopian children refused admittance to 'private' religious schools in Petah Tikvah, Ynet news focuses on the ongoing 'discrimination' facing Sephardi applicants. To put this issue in its proper context, the religious schools in question have a right to give priority to pupils from an Ashkenazi background. The Sephardi pupils are being forced to apply to these establishments essentially because their tradition of religious education no longer exists.

As the public and legal struggle to curb discrimination within haredi educational institutions continues, many still face difficulties in enrolling their children to desirable ultra-Orthodox schools, and some parents of Sephardic descent have resorted to changing their last names just to fit in.

Haredi weekly "Mishpacha" ("Family") reported in its most recent edition a growing trend of ultra-Orthodox families of eastern descent Hebraizing or "Ashkenizing" their surnames in order to increase their children's chances of being accepted to Ashkenazi seminaries and yeshivas. The clerks at the Interior Ministry's population registry are already used to the practice: The family name Turjeman is changed to Truzman, Mussayev to Moskovitch, Shavo to Shavan, and so on.

"It's no secret that Sephardic quotas in Ashkenazi educational institutions are limited," said David Rot (pseudonym), formerly Shitreet. "Every Sephardic parent that registers their son to an educational institution is met with a stack of difficulties, unless they have a well known reputation or are well connected, or if they place a hefty donation on the table and the money makes up for the name."

Yair Lev (pseudonym) who also changed his last name said, "I would rather not have taken this step, but in this world, everyone just looks at the outer wrapping of the name. If you don't have to right name, things are harder for you."

Both Rot and Lev said they had encountered much criticism from neighbors and members of their communities, with comments such as, "What's so bad about being Moroccan?", "The world isn't stupid, who are you fooling? You were born Moroccan and you will stay that way," but they said they had received some positive reinforcement as well.

Read article in full

....But the Messiah will rule Sephardi-style

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Comment is Free's 'Jewish naqba denial'

The new blog, CiFwatch, is doing a valuable service exposing antisemitism and distortions in Middle East coverage on the Guardian website, Comment is Free. Today it gives the floor to Point of No Return. Please visit CiFwatch and leave a comment:

It’s easier to condemn Comment is Free for what it does than for its sins of omission. And for a site that focuses disproportionately on Middle Eastern issues, CiF is remarkably coy about the forgotten Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

There were more Jewish refugees fleeing from Arab countries after 1948 than Palestinian Arabs from Israel. There were more of them, they lost more and suffered more.

But only rarely have Jewish refugees been the subject of attention at Comment is Free. Coinciding with a conference in London in June 2008, Matt Seaton allowed Lyn Julius to put the case for Jewish refugees. But he also got David Cesarani, an academic not known for his expertise in this field, bizarrely to argue that Jews who fled Arab countries should not have their suffering compared to ‘the misery of the Palestinians’. Rachel Shabi, the Guardian’s pet Mizrahi, was then wheeled out to deny that Jewish refugees were refugees at all – in fact most were Zionists who left of their own free will – an argument which she contradicts in some of her other writings. It’s a classic CiF strategy: obscure, confuse, and de-construct historical fact.

The denial of what is being increasingly becoming known as the ‘Jewish naqba’ is central to the Guardian’s agenda.

On no account must the ‘de facto’ exchange between roughly equal numbers of Arab and Jewish refugees be permitted to challenge the Palestinians’ exclusive claim to victimhood.

On no account must the successful integration of the majority of Jewish refugees in Israel and elsewhere be mentioned. This would undermine the ‘sacred’ right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. It would be disastrous if the reader twigged that Palestinian refugees could just as easily be resettled – if not more easily – in Arab host countries.

On no account must the idea that the Jews in Israel are anything other than ‘white’ interlopers from Europe, engaged in a colonial adventure in Palestine, be challenged. The whole edifice of Guardian groupthink crumbles once you introduce the notion that around half the population of Israeli Jews come from ‘indigenous’ communities in the ‘Arab’ world predating Islam by 1,000 years.

Read post in full