Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Refugees: BBC learns nothing and forgets nothing

Dr Shakshuka ...really a Libyan Jewish refugee

The BBC has learned nothing and forgotten nothing when it comes to refugees of the Arab-Israeli conflict: one side's narrative is relentlessly plugged, while the other side's is ignored. 'Fakery and propaganda' is CAMERA 's verdict on the BBC's Middle East coverage at the time of Israel Independence Day:

The remains of the Arab village of Lifta on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The inhabitants left in 1948. They were some of the 700,000 Palestinians for whom Israel's birth meant dispossession. There are deserted Arab villages like this dotted all over Israel. The Palestinians insist on the right of those who fled and their descendants to come back. The Israelis fear that – that would mean the end of their country as a Jewish state. And so, the so-called “right of return” is one of the seemingly insoluble issues of the peace process.

- BBC reporter Paul Wood

But the BBC is deceptively omitting relevant facts concerning Palestinian Arab refugees and the forgotten Jewish refugees. The comprehensive CAMERA article, Palestinian Arab and Jewish Refugees, citing authoritative source material, shows that in the wake of Israel's War of Independence in 1948, the overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees were not expelled by the Israelis. But a much larger number of refugees, Jewish refugees who had resided in Arab countries for many generations, were forced to flee their native lands. (...)

Between 1948 and 1951, as a result of the War of Independence, about 400,000 Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel after being driven from their homes from Arab lands. In total, well over 800,000 Jews indigenous to Arab and Muslim countries lost their homes and property following Israel's independence, roughly 600,000 of whom found refuge in Israel. Although the number of Jewish refugees and the total area of their lost land exceeded that of their Arab counterparts, the vaguely similar number of Jewish and Arab refugees has led some to describe the exodus of the two groups as a de facto population transfer.

Arab Refugees Have Been Invited to Return: In an essay published in Commentary in May 2001, Ephraim Karsh discussed Israel's policy on Arab refugees: In 1949, Israel offered to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees; the Arab states refused. Nevertheless, some 50,000 refugees have returned over the decades under the terms of Israel's family reunification program, and another 75,000 who were displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war have also returned to those territories.

Correspondent Wood Takes Viewers on a Walking Tour Ending at a Villa in Jerusalem:
WOOD: For Claudette Habesch, 1948 is a year of painful memories. Her family fled this house in Jerusalem when she was a little girl and then lost ownership.
HABESCH: They did not leave by free will. We had two bombs here. My father had to take us out from here for security, for physical security. I wondered very often, who is sleeping in my bed? Who is playing with my dog?
WOOD: Her childhood friend, a Jewish woman (Ruthie), still lives next door.
RUTHIE: My parents rented this little house here from her parents.
HABESCH: This is my home and I go out as a stranger? Why? I need somebody to explain to me.

Read post in full

My comment: For every Claudette Habesch, there is a Jew forced to leave his or her home in an Arab country. And while the Habesches were fleeing a war situation, many Jews were escaping a hostile social and political climate which threatened them as Jews. But where are the BBC stories about them? Why are we not shown Naim Kattan visiting his childhood home in Baghdad, or the BBC accompanying Lucette Lagnado back to the apartment she grew up in in Cairo? The BBC is already in breach of an undertaking it made in 2008 to commission more pieces on Jewish refugees.


*The May entry for BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Franks' swansong diary is another example of the BBC's knee-jerk juxtaposing of Israel independence celebrations with the Palestinian Nakba. Nahla Assali moved all of two kilometres from West Jerusalem to East, but Jews uprooted from their homes in Arab countries and transplanted many hundreds of miles into a new country with a different culture and language are nowhere to be seen. A non-biased approach would balance the Arab Nakba with the Jewish Nakba. Ironically enough, the following entry of Tim Franks' diary profiles the colourful restauranteur Dr Shakshuka. Yet Franks calls him a 'Libyan emigre'. Would the BBC ever describe Dr Shakshuka as a Jewish refugee? Not on your life.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Readers revolt as Tariq Ali scrapes the barrel

The old communist Tariq Ali is wheeled out by The Guardian to write an elegiac review of SOAS Professor Gilbert Achcar's latest attempt to minimise Arab complicity with the Holocaust. But even the readers are not impressed. Read my critique on CiFWatch:

When Georgina Henry moved from the Comment is Free Middle East desk to edit the Culture Section at the Guardian, CIF Watch predicted that Henry would turn her new fiefdom into a cesspool of antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. And so it has come to pass. Henry’s latest commission: Tariq Ali’s review of “The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives” by Gilbert Achcar scrapes the barrel of malevolent ignorance and Orwellian misrepresentation. But wonder of wonders, the readership aren’t having it.

The book in question, is itself a scurrilous work of revisionism, intended by a ‘professor of International Relations at SOAS’ partly to demolish the sacred cow of Arab complicity with the Nazi Holocaust. Like all anti-Israel propaganda, it tries to turn fact into controversy – declaring, as the book’s subtitle denotes, a ‘war of narratives’. Downplaying Arab antisemitism and support for the Holocaust exonerates Arabs from any responsibility for Israel’s establishment.

Tariq Ali, venerable Pakistani Marxist anti-Zionist and warrior against US imperialism, applauds Gilbert Achcar’s ‘systematic and scholarly refutation of the simplistic myths that have arisen from the formation of Israel’. The book, which is being published in an Arab edition, is a ‘valuable corrective’, drawing on such ‘objective’ sources as Tony Judt, Norman Finkelstein, Gabriel Piterberg and Amira Hass. But Ali’s review does not make clear where Achcar’s opinions begin and Ali’s views end.

From the outset Ali (or is it Achcar?) spouts a few myths of his own: Jewish-Muslim ‘civilisation’; the Spanish Golden Age. Most jaw-dropping of all is Ali’s statement: ‘it was not until after the first world war that relations between the communities began to deteriorate seriously. The reason for this was the Balfour Declaration…’

So Tariq Ali, despite coming from the Indian sub-continent, has learnt nothing from the subjugation and forced conversion of Hindus to Islam. He has seemingly never heard of ‘dhimmi’ non-Muslims. He seems blissfully unaware of the ‘untouchable’ Jews of Persia, who could be executed if they brushed up against a Muslim in the rain.

In Ali’s looking-glass world, the Arabs with whom the Israelis chose to ‘mate’ (curious choice of word, that), like Anwar Sadat and Abu Mazen, are crude antisemites. Egyptian President Sadat was indeed a pro-Nazi in his youth, but enough of a pragmatist to sign a peace treaty with Israel, before being gunned down by bigger antisemites than he. As for Abu Mazen, his ‘mating’ dance with Israel is not yet over: this ‘antisemite’ has still not agreed to peace or renounced the sine qua non of a Palestinian ‘right of return’ .

If these two were antisemites, Nasser, whom everyone believes was an antisemite (and Anthony Eden called an Arab Hitler), was not. Tariq Ali (or is it Achcar ?) sees Nasser as first and foremost as a socialist anti-imperialist, ‘whose principle critique of Israel was not ethnic, but political.’And so Ali recycles the old canard that Israel ‘orchestrated’ the exodus of Jews from Egypt and Iraq.

The Arab alliance with Nazism is explained away by Ali as a pragmatic, nationalist ‘the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend’ policy, similar to the example of Subhash Chandra Bose in India, who started an Indian National Army to fight alongside the Japanese. But the Mufti of Jerusalem’s anti-Jewish activity spread well beyond Palestine. (As commenter Armaros remarks: The methods of the Mufti’s army of Nazi Jihadis in Bosnia/Croatia shocked even the Nazis.)

Nasser was a member of the pro-Nazi Young Egypt. Hard to argue Nasser was not an antisemite, when he institutionalised Nazi-style antisemitism by publishing the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ and enlisting the services of thousands of fleeing Nazi war criminals to whom Egypt gave safe haven.

For once, however, the CiF readership is in revolt at such a shoddy review. All but one or two of the 20 comments below Ali’s review are critical. “I should feel insulted that he takes us for such fools, but it’s par for the course unfortunately”, writes whichiswhich.

MiniApolis reflects that Tariq Ali is a singularly inappropriate choice to write about Achcar’s book.” What’s next – a Turkish reviewer of a book explaining why Armenians make too much of the genocide inflicted upon them at the turn of the century? A Hutu explaining why Tutsis should shrug off the Rwandan genocide?”

Adds RayHumm: we come to CiF threads not to be informed, but to be entertained.

Georgina Henry take note: your Culture Section is fast becoming a laughing stock.

Read comments thread

Monday, June 28, 2010

Jews demand execution of Yemen killer

The father of murder victim Moshe Nahari with an official of the Yemen Ministry of Justice

As dhimmis, Jews have often not qualified for equal treatment under sharia law: that's why the small group of Jews living in the Yemeni capital, all refugees from Amran province, are insisting that the courts confirm the statutory death sentence for the killer of their kinsman Rabbi Moshe Nahari. If the Supreme Court commutes the sentence, the Jews will conclude that the state is not prepared to give Jews the same protection under law as others. Report in Middle East Online:

SANAA - A small group of Yemeni Jews demonstrated on Monday in Sanaa demanding a final ruling against a Yemeni man sentenced to death last year for killing a Jewish father-of-nine in 2008.

An appeals court in Amran, north of the capital, had in June last year sentenced Abdel Aziz Yahia al-Abdi, 39, to death by firing squad for the murder of Masha Yaish Nahari, a member of Yemen's tiny Jewish community, in the town of Raydah, but the sentence must be confirmed by the supreme court.

Around 20 demonstrators gathered outside the supreme court and the ministry of justice demanding the speeding up of the court process, a media correspondent reported.

Justice minister Ghazi al-Aghbari told representatives of the demonstrators that the process was taking time due to the high number of cases being revised by the supreme court.

The appeals court had turned over a lower court verdict that ordered Abdi to only pay 27,500 dollars in blood money in lieu of execution after medical reports found he was "mentally abnormal."

See articles under 'Jews of Yemen' label

How one young woman kept her promise to Ezra

The tomb of Ezra at Uzair, near Basra

This story's still being told in Iraqi-Jewish circles. Let's call it the story of O.

A young woman - call her O. - attended a Sephardi synagogue in the US some years ago. She struck up a conversation in Arabic with some of the congregants, who came from Iraq. " What's a Muslim doing in our synagogue?" the congregants muttered to each other - for the young woman did not speak Judeo-Arabic, with its distinctive accent and pronunciation.

It turned out the young woman was a Jew who had recently arrived from Basra. There had been so few Jews in the city that O. had never learned to speak Judeo-Arabic. As one of the few dozen Jews still living in Iraq under Saddam's rule in the late 1990s, her dearest wish was to leave. But the government were holding the tiny Jewish community as virtual hostages.

It was customary for Jews in Iraq to go on pilgrimage to the tombs of Jewish prophets in order to seek divine intervention to help fulfil their deepest desires. O. decided to go to the shrine of Ezra the Scribe at Uzair, near Basra. She prayed for Ezra to help her to leave Basra. If her wish came about, she promised that she would donate a new parokhet (hand-embroidered cover) for the tomb.

Time passed and the young woman fulfilled her wish to leave Basra for the US. But it rankled with her that she was not able to keep her promise to Ezra - and deliver a new parokhet to his tomb.

With the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the young woman was suddenly presented with the opportunity to go back to Iraq as an interpreter for the CPA. The decision was not easy - after all, for so many years she had wanted nothing more than to leave Iraq.

But she had a promise to keep. She returned to Iraq, bringing with her a rich, velvet, elaborately embroidered parokhet for Ezra.

But the Jewish prophet had another reward in store for O. While in Iraq she met her future husband, an American-Jewish diplomat.

She accompanied her husband on his next posting - to Algeria.

The posting after that was back to Iraq. But at that point, after everything she had done to leave Iraq, O. decided that she had had enough of living in Arab countries.

O. moved to Israel. Her husband is believed to travel back from Iraq to see her at regular intervals.

We Muslims are lucky Jews only want Jerusalem

Farid Ghadry

Hate for Jews following the Free Gaza flotilla incident is off the scale, Farid Ghadry, leader of the Syrian Reform Party and now a US citizen, has calculated. Yet, Muslims who inflict much more pain on each other and own 97 percent of the Middle East, escape accountability. Every Muslim should try being a Jew for one day. (With thanks: Lily)

When I Googled the words “Hate Jews” and “Hate Zionsim”, I received back 1,520,000 and 4,100,000 hits. Similarly, when I Googled the words “Hate Muslims” and “Hate Islam”, I received back 1,170,000 and 2,110,000 hits. But these numbers tell part of the story because if you are a good statistician (I just know finance), you would know that 1,520,000 or 4,100,000 for a global population of let’s say 15,000,000 Jews is vastly different from a 1,170,000 and 2,110,000 hits for a global population of 1,400,000,000.

How different?

In percentages, Jews are hated to the tune of 121 times more. That is 12,125% more than people hate Muslims if the ratio of number of Muslims as compared to Jews is taken into account as well as the “Hate Index” of each. An index that the unsuccessful, jealous of Jewish accomplishments, keep pushing up.

In spite of the terror we Muslims inflict daily on others and on each other, Jews are hated more than we could ever be.

Israel attacked Hamas only after Hamas launched thousands of rockets. But Hamas attacked the PLO in Gaza for no reason. Yet, the Jews are hated, and the Muslims, inflicting pain unto each other, escape accountability. Israel established a blockade to weaken its extremist nemesis, yet, the Jews are hated for defending their borders when we Muslims own 97% of the lands. Lands where Jews lived and roamed thousands of years ago and where remnants of Synagogues are found today in several Arab countries, including Syria, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and as far as Morocco.

We, Muslims, should be lucky the Jews only want Jerusalem.

Read post in full

Sunday, June 27, 2010

'We will return the crown to its original owners'

Eli Yishai (photo: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Lashing out at discrimination in secular society, Shas party chairman Eli Yishai is prepared to take his children out of their Ashkenazi schools and enrol them in Sephardi schools. The way forward, following the Emmanuel haredi debacle, is to establish more such schools, the Jerusalem Post reports:

With mounting criticism from within his electorate over his party’s indecisive intervention in the Emmanuel affair, Shas chairman Eli Yishai launched an offensive at Israel’s secular society, claiming it is plagued by racism far worse than that in the haredi sector. He also reiterated that the true solution to discrimination is by creating alternative Sepharadi frameworks.

“The true facts should be stated, once and for all… only one Sepharadi justice presides in the Supreme Court among 14 Ashkenazi justices… 12 prime ministers led Israel since the state’s founding, not one of the Sepharadi… of the 19 IDF chiefs-of-staff only six were Sepharadi, and the list goes on,” Yishai said in an interview with Yom Leyom, the official Shas weekly newspaper. Yishai also pointedly noted the income and educational attainment gaps between ethnic groups, which exhibit the disadvantaged status of the Sepharadi sector.

Yishai also toned down the rhetoric against Yoav Laloum, who had filed the original petition against the segregated school and was recently doomed by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to lose his place in the afterlife for his actions. While Yishai reiterated the party line of not turning to secular courts, as he stressed in Sunday’s faction meeting, he managed to accredit Laloum as having“good intentions,” even if the results of a court petition were counterproductive.

“The true and correct solution to eradicating discrimination is by establishing religious Sepharadi educational institutions,” and not in court battles, Yishai stressed in the interview. “This is one of the reasons Shas was founded.”

Yishai took the opportunity to set the track straight on his movement’s involvement in the Emmanuel segregation, telling Yom Leyom it was Shas that first acted to provide a solution to the Sepharadi girls who were cast out by the separation there.

"Two-and-a-half years ago [Religious Services Minister] Yaakov Mergi toured Emmanuel, and was shocked at what he saw in the school. Following that, we had an extensive meeting and decided to found a Sepharadi school, so that those girls wouldn’t feel discriminated, despite the financial losses the school garners, due to the small number of constituents it serves. Today, it is one of the best schools we have.”

Much criticism has been leveled at Yishai personally, since he, like other prominent Sepharadi haredim, sends his children to Ashkenazi schools. Yishai had explained that he didn’t want to fight his battles on his children’s account, who would have to take a bus to Sepharadi institutions rather than walk to the close-by Ashkenazi school. Now it seems as though his children should get used to the idea of changing a school next year.

“I say this to myself and my friends – it is time for all the Sepharadi men [committed to Torah] enroll their daughters to Sepharadi schools and seminars, which is how we will return the crown to its original owners,” he said.

The growing volume of Yishai’s response to the criticism that he and his party didn’t do enough on Emmanuel might be in part due to the growing presence of former Shas leader Aryeh Deri in the public discourse over the affair, though Yishai said he is not concerned by the possibility of Deri leading an alternative party to Shas.

Read article in full

Ynet news : 'Sephardim attending Ashkenazi schools will have an Ashkenazi brain' - Rabbi

Jerusalem Post: neither ethnic nor prejudice (with thanks: Frank)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Algerians turn away Jewish pilgrims from tomb

The Algerian authorities have turned down a request from French Jewish groups to visit the 13th century tomb of Rav Ephraim El -Kawa in Tlemcen, north west Algeria, the Algerian newspaper Al-khabar reports. Via JSS blog (With thanks: Andrew)

These same groups, led by Tlemcen native Andre Charbit, had wanted to repeat their 2005 pilgrimage. Charbit had then headed a group of 220 pilgrims, the largest group of Jews to visit Algeria since independence. They flew to Tlemcen aboard a special Air Algerie flight. The visit created widespread media interest.

Sources say that public opinion and the political class rejected the idea following the free Gaza flotilla incident, in which Algerian 'activists' took part.

Anti-Jewish Algerians believe that these types of visits on the human and tourist level may hide attempts to drag Algeria towards normalisation with Israel - a prospect Algeria officially refuses to countenance.

Algerian officials believe that the 2011 festival celebrating 'Tlemcen, capital of Islamic culture' is incompatible with a visit from a group of Jews who consider the site the second most holy in North Africa after the Ghriba synagogue in Djerba (Tunisia).

Read blog post in full (French)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Encounter with a brave proponent of a secular Iraq

Ayad Jamal al-Din is a brave proponent of a secular Iraq. He's one of the most exciting figures to burst onto the Iraqi political scene in recent years. Yesterday I attended a lecture he gave at the House of Commons in London entitled The New democracy in Iraq.

An ayatollah in a turban pleading for a secular Iraq? What could be more paradoxical. But Ayad Jamal al-Din personifies this apparent contradiction.

The young cleric, standing for the Ahrar Party, lost his seat in the Iraqi elections in March ('our party was robbed of votes' he reflects bitterly, hinting that corruption prevented a clear winner emerging.) But he and his Ahrar party are not deterred from campaigning to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

Jamal al-Din has been outspoken about the project to create a secular democratic Iraq. Iraq is a secular entity and Iraqis are broadly in favour of secular parties. Extremists use religion for their own ends and are not afraid to kill in its name. Ayad Jamal al- Din himself has survived seven assassination attempts.

A secular Iraq has surprising support among Iraqi Shi'as who follow Grand Ayatollah Sistani. The Institution of Shi'ite Jafariah, to which Jamal al-Din's party is connected, has issued a manifesto:

"We are committed to the basics of political and cultural work under the roof of the motherland Iraq for all Iraqis. It (the Institution) also works at the separation between religion and the state of Iraq's secular and liberal state, and works to build a liberal Iraqi state and adopt liberal thought, a secular state at the same distance from all political and social parties away from extremism and isolation and rejection of the Other.

"(We work to) isolate misconceptions and values alien to Islamic sects, which stand at the same distance from all political persuasions and social marginalization and away from extremism and violence.

.... And to renounce the pursuit of values alien to Islamic culture and Islamic sects that call for extremism and violence, which was introduced by the Iranian regime and the Khomeini revolution of the region and especially Iraq."

As far as minorities are concerned, the separation of Church and State in a secular Iraq is key to the protection of their rights.

I asked Ayad Jamal al-Din about the plight of non-Muslim minorities at the lecture he gave at the House of Commons yesterday. The Assyrian Christians were leaving in droves, I said, the Mandaeans were on the verge of extinction, and 150,000 Jews had been driven out: only six remain.

Ayad Jamal Al-Din recognised that the Christian Assyrians had been badly treated since 2003, but theirs was not just a minority rights problem - it was a human rights problem. The Mandaeans were the most affected by persecution, since they had no outside haven, in spite of a small connection with Ahwaz on the border with Iran. As for the Jews, they were the oldest nation in Iraq. Abraham was an Iraqi. In fact he came from Jamal al-Din's hometown of Nasariya! Even Dutch and Polish Jews originated from the region, he said.

When I asked what policy the Ahrar party had towards Israel, where Iraqis were the third largest community of Israeli Jews, I got no response. It is obviously too delicate for Iraqi politicians like Ayad to pronounce on the record on this prickly subject. The exception has been Mithal al-Alusi, who visited Israel but lost two sons in an attempt on his life.

The Institution of Shi'ite Jafaria has been more forthright in its objective"to recognize the state of Israel and achieve comprehensive peace in the region. (We are) looking for friendly relations with other countries, especially the American people, in order to safeguard international peace and security."

For the moment, maintaining the integrity of Iraq in the face of Western weakness and indifference, and Iranian imperialist designs on the country, is Ayad Jamal al-Din's main priority. Iran will determine the next Iraqi government - a slap in the face for the US's sanctions policy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No future for a Jewish minority in Palestine

Jewish settler being evicted (Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Palestinians of the West Bank may be moving towards declaring their own state, but could Jews continue to live there? Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Amiel Ungar balefully concludes that remaining Jews would be condemning themselves to harassment and martyrdom. The treatment of Palestinian Christians, and Jews in Arab countries, sets a worrying precedent. But why would Israel ever allow a new hostile Arab state on its doorstep?

The fear of serious resistance to expulsion orders also accounts for the renewed interest in a solution that leaves many Jewish communities within a Palestinian state. It will require the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria to make a Hobbesian choice between principle and peril.

The principled and patriotic decision would be for the communities to remain in place. Jewish “sumud” (steadfastness) will demonstrate to the Arabs that Jews are not latter day Crusaders – an alien entity – but are motivated by their religious and historical link to the land of their forefathers.

The sages in the Talmud, perhaps observing a similar predicament in their era, opined that it is preferable for a Jew to live in the land of Israel even in a city with a non-Jewish majority than to live outside it in an ancient version of Borough Park in Brooklyn.

It is also a matter of simple reciprocity. If an Israeli state can be expected to host an Arab minority approaching 20 percent, then a neighboring Palestinian state can be expected to do the same for Jewish communities rather than emptying its territory of Jews.

Unfortunately, the issue of principle clashes seriously with the perilous reality on the ground.

There are no prospects whatsoever that would allow a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state to survive and prosper. Jews electing to remain will consign themselves to suffering and probably martyrdom.

And martyrdom in Judaism is a last resort, not the preferred option.

The benign treatment accorded British nationals in the Republic of Ireland once that country had attained its independence will not be revisited in a future Palestine. Observe the fate of Jewish communities throughout the Arab world, where even the minuscule remnants of the Yemenite Jewish community face persecution and mortal danger.

One can also extrapolate from the dwindling Arab Christian communities: persecution by the Muslim majority has made emigration the preferred option; Bethlehem, once a symbol of Arab Christianity, is effectively a Muslim town. If this is the treatment accorded people who share a similar culture and speak the same language, can Jews expect greater benevolence? A newly independent Palestine can be expected to honor Jewish minority rights at best on the level that newly independent Poland adhered to the provisions of the League of Nations minority treaty – i.e., it will ignore them totally. The Kingdom of Jordan imposes a death penalty on anyone convicted of selling land to Jews. In Israel, by contrast, when the chief Rabbi of Safed exhorted Jews not to sell houses to Arabs, the Israeli legal system came down upon him like a ton of bricks.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The haredi school affair: a rebuttal to Rachel Shabi

Over at the Guardian's website, Rachel Shabi has been busy reducing the Emmanuel haredi school affair to a matter of Ashkenazi / Sephardi racism, but the root of the problem is the lack of an adequate Sephardi religious education infrastructure. Here's my rebuttal on Comment is Free Watch:

Last week some 100,000 orthodox Jews paraded through the streets of Jerusalem in support of parents wishing to set up a breakaway ‘Ashkenazi’ ultra-orthodox school in the town of Emmanuel – one of the largest demonstrations ever held in Israel.

Like much of the liberal press in Israel and abroad, Rachel Shabi’s Comment is Free piece has spun the Emmanuel affair as an example of ‘discrimination on grounds of skin colour’. While there is never any justification for racism, It is much more complex than that. Some 25 parents who are being ordered to jail for contempt of court are themselves Sephardi, indicating that the affair has more to do with fanatical religious observance than racism.

The tired old charge that this is another example of the ‘Ashkenazi’ establishment ‘s institutionalised discrmination against disadvantaged Sephardim no longer sticks: the Israeli establishment has long ceased to be Ashkenazi, and ethnic differences, with intermarriage running at 25 percent, are increasingly blurred. Jews from Arab and Muslim countries are not some marginalised minority. They account for fifty percent of the population. Sephardim or Mizrahim are broadly represented, have achieved high office in government and have held every ministerial post except prime minister. Neither does the accusation that Israel is hypocritically doing nothing to combat discrimination hold water: plenty of NGOS are working in Israel to bridge the economic and educational gap.

Let’s get some sense of perspective: the Emmanuel affair is a controversy that concerns an ultra-ultra-orthodox sect, the Slonim Hassidim. It affects the extreme ultra-orthodox fringe of Israeli society, one of the few sectors where Ashkenazi-Sephardi differences still matter. It is irrelevant to the vast majority of Israelis.

Cultural differences seem to be the main factor here – while more traditionally observant than Ashkenazim, Sephardim have always been more open to outside influences, while ultra-orthodox Ashkenazim have tended to look inward and cut themselves off from the outside world.

Maimonides, the great medieval rabbi and philosopher, was also physician to Saladdin. This sort of typical Sephardi synthesis of the spiritual and the worldly never existed in the shtetls of eastern Europe. Had Maimonides been alive today, he might well have used the internet and watched TV.

In the Emmanuel case, the ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi parents’ main gripe seems to be that the Sephardi girls, by and large, are not observant enough for their standards. It may all boil down to something as basic as whether the girls are being corrupted by watching TV at home, or whether they keep their blouses buttoned up to the top.

However, the intervention of the Israeli courts has polarised opinion, and politicised an issue that should and could have been settled well away from the glare of international publicity. They are right to insist that a state-funded school must abide by non-discriminatory admissions criteria. But the Israeli Supreme Court should be criticised for handing down draconian jail sentences and insisting on their enforcement. Their heavy-handed approach has only created martyrs. It has forced a confrontation between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’. No one doubts that this serious social faultline in Israeli society needs urgent attention. The ultra-orthodox are one of the fastest growing sectors, but are resented by secular Israelis for not serving in the army or holding down productive jobs.

The very root of the problem, highlighted by the Emmanuel affair, is this: the Sephardi orthodox simply do not have an adequate educational infrastructure of their own. Although the religious Sephardi party Shas has improved matters, Sephardim, driven out from Arab countries in the last 50 years, are still suffering the effects of the destruction of their orthodox heritage. That’s why many ultra-orthodox Sephardim have adopted Yiddish and Ashkenazi orthodox customs – they have become ‘lithuanianised’, as the academic Shmuel Trigano puts it. Religious Sephardim need to be empowered to teach their own Sephardi rich culture and brand of orthodoxy.

The Slonim Hassidim should be encouraged to set up their own private school. This school would have every right to its own admissions policy, but not at the Israeli taxpayer’s expense. This is broadly the line taken by the Sephardi orthodox party Shas . As one secular professor has pointed out, nobody objected to Shas setting up its own Sephardi-only schools: it’s positive discrimination, not racism.

Read comments thread

Shas' dismal silence (Jerusalem Post)

Hanoch Daum in Ynet News

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What's left of Jewish Alexandria? ....Books

The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria

They came to offer encouragement to the dwindling Jewish communities of Alexandria and Cairo, but two Jewish travellers from the US, Dr Ari Greenspan and Rabbi Dr Ari Z. Zivotofsky, only found decaying buildings, 'dangerous' cemeteries ....and old books. Report in Jewish Action.

Today, the sole intact shul in Alexandria is the 150-year-old Eliyahu Hanavi Sephardic synagogue. One of the largest synagogues in the Middle East, the magnificent building sits within a courtyard that once contained the Jewish school, the mikvah and the various communal offices.

A viable Jewish community needs a variety of institutions, and Alexandria has at least one very useful one: a well stocked and organized Jewish library. It is unfortunately not used much (although we greatly enjoyed leafing through the tomes), and the Egyptian government prefers that it remain locked. But there are over a dozen bookcases full of Jewish books including Gemarot, the Shulchan Aruch and hundreds of books of responsa. However, you will not find books published within the past fifty years. Everything in the library is older than that; many are 150 years old and older. The existence of such an impressive library indicates that the kehillah in Alexandria was once vibrant and learned.

We noticed roll-on stampers used to designate kosher meat among the artifacts our guide showed us. Not too long ago, Alexandria had its own kosher slaughtering house under local rabbinic supervision, but sadly, today, there is no one left in Alexandria to support such an enterprise.

We had another capable, if unusual, guide, in addition to Gaon: Abed Al Nabi, a Muslim from southern Egypt, who has worked for the Jewish community for decades and speaks fluent Hebrew. Nabi took us to see the mikvah in the community compound, which still exists but is no longer in use. He also showed us the matzah making machinery, which is rusty and old, but still in the community’s possession. The communal offices include a “court room” where the beit din used to convene and a large communal school building, which is today used as a Muslim school. The guided tour through the once Jewish buildings led by a Hebrew-speaking Egyptian was somewhat surreal.

Sixty sifrei Torah from all the shuls in Alexandria have been collected by the government and are now housed in the Eliyahu Hanavi Sephardic synagogue. The only other remaining shul in town is run down and, although still guarded by police, appears slated for destruction. The city has three Jewish cemeteries in various states of disrepair. Many tombstones are cracked, but the cemeteries are not entirely neglected. Non-Jewish caretakers tend to the cemeteries and live on the cemetery grounds. The vastness of the cemeteries and the magnificence of many of the tombstones attest to the impressive size and affluence of the community that once existed.

During our visit, we heard a fascinating story about a Jewish Anussah, or Marrano, who was taken by a Muslim man as a young girl and wed to him against her will. Although she had to convert to Islam, she stubbornly kept her Jewish soul alive for all sixty years of her married life. During that time, she could not live a Jewish life and even her three daughters do not know that they are Jewish. However, ever since her husband died, she began attending shul. Unfortunately, as she lives among Muslims, she was too afraid to meet with us.

We left Alexandria via train and headed to Cairo, a filthy, noisy metropolis of close to seven million people. Cairo is home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities. It is not known exactly when the Jewish community of Cairo was first established, but it was certainly many centuries ago. Currently, no more than a score of elderly women comprise the Cairo Jewish community. The majority of the city’s Jews were driven out decades ago by mob violence and state-sponsored persecution related to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Many Jews were evicted or arrested; their bank accounts were frozen and properties were seized. Reverberations from some of these seizures are still being felt. (An example is the ongoing litigation being handled by Nathan Lewin on behalf of Refael Bigio, an Egyptian Jew who is accusing Coca-Cola of illegally benefiting from his factory that was nationalized in 1962 by Nasser’s regime.) Many other Egyptian Jews left of their own accord, hoping for a brighter future elsewhere.

Within this crowded city, one can still find a number of synagogues. We visited the oldest and most famous synagogue in Cairo: the Ben Ezra Synagogue, thought to date back to 882, located in the Fustat area of Coptic Cairo, the old Jewish neighborhood. Today no services are held there. The Rambam used to pray and hold court in this shul, and in 1896 the famous “Cairo Genizah,” one of the most valuable troves of historical documents ever discovered, was found in its women’s gallery.

For the better part of the twentieth century, the building was left to deteriorate. However, in 1983, following the Camp David Accords, the Egyptian government realized the historical value of the shul and began to restore it, down to its marble pillars and ceiling painted in muted greens and reds—a project that took more than ten years to complete. The mikvah in the basement is still in a terrible state of disrepair. The restoration of the women’s gallery is in progress, and visitors are not allowed in. However, the president of the Cairo Jewish community, Carmen Weinstein, graciously arranged for us to visit the women’s gallery and see the entrance to the “attic” where the genizah was found.

While we were there, many groups of tourists—mostly Asian and European— flowed in and out. Interestingly, we did not see any Jewish, American or Israeli tourist groups.

In recent years, the Egyptian government has come to accept that preserving the country’s rich Jewish heritage and religious sites is its responsibility since the tiny Jewish community there lacks the funds to do so. A yeshivah and shul known as “Rav Moshe,” one of Cairo’s most historic synagogues, and the grand-looking Karaite synagogue of Cairo were recently restored by the Egyptian government and rededicated. The government pledged to restore six more synagogues in the next two years. There are several other shuls in Cairo, but most are dilapidated and closed to the public. The one exception is the Sha’ar Hashamayim synagogue, also known as the Adli Street Synagogue, founded more than one hundred years ago. A structure of gray stone, the synagogue has carpeted floors and gold-painted walls. In the 1940s, upper-class Jews would fill its pews on Shabbat. On a recent Shabbat, it was empty. On rare occasions, such as when the Israeli embassy makes a request, minyanim are held there. The government uses it for all Jewish “functions” and thus it was there that Israeli POWs were paraded in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. This past February, a makeshift bomb was thrown at the historic shul, but fortunately it failed to detonate.

Kosher food is not available in Cairo. The Jewish school ceased functioning over fifty years ago, and we were told that it is dangerous to visit the Jewish cemetery—not a promising future for a Jewish community. What is left of this once-grand Jewish community? Books. There are three significant Jewish libraries in Cairo. Books from many of the now-destroyed shuls were collected and in 1989, a 7,000-book library was established. In 1997, a 3,000-volume library was inaugurated next to the Ben Ezra Synagogue, and a smaller library exists next to the large Karaite synagogue.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Iranian-born Jew is world's oldest man

Smoking and a glass of brandy for breakfast has not prevented Iranian-born David Pur, 115, from becoming the oldest man in the world, according to Israel 21: (with thanks: Eliyahu)

An envoy from the Guinness Book of World Records is due in Israel any day now to formalize 115-year-old David Pur's title of Oldest Man in the World.

Three of Pur's nine children are still alive, along with 18 grandchildren and 56 great-grandchildren, according to a report from Israel National News (INN).

Born in 1895 in what was then Persia and today is Iran, Pur became an adviser to the Shah, who admired his mastery of languages, including Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and French. He later added Tagalog, while learning to care for Filipinos. He and his family came to Israel in 1948.

Pur still listens to the news of the day on radio and television, and discusses current events with his grandson, Israel Defense Forces Gen. Yoav Mordechai.

The old man is known for his smiles and for laughing and joking with the various members of his large family, who visit him daily. "The main thing is not to lose your optimism," he says.

Today, the man who smoked for nearly 110 years and has a glass of brandy and some nuts for breakfast seems to know instinctively what recent Israeli research has proved - that increasing vegetables and cutting out trans fats and processed foods can reverse hardening of the arteries. "I avoid meat and fried foods, and eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible," he says.

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Jews in Turkey keep their heads down

Jews in Turkey feel intimidated and insecure following the Gaza flotilla incident, Nicole Sobecki writes in the Global Post. Despite official assurances that the community will be protected, some Turks may direct their anger towards Israel against Turkish Jews:

ISTANBUL, Turkey — At the end of a narrow alley, in a neighborhood dominated by hardware stores, a white sign marked “Museum” in simple block letters indicates that you have found the Jewish Museum of Turkey.

The sign is mounted on a small booth housing an armed guard.

Although the museum stresses the 500 years of tolerance and harmony between Turks and Jews — many of the Jews of Istanbul were exiles from the 1492 expulsion from Spain and Portugal — the reality for this community of less than 25,000 is far less confident.

Islamic terror has struck in recent years. Istanbul’s Neve Shalom synagogue — which in Hebrew means "oasis of peace" — faced a 1986 attack by gunmen who killed 22 worshippers during a Sabbath service. In 2003, car bombs ripped through the Bet Israel synagogue and Neve Shalom, killing 27 and wounding hundreds — mostly Turkish Muslims.

A 2008 Pew survey on European attitudes toward Jews and Muslims found that 76 percent of Turks had a negative view of Jews, up from 49 percent in 2004. A study on hate speech in Turkey’s national press by the Hrant Dink Foundation this past fall found that Jews were the third-most targeted group, falling just behind Kurds and Armenians.

Then there was the recent deadly raids of the Gaza flotilla by Israeli commandos. As city squares across Turkey filled with irate activists protesting Israel's attack on the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara, Turkey’s Jews quietly shut their doors and kept their heads down.

“That hostile atmosphere is of great concern to us, because wrongly, but inevitably, some Turks will link Turkish Jews with Israel and may direct their anger at the community,” said Abraham H. Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

While many Turks do draw a line between condemning Israel’s actions and placing Jews on the firing line, for some that distinction is increasingly becoming blurred.

“They are intimidated, their future is uncertain, they are insecure,” said Arnold Reisman, the author of "Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's Vision."

He continued: "I certainly would not want to live that way."

In Istanbul alone, security has been stepped up at 20 different locations, including synagogues and the Israeli consulate.

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Istanbul street graffiti

Locals pass by anti-Israel graffiti in the Istanbul neighborhood of Galata. As city squares across Turkey filled with irate activists protesting Israel's recent attack on the Mavi Marmara, Turkey’s Jews quietly shut their doors and kept their heads down. (Nichole Sobecki/GlobalPost)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Israel rescues 12 Jews from Kyrgystan

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Israel has rescued 12 Jews from southern Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic violence has torn apart the region.

The 12 Kyrgyz Jews were brought to Israel Sunday and are scheduled to attend a welcoming ceremony at the Jewish Agency for Israel's Board of Governors Assembly on Monday, along with 650 other new immigrants. They were immediately accepted as citizens of Israel.

Fewer than 70 Jews live in southern Kyrgyzstan. Most of an estimated 1,300-1,500 Jews reside far away in the capital city of Bishkek. To date, no Jews have been harmed, according to the Jewish Federations of North America.

More than 2,000 people have been killed and 40,000 displaced in fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that began earlier this month and have rocked the country's south.

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Iraqi Jew's memoirs shake up Arab intellectuals

Professor Shmuel Moreh (Jerusalem Post)

Must-read article, Baghdad revisited by Ksenia Svetlova of the Jerusalem Post: one Israeli's memoirs of his difficult life as a Jew in Baghdad in the 1940s, published on the Arabic news website Elaph, has got Arab intellectuals and opinion-formers to do some serious soul-searching on how the Arab world treated its Jews. By refusing to sugar-coat the Jewish experience in Arab countries, Professor Shmuel Moreh does more for reconciliation with the Arab world than any interfaith or coexistence initiative. (With thanks: Andrew, Lily)

Almost 70 years after the culmination of violent Arab hostilities against the Jewish minority in Iraq, the on-line memoirs of a Baghdad-born Israeli professor are finding resonance among Arab and Iraqi readers and evoking a discussion on what used to be the taboo subject of the 1941 pogrom against the Jews of Iraq.

“The year 1941 was one of the most tragic years in the life of the Jews of Iraq,” wrote Hebrew University emeritus professor of Arabic literature Shmuel Moreh in the London-based and Saudi-funded on-line magazine Elaph. “It was a year of quick changes in the political, economic and social relations between Arabs (Muslim and Christian) on one hand and the Jews on the other,” continued Moreh, chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq and recipient of the 1999 Israel Prize in Middle Eastern studies.

“As a child who lived in the modern, aristocratic, mixed quarter of al-Batawin in Baghdad and a student at the Al-Sa’doon Exemplary School, established in 1937 as a government mixed school that was founded for children of the Iraqi royal family, ministers, high-ranking civil servants and army officers, judges and secretaries, I was a mirror of the government attitude toward the Jewish citizens in Iraq.”

Moreh, who was born in 1932 and now lives in Mevaseret Zion with his wife, Kaarina, was one of three Jewish pupils who studied there among a majority of Muslim staff and pupils.

“The Jews suffered daily harassment, insults and mockery. A few days after the defeat of the Iraqi army attacks against the British military bases in Habbaniya and Sin al-Dhubban, Jews were attacked in the streets, they were searched for espionage equipment and taken to police stations for questioning if they did not bribe the police. Their houses were marked as Jewish by anti-Jewish organizations,” wrote Moreh.

“In April 1941, Faisal, the son of prime minister Rashid Ali al-Kailani, tried to blind the eyes of the writer of these lines by hitting him with a stick. This was a well-known punishment for Jews who dared to resist Muslims. Two months later, he was able to narrowly escape being lynched by Muslims and Christians at his school in revenge for the defeat of the Iraqi army.”

Soon after these emotional words first appeared in Elaph, letters in Arabic started pouring in to Moreh’s private mailbox, along with hundreds of talkbacks on Elaph’s Web site that revealed how deeply touched the readers were. Some of the writers identified themselves as Iraqi academics, journalists, researchers. They wrote about their feelings of guilt and shame but also about nostalgia and the good old days. Despite the bitterness of the painful memories of the persecution and the eventual exodus, they urged Moreh to come back, stressing that Iraq is missing its Jews.

“This story was written by an Iraqi Jew... It reveals his love for Baghdad, for the Tigris and Euphrates... No one can understand the pain of living as a foreigner, only those who have tasted it,” said one talkback.

“I am so happy for all Iraqi Jews that they are finally getting to see their old country and getting to see Baghdad. I feel bad that Baghdad does not look as good as the way they left it, but the Jews will make something out of it if they go back. They are great people and very smart, and I admire them,” revealed another one.

“Oh, the days of beautiful Baghdad, Baghdad of cultural tolerance and splendor, the days of music and theater... Where are the Iraqi Jews? Where are those days?” lamented the author of yet another talkback.

IT’S NOT every day that the readers of a popular Arabic media outlet have a chance for a close and personal encounter with an Israeli, a Jew, who has mastered Arabic better than many native speakers and who knows by heart the traditions and the origins of the traditions that form the daily life in Muslim Arab society. In fact, the decision of the Elaph management to print the memoirs of Moreh – born Sami Muallem – was so unusual that it made waves in many academic circles throughout the Arab world, as well as in the mass media in Iraq and beyond.

Some, mainly Palestinians, were furious, criticizing Elaph for the normalization of relations with Israel. But there were many others who relished Moreh’s beautiful and excruciatingly difficult Arabic, as well as his bittersweet memories of his childhood years in the posh Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Batawin.

The extraordinary relationship between Moreh and one of the most popular Arabic Web sites did not begin smoothly. When 'Abd al-Kader al-Janabi, a literary editor whose poetry Moreh used to teach at university, first approached Moreh with a request for an interview about his years in Iraq, he refused.

“He wrote to Nissim Rejwan, to Prof. Shimon Ballas and to myself asking for interviews. But I wasn’t interested. For me, Iraq is like an ex-spouse. Who would want to keep in touch with one’s former spouse? You just want to forget and move on,” Moreh says.

However, following some persuasion by his doctoral student Samir al-Hajj, Moreh agreed to be interviewed by Elaph.

“I told them many things – about my childhood, about my move to Israel and life here. I told them about my uncle who was the chief of police in a Baghdad police station and once met the king when he paid a visit to the station. He had the honor of lighting a match for the king, and he was so worried that the match would not burn well and could be interpreted as a bad omen for the new monarch, that he prayed in Hebrew to God that the match would burn,” he recounts.

“I also revealed that upon coming to Israel in 1951, I joined the army and in order to make a few extra bucks on the side, I started to write poems in Arabic and managed to publish them in Histadrut magazines. I was so proud of myself, mostly because in Iraq nobody would let a 16-year-old publish poetry in grown-up magazines.”

The interview in Elaph was published under the title “A soldier in the Israeli army writes Arabic poetry.” The interview was so powerful that the editor suggested publishing a series of his memoirs about life in Iraq. Moreh agreed.

“I wanted to achieve three things by writing these memoirs,” he explains. “First of all, to remind the world of the persecution of Iraqi Jews. If anyone thinks that life was a paradise for us there, he could not be more mistaken. We were called names, harassed on a daily basis, and I lived through this hell during all of my childhood.

“The second goal was to preserve the Jewish Iraqi dialect. Nowadays when I talk to Iraqis or write to them, many of them are astonished to be reminded of forgotten words their grandfathers once used. The Jews of Iraq kept the medieval Arabic, whereas the Muslims adopted the Saudi accent that was brought to Iraq by the Beduin who assimilated into the Iraqi populace.

“And, of course, the most important thing was the memory,” Moreh says. “I wanted to perpetuate the memory of the Farhud and the tragedy that we lived through. Some people say that the exodus of the Iraqi Jews was sped up due to the acts of violence carried out by Jewish Zionist underground organization, but this is baseless. I studied the issue closely. Ever since the Farhud – the horrible Iraqi pogrom that took place in 1941 when angry crowds lashed out at the Jewish community, robbing, raping and killing thousands – we were always afraid that something like this might happen again. But even before that, the Iraqi Jews were always subjected to humiliations and threats, and that’s what I meant to emphasize in my memoirs. I believe that by publishing my memoirs in Elaph over a period of three years, I achieved this goal,” Moreh says.

The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University, and the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or-Yehuda
recently published Al-Farhud: The 1941 Pogrom in Iraq, a book containing a series of papers on the theme, edited by Moreh and Zvi Yehuda. The work is a revised English edition of the Hebrew version, which was originally published in 1992.

“IN 1946 Jewish schools arranged an organized scout camp in northern Iraq. My friend Maurice Haddad and I were ordered to raise the Iraqi flag at the entrance of the camp. I saluted the flag and start singing the Iraqi anthem. I listened to Maurice sing and was horrified. He was cursing the flag, wishing it perdition. I was furious and tried to slap him on the face for insulting ‘our flag.’ He started weeping and shouted back, ‘Do you call it our flag? They killed my father when he tried to save my sister and mother from being raped.’ He was sobbing and murmuring all night long, ‘They raped my mother and sister and killed my father, and you tell me that this is our flag?’”

Today, after the three years of recollecting memories both sweet and painful, accepting and rejecting the past, writing, soul-searching and answering questions, the memoirs of Sami Muallem of Baghdad have reached their target audience – Arab intellectuals, historians, journalists and others who are reluctant to write off the Jewish chapter in the long history of the Arab world. The memoirs were reprinted in hundreds of various Arabic Web sites around the globe and have been read by hundreds of thousands of people. Moreh intends to translate and publish his memoirs in English and Hebrew.

The last chapter was published in Elaph in January 2010. However, the close relations that developed between Moreh and many of his readers continues to flourish. He is in touch with many Iraqi academics and journalists with whom he exchanges his views on the future of Iraqi Jews and their relationship with their old country.

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The Haredi school crisis: much stuff and nonsense

With thanks: Independent Observer

Much ink has been spilled on what one blogger called 'the Mexican stand-off' at Emmanuel, culminating in the Israeli Supreme Court ordering recalcitrant parents of an Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox breakaway school to go to jail for contempt of court. The court order brought 100,000 haredim out onto the streets on Thursday to demonstrate their support for the parents.

I would only add the following:

* Let's get some sense of perspective: Sever Plocker writing in Ynet News is right: this is a controversy that concerns an ultra- ultra-orthodox sect, the Slonim Hassidim. It affects the extreme ultra-orthodox fringe of Israeli society, one of the few sectors where Ashkenazi-Sephardi differences still matter. It is largely irrelevant to Israelis as a whole.

*The press and media's attempts to spin this issue as an example of Ashkenazi racism against Sephardim have been way off-base. It is much more complex than that. Some of the parents who are being ordered to jail are themselves Sephardi, indicating that the affair has more to do with fanatical religious observance than racism.

* However, the involvement of New Israel Fund lawyers in the original petition against the breakaway school is disturbing. The New Israel Fund politicised an issue that should and could have been settled well away from the glare of international publicity.

* While they are right to insist that a state-funded school must abide by non-discriminatory admissions criteria, the Israeli courts should be criticised for handing down draconian jail sentences and insisting on their enforcement. Their heavy-handed approach has only created martyrs. It has forced a confrontation between 'religious' and 'secular'. It has also thrown up a double standard: As the Zionist Conspiracy has pointed out, the ( all but one) Ashkenazi judges of the Supreme Court were never as assiduous in insisting that those who flouted its ruling on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, for example, be arrested.

* The Slonim Hassidim should be encouraged to set up their own private school. This school would have every right to its own admissions policy, but not at the Israeli taxpayer's expense. This is broadly the line taken by the Sephardi orthodox party Shas. As one Professor Gonen has pointed out, nobody objected to Shas setting up its own Sephardi-only schools, which were viewed as positive discrimination, not racism.

Here is a sensible analysis of the Emmanuel affair at The Muqata blog. Since it was written the courts have had second thoughts and only the breakaway fathers may be ordered to jail.

Today marks what can potentially be a hugely significant day in the history of Israel of a State, as the Supreme Court of Israel has ordered the forced imprisonment of 44 couples for refusing to change their school's admission policy.

One thing I can tell you about this issue is that it is extremely complex, and far from a crude "Sephardi discrimination" case. I personally know 2 of the families that (if all goes according to the Supreme Court's plan) will be imprisoned tomorrow giving me a slightly more interesting picture than the journalists and bloggers who will be covering this event.
Some background: Our story takes place in the Shomron settlement community of Emmanuel, which prides itself as "the Bnei Brak of the Shomron".

There is a Beis Yaakov girls school in Emmanuel, run primarily by Slonim Chassidim. The Beis Yaakov school is funded by the State-acknowledged, "Chinuch Atzmai", independent school system, and the curriculum is fully out of the hands of Israel's education ministry.
Emmanuel's Beis Yaakov has admission policies that are now stricter than others as a result of their alignment with the Slonim Chassidim, and as a result, less Sephardim are enrolled in the school. The admission policy is not exclusively a Sephardi-Ashkenazi issue, but also one of observance.

One of the parents of a girl who was rejected from the school took the case to Israel's Supreme Court, and the court ruled yesterday that Beis Yaakov in Emmanuel must admit everyone, equally. Especially since Beis Yaakov is State-funded (despite being a "Chinuch Atzmai, Independent Education" school), the State can demand that there be zero discrimination based on Ashkenazi/Sephardi background.

I agree 100% with the above statement, and if the school is State-funded, it has to play by the rules. The Slonim Chassidim in Emmanuel have requested a permit for a totally independent, non-State funded school, so that they can have their own admission policy, and they will probably have that within the next month or so. Yet, the Supreme Court decided that they needed to force the issue, and with only 2 weeks left to the school year, they ruled that the parents must open the school equally to all.

Parents refusing to send their girls to the school as a result of the forced integration will be imprisoned for the remainder of the school year (2 weeks).
Here's where the story is so sad. 1. Of the 44 families (men and women) slated to go to jail tomorrow, at least 10 of them ARE SEPHARDIM. Their daughter are in the school currently as they accepted upon themselves the stringent criteria set forth by the school.

Anyone who says that this is a simple case of discrimination is simply lying. If there are Sephardim in the school, who agree with the school's policy, then it can't be purely an issue of discrimination.

2. The school could have been legally closed 2 weeks early for the summer vacation, and started two weeks earlier at the end of the summer, when the whole issue will have been resolved.

3. Chareidim are organizing a massive demonstration tomorrow in Jerusalem and initial police estimates place the crowd at 250,000 people. If the Chareidim ever felt alienated before, sending 44 families to jail will be a brutal slap in the face.

4. Israel's Supreme Court is arrogantly forcing this issue, as anti-Chareidi elements dance in the streets and froth at the mouth for the opportunity to send 44 couples to jail. Examples include Tzippi Livni on IDF radio who repeated over and over; "break the law and you must go to jail". Is it really necessary to turn these 44 families into martyrs, and turn the entire Chareidi community against the State of Israel?

Lastly, Dr. Ephraim Shach, son of Ashkenazi Godol HaDor, R' Elazar Menachem Man Shach read a letter on Israel's Channel Bet radio today that his father wrote 19 years ago. The letter stated in no uncertain terms that Ashkenazi schools must admit Sephardim; not as a matter of policy, but as "
halacha", with no excuses. The Supreme Court believes it has won, as it will force "lawbreakers" to respect the rule of law. The 44 families will believe they have won, as they will go to jail for 2 weeks and prove that the Zionist entity cannot break their will or force admissions policy on them.

The truth is -- we will have all lost.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Tangiers 'community' resides in the cemetery

View over the Mediterranean from Tangiers

Gem of an article by the celebrated columnist Mark Steyn in Macleans: Steyn was shocked to discover that, contrary to assurances received, the graves in the Jewish cemetery of Tangiers were unkempt and being used to dry someone's underwear. It is not unusual for the Jewish 'community' of places like Tangiers to reside in the cemetery, he argues - a fate which jihadists (and Helen Thomas) wish eventually to reserve for Tel Aviv.

Thanks to the wonders of globalization, I’m writing this in a fairly decrepit salon de thé off the rue de la Liberté in Tangiers, enjoying a coffee and a stale croissant grilled and flattened into a panini. What could be more authentically Moroccan? For some reason, the napkins are emblazoned with “Gracias por su visita.”

Through a blizzard of flies, I can just about make out the plasma TV up in the corner on which Jimmy Carter, dubbed into Arabic, is denouncing Israel. Al Jazeera doesn’t so much cover the Zionist Entity as feast on it, hour after hour, without end. So here, at the western frontier of the Muslim world (if you don’t include Yorkshire), the only news that matters is from a tiny strip of land barely wider at its narrowest point than a rural Canadian township way down the other end of the Mediterranean.

Notwithstanding saturation coverage of the “Massacre In The Med” (as the front page headline in Britain’s Daily Mirror put it), there are other Jewish stories in the news. This one caught my eye in Canada’s Shalom Life: “No danger to the Jewish cemeteries in Tangiers.” Apparently, the old Jewish hospital in this ancient port city was torn down a couple of months back, and the Moroccan Jewish diaspora back in Toronto worried that their graveyards might be next on the list. Not to worry, Abraham Azancot assured Shalom Life readers. The Jewish cemetery on the rue du Portugal is perfectly safe. “Its sanctity has consistently been respected by the local government that is actually providing the community with resources to assist in its current grooming.”

Sounds great. Being in the neighbourhood, I thought I’d swing by and check out the “current grooming.” It’s kind of hard to spot unless you’re consciously looking for it: two solid black metal gates off a steep, narrow street where the rue du Portugal crosses the rue Salah Dine, and only the smallest of signs to indicate what lies behind. On pushing open the gate and squeezing through, I was greeted by a pair of long underwear, flapping in the breeze. In Haiti, this would be some voodoo ritual, alerting one to go no further. But in Tangiers it was merely wash day, and laundry lines dangled over the nearest graves. If you happen to be Ysaac Benzaquen (died 1921) or Samuel Maman (died 1925), it is your lot to spend eternity with the groundskeeper’s long johns. Pace Mr. Azancot, there is no sense of “sanctity” or “community”: as the underwear advertises, this is no longer a public place, merely a backyard that happens to have a ton of gravestones in it. I use the term “groundskeeper” but keeping the grounds doesn’t seem to be a priority: another row of graves was propping up piles of logs he was busy chopping out of hefty tree trunks. Beyond that, chickens roamed amidst burial plots strewn with garbage bags, dozens of old shoes, and hundreds of broken bottles.

It’s prime real estate, with a magnificent view of the Mediterranean, if you don’t mind the trash and the stench and the chickenshit, and you tiptoe cautiously around the broken glass. I wandered past the graves: Jacob Cohen, Samuel J. Cohen, Samuel M. Cohen . . . Lot of Cohens here over the years. Not anymore. In one isolated corner, six young men—des musulmans, naturellement—watched a seventh lightly scrub a tombstone, as part of a make-work project “providing the community with resources to assist in its current grooming.”

What “community”? By 2005, there were fewer than 150 Jews in Tangiers, almost all of them very old. By 2015, it is estimated that there will be precisely none. Whenever I mention such statistics to people, the reaction is a shrug: why would Jews live in Morocco anyway? But in 1945 there were some 300,000 in this country. Today some 3,000 Jews remain—i.e., about one per cent of what was once a large and significant population. That would be an unusual demographic reconfiguration in most countries: imagine if Canada’s francophone population or Inuit population were today one per cent of what it was in 1945. But it’s not unusual for Jews. (My emphasis - ed).There are cemeteries like that on the rue du Portugal all over the world, places where once were Jews and now are none. I mentioned only last week that in the twenties, Baghdad was 40 per cent Jewish. But you could just as easily cite Czernowitz in the Bukovina, now part of Ukraine. “There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows,” wrote Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, visiting the city in 1937. Not today. As in Tangiers, the “community” resides in the cemetery.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jews in Kyrgystan safe, but afraid to leave home

The Jewish community of Bishkek is helping to deliver humanitarian aid to the south of Kyrgyzstan for those who are caught up in the ethnic rioting taking place there, Jewish Times reports. The few Jews still living in the south are safe, but afraid to leave their homes:

“We have raised money to buy 30 sacks of flour and 15 sacks of rice,” the head of the Bishkek Jewish community, Boris Shapiro, told JTA this week.

“The assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, in which our community takes part, is sending a truck with these and other sacks of food to the Fergana Valley. This aid is meant not only for Jews but for all the people suffering there.”

Ethnic rioting in the country’s south between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks has led to the death of at least 170 people and 1,800 injuries, according to reports, though the death toll could be much higher. In addition, at least 100,000 people have been displaced.

About 70 Jews live in four cities in the conflict area, mostly pensioners living alone.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee says it has expanded its services—including providing extra food and medicine—to the region’s Jews and continues its daily monitoring of their safety.

The head of the Bishkek Chesed center, Alla Volkovich, keeps in constant contact with 20 families in the south by telephone.

Volkovich says they are safe enough, though most are afraid to leave their homes. No anti-Semitic incidents have been reported since the beginning of the conflict.

No Jews from the Fergana Valley have tried to escape from the conflict zone, Volkovich says, “and now it’s practically impossible.”

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Shas won't join protest against jail for parents

Hassidim in Israel are outraged that 86 parents will go to jail if they insist on removing their daughters from an orthodox school in Emmanuel on the grounds that it does not conform to strict Ashkenazi standards, but the Sephardi orthodox party Shas will not join the protests against their imprisonment, the Jerusalem Post reports:

Attempts to prevent the imprisonment of the 86 parents were under way throughout Wednesday and into the night. Former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri presented the Slonim Hassidim with a proposal under which the girls would return to the school for the remaining two weeks on condition that efforts were launched to open a private school for them for the next school year.

It was unclear whether the hassidim would accept such an offer, and whether the court would accept this compromise as sufficient to cancel the imprisonment order.

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush will be meeting with President Shimon Peres on Thursday morning and will raise the Emmanuel affair. The meeting was arranged over a week ago, but Porush is expected to ask the president to intervene, which the latter could do, if he were so inclined.

Though haredi politicians have declared that Thursday’s protest will unite the entire haredi street, it isn’t clear how many Shas members or other Sephardi haredim will be at the protests, though their leadership has decried the court ruling.

“I’m shocked by the fact that they [Yoav Lalom and Noar Kahalacha, an NPO] went to court,” Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef told Radio Barama on Wednesday, referring to the original petition against the splitting of the Emmanuel school. “It’s not something that is done.”

Ironically, Yosef’s son, Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, was the driving force behind Lalom’s petition, which charged that the segregation in the Beit Ya’acov school was on ethnic grounds, a claim the court accepted.

Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai expressed his shock in the upcoming weekend’s Yom Leyom over the court’s decision to imprison dozens of Torah learners, just because they dared to listen to their rabbis. He linked the ruling to another court decision, from Monday, that deprived kollel students of minimum income-guarantee payments, a further blow to the Torah world.

But neither Ovadia Yosef nor Yishai called on their followers to join the protest, and Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi on Wednesday evening explicitly called on Shas members not to demonstrate.

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Haredim attack Rabbi Yosef's class

Girls discriminated against on grounds of culture, not skin

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Naeim Giladi and the Jews of Iraq

One must not speak ill of the dead, but the lies and fabrications Naiem Giladi spread while he was alive - he died in March 2010 - will live on unless they are challenged. Here's my attempt to rebut some of Giladi's claims published by
The Link in its April-May 1998 issue, found on an Islamic site.

Naiem Giladi was born in Baghdad and joined the Zionist underground as a teenager. He was jailed by the Iraqis for smuggling Jews out to Iran, arriving in Israel in May 1950. Something happened to turn Giladi against Israel, and he became active in fighting racism in Israeli society, joining the 1970s social protest movement, the Black Panthers. Becoming a US citizen in the 1980s, Giladi self-published Ben Gurion's scandals blaming 'cruel Zionism' for scaring Jews, who were otherwise content living in Arab countries, into leaving Iraq. His claim that Zionist agents set off bombs became a staple of anti-Zionist propaganda.

Early on in the interview, Giladi gives a potted history of the Jews of the region. "Although Jews like other minorities in what became Iraq, experienced periods of oppression and discrimination depending on the rulers of the period, their general trajectory over two-and-a-half millennia was upward,"he writes.

In fact Jewish fortunes waxed and waned through the ages, through invasion, plague and flood, and the period in the 19th century, before the dawn of the colonial period, was probably the darkest.

"About 125,000 Jews left Iraq for Israel in the late 1940s and into 1952, most because they had been lied to and put into a panic by what I came to learn were Zionist bombs", Giladi claims.

The bombs Giladi refers to date back to April 1950, but Jews were leaving illegally at a rate of 1,000 a month in 1949. Jews fled because they were being persecuted, because of the execution of the anti-Zionist Jew Shafik Ades in September 1948, because they were sacked from the Civil Service, because they could not enrol in universities and colleges, because they could not travel, because money was being extorted from them, because they were being arbitrarily arrested and unfairly singled out as Zionists. Above all, they feared the outbreak of another Farhud pogrom.

According to Giladi, 'The principal interest Israel had in Jews from Islamic countries was as a supply of cheap labour, especially the farm work that was beneath the urbanised Eastern European Jews": this assertion is contradicted by the fact that the kibbutz farm movement was established by Eastern European Jews. It was the Iraqi Jews who were urbanised, resettling in the towns of the centre of Israel.

Undeniably, there was discrimination against Jews from Arab countries and other newcomers in Israel. But most of the feelings of bitterness were caused by the inability of the state to adequately provide for the half million immigrants that were absorbed soon after its creation, including Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab countries. The new state had no money. Many of the immigrant had no marketable skills. Some had never seen a flush toilet or a cooking stove and didn't know how to use them. A vast absorption program was needed, but there were not even adequate funds for housing. New immigrants were housed in tents, and later in small communities of poorly built prefabricated houses - "ma'abarot".

Giladi then charges Israel with using bacteriological warfare to rid itself of as many Palestinians as possible. Jews poisoning Gentile wells - where have we heard that libel before? The source of Giladi's allegations is apparently an account by the controversial 'historian' Uri Milshtain, who made the fantastical claim that Israel poisoned the wells in all Arab towns. Two members of the Haganah dressed as Arabs apparently crossed into Gaza to put two cans of bacteria, typhus and dysentery in the water supply. According to one Israeli scholar, they added oil, not bacteria. There was a typhus epidemic in the town of Acco before it fell in May 1948, but it is thought to have broken out after the electricity supply was disconnected and the water supply cut off. The Arabs re-opened disused wells and this might have caused the epidemic.

The decisive incident that turned Giladi against Israel was when he was sent to Room no 8: the department of Jews from Islamic Countries at the headquarters of the Mapai party. He brands it 'a Negroes department'. (Thousands of Arabic-speaking Jews went into intelligence - was that stereotyping or segregation, or Israel just making the best use of talent available to the state?)

The scenario that Israel discriminated against its citizens from Islamic countries requires a whitewashing of Arab antisemitism. ("We Jews from Islamic lands did not leave our ancestral homes because of any natural enmity between Jews and Muslims".) We get it here in Giladi's account of the 1941 Farhud in which 180 Jews were murdered. "The riots were most likely stirred up by the British in collusion with a pro-British Iraqi leadership", he claims.

While the British were indeed guilty of failing to stop the two-day killing spree of June 1941, they were not guilty of starting the trouble, as Giladi claims. So keen is Giladi to exonerate the Iraqis from blame that Giladi does not even mention the pro-Nazi sympathies of Rashid Ali al-Gilani, who engineered a coup in May 1941 with the support of Hitler's ally, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, and military help from the Axis. At the time the British were engaged in a fight for control over Iraq. They had bigger fish to fry - fighting Axis bombers, bombing Iraqi forces, securing the Iraqi oilfields and protecting their own civilians - than than to stir up riots against the Jews.

Giladi's story of how the British sent in the Ghurkas to loot a Jewish district in Basra has no basis in fact. For the entire month that they were in power, Rashid al-Gilani and his pro-Nazi cohorts taunted the Jews with incitement, sporadic attacks, and a plan to deport them to camps in the desert. The tension was such that the Jews were advised not to leave their homes on the eve of the riot.

Giladi presents Jews uniting with Muslims to defend themselves against rioters in Baghdad. While the British could be faulted for letting the violence go unchecked for two days, Giladi turns the facts on their head by making the Arab rioters, many of them armed, into co-victims - when they were the looters, murderers and rapists (although some Muslim neighbours did save Jews). Giladi's fantasy, supported by some mysterious Armenian eye-witness, that British agent provocateurs were being treated in the Baghdad hospital alongside Jewish riot victims, strains credulity. Rashid Ali having fled, the British army was camped outside Baghdad, under express orders not to escort the returning Regent into the city. What really happened in the Baghdad hospital was that Jewish women were threatened with rape and wounded Jews threatened by Iraqi soldier patients - to the point where they had to be taken to the Jewish hospital for their own safety.

Around 12,000 Jews or ten percent had escaped illegally through Iran by the time the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said decided to legalise Jewish emigration in March 1950 (tempted by the prospect of the spoliation of Jewish property), on condition the Jews renounced their Iraqi citizenship. A year later, the Iraqi government passed a second law confiscating Jewish property.

At first the Zionist movement hesitated to encourage Jews from registering to leave, fearing it was a government trap. It was too dangerous for Jews to leave via Iran, and arrangements for the airlift to Israel (at first via Cyprus) were not in place until about six weeks later.

When it comes to the notorious 'Zionist bombs', Giladi - who was not in Iraq at the time - gets his chronology all wrong: he claims the first bomb went off in March 1950 in the American Cultural Centre and Library. In fact this bombing took place in 1951 and injured four. The bombs at the Lawi automobile company and the Stanley Shashoua showroom went off in June 1951, and not in 1950, as Giladi claims. Neither caused any casualties. All these incidents had no bearing on the emigration as they occurred after the deadline for registration had expired in March.

Giladi does get the date of the only fatal bombing right - that of 14 January 1951 at the Massouda Shemtov synagogue, an emigration registration centre, where a bus full of passengers was waiting to leave for the airport. Aside from the dubious benefit to the Zionist movement of bombing Jews who were already leaving, or registering to leave Iraq, there is evidence linking the Istiklal nationalist party to this bombing and the type of grenades used to the police. The Muslim peddlars in front of the synagogue mysteriously vanished moments before the explosion, which killed two children and an adult.

An Israeli commission of inquiry in 1960 cleared Mordechai Ben Porat, the Zionist movement leader, of any involvement. Ben Porat argues that the bombs coincided with other political events in Iraq. "Iraqi Jews registered for emigration at such a rapid pace that no elements whatsoever, and certainly not the Zionist movement, or Israel, had any reason to accelerate emigration by reverting to such inane acts as that of using explosives," Ben Porat writes in his memoir To Baghdad and Back. In fact the Jewish Agency in Israel was pleading for the emigration to slow down, as Israel, already dealing with an influx of Rumanian Jews, did not have the ability to absorb the Iraqi Jews in any great numbers. "We don't even have tents. If they come, they'd have to live on the street," Levi Eshkol, treasurer of the Jewish Agency, told the Zionist emissary Shlomo Hillel.

The two Zionist activists arrested and hanged in January 1952 by the Iraqi authorities were never charged with the synagogue bombing, as Giladi alleges. By the time of the incident, 100,000 Jews - the vast majority - had relinquished their Iraqi citizenship in anticipation of their exit; Iraq's gates would slam firmly shut two months later.

Timeline to disaster for the Jews of Iraq

Seven myths about Jews from Arab countries