Sunday, October 31, 2010

Appeal in Halimi case opens in Paris

Ilan Halimi

A Paris court has begun hearing the appeal of 18 people convicted in the 2006 kidnapping, torture and murder of a young French Jew of North African origin, Ilan Halimi.

Gang leader Youssouf Fofana chose to withdraw an appeal against his conviction and life sentence in February 2010.

The appeal started on Monday and is expected to continue through mid-December. It will be heard behind closed doors because some of the defendants were minors at the time of the crime. The press and media will be banned from the court. At the request of one of the defence lawyers, prospective members of the jury with 'Jewish- sounding names' were rejected.

Ilan Halimi, 23, was held captive for more than three weeks. He was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railway tracks in the Essonne region south of Paris on February 13, 2006 and died on the way to the hospital. In 2007 his body was taken for reburial in Jerusalem.

The case shook France for its callous brutality, but the French Jewish leadership and Halimi's mother Ruth criticised the court for downplaying its antisemitic nature. Like Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded in Pakistan, Halimi was made by his captors, some of whom were recent converts to Islam, to recite that he was a Jew born to Jewish parents. The court was also criticised for giving some of the defendants over-lenient sentences.

See full report by Veronique Chemla (French)
For background on the original case see her abridged article in Front Page magazine (English).

The Azerbaijan exception - but for how long?

The synagogue in Quba

Azerbaijan is an exception: a welcome beacon of tolerance and coexistence in the general gloom of the Muslim world. But how secure are the Jews of this Shi'a Muslim ex-Soviet republic when the forces of radicalism are baying at the gate? Arye Tepper has written this feature in Jewish Ideas Daily:

Someone forgot to tell the republic of Azerbaijan that Jews and Muslims cannot live together in peace. Somewhere between twenty and forty thousand Jews reside in that Shiite country, which sits on Iran's northern border and enjoys diplomatic, economic, and military ties with Israel. Can this last, and for how long? Jewish history in Azerbaijan goes way back. The majority of Jews in the country are so-called Mountain Jews, a community that believes it was exiled from the land of Israel after the destruction of the first Temple in 586 B.C.E. Whatever truth there may be to the claim, there's no denying that Jews have been in the region for a long time: in 1990, archeologists found the remains of a 7th-century Jewish settlement close to the capital city of Baku.

In the early 19th century, a small number of Ashkenazi Jews also began settling in the country, and Baku's oil boom in the latter part of the century drew in more—as did the anti-Semitic pogroms in Kiev, Russia, in 1904. The first branch of the proto-Zionist group Hovevei Zion, "Lovers of Zion," was set up in Baku in 1891.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, economic fears pushed the majority of Azerbaijan's then-80,000 Jews to emigrate to Israel and the West. Nevertheless, a substantial community, loyal to the regime, remained. In early October, Azerbaijani President Ilhem Aliyev and Israeli Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar attended the festive opening of a new campus at a Jewish school in the capital.

Whence Azerbaijan's openness and tolerance? In the years immediately following World War I, the country established the first Islamic modern parliamentary regime in history, earlier even than Turkey's. For a brief period, until this breath of freedom was snuffed out by Soviet occupation, Muslim women enjoyed the right to vote, Jews served as government ministers, and a Zionist activist was elected to parliament. This legacy, evidently never forgotten, was revived and refurbished after Azerbaijan declared its independence from the USSR in 1991.

Diplomatic ties between Israel and Azerbaijan were established in 1992, and the two countries' strategic relationship was further upgraded with the end of the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1994. During that conflict, which displaced over a million people and left 15 percent of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenian forces supported by Iran, Baku asked for and received help from Jerusalem in rebuilding its military and supporting its cause in Washington; in return, it offered oil, open markets, and crucial intelligence cooperation.

And today? Despite Azerbaijan's secular and tolerant character, a constellation of factors, including a bad economy and domestic corruption, has left the country vulnerable to the global appeal and reach of Islamic extremism.

Read article in full

Friday, October 29, 2010

Perils of distorted historiography in Israel's schools

What do most teachers and pupils in Israeli schools know about attacks and massacres against Jews in Muslim states in the 20th century? Nothing. But Israelis seeking a reliable depiction of the past cannot accept the portrayal of Jews as prosperous and happy in Islamic states until colonialism and 'Zionist aggression' ruined the idyll. Zvi Zameret explains in Haaretz why a particularly distorting history textbook giving the 'Palestinian narrative' has been banned in Israeli schools:

In the Farhud, the anti-Jewish riots in Iraq in 1941, 180 Jews were murdered and 700 were injured. In the course of violent demonstrations that flared in Egypt in November 1945, 400 Jews were hurt, and much Jewish-owned property was looted and damaged. Rioting in Libya, also in November 1945, was much more costly: 130 Jews were murdered and 266 were injured. The December 1947 riots in Syria left 13 Jews dead (eight of them children ) in Damascus, and 26 wounded. In Aleppo, 150 houses were damaged, five schools and 10 synagogues were torched, and there were dozens of Jewish casualties. At the same time in Aden, Yemen, 97 Jews were murdered and 120 were injured; some Jews who experienced these events deem them "the holocaust of Yemenite Jewry."

These are a few of several dozen anti-Jewish attacks and massacres perpetrated in Arab states during the course of the 20th century. What do most teachers and pupils in Israel know about these events? Nothing. In contrast, ask an ordinary Israeli high-school class about the killings at Deir Yassin or about the Nakba, and there will inevitably be several pupils who know something about the subject.

History is not a competition between tragedies and catastrophes. But an Israeli who seeks a reliable depiction of past events cannot accept a mendacious historiography that portrays Jews as living prosperously and happily in Islamic states until Zionist colonialism and "Zionist aggression" ruined the idyll.

In both its 2003 version and in its updated 2009 printing, the textbook "Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative" offers one of the most conspicuous examples of distorted historiography. In this book, Palestinians attack, often aggressively, and also blacken and misrepresent the Zionist movement. However, none of the facts mentioned at the start of this article merit mention in the text. Two supposed narratives are presented side by side in the book, but both are incomplete, ill-informed and misleading.

Read article in full

Jewish intellectuals in the UK just don't get it

The late playwright Harold Pinter

Daniel Greenfield of Sultan Knish takes eloquent aim at the British-Jewish literati - anti-Zionist to a man (and woman), with the notable exception, perhaps, of prize-winning author Howard Jacobson. Hypocrisy rules OK when the true natives of the Middle East are expected to surrender their rights to Arab colonisers.

What is interesting however, is that the likes of Harold Pinter make their ultimatum conditional on achieving a state of affairs that has never existed in the history of the Middle East for thousands of years.

If we take their demand, that "Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East" literally, then Israel can never have legitimacy until Saudi Arabia opens up Mecca to the Jews it slaughtered and expelled from there. Only when Yemen and Syria extend equality to Jews, and everyone tosses away their weapons, instead settling their disputes with nice and orderly chess matches or humus cooking contests, then Hilda Meers or Arthur Neslen of Al Jazeera, with his countless peace proposals that involve legitimizing Hamas, will stop by for a fireworks display and shed a tear for the dead.

Since then Harold Pinter has since gone to the great wastepaper basket in the sky, but the small petty malice of notable British Anglicans, Marxists and Quakers, who all turn out to be Jewish when there's a petition slamming Israel to be signed, a boycott to be arranged, or a flotilla carrying vital supplies of aging anti-war activists to Hamas to be sailed, goes on.

Israel stole the land, they declare. Whose land did they steal? The land of the people who stole it from them. This reduces Arab grievances to a farce in which an angry burglar phones the police to report that the owner of the looted property he stole had broken into his house and took it back. (The only possible reply is that time legitimizes theft, in which case the only difference between a racist occupying colonialist entity and a native inhabitant is a few generations.) Common sense renders such outrage ridiculous, but to the moralizer, the man who takes back what is his, is just as bad as the man who took it from him. Even worse. To the moralizer, the original thief was deprived, while the homeowner is depraved. The thief only took what he needed, but the homeowner is the oppressor who took away a deprived man's necessities, he should have just kept his mouth shut.

For over a thousand years, Jews in the Middle East were deprived of their land, their property and their lives. They were legal and social inferiors of the colonizers who had occupied their country. From the Arab mercenaries who fought for Rome, to the Bedouin bandits who raided the outposts of a decrepit Byzantium, to the Caliphs dreaming of glory and gold, they had lived under an occupation that makes the wailing of the Nakba into something laughable. And the moment they managed to gain their independence, they went from deprived to depraved. In an unprecedented turn of events, they became the occupiers of their own country. The settlers of towns and villages built over the ruins and remains of the old towns and villages where they had lived.

Suddenly the nation that had gained its freedom against the will and armed force of its British colonial occupiers, was deemed the colonizer and occupier. The state that curiously extended political and religious freedoms to minorities, in a region where such minorities are usually stamped out or herded into ghettos, became a racist entity. And one of the world's oldest peoples were denounced as foreign interlopers, on behalf of a mythical Palestinian nation that had never existed at any point in history, as anything but a Greco-Roman designation for a portion of the territory on their maps.

And who are these racist Israeli Zionists anyway? Is it the Israeli Druze, Circassian or the Samaritan? The Israeli Armenian or the Israeli Arab? Of course not, it is the Jew. Of course it always the Jew. Was it the Jews who had lived there since the last massacre that wiped out their kind? Is it the Moroccan, Ethiopian and Yemenite Jews who fled oppression and tyranny to find refuge in a land where they were not required to bow to Muslim Arabs and accept them as their superiors? Was it the European Jews who fled the Holocaust to return to the land from which Arab mercenaries had expelled them to Rome, and were forced to fight the armies of General Sir John Bagot Glubb?

They, the occupiers of their occupiers. The colonialists of their colonizers. The slaves who had become masters of their masters, yet treated them with far more decency than they themselves had been treated. A crime which can never be settled, until the balance is restored, and the slaves again become slaves, and Arab and Jew are once again equal. As they are today in Saudi Arabia. Then finally Harold Pinter and the rest of the heavenly choir of West End immortals will wave the white and the blue. Because there will be peace. The peace of the slave. The peace of the dead. The butcher's bill served to Israel for daring to be free. (...)

There will of course be no new dawn of peace and equality through the Middle East. The best testament to that can be found in the status of minorities through the Middle East and the Muslim world. When even the most moderate Arab Muslim countries cannot respect the rights of Arab Christians, let alone the rights of Zoroastrians or Kurds, when even among Muslims, Shiite and Sunni bar their teeth at each other, there will naturally be no peace. There may be the occasional treaty or handshake, but these are things that governments do to and with each other. It has to do with the basic attitudes of the man on the street, his culture and religion. His need to believe that however few rights he has, his way of life is still best.

And the best testament to Israel's own status is this. After its founding, the vast majority of Jews in the Muslim world fled there. Today there are millions of Jews in Israel. And millions of Arabs. Because the Arabs for the most part stayed in a Jewish country, despite plenty of Arab countries they could have fled to. While the Jews fled the Arab Muslim lands as soon there was another option. Today Sudanese refugees from genocide in a Muslim war, cross through Egypt to get to Israel. It is almost as if Israel is actually not the worst place in the Middle East. Almost.

Read article in full

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Were Jews from Arab countries all refugees?

With thanks: Amie

Were Jews who left Arab countries all refugees? In countries such as Iraq and Egypt, where Jews were by law stripped of citizenship and property and expelled, there is no doubt that Jews were refugees. But what of Jews in countries where there was no state-sanctioned discrimination? Point of No Return consulted a human rights lawyer for her advice.

The UN Convention on Refugees was approved at a special United Nations conference on 28 July 1951. It entered into force on 22 April 1954. It was initially limited to protecting European refugees after World War II but a 1967 Protocol removed the geographical and time limits, expanding the Convention's scope. Because the convention was approved in Geneva it is often referred to as "the Geneva Convention," though it is not one of the Geneva Conventions specifically dealing with allowable behaviour in time of war.

What is a refugee? Article 1 of the Convention as amended by the 1967 Protocol provides the definition of a refugee:

"A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.."

UNWRA, created by UN Resolution 302 following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, was initially set up to care for Jewish as well as Arab refugees. Since Israel had very quickly absorbed Jewish refugees who were forced to flee their homes in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, UNWRA became – and still is - exclusively dedicated to the care of Arab refugees.

Jews who were made refugees in the 1950s and 1960s would have fallen within the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. On two occasions, in 1957 and again in 1967, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determined that Jews fleeing from Arab countries were refugees who fell within the mandate of the UNHCR.

“Another emergency problem is now arising: that of refugees from Egypt. There is no doubt in my mind that those refugees from Egypt who are not able, or not willing to avail themselves of the protection of the Government of their nationality fall under the mandate of my office.”

Mr. Auguste Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Report of the UNREF Executive Committee, Fourth Session – Geneva 29 January to 4 February, 1957.

“I refer to our recent discussion concerning Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries in consequence of recent events. I am now able to inform you that such persons may be considered prima facie within the mandate of this Office.”

Dr. E. Jahn, Office of the UN High Commissioner, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Document No. 7/2/3/Libya, July 6, 1967:

What of those who left because conditions were untenable rather than because of a government decree of expulsion? According to human rights law, there is no doubt that they would qualify under the current understanding.

The UNHCR Handbook, although not the law, is regarded as the authoritative guide to interpreting the Convention, states:

"although persecution is normally related to action by the authorities of a country...where serious discriminatory or other offensive acts are committed by the local populace, they can be considered as persecution if they are knowingly tolerated by the authorities, or if the authorities refuse, or prove unable, to offer effective protection."

In a 2002 decision in the English courts, the judge gave the example of Jews being attacked in 1939 Germany by Brownshirt thugs and the authorities pretending such attacks were beyond their control. The judge stated that this was what the drafters of the 1951 convention would have had in mind when choosing the wording they did.

At a recent screening of the film Forgotten Refugees, a member of the audience made an apt analogy with Employment Law by calling it constructive expulsion. In employment law you can sue for unfair dismissal not only if the employer sacks you unjustly, but also if conditions at work are so untenable and the employer does nothing to remedy the situation so that the employee can't bear to stay on and leaves.

This applies to the very real fear that Jewish girls, for instance, were under threat of being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Morocco and Tunisia. Following each Arab-Israeli war or colonial crisis, Jews found themselves under physical threat. They did not have confidence in the authorities, some of whom incited or even participated in anti-Jewish disturbances, to protect them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Duki Dror brings musical venue back to life

Israeli film-maker Duki Dror's stock-in-trade is the struggle of the displaced to find their identity. His latest film, Cafe Noa, is a portrait of the now-derelict venue in south Tel Aviv where Jews from Arab countries used to get their cultural fix of Arabic music from Jewish refugee musicians from Egypt and Iraq. It is Egyptian-born violinist Felix Mizrahi's dream (Mizrahi was himself the object of an earlier Dror film) to stage a last concert there (with thanks: Bh) :

From Al-Jazeera's interview with Duki Dror:

In 1948, a group of Jewish Arab musicians from Baghdad and Cairo were amongst the streams of Jewish immigrants coming to the new state of Israel from all over the world.

They were masters of Arabic music - but found that their music was not valued in their new homeland, and the ongoing Arab-Israeli war left no room for their identity as Arab Jews.

Cafe Noah in Tel Aviv became the one place where their music and culture could survive.

Award-winning filmmaker Duki Dror spoke to Al Jazeera's Donata von Hardenberg about the making of Cafe Noah and the issues behind it.

Al Jazeera: Why did you decide to make a film about Cafe Noah and cultural exile in Israel?

Filmmaker Duki Dror remembers his parents spending their happy Saturday nights out in Tel Aviv's Cafe Noah.

Duki Dror: When I was a child, Cafe Noah was the place where my parents spent their happy Saturday nights with friends, listening to their favorite Arabic music, drinking whiskey and forgetting for a moment the agony of being in cultural exile in Israel.

They both were born in Iraq. For centuries, Jews in Iraq were part of the Mesopotamian heritage - in language, in music, participating and contributing to the cultural thrive.

But all this unfortunately came to a complete halt due to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the physical disappearance of a whole community from Baghdad and other cities.

For many musicians, artists, and writers this displacement was intolerable. In the 1950's and 60's, this cafe in Tel Aviv was one of the few places where they could continue their music.

When I was young, I didn't see anything "cultural" in Arabic music. In fact, when my parents hired the Cafe Noah band to play in my Bar Mitzva party, I felt a great shame in front of my friends, who laughed at me as being "Arab."

Later on, I understood a broad cultural repression was experienced in Israel by Jews from Arab countries - their history, language, culture and identity.

So I started to go back to all those "repressed spots" hidden in my soul and began to explore them, one by one.

When I filmed Cafe Noah, I felt a great responsibility to tell the story of the musicians - the story of great talents who survived and helped others, through their music, the type of cultural exile they experienced. This is part of the Israeli experience.

Did you encounter any challenges making the film?

I had a fantastic proposal based on two years of research on the subject, yet, it was very difficult to raise production money. The film foundation turned it down on the basis of it being "too folklorist". I was furious, because it was a sign that social marginalisation is not a thing of the past. I decided to go ahead anyway and make the film with great love and the little money I had.

What does Cafe Noah stand for?

Cafe Noah stands for the spirit of people who continued to do their art against all the bad circumstances that normally would make them stop. It is about the human spirit and what the music meant for them - the extension of their spirit and soul.

What does it mean to live in cultural exile in Israel?
It means social marginalisation, exclusion based on cultural background.

Today, the Israeli society is much more polyphonic and you find more and more "other" cultural voices included.

Yet, it is still a predominantly Euro-centric, or I should say an "Americanised", society that is suspicious towards the Arab culture.

How has the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict affected cultural life and identity for Arabs living in Israel?

Arab-Israelis always had to show their loyalty to both parties of the conflict, loyal as citizens to Israel, and loyal to Palestine as a nation. But this didn't affect their cultural life because no one expected them to integrate and dissolve into the Israeli society.

Jews of Arab descent, on the other hand, were expected to change their "backward" mentality and to adopt Western values and culture. And this was exile for them.

How is Tel Aviv's music scene today compared to the 1950's and 1960's?

"Oriental music" is today the most popular music in Israel - it is a popular and heavily commercialised off-shoot from the classical Arabic music, not much different from the popular music you would hear in Beirut or Amman or Cairo.

Some of the musicians of Cafe Noah became the teachers of this new generation of musicians. So, it may be said, at least in music, that cultural marginalisation didn't succeed.

Read article in full

My comment: It is a shame that Dror panders to Al-Jazeera's need to score political points against Israel, using such buzzwords as 'marginalisation', 'exclusion' and 'repression' - and the ultimate cliche 'Arab Jews'. (As usual, the exact circumstances of the Jews' exodus are glossed over. We get the impression Zionist pressure caused them to leave).

Dror found it impossible to attract funding for his project. He has a point: the predominantly Askhenazi cultural establishment still considers projects such as Dror's as 'folklore' - yet rush to fund 'Israeli-Palestinian' or 'Israeli-Arab' co-productions such as Ajami. It would be the height of irony if the only audience Dror can find for his film is the Arabic Al-Jazeera audience, who relish viewing Jews as forcibly torn away by Zionism from their natural Arab habitat.

However, I don't see much of the 'agony of cultural exile' in Dror's film. The characters exude creative energy, with their hilarious anecdotes. And as he himself admits, oriental music is anything but marginal in Israel today - it has moved to the mainstream.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post-Zionist' Arab Jews' rewrite history to flatter

Lately, 'new historians' and post-Zionists calling themselves 'Arab Jews' have emerged in the Israeli academy whose mission is to rewrite history out of flattery and subservience to Arabs. Salim Fattal's new book* is a brave attempt to fight back. Shammai Fishman interviewed Fattal:

Salim Fattal (pictured) is a Jew of Iraqi origin who was born in Baghdad in 1930 and came to Israel in 1950. A communist by background, he abandoned this movement in the mid-Fifties. He studied at the Hebrew University and was a pioneer of Israeli radio and television programmes in Arabic. In 1989 he directed a series of documentaries about the Jews of Babylon.

The pogrom (Farhud) of Baghdad broke out in early June 1941, after sixty days of the pro-Nazi regime of Rashid Ali. The pogrom killed 200 Jews. It was well organised and planned. The Jews were taken by surprise. Salim Fattal notes that the pogrom was a critical turning point that led to the Jewish exodus from Iraq.

In recent years so-called "new historians" or "post-Zionists" like Professor Sasson Somekh of Tel Aviv University have emerged. They have tried to downplay the importance of the pogrom, distort the facts or deny them. Salim Fattal's book is a brave attempt to fight back against this destructive tendency.

Arab propaganda arguments have already made use of Sasson Somekh's Farhud revisionism. Egyptian author Jamal Ahmed al - Rifai wrote a review article that appeared in the Arabic Hilal magazine (May 2007) and the magazine Al - Sharq that appears in Israel. Even more bizarre was Sasson Somekh's claim three years ago in a lecture at Vanderbilt University in the United States that more Muslims were killed than Jews in the pogrom:

"We forget that while 150 Jews were killed, at least 200 Muslims were killed in those riots and those 200 Muslims were killed because they wanted to protect their Jewish neighbours and this fact should be written in letters of fire."

Salim Fattal patiently explains, in a well-reasoned manner, how Somekh's claim is unreasonable and unacceptable. First he asks whether anyone questioned the families themselves who these dead Muslims are. He gives an example of Hussein Mansour, a Druze officer who saved a 13-year-old Jewish girl from drowning while he drowned. Mansour immediately became a hero and a model of human relations between Jews and non-Jews. Salim says it is a classic story of a single rescue and a single sacrifice.

"But in Baghdad in 1941 it is claimed there were 250 such stories. Just imagine what eternal fame those brave Arabs would enjoy in Iraq and abroad. They would be immortalized in books, movies, theater, media ..." Salim Fattal adds another layer to this argument: "For this reason alone, no Jew or Arab can forget and / or erase the pogrom and 250 of the alleged Righteous Muslims." But Somekh, according to Fattal, calls himself an Arab Jew: it seems that "a growing Arab-Jewish identity causes the positive image of the Arab side to cancel out the negative impact of the pogrom."

Salim Fattal here raises another comparison: just as you can not imagine that the residents of Kafr Qassem should forget the 1956 massacre in their village, so there is no basis for the Farhud pogrom to be forgotten in the collective consciousness of the Iraqi Jews. Somekh argues that continuing economic prosperity made them forget the pogrom in the Forties, but is it conceivable to argue that because economic prosperity Kafr Qasem residents have forgotten their massacre? Fattal continues: "Remember, the Kishinev pogrom became a symbol among Jews of the world. The memory of the pogrom in Kfar Qassem became the symbol of its residents and the residents of Israel, both Jews and Arabs. And the pogrom of Baghdad, the most deadly of the three, is declared by Somekh as forgettable." Here Salim Fattal confronts Somekh's claim that the pogrom was not a historic turning point and produces other evidence that it was the most crucial turning point for the deportation and emigration of Iraqi Jews.

Fattal summarizes Somekh's attitude as "sub-sensitive" to the suffering of the Jewish community, and greatly sensitive to the suffering of the Arabs.

In another case, Fattal visited scholar Reuven Snir, a scholar of Arabic literature who published a 'vegetarian' study on Iraqi-Jewish literature published by the Ben Zvi Institute (2006) failing to mention that the actual voices of the Iraqi Jews were silenced by the repressive regime. Salim Fattal details at length the restrictions and discriminatory laws Iraq imposed on the Jews between 1948 to 1952, the humiliating deprivation of citizenship and expropriation of their property.

Salim Fattal argues against an artificial 'Arab - Jewish' identity invented by a collection of new post-Zionist historians to rewrite history through politically-motivated flattery and subservience to the Arabs.

Salim Fattal says that the phrase 'Arab Jew' did not exist for the Jews of Arab countries and therefore was not used in Iraq, nor by the people, nor the press or media, not in the textbooks and governmental institutions. " They were 100% Jewish," says Fattal. "Only in Israel have we become 'half-Jews'."

In summary the book by Salim Fattal represents the voice of the silent majority among Iraqi Jews in Israel and the Middle East who feel a partnership with the fate of the Jewish people. They are ready to pursue dialogue and talk peace with the Arabs. Salim Fattal himself says he is rooted in Arab society, but under no circumstances are the Jews willing to forget memories of exile in the days of Ishmael.

Fighting revisionism - and this blog's part in it

*An idol in the temple of the Israeli academy - Remembering the pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad in 1941: a struggle over Jewish identity and historical truth (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass Press, 2010) 192 pp. by Salim Fattal

Shammai Fishman is Chairman of the Motzkin centre for the promotion of Arabic language instruction. He has an MA from the Department of Arabic Language and Literature from the Hebrew University.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Moroccans welcome Israeli tourists but not singer

The blog Elder of Zion reported last Friday that Moroccans were upset over a music festival to be held the following day in Agadir.

"It is a major festival, boasting many international artists. Last year some 200,000 people attended and this year it will be broadcast to some 30 million viewers.

"The problem? One of the singers is Yael Naim (pictured), who is Israeli (her song "New Soul" was used in an Apple commercial and was a top-ten hit in the US.) She served in the IDF - not in combat, but in the Israel Air Force Orchestra.

"For these reasons, Al Quds al Arabi reports, a Moroccan anti-Israel group is upset. The "Moroccan National Working Group in Support of Palestine and Iraq" announced "that the participation of Yael Naim coincides with the escalation of Zionist crimes, with its racial terrorism and its determination to defy the international community, as well as its occupation of the remainder of the land in the West Bank and Jerusalem...[who are on their way to becoming] to the most racist state ever, an exclusive Jewish state."

"The name of the music festival? The Concert for Tolerance."

Read post in full

Yet buried further down the Al-Quds al Arabi article is the news that Israel Arkia airlines and Royal Air Maroc have struck a deal to bring in Israeli holidaymakers on package tours to Morocco, starting this week.

Long live 'normalisation'!

The concert with Yael Naim apparently went well, but officials were stunned to see this at the Agadir Judo Championships on 22 October - and demanded that the Israeli flag be taken down. Read Elder of Zion's post in full:

NY intellectuals take flight from Arab-Nazi truth

Paul Berman

The latest publication to take a potshot at Paul Berman's Flight of the Intellectuals is the New York Review of Books, where Malise Ruthven reproaches Yad Vashem for displaying an exhibit of the Mufti of Jerusalem playing up the Arab-Nazi connection. But as City Journal editor Sol Stern writes in his rebuttal of Ruthven's rebuttal, Yad Vashem goes out of its way to play down the Arab-Nazi link. (Point of No Return has already drawn attention to Yad Vashem's efforts to subcontract out the North African Holocaust to the Ben Zvi Institute, and the Holocaust Museum in Washington had to be named and shamed into mentioning the Mufti-inspired Farhud. ) Via Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations.

..".The last thing you would expect to see in The New York Review is a factually challenged hit job on a serious contemporary writer—and a writer of the left and former New York Review contributor, at that. Yet that’s exactly what appeared in the Review’s August 19 issue in the guise of a review of, among other books, Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals.

"It’s understandable that the book—and, indeed, all of Berman’s work since the 9/11 terrorist attacks—would discomfit The New York Review. Just as his 2003 bestseller Terror and Liberalism did, Berman’s new volume criticizes liberals for their frequent denials when confronted with violent assaults against their own democratic societies by radical Islamist movements. This failure of nerve Berman attributes partly to political correctness (excessive multiculturalism and moral relativism) and partly to cowardice. Berman’s main exhibit for the intellectuals’ “flight” from universal liberal values is two members of The New York Review’s all-star team: the aforementioned Timothy Garton Ash and the Anglo-Dutch journalist Ian Buruma. Berman skewers both writers for bestowing respectability on the self-proclaimed Islamic “reformer” Tariq Ramadan, despite his abhorrent views on women and gay rights and his tortured apologetics for radical Islam. While going easy on Ramadan, Garton Ash and Buruma scorn the courageous Muslim dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her “enlightenment fundamentalism.” These impeccable liberals, writes Berman, “sneered at Ayaan Hirsi Ali for having taken up the ideas of Western liberalism and celebrated Tariq Ramadan for having done nothing of the sort.”

"The Flight of the Intellectuals also summarizes recent archival findings by three historians—Jeffrey Herf, Klaus-Michael Mallmann, and Martin Cuppers—who provide the clearest picture to date of the fascist roots of violent twentieth-century Islamist movements, beginning with the World War II collaboration between the Nazis and the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. The victorious Allies should have tried the mufti as a war criminal. Instead, he escaped to Egypt and formed a bloody-minded alliance with the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna (the grandfather of Tariq Ramadan). Al-Banna welcomed Husseini to Egypt and called him “the hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone but Amin al-Husseini will continue the struggle.” Berman describes the Nazi plan (in which Husseini would play a key role) for the physical destruction of the Jewish community in Palestine after Rommel’s expected victory at El-Alamein. Rommel’s defeat aborted the plan, but al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood fought side by side with the mufti’s cadres in the 1948 Arab and Palestinian war against Israel with the same goal of destruction in mind. The Muslim Brotherhood is alive and well today, with hundreds of thousands of followers in many parts of the world. In Gaza, the movement is called Hamas, and its charter mimes the World War II symbiosis between Nazi eliminationist anti-Semitism and radical Islamism.

"Berman’s reason for pointing out the disturbing connections between Nazism and Islamist extremism is to remind Western liberals of their honorable antifascist traditions, challenging them to apply the same principles to the contemporary world. But his call to arms goes against everything that The New York Review stands for now. Instead of seriously debating the issues that Berman raises, the journal summoned Malise Ruthven, a sometime contributor to the magazine on Islam and the Middle East, to deliver the hit. His review of The Flight of the Intellectuals, which was featured on the journal’s cover under the headline THE TERROR OF PAUL BERMAN, began:

At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, stands an exhibit that is for some more unsettling than the replicas of the Warsaw Ghetto or the canisters of Zyklon B gas used at Auschwitz and Treblinka. Next to blown-up photographs of emaciated corpses from the death camps there is a picture of the grand mufti of Palestine, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, reviewing an honor guard of the Muslim division of the Waffen SS that fought the Serbs and antifascist partisans. The display includes a cable to Hajj Amin from Heinrich Himmler, dated November 2, 1943: “The National Socialist Party has inscribed on its flag ‘the extermination of world Jewry.’ Our party sympathizes with the fight of the Arabs, especially the Arabs of Palestine, against the foreign Jew.” There is also a quote from a broadcast the mufti gave over Berlin radio on March 1, 1944: “Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This is the command of God, history and religion.”

As the Israeli historian Tom Segev suggests, “the visitor is left to conclude that there is much in common between the Nazis’ plan to destroy the Jews and the Arabs’ enmity to Israel.” Paul Berman’s new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, makes the connection even more explicit. Although defeated in Europe, the virus of Nazism is, in his view, vigorously present in the Arab-Islamic world, with Hajj Amin the primary source of this infection. Instead of being tried as a war criminal, Hajj Amin was allowed to leave France in 1946, after escaping from Germany via Switzerland. A trial, Berman suggests, might have “sparked a little self-reflection about the confusions and self-contradictions within Islam” on matters Jewish, comparable to the postwar “self-reflections” that took place inside the Roman Catholic Church.

"Ruthven’s piece continued at length, going on to consider volumes by Hirsi Ali, Buruma, and Garton Ash. But the story’s opening was perhaps its most telling part. Why, you might wonder, would a writer introduce a review of Berman’s work with Yad Vashem’s Husseini exhibit? The reason is that a staple of today’s anti-Zionist polemics is the idea that Israel manipulates the Holocaust for narrow political purposes. What better way to discredit Berman than to associate his thesis—that “the poison of European anti-Semitism was subsumed in the broader eddies of Muslim totalitarianisms,” as Ruthven puts it—with Yad Vashem’s allegedly much broader contention that all Arab hostility to Israel has Nazi roots?

"Though that guilt-by-association tactic would be unworthy of The New York Review even if Yad Vashem did make that contention, the fact is that the museum goes out of its way not to. (My emphasis - ed) To begin with, the Husseini exhibit is not in the museum’s Holocaust memorial, as Ruthven claims, but in its new Holocaust History Museum. There are no “blown-up photographs of emaciated corpses from the death camps” at the exhibit. The two panels on the mufti, which constitute a tiny portion of the museum, do include two small pictures of SS mobile killing units shooting Jews in the Balkans and Russia. That’s entirely appropriate, because it’s where the mufti recruited Bosnian and Croatian Muslims for the Waffen-SS. The exhibit has no Himmler cable to Husseini, and there is no quotation from the mufti’s Berlin broadcasts.

More significant is that the exhibit doesn’t come close to suggesting that Arab “enmity to Israel” has anything to do with Husseini’s wartime collaboration with the Nazis. An informational panel offers a short summary of the mufti’s activities in the thirties and forties:

Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, incited the Arabs of the Land of Israel against the British and the Jews. As far back as 1933, he expressed support for the Nazi regime. In October 1939, Husseini fled to Iraq where he played a central role in organizing the pro-Nazi uprising in April 1941. After the uprising was suppressed, he went into exile in Germany where he served the Axis states in their war against the Allies. Husseini conducted virulent anti-Jewish propaganda and tried to influence the Axis powers to expand their extermination program to the Middle East and North Africa. In the spring of 1943, he mobilized and organized Bosnian Muslim units in Croatia, who fought in the ranks of the S.S. in Bosnia and Hungary.

In fact, the exhibit actually downplays Husseini’s involvement with the Nazi murder machine. For example, the exhibit doesn’t mention Holocaust historian Christopher Browning’s revelation that the mufti was the first non-German with whom Hitler shared plans for the Final Solution. At a private meeting in Berlin in November 1941, Hitler informed Husseini about the coming elimination of European Jewry and added, according to an official summary memo of the meeting: “Germany’s objective would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power.” Nor does the exhibit remind visitors that in 1943, the Nazis considered a proposal to release 5,000 Jewish children in return for captured German soldiers held by the Allies, but that Husseini lobbied Himmler against letting the children go. The children were eventually deported to the death camps.

But to notice these omissions—to suggest that Yad Vashem goes out of its way not to connect the Arab world’s hatred of Israel to the Nazis—would, of course, ruin Ruthven’s preconceived notions about Israeli manipulation of the Holocaust. After I e-mailed Ruthven and asked for the source of his inaccurate description of the exhibit, he answered: “My description of Yad Vashem came from a visit (actually two visits) I made in 2004, so the exhibits may have changed.” I take him at his word. But a writer less eager to prove his prejudices would have made sure that his story fit the facts before publishing it. (..)

Ruthven does occasionally offer a reasonable criticism of Berman’s book. He pounces on Berman’s statement that “the Arab zone ended up as the only region in the entire planet in which a criminal on the fascist side of the war, and a major ideologue, to boot, returned home in glory, instead of in disgrace.” Ruthven is correct that other Nazi collaborators returned to their native lands not “in disgrace” but rather in some favor with their countrymen. He cites two instances: the Finnish ally of the Nazis Gustaf Mannerheim and the Indian anti-British activist Subhas Chandra Bose. He might have mentioned other cases: Communists after the Nazi-Soviet pact; Franco’s Blue Division, which “voluntarily” fought on the Nazi side; even the tiny Jewish terrorist group LEHI (also known as the Stern Gang), with its harebrained scheme to convince the Nazis to help them liberate Palestine from the British.

Ruthven scores a small point, but he obfuscates the larger issue. Other collaborators might have cooperated with the Nazis because of political expediency: the enemy of my enemy is (temporarily) my friend. Tariq Ramadan has tried to rationalize the mufti’s wartime services to the Nazis this way. But it is precisely Berman’s contention (backed by Herf’s, Mallmann’s, and Cuppers’s research) that the Husseini-Hitler collaboration wasn’t a case of expediency. Rather, that particular partnership was nourished by deep ideological affinities—a “symbiosis” of Nazi and Islamist doctrines, according to Herf—about how best to solve the infernal “Jewish problem.”

Ruthven cannot allow himself to deal forthrightly with this issue of Islamic fascism, a central theme of Berman’s book. He insists defensively on Hassan al-Banna’s “stated belief that Nazi racial theories were incompatible with Islam.” Why, then, did al-Banna arrange—as Herf and other historians have documented—for the translation and distribution to the Arab world of Mein Kampf? Even Ruthven once admitted—in The New York Review—that Nazi doctrines about the Jews had infected Muslim Brotherhood offshoots like Hamas. “Imported European anti-Semitism is now embedded in the charter of Hamas, whose thirty-second article explicitly cites the Protocols as ‘proof’ of Israeli conduct,” Ruthven wrote in 2008. “As Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian philosopher and former PLO representative in Jerusalem, has observed, Hamas’s charter ‘sounds as if it were copied out from the pages of Der Stürmer.’”

But that was a rare moment of clarity on Islamism for today’s New York Review. For liberal intellectuals, it would seem that looking too deeply into the fascist roots of movements like Hamas could endanger the “peace process.” Fascism? What fascism? Instead of demonstrating a smidgen of sympathy and support for Israel, the democratic country that most directly faces the threat of Islamist aggression, New York Review writers now routinely question Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Arab League tail now wags the Palestinian dog

Anyone who has been following the tortured ways of Middle East politics will have detected an important shift: have you noticed that Mahmoud Abbas won't make a decision regarding peace talks with Israel without running to consult the Arab League?

The Arab League told Abbas to suspend the peace talks until Israel had renewed the West Bank 'settlement freeze'. It is plain as day that nowadays the Arab League tail wags the Palestinian dog.

Since the Palestine Liberation Organisation was set up in 1964, the Palestinian cause has always been the ultimate pan-Arab cause, the Palestinians themselves the shock troops of the jihad against the Jewish state. In their charter the Palestinians define themselves as an integral part of the Arab nation; their flag is based on the flag of the Arab Revolt.

With Yasser Arafat in the driving seat, however, the conflict became known as the 'Israel-Palestinian conflict' sometime after 1967 and was reframed, using the language of 'national liberation', as the 'struggle of the Palestinians for their own state'.

The Arab League's renewed involvement in 'peace talks' implies that the Israel-Palestine conflict reverts to being the Arab-Israeli conflict of yore. This development, in turn, should put the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, their recognition and compensation, squarely back on the negotiating table. The Arab side can no longer use the Palestinians as cover, claiming the latter had nothing to do with the expulsion and dispossession of almost a million Jews.

The Arab refusal to accede to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's core demand that they recognise Israel as a Jewish state has forced the focus back on the Palestinian 'right of return'. Mahmoud Abbas will not acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state because he reserves the right to turn Israel into an Arab state by flooding it with refugees in the future. This too thrusts the Jewish refugees, as the counterpoint to the Palestinian refugees, to the fore in any peace negotiations. The Jewish refugees, who are today citizens of Israel and the West, are living proof that the Arab refugee issue can be solved through resettlement and integration.

Here too the Arab League have a key role to play, for it is they who in the 1950s decreed that no member state (except Jordan) must grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees or their descendants. Even if a Palestinian state, with its own Law of return, is set up, the bulk of the responsibility for absorbing Palestinian refugees must rest with the Arab states where they currently live. For the Arab League to abrogate the unjust law depriving Palestinians of local citizenship, and violating Palestinian civil and human rights, would be a good start.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gilbert's book takes a panoramic approach

Sir Martin Gilbert's long-overdue history of Jews in Muslim lands is a panoramic and clear account of an important story, Aryeh Tepper writes in Jewish Ideas Daily (with thanks: Ken):

In the two decades following the establishment of the state of Israel, approximately 850,000 Jews were forcibly driven out of Arab lands. Their expulsion marked the beginning of the end of 2,500 years of Jewish life in North Africa, the greater Middle East, and the Persian Gulf. Until recently, their story has been largely unrecognized and untold in the English-speaking world. That is the task undertaken by the British historian Martin Gilbert, known for his multi-volume biography of Winston Churchill and many works on Jewish history, in his new book, In Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands.

Ambitious to a fault, Gilbert begins his saga a full millennium before the birth of Muhammad in the late 6th century C.E., and by the end of his first 100 pages has covered the first centuries of Islam, the age of the Crusaders, and the spread of the Ottoman empire. The remaining two-thirds of the book are devoted to the past 100 years. Here he traces the competition between the Jewish and Arab national movements during World Wars I and II, the various reactions to the 1947 UN partition resolution and the creation of Israel, Jewish life in Muslim lands since 1948, and the integration of Jews from Muslim lands into Western countries and, of course, Israel.

What saves Gilbert's narrative from a deadly superficiality, if not always from monotony, is his tight focus. Throughout, he poses one question to his material: was the Jewish minority protected, or persecuted? When Muslim rulers treated their Jews as a "protected people," the Jews, he shows, repaid the favor by contributing immensely to Muslim culture and society. When the Jews were persecuted, not only they but the society they lived in suffered. By proceeding in this fashion, Gilbert succeeds in exploding the myth, manufactured by Islamic ideologues and peddled by left-wing apologists, to the effect that pre-modern Jews always lived harmoniously with their Muslim hosts. Sometimes this was the case; often it was not.

Another virtue of Gilbert's panoramic treatment is that it helps the reader to see patterns missed by more detailed studies. Take the much-written-about case of Haj Amin al-Husseini, one of the more poisonous figures to have emerged in the 20th century's plethora of world-class thugs, gangsters, despots, and tyrants. From the beginning of his career, this "Grand Mufti of Jerusalem" was closely associated with the radical Muslim Brotherhood. In 1929 he orchestrated the Arab-Muslim pogroms in which the ancient Jewish community of Hebron was massacred. In 1937, moving on to Baghdad, he helped stir up the passions that ultimately issued in a two-day anti-Jewish pogrom. While in Iraq he also initiated contacts with Nazi Germany, and in 1941, now living in Berlin, he created a Muslim SS division to abet Hitler's war in Bosnia.

Gilbert's bird's-eye conspectus of Husseini's career prompts a number of questions. One has to do with the relatively recent emergence of the terrorist group Hamas on the Palestinian political scene. Hamas is a branch of the same Muslim Brotherhood to which Husseini adhered, and it is worth recalling that, during the 20's and 30's, Palestinian opposition to Zionism was indeed deeply Islamic in character. From this larger perspective, might the rise of Hamas be more correctly seen as a re-emergence, and the previous dominance of the Palestinian movement by the PLO—another extremist organization but a secular nationalist one—as but a passing interval in an essentially Islamist continuum?

Another question pertains specifically to Iraq. Gilbert describes how deeply Nazi agitation had penetrated Iraqi society in the 1930's, even before Haj Amin al-Husseini's arrival. The mufti's soft spot for Nazi-style anti-Semitism only added to the mix. Post-World War II Iraq was known for state brutality, and one can't help wondering about the Nazi contribution to it. In one particularly grotesque case from 1969—ten years before Saddam founded his sadistic regime—nine Iraqi Jews were hanged on trumped-up charges; a national holiday was declared and a million people went to see the bodies—as Gilbert writes, "dancing, chanting, and even picnicking." How can one account for this sort of frenzied mass barbarism, unparalleled in the rest of the Arab-Islamic world? Gilbert notes that even the Egyptian government, an ardent enemy of Israel, felt compelled to protest.

Academic historians will surely find much to criticize in Gilbert's book. Although the work is copiously footnoted, his favorite source appears to be the Encyclopaedia Judaica, not your standard scholarly fare. But academic criticism has blinded itself to the crucial role that general histories play in educating the public, a role even more necessary in an age when too many historians conceive their mission as the "deconstruction" of overarching narratives. In Ishmael's House is a clear account of an important story, and whatever its deficiencies, Gilbert is to be thanked for writing it.

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More reviews here

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Academics rewrite history in SOAS whitewash

With thanks: Amie

So-called respectable academics continue to rewrite history in order to absolve the Arabs and Palestinians from any complicity with Nazism and turn the tables on Israel. Richard Millett wrote about the latest Orwellian effort at SOAS for Harry's Place. The panel to discuss Gilbert Achcar's book The Arabs and the Holocaust was not exactly unbiased, featuring Achcar himself, Nur Masalha and Idith Zerthal.

On Tuesday two hundred students attended SOAS to hear Gilbert Achcar, a Professor of International Relations at SOAS, talk about his new book The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.

Achcar claimed:

1. The Arabs bear no responsibility at all for the Holocaust.
2. The Israelis have Nazified the Palestinian people.
3. This Nazification has come about by Israel’s broadcasting of the Mufti’s connections with Hitler during WW2.
4. The Israelis must apologise for the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948) for there to be peace.
5. The Israelis are today still frozen with fear by Holocaust.
6. Any anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the Arab world is purely a result of Israel’s aggression or Israel’s societal shift to the right.

He presented the Arab and Israeli narratives, as he saw them, on the conflict as follows:

Arab – Israel is a Zionist colonial enterprise where the “ethnic cleansing” of 1948 was a defining moment. The expansion of this colonial state continued after the 1967 war and continues to this day with the oppression of the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza.

Israeli – Zionism was a response to anti-Semitism and Israel was created as redemption for the Holocaust. The Arabs are like the Nazis. There was no ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the 1948 War was purely a defensive one.

Achcar didn’t refute the Arab narrative but did refute the Israeli one.

He said that there had been a total lack of sympathy with Nazism throughout the Arab world and no military actions were undertaken by the Arabs with the Axis powers but Israel needs to acknowledge its role in the Nakba and its oppression of the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Arabs must acknowledge the role of the Holocaust on the Israeli psyche.
Mohammad Amin al-Husayni (The Mufti) cleared by Achcar of all charges of conspiring with the Nazis

Mohammad Amin al-Husayni (The Mufti) cleared by Gilbert Achcar of any responsibility at all for the Holocaust

Next to speak was Palestinian author and journalist Nur Masalha.

Masalha said “we are not responsible for the Holocaust. We are its indirect victims. We paid for the Holocaust and we are still paying for it. The Jews were its victims but we are also its victims. We are the Jews of the Jews. We have become the Jews of history” and he spoke of “concentration camps in Gaza”.

He claimed the Mufti was not an anti-Semite and that as Jews and Muslims had fought in several wars together this was proof that there was no history of anti-Semitism in the Middle East.

He thought that a Holocaust denier in France would go to prison and in the UK would lose his job but if you deny the Nakba in the UK, like the current Chief Rabbi did, you go to the House of Lords.

Last to speak was Idith Zertal of the Institute for Jewish Studies, University of Basel. Again we heard that the Arabs had nothing to do with the Holocaust. She said that too much had been said about the Mufti and that the Palestinians are the scapegoats of the Israelis.

She also felt that Israelis are so helpless in the face of such an event like the Holocaust, and how it was allowed to happen, that Israelis are transferring their rage onto the Palestinians.

She said that even the Poles share in this Israeli “rage” because as so many Israeli youngsters visit Auschwitz they think the Poles exterminated the Jews.

How I wished for a Melanie Phillips or a Geoffrey Alderman to be on the panel.

The audience asked the usual banal questions including on the prospect of a one-state solution, while a few felt the urge to label themselves “Jewish” before comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

I also contributed:

1. How can Achcar claim that the Palestinians had no responsibility for the Holocaust? The Arabs had persuaded the British to shut the door of British Mandate Palestine to Jewish immigration leaving the Jews to their fate at the hands of the Nazis. (There was also the 1937 Peel Commission which offered the Jews just 20% of British Mandate Palestine. Had the Arabs accepted even more Jews would have escaped the Nazis).

Achcar told me that all nations had shut their doors to the Jews including “racist Britain”.

Evenso, that doesn’t absolve the Arabs from all responsibility for the Holocaust!

2. Israel does bear little, if any, responsibility for the 1948 Nakba as UN Resolution 181 created two states; one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians. The Arabs rejected it and chose war instead.

Achcar countered that the Palestinians had a right to resist the takeover of “their country”.

3. Jews were not treated well in Arab countries. They were dhimmi (tolerated and protected but subordinate) and one million were expelled after Israel’s creation compared to the 750,000 Arabs that left British Mandate Palestine/Israel. There was also the Farhud of 1941 during which 175 Iraqi Jews were massacred.

Achcar answered that it was debatable as to why the Jews had “migrated” but it was nothing compared to the fate of the Palestinians. He also said that despite being dhimmi Jews had always fared better in Arab and Muslim countries than in Western countries.

4. As for Nazification if anything it was the Arabs who were doing this of Israel with slogans like “Stop the Holocaust in Gaza” and talk of Palestinians in concentration camps. Even Nur Masalha had just mentioned concentration camps.

Masalha replied that it was the British who invented concentration camps so he, of course, was not referencing the Holocaust.

Achcar did however dispute Masalha’s astonishing claim that the Mufti was not an anti-Semite. He said the Mufti was anti-Semitic as evidenced by his radiobroadcasts from Berlin inciting Muslims to kill the Jews wherever you find them. But, Achcar said, this had all come to nothing anyway.
Hizbollah fighters: According to Gilbert Achcar the Nazi salutes are purely down to Israel's behaviour.

Hizbollah fighters: According to Gilbert Achcar the Nazi salutes are purely down to Israel’s behaviour.

However, I would suggest, it isn’t the Holocaust that keeps Israelis locked in a state of fear but these murderous pronouncements of intent by the Mufti which have been taken up by Hamas and Hizbollah.

The Hamas Charter explicitly calls on Muslims to kill Jews and Sheikh Nasrallah, the head of Hizbollah, said that “if all the Jews gather in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide”.

But not once were Hamas or Hizbollah even mentioned. There was no acknowledgment of any Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. There was no acknowledgment of the ethnic cleansing of one million Jews from Arab countries who had to leave everything behind them.

Quite incredibly, all three speakers painted the Arab nations, and the Palestinians in particular, as innocence personified.

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Cross-posted on Cifwatch (with thanks: Independent Observer)

Three Jews seek to reclaim homes in Sheikh Jarrah

Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem (known also as the quarter of Shimon the Just) has been the scene of orchestrated protests for several weeks now against Jews moving into 'Arab' homes. But last week, three original Jewish owners themselves turned up. Ynet News reports:

Three Jewish people on Thursday arrived at the east Jerusalem neighborhood and claimed they were the original owners of houses inhabited by Palestinian families, demanding their property be returned to them.

"My grandfather built this house and the synagogue that was burned down by Arabs in 1948," said 76-year-old Elisha Ben-Tzur.

"I demand to get my property back. The Arabs took control over the entire Eretz Yisrael, so they should at least leave us with what's rightfully ours," he asserted. Ben-Tzur recalled that at the end of the War of Independence, and after Sheikh Jarrah was left under Jordanian jurisdiction, his family moved to the neighborhood of Romema.

"Before Sheikh Jarrah, we lived in Silwan – but were expelled out of there as well," he said, while harshly criticizing the protest against Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem.

"Some Arabs purchase apartments at the French Hill and Gilo neighborhood, and I don't see anyone fussing about it," he added.

Malka Versano, 70, also spent her childhood years, before the War of Independence, in the neighborhood of Shiekh Jarrah.

"I will never forget the day we left," she recalled, "I remember how the Arabs inflamed the place and divided the girls between them – deciding amongst themselves who's going to rape who.

"My father dug a pit in advance and told us that if the Arabs manage to enter our house, he will throw us in there so that we are not abused," she said.

Versano, like Ben-Tzur, is also demanding to retrieve the assets owned by her family. "These are houses that belong to my father and my grandfather, and today Arabs live there. It is a house that is registered under my name, and I can't even collect the rent," she said.

Versano and Ben-Tzur were joined by a third elderly man – 75-year-old Moshe Arusi – who also claims ownership over neighborhood assets.

The three accompanied director and founder of Israel Land Fund Arieh King, who has been active in promoting legal action to return Sheikh Jarrah assets to their Jewish owners.

"We are not purchasing Arab homes, but rather asking that the original owners of the assets from before the establishment of the State – who are Jewish – be allowed to return to the places from which they were expelled," King said.

Read article in full

Does Carter's opposition to confiscating homes apply to Jews?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ezekiel tomb's renovation on hold amid dispute

A Muslim prays at the tomb of Ezekiel

The New York Times seems to be having an information blitz on Ezekiel's tomb.... This article by Steven Lee Myers gives a good overview of the power politics at play to decide the shrine's future. It seems the ministry of Heritage and Antiquities' plans to attract mass tourism to Ezekiel's shrine are on hold until it solves a dispute with the Shi'a religious authorities : (with thanks: Stuart)

In the center of town — and in the middle of a dispute — is the tomb of Ezekiel, the biblical prophet who preached to the Jews in captivity under Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century B.C. Somewhere near here is where, according to tradition and faith, he saw his visions of God.

Leaders of the town and the province now have a more earthly vision, too: tourism. Iraq remains a country at war, and the town, dusty and strewn with litter — and, the other day, the burned wreck of a car — lacks a single hotel.

Nonetheless, they dream of travelers of all faiths streaming through Kifl — Muslims, Christians and even the Jews, who lived and worshiped here until the last families left by 1951, “because of the problem of Palestine,” said one of them, Zvi Yehuda.

That has thrust the tomb, with its distinctive (and Islamic) conical dome, which dates from the 14th century, into a debate that mirrors Iraq as a whole as it emerges from dictatorship and war.

It is a debate between the competing aims of historic preservation and modern development, between a multifaith history and the increasing sway of Islam, particularly the Shiite branch, whose clerics have their own designs for the site.

“We can prove to the world that this place is one of the cultural places that promote civilization and peaceful coexistence between peoples,” said Qais Hussein Rashid, the director of the State Board of Antiquities, which oversees Iraq’s myriad ancient sites.

He did not say it would be easy.

Late last year the antiquities board began a project to restore the ancient center of Kifl, with the aim of earning a coveted designation as a World Heritage site by Unesco, joining three other places in Iraq: Hatra, Samarra and Ashur.

The historic core includes not only Ezekiel’s tomb and the synagogue around it, but also a precariously leaning 14th-century minaret of a mosque long since destroyed, and a vaulted T-shaped bazaar built in the 1800s under Ottoman rule, when Jews and Muslims lived in relative tolerance, if not exactly harmony.

All are at the center of Kifl’s redevelopment plan, still under consideration and very much contested. A copy of the plan, hanging on the wall of the mayor’s office, depicts modern hotels, restaurants, shops, parks, parking lots and even a boat launch on the Euphrates shore: Kifl in 2030.

“We hope everyone who visits Iraq comes to Kifl,” said the mayor, Khalid Obeid Hamza.

His ambitions are as grand as the Malaysian city he improbably cited, when asked, as the inspiration for the plans.

“Kuala Lumpur,” he said. “It’s a very nice place.”

The plan, like the restoration work, has been greeted with deep suspicion by Kifl’s residents, including the tailors, shop owners and restaurateurs who work in the covered bazaar. Last month Kifl’s residents staged a protest, fearing the redevelopment would force them out.

“If it’s good for my work, but hurts others, I won’t accept it,” said a baker, Malik Ali, expressing fears that hotels and restaurants for tourists would ruin the town’s historic, albeit worn, charm.

He then echoed a familiar Iraqi lament: “I wish the restoration work would start with electricity and water and sewage.”

In fact, the restoration of the tomb and its environs had barely started before it came under attack. News reports early this year that the project aimed to turn Ezekiel’s tomb into a mosque, removing architectural details like carvings in Hebrew, provoked a fury in Israel and beyond.

The reports were false — the carvings remain in place, as do the wooden balustrades that separated the men’s and women’s sections and a carved cabinet that once held the Torah — but the fears were not without some foundation.

Modern plaster, including some with painted Hebrew words and designs, was removed, ostensibly to expose the original stone walls, which have their own designs.

The Shiite council that administers mosques and shrines across Iraq has strongly objected to the restoration, for different reasons.

Its leaders argued both that the initial work was shoddy and that the authorities should be more concerned with excavations to find an undiscovered — and possibly nonextant — mosque where Imam Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, tarried in the seventh century before his murder in Kufa and burial in Najaf, just south of here.

“They focus on historical matters,” the Shiite caretaker of the tomb, Sheik Aqil al-Ghraawi, said of the board’s officials and experts. “We focus on both the historical and the Islamic.”

As it is throughout the region, history in Iraq is a battleground in which faiths seek precedence for modern-day claims.

The earliest known references to the Jewish tomb date to the 10th century. Before the establishment of the modern state of Israel, Jews from across the region made pilgrimages to the site, staying in guest rooms that are now ruins.

Muslims, too, revere the site as the tomb of Dhul Kifl, a prophet mentioned twice in the Koran who gave the town its name and who has long been assumed to be the same man as Ezekiel. Millions of Shiite pilgrims travel each year to the major holy sites of Islam here, including Najaf and Karbala. Associating Kifl with Imam Ali would put the town on the tourist map, as it were.

The region’s governor, Salman al-Zargany, who has already clashed with the antiquities board over profiting from tourism at the ancient ruins of Babylon in Hilla, threw his support to the clerics.

“Archaeology is a very nice cake,” said Mr. Rashid, the antiquities board director, “and everyone is taking a piece.”

In June, Mr. Zargany ordered the local police to occupy the site in order to halt the restoration work. Despite repeated negotiations since then, the project remains suspended, though scaffolding now braces the leaning minaret, believed to be part of a mosque that once stood beside Ezekiel’s tomb.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Rashid canceled the rest of the project’s budget for the year, a little more than $500,000, shifting the money to other projects. Mr. Zargany has taken a leave of absence amid a dispute with the region’s provincial council.

Sheik Aqil, the caretaker, despite his fervent belief in the site’s Islamic origins, said that he had no intention of undermining its Jewish heritage.

“It’s a Muslim’s duty to protect it,” he said during a tour of the tomb, interrupted by midday prayers. On the walls are old photographs of the Jews who once prayed here. “We take care of the Islamic and the Jewish,” he went on. “It is the history of all Iraq.”

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New York Times shows latest on Ezekiel's tomb

The leaning minaret is now wrapped in scaffolding

The voice of the muezzin rings out as Muslims gather for prayer at Ezekiel's tomb at Kifl in Iraq. After all the speculation about the shrine's fate, this video by Stephen Farrell of the New York Times, for all its politically-correctness towards Jews, Muslims and Christians, gives a good idea of the state of what was once one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Iraqi Jews.

The Hebrew inscriptions appear intact, though the fabric of the building is in dire need of repair, and there are photos of Jews in the 1930s on the walls. We see the leaning minaret in the courtyard surrounded by scaffolding. Archealogical excavations have also been going on, we are told.

Most interesting however, is that Farrell shows the plans the Minister of Heritage has for the shrine's renovation, presumably restoring the shrine to the way it was as a Jewish site . These plans are welcomed by Zvi Yehuda, whom Farrell interviewed in Israel. While burbling inexplicably about the fact Jews had big stores in the Kifl market, many Jews would come and visit the renovated shrine, Yehuda claims. Left unsaid is that these tourists would be mainly Jews from Israel.

So things sounds promising. But until we know for sure that Iraq is not about to turn Ezekiel's tomb into a mosque, better keep signing our petition.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

1,000 at Alliance Israelite's 150th birthday party

Alliance Girls' school, Tripoli, 1905

It was a birthday party to remember: 1,000 people, including politicians, writers, rabbis, community leaders, patrons, celebrities and former pupils from France, Israel, Canada, the US and Morocco, came together at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 12 October to celebrate one of the Jewish world's most remarkable institutions: the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

Holocaust survivors Elie Wiesel (left) and Simone Veil (right) joined Christian Estrosi, French minister for Industry, Daniel Ben-Simon, member of the Knesset, and Andre Azoulay, adviser to the King of Morocco in the same setting that hosted the 100th anniversary celebrations. A private dinner was held afterwards at the Invalides.

Over the last 150 years the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) has educated one million Jewish children, the vast majority in Muslim lands.

The prominent French Jews who set up the AIU in 1860 as a response to 19th century antisemitism wanted to spread the values of humanism and enlightenment to their benighted co-religionists in the Middle East and North Africa. They ended up creating a social revolution, establishing an educated and modernising Jewish middle class of cadres and businessmen.

But as Jews have fled these countries, so has the Alliance's scope diminished. Since its 100th anniversary celebrations, Alliance schools from Beirut to Tehran have shut down and today the only Arab country where it still has a presence is Morocco. Two AIU schools in Casablanca take Muslim as well as Jewish pupils. Most of its 25,000 pupils in 46 schools live in Israel and France.

Andre Azoulay represented the King of Morocco

The AIU's 150 th anniversary celebrations continue in London with a lecture by Sir Martin Gilbert and reminiscence evening on 4 November; and the screening of a film by rabbi Josy Eisenberg telling the story of the AIU on 7 November. For full details see Harif website.

Arriba Cuba! Pilots airlifted 150,000 Jews to Israel

After sixty years, the role of five Cuban pilots in airlifting 150,000 Jews from Muslim countries and India can now be revealed, according to Haaretz. Fidel Castro might even have approved. (With thanks: Lily)

Five Cuban pilots were responsible for bringing to Israel 150,000 Jews from Iraq, Iran, India and Yemen during the 1950s, the French daily La Liberation reported on Monday.

According to the report, which is based on an interview the Cuban historian Rolando Marron gave to the Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde, the details of the operation have been kept secret for over 60 years until this past Sunday.

Marron said that among the Jews brought between 1951 and 1952, 115,000 refugees were from Iraq, 25,000 were from Iran, and several hundreds from Yemen and India.

"The condition of the Jewish populations in the surrounding Arab states was difficult due to historic conflicts", Marron was quoted as saying.

"Since the governments of those Arab countries prohibited the Jews to leave by land, and since transport by sea was difficult, the Israeli government organized one of the most important aerial mass migrations in history."

According to the report, the reason for the Cuban involvement was the "strong friendship" between an "important official in the Israeli trade mission in New York and a Cuban businessman" who happened to be one of the pilots.

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Jerusalem Post article