Friday, November 19, 2010

Mind the gap....

To the dear regular and not-so regular readers of Point of No Return,
Posting will be sporadic or non-existent while Bataween goes travelling. Full service will resume at the beginning of December.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November is the cruellest month

With thanks for his research to Eliyahu and acknowledgements to The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times by Norman Stillman

Charred and damaged remains of the Great synagogue in Aleppo, Syria, one of 18 synagogues attacked by rioters in late 1947, causing half the city's Jewish community to flee.

It was in November 1945 that a series of anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Arab countries. In Egypt, anti-Zionist demonstrations were called by the Muslim Brotherhood, Misr al-Fatat and the Young Men's Muslim Association. Mass demonstrations took place on Balfour Day (2 November) in Cairo, Alexandra and other cities. Jewish businesses in Cairo and in the Jewish Quarter were looted and the Ashkenazi synagogue ransacked. The disturbances soon spilled over into anti-dhimmi violence, with Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions also attacked. Of 500 businesses looted, 109 belonged to Jews. Amazingly only one policeman was killed in Cairo. Five Jews were among six killed in Alexandria.

Far worse was the pogrom in Libya which began on 4 November in Tripoli when thousands went on the rampage in the Jewish quarter and bazaar. Jewish homes and businesses had been marked out beforehand for exclusive attack. The violence spread to other towns. Over three days of rioting, the police stood by and British and US servicemen on the outskirts waited until three days later to impose a curfew. By then 130 Jews were dead including 36 children. Women were raped, some 4,000 Jews were left homeless and nine synagogues destroyed.

In Syria a mob broke into the great synagogue in Aleppo and beat up two elderly men. In Iraq, the government avoided a repeat of the 1941 Farhud by banning public demonstrations.

Arab-Jewish tensions reached new heights in the autumn of 1947 as the UN debated Palestine. Dr Muhammad Husein Heykal, chairman of the Egyptian delegation warned that one million Jews in Arab countries would be endangered by partition.

A new wave of violence spread following the vote in favour of Partition on 29 November 1947. Demonstrations were called for 2 - 5 December. It was only because the police prevented the mob from attacking the Cairo Jewish quarter that lives were spared.

In Bahrain, beginning on 5 December, crowds began looting Jewish homes and shops and destroyed the synagogue. Two elderly ladies were killed.

In Aleppo, Syria, the Jewish community was devastated by a mob led by the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 150 homes, 50 shops, all 18 synagogues, five schools, an orphanage and a youth club were destroyed. Many people were killed, but the exact figure is not known. Over half the city's 10,000 Jews fled into Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine.

In Aden, the police could not contain the rioting. By the time order was restored on 4 December, 82 Jews had been killed. Of 170 Jewish-owned shops, 106 were destroyed. The synagogue and two schools were among the Jewish institutions burnt down.

In the Maghreb the French still kept tight control of the population. Morale was better there than among the Jews of the Middle East: these were desperate to leave but had nowhere to go. However, rioting in Morocco six months later was to claim 48 Jewish lives.

The Palestine Post ran an editorial entitled "Unwilling hostages" on 11 December 1947. It quoted an editorial in the Manchester Guardian the day before, entitled 'Hostages'. This deplored inflammatory statements made by Arab leaders which could be interpreted as threats against the Jewish minorities. Both in Syria and Iraq "pressure has been put on the Jews to denounce Zionism and support the Arab cause. One cannot help wonder what threats have been made to bring this about."

The riots of the previous week had been attributed by Arab governments to the 'fury of the people'. The editorial charged that " the governments concerned, if they do not activate or instigate them, look upon them with a benevolent eye."

The Lebanese government issued orders of expulsion against Palestinian Jews in Lebanon. The Palestine Post of 22 December 1947 carried a report about harsh measures that the Arab League was considering taking against Jews in Arab lands. They would first be denaturalised, their property confiscated, their bank accounts frozen, and they would be treated as enemy aliens.

'While there is no news of the acceptance of this resolution by the Arab League, it is significant and tragic that such a document should have been drafted," the editorial lamented. "It is easy for them to play the bully and to keep a sword hanging over the heads of many hundreds of thousands of Jews who are at their mercy."

Although it was not passed, aspects of the Arab League draft resolution were adopted by individual Arab governments. The human rights lawyers and ex-Canadian Justice minister Irwin Cotler has called them 'Nuremberg-style measures.'

By the time Israel was established on 15 May 1948, the Jewish communities in Arab countries had been rocked to their very foundations. As Norman Stillman says, the Palestine issue was a major contributing factor, but it was not the only one - it was more of a catalyst. Arab and Islamic nationalism could find no room for ethnic and religious groups that deviated from the norm, and Jews found themselves alienated and isolated from society at large.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Guardian ignores inferior status of Christians

The massacre of Christians at a Baghdad Church last month has suddenly focused western attention on the pitiful plight of Middle East Christians. But most media coverage ignores the fact that discrimination against Christians and Jews is institutionalised, even in 'secular' Arab lands. Read my post on Comment is Free Watch:

The atrocity at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in which 52 Christians were murdered has set off a flurry of articles about Christians under threat of extinction in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda has declared Arab Christians a legitimate target. Even Robert Fisk of The Independent is sounding the alarm about a flight of Christians of Biblical proportions – and that was before the massacre.

First the Saturday people – now the Sunday people. Jews have been virtually wiped out in Muslim lands. Now it’s the turn of the ancient Christian communities. Forty percent of the Assyrian Christian population of Iraq has fled since the fall of Saddam.

“Shhhh! “– whispers Middle East analyst Chris Phillips on CIF. Reports of the death of the Christian communities of the Middle East are greatly exaggerated: they will only ’ escalate fears of potential persecution’. Let’s not talk about the imminent demise of the Christian minorities, or radicals will start believing in the ‘clash of civilisations’.

I hate to break it to you, Mr Phillips – but radicals already believe it. They virtually shout ‘clash of civilisations’ from their mosques and minarets. Their ideology pits Dar-al Islam in a holy war or jihad against the infidels of Dar-al Harb. And in case Phillips had not noticed, it is radical Islam which has declared war on non-Muslims, not the other way around. Radical islamists have been around since the 1930s, burning down Coptic churches and Jewish homes and shops in Egypt. The massacre of Christians is not new either – some 3,000 Assyrian Christians were murdered in Iraq in 1933. Since then the Assyrians have thought only of emigrating.

The gist of Phillips’ argument is that not all Arab countries should be tarred with the brush of intolerance: “ Though anti-Christian feeling may be rising on the extreme radical fringe of sole Arab societies such as Iraq, this should not obscure the harmony that has long been a characteristic of other parts of the Arab world.”

‘Secular’ Arab regimes in particular treat their Christians as well as any totalitarian dictatorships could, it is claimed. As evidence, Phillips cites the fact that most of Iraq’s displaced Christians have fled not to the West but to Arab states, notably Syria and Jordan. It is true that the ruling Alawite minority – considered heretical by Sunni Muslims - likes to show solidarity with the Christian minority in Syria. Ten percent of Syria’s population are Christians, religious festivals are observed and the state even gives free electricity and water to churches, Phillips tells us.

In spite of Syrian ‘tolerance’, Phillips does recognise that numbers in Syria have been dwindling. But he does not say that since the late 1960s private Christian schools have been suppressed, nor that the Armenian Christians of Syria are leaving at a particularly high rate: the government has banned their associations, publications, the teaching of their language and their political party.

Phillips tells us that in Jordan, the monarch sees itself as the protector of the six percent of Jordan’s population who are Christians; they are given limited political rights. However, there is plenty of evidence that displaced Iraqi refugees view Jordan as a way-station to a third country of asylum – namely, the US. The refugees -and by no means all are Christian – complain bitterly that as non-residents they are not permitted to work or are paid exploitative wages. Only those with $100,000 to spare can obtain Jordanian residency rights.

It was the ‘secular’ regime under Gamal Abdul Nasser which did most to marginalise the Copts, now barely 10 percent of Egypt’s population. They are not allowed to repair their churches without government permission, let alone build new ones. Ever since the 1950s, the Copts have been persecuted, murdered, their women kidnapped and forcibly converted. Copts have been leaving Egypt for decades.

It is fashionable to claim that the Christians were well treated under the ‘secular’ Baathist regime in Iraq. Saddam Hussein did appoint the Chaldean Christian Tariq Aziz as foreign minister, but he was an exception. Christians have long ago been on the political margins in Iraq: the National assembly of 1984 included just four Christians among 250 members.

The apologetics kick in big time when Philips picks up Fisk’s spurious argument that demographics could explain the flight of Christians: they tend to have smaller families than Muslims – and in any case, they have been emigrating from the Middle East since the 19th century. Does Philips stop to ask why? Could the D-word have something to do with it?

The D-word is not one you’ll see much on Comment Is Free. ‘D’ stands for Dhimmi, a term designating the inferior status of Christians and Jews under Islam. It is a status that accounts for the fact that dirty jobs were the preserve of the dhimmi: Christians alone were assigned the task of clearing septic tanks in Iraq and still today, the task of collecting the rubbish in Egyptian cities is reserved for the Christian Copts. They would feed the rubbish to their pigs, until the latter were recently culled in a spiteful measure to eradicate swine flu. In Yemen, where there were no Christians, it fell to the Jews, until their mass flight in 1949 – 50, to clean the public latrines.

No matter how many Jordanians, according to Chris Phillips, say they don’t feel Muslim in a poll, Islam is a major source of law in all Muslim-majority countries. This puts all non-Muslim minorities at a disadvantage. Even in Jordan a Christian woman married to a Muslim cannot inherit from her husband, for instance, and Christians are subject to a raft of other inequalities. While Christians are given every encouragement to convert to Islam, the traffic is strictly one-way. Last week, ‘secular’ Pakistan became the latest country to sentence a Christian woman to death for blasphemy.

While the spectre of belligerent Islamism hovers over the Middle East and North Africa, non-Muslims are at terrible risk. Neither will they ever be treated as equals as long as discrimination against non-Muslims is institutionalised. That’s why the Chris Phillipses of this world, with their delusions of Muslim-Christian harmonious coexistence, are whistling in the wind.

Read post and comments

Ed West (Daily Telegraph blog) (with thanks: bh)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Project Aladdin is coming to town

Project Aladdin has translated Anne Frank's Diary into Arabic

Roll up, roll up! Project Aladdin is coming to London on 24 November. An afternoon session called 'Towards Jewish-Muslim dialogue', immediately following the Jews from Arab lands conference, is being held at SOAS. Morocco is expected to play an important part, with the Moroccan Ambassador to the UK addressing the audience.

The Paris-based Aladdin project, launched under the patronage of UNESCO in 2009 and with support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has the aim of combating Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world. Conferences have been held to introduce the Arab and Muslim world to the works of Anne Frank and Primo Levi. Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld has been sent on tour in North Africa and the Middle East.

So far, so very laudable. But the Project makes no real effort to explore the Nazi roots of Jihadist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or to link their anti-Jewish ideology to the conflict with Israel. Quite the reverse: in order to foster Jewish-Muslim dialogue Project Aladdin is compelled to minimise Arab complicity with Nazism. From Project Aladdin's website (my emphasis - ed):

"Before and during the war, Nazi Germany made a concerted effort to win the hearts and minds of Muslims, relying on modern propaganda techniques that included short-wave radio broadcasts of Radio Berlin in Arabic and Persian. But sympathy for the Nazis across much of the Muslim world was more attributable to strong anti-British feelings among Arabs and Muslims than support for the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies.

Although for the vast majority of Muslims the war in Europe remained a distant conflict, the Nazis managed to recruit some Muslims directly. Two Muslim SS divisions were raised: the Skanderbeg Division from Albania and the Handschar Division from Bosnia. Smaller units from Chechnya to Uzbekistan were incorporated into the German armed forces. But the Nazis soon discovered that these units were militarily ineffective and unmotivated to fight for the Third Reich. The much-vaunted "Hanschar" SS division was disbanded after a few months due to mass desertions and earned the distinction of being the only SS division ever to mutiny.

The Nazis made much propaganda about the meeting between Hitler and Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, which took place on November 21, 1941. In the meeting, the Mufti declared that the Arabs were Germany's natural friends. Hitler promised that as soon as the German armies pushed into the Southern Caucasus, the Arabs would be liberated from the British yoke. The Mufti's part of the deal was to raise support for Germany among the Muslims in the Soviet Union, the Balkans and the Middle East. He conducted radio propaganda through the network of six stations and set up pro-Nazi fifth column networks in the Middle East.

Al-Husseini and the Muslims troops fighting on the side of the Wehrmacht were not representative of Muslim sentiments in the course of World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers from Africa, India, and the Soviet Union helped to defeat fascism at places like El-Alamein, Monte Cassino, the beaches of Provence, and Stalingrad.

Without wishing to rain on the Aladdin parade, let's point out the project's inherent dangers. As already reported on Point of No Return, at the Aladdin conference held in 2009, Jewish organisations were complicit in reinforcing the 'Golden Age' myth of harmonious coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims in order to get the Arab and Muslim world to condemn Holocaust denial. Just as worrying, Jewish speakers joined Arabs and Muslims in whitewashing the Arab/Muslim link with Nazism, portraying the Holocaust as a purely European phenomenon. The conference concealed the Sephardi/Mizrahi 'forgotten exodus' from Arab countries. In other words, Ashkenazi and Sephardi narratives of suffering were made to compete: the Ashkenazi 'won'. The Arab/Muslim world condemned Holocaust denial, but at the expense of historical truth, and with dubious dividends to Jews and Israel. Read Veronique Chemla's impassioned analysis in Front Page magazine.

Veronique Chemla has also made these pertinent remarks:

"We need to go beyond the perennial We are brothers, cousins, shalom, salam! and engage in a real dialogue with the Muslim word in which we recognise what unites us but also what divides us. We need to air our disagreements in order to build enduring and deep relationships. Jihad targets 'Jews and Crusaders'. We need to enter into a real dialogue with Muslims and non-Muslims in order to make them understand the jihadist threat and build alliances with them.

"Initiatives such as the 'islamically-correct' (anti-Holocaust denial) Aladdin project marginalise and isolate moderate Muslims and distance Jews from their anti-jihadist allies. It is not denial and revisionism which feeds antisemitism but the demonisation and delegitimisation of the State of Israel. "

And so Aladdin's visit to London may generate more heat than light.

Three generations listen to Nazem al-Ghazali

Performing works by Nazem al-Ghazali at the Oud festival in Nazareth (Photo: Michal Fattal)

Three generations of Iraqi Jews came to hear a musical tribute in Jerusalem to Nazem al-Ghazali, described as the Pavarotti of the Arab world. Haaretz was there (with thanks: Lily):

The homage to singer Nazem al-Ghazali drew at least three generations of Israelis, most of them of Iraqi descent. And when the evening's musical director, Yair Dalal, noted that although al-Ghazali had died almost 50 years ago, his songs remain etched in the memories of Iraqi Jews, many grandparents in the audience nodded in agreement.

Al-Ghazali, who died at 42 in 1963, was one of the great Iraqi vocalists of the mid-20th century. Although he's not as well-known as his counterparts in Egypt and Lebanon, the festival organizers deserve credit for aiming the footlights at him and his work.

Prof. Yossi Yonah translated some of the songs and spoke in between sets, but unfortunately, his amusing anecdotes and esoteric theories did not exactly bring al-Ghazali and his milieu to life. Indeed, the Oud Festival is probably not the best place to declare a great Iraqi singer "the Pavarotti of the Arab world."

But these are trivial matters. In fact, who cares what anyone says when the music is fantastic? Dalal gathered a group of fabulous musicians, some of whom - the older ones - come from al-Ghazali's world: violinist Elias Zubeida, qanun player Victor Ida, oud player Said Ajami and Albert Elias, who even played in al-Ghazali's orchestra. Their playing, energetic and rich in nuance, was best characterized as "straight and to the point," without a tad of sentimentality.

Zubeida's violin solos were focused and short but worth their weight in gold. So were oud player Ajami's black-and-white trills. The younger players (Dalal and three percussionists - Herzl Sagi, Erez Munk and Avi Agababa ) took on the old guards' aesthetics and perfectly complemented the ensemble.

Three singers attempted to fill al-Ghazali's shoes. Dalal Salam, the oldest, impressed with his theatricality (al-Ghazali was an actor before he became a singer ), though sometimes his singing lacked force.

Read article in full

Yad Vashem turns down Abdul Wahab as righteous

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, has turned down Khaled Abdul Wahab's candidacy for recognition as a Righteous Gentile on the grounds that he did not risk his life to shelter 25 Tunisian Jews. His daughter Faiza is disappointed, but her publicity-shy father might not have been displeased. Ynet News reports:

Shortly after the September 11 attacks (Robert) Satloff, a Jew, decided to investigate whether there were Arabs who helped Jews during the Holocaust. He believed that by telling one such story he might be able to make Arabs perceive the Holocaust differently. After a year of research he received an e-mail from 71-year-old Annie Buchris from Los Angeles.

She told him she grew up in Mahdia, Tunisia and that during the war an Arab man welcomed her and her family into his home and hid them in his farm away from a German officer who lusted after her mother.

Satloff was living in Morocco with his wife and two children at the time where he could conduct his research. He hired an interviewer who taped Annie's testimony. For an entire day on 2003 Buchris told her story. She died two months later.

Yad Vashem's Hall of Names

Buchris told the story of her happy childhood in Mahdia with her parents and two brothers until the Germans invaded the city in 1942. Jews' homes were taken and her family's house was turned into residence for German soldiers. Annie's father managed to house the family in an olive oil factory. The men were forced to work in labor camps. The women and children were not allowed to leave the factory.

One night, there was a knock at the door. Standing there was Khaled, the son of Hassan Hosni Abdul Wahab, a rich landowner and former state official. Hassan Hosni and Annie's father Jacob were close friends, and Khaled informed them they were in great danger. He then made arrangements to transfer them to a safe place.

Years later Buchris learned that Khaled used to meet with the German soldiers and get information from them. That's how he found out they had created a brothel housing Jewish girls. One of the German officers also told him that one particularly attractive woman had caught his eye. Khaled realized the woman was Buchris's wife. He got the German soldier intoxicated with wine and drove to the oil factory.

The Buchris family and their neighbors – some 25 people – quickly packed their belongings and were taken to Khaled's family's farm, where they stayed for four months. Each family got a small room. Near the farm was a Red Cross camp tending to injured German soldiers and many of farm's employees knew about the Jews but never spoke of it. In April 1943, when the British entered Mahdia the all the families returned to their homes.

Khaled Abdul Wahab was born in 1911 and died at the age of 86. As a member of a wealth family he often traveled overseas as a young man, most frequently to France. In the early 1930s he studied art and architecture in New York and later worked on preserving Tunisia's archeological heritage.

Satloff met Khaled's oldest daughter from his first wife, Papo, in Tunisia. Papo, like Faiza, knew nothing of her father's legacy.

"I'm not angry with my father," Faiza says. "He didn't like to talk. He never said anything about the Jews because he probably thought he did what he should have done. He saw that the Jews in Mahdia were suffering at the Germans' hands and took responsibility. It was a different generation. People didn't use to talk about what they did. "

Meanwhile, Satloff has not given up his efforts to convince Yad Vashem to grant Khaled the Righteous among the Nations title, but to no avail. "I reached the sad conclusion that there are no Arabs in the list of Righteous among the Nations," he says. "Firstly, many Arabs or their heirs didn't want or were afraid of their stories being published. And secondly, the Jews did not put enough efforts into it."

Irina Steinfeld, director of the Righteous among the Nations section in Yad Vashem does not accept any claim of discrimination. "According to the Yad Vashem Law a Righteous among the Nations is a person who risked his life to save Jews. There are currently 23,000 Righteous among the Nations listed, among them 60 Muslims: Tatars, Albanians, Bosnians and Turks. There has never been an attempt to deny anyone's title for being Muslim. And incidentally, Yad Vashem partly sponsored Satloff's book.

"There are three committees in Yad Vashem who review applications for the title of Righteous Among the Nations and each is comprised of 10 individuals. The plenum chairman is retired Supreme Court Judge Jacob Turkel. The decision is made with a majority of at least two thirds of the votes.

"Three years ago after a long correspondence with Satloff I did a little research of my own of the events in Mahdia and learned that Wahab did not risk his own life doing the noble deed he did. Even Judge Turkel reviewed the testimonies and confirmed the committee's conclusions. No one is doubting the noble nature of Abdul Wahab but clearly the Germans knew Jews were staying at the farm and did not try to hurt them. Meaning, he did not hide the Jewish families but hosted them."

Faiza is familiar with these arguments. "Yad Vashem is an honorable institution," she says. "The term Righteous among the Nations was coined by them and they use their own criteria. It's a pity. To me it's far more important that Rabbi Walberg put up a memorial plate with my father's name on it in his righteous garden, 'Edat Yisrael,' in Washington. And when I come to shake his hand he hugs me. He didn’t wait for Yad Vashem to confirm my father's wonderful actions.

"My father opened his home to Jews and Yad Vashem did not open their home to us. When Robert first spoke to me I thought it would be great if they acknowledged the first Arab Righteous among the Nations, but life goes and I've stopped dealing with it. If my father had been alive he would have said: 'Leave me. Stop this publicity.' On the other hand, had there been a ceremony honoring my father with the title I know what I would have said: 'We're more alike than different.'"

Read article in full

Monday, November 15, 2010

What's in a name? Not what you think, Mr Masalha

MK Carmel Shama Hacohen

With thanks: Lily

An MK called Carmel Shama has added the suffix 'Hacohen' to his name. This set Salman Masalha off on another 'Israel-is-apartheid' diatribe in Haaretz, arguing that the MK was typical of Mizrahi Jews under pressure from 'European Zionism' to add a Jewish name lest anyone mistake them for an Arab or Druze:

Here, then, is a blatant example of how "Ashkenazi Zionism," from Europe, has corrupted the souls of those referred to as "members of the Mizrahi group," from the Middle East and North Africa.

Masalha claims that by distinguishing between Arab and Jews, the 'Ashkenazi establishment' is better equipped to enforce their 'racist' policies:

It bears noting that the original reason Israelis were required to list their national ethno-religious identities on official documents was to help Ashkenazi institutions distinguish between Jews and Arabs, since many Jews who came from Arab countries had Arab names. At first there were only two categories listed: Jews and Arabs. At a later stage, "Druze" was added as a separate category.

However, Mr Masalha, Jews have always changed their names the better to blend in with the dominant culture. In the West Jewish immigrants have often changed their names to hide their Jewishness. Woody Allen changed his name from Allen Koningsberg and Kirk Douglas from
Issur Danielovitch (and with a name like that, who can blame him?) It's well known that Jews were given absurdly non-Jewish names by US immigration officials at Ellis Island. I know Jews with surnames like Bishop and Bacon. Likewise there are non-Jews called Cohen.

Lots of Jews did change their names on arrival in Israel. Not just Mizrahi Jews, plenty of Ashkenazi Jews did so. David Green became David Ben-Gurion. Goldstein became Even-Zahav. They wanted to create a new Israeli persona for themselves.

Not all Jews from Arab countries have Arab names but some do. It's often a question of fashion. Each era spawns its own names: I know a Jewish Hamid, a Jewish Ihsan, a Jewish Nasser and even a Salman. In the era of the French and British mandates and protectorates, the previous generation of Jews had European names - Albert, or Victor, or Violette, or Bertha. Some of the generation before that had Ottoman names: Selim, Abdullah, Khatoun, Nevine. But Arab names don't make Jews into Arabs, any more than French names make them into Frenchmen or Ottoman names into Turks.

Let it be clear from the outset that these Jews are not Jewish Arabs as Masalha would have us believe. In what sense have they been corrupted by Ashkenazi Jewry? They have always identified as Jews, not Arabs. The semantic discussion over 'Jewish Arabs' or' 'Arab Jews' is one which Point of No Return has covered extensively. And regardless of the Zionist movement's European origins, there are plenty of Mizrahim proud to call themselves Zionists.

Perhaps - just perhaps - Masalha has misunderstood the whole issue.

Shama is not necessarily an Arab name, although it might be a popular Druze name. I know Jewish Shamas - and there is even a famous Jewish historian called Simon Schama.

Perhaps it was Carmel Shama's first name which was giving him the trouble. After all, there is a Druze village near Haifa called Dalyat Ha-Carmel. I've no idea if Carmel is a popular Druze name - perhaps it is.

However Carmel is also a Jewish name - there are enough Jewish Carmels of either sex to dispel any doubt that it is uniquely Druze.

There could be a final explanation why Carmel Shama decided to affix 'Hacohen' to his name - one that Masalha could have missed altogether. Hacohen means The Priest. For someone who is proud to belong to the noble priestly caste of Israel, it would seem natural for Carmel Shama to want to show off the fact.

If you've got it, flaunt it.

Israel is a response to Arab oppression of minorities

Christian service in Iraq (Photo: Reuters)

"What is happening to the Christians is what happened to the Jews," an Iraqi Christian told the Christian Science Monitor. Not only is the persecution of Christians too big a story for western opinion formers to sweep under the carpet following the Baghdad cathedral atrocity of 31 October, but the mistreatment of minorities in Arab lands cannot demonstrably be blamed on Israel. The Jews are now the one minority with the ability to defend themselves, argues Dexter Van Zile. Via CAMERA:

The story made it onto the Website of the Christian Science Monitor, which on Nov. 10 quoted an Iraqi Christian who asked that his name not be used as saying: "What's happening to us is what happened to the Jews."

The CSM provides some necessary detail when it reports “Iraqi Jews, once an integral part of society here with a history dating back to Babylon, began fleeing in the 1940s. Now only stories of their once vibrant community remain.”

The publication fails to provide any explanation as to why the Jews disappeared from Iraq – they were being murdered – but even the most obtuse readers can figure that out for themselves.

Christians Not the Only Victims In Iraq: Christians and Jews are not the only victims of this type of violence. This reality was underscored on April 23, 2010 when terrorists hijacked a bus in Mosul, Iraq, ordered all the Christians and Muslims on board to leave and then killed 23 remaining passengers, members of the Yazidi religious sect.

A few months later, Sunni terrorists murdered more than 500 members of this group with multiple car bombings in two villages near Iraq's Syrian border. After the attack, one Yazidi told Reuters “Their aim is to annihilate us, to create trouble and kill all the Yazidis because we are not Muslims.” (Reuters, Aug. 17, 2007).

Taken together, these stories help illuminate a troubling reality that journalists and intellectuals have a tough time acknowledging: Religious and ethnic minorities are treated terribly by Muslim and Arab majorities throughout the Middle East.

Minorities in the Middle East who lack an army and a security barrier to keep would-be murderers at bay are victims of regular violence (such as the Copts in Egypt) or worse, potential victims of ethnic cleansing (such as the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq).

Minority Rights Achieved in Israel: There is however, one minority group in the Middle East that has been able to achieve a modicum of safety in the face of Muslim and Arab enmity – the Jews. With Israel's creation in 1948, Jews from Europe and the Middle East were able to achieve what no other minority in the region has been able obtain in the region – territory in which it can express its cultural identity and protect itself from Muslim and Arab hostility and oppression.

On this score, Israel's creation represents a breakthrough for minority rights in the Middle East. Mordechai Nisan, author of Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression (McFarland, 1991) puts it succinctly: “In the 1948 breakthrough, one Mid-eastern people achieved independence and majority status as no other people had done.” (Page 234) Jewish independence in the Middle East represents a serious challenge to Islamic hegemony in the region and has in numerous instances served as an inspiration for minorities suffering from oppression at the hands of Muslim majorities to long for homelands of their own.

Instead of directing the world's attention to the mistreatment of religious minorities at the hands of Muslim and Arab majorities in the Middle East and acknowledging that Israel's creation in 1948 was a powerful and legitimate response to this oppression, a significant number of Western intellectuals and religious leaders have portrayed Israel's creation as a cause of (and not a response to) minority suffering in the Middle East.

The irony is this. Instead of condemning the violence against religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East (and the ideological and theological beliefs that foment this violence) human rights activists and peace activists in the West have facilitated this violence by focusing the vast majority of their attention on Israel – a country founded to prevent the destruction of a minority in the region. And to make matters worse, prominent Western journalists have cooperated with this process.

The church invasion in Baghdad and the ongoing exodus of Christians from Iraq is part of a tuition that ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East must pay for journalists, intellectuals and religious leaders in the West to come to their senses. One can only wonder how much more of this tuition must be paid.

Read post in full

Sunday, November 14, 2010

After the Jews, Iraqi Christians put to the sword

Lighting a candle at a remembrance ceremony for the 52 Christians massacred by Al-Qaeda at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad (photo: AP)

The Daily Telegraph's Adrian Blomfield, normally stationed in Tel Aviv, ventures into Baghdad to file this report. He puts the massacre of Christians into rare context - the persecution of minorities in the Arab world, starting with the Jews (with thanks Frank, Lily):

Unless told what to look for, the casual visitor to the once glamorous Baghdad thoroughfare that hugs the east bank of the Tigris would almost certainly pass them by. The Stars of David carved into the stonework of the low-slung buildings that line the alleyways of Abu Nuwas Street *are little more than a curiosity these days – a memento of a civilisation lost to the pages of history.

Judaism has a connection to Iraq that no other faith can match. The patriarch Abraham may well have been born there; the prophet Jonah reluctantly returned to foretell the destruction of Nineveh. Centuries later, the Bible tells us that the exiled Jewish people sat down by Babylon's rivers and wept for their homeland. Yet Jewish links to Iraq are far from ancient history.

In the 1920s, there were reckoned to have been 130,000 Jews in Baghdad, 40 per cent of the population. Today, after decades of persecution before and immediately after the creation of the state of Israel, there are no more than eight.

Iraqi Christians might not be able to boast such a heritage – though even if there is no way of proving their belief that the apostle Thomas brought the faith to Iraq in the first century AD, theirs is still one of the oldest Christian communities on earth. Yet after a series of attacks in the past month by Islamist extremists – whose creed is the parvenu of the monotheistic religions in the country – fears are mounting that Christianity in Iraq is doomed to follow Judaism into oblivion.

Read article in full

* Bataween's family home was Abu Nawas St no 33/1

Friday, November 12, 2010

Orwell lives on - at the Jewish Museum

Last week, I was honoured to attend a preview of the Morocco exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London. In addition to leading lights of the Jewish community, Moroccan Jews living in London, and the British-Moroccan Association, it seemed like the entire staff of the Moroccan embassy had turned up, swarming around Her Excellency the genteel Princess Lalla in her Chanel suit, grand-daughter of the wartime king, Mohammed V. 

Several dignitaries had flown in specially from Morocco for the occasion, including Andre Azoulay, Jewish royal adviser, who read a message from King Mohammed Vl. The message was about Morocco's Jewish roots, Muslim-Jewish coexistence, Morocco as a beacon of 'democracy, justice and human rights'. 

Jews living in the High Atlas mountains  in a photo by Elias Harrus, taken in the 1950s

One spokesman from the Association of Jews from Morocco said that 800,000 Moroccan Jews in exile still considered themselves loyal subjects of King Mohammed Vl. Moroccan money had gone towards financing the Jewish Museum's exhibition, a collection of photographs taken of Jews living in the High Atlas mountains by Elias Harrus, a senior official at the Alliance Israelite Universelle in the 1950s. 

The exhibition had come from the Jewish museum in Amsterdam, and other Moroccan events would be held in Paris and New York in the months to come. The Jews in the photographs were dirt-poor, primitive folk who eked out a meagre existence, travelled around by donkey, inhabited hovels and married off their daughters aged 12. The Alliance had done its best to introduce education to their children. These had to be taught how to sit on a chair, so used were they to sitting on the floor. Harrus witnessed the mass emigration of these Jews to Israel. 

Vintage film showed a procession of people leaving their villages under the watchful gaze of the men from the Jewish Agency, donkeys carrying their meagre possessions, the old men clutching precious Sifrei Torah. 

 A recent set of pictures by the Dutch photographer Pauline Prior brought the story up-to-date - ruined homes, crumbling synagogues, decrepit cemeteries. No Jews to be seen (except tourists visiting the shrines of holy men). In fact there is one Jew left in the High Atlas mountains. He tends to graves and any synagogues that are still standing. The captions alongside the pictures did say that these Jews were dhimmis, inferior to Muslims, but the dominating impression was that the Jews and Berbers of this region lived together in harmony - all the more so since the various Berber tribes were busy fighting each other, and looked to the Jews as 'honest brokers'. Berber women wore jewellery made by local Jews. 

The exhibition seemed to suggest that Muslims were banned from practising Jewish crafts. In reality, it was the Jews who were restricted to certain trades. The exhibition also seemed to give the impression that the Jewish Agency came to wrench the Jews from their romantic interfaith idyll in order for them to face discrimination in Israel. 

One panel carried a quotation from a letter which a rabbi who had left for Israel had written to a Muslim friend in his village. He was homesick; life was nowhere as restful as in Morocco, he wrote.

 I spotted one of the guests at the preview studying that quotation intently. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the controversial historian Avi Shlaim. 

 Among the champagne and canapes we seemed to be in a parallel universe. We were extolling Morocco for its tolerance and democracy when newspapers were being shut down and dissidents jailed. We were talking about happy Berbers in the Atlas mountains when they were complaining of oppression by the dominant Arab-Muslim culture and banned from speaking their language. 

We were celebrating the rich diversity of life in southern Morocco when all but one Jew had left. We were rejoicing at a distant memory of Jewish-Muslim coexistence instead of commiserating with its demise. A truly Orwellian experience.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New book demolishes Maghreb coexistence myth

An important new book in French drawing on original archive material by the Sorbonne professor Paul Fenton and the historian and human rights campaigner David Littman demolishes the myth that Jews and Muslims lived happily and as equals in the Maghreb. Indeed, it was the collective memory of Jewish suffering around the beginning of the colonial era which caused the mass Jewish exodus from Algeria and Morocco. Veronique Chemla interviews both authors for her blog (this English translation is slightly abridged) :

How did this book come about?

David G. Littman: I became interested in the fate of Jews from North Africa during my humanitarian mission in Morocco in 1961 to bring Jewish children secretly to Israel ("Operation Mural").

By 1969, I had researched their history and that of oriental Jews, at the Quai d'Orsay, then the library of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) where these records were so poorly explored. I discovered fragments of a collective memory of persecution, harassment and humiliation; the colonial period and the 1948 exodus have almost erased it.

I compared these testimonies with reports of the British counterpart of the Alliance, the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA), and documents from the Foreign Office (FOR) in London.

The archives of the AIU formed a key source: they illuminate from within the abject condition of the vast majority of Jews from North Africa, and destroy myths.

In 1972, I spoke in Jerusalem with two eminent historians of Oriental Judaism, Shlomo Dov Goitein and Chaim Zeev Hirschberg. The first urged me to pursue my original research and Professor Hirschberg asked me to focus on Morocco and collaborate on the book he was writing about the history of the Jews of the Maghreb.

To ensure balance, Hirschberg proposed to complement the documentation of the IAU with tales of non-Jewish travellers of the nineteenth and previous centuries.

Through him, I met a doctoral student in 1975, Paul B. Fenton, who had visited Jewish communities at risk in Morocco and sent me to Hebrew and Arabic sources.

Unfortunately, Professor Hirschberg died in January 1976 - six months after we had spent a long period working together at home - without completing the proposed work.

I decided to pursue the topic of study that I mentioned in several articles and a monograph (1985) on the mission to Morocco in 1863-1864 by Sir Moses Montefiore.

Since 1986, my duties as a representative of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the Commission on Human Rights at the UN in Geneva and my collaboration with other historians took me away from this project.

Much later, I returned to it with my friend, Paul B. Fenton, now a professor.

So the book is the result of work begun 40 years ago.

What are the unique features of this book?

Paul B. Fenton: The fruit of many years of research, this is the first attempt to capture the historical reality of the social and legal status of Jews in Algeria and Morocco under Islam from the Middle Ages until the colonial era.

The originality of the book is mainly due to its wealth of documentary sources. To-date, no other book has provided such a large and varied corpus of legal, literary and historical texts, often taken from rare editions and unpublished archives.

Travellers, adventurers, diplomats, doctors, lawyers, writers and teachers - Jews, Christians and Muslims - provide a vast anthology giving readers and researchers access to primary sources, some translated into French for the first time from English, German, Scandinavian languages, Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew and Dutch.

Each document is presented and discussed in order to highlight the uniqueness of its testimony.

The whole is accompanied by a rich iconography of historical documents, prints and artistic press photographs. (...)

Why does the title refer to the galut?

Paul B. Fenton: The Jews of North Africa associated their suffering with the galut, a Hebrew word meaning "exile" or "captivity".

David G. Littman: I noticed during my humanitarian mission in 1961 that the Jews of Morocco were seeking by every means to leave their homeland and return to their ancestral land.

Why has your book focused on Morocco and Algeria? Are both countries representative of the Jewish condition in the Maghreb?

Paul B. Fenton: Since the time of the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Morocco and Algeria had the largest Jewish presence in Islamic lands. Both countries were early centres of interest for Europeans. There is therefore the greatest amount of information on Jewish sources, European and Muslim, on the status of Jews under Islam.

Unlike Egypt and Lebanon where there were large Christian communities, the Maghreb countries form a single paradigm: given the virtual disappearance of Christians, they were home from the twelfth century to a population comprised mainly of Muslims and a Jewish minority.

How many Jews lived in North Africa during the period studied?

David G. Littman: This number has varied over the centuries. Depending on the vicissitudes suffered by the Jews, it is difficult to assess.

Probably less than 50,000 Jews survived in the Maghreb during the Middle Ages, but at the dawn of the twentieth century this number rose to more than 200,000 souls, and in 1948 it exceeded 400,000 souls - and more than 500,000 if you include the Jews of Tunisia. (..)

You present 300 documents and 73 illustrations in your book. How did you choose them?

David G. Littman: Our selection criterion was the subject matter: the day-to-day traditional relationship between Jews and Muslims.

Your first part consists of 135 eyewitness accounts by European travellers. What are your sources?

David G. Littman: These stories come from many different sources: English, French, German, Dutch, Italian and Scandinavian.

Their descriptions of the humiliations inflicted on the Jews of the Maghreb all tally. We reproduce many examples from travellers, diplomats, doctors and slaves taken by the Barbary pirates.

Many travellers shared the anti-Judaism of the time. However their writings betray a tone of sympathy, even pity, for the suffering of the Jews. Take the case of the Rev. Lancelot Addison, a chaplain living in Tangier ( from the reign of Charles 11 under British rule ) from 1662 to 1669. He described the condition of the Jews as "another form of slavery" (doc. 45). During the same period in Morocco, Germain Seagull wrote: "They [the Jews] have justice rarely done to them in this country." (Doc. A 47)

The documents emanating from objective eyewitnesses and victims alike give an accurate reflection of the reality in the Maghreb. They record the voices of the little people.

What would you say to those claiming that you have painted a partisan account? Are there any stories giving a different picture of the Jewish condition in the Maghreb and nuancing this bleak picture?

David G. Littman: We have released documents showing that some Muslim authorities were able to demonstrate an understanding favourable to the Jews at different times. Without the protection ("dhimma") of the Sultan, the fate of the Jews would have been even worse.

The publication of these hundreds of emotionally-charged testimonies does not intend to have a political objective. We do not want to stir up old grudges or stymie attempts at interfaith dialogue.

We believe - as Bat Ye'or has stated in her writings - that any dialogue between Jews and Muslims which does not recognize the historical reality of dhimmitude, is fated to be fruitless guff and breaks away from a future based on the acceptance of an equal Other.

As for the allegation that we are pushing an agenda, these 720 pages show the emptiness and futility of polemical and "political" allegations.

Our book does not pretend to be exhaustive, but we challenge those who challenge us to collect as many texts that show that Jews have lived happily and equal to Muslims in North Africa during the period studied.

Magna veritas, et praevalebit / The truth is powerful, and will triumph.

Over the centuries, how have things evolved and is there a pattern to them?

Paul B. Fenton: Even if, during its conquest of North Africa and elsewhere, Islam has spared the "People of the Book" (Jews, Christians) while other peoples were conquered or forced to embrace the new religion or be slaughtered, theology and Islamic law have made every effort to force Jews and Christians to convert.

Physical bullying and the economic status of the dhimmi eventually wore down the Christian communities in the Maghreb. Once-flourishing Christian communities in pre-Islamic North Africa gave us one of the fathers of the Church, St Augustine, who died at Hippone (now Annaba, Algeria).

Jewish communities have held firm, but at the cost of enormous sacrifice. Their history is punctuated by a long series of massacres, persecutions and forced conversions. The nadir was extermination at the time of the Almohades (1147-1269) and the anti-Jewish theologian Abd al- Karim al-Maghîlî (circa 1493) of Tlemcen, whose hateful sermons can be compared to the work of Luther.

The writings of Muslim theologians are included in the first texts printed in Morocco in the nineteenth century and remain a reference up until the colonial era.

I would add that the beginnings of French colonization, both in Algeria and Morocco, have coincided with periods of great suffering for the Jews, traditional scapegoats for Muslim frustration.

The Cremieux Decree of 1870, which granted French citizenship to Jews born in Algeria, removed them from their dhimmi status, causing a sharp rise in Arab anti-Semitism in Algeria.

If the Jews have persisted in the Maghreb, it is thanks to "reasons of state" that recognized as useful their industriousness and acumen, intellectual and craft skills.

Their spiritual and economic prosperity, repeatedly plundered by their fellow Muslims, gave them the strength to survive.

The dominant idea, even in French history textbooks, is that of a happy and egalitarian interfaith coexistence under Islam. Your book paints a dark and upsetting picture of the Jewish condition under Islam: a dhimmitude of suffering, humiliation, massacres, forced conversions, rape, looting, punctuated by accusations of ritual crimes, etc. Why this contrast? Were there periods of tolerance and friendship between Jews and Muslims?

Paul B. Fenton: Some people want us to believe that the Jewish experience in North Africa was a serene idyll disturbed only by the advent of Zionism in the 20th century.

The evidence gathered in our book, from Jewish and non-Jewish sources, is overwhelming: they reveal an uninterrupted catalogue of suffering through the centuries.

We must extinguish once and for all the myth of the "Golden Age". There has never been happy interfaith coexistence and equality under Islam.

Only under the French and Spanish protectorates did Judaism in the Maghreb experience calm and happiness. "The guest only remembers the night before," says the Jewish-Arab proverb. Memories of good times have distorted our historical vision.

However, a collective Jewish memory kicked in the aftermath of decolonization, otherwise one cannot understand why North African Jewry has opted almost entirely to leave its ancestral homeland.

This does not preclude, at the individual level, strong friendships between Jews and Muslims, when they were not troubled by collective hostility.

Your second part consists of the archives of the AIU and French and British diplomats. The AIU was founded in 1860 by six French Jews who expressed their ideas in their Appeal combining Judaism and ideas of the Revolution of 1789: Equal rights, freedom, etc. These founders fought for all persecuted religious minorities, especially for Jews in Morocco, Christians in Lebanon, the Protestants in Spain. They gave priority to access to education and French culture in the empowerment and "regeneration" of the Jews, so that they could become modern citizens of the world. What do the archives of the AIU tell you?

David G. Littman: The earliest documents date to the beginning of the penetration of the AIU in Morocco with the founding of the first Jewish school in Tetouan late 1862.

In 1863, Adolphe Cremieux became president of the AIU.

Hundreds of letters confirm accounts of European travellers in the age of liberalism and emancipation.

The vast majority of these documents describe the demeaning and vulnerable situation of Jews in the Maghreb countries and the humiliation they endured. The precariousness of their situation worsened in some areas more than others.

These texts reveal the extraordinary courage of the AIU representatives who tried to protect local populations and selflessly defended humanitarian causes from the many perils and assaults and daily injustices suffered by their co-religionists.

The archives of the AIU provide historical documents relating to major events that have been completely forgotten by the chroniclers, such as the massacre of Jews in Casablanca and Settat in 1907 - fifty Jews were killed, hundreds injured; women and girls suffered the worst outrages and Jews were kidnapped then sold. In the Fez pogrom in 1912 more than sixty Jews were killed, fifty wounded, a third of the mellah was set on fire, the district completely ransacked and aish, a Jewish population of 10,000 souls reduced to 8000, the remainder forced to survive on charity.

The pogrom of Fez has deeply influenced the collective memory of Moroccan Jewry and is a major factor in the mass exodus of Moroccan Jews in the aftermath of the independence from their ancestral country in 1948.

In the AIU archives, there are also fascinating stories of a more general nature, describing, among other things, public events, local customs, folklore, superstitions.

These documents allow a comparative picture to emerge of the Jewish condition in various parts of North Africa at that time, and the reactions of individuals and the Jewish community.

The AIU documentation on Morocco is probably the most complete. It reflects the many aspects of Jewish life in Morocco in the social, cultural and educational field.

The letters from the archives, mostly published for the first time in this book have been selected for the light they cast on the Arab-Jewish relations in Morocco. They illustrate the state of perpetual humiliation, latent hostility and occasionally physical violence that was the lot almost daily of the Jewish masses in Morocco until the beginning of the First World War.

What is the role of French and British Jews, including Sir Moses Montefiore, in respect of their co-religionists in Morocco and Algeria?

David G. Littman: I will give some examples on Morocco, a situation quite different from that of the Jews in Algeria after the French conquest (1830).

In this period of imperial greatness, some circles of the nobility and clergy in England were led by messianic aspirations. Moved by the humanism of the liberal era, Jews were recognized as heirs to a glorious past, worthy of sympathy and interest, especially where England had political and strategic concerns. In 1837 the young Queen Victoria knighted Moses Montefiore, a relative of the Rothschild family.

In London, the Board of Deputies - the organization representing British Jews - under the chairmanship of Sir Moses had established a relief committee to the Jews of Morocco to assist those refugees from Tetouan and Tangier to Gibraltar and Algeciras in the war between Spain and Morocco (1860). This resulted in the first AIU school in Tetouan in 1862 with at its inception, a staff of over 100 students under the joint protection of the French and English.

Through close collaboration with Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister and Earl Russell, a dynamic Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sir Moses Montefiore completed missions abroad on behalf of of his co-religionists. England supported him with diplomatic help when he decided to go to Morocco soon after what became known as the so-called "Moroccan atrocities" involving Catholic Spain. In fact, the Safi case in 1863 concerned the sudden death of the Spanish Consul and the accusation by the Deputy Consul that a Jew, the servant of the Consul, had killed the diplomat with the complicity of other Jews. Hoping to improve their miserable situation and free the unjustly-incarcerated Jews, Montefiore, then an octogenarian, began a humanitarian mission in Morocco, where he also had relatives.

Most letters from Morocco end with an appeal to British and French governments to "relieve the Jews of Morocco from the oppression of the Moorish authorities. Supplications were offered in all the synagogues, and November 17, 1863 Sir Moses left Dover. (...)

How do Morocco and Algeria depict Jews in their national history?

Paul B. Fenton: The great contribution of Jews to the economy and culture of Algeria and Morocco has long been ignored or erased by the authorities.

Remember that the Minister of Culture Khalida Toumi, in an interview with the Arabic-language newspaper As-Shourouk in February 2009, spoke of "de-judaising Algerian culture. Does she know the simple fact that by importing wheat into Algeria Jews repeatedly saved the Muslim population from famine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?

Morocco, too, has stripped the Jews from its history. The streets of the mellahs named after Jews have been emptied of them and Islamised. Textbooks contain nothing on the 2,000- year old presence of Jews, who were there before the arrival of the Arabs. Many young people are not aware that Jews even lived in their country.

In 1997 in Casablanca there opened a museum of Moroccan Jewry, the only Jewish museum in the entire Arab-Muslim world, but it was an initiative of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco and not a Arab organization.

However, there is emerging a timid interest, especially in Morocco where Hebrew is taught at several universities, in the history of Jews in the country. When you begin to scratch the business, legal and social records, the fact is unavoidable.

But many of these studies carry the imprint of cliches and anti-Jewish bias.

They disfigure even the writings of a great Moroccan academic who had the merit of generating interest in the history of the Jews of Morocco. Unfortunately, if you read closely what he writes, one can discern a "revisionist" trend ignoring the bloodstained pages of history and constantly minimizing suffering, often suggesting that the Jews themselves caused it!

Paul B. Fenton and David G. Littman, L' Exil au Maghreb: la condition juive sous l'Islam 1148-1912. (Presses de l'Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2010. 800 pages. ISBN: 978-2-84050-725-3). Book available at PUPS - 8, rue Danton, 75006 Paris and other bookstores from Nov. 25 2010.

Read post in full (French)

German mayor condemns 'one-sided' Nakba show

'Recognise Mizrahim as refugees' - Danny Ayalon

Danny Ayalon (AP)

Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is pursuing his campaign to put Jewish refugees on the peace talks agenda, by demanding that Palestinians recognise Mizrahi Jews as refugees, Ynet News reveals. (The most common response among sceptical talkback commenters is that Palestinians have nothing to do with the expulsion of Jewish refugees, an easily-disproved allegation; others recognise Mizrahim as refugees but demand a delusional 'right of return' to Arab countries', despite Jews having no interest in returning to Arab states which persecuted them.) Report by Ronen Medzini:

The peace negotiations are at a standstill, but Deputy Defense Minister Danny Ayalon thinks there's another issue that must be included in any agreement reached with the Palestinians.

According to information obtained by Ynet, a new initiative promoted by the Foreign Ministry calls on Palestinians to "recognize Jews who exiled from Arab lands as refugees." The initiative comes as a response to the Palestinians' demand for a "right of return" to the Land of Israel. The initiative, which is expected to further obstruct the already deadlocked negotiations, was drafted by members of Jewish-American organization JJAC.

After discussing the initiative, Ayalon and National Security Council Chief Uzi Arad decided to hand the matter over to the Foreign Ministry's legal department.

According to the initial outline of the plan, Israelis hailing from Arab countries will be eligible to demand financial compensation for the property they left behind. JJAC also suggested establishing funds that would help protect Jewish cemeteries, restore synagogues and return Torah scrolls to Arab countries, in addition to giving out research scholarships.

The initiative was launched several days after the publication of Ayalon's article titled "I am a refugee," in which he wrote, "As a descendant of a family forced out of Algeria, my father and I – and the millions of other Jews from families who were expelled from Arab countries after 1948 – are entitled to redress."

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bahrain sponsors conference on Jews of Arab lands

Conference convener and emeritus professor Sami Zubaida

A conference on Jews from Arab lands scheduled for 23 - 24 November at the London Middle East Institute (SOAS) is being financed by the University of Bahrain.

Bahrain? Why, you ask, would Bahrain want to celebrate the achievements of Jews in the Arab world? The answer, very simply, is that it is good public relations. Bahrain's royal family has thrown in its lot with the US, whose troops are stationed on this small island opposite Iran. Bahrain has a Jewish ambassador to Washington, Huda Nonoo, one of its 36 Jews. Recently, the king of Bahrain went on a charm offensive meeting ex-Bahraini Jews in New York and London, and offering them incentives to return. A recent Iranian-backed coup to unseat the royal family failed this time, but the next one might succeed: the king probably calculated long ago that he sinks or swims with his Jews.

The aim of this conference is to show the prominence of Jews in all fields and their impressive cultural legacies.

Apart from vague references and one session on the exodus of Jews from Iraq by Abbas Shiblak, (which will presumably minimise Arab responsiblity, as he did in his book) the conference studiously avoids exploring the circumstances in which Jews left the Arab world. This is a bit like a conference on German Jewry discussing Heine and Mendelssohn's contributions to German culture without mentioning how and why the Jews came to be 'ethnically cleansed ' from the country.

Apart from one or two mainstream authorities, such as Professors Shmuel Moreh and Tudor Parfitt, speakers at the conference include a preponderance of post- or anti-Zionists.
There are also 'coexistence mavens' and political doves such as Alon Ben-Meir and Jonathan Freedland not noted for their expertise on Mizrahi Jews.

The conference convener Sami Zubaida harks back wistfully to a cosmopolitan Middle East. He has been quoted saying that he refuses to see Jews as victims or 'oppressed Middle East minorities'. A signatory to the anti-Zionist group Independent Jewish Voices, Sami Zubaida 's ambivalence towards Israel could, perversely, have something to do with the little-known fact that his father was executed by the Iraqi regime.

Abraham Marcus: Lee Kaplan in Front Page magazine has written this about him:"In discussions on the Middle East, even Marcus inexplicably ignores pogroms against Jews prior to and after Israel’s creation in the Middle East in his commentaries. Over 800,000 Middle Eastern Jews were driven from their homes in Arab Muslim lands. Such events led to Israel’s creation as much as the European Holocaust. Yet Marcus suggests Middle Eastern Jews lived relatively unharmed, even though they were dhimmis, or second-class citizens in a Muslim world. This ignores countless murders of the Jews who were hung in the streets of Baghdad for entertainment or murdered in anti-Jewish riots in Cairo and other capitals of the Arab world."

Nancy E Berg is the author of a book on Iraqi-Jewish authors unpromisingly titled Exile from Exile. Zvi Ben Dor Benite's work follows similar lines.

Robert Mabro: Born in Alexandria of Greek Orthodox Christian parents, this energy expert from Oxford is a curious choice for a conference on Jews.

Youssef Courbage : a demographer, also a bizarre choice. In his lecture preamble, Courbage blames the creation of Israel for the dispersal of the Jews from Arab countries. He says that they left Lebanon and Morocco. In fact Lebanon, one of the smallest of Jewish communities, should not warrant undue attention. Courbage is the author of Jews and Christians under Islam, a book which shows how Christianity and Judaism survived and at times even prospered in the region. He wrote (with Oliver Todd) that Iran, for instance, "allegedly an unenlightened, authoritarian, even totalitarian state, because of its religious nature is more uniformly and deeply penetrated by individualism than Turkey."

Daniel Schroeter: The leftwing Nation has charged that "Daniel Schroeter has been denounced (by rightwing Zionists) not for anything he said but for (...) bringing to his campus Muzammil Siddiqi--a Muslim scholar who, local Jewish activists say, has "connections to terrorists."

Not a political animal, art historian and curator Caecilia Pieri 's presentation might prove one of the most refreshing. She seems to have stumbled on Baghdad's Jewish architectural legacy by chance.

Alain Gresh: A Jew by birth ( his father was the Egyptian communist and militant Henri Curiel, murdered by OAS supporters), his step-father was a Copt. Erstwhile editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, he is rabidly anti-Israel and carries the torch for his father's leftism.

The conference has a not-unexpected blindspot when it comes to Israel, although the great majority of Jews from Arab lands and their descendants live in the Jewish state. The reason is that it wishes to portray Jews as homesick and alienated from their natural 'Arab' habitat.

To engage with Israel is a bridge too far for Bahrain. The conference will make strenuous efforts to focus on the fact that not all Jews left for Israel. A paper by Nissim Rejwan on Sephardim in Jaffa and read in his absence will presumably focus on the 'coexistence' model. Otherwise, Israel only figures in this conference as a target for bashing: Yehouda Shenhav and Rachel Shabi ('How Israel took the Arab out of the Jew') have been assigned this role.

There is a positive side to this conference initiative, however: whatever distortions might occur and however unpromising the line-up, we should, I suppose, feel indebted to the kingdom of Bahrain for celebrating a Jewish history in the Middle East that other Arab countries have long erased from their street names, sites and history books.

Full programme here

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Harassment at Jewish sites dates back to Ottomans

Rachel's tomb near Bethlehem

UNESCO's re-branding Rachel's tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs as Muslim sites bodes ill for the preservation of Jewish shrines throughout the Middle East. The struggle to maintain Rachel's tomb as a Jewish site goes back to Ottoman times; at Ezekiel's tomb in Iraq, for instance, Jews also had to pay protection money and, in the face of harassment and extortion, bend the ear of a sympathetic Ottoman governor, or even the Sultan himself - in order to safeguard their rights of worship. Nadav Shagrai has written this JCPA essay:

For many centuries, Jews were compelled to pay protection money and ransom to the Arabs who lived in the area so they wouldn't harm Rachel's Tomb and the Jews who visited it. In 1796, Rabbi Moshe Yerushalmi, an Ashkenazi Jew from central Europe who immigrated to Israel, related that a non-Jew sits at Rachel's Tomb and collects money from Jews seeking to visit the site. Other sources attest to Jews who paid taxes, levies, and presented gifts to the Arab residents of the region.

Dr. Ludwig August Frankl of Vienna, a poet and author, related that the Sephardi community in Jerusalem was compelled to pay 5,000 piastres to an Arab from Bethlehem at the start of the nineteenth century for the right to visit Rachel's Tomb. Other testimonies relate that in order to prevent damage to Rachel's Tomb, payment was transferred to Bedouin members of the Taamra tribe who lived in the region, who had also begun to bury their dead near the tomb during that era. There is a Muslim cemetery on three sides of the compound that mainly belongs to the Taamra tribe and the entire attitude of the Muslims to Rachel's Tomb derives to a large extent from this tribe, which began burying its dead at the site during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries due to its proximity to Rachel's Tomb. The origins of the practice, as the Land of Israel researcher Eli Schiller writes, is the popular Muslim belief that "the closer that the deceased is buried to the tomb of a sainted personality, the greater will be his rewards in the world to come."

Taxes were also collected from the Sephardi Jewish community in Jerusalem to pay the authorities for various "rights," such as passage to the Western Wall, passage of funerals to the Mount of Olives, and for the protection of gravestones there, as well as payment to the Arabs of Bethlehem for safeguarding Rachel's Tomb.

One of the scribes who managed the accounts of the Sephardi Kolel during the eighteenth century reported on the protection money that the Jewish community at that time had to transfer to the "non-Jews and lords of the lands who are called toeffendis...(15,000) Turkish grush...and these are the people who patrol the ways of Jaffa Road, Kiryat Yearim, the people of the Rama, the site of Samuel the Prophet, the people of Nablus Road, the people of the Efrat Road, the tomb of our matriarch they would not come to grave-robbing, heaven forbid. And sometimes they complain to us that we have fallen behind on their routine payments and they come scrabbling on the gravestones in the dead of night, and they did their things in stealth because their home is there. Therefore, we are compelled against our will to propitiate them."

Rabbi David d'Beth Hillel, a resident of Vilna who visited Syria and the Land of Israel in 1824, testified about a Muslim cemetery in the region of Rachel's Tomb. "No person is living there, but there was a cemetery. On the opposite hill there is a village whose residents are Arabs and they are most evil. A stranger who comes to visit Rachel's Tomb is robbed by them."

In 1856, fifteen years after Montefiore had built another room to Rachel's Tomb, James Finn, the British consul who served in Palestine during the days of Turkish rule, spoke about the payments that the Jews were forced to pay to Muslim extortionists at some holy places including Rachel's Tomb: "300 lira per annum to the effendi whose house is adjacent to the site of crying" (the Western Wall) for the right to pray there and "100 lira a year to the Taamra Arabs for not wrecking Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem."

In 1841 Moses Montefiore obtained a license from the Turkish authorities to refurbish Rachel's Tomb and add another room to it, which changed its appearance and improved its formerly neglected status. A door to the domed room was installed and keys were given to two Jewish caretakers, one Sephardi and the other Ashkenazi. Fourteen years previously, an official of the Sephardi Kolelim (religious study centers) in Jerusalem, Avraham Behar Avraham, laid the groundwork for Montefiore's activity at Rachel's Tomb when he obtained recognition from the Turkish authorities for the status and rights of Jews at the site. This was, in practice, the original firman (royal decree) issued by the Ottoman authorities in Turkey recognizing Jewish rights at Rachel's Tomb.

The firman was necessary since the Muslims disputed ownership by the Jews of Rachel's Tomb and even tried by brute force to prevent Jewish visits to the site. From time to time Jews were robbed or beaten by Arab residents of the vicinity, and even the protection money that was paid did not always prevail. Avraham Behar Avraham approached the authorities in Istanbul on this matter and in 1830 the Turks issued the firman that gave legal force to Rachel's Tomb being recognized as a Jewish holy site. Additionally, the governor of Damascus sent a written order to the Mufti of Jerusalem to fulfill the Sultan's order.

This is our order to you: (the following matter) was submitted to us by the subject of our order, the sage representative of honored Jerusalem's Jewry and his translator that the tomb of esteemed Rachel, the mother of our Lord Joseph...they (the Jews) are accustomed to visit it from ancient days; and no one is permitted to prevent them or oppose them (from doing) this....It turned out that at this holy site, they have been visiting since ancient times, without any person preventing them or trespassing on their property and they (have it) as was their custom. In accordance with the respected judgment, I order that our commandment be issued to you so you will treat them accordingly without addition or without subtraction, without hindrance and without opposition to them by anyone in any way whatsoever - written August 10, 1830.

An additional firman from April 1831, eight months later, determined inter alia:

To inform and demonstrate to all interested parties and the appointed officials, the right of the Jews who are residents of holy Jerusalem to visit the grave of Rachel, the mother of the Prophet Joseph, peace be upon him, without hindrance....The deputy translator and other public functionaries, members of the Jewish community of Jerusalem, approached me with many requests regarding the tomb of Rachel, may peace be upon her, the mother of the Prophet Joseph, peace be upon him, and it is known that this grave is located outside the city of Jerusalem opposite the town of Bethlehem, on the highway...and that since ancient times the Jews have tended to visit this holy grave without anybody preventing them from doing so, as an inviolable law. And now people have emerged who have begun to hinder them, although as aforesaid and as proven the Jews have a right to visit the grave according to the Sultan's order. Hence I approach his honor the governor, may he be exalted, reminding him of the contents of the existing order. I also order him to attempt to remove the obstacles from the Jews, residents of Holy Jerusalem and others, so they can visit the aforementioned holy grave unhindered. Rendered in Istanbul at the end of the month of Shawwal in the year 1246 to the Hejira.

Signed: The Sublime Porte.

Ironically, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has been described as "neo-Ottoman" in outlook, told the Saudi paper al-Wattan (March 7, 2010) that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb "were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites."

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