Monday, January 31, 2011
Egyptian Jews in Israel are glued to their TV screens, anxiously following events on the Cairo street. But they have a feeling they have seen it all before, Levana Zamir tells Akhikam Moshe David in the Israeli daily Maariv. Translation from the Hebrew:
The recent images of riots in Egypt are 'deja vu' for the Jews from Egypt in Israel, reviving sights of the streets and smells of Cairo, which can never be again what it once was. For Levana Zamir who today lives in Tel Aviv, the recent events did not come as a surprise. It is like closing a circle: She and her Vidal family suffered the anger and rage of the Egyptian population in the late Forties, now directed against wealthy Egyptians and the government.
Since Thursday she has been glued to the TV, trying to identify her remaining friends in Egypt and looking in disbelief at what is happening in her native country.
"All these days, I was thinking how proud I am of the Egyptian people," she says. "I have friends in Egypt, but I cannot ‘phone them or send them an email, because it could do harm to them. Even in normal times Egyptian censorship makes it hard, and it certainly does now", says Zamir, who is President of The International Organization of Jews from Egypt, and of The Israel-Egypt Friendship Association.
"When I see the flames and the looting, it is impossible not to recall what they did to the Jews. The Egyptian population in its poverty and anger lashed out at us in 1952, burning and looting Jewish businesses. Today it is doing the same thing to the Egyptian elite," she explains. "Only this time, the hatred against Jews has been replaced by hatred against rich Egyptians".
The Jewish community in Egypt is almost non-existent. Only a few remain. The Egyptian authorities are careful to preserve the ancient synagogues, mainly as archaeological relics. The police have stopped guarding those synagogues, and in Cairo they have been replaced by military guards. But there is still anxiety and concern lest the Great Eliahu Hanavi Synagogue, symbol of the once glorious Jewish Community of Alexandria, fall into the hands of looters.
Maariv, 31 January 2011
Supporters of the murderer of Moshe al-Nahari, a Yemeni Jew gunned down in 2008, have kidnapped his son in order to thwart a court decision upholding the killer's execution - and force al-Nahari's family to accept blood money instead. Elder of Ziyon has calculated that this amounts to a derisory $25,000. (Via EoZ)
From Yemen Post (h/t Jawa Report):
"A Yemeni Jewish child was kidnapped from Reda district in Amran province on Saturday, informed source told media outlets.
Yameen Ameran Al-Nahari, 8 years, disappeared while the Jewish community was practising their religious rituals on the weekend.
Sources said that the kidnapping of the child targeted to pressure the Jewish community to forgive Abdul-Aziz Al-Abdi, who shot dead a Jewish fellow citizen, Mashaa Yehiya bin Yaeesh Al-Nahari, and accept his fine in which he will pay 5.5 million riyals.
Lately, a Yemeni court upheld a death sentence on a Muslim man after being accused of killing a Jewish citizen."
Read post in full
"So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied till their population has increased more than even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population. ...We are now asked to submit, and this is what rankles most with me, to an agitation which is fed with foreign money and ceaselessly inflamed by Nazi and by Fascist propaganda."
Egyptian society has lived in Hitler's world of hate ever since. According to leading expert on the Third Reich's fusion with Islamism in Egypt, Matthias Kunztel, "On this point (Jews), the entire Egyptian society has been Islamized.
Read article in full
Sunday, January 30, 2011
As chaos and unrest rule in Egypt, Point of No Return is grateful to Yves Fedida of the Nebi Daniel Association for this update on the state of Egypt's Jewish community and heritage.
Update to the update(with thanks Alain):
Roger Bilboul reports (31 January): " I have spoken to both Carmen Weinstein and Ben Gaon today who inform me that everything is safe.
"Carmen Weinstein sent two of her employees yesterday to check on the synagogue in Adly Street and they were subjected to warning shots from a neighbour who is also an army officer. The employees had to prove their identity before they were allowed to go into the synagogue.
As of a couple of hours ago, there is still no security detail outside the Alexandria synagogue. The army has ring-fenced Old Cairo where the Ben Ezra synagogue is located.
Yves Fedida reports (30 January): "I spoke just now (Sunday afternoon) with Mrs Weinstein, the President of the Cairo Community. She is safe and sound and indicates that army security forces have replaced the police guarding the synagogues. These remain completely locked and closed and nothing bad has befallen them.
"Earlier today Roger Bilboul (also of Nebi Daniel) and I in turn spoke to M. Ben Youssef Gaon, President of the Alexandria Community this morning.
"Here is what he told us :
"The shops along the street of the (Eliahu Hanavi) Synagogue (Nebi Daniel Street) have been looted, as have many other shops especially jewellery shops in town together with the main Alexandria Carrefour store.
"All the main police stations in downtown Alex have been torched with some burnt to the ground. Thugs are roaming the streets, now void of any police force.
"The police and their informers usually mounting a punctilious guard, 24/7, in front of the synagogue have totally disappeared. No one has so far replaced them. The Synagogue employees (gardeners, handymen, cleaning personnel, accountant and secretary) have not shown up for work.
"In a totally insecure environment, only M. Gaon and M. Abd El Nabi, the warden, are standing their ground, alone in a massive building, showing a daytime presence at least on the synagogue grounds to discourage would-be intruders.
"We should all recognise the courage it takes to be there, caring at this time.
"For its part the Nebi Daniel Association wishes to publicly acknowledge the courage and dedication of M. Abd El Nabi and M. Ben Gaon. Hopefully their action will keep our heritage out of harm's way until reason prevails."
Fueled by courage and desperation, the people of Tunisia toppled their authoritarian government this month, sending a message of warning to leaders of Arab states. The citizens of some of those states, most notably Egypt and Yemen, have been studying this message and crafting their own.
In writing a book and narrating a film on what happened in Arab lands during the Holocaust, I have studied Tunisia closely over the past decade. Only 90 miles from the southern tip of Italy, this small North African country was the sole Arab state to suffer a full-fledged German occupation during World War II. I have visited the places where SS officers rounded up Jews and sent them to concentration camps.
Yet Tunisia was also where I found the most stories of Arabs protecting Jews during the war. As in Europe, these Muslim rescuers were ordinary people performing extraordinary acts - like the Tunis bathhouse owner who hid a Jewish man in his hammam or the Mahdia country squire who sheltered two dozen Jews on his farm. This moment in Tunisian history - which had a much happier ending for Jews than did events on the other side of the Mediterranean - gives hope that the current chaos will end reasonably positively.
Tunisia's largely homogeneous population has blended a 1,400-year-old Sunni Arab identity with an organic, deeply embedded connection to Europe. Its capital once rivaled Beirut and Alexandria as the most cosmopolitan Arab city, with large communities of Italians, French, British and Maltese injecting a heady mix of energy and ideas into the local culture.
What next for Tunisia and its Jews? Talk by Dr Saul Zadka on 1 February in London. See Harif for details.
Friday, January 28, 2011
This post is dedicated to Point of No Return reader Andrew. At this very moment Andrew may be out there on the street demonstrating against Egypt's tyrannical regime. We wish you well, Andrew, and all the brave souls who want Egypt to become a better place for all its people.
The following article for the Hudson Institute by Frank Salameh clearly expresses what is at stake for the Middle East's vanishing and oppressed minorities unless democracy and the respect of civil and human rights are allowed to take root in the 'Arab' world.
The Copts — and other Near Eastern Christians facing extinction -- in their ancestral homelands no less—should be spared the condescending wringing of hands and other worthless histrionics of collective sorrow. Something else, of an entirely different nature, needs to take place: politicians, academics, prelates, lay leaderships, Middle East experts, and decent Muslims all over the world could resolve to take a firm and decisive stand against Muslim supremacists. Nothing short of summoning brutally honest Arab and Muslim introspection — by Arabs and Muslims—should be deemed acceptable any longer.
The culture and theology that produce these sorts of genocidal impulses—of which the Copts are only the most recent victims—should be put on trial; not the "terrorists," and not "al-Qaeda."
The ongoing destruction of Eastern Christians is not a modern phenomenon, nor is it a reaction to Western colonialism, American meddling, the existence of Israel, the war in Iraq, or economic hardships in the Middle East—the standard pretexts flaunted by a biased Middle East scholarship and media.
The deliberate, methodical erasure of the histories, languages, cultures, and memories of indigenous non-Muslim Middle Easterners is a phenomenon fourteen centuries in the making. An honest recognition of this horrid legacy is imperative to a sound understanding of the Middle East.
Yet, the LA-Times gave the Copts' plight brief mention in this past Saturday's edition, concluding with the mind-numbing claim that the shrinking numbers of Middle Eastern Christians were the outcome of economic hardship. This is arguably the saddest chapter in the Near Eastern Christians' exodus saga of the past fourteen centuries; the distortion and dismissal of their plight, and the simplistic reduction of its causes to mere "economic" impulses.
This is the profoundly flawed "right way of thinking" mindset about the Middle East today validated by an LA-Times claiming that:
authorities worry that Christian communities in relatively safe countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iran, also are shrinking, though driven more by a search for economic opportunities than by fear of violence. [... Middle Eastern Christians] tend to be better educated and more Western-oriented than their Muslim compatriots and often utilize family or religious ties abroad to emigrate.
The LA-Times is in good company with such misleading clichés: As recently as June, 2009, the apolitical, tax-exempt, and eco-friendly National Geographic magazine deemed it gauche-caviar-stylish to attribute the disappearance of Near Eastern Christians to the establishment of the State of Israel and the 11th century Crusades. Gone from this shoddy history were the 7th century Arab-Muslim conquests, and the subjugations, expulsions, massacres, and mass conversions of indigenous non-Arabs. Should our "newspapers of record" and our "scientific and educational journals" tell the Copts' stories of dispossession, marginalization, persecutions, and impending extinction in light of the savagery that was the 7th century? Should anyone venture to attribute the plight of non-Muslim Middle Easterners to Islamic triumphalism?
There are, however, those who still challenge this re-writing of history. Early 20th century Armenian-American novelist William Saroyan was one such iconoclast; his poignant short story, Seventy Thousand Assyrians, is an example of a decent man's refusal to commit the aggrieved Near Eastern Christians to oblivion.It can be read like a news item from yesterday's newspaper; even though it was written 75 years ago, on the heels of the Assyrian Genocide, long before the invention of Political Correctness, at a time when murderers could still be taken to task, and when one could still name names and level a forthright "J'accuse!" without being branded an "Islamophobe."
Here is how things ended for the Assyrians close to a century ago; and how things might still end for the Copts and other remaining Near Eastern Minorities in our Orwellian universe of newspeak and Political Correctness:
"Seventy thousand,'" wrote Saroyan; "That is all. Seventy thousand Assyrians in the world, and the Arabs are still killing us. They killed seventy of us in a little uprising last month. There was a small paragraph in the paper…..We'll be wiped out before long. "
What is at stake in the Middle East today are Copts, Maronites, Assyrians, Jews, and other non-Muslim minorities from the most ancient civilizations -- besieged, endangered, in need of our immediate help.
Read article in full
Kurdistan-born Yosef Shiloah, who died earlier this month aged 69 after a long struggle with cancer, was one of Israel’s best known and most beloved comic actors. Shiloah played the hypochondriac Faruk in Alex in love. Obituary in the Jerusalem Post:
“For the dozens of unforgettable roles he brought to life, Yosef Shiloah today is synonymous with the words, ‘Israeli Cinema,’” wrote the organizers of the Jerusalem Film Festival in the citation for Shiloah’s Life Achievement Award at the 2009 film festival.
Shiloah, an unusually versatile and charming actor, moved with ease among every film genre, from low comedy to crime thriller to serious drama. Invariably sporting his trademark moustache, he was the kind of actor who made it look easy.
Although he won many awards throughout his career, including the Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Desperado Square (2001), critics at times attacked him for playing caricatures. While many of his most memorable roles involved broad comedy and ethnic stereotypes, that was more a reflection of the Israeli movie industry in an earlier era than a sign that Shiloah was anything other than a firstrate actor.
He dismissed these criticisms, saying repeatedly that he was an actor who sought to bring to life the humanity in every role he played, and that his acting worked to counteract ethnic prejudice.
Born in 1941 in Kurdistan, the actor, whose original name was Sirus Yousefian, immigrated to Israel in 1950. After studying acting in the first class at the Beit Zvi School in the early Sixties, he became a film star in the early Seventies in the ethnic comedies and melodramas known as “bourekas movies.” He often played criminals (of Persian or other Mizrahi descent), in films such as The Policeman, aka Ha Shoter Azoulai (1970) and Snooker, aka Hagiga B’Snooker (1975). He also starred in many of the more artistic films of that era. He collaborated with two directors in particular.
One was Moshe Mizrahi, with whom he starred in the films I Love You, Rosa (1972) and The House on Chelouche Street (1973), both of which were nominated for Oscars. He also had a fruitful partnership with Boaz Davidson, for whom he starred in a number of films, including Snooker, Private Popsicle (1983) and most notably the hypochondriac Faruk in Alex in Love (Alex Holeh Ahava) in 1986.
Read article in full
On January 24, 1965, Syrian secret police raided an upscale apartment in Damascus and arrested businessman Kamel Amin Tha’abet. Accused of being an Israeli spy who had revealed some of Syria’s most closely guarded secrets, Tha’abet was tortured, quickly tried and publicly hanged several months later.
Eliahu Cohen was born in Egypt in 1924 to a Syrian father and Egyptian mother. Being a Jew in Egypt at the time, Cohen was denied many opportunities and faced discrimination. As he entered adulthood, Cohen became involved in Zionist organizations and was recruited by the Hagana, helping provide forged papers to Egyptian Jews to enable their escape to the newly-founded Jewish state of Israel. These first years of involvement with the Israeli security services would eventually serve as a forewarning to his final days in Syria.
According to an interview with Cohen’s brother, Maurice, Eli was involved in dangerous covert operations from his early days in Egypt. In the mid-1950s, the arrest of a dozen Jews in Egypt uncovered what would become known as the Lavon Affair. Among those swept up by the Egyptian secret police was Eli Cohen. The Egyptians, citing a lack of evidence, eventually released him. Maurice, nonetheless, claims he was involved in the sabotage operation aimed at disrupting Egypt’s relations with the US and European countries. Israeli sources familiar with the affair have, however, denied his involvement, saying that he was merely familiar with some of the operatives.
Eventually expelled by Egypt, Cohen made aliya at the end of 1956. Having been denied a translator position with the state’s early intelligence services because of his lack of proficiency in Hebrew, Eli began work as an accountant for an Israeli retail chain, according to interviews with his brother. During what may have been the most normal years of his life, Eli met his wife-to-be Nadia. The two were wed in 1959. However, the normalcy would not last.
By then fluent in Modern Hebrew, Cohen was recruited by Military Intelligence a few years after marrying. Realizing his obvious potential, considering Eli’s fluent Arabic and Syrian heritage, the IDF transferred him to the newly-formed Mossad where he underwent training and was quickly dispatched to Argentina, according to his brother Maurice.
Overnight, Eli Cohen became Kamel Amin Tha’abet, a wealthy Syrian businessman in Argentina who longed to return to his homeland. Emersing himself into the sizable Syrian expatriate community in Argentina, Tha’abet threw extravagant parties and built a reputation as a man who wanted nothing more than to move back to Syria and contribute to the country’s success, including the destruction of its new neighbor, Israel. With a cover story built, it was not long before he moved to Damascus.
Quickly gaining the trust and intrigue of senior Syrian officials, Tha’abet gained entry into influential circles in Damascus. He attended exclusive meetings of the ruling Ba’ath party and befriended senior governmental and military personalities. According to his brother, then a cryptographer for the Mossad, Tha’abet became a member of the Syrian National Council of Revolutionary Command. In his regular radio transmissions to Israel, he relayed vital information about Syrian operations that would save Israeli lives and provided warning of military moves and installations.
One of the most famous anecdotes of Tha’abet’s (Cohen) successful moves as a mole in the Syrian elite was an off-handed suggestion which led to the location and bombing of military bases in later wars. Tha’abet suggested to Syrian military officials that they line their army and air force bases with Euculyptus trees in order to provide their soldiers with relief from the harsh Middle Eastern sun. While the trees likely did prevent heat stroke among a handful of soldiers, they also proved an easy way for Israeli Air Force pilots to locate army bases from the air.
Read article in full
Thursday, January 27, 2011
In 2006, Teheran sponsored what it called the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, which then Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said was called to provide “an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions.” In fact, the 67 attendees included an array of people denying that six million Jews were systematically killed by the Nazis during World War II.
Eldad Pardo, an Iran specialist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said Holocaust denial in Iran ran deeper than presidential statements. Iranian anti-Semitism stemmed both from the traditional Shi'ite outlook on Jews as "impure" and a more modern, Fascist version of anti-Semitism imported from Europe.
"There‘s certainly a need for this new YouTube channel," Pardo told The Media Line. "Since 2005, when Ahmadinejad came to power there has been a noticeable intensification in anti-Semitic rhetoric. No Iranian President has spoken like this before."
During World War II, Iran was officially neutral, but in effect it was a “pro-Nazi, quasi-fascist regime," Pardo said. "The Iranians, who viewed themselves as a superior Aryan race, assumed that Germany would win the war."
Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, spoke of what he called YouTube's ability to bring survivors' personal accounts to the attention of web users in Iran.
"The connection between one person and another is extraordinarily powerful," he said. "We know this site won't radically change people's positions, but it is a good start for achieving change over time."
Approximately one half of Iran's population of 74 million was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and with 33 million web surfers, Iran enjoys one of the highest proportions of Internet users in the Middle East.
"The young population in Iran will now be able to get true information about what happened in the war," Rena Shashua-Hasson, a Bulgarian Holocaust survivor, told The Media Line. "This new generation, which is half of Iran's population, is misinformed by its government."
Iran has tried to block access to internet sites in the past, especially around the time of the 2009 presidential elections, in which the incumbent Ahmadinejad claimed 62% of the vote amid widespread allegations of election fraud. But David Yerushalmi, professor of Iranian studies at Tel Aviv University, said Iran's failure to completely restrict sites will give Yad Vashem a chance to bring its message.
Read article in full
Netanyahu: World not doing enough to fight Iranian antisemitism
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I'm aghast. Incensed. Furious.
Yesterday, The Guardian (international edition) devoted 80 percent of its front page and five inside pages to the Palestine Papers. No less than 14 pieces on the Palestine Papers appeared on The Guardian website, Comment is Free. The editorial spin is that the Palestinian Authority's purported 'concessions' ceding parts of Jerusalem to Israel and the 'right of return' for all but 100,000 Palestinian refugees would have been an outrageous betrayal of the Palestinian people's aspirations.
The Palestinians are said to be making generous concessions on Jerusalem: yet the old city and East Jerusalem, whole districts of Baghdad (where Jews were 40 percent of the population), Tripoli, Alexandria, Cairo, Fez, Meknes, Tunis, Sana'a, Damascus, and dozens of other cities were brutally emptied of their Jews in the last 50 years. These Jews do not deserve justice in the eyes of The Guardian.
The Jews have more than paid any price - they have lost land equivalent to four times the entire surface area of Israel, they have had assets seized and stolen by Arab governments (worth twice as much as Palestinians have lost). On top of all that they have suffered ethnic cleansing.
Yet the Palestinians, who lost a war they started (to eradicate Israel), have the temerity to demand a 'right of return' to their homes after 60 years, whereas an exchange of population with a roughly equal number of Jews (who couldn't go back to their homes in Arab lands, even if they wanted to) is what occurred. What The Guardian does, by encouraging the Palestinians to adhere to their maximalist demands, is to make a humanitarian solution for Palestinian refugees in their host countries more remote than ever, and give extremists every incentive to keep the conflict going.
Where is your sense of justice, Guardian? Where is your sense of perspective, CiF? Why are the Jews of the Middle East always absent from the debate on your pages? Why do Arab rights always trump Jewish rights in your warped and simplistic view?
Crossposted at CiFwatch
In a letter to UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Director for International Relations, Dr.Shimon Samuels, noted, "The Iranian student Basij militia, of Bu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University in Hamadan province, have removed the mausoleum sign to the entrance of the Esther and Mordechai tomb in Shush, during a demonstration replete with antisemitic racist calumny".
The letter continued, "The annual feast of Purim is a Jewish celebration of delivery from genocide.The Bible recounts how the Persian monarch, Ahasuerus was warned by his Queen, Esther, and her uncle Mordechai of his Minister Haman’s treachery. Thus was averted Haman’s planned massacre of Persian Jewry. Like the Passover story, Purim is a children’s festival iconizing liberation and justice. The tomb of its heroes, Esther and Mordechai, has for centuries been a revered Jewish pilgrimage site, long acknowledged as such by the Iranian authorities as a protected national heritage landmark."
Samuels pointed to Iranian government-sponsored Fars News Agency reports here and here:-
"The student Basij campaign, which began last September, has now turned menacing in words and actions, declaring, inter alia, that:
-the removal of the mausoleum sign denotes the effacement of the site’s Jewish character -an accompanying revisionist narrative holds Esther and Mordechai responsible for the murder of 75,000 Iranian [sic] martyrs, murdered in the course of one day i.e. 10% of the then Iranian population
-this was 'a Holocaust' that displaces the myth of the Nazi Holocaust -the shrine is an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty -its name must be obliterated to teach the younger generation to beware of the crimes of the Jews and to return the shrine to the Iranian people
-the site must become 'a Holocaust memorial' to the Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai, and must be placed under the supervision of the religious endowments authority
-speakers listed, declared that 'unfortunately, large numbers of Iranian citizens, unaware of the facts, have travelled to this tomb of the damned, which honours the murderers of thousands of Iranians'. They then presented a litany of supposed 'Jewish atrocities' in Ethiopia and Yemen, and claimed that 'the Jewish festival of Purim sweetens the blood of Jewish children' with the misfortunes of Iran."The Centre argued that "this matter should be of concern to UNESCO on two counts:-the abuse of Bu-Ali Sina /Avicenna University - founded by the French Ministry of Education in 1973 – now become a vector for the dissemination of, and incitement to, hatred in direct violation of UNESCO’s educational provisions
2-the physical and moral damage to the site contravenes UNESCO’s World Heritage principles"
The letter urged UNESCO "to condemn these abuses and to call upon the Iranian authorities to take appropriate measures to terminate this campaign of racism and desecration."
"It is perhaps time for UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to establish instruments for the universal protection of holy sites," concluded Samuels.
The Centre also shared this information with the French authorities, urging the suspension of all cooperation with Bu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University, pending its condemnation of its students’ racist behaviour. The University was established by France in 1973.
Read article in full
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Prolific blogger Elder of Ziyon is all excited to have unearthed a Wikileaks cable from 2005. Discussing German reparations to Israel for the Holocaust, the cable ends intriguingly (as EoZ puts it) as follows:
Finally, xxxxxxxxxxxx noted that Poland would likely be the next area of focus of the GOI restitution efforts, and that the GOI would work in close coordination with the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and the other main survivor and restitution bodies in Israel and abroad. All of the above are in addition to the GOI Ministerial Committees continuing research into expanding pursuit of restitution claims for Jewish property and assets from Arab lands.
In fact the Israeli government's decision to expand the pursuit of restitution claims in Arab countries is not as intriguing as all that. The Israeli Cabinet, in March 2002 and December 2003, called for efforts "to gather information, data, claims and documents... (and) record details of Jewish private and communal property in Arab countries and the denial of their rights."
The task of gathering claims was assigned to the Ministry of Pensioners' Affairs in 2009. In February 2010, the Knesset passed a law stating that no peace agreement could be signed with Arab states unless compensation for Jewish refugees was on the agenda.
So actively pursuing restitution for Jews from Arab countries has been Israeli government policy for at least the last seven years. Not that anyone would have noticed, so coy had the Kadima-led government been about it. The intriguing thing that it is only when a document is Wikileaked do people sit up and take note of what was always there!
Read post in full
'By what right should a society that barely tolerated and expelled its Jews, and that loathes and forbids the presence of Jews now, be given 27 cases of Jewish documents and books'? asks Alex Joffe in Jewish Ideas Daily. He wonders whether the principle of non-refoulement ( refugees must not be returned to a situation where they are at risk) can be applied to the Iraqi Jewish archives. (With thanks: Eliyahu)
The Iraqi Jewish Archive, as it became known, is both proud and pitiful. The earliest item dates to 1568, but most of the other materials are from the late-19th and early-20th centuries: Judeo-Arabic manuscripts, Torah scrolls and mantles, children's primers, family photographs, letters, all seized from Iraq's long-banished Jews. Through a confluence of initiatives involving the U.S. military, the Iraqi opposition, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, the trove was transported to the U.S. where it was freeze-dried, conserved, and photographed. It remains in the charge of the National Archives and Records Administration and the Center for Jewish History. Although basic cataloging has been done, more extensive preservation and digitization await funding and a resolution of the archive's fate.
Representatives of the Iraqi Jewish community in Israel have staked a claim to the trove. But so, for its part, has Iraq itself, whose new Minister of Tourism and Antiquities has named the return of the archive as a top priority. After all, countless items looted from Iraq's museums and archaeological sites, from ancient tablets to Saddam's gold plated AK-47, have already been restored. Why not the Iraqi Jewish Archive?
Indeed, Western democracies have lately become accustomed to such demands. The Elgin Marbles, their fate still undecided, are the most famous example, but countless objects have already been repatriated to countries ranging from Peru to China, sometimes before requests were entered. Even outright gifts, like Cleopatra's Needle in New York's Central Park, are on the list of Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian pharaoh of archaeology who travels the world demanding that every object ever created in Egypt be returned or otherwise made subject to his personal decision.
Scholars and intellectuals have largely acceded to these demands out of post-colonial guilt and fear of losing access to excavation permits. "Retentionists," who wish to keep antiquities in the West, have been accused of greed; having stolen other peoples' legacies, they now defy international law and public sentiment. To this one might respond that the demands themselves often seem more about exercising political power in the present than about preserving the past—and in any case they are of dubious relevance to the Iraqi Jewish Archive.
What is true is that the Jewish community in what is now Iraq is of ancient and distinguished lineage—more ancient than any other outside the Holy Land. For more than 2,500 years, from the Assyrian conquest of Israel and then the Babylonian conquest of Judah, Jews resided along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates as an integral minority, and by the 20th century had long learned to accommodate themselves to new rulers and new empires washing back and forth. But in the race unleashed by the British after their conquest of the territory, Jews along with Christians, Kurds, and other minorities were soon crushed by Muslim supremacism, now cloaked in the name of Iraqi nationalism.
The process of dispossessing Jews from the new state of Iraq began almost immediately with the dismissal of Jewish officials in 1934 and 1936, unofficially complemented by bombings of Jewish establishments in 1936 and 1938 and culminating in the Farhud massacre of June 1941. The official process intensified with the criminalization of Zionism in 1948. A year later, Prime Minister Nuri as-Said was describing to foreign diplomats a plan to expel Iraq's Jews. The climax occurred with a 1950 bill on de-naturalization, confiscating the property of Jews who emigrated, and the bombing of Baghdad's Masuda Shemtob synagogue in January 1951.
By March 1951, 120,000 Jews had left Iraq, being permitted to take with them no more than 50 pounds sterling per adult and 20 per child. In 1952, the gates were closed. In 1963, Jews were forbidden to sell property. After the Six-Day war of 1967, Jews were dismissed from jobs, their property seized, bank accounts frozen, and telephones disconnected. Jews were hanged as alleged spies in 1968 and 1969. By the 1970s, the few remaining Jews were permitted to leave after being pressured to turn over title to property. When the Americans arrived in 2003, perhaps two or three dozen remained.
By what right should a society that barely tolerated and then expelled its Jews, and that loathes and forbids the presence of Jews now, be given 27 cases of Jewish documents and books? Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, has stated one rationale: "Iraqis must know that we are a diverse people, with different traditions, different religions, and we need to accept this diversity . . . [and] that Baghdad was always multiethnic." A glance at the headlines from Iraq suggests that such noble aspirations are increasingly belied by reality.
Besides, should the materials be returned to Iraq, what assurances are there that anyone, much less Jews, will have access to them? What assurances that the materials will be preserved at all? Countless artifacts from Israeli excavations in Sinai were returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace agreement. No one knows their fate, but rumors have long circulated that they were simply dumped alongside the road. Similar proposals have been made regarding artifacts, even demonstrably Jewish ones, excavated in the West Bank, which Israel is being urged to turn over to the Palestinian Authority as a confidence-building measure. Intellectuals, who in other settings deplore "politicization" of the past, are usually at the forefront of such seemingly therapeutic schemes.
Free societies, with their competing interests and concerns, do a mixed but on the whole creditable job of maintaining their pasts. Unfree societies, thanks to corruption and racism, typically do a very poor job, and when they do make an effort, as in Iraq under Saddam, it is in furtherance of the regime's dictatorial and repressive aims.
International refugee law provides for "non-refoulement": that is, refugees must not be returned to a situation where they would be put in jeopardy. Might a similar principle be considered for antiquities? Could it be asserted that unfree states forfeit their claims to antiquities, particularly those originating with minorities they have expunged or exterminated, and against whom they discriminate in the present? The legal dimensions remain to be explored; in the meantime, like many of the Jews who created it, the Iraqi Jewish Archive lingers in exile—so far, thankfully, in a free country.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Not much wartime Jewish suffering in North Africa can, it seems, be blamed on anyone other than the Nazis (Tunisia), the Italian fascists (Libya) and the Vichy authorities (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco): Haim Saadon (pictured) of the Hebrew University tells us in The Jerusalem Post that 'relations between Jews and Muslims in the Maghreb were good, despite the Nazis.' However, Jews paying Arabs to shelter Jews (such as Saadon's own family) from the Nazis, is no different from Jews paying European Gentiles to do the same. When he claims there was no violence, Saadon seems to have forgotten the mob attacks against Moroccan Jews as soon as General Patton landed in 1943; his explanation of the Libyan pogrom of 1945 is weak. And how does he explain the fact that anti-Jewish Vichy rules were still maintained in Algeria after the liberation 'so as not to arouse the Arab population'*?
When Nazi Germany’s Afrika Korps invaded Tunisia in 1942, panic quickly spread among members of the local Jewish community, many of whom packed their belongings and fled to the countryside, fearing persecution.
Dr. Haim Saadon of the Hebrew University recalled, in an interview with the The Jerusalem Post last week, how his parents had to live in hiding until the French colony was liberated by the allies.
“They remember exactly how they left their houses and lived in a little village with Muslims in the country,” Saadon said.
“They had to pay for their accommodation but they were well treated there.”
Relatively good ties between Jews and Muslims in North Africa during World War II stand in stark contrast to the treatment of their coreligionists by gentiles in Europe at the same time and is the central theme of the English-language lecture Saadon is scheduled to deliver at the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on Tuesday, on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Whereas in Europe Jews were hunted down by locals – in Lithuania the Jewish community was almost annihilated by nationalist militias without the Nazis lifting a finger – the Jews of North Africa were for the most part left unharmed by Muslims.
“There was no violence towards Jews during the war from Muslims,” he said.
“Even between 1911 when Libya was occupied by the Italians, until 1943, there was a lot of tension between the Italians and the Jews, but the Jews were relatively on good terms with the Muslims.
“The question is how to explain this difference: Muslims gave shelter to Jews during the war during the bombardment of Libya. For instance, Jews lived in Arab villages. They paid money, but their lives were saved.”
At the same time there was no particular sense of camaraderie between members of the different faiths, Saadon said. In fact, in other parts of the Muslim world some Muslims sided with the Nazis.
Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini famously spent the war in Berlin, where he helped organize a Muslim unit to fight on the Axis side. In Baghdad, an Axis-supported junta briefly seized power from the pro- British government.
“North Africa is not the case of the Middle East,” he said. “Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine had a different process.”
On one occasion, a Muslim man in the Maghreb even helped save Jewish lives.
Read article in full
* Jews of Arab lands in modern times by Norman Stillman, p.135.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
"Jews lived happily together with Muslims and in harmony before Israel was established."
How many times have you heard this said?
We are indebted to Torbjorn Karfunkel, who has blown the myth of peaceful coexistence sky-high with his pre-1948 'massacre map' of Jews by Muslims (click on the map to enlarge). The map should not be considered exhaustive, but it does go back to the 7th century, when Mohammed's followers massacred Jewish tribes in Arabia. It reminds us that Jews were murdered in Spain in 1066, in spite of the 'Andalusian Golden Age'. The cluster of explosive dots over Morocco recalls that relationships between Jews and Muslims during the 19th century were not always plain sailing.
To this 'massacre map' one might add the blood libels which spread like wildfire across the Ottoman empire, often resulting not in massacres, but in individuals arrested, tortured and unfairly accused.
As the great Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi has written: "coexistence with the Arabs was not just uncomfortable, it was marked by threats periodically carried out."
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Robert Fisk seems to have a ghoulish penchant for poking around cemeteries in Arab countries. In this Independent piece, he explores a Jewish cemetery in Algiers. The Algerian-Jewish tragedy is that Algerian Jews, French citizens since 1860, fought and died for la patrie even as la patrie repaid them with ungrateful and virulent pied noir and Vichy antisemitism. Not a mention, of course, of the pre-colonial dhimmi status imposed on the Jews by Islam, nor of Arab-instigated pogroms, such as the Constantine riot of 1934. Fisk is surprised that Jews are still around in Algeria, but in 2007 there were estimated to be fewer than 20.
The cemetery was still there. "You have to climb through this wall," the security man said. And there it was, the tiny synagogue dedicated by "the Israelite community of Algiers to their children who died on the field of honour".
And there were the memorials, still surviving, in Hebrew and French, of Jews from Algeria who gave their lives for France in the Great War. "David Jules Soussan of the 3rd mixed Regiment of Zouaves, died at Etingen, 1918", and "Amar Maurice Moïse, Soldier of the 2nd Engineering Regiment, died at Nieuport, 16 August 1915 Croix de Guerre". Presumably facing Hitler's last assault in the next war, William Levy "died for France, June 16, 1940, at Arpajon (Seine-et-Oise) at the age of 30", killed before he knew how murderously his country would treat his people.
There had been anti-Semitism enough in the 1890s – not from the Muslims of Algeria but from the "civilised" French colonisers who in 1870 were outraged when the French Jewish justice minister Isaac Crémieux gave full French citizenship to Algeria's 40,000 Jews. Muslims were not awarded this privilege, but it was the French right, not the majority Muslim population, who expressed their scorn for the Jews. In a remarkable book, the Algerian journalist Aïssa Chenouf has published the fruits of his extraordinary research into his country's former Jewish population, and unearthed some terrible stories of France's viciousness towards it.
In March 1897, for example, the French colonial daily Le Petit Africain urged voters to cast their ballots against anyone who supported the Jewish community in Algeria. The paper carried a "liste anti-juive" of safe French candidates, including right-wing doctors, businessmen and retired army officers, under the headline: "All Frenchmen against the Common Enemy. The Jew: This is the Enemy." Pro-Jewish voters were referred to as "sheep" acting under orders.
Incredibly, within 17 years, the Jews of Algeria were sending their sons to fight for France. Aïssa quotes a letter from the rabbi of Constantine to his son, who was about to leave for the Salonika front. "I advise you to be a good soldier, brave, obedient to your officers and warm to your friends," he wrote. "You are no more a child, you are a man and so you have the honour of going to war to defend our beloved country, France. The honour of all your family is now in your hands. You must come home to us, after victory, decorated with the military medal and the Croix de Guerre." Like poor Amar Moïse, I suppose.
At least 2,000 Algerian Jews died in the Great War. They were ill rewarded. Under the 1940 Vichy government, the Crémieux decree was abrogated, returning Algerian Jews to their status of "indigènes". General Maurice Weygand signed this order. Old Algerian French soldiers, calling themselves the "French Veterans' Legion", 150,000 strong, defined their enemies as "democracy, Gaullist traitors and Jewish lepers". When Algerians were permitted to steal Jewish property, the Muslims – almost to a man – refused. Ferhat Abbas, one of the greatest Algerian Muslim patriots, regarded the anti-Jewish laws as "hateful".
In his own new history of Jews in Muslim lands, Martin Gilbert pays tribute to the Algerian Muslims who risked their lives for Jews during the Vichy period, although his book contains a number of flaws. But Jewish history in Arab lands contains many ironies. There was indeed anti-Semitic violence in Algerian history, especially in the 12th century. The final tragedy was Algeria's war of independence. The Jews tried to avoid participation, although their French schooling and history made many of them allies of the pieds noirs colonisers, even sympathetic to the anti-Gaullist OAS armed opposition. By the end of June 1962, 142,000 Jews had left Algeria, leaving only 25,000 – 6,000 of them in Algiers. Gilbert writes that 125,000 went to France, only 25,681 to Israel (where their future lives – this, a largely unknown history – proved a stunning success story). On independence in 1962, the ruling National Liberation Front asked their Jewish citizens to remain. Gilbert says that a nationality law later cast doubt on this request. "An ancient Jewish community was at an end," Gilbert wrote.
Not quite. Jews still live in Algiers. I met one of them a few weeks ago. And they still visit the cemetery of Saint Eugène. When I was climbing through that wall in the rain, I almost fell over the graves of the Baichi family. In accordance with Jewish tradition, there were stones, newly laid, on the tomb of an old lady. "Yes, a member of the Baichis came here four days ago," the security man said. "He came to pray at his mother's grave." Then he brushed his hands against each other in a gesture of finality that I understood but did not like. "It is over," he said. "But they are still here."
Friday, January 21, 2011
No matter how 'good' rulers like Ben Ali have been to the Jews, 'Jewish minorities always live in fear and if you spit on them, they call it rain'. Enlightening interview by Yair Ettinger of Haaretz with Tunisian-born sociologist Claude Sitbon on the current situation for Tunisia's Jews. They have nothing to fear at the moment, but Sitbon confirms that the community's leaders, Roger Bismuth and Khlifa Atun, are now in Paris.
Claude Sitbon, do the Jews in Tunisia have reason to be afraid?
"In terms of personal safety, there is no reason to fear. The main fear of the Jews and others is about the country's political future. Many people say they hope the country will continue to be secular, and the opposition to Islamic fundamentalism is forceful.
"For 23 years, President Zine al-Abidine ben Ali wiped out opposition and freedom of speech. Since 1987, when he took over from Habib Bourguiba, he did some good things, like advancing women's status. He also attacked Islam.
"The Europeans saw his destruction of fundamentalism as a legitimacy stamp, but what they didn't notice until a decade ago was that he did not recognize human rights and even worse, he was corrupt. His wife has 10 brothers and sisters who took control of everything worth something in the Tunisian economy, from the telephone companies to hotels and tourism. It is awful, and I believe that is the straw that broke the camel's back."
Tell us about Tunisia's current Jewish community.
"There are two prominent figures in the community. When I called to ask how they were, both were already in Paris. That doesn't mean everyone has left for Paris. When the president was in control, relations with him were good.
"We must remember that in the 1950s, when the community peaked at 110,000 Jews, half left for Israel and half for Paris. Now there are some 1,000 Jews on the island of Djerba and that is very interesting, because they have everything, they have a full community life. There are 700 in Tunis.
"The community in Tunis consists mainly of very old people and there is an old-age home, while Djerba has a much more organized community with direct contact with Israel. They all speak Hebrew."
How was Ben Ali's era for the Jewish community?
"I can't say that something bad happened to the Jews when Ben Ali was president. Moreover, when Bourguiba was in power he set up a senate with a list of notables including a Jewish man, Roger Bismuth.
"From that perspective, you cannot say the ties were bad. He renovated all the country's synagogues. He strengthened the ties with Israel, particularly regarding tourism. The first group of Israelis to visit Tunisia was in December 1993, and I had the honor of joining them. Now there are lots of groups."
Don't the Jews of Tunisia have anything to lose?
"The great fear is that after 23 years of all the elections giving Ben Ali 96 percent to 98 percent of the vote, people won't know how to handle real democracy and real elections. The opposition have been wiped out.
"Now we have a problem because according to the constitution, elections must be held within 60 days, but most of the parties, except for the Communists perhaps, are not ready. So apparently the only alternative is a national unity government.
"Right now I don't see any reason to fear, because the Tunisians are an easy-going people. I have visited more than 10 times in recent years, and I traveled freely in the north and the south without fear - not from what I saw, and not from what I heard."
Could anyone have foreseen this spontaneous uprising?
"Over the past decade, every year the terrible feeling increased that you couldn't speak, that the police were in control, that this gang was gaining control. So people knew the day would come. They didn't know when, but everyone thought that Ben Ali's position wasn't good, that's clear."
To what extent did Ben Ali leave his mark on the relations with the Jews?
"His term was very smooth for them. Jewish minorities always lives in fear and when someone spits on them, they prefer to call it rain. You can't say that during Ben Ali's tenure something bad happened to them. It is an open society, very western.
"But Ben Ali is gone and has no chance of returning, so much hatred has been expressed toward him in the last month. It's not that they threw him out, he fled, and that raises questions. The hat is burning on the thief's head.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Head down to the Avenue de Liberte in Tunis in time for shacharit and you can find worshippers leaving the main synagogue. And it's not hard to see that they have reason to be worried.
As one man leaving the shul, in his 60s and wearing a black beret, said: "It's a good time to be quiet and put your head down."
Curfew had been lifted an hour before, but most of the shops on the normally bustling street were not open and were to remain shut during the day. A couple of policemen stood languidly nearby the house of prayer, but it was not clear whether they were stationed there to guard the place or, like hundreds of other police and security force personnel stationed around the city centre, they were waiting for the daily demonstrations to start again.
"Some of my friends have flown to Paris until the trouble is over," said the man, walking briskly towards his home. "It certainly doesn't pay to speak out as a Jew in a country like this."
When asked about his feelings regarding the departure of former President Zein el-Abbadin Bin Ali, he smiles and remains silent.
Souhail Ftouh, a Muslim blogger who writes extensively on Jewish and Israeli ties with Tunisia, is more vocal on the situation of the Jews in the country. "They are afraid of their own shadows," he says, "they fear that if they support Israel, they will be attacked."
He agrees that there is no overt antisemitism in the country but says that it exists beneath the surface. "The government protects the Jews and many of them have business contacts with Bin Ali's circle. But Jews who have emigrated find that any property they still own is taken over and they are powerless to act. In the end, they are still considered as guests, not equal citizens."
Mr Ftouh is an admirer of Israel, which he calls "the best democracy in the world", and is critical of the Jewish community for not being more Zionist.
It is unclear how many Jews there are in Tunisia. Seven decades ago, there were over 100,000, but almost all have since emigrated to Israel or France. There are now estimated to be between 1,200 and 2,000.
The overthrow of the Tunisian government last week led 20 local Jews to make aliyah to Israel this week, according to Ynet News.
The six families, which decided to immigrate to the Jewish state following the fearful situation in Tunisia, were brought over in a complex operation involving many bodies, including the Jewish Agency, Absorption Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry and several different countries.
The new olim arrived to Israel via a third country and were welcomed by Absorption Ministry representatives, who accompanied them along the absorption process. According to reports, several hundred Tunisian Jews are also considering making aliyah due to the volatile political situation in their country. The Jewish Agency is closely monitoring the developments and has already drawn up a special plan to assist the community living there.
The Jewish community in Tunisia consists of nearly 1,500 people, 1,100 of them living in Djerba and the rest in Tunis. Both cities contain synagogues, schools, community buildings, and more. Three Jewish schools are located in Djerba and a fourth one in Tunis.
Although Israel maintains no diplomatic relations with Tunisia, Jews were treated well by authorities. Since the State of Israel was established, nearly 42,300 Jews made aliyah from Tunisia, 16 of them in 2010.
Read article in full
* Other reports say that 10 of the Jews are not sure they will make Israel their permanent home