Monday, February 28, 2011

Miss Holland witnessed a Libyan pogrom in 1967

Now derelict synagogue in Tripoli (Photo: Martin Beek)

The grandparents and parents of today's rioters were certainly not immune from "the longest hatred," as a New Zealander's account of a pogrom in Tripoli shows. It took place in revenge for Israel's stunning victory over Arab armies in the Six Day War. Joanne Holland worked as a secretary in Tripoli from 1966-68; some time after returning to London, she shared her reminiscences with a reporter from the Jewish Chronicle. Via Daphne Anson :

The pogrom she witnessed entailed a score of murders and the burning to the ground of Jewish homes and businesses. Miss Holland had known only one Jew, a refugee doctor from Germany, before she went to work in Libya, and there she befriended a number of Jews.

She recalled that one Jew, who having hid in his house for about a week, ventured outside to discover the fate of the shop he owned. Arabs recognised him and gave chase, so he ran towards a police car, expecting assistance. Instead of rescuing him, the police ran him over.

One evening, a jeep-load of armed police led by a colonel led two families from their home on the pretext of taking them to the airport so that they might reach safety. The families were, in fact, driven out into the desert, where he and his men murdered them all - thirteen persons including two young children. The colonel later explained that he had "wanted to avenge my Arab brothers" (i.e. for Israel's victory in the Six Day War).

Armed police stood idly by while Jewish-owned shops were broken into, looted, and set alight. Such premises included a restaurant-cum-liquor store; Arab rioters ran up and down the street swigging the drink from the stolen bottles, and going back for more, while four armed soldiers with grins on their faces looked on.

A Jewish family who barricaded themselves in their apartment for over a week were shocked when their Arab neighbours, whom they'd lived alongside for 30 years, attempted to gain entry and set the place ablaze.
Children as young as eight were among the mob, and Miss Holland was "horrified to see women, under normal circumstances never seen, except occasionally peeping out from behind their veils, standing by and watching the destruction and murder with apparent glee."

What particularly struck Miss Holland when the pogrom occurred was the unwillingness of westerners stationed in Tripoli to intervene and try to help the Jews being hunted down. What also shocked her was the apathy of contacts in London, to whom she recounted what she'd witnessed. "[T]hey seemed bored and showed no interest," she said. "Many Britons still had some romantic concept of the Arabs. How wrong they were."

She had the distinct impression that in Libya westerners "were madly competing with each other in appeasing the Arabs and expressing their deep sympathies with them in their hatred for Israel and the local Jewish community," to use the phraseology of the Jewish Chronicle reporter (JC, 21 February 1969).

"Then, for the first time," she told him, "I could understand how the Nazis got away with murdering millions of Jews, for people were just not interested in helping them."

The Libyan authorities had finally permitted Jews to leave Libya on temporary travel documents, which prohibited them from taking their belongings or more than £20 with them and would not permit them to return after being away for four months. Those that departed were herded together at dawn by armed soldiers in the forecourt of a hotel, and were surrounded by hostile Arabs shouting and swearing.

Miss Holland herself was several times surrounded by Libyan crowds, and spat at, and once, when visiting a Jewish family, she was almost killed by Arabs wielding iron bars and knives.

Read post in full

Israeli spoof becomes Libyan opposition anthem

Zenga zenga started out as a joke at Colonel Gaddafi's expense by an Israeli musician. Now it has become an online hit and the anthem of the Libyan opposition. Ynet News reports:

"Gaddafi's speech had all the makings of a hit," says Israeli musician Noy Alooshe, 31, about his idea to combine an upbeat tune to the harsh statements made by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. "Repeating the words 'Zenga zenga', his unique outfit, lifting his arms up in triumph like he's at a party – I just added some club music to it and thought it would be a funny joke."

Alooshe's "joke" has become very popular these past few days, with over 300,000 views on YouTube. The music clip - entitled "Zenga Zenga" - has become the Libyan opposition's anthem and an instant online hit.

The music video combines lines from Gaddafi's speech in which he vows to fight "inch by inch, home by home, alley by alley" - as the chorus for the song. The clip pokes fun at Gaddafi, showing minimally dressed women dancing in the background.

See Youtube clip

Read article in full

Is Gaddafi a Jew?

'The people won't let tomb of Esther be destroyed'

Writing in Community magazine Professor Harold Gellis gives this overview of the long but checkered history of the Jews of Iran, and ends on an optimistic note - in spite of threats by Muslim fundamentalists to destroy the tombs of Esther and Mordechai (above) at Hamadan:

The forced conversion of the Jews of Mashad in 1839, known as the Allahdad incident, stands as a watershed in Iranian Jewish history. After several hundred Jews in Mashad were killed in a pogrom, the surviving Jews converted en masse to Islam – though only superficially. The Mashadi Jews became the Marranos of Iran, adopting Islamic names and dress, but secretly retaining their Jewish identity. Eventually, they were able to emigrate to Israel and the United States. To this day, Mashadi Jews retain a distinct identity among Iranian Jews.

“The number of the Jews in Iran would have been much more if, in every generation, they would not have been persecuted and forced to convert to Islam,” says a knowledgeable source. After years of suspicion by the government, few Iranians are willing to go on record with criticism of the government or Islamic edicts out of concern for the wellbeing of family and friends who still remain in the country.

In the 20th century, with the advent of the Pahlavi regime, Jewish life in Iran took a turn for the better. Reza Shah Pahlavi prohibited the practice of mass conversion of Jews and liberalized repressive policies that had been in effect with regard to education, employment, and religion. But then, with the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Reza Shah adopted discriminatory policies against the Jews, putting the sizeable community in danger once again. Fortunately, Reza Shah was deposed by the combined Russian and British occupation of Iran in 1941, and the threat against the Jews passed.

Iranian Jews’ Golden Age: Over the course of decades prior to the declaration of the State of Israel, thousands of Iranian Jews made aliyah to Israel. Many of these Jews were very religious and not exposed to 20thcentury modernity. They trekked on foot and camel from small ancient communities such as Yazd, Esfahan and Shiraz, with names such as Cohen and Shamian.

Other, more secular Iranian Jews immigrated to Israel in the aftermath of the declaration of the State of Israel and became leading figures in the government and army - Iranian Jews such as former Israeli Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, and former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Dan Halutz. There are now approximately 47,000 Iranian-born Jews in Israel today, many in Netanya, and 250,000 Jews altogether with Persian ancestry.

In 1948, there were still approximately 150,000 Jews in Iran. Under the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Jews of Iran enjoyed a “golden age.” The gates of the country’s professions, universities, and commerce were opened wide, and many Jews became prominent businessmen, doctors, and college professors.

Relations between Iran and Israel, though unofficial, were close. There were regularly scheduled flights between Tel Aviv and Tehran. Israeli construction companies, such as Solel Boneh, embarked on major construction projects building the infrastructure of Tehran, some of which were later co-opted by the present government. To this day, a Star of David can still be seen on the roof of Tehran airport, a symbol of a past Israeli presence in the country.

Israel sold weapons to Iran and trained the Iranians to use them. In return, the Israelis received oil and other raw materials. Israeli experts also trained their Iranian counterparts in other fields such as agriculture.

During the reign of the Shah, much of the country – including the Jews – became more educated and secular, especially in Tehran. While many continued to attend synagogue services on Shabbat, some would drive there. In Shiraz, the “Jerusalem of Iran,” the Jews were more traditional and religious. To this day, millions of Iranians, including government officials, listen to the Voice of Israel's Farsi language broadcast to learn about what is happening in the world.

The Islamic Revolution: The golden era of the Jews came to an abrupt end in 1979 with the deposing of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution. Of the approximately 80,000 Jews still remaining at the beginning of the Revolution, tens of thousands fled, mainly to the United States, to the enclaves of Los Angeles and Great Neck, and to other communities across the globe.

In the 1980's and 1990's, Rabbi Naftali H. Neuberger z.s.l, head of the Ner Israel Rabbinical Seminary in Baltimore, was personally involved in bringing dozens of Iranian Jewish boys out of Iran and enrolling them in the Rabbinical Seminary where they comprised a large percent of the student population. Many of these former students now serve in rabbinical pulpits in Iranian congregations in different parts of the United States.

Today, approximately 25,000 Jews remain in Iran. The vast majority of them live in the sprawling metropolis of Tehran, specifically in the northern neighborhoods of the smog-covered city which is surrounded by the magnificent Alborz mountain range. A small number live in Esfahan, Shiraz, and other cities.

In Tehran, there are still 18 synagogues, several kosher butchers, and a Jewish hospital with a mostly Muslim staff and clientele. Altogether, there are 25 synagogues in Iran.

The Jews of Iran can attend universities, and become doctors and dentists. They can celebrate all the Jewish holidays, but only in the synagogue. They cannot bring the Torahs outside and dance in the street on Simhat Torah. They can have mixed parties, which are forbidden for Muslims.

In return for their safety, the Jews must demonstrate hostility to Israel, keep their schools open on Shabbat, and not build any new synagogues. But despite these restrictions, the Jews view themselves as loyal citizens of Iran, and see Iranian Muslims as their good friends.

According to an Iranian Jew who speaks in synagogues, Persian Jews loyally love Iran. “In Iran, you won’t find Jews who do not have a lot of Muslim friends,” he says. “Despite what many think, a majority of Muslims in Iran today have no problem with Jews or Israel. However, much of the government, as you know by now, has a different opinion which is shared by some Iranians.” There is even a token seat reserved for Jews in the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament, in accordance with Iran's constitution. The post is currently held by Dr. Siamack Morsadegh, a prominent surgeon.

The spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Iran is Chief Rabbi Hacham Yosef Hamadani Cohen. He was preceded by Hacham Uriel Davidi Khansari z.s.l. (Khansar, Iran1922 – Jerusalem, Israel 2006), both of whom have commanded respect from the Iranian authorities.

Why do the Jews stay in Iran? “It’s hard to sell your house and store,” says a former Tehran resident with family still residing in Iran. “Here, in America, you have to begin life from scratch. There they have everything. They get used to living there.”

And so the tomb of Mordechai and Esther continues to stand guard over the remaining Jews of Iran, a symbol of the miraculous survival of an ancient Jewish community and a reminder of the dichotomy that characterizes Iran’s relationship with the Jewish people.

“The Muslims of Iran recognize that the tomb of Mordechai and Esther is holy,” says a Jew whose family once lived in Hamadan. “Even if the authorities want to demolish the tomb, the ordinary people will never let it be destroyed.”

Read article in full

Rabbi from Israel films Esther's tomb in Iran

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gaddafi bulldozed Jewish cemetery into the sea

Colonel Gaddafi destroyed an 130-acre Jewish cemetery in Tripoli and built over it, casting the graves into the sea, while the international community stood by. Libya's ancient Jewish synagogues were allowed to fall into ruin or be turned into mosques, Libyan Jewish leader Meir Kachlon tells
Israel National News. He hopes the dead will take revenge on the cruel dictator: (with thanks: Lily)

“My feeling is not good," said Meir Kachlon, Chairman of the World Organization of Libyan Jews. “The people that I knew are ruled by a cruel leader who supposedly does everything to help them but really hurts them, and the proof of that is in the fact that he hired mercenaries to kill them. That’s what hurts me."

Kachlon said that he believes the opposition on Libya isn’t strong enough, and that in order to rebuild the country, those opposition leaders who fled from the country will have to come back and take it upon themselves to renew life in Libya.

"The problem is Europe and the United States, who are very slow," said Kachlon. "There’s no one to help the Libyans. In Egypt they told Mubarak to step aside. They haven’t said that to Qaddafi yet. It’s the oil and the holdings there that are really talking, and I feel that Qaddafi is in control of his money and his oil. He will stand by his word: if they don’t listen to him there will be genocide in Libya.”

He noted that before Qaddafi took over, Libya had ancient synagogues, all of which are gone and some of which have become mosques. But the worst part, he said, is the ancient Jewish cemetery in Tripoli.

“There was a whole cemetery in Tripoli, 130 acres in size, on top of which buildings were constructed, complete with roads and everything," said Kachlon. "Qaddafi crushed all the graves and threw them into the sea. The world was silent. When they saw him doing it, nobody asked: ‘What is he doing to that cemetery? Why did he destroy the Jewish cemetery?’”

Read article in full

Expert on Jews from Arab countries leads campaign to evict Gaddafi's son from London suburb (Ham & High)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Arab journalist laments state of Ezekiel's tomb

Iraqi Jews at the shrine of Ezekiel in the 1930s

Mazin Latif is a journalist who visited the contested shrine of Ezekiel at al-Kifl (Kefel) at Hilla, south of Baghdad, in 2010. He found the site in bad condition: marble panels on the walls had been removed, the Sefer Torah in the synagogue adjoining the tomb was missing, and the Jewish books deposited in the shrine's library had been stolen. With thanks to Mrs Eileen Khalastchy for kindly summarising Latif's article for the As-Sabaah newspaper.

Lately, a lot has been said about the shrine of Kefel or what is called by the Jews 'the shrine of the Prophet Ezekiel.'

The shrine is of great importance to all Jews, but in particular to the Jews of Iraq to whom ownership was given by the Ottoman Sultan Abdel Hamid.

The Jews used to visit the site yearly to pray and hold big celebrations. They used to slaughter and distribute the meat to the poor. The men in charge and the rabbis used to pray daily there until the mass exodus of the Jews from Iraq in 1951.

The village of Kefel is situated about 20 miles south of the town Hilla. In the Kefel is buried the Prophet Ezekiel z"l. The prophet Ezekiel is said to be a Cohen (descendant of the High Priest) from Jerusalem. Another seven Cohanim are buried there.

According to the Jews, the Prophet Ezekiel is mentioned in the Torah. The tomb of Ezekiel used to be covered with an expensive carpet and a hand-embroidered cloth. King Yehoyachin built a fence around the tomb with the help of many Jews.

The Jews bought the land near the shrine where they built a market and houses to be used by the Jewish guardians of the shrine and by the Rabbis in charge.

In 1860, the Muslims claimed the shrine and all the buildings around it for themselves. With the help of the Daniel family and and after many inquiries to Istanbul, the Ottoman authorities decided that the shrine belonged to the Jews and that the minaret did not belong to a mosque as the Muslims claimed.

The Muslim story claimed that the Prophet is an Arabic prophet descended from the Prophet Isma'el (Yishma'el). They lost their claim.

The Muslims from Hilla visit and pray in Kefel as they believe that the Prophet is a great one and mentioned in the Koran.

The minaret of the shrine is in a very bad condition and is supported by wooden poles to prevent it from falling.

The Jews used to own large libraries in their homes. When an owner died, all his books went to the Kefel library. After the mass exodus in 1951, all the books were kept in wooden boxes and covered with bricks. In the Seventies, someone destroyed all the boxes and the Hebrew books were scattered in the streets. As for the marble tablets that decorated the walls with the Hebrew inscriptions, they were stolen and sold to collectors who are interested in Jewish art.

Lately, after my visit in 2010 to the site, unfortunately what I saw was heartbreaking. Most of the Hebrew writings on the walls were erased. The tomb of Daniel was also in bad condition as well as the tombs of members of his family.

I did not see anything indicating that the site had a mosque or any sign of a Muslim site.

Unfortunately the Jewish shrine is in a very bad shape. Also there was no sign of the Sefer Torah the Jews used to pray with.

I am writing what my conscience dictates. I pray for a free Iraq true to its motto (Religion for God and the Homeland for all).

I ask the President of Iraq, the government, and all the people in charge to look after and preserve Iraq's true heritage.

Mazin Latif is an active Baghdadi journalist and writer specialising in Iraqi Jewish affairs. The article was summarised by Mrs. Eileen Khalastchy of London from an article in the As-Sabaah Iraqi daily newspaper ( Iraqi Information Net 13 February, 2011)

Save Ezekiel's shrine ! please sign our petition here

There are no Jews in Tahrir Square

Rachel Wahba's father, a 'true Egyptian'

You will find no Jews in Tahrir Square. Egypt's 75,000-strong Jewish community have been almost all ethnically cleansed from Egypt. Rachel Wahba writes this passionate piece lamenting the West's indifference and ignorance in LezGetReal, an online site for Gay Girls. Needless to say, there are not many of those in Tahrir Square either.

You will find no Jews in Tahrir Square. Or in Mansoura, where Grandfather Wahba had a drug store. I scan the architecture on CNN looking past the screaming demonstrators. I want to see Egypt, Dad’s Egypt, and imagine what he would be saying about the situation today; almost four years since he died.

Egypt is in the news and how I miss my father. I see “Rioting in Mansoura, Cairo, Alexandria,” flash on the news. Cities that were home to my dad, at different points in his life. Born to an old Egyptian family in Mansoura, “the Wahbas were real (not transplants from another country), Egyptians” he bragged. They were indigenous to the land, originally farmers, peasants, in Midghram.

When President Obama spoke in Cairo he didn’t ask, “Where are your Jews”? Once not so long ago Egyptian Jews were an integral part of Egypt’s infrastructure. Obama did mention the Copts (Egypt’s Christians,) another indigenous group who suffer discrimination and he asked for “tolerance”.

ASK WHERE ARE THE JEWS WHO LIVED HERE FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS I wanted to break through his eloquence. But yelling at the TV is not my style.

And now I shall deliver some mostly ignored facts and have my own Tahrir Square experience:

In 1948 there were 75,000 Jews in Egypt After the expulsion in l956 during Nasser’s reign, most of Egypt’s Jews were forced to flee. My grandfather had to sign a document saying he would never return. A variety of creative humiliations accompanied the confiscation of any property. Nothing of monetary value was allowed out with their one suitcase of clothing.

Penniless, the majority of Egyptian Jews ended up in transit camps in Israel.

Read article in full

Part 2: how Arabs embraced Nazi antisemitism

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's happening with the Arabs - and the Jews?

King Hamad of Bahrain

Puzzled about what exactly is going on in each Arab country? Arutz Sheva has published this useful two-part review concerning both Arabs and Jews. Here are those countries which have attracted less media coverage:

A video has been distributed calling for a protest to be held on Feb. 20 to demand "equality, social justice, employment, housing, study grants and higher salaries," as well as "change, political reforms, the resignation of the Government and the dissolution of Parliament." Analysts do not expect the campaign to succeed. Some have said that the Moroccan government may face unrest in the west, thanks to Algerian instigators.

Before the founding of Israel in 1948, there were over 250,000 Jews in the country, but only 3,000 - 7,000 remain today, mostly in Casablanca. In June 1948, 44 Jews were killed in anti-Semitic riots, and large-scale emigration to Israel began. Between 1961 and 1964, more than 80,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel; by 1967, only 60,000 Jews remained, and four years later, this number was 35,000. Today, the State of Israel is home to nearly 1,000,000 Jews of Moroccan descent, around 15% of the nation's total population.

In an attempt to head off protests, the Assad government withdrew a plan to remove some subsidies. President Bashar Assad gave a rare interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said he to hold local elections, pass a new media law, and give more power to private organizations. A planned "Day of Rage" that was organized via Facebook for February 5 failed to materialize.

Large Jewish communities existed in Aleppo, Damascus, and Qamishli for centuries. About 100 years ago, a large percentage of Syrian Jews emigrated to the U.S., Central and South America and Israel. Anti-Jewish feeling reached a climax in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and some 5,000 Jews left in the 1940's for what became Israel. The Aleppo pogrom of December 1947, a pogrom in Aleppo – the third in 100 years - left many dead, hundreds wounded, and the community devastated. Another pogrom in Damascus in 1949 left 12 Jews dead. In 1992, the few thousand remaining Jews were permitted to leave Syria, as long as they did not head for Israel. The few remaining Jews in Syria live in Damascus.

Tuesday marks four straight days of clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters in Yemen's capital, Sanaa. At least three people were injured on Tuesday as 3,000 activists attempted to march on the presidential palace. They are demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years. Protests have become increasingly violent. Besides poverty and unemployment, the Saleh government is grappling a secessionist movement in the south, rebellion in the north, and a regrouping of Al Qaeda on its soil.

Between June 1949 and September 1950, 49,000 Yemenite Jews - the overwhelming majority of the country's Jewish population - was transported to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. Only a few dozen mostly elderly Jews remain in Yemen.

Amidst the Arab demands for the restitution of Arab refugees from the 1948 war, it is largely forgotten that around that time, more than 870,000 Jews lived in the various Arab countries. In many cases, they were persecuted politically and physically, and their property was confiscated; some 600,000 Jews found refuge in the State of Israel. Their material claims for their lost assets have never been seriously considered.

Part 1

Part 11

How safe are Iran's Jews?

How safe are the 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still living in Iran today? Karmel Melamed writes that they are living with threats from armed Iranian fundamentalists to destroy the tombs of the Esther and Mordechai, considered 'an arm of Israeli imperialism'. Melamed interviews Frank Nikbakht (above), an Iranian Jewish activist in Los Angeles and head of the Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran for The Jewish Weekly of Los Angeles:

How safe is the Jewish community in Iran during violent crackdown on demonstrators in Iran?

The Jewish community in Iran, being considered as a sort of hostage population may be facing new pressures soon, even though they were not involved at all with the demonstrations. This is because of the repeat of the now famous street chants of “neither Gaza, nor Lebanon— Tunisia, Egypt and Iran” and it ends with “my is life dedicated only to Iran”. This was chanted on the Quds day of 2009 by regime opponents. Now the paranoid Iranian regime thinking Israel had a hand in the riots, may pressure the Jewish community to stage pro-Palestinian and pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, issue statements and hold rallies, like in 2009. The regime may, may make certain arrests connected with Israeli sensitivities or by reviving the Islamo-Nazi threats as was the calls for the destruction of Esther’s Shrine in the Western city of Hamedan.

Why are Jews such a target for different forces in Iran during times of turmoil?

Small minorities and in particular hated minorities such as Jews are always in danger of being wiped out. In times of turmoil, war and revolution are the most dangerous because not only may a Nazi-like government such as the Islamic Republic of Iran decide to use its Jewish hostages for deterrence or revenge— but smaller groups of fanatics within the society or the armed forces may decide to do something themselves during a chaotic situation.

How is the Iranian regime different from the Mubarak regime as far as cracking down hard on protestors and clamping down on the telecommunications/internet? And how much more difficult will it be for the “people” to bring down the Iranian regime with their demonstrations?

This is like comparing apples and oranges. The Egyptian regime under Mubarak was perhaps a typical military dictatorship whereas the Iranian regime is a Theocratic one.
Whereas there may have been slightly more people killed in Egypt during their two week long uprising compared with a similar period in the Iranian events of 2009 or February 2011, there are several notable differences, namely the Islamic regime in Iran would go after, target, arrest or even assassinate the family members of street activists or even kill bystanders to spread terror among the whole population. In Iran tens of thousands were arrested even for chanting “Allahu Akbar” from their roofs and thousands were so severely tortured that their stories shocked the new generation who had no direct experience with the Islamic authorities.

Read article in full

LA's Iranian Americans keep tabs on new freedom protests in Iran (Jewish Journal of LA)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jew-hatred is incompatible with liberal democracy

Lara Logan pictured moments before 200 Egyptian protesters attacked her

As more details emerge of the terrible ordeal of the CBS News reporter Lara Logan , whipped and sexually assaulted at the hands of 200 frenzied Egyptians on 2nd February to shouts of 'Jew! Jew!', the Jewish Week asks whether there has been a media cover-up of antisemitism during the Egyptian protests. Such public expressions of Jew-hatred the western media finds embarrassing. It shows that 'not everyone in Tahrir Square that night had democracy on their minds.'

Lara Logan's case was not the only one: it was just the most dreadful. Of the scores of foreign journalists beaten up during the disturbances in Egypt, many were accused of being Jews or Israeli spies. But the antisemitism accompanying the assault on Logan, who is not Jewish, shows that Jew-hatred has reached stratospheric proportions of paranoia. This is hardly surprising after decades of state-sponsored incitement, most notably, after Egypt signed its peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Of course the problem can be explained, as Andrew Bostom does, as residing deep in the culture of Islam*. Others would argue that conspiracy theories and Nazi-style anti-Jewish images is a modern import from Europe, set in motion by Nasser and the thousands of German war criminals who were given refuge in Egypt in the 1950s.

With Egypt's 80,000 Jewish community reduced to a mere handful, the average Egyptian's chances of meeting a Jew in the flesh are virtually zero. But if Egypt is to build a genuine liberal democracy in the future, antisemitism must have no part in it.

Robin Shepherd ponders the question on his blog. Do read the whole post.

"Q) Why is mass anti-Semitism incompatible with genuine liberal democracy?

"A) Because anti-Semitism represents an emphatic rejection of the universalist principles which underpin liberal-democracy. This is why anti-Semitism can emerge as a mortal danger to non-Jews as well as Jews. The social, cultural and political forces unleashed by anti-Semitism are inherently antithetical to the classical liberal values of the Enlightenment. They are also antithetical to reason itself. All polities dominated by virulent anti-Semitism will therefore struggle to produce liberal-democratic outcomes. Some will produce extreme tyrannies. Christopher Hitchens was hinting at precisely these thoughts in the following remarks made in an article for Slate in February 2006: “…only a moral cretin thinks that anti-Semitism is a threat only to Jews. The memory of the Third Reich is very vivid in Europe precisely because a racist German regime also succeeded in slaughtering millions of non-Jews, including countless Germans, under the demented pretext of extirpating a non-existent Jewish conspiracy.”

"Q) So, given the presence of both mass anti-Semitism in Egypt and, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, a major political movement ready to hone down and exploit this anti-Semitism, is liberal-democracy impossible in Egypt?

"A) It depends on whether and to what extent anti-Semitism becomes a dominant theme in the political discourse in the manner that it has long been a dominant theme in the cultural and religious discourse. But given the near ubiquity of anti-Semitism in mainstream society, the great danger is that anti-Semitism will become an ideological mainstay of whatever new regime emerges. Here’s how it might unfold: The Muslim Brotherhood becomes part of a government dominated (initially) by Egyptian nationalists. Anti-Semitism emerges as the common denominator holding these two forces together. In political terms this leads to a much more hostile approach to Israel. During a flashpoint, like Operation Cast Lead for example, the Islamists demand direct support for Hamas. The nationalist constituency opposes such a move thus handing the initiative to the Brotherhood which discredits its opponents by portraying them as agents of the US-Zionist conspiracy. At this point we get an Islamist takeover.

"Clearly, all of this is scenario building. I do not have a crystal ball. But I challenge anyone to say that this is not one possible outcome of the process of change now underway in Egypt."

*with thanks: Independent Observer

No Bahraini Jews have left despite disturbances

None of Bahrain's 36 Jews have left the tiny kingdom, in spite of anti-government demonstrations in which at least eight people have died. Two Jewish women in the public eye, Nancy Khedouri amd Huda Nonoo, identify closely with the king, Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa:

(JTA) – Bahraini Jewish parliamentarian Nancy Khedouri told JTA that the protests in her country have been blown out of proportion by the media.

At least eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded in mass anti-government demonstrations in Bahrain, an oil-exporting island nation home to about 800,000 people, including some three dozen Jews.

Khedouri and others from Bahrain said the country’s Jews have refrained from joining the protests and support King Hamad ibn Isa Khalifa, a Sunni ruler who has been the subject of protests by the Bahraini Shiites who comprise some 70 percent of the population.

“We are all numbed, saddened and shocked by what has happened,” Khedouri said in a telephone interview from the capital, Manama. “Yes, it’s very upsetting, but we all have faith that this is just a temporary cloud that will float away.”

Rouben D. Rouben, a Bahraini Jew, said life already is back to normal.

“I’m sitting in my shop enjoying myself,” said Rouben, the manager of an electronics and appliance store in downtown Manama. “Nobody in our community was affected. Nobody has left.”

Bahrain is the only country in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, that has ever had a real Jewish community.

Read article in full

Bahrain's Jewish envoy to Washington stays mum (Jerusalem Post)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Libyan Jews apprehensive of post-Gaddafi future

Photo: Associated Press

With diplomats and units of the armed forces defecting to Colonel Gaddafi's opponents, it looks like Libya is on the brink of a civil war. The old fault line between Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica, with its former capital Benghazi, is re-emerging. (But nobody is mentioning that Libya's oil is concentrated in Cyrenaica in the event the province secedes). As for ex-Libyan Jews (there are no Jews left in Libya itself), they are apprehensive of the post-Gaddafi future. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Members of the Jewish Libyan Diaspora around the world have been following news of the anti-government protests in Libya with rapt attention and mixed emotions.

During the 1930s, about 25,000 Jews lived in Libya, but their numbers dwindled dramatically due to persecution by Italy and Germany during World War II and a series of state-sponsored pogroms after Libya became independent in 1951. The last Jew immigrated to Italy several years ago.

(Raphael) Luzon, who has met with Libya’s flamboyant dictator Muammar Gaddafi twice, most recently in September, said the uprising came at a time when the Libyan government seemed willing to address some of the Jewish community’s grievances. (However, Gaddafi has only paid lip service and not paid one dinar in compensation to Jews - ed)

“They agreed to give a proper burial to my family members who are buried in common graves,” Luzon said. “Also, we came closer in the direction of a settlement over a lot of money that my father left there. I proposed to organize a convention between Jews and Muslims in Tripoli, and this was personally accepted by Gaddafi. They wanted to prove they were open toward the Jews, but now who knows what will happen?” In Israel, where there are an estimated 100,000 Jews of Libyan descent, news of the uprising caught many off guard.

“I’m not an analyst, but I must say I am surprised,” said Pedazur Bennatia, who is the head of Or Shalom, a Jewish Libyan cultural center in Bat Yam. “I thought he’d hold on to power longer. He might still emerge from the chaos. He’s ruthless enough to reverse the situation.”

Or Shalom was in the headlines last year when an Israeli- Belgian photographer it sent to document the crumbling synagogues and cemeteries in Libya was arrested and held in prison for several months, until the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem secured his release via mediators.

Bennatia said he wasn’t necessarily encouraged by the prospects that Gaddafi’s long reign may be coming to an end.

“Political Islam, which is even more extreme, will enter the vacuum created,” Bennatia predicted. “So as far as we’re concerned, I don’t see how we can go back and visit there soon. Currently, the Jewish community in Rome has ties to Gaddafi. Some say they even received reparations and a few community leaders visited Libya.”

Retired Israeli journalist Chaim Arbiv was born in Benghazi in 1934 and lived there until 1949, when he made aliya. He said anti-government protests in that city may have been fueled by its long-standing rivalry with Tripoli, the capital.

“Even in Israel there’s a basic enmity between Jews who lived in Tripoli and Benghazi,” he said. “Benghazi was the capital of Libya until Gaddafi came to power [in 1969]. These are two separate centers of power, and Cyrenaica sees itself as being of a higher class. The outcome depends on the balance of power.”

Arbiv has fond childhood memories of Benghazi and said his efforts to visit his city of birth had failed in the past.

“I’d love to visit Benghazi, see the street where I lived and the neighbors we had and were on good terms with; see the Hebrew school I attended,” he said. “I’d love to visit, but I’m not sure that a change in Gaddafi’s regime is a good thing.”

Read article in full

Gaddafi was ready to work with diaspora Libyan Jews, expat says (JTA News)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gaddafi's captive, Rafi Haddad, tells his story

Rafael Haddad escorted by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on 9 August 2010, the day of his release

'The police arrest you not for any reason, but because they can'. That was one painful lesson Rafael Haddad (Rafram Chadad)learned about autocracies. He tells Yoav Fromer of The Tablet his story for the first time: Haddad was held in a Libyan prison for five months in 2010, although he was never charged. An Israeli of Tunisian origin, Haddad was on a mission to photograph the remains of Libya's Jewish heritage when he was arrested by the secret police. (With thanks: bh)
Late last March, a series of confounding and conspicuously opaque news reports began to appear in the Israeli press regarding an Israeli citizen who had vanished in North Africa. While the initial reports were hazy and facilitated an inevitable surge of innuendo and speculation, they were eventually all suppressed by the government censor, who decided to enforce a complete media blackout on the story.
That changed in early August, when, out of the blue, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that a 34-year-old citizen by the name of Rafram “Raphael” Chadad, who had been held captive for five months in Libya, had just been released and was on his way back to Israel. At the same time, details behind his disappearance began to emerge: Chadad, a Tunisian-born Israeli who maintains dual citizenship, had been arrested by Libyan officials in Tripoli while on assignment there for Or-Shalom, an Israeli non-government organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the 2,500-year-old Jewish community in Libya. Despite efforts by Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi, and Nicolas Sarkozy, it was the well-connected Jewish-Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff who ultimately secured his release. Having flown Chadad out of Libya on his private jet, Schlaff brought him to Vienna, where he was met by Foreign Secretary Avigdor Lieberman. With Shlaff’s mediation, Lieberman had apparently orchestrated the entire deal behind closed doors.
Although the exact nature of the agreement that brought about Chadad’s release is still unknown, the deal reportedly included Israeli permission to transfer Libyan aid supplies into Gaza (as well as $50 million from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s charity foundation, marked for rebuilding houses in Gaza). “These have been reasonable demands by Libya,” announced Lieberman upon Chadad’s return. “Libya’s responsible behavior was a pleasant surprise.”
Greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by a swarm of reporters, the otherwise serene, gentle, and extremely amicable Chadad was noticeably taken aback by the microphones stuck into his face during what was supposed to be a private reunion with his family. Accordingly, he hastily thanked all those who had helped secure his release, gave a few token remarks to the press, and made his way home without ever revealing what he had been through in Qaddafi’s prison. But last month, exactly six months after his return, Hadad agreed to finally break his silence and discuss with Tablet Magazine what he jokingly refers to as his “spa vacation” in Libya.
Read article in full

Israeli-Tunisian tourist released from jail

Fearful Tunisian Jews appeal for protection

Visitors at the Ghriba synagogue on Djerba where 1,200 Jews still live

The Jewish community in Tunisia has called on JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) to help protect their synagogues and ensure their general safety 'as they are afraid to speak out'.

"There is a real fear that more synagogues will be torched, and more property will be vandalized", JIMENA said in a statement in the aftermath of the arson of the El-Hamma synagogue near Gabes and the Islamist protest in front of the Great Synagogue in Tunis.

JIMENA, which advocates for the rights of Jewish refugees, issued its 'urgent alert' appealing to supporters to urge the US State Department to "demand that the rights and property of Jews and other minorities in the Middle East and North Africa are protected during this period of transition and in the years to come."

The alert reminds one that at times of turmoil and sudden change minorities have always been vulnerable to persecution and dispossession. Close on one million Jews were driven out of Arab regimes in the last 60 years.

You are urged to call or write to the US State Department and demand that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, publicly call for the protection of minorities in the Middle East and North Africa.

State Department Hotline: 202-647-6575; Email the State Department under the topic U.S. Foreign Policy and the subject line Minorities in North Africa and the Middle East; or write to your Senator and Congressman.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jihadist demo at Tunis Synagogue condemned

With thanks to all those who emailed about this story

The big news last week in the blogosphere was the Jihadist demonstration outside the Great Synagogue in Tunis.

It started around 2pm on Friday 13 February at the Alfath Mosque, a few yards away from the Great Synagogue in Tunis: one hundred members of the Hizb -ul-Tahrir party paraded in front of the synagogue chanting Khaybar Khaybar al-Yehud. The slogan recalls the massacre of the Jewish tribe of Khaybar by Muhammad and his followers in the 7th century. This group of demonstrators, according to this website, come from Ettadhamen, an extremely poor district of Tunis, but 'are extremely dangerous.'

The Tunisian authorities condemned the incident last Thursday. According to an official TAP press communique, the ministry of religious affairs warned against a repetition of such acts, calling on men of faith and civil society to denounce them as 'against the Tunisian tradition of tolerance' and respect for different religious beliefs.

The pro-Jewish Tunisian blogger Souhail Ftouh has deplored as a 'scandal' the fact it took six days for the authorities to condemn the Islamist protest at the Great synagogue in Tunis (below).

On Tuesday the ministry of the Interior had firmly condemned the acts of certain extremists who incite to violence and hatred among Tunisians. The President of the Jewish community, Roger Bismuth, called the incident a 'miserable and isolated event'.

Ynet News article

Tunisians protest Islamism, demand tolerance (Harry's Place)

All non-Muslim minorities now targeted in Tunisia

Following last week's provocative Islamist demonstration at the Great Synagogue in Tunis chanting antisemitic slogans, Christians are now the target : a Catholic priest has had his throat slit. Report by The Star Tribune, Minnesota (via Atlas Shrugs):

TUNIS, Tunisia - Tunisia's official TAP news agency says a Catholic priest from Poland has been killed and his body had multiple stab wounds and his throat was slit.

The report cites the Tunis archbishopric as saying 34-year-old Marek Marius Rybinski worked at a religious school in the Tunis suburb of Manouba. His body was found Friday in the school parking lot.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said the killing appeared to be the work of a "group of extremist terrorist fascists," judging by the way it was carried out.

The statement denounced extremists' "exploitation ... of the current exceptional circumstances to make trouble."

Read article in full

Update: The school at Manouba had been receiving death threats addressed to 'the Jews' (French)

Out of Egypt .... and back again

Tel Aviv taxi drivers are a motley crowd - some taciturn, some resolutely plugged into their i-pods. Others are talkative, eager to give advice or share their take on current affairs. But they are always an interesting window on Israeli society.

This week I met an elderly driver who had left Egypt in 1952. As he hogged the overtaking lane at 20 km per hour to angry honking from Tel Aviv's impatient traffic, he told me that he welcomed the fall of President Mubarak. There was nothing to fear from Egypt's revolution, elections would be held in six months' time and all would be well. As for talk of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was all scaremongering.

He gleaned his information straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak: he still had two brothers living in Cairo. The Jewish population of Cairo comprised some 15 souls. The brothers had decided to set up a tourist business in Egypt.

Four years earlier, the driver had celebrated his 70th birthday in Cairo with his family. His children had flown in from the US and France for the occasion.

He was in regular telephone contact with his brothers. There were no problems and they were optimistic for the future. If things did not turn out as well as predicted - I guess they always had their French and US passports to fall back on.

Western tourism to Egypt was in the doldrums, but the old man was confident it would soon pick up.

I can now say I met the brother of 13.3 percent of Cairo's Jewish population.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Profile of 'excruciatingly even-handed' Mark Cohen

Cohen teaching his course 'Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Middle Ages' (Photo by Brian Wilson)

Princeton News has this interesting profile of Professor Mark Cohen. An expert in the medieval history of Jews in Arab lands, Professor Cohen thinks Jews were better treated under Islamic rule than in Christendom, and that antisemitism is a modern import into the Muslim world. His critics, however, charge that Professor Cohen gives insufficient weight to the humiliations suffered by Jews under Islam. His 'excruciating even-handedness' and belief that Judaism and Islam share a great deal of common ground does not address the Islamic view of Jews as perennially inferior to Muslims under sharia law.

Cohen's 1994 book, "Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages," broke ground by dispelling myths about the historical relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first in-depth study of its kind, the book meticulously compared how Jews fared when living in predominantly Muslim countries and predominantly Christian countries in the Middle Ages. Cohen tried to explain in new ways why Jews were treated oppressively in Northern Europe and ultimately expelled, whereas they fared much better in the lands of Islam.

André Aciman, a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York who has written a memoir of his own life growing up in Egypt, wrote of the book, "Cohen's is a polemical text in the best sense of the word; it tries to open debate, not stifle it, and asks questions where they are traditionally shouted away." Aciman called the book "a reassuringly balanced and judicious assessment of Jewish life in the Middle Ages."

Cohen strove to be excruciatingly evenhanded in the book, he said. "I do not condemn, and I do not take sides. I talk about persecutions in the Islamic world as well as in the Christian world, and I do not cover up anything. The book was written against a stream of literature claiming that Islam was a persecutory religion, that it had treated Jews miserably and was in its origins anti-Semitic," he said.

The book has been translated into Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Turkish and Romanian, with a Spanish version forthcoming.

Another major scholarly project of Cohen's has helped illuminate the early relationship between Jews and Muslims. Cohen and his now-retired Princeton colleague Abraham Udovitch founded more than two decades ago a groundbreaking project in Jewish-Muslim studies: building a database that catalogs a unique cache of documents about daily life in Cairo's Jewish community during the medieval period.

The Princeton Geniza Project grew out of the discovery, in the late 19th century, of hundreds of thousands of documents from the Middle Ages that had been buried inside the walls of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo. The term Geniza refers to the Jewish custom dictating that any document with the word God was to be buried so it could decompose naturally. In the dry Egyptian climate, the centuries-old texts were preserved. While the majority of the 300,000 documents were liturgical, rabbinic and other literary texts, some 15,000 were business contracts, letters, wills and other documents that dealt with everyday life.

"The Geniza documents tell us an enormous amount about Jewish commerce and commercial cooperation in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries," Cohen said. "It's extremely important because it shows Jews living in a Muslim society as second-class subjects, but nonetheless interacting more or less easily with Muslim neighbors, not only in economic endeavors but in social settings."

Following the discovery, the synagogue's documents were dispersed and ended up in libraries all over the world. The Princeton Geniza Project, which was launched in 1986, has created a database of transcriptions of more than 4,000 of the documents, searchable in Arabic, English and Hebrew by keyword and available to scholars all over the world.

Sasson Somekh, professor emeritus of Arabic literature at Tel Aviv University, called Cohen one of "the foremost scholars on the Geniza, which has showed us how people lived in those remote centuries, what they did in their daily lives. We had a picture in black and white before the Geniza. Now we have it in Technicolor."

Increased interest in the Islamic world since the terrorist attacks has meant more newspaper articles and blogs about Islam, with some writers promulgating the notion that anti-Semitism is rooted in core Islamic beliefs. As he saw this idea repeated in the media, Cohen felt he had to act.

"I decided that as an authority, if I didn't speak out more publicly, my silence would be deafening," he said.

His article "The New Muslim Anti-Semitism," which stated that Muslim anti-Semitism was a recent development, not a foundation of Islam, was published in the Jerusalem Post in January 2008. Pieces in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and The Jewish Daily Forward followed, with several focusing on the controversy over the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

"I saw the blatant abuse of history in the service of political ideologies on both sides of the fence," Cohen said. "There are readers out there who don't know much, and they're being exposed to points of view without solid historical basis. They hear that Islam is the new devil, and they believe what they hear. People are inclined to believe the worst about Islam. I just hope I can bring a little bit of balance to the discussion."

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

' Jews of Morocco did not disappear without trace'

Visitors view a display at the Jewish Museum in Casablanca

The Arab world's only Jewish museum serves one useful purpose: to tell non-Jewish Moroccans that 10 percent of their country's population were once Jews. At least 'the Jews of Morocco did not disappear without trace', to quote the Museum's director, Simon Levy. Report from AFP:

CASABLANCA, Morocco — A white building tucked into a residential neighbourhood of this cosmopolitan city holds a treasure trove few here know about: the Arab region's only Jewish museum.

"To be frank, I didn't even know there were Jews of Moroccan origin," said high school student Sidi Ahmed, who visited the Museum of Moroccan Judaism of Casablanca with his class from the Western Sahara town of Dakhla.

"Thanks to this visit, I found out there were Moroccan Jews in Fez, in Meknes and in other cities" in Morocco, Ahmed added."I am happy to have learnt this."

Founded in 1997, the Jewish museum assembles a hodgepodge of objects -- clothes, tools, even a jeweller's studio -- that attest to the rich history of the country's 2,000-year-old Jewish community.

"It's the only Jewish museum in the Arab world," said museum curator Zhor Rehihil, a Moroccan civil servant who is Muslim.

Some 5,000 Jews live in Morocco today -- including 2,000 in Casablanca, according to Rehihil's estimates. ( Latest estimates are no more than 3,000 altogether - ed)

The school visits "show to Moroccans that there are other Moroccans with other religious beliefs," she said.

And the museum's philosophy?

"That the Jews of Morocco did not disappear without a trace," says 76-year-old Simon Levy, who has directed the museum since its creation.

He wants Morocco to acknowledge its Jewish heritage in other ways -- namely in history textbooks, which he says is not currently the case.

"That means that for a Moroccan youngster today, a Jew is simply somebody who kills someone in Palestine, even if Jews have contributed enormously to this country," said Levy, a longtime political activist and fighter for Morocco's 1956 independence from France.

"I want this Moroccan youngster to know his country in its historic diversity," he said.

Present since antiquity, Morocco's once-vibrant Jewish community grew steadily over the years, bolstered by the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic monarchs starting in 1492.

In the late 1940s, it counted some 250,000 members, or 10 percent of the population of this North African country.

But the numbers of Jews here have since dropped dramatically. A large majority flocked to Israel after the founding of the Jewish state, in 1948. More followed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day war.

Still others headed for France, the United States and Canada.

The Jews who remain in Morocco still leave an imprint. Major cities have synagogues, including Casablanca, which has several along with two Jewish schools -- which Muslim as well as Jewish students attend.

Then there is the museum, which aims "to preserve Moroccan heritage in its totality," curator Rehihil said.

Museum director Levy also hopes that strides in Middle East peace talks may someday bring Morocco's Jewish diaspora back to their home country.

"Each time there's an improvement in the Middle East climate, a certain number of Moroccan Jews move back to Morocco," he said.

Read article in full

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sharansky: Now is the time to push for freedom

In the week that President Mubarak was toppled from office in Egypt, it is fitting that the world's most famous dissident, Natan Sharansky, now chairman of the Jewish Agency in Israel, should have been celebrating the 25th anniversary of his release from nine years in a Soviet gulag. Jews from Arab lands identify with Sharansky's seminal work The case for Democracy. They experienced the fear societies that Sharansky describes, and and bless the day they found a refuge in the free societies of Israel and the West. Now Egypt stands at the crossroads: will it stay a fear society, or will it make the long hoped-for transition to freedom?

David Horovitz interviews Sharansky in The Jerusalem Post. Read the whole thing:

Israel’s best hope, and that of the West, ran the thinking, rested in cultivating the more palatable tyrants. Arab democracy? How oxymoronic.

So this small, unstoppable man, who has somehow crammed long periods of dissidence, imprisonment, activism and politicking into his 63 years, is feeling a certain vindication on the 25th anniversary of his own liberation. Much more importantly, though, he recognizes the urgency and sensitivities of the hour. Huge public protest, the readiness to push for revolution, he says, is like water coming to the boil. Suddenly it rises up, overflowing with new capabilities. But slam the lid on, turn off the heat, and it falls back.

Iran saw a moment like this, less than two years ago, he recalls. The students, the unions, suddenly they scented weakness. Their frustrations with their Islamist rulers overflowed in the aftermath of the fraudulent presidential elections. They boiled.

But the West failed them. The West, and specifically, a new, untried president, hesitated. The moment was lost. The mullahs slammed the lid on.

This time, says Sharansky – in this fascinating conversation which took place at his chairman’s office in the Jewish Agency headquarters – Barack Obama is sending smarter signals. And Israel, he insists, must internalize how fortunate we are that the revolt is unfolding today in countries where the Islamists are not yet strong enough to sweep into power, in countries dependent on American aid, in countries where the West can yet seek to make its influence felt.

The unholy, unsustainable pact between the West and the dictators of the Middle East is being severed, as it should be, says Sharansky. It is being severed by the people. And their will must be done.

Horovitz: What of the country you left behind? Looking back from 2011, do you feel that the Soviet Union has democratized? Is the political climate there sliding back to totalitarianism?

Russia is still very far from Western democracy. This is especially clear in the judicial system. The courts are not really independent. But those who say it’s the same kind of dictatorship as the Soviet Union, that’s ridiculous. That was a country that was ruled by the KGB. It had millions in the Gulag. There was an army of informers. Today, it’s a different reality.

What happened there, then, is very appropriate to what’s happening now, in our region. People in all cultures under dictatorship become double-thinkers. They live in fear. And they don’t want to live in fear. So when they have a choice to end that, they make that choice.

This double-think, this state of fear, and this desire to get out of fear, is exactly what we see today in the Middle East. All people want to be free, but in the Soviet Union there were also large numbers of nationalities and faiths which were almost erased and which people wanted to live under. What’s happening now in Tunisia, in Egypt, it’s a much more pure example.

In Tunisia, you don’t have any oppressed nationalities. And there was no strong struggle between fundamentalists and secularists. People didn’t take to the streets because of any of that. They simply felt that there was a chance, finally, not to have to live under dictatorship, and that’s what they wanted. And that in turn showed the double-thinkers of Egypt that maybe this was the moment for them, also, to go into the streets. Now, in Egypt, people will say that there are problems with the Copts, and everybody will say that there are problems with the Palestinians and the Israelis [that generate public protest]. But those who went on the demonstrations didn’t go out for the rights of the Coptic Church, and not because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

What brought them to the streets was that they didn’t want to continue living in a fear society, a society in which people who stand up against Hosni Mubarak finish in prison. People like my friend [human rights activist] Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who said 10 years ago that Mubarak would put his son [Gamal] in power after him, went to prison, and would still be there were it not for intervention of [the West, and notably] president George W. Bush.

There are always very few dissidents. But the moment people stop feeling afraid, suddenly there are millions of them.

What brought them out to the streets was the desire not to have to live in a climate where what exactly prevailed?

When you have a government which is unchanging, which is not very democratic, the people will have many complaints. And when they express those complaints [in such regimes], they get punished. That’s something that people don’t like. They have to live under self-control, careful about what they say because they will be punished.

In Egypt, five years ago, for example, the editor of a newspaper was simply dragged out of the city and left naked and told not to dare publish one more article against Mubarak. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, likewise, said on the record that elections would be irrelevant, that the next president would be Mubarak’s son. He was arrested the next day.

That’s what happens on the top. That means that, on the lower level, people must constantly control themselves – what they can and can’t say. It’s a very uncomfortable life. If you can get rid of it without risking your life, you try to do that.

And that’s what people in Egypt are doing now?

Yes. And that’s my theory as expressed in my book The Case for Democracy: In every dictatorship, the longer it exists, the more true believers turn into double-thinkers. Then, in the final years of a dictatorship, practically everybody is a double-thinker.

That’s why I was saying, long ago, that Iran is absolutely ripe for social revolution. Iran is actually a unique example where within one generation, very quickly, almost all the true believers became double-thinkers.

There is a very critical moment, which is called revolution.When does it happen? When suddenly big masses of double-thinkers – not one, not two – go over to dissent. It’s like boiling water, when it reaches 100 degrees. Now, if that moment [is missed, and] it goes back, it will immediately disappear. That’s what happened in Iran [when the demonstrations erupted and then faded after the 2009 elections]. Some of the people – big student organizations, trade unions – felt that they could go to the barricades. And millions more were sitting and waiting, with all this Facebook and Internet. But then, at that moment, the leader of the free world indicated that for the US, engagement with the regime was more important than changing the regime. And immediately, it all collapsed.

At that critical moment, the president of the United States failed them?

Oh yes. And that’s what I said to his closest advisers at the time – that I couldn’t understand how the president of the United States could make such a speech. By the way, his speech on the first anniversary of the revolution was great. But it was exactly one year late. Because now, to take these doublethinkers and turn them into dissidents again, well, it’s still there, but you need a more serious push.

The more cruel the dictatorship, the more difficult it is. In Tunisia, there was a moment when the dictatorship became very weak and the people felt very capable. That definitely impacted on Egypt. Dissent was big. Mubarak looked weak, because of his health and other factors. And they rushed out.

And now, more than two weeks later? Has the president of the United States got it right this time?

Much better. Though it’s easy to be better than he was on Iran, which was terrible. I was in the United States in those first days of protest in Egypt, and [Vice President] Biden said, of course Mubarak is not a dictator. My God, I thought! Millions of people are going to the streets to say Mubarak is a dictator, and the leaders of America say he isn’t?! But the next day, I see something happened in the White House, and Hillary Clinton comes out with a better statement and President Obama says the right thing.

The “right thing” being that the people of Egypt must determine their own future?

Yes. Now the critical step, which has not yet been made but which can be made, is the linkage. The free world is lucky here in two respects. First, that what happened in Egypt happened when the Muslim Brotherhood is not yet strong enough [to sweep into power]. The longer there is dictatorship, the longer the free world helps to destroy all democratic dissent, the stronger the Muslim Brotherhood becomes. In Prague, in 2007, (at a meeting of international dissidents that Sharansky organized), Saad Eddin Ibrahim asked president Bush, Why are you supporting Mubarak? Bush answered: Because otherwise there will be the Muslim Brotherhood. Saad Eddin Ibrahim said: That’s a mistake. That if you want the choice for Egyptians to be either Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood, it will ultimately be the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ten years ago, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would have had 10% support. Today they say they have 25 or 30%. Who knows what it will be in 10 years if things don’t change. People are unhappy. The only alternative to that unhappiness has been the Muslim Brotherhood. The free world has been helping to destroy any democratic alternative.

So it is good that this is all happening now in Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood is not strong enough.

Read article in full

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More lies from Brother Tariq Ramadan

Now that President Mubarak has gone, all eyes are on what happens next in Egypt. Some are wildly optimistic that we will see the first flowerings of Egyptian democracy. Others warn darkly that the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organised and most effective opposition grouping, will sooner or later make a bid for power.

It is almost fashionable for the western media to play down the Muslim Brotherhood's extremism, and for some to say it is moderate and non-violent. Antisemitic manifestations in the street protests of the last 18 days in the Brotherhood's time-honoured Jew-hating tradition have been curiously downplayed in the western media (see picture).

Apologists for the Muslim Brotherhood have been given a platform. Take Tariq Ramadan, who wrote an op-ed in The New York Times.

'Tariq Ramadan is a liar', proclaims Yaacov Lozowick at his blog, and Barry Rubin has done a fine job fisking Ramadan's NYT piece. You don't need me to labour the point that Professor Ramadan, slick and silver-tongued grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, Hassan al-Banna, is a master of doublespeak and obfuscation. I'll just remind you of a few facts, as contained in Matthew Kuntzel's fine work, Jihad and Jew Hatred.

Lie no.1: The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in the 1930s as an anti-colonial and non-violent movement.Kuntzel points out that the MB's top priority was Jew-hatred, not anti-British feeling.

Lie no.2: Al-Banna strongly criticised fascist governments in Germany and Italy. Nothing could be further than the truth. Al-Banna was a fervent admirer of Hitler. The Islamist movement was subsidised by German funds. The MB distributed Mein Kampf.

Lie no.3: the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the use of violence in Egypt, though it was legitimate in Palestine: nonsense. In 1939, the Muslim Brotherhood placed the first bombs in a Cairo synagogue and Jewish private homes. These acts could hardly be called 'resistance' to the Irgun and Stern Gang, who came much later. The violence followed calls for the boycott of Jewish businesses and incitement in the MB press against the 'Threat of the Jews in Egypt'.

Anyone who claims that the MB believes in democracy should note that the Brotherhood only believes in democracy as a vehicle to get itself into power. Once firmly entrenched, it will kill its opponents (a la Hamas) and never hold an election again.

Anyone who thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood believes in Turkish-style secularism is deluding themselves. The Muslim Brotherhood has always believed in Islamic theocracy.

Anyone one believes (like The Guardian) that the MB is a progressive force should be aware that it is a reactionary, anti-modern, misogynistic movement with its roots in fascism.

Barry Rubin 'fisks' Ramadan's NYT article

Friday, February 11, 2011

Protests bring back terrifying memories of Egypt

A group Batmitzvah in Alexandria (Photo: Nebi Daniel)

For Egyptian-born Jews, the current crisis elicits a mix of emotions—from nostalgia for an idyllic existence under the monarchy to the terror of being chased out to calls of ‘kill the Jews’ - Paula Sadok writes in The Tablet (with thanks: a reader):

The upper echelon lived well in pre-1952 Cairo, or the “Paris on the Nile,” as it was called. Residents marveled at the city’s cleanliness, the rich aroma of French perfumes emanating from department stores stocked with European goods, the trees lining the streets heavy with fragrant mangoes and tangerines. Jews thrived. They founded the banks, hospitals, major department stores, contributing to every aspect of Egypt’s modernization. The monarchy sent a delegation to the main synagogues on High Holidays as a sign of respect and solidarity.

After the founding of modern Israel, demonstrations of anti-Semitism abounded, and Jews left Egypt in droves. About half went to the new Jewish state. Others relocated to Brooklyn, settling in the Jewish Syrian community in Midwood. Many still express anger about their own suffering in the aftermath of the last revolution. “We were never treated as real Egyptians,” wrote Yosef Marzouk in an email from Israel. “We were treated as strangers.” At the time of the 1952 revolution, Marzouk, then 23 years old, had just completed a degree in pharmacology at Cairo University. After graduation, he and some classmates went to Alexandria to celebrate. As they sat in a coffee shop along Alexandria’s Mediterranean corniche, they saw tanks drive toward the king’s summer palace nearby; Marzouk fled his homeland for Israel the following year. His brother, a doctor, decided to stay behind, and in 1955, Dr. Moshe Marzouk was executed after being convicted of spying for Israel [3].

Viviane Franco, now 62 and living on Long Island, wrote in an email that the current protests have brought back terrifying memories of her childhood, like the times she was forced to hide in her family’s Cairo apartment, shutters closed, listening to people on the streets chant idbahu el-Yehud— “Let’s kill the Jews.” Franco’s family immigrated to Naples in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, when she was 18. She has little faith in the current protesters, saying that they are trying to “hoodwink the Americans into thinking Egyptians want democracy.” And she claims that numbness, not terror, is the lasting result of her childhood. “When I heard about the riots,” she wrote, “I didn’t even cry because I felt nothing.”

Miraz’s reaction is seemingly more measured on the surface, but equally pessimistic. “As a Jew who grew up in an Arab country, I know firsthand that Islam can be tolerant and kind to others,” he wrote from Israel, “as long as they are inferior or weak—dhimmi—in their group.”

Other Egyptian-born Jews expressed concern for the fate of the synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, as well as the Torah scrolls and religious articles.

Ita Lezmi, an octogenarian born in Alexandria, has lived in Brooklyn for decades. “Jews were lucky to be in Egypt,” she says. She says her childhood was an idyllic existence, calling life under the British-administered monarchy “sweet, easy, beautiful and magnificent.” Lezmi realizes that such a life came at great cost to others, and she says that the lower class has suffered greatly under Mubarak. “Here’s the situation,” she says. “They’re starving. Mubarak doesn’t give the poor a chance to breathe.” She was one of the few people I spoke with who was hopeful about the country’s future. “Look at this beautiful new generation, how the students stood to protect the museum, the schools, the hospitals. They’re educated. They want freedom.”

Lezmi and her family were expelled from Egypt after the Suez War; her husband was a French national. The family was given 24 hours to leave. “They took the house,” she says. “They took everything.” The Lezmis went to Genoa, Italy, where they “lived like dogs,” she said, before continuing for America.

Desire Sakkal, president of the Historical Society of the Jews from Egypt [4], based in Brooklyn, was 2 years old during the 1952 revolution and remembers little. But the terror that followed the Suez War remains clear to him. His grandfather, Halfon Safdieh, who would later be chief rabbi of the Egyptian community in Brooklyn, and his uncle, Solomon Safdieh, were beaten in the streets. His father was summoned to the local police department several times on the charge of being a Zionist. Still Sakkal’s father wanted to stay. In 1962, the government confiscated the family’s prosperous business, a button factory. The family fled, living in France for several months before settling in New York.

Read article in full

Local Egyptian Jews recall Exodus (The Jewish Star)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Papers show Jews legally own land in 'Palestine'

Mount Scopus in 'East' Jerusalem....legally owned by Jews

The excellent Elder of Ziyon has been digging into the Palestine Papers and come up with a scoop! The Palestinian side had researched Jewish-owned land in the 'occupied territories' in case the subject, postponed until a final peace agreement, came up in negotiation with the Israelis.

Some of the parts are fascinating. For example, it describes (and implicitly supports) the bigoted British policy of severely restricting the rights of Jews - and only Jews - to buy land before 1948:
In 1940, in response to Arab concerns regarding Jewish land ownership in Palestine, the British introduced restrictions on land transfers to Jews. Pursuant to the Palestine (Amendment) Order-in-Council of 25 May 1939, the High Commissioner was authorized to prohibit and regulate land transfers.23 Acting on these powers, the High Commissioner adopted the Land Transfer Regulations, 1940, which established three zones: Zone A (16,680 km2), where land could generally not be transferred except to Palestinian Arabs; Zone B (8,348 km2), where land transfers from Arabs to Jews required permission that was generally withheld; and land outside Zones A and B (1,292 km2), which could be freely transferred.24 According to the hand-drawn map annexed to the Regulations, what became Gaza and the West Bank was entirely Zone A, meaning that land transfers to Jews were, with few exceptions, prohibited.25 Britain apparently repealed these Regulations upon the termination of its Mandate (12 May 1948).26
Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan and Egypt essentially confiscated Jewish-owned land, against international humanitarian law:

The Custodian [of Enemy Property] held and administered Jewish-owned in the West Bank until 1967 according to the Trading with the Enemy Ordinance (as opposed to administering the land like absentee property according to the powers and rules of IHL).38 Some of these assets were used by the Custodian for public purposes, such as the establishment of refugee camps, the rehabilitation of refugees, and the setting up of army camps and marketplaces. In other cases, the property was leased to private individuals, who used the land for agricultural, commercial or residential purposes, depending on its characteristics.

By the Order Providing Regulations for the Administration of Jews’ Property in the Areas Subject to the Control of the Egyptian Forces in Palestine, No. 25 (issued in 1948, published in 1950), Egypt appointed a Director General to administer property owned by Jews who fled in 1948. The Director General used the parcels for public projects, including refugee camps for Palestine Arabs, or leased them for private uses.41
Finally, the document describes some specific lands indisputably owned by Jews - even according to the Palestinian Arabs.

[L]and located on Mount Scopus...was purchased from a British national in 1916. Boris Goldberg, a member of Lovers of Zion, paid for the land and took title in his name.51 He gifted the land to the JNF, which gave a 999-year lease to Hebrew University.52 Additional land was purchased on Mount Scopus from Raghib al-Nashashibi, Mayor of Jerusalem, and was used for the Hebrew University. Hadassah Hospital was also built on land purchased on Mount Scopus.53

...By 1946, the JNF acquired 72,300 dunums in the Gaza district, which encompassed more than present-day Gaza.

In 1930, a Jewish farmer from Rehovot, Tuvia Miller, bought 262 dunums of land in Dayr al-Balah in the Gaza sub-district. Miller eventually sold his land to the JNF in the early 1940s. The JNF then allowed settlers from the religious Ha-Poel ha-Mizrahi movement to build the kibbutz of Kfar Darom on the land in October 1946. They abandoned the kibbutz in June 1948.59

Stein reports a purchase of 4,048 dunums in Huj (Gaza sub-district) in 1935 but does not indicate the identity of the Jewish purchaser.60 Note, however, that the Palestine Partition Commission reported that, by 1938, only 3,300 dunums in Gaza were owned by Jews.61

In 1941, 6,373 dunums were purchased by the JNF around Gaza City, though it is unknown whether the purchase was permissible under the Land Transfer Regulations 1940.

The government of Palestine estimated a population of 3,540 Jews in the Gaza sub-district at the end of 1946. Information has not been found on the circumstances under which these Jews departed from Gaza in 1948.

There were Jewish settlements north of Jerusalem called Atarot and Neve Yaakov, which were evacuated in 1948.65

A settlement called Bet Haarava, and Palestine Potash, Ltd., both located at the northern end of the Dead Sea, were situated on miri land leased by the government of Palestine and were evacuated in 1948.66

During the 1920s and 1930s, individual Jews and two Jewish-owned realty companies, Zikhron David and El Hahar, bought land in the hills around Hebron.67 Notwithstanding (and, actually, because of) the Land Transfer Regulations, 1940, which placed nearly all of the West Bank in Zone A, the JNF began purchasing land around Hebron in 1940. It acquired about 8,400 dunums by 1947, some of which was purchased from individual Jews and from Zikhron David and El Hahar. The settlements established on this land were called Kfar Etzion, Masuot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim. The JNF circumvented the prohibition on acquisition of land by Jews by creating front companies. Most of the Jewish-owned land around Hebron was held, as of 1948, by the JNF rather than by individual Jewish owners.68

Some 16,000 dunums of land were purchased by Jews before 1948 in the Etzion Bloc and Beit Hadassah.69

Himnuta bought land near Jericho and present-day Ma’ale Adumim. The funding in urban areas usually came from state coffers, while the purchase of agricultural land was paid for by the JNF.70

During the British mandate, the government of Palestine leased miri land on a long-term basis (50 or 100 years) to Jewish settlement organisations.71

By 1948, the concentrations of lands owned by Jews were in the old Jewish quarters of Jerusalem and Hebron, on the periphery of Jerusalem, and in the Tul-Karem region and the Gaza Strip.72

* Apparently, 80% of Har Homa’s [Jabal Abu Ghneim’s] land is Jewish land purchased in the forties and before.73

The JNF lost land in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank as well, and this matter has been postponed for the eventual [peace] talks for over a decade.
Now, why wouldn't The Guardian or its partner Al Jazeera want to write about a paper that details Jewish legal rights to lands in the territories?

Could it be that these "news" organizations are more interested in manipulating the news rather than reporting it?

Read post in full

Tangled web of Jewish ownership in 'Arab' areas