Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to win friends at SOAS Israel Apartheid Week

As the propaganda tsunami known as Israel Apartheid Week crashes over university campuses across the world, Michelle Huberman (pictured) demonstrates how a showing of the Forgotten Refugees film can have the power to change hostile minds. Read her guest blog on the Jerusalem Post:

At the School of African and Asian Studies (SOAS) last week, it was Israel Apartheid Week on campus and the place was abuzz with Palestinian flags and posters to Free Gaza. The atmosphere was threatening. How does one begin to fight back against the lies and intimidation?

My answer was to persuade this august institution to show a film – The David Project’s The Forgotten Refugees., directed by Michael Grynszpan. This film explores the history, culture, and forced exodus of nearly one million Jews from Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities in the second half of the 20th century. These Jews now comprise half of Israel’s Jewish population. The film raises awareness of an issue which has been tragically ignored in the media, world politics, and educational programmes.

I believe that everybody should see The Forgotten Refugees. It deals with genuine apartheid: Jews (and Christians) were literally inferior beings, subjugated to Islam. They were often segregated in ghettos. In Iran, Morocco and Yemen, they were under intermittent pressure to convert to Islam. They could not ride horses or build houses higher than Muslims, they could not testify against a Muslim, and had to pay protection money for their survival.

I had shown the film to students at SOAS a few months ago and managed to secure a second screening during this high-profile week. I wondered whether the audience I wanted would come in and see it? I decided the best way was to go along to the Israel Apartheid event and let people know. I’d made a leaflet advertising the film with the strap line “What Happened to the Jews from Arab Countries?”

It was the Sunday before our screening and it was a sunny afternoon. I happily strolled onto the campus with my friendly dog. I could see in the distance the Israeli counter-demonstration. It looked peaceful, they had their banners and seemed to be engaging well with the pro-Palestinians.

I went over to their side, mingling in with the crowd. The people were thronging amongst the stalls described as Celebrate Palestine. All were draped with keffiyahs and many were wearing anti-Israel slogans. These were the people I wanted in the audience to see the film. I love Middle Eastern culture and happily chatted along with them, asking them if they were interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict. I explained about the film, that it was non-political and gave a new perspective on the region. If they felt it was propaganda, they’d be able to make their views known during the Q&A at the end.

All the young people of Arab origin took the leaflets and told me they’d try to come along. They were genuinely interested. They were curious about me, and I was happy to share my background of being Jewish, a fashion designer with a passion for Islamic architecture.

In contrast, the middle-aged, pale, scruffy English people I spoke to – who I later found out were human rights lawyers - were very hostile. They said: “it’s Zionist propaganda – look, the text is in blue!” As a designer I had painstakingly put together a collage of sepia photos showing Jews leaving Arab countries with only a suitcase and their arrival in the ma’abarot camps in Israel. I had experimented with lots of colors and decided that blue text stood out best against the sepia – so much for Zionist colors! Another looked at my Jewish surname on the leaflet and said viciously: “look at her name – she’s a Zionist”. I told them to come along to the event and judge for themselves.

I was conversing with one Middle Eastern man who wanted to come to the film. He was genuinely interested and we spoke for a few minutes. He left and not long afterwards I was chatting with his two little children who liked my dog. They were nice kids. It was then that I heard a scuffle behind. The little girl’s eyes widened in horror. I turned around and saw that their father was involved in the commotion. His friendly eyes were now full of hatred and he was in the throes of a fight. My maternal instinct kicked in and I quickly hurried away with his children to shield them from seeing their father in battle. I had absolutely no idea what this fight was all about. I just knelt down with the children behind the building and wrapped my arms around them.

Ten minutes later when it died down and I’d let the kids go, I saw the father was being handcuffed by the police. I learnt then that this man was the one who had actually attacked and bitten one of the four Israel supporters who were there peacefully holding a counter-demonstration. What a turn of events that I was protecting the attacker’s children!

My film showing was scheduled for last Wednesday. I became increasingly nervous beforehand, wondering who might attend. Would the man in the fight show up? What would the reaction be in this hotbed of anti-Israel feeling?

When I’d shown the film previously at SOAS, I’d walked into a room full of 50 hostile students dressed in keffiyahs and hijabs, who were studying the Israel/Palestine conflict. I’d brought with me an elderly man whose family had fled Persia and was forced to convert to Islam. His story was very moving and by the time the film had ended the audience was showing sympathy. They needed no prompting to suggest: “why don’t the Arabs and Israelis do swaps like the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus?” Many requested a copy of the film to share with their friends.

This time would be different as the viewing would be out of lecture hours. The room was full and the crowd seemed pretty tame. I was pleased to see that a few of the young hijab-ed girls I’d chatted to were sitting in the audience and also one of the human rights lawyers from the previous Sunday. The film lasted 50 minutes and is shocking in parts, with graphic clips of murderous riots against communities that most of us know nothing of.

The audience were very stunned by the film. Afterwards they had a chance to ask me questions.The Muslim girls wanted to talk about the West Bank settlements, but I told them this was a non-political event and the topic was the Jews from Arab countries. They complied and listened attentively. The audience’s questions were intelligent, the discussion civilised and informed. The evening went off peacefully and everybody left – hopefully - with a new perspective on Israelis.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Canadian MP raises Jewish refugee issue

Winnipeg MP Anita Neville

Kudos to Canadian MP Anita Neville for raising the issue of Jewish refugees in Parliament - a response to the disproportionate attention given to Palestinian refugees, especially on university campuses during Israel Apartheid Week. She only discovered the issue of Jewish refugees two years ago, she tells Canadian Jewish News. Dare other parliamentarians follow suit?

Neville, who is running for re-election in Winnipeg South Centre, told The CJN this is “an issue that has not been discussed much in this House or by the current government.” She only learned of it two years ago. However, Canada could play a role in furthering awareness of the plight of Jewish refugees, either through discussions in committee or by calling on the government to raise it in forums in which the issue of Palestinian refugees comes up.

“This is a story that must be acknowledged and must be repeated,” she said.

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, said U.S. Congress passed a resolution during the Bush administration calling on the executive to raise the issue in international diplomatic forums whenever Palestinian refugees are discussed. “To what extent the Americans are now pushing this issue, I’m not really aware of,” he said.

“But, Israel is making it part of their platform,” he continued. “We haven’t seen any recent Israeli government adopt this negotiation stance the way this government has.”

A little more than a year ago, Israel’s Knesset passed a bill aimed at securing compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. The bill instructs the government to include the compensation issue in future peace negotiations.

“For the first time, there is seriousness among Israeli officials” about the issue. “The foreign ministry sent memos to ambassadors to make sure the issue is raised in any bilateral discussions,” Urman stated.

Neville said the timing of her statement “related to what is going on on university campuses.” (It came shortly after the conclusion of Israeli Apartheid Week.)

“No one is asking ‘what about Jewish refugees,’” she said. “No one is asking ‘what about the one-sided approach of the United Nations’.

“There’s a lot of attention on Palestinian refugees and no acknowledgement there was a significant number of Jewish refugees who were displaced. There were no reparations for these people,” she said.

“I think there has to be greater awareness of the issue, greater dialogue about it at universities, greater dialogue about it internationally, when there’s disproportionate talk about Palestinian refugees.”

Read article in full

Rare mention of refugees at Westminster

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rebel Libyan 'Shabbat goy' recalls Benghazi Jews

Jewish classroom in Benghazi before World War ll

Buried in the news reports of the fighting in Libya, I came across this nugget by Mitch Potter in The Star (Canada). Potter stumbled upon an anti-Gaddafi doctor with fond memories of Benghazi's Jewish community. Unfortunately, Dr Mabroka Legnain is an exception in the antisemitic swamp that judenrein Libya is now:

But away from the front lines, a fuller representation of society rallied to the cause. In Benghazi, for example, the run-up to the fateful UN decision on a no-fly zone was preceded by three days of thousands of women rallying en masse, all pleading for the world’s help. It was unprecedented — never before had Libyans seen more than a handful of women gathered together in public, let alone thousands.

Among them was Dr. Mabroka Legnain, 62, a Libyan pioneer for equal rights. She once held one of the highest medical offices in the country as overseer of Benghazi’s 600-bed Jamahiriya Hospital. But a few years ago, Gadhafi’s secret police imprisoned one of her sons-in-law — his only offence was that he wore a beard, and was therefore deemed suspicious. As part of a subsequent witch hunt, Legnain was forced to resign her position.

“Even if you swallowed all of Gadhafi’s injustices, they could see it in your face,” Legnain told the Star.

“Now that this volcano that has erupted, we can never go back. We have no faith in this regime, but we have faith in God, and in ourselves. We will create a new Libya for our children from the ashes of these 42 years.”

Throughout Benghazi, anti-Gadhafi graffiti abounds. And in some instances, one see Stars of David entwined in the spray-paint tags, suggesting anti-Israeli or perhaps anti-Semitic impulses within the war on Gadhafi.

Legnain told a different story, however. She is old enough to remember when Benghazi had a sizeable Jewish community, with which her own family was closely entwined. On the Jewish Sabbath, she and her sisters would light hearths and switch lights on and off for their Jewish neighbours. Moreover, said Legnain, she and her siblings were reared by a Jewish wet-nurse — “which to us means we weren’t just friends, but family.

“I don’t have hate. We who are making the revolution don’t have hate. We want Gadhafi to leave, but we do not want blood. When we prevail, the world will see the true face of Libya is one of peace.”

Read article in full

Iran secretly executes Jewish-Armenian couple

News has finally filtered out of Iran's secret execution of an Iranian-Jewish woman and her Armenian (Orthodox Christian) husband. According to the Christian news agency Mohaba, it is not known what they were charged with. Relatives asking for the bodies to be returned for burial were threatened with arrest (with thanks: Janet):

At dawn on Monday March 14, 2011 a Jewish-Armenian couple along with one women and two other men were secretly executed.

According to the Iranian Christian News Agency "Mohabat News" and based on reports from the human rights activists in Iran, the 28th divisional court of the Revolutionary Court, located inside the Evin prison, in confirming this execution refused to provide any further details about the release of the bodies of the executed prisoners.

Mrs. Adiva Mirza Soleiman Kalimi, a Jewish Iranian, and her husband, Varoujan Petrosian, an Armenian Iranian, along with one other woman and two men, whose identities remain unknown, were secretly executed in Evin Prison.

It is still not known what those prisoners were charged with.

It is noteworthy that the families of the victims, who had asked the authorities to return the bodies of their loved ones in order to be buried according to their cultural and religious customs ,have received threats of arrest from the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.

Read article in full

The pitfalls of Jewish-Muslim dialogue

Rabbi Marc Shneier

How useful is Jewish-Muslim dialogue to conflict resolution?

Two days ago Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger suspended all interfaith dialogue with the Muslim religious leadership until they unreservedly condemned terrorist and rocket attacks on Israel.

On the other hand, Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder of the New-York based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, proclaimed in the pages of the Jerusalem Post recently that interfaith dialogue works. He was rebutting a column by Isi Leibler who argued that too many of those Muslims taking part in dialogue were not genuine moderates.

Isi Leibler

It is well known that Islamist radicals and extremists have often sidelined moderates. Hiding behind front organisations, it can be argued that they have commandeered the leadership of the Muslim community. In the UK, for instance, the Muslim Association of Britain is the UK branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, just as Hamas is its Palestinian branch. Several organisations advocate the establishment of sharia law and the Caliphate, riding roughshod over the rights of women and minorities. (In Britain, however, there are hopeful signs, in the wake of the Prime Minister's Munich speech on 'multiculturalism', that the Cameron government has finally woken up to acknowledging that the PREVENT policy of funding Muslim sectarian groups is equivalent to paying the foxes to guard the chicken coop.)

Moderates in the West often find themselves without a voice. In the Middle East, they are bullied into silence or killed. As Elliot Jager explains in his article, the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is littered with the bodies of leaders assassinated for making peace, and moderates murdered by extremists.

In the West, much interfaith dialogue builds a false equivalence between antisemitism and Islamophobia. But statistics show that antisemitism is far more serious a problem*. Shouting 'islamophobia' only serves to obfuscate and distract. Such dialogue cements an alliance against traditional fascist, or right-wing antisemitism, while doing nothing to combat the more prevalent antisemitism being disseminated by the leftwing 'Red-Green' alliance.

Shunning difficult issues, and waxing lyrical about our common humanity and fate, obviously achieves nothing. Such dialogue is bland and ineffectual.

Where there is frank and fearless discussion, another problem emerges: much dialogue espouses the Arab narrative. There is Jewish guilt for so-called wrongs done to Palestinians. The fact that Arabs instigated the 1948 war against Israel is forgotten. What often happens is that Muslims advocate intransigently for their rights, while Jews debase theirs. When was the last time your dialogue group grappled with Arab and Muslim antisemitism? It's all very well to deplore Holocaust denial, but when did you hear Arab and Muslims admit to their widespread complicity in the Holocaust - let alone condemn it? When was the last time your dialogue group discussed the 850,000 Jewish refugees forced out of Arab countries through no fault of their own, and now largely resettled in Israel ? The Jewish land and assets stolen by Arab states?

Conflict resolution is all about reconciliation - and in order to achieve reconciliation one needs all the facts on the table. One needs a clear distinction between victim and aggressor. It means coming to terms and apologising for wrongs committed, not falsifying or brushing them under the carpet.

* eight times as many attacks on Jews as on Muslims, according to this latest study

Beware neighbours who turn into monsters

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tunisian government denounces Israel 'enticement'

Inside the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba

No wonder the Tunisian government is unhappy at Israel's offering a package of financial incentives to 'entice' emigrating Tunisian Jews: the Jews of Djerba are the island's main tourist attraction:

(AP) TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia's government on Monday condemned an effort by Israeli officials to entice Tunisian Jews to emigrate to Israel over concerns about possible economic hardship in the North African country.

The "ill-disposed" call from Israeli officials amounted to meddling in Tunisia's domestic affairs, an effort to sow suspicion, and "an attempt by Israel to tarnish the post-revolutionary image of Tunisia," wrote the Foreign Ministry in a statement.

Tunisia's tourism industry has suffered after a popular uprising drove President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee in January. Roughly two-thirds of Tunisia's estimated 1,500 Jews live on the Mediterranean island of Djerba, a popular vacation getaway for sun-minded Europeans. Djerba's historic Ghriba synagogue was the target of a deadly terror attack in 2002 that left 21 people dead, including 14 German tourists, in the only major attack in Tunisia by Islamist extremists.

The ministry statement, relayed by official news agency TAP, came a day after Israel's Cabinet said Prime Benjamin Netanyahu said Tunisian Jews were suffering "real distress" and pledged extra aid to help them immigrate.

The Israeli government, in a statement, cited the economic situation and "the worsening of the Tunisian authorities' and society's attitude toward the Jewish community." It did not elaborate.

Read article in full

Ynet News (AFP)

Tunisia, Israel spar over Jewish emigration (AFP)

The West approves of 'ethnic cleansing' of the Jews

Mahmoud Abbas: a Jew-free Palestine

The Palestinian leadership's calls for a Jew-free state of Palestine have met with western silence or approval, Matthew Hausman argues in American Thinker. Via Israpundit:

The Arab-Muslim world's true intentions regarding peace with Israel should be apparent from its centuries-long oppression and subjugation of Jews in Arab lands and its stated refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation. The two-state solution is proffered as a ruse for the destabilization of Israel, and western apologists are complicit in the charade by their refusal to insist on Arab recognition of Jewish historical rights, and by their failure to condemn the Palestinian goal of state building through ethnic cleansing.

Whereas any perceived attempt by Israel to transfer Arab populations would certainly inspire international condemnation, the Palestinians' open and notorious aim of expelling Jews from historically Jewish lands -- lands that were never part of any sovereign Arab nation -- is met with conspicuous silence or tacit approval. Indeed, President Obama's demand last year for a building freeze in Jerusalem was a blatant attempt to coerce Israel to implement apartheid-like measures against her own citizens in order to limit the Jewish population of her capital.

Nevertheless, Jewish habitation in Judea, Samaria, and Israel proper, including Jerusalem, was a fact from antiquity into modern times -- until Jordan conquered the territories and dispossessed their Jewish inhabitants during Israel's War of Independence. When Jordan (then known as Transjordan) conquered Judea and Samaria in 1948, it expelled the Jews living there, collectively dubbed these territories the "West Bank," and annexed them in violation of international law.

Read article in full

The open racism of a future state of Palestine (Shmuel Trigano)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Israel to approve aid plan for Tunisian Jews

At the annual Lag La'omer pilgrimage to the Griba synagogue, Djerba

The Israeli government is expected to approve today an NIS 825,000 million program to help Tunisian Jews immigrating to Israel following the revolution there. The Jerusalem Post has the story:

The measure will be discussed at the weekly cabinet meeting and comes, according to background material provided the ministers, against the background of the recent revolution that has lead to an “Islamization of the government and an increase of anti-Semitism.”

Some 1,500 Jews currently live in Tunisia: 900 on the island of Djerba, and another 600 in Tunis.

Explaining the need for enhanced economic aid to the immigrants, the background material said that “as a result of the revolution, there is a very difficult economic situation in Tunisia, and the value of the local currency, the dinar, has significantly lost value. Most of Tunisia’s Jews come from the middle or lower economic classes without assets. Even those with assets have lost the value of those assets. As a result of the revolution and the economic crisis, there is no opportunity to sell those assets.”

Furthermore, it was pointed out that there is a $3,000 limit on how much money anyone can take out of the country.

The aid package calls for a NIS 15,000 grant in two installments for each family for their first seven months in the country, and an additional NIS 18,000 that will be paid in two payments from their 13th to 24th month in Israel. The cost of the program will be split evenly between the government and the Jewish Agency.

Some 25 families are expected in the first stage of the project.

Read article in full

JTA article

Dudu Tassa follows in grandpa's musical footsteps

Plunging from celebrity status in Iraq to playing barmitzvahs in a musical ghetto in Israel in the 1950s, the disillusioned al-Kuwaiti brothers, Daoud and Saleh, forbade their children from ever becoming musicians. But Dudu Tassa is now defying his grandfather Daoud's wishes, finding new and exciting ways of reinterpreting the Al-Kuwaitis' music. Fascinating piece by Aryeh Tepper in Jewish Ideas Daily:

Among the illustrious composers and musicians ... erased from Iraqi history were two brothers: Salah (1908-1986) and Daoud (1910-1976) al-Kuwaiti. An integral part of Baghdad's artistic scene during the 1930s and 40s, the al-Kuwaiti brothers wrote music for King Faisal's 1936 coronation ceremony and headed the Iraqi radio orchestra. Their songs, performed by leading Arab vocalists like Um-Kultum and Muhammad Abdel-Wahab, were popular throughout the Arab world.

In 1951, the al-Kuwaiti brothers were among the 120,000 Jews forced to flee Iraq for Israel, leaving their wealth and prestige behind. When they arrived in the reborn Jewish state, a small country straining under a doubling of its population in the first few years after independence, they were placed with the rest of the Iraqi Jewish refugees in a temporary tent camp.

If the change in physical circumstances was extreme, the cultural transition was no less difficult. In Iraq the brothers had belonged to the elite; in Israel they were relatively unknown. Moreover, the regnant cultural ethos in those early decades of state-building called for fashioning a "new Jew" by "negating the Diaspora"; the Diaspora emphatically included the world with which the music of the al-Kuwaitis was associated. Worse still, that music was by definition identified with the culture of Israel's arch-enemies.

As a consequence, and even though the al-Kuwaitis continued to perform for Voice of Israel broadcasts in Arabic, their work was relegated to a musical ghetto. Compounding the humiliation was the fact that on Iraqi and Arab radio, thanks to "Baghdad Bob," credit for their songs was now being assigned to other artists. In these and other ways, the al-Kuwaitis' experience in Israel was representative of the fate of many in that transitional generation, marginalized from within and erased from without, their culture lost somewhere in-between.

By the end of his career, Daoud al-Kuwaiti had become so discouraged that he forbade his children to become musicians. Although they themselves dutifully complied with their father's wishes, Daoud's grandson, born in 1977 and named for his illustrious grandfather, did not—and therein lies the second half of the story.

From an early age, it was clear that David (Dudu) Tassa had been blessed with his grandfather's musical talent. Young Tassa released his first album when he was only thirteen, and within a few years had developed into an accomplished vocalist and guitarist, one of those rare artists appreciated by critics, the public, and fellow musicians.

Tassa's standard sound is a mixture of rock and soul sustained by a sophisticated pop sensibility. But he also knows his way around classic Zionist anthems. And now, on his recently released and acclaimed eighth disc, Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, he has further pushed the boundaries of his repertoire by reinterpreting songs written by his grandfather and great-uncle.

That is no easy task. As Tassa writes in the album's liner notes, even though he grew up with Arabic songs in his home, his professional diet was Western popular music, and the two vocabularies are very different. Even more difficult to digest were the al-Kuwaitis' lyrics, full of typically Iraqi "pathos and drama." Only slowly did Tassa learn to appreciate the brothers' literary and musical depth. In the end, he re-arranged the originals, adding Western rhythms and instrumental colors (there are no guitars in Arab music). The album, performed entirely in Arabic, is fittingly dedicated "to all of the musicians who brought [to Israel] . . . a magnificent culture."

On one level, Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis represents a ground-breaking experiment in musical sound, dubbed by one critic "Iraq 'n' roll." But the sound is also a poignant one—the sound of a grandson getting to know the grandfather he never met—and it embodies, as well, an act of recovery, bringing back into the musical mainstream the work of two musicians who were forgotten in the twists and turns of history.

Nor is that all. Melding the old and the new, Tassa's interpretation of the original Iraqi sound is an exercise in generational bridge-building, reflecting an increasingly common desire among many Israelis to explore the cultures their grandparents were compelled to set aside as part of their absorption process. Not Ben-Gurion's "negation of the Diaspora," this is rather an "ingathering of the exiles," an ingathering that includes the cultures of the exiles.

Perhaps most significantly, Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis can be seen as an expression of Israeli cultural self-confidence—of liberation from the idea that Western styles are the sole criterion of good music. Israel is, after all, the place where Jewish communities have come together from all over the world, and it is only natural that its music should reflect the resulting synthesis. That the Arabic language is a very large component of Israel's cultural heritage, the medium in which millions of Jews have thought, felt, and created, is one of the ironies forthrightly embraced in Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis. Among its many other virtues, the album reminds us that "the language of the enemy" is also the language of a towering medieval philosopher like Maimonides and of modern Jewish artists like the brothers al-Kuwaiti.

"Winn Ya' Galub" (Cry, My Heart), by the al-Kuwaiti brothers:

The Iraqi version:

Dudu Tassa's interpretation:

Read article in full

The Al-Kuwaity brothers are back!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fifty Tunisian Jews have already moved to Israel

The Great Synagogue, Tunis

Some 50 Tunisian Jews have already moved to Israel since the start of the Jasmine uprising, The Jerusalem Post reports. The Israeli government plans to offer financial incentives to attract still more: (With thanks: Lily)

Israel is planning to offer Tunisian Jews interested in emigrating following the recent uprising in the country a special absorption package, but members of the community said on Thursday that they were unaware of any significant change in their situation.

“They’ll receive a year of no-questions accommodation at an aliya center, and other benefits on top of what others get,” said Jewish Agency for Israel spokesman Haviv Rettig Gur.

Earlier Thursday, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced that the government would debate the details of the package, which will purportedly offer NIS 10,000 to Tunisian Jews in addition to benefits awarded to other olim.

“The regime change in Tunisia as a result of the Jasmine revolution... has brought about the Islamization of the government and rise in anti-Semitism,” stated a ministry document quoted by Israeli media. “There has a been an increasingly worsening attitude by the authorities and society toward the Jewish community.”

Elad Sonn, the ministry spokesman, confirmed the wording of the document and said it was based on “information from the Jewish Agency.”

Roger Bismuth, president of the Jewish community in Tunisia, said he had not noted a change in the government’s attitude toward Jews, nor did he know of plans by community members to leave the country en masse, although he didn’t rule it out entirely.

“I doubt anybody has heard anything like that,” he said by phone from Tunis on Thursday. “It might be true, there’s so much gossip going around.” (...)

In response to protesters’ harassment of worshipers at the (Tunis) synagogue, Bismuth petitioned his government, which pledged to provide better security for the Jewish community.

Since the uprising began, a total of between 40 and 50 Jews have chosen to move from Tunisia to Israel, JAFI officials said – not “25 families” as Hebrew-language news website Ynet had reported. Some of them had planned to emigrate before the uprising started.

Read article in full

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bahrain's unlikely Jewish emissary: Huda Nonoo

This article by Sarah Breger in Moment magazine recycles much of what we already know about Huda Nonoo, Bahrain's taciturn Jewish woman ambassador. The more the unrest grows, the less she says. The 36 Jews still living in Bahrain are undoubtedly loyal to their protector King Hamid al-Khalifa. If he falls, the Jews fall with him. But as one interviewee says, the community may be less than honest about its position on the island and view of Israel. The official line, supported by Jews in the public eye like author Nancy Khedouri and Huda Nonoo herself, is that native Bahrainis could never have perpetrated the riots of 1947 -not 1948 - killing two, not one, and burning down the synagogue (not mentioned) : they must have been the work of Arabs from outside. (With thanks: Vernon)

The Bahraini Jewish community was prosperous, with a part of town named after it: Al-Mutanabi Road—where all the businesses were closed on Saturdays—was known as Suq al-yahoud or the “Jew’s market.” By 1948 there were an estimated 1,500 Jews in Bahrain, according to Khedouri. The Jews, she says, “got along peacefully with their neighbors
and were involved in all aspects of Bahraini life.”

That is why the community was shocked when, following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, rioters tore through the Jewish quarter in Manama, looting houses and destroying property. Scores of Jews were injured, one woman died and the Torah scrolls were stolen from the synagogue. Jews such as Nonoo and Khedouri have said that the perpetrators of these attacks were Muslims from abroad living in Bahrain, not native Bahrainis. Charles Dalrymple
Belgrave, the British advisor to Bahraini rulers from 1926 until 1957, confirms this in his memoirs, writing that “the leading Arabs were very shocked...most of them, when possible, had given shelter and protection to their Jewish neighbors.”

Still, Bahraini Jews left en masse, some emigrating to Israel, others to England or America. Unlike in most Arab countries, they were allowed to leave with their property, although they were forced to give up their citizenship. An estimated 500 to 600 Jews remained in Bahrain until riots broke out after the Six-Day War in 1967.

The few who stayed now fly rabbis in from England to perform bar mitzvahs, weddings and services. The synagogue, the only one on the Arabian Peninsula, is still standing but is closed due to the community’s small numbers, and services take place in a residential home. The Jewish cemetery is open, and while there is no kosher food available, Houda’s sister-in-law—a native Briton who keeps the only strictly kosher home in the community—imports kosher
meat from England once a month.

As part of widespread reforms and openness to non-Shiite immigration, King Hamad has actively reached out to Jewish Bahrainis. In 2008 he met with Jewish expatriates in England and New York and told them they could return and regain their citizenship, offering financial incentives for those who might have lost land when they left. He informed an
audience of 50 Bahraini Jews in New York, “It’s open, it’s your country.”

Despite these overtures, there are those who believe that the position of Jews is not as secure as is claimed by the government and by Bahrain’s Jews themselves. Bahrain’s Jews are vulnerable to the news from Israel, which can reflect poorly on the Jewish community. As the husband of one Bahraini expatriate said anonymously, for fear of repercussions, “It’s very hard to discern whether the Jewish population there is completely honest when discussing their role on the island and their feelings about Israel,” because “the ruling family still lives in this ‘alternative reality’ that permeates every Arab country,” refusing to acknowledge that “the Jewish people have any kind of historic right or spiritual connection to the land of Israel.”

Like most Arab countries, with the exception of Jordan and Egypt, Bahrain has no relations with Israel. As a result, in Washington, Nonoo has no contact with Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador whose embassy is just down the block.

Yet Bahrain’s ruling class is showing signs of thawing in regard to Israel: The crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, 42, a graduate of a U.S. Defense Department high school in Bahrain and American University in Washington DC, has called on Arab governments to increase communications with Israelis. “We need fresh thinking if the Arab Peace Initiative is to have the impact it deserves on the crisis that needlessly impoverishes Palestinians and endangers Israel’s security,” he wrote in a 2009 op-ed in The Washington Post. “This crisis is not a zero-sum game. For one side to win, the other does not have to lose.” Last December, King Hamad himself stressed the importance of peace talks.

Nonoo is positive that a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can be found. “I hope so. For the Arab world as a whole, it is on their agenda,” she says directly. “I hope it happens.”
The reaction within Bahrain to the crown prince’s op-ed was decidedly less positive, exposing yet another rift between the ruling faction and popular opinion. “Many Bahrainis have stated privately that the crown prince’s piece in the Post piece [sic] is not representative of Bahraini public opinion,” reported U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain J. Adam Ereli in a diplomatic cable released through WikiLeaks, describing the reaction of people as “viscerally opposed.” In 2009, the country’s lower parliament voted to penalize Bahrainis with business ties to Israel.

Nonoo is often asked about the nature of her relationship to Israel. For her, Israel is not an existential question of Jewish identity. “I have never visited Israel,” she says. “I hold a Bahraini passport and my country has no diplomatic relations with Israel. This is the country I come from. I’m Jewish. I’m not Israeli.”

The current demonstrations in Bahrain are not isolated events. Last August, protests erupted in Manama, leading the government to arrest numerous Shiite political and human rights leaders, and to crack down on press and Internet sites. According to the government, those detained were suspected terrorists and were not held for expressing dissident political views. Facing international criticism, Nonoo defended the government’s actions in a letter to The New York
Times. “Against the backdrop of continuing incidences of violence and public disorder, arrests were made because significant evidence was discovered of a network planning and instigating attacks on public property and inciting violence,” she wrote. “Upholding the rule of law requires us to protect the rights of all citizens, including those at risk of violence, and we cannot tolerate illegal activities that seek to undermine our values and endanger lives.”

Read article in full

A Jew from Bahrain adds:

*Al-Mutanabi Road—where all the businesses were closed on Saturdays—was known as Suq al-yahoud or the “Jew’s market. Jews started working on Saturdays from the late 1960s, but there was a time many years ago when they did not.

*an estimated 1,500 Jews in Bahrain: 800 is the most accepted figure.

* the Torah scrolls were stolen from the synagogue: There were two Torah scrolls in Bahrain. One was desecrated and the other was taken from the synagogue for safe keeping.

*rabbis in from England to perform bar mitzvahs, weddings and services: There have been no weddings in Bahrain since the 1960s. All marriages have been held abroad.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Synagogue bomber sentenced to five years in jail

Egypt's supreme state security court has convicted and sentenced a man to five years in prison for throwing a makeshift bomb at Cairo's main synagogue, Ynet news reports:

Authorities said Hussein was repeatedly jailed for drug dealing and was implicated in attacks organized in the 1980s by Islamic militant groups targeting video stores.

Police outside Cairo Synagogue (Photo: AP)

Gamal Hussein shouted at the judge "Your verdict is a failure! You all are infidels!"

Hussein, 50, entered a downtown hotel in February last year and tossed the suitcase containing explosives out of the window at the synagogue across the street before fleeing.

The suitcase briefly caught fire but fell across the street from the historic synagogue, known as Shaare Shamayim, or the Gate of Heaven. No one was injured.

Read article in full

'In North Africa, there is no future for the Jews'

'Move along, nothing to see here' was the message from the leader of the Tunisian Jewish community, who insisted that Jews had not been targeted in the recent wave of unrest - in spite of arson at a synagogue. For her take, The Jewish Week interviewed Tunisian-born Sarah Taieb-Carlen (pictured), author of The Jews of North Africa: From Dido to de Gaulle (University Press of America):

Q: Hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in the Arab lands of north Africa in the middle of the last century. Most left, fled, when Israel was created. How many Jews are left in these countries now, and what type of life do they lead?

A: In Morocco, 8,000 to 10,000 Jews. In Algeria, none. Tunisia: 3,000 to 4,000. In Libya, none. In Egypt, less than 100. In Lebanon maybe 30. In Iraq, maybe 40. In Syria, none*. In Yemen, less than 200. In general, they feel they should be as inconspicuous as possible.

In the streets, men do not wear a kipah and women dress very modestly. In quiet times, life is normal and Jews go through their daily routine like everyone else. Apart from the synagogue, there is no Jewish institution: no Jewish school, no Jewish social club, no Jewish community center. Socializing usually takes place among family or friends, most often Jewish friends.

Are conditions becoming more precarious for them now because of the recent social unrest and political revolutions?

Life is definitely more precarious for Jews in these countries. As described in the “The Jews of North Africa,” under Muslim rule, Jews were dhimmis: “protected” citizens without rights. Nowadays, any social or political unrest, any economic crisis is a good pretext for the Muslim masses – and sometimes the ruler as well – to attack the Jews. In Libya, since there are no Jews left, the Muslims desecrated graves in Jewish cemeteries.

The story of the Jewish refugees who came from Nazi Europe after World War II is well known. Why is the experience of the Jews from the Arab lands not known as well?

Maybe it is due to the magnitude of the unspeakable catastrophe which befell European Jews, or to the fact that the Israeli establishment was and still is composed mostly of Jews of European descent who naturally identify more with their European ancestors than with those Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Also this story of the Jews from Arab lands could be poorly known because of the resignation of this group who didn’t complain much and were resigned to their fate as refugees.

Is the Golden-Age stereotype of Jews living in peace with their Arab neighbors largely true or an exaggeration?

I will quote the famous Tunisian Jewish author, Albert Memmi: “The supposedly ‘idyllic’ life led by the Jews in Arab countries is all a myth … If we leave out the crematoria and the murders committed in Europe …. the sum total of the Jewish victims of the Christian world is probably no greater than the total number of victims of the successive pogroms, both big and small, perpetrated in the Moslem countries.” The famous Islamist (sic - I think she meant Islamicist - ed), Bernard Lewis, wrote: “The golden age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam. The myth was invented by Jews in 19th century Europe as a reproach to Christians, and taken up by Moslems in our own time as a reproach to Jews.”

How much did the Jews of the Northern African countries contribute over the years to their homelands and to their new homeland in Israel?

The Jews have lived in North Africa since the ninth century BCE and they have contributed greatly to their homelands in all domains: literature, medicine, trade, politics, science, and crafts. After an initially difficult period of integration in Israel, today they have found their place in the Israeli society like all other groups.

In Israel, are they nostalgic about their homelands of Africa? Do they ever express a desire to go back for a visit?

Yes, most of them are quite nostalgic about their homeland, and many do go and visit, although many others would never do it. What is certain is that most of their children, who were not born or raised in North Africa, are not at all interested in visiting their parents’ native land.

Is there any future for the Jews of North Africa?

In North Africa, there is no future for the Jews.

Read article in full

* These figures are disputable - ed

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The great Farhud cover-up

Artist Nissim Zalayett's impressions of The Farhud

Professor Shmuel Moreh was shocked to discover that the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles made no mention of the 1941 Nazi pogrom known as the Farhud, in which 145 Iraqi Jews were murdered. The Arab world and the media, even in Israel, have maintained a conspiracy of silence. But with the recent publication of two important books on the Farhud, Moreh, in this must-read article in Cutting Edge News, hopes perceptions are about to change :

Since the traitorious and vicious massacre in Iraq, known as the Farhud, the pogrom of 1941 in Baghdad following the sack of Basra on 7-8 May, 1941, many scholars among the Jews who left Iraq have been trying in vain to keep it alive in the Jewish collective memory. The Jewish Holocaust is believed to be confined to European Jewry only, and it overshadowed all other WWll calamities outside Europe.

In the Arab world, mainly in Iraq, a conspiracy of silence was carefully maintained against the successive massacres committed against Jews since the Farhud of 1941 and the Arab defeat in 1948 war. In Iraq the conspiracy started immediately before the blood of the innocent victims had dried, when army and police officers roamed the streets of Baghdad, warning the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958 by the Iraqi historian 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Hasani in Saida in Lebanon.

Later on, a few articles were published in Hebrew and English by well known historians such as Dr. Haim Cohen, of the Hebrew University, in 1966, and Prof. Elie Kedourie of LSE, London University, in 1970. These researches drew the attention of few scholars and Orientalists, especially British and German, even when a collection of articles and documents was published in Hebrew in book form edited by Shmuel Moreh & Zvi Yehuda entitled Hatred of Jews and the Farhud in Iraq. (Or Yehuda, The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, Research Institute of Babylonian Jewry, 1992).

This strange indifference towards the Farhud continued even in Israel: almost no officials or MKs attend the memorial anniversary of the Farhud held every year at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda.

The important Hebrew edition on the pogrom did not manage to attract the necessary attention of the Israeli media, since the latter is known for its indifference to subjects which are considered Oriental, communal and sectarian topics. This is due to the fact that many journalists are not aware of the reality: the Farhud and the transport of the Jews of Libya to Nazi concentration camps in Europe, were in fact a part of the Nazi global plan to annihilate the Jews wherever they were, including the Middle East.

This satanic task was handed over by the Nazis to their Arab supporters, headed by Hajj Amin al-Husayni (1895-1974), the Mufti of Jerusalem and a good student of the German Templars in Palestine. These Arabs did their best to take an active part in the Nazis' anti-Jewish operations.

As in the case of Nazi Germany, the Arab majority believed, under the influence of the Arabic translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf, that the Jews, who helped the British authorities to build a modern administration in Iraq, were thought to be planning a conspiracy to control and exploit the Iraqi economy and dominate important posts in various Iraqi ministries.

The Palestinians refugees of the 1936 and 1939 revolts in Palestine, who escaped to Iraq, were led by Hajj Amin al-Husayni (1892-1965). They were shocked to see the great Jewish influence on the Iraqi economy. They imposed their political ideology upon the Prime Minister of Iraq, Rashid 'Aali al-Gailani and his national government instigated attacks against the British military air bases in Habbaniya on 2 May, 1941.

The defeat of the Iraqi army aroused panic among the pro-Nazi government. Its members and the Palestinians who joined the revolt escaped to Iran and Turkey and later on to Germany. In the resulting vacuum, the pogrom of the Farhud took place on 1-2 June 1941. According to a temporary list of names compiled by Dr. Zvi Yehuda, 137 Jews were killed in Baghdad, and 8 Jews outside Baghdad, forming a total of 145 killed and 2,500 injured and children and women were raped, hundreds of Jewish houses and stores were looted and burned. These tragic facts in the East were dimmed by the atrocities of the Holocaust in Europe, the greatest disaster in Jewish history.

The failure of the Israeli media to see the connection between the pro-Nazi Arab nationalists, directed, backed and equipped by Nazi Germans in the Arab world, with that of the Holocaust, was among the main reasons why Western Jewry have not been aware of the Farhud and the tragedy of the Jews of Libya and Iraq.

When the writer of these lines visited in 1986 the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Los Angeles, he was astonished to find that there was no mention of the Farhud. He wrote a letter to the Director of the Museum, but to this day, no answer was received.

Strangely enough, it was only during 2003 that the American scholar Samuel Edelman heard of the Farhud. This happened not in Israel or the USA, but in northern Iraq when he was on a mission to interview Kurdish survivors of chemical warfare. There he heard for the first time of the Farhud, the massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1941. (Black, The Farhud, p. 362).

On the other hand, it was only in 2006 that the Iraqi historian, Prof. Kadhim A. Habib, a resident of Berlin, was able to publish his book on the Farhud and the suffering of Jews, in his unique book in Arabic, entitled The Jews and Iraqi citizenship. The book focused on the tragedy of Iraqi Jews caught between tyrannical captivity and betrayal by forced expulsion in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyya.

The Iraqi Committee for Investigating the Events of the Farhud set up by the government of Iraq, in 1941, stated that the basic causes of the Farhud were: Nazi activities and propaganda by the German legation in Baghdad, headed by Dr. F. Grobba, his staff of beautiful young German ladies and professors who helped spread Nazi ideology among politicians and army officers; the Mufti of Jerusalem and his companions; national Palestinian and Syrian teachers who incited their students to attack Jews; anti-Jewish military and police officers who took an active part in killing and refused to give orders to shoot the plundering mobs during the massacre; the German Arab language radio station, which helped to spread Nazi propaganda in Iraq; Iraqi Radio incitement; and the pro-Nazi al-Futuwwa and Kata'ib al-Shabab paramilitary organizations headed by Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian nationalists.

All these facts convince the writer that the Farhud was an integral part of the Nazi final solution of the Jewish problem. After studying carefully the ideological bases and the Nazi and pro-Nazi elements that instigated the pogrom, I have arrived at the following conclusions, formulated in the introduction of Al-Farhud: The 1941 Pogrom in Iraq:

"The research and testimonies in this book demonstrate that the Jews of Iraq were victims of ideology, led by representatives of Nazi Germany and those Arab leaders who cooperated with them in hopes of ending British influence in the Arab world. We are grateful to the U.S. House of Representatives for unanimously passing Resolution 185 on 1 April 2008, which recognizes the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as equal to those of Palestinian refugees.

Moreover, representatives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. visited the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Israel in 2008, and requested documentation on the Farhūd, emphasizing that they accept the Farhūd as part of the Holocaust. We think that it is time now to reconsider the possibility that both the U.S. authorities and German government will include the survivors of the Farhud in their list of Nazi victims and an integral part of the Holocaust. (Al-Farhud, Introduction by S. Moreh, p. 7-8)."

However, only after the publication of two comprehensive and well documented books in English by important publishing houses, in Israel and the USA is there is hope that the Farhud will take up its proper place in the Jewish history of WWII. Readers in the West can see now for themselves the clear connection between the two tragedies initiated by Nazi Germany. The first book is Al-Farhud, The 1941 Pogrom in Iraq, Ed. by Shmuel Moreh & Zvi Yehuda, (Jerusalem, The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, 2010, in 380 pages).

The second is Dr. Edwin Black's original, outstanding, comprehensive and painstakingly researched The Farhud: The Roots of Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust, (Washington, DC, Dialog Press, 2010, 448 pages). Dr. Edwin Black, arrived independently, at the same conclusion and faced not only indifference, but also strong opposition towards his daring results.

In fact, this second important book on the Farhud is considered one of the best books on the common Jewish destiny during the WWII and the cooperation between Arab-Nazi leaders and Hitler. It is Dr. Black's seventh book on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust during the WWII. It is written by a well-known American historian whose parents were lucky enough to escape the Nazi gas chambers of Europe. Black's intensive research in his book reveals new facts of the close cooperation between the Mufti al-Husayni and Hitler and renders great service to the history of the Jewish people during the WWII in this magnum opus.

Although Dr. Black based his arguments on heavy documentation and arrived at new and daring conclusions which upset pre conceptions and research, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a coalition of groups and institutions resisted the inclusion of "information about the Farhud and the Mufti of Jerusalem". (Black, The Farhud, p. ix.)

The recent positive step taken by the Holocaust Memorial Museum towards the Farhud, came after a long heroic efforts made by Dr. Edwin Black and his supporters. It is hoped now that "the documentation in [Edwin Black's] book, will help the USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) acknowledge further that of the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, the ones who lived in Arab countries should not be forgotten. History must never be political, even in a political city." (E. Black, The Farhud, p. x.).

Acknowledging that the suffering of the Jews in Iraq and in other Arab lands during the WWII is a part of the Holocaust will emphasize the common Jewish destiny all over the world. It will unite further the two parts of the Jewish nation, the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities, in the united memory of the Holocaust.

These facts should be taught in schools and universities in Israel and abroad. Moreover, we hope that Israel Ministry of education, Jewish institutes and university departments of Jewish History all over the world, would add these two books to their curriculum, and translate them to other languages. Taking these steps might, at last, do justice to Jewish history.

* Shmuel Moreh is Emeritus Professor of Arabic Studies, Israel Prize Laureate in Oriental Studies (1999) and Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq.

The Black book of the Farhud

New book in English puts the Farhud on record

Monday, March 21, 2011

Egypt's sectarian crisis: an Egyptian view

Pope Shenouda III

The treatment of the Coptic minority in Egypt will prove the crucible for how democracy develops. This article in the Beirut Star takes the interesting view that sectarian frictions have been more a function of the lack of democracy, than the clash of religions. However, as we do not know how far the author's sympathies lie with radical Islam, it may be best to take what Omar Ashour writes with a pinch of salt (with thanks:Lily):

Its are the origins of this country … we treat the guests who came and lived here nicely … but we are ready to die as martyrs if anyone touches our Christian message.”

“The Coptic Church is not [merely] a parallel republic in Egypt … it is an empire.”

These two statements do not come from Jihadist or radical Coptic Websites. Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Bishoy, the secretary of the Church Council and a possible successor to Pope Shenouda, made the first on Sept. 15, 2010. The second is a response from Dr. Mohammad Selim al-Awa, a moderate Islamist intellectual and lawyer (not as moderate as all that - ed), speaking on Al-Jazeera later the same day. The exchange shows the level of socio-religious polarization that plagued Egypt months before the Jan. 1 bombing of the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria (killing 23 and wounding dozens) and the Jan. 11 shooting (killing one and wounding five) on a train in Upper Egypt.

The sad story of unraveling social cohesion in Egypt goes back decades. Despite paying official lip service to “national unity,” rulers of Egypt since 1952 have had an uneasy relationship with religious minorities. The Arab-Israeli conflict had disastrous repercussions for the Egyptian Jewish community: an indiscriminate crackdown by President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime following the 1954 Lavon Affair (an Israeli operation involving Egyptian Jews) and the 1956 Suez crisis, leading to the migration of nearly all Jews from Egypt.

Then came the issue of the Baha’is, a tiny minority recognized as a distinct religion in 1924 during Egypt’s liberal era, before Nasser’s regime rescinded this in 1960. Baha’is have been struggling for legal acceptance ever since. And let us not forget Shiites, termed the “agents of Iran” in an infamous 2006 statement by President Hosni Mubarak.

The Coptic Orthodox Christians are by far the largest religious minority, and their relations with post-1952 Egyptian regimes have waxed and waned. Less explored but also relevant and complex is their relation with Egypt’s strongest opposition, the various currents of the Islamist trend.

The official stance of the Muslim Brotherhood is that the Copts are citizens with equal rights. Brotherhood leaders will eagerly remind you the only male attendee at founder Hassan al-Banna’s funeral aside from his father was Makram Ebeid, a leading Christian politician, and that the only Christian M.P. in the 1987 Parliament was elected on the “Islamic Alliance” ballot. There is a heated debate, however, within the Brotherhood on the Coptic question, which came out clearly in the internal struggle over the group’s 2007 political program; among the most controversial points was the Brotherhood’s position that a Copt was not eligible to become president.

The Copts’ perception of the Brotherhood likewise is not positive. In a series of interviews conducted in 2009 for a study on Coptic activism abroad, four ideological trends emerged: liberals, pragmatists, conservatives, and radicals. The liberals, the most tolerant of the four, view the Brotherhood with suspicion. (...)

Negative perceptions and mutual distrust also extend to Coptic relations with the second largest Islamist trend in Egypt. Salafists are much less politically active than the Muslim Brothers; they rally around certain imams and mosques and rarely involve themselves in demonstrations. But hundreds of Salafists and other apolitical Muslims took to the streets of Alexandria in October 2010 to demand the release of several female converts to Islam that the Coptic Church was reportedly holding against their will.

The relationship between the Salafists and the Copts was not always so hostile, despite Salafism’s negative perception of any “other.” In the late 1980’s, for example, Salafist sheikhs helped to de-escalate rising tensions between Coptic residents of the impoverished Shubra district of Cairo and the Islamic Group during its jihadist phase.

Media reports of female converts who were handed over to the Coptic Church by State Security or by their families have been around for years. Recently, the high-profile cases of Wafaa Constantine, Camilia Shehata, and Mary Abdullah Zaki – all three are wives of priests who allegedly converted to Islam, and were reportedly handed to the Church by State Security to be “advised,” never to appear in public again – have inflamed sectarian tensions and activated Egyptian Salafists as well as attracting the attention of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The government’s handling of these cases sheds light on a broader crisis within Egypt, where the rights of the individual enjoy the lowest priority – well below the rights of the ruler, the government, the religious group, the clan, the family, and other collectivities. Salafists who protested against the situation were not necessarily acting in defense of individual freedoms but of a perceived co-religionist.

In addition to this skewed approach toward freedoms, the Mubarak regime chooses to deal with sectarian tensions as a security threat separated from its social and political context, the same approach it has taken since the early 1980s. In Shenouda’s words, “[I]n times of tensions, we only see security men … and a complete absence of M.P.s and others.” When polarization is mishandled by coercive apparatuses and leads to violence, the regime quickly resorts to another level of indiscriminate repression, a formula used extensively in the 1990’s and resulted in five years of bloodshed in Upper Egypt. The case of Al-Said Bilal was a throwback to those ugly days; arrested in a sweeping crackdown by State Security on Jan. 5, his dead body was returned to his family 24 hours later.

Egypt’s sectarian crisis is rooted in the absence of four factors: equal citizenship rights (regardless of religion); a constitutional right to freedom of belief and worship; a transparent, accountable government; and a comprehensive, transparent strategy for promoting social cohesion. Such a strategy should avoid reliance on intervention by security forces, forced disappearances, torture, and other repressive methods, which seem to be the pillars of the current socio-religious “cohesion” strategy.

Copts and other Egyptians directed their anger after the recent Alexandria attack against the regime for reasons far beyond the fact that there were weak security arrangements around the Two Saints Church at a time of high tensions. Rather it was the unwillingness of the regime to uphold any of the aforementioned rights, even if such measures were rationalized as necessary to pre-empt terror. The unresolved crisis of Egypt remains one of democracy rather than of religion.

Read article in full (subscription necessary)

The curious case of Aunt Rina

The great synagogue, Tripoli (Photo: Laurence Ben-Nathan)
Libyan-born author and psychologist David Gerbi is apparently a celebrity in South Africa. Now that Libya is in the news he tells the (South African) Times blogger Jackie May the bizarre story of his aunt Rina, one of the country's last Jews:
His family, along with 5000 Jews, left Libya in 1967. They were told to leave. “You are not safe here anymore,” King Idris said.

Gerbi’s family split. Gerbi, his mother and sister left to live in Rome, and his father and other siblings went to Israel where they planned to stay forever. His mother, on the other, was hoping to return to Libya once it was safe to do so. But in 1969 when Gadaffi came into power he declared that Jews couldn’t come back and he confiscated all the possessions left behind by the exiled families.

But, one Jew hadn’t left in 1967. Many years later Gerbi, applying for a new passport for his mother, had to contact Libyan officials for her birth certificate. He was asked if he new somebody by the name DEBACH Rina.

DEBACH Rina was his aunt, and had been living alone in Tripoli in her family house since 1967. It was only when she became old and sick, and was sent to a hospice that her identity was discovered.

The aunt, it turned out, wouldn’t leave Tripoli because she was protecting the family’s wealth. It was stored in the cellars of the house. Piles, and piles of accumulated gold and silver, says Gerbi.
Libyan security officials, when she refused to stay in the hospice and became anxious about her house (there is something I need to guard, she apparently said), searched her home, found the money, and of course confiscated it.
Gerbi applied for a visa to visit Libya, and was the first Jew to get one and to visit Libya since the 1967 exile. He went to fetch the last Jew living there, brought her back to his home in Rome where she died in 2003.
He has since been back to try and restore the synagogue in Tripoli.

Read post in full

The humble falafel is part of Jewish heritage too!

Falafel, glorious falafel...

First the hummus wars, now the falafel wars. Julian Kossoff, a Daily Telegraph editor, rightfully calls this latest attempt to delegitimise Israel an assault on the heritage of Middle Eastern Jews. (With thanks: Lily)

At the centre of the controversy is the humble falafel – a spicy fried rissole made from mashed chick peas or beans. The dish, a staple for Jews and Arabs alike, has become the latest political football in the delegitimisation of Israel. The anti-Israel activists’ puerile playground whine that “Israel stole all the falafels” would be funny if it didn’t represent a denial of Jewish history – that of the Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern Jews, who have always eaten falafel.

In the aftermath of the foundation of the State of Israel, Jews living in Arab nations were targeted in revenge. However, it was Israel that was to have the last laugh as a million Middle Eastern Jews sought sanctuary there and became the country’s demographic – and culinary - backbone. Falafel came to the new country with these ancient communities from Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya, and was immediately popular.

In those early years, life in Israel was threadbare and a “meal” of falafel and hummus in pitta bread, eaten from a street corner stand, was the high point of a stroll on a warm Mediterranean evening. Cheap, tasty and neutral when it comes to Jewish dietary laws, the falafel became an iconic part of Israeli cuisine and is often referred to as a national dish (Israelis also claim to have customised the dish by adding an array of salads to the pitta pouch).

Later, Israeli entrepreneurs helped introduce falafel to European and American palates but their initiative angered Arabs and their anti-Zionist sidekicks, who claimed they had stolen it (there’s also a parallel row over hummus). Last year this sparked some comical one-upmanship as 300 Lebanese chefs prepared the world’s largest amount of falafel (5,173 kilos), only for a lateral- thinking Israeli chef to top it by producing the world’s largest single falafel, weighing in at 10.9 kilograms.

Meanwhile, I’ve never come across an Israeli who has ever denied that the falafel is part of a shared Middle Eastern heritage – however troubled that may be.

Read post in full

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Same mob, different caption: the brutal truth

Reading L'exil au Maghreb brought home to Nidra Poller, writing passionately in American Thinker, the brutal truth: Jews in North Africa were little more than slaves at the mercy of the mob. But that truth has been concealed, 'perfumed with orange blossom, and wrapped in golden ages'. Likewise, the truth about today's mob-driven Arab Spring is 'prettily packaged and sold to us by journalists who identify with the crowd':

The second and most poignant half of the hefty volume is composed of documents from the archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a French-based educational and philanthropist organization that intervened to protect Maghrebi Jews and bring them up to a European standard of living and education.

Heart rending reports -- some written in beautiful atypical French, others translated from Hebrew, Arabic, English -- add soul and dimension to the more detached accounts collected in the first part of the volume, in which observers often balanced examples of the Arabs' barbarian cruelty with unflattering descriptions of the Jewish victims... almost as if they deserved their fate.

Muslim mobs storm into the Jewish ghetto -- the mellah -- on the slightest pretext or simply for pleasure. They rape women, deflower virgins, sodomize boys, kidnap children, murder rabbis, steal everything of value, smash and destroy and burn the rest.
The names of victims cited in letters from the AIU archives resonate today; they are the names of my friends in France, the names of prominent French Jews of North African origin.

Many of my friends left the Maghreb as teenagers or young adults with nothing but a few suitcases. Jewish families abandoned goods and property, factories and businesses and fled for their lives. Jews growing up when the Maghreb was under European domination had not been forced to live in the mellah, walk barefoot in the medina, bow their heads, submit to insults and flogging. They have memories of harmonious relations with Muslim neighbors. Many Jews joined in the fight for independence -- an earlier printemps arabe. Some stayed, most left. My friends were not simple-minded creatures who hide the truth from themselves and yet I think most of them do not even know the extent of the atrocities endured by their dhimmi forebears. I wonder if they could bear to read L'Exil au Maghreb.

It is almost too painful to acknowledge the condition in which we Jews were forced to live for centuries. Most of us are familiar with the history of European shtetlech -- persecution, pogroms, the Shoah -- but the history of dhimmitude in Muslim lands is only recently emerging. Supporting evidence for the pioneer studies of Bat Ye'or is available in English in Andrew Bostom's monumental Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism and now in a French-language counterpart. These two hefty volumes crush the last pipsqueak of the myth of the Golden Age of Andalusia and counter the pernicious claim that Jews were better off in Muslim lands than in Europe. It is difficult for non-Jews to admit the truth; it is painful and shameful for Jews to see ourselves as we were. Disgraced, groveling, helpless, at the mercy of heartless brutes.

This is why it is absolutely necessary to read every word of these endless tales of woe. Today we have the means to defend ourselves but the same barbaric forces that run amok through the pages of l'Exil au Maghreb are determined to reduce us once more to slavery or death. We must get this into the heads of our fellow Jews. The enemy is closing down on us.

Same mob, different caption. Molten masses of enraged men filling streets and squares of Muslim lands, adoring the dictators they now want to behead. Guttural shouts, pounding feet, murderous mobs waving swords and clubs pour into Jewish neighborhoods of Cairo, Baghdad, Algiers, and Tripoli, smashing and destroying, raping, maiming, murdering Jews. The survivors fled. Furious Muslims on the march in European cities, screaming "Death to the Jews." Torching, smashing, stoning, protesting the existence of Israel, the presence of Europe!

Now the mob is democracy on the hoof. Western correspondents on the scene flutter with excitement. The freedom fighters occupy Tahrir Square in Cairo. Their numbers swell. They shout "dégage Mubarak" -- the Jasmine Revolution is their model -- they want freedom and won't leave until the dictator is disgraced and dismissed. It started in Tunisia and Egypt; we were promised it would spread to Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and who knows maybe Saudi Arabia. A spontaneous uprising by the champions of human rights dances through the Arab-Muslim world. We are told that these people are just like us, they want to be free, they have been oppressed by dictators us, right? Nothing inherent in their culture or values could have caused this oppression.

That is the story, and who would want to deny it? All human beings want to be free. Why aren't they? That is a longer story. And L'Exil au Maghreb is an important part of it. Whenever there was conflict, rivalry, rise and fall of governors or caliphs, the mob stormed into the mellah and massacred Jews. That story has been hidden. Today's version of the mob is wrapped in beautiful thoughts.

But we in Europe have seen those mobs storming through the streets, smashing and torching cars, beating up women and young men, attacking the police, looting, burning down public buildings, waving Hamas and Hezb'allah flags, demanding justice, jobs, liberation of Palestine, death to the Jews...and the right to attack the police without being punished. The 2005 uprisings in France were portrayed as justifiable exasperation of an oppressed minority. We see "Intifada" mobs in Israel throwing rocks, fronting for men armed with automatic weapons, running amok, committing mayhem, on the rampage, throwing firebombs, their faces wrapped in keffieh. What do they want? An end to the "Occupation." We have heard resounding cries of revenge at triumphant shahid funerals now and before.

Just as the truth of the endemic persecution of Jews (and Christians) in the Maghreb was kept secret, perfumed with orange blossom, and wrapped in golden ages, the truth today about these mobs is prettily packaged and sold to us by journalists who identify with the crowd. And sometimes, misled by their own narrative, they are seized, beaten, battered or raped.

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New book demolishes Maghreb coexistence myth

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is the revolution only for Muslim Arabs?

Egyptian Christians protest (Reuters)

As Egyptians vote on proposals for a new constitution, it is already a matter of disappointment to Coptic Christians that Article 2 - which states that Islam is the main source of legislation - has not been repealed. Now that a revolutionary wave is sweeping across the Arab world, Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel's ambassador to Egypt, asks: is the revolution for all, or for Muslim Arabs alone? Read his piece in the Jerusalem Post:
The Middle East and North Africa are home to millions of national and religious minorities living under Arab occupation since the seventh century; they are still waiting for equality or fighting for independence. The Kurds are among the oldest peoples in the world, and they have kept their identity through centuries of Arab and Ottoman occupation.

Though Islamized, they have kept their language (Indo-European close to Persian), traditions and customs. Today their number is estimated at 25 million to 30 million, dispersed between Turkey (15 million), Iran (5 million), Iraq (5 million) and Syria (2 million).

They have been unsuccessfully fighting for independence since the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, and tens of thousands have been killed by the Turks and the Arabs. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein did not hesitate to use chemical weapons against them, and thousands died a painful death in the north of the country.

Saddam also implemented a displacement policy, driving Kurds away from their villages and from Kirkuk and bringing in Sunni Arabs.

Indeed, tensions run high today between the Kurdish autonomous region – set up by allied forces after the Gulf War to protect the Kurds against Saddam – and the Iraqi central government.

Three months ago political parties in that autonomous region proclaimed the right of self-determination for the Kurdish people, a clear call for independence.

There was no reaction from Arab governments and the West did not voice its support.

The Berbers, another people living under occupation in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, are considered the native North Africa population. Their name is derived from “barbarian” since, according to some, they spoke neither Latin nor Greek. Before the Arab conquest, they had a flourishing agricultural culture.

In their own tongue they call t h e m s e l v e s Amazigh and their language is Tamazight. They were Islamized and even played an important role in expending Islam in Spain but have always retained their original identity.

Since the North African countries gained independence in the 1960s, they have been resisting Arabization (preferring the French language) and fighting for the recognition of their distinct culture.

The Berbers in Algeria make up more than 20 percent of the population.

Many of them live in Kabylia and have managed to set up an active, strong independence movement. In 2010 they formed a government in exile in Paris, headed by Ferhat Mehenni, a Kabyle singer and activist. The event was mostly ignored by Western media and no government voiced its support, while Algeria intensified its repression.

In Morocco, where they comprise an estimated 40% of the population, there is an Amazigh movement asking for autonomy, but it gets no support from the West.

The Copts of Egypt are another minority subject to oppression and discrimination.

Their numbers are estimated at some 8 to 10 million, about 10% of the country’s population. They are the original people of Egypt – their name is derived from the Greek word for Egypt. They converted to Christianity in the fourth century and have kept their own language.

They are denied equal rights in their own country and are not allowed to hold significant positions such as provincial governor or head of a university. Their representation in parliament is limited and does not reflect their numbers. They cannot build churches freely; even restoration work needs special government approval.

Article 2 of the constitution stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state and that Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.

There is no attempt to cancel this article in the proposals for a new constitution made by the consultative committee set up following the revolution.

Attacks against Copts have not abated since the revolution; a church was set ablaze and in the ensuing confrontation with Muslim militants, 13 Copts were killed and dozens wounded. While Egypt and the world rejoice at the fall of the regime, the fate of the Copts is in stark contrast to the spirit of the revolution and the hopes for democracy.

Christians in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories are also suffering from discrimination and aggression, and many have left to find a new life in West; the number of Christians in the Arab world is steadily decreasing.

Only two non-Arab peoples have managed to obtain their independence: the State of Israel in 1948, 1308 years after the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land, and South Sudan a few weeks ago, after 40 years of bitter war and more than 2 million dead. In neighboring Darfur Arab militias, aided and abetted by the Sudanese government, are still massacring non-Arab populations.

How is Israel affected by the revolutions? In Egypt, there was no mention of Israel at first.

With the fall of the regime, radical elements from the left and from the right have now free rein. There are voices calling for a revision of the peace treaty or even its cancellation. The sale of Egyptian gas, based on the treaty, is now called in question.

One can therefore legitimately ask whether revolutions calling for democracy do not ultimately arouse religious extremism and nationalism, bringing about hostility toward Israel instead of tolerance and openness – leading to recognition.

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