Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is Nazism resurgent in Egypt?

With thanks: Levana
Is Nazism resurgent in Egypt? The spectacle of Egyptian demonstrators openly displaying swastikas and shouting 'the gas chambers are ready' in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo last week, as one tore down the Israeli flag, certainly sends shivers down one's spine.
Of course similar spine-chilling cries are uttered at soccer stadia in Holland. (The equivalent in Egyptian soccer is the Cairo team Ahly. Their supporters, who call themselves the Ahlawi Nazis, unfurl a long swastika bearing-banner.)
So what makes Nazism in Egypt more threatening?
Egypt sheltered thousands of Nazi war criminals and collaborators after the Second World War, including the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. King Farouk employed the Germans to re-organise his army. Nasser used their expertise in anti-Jewish propaganda. Many converted to Islam, married local girls and melted into the general population. Some of them were big fish, like the so-called Butcher of Mauthhausen, Aribert Heim. The Algerian author Boualem Sansal bumped into one such Nazi, who became a sheikh and the headman of his village. The man was the inspiration for Sansal's novel An unfinished business. Earlier this year, in the full flush of the Arab Spring, Egyptian activists announced the formation of a new Nazi party.
The Cairo-based Liberation correspondent Claude Guibar tells how a Frenchman he met was shocked to visit a Cairo publisher two years ago whose walls were festooned with a portrait of Hitler, Nazi daggers and memorabilia. The name Hitler - as in General Hitler Tantawi - was very popular in the Arab world in the 1930s.
The almost complete absence of the Holocaust from school books, together with Holocaust denial and anti-Jewish literature and incitement on TV and in the mosques renders antisemitism mainstream. Egypt has not been the same since it evicted its Jews, Greeks and Armenians, and anti-Jewish feeling has increased a hundred-fold since Egypt signed the peace treaty with Israel.
A character in Boualem Sansal's Unfinished business writes about Egypt:
"You quickly realise that the old Egypt, the cheerful, cosmopolitan, raucous, romantic Egypt of Naguib Mahfouz does not exist anymore. Modern Egypt - Misr -is dominated by twin giants as formidable as the great pyramids - religion and the police - leaving not one square inch where a free man may set foot. If he's not taken to task by the police - the chorti - he will by the fanatic - the Irhabi. In Egypt, the police force of the Rais and the religion of Allah conspire to make life a living hell for every single person here on earth."
Many Western observers concur that the Islamists are those most likely to gain from the so-called Arab Spring. Seth Franzman, for instance, sees the Spring not as a prelude to democracy, but merely as the twitching death throes of rotting Arab nationalism. If Islamists do take power, Nazism will again be in the ascendant, for it provided the main ideological inspiration and funding for the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1930s.
There is a scene in Boualem Sansal's novel where a character locked up by the police in an airport hangar in Algiers imagines that he is standing in a gas chamber. Sansal, who lives under the Islamist regime in Algeria, certainly sees a continuum between Nazism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Looking on the bright side of things, however, only a few hundred - and not the million the organisers anticipated, attended that demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo. And the Israeli flag is now fluttering above the embassy once more.
Perhaps Egypt is not such easy prey after all - yet.

Iraqi Jews embrace activism to tell their story

In this 70th anniversary year of the Farhud pogrom, Iraqi Jews in the USA are planning to demonstrate outside the UN headquarters in New York in order to draw attention to the unknown history of human rights abuse suffered by Jews from Arab countries, now largely resettled in Israel.

The demonstration will take place at 11 am on 21 September and will coincide with Durban lll, The UN World Conference against Racism, expected to become another thinly-disguised attempt to condemn Israel as an Apartheid regime.

The head of the AA Association, the Iraqi-Jewish community in the US - lawyer and film-maker Carole Basri (pictured) - is circulating a letter to her community asking for support. Here are some extracts:

"As Iraqi Jews living in the US, the time has come when it is imperative for us to bring to the attention of the world the factual history of the Jews from Arab countries.

"This subject has received very little attention. In fact, this history of ours is not even known to most Jews, and it is time this untold truth be told:

"The FARHUD in 1941 was an uprising against the Iraqi Jews which killed almost 200 Jews in Baghdad. This tragedy occurred at the same time as the Holocaust, and well before the state of Israel came into existence.(June 1 & 2, 2011 was the 70th anniversary of the FARHUD.)

"900,000 Jews lived in Arab countries in 1948: They were forced to leave the countries they had lived in for over two thousand years due to Human Rights violations!

"These 900,000 Jews and their descendants make up over half the Jews in Israel today.

"These three simple facts are critical to understanding the current history of the Jews in the Middle East. It becomes crystal clear that the State of Israel is not just the result of the Holocaust but also the refuge and home of the dispersed Jews from Arab countries who left their homes and country due to the extreme Human Rights violations.

"The UNTOLD important Jewish history: This must be expressed by all means possible to educate those who know little or nothing about it. It is absolutely our moral responsibility, as Iraqi Jews in the United States, to make these facts known to our fellow Americans, as well as the World Community at large."

The executive committee of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) is holding elections on 4 September. Any Jew over 18 born in Iraq or of Iraqi ancestry is eligible to vote. More details from

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Turkey ordered to return communal property

"Secular" Turkey has had a rocky relationship with its dhimmis (Photo: S Alfassa)

Although Turkey has always been an 'ally' of Israel (in spite of recent ups and downs with the ruling AKP ) the Turkish state, albeit secular, has had a rocky relationship with its 'dhimmi' minorities. Now, however, in an AP report carried by Israel Hayom, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of the restitution of confiscated communal property to Jews and Christians. If Turkey still wants to be admitted to the EU, it had better comply (with thanks: Michelle):

In a goodwill gesture to religious groups, Turkey is set to return property confiscated over the past 75 years from the nation's small but vocal Christian and Jewish minorities, AP reported Monday.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday announced a governmental decree that will reinstate the assets of Greek, Armenian and Jewish trusts, as well as compensate the owners of any confiscated property that has now been sold. According to the AP report, Ankara's move comes in response to a series of court cases filed against the primarily Muslim country at the European Court of Human Rights, including one case in which Turkey was ordered to reinstate an orphanage to the Greek Orthodox church. The AP report describes the confiscated properties as former hospitals, orphanages, cemeteries and schools.

In 1974, a Turkish ruling made it impossible for non-Muslim trusts to acquire new property, prompting the confiscation of several properties. Others were requisitioned after being abandoned. Turkey has a long history of conflict with Greece and Armenia, as well as a tumultuous relationship with Israel, and the nation's Christian and Jewish minorities often complain of discrimination.

According to the AP report, Turkey's population of 74 million is overwhelmingly Muslim, but also contains 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews and fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians.

Read article in full

Jewish Chronicle article

Monday, August 29, 2011

'Voices of the Farhud' now accessible online

Now available on Youtube is a powerful short documentary in two parts by David Kahtan, a young man of Iraqi-Jewish origin. The film was shown for the first time at a Harif event in London commemorating the 70th anniversary of the massacre, rape and dispossession of at least 145 Jews, although the exact figure will never be known.

David's father Moshe tells how his parents threw him, a small child, across their rooftop to safety on to the house next door. Eileen and Maurice Khalastchi contribute their memories. Professor Shmuel Moreh explains that the massacre was pre-planned - the milkman opposite the family home warned Shmuel's father not to got to work on the day the Farhud began. The looting was so extreme that 'Waka mazal'em! ( may their luck run out, a typically Jewish curse) the mob even stole brooms from Jewish homes'.

Editor of Memories of Eden Tony Rocca explains that the British failed to stop what they considered an 'internal matter' even though the Jewish victims had faithfully served the British colonial administration; after the pogrom, the British ambassador Cornwallis was said to have callously remarked to British army officers over a candlelit dinner - "to think that just two days ago 2,000 Jews were killed in Baghdad!" Author of Farewell Babylon Naim Kattan describes how pro-Nazi ideology was rampant in Iraq at the time.

When it was all over, trust could never be re-established between Jews and Muslims: 10 years later, over 90 percent of the community fled to Israel.

My grandfather's Libyan story, by Robert Halfon MP

Recent events in Libya and the imminent demise of colonel Gaddafi's regime have awakened a sense of his Libyan roots in the British MP Robert Halfon. He writes in the Daily Mail:

I wish my grandfather, Renato Halfon, was alive now to see the demise of Muammar Gaddafi. In 1968, after some anti-Jewish pogroms, he had been forced to leave Libya and, as an Italian Jew, went to Rome.

He had planned to return to Tripoli once the pogroms had subsided, but Gaddafi took power in 1969 and all Jewish businesses were seized by the new regime. He didn't have a house or business to return to. On top of oil money, Gaddafi had bought loyalty by giving his supporters all the property taken from the Jews and Italians.

I don't think Renato ever could have imagined that he would have a son, Clement, who would marry an English woman or a British grandson who would become an MP.

Liberty... dropped from the sky: A rebel fighter climbs on top of a statue inside Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli earlier this week

Liberty... dropped from the sky: A rebel fighter climbs on top of a statue inside Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli earlier this week.

I love Britain, was born here and would never live anywhere else. But I feel that I am also a deep concoction of Jewish and Italian from Libya. I have always wanted to visit Tripoli, but very few Jews were allowed to go when Gaddafi ruled and those who had spent any time in Israel were banned. It is strange, but recent events have awakened a sense of my Libyan roots within me. It has been good to have conversations with my father and his friends from Libya, to try to understand what it was like to live there in those difficult times.

My grandfather, who had a clothing business, had seen Gaddafi coming. Because pogroms were becoming a regular occurrence, he sent my father to England in the late Fifties when he was just 15. Grandfather loved Great Britain. During the end of the Second World War, as the British arrived in Tripoli, he had sold clothes to the British Army. He would say: 'They were the only ones who paid on time.'

It is worth remembering that King Idris was installed as monarch of Libya in 1951 by the British in the aftermath of the war when it gained independence from Italy and the old colonial name of Tripolitani disappeared. After a short stint in Rome, Renato joined my father in England, where he was to spend the rest of his life, in North London.

Charismatic: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as a young man, shortly after seizing control of Libya in a military coup
Charismatic: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as a young man, shortly after seizing control of Libya in a military coup
But, although my grandfather had contempt for Gaddafi, the Colonel hadn't always been a monster. My father remembers him rapidly becoming a popular figure.
Before the military coup, Gaddafi used to walk down the famous Italian street in Tripoli, Corso Vittorio Emanuele (now known as Jadat Istiklal), shaking hands with passers-by (including my dad), wearing a broad, serene smile and speaking loudly.

Gaddafi was articulate. He nurtured dreams of Pan-Arabism. Because of the weakness, albeit benign, of King Idris, Gaddafi became known as 'the Liberator'. It was even thought he might be sympathetic to Western interests. So much so, that the Americans who controlled the large Wheelus air base, just outside Tripoli, did nothing to stop the coup d'etat against the King.

No one imagined that Gaddafi would impose a totalitarian regime and hold power for 42 years. But now he has gone and everyone is asking: 'What next . . . will it be a repeat of Iraq in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein?'
Read article in full

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yemeni Jews stranded in Cairo could be sent back

Egyptians who spot 12 orthodox Jews with ringlets wandering around Tahrir square are not hallucinating: the Yemen press reports that 12 Jews desperate to leave Yemen are stranded in Cairo and could be sent home for entering with false papers. We do not know if this was a 'freelance' initiative, or part of a botched Satmar operation to spirit the Jews to Argentina* ( 21 Jews have already got there). Either way, rabbi Yahya Yousef, in the capital Sana'a, who views Jewish flight as a betrayal of Yemeni hospitality, has condemned these Jews as outlaws.

The Yemen Observer reports:

"A dozen Yemeni Jews are stranded in Cairo of Egypt after failing to migrate to South America.

"Yahya Yousof, Rabbi of the Al-Salem Jewish minority in Yemen said that the 12 Jews that left Yemen more than two months ago are stranded in Cairo and that they had left Yemen illegally.

" He said that they are now in Egypt and are expected to be extradited to the Yemeni authorities soon due to false information they presented to the Yemeni immigration authorities prior to their leave to Egypt.

" The 12 Jews are now being held in Egypt. He said that the twelve Yemeni Jews are suspected of forging official documents and could face legal actions due to not having proper documents.

"A Yemeni Jew from Raidah town, 50 kilometers to the north of Sana’a, who asked to not mention his name said that many of the Yemeni Jews minority that live in Raida including the 12 stranded in Cairo have been planning to migrate to Europe in fears of being killed by Islamist radicals especially after one of them was killed by a radical Islamist militant."

According to Yeshiva World News:

"As fighting and instability continue in Yemen, Satmar activists are taking advantage of the anarchy to step up efforts to smuggle Jews out of the country. According to a Kikar Shabbat report, a number of Yemenite Jews have recently been smuggled out of the country, taken to Argentina.

"Of late, the situation for the remaining Jewish community has turned increasingly hostile, to the point of life-threatening in some cases, prompting Satmar to increase efforts to save the last remnants of the once thriving community in that country. Since the rebels began efforts to overthrow the current government, attacks against Jews have increased significantly, creating the volatile situation that exists today.

"It appears that over recent days, 21 Jews, including three widows and an infant have been successfully taken out of the country, brought to safety.

"The report adds that due to the political sensitivities surrounding such an operation, the United States would not agree to serve as a safe haven for these Jews, so Satmar decided to move them to S. America, to the local Satmar community in that country."

*later reports say the Jews were bound for London

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mr Luzon, don't pack your bags yet!

One of the leaders of Libyan Jews in the UK, Raphael Luzon, should not rush back to his country of birth to be the token Jew in the post-Gaddafi government, cautions Michelle Huberman in her Jerusalem Post blog Clash of Cultures:

Raphael Luzon, the chairman of Jews of Libya UK has been invited this week by the National Transitional Council (NTC) leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, to return to Libya and join a newly-formed Democratic Party. “I said I would accept it once I see it is real democracy and the proposal is offered,” he told the Jerusalem Post this week. My advice to Faelino (as his friends call him), is - not to be too hasty to pack up your suitcases.

Raphael Luzon in his old seat at the synagogue in Benghazi

Of all people, Raphael Luzon has most reason to tread with caution: eight of his relatives, his uncle, aunt and their six children, were murdered by a Libyan army officer in 1967. He has been campaigning to have their remains, stored in trunks, given a proper Jewish burial.

In spite of his personal tragedy Mr Luzon and the community he represents told a Dutch Radio station, after a visit to his homeland last year, that they were Libyans who cherish the land of their birth.

"Everyone is really in love with Libya. Also myself, I have no sentiment of revenge or spirit of hatred. Absolutely not. What happened, it happened. It happens everywhere in the world. Jews have been killed, Arabs have been killed, Palestinians have been killed. Unfortunately war does not recognise any difference between religions, between races, between nothing."

Mr Luzon downplays his suffering in order to put the accent on nostalgic memories of good relationships with his Muslim neighbours.

Other Libyan Jews may not have suffered as much, but nevertheless do not have such favourable recollections. Gina Waldman, who left Libya in 1969 says “We were not allowed to have citizenship, travel, hold government jobs or attend government schools. We were stripped of our basic human rights and treated as “dhimmi,” subjugated second-class citizens. Although I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, I had no choice but to attend Catholic school. I could recite prayers in Latin, but I was not allowed to learn Hebrew”.

Her mother Laura, escaped a 1945 pogrom in Tripoli by jumping from rooftop to rooftop until she was rescued by a Christian woman. After the riots her father helped bury the bodies of his friends, an experience that traumatized him for the rest of his life.

When Israel became a state in 1948, anti-Jewish riots escalated, synagogues were torched and Jewish homes were destroyed. This resulted in the mass immigration of 30,000 Jews to Israel. By 1950, only 6,000 Jews were left from what was once a thriving Jewish community.

In 1967, during the Six-Day War between Israel and its five Arab neighbours, mobs took to the streets, burning Jewish homes; 10 Jews in Tripoli were murdered, hundreds injured and Jewish shops burnt. In Benghazi 300 Jews detained for own safety: 14 people from two families were massacred and nearly all of Libya's remaining Jews fled the country. Gina Waldman became separated from her family and was hidden in the home of a Christian family. Read the rest of her account here.

Although they had been in Libya for centuries North African Jews welcomed the European colonisers as modernisers. They eagerly adopted western dress and quickly become the engine of Libya’s economy. Under Mussolini’s race laws, however, Libya was declared the “the first North African fascist colony.” It was soon obvious that the Italians favoured the Arabs over the Jews and in 1938 Mussolini imposed Germany’s racial laws on Libya's 38,000 Jews. During the war, Jews endured bombing raids and were deported to the notorious labour camp at Giado. Some 600 died of starvation or disease. Jews of foreign nationality were deported to Italy, and from there packed into freight trains and taken to the infamous Bergen-Belsen and Innsbruck-Reichenau concentration camps.

Today, not a single Jew remains from this ancient Jewish community dating back to Roman times. Colonel Gaddafi seized Jewish properties and cancelled all debts in 1969. He promised compensation, but never delivered. It is estimated the value of private assets lost is around $500 million with a further $100 million for public assets such as synagogues and cemeteries.

Although Italy recently gave $5 billion to Libya to make amends for colonisation, nothing was set aside for the Jews. The Libyan Jews never received the compensation that Gaddafi promised them. The Libyan rebels have hinted that they would help ex-Libyan Jews recover their property, but the chances are slim – especially if Islamists gain the upper hand.

Raphael Luzon has said that he would make the recovery of Jewish assets his top priority, but he could equally fight for justice for Libyan Jews from North West London. If Mr Luzon returns to Libya, he would be exploited as the token Jew in the government, helping to boost an illusory, all-inclusive image for western consumption.

Instead of trying to turn the clock back, Libya would be better off building bridges with Israel, to where 94 percent of the Jewish community fled. Ex-Libyan Jews and their descendants number around 110,000.

Mr Luzon, do us a favour – please stay at home.

For further information on the Jews of Libya see Point of No Return. See here for the time chart.

Read post in full

Friday, August 26, 2011

Breaking news: Tunisian synagogue 'vandalised'

Exclusive to Point of No Return - with thanks: Ahoovah

In an incident as yet unreported by the mainstream media, the Beth-El synagogue in Sfax, restored three years ago at a cost of 20,000 Euros, has allegedly been vandalised in apparent revenge for Israeli reprisals on Gaza following the Eilat terrorist attacks killing eight Israelis.

In a post on the Tunisian Jewish site Amit, blogger Camus reported that the local police refused to answer his calls or give details of what happened. Two eyewitnesses say that the synagogue was badly damaged and the adjoining house, where the beadle (or shamash) lives, was stripped bare of its contents.

This is not the first time that the synagogue has been wrecked. It happened in 1956, when Tunisia declared independence and the community of 5,000 was at its height.The authorities insisted that the building be restored or sold off as a mosque or commercial centre. The community chose to restore it.

In January this year the El-Hamma synagogue near Gabes was attacked and a Torah scroll burnt to ashes. The Minister of Culture, which is in charge of synagogues, has said it has restored security at both sites.

A scene of earlier devastation at the Sfax synagogue.

Read post in full

Robert Halfon MP: Why I want to see Gaddafi go

Robert Halfon MP

One MP in the British Parliament has a special interest in seeing Colonel Gaddafi go: Robert Halfon, whose family left Tripoli as penniless refugees shortly after Gaddafi came to power. Here's Halfon's personal account, from the blog Conservative Home:

I have a special interest in wishing to see the back of Colonel Gaddafi. My late grandfather, Renato Halfon, was a member of a small but thriving community of Italian Tripolitanian Jews who lived in Libya when Gaddafi came to power in the 1960s.

Gaddafi's henchmen seized all Jewish businesses and homes and my father, along with thousands of other Italian Jews, many from families who had settled in Tripoli hundreds of years earlier, was forced to flee the country penniless.

He had seen the writing on wall and sent my dad, Clement, then 15 years old, to school in the UK shortly before Gaddafi's coup against King Idris. My grandad followed him a few years later. When anyone asked him why he chose Britain he would say: 'I sold clothes to the British army in the War - they are the only country that paid on time.'

King Idris was installed as monarch of Libya in 1951 by the British in the aftermath of the Second World War when it gained independence from Italy and the old colonial name of Tripolitania disappeared. A religious Moslem, in the traditional sense, Idris was regarded as a good man, came from Cyrenica in the East of Libya and which borders with Egypt, and was from the respected Sandusi clan.

Both my grandad and dad remembered him fondly. King Idris was benign, not corrupt and cared about his countrymen. But he had one major flaw: he was weak and ineffectual. He reigned but did not rule.

Read post in full

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Israel's links with Libya could warm up - or not

Ahmed Shebani at a conference in 2010

Don't you love the press? Two Israeli news media come up with conflicting accounts on the prospects for Israel-Libyan relations after interviewing the same Libyan opposition spokeman.

Israel Today magazine quotes Ahmed Shabani as saying that relations between post-Gaddafi Libya and Israel could be warm:

A prominent Libyan official associated with the opposition forces now taking over the North African nation hinted this week that relations between post-Gaddafi Libya and Israel could be warm.

Ahmad Shabani, son of an advisor to Libya's former king, has in recent weeks acted as a spokesman for Libyan opposition forces in numerous mainstream media interviews.

While it is still unclear how much influence Shabani will wield when the regime of dictator Muammar Gaddafi is fully overthrown, it appears he does have a certain degree of clout.

In an interview with Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Shabani suggested he and others like him will use their influence to foster warm relations with Israel, and already see the Jewish state as a potential ally in their quest for freedom.

"We are asking Israel to use its influence in the international community to end the tyrannical regime of Gadhafi and his family," Shabani told Ha'aretz.

The newspaper asked Shabani if, once the dust settles, his nation will officially recognize Israel.

"That is a very sensitive question," Shabani responded. "The question is whether Israel will recognize us."

Israel has already ingratiated itself to a certain degree with the Libyan rebels.

Haaretz manages to reach the opposite conclusion after an interview with Shabani:

The chances that Israel will establish even low-level relations with a new regime that takes shape in Tripoli are not great. This assessment is based on a Haaretz interview this week with Ahmad Shabani, a Libyan opposition leader. Since the rebel government formed about six months ago in Benghazi, envoys have been trying to figure out if there are hopes of establishing a diplomatic relationship with Israel. Jewish businessmen, most of them of Libyan origin, have been particularly active in these efforts; they have told Israel's Foreign Ministry and other government agencies that they have personal relations with figures in the Benghazi interim government and have offered help in cultivating ties.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Will the Libyan rebels do justice to the Jews?

The Luzon family house in Benghazi: Raphael Luzon has been asked to run for office in the new rebel government

A voice on the radio was giving a resident’s eyewitness account of the rebel advance in Tripoli. “Aren’t Gadaffi ‘s supporters going to fight back?” asked the interviewer. "No", said the voice - “because Gaddafi loyalists had all been bought off with property Gaddafi had seized from the Jews and the Italians.”

In all the punditry about the post-Gaddafi future, no one has asked if the new regime will do justice to the Jews. Jewish properties were confiscated, debts officially erased, Jewish cemeteries bulldozed into the sea or concreted over, and synagogues, clubs and schools demolished or put to other uses. Law 57 of 21 July 1970 empowered the Libyan government to seize the property of the remaining Jews who had fled Libya after pogroms in 1967. According to Michael Fischbach, an expert on the lost property of both Jews and Arabs, 628 of the 643 emigres eligible for seizure were Jews.

They were once a thriving community of 38,000 dating back to Roman times. Today, not a single Jew lives in Libya. Some 94 percent of the community fled Libya for Israel just after 1948.

Nobody really knows how much the Jews of Libya, who controlled much of Libya’s economy, are owed in compensation. Dr Heskel Haddad, President of the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries, reckons that Jews owned half of Tripoli and half of Benghazi, and much land in the oil-rich region of Cyrenaica. One Libyan Jew forced to abandon his flourishing import-export business estimates that his family’s assets alone were worth $11 million.

For decades, little was heard about compensation for lost Jewish assets. In 2003, when Colonel Gaddafi decided to put his terrorist-sponsoring days behind him and join the Western fold, delegation after delegation of ex-Libyan Jews based in Italy were invited to discuss compensation with Gaddafi. But they all came away empty-handed.

Instead the money seemed to be flowing in the other direction: to the Libyans. In 2008, the Italian government agreed to pay $5 billon over 25 years to make amends for the brutal years of colonial rule. There was no compensation for Italian ‘fourth shore’ exiles, although the Libyans pledged to make it easier for them to visit. Jewish leaders in Rome pleaded for some of the $5 billion to be set aside for the Jews – but to no avail.

What is the rebel attitude to ex-Libyan Jews? Representatives of both the Gaddafi regime and the rebels have been reported to have paid visits to Tel Aviv. A London-based expatriate opposition group advocating a democratic, secular state in Libya has announced it is planning to go through archives in Rome in order to make a full inventory of assets seized from Libya's Jewish community, with a view to their restitution.

One expatriate Jew, Raphael Luzon, has been invited by the rebels to run for office in Libya: there is no doubt that a Jew or two and some women in the new government would be good for Libya’s image.

There is a tendency to view ex-Libyan Jews as loyal ‘dhimmi’ Libyans longing to rush back to their homeland - if only the conditions were made attractive enough. Although they would be curious to pay a visit to their country of birth, few Jews, however – with the exception of a Jungian psychoanalyst called David Gerbi who has been treating rebel hospital patients - are ready to return to Libya. They want justice in the form of an apology for the suffering they endured, and compensation for what they lost.

All this will be pie-in-the-sky if Islamists gain the upper hand in the post-Gaddafi government. "Some Jews think they may be able to recover some of their lost possessions, as promised by the rebels, but I think the events in Libya are disastrous," Avi Pedazur, a representative of the World Organisation of Libyan Jews, warns. "The rebels are Muslim extremists and the events in Libya will echo the events that have taken place in Egypt."

There is a yawning gap between what ex-Libyan Jews want, and what a new government may be prepared to give. It is over 60 years since the overwhelming majority of Jews left Libya. Some 110,000 Libyan Jews and their offspring are now Israelis. And it is with Israelis that the new regime will have to make its peace.

Crossposted at Harry's Place

Why Jews left Algeria (continued)

The great synagogue, Algiers

Further to the post titled 'Why did Jews leave Algeria?' I am re-posting a knowledgeable and comprehensive comment by Sammish - with thanks.

"Jews of Algeria were on average better educated, urbanites and more progressive than their counterparts of Morocco who were for the most part rural farmers, artisans,and small shopkeepers in the deep interior of Morocco. Jews of Algeria benefited tremendously from French colonial policies and republican ideals, because the French thought of Algeria as French territory and were there from 1830 to 1962, while Morocco was seen by the French only as a protectorate with few economic vital interests to keep British and Spanish colonial aspirations in check.

Neither Algerian nor Moroccan Jewry left of their own free will. To say otherwise is to distort history. They are, however, nuanced differences concerning those who lost so much from the "indirect" forced exodus and suffered tremendous economic loss. Of course, Algerian Jews had more to lose and because of their social and economic and education attainement were more threatened by the Marxist-Lennist political party of the FNL (Front de Liberation National) which saw them as a fifth column and Zionist neo-colonialists, like their former French masters. They left not of their own free will but under the threat of a gun and butcher's knives. The slogan of the FNL towards the Jews was simple and was promulgated everywhere during the early days of independence: it was a chilling and in-your-face death warrant, and it was: "La valise ou le cerceuil" translated as "the briefcase or the coffin". That was the slogan.

I think that it is sad to see that the old generation of Algerian Jews have not been really forthcoming about telling their grandchildren about the disastrous exit from Algeria. I know it was not like the Iraqi Farhood, but still, many generations who worked so hard to better the lives of ordinary Jews saw all their accomplishments sink to the bottom of the sea, with countless lands seized, businesses lost and usurped by greedy Arab vultures."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jews concerned at post-Gaddafi future

Green Square in Tripoli has been renamed (Martyrs Square,with its associations to Jihad) - not a good omen for the post-Gaddafi future, say Libyan Jews in Israel. A Taiwan TV channel has the story:

Asked about the nearing end of Gaddafi's rule and his sons' fate, Arviv says he has no feeling towards them.

[David Arviv, Tripolitan Restaurant Owner]:
"I know they were mean people who did a lot of bad things and they deserve it.”

The Jewish community in the former Italian colony, which traces its origins to Roman times, numbered about 38,000 at the end of World War Two.

By the time Israel won the Middle East War against Arab nations in 1967, the community had dwindled to about 7,000.
The Jewish community in Libya is now virtually non-existent.

Arviv says he hopes the future rulers of Libya will allow Jews of Libyan origin to visit their childhood neighborhoods.

[David Arviv, Tripolitan Restaurant Owner]:
"I hope it will be better now and that we will have relations with them, and that we will be able to visit; that we Tripolitans will be able to visit Libya and see the neighborhood in which we grew up in. I hope it will create a new road."

But in the Libyan Jews Heritage Center in the Israeli town of Or Yehuda, curator Avi Pedatzur is pessimistic.

[Avi Pedatzur, Curator, Libyan Jews Heritage Centre]:
"The revolution leaders took the main square in - the 'Green Square' - and turned it, within an hour, into 'Jihad Square'*. Jihad and its meaning are well known to Jews. I don't think that democracy will immediately emerge in Libya."

Read article in full

*Actually Martyrs square

Libyan rebels ask UK-based Jew to run for office

Raphael Luzon on a visit to Libya

The day after the 'fall' of Tripoli to the rebels, the leader of a Libyan-Jewish Diaspora group said he was invited by the emerging ruling power to run for office in free elections in that country, the Jerusalem Post reports. Raphael Luzon, who lost eight relatives in a 1967 pogrom, visited Libya last year. But is the offer just good PR? (With thanks: Lily)

Raphael Luzon, the head of Jews of Libya UK, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil recently invited him to return to his country of birth and participate in the political discourse.

“A week ago I received an [invitation] from the chief of the rebels,” he said referring to Abdul Jalil, a former justice minister and current chairman of the rebel council in Benghazi.

“They proposed for me to take part in one of the parties because they would like it to be open to all people including women and Jews.”

The Benghazi-born Jew, whose family was forced to flee Libya following a pogrom in 1967, said he was waiting for further developments before he gave a definitive answer.

“I said I would accept it once I see it is real democracy and the proposal is offered,” he said. “If I do it I do it for one matter: the historical matter. The first Arab country that proposed that a Jew run in a free election.”

Jews have lived in Libya since ancient times. At its peak during the 1930s the Jewish community in Libya numbered 25,000 but persecution by Italy and Germany during World War II and a series of state-sponsored pogroms after Libya became independent in 1951 took a toll and its members immigrated mostly to Israel, Italy and the UK. The last Jew in Libya left the country almost a decade ago.

From his base in London, Luzon has been in contact with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime over the past decade representing the demands of Jewish Libyans abroad. He visited his country of birth several times and met with the Libyan dictator privately twice.

If he were to return to Libya, Luzon said the reconstruction of the war-torn country and the restitution of Jewish assets which were confiscated by the Libyan regime to their rightful owners would top his political agenda.

“As you know we left there 82 synagogues, land and property and I would like to take care of this because it belongs to the Jewish community of Libya,” he said.

Luzon dismissed fears that the northern African country might emerge as a hotbed for radical Islam.

“No country in northern Africa has a tradition of Islamic extremism,” he said. “They’re never Islamist. Perhaps there will be a small party in Libya but different than the ones in Egypt.”

The 57-year-old Luzon also did not rule out the option that Israeli Jews of Libyan descent would be free to visit their country of origin similarly to other northern African countries.

“If it will be democratic there will be no reason not to visit, like in Tunisia and Morocco,” he said.

Read article in full

Jewish leader's Libyan visit clouded by nostalgia

Monday, August 22, 2011

New 'liberal' Libyan constitution based on Shar'ia

Rebels celelebrating victory in Green Square, Tripoli

It looks as if the Gaddafi regime is gasping its last, with rebel forces sweeping into central Tripoli. According to the 'liberal' draft constitution unveiled by the Libyan Transitional Council, the new Libya would no longer would be 'Arab' - a nod perhaps to its Berber population, but stopping short, unlike Morocco, of affirming cultural or linguistic Berber rights. But Shar'ia still remains the main source of legislation, putting non-Muslims at a disadvantage. Brian Whitaker, Middle East editor of the Guardian's Comment is Free has this analysis on his blog, Al-Bab (with thanks: Eliyahu) :

This week the Libyan National Transitional Council issued its "Draft Constitutional Charter" – a sort of provisional constitution for the country in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi.

The Project on Middle East Democracy lists some of its specific provisions here, but a more revealing exercise is to compare and contrast the NTC's document with the Libyan constitution issued in 1969, shortly after Gaddafi's revolution.

Article 1 of the 1969 constitution says:

"Libya is an Arab, democratic, and free republic in which sovereignty is vested in the people. The Libyan people are part of the Arab nation. Their goal is total Arab unity. The Libyan territory is a part of Africa. The name of the country is the Libyan Arab Republic."

Article 1 of the NTC's draft begins:

"Libya is an independent democratic state wherein the people are the source of authorities ..."

There is no assertion anywhere in the document that Libya is an "Arab state", and this omission cannot be anything but deliberate. The nationalism and pan-Arabism of the Gaddafi era have gone.

This is also a recognition of the country's diversity – in particular its marginalised Amazigh (Berber) communities. Unlike Morocco however (which has now recognised Amazigh as an official language), Arabic will remain the only official language in Libya "while preserving the linguistic and cultural rights of all components of the Libyan society".

A much-debated question is to what extent the NTC has an Islamist character. Article 1 of the NTC document says "Islam is the religion of the state" – though it should be noted that Gaddafi's 1969 constitution says the same (as do the constitutions of most Arab states).

Personally, I don't think states should have a religion but, since this is such an established idea within the constitutional frameworks of the Muslim world, its inclusion is not surprising.

Somewhat more troubling is the statement that Islamic jurisprudence (sharia) will be "the principal source of legislation". The exact role of sharia in legislation – and how to express it in the constitution – has long been a bone of contention in Arab countries. The form of words adopted by the NTC ("the principal source of legislation") is a moderately strong one, borrowed from Egypt, though not as strong as it might be.

For comparison, sharia is "the source of all legislation" in Yemen. In Oman it is "the basis of legislation" while in Bahrain, Kuwait, Syria and Qatar it is "a main source of legislation" (note the indefinite article).

The Iraqi constitution, approved by a referendum in 2005, specifies Islam as "a fundamental source of legislation" and says that "no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established." It also, rather confusingly, says that no law must contradict "the principles of democracy" or "the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this constitution".

The Sudanese constitution (issued before the south seceded) establishes no official religion as such. It merely says that "Islam is the religion of the majority of the population". Article 65, however, specifies "the Islamic Sharia" as the source of law, along with "national consent through voting, the constitution and custom", though it also goes on to say that "no law shall be enacted contrary to these sources".

The NTC document adds that non-Muslims in Libya will be allowed to practise their religion and, as in Egypt and several other Arab countries, it talks of different personal status laws for different religions. This might sound fair in theory, but experience in Egypt and elsewhere has shown that attempting to operate different personal status laws for members of different religions is a minefield.

Read post in full

Read text of draft Constitutional Charter here (with thanks: Stuart)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why did Jews leave Algeria?

Next year, Algeria will be marking its 50th year since independence. On the Zlabia discussion forum on Jews of Algeria, the commenters have been discussing what made 160,000 Jews leave Algeria en masse in 1962. The country has almost no Jews left.

OUARGLA comments:

"Why did we leave Algeria? Simply because life was unbearable. Our Arab neighbours were harrassing our daughters, in the cinema or in the street, at the Barbes metro station. Is it a crime to wear a Star of David? No Jew would have thought of leaving his homeland if they had left him in peace.

"Before the Algerian troubles, I would go and buy bread for the sabbath at a bakery next door to an Islamic religious school. The little Muslims would run after us shouting Ihudi shahedd (death to the Jews). Before they set out for school mothers would warn their children against traffic accidents - and Arabs.

"Today's Algeria is not ready to 'take back' its Jews."

Another commenter, simotlemcen, tells OUARGLA:

"Are you sure it was not because you were expelled? Jews were in Algeria for milennia and you talk as if you were colonialists and pieds-noirs when you were practically the indigenous people of Algeria after the Berbers. The Jewish presence does not go back to 1830 (when Algeria became a French colony - ed) - far from it. During the milennia that they lived in Algeria do you think they waited until 1962 and left of their own free will. Stop rewriting history through 'pride' - the Jews were expelled against their will, that's all."

My comment: OUARGLA did not exactly say the Jews left of their own free will, but harrassment was a contributory factor in their exodus. The Jews were indeed expelled, but as they all held French citizenship as a result of the Decret Cremieux - a status forced upon them in 1871 - they became identified with the pieds-noirs ( descendants of French colonials in Algeria).

Read blog discussion (French)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fitting stories into frames is dangerous

Crown Heights riots, 1991: the press reported an antisemitc pogrom as 'inter-racial clashes'

With thanks: Lily

It's got little to do with the Middle East, and nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, but reading an article on the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn gave me pause for serious thought today.

In Telling it like it wasn't, Ari Goldman reveals, 20 years after the event, how he was outraged when editors working for his employer, The New York Times, twisted his reporting of an anti-Jewish pogrom into something else - a racial clash between blacks and Jews.

"I am telling my story in print for the first time because it is important that we journalists examine our mistakes and learn from them, "Goldman wrote. "Fitting stories into frames - whether about blacks and Jews, liberals or conservatives, Arabs and Israelis, Catholics and Protestants or Muslims and Jews - is wrong and even dangerous. Life is more complicated than that - and so is journalism."

The BBC fits stories into frames all the time - only yesterday, its report of a terrorist attack killing eight Israelis was another sickening display of moral equivalence blurring victim and aggressor. But here in this cobweb-ridden corner of the Jewish 'narrative', our blog's story of forgotten Jewish refugees is not just distorted, it's omitted altogether.

The 800,000 Jews forced from Arab countries just don't fit the frame. If the truth were known, the frame would crumble like so much rotten wood. That's why it's never told, or the facts are twisted, or the wrong conclusions drawn. In any case, a lot of people are being seriously misled, and policy-makers are making decisions on the basis of one-sided information that is prolonging the conflict, not bringing it closer to a resolution.

For the ongoing struggle against the Jews of Israel, like the ethnic cleansing of the minorities of the Middle East, has never been about the clash of competing claims. It's always been about Arab and Muslim antisemitism and bigotry.

Can Sephardi Judaism be reconstructed?

David J Elazar z''l was a renowned political scientist and founder of the research institute, the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. Although he has beeen dead since 1999, Elazar's thoughts on the Ashkenazification of the Sephardi religious tradition, set out in this 1992 JCPA paper, are still pertinent today:

This numerical advantage meant that even to the degree that the major Sephardic and Ashkenazic centers suffered in the same proportion from the catastrophies of the twentieth century, so many more Ashkenazim were able to survive with their religious leadership and institutions intact. This also had to do with the conditions under which they survived. For example, almost the only Ashkenazi religious institutions that actually survived World War II were haredi yeshivot that through bribery and cunning managed to escape the Nazi (and for that matter Soviet) clutches. More modernized Jews had too much faith in the enlightenment of modern man to resort to those methods and hence perished.

Meanwhile, in the new world, new institutions had been developed in the Ashkenazi spirit by Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. Among Sephardim, the old country institutions were actually destroyed as a result of aliyot to Israel, in many cases, out of love, as it were, by the representatives of the Zionist movement who saw no value in the older religious way of life. They sought to create a new Israeli man by forcing the olim to abandon not only their institutions but their Torah scrolls and sacred manuscripts when they left their countries of origin. Once the olim had arrived, it was easy to discredit the authority of old-country elders. Thus, institutionally, the Ashkenazim, whether haredim or reformers, were in a better position to dominate religious life after World War II. Neither followed the spirit of the Sephardic way, which provided for moderation without institutionalizing either orthodoxy or secularism.

Institutions as Factors

The institutional factor was critical here. The Ashkenazim had in the course of 200 years adapted institutionally to modernity in their religious life. Both hassidim and yeshivot were religious Jewish responses to the eighteenth century; they were strengthened and expanded as Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox institutions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These effectively seized control of the definition of what constituted traditional Judaism. In the nineteenth century, ideologically reforming movements, Reform and Conservative, appeared among the Ashkenazim of the West, who deliberately sought to create new forms of Judaism. Technically speaking, Conservative Judaism did not, only to reanimate what they saw as the flexibility and changing character of tradition; that is why in the early days of the Conservative movement Sephardim were very prominent in it, dropping out only when the movement took on separate institutional and ideological form.

As religious institutions ceased to be unifying factors in Jewish life, the Askhenazim developed civil institutions to perform shared or common functions, interaction in the Zionist movement, the national representative or community relations organizations, or local community federations.

The Sephardim, on the other hand, underwent no such institutional development. They tried to retain their traditional institutions, congregations and communities, yet were unable to adapt them except where they imitated Ashkenazi models. In the few places where Sephardic majorities remained after the great migrations, as in Morocco, or were established as a result of migrations, as in France, the older institutions that adapted slightly continued to exist, mostly congregations which remained localistic, serving the immediately private needs of individual families and not able to go beyond that. In France, indeed, the national institutions had been established earlier by Ashkenazim and were simply taken over by Sephardim in due course.

In most places, however, the Sephardim did not have a majority. Therefore they retreated to their own congregations or joined with the Ashkenazim in their institutions. Since in any case, like Ashkenazim, Sephardim underwent a crisis of religious belief and practice and most no longer remained faithful to tradition, the impact of these congregational and religious institutions was necessarily weakened.

This was especially true of religious institutions. In their own way the Ashkenazim, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, early on attempted to develop new institutions of higher Jewish learning to cope with the demands of modernity. Of them, the yeshiva is the most successful for the Orthodox and the rabbinical seminary with a strong Jewish studies component following the Wissenschaft model served the same purpose for the non-Orthodox.

The Sephardim were not successful in developing either, although there were attempts. The yeshiva, with its isolationist orientation, was foreign to the Sephardic tradition, while the rabbinical seminary involved too sharp a break with traditional institutions for most Sephardim. The Sephardic Talmud Torah, which had played an equivalent function in traditional Sephardic society, either was not able to redefine itself or failed to attract the students it needed to survive, as most Sephardim (like most Ashkenazim, for that matter) ceased to be interested in higher Jewish studies. Ironically, most of those who were, were products of Ashkenazification and attracted by the fundamentalism offered by the yeshiva world rather than the moderate openness of Sephardic institutions. Thus, in time, most of those Sephardic youth who wanted traditional learning either went to Ashkenazi yeshivot or Sephardic yeshivot modelled after the Ashkenazi pattern and accepted Ashkenazi ways in everything except, perhaps, the minhag tefilah (prayer ritual).

Where their culture remained intact, Sephardim developed exemplary educational systems from bottom to top, whether in Amsterdam or in Salonika (to give two prominent examples). However, nowhere in the twentieth century Sephardic dispersion did Sephardim form their own higher yeshivot, in most cases because they were not present in sufficient numbers. At most, they found a subprogram for them within an Ashkenazi yeshiva, that itself often was established by Ashkenazim. Only in Eretz Israel did thy have the numbers to do so, and there the Sephardim who had the wherewithall did not have the interest, while the ones who had the interest were attracted to Ashkenazi yeshivot or Sephardic copies of same. This trend was strengthened by the fact that the Sephardic way had been dominated by Spaniolim, those Jews descended from the exiles from Spain and Portugal, and the Spaniolim as a group early abandoned a firm commitment to tradition in favor of modernization. Those interested in traditional learning increasingly came from the Jews of Asian and African countries, the so called edot hamizrach, who, while within the Sephardic cultural and religious spheres, were most disrupted in their high culture by their migrations, and apparently lost the intellectual wherewithall to produce their own institutions during the critical transition.

Since the Ashkenazim had begun developing their institutions in Eretz Israel before 1860, while living in the midst of a Sephardic majority, their models were firmly implanted by the time the Sephardim began building their own institutions. The major Sephardic institution of higher Jewish learning in Israel, Yeshivat Porat Yosef, became the first of a long series of replicas of Ashkenazi yeshivot. On the other hand, the Beit Yetomim HaSepharadi (the Sephardic orphanage), was founded by Sephardim in Jerusalem in 1895 in the traditional Sephardic mold, whose charter provided and continues to provide for a rabbinical training curriculum that includes secular studies, failed to attract significant leadership or student body, perhaps because in its early days it was based on the hidden assumption that only orphans who had no other way to make a living, would go into the rabbinate in modern times. That meant that non-orphans were not attracted, and the orphans wanted to get out.

The earlier Talmud Torah of the Vaad HaEdah HaSepharadi b'Yerushalayim (Central Committee of Sephardic Jews of Jerusalem), the governing body of the Jewish community of that city from time immemorial (it claims to have been founded by Nachmanides when he reestablished Jewish community life in the city in 1268), also failed in the early days of the Zionist Yishuv, probably for similar reasons. There no longer were enough Sephardic young people interested in the traditional rabbinate in the new world emerging under Zionism. Between World War I and the mid-1970s, from time to time, the Vaad HaEdah tried to establish rabbinical training programs of similar character, but failed because of the opposition of the Ashkenazi establishment.

The Ashkenazification of the Sephardim

The death of Rabbi Uziel marked the final takeover of power from the Sephardim by the Ashkenazi rabbinical establishment. The establishment of the office of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in Eretz Israel in the 1920s was the beginning of that takeover. Until that time there had been only one Chief Rabbi, the Rishon Le-Zion, chosen by the Sephardic community. The Ashkenazim had their individual kollelim and batai din (rabbinical courts), all what we would now call haredi in character. The Zionist movement, religious and non-religious, wanted to introduce a more Zionist rabbinate, and the British were not adverse to assisting them. Hence, the establishment of the dual Chief Rabbinate, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, in 1921.

In violation of the halakhah that Sephardi custom was to predominate in Eretz Israel, which dates at least from the Middle Ages, the Ashkenazi rabbinical leadership insisted that, as the new majority, Ashkenazim could bring in and maintain their own customs (minhagim). Ashkenazi haredim went even further, to insist that every person had to follow the customs of the community from which his family came in Eastern Europe, down to the smallest matters of pronunciation.

Given the numbers and power of the Ashkenazim, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbinate soon became more powerful than the Sephardi. Ashkenazim came to dominate the institutions of the Chief Rabbinate, countrywide and local. Moreover, they were convinced that their way was the correct way, and, hence, they made a deliberate effort to overwhelm the Sephardim whose ways were strange and, in their eyes, not sufficiently rigorous.

The Sephardim, in turn, fell victim to their own internal divisions. The Sephardic Chief Rabbinate had been the preserve of the Spaniolim, who be the early 1950s were thoroughly outnumbered by Asian and African olim. In the struggle over who would be appointed to succeed Rabbi Uziel, the Ashkenazi rabbinical establishment threw its backing behind Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim of Iraqi origin, who was opposed by the Spaniol establishment. Rabbi Nissim won, with Ashkenazi votes, which put the Sephardic Chief Rabbinate in a clearly subordinate position, de facto, to the Ashkenazim, a position in which it remains to this day, although one of the selling points of Shas, the Sephardic Torah Guardians, and its spiritual mentor, former Rishon Le-Zion, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who is recognized as one of the great posekim (halakhic decision-makers) of our day by Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike, was that the Sephardim had to take back their rightful position.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Yosef and his colleagues had themselves become so Ashkenazified through their education in Ashkenazi or Ashkenazified yeshivot that, while they in fact regained some power, they did not offer very much of an alternative. Rabbi Yosef, also of Iraqi background (since the election of Rabbi Nissim, all the Sephardic Chief Rabbis have been of Iraqi background), feeling the pressure of the Ashkenazi yeshiva heads, consistently refused to provide support to the Sephardic community's efforts to establish more open yeshivot in the 1960s and 1970s.

The few isolated examplars of the old Sephardic tradition, men like the Sephardic Chief Rabbis of Tel Aviv, Haim David HaLevy (the author of an excellent and widely-adopted contemporary abridgment of the Shulkhan Aruch for popular use and once one of the most popular rabbis in Israel until he was more or less silenced under pressure), and of Netanya, Rabbi David Celouche, are under constant pressure to conform to the Ashkenazified ways and the Ashkenazi approach. Even they must dress in the Ashkenazi rabbinical style, so thoroughly Eastern European in its origins. The authentic costume of the Sephardic Rabbinate has been given up except in the case of the Rishon Le-Zion, who wears traditional garb on state occasions.

Ashkenazified Sephardic yeshivot teach the rabbinical stories of Eastern Europe to their students so that a Sephardi rabbi, speaking to Sephardic Jews, will tell stories of the hassidic masters because he will not know the many excellent and beautiful stories of his own tradition. The popular religious music of the Ashkenazim is now widely used by Sephardim on festive occasions such as weddings, bar mitzvahs and even in Sephardic religious services at certain points because that is what the people learn in school and what is familiar to them. Sephardic religious music is hardly ever taught, and even Sephardic customs are taught as exotica or folklore rather than part of a living tradition.

Sephardim and Ashkenazim

The only difference preserved by these Ashkenazified Sephardic religious leaders is that almost all see themselves as mikarvim (those who try to bring the people closer to Jewish tradition rather than isolating themselves from the less traditional). in this respect the Sephardic way is still alive. It stands in sharp contrast to the isolationist approach of Ashkenazi Orthodox of almost every stripe. This can be seen in the respective congregational patterns of the two groups. It is recognized by all that there are many ways to be Orthodox. In a typical religious neighborhood in Israel or in Brooklyn one may find several different hassidic minyanim, a yishiva or Litvak minyan, one or more modern Orthodox congregations, perhaps Young Israel or religious Zionist, or simply one with a more dignified service and one with a more free-flowing one. All will live side-by-side in mutual recognition, but each will be homogeneous. In other words, kindred souls will find each other and stay together; few, if any, will really welcome people as permanent congregants who do not observe in an Orthodox way -- indeed, in their particular style.

Contrast this with a typical Sephardic congregation. It will be composed of people of all levels of observance, from black-hatted yeshiva students to people who think of themselves as secular but enjoy attending services from time to time. In the congregation all are equal. No one is asked how much or how little he observes. Sephardim assume that all people want to be traditional, only some people need greater degrees of help. That Sephardic attitude, which is typically Mediterranean, runs against the grain of the Ashkenazi pattern where people have to declare their religious ideology and form of religious behavior to fit into one community or another within Orthodoxy as well as between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.

Sephardi congregations may be divided by the traditions of their communities of origin, but there are no religious tests per se. Moreover, as the immigrant generation passes, even those divisions are diminishing. In Israel, the minhag yerushalayim, which, from a formal halahkic point of view is binding on all Jews in Eretz Israel, is becoming more widespread, and diaspora communities are either adopting that ritual or finding their own amalgams based upon the traditions of the Sephardim who founded them.

The strenghths of the Sephardic way are also its weaknesses, while the weaknesses of the Ashkenazi way are also its strengths. If the strength of the Sephardic way is in its willingness to try to cope with the world around it through interfacing rather than isolation and its reaching out to all Jews without breaking away from tradition, those strengths also lead to its weaknesses in the tendency of Sephardim not to take firm stands in defense of the maintenance of tradition, to almost blow with the wind, as it were, rather than be willing to make the necessary sacrifices in a world often hostile to tradition. By the same token, the weakness of the Ashkenazi tradition makes them very strong, even fanatically strong, in defending, adhering to, and trying to advance their position, whatever it might be. Hence, they are better prepared to fight the fight against the breakdowns of modernism than the Sephardim, one way or another, while the Sephardim find it hard to stand up to those breakdowns and to the proposed responses to them developed by the Ashkenazim. The tendency of the Sephardim has been to simply give in when confronted with such iron-willed assertion of what is right. It should be noted that this is true with regard to both the religious and the Zionist socialist establishments in Israel where the majority of the Sephardim found themselves after the break-up of the traditional Sephardic world.

What of the Future?

The destruction of the matrices of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic worlds may make it more difficult for Sephardim to maintain the continuity of their religious tradition. At the same time it makes it possible to attract non-Sephardim, who are seeking a Judaism of that kind, to the Sephardic way. Can it be done? Only if there is a major effort to revive Sephardic halakhic interpretation, train Sephardic rabbinical leadership, and present the Sephardic way as an equally valid expression of Judaism, one that avoids Reformation-style schismatics and speaks on behalf of an organic Judaism through which Jews as a group are linked to a common tradition, while as individuals they make their own choices as to how to relate to and express that tradition. Some such cross-fertilization does exist. For example, the late Rabbi Haim David HaLevy Donin, an Ashkenazi, was much impressed with the Makor Haim, the popular halakhic guide of his Sephardic colleague of similar name referred to above, and drew heavily on it for his books on the To Be a Jew series.

At the present time another effort is underway to build a Beit Midrash L'Rabbanim in the classic Sephardic mold in Jerusalem, led by a group of Sephardic communal activists. The head of the Beit Midrash, Rabbi Dr. Avraham Shalem, was a student of Rabbi Uziel's, the last to carry on the classic Sephardic manner. The institution, itself, Neot Deshe, is operating as a continuation of an earlier body whose nearly 100-year-old charter provides that rabbinical education must include Jewish history and thought, languages, sciences and general education, as well as rabbinical studies. This effort is probably the last chance that will be available to revive the Sephardic way of learning as part of a continuous tradition. A similar effort is underway in Tel Aviv.

The revival of a living organic Judaism of this kind is the need of the hour in Jewish life. The best opportunity for doing so is through the Sephardic way. A major effort must be launched to reconstruct the Sephardic halakhic tradition and make it a living tradition with posekim addressing the great religious questions of our time in the Sephardic way. The restoration of Sephardic modes of teaching and learning and the establishment of educational institutions, particularly higher educational institutions, that will provide a home for those modes and train people able to express and continue the Sephardic way. All this must be done through scholarship, but whether or not the scholarship becomes part of a living heritage of the Jewish people is another question.

Read paper in full

The Elazar archive

Thursday, August 18, 2011

UNESCO admits error calling Maimonides a Muslim

It can pay to challenge the rewriting of Jewish history. UNESCO has admitted that it made an error when a 2006 report described Maimonides as a Muslim scholar, Mussa ibn Maimun. But as the inestimable Elder of Ziyon says, UNESCO has stopped short of an apology, and continues to be complicit in the Muslim appropriation of Jewish identity and holy sites. Read Elder's blog post:

I reported last month that a UNESCO document has put Maimonides in a recent list of Muslim scholars published in December 2010.

The Algemeiner contacted UNESCO about this:

When contacted directly by the Algemeiner for comment a UNESCO spokesperson replied, “UNESCO acknowledges that there was indeed an important and regrettable error in the chapter devoted to Arab States in the UNESCO Science Report published in 2006, which refers to Maimonides as a Muslim scholar,” they said. “Despite the vigile [sic] of our editors, errors unfortunately do occasionally occur.”

The representative declined to comment further.
That's not quite an apology.

While the acknowledgement is welcome, in the context of UNESCO declaring Rachel's Tomb to be a "historic mosque" - a provable lie - and other anti-Israel biased statements it has made recently, one wonders if a mistake like this is more than just a mistake.

Read post in full

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More evidence that the Jews are indigenous

Sheikh Raed Salah's own origins date back a mere 300 years in Palestine

With thanks: Dominique

The Palestinians have done it again. While gearing up for UN recognition of a Palestinian Arab state in September, they have rebuffed all efforts to restart peace talks by telling the world they will never recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Combined with a persistent campaign to deny or erase Jewish history, this refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is based on the fabrication that the Jews are colonialists and usurpers who do not belong in Israel. The issue is not the Israeli occupation of the West Bank - an Israel the size of a tablecloth in Tel Aviv would be equally illegitimate. The Palestinians are the indigenous people, they claim. They have been there since 'time immemorial'.

This blog has repeatedly tried to explode the myth of Jewish colonialism. Jews lived continuously in the Middle East and North Africa since Biblical times. More than half of Israel's Jewish population are refugees from Arab and Muslim antisemitism. In many cases their antecedents are indigenous to the region. The oldest Jewish diaspora - the Babylonian - dates back 2,600 years. In spite of the Roman conquest of Judea, Jews continued to live in Palestine, their numbers limited only by lawlessness and intimidation.

This brings me neatly to Rivka Shpak Lissac, who has been dilligently charting the origins of the Arab population in Israel. Scholars concur that there was an upsurge of Arab immigration in the 1930s. Few Arabs can trace their ancestry in Palestine beyond 150 years and in almost all cases, Jews preceded them in their villages.

Take for example, Umm al Fahem (population 43,300), which for some reason found itself on the Israeli side of the border after 1948. It is the hometown of Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the Northern Islamic movement in Israel. Salah has been among the most outspoken in his denial of Israel's Jewish roots. But where did his own ancestors come from? Under her entry on the origins of the population of Umm al-Fahem, Lissac writes:

One theory is that Arabs first settled in Umm El Fahem in 1832-1840, at the time Ibrahim Pasha (son of Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt). He took the land from the Ottomans and brought settlers from Egypt in order to strengthen his hold of the Land of Israel (Mappa Encyclopaedia, vol. 1, p. 39). Dr. Shlomo Arye Ben Elkannah surveyed more than 800 Arabic villages in the Land of Israel west of the Jordan River in 1943-1947. He concluded that many of Umm El Fahem’s settlers were first generation migrants: in 1943 there were 1,400 residents of Egyptian origin, about 900 from the Arab Peninsula, and about 500 from the Trans-Jordan. Altogether there were 2,800 people living in Umm El Fahem in 1943.

Sheikh Salah belongs to the Mahajda clan of about 20 families. This clan originated in the Mahajan village in the Horan, Syria. The clan moved to Umm El Fahem about 300 years ago, at the end of the 17th century. They have not been in Palestine since 'time immemorial.'

Dr Lissac's website is a treasure trove concerning the origins of Arab settlements in the Galilee and elsewhere: I strongly urge you to visit it.

Britain won't admit Yemeni Jews with UK relatives

UPI/Getty Images

In spite of the efforts of MPs, Britain has not granted permission to Jews with links to British families to settle in the UK, The Jewish Chronicle reports. At the time, the Yemen regime objected to these Jews entering the UK as refugees, it being an admission that they had failed to 'protect' their Jews. (With thanks: Lily)

Groups of Yemeni Jews are reportedly fleeing their homes as the conflict between the government and rebels, including those backed by Al-Qaida, shows no sign of subsiding.

According to an article in the Yemen Post, seven Jews from the Amran province have already left and another eight are planning to go as soon as possible. It is unclear where they plan to go.(..)

Yemen was once home to a thriving Jewish population, but after Israel gained independence many of its 60,000 Jews fled or were airlifted to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet.

The community has now declined to less than 300 people spread across the country. Many have been attempting to leave and start new lives in the UK, US or Israel for some time.

Despite campaigns in recent years by MPs Diane Abbot and Mike Freer, the government has not granted Yemeni Jews, with links to British families, permission to settle in Britain.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Muslims must tackle antisemitism, past and present

Sol the martyr, Jewess executed for refusing to convert to Islam in 19th century Morocco

Although they did not always rigidly enforce dhimmi rules, Muslims need to confront traditional noxious anti-Jewish sentiment. But is this antisemitism an import from Europe, or a continuation from Muslim orthodoxy and theology? Fascinating piece reprinted in Harry's Place from Israel National News, by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi.

Many of the conditions of the Pact of Umar are upheld as the ideal model for the treatment of non-Muslims among orthodox, classical Muslim theologians (e.g. the requirement to wear clothing to distinguish the unbelievers from Muslims).

In practice, at least up to the thirteenth century, certain regulations were not strictly enforced, especially when it came to Jews, who were generally able to integrate in Muslim lands better than Christians did. This development was partly due to similarities in some customs promoted by Shari’a and Halakhah: a notable example being dietary prohibitions on pork.

Indeed, in Muslim Spain, Jews were not obliged to dress differently from Muslims, and often wore fine silk and linen apparel.

Meanwhile, as evidence from the Cairo Geniza makes clear, during the Fatimid dynasty’s rule in Egypt (969-1171 CE), Jews were frequently able to get involved professionally in the Fatimid government. For a good overview of the treatment of Jews in practice under Islamic rulers during the High Middle Ages, see Mark Cohen’s work “Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages.”

Nonetheless, it is unfortunate that Mark Cohen ends his study in the thirteenth century because, for a fuller analysis, he could have gone on to explain the general subsequent decline of the Jewish position in Muslim lands, as the Islamic world became increasingly insular, more inclined to orthodox implementation of Shari’a, and less open to foreign ideas and influences.

For instance, over time the situation of Jews in Yemen deteriorated such that among rural Jews chattel slavery became the norm. Pogroms also became more frequent (e.g. Morocco 1728, 1790, 1875, 1884, 1890; Libya 1785, 1860, 1897; Persia 1839, 1867 etc.).

In any case, the evidence indicates that Esther Webman was clearly wrong when she wrote in 1994 that “anti-Semitism did not exist in the traditional Islamic world… [it] is, in fact, a relatively new phenomenon…gaining ground particularly since the eruption of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the mid-twentieth century.”

Yes, in practice, Muslim rulers were not as harsh as orthodoxy dictates they should have been on Jews during the High Middle Ages, yet it is noteworthy how such leniency was much to the chagrin of both the clerics and often the Muslim populations at large.

The writings by Jews from that period in the Cairo Geniza use a specific term- sin’uth- to refer to hostility from local Muslims towards Jews. The resentment over the appointment of Jews to positions of authority very occasionally spilled over into outright violence, culminating in the massacre of the Jewish community in Granada in 1066 by a Muslim mob. The hatred was directed at a certain Joseph ibn Naghrela in particular, and at Jews in general.

The sentiment is well reflected in a contemporary poem by Abu Ishaq, who helped to incite the pogrom: “Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, the breach of faith would be to let them carry on/ They have violated our covenant with them, so how can you be held guilty against the violators?”

Thus, we have the central idea that forms a distinct brand of Islamic anti-Semitism: namely the motif that Jews are most hostile to Islam and Allah’s revelations among humanity, and therefore prone to treachery in dealings with others, arrogant self-righteousness, slaying Allah’s messengers and prophets, and other forms of evil conduct.

For example, the Qur’an itself affirms, “You will surely find that the people most hostile to the believers are the Jews and pagans” (5:82). This verse could be taken as just a reference to Muhammad’s historical conflicts with the Jewish and pagan tribes of Arabia, but orthodoxy did not interpret it that way, seeing the Qur’an as literally valid in its axioms for all times and places.

This theme of unique Jewish hostility in Islam appears to have been a continual thread throughout Muslim history. Writing in the ninth century, the polymath al-Jahiz wrote that the local Muslim populations generally find the Jewish people more repulsive than the Christians because the former, supposedly delighting in their sense of superiority, choose not to intermarry with those outside their religion. He also identified 5:82 quoted above as a reason why the Jews were regarded by the Muslims of his time as more treacherous and guilty of unbelief.

A.B. Clot, a French surgeon who resided in Egypt in the 19th century, reported that the local Egyptians thought that “the Jews hate Islam more than any other nation…Speaking of a fierce enemy, the [Egyptian] Muslims say: ‘He hates me the way the Jews hates us.’”

And so today we hear sermons from clerics such as Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, who has often appeared on the Palestinian Authority’s state TV channel and in a 2005 sermon cited 5:82 as proof in his eyes of the Jews’ evil nature and their conspiring against Gentile nations.

Once we take into account the distinct brand of Islamic anti-Semitism (just as there is a specific strand of Christian anti-Semitism, albeit not as prevalent today as anti-Semitism takes on new forms), it can be seen why so many in the Muslim world have been receptive to the blood libel and works like Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Yet Islamic apologists- Muslim and non-Muslim- remain in denial about this noxious anti-Jewish sentiment, both in Muslim history and in the present day (including sermons like those of Mudeiris and the Hamas Charter).

Only when this anti-Semitism and its roots are confronted openly and honestly can there be a reasonable chance of eradicating this prejudice from the Muslim world at large.

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My comment: I’m not sure that a key element of Islamic antisemitism is the view of the Jew as deceitful and treacherous. On the contrary, there is evidence that Muslims considered Jews honest. Jews often acted as middle men between warring tribes and clans who did not trust each other.

Central to Islamic antisemitism is not so much hatred, as contempt. Jews were greeted by Moroccan Muslims with an expression to the effect: ‘may you see the light’ (convert to Islam). There was continued pressure to convert, or suffer humiliation. Of course their condition varied from Caliph to Caliph and Qadi to Qadi – and it is interesting the Jews fared worst where the Christian minority had died out – in Yemen and Morocco. The value of the Jews always lay in their utility to the ruler, so in that sense they were all ’slave chattels’, albeit some more prosperous and influential than others.

To answer Aymenn's question - is antisemitism in the Islamic world a modern import from Europe, or a continuation from orthodox Islamic theology and Muslim history? My view is that it’s a combination of the two.

Matthias Kuntzel is persuasive in his theory that under the influence of Nazism in the 1930s the Islamic and Arab world took on the European concept of the Jew as an all-powerful evil force, and married it to its pre-existing religious and social prejudices to make a toxic brew that is at the basis of Islamism today.

The longest hatred (Jerusalem Post)