Friday, September 30, 2011

Erdogan sends Rosh Hashana greetings to Jews

Tayyip Erdogan (photo: Reuters)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has extended his Rosh Hashana greetings to his country's Jews, the Jerusalem Post reports. His statement restates the myth that Turkey was a multicultural paradise over the centuries. This may have been true at certain times, but the brutal extermination of the Armenians, the expulsion of the Pontine Greeks, and entrenched discrimination against dhimmis belie a less-than-tolerant attitude towards non-Muslims.

"There have been a number of different beliefs and cultures living together for centuries in our country," the Turkish prime minister said in his address. "Special days and holidays add special color to our community life."

"Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year and I wish our Jewish citizens a healthy and fruitful new year," he added.

Erdodgan did not mention Israel in his statement.

His message came as a war of words was developing between him and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over comments made about the Holocaust and the number of Palestinians killed during conflicts.

On Wednesday, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that comments made by Erdogan to CNN were mistranslated by the network.

According to the original translation, Erdogan apparently said that Israel has killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

A Turkish transcript of the interview, provided by Turkish state news agency Anatolia, revealed that "Erdogan said hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed by Israelis," Hurriyet reported.

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Battle lines are drawn: Achcar v Kuntzel

Professor Gilbert Achcar of SOAS

The battle lines are drawn for the latest academic skirmish concerning the Arab relationship with Nazi antisemitism, as reported by Engage website. Mattias Kuntzel and Colin Meade take issue with Gilbert Achcar, author of The Arabs and the Holocaust. His anti-Nazism is subordinate to his anti-Zionism, they argue, and Achcar's fundamental concern is with the notion that Israel is responsible for both antisemitism and Holocaust denial (which Achcar disparages as 'the anti-Zionism of fools'). Achcar's all-too brief rebuttal trades insults of 'intellectual dishonesty' with Kuntzel and Meade, but nowhere does he explain, as one commenter points out, how come non-Zionist Jews in Arab countries were singled out for punishment. (With thanks: Veronique)

From Kuntzel and Meade's critique:

“A straightforward and logical structure”, thinks the reader, as he opens the book with eager anticipation. Alas, the experience of actually reading it confirms the verdict of two history professors, Stephen Howe and Jeffrey Herf, that “Achcar is a man at war with what he has written in his own book“1 and “a combatant, and even victim, in such a war within his own pages.“

"Another way of putting it would be: this is a book in which an author from the political left seeks to protect the dogmas of Western anti-Zionism from the reality of Arab antisemitism.
On the relationship between Nazism and pan-Islamism

Achcar is probably the first anti-Zionist author to describe and criticize the ideological affinity between National Socialism and Pan-Islamism in the 1930 and 40s. He emphasizes “the sympathy, … that Islamic fundamentalists generally felt for Nazism, both in the Nazi period and later“ and confirms what others have written before him: that the most important spiritual mentor of the Islamist movement was a pro-Nazi Egyptian religious scholar, Rashid Rida. Rida “legitimized his sympathy for Nazism by treating it as the instrument of God’s will, sweeping aside heresies and false beliefs, corrupt versions of Islam among them, and thus clearing a path for the ultimate triumph of the Muhammadan revelation.“ The rationale for the affinity between Pan-Islamism and National Socialism “is plain” writes Achcar: “the common enemy was not Britain, as is too often believed, but the Jews.” Achcar then moves on to a critical examination of three of Rida’s most prominent pupils.

The first is Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who “espoused the Nazis‘ anti-Semitic doctrine“. His position, states Achcar, “is, down to Husseini’s eulogy of the Final Solution, perfectly consistent with Nazi anti-Semitism.”

El-Husseini maintained this position until his death in 1974. As Achcar points out, he never concealed his “enthusiasm for Hitler“ or his belief in the “Nazi notions of a world Jewish conspiracy“.

“The rather embarrassing fact is that Küntzel’s analysis of al-Banna, Husseini, the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb and Islamism in general runs along the same main lines as Achcar‘s own account of the Pan-Islamist reactionaries from Rashid Rida onward,” states historian Jeffrey Herf with reference to Matthias Küntzel’s Jihad and Jew-Hatred. Nazism, Islamism and the Roots of 9/11 (New York, Telos Press, 2007), translated by Colin Meade.

Second comes Hassan al-Banna, founder and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Here Achcar informs his readers about “the convergence of views and the close collaboration between the Muslim Brotherhood and the mufti”. On the one hand, the Brotherhood operated “with the mufti’s blessing and benefited from his popularity”, while, on the other, “the Brotherhood supported the mufti during his lifetime, treating him as the legitimate leader of the anti-Zionist struggle.“ Quite correctly, Achcar also notes that the Brotherhood’s antisemitism survived the end of the Nazi regime. “On November 2, 1945, … Young Egypt and the Muslim Brothers organized attacks on Jewish stores and institutions – the first of their kind.“

The third is Iz-al-Din al-Qassam, the first Palestinian jihadist who had ties to the Saudi Wahhabites and remains to this day the idol of Hamas. Again as regards Qassam and his supporters Achcar points out “the anti-Semitic affinities between Wahhabi-type fundamentalism and Nazism”. Achcar describes the action by the Qassamites on 15 April 1936 that ushered in the so-called Arab Revolt.

“It was 8:30 p.m. Cars were being stopped at a barrier made of barrels on a mountain road in the Nablus region. The barrier was under the surveillance of three armed men: one kept an eye on the road, another held the passengers of stopped vehicles in his gun sights, and the third relieved them of their cash. Then they asked their victims if there were Englishmen or Jews among them. The driver of a truck and his passenger, both Jews, were shot on the spot. Also present was a man who ‘proved to the band that he was German, a Hitlerite, and a Christian, swearing on Hitler’s honor that he was telling the truth. The three men released him… ‘for Hitler’s sake’ … with thirty-five pounds sterling in his pockets.’”

In the second part of his book, Achcar returns to the issue of the current role of the Islamist movement: “The banners of preceding struggles, on which the adjectives ‘national,’ ‘popular,’ and ‘socialist’ were inscribed, have vanished almost without trace; their place has been taken by the standards of Islamic fundamentalist movements. At the same time, anti-Semitism, in both its traditional and Islamized variants as well as its Holocaust-denying corollary, has grown spectacularly in Arab political statements and Arab media.“ He provides the specific example of the Hamas Charter. “Articles 7 and 22 in particular represent a condensed version of the Islamized anti-Semitic ravings cultivated by Rashid Rida, in the years just before his death in 1935.”

So, Achcar explains to his readers, firstly, that a Nazi-like antisemitism appeared in the region well before the foundation of the State of Israel and, secondly, that the links between Islamism and National Socialism were not just tactical but reflected shared beliefs, in particular as regards antisemitism. And, finally, he makes it clear that the contemporary struggle against Israel is now being led by precisely those same Islamist currents that espoused and continue to espouse a Nazi-like hatred of Jews.

For “the enemies of Philistinism, in a word all thinking and feeling people“ an obvious conclusion flows from the facts Achcar provides: Israel, the Jewish state, not only has a right to exist, but also a right to defend itself against the antisemitically motivated aggression emanating from the region. However, it is precisely here that Achcar goes to “war with what he has written in his own book“. As if responding to an order from some inner Central Committee, in the second part of his book Achcar repudiates the evidence he has himself presented in the first part of the same book and turns to political agitation, the essential purpose of which is to justify an anti-Zionist alliance with the antisemites and Holocaust deniers of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Continue reading on Engage blog (PDF link)

Gilbert Achcar responds:

... my two utterly dishonest critics conceal from their readers that what they are quoting as an interview in Socialist Worker is actually an interview that was done for and published in Israel’s most widely circulated Hebrew-language daily newspaper (where the “League against Denial” title comes from; the article was published on two full pages, 4 and 5, on 27 April 2010) and published again in English translation in Israel’s best-known English-language magazine. They conceal this fact that shows to what extent pro-Zionist zealots like themselves may be much more fanatical in their defense of Israel than the Israeli mainstream itself—a truth that anyone who is familiar with the contrast between the Israeli press and Israel’s unconditional defenders in the West can confirm, and which moderate Israelis themselves readily acknowledge."

Read Achcar's response in full on Engage blog (PDF link)

Arabs and The Holocaust: The truth

Gilbert Achcar: neither scholarly nor moderate

Seth Franzman dissects Gilbert Achcar

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

American hiker is son of Iraqi-born Israeli

Josh Fattal greeted with a hug in Muscat, Oman on his release from Evin prison, Tehran, Iran

The story can now be told. For more than two years, relatives of Josh Fattal, one of the two American hikers freed from prison in Iran last week, managed to hide a vital piece of information from his captors: Fattal's family is Israeli, Haaretz reports. But what took a man like Fattal, with his Iraqi background, into the heart of darkness? The answer is that as a universalist with a penchant for alternative lifestyles, his Jewish identity sounds rather dilute. (With thanks: Lily)

Jacob Fattal, Josh's father, immigrated to Israel from Basra, Iraq in 1951. He lived with his parents and siblings in the Kiryat Ono transit camp, and later in Pardes Katz. After his military service, he left for the United States, where he studied engineering and raised a family. Today, he is the publisher of a high-tech magazine distributed in the United States, Europe and Asia.

"We're very happy; it's the greatest gift we could have dreamed of receiving for Rosh Hashanah," Jacob Fattal told Haaretz yesterday.

Jacob's two sisters and his brother, who live in Israel's central region, knew about the arrest from the first day.

"The problem was their being American, not Jewish," Fattal said of the freed hikers. "The Iranians used them as a political weapon for two years."

To avoid drawing attention to the family's background, Josh's brother and mother led the campaign to free him, while Jacob refrained from giving media interviews.

"I want to thank the media in the United States and Israel for cooperating with us," Fattal said.

Now that his son is back home in a Philadelphia suburb, Fattal can contact the family of another Israeli captive.

Read article in full

Long piece in the Jewish Exponent

Wishing SHANA TOVA to all our readers

The secret's out! Even the most orthodox of Ashkenazi Jews are discovering that the Sephardi celebration of the Jewish New Year (which starts tomorrow evening) is much more colourful and exciting than theirs. While Ashkenazim simply eat apples dipped in honey, Sephardim have a whole range of different foods to eat and blessings to recite - an entire Seder to rival that of Passover.

The video above describes a Moroccan tradition, but customs do vary all over the Sephardi and Mizrahi world.

Whatever it is you do to celebrate, Point of No Return would like to wish our visitors and loyal band of readers SHANA TOVA U'METOOKA - A Good and Sweet New Year.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Harif holds good-natured protest against Durban 3


Photo: Adrian Korsner

Photo: Adrian Korsner
Photo: Adrian Korsner

In the week of the UN's Durban 3 charade, Harif, the UK Association of Jews from Middle East and North Africa, held its first ever protest rally on behalf of the forgotten refugees of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. It was a good-natured affair, as 100 or so demonstrators in London's Trafalgar Square drew attention to the UN's hypocrisy.

The demonstrators held balloons, distributed sweets and carried placards pointing out that the Durban 111 conference* against racism was 'no joke for oppressed minorities'. They drew attention to the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Jews of the Middle East - down to 4,000 in Arab countries from a 1948 figure of almost one million. The UN and international community has ignored them, preferring to pass resolution after resolution on Palestinian refugees, and condemn that beacon of democracy and pluralism - Israel.

The mood was cheerful in September sunshine, with bystanders stopping to express interest or sympathy, and only a few confrontations. Kurds turned up to show solidarity, and the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell sent a message of support.

Crossposted at Elder of Ziyon

Jewish Chronicle

Jewish Chronicle (updated)

While the United Nations controversial "Durban III" conference against racism took place in New York, protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square to highlight the plight of Jewish and other persecuted minorities driven out of the Middle East and North Africa.

Organised by Harif, which represents Jews from the Arab world, the British Israel Coalition and Stand With Us UK, around 100 demonstrators handed out leaflets on Sunday to tourists and waved Israeli flags.

Lynn Julius of Harif, whose family fled Iraq, said: "We have been forgotten by the world and the UN. We are here on behalf of all the forgotten refugees, the Kurds, the Berbers, Assyrians, Copts and Baha'is. "

Moroccan-born Sydney Assor, a member of the Board of Deputies, said: "This is the first occasion there has been to remind us of forgotten causes. It's not just about the Jewish refugees, Christians are disappearing from the Middle East."

Jews of Iraqi, Tunisian and Syrian descent were also in attendance. Ms Julius said: "We are really pleased to see such support from Ashkenazi Jews, too. This issue is the key to peace. Palestinian refugee issues currently monopolise the debate."

Ari Soffer, an activist with the British Israel Coalition, spoke of his family's escape from Baghdad. "My father would be heartened to see everyone here. He has always felt betrayed by the UN. When he left Iraq, the only country that would accept us was Israel. If I were a Palestinian, I would be considered a refugee myself, even though I was not born in Iraq. No other nationality has that status. There should be no more double standards."

He said there had been a mixed response from passers-by. "We have had a few people shout and disagree, but a lot think it is a purely pro-Israel protest, because of the flags. But, when you explain, people are interested."

Kurdish writer Azad Miran also attended the protest in support of refugee rights. He said: "We have suffered for a long time, but the UN is mostly concerned with Palestinian people. We have been labelled terrorists when we fight for our freedom."

* Professor Alan Dershowitz's must-see video'd speech (with thanks: Ivee)

Moroccan Holocaust conference has its dangers

From left, Andre Azoulay, a Moroccan presidential adviser; Driss Ouaouicha, president of Al Akhawayn University; Peter Geffen of Kivunim, and Eric Ross, a geography professor. (Photo: Ben Perlstein).

The leftwing press has been waxing ecstatic over a conference organised in Morocco on the Holocaust. While this event - apparently an initiative by Moroccan students - is praiseworthy, it does have its inherent dangers, as I have explained in my comment below: (with thanks: Michelle)

This from The New York Times:

One afternoon this week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran addressed the United Nations General Assembly, once again casting doubt that the Holocaust had occurred. Almost exactly 24 hours earlier, an otherwise obscure college student in Morocco named Elmehdi Boudra was convening a conference devoted not to denying the Holocaust but to remembering it.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech, not surprisingly, made major news around the world, as had his similar pronouncements in earlier years and his Tehran convention of Holocaust deniers. Mr. Boudra’s conference, meanwhile, attracted virtually no media attention of any kind.

Yet it should have been trumpeted, all the more for its coincidental timing. While Holocaust denial or denigration in the Muslim world is a sadly familiar phenomenon, hardly news at all, the conference put together by Mr. Boudra and several dozen classmates, all of them Muslim, may well have been the first of its kind in an Arab or Muslim nation, and a sign of historical truth triumphing over conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic dogma.

Read article in full

This from Haaretz:

"During World War Two, when Morocco was occupied by the French, who were in turn occupied by the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazis, Moroccan King Mohammed V is said to have protected the Jews living in his domain from suffering the fate that befell the Jews of Europe. On March 18, 2009, his grandson, the ruling monarch Mohammed VI, honored that tradition of inter-religious solidarity when he publicly proclaimed that he and the Moroccan people perceive the Shoah "as a wound to the collective memory, which we know is engraved in one of the most painful chapters in the collective history of mankind."

While Muslims came to the conference to learn more about Jewish history, the Kivunim students were also there to learn about the history of Muslim-Jewish cooperation. Conference participant and 2009-10 Kivunim graduate Aaron Weinberg, whose parents are both Jewish educators in Chicago, was so moved by what he learned of Morocco's Jews that he decided to make them a focus of his post-secondary education at Brandeis University. He says that the extraordinary alliances between the Moroccan Muslim and Jewish communities which existed prior to the emigration to Israel of most of the latter in the 1950s represents a positive model for Jewish-Gentile relations that should be taught in Jewish schools, alongside the history of the Holocaust.

"The Shoah was a tragedy unparalleled in the history of the Jewish people," says Weinberg, but he is concerned that Holocaust horror stories might be eclipsing all other Jewish narratives. "How we teach our children about the Holocaust should be a centerpiece of Jewish education, but should not be the end-all and be-all," he says. "Jewish history is not: 'They wanted to kill us; we won; let's eat!'" Weinberg says he is frightened by a trajectory of Jewish pedagogy that teaches fear of the other. "There are forces within our community that are trying to undermine those of us who are trying to build bridges between peoples," he says.

Read article in full

My comment: I've said it before and I'll say it again: while conferences such as this one are a useful antidote to the Holocaust denial propagated by Iran, they have the effect of sanitising Arab complicity with Nazism and the suffering of Jews in Arab countries during and immediately after the Nazi era. The postwar ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Arab world followed a Nazi pattern of persecution and dispossession in much of the Arab world.

In its zeal to project a narrative of Jewish-Muslim cooperation, Kivunim is indulging in dangerous revisionism. Did the conference mention the hundreds of Jewish ex-soldiers who died in wartime labour camps in Morocco, as described by Robert Satloff in Among the Righteous? Such conferences idealise the role of the Moroccan king in 'protecting' the Jews, when he did not have real power. Jews were shunted back into their ghettos, sacked from jobs, restricted in their movement, deprived of education, all on his watch.

Did the conference mention the role of Hitler's ally, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, in inciting the Arabs to Jewish genocide? Did the conference mention the Nazi-inspired Farhud in Iraq?

It is no wonder that Jewish community leaders in Morocco take part enthusiastically in these exercises: it's their survival strategy. But did this conference ever pause to wonder why only 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco out of a community of 300,000?

The conferences end up being counter-productive by projecting a false history of Arab and Muslim innocence. They highlight European antisemitism while whitewashing Arab and Muslim antisemitism. They lead to invidious comparisons with the Nazis in Israel's 'treatment of the Palestinians.' It is questionable whether such events can really bring about peace and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, when they are built on distortions of the truth.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Travels of an Israeli in Libya

With thanks: Qumran Qumran

I'll bet there are few stranger sounds than an Israeli bellowing, with gusto, Allah hu'akbar to a group of trigger-happy rebels in Libya, as he files a video report for the folks back home.

You can't blame Tsur Shezaf for trying to establish his pro-rebel, nay Islamist, credentials.

If they had found out where he came from, Lord knows what could have befallen him. As it happened, Shezaf had a trouble-free trip in Libya, taking photos of Jewish sites. (The last Israeli who tried to photograph Jewish sites was not so lucky - and spent five months being tortured in one of Gaddafi's jails).

But we are now in the intoxicating Arab Spring, the word Hurriya (freedom) on everyone's lips, as Shezaf pursues his search for his family's Libyan roots. The man he asks for directions to the Great Synagogue in Tripoli confides that the Jews were Libya's original inhabitants. Another lets slip that his grandfather was a Jew - his name was Bar-Shalom - thus testifying to the numbers of Libyan Jews who had converted to Islam. Tzur Shezaf was himself familiar with the story of the last Jewess of Libya, who had died two years ago, having converted to Islam, but still had relatives in Israel.

Shezaf's breezy ride through Tripoli threatens to become a little bumpy when he starts investigating the Jewish cemetery at the behest of Reuven Pedatzur of the Libyan- Jewish organisation in Israel. Much of the cemetery was reduced to ruin when Gaddafi extended a coastal road. A man stops him to check what this intruder is doing, taking pictures. You can never be too careful in these uncertain times. Is he Jewish? After a slight hesitation, Shezaf admits, for the first time during his Libyan trip, that he is. You could almost hear the sign of relief when the man decides not to lynch him, but affirms that as a Jew Shezaf was welcome to carry on taking pictures - it was after all his own history, and by the way, Gaddafi's rule has not left the Muslim cemeteries in better nick.

Another interesting video from the intrepid Shezaf. (Jeremy Bowen, eat your heart out!) here

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Genuine refugees protest the UN's Durban lll circus

Roll up! Roll up! Time for the UN to stage its third Durban circus, an Israel-bashing exercise masquerading as a conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The conference begins in earnest today - when President Ahmadinejad of Iran addresses the chamber - and is expected to serve as a platform for the very racism and intolerance it purports to condemn.

To their credit, 14 countries have withdrawn from Durban lll, but that leaves 178 who haven't. So we have the absurd spectacle of the world's worst human rights abusers condemning the only beacon of pluralism and tolerance in the Middle East - Israel. It would be a joke - if it were not so tragic.

This year, however, Jewish activists are not sitting back and letting the UN get away with its hatefest. Yesterday they organised a protest at Dag Hammerskold Plaza in front of the UN building in New York. The demonstration included a contingent of Jewish refugees from Arab countries (see picture above).

On Sunday 25 September in London, a rally in Trafalgar Square organised by Harif, among other Jewish organisations, will draw attention to the plight of 900,000 genuine Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands and their descendants make up 50 percent of Israel's Jewish population.

The organisers have invited representatives of other oppressed religious and ethnic minorities from Arab lands and the wider Muslim world to attend - Christians, Mandaeans, Copts, Pakistani Christians, Zoroastrians and Baha'is, Muslim sects such as the Sufis and Ahmadis, together with Assyrians, Kurds and Berbers, whose cultural, linguistic and national rights have been suppressed.

If you agree that the real problem in the Arab and Muslim world is Arabist racism and Islamist religious fascism, please come and show your support at the North Terrace, Trafalgar Square, Central London, on Sunday 25th September at 3pm.

The Middle East refugees you never hear about

Lucette Lagnado

The storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo last week was just the latest instance in a tawdry tradition of Egyptian antisemitism. Lucette Lagnado's father Leon, the main character in
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, along with hundreds of thousands of other Jewish refugees from Arab countries, was an earlier victim - writes Robert Fulford for CiC Scene.

Exiled in New York, stripped of everything he once owned, Leon Lagnado ached with nostalgia for the Cairo of the 1940s, the exciting and endlessly promising city of his youth. He was one of history's victims – in this case, the rancorous history of the Middle East.

In Cairo last week, another stage in that story unfolded when gangs of thugs stormed the Israeli embassy while Egyptian soldiers stood by without interfering. Israel had to beg the United States to beg the Egyptians to rescue six Israeli security guards trapped by the mob. Finally, the Egyptian soldiers did their duty.

It was a humiliating moment for Israel. It was also a dismaying event for everyone who cherishes pleasant feelings about the great city Lagnado once knew. In the 1940s, Cairo was sometimes called the most cosmopolitan city in the world. From the start of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, it was tolerant in outlook and multiracial in population, incredible as that seems in 2011. Today, it's a grim monoculture.Lagnado was a prosperous Jewish businessman who socialized with British officers and French merchants. Christians, Muslims and Jews often lived in the same buildings. Their children studied and played together. Lagnado, who liked to gamble, was once invited to join King Farouk at poker. In those days, 80,000 Jews lived in Cairo. It was Lagnado's home and his family's home, until suddenly it wasn't. After the founding of Israel, Egyptians decided that their Jews had to go home, though many of them had never known any home but Egypt.

The Egyptians began acting like 1930s Nazis. They confiscated Jewish bank accounts and fired Jews from government jobs. They withdrew professional status from Jewish doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers. In 1960, the military governor of Cairo published an article praising the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its account of Jews conspiring to rule the world. The Egyptian government distributed throughout Africa a pamphlet, Israel, the Enemy of Africa, slandering Jews as thieves and murderers.

There were pogroms, riots and synagogue burnings as well as racist propaganda. Still, the Lagnados were so optimistic that they stayed 'till 1963. That year, when the six of them were finally forced to leave, they were allowed to take 26 suitcases and $200, the financial limit imposed by the government.

Lagnado died an unhappy pedlar of neckties on the streets of Manhattan, having never learned American ways. We know his melancholy story because in 2007 his daughter, Lucette Lagnado, a Wall Street Journal reporter, erected a lovely monument to him in the form of her book, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. (She recently brought out a second memoir, The Arrogant Years, about herself and her mother.) The expulsion of the Lagnados was a tiny part of a pattern stretching across the Middle East. In reaction against Israel, one country after another – Iraq, Algeria, Iran, Yemen, etc. – decided it could no longer tolerate Jews. Across the region about 800,000 became refugees. Many ended up in Israel. The rest scattered around the world. Their existence is no secret, but they are seldom talked about except in nostalgic books such as Lucette Lagnado's. There's no separate UN agency for them, as there is for Palestinian refugees. No one describes the expulsions as "ethnic cleansing," though that's what they were.

The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, which tries vainly to obtain compensation from the rich Middle East countries, has estimated that Jewish property confiscated by governments would be valued now at $300billion. The land that the Jews were forced to leave behind amounts to about four times the size of the current state of Israel.

Read article in full

There will be a demonstration on behalf of the Forgotten Refugees this Sunday 25 September in Trafalgar Square, London at 3 pm.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lucette Lagnado's second book on Egypt

The New York Times has this review of Lucette Lagnado's second book, The Arrogant Years. Like The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, this one also recalls The Lagnado family's early life in Egypt. This time the main focus is on Lucette's mother: it's a novel about self-confidence and feminism. Via JIMENA.

The coming-of-age memoir is centered on a premise that anyone would grant: growing up is hard. The genre’s challenges lie in how to articulate memory and the passage of time, how to express what’s forgotten as well as what’s recalled, how to capture the shifting self — challenges to which we have a short history of solutions. Memoir writers are enticingly free to forge innovations.

Parallel lives: Lucette Lagnado with her mother, Edith, in 1968. (Lagnado family archives)

Lucette Lagnado, an award-­winning investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal, doesn’t stand the form on its head in her enchanting new memoir, “The Arrogant Years.” But she does break new ground. The fact that this memoir exists is interesting. It is the second of two. The first was the brilliant “Man in the White Sharkskin Suit,” published in 2007. Both books cover roughly the same era, and both tell the moving story of how Lagnado’s Jewish parents, Edith and Leon, grew up, met and married in old-world Cairo at the end of the Farouk monarchy, when Jews and Muslims lived peaceably together. After the founding of Israel and the revolution of 1952, Jews were forced to leave Egypt in droves. The Lagnado family was among the last to leave. Both books describe their sad journey, first to Paris, then to Brooklyn, where Lagnado’s parents fought to find their footing and made myriad hopeless attempts to “rebuild the hearth.” They watched in horror as their children swiftly assimilated and moved on: “That was America for you — a land where children went away and parents were left behind.”

It’s risky to write a second memoir about the same time period, but in Lagnado’s hands, the result feels natural and right. She skillfully reminds us that a single human life is infinitely complex, that there are as many sides to a story as times it is told. In places you can see her struggling not to repeat herself, and mostly she succeeds. She does it by making the books different in scope and style. The first memoir reads like a character study, with the lens trained on Leon — his charm and popularity (he played cards with the king!), his exile from his homeland (“Take us back to Cairo,” he cries), his innumerable losses, his retreat into solitude and prayer, and his slow demise in a nursing home. The second memoir is about Edith and “Loulou” (as Lagnado was called), both of them battling their fates and growing up in times of social change, when feminism — first in Egypt, later in America — was new and loud and romantic. It’s about the beauty and arrogance of youthful self-­determination, and the forces that conspire to knock that determination to the ground.

The cautionary tale that haunts Loulou concerns Edith, a beautiful, lonely girl raised penniless and fatherless in 1930s Cairo. Through intelligence, patience and drive, she rises far above her station and becomes the head librarian at the prestigious École Cattaui after being taken under the wing of the pasha’s wife, who “became her patron saint and guardian angel and surrogate mother all at once.” From that pinnacle, at age 20, she makes the “terrible mistake” of marrying Leon, a much older man she barely knows. Within weeks she loses everything — her beloved job, her hard-won independence, her formidable mentor — and becomes an ill-­equipped housewife, goaded by her mother-in-law and ignored by her husband (though she does bear him child after child, the last of whom is Loulou).

In 1960s Brooklyn, a young, spirited Loulou will not have this fate. She sits with Edith each Saturday behind a tall decorative wooden divider that separates the women from the men at the Shield of Young David synagogue. Loulou doesn’t see why the women must hide. Inspired by her hero, Emma Peel of “The Avengers,” she wants to hack the divider to pieces and take her deserved seat in “the world beyond.” She leads a mini-rebellion of girls who try to sneak their seats into the men’s section, and soon the divider takes on multiple significances. She is lodged between many worlds: old and new, Arab and American, immigrant and native, Jewish and secular, traditional and modern, patriarchal and feminist, ascetic and flirtatious.

Edith’s and Loulou’s lives continue to run parallel. Loulou, at the height of her youthful accomplishment, having been admitted to Vassar at right about the same age that Edith became a head librarian in Egypt, is struck down, not by marriage, but by Hodgkin’s disease. She recovers, but her confidence is shaken (once at Vassar, she feels “invisible,” “inferior to every woman I saw”), and her “arrogant” years are over. “Suddenly, I felt fearful — so fearful that I stayed silent,” she writes. “I worried about sounding foolish, no longer sure of my ideas. The self-­confidence and drive that had propelled me since I was a child were gone.”

Read article in full

Review in The Tablet

Turkish Jews in denial about antisemitism

Turkey's chief rabbi addresses the congregation at the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul after it was bombed.

When Jews downplay antisemitism and refuse to reveal their names to the Forward - there is obviously something rotten in the state of Turkey. No amount of allegiance pledged to their 'homeland' can hide the fact that Jews are leaving. The true size of the community is nearer 17,000. (with thanks: Andrew)

At services held on September 16 at Sicli synagogue, the city’s busiest, one man complained of Turkish anti-Semitism, only to respond that everything was fine in Turkey once he was informed that he was speaking to a journalist. The same scene played out repeatedly: Someone would express apprehension about Turkish attitudes toward Jews, or express no fear whatsoever, while demanding that his or her name not be printed.

One of those Jews, “Haim,” a 76-year-old retiree, said he doesn’t believe that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an anti-Semite or that he will allow any harm to befall Turkey’s Jews.

“His problem is only with the Israeli government and not the people,” Haim said. “Erdogan won’t let the Jews be hurt, because we’re his citizens, we pay taxes. He’s said this. He just wants to attract Arab support, Arab business and tourism. I don’t believe he hates Jews. It’s politics only.”

Holding a key chain that held a locket with a picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of Turkey as a modern secular state, and a quarter-sized bronze menorah, Haim said that there was nothing for Jews to fear in regard to anti-Semitism in Turkey, but then he asked that his real name not be used. Haim related that his brother was killed in a 1986 terror attack on Congregation Neve Shalom.

Allovi, one of the few Jews willing to speak on the record, said: “The problems between Israel and Turkey are not between the people, they are between the countries. It’s like, if you go to Greece you can drink ouzo and talk to people and be fine, just… don’t talk about politics.”

When asked if young Turkish Jews were inclined to leave the country for Israel or North America once they reach adulthood, Allovi, a 32-year-old Istanbul native, said: “The young Jews usually stay. It’s [Turkey] where I was born, the place I feel the most attached to. It’s also my native language and the food, everything. Most of my friends are Muslim, and I feel that I have more similarities with a Turkish Muslim than, say, a French Jew or a Jew from somewhere else just because they’re Jewish. We grow up together, go to the same schools, watch the same soap operas.”

The Karakoy neighborohood’s Jewish museum, which Allovi administers, traces a narrative of co-existence from the sheltering of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 through the rule of Ataturk and the founding of the modern Turkish republic. The theme of Turkish tolerance of Jews and Jewish assimilation in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire is highlighted with exhibits that include photos of Jewish soldiers in Ottoman military uniforms, a tallit from 1898 stitched with the crescent and star and a menorah built in the shape of a minaret.

Turkey’s Jewish population has been depleted by decades of immigration to Israel and elsewhere. Today, about 90% of Jews in Turkey live in Istanbul. A small community of about 2,300 Jews resides in Izmir. More than 96% of the community is Sephardi, and Ladino is still spoken widely, especially among the older generation.

The high security at Jewish sites across the country attests to the caution and trauma that remain from several devastating terrorist attacks over the past three decades. On November 15, 2003, trucks carrying explosives slammed into the Neve Shalom and Beth Israel synagogues during Sabbath services, killing 27 people and wounding hundreds. In a previous attack at the Neve Shalom synagogue, in 1986, men from the Abu Nidal terrorist organization gunned down 22 worshippers on a Sabbath morning. Years later, in 1992, a bomb exploded outside the synagogue, causing no casualties.

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Essaouira synagogue a sorry - and stinking - sight


Last week Hicham Bougrine was shocked when he visited the Rabbi Haim Pinto synagogue in Essaouira ( formerly Mogador), Morocco.

Once you are through the blue door, the synagogue itself looks cared for - neat and whitewashed with a tiled floor. But the synagogue's exterior is a different story. Its walls desperately need restoring and repainting. The building stands next to a derelict site and sewage is flowing freely past. The smell, says Hicham, is indescribable !

So appalled was Hicham that Morocco has so neglected its Jewish heritage that he decided to start a petition deploring Essaouira's failure to clean up the site here. It's in French but a signature is a signature in any language.

See more pictures here.

More about Jewish sites in Essaouira here (with thanks: Kalserud)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Egypt: 'the bottom line is they don't like Jews'

The latest manifestation of Egyptian antisemitism is their refusal to sell Israel palm fronds for the Succot holiday

Hard on the heels of the incident involving a BBC reporter almost beaten up in Cairo for 'being a Jew' this illuminating exchange between amie and Abu Faris comes from the comments on Harry's Place blog. Abu Faris is an Englishman married to a Sudanese and now living in Cairo. Although initially enthused by the 'Arab Spring' he is now thoroughly disillusioned (with thanks: Avril):

16 September 2011, 10:47 am
OT: Here is another Elder of Ziyon report which I think Abu Faris in particular might appreciate:
Israeli youth have responded via Facebook to the mob that attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo – by calling for a demonstration of love and peace tomorrow outside the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv.

Abu Faris
16 September 2011, 1:43 pm
Shamefully, I have to say that if any Egyptians could be found to run a similar event in Cairo outside Israel’s embassy they run the risk of being beaten or killed by army and Islamist thugs alike.

16 September 2011, 3:58 pm
Abu Farish
What happened to the decent Egyptians like you? where are they hiding?read this transcript from OUr own correspondent

Abu Faris

16 September 2011, 4:46 pm
I would like to say we were all hiding around my apartment, under chairs, behind the curtains, or putting lampshades on our heads and standing up very straight. Unfortunately, this is not so. The streets now effectively belong to a coalition of radical Nasserist nationalists and the Muslim Brothers (mainly the latter). All drawn together in a veritable carnival of reaction aimed at Israel and more broadly Jews (unlike in the West, people are not unforthcoming about making a connection between their anti-Zionism and their anti-Semitism.

They don’t like Israel because they don’t like Jews. That is the bottom line. The wrongs that Israel purportedly does enrage them; but do not surprise them: as they think this is the way Jews essentially are and Israel is reflective, for them, of the “Jewish problem”.

UN was misled and manipulated on Jewish refugees

In the Sha'ar Ha'aliya transit camp, Haifa (Robert Capa/Magnum Photos)

As the UN World Conference against Racism (known as Durban lll) gets underway, Stan Urman of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries has produced a damning indictment of the UN's dismal record on Jewish refugees, resulting in not one resolution being passed deploring their plight, while hundreds have been passed in favor of Palestinian refugees. Here is an extract of the PDF document The UN and Middle East refugees: the differential treatment of Arabs and Jews* (with thanks: Ron)

From 1949 to 2009, General Assembly resolutions focused much greater attention on the issue of Palestinian refugees – some 20 percent – than on any other Middle East issue. There were never any General Assembly resolutions that specifically addressed the issue of Jewish refugees, nor any resolutions on other topics that even mention Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Moreover, other primary UN entities are also guilty of this same omission.Since its founding in 1968, the UN Human Rights Commission (now Council) has adopted 132 resolutions on the plight of Palestinians, alleging violations of their human rights, and calling for compensation for Palestinian losses. No resolutions ever dealt with those same human rights of Jewish refugees.

Since 1974, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has adopted 122 resolutions on the plight of Palestinian refugees including on “Living Conditions in Occupied Territory” (twenty-two resolutions), “Violations of Human Rights” (twenty-one resolutions), and “Assistance to Palestinian People” (fifteen resolutions).16The lack of any UN attention to Jewish refugees was not due to a lack of trying. On numerous occasions, governmental and nongovernmental officials alerted the United Nations, its leadership, and affiliated agencies to the problem of Jewish refugees and sought its intervention, to no avail. The United Nations proceeded to deal solely with Palestinian refugees. This UN pattern of exclusivity,focusing only on Palestinian refugees, has continued up to today.

There are at least ten identifiable UN entities that have been specifically created, or charged, with addressing issues affecting Palestinian refugees. These include: the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP); the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967; the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; the United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights; the United Nations Development Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP); the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); the Office of the Special Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process; and the Arab International Forum on Rehabilitation and Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, sponsored by the ESCWA, the Arab League, and the Palestinian National Authority Ministry of Planning.

No UN entities were especially created or specifically instructed to address issues affecting Jewish refugees from Arab countries.Allocation of UN Resources to Middle East Refugees. There is a huge disparity in the UN resources provided to the two Middle East refugee populations – Arabs and Jews.

Since 1947, billions of dollars have been spent by the international community – by the UN, its affiliated entities, and member states – to provide relief and assistance to Palestinian refugees.

In 2007 prices, UNRWA has spent $13.7 billion since its inception in 1950.18 During that same period, the UNHCR did not provide any comparable financial assistance to Jewish refugees. The international resources provided Jewish refugees from Arab countries were negligible.

Moreover, Palestinian refugees receive disproportionate UN financial assistance as compared to all other refugees. The current, respective UNHCR and UNRWA expenditures for services to refugee populations reveal the differential treatment accorded Palestinian refugees. With a 2008 budget of $1,849,835,626, the UNHCR spends approximately $56 on each of the 32,900,000 persons under its mandate.20 By comparison, with a 2008 budget of $548,603,000, UNRWA spends more than double what the UNHCR does – approximately $117 on each of the 4,671,811 (December 2008) registered Palestinian refugees.

Manipulation of the UN: Whenever the subject of Jews in Arab countries was raised in the United Nations, a variety of tactics were used by member states to ensure that the United Nations never formally, nor properly, dealt with the issue of Jewish refugees. There are many such examples. Here are but a few:

Using Threats in an Attempt to Influence UN Decision-Making: For example, in the 1947 debate on whether the United Nations should adopt the partition plan, Heykal Pasha (Egypt) stated: The United Nations…should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Moslem countries… If the United Nations decides to partition Palestine, it might be responsible for the massacre of a large number of Jews.

Further, he contended: "If the United Nations decides to amputate a part of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish state, no force on earth could prevent blood from flowing there… If Arab blood runs in Palestine, Jewish blood will necessarily be shed elsewhere in the Arab world…"

A few days later Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fadil Jamali warned that “any injustice imposed upon the Arabs of Palestine will disturb the harmony among Jews and non-Jews in Iraq; it will breed interreligious prejudice and hatred.” The threat was clear and real.

Misleading the United Nations: Treatment of Jewish Populations
When allegations were raised against the ill-treatment of Jews in their countries, Arab delegates asserted that there was no discrimination against Jews; that they were well treated. For example:
In 1970, the Saudi representative to the Human Rights ff Commission stated that “The Arab Jews were quite happy in their own countries and did not wish to go to Israel.” Mr. Kelani (Syrian Arab Republic) contended in 1974 that “In the Syrian Arab Republic the Jews are treated as Syrian citizens.”

At the UN General Assembly, on October 1, 1991, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara
denied that the Arabs had ever discriminated against Jews, stating:
"The Arabs have never adopted measures of racial discrimination against any minority,
religious or ethnic, living among them. For hundreds of years Jews have lived amidst
Moslem Arabs without suffering discrimination. On the contrary, they have been greatly respected."

Misleading the United Nations: Jews Left Freely and Were Not Refugees:
In 1970, the UN representative from Morocco claimed that Jews had left Arab countries for economic reasons, not as a result of racial discrimination: It had been said that many Jews had left Arab states because discriminatory pressure had been exerted on them. Although many Jews had indeed left those countries, the explanation given for their departure was wrong. Such emigration formed part of a general world pattern, as did the movement of population from the developing countries to the developed countries for the purpose of seeking better working conditions and greater economic well-being.

Misleading the United Nations: On Statistics: Sometimes figures provided by Arab delegates on the numbers of Jews leaving their countries were disputed by others. One such interchange occurred on June 5, 1957, at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the United Nations Refugee Fund. Mr. Safouat (Egypt) tried to differentiate between Egyptians who had a specific nationality and those who were “stateless”: Those Egyptian nationals included 35,000 Jews, none of whom had been expelled. They in fact enjoyed the same rights and privileges as other citizens. Among those [possessing a foreign nationality], there were 11,046 British and 7,013 French subjects.

Some of them, to wit 800 British and 684 French subjects, had been asked to leave Egyptian territory because the Egyptian Government had considered their activities to be harmful to the interest of the State… With regard to the category of stateless persons, they numbered 7,000 and only 280 of them had been requested to leave the country in the public interest or for reasons of state security.

The representative of France, Mr. Monod, similarly disputed the Egyptian representative’s report that only 280 stateless persons had been asked to leave Egyptian territory: He “too was obliged to enter reservations about the accuracy of the figures cited by the Observer for the Government of Egypt. France alone had received nearly 2,300 stateless persons from that country.”

Using Procedural Maneuvers to Divert Attention Away from Jewish Refugees: There are recorded instances when procedural maneuvers were used in an attempt to divert attention away from Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

On March 5, 1948, Item 37 on the agenda of a meeting of ECOSOC was to address, inter alia, “Reports of the NGO Committee,” including Document E/710 containing two memos from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) warning that “all Jews residing in the Near and Middle East face extreme and imminent danger.” The meeting was presided over by Dr. Charles H. Malik (Lebanon) who, through a procedural maneuver, passed over Agenda Item 37 that included the WJC reports. Six days later, on March 11, 1948, when the Council was ready to resume its deliberations, Mr. Katz-Suchy (Poland) rose on a “point of order concerning the consideration of Item 37 of the Agenda” and objected to the fact that it had not been addressed. Concurring was Mr. Kaminsky (Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic) who declared that “he could not condone a practice whereby items on the agenda were allowed to disappear from the agenda.”

Nonetheless, after discussion, the matter was referred back to the NGO Committee and the danger facing Jews in Arab countries never made it back to the ECOSOC table.

In the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Security Council adopted Resolution
237, which called for the “scrupulous respect of the humanitarian principles governing the treatment of prisoners of war and the protection of civilian persons in time of war.” The United Nations then sent an emissary to examine the plight of Palestinians as well as Jewish civilians in Arab countries. One year later, to prevent this dual focus on both Palestinians and Jews, the Security Council adopted Resolution 259, which recalled “its resolution 237 (1967) of 14 June 1967” while limiting the United Nations’ focus only to “the safety, welfare and security of the inhabitants of the Arab territories under military occupation by Israel” – eliminating the previous generic reference to “civilian persons in times of war,” which included Jews in Arab countries.

At the UN Human Rights Commission, on January 27, 1969, then-Israeli Ambassador Zeltner raised the issue of the public lynching of nine Jews that had occurred in Baghdad. The Egyptian representative, Ambassador Khallaf, contended that the discussion was procedurally out of order: In light of the Commission’s decision to confine its attention to the question of the violations of human rights in the territories occupied by Israel, the whole of the statement made by the representative of Israel at the previous meeting was out of order.

Moroccan Ambassador Kettani supported the Egyptian position, saying that the Israeli statement “was quite alien to the agenda” and inappropriate “as if the State of Israel was competent to speak on behalf of all Jews throughout the world.” The matter was subsequently not dealt with by the Human Rights Commission.

*Click relevant link here for PDF document
Two rallies are being held to draw attention to the plight of Jewish refugees from the Middle East this week. Please show your solidarity and bring banners and placards:
On Wednesday 21 September at 11 am in front of the UN building in Manhattan, NY.
On Sunday 25 September at 3pm on the North Terrace, Trafalgar Square, London.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Libyan Jews in Israel shed no tears for Gaddafi

Meir Kahlon at the Or Yehuda Libyan Jewish museum

Interesting piece from AFP, but the figures cited must be taken with a pinch of salt: Members of Libya's Jewish community, who emigrated en masse to Israel, are happy to reminisce and cling to their cultural heritage but they have no nostalgia for fallen leader Moamer Kadhafi.

In Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, a group of around 20 elderly punters, who all emigrated from Libya, are sitting around tables in the local Sports Cafe for their weekly get-together.

"It's the parliament of the Libya Jews," chuckles cafe owner Sergio Duyeb.

This community, which now numbers around 180,000 (110,000 -ed) people, immigrated to the Jewish state in three stages: after the 1945 pogrom in Tripoli, in the wake of the unrest which accompanied Israel's creation in 1948, and following the Arab defeat during the 1967 Six-Day War.

While well integrated into Israeli society, many of them chat in Italian, a throwback to Libya's colonial past when the North African country was ruled by Italy between 1911 and 1943.

Sitting around the tables, the group suddenly breaks into song, then bursts out laughing as they belt out martial choruses from the Mussolini era.

"We will never forgive the Italian fascists for collaborating with the Third Reich," says Meir Sayegh, a 69-year-old survivor of the Giado concentration camp, some 150 miles (250 kilometres) south of Tripoli, where more than 500 Libyan Jews died from abuse and a typhoid epidemic in 1942.

"Nor will we forget the massacres of Jews carried out by the Muslims in Libya, let alone Kadhafi's abuses. He committed the worst of crimes by razing the graveyards where our grandparents were buried in order to build there," says Nashte Gilboa, the bitterness evident in his voice.

Gilboa, who owns a commercial vineyard in southern Israel, has fond memories of the era of King Idris I in the period after Libya gained its independence in 1951 and before Kadhafi's coup in 1969.

"Libya was a model of coexistence and tolerance," he says.

He doesn't feel "even the slightest bit of nostalgia" watching the momentous events unfold in his former homeland over the past six months.

Read article in full

Saturday, September 17, 2011

BBC: An everyday tale of Cairo antisemitism

Protests in Tahrir Square

A rare and shocking admission, from the BBC, no less, that antisemitism in Egypt has reached such hysterical heights that one of its own reporters was assaulted 'for being a Jew'. Chillingly, had reporter Thomas Dinham been Jewish, the violence would have been justified:

"I would hazard a guess that Israel struggles to make it into the top-five political issues discussed in Egypt.

Israel has probably been less of a concern than the rising power of Shia Iran in the region, which apparently worries many in this overwhelmingly Sunni country, partly thanks to a constant stream of stridently sectarian rhetoric broadcast from Saudi Arabia.

In the Byzantine politics of the region, hearing strident opposition to Israel and its greatest regional foe, from the same person, almost in the same breath, is commonplace.

Nevertheless, a strong and sometimes violent dislike of Israel is a fact of Egyptian life, something I was unfortunate enough to discover after a cross-border raid by Israel killed several Egyptian security personnel.

The Israelis had been chasing a group of gunmen who had attacked an Israeli bus close to the border between the two countries.

A map of Egypt and Israel

While walking in the street someone pushed me from behind with such force that I nearly fell over.

Turning around, I found myself surrounded by five men, one of whom tried to punch me in the face. I stopped the attack by pointing out how shameful it was for a Muslim to assault a guest in his country, especially during Ramadan.

Relieved that a seemingly random assault was over, I was appalled by the apology offered by one of my assailants. "Sorry," he said contritely, offering his hand, "we thought you were a Jew."

Shaking his head in disbelief on hearing the news, an Egyptian friend sympathised: "That's stupid, you are obviously not a Jew."

The chilling implication I was left with was that, had I been Jewish, the assault would have apparently been justified."

Read article in full

Beware tsunami of Jew-hatred

Friday, September 16, 2011

Jews look on apprehensively at Arab Spring

Excellent article by Dan Pine of the JWeekly profiling four Californian Jews born in Arab countries. All are worried abut their former homelands, convulsed by the Arab Spring. (With thanks: Sarah of JIMENA)

As Tahrir Square filled with hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, all demanding liberty, equality and fraternity, the world looked on in amazement. The so-called Arab Spring, which began last December, had by February fully blossomed in Cairo.

Also watching intensely from his Palo Alto home was Albert Bivas. The retired physicist knew Tahrir Square well. As a boy, he attended a school not far from it.

Bivas, 70, is an Egyptian Jew, raised in cultured elegance at a time when Cairo was a cosmopolitan world city. He spoke French as his first language and lived in Zamalek, a wealthy neighborhood located on an island in the Nile.

But Bivas’ idyllic upper-class life came to a halt in 1956 when he and his family, like many other Egyptian Jews, fled after the rise of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a fierce Egyptian nationalist and staunch enemy of Israel. The Bivas family moved to France to start a new life.

Once in Arab lands
Once in Arab lands
Decades later, Albert Bivas watched his former countrymen peacefully overthrow the oppressive regime of President Hosni Mubarak. He couldn’t help but feel joy.

“I was supporting the people,” Bivas said in his distinctively French accent. “I hoped that the people wake up, take their lives in their hands and get rid of those who did not allow them to grow, to earn money, to have decent lives.”

He also frets over the outcome. Will the Egyptian people establish a democratic state, or would radicals take advantage of the disorder? And what will be the new Egyptian policy toward Israel and the Jews?

These questions plague not only pundits and international policymakers, but also Jews from Muslim countries witnessing the foment of the Arab Spring. Bay Area Jews born in those lands watch, wait and worry about their home countries.

With the chaos and near-tragedy of the Egyptian mob attacking the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 9, and the subsequent reestablishment of martial law, those concerns grew more intense.

“[Egyptians] don’t have the know-how,” Bivas said. “I’m afraid the only groups organized enough are Islamist groups, groups we would call terrorists, with no respect for life. In the name of ideology, they may hijack the wonder of becoming free. People will have fought to become free and end up giving their freedom away.”

Bill Moran, a Livermore physicist, was glued to the television following the news from Egypt earlier this year. Born Nabil Mourad, he was raised in Halwan, a Cairo suburb so bereft of Jews, Moran’s parents didn’t tell their son he was Jewish until he had reached his teens.

Before they did, he said, “I learned to hate Jews and how bad the Jews are. Eventually I found out. It was a big shock. My parents did this to protect me and not be ostracized.”

Life for Jews in Egypt grew far more precarious after the 1967 Six-Day War, during which the Egyptian military suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Israel. Two years later, at age 17, Moran left his country, exiled at the urging of his own parents, who stayed behind.

He joined a sister, who had previously immigrated to San Francisco. Moran also received help from Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Eventually he graduated from U.C. Berkeley and became a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore Labs. He built a new life in California, though traces of the old fear remained.

“I was afraid of saying I was Jewish for a long time, even though there was no anti-Semitism here,” Moran remembered. “I was just so cautious. Eventually I learned to trust people.”

Moran made a return visit to Egypt nine years ago. He saw for himself the corruption and social decay under Mubarak. That’s why he rejoiced at the sight of mass demonstrations — at least at first.

“One begins to wonder, will the Muslim Brotherhood take over,” he asked. “Will [Egypt] become a fanatic state? What about peace with Israel? I have no crystal ball, but my gut feeling is Egyptians in general are a bit more civilized than Iraqis, Syrians and Libyans. There are a lot of really good Egyptians. Most are just misinformed about the Jews, and they don’t know any Jews.”

Though he doesn’t expect war to break out between Egypt and Israel, as it had four times since the founding of the Jewish state, he is not surprised that Egypt’s border with Israel and Gaza has already become a flashpoint.

“It’s hard to know if they will have a real democracy with moderate leaders,” he added. “The majority of the population is not as fanatic as those [Islamist] groups. But instability can happen. I hope people will recognize the benefits of peace.”
The sustained, relative non-violence of this spring’s Egyptian revolution, despite the government’s brutal response, inspired the world.

That Egyptian revolt came after a peaceful revolt in Tunisia.

Marilyn Uzan of Palo Alto followed news reports during the Arab Spring. She focused on her homeland of Tunisia, the North African country where the revolutions began last December.

Like the uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya, the Tunisian revolt brought great masses of people into the streets, clamoring for an end to the corrupt rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Uzan, 43, watched as her former countrymen endured a harsh police response yet never lost their poise. By mid-January, Ben Ali and his family had fled to Saudi Arabia. The Tunisian people claimed victory.

“I was extremely proud to see that the people did their own fight,” Uzan said. “It was from their heart. They realized things were unfair. It was a beautiful movement, with very little violence.”

That peaceful approach meshed with Uzan’s sense of her country. She remembers Tunisia, and her hometown of Tunis, as relatively tolerant and progressive, especially for an Arab country.

Her family had lived there for generations, and though Jews did suffer second-class status, Uzan spent her first 17 years in Tunisia free from fear. Her favorite memory: playing on the Mediterranean beaches just north of the city.

“I am very happy about my upbringing there,” she said. “It was a very easy life. It sounds surprising, because so many talk about being mistreated in Arab countries. I experienced almost no racism personally. Everyone knew we were Jews. We did not hide it, we did not feel unsafe or insecure.”

A native French speaker, Uzan left Tunisia for France in 1985 before graduating high school. This was around the time Israel attacked PLO headquarters in Tunis. This led to a time of further uncertainty for Tunisian Jews, a community already in decline.

Uzan lived in France and, briefly, in England, for the next 15 years until, as she put it, “I was imported by my husband,” a Jewish American who brought his new bride to California.

Just as Bivas worries whether Egyptians will navigate the tricky political waters toward democracy, Uzan also wonders whether Tunisia can successful manage the same voyage.

At first, she said, “I thought, ‘My God, that tiny country did so much for the Arab world.’ Then I was very scared and worried. Are they going to make it? It’s not easy to become a democracy. They will need to know how to be independent, have [political] parties, create a new constitution: It’s not something you do overnight.”

Tunisia might have a head start. As a child, Uzan grew up under the rule of the late Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba, a leader sometimes compared to Mustafa Ataturk of Turkey. When he came to power in the mid-1950s, he ushered in reforms such as women’s emancipation, public education and healthcare.

He also protected Tunisia’s Jewish community from the worst abuses seen in other Arab countries. His successor, Ben Ali, evolved into a corrupt leader, condemned by leading human rights organizations for his authoritarian rule.

Ben Ali’s time ran out once the Tunisian people began mass protests last year. He found safety in exile. Not as lucky, Egypt’s Mubarak, now under house arrest and on trial.

The Egyptian and Tunisian revolts surprised the world with their minimal bloodshed. That’s not how things went down in neighboring Libya, which for months has been convulsed in a bloody civil war between supporters and opponents of Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi.

For Bay Area Jews of Libyan extraction, such as Dalia Sirkin, the battle there has been anything but inspiring.

“It pains me to see that, in order to have democracy and freedom, bloodshed is the cost,” said Sirkin, 61, a professor of English Composition at San Jose State University. “I really wish them well. I want any country to have the freedom to vote, to travel abroad, to own property. I hope [Libyans] have the freedoms that they denied us.”

By “us,” she means the Libyan Jews, who lived as an oppressed community for centuries and ultimately fled under fire in the wake of the Six-Day War.

Born Dalia Bokhobza in Tripoli, Sirkin grew up speaking Italian as her first language, though she also knew some Arabic and Hebrew. She remembers her home country as a beautiful place. To look at.

“We had the sea and the sand,” she said. “The Italian architecture, the sun, the gardens, the date palms. My memories are rich with beauty.”

Then there was the dark side of life, Sirkin says. “I don’t remember ever living without fear. There was no such thing as walking down the street and not worrying about being physically harassed.”

Unlike the comparatively mild Tunisia, Libya was a hotbed of anti-Jewish hatred. Sirkin lost a childhood friend to anti-Jewish violence. Murders occurred often and went unpunished.

“I don’t remember a single holiday where the Jews going to the synagogues were not harassed,” she went on. “[Muslims} would throw stones. Many synagogues were burned.”

Sirkin’s parents had their assets confiscated. By the time a then-17-year-old Sirkin, her parents and grandparents fled Libya in 1967 — with only one suitcase permitted per person — they knew their centuries-old presence in that country had come to an end.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Is the keffiyeh the new swastika?

Last Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the 11th September World Trade Centre attacks, Michelle Huberman stumbled on an Islamist march of keffiyah-draped demonstrators. Even children found the hatred they exuded - reminiscent of the Nazi era - threatening and disturbing. Read Michelle's latest blog, Clash of cultures, in The Jerusalem Post:

"That is pure evil," proclaimed one of the little girls with me on leaving the festive Klezmer in the Park event in Regents Park last Sunday, September 11th.

No, she was not referring to the wonderful community festival that was put on in one of London's Royal Parks, but the demonstration that we encountered on leaving as we weaved our way to Gloucester Place for a bus towards the leafy suburbs of North West London.

The skies had been blue all afternoon and the sun shone down on happy dancers and picnickers enjoying the live Klezmer bands. And amongst the celebrations there were solemn melodies and recitals to remind us that we were also commemorating 9/11 and standing with America.

"Burn, burn, USA" London, September 11th 2011 ( photo: M. Huberman)

But on leaving, the sky turned grey, dark clouds hovered over us as, right on cue, we were unexpectedly confronted with a demonstration of angry Muslim men, many dressed in black with faces covered by keffiyehs and holding banners proclaiming "Jihad", “Islam will Dominate the World”, and shouting “Burn, burn USA”. The banners revealed these demonstrators’ true agenda. They were parading in favour of terror, murder and genocide. They wanted to kill people just for being non-Muslim. A massive police barricade surrounded the protestors to protect them from the shocked bystanders.

The march was heading towards the Regents Park mosque. I later learned that the demonstrators had burnt the US flag outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square. On 9/11! Apparently nothing is sacred in the UK in the name of free speech.

The keffiyeh makes me shudder. Today it no longer represents the desert Bedouins or Lawrence of Arabia. Nor is it a mere fashion accessory. I had one myself, which I bought as a souvenir in Jordan in 1995 just after the peace treaty was signed. Today it has been hijacked by the Islamist world and is now a symbol of everything dark, sinister and anti-Semitic. It stirs the same emotions in today’s Jews that the swastika must have done to those in Hitler’s Europe.
And the swastika spread fear across the Jews of the Arab world too. Hitler was extremely popular there too. They had their own Hitler Youth movements – the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the Futuwwa in Iraq and Young Egypt. The Syrian party is one of the largest today, with 100,000 members. It’s emblem is eerily similar to the swastika.

Nazism inspired the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood, a reaction to Western culture and modernity. As early as the 1930s the Brotherhood had hundreds of thousands of followers across the Arab world. The US writer John Carlson observed: “their only liberalism is the liberal use of terror.'

Shameless supporters of the Nazis, from the beginning the Muslim Brotherhood targeted Jews in Egypt: "The Jew, if left to his own resources in Egypt, is doomed to pogrom and persecution."

But Hitler’s greatest ally was the Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini. The Mufti promoted hatred and violence against the Jews of Palestine and the terrible 1941 pogrom against the Jews of Iraq, incited by the Mufti, was simply an extension of the Nazi project to exterminate the Jews.

The Nazis were eventually defeated, of course, and the Arabs have failed to defeat the Jews of Israel. But the Mufti was never tried as a war criminal. The Arab world is now Judenrein. The Islamists' genocidal intentions against the infidel remain very much alive. Thousands have died in Al Qaeda’s war against Jews and Crusaders; Islamists spread their bigoted poison all over the world. Hamas, with its unabashedly anti-Semitic charter, now rules Gaza. And their keffiyeh wearing supporters are visible everywhere.

After the Klezmer festival, when we boarded the bus back home, the little girl asked me if the demonstrators were going to hurt her grandparents in Israel. “Don't worry Sweetie” I reassured her in hushed tones, “they'll be ok, we have a strong army”. But as she asked more questions loudly - in the way that children do, I suddenly realised in London in 2011, with 50% of the passengers around us wearing hijabs, and naive teenagers draped in keffiyehs, Israel was no longer a subject we could talk about openly.

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'Despicable antisemitism' of new Palestine state

Maen Areikat, Palestinian ambassador to UN

So now we know. If the Palestinians' bid next week to win UN approval for a new state of Palestine is successful, there will be no Jews living there, says the PLO's ambassador to the UN in this USA Today report. With no Jews in Jordan, none in Saudi Arabia, and only a handful living in the remaining Arab states, the ethnic cleansing of the Arab world of its Jews will be complete. (With thanks Rona; Frank)

(WASHINGTON ) The Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that any future Palestinian state it seeks with help from the United Nations and the United States should be free of Jews.

"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador, said during a meeting with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He was responding to a question about the rights of minorities in a Palestine of the future.

Such a state would be the first to officially prohibit Jews or any other faith since Nazi Germany, which sought a country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews, said Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. National Security Council official.

Israel has 1.3 million Muslims who are Israeli citizens. Jews have lived in "Judea and Samaria," the biblical name for the West Bank, for thousands of years. Areikat said the PLO seeks a secular state, but that Palestinians need separation to work on their own national identity.

The Palestinian demand is unacceptable and "a despicable form of anti-Semitism," Abrams said. A small Jewish presence in a future Palestine, up to 1% of the population, would not hurt the Palestinian identity, he said.

"No civilized country would act this way," Abrams said.

Israel has often complained of anti-Semitic views in Palestinian discourse. Palestinian media frequently publishes and broadcasts anti-Semitic sermons by Islamic religious leaders, while the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV shows programming for preschoolers that extolls hatred of Jews and suicide bombings, according to a 2009 State Department human rights report.

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Ambassador Areikat backtracks

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just convert Palestinians back to Judaism!

(Photo: Zvi Misinai)

Are Palestinians really Jews? Tsvi Misinai certainly thinks about 90 percent of them are descended from forced converts to Islam. His solution to the conflict? Palestinians should 're-integrate' with their Jewish brothers, and all will be well. Hold on a minute, isn't that the 'one state solution' the Palestinian leadership have always dreamed of? Long feature in the Jerusalem Post magazine (With thanks: Michelle)

"We are of the same race and blood, and cooperation will bring great prosperity to the land," wrote Emir Faisal to Felix Frankfurter in 1917. Faisal was known for his affinity to the Zionists who had begun streaming to the Holy Land; in 1919, he signed a cooperation agreement with Chaim Weizmann, to whom he wrote that he was "mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people."

But Faisal's proclamations of kinship with the Jews were more than lip service to a commonly held belief, says Tsvi Misinai, who knows perhaps more about the origins of the modern Palestinians than anyone. "Faisal's paternal line was Hashemite," he says, "meaning he was directly descended from Muhammad.

But the mother of his maternal grandfather, King On, was descended from a family of forced Jewish converts to Islam that immigrated to the east bank of the Jordan, later returning to one of the villages west of the Jordan. Unlike today, when Faisal was growing up, his grandfather's mother's Jewish origin was known, and they made no great effort to hide it. And what was known to Faisal is known to many Palestinians today as well.

" This is a story of what may be one of the best-kept secrets in history - one that could, in time, heal the terrible rift that has torn the Land of Israel asunder. After years of research, Misinai says that he can declare with certainty that nearly 90 percent of all Palestinians are descended from the Jews.

"And what's more, about half of them know it," he says. Not only that, many Palestinians retain Jewish customs, including mourning rituals, lighting Shabbat or memorial candles and even wearing tefillin.

While the common wisdom among many Israelis is that the group that calls itself "Palestinian" is a motley collection of Arabs from various parts of the Middle East who immigrated to the Land of Israel following the employment opportunities provided by Jews, Misinai says that the vast majority of today's Palestinians are descended from the remnants of Jewish families who managed to avoid being deported over the past 2,000 years, or returned to their lands after they were exiled, as the Jews in the Holy Land suffered blow after blow - from the Roman destruction of the Temple to the Crusades to famine, poverty and war throughout the Middle Ages. One thing many were unable to avoid, however, was converting to Islam - a forced conversion that never really "took," done more out of fear than conviction.

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