Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tunisian constitution to condemn Zionism

The two largest Tunisian parties support a new Tunisian constitution condemning normalization with Israel, Israel Hayom reports. Will this move sound the death knell for the 1,500 Jewish community of Djerba, already rattled by the fall of the Ben Ali regime? It looks like it.

Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party in Tunisia, which won a majority of the votes in recent parliamentary elections.
Photo credit: Reuters

The new Tunisian government is gearing up to ratify a new constitution, and its language includes a section condemning Zionism and ruling out any friendly ties with Israel.

Tunisia was the first country to experience a popular uprising in what would later be known as the Arab Spring, sending former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia in January. Tunisians held their first open elections on Oct. 23 in which the moderate Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party, lead by Rachid Ghannouchi, won 30 percent of the 217-seat assembly. The second largest percentage of votes went to the secular and liberal Democratic Progressive Party.

Both leading parties are believed to support constitutional clauses that oppose the normalization of ties with Israel.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

All credit to the BBC's Yentob for a job well done

Iraqi Jews in 1905

I have to admit - I was expecting to be disappointed by the BBC's Radio 4 programme by Alan Yentob, 'The Last Jews of Baghdad', but I was pleasantly surprised. Although the trailers seemed to suggest otherwise, the programme did not fall too far into the usual trap of BBC distortion and political-correctness.

Yentob brought his childhood memories into this programme - listening to music by Naim Basri, his father playing the tabla at parties, visiting parents' friends in their flats in Berkeley Court with their Persian rugs and family photos.

Having established the scene - Jews established for 2,600 years by the Rivers of Babylon, dominant under the British mandate in the civil service, finance and trade to the extent that the Baghdad bazaar closed on Saturdays - Yentob pulled no punches describing the rising influence of Nazism, the horrors of the 1941 Farhud pogrom, the graphic hangings of nine innocent Jews in Baghdad's main square in 1969. (The only clanger was Yentob saying that on the eve of the pogrom the pro-Jewish Mayor of Baghdad banished the pro-Nazi coup leader Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, when it was Gaylani's sidekick Yunis al-Sabawi.)

Now there were only seven forlorn Jews left of a 1947 community of 118,000. 'Vicar of Baghdad'and self-appointed protector of the Jews Canon Andrew White said that Jewish lives, now seen as the epitomy of evil, were at risk. The community would soon be no more.

In conclusion, I could not believe my ears when Yentob said there must be something we can learn from the flight of 850,000 Jews from Arab countries - surely a first on the BBC.

But instead of calling on the Arab world to recognised the wrongs it had committed against the Jews with a view to achieving reconciliation, the programme ended by harking back to a lost age of cooperation and harmony between Jews and Arabs.

Surely a missed opportunity. All in all, though, all credit to Alan Yentob for a job well done.

You can hear the 'Last Jews of Iraq' here for the next seven days. It is repeated on Sunday 4 December at 5pm GMT.

Register your comments on the BBC blog here.

Review in the Jewish Chronicle

Review in the Daily Telegraph

British press discovers that there were Jews in Iraq

Devotees of Point of No Return will have learned two months ago that the seven (actually six) remaining Jews of Iraq are in danger, after their names and addresses were leaked in a Wikileaks cable. But the news is only just becoming mainstream, as this piece in the Daily Mail (and a piece in yesterday's Times) shows. The reason Iraqi Jews have suddenly become news is a BBC radio programme (tonight, 8pm, Radio 4) made by its creative director of Iraqi-Jewish descent, Alan Yentob. While it is wonderful that the British masses may at last learn that Jews lived in Arab countries, it is a shame that the programme is treated as Alan Yentob's personal story, shorn of its wider political implications for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Two elderly Jewish men in Baghdad pictured in 2003

The seven remaining Jews in Baghdad have been named by WikiLeaks, leaving them in danger of persecution, according to the city's Anglican vicar.Their lives are now in immediate danger, according to Canon Andrew White, and they’ve been advised to hide their religion.

Canon White said Baghdad’s Anglican Church is trying to protect them, as they fear extremists might try to kill them if they’re identified.WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables from Baghdad which named the individuals of the small Jewish community.

And now the American Embassy is trying to locate any Jewish diplomats who could help the exposed individuals take part in religious ceremonies safely, to make up the number they’re required to take part in under Jewish Law. A documentary on the dangers they face and the exodus of Jews from Iraq is to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow.

The programme, by the BBC’s creative director Alan Yentob, said that for 2,600 years, a thriving Jewish community lived in Mesopotamia. A third of Baghdad’s population was Jewish by the end of the First World War but they were forced to flee during the Second World War, which saw 180 killed in one day.

Jews living in Iraq were then branded Zionists and traitors after the creation of Israel in 1948 and when Iraq sent an army to fight in Palestine, Yentob says in the programme.

Only 6,000 Jews were living in Iraq by the 1960s and today only seven remain in the capital.The Anglican church in Baghdad is also trying to keep safe abandoned Jewish shrines in Iraq.

The Last Jews of Iraq will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on Tuesday (29th November).

Read article in full

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lest we forget: 64 years ago tomorrow

Muhammad Husayn Heykal: warned Jews would be at risk

The Arab rejection of UN Resolution 181 on the Partition of Palestine on 29 November 1947 unleashed a wave of violence not only in Palestine but across the Arab world. It claimed the lives of hundreds before developing into full-scale war.

From November 30, 1947 to February 1, 1948 427 Arabs, 381 Jews and 46 British were killed and 1,035 Arabs, 725 Jews and 135 British were wounded. In March alone, 271 Jews and 257 Arabs died in Arab attacks and Jewish counter-­attacks. These were not military, but terrorist attacks against civilian targets intended to achieve political aims for the Arabs who were dissatisfied with the United Nations Partition Plan.

Arab anger was not limited to Palestine : Dr Muhmmad Heykal, chairman of the Egyptian delegation, warned the Palestine Committee of the General Assembly that the lives of a million Jews in Muslim countries would be jeopardised by partition.

Jamil al-Husayni, representing the Arab Higher Committee was even blunter:

"It must be remembered by the way that there are as many Jews in the Arab world as there are in Palestine whose positions, under such conditions, will become very precarious, even though the Arab states may do their best save their skins. Governments in general have always been unable to prevent mob excitement and violence."

Evidence - if evidence were needed - that the Arabs of Palestine did not see themselves as separate from the wider Arab world, and that all Jews living amongst Arabs were considered fair game for attack.

November is the cruellest month

Forget Spring, prepare for the Islamist Winter

'All the people we love to hate' in Cairo (Photo: AFP)

As Egypt goes to the polls this morning, another victory for Islamism is on the cards: Moroccan and Tunisian Islamists already form the largest groupings in their respective parliaments; Islamists played a significant part in the ousting of Col. Gaddafi in Libya. Mark Silverberg, writing for the International Analyst Network, gives a good account of what the imposition of Shari'a law will mean. Meanwhile, the US administration, with its fixation with 'moderate' Muslims, remains dangerously clueless.

With all the talk of revolutions, the Middle East continues to slip backwards. We see mobs burning buildings, and President Obama quoting Martin Luther King - “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom” - while the leaders of this "democratic transformation" read Mein Kampf and are well on their way to establishing Islamic theocracies across the region.

While the Administration has sought “clarifications” from the Muslim Brotherhood concerning future relations with Israel, and minority and women’s rights, it has not received any formal response. What it did receive was news that Muslim Brotherhood leader Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb had just told thousands of his followers in a major Cairo mosque: “In order to build Egypt, we must be one. Politics is insufficient. Faith in Allah is the basis for everything.”

Time and again, a Koran quote vowing that "one day we shall kill all the Jews" was uttered at the site. Change is indeed coming, but it is not the sort of change this Administration has in mind. For anyone who has the slightest understanding of the socio-political crises gripping the Arab Middle East today, it is clear that the “Arab Spring” is morphing into an “Arab Winter” leaving in its wake political instability, Sunni-Shiite rivalries, bloody clashes, assassinations, bombings, massacres of civilians, sectarian violence, Islamic theocracies, and massive refugee problems – most notably from Syria - everything except liberal democracy as we know it.

If anything, it's an "Islamic awakening", and the only winners will be the Muslim Brotherhood (whose political aims are akin to those of the revolutionary Khomeinists in Iran), its ideological ally Hamas, and the Salafists (who are even more extreme in their Islamic views).

We never learn from history. In 1979, as the Ayatollah Khomeini was seizing power in Iran and turning a largely peaceful secular revolution into a brutal Islamic theocracy, the New York Times ran an op-ed column entitled "Trusting Khomenei." The column argued that Khomeini was being depicted unfairly as an anti-Semitic theocratic reactionary when instead, "Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane governance for a third-world country." We all know how that turned out, but that didn't stop the Times from running another front page "news analysis" in February 2011 extolling the virtues of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. What happened in Iran, it assured us, could never happen in Egypt as the Brotherhood "is a mainstream group that stands as the most venerable of the Arab world's Islamic movements."

And then there is the senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Kamal al-Halbavi, who said he hoped Egypt would have “a good government, like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is very brave.

”Even now, the Administration does not yet fully understand the implications of probable Muslim Brotherhood victories in Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia and the West Bank. To do so, it need only consult the most recent Gallup poll in Egypt (and Egypt is typical of other Arab countries in this regard) where 64% of Egyptians say that Shari'a must be the only source of legislation in their country, and in a December 2010 poll, 82% of Egyptians said they favored stoning adulterers, while 77% supported cutting off the hands of thieves.

When these attitudes translate into an electoral victory, the Brotherhood can be expected to prevent parliament from passing any law that contradicts the explicit commands of Allah as conveyed through the Koran, the Hadith, and the example set by the prophet. Uriya Shavit of Tel Aviv University explains the implications of this in the autumn issue of AzureOnline (Shalem Center): “As Islamist scholars have explained repeatedly, human beings cannot permit what Allah has forbidden, nor can they ban what Allah permits.” She continues: "The inevitable result of (the Muslim Brotherhood’s) electoral victory will be the formation of a theocracy. It will not permit the scientific and technological revolution of which Arab societies are in such dire need.”

If Sharia is to become the supreme adjudicator of future legislation across the Arab world, non-Muslims will be excluded from full participation in Arab societies, official second-class status (dhimmitude) will be conferred on them, and their lives and property will be protected only so long as they pay the Jizya – a discriminatory tax that must be paid by non-Muslims under Islamic law. It can also be assumed that Islamic law will prohibit women and Christians from running for President, validate polygamy, the amputation of limbs, gender apartheid, the ethnic cleansing of Jews, mandatory donning of the veil for women, honor killings, the execution of homosexuals, prostitutes and apostates (those who convert away from Islam), female genital mutilation, bans on music, dancing, men and women mixing in public, the blowing up of liquor stores, restrictions on scientific and technological inquiry (the effect of which will suffocate philosophy, art and research), suppression of freedom of expression for artists, journalists and writers, the punishment of those in the media who disagree with their government, and the practicing of any religion other than Islam (witness the recent attacks on Copts and Christian Coptic churches in Egypt).

In his blog, analyst Daniel Greenfield also notes…“If the Brotherhood achieves its aims, the military will be taken apart and replaced by an Iranian-style Revolutionary Guard. That process is already underway in Turkey where there are more generals in prison than on the front lines. But if the military waits out all its rivals and then picks up Western support for stabilizing Egypt, then a new Mubarak will be in power.”

All this should lead the Western powers to reflect on the true meaning of democracy. It is much more than the process of voting in free elections.

Read article in full

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why Yachad alienates Jews from the Middle East

Yachad -putting Arab rights before Jewish rights

Via Proud Zionist:

In the last week a row has been brewing between Yachad (a leftwing peace group aka the British J-Street) and the Sephardi community in the UK. Notices have gone up in Sephardi synagogues telling members to shun Yachad. At the same time Yachad has been revealed to be 're-tweeting' messages from the anti-Zionist blog +972 and 'tipping off' The Guardian with anti-Israel stories. Yet Yachad have been invited to speak at today's Big Tent conference on Israel's delegitimisation, while several' right-wing' speakers have been excluded.

A Jewish Chronicle blogpost by 'Sephardi Spirit' stated:

You won't find much love for Yachad in any Sephardi community in the UK. You almost certainly will not find much love for them in any Sephardi community in the world.

The reason being is that Sephardim view Yachad as 'hostile' to Israel. Yes, hostile. This was demonstrated by notices put up at mainstream UK Sephardi synagogues urging members to have nothing to do with Yachad. Not that they needed to be told, but some might have found their 'pro Israel' tag misleading.

Jews from Middle Eastern descent, after living for years among Arabs, tend to know slightly more about the people Israel are dealing with. They understand the Arab ideologies which lead to persecution, violence and death of Jews.

'Sephardi Spirit' charges Yachad with ignoring the antisemitism and incitement driving the Arab/Islamist conflict with Israel. Sephardim should know: this is the same antisemitism which drove the Sephardi and Mizrahi communities out of the Middle East and North Africa.

Naturally, Yachad was offended and retorted with a blog on its website by one Anthony T, of Iraqi descent, affirming his support for the group. Yachad, he wrote, had lots of supporters from the Middle East.

Yes, says blogger Proud Zionist, "I don't think anyone was in any doubt about the fans Yachad may have from these countries: Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood), Turkey (the lovely Erdogan, who after sending Israel a ship of terrorists, initially let his people die rather than accept aid from Israel when hit by an earthquake), Iran (Ahmadinejad, who wants the whole of Israel "wiped off the map", not just the settlements)."

I would go further than 'Sephardi Spirit' and accuse Yachad, not just of doing nothing to recognise and tackle the antisemitism at the heart of the conflict, but of focusing exclusively on defending Arab rights and ignoring Jewish rights, as exemplified by the Sumarin case.

This week Yachad thanked its supporters for helping to obtain a postponement of the eviction of the Sumarin family from a house in Silwan, east Jerusalem, owned by the JNF.

Yet we have not heard a peep from Yachad regarding the thousands of Jewish homes, shops and properties seized in Arab countries. Another example of how the Left treats Arab rights as more important than Jewish rights.

Arabs have recourse to the Israeli courts, Jews who lost their property in Arab lands cannot expect justice in Arab courts.

As long as this is the case, Yachad will have no credibility in the eyes of Jews from Arab countries because it has a one-sided agenda. If a Jewish organisation cannot defend Jewish rights, who will?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Left supports pan-Arabism at minority expense

I almost missed this fantastic article by Daniel Greenfield in the Canadian Free Press. No-one loves a good tyranny like the Left; the Left's criticisms of Zionism are moot, he argues convincingly, while it continues to support the pan-Arab repression of Middle Eastern minorities.

The left’s worst crime in the Middle East has been its support for the region’s Arab-Muslim majority at the expense of its minorities. It has supported the majority’s terrorism, atrocities, ethnic cleansing and repression of the region’s minorities. Very rarely has it raised a voice in their support, and when it has done so, it was in muted tones completely different from their vigorous defenses of the nationalism of the Arab Muslim majority.

The left is obsessed with the Arab Spring, which rewards the ambitions of Arabist and Islamist activists at the expense of Coptic, African, and other minorities. It is dementedly fixated on statehood for the Arab Muslims of Israel, (better known by their local Palestinian brand), but has little to say about the Kurds in Turkey or the Azeri in Iran. The million Jewish refugees and the vanishing Christians of the region never come up in conversation. They certainly don’t get their own protest rallies or flotillas.

The Africans of Sudan could have used a flotilla, or an entire UN organization dedicated to their welfare, which the Arab Muslims who had failed to wipe out the region’s Jewish minority are the beneficiaries of. But they had to make do with third tier aid.

Unlike the Arab nationalists and Islamists of Libya, the French, English and American air force did not come to their rescue. It came to the rescue of the Libyans who showed their gratitude in the time honored way of the Arab majority by massacring the African minority. All under the beaming smiles of the selective humanitarians of the left. But what’s a little genocide between friends?

The left embraced Pan-Arabism, a race based nationalism, in line with the Soviet Union’s expansionist foreign policy. Pan-Arabism’s socialism made it easy for the left to ignore its overt racism along with the admiration of many of its leading lights for Nazi Germany. The same left which refused to see the Gulags and the ethnic cleansing under the red flag, turned an equally blind eye to the contradiction of condemning Zionism for its ethnic basis, while supporting Pan-Arabism, which was ethnically based.

Under Zionism, Israel retained a sizable Arab minority. The Pan-Arabists, however, drove their Jews out with mob violence, political repression, prisons and public executions. The left’s criticisms of Zionism are rendered moot by their own support for Pan-Arabism, and their own longstanding hostility to Jewish national identity, insisting that socialism demands that Jews assimilate into the dominant race, whether in Russia or Western Europe. In the Middle East and North Africa, Arabization has led to repression of non-Arab minorities and the destruction of other cultures through the insistence on unity through race.

As the sun of Pan-Arabism sets, the left has turned its attention to Pan-Islamism with equal enthusiasm. While Pan-Arabism allowed Christian Arabs some representation, Pan-Islamism excludes based on religion. Having endorsed a racial tyranny, the left has fallen so low that it now champions majority theocracies.

The left’s fledgling support for Kurdish nationalism has faded as Turkey has gone from a secular ally of the Western powers, to an Islamist tyranny dreaming of empire. This perverse twist of affairs has the left abandoning the national struggles of an oppressed people when their rulers align themselves more closely with the bigoted regional majority.

The War on Iraq, which the left hated, removed a tyrant aligned with the region’s Sunni majority and the Libyan campaign, which the left supported, removed a tyrant who had deviated too far from the positions of that majority. So, too, in Egypt, where Mubarak’s excessive tolerance for minorities, led the left to endorse the Pan-Arabist and Pan-Islamist calls for his overthrow. And in Tunisia, where a government tolerant of minorities has been replaced by the Islamists.

The pattern repeats itself over and over again as the left rises in support of racial and theocratic rule. And for all the left’s critiques of American and European foreign policy, its own foreign policy which endorses racial and theocratic rule and works to bring it about is a true crime and blot on the region.

It is no coincidence that the one country in the region that the left hates above all else, is neither Arab nor Muslim. Just as it is no coincidence that the Arab Spring replaces regimes tolerant of minorities with Islamists and Arabists. The left’s true regional agenda is the racist agenda of its Arab members. The Arab Socialists and the Islamists who have defined its regional positions have turned the left into a vehicle for their racial and theocratic agendas.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Don't give a free pass to Arab antisemitism

Gaddafi the Jew...and Nazi. Libyan antisemitism is so deeply ingrained he could be both (Andrew Engel)

People who blame others for their own shortcomings cannot build a democratic or developed society, concludes Evelyn Gordon on the Commentary blog Contentions after reading Andrew Engel's report for The Forward on Libyan antisemitism:

(..) the West’s ability to ignore the Arab world’s pervasive anti-Semitism means it consistently fails to understand the most basic problem facing Arab countries. As Engel perceptively noted, by deeming Qaddafi a Jew, his Libyan interlocutors “had accomplished an amazing feat of disassociation between themselves and the man who ruled them for most of their lives, as if they were saying: ‘You know, Qaddafi was not one of us. A Libyan could not have done what he did.’ It was a refusal to come to terms with Libya’s own past. Even a dictator, after all, requires popular support from some segments of society to rule for more than four decades … A country unable to come to terms with its history may find itself incapable of building the successful, inclusive democracy it has promised the world.”

Indeed, people who consistently blame an outside agency for their problems – whether it’s Jews, Western colonialism or anything else –are incapable of building any kind of decent society. You can’t fix a problem if you consider it beyond your control, and if it’s someone else’s fault, it is beyond your control. Only when people acknowledge that they have contributed to their own problems can they begin to seek solutions.

That’s why Arab anti-Semitism matters so desperately –not because of the threat it poses to Israel, though that is real, but because of the threat it poses to Arab countries’ own development. The same goes for the Arabs’ tendency to blame their troubles on Israel or the West. Evasion of responsibility for its own welfare has always been, and continues to be, the Arab world’s biggest problem.

And by pandering to it – for instance, by asserting that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is necessary for Arab development even though it patently hasn’t been necessary for Israel’s development – the West is entrenching this problem rather than helping the Arab world to confront it.

Read post in full

Gaddafi's Jew-hatred is turned against him

A Jewess is running in Morocco's elections

Running in today's parliamentary elections in Morocco is a Jew with close family in Israel - Maguy Kakon. She stood in elections in 2007, and polled 30,000 votes, Haaretz tells us.

Marie-Yvonne "Maguy" Kakon would be just another candidate contesting Morocco's parliamentary elections on Friday - if it were not for one detail.

The 57-year-old real estate consultant is the only Jew among a total of more than 7,000 candidates in the staunchly Muslim country.

Jewish politicians are rare in the Arab world, but Kakon says it is her Moroccan rather than her Jewish identity that counts. Her presence in the elections symbolizes the diversity of the North African country where Arabs, Amazigh (Berbers) and Jews have lived side by side for centuries, Kakon told the daily Akhbar al-Yaoum.

The mother of four, who has written several books on Morocco's Jewish culture, belongs to the small Social Centre Party (PCS), which she describes as "moderate and innovating."

She already took 30,000 votes in the 2007 elections, an amount which would have allowed her to get into parliament, if her party had passed the threshold of 6 per cent of votes on the national level.

While the success of a Jewish candidate in a Muslim country might seem surprising, it is less so in Morocco, which many Israeli analysts regard as being among the most tolerant Arab countries towards Jews.

"Israel has no formal or informal ongoing diplomatic ties with Morocco," an Israeli diplomatic source says, adding that Israel closed its trade office in Morocco after the Intifada erupted in the Palestinian territories in 2000.

But an article published by the Jewish Virtual Library describes Morocco as "perhaps Israel's closest friend in the Arab world."

In September, for instance, Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane in Morocco's Atlas mountains organized a symposium promoting recognition and knowledge of the Holocaust.

The conference - which went largely unnoticed by the public - was the first of its kind in an Arab country, the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote.

Jews have lived in Morocco since antiquity, already before Arabs moved into the territory inhabited by Amazigh. Waves of Jews and Muslims fled the Spanish Inquisition to Morocco in the 15th century.

Jewish "infidels" enjoyed a certain protection in their neighborhoods known as mellahs. By the 1950s, Morocco had about 300,000 Jews.

Intermittent anti-Semitic attacks, international tensions and the creation of Israel in 1948 prompted most Moroccan Jews to emigrate to Israel, France and the United States.

Israel now has about a million citizens of Moroccan origin, while Morocco has a Jewish community of only about 2,500 people. It is concentrated in large cities such as Casablanca, Agadir and Marrakech.

Read article in full

'Morocco can teach Israel about coexistence'

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How coexistence projects can hinder peace

Jewish refugee from Iraq arriving in Israel, 1951

The peace agenda is seriously skewed when Arab antisemitism is ignored or exonerated, writes Lyn Julius in The Jerusalem Post. We need a sea-change in the way peace and coexistence projects treat Jewish suffering and rights:

When a mob broke into the Baghdad house of Reuben Qashqoush, a Jewish spareparts dealer, in April, 1973, the incident was just one horrific incident in a catalogue of arrests, hangings, persecution and death which the Saddam Hussein regime inflicted on the remnant of the Iraqi-Jewish community. Reuben, his wife and three of his four children were murdered in the assault.

The murder of the Qashqoush family still haunts Janet Dallal, a classmate of the late Joyce Qashqoush, who was just 16 at the time of the murder. Janet fled Iraq in 1975 and is now a Tel Aviv mother of three and yoga instructor with a keen interest in binational peace projects.

But when she attended a recent conference at the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, Janet was shocked that one session examining the “healing of communal wounds to achieve reconciliation” did not recognize the trauma of Iraqi Jews – nor indeed the trauma suffered by any Jews from Arab countries.

“All they wanted to talk about was the Holocaust and the Arab Nakba [catastrophe],” she complains.

After introducing the subject, the session moderator said: “the most important step for healing is acknowledgement.” Janet could contain herself no longer and improvised a passionate speech.

“This is a crazy attitude. People lost their lives, others were hanged or slaughtered like sheep!” she exclaimed.

The moderator promised that the issue would be included in future sessions, but it isn’t enough. The peace agenda is seriously skewed when a trauma afflicting more than half the Israeli population – those who descend from refugees from Arab and Muslim countries – has been airbrushed off the agenda of dialogue and coexistence projects.

There are several explanations that this phenomenon is allowed to continue. These initiatives involve a disproportionate number of Ashkenazim, mostly on the political Left. Peaceniks generally see Israel as the guilty party and the Palestinians as innocent victims. Many may be genuinely ignorant of the plight of Jews who fled Arab countries with their lives and a suitcase.

They may not know that the destroyed Jewish communities of the Middle East were indigenous; that there were more Jewish than Palestinian refugees; that they were dispossessed of assets and four times as much Jewish-owned land as Israel itself; and that a sizeable proportion of these Jewish refugees merely moved from one corner of the region to another – Israel.

On the far Left, discriminated-against Sephardic Jews are useful as an instrument to bludgeon the Zionist establishment. A tiny minority of Mizrahi [another common term for Sephardim] communists lend credibility to the myth that Jews from Arab countries are “Arab Jews with false consciousness,” torn from their “Arab heritage” by white European Zionists.

Some guilt-ridden activists have swallowed the propaganda trope that Jews are white colonialists who have come to steal the land from the brown natives. Consequently “native rights” trump Jewish rights.

Jewish rights are an embarrassing spanner thrown in the peace works.

In the rare cases where Jews from Arab countries are recognized as genuine refugees, the disaster which befell them is rationalized as an “understandable backlash.”

The conventional wisdom is: if you want justice for Mizrahi Jews, address your grievances to the Arab states who drove them out.

Nowadays it is almost politically incorrect to say that the Palestinian leadership, complicit with the Nazis, played a significant role in inciting violence against Jews in Arab countries – the 1941 Farhud, for example, in which 180 Iraqi Jews were murdered – and dragged the Arab League into war against Israel. The drive for “Palestinian statehood” has tended to obscure the fact that the Palestinian cause is ultimately pan-Arab, and increasingly pan-Islamic.

The “Jewish Nakba” – for wont of a better expression – is still on the margins of public debate. Ashkenazim still dominate the Israeli government, academia and opinion-forming class, whose natural frame of reference is to European anti- Semitism and the Holocaust. The “Jewish Nakba” has not been taught systematically in schools, it has rarely been raised by officialdom and has only recently attracted political backing with the passing of a 2010 Knesset law insisting on compensation for Jews from Arab countries in any future peace deal.

However, a genuine appreciation of the suffering of the Jews from Arab countries can help achieve reconciliation, as Professor Ada Aharoni discovered when she taught a course at the University of Pennsylvania entitled “The Nakba of the Jews of Egypt and Arab Countries.”

Over half the 50 students in the class, she recalls, were Arabs. They all expressed great anger when she presented her subject, and claimed that “Nakba” refers only to the tragic events experienced by the Palestinians in 1948.

However, she says that toward the end of the course one Palestinian participant got up and said in amazement: “I’m surprised that you Jews, who are known to be intelligent, enlightened and smart, haven’t publicized this important and interesting story.”

Aharoni was curious to know why it was so important to him that the story be publicized.

“Because it rescues my honor and that of my people,” he replied. “It makes us Palestinians realize that we’re not the only ones who suffered from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It makes things much easier for us. This information enables us to stand erect and opens opportunities for a sulha [reconciliation].”

Curiously, Janet Dallal, too, found more empathy among Palestinians than her fellow Jews when she mentioned the trauma of the Iraqi Jews at the Neve Shalom conference.

Such projects may be hindering the search for peace by ignoring and exonerating Arab anti-Semitism.

“In the name of Joyce Qashqoush z”l [of blessed memory] and all the people we lost in that hell, we need to take serious action,” Janet says.

We need a sea-change in the way coexistence and peace projects treat Jewish suffering and rights. Reconciliation cannot be based on a partial understanding of the truth.

Read article in full

Cross-posted at Harry's Place

Update: There were actually six Qashqoush children but only four in Baghdad, three of whom were killed. One son, Eddy, had left Iraq few months earlier (perhaps to Lebanon) and he and a daughter now live in the US. So does the surviving daughter Dora. On that day Dora had left for the University early in the morning - thus she stayed alive. When she returned home later she was traumatically shocked to find blood on the shoes and the floor around the house and no family there ! She was urgently taken to a neighbour's house to stay there until she was able to travel away from Iraq. A brother of the murdered father Reuben and his wife were also killed. At the time, several other Jews disappeared without trace.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BBC to broadcast radio programme on Iraqi Jews

Alan Yentob, the son of Iraqi Jews

Good news from the BBC - a radio programme on the last Jews of Iraq will go out next Tuesday on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm - to be repeated the following Sunday. The programme-maker is Alan Yentob, himself the son of Iraqi Jews. The question remains: why did Yentob, who has worked for the BBC since leaving university, wait till there were only seven Jews left (actually six, as one is now in Jordan) to do this programme?

Jews in Iraq? Alan Yentob investigates a 2600 year old community, now almost disappeared. Once they thrived as a third of Baghdad's population, now only seven Jewish people remain.

Few people realise there was once a thriving Jewish community in Iraq - in 1917 it was a third of Baghdad's population. Jewish people had government jobs and dominated the music scene. They were an integral part of the community, living peacefully with Arab neighbours. The Jews had been in Iraq for more than two and a half millennia, since it was called Babylon, and remembered in Psalms. For centuries it was the centre of Jewish learning. Alan speaks to people who remember a life in Baghdad characterised by integration, religious diversity and colourful traditions.

In the 40s, everything changed. Nazism, Arab-nationalism and anti-Zionist feeling created a wave of anti-semitism. Violent pogroms flared up, young Jewish men were publically hanged, Jews were forced from jobs. By the 1970s nearly all had left, many in 1951 when 110,000 people were flown to safety in Israel. We hear from those who remember the community's traumatic final days.

Now those few Jews who remain are hidden away. They will certainly be the last of the ancient Babylonian Jewish line, says Canon Andrew White, the 'Vicar of Baghdad'.

In a very personal programme, BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob, himself the child of Iraqi Jewish immigrants, looks into his heritage and uncovers the hidden history of the Jews of Iraq. Although the community is now almost vanished in Iraq itself, its traditions survive though around the world. With interviews, archive recordings and contemporary music, Alan brings its vibrancy to life.

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Egypt continues to play the 'blame game'

Coptic Christians, carrying a symbolic coffin with photos of people killed in clashes, marched from the Coptic Cathedral in the Abbasiya section of Cairo earlier this month.(Photo: Khaled Elfiqi)

Egypt has always had a tradition of blaming others for its own misdemeanours, and has failed to learn the lesson that the persecution of the Jews, and now the Coptic Christians, only hurts the country as a whole. Andre Aciman writes in the New York Times:

THE images streaming from Cairo’s streets last month were not as horrifying as those of the capture and brutal death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, but they were savage all the same. They were a sobering reminder that popular movements in some parts of the world, however euphorically they begin, can take disquieting and ugly turns.

When liberal Muslims joined Coptic Christians as they marched through Cairo’s Maspero area on Oct. 9 to protest the burning of a Coptic church, bands of conservative Muslim hooligans wielding sticks and swords began attacking the protesters. Egyptian security forces who had apparently intervened to break up the violence deliberately rammed their armed vehicles into the Coptic crowd and fired live ammunition indiscriminately.

Egyptian military authorities soon shut down live news coverage of the event, and evidence of chaos was quickly cleared from the scene. But the massacre, in which at least 24 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded, was the worst instance of sectarian violence in Egypt in 60 years.

Confusion and conflicting narratives abound. Some claim to have overheard an announcer on television encourage “honorable Egyptians” to come to the rescue of soldiers under attack by a mob of Copts. Others heard a Muslim shouting that he had killed a Christian.

Unable to explain exactly why events turned violent, Egypt’s interim prime minister, Essam Sharaf, claimed that the wholesale slaughter of civilians was not the product of sectarian violence but proof that there were “hidden hands” involved.

I grew up in an Egypt that was inventing hidden hands wherever you looked. Because of my family’s increasingly precarious status as Jews living in Nasser’s Egypt, my parents forbade me to flash my flashlight several times at night or to write invisible messages with lemon ink in middle school. These were a spymaster’s tricks, and Jews were forever regarded as spies after the 1954 “Lavon Affair,” in which Israeli intelligence recruited Egyptian Jews to bomb targets in Egypt.

Sadly, the phrase “hidden hands” remains a part of Egypt’s political rhetoric more than 50 years later — an invitation for every Egyptian to write in the name of his or her favorite bugaboo. Rather than see things for what they are, Egyptians, from their leaders on down, have always preferred the blame game — and with good reason. Blaming some insidious clandestine villain for anything invariably works in a country where hearsay passes for truth and paranoia for knowledge.

Sometimes those hidden hands are called Langley, or the West, or, all else failing, of course, the Mossad. Sometimes “hidden hands” stands for any number of foreign or local conspiracies carried out by corrupt or disgruntled apparatchiks of one stripe or another who are forever eager to tarnish and discredit the public trust.

The problem with Egypt is that there is no public trust. There is no trust, period. False rumor, which is the opiate of the Egyptian masses and the bread and butter of political discourse in the Arab world, trumps clarity, reason and the will to tolerate a different opinion, let alone a different religion or the spirit of open discourse.

“Hidden hands” stands for Satan. And with Satan you don’t use judgment; you use cunning and paranoia. Cunning, after all, is poor man’s fare, a way of cobbling together a credible enough narrative that is at once easy to digest, to swear by, and pass around. Bugaboos keep you focused. And nothing in the Middle East can keep you as focused (or as unfocused) as the archvillain of them all: Israel.

Say “Israel” and you’ve galvanized everyone. Say Israel and you have a movement, a cause, a purpose. Say “Israel” and all of Islam huddles. Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and now Turkey.

What is good about the episode in Maspero is that, in the exhilarating and unusual spirit of the events of last spring in Tahrir Square, Muslims joined the Coptic demonstrators who were eager to exercise the right to build churches — a right that has always been grudgingly granted to Egypt’s Copts.

What is terrible about the episode, however, is the inability of the government to take the blame for the slaughter of the Copts. Similarly, in September, it failed to intervene in good time when a large mob attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo, broke down its walls and nearly slaughtered those inside.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Diarna 're-opens' the Dar al-Bishi synagogue

Dr David Gerbi praying in the Dar-al Bishi synagogue, Tripoli

Dr David Gerbi has failed to restore the Dar al-Bishi synagogue in Tripoli, but he should not have worried unduly. Diarna, a project to digitise the neglected and abandoned Jewish sites of the Middle East and North Africa, has ridden to the rescue, with a virtual reconstruction (with thanks: Gina) :

Media reports abound about the efforts of Dr. David Gerbi to restore the dilapidated Dar Bishi Synagogue, a former fixture of Tripoli's Hara Kebira (old Jewish Quarter). Gerbi, a Libyan Jew who has lived in exile since 1967, returned to his ancestral home this past spring. Remaining after the fall of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, he single-handedly re-opened Dar Bishi for prayer—his own, as the last member of the disbanded indigenous Jewish community died in 2003—and began restoring the synagogue by clearing decades of accumulated debris.

The work was abruptly put on indefinite hold on October 8th, Yom Kippur, when hundreds of protesters gathered in Tripoli and Bengazi to assert "There is no place for the Jews in Libya." Gerbi was prevailed upon to leave the country after protesters attempted to storm his hotel and disagreements arose with the provisional government about whether he had received the proper authorizations.

While there is no telling when he might be able to return or if the synagogue will ever be restored, Diarna has created a digital reconstruction of Dar Bishi and a video tour featuring our 3-D model intermixed with archival and contemporary photographs.

This incident is a brusque reminder of the precariousness of physical preservation. Political and inter-religious strife too often render historic Jewish sites inaccessible to visit, no less preserve, in perpetuity. Diarna's digital preservation work may be the only way to ensure untrammeled virtual access to forgotten and endangered Middle Eastern Jewish sites (schools, cemeteries, synagogues, shrines).

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Mapping out Ezekiel's tomb

Monday, November 21, 2011

Locals rejoice at cancellation of Jewish pilgrimage

Another victory for 'Arab Spring' bigotry, as the locals rejoice at the cancellation of the annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Rabbi Abuhatseira near Alexandria. The shrine itself, however, has been named a national monument, part of a general trend of Arab states preserving Jewish buildings without Jews. The Egyptian Gazette reports:

CAIRO - The people of el-Beheira Governorate are delighted that this year’s Abu Haseira festival, which attracts many Jews to the village of Damitiou, has been cancelled. The people of Damitiou had tried in vain to get previous governments to cancel the feast.
Adel el-Khawalka, who lives in the village, said they always felt ashamed to see Jews turning up to celebrate the festival. “The village used to be virtually paralysed during the festival, while our children were horrified by the stepped-up security presence,” he added.
“The governments in Mubarak’s era ignored the psychological suffering caused us by the grave of Yacov Abu Haseira,” Saad Gamal, another villager, told Al-Wafd opposition newspaper.

According to Ismail Abdel-Hadi, who also lives there, many of the villagers have moved elsewhere because of the problems caused by previous governments colluding with the Zionist entity.

Meanwhile, political and popular powers have expressed their support for the decision to cancel the festival.
“The Zionists desecrated our land with their disgraceful behaviour; they drank alcohol here, in the name of Jewish rituals,” noted Ismail el-Kholi, a member of Al-Wafd Party.
Previous governments ignored the popular anger and the citizens’ demands to abolish the Abu Haseira festival.
Because of the Jewish visitors, the village of Damitiou turned into a barracks every year.
Citizens, lawyers and political powers filed many lawsuits in a bid to have the festival stopped; the last lawsuit was heard in 2010 at the Alexandria Administrative Court.
Different political powers held demonstrations calling for cancelling the festival and banning Jews from entering the village.Many people also criticised the toppled regime for trying to impose normalisation with Israel on the Egyptian people.
Meanwhile, Israeli TV’s Channel Seven announced on October 10 that the decision, issued by the Beheira’s Governor to cancel the Abu Haseira festival, shocked Jewish communities.

A number of rabbis have visited the Egyptian Consulate in Tel Aviv to express their anger at this decision, calling for the festival to be allowed to resume once again.

In 1880, the Shrine of Abu Haseira was registered as a religious antiquity by Egypt’s Supreme Antiquities Council. It is subject to protection as a monument according to Law 17 of 1983.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gaddafi's Jew-hatred is turned against him

Gaddafi's Jew-hatred has been turned against him, and does not bode well for prospects of Libya coming to terms with its past - says Andrew Engel in The Forward:

Through Mustapha, I interviewed Antar Abdul Salaam al-Beiri, commander of the 300-strong group Amir Katibat Misratah, one of Misrata’s militias. Al-Beiri had a good grasp of Libya’s fluid dynamics. He spoke of the need for democracy, for closer relations with the international community and for a return to normalcy after Qaddafi s 42 years of eccentric rule. He was sharp and reasonable, someone I could envision assuming a position of authority in the new Libya. As the talk ended I turned the tables on him, asking if he had any questions for me, curious to see if I would receive a question more revealing than his answers. He immediately asked, “Did you know that Qaddafi was originally not Libyan?” Mustapha grimaced, but then asked with a knowing grin, “Where was he from?” Beiri proudly responded, “He was originally Jewish.”

Graffiti depicting Qaddafi as a Jew is everywhere in Libya.
Graffiti depicting Qaddafi as a Jew is everywhere in Libya. (Photo: Andrew Engel.)

Many of the Libyans I met reminded me of missionaries committed to spreading the word that Qaddafi was and always would be alien to Libyan soil. It was almost as if the taxi driver, Mohammed and the brigade commander — by invoking two of the Arab world’s greatest evils, Zionism and colonialism (by the hands of the Italians) — had accomplished an amazing feat of disassociation between themselves and the man who ruled them for most of their lives, as if they were saying: “You know, Qaddafi was not one of us. A Libyan could not have done what he did.” It was a refusal to come to terms with Libya’s own past. Even a dictator, after all, requires popular support from some segments of society to rule for more than four decades.

Benghazi, our final destination and epicenter of the revolution, was Libya’s first liberated city and, as a result, felt the most normal. My contact there, Wahbi Kwaafy, a man in his late 20s, was married to a French woman and had worked with journalists on the front lines. He arranged interviews with members of the brigade that found Qaddafi. Kwaafy adamantly wanted to make it clear that a Benghazi brigade had found Qaddafi while members of a Misrata brigade were responsible for his abuse and death, a distinction lost in the frenzied reporting following Qaddafi’s capture.

Kwaafy drove me around Benghazi as we chilled out to local rap music. He spoke highly of the emerging hip-hop scene, noting that “before the revolution, it was dangerous to rap and no one could live off of it. Now, it is possible.” The music contained similar epithets directed toward Jews. Kwaafy took me to Liberation Square (formerly Martyr’s Square), where, on October 23, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Libyan Transitional National Council, declared Libya’s liberation. Kwaafy explained that large flags belonging to NATO coalition forces had been flown there, but the Islamists objected. They instead attempted to fly an Al Qaeda flag, but then the locals objected. Now the square is populated with smaller coalition flags and hundreds of pictures of the dead. But next to the square is the courthouse, where at the beginning of October, Islamists successfully flew Al Qaeda’s black flag.

Opposite the courthouse, on a building belonging to the February 17 Revolution Coalition, as the alliance that converged against Qaddafi is known, was considerable graffiti related to the ousted dictator, with Stars of David and swastikas abounding. One drawing depicted him stealing the people’s money. Just as Kwaafy was explaining that Libyans had no problem with Jews, only with Zionism, I glanced at a wall that was sprayed with the words “Moammar ibn Yehudia,” “Moammar is the son of Judaism.” Anti-Semitism, widely recognized as politically incorrect and morally untenable, is often replaced with anti-Zionism for cover, but the writing on the wall was clear.

When I raised the unsuccessful return of Libyan Jew David Gerbi, Kwaafy said: “Right, I’ve heard about him. I think he was a crazy Tunisian Jew or something.” In fact, Gerbi’s family fled Libya following the 1967 War. Gerbi, who was 12 at the time, eventually settled in Italy with his family. But he never forgot his native land. When the rebellion broke out, Gerbi, a Jungian psychologist, lobbied on the rebels’ behalf with South Africa, which had a frosty view of the rebellion and a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council that made its view important. South Africa eventually voted for the resolution passed by the Security Council authorizing NATO to protect citizens in Libya. Later, Gerbi treated rebels suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in a Benghazi hospital.

In October, Gerbi returned to Tripoli to reopen the historic Dar Bishi Synagogue. In response he was nearly lynched while praying there. Hundreds of Libyans protested his presence in Tripoli and Benghazi on the eve of Yom Kippur, with placards that read, “There is no place for Jews in Libya.” His endeavor ended under threat of death and with a return flight to Rome on an Italian military plane.

“It’s easy to get rid of Qaddafi the person, but much more difficult to get rid of the Qaddafi within,” Gerbi told The Jerusalem Post.

Even if Qaddafi had Jewish ancestry, his completion of the ethnic cleansing of Libya’s Jews, his support for terrorism against Israel and Western targets and his backing for Palestinian fighters against Israel during the Lebanese Civil War (my driver to Benghazi from Misratah was in fact stationed in Lebanon to provide military assistance) defies any claim that he identified or practiced as a Jew.

Libyans today may find it convenient to participate in an act of collective scapegoating and denial, a refusal to admit that one of their own could rise to such power only to demean and dominate his own people. But a country unable to come to terms with its history may find itself incapable of building the successful, inclusive democracy it has promised the world. While Libyan interim government officials have said that Gerbi’s timing was too soon, a simple cross-country trip tells me that, at least in my generation, there never will be an appropriate time for Libyan Jews.

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An American Jew in Damascus

Friday, November 18, 2011

The seldom-told story of a Syrian-Jewish boxer

She's a woman. She's a boxer. She's a kibbeh-loving Sephardi ! Three reasons why Carolina Raquel Duer makes a good story in JTA News. (Oh, there's a fourth! She's a champion):

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) -- In many ways, Carolina Raquel Duer is a typical middle-class Jewish kid from Buenos Aires. She attended a Jewish day school, spent time working and traveling in Israel and celebrated her bat mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue.

But when she stepped into the ring Nov. 12 at Club Atletico Lanus, she showcased a set of talents not commonly associated with the Jewish women of Buenos Aires.

Duer, 33, is the World Boxing Organization’s super flyweight champion. Making the third defense of her title, Duer defeated Maria Jose Nunez by a technical knockout in the third round. Duer knocked down her Uruguyan opponent with a left cross, Nunez scrambled to her feet before her cornerman -- also her husband -- threw in the towel to stop the fight.

A crowd of 2,400 was on hand to watch the bout, including the vice governor of the Buenos Aires province and world middleweight champion Sergio “Maravilla ” Martinez. National Public Television aired the fight live.

Known by her nickname, "The Turk," Duer is the daughter of Syrian immigrants to Argentina. She attended the capital’s Jaim Najman Bialik Primary School and spent more than a month in Israel in her younger years working on a kibbutz and touring the country. On weekends she went to the local Maccabi club and attended Jewish summer camp. It was there that her feisty personality was first evident.

“I liked the social activities of the Jewish community, but sometimes I got in trouble because I stood up for some disadvantaged kid,” Duer told JTA. “Injustice has always bothered me.”

Last year, Duer hit a thief who tried to steal her purse on the street.

“The ambulance came,” she recalled. “I don´t think that guy would dare steal from a girl again.”

Her bat mitzvah was celebrated at the Iona Hebrew Center. “It moves me when I go to the temple,” Duer said. “Last time I went for a tragic situation, and I was there with my family. It's very touching for me. I'm very Jewish in many ways.”

One of those ways is through food. Duer was the producer of a television show about Sephardic food, and she worked as a waitress and bartender in her family´s restaurant.

“Hummus, lajmashin, kibbeh, falafel -- I love them, and I know how to cook them, but usually I can eat very little because of my profession,” Duer said. “I'm always training and trying to reach the right weight for the fights.”

Duer’s life changed forever in 2002 when she accompanied a friend who was trying to lose weight to a gym. There she was approached by the legendary Antonio Zacarias, a well-known local trainer, who asked if she had ever boxed before. Zacarias wanted to train her, and Duer loved the idea.

As an amateur she won 19 of 20 fights. In 2007, she turned pro. Three years later she won the WBO title by defeating Lorena Pedazza by decision. She has a professional record of nine wins and three losses.

Like her ancestors -- Syrian immigrants were renowned as traders -- Duer has an entrepreneurial spirit, which she brings to her boxing. She actively seeks sponsors and carefully manages the business of fighting. Asked how much she expects to earn from the Nov. 12 matchup, Duer declined to answer.

“I won't tell,” she said, “because I will be envied.”

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Bigios take their fight to a NYC Appeal Court

The Bigios are back. Today, an appeal court in New York City hears the next round in this family's long-running battle to get compensation for their property, confiscated by the Egyptian government and then sold on to Coca Cola. The Bigios are suing Coca Cola because they do not think they will get justice in an Egyptian court. Report by Sharona Schwartz in The Blaze, a new news, opinion and comment site.

Palestinians frequently lament the plight of their refugees, and a main component of peace negotiations has been how to solve the problem of some 700,000 Palestinians who fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war plus their approximately 4 million descendants living as “refugees” in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Rarely spoken of are the estimated 800,000 Jews forced to flee their homes in the Muslim world during the Arab-Israeli armed conflicts between 1948 and the early 1970s.

This Thursday, one case bringing light to the issue will be argued in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City between a Jewish family once bullied into emigrating from Egypt and the Coca-Cola Company which later bought part of a company sitting on the Jewish family’s property. The property had years before been seized by the Egyptian government during an anti-Jewish campaign.

The case provides a stark reminder of the plight of the Jewish exiles then and the lasting impact decades later of a government’s theft of private property. With the persecution of Egypt’s Christians a troubling characteristic of the “Arab Spring,” it’s also a reminder that bias against minorities has deep roots in Egypt and the Arab world.

This Blaze reporter examined more than 100 pages of court documents to prepare this article. Here is the story.

The family’s saga: The Bigio family says grandfather Raphael Nessim Bigio purchased a plot of land in the Heliopolis suburb of Cairo back in 1929, building up his business.

In the early 1940s, Coca-Cola’s local subsidiary began leasing space from the Bigios and established its first Egyptian soda plant there. For 20 years they had business relations; the Bigios supplied bottle caps and other goods to the company until the Egyptian government suddenly seized the Bigios’ property.

This expropriation was part of the grander scheme by then dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser to implement “Arab socialism,” which included confiscating or “nationalizing” private property for the benefit of the government. The campaign also had an anti-Jewish slant and for some Jews included detention, deprivation of Egyptian citizenship and expulsion. The message was heard loud and clear. In November 1956, there were 45,000 Jews in Egypt. In less than a year, more than half had left.

Arab socialism hit the Bigio family hard. The family contends that Egypt “nationalized” their assets in the early 1960s, seizing two acres, taking it away from them and giving it to government owned entities, the El Nasr Bottling Company (ENBC) whose factories sat on the property, and the Misr Insurance Company which administered the property and leased it to ENBC.

Josias Bigio (family photo)

After his property was taken from him and he was stripped of his citizenship, Raphael’s son Josias Bigio left Egypt as a stateless person.

Years later, a new government in Egypt tried to make amends for some of the past actions, and the family says that in 1979 the Ministry of Finance ordered that the property be returned to the Bigios who were by then living in Canada. But according to the family, Misr Insurance refused to comply with the directive to return the property.

In 1993, when Egypt announced it would sell off some government businesses, the Bigios say they learned Coca-Cola was interested in purchasing the government bottling company ENBC. The Bigios say they reminded Coca-Cola that they owned the land and the factories ENBC was sitting on. The family contends Coca-Cola’s counsel agreed to meet the Bigios in Atlanta where the soda maker is based, but before that meeting took place, Coca-Cola purchased 42% of ENBC.

Because Coca-Cola had been doing business in Cairo with the family since the 1940s, the Bigios assert the soda company had witnessed what they term the “ethnic cleansing” taking place in Egypt and the persecution of their family and that the corporation knew exactly how ENBC came in possession of the property.

The Bigios’ brief to the court says Coca-Cola purchased property it knew Egypt had confiscated but bought a large chunk of it anyway, comparing the morality of it to purchasing artwork looted from Jews during the Nazi era. Their brief says that Coca-Cola:

“…has occupied and exploited the Bigios’ properties for profits that range in the hundreds of millions of dollars while refusing to compensate the Bigios as much as one penny.”

The family is asking for “compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial and punitive damages.” According to its estimates, the value of the property that was taken likely exceeds $50 million. The Bigios’ attorney Nathan Lewin tells The Blaze, “If Coca-Cola is required to disgorge the profits it has made by exploiting the Bigios’ property, damages could be in the hundreds of millions.”

Part of the property at stake (family photo)

Coca-Cola’s argument: Coca-Cola says the Bigio family is targeting the wrong defendant. Communications Director Ann L. Moore e-mailed The Blaze this statement:

“The Coca-Cola Company has never owned the property at issue in the litigation. Misr, an Egyptian state-owned insurance company, owns the property. This dispute is between Misr and the Bigios. The Coca-Cola Company should not be a party in this suit.”

In its brief to the court, Coca-Cola says Nasser’s nationalization laws impacted not only Jews but also Coptic Christians, Muslim Arabs, Greeks and Italians. Coca-Cola says it’s not responsible, because Misr insurance got the Bigios’ land from the government, the Egyptian bottling company ENBC rents it, and Coca-Cola is only a 42% shareholder in ENBC. In its brief, Coca-Cola says:

“A purchase is a purchase, not a conspiracy. Holding shares in a company is an investment, not aiding and abetting … ‘Spin’ and rhetoric do not replace law and or factual allegations. The plaintiffs do not claim the defendants had any involvement in or responsibility for the nationalization, which is what harmed them.”

Coke says purchasing 42% of ENBC was a “lawful public transaction.” It says it did not steal the ENBC shares but purchased them “for a considerable amount of money.” It also contends the Bigios did not establish that they were indeed the owners or that “nationalization of the property was wrongful under Egyptian or other law.”

This week’s battle: Coca-Cola’s argument suggests the Bigios should have sued the Egyptian entities, not the American corporation. Because of continued anti-Jewish sentiment, the Bigios believe they cannot get a fair hearing in an Egyptian court. With Coca-Cola based in Atlanta, they turned to the U.S. justice system in 1997. Despite two prior appeals, the family has yet to convince the judges to rule conclusively in their favor.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Islam's hatred of Jews inevitable' : Melanie Phillips

Like her or loathe her, the British journalist Melanie Phillips (writing in the Daily Mail) brings astonishing insight into politics, expressed with honesty and lucidity. Where I differ from her is that Islam is not inevitably hostile to Jews - it all depends on which Koranic verse you choose. The modern-day antisemitism overwhelming the Arab and Muslim world is in large part traceable to the extant influence of Nazism.

The co-chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi, has delivered a speech* about antisemitism to the European Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. I am sure that Baroness Warsi means well. I am sure that she is personally genuinely opposed to bigotry and prejudice in any form. I would therefore like to be able to say it was a fine speech. I cannot do so. Despite much in it that was worthy and unexceptionable, in one vital respect it was a travesty – made no more palatable by the fact that many Jews subscribe to precisely the same lethally misguided misapprehension.

This revolves around the comforting but mistaken notion that Jews and Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder against the same threat by racists and bigots. It’s the argument that says ‘antisemitism = Islamophobia’. And it’s the claim that there is nothing intrinsically threatening to Jews within Islam.

All three notions are false. All three notions are promoted by many Jews. All three were to be found in Baroness Warsi’s speech (pictured above right).

She said:

‘The ugly strain of anti-Semitism found in some parts of the Muslim community arose in the late 20th century. The point is that there’s nothing in our history which suggests that hatred between Muslim and Jews is inevitable.’

This is total rubbish. Muslim persecution of the Jews started in the 7th century with the birth of Islam and has continued ever since. It is true that down through the decades persecution of the Jews by Christians was more savage and barbaric than by Muslims. It is also true that there were periods when Jews prospered under Muslim rule. But the so-called ‘golden age’ for Jews in Muslim lands was very short indeed. The true history is a general story of humiliation, persecution and pogroms.

The great medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, no less, was forced to flee his native Cordoba in Spain after it was conquered in 1148 by the Muslim Almohads, who gave the Jews a choice of conversion, death or exile. In his Epistle to the Jews of Yemen written in about 1172, Maimonides wrote of the news of compulsory conversion for the Jews in Yemen having ‘broken our backs’ and ‘astounded and dumbfounded the whole of our community’. The Arabs, he said, had ‘persecuted us severely and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us’. ‘Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they...’

Is there really ‘nothing which suggests that hatred between Muslim and Jews is inevitable’? This is what I wrote in my book, The World Turned Upside Down:

‘The Qur’an says Islam came before Judaism and Christianity, and was the faith practised by Abraham who was a Muslim. (3:67-68). It refers to Islam as the religion of Abraham many times (2:130, 135; 3:95; 4:125; 6:161.) It teaches that Jews and Christians corrupted their Scriptures so Allah sent a fresh revelation through Mohammed. This cancelled out Judaism and Christianity and brought people back to the one true religion of Islam that Abraham had practised.

‘After the Jews rejected Mohammed, the Qur’an says the Jews were cursed by Allah (5:78) who transformed them into monkeys and pigs as punishment (2:65, 5:60, 7:166). It accuses the Jews of corrupting their holy books and removing the parts that spoke of Mohammed (2:75, cf verses 76-79, 5:13). It says the Jews were the greatest enemies of Islam (5:82), that both they and the Christians want Muslims to convert (2:120), that the Jews start wars and cause trouble throughout the earth (5:64, cf verse 67) and even that they claim to have killed the Messiah (4:157).

‘As the historian of religion Professor Paul Merkley observes, the Qur’an declares that the whole of Jewish scripture from Genesis 15 onwards is full of lies...When the Jews refused to accept Islam, Mohammed denounced them as not people of faith. The outcome was the eradication of the Jewish-Arab tribe called the Banu Qurayza. Unable at first to break them, Mohammed entered into a truce with them which he broke, following which he slaughtered the entire Jewish population. Unlike the wars between tribes in the Hebrew Bible which remain merely a historical account with no practical application today, the eradication of the Banu Qurayza is constantly alluded to by the Islamists, for whom it remains an exemplary and timeless call to arms against precisely the same enemy and with similar tactics.’

Baroness Warsi said that Jews were currently targeted by the far left and the far right. So they are. But she omitted to say that they are also targeted by Muslims well beyond the groups she singled out -- Muslims Against Crusades, Islam 4 UK and Al Muhajiroun. Obliquely, she refers to Muslim Judeophobes as

‘...religious fanatics. The people who claim faith drives them to acts of hatred...but who in reality are nothing more than bigots, who hijack their faith to justify their acts.’

But Muslim hatred of Jews, as Andrew Bostom notes most recently here, is rooted in mainstream Koranic exegesis (someone should give Baroness Warsi for her birthday a copy of Bostom’s monumental The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, more than 600 pages of meticulously documented Islamic Jew-hatred in both the religion and its history).

‘Nothing which suggests that hatred between Muslim and Jews is inevitable’? The late Sheikh Tantawi, the Grand Mufti of Al Ahzar University in Cairo and the most prominent and influential cleric in the Sunni Muslim world, used passages from the Koran to depict Jews as enemies of God, his prophets and of Islam itself. As the US media monitoring group CAMERA has noted, Tantawi wrote:

‘Qur'an describes people of the Book in general terms, with negative attributes like their fanaticism in religion, following a false path. It describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e., killing the prophets of God, corrupting his words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their […] deep rooted lasciviousness.

‘Later, after quoting some from the Koran, Tantawi writes “This means that not all Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims; the bad ones do not.” (Legacy, page 394).

‘Matthias K√ľntzel, author of Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islamism and the Roots of 9/11, provides some other detail about Tantawi He writes that “Tantawi, the highest Sunni Muslim theologian, quotes Hitler’s remark in Mein Kampf that “in resisting the Jew, I am doing the work of the Lord.” K√ľntzel continues: “He praises The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, noting without the slightest trace of sympathy that “after the publication of the Protocols in Russia, some 10,000 Jews were killed.”

‘Tantawi made a number of other troubling statements. For example, in 2002, Tantawi declared that Jews are “the enemies of Allah, descendents of apes and pigs.” The following year, Tantawi issued an edict declaring that Jews should no longer be described in such a manner, apparently under pressure from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

‘While Tantawi did condemn the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 he later affirmed terrorism against Israelis. In 2002, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), reported that Tantawi “declared that martyrdom (suicide) operations and the killing of civilians are permitted acts and that more such attacks should be carried out. Tantawi's positions were posted on, a website associated with Al­ Azhar.”’

To repeat – Sheikh Tantawi was the most prominent religious authority in Sunni Islam. Does Baroness Warsi class him also as a bigot who hijacked Islam to justify his hatred?

Jews cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims against attacks by bigots because a disproportionate number of Muslims reportedly harbour or even act upon prejudice against Jews.

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* with thanks: Independent Observer

Beirut synagogue already hit by Molotov cocktail

In Deutsche Welle's update on the reconstruction of Beirut's Maghen Avraham synagogue for a non-existent congregation, the prime mover, Isaac Arazi, reveals for the first time that a 'deranged' man threw a Molotov cocktail shortly after the project began in 2009. Deranged? That's a relief: he could have been a card-carrying antisemite, of which Lebanon is not short.

One of the four Syrian workers trundles past with a wheelbarrow full of Damascene marble for the Bat Zion, where the Torah will one day be kept, oblivious to the commotion outside the gate. The guard is shouting into his radio, to the deafening tune of the pneumatic drill from the neighboring construction site. Across the road from the synagogue, yet another luxurious apartment block is growing into Beirut's skyline.

Isaac Arazi, a softly spoken man in his sixties and the self-declared head of the Jewish community in Lebanon, is apologetic for the delay. Security is tight around the synagogue and likely to remain so, even once the building work is completed at some point next year. "There was an attack a month after we started building back in 2009," Isaac explains. A deranged man, he says, threw a Molotov cocktail at the building site.

Is Isaac worried that something similar might happen again? He shrugs and gestures to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s residence overlooking the site. A five-minute walk from the synagogue, several armed men dressed in black are lounging by the residence's entrance, while a sniffer dog is inspecting the boot of a car.

Someone, maybe the Colonel, has sent one of the men to the synagogue. He trails behind Isaac, looking bored. "No photo," he suddenly barks. No, a picture of the small Star of David chalked on the light-blue wall of the gallery overlooking the empty room below, which will one day house the congregation, is impossible: the as yet paneless window faces Hariri's residence.

Saad Hariri's father, Rafik, Lebanon’s post-war prime minister, pushed the transformation of the ruined downtown area through Solidere, a publically listed construction company. Luxury boutiques and trendy cafes and bars have grown out of the ruins, turning downtown into an expensive - and highly controversial neighborhood.

Not so the reconstruction of the synagogue, located in the old Jewish neighborhood of Wadi Abu Jamil. All political parties, including the Shia militia and political party, Hezbollah, gave their consent. "We accept all people: Christians, Jews, atheists," Ibrahim Moussawi, the spokesperson emphasizes. Hezbollah, he explains, has no problem with Jews, only with Israel.
The current Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, in an interview conducted via twitter, says he is proud that the synagogue is being built: the proximity of churches, mosques and a synagogue is a sign of "the religious diversity at the heart of Beirut."

Jewish coexistence with Lebanon's other religious communities was historically peaceful and amiable, according to Kristen Schulze, a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of "The Jews of Lebanon." Jews, Schulze writes, were just another minority in Lebanon's sectarian and religious patchwork.

In contrast with other Arab countries, following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the number of Jews living in Lebanon actually increased. An estimated 14,000 Jews lived mostly in Beirut, but also in the coastal towns of Tripoli and Saida.

The Lebanese Civil War, which started in 1975 and was to rage until 1990, turned the Jewish quarter into an embattled no man’s land: the dreaded Green Line dividing the city in two, ran through the Jewish neighborhood, separating Christian East Beirut from the mostly Muslim and Druze neighbourhoods in the West. Snipers and constant shelling turned the area - and the synagogue - to abandoned rubble. Many Jews, as well as Muslims and Christians, fled the country.

'I couldn’t find any Jews': With the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of Lebanon in 1982, the former coexistence was finally shattered. Some Islamist groups associated the Lebanese Jews with the Israeli occupier, Schulze says, even though the majority of those emigrating left for Europe or the United States - not Israel.

Today, the Jewish community is estimated to number about 200. In his office in Downtown Beirut, Nabil de Freige recalls how he went on a quest to find the remaining Jews in Lebanon, after he was elected to Parliament in 2000. "I tried to find a Jewish representative," the MP representing the seven minority groups out of Lebanon’s 18 recognized religious sects explains. "But we couldn't find anyone willing to come forward," he says. He believes Jews may be afraid to identify as Jews and pretend to be Christians.

Isaac Arazi is reluctant to say whether or not he feels afraid. He grudgingly admits that the community is miniscule. But he has a vision: he wants to revitalize the dwindling community through the synagogue's reconstruction. Soon, he says, services, which are now conducted in secret, will be held in the synagogue. Maybe, he says seriously, half smiling, some Jews will even return.

Opening next year in Beirut? Isaac Arazi’s grand plans are "ludicrous," a Lebanese who migrated to Israel in 1975 says. "The synagogue will be more of a museum than a place of cult (worship -ed) given that there are no people to attend the offices (services - ed)," Isaac Salmassi, who lives close to Tel Aviv, scoffs.

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Reconstruction of Beirut synagogue begins

My comment: this article perpetuates the fiction, spread by Kirsten Schulze, that Lebanon's Jews left because of the civil war in 1975. In fact 90 percent of the community (which enjoyed a temporary spike when Jews from Syrian and Iraq came into the country during the 1950s) had left by 1967. Half these Jews fled to Israel.

At last, Yad Vashem focuses on Shoah in N. Africa

Jews suffered in wartime North Africa, and had the German advance under Rommel not been halted by the Allies in North Africa, its Jews were have been exterminated in the Shoah (Holocaust) as surely as Jews in Europe. The October newsletter from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, casts a long overdue spotlight on the plight of Jews in North Africa. This represents a triumph for Edith Shaked, who has campaigned for Yad Vashem to document the story of North African Jews in the Holocaust. Now she is urging the Shoah Museum in Paris to follow suit. (With thanks Edith, Sarah)

Here are abstracts from the newsletter:

This article discusses the factual bases for the assertion that the Jews of North Africa would have met the same fate as the Jews of Europe in the Final Solution, had the tide of the war not turned against the Axis powers. gives background history to the Holocaust in France. It also provides some tools for using this as a topic in classroom lessons and discussion.

Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were French territories and protectorates prior to World War II. When France surrendered to Germany in 1940, the laws of the Vichy regime (unoccupied France) were applied to these French territories. This article describes the treatment of the Jews in these countries under the Vichy regime.

Libya was an Italian colony prior to World War II. This article discusses what happened to the Jews of Libya once the war began, and why there is no Jewish community today in Libya.

Restitution for Holocaust-era victims: (with thanks: Michelle Malca)
The Heart scheme provides restitution for victims in all countries affected by the Holocaust. The deadline for applications is 1 December 2011.