Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mind the Gap

 Lamb and dried fruit tagine

Point of No Return will be taking a short break and will be back in the New Year. Until then, posting will be light to non-existent.

As this year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the exodus of the Jews from Algeria draws to a close, I'm leaving you  to feast your eyes and ears on this page on Algerian-Jewish culture, courtesy of JIMENA.

Wishing all Readers a very Happy and Prosperous 2013! The popular singer Lili Boniche

What does the new Egyptian constitution mean?

 Voting with an inky finger (Photo: AP)

When it comes to the rights of non-Muslims in Egypt, is the glass half full or half empty? Is Egypt's new constitution better or worse for them than the previous one?
While Judaism and Christianity are protected as long as they do not 'violate public order', other sects, like Baha'ism, are not.  Key passages are highlighted in bold :(With thanks: Lily)

CBS News reports:

Egypt's draft constitution, which is being voted on in a referendum Saturday, is made up of an introduction, an 11-part preamble and 236 articles. Critics have raised concerns over issues including Islamic law and women's rights:

Shariah (Islamic) law
Like a previous constitution, the draft states, "Principles of Islamic Shariah are the principal source of legislation." For the first time, the draft defines those principles, rooting them in "general evidence, foundational rules" and other rules from the long tradition of Islamic jurisprudence. Both critics and ultraconservative supporters of the charter say that opens the doors for stricter imposition of Islamic law.

Role of clerics
The draft gives Islamic clerics unprecedented powers with an article stating, "Al-Azhar senior scholars are to be consulted in matters pertaining to Islamic law," referring to the most respected centre of scholarship and rulings in Sunni Islam.

An article commits "the state and society" to "entrenching and protecting the moral values" of "the authentic Egyptian family." Critics worry the broad phrasing will allow not only the government but also individuals to intervene in personal rights.

Women's rights
The draft mentions women in the framework of the traditional Muslim family, adding, "The state shall ensure maternal and child health services free of charge and ensure reconciliation between the duties of a woman toward her family and her work." The preamble underlines equality "for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or nepotism or preferential treatment, in both rights and duties." But opponents charge that the document does not protect women from discrimination.

Civil rights
The draft guarantees freedom of expression, creativity, assembly and other rights. It also has a direct ban on torture and stricter provisions limiting detentions and searches by police. But it says the rights "must be practiced in a manner not conflicting with" principles of Shariah or the morals of the family. There is also a ban on insulting "religious messengers and prophets," opening the door to arrests of bloggers and other activists.

News media
Independent publications closed for a day to protest the lack of an article banning arrest of journalists for what they write. The draft has this: "Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed. The media shall be free and independent..."

Religious minorities
The draft guarantees the freedom of Christians and Jews to practice their rites, live by their religions' rule on marriage, inheritance and personal status and establish places of worship. But it hedges those rights on the condition they do not "violate public order" and that they will be "regulated by law." In the past, the building of churches has been limited by law because of claims it disturbs public order. The draft guarantees those rights for "the divine religions," meaning Christianity and Judaism, but not others, raising concerns of persecution of smaller sects.

The charter ensures an independent status for the powerful military. The president is the head of the national security council, but the defence minister is the commander in chief of the armed forces and "appointed from among its officers." Control of the military budget is not mentioned. It also allows civilians to be tried before military courts in some cases

The Voice of America takes a more optimistic line:

Role of Islam

Both constitutions designate Islam as Egypt's official religion and Islamic law, or Sharia, as the main source of legislation. They also obligate the state to "preserve" traditional family values based on Islam.

But in a key difference, the 2012 charter defines the principles of Sharia for the first time. It says those principles include "evidence, rules, jurisprudence and sources" accepted by Sunni Islam, Egypt's majority religious sect.

The new document also gives unprecedented powers to Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most respected religious school, by saying its scholars must be consulted on all matters relating to Sharia. The 1971 charter did not mention Al-Azhar.

Human rights

Both documents say detainees must not be subjected to any "physical or moral harm," and must have their dignity preserved by the state.
In a new protection of rights, the 2012 charter bans all forms of human exploitation and the sex trade.

Women's rights

Both documents commit the state to helping women with the financial costs of motherhood and the balancing of family and work responsibilities. But they differ on the issue of equality between men and women.

The preamble of the 2012 constitution says Egypt adheres to the principle of equality "for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or nepotism or preferential treatment, in both rights and duties."

The new document's main section also contains two articles barring the state from denying equal rights and opportunities to citizens. But those provisions do not explicitly bar discrimination against women.

The 1971 constitution included one article that required the state to treat women and men equally in the "political, social, cultural and economic spheres," provided that such treatment did not violate Sharia.

Another article explicitly prohibited gender discrimination.

Freedom of expression

Both charters guarantee the freedom to express opinions orally, in writing or through images, and the freedom of the press to own news organizations and publish material independently.

In a major change, the 2012 document guarantees the freedom of belief for the "divine/monotheist religions" - a reference to Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

It says followers of those faiths have the right to perform religious rituals and establish places of worship "as regulated by law." The previous constitution made no mention of the rights of any religions other than Islam.

In another difference, the new document contains an unprecedented ban on "insults" toward the prophets of Islam.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Students stage play on Karachi's lost Jews

Last month a group of students in Pakistan staged a play about Karachi's lost Jews. It's a story that is neither preserved nor remembered, and serves as a dangerous precedent for other struggling minority groups. Insightful article by Bilal Lakhani in Asia Society blog:

At the beginning of the 20th century, Karachi alone had about 2,500 Jews engaged as artisans and civil servants in the city. In 1893, the Jews of Karachi built the Magain Shalome Synagogue, and, in 1936, one of the leaders of the Jewish community, Abraham Reuben, became the first Jewish councilor on the Karachi city (municipal) corporation.

A number of Jewish organizations catered to the needs of Karachi's Jews. The Young Man's Jewish Association, founded in 1903, was established with the purpose of encouraging sports as well as religious and social activities. The Karachi Jewish syndicate, formed in 1918, was created to provide homes to poor Jews at a reasonable rent.

Even though the majority of Pakistan's Jews lived in Karachi, a small community served by two synagogues also lived in Peshawar. After the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, violent incidents against the small Jewish community forced an exodus of Jewish refugees to flee to India and Israel. Incidentally, Magain Shalome — Karachi's synagogue — was demolished in the 1980s to make way for a shopping plaza.

'The Lost Jews of Karachi' poster
The history of Jews living in Karachi is neither preserved nor remembered in Karachi today. Instead, Jews have become a favorite punching bag of the religious right as they habitually invoke a "Jewish conspiracy" to explain away the failures of the Pakistani state.
The story of the disappearance of Jewish community within two generations serves as a dangerous precedent for other minority groups currently struggling to fight for their rights, in the face of violence, discrimination and forced conversions.

A recent surge in violence against minorities — be they Hindu, Christian or the supposedly non-Muslim Ahmadis — has enabled Pakistan's civil society to thrust the plight of minorities into the national spotlight, sparking a conversation about tolerance and religious harmony.

Last month, a group of students attempted to inspire a discussion about Karachi's long-lost Jewish heritage with a short play, The Lost Jews of Karachi, performed at the Alliance Francaise de Karachi. The play revolved around two Jewish sisters struggling with the decision to abandon their ancestral hometown (Karachi) and move to Israel. In the final scene, the sisters are separated at the railway station as they attempt to flee. One of the sisters misses the train, and remains behind in the city — as the other manages to leave Karachi forever.

 Read article in full

"Cemetery of the Lost Tribe," a documentary short about the the Jewish cemetery in Mewa Shah, Karachi.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Turkish cops arrest men in 'ancient Torah racket'

 Torah scroll being hand-written (Nati Shohat)

Turkish police on Tuesday arrested four men in the coastal city of Adana on suspicion that they tried to sell a purportedly 1,900-year-old Torah scroll, according to the Times of Israel.(With thanks: Lily)

The men claimed they legally acquired the nearly 29-foot-(9 meters)-long gazelle-hide scroll from an antiquities dealer and were ignorant of its provenance.

“We bought it from an antique store and brought it to a geography teacher to ask what was written on it,” the Hurriyet Daily News website quoted one of the suspects as saying.

Initial reports could not confirm the scroll’s authenticity, nor did they indicate on what basis authorities claimed it was nearly 2,000 years old. 

The oldest extant complete version of the Torah is the Leningrad Codex, which dates back to the early 11th century CE, and few of the oldest Torah scrolls exceed 500 years in age.

Imam backtracks: "I didn't mean kill ALL Jews"


Tunisian imam al-Suhayli made his antisemitic sermon in the Tunisian town of Rades on 30 November 

 An Imam whose inflammatory sermon caused uproar in Tunisia and around the world has been forced to backtrack on his call for all Jews to be killed. As a result of this MEMRI TV clip, a Tunisian minority rights group began proceedings against him in the Tunisian courts for incitement to hatred: (with thanks: Lily).  

According to MEMRI, Imam Ahmed al-Suhayli now says:

 "I never called in this sermon to kill Tunisian Jews. You have the sermon, and you can check and see what I said. This sermon was delivered in the context of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. I was talking about a sect of Jews that was mentioned in the Koran. I was talking about their digression from the path and laws of Allah, and their distortion of His words. It reached the point where they slew some of Allah's prophets. That sect, mentioned in the Koran, justly earned the wrath and punishments of Allah. These are Koranic facts. These are the words of Allah.

 "Then I said that this sect still exists in Palestine. These are the extremist, racist Zionists, who have been killing and slaughtering the Palestinian people for decades. They have occupied their lands and trampled their honor. Everybody in the world knows this.

"Then I called upon the Islamic nation to assume its responsibility regarding these continuous attacks. "I absolutely did not call to kill the Jews – I did not call to kill them all. Obviously, some among them are peaceful. There are even some Jews who oppose the policies of the extremist, racist Zionists.

Even in Islam, the Muslim is now allowed to harm these people, because Islam is a religion that preaches tolerance and non-violence, and is against the harming of non-Muslims... "Even though I was talking about the Jews, I meant a sect among them. I was referring to a sect among the Jews – the racist Zionists, who believe themselves to be superior to all other people, and who believe that all the people were created to serve them..."

Read article in full

Monday, December 24, 2012

Syrian Jews move in to New York

 The sit  (left) of the proposed Safra community centre (right) on Manhattan's East Side

Syrian Jews are moving into Manhattan from Brooklyn to be near the Safra synagogue and its burgeoning community, the Tablet reports. (With thanks: Michelle)

The standard iconography of Jewish Manhattan has always been Ashkenazic: pastrami at Katz’s, smoked salmon at Russ & Daughters, tenements and Judaica stores on the Lower East Side, Hasidic diamond dealers in Midtown. Even with the growing popularity of Sephardic dishes on Upper West Side holiday tables, almost no one remembers that a Little Syria full of Ottoman Jews once thrived on Washington Street in Lower Manhattan—mainly because the entire community packed up and left for the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend before the Second World War.

Now the Syrian Sephardic Jewish community is once again establishing itself in Manhattan. It’s been nearly a decade since Congregation Edmond J. Safra—whose namesake built a banking fortune in Brazil—opened just off Central Park on East 63rd Street, to serve people like him: Jews from Middle Eastern countries who grew wealthy, largely outside the United States, and settled on the Upper East Side along with other members of the moneyed global elite. (Safra was found dead in his Monaco home in 1999.) But the synagogue’s list has grown to 1,500 families, and much of its recent growth has been fueled by Brooklyn transplants. “It used to be only singles, and then it became newlyweds, but for only one or two years,” said Elie Abadie, the entrepreneurial Mexico City-raised rabbi of the Safra synagogue. “Now we have young families, and we have empty-nesters moving in, once their children have all married.”

In 2011, Abadie launched a preschool, the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan, in an effort to anchor young parents torn between remaining and returning to Brooklyn, where the dominant Syrian community has invested heavily in schools and social services. Next month, demolition is scheduled to begin on three adjoining townhouses along Manhattan’s East 82nd Street to make way for Abadie’s most ambitious project to date: a 12-story, $50 million community center on East 82nd Street at Lexington Avenue. When it opens in 2014, the glass-fronted building will feature a kosher café, a swimming pool, exercise and recreation rooms, a kitchen for cooking classes, and a two-level banquet hall with an outdoor terrace graced by skyline views and a “glamour pool.” The Moise Safra Community Center—named for Edmond’s brother, who underwrote the building—will also include a second Sephardic synagogue for families living in the East 80s and 90s, once a hub of German Jewish life in Manhattan.

“We’re trying to create a neighborhood within a neighborhood,” the center’s director, Rebecca Harary, told me. The facility will operate on a membership structure and be open to all the Jewish residents, organizations, and schools in the area, Harary explained, but the focus will be on providing a place where people who identify with the Sephardic community can gather. “We want to celebrate our own traditions in a place where it’s valued as important and doesn’t take a back seat to American life,” Harary said.

Read article in full

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jew vetoed as Tourism Minister in Tunisia

Members of the Ennahda Islamist party in Tunisia have vetoed the appointment of Rene Trabelsi (pictured), the Jewish director of Royal First Travel,  as Tunisian Minister for Tourism, Harissa blog reports.

The appointment was suggested by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.

Unofficial sources say that centrists in the party like Jabali were in favour of appointing Trabelsi to replace the incumbent Elyes Fakhfakh, who this week was named Minister of Finance. The objective would be to show that the Islamist government is open to the outside world. Tourism is in the doldrums at the moment. The Trabelsi family dominates the Djerba Jewish community, whose main industry is tourism.

But radicals in the party like Habib Ellouze, Sadok Chourou, Abdellatif el-Mekki and others do not share their view. They reject the idea that the Tourism portfolio should go to a Jew.

In the interim, until a new Minister is named, Elyes Fakhfakh will combine both the Tourism and Finance portfolios.

Read article in full (French)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Now Muslims demand Spanish nationality

 Ahmed Bensal el-salhi is angry at the denial of Spanish citizenship to those with Moorish ancestors

 Following the Spanish government's offer of automatic Spanish nationality for Jews of Sephardi ancestry, Muslims are now demanding equal treatment, according to this  Gatestone Institute article  :

Muslims are now demanding that the Spanish government grant automatic citizenship to millions of descendants of Muslims who were expelled from Spain in the seventeenth century.

Much of the Iberian Peninsula was occupied by Muslim conquerors known as the Moors from 711 until 1492, when the Moorish Kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. But the final Muslim expulsion from Granada, known in Arabic as Al-Andalus, did not take place until over a century later, beginning in 1609, when King Philip III decreed the Expulsion of the Moriscos.
The Moriscos were the descendants of the Muslim population that converted to Roman Catholicism under threat of exile from Ferdinand and Isabella in 1502. From 1609 through 1614, the Spanish government systematically forced an estimated 350,000 Moriscos to leave Spain for Muslim North Africa.

Today there are an estimated 5 million descendants of the Moriscos living in Morocco alone; there are millions more living in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Tunisia and Turkey.

In a December 3 essay published by the Morocco-based newspaper Correo Diplomático, the Moroccan journalist Ahmed Bensalh Es-salhi wrote that the "decision to grant Spanish citizenship to the grandchildren of the Hebrews in Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while ignoring the Moriscos, the grandsons of the Muslims, is without doubt, flagrant segregation and unquestionable discrimination, as both communities suffered equally in Spain at that time. The decision could also be considered by the international community to be an historic act of absolute immorality and injustice…This decision is absolutely disgraceful and dishonorable."

Bensalh then went on to threaten Spain: "Is Spain aware of what might be assumed when it makes peace with some and not with others? Is Spain aware of what this decision could cost? Has Spain considered that it could jeopardize the massive investments that Muslims have made on its territory? Does Spain have alternatives to the foreign investment from Muslims if they ever decide to move that capital to other destinations due to the discrimination against Muslims?"

Bensalh's article is the latest salvo in an escalating battle being waged by Muslim historians and academics who are demanding that Spain treat Moriscos the same way it treats Sephardic Jews.
Jamal Bin Ammar al-Ahmar, an "Andalus-Algerian" university professor at the Ferhat Abbas University in Sétif in northeastern Algeria, has been engaged in a four-year campaign to persuade Spanish King Juan Carlos to identify and condemn those who expelled the Muslims from Al-Andalus in the fifteenth century. Al-Ahmar is also demanding that millions of Moriscos expelled from Spain be allowed to return there.

In a letter addressed to Juan Carlos, Al-Ahmar calls for a "full legal and historical investigation of the war crimes that were perpetrated on the Muslim population of Andalusia by the French, English, European and papal crusaders, whose victims were our poor miserable people, after the collapse of Islamic rule in Andalusia."

The letter speaks of "the injustice inflicted on the Muslim population of Andalusia who are still suffering in the diaspora in exile since 1492."

Al-Ahmar wants the Spanish monarch to apologize "on behalf of his ancestors" and to assume "responsibility for the consequences" that this would entail. He says it is necessary "to identify criminals, to convict retroactively, while at the same time to identify and compensate victims for their calamities and restore their titles." This process would culminate with "a decree that allows immigrants to return to their homes in Andalusia, and grant them full citizenship rights and restoration of all their properties."

Read article in full

Friday, December 21, 2012

How Algeria lost its Jews

Parcours commentée de l'exposition "Juifs... by SophiaAitKaci  

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the exodus of the Jews of Algeria. The exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Paris has been attracting wide interest into this neglected aspect of French, Jewish and Algerian history. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:
The issue has been neglected by France because the 130,000 Jews were subsumed into the great mass of pieds noirs – the 800, 000 French settlers who fled Algeria. It’s been neglected because the loss of Algeria, the jewel in the crown of France’s colonial empire, was a humiliation which French society was glad not to be reminded of. It’s been neglected by the Jews because they too saw themselves as Frenchmen. It’s been neglected by Israel because, unusual among the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, 90 percent of Algerian Jews went to France and not Israel. It’s been neglected by independent Algeria because it has chosen to erase all traces of Jewish presence, culture or history.

 Meanwhile dubious parallels are drawn in academia and the media between France’s colonial war in Algeria, and Israel’s war with the Arabs. Propagandists claim that Algeria’s Jews cast their lot with France in a supposed betrayal of Algeria’s Arabs. The ‘colonised’ Arabs of Palestine will triumph just as surely as they did in Algeria, they confidently predict.

But far from being colonial, Jewish roots go back 2,700 years when Jewish traders arrived in North Africa with the Phoenicians, 1,000 years before Islam; and the first Jewish slaves and expellees from Judea settled among the Berbers soon after the destruction of the 2nd Temple. Some Berber tribes were said to have converted to Judaism. The most famous Jewish Berber of all, the warrior Queen Kahina, fought the Arab Muslim invaders in the 7th century – in vain.

 The toshavim, the settled indigenous Jews who managed to survive islamisation, were joined in the 15th century by the megorashim, Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition. Under Ottoman rule, most Jews lived in abject misery as dhimmis – inferior subjects under Islam. One 19th century traveller, Signor Pananti, wrote: “there is no species of outrage or vexation to which they are not exposed…the indolent Moor, with a pipe in his mouth and his legs crossed, calls any Jew who is passing, and makes him perform the offices of a servant…. Even fountains were happier, at least they were allowed to murmur.”

 No wonder then, when Algeria became part of metropolitan France in 1830, the oppressed Jews greeted the French as saviours and liberators. Forty years later the Decret Cremieux, named after a famous Jewish politician and philanthropist, imposed French nationality on the entire Jewish community.

The myth has since developed that only the Jews were offered French nationality. The Muslims were offered it too, but overwhelmingly rejected it, as it would mean compromising their personal status, which was governed by Muslim law. In Muslim eyes, the fact that the dhimmi Jews could have greater rights than they did caused great resentment. But the Jews were also resented by the pieds noirs. How dare these natives be given the privilege of French nationality and suppose themselves equal to true Frenchmen?

 The Jews found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Muslim antisemitism reached its peak with the eruption of the Constantine pogrom of 1934, in which 25 Jews were killed. French antisemitism reached its zenith with the WW2 abrogation of the Decret Cremieux. Under Vichy rule, Jews not only were stripped of their French nationality, but were sacked from public service jobs and subject to quotas and restrictions. The Decret Cremieux was reinstated in 1943. In some Jews, the trauma of having their French citizens’ rights taken away created an absolute dread of being identified with Arabs: they were Frenchmen of the Jewish faith – francais israelites.

 But as the Arabs embarked on an ever more brutal campaign of decolonisation in the 1950s, while the pieds noirs engaged in equally brutal counter-terror, the Jewish community was careful to maintain an official position of neutrality – although in retrospect, the killing of rabbis and bombings of synagogues looked deliberate enough. Some Jews supported the FLN independence fighters. A minority of anti-French Jewish communists earned the title ‘pieds rouges‘. 

The Jews could sit on the fence no longer when two events forced them decisively into the French camp: the first was the burning of the Great synagogue in Algiers in December 1960. Arabs went on the rampage ripping memorial plaques from the walls, and torching books and Torah scrolls. The second was the murder in June 1961, while he was out shopping in the market, of the famous Jewish musician, Sheikh Raymond Leyris, a symbol of a shared Arab-Jewish culture and father-in-law of the singer Enrico Macias.

Like the pieds noirs, the Jews were faced with a stark choice: suitcase or coffin. They scrambled to reach seaports and airports. By the time Algeria had declared independence on 3 July 1962, all but a few thousand Jews had left for France. The watchword was now ‘Muslim Algeria’, not ‘Algeria for the Algerians’. No ‘foreigner’, even those who had fought for the FLN, was awarded Algerian nationality, unless they had a Muslim father. There was no place for Jews in the new Algeria, as there is no place for Jews anywhere in the Arab world.

‘Juifs d’Algerie’ is on at the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme in Paris until 27 January 2013.

 Read article in full
Crossposted at Harry's Place

Lyn Julius will be giving a talk on the Jews of Algeria at Limmud UK on 24 December 
Distinctive bags customarily given to Barmitvah boys in Algeria are almost the only vestiges left of Jewish life

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Turkey sinks to new low with its Jews

 Prime minister Tayip Erdogan (photo:wikicommons)

Amid reports that the Turkish intelligence service has been spying on the Jewish community, relations between Turkish Jews and the government are at all-time low, according to the Algemeiner. The media is also to blame

The relationship between the 30,000 or so Jews living in Turkey and the rest of the Turkish population has become tense ever since the  relationship between Israel and Turkey began to deteriorate shortly after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.  Anti-Israel sentiment is high in the country, and anti-Semitism has also been on the rise at the encouragement of Turkey’s Islamist government. A report in Al-Monitor quotes several Jews who fear a backlash against their community.

“As a Jew, I can attest to you there is a difference between being a Turk and an Israeli,” Ediz said. “But whenever there is fighting between Israel and the Palestinians, the atmosphere in Turkey turns against us, and people start acting as if we committed a crime.”

Leri, another Turkish Jew, told Al-Monitor that the media is also to blame. “The media is painting such an image that many won’t even consider us human.”

According to the Al-Monitor article, the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul that tried Israeli soldiers in-absentia for their role in the Mavi Marmara incident asked the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) for a listing of Turkish Jews who traveled to Israel two weeks before and after it occurred. These people were put under surveillance. There are also allegations that  the MIT identified five Jews in Turkey as suspicious, and that they expanded surveillance in Istanbul and Izmir — where the majority of the country’s Jewish population lives.

While Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made appeals to Turkey’s Jewish population to help mend the relationship with Israel, there’s a sense among Jews in Turkey that he has put them in a difficult and compromising position.

Rights group lodges complaint against Imam

 Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jabali

Following on from the petition started by a Tunisian Jew,  a Tunisian support group for minorities has lodged a complaint against an imam, accusing him of inciting hatred against Jews in a fiery television sermon. Arutz Sheva reports (with thanks: Kouichi) :

"We have lodged a complaint with the court of the first instance in Ben Arous against the imam of Rades mosque, Sheikh Ahmed S'hili, for inciting hatred," the association's lawyer Kais Baltagi told AFP.

The complaint is based on legislation which stipulates that anyone using media to "incite hatred between races, religions and people" can be jailed for up to three years.

S'hili's sermon was aired on November 30 by the private network Hannibal TV. The channel itself is not included in the complaint because it broadcast the imam's remarks live and was unaware in advance of the nature of his comments, Baltagi said.

Read article in full

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Iran law 'will jail Jews returning from Israel'

 A Jewish wedding in Iran

Iran has apparently passed a new law whereby an Iranian Jew who visits Israel and returns to Iran may be sentenced to five years' in jail.

The French-Jewish publication Information Juive (November 2012) quotes a report in Israel Hayom, in which Mr Pinchasi, a new arrival in Israel, mentions the new law.

Jews usually travel to Israel via Turkey. There are still direct phone links between Iran and Israel, but Jews suspect their calls are tapped.

Mr Pinchasi says that Jews are free to practise their religion in Iran, even if they do not walk the streets wearing a kippa.

There are believed to be some 180, 000 Jews of Persian origin living in Israel. According to official census figures, there are fewer than 9, 000 Jews still in Iran, but Iranian Jews in Israel and the US still talk of 25, 000.  

The interview with Mr Pinchasi took place before the murder last month of a Jewish woman in Isfahan.

Meet 'our' man in the French parliament

 Avi Assouly (Photo: Robert Poulain)

There can't be many members of the French parliament who have served in the IDF. Algerian-born Avi Assouly has also gone from professional soccer player and sports reporter to French politician in the National Assembly, where he is one of Israel's stauncher supporters. Israel Hayom reports:

Avi Assouly, 62, has an interesting life story. He was born in Algeria in June 1950. As a teenager he wanted to be a soccer player, but ended up as one of France’s best-known sports reporters. He also served in the Israel Defense Forces.

“In 1973, I went to Israel for the first time,” he recalls. “I was 23 years old. Before I went to Israel, I had worked at the court in Besancon, where my family immigrated when they left Algeria. I came to Israel on vacation. One day in July, I was playing soccer on a beach in Tel Aviv. Somebody saw me playing and asked me if I’d like to play on the Maccabi Tel Aviv team. I said, ‘Why not?’” Assouly chuckles at the memory, a childlike smile on his face.

As a result of this unexpected proposal, Assouly gave up his return ticket to France. Once he admitted that he had done a stint as a professional player in Besancon’s second league team (“Six players, that was all,” he says), he found himself at the Maccabi Tel Aviv training camp in Shefayim two weeks later. “The manager’s name was Leibovich (Haim ‘Leibo’ Leibovich),” he recalls.

“I worked in the cotton fields during the day, and in the evenings I trained with the Maccabi team players, mostly with the young people,” he recounts slowly. “Then, one day they brought me to play in a training match with the adult team. I was a far rightist and they liked me a lot,” he says.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, Assouly’s adventure ended. “The people at the hotel told me to leave because Mr. Leibovich couldn’t support my staying any longer, and that was how my soccer career was cut short. I wanted to join the army, but they said no. So I found myself as a volunteer on a kibbutz in the north. I wanted to be near the border. I worked in the dairy and went back to France when the war was over.”

Q. In the end, you realized your dream to join the IDF.

“Yes. In 1984 I went back to Israel and volunteered. I still remember basic training at Training Base 4 and serving afterward on bases in the south. You can’t imagine how I felt when I got my Israeli passport,” he says.
When Avi returned to France in 1985, he found his niche – not in sports, or in writing about sports either. He describes his entry into politics as a coincidence. In January 2010, Michel Vauzelle, the president of the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur (PACA), where Marseille is located, asked Assouly to take on the sports portfolio for the district.

“Everybody in Marseille knows me and likes me – blacks, Jews, Arabs, whites and Africans,” he says. “I have no problem with anybody. And that was how I found myself an elected representative of the district.

“I told my wife I’d serve until 2015 and then retire,” he says with a smile. “But suddenly, in May 2012, a month before the National Assembly elections, Marie-Arlette Carlotti, a politician from the Socialist Party, asked me to replace her on the party list.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tunisian Jew starts petition condemning Imam

The MEMRI clip recording the inflammatory sermon of the Imam of the Rades mosque

A Tunisian Jew is aiming to gather 10,000 signatures for his petition demanding that a Tunisian Imam be prosecuted for Jew-hatred. (With thanks: JIMENA)

 The petition has garnered over 1,000 signatures so far.

It declares: "For several months, Tunisians of the Jewish faith have been suffering abuse during public demonstrations and in the mosques. On 30 November, the Imam of the mosque of Rades could not hide his hatred for the Jews, saying :' O Allah, in the same way you destroyed the peoples of Aad and Tamud, destroy this gang of Jews...Let their wives become barren."

The petition goes on: "The government of Tunisia has kept silent, so we should like to know how far you support Tunisians of the Jewish faith in the knowledge that our complaints have not been followed up by the Tunisian justice system."

 Some of the petition's non-Jewish Tunisian signatories qualify their support, saying they are expressing their solidarity with Jews and not with Zionists, thus echoing the famous 19th century French politician Clermont Tonerre - prepared to grant all rights to Jews as individual citizens, but nothing to Jews as a nation.

In my view, the weakness of this petition, however well-meaning, is that it perpetuates a false distinction between Jews and Zionists, or between 'good' Jews and 'bad' Jews. Tunisians must resign themselves to the fact that many if not most Jews are today Zionists, or have family who are Zionists, and that the future lies in recognising the fact that as well as being loyal citizens of their countries of birth, Jews can also have legitimate national aspirations in their ancestral homeland.

The Imam of Rades must be challenged on his dubious Koranic claims regarding Jews, which are mostly pure fantasy. Even the Koran recognises that Jews lived in Jerusalem, and built their Beit Hamikdash (same word in Arabic for Temple) there.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Turks to investigate interpreters in IDF uniforms

 The Mavi Marmara being pulled out of Haifa harbour in 2010

 Ahoy there! it's the old Zionist witch-hunt again .... The Turkish authorities have found an excuse to brand their local Jewish community as disloyal: five Turkish-speaking Israelis in IDF uniforms. The Times of Israel reports:

 Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has launched an investigation of at least five Turkish citizens it believes collaborated with Israel in the 2010 takeover of the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara, according to Turkish media reports.

MIT believes the suspects either assisted the Israeli troops who boarded the vessel or later took part in the interrogation of the ship’s activists in Israel, the Turkish daily Yeni Şafak reported on Friday.
A representative of Turkish Jews in Israel expressed concern that the government in Ankara was targeting the country’s Jewish community.

According to the report, the investigation was launched after flotilla participants testified that they heard some Israeli soldiers speaking Turkish during and after the raid.

Israeli naval commandos commandeered the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The troops killed nine Turks after they were attacked by violent activists in clashes on board.

Uğur Yıldırım, an attorney with the Istanbul-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which organized the flotilla, was quoted in another Turkish daily, Zaman, as saying that during the interrogation of passengers on the boat after it had been brought to port in Israel, several Turkish citizens, wearing IDF uniforms, confirmed that they had been brought in to act as interpreters.

Another IHH lawyer, Gülden Sönmez, said the organization has pictures and videos linking certain Turkish citizens to the raid. “We have delivered all these to the prosecutor’s office,” she told Zaman.
While the report did not specify that the MIT was targeting the Jewish community, it did state that the investigation centered on Istanbul and Izmir, two cities with significant Jewish populations. 

Lord Palmer mentions Jewish refugees in debate

In a recent debate in the British House of Lords proposed by Lord Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter, about discrimination against Arab-Israelis,  Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (pictured), a Liberal member of the House, was the only individual to raise the question of Jews expunged from countries. He also queries the double standards according to which inequalities in Israel are examined under the microscope, while Arab states are never held to account for the sorry plight of their minorities (with thanks: Lily):

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, the previous time I spoke in the same debate as the right reverend Prelate was a year ago when your Lordships' House debated Christianity in the Middle East. I remember his words in December 2011 when he said,
    "almost every community-Muslims, Christians, Jews; Arabs, Kurds, Copts, Israelis, Palestinians and Turks-seeing themselves, with some justification, as a minority".
He also said,
    "the primary victims of religious extremism in the Muslim world are other Muslims".-[Official Report, 9/12/11; col. 934.]
Sadly, to be a Jew in most countries of the region is not comfortable or even possible in many places. Indeed, Christians such as the Copts of Egypt are under severe pressure. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bew, I declare an interest: I am vice-president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, and I welcome the right reverend Prelate's good intentions and masses of facts within his speech. As a Liberal Democrat, I must declare that I am against any unequal society, wherever it is.
The right reverend Prelate told mainly a story of a half-empty glass. I will try to tell a story of a half-full glass and how the Israeli Government, unlike their neighbours, are working hard to improve the situation of their minorities-in my view, not quickly enough; the sooner it happens the better. (...)

I would have hoped that the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords, while detailing the inequalities-which do exist-would at least have mentioned some of the actions being taken to rectify those problems. As has been mentioned, there are numerous organisations inside and outside Israel trying to rectify those problems. That will take time but they should be given credit for so doing.

This is all against a background of Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, on his very recent visit to Gaza, referring to the liberation of Palestine in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa while the crowds yelled, "Hit, hit Tel Aviv". This is also at a time when 40,000 have been killed in Syria without a demonstration in the UK. Nor were there Motions in this House when Hamas shot men accused of being Israeli spies without even the pretence of a trial. Their bodies were then dragged through the street behind motorcycles. I am not saying that there are not inequalities for Israeli Arabs-or Israeli Palestinians if you want-that need to be dealt with and are being dealt with, but perhaps we should also reflect on the bloody conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the hounding of the Christian Coptic community in Egypt, the unrest in a number of Middle Eastern states and the toppling of regimes.(...)

The reasons for inequalities in Israel, Britain and elsewhere are generally due to education, employment and where you are in the food chain of life. The aim in Israel and the UK is to improve the conditions of all by improving opportunities for a better life.

Finally, it would be good if the right reverend Prelate could also acknowledge that 850,000 Jews have been forcibly displaced and exiled from Arab countries since 1948, and that justice for such Jewish refugees from Arab countries has been expunged from the peace and justice narrative for the past 65 years.

I trust that when my noble friend the Minister replies she will say how Her Majesty's Government will acknowledge inequalities and discrimination worldwide-not just in Israel-and not just the accusations against Israel made in this debate.

Read debate transcript in full

Denis Vandervelde has written the following letter to Bishop Langrish:

"As someone who has travelled quite extensively in the Middle East, I was amazed at your motion re the status of Arab citizens of Israel. I can only presume you are not personally acquainted with the status of the citizenry of Israel, or of any of its neighbours. Because if you had, you would be struck, as I have been, by the blatant discrimination against non-Moslems, (and often against Moslems of the wrong stripe), in all the Moslem states of the area ; and the full rights enjoyed by ALL citizens in Israel, including the more than 20% who are Moslem or Christian.

"When you do go, you will find that the so-called Arab Spring has destabilised most countries and led to greater discrimination, rather than less. You will not find it troubling, I imagine, that there are virtually no Jews left in the Arab world : they were all driven out (or in some places killed) more than a generation ago. But you should be worried : they had lived, however uncomfortably, in those cities and towns for more than two thousand years - longer by far than any Moslems, longer than almost all Christian communities : in cities like Baghdad they constituted a third of the population, (and incidentally most of the benevolent employers and administrators). But that is history, and no concern of a Christian Bishop.

"But when you seek to find your Christian colleagues in those countries, you will find it difficult in most - those who could get out, have done so - and horribly degrading in many others.  Bethlehem - King David's city as well as Jesus's shelter - was predominantly Christian in living memory : it is now a Moslem city. In Egypt, the wretchedly poor Copts, more than 10% of the population whose plight has been studiously ignored by their Western brethren, are now completely marginalised, their churches burnt, their daughters forcibly married to Moslem men, their humble homes and businesses closed or appropriated.  You must be aware that the Christian element in every Arab country, (not to mention other Moslem states like Pakistan and Indonesia), has declined dramatically, and may not survive.

"In Israel, on the other hand, the Christian population, (and the Moslem for that matter), has steadily increased since the founding of the state. Arabs, regardless of religious affiliation, have full citizen rights. Are you aware that they have several M.K.s who proclaim their hope to destroy the state which pays them ? That Arabs have held some of the highest positions in society - judges, ambassadors, government ministers, even the Miss Israel title ?  And a much higher standard of living than any of their cousins in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya or Gaza. Not to mention much better expectation of a long life.

"In short, I think that Israel is a model for a Middle-eastern multiracial society. It seems most Arabs in the West Bank agree with me. Whenever there is talk of a division of Jerusalem and the Holyland, most of them seem to want to be sure they are living on the Israeli side of the line. Who can blame them ?

"You need not take my word for this perspective : in Baghdad the tiny rump of the Anglican church is nursed by a very brave friend of mine, the Rev. Andrew White. I suggest you ask him where in that troubled region there is the LEAST discrimination against a minority faith."

Yours sincerely,

Denis Vandervelde,  London,  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The unbearable silence about Jewish refugees

 This map has been circulating on the internet lately. Some of the figures are not quite accurate, but the principle is correct.

It is high time to end the world's unbearable silence and unwillingness to consider the question of Jewish refugees, and to treat them as part of a final Middle East peace settlement, argues Michael Curtis in  the Gatestone Institute journal (with thanks: Michelle, Eliyahu):

In the 20th century, both before and after the creation of Israel, in a number of Arab countries Jews were threatened -- physically, economically, and socially. Jews there experienced riots, mass arrests, confiscation of property, economic boycotts, and limits on employment in many occupations. They also endured limits on admission to colleges, and on personal movement, as well as pogroms which occurred in Libya, Syria, Morocco, and especially Iraq, where in the space of two days in June 1941, in Baghdad, a pogrom, known as the Farhud, took place: under the pro-Nazi regime of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, 179 Jews were murdered and 600 injured by rioters.

In Libya, in 1945, rioters in Tripoli killed more than 140 Jews. A number of other Arab countries saw Jews murdered, kidnapped, and in general encounter discrimination, expulsion, and exclusion from citizenship.

The Arab League countries decided to take away the citizenship of their Jews. Iraq deprived its Jews of their citizenship in 1950, and of their property in 1951. Egypt and Libya issued laws that "Zionists" were not nationals. They disregarded Jews having lived in those countries for more than a thousand years before the birth of Muhammad in 570, and the emergence of Islam in the 7th century.

With the creation of Israel in 1948, Jews in Arab and Islamic Middle East countries experienced spoliation, organized discrimination, violence, attacks and pogroms.

Libya in 1961 deprived the less than 10% of the Jews who had remained there of their citizenship, as did Algeria in 1962. Iraq seized the property of Jews. As a result, Jews began leaving, were driven out, or were brought out.

By the mid 1970s almost all Jews -- more than 850,000 -- had left those countries. According to figures and analysis provided by "Justice for Jews from Arab Countries," and by Stanley Urman, its executive vice president, the largest numbers came from Morocco (265,000); Algeria (140,000); Iraq (135,000), and Tunisia (105,000). Almost all of the 55,000 Jews living in Yemen were taken to Israel by the air operation, "Magic Carpet." About 130,000 Jews were airlifted from Iraq to Israel.
Today, fewer than 4,500 Jews remain in Arab countries. Israel absorbed and integrated 600,000 of the more than 850,000 who left.

It is high time to end the virtual silence and unwillingness to consider the question of Jewish refugees, and to recognize that they should be part of any final resolution of the Middle East refugee problem. The crucial United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22 1967 mentioned that a comprehensive peace settlement should include "a just settlement of the refugee problem." It was Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. representative to the UN largely responsible for drafting the Resolution, who clarified that the language referred "both to Arab and Jewish refugees, for about an equal number of each abandoned their homes as a result of the several wars."

The implication was that any arrangements made would apply to all -- not only Arab -- refugees in the Middle East.

This point of view is reflected in both bilateral and multilateral agreements. The Camp David Framework for Peace in the Middle East of 1978, Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994, the Madrid Conference of 1991-92, and the Israel-Palestinian Agreements beginning in 1993, including the Declaration of Principles of September 1993 and the Interim Agreement of September 1995, all articulated similar language.

Similarly, the UNHCR announced on two occasions, in February 1957 and in July 1967, that Jews who had fled from Arab countries "may be considered prima facie within the mandate of this office," thus regarding them, according to international law, as bona fide refugees.
In any settlement, the property abandoned by Jews would need to be taken into account. Calculation of this, although not easy, has been assessed as some $300 billion; and Jewish-owned real estate -- about four times the size of Israel -- at about $6 billion.

The international community is long overdue, in dealing with the Palestinian refugees, to see that equity prevails. It should be conscious of the rights of Jewish refugees, who, as a result of Arab and Islamic behavior, have suffered by being deprived of rights and property. The international community should also call for redress for these descendants. Some form of compensation is due the Jewish refugees; and discussion of it should be part of final status talks in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Read article in full

Friday, December 14, 2012

Iranian Jews in US call for murder investigation

 The flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran

 A group of Iranian Jews in the US are calling for an investigation into the murder of a Jewish woman in Iran. Karmel Melamed reports in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles:

In the wake of the gruesome murder of a 57-year-old Jewish woman living in the Iranian city of Isfahan nearly three weeks ago, a group of Iranian-Jewish activists in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., have banded together in an informal group hoping to raise public awareness of the murder and to help bring the murderers to justice.

This new group, known as the Jewbareh Committee — named for the ancient Jewish ghetto in Isfahan where the victim, Toobah Nehdaran, was murdered — released a statement last week calling upon Iranians and the international community to push for a real investigation of the case.

“The Jewbareh Committee has appealed to all the kindhearted Muslims and neighbors in Isfahan and around the Jewbareh district, as well as to honest police officials to observe the situation, report any suspicious findings and push authorities to launch a fair investigation into this matter,” the statement said.

Following online news reports of the murder, committee members reached out to contacts in Iran, including an alleged eyewitness, who said that on Nov. 26, Nehdaran, a married Jewish woman, was strangled, then repeatedly stabbed to death, and her body was mutilated in a ritual manner by thugs who had broken into her home.

Read article in full 

Iran whitewashes murder of Jewess as 'burglary'

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Iraqi Muslim speaks for Jews at conference

 Nabil al-Hadairi (left) addressing the conference

Point of No Return exclusive

An Iraqi Muslim has taken on himself the task of speaking for Iraqi Jews after attending a November conference in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya which assembled all religions and sects except the Jews.

 Despite initial attempts to silence him, Nabil al-Hadairi, a writer, received a standing ovation when he addressed the conference, which included ministers and international media. He spoke about Iraqi-Jewish rights in history dating back to Babylonian times 3000 years ago.

Nabil al-Hadairi managed to write three articles of the Conference communique, stating the importance of correcting the Constitution by recognising Judaism as an official religion alongside Islam, Christianity and others.

 He rallied support from President Jalal Talabani and the president of Iraqi-Kurdistan, Masood Barazani, to legislate a law of citizenship in Iraq to enable the Jews to regain Iraqi nationality and reward them with parliamentary seats proportional to their actual size.

Al-Hadairi also wrote a clause recognizing the rights of Jews to Iraqi nationality and including the right of Iraqi Jews to return. Another clause recognises the crime of displacement and its effects as well as the need to maintain and not tamper with Iraq's Jewish heritage.

" I noticed that no one was available to represent (the Jews) or mention this sensitive subject, therefore, in order to balance the debate I decided it is going to be my discussion subject and my solemn duty to repay some of their debt in rebuilding Iraq," he says. "I found it surprising that there was not a single representative of Iraqi Jews and their glorious history which was full of great accomplishments for the glory of Iraq and its constitutions, not to mention the calamity of withdrawing their nationality, money, rights, imprisonment and ethnic cleansing by forced migration of the best of my Iraqi Jewish friends."

 The conference of religions and sects took place at the initiative of Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq. It was the first ever such conference since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Christians, Muslims (Sunna and Shia), Yazidis, and even Baha'is sent representatives. There are believed to be six, or fewer, Jews still living in Iraq. 

Report in Al-Akhbaar

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Arabs lay claim to tomb of Simon the High Priest

Is it a coincidence, or have the opponents of a Jewish presence in 'Arab East Jerusalem' deliberately chosen this festival of Hanucah to lay claim to the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik, the grandfather of the Maccabees? A bad move, in my opinion - for if anything confirms the ancient presence of Jews in Jerusalem, it is holy sites such as this. 

Arutz Sheva reports:

 Arab and leftist anarchists were apparently busy overnight Saturday in Jerusalem's Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood, posting signs and placards calling for Jews to be expelled from their homes. One of the signs was placed at the entrance of the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik, a holy place for Jews.

The signs say that the area is “illegally occupied” by Jews, and that it belongs to the “State of Palestine.” The Hebrew text on the sign explains that the declaration is based on the UN General Assembly's decision from several weeks ago, upgrading the Palestinian Authority's status to that of a “non-member observer.”

A spokesperson for area residents, Yoni Yosef, told Arutz Sheva that “the signs, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, declare this area as part of the Palestinian Authority state. We will come with a large group today to ceremoniously remove these signs,” making it clear that the area belongs to Israel.

“Shimon Hatzaddik, the High Priest and grandfather of the Maccabees, the heroes of Hanukka, has been buried here for 2,300 years, and a group of people who do not even know how to pronounce his name are going to be able to change that,” Yosef said.

Read article in full 

Simon's tomb and Jewish refugees

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The lost Sephardi tradition of moderation

 Rabbi Haim Amsalem is standing as a party of one in the forthcoming Israeli elections (photo: Nati Shohat)

The most important thing North African Jews brought to Israel was not dancing or baclava, but moderation, argues Rabbi Haim Amsalem.  That's why he broke away from the 'Lithuanians' of the ultra-orthodox Shas party to form a party of one. Important article by Matti Friedman in The Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily)

Amsalem was born in 1959 in the Mediterranean port of Oran, Algeria, and moved to France as a child, part of the great 20th-century exodus of Jews from Islamic countries. From there his parents took him to Israel, where he attended yeshivas in Bnei Brak, a religious town on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and later became a rabbi. That status got him a draft exemption, and he never served in the army.

After rabbinic posts around Israel and two years as the chief Sephardic rabbi in Geneva, Switzerland, Amsalem returned to Israel in 2006 and was given a spot on the Shas slate in that year’s election. The party’s list is decided by a council of religious scholars headed by Ovadia Yosef, who had ordained Amsalem as a rabbi years before, and he had the endorsement of other prominent rabbis.
Amsalem turned to politics because he realized, he said this week, that “today, in the modern world, the influence of rabbis is marginal.”

“I saw that if I wanted to cause revolutions or bring change, I would have to go where such things are done. In Israel, that place is the Knesset.”

Shas would soon have reason to regret the choice. Perhaps the key event in Amsalem’s rebellion began with a 2008 High Court appeal filed by parents at a school for girls in Immanuel, an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank. The parents, Mizrahi Jews, showed in court that their daughters faced discrimination from Ashkenazi administrators and parents who did not want their children mixing with Mizrahi girls.
Shas had been founded to restore the pride of Mizrahi Jews, who have a long tradition of pragmatism and religious moderation. But Shas leaders had long since come into the orbit of the Ashkenazi rabbis who dominate the yeshiva world — “Lithuanians,” in ultra-Orthodox parlance — and had drifted toward their model of unemployment, draft evasion and harsh interpretations of religious law. Shas leaders tended to send their children to Ashkenazi schools, which are generally considered more prestigious.The parents from Immanuel, looking for support, encountered a cold shoulder from Shas: The party of Mizrahi religious pride, it was clear, did not to want to rock the boat.

Amsalem, infuriated, broke ranks and publicly supported the parents. The case garnered intense media interest, and the Mizrahi parents won the legal battle.

Shas leaders, Amsalem said, had “betrayed their voters.”

“They served and still serve the Lithuanian Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox ideology, and this ideology embraces discrimination,” he said.

His former party “once had a reason to exist, but failed. It was created first of all to fight discrimination. It did a thousand other things, but not that.”

The final break was not long in coming. Amsalem openly embraced the label “Zionist,” for example, claiming there was no contradiction between that and ultra-Orthodoxy.

“What is ultra-Orthodoxy? Just being a little more stringent in observing the law. They say, ‘You’re a Zionist, oy vey, oy vey.’ What’s the big deal?” he said. When he had his picture taken this week, Amsalem made sure his Israeli flag was in the frame.

The sweeping military exemption for yeshiva students — the key political issue for the ultra-Orthodox parties, which have termed it a “matter of life and death” — should be junked, he said. Students who excel at Torah studies should be allowed to learn; there are “very few” such students, he said. The rest must serve.

Behind Amsalem’s desk is a painted portrait of a white-bearded man in the traditional garb of a Middle Eastern rabbi. The man is his father, David Amsalem, a rabbi in Morocco and Algeria. His father, Amsalem says, was never paid for his rabbinic work and made his money in business. In his father’s eyes, Jewish learning and teaching were tasks done “for the sake of heaven.”

“For him, the combination of Torah and work was a way of life,” he said.Increasing employment and military service among the ultra-Orthodox — about 10 percent of the population, by most estimates — it is one of the central planks of Am Shalem’s platform.

The rabbi also calls for easing the conversion process for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He argues that people who come from the “seed of Israel” — with Jewish ancestry but not a Jewish mother, as demanded by religious law — must be greeted with an approach that “eases their way and brings them closer” to Judaism.

His views led to his acrimonious expulsion from Shas at the end of 2010.

Amsalem is very much a product of the Israeli Orthodox world, and is a moderate by its standards. He says he believes “the people of Israel come before the land of Israel,” but defines himself as a “man of the right” and is a member of the pro-settlement lobby in the Knesset.

Neither is he a religious pluralist. Amsalem thinks Judaism needs a more inclusive Orthodoxy, not a rethinking of religious practice. He has little patience for non-Orthodox denominations. He believes women who wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall, for example, are committing a “provocation.”
Israelis have much to learn, he said, from the lost Jewish communities of North Africa. The rabbis there, he said, were smart enough to accept all Jews in their Orthodox communities, no matter their level of religious practice. Thus there were no Reform or Conservative communities, he said: “They weren’t needed.”

“You could be more stringent or less stringent, it didn’t matter. Everyone stayed in the community,” Amsalem said. The most important thing the Jews of North Africa brought with them to Israel, he said, was “not baklava, or dancing, or any of this nonsense — it was moderation.”

But when North African rabbis arrived in Israel, he said, Israeli society “didn’t know enough to appreciate their wisdom.” Instead, Israeli Orthodoxy became so unforgiving it drove people away.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Must Jewish celebrities behave like Dhimmis?

 Omar Cy plays the unlikely carer of a rich quadriplegic, played by Francois Cluzet, in the smash hit Untouchable

If you'll pardon the Yiddish expression, Jews the world over kvell with pride when they learn that the makers of the film 'Untouchable' are two French Jews of North African origin, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano.

The film has confounded all expectations and enchanted audiences all over the world. It's one of the  box-office smash hits of 2012. 

 'Untouchable' is the story of a black carer 'from the other side of the tracks' who injects a bit of excitement into a rich paraplegic's limited existence - limited, that is,  from the neck down.

But the actor who plays the quadriplegic, Francois Cluzet, has been outspoken on behalf of a Palestinian terrorist with a French mother, Salah Hamouri. Hamouri, a member of the Marxist PFLP, was jailed for seven years for plotting to assassinate the Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Having become something of a 'cause celebre', he was subsequently released in the exchange with the Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit in 2011, but remains unrepentant.

Cluzet has never been challenged for falsely alleging, on France's FR 2 (the TV channel which first broke the 'Al Dura' hoax),  that Hamouri was jailed by Israel merely for speaking out against Israeli 'colonialism'. In spite of the main watchdog against antisemitism (BNVCA) berating them for 'disinformation and incitement to hatred', the French media have never made any effort to correct Cluzet's lies. 

Where do Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano stand? The two friends are ostensibly proud of their heritage. Their first film was based on their experiences running the Jewish summer camp of Yaniv. They appeared on French-Jewish radio to promote their film 'Untouchable'.

But instead of condemning Cluzet's political views,  they gave evasive and mealy-mouthed answers.  They claimed that Cluzet had been misunderstood and misrepresented.

 Cluzet is not the first, nor will he be the last, actor to hold anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian views.  Hollywood is full of 'useful idiots' like him. Hardly a week goes by without some celebrity climbing on a boycott bandwagon or signing petitions.

If Cluzet is nominated for an Oscar in February 2013, shouldn't the media and the selection committee be made aware of his political militancy?

Equally, the issue here is whether two proud Sephardi Jews should use their position in the public eye to correct defamation and distortion. Do they have a duty not to let Cluzet get away with it ? Or must Jews who have achieved fame and fortune always behave like dhimmis?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Marking 70 years since the Nazis invaded Tunisia

With thanks: Michelle

 Rabbi Meir Lau at the ceremony marking 70 years since the Nazi invasion of Tunisia (photo: S Anidjar)

Could Israel finally be giving North African Jews who suffered from the effects of Nazi and Vichy rule the recognition they deserve?

Tunisian Jews in Israel held a ceremony in the remembrance hall at the Holocaust  memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on 6 December to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Tunisia.

The ceremony took place in the presence of Meir Lau, the (Ashkenazi) chief rabbi of Israel, himself a Holocaust survivor, and featured prominent Tunisian Jews such as Andre Attal, Nissim Ma'aim, Claude Sitbon and the journalist and ambassador Boaz Bismuth. The Andalusian orchestra of Netanya sang solemn songs. 

In April 1943, 17 Tunisian Jews were transported by air to concentration camps in Europe. None came back alive. One, Victor 'Young' Peres, was a flyweight boxing champion. He survived until 1945, taking part in boxing matches for Nazi entertainment in Auschwitz, only to be killed on the death march.

Tunisian-Jewish boxing champion Victor Peres: he died on the death march from Auschwitz

Until the Allied Liberation of North Africa, which began with Operation Torch in November 1942, this was the only instance of Tunisian Jews being deported to concentration camps in Europe during the six months of direct Nazi occupation. Shortly after their arrival, the Nazis established a climate of terror in Tunisia, arresting 100 Jews in the Great synagogue of Tunis and at the Alliance Israelite Universelle school. They threatened to shoot hostages unless the Jews met Nazi demands. At the same time, the Nazis began rounding up the Jewish population. Some 5,000 Jews - generally men between the ages of 15 and 45 - were sent to forced labour camps on the outskirts of Tunis, or at the port of Bizerte or Mateur.

Prior to the Nazi invasion,  Jews had already been persecuted and humiliated by antisemitic Vichy laws. From 1940 on, Jews were rounded up and forced to endure terrible conditions in labour camps. in 1941 and March 1942, new laws were brought in 'to limit Jewish influence' on the economy. the authorities conducted a census and survey of Jewish assets: property and businesses were seized. Only in Sousse and Sfax were Jews forced to wear the yellow star.

See report on Soly Anidjar 's Facebook page (French) 

Jews of North Africa: oppression and resistance (with thanks: Eliyahu)

I held the key to our past in Egypt: Jean Naggar

 In her memoir 'Sipping from the Nile', Jean Naggar (pictured), tried to salvage the story of her family's 'disenfranchisement' from Egypt. She makes a welcome debut in the Huffington Post:

My mother's Smouha family had deep roots in the Middle East, probably going back to the first Diaspora. Her mother came from Damascus, Syria. Her father was born in Baghdad. They met and married in Manchester, England, and began to raise a family there. Business for the British government took my grandfather, Joseph Smouha, to Egypt, where he eventually settled with his family, contributing his vision and his integrity to the city of Alexandria, draining the mosquito-infested Hadra lakes to build a fine development still known as Smouha City.

My father's Mosseri family, prosperous merchants in Toledo, Spain, arrived in Egypt in the 18th century, tracing a path back to the Spanish Inquisition of the late 1400s. They fled Spain for Livorno, Italy, where they reinvented their lives and traded across the Mediterranean. Eventually, some decided to settle in Cairo, Egypt. Once again reinventing themselves, the Mosseri family wove their lives into the social, economic and cultural fabric of Egypt. They embraced the multi-cultural, post-colonial world in which they found themselves and were in turn embraced by it, creating networks across national and religious lines that led them to live peaceably and productively alongside their Egyptian neighbors, producing eminent financiers, journalists, jurists and real estate developers. As time went on, their many achievements enabled them to undertake the establishment of hospitals, schools, orphanages and community centers.

In 1948 with the emergence of the State of Israel, the balance between Arabs and Jews underwent a profound change. In 1956, I watched my father become unwelcome in his own life. An official summoned him to government offices to pick up an expulsion notice to leave Egypt immediately. Glancing at the address, my father was dumbfounded by the irony: compelled to leave his homeland and the lifework of five generations forever, he was summoned to offices located on the very street that a grateful Egyptian government had named for his father.

My grandchildren hold the key to the future, but I held the key to their past, to a time before economics, politics and war blew entire families, like thistledown, across the face of the world to forge a future in foreign soil. So I wrote a memoir, "Sipping from the Nile, My Exodus from Egypt," to give my children and grandchildren a glimpse at a past from which they were forever excluded.
But I also wrote it in the hope that a profound disenfranchisement so little acknowledged by the larger world would not disappear without trace. The Suez crisis - that footnote in history - hurled Egypt's Jewish communities into exile, leaving homes, businesses, social structures, lifelong friendships and fortunes behind.

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Sipping from the Nile: a review

Friday, December 07, 2012

'Game over' for Jews, women and the new Libya

 "Don't visit Libya!" - that's the advice Raphael Luzon has for any Libyan Jew contemplating returning to his birthplace. Luzon should know - he spent the best part of a week in prison last summer at the mercy of the Libyan authorities.

It was not a pleasant experience for the Benghazi-born Jew, who holds British nationality and had made several incident-free trips to Libya under the Gaddafi regime. He was released thanks to the intervention of Italian politicians and  Robert Halfon, MP - whose grandfather was from Libya.

 But matters could have been even worse for the Israeli film crew, led by Emmanuel Rosen, who left their passports in Rome and posed as a European TV team in a bid to film Luzon's trip to Libya. They had two narrow escapes - the second time, they were interrogated for four hours -  but before they  could be implicated in Luzon's arrest, the crew made for Tripoli and caught the next 'plane out.

Hebrew-speakers can see Rosen's documentary HaHistabchut be' Luv. There is an English version called 'Game over', not yet on general release. 'Game over' is an appropriate title: the interlude that followed the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, with its promise of freedom, democracy, women's, human and minority rights, turned out to be disappointingly short.

 The game was over before it even began for the Israeli film crew, who ran an enormous risk of arrest, imprisonment and torture during their stay in Libya if their cover had been blown.

The game was over for Raphael Luzon, who, like David Gerbi before him, discovered that his very Jewishness was a provocation.

 The game was even over for Majdoline Abaidi, a human rights campaigner featured in the film. Majdoline told the BBC only last week (viewable at 35 mins into Newsnight for the next day or so) how she was beaten black and blue and forced to seek asylum in Britain.

One of the most moving moments of the film was Luzon and Rosen's visit to Yefren, a Berber town which once housed a Jewish community and still has a synagogue. There they met a tearful elderly lady, once known as Sarah, who at 16 was forcibly married to a Muslim and converted to Islam. She had nine children. Some 75 years later, she still remembered the words of the Shema Yisrael.

Sarah had only once met her Jewish family since their departure for Israel in 1948: in Jordan a few years ago. Her nieces in Israel told her tragic story: the Jewish community in Yefren was threatened with a pogrom unless Sarah agreed to marry the Muslim.

 Let all those who pretend that Jews and Muslims lived together historically in perfect harmony hear Sarah's story. At 16, it was 'game over' for Sarah, who willingly sacrificed herself for her community.