Thursday, February 28, 2013

Don't let Yachad take you for a ride

 Hannah Weisfeld

Reluctant as this blog is to wade into UK Jewish politics, the uproar following the refusal by majority vote of the Zionist Federation to admit Yachad - the so-called British J-Street - as an affiliated member, calls for some comment.

Yachad, a one-woman band led by the 30-something Hannah Weisfeld, claims to be a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organisation. Its stance may be summed up as follows: for Israel's good - both to maintain Israel as a democratic state, and for the sake of peace, Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and stop 'judaising' East Jerusalem.

I happened to share a taxi with Hannah Weisfeld a few weeks ago. There I raised the question:   Yachad is supporting Arab property rights: why can it not also support Jewish property rights? Weisfeld has conducted quite a campaign on behalf of 'Arab occupants 'unjustly' evicted from their homes in Silwan, although the Israeli courts have on many occasions ruled in their favour. Yet Yachad has not raised a peep on behalf of  the Yemenite Jews who lost their rights to their homes in 1936, when they were advised the British to leave Silwan - as their security could not be guaranteed following Arab attacks. While it is keen to defend the interests of (in the main) Arab squatters,  it has utterly ignored the rights of Jews driven out in 1948.

Hannah did not seem to know about the Yemenites of Silwan. Yachad is not prepared to defend the rights of Jews who wish to recover the properties they abandoned in 'Arab' East Jerusalem. Here her view concords with the Arab narrative: Jews trying to move into Arab East Jerusalem are part of a deplorable, politically-motivated plan to Judaise the area, while petrodollar-funded, uncontrolled Arab building is unworthy of attention. Broadly speaking, Yachad thinks an equitable exchange of property ownership has already taken place - with Jews moving into Arab homes in West Jerusalem and Arabs into East. Just as Yachad was not going open the West Jerusalem can-of-worms, so did it seek to maintain the status of the East Jerusalem can-of-worms, viewing the division of Jerusalem between Jewish and Arab zones as pretty much set in stone.

But that view ignores the distortions in the wider picture: Arabs who wish to sell their property to Jews are condemned to death, while Jews can make a free choice. The Israeli government has compensated some Arabs for their lost property, while not a single dispossessed Jew now living in Israel can get his claim recognised by an Arab state, let alone obtain compensation.    

When I asked Hannah why Yachad does not defend the rights of Jews evicted from Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus, the stock answer came back: what does that have to do with the Palestinians? Everything, I answered. Documents of the time indicate that the Arab states considered the Jews in Arab countries members of the JEWISH MINORITY OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE. If Arab states could make the link, so should Yachad - among others.

Before I could elaborate, our shared taxi ride was over.

I would have liked to have added that it is not for Yachad to prejudge a solution for Jerusalem. It is not for Yachad to de-contextualise the conflict so as to ignore Jewish property rights. It is not for Yachad to presume that only pressure to make concessions need be applied on the Israeli side. The impression is unavoidable, despite its pleas to be pro-Zionist, that Yachad is not acting in the best interests of Israel. And for all those reasons, the Zionist Federation was right not to admit Yachad to its ranks.    


What I miss most about Libyan jail is the food

 Chraime: fish poached in a spicy tomato sauce - a typical Libyan-Jewish dish (Photo: Daniella Cheslow)

Fantasising about  food and collecting his prison guards' recipes helped Israeli-Tunisian artist and chef Rafram Chaddad keep his sanity during his five months in a Libyan jail.  He has now published a book in Hebrew about his 2010 ordeal, Rafram's guide to Libyan jail. Extraordinary article in the Tablet:

In 2010, Chaddad got a request from Pedazur Benattia, who runs the Or Shalom center for Libyan heritage in Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Benattia asked Chaddad to fly to Libya on his Tunisian passport—Israel and Libya have no diplomatic relations, and travel between the two is forbidden—and take pictures of the Jewish synagogues and cemeteries.

Libya was once home to as many as 37,000 Jews whose community dated to ancient Roman times; they fled from anti-Semitic laws and anti-Jewish violence starting in the 1940s, and today there are no Jews left in Libya. Chaddad packed a bag full of cameras and traveled to Tunisia, leaving his Israeli passport with relatives. From there he flew into Tripoli with a list of Jewish destinations around the country.

In his first two days in the Libyan capital, Chaddad walked the streets and munched on the local offerings. Not all of it was memorable: For instance, he saw a vendor selling mafroum—known in Israel as a potato sliced in two, stuffed with meat, and then fried. “I get excited and ask for one mafroum, and he takes out a roll, splits it, spreads a red harissa, opens a sort of heated metal container and takes out ground meat cooked in a reddish sauce. He sticks it in a roll and serves it to me. Not tasty,” Chaddad writes in his book. “Disappointed, I ask for a roll with chicken liver. He throws a few livers and chopped onion onto the grill, fries them, and puts it all in a bun. This is better already. I take a little container of water out of the fridge, like those they hand out on a plane, pay two dinars and I’m not hungry anymore.”

He passed banners of Muammar Qaddafi cascading down the sides of buildings in downtown Tripoli and mused that he could take better pictures of him. He asked young Libyans where to find women and liquor and was invariably disappointed on both counts. And in each city—Tripoli, Benghazi, Yefren—Chaddad started his search for Jewish sites by seeking old Libyan men who remembered their neighborhoods 60 years prior, when Jews were a healthy part of every major Libyan city. In Tripoli, one shopkeeper guided him down a twisting alley to a courtyard where Chaddad saw, amid ruins, a stone pair of Ten Commandments and an arching dome. The gates to the synagogue were closed, and Chaddad walked to the back of the building, climbed up a crumbling staircase, and clambered through a hole in the wall to reach the second floor. “I photograph every corner in the synagogue and in its cracked dome,” he writes. “The walls are cold and smell of an evocative mildew. A smell of cleanliness untouched by man for a long time. I want to touch them and to feel the last people who leaned on them.”

In his book, which was published last month in Israel, Chaddad writes as if he was a curious food-tourist, looking for the hole-in-the wall eateries: When he finally stumbled upon a fish restaurant dishing delicious chraime, he rushed into the kitchen to thank the chef. In Tripoli, the hotel concierge asked him for English lessons, and Chaddad agreed in exchange for
a trip to the man’s mother’s house for a taste of shakshuka—eggs poached over tomato sauce.
But soon after Chaddad completed his mission and visited every destination Benattia gave him, Libyan police rapped on his hotel room door, confiscated his Tunisian passport, and took him to be interrogated. “I was tied up and beaten with wood, iron and electricity, and I was asked lots questions,” he told me. “They asked me if I was a spy for Israel … I said yes, but I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know who is in charge of army in Israel.”

Once Chaddad revealed he was an Israeli, the beatings got worse. After a month, though, the torture stopped and he was moved to solitary confinement, where he waited for his release. He had given his sister’s email address to another prisoner who’d been released, and he hoped that his family had gotten the message and was working on getting him out.

Chaddad kept his sanity by walking around his cell for exercise, playing chess with a board and pieces he made, taking fantasy walks through cities he loved, and thinking about women. To break his isolation, Chaddad tore the cardboard tops of his foil food trays into Hebrew letters, and he arranged the letters into words on the prison floor, imagining his parents could receive his messages. For conversation, he approached the guards through what he figured was the most innocent topic. “I asked them about shakshuka, chraime, all sorts of food that is connected to Jewish tradition,” he said. “And I asked them about the food in their mothers’ houses, their favorite food, how to cook it, and what ingredients. If you talk about their food, it opens them.”

Read article in full

170 Days in Gaddafi's Dungeon: Harif event with Rafram Chaddad on 13 March in London. Details here

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In the Apartheid Oscars, Arab states win

  Jewish girls in Ghardaia, a Sahara town 600 kms south of Algiers.

As Israel Apartheid Week comes to a campus near you, Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel reflects on the irony at the campaign's heart: much of society under Muslim domination was built on the exploitation of women, Jews and Christians and blacks. The Jews have since found freedom in Israel.
 Roll up, roll up for Israel Apartheid Week – a global, multimedia extravaganza devoted to cementing the comparison between the new international pariah, Israel, and the old racist regime in South Africa. And it’s coming to a campus near you.

Anyone who knows anything about Israel will tell you that the comparison is invidious and malicious. Israeli law does not discriminate against Arab citizens. Of course there is – there must be – plenty of room for improvement, but show me one liberal democracy where minorities do not claim to experience discrimination and prejudice.

Not only is the Israel Apartheid campaign a monumental lie of gobsmacking chutzpah, but the boot is on the Arab foot. You only have to witness the way that Arab host countries treat their Palestinians, who are denied citizenship. And not only Palestinians - Kuwait has 300,000 Bedoun residents denied citizenship and the right to vote. Thousands of children born in Arab countries are deprived of citizenship merely because their parents were not citizens. Immigrants from South Asia with no rights whatsoever help keep countries like Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates running.

Those who berate the West for its orientalism towards the Third World, quoting the late Edward Said‘s eponymous book, ignore the fact that much of society under Muslim domination was built on the exploitation of women, Jews (and Christians) and blacks. Not only are all Arab countries strong contenders in the Apartheid Oscars, but Saudi Arabia would win hands down. At the bottom of its obscene pecking order are women, non-Muslims and slaves.

Every year, an unknown number of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia are victims of sexual abuses, maltreatment, unpaid salaries, and other malpractices. Wretched Filipina domestics are virtual prisoners with no rights, their passports confiscated.

Across Muslim Africa, blacks are routinely mistreated and abused. Some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 600, 000 people, are still slaves. Mauritania uses Sharia law to justify a racist system where Arabs exploit the country’s black African population. Last week, one slave told the Geneva summit for Human Rights and Democracy, an alternative to what is laughingly called the UN Human Rights Council, that – according to religious madrassahs – ’slaves are the masters’ properties, who are passed along as inheritance and where the condition of slavery is transmitted from parent to child, where women slaves must submit their bodies to their masters.’

Before western colonial rule tempered their status, Jews were dhimmis, treated as inferiors and denied basic human rights – the ‘dogs’ of the Arabs. Each religious community ran its own affairs in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion – a de facto Apartheid. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach recalls his father telling him how humiliating it was to grow up in (Shi’a) Iran and have Islamic shop-keepers refuse to take money directly from his hand because as a Jew, he was impure. Other abuses in Muslim lands : the 19th century Moroccan Jew beaten to death for taking in a destitute Muslim woman as his housemaid (that would have been to overturn the natural order); 40 percent of Jews born in Egypt were not granted Egyptian nationality in the 1920s; Jews were denied justice, because Arabs were never called to account for abusing them.

Historian Georges Bensoussan has completed the most comprehensive study to-date of conditions for Jews in Yemen, Iraq and Morocco since 1850 until their mass exodus. He calls the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world the ‘colonised of the colonised’ – tolerated as long as they were useful to their Muslim masters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Shoah memorial visit by imams raises questions

The Jewish author and philosopher Professor Shmuel Trigano was perturbed by the visit by Muslim imams to the Shoah memorial at Drancy last month,  whence thousands of French Jews were deported to their deaths. The visit, he argues, misses the main bone of contention between Jews and Muslims : the legitimacy of the state of Israel, called into question by 14 centuries of Muslim antisemitism. Trigano might have added that the visit also fails to address Arab and Muslim complicity with the Shoah. Article in JForum:

Superficially, the tour violated a taboo boldly ideological and political widespread in the Muslim world: the denial of the Holocaust is part of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy doctrine in favor of Zionism.

On the second level, a fundamental question arises: how would to "recognize" the Holocaust or sympathize with its memory be an act of reconciliation, "recognition" promoting Jewish-Arab brotherhood in France, an act against the antisemitism of the Muslim world? Is  the Holocaust  the central issue of  hostility of the Arab-Muslim world towards the Jews?

This question has a "double bottom". The imams'  gesture, after all, is determined with respect to a given reality, ie to what they hear Jews saying - their representatives, public opinion, the French State (represented by minister Valls ) who have suggested that this was the crux of the problem. But the pain in Muslim-Jewish relationships is not the Holocaust but the legitimacy of the State of Israel,  the recognition of historical truth and the right of the Jewish people and Judaism to freedom. It is also the bone of contention resulting from the anti-Semitism that Jews have suffered for centuries under the rule of Islam. A million Jews were expelled from the Arab world in the twentieth century. The fact that 600,000 of them have found refuge in Israel has to be understood in the context of the permanent war of extermination being waged by the Arab world against Israel. (My emphasis - ed)

 But this subject is generally obfuscated. To place recognition of that fear in the same basket as the Holocaust deepens the hatred of the (Muslim) "suburbs": it turns the Jews into absolute victims, while the Arab world, the post-colonial world, have engaged in competitive victimhood with them, even to the point of making Israel the epitome of the Nazi executioner or to the extreme left, to see in the sacred Holocaust a "colonial crime."

The Imams have not crossed that threshold. They kept to the script at the Memorial: they prayed, they exalted Islam as a "religion of peace", and the ceremony ended with an official dinner in honor of the birthday of the Prophet of Islam - at the cost of heavy blurring of its meaning on a symbolic level.The presence of Jews testified ipso facto that the bone of contention is the Arab-Jewish Holocaust.

The State's policy over the last 20 years, exploits religion for security and civil peace (..).
In this symbolic management of the Holocaust, moreover, the victim is "human" and "universal". He anonymous, so that real Jews can fade out and re-appear as Nazi executioners.

Here we have one of the mainsprings of the new anti-Semitism and the reasons why it is not recognized for what it is, a political fact, but narrowly addressed as  right-wing racism or "ethno-religious " tension ", to be soothed by compassion for victims or community peacemaking ceremonies.

Read article in full (French)

Monday, February 25, 2013

'Jews of Egypt' film to be released in Egypt

Amir Ramses, director of the film 'Jews of Egypt'

The film 'Jews of Egypt' is about to be released - in Egypt. I would guess that the Muslim Brotherhood will be there outside the cinemas, demonstrating against 'normalisation' with Israel - or in the worse case scenario, attempting to lynch its director, Amir Ramses. For as Sarah Alcamel wrily remarks in this interview in Ahram Online with Ramses,  it is hard to believe that Muslims lived in peace with fellow Muslims in Egypt's recent history, let alone with Christians and Jews.

On a quest to discover how Egyptian Jews went from partners to enemies within the span of a few decades, Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses spent three years researching and shooting a documentary that presents a valuable insight into the nostalgia that haunts the exiled Jewish community. In an interview with Ahram Online, Ramses shares his motivations for tackling this controversial part of history in his latest film. The filmmaker explains that it all began with an overbearing question – a reflection – over the ingredients that comprise the Egyptian identity. "Like any Egyptian living here within the past ten years, I have been consumed with the quest for defining Egyptian identity," says Ramses.

In light of the current deluge of socio-political conflict and intolerance, it is hard to believe that Muslims lived in peace with fellow Muslims in Egypt’s recent history, let alone with Christians and Jews. Ramses was compelled to make his film to understand the transforming fabric of Egyptian society, and was driven by the question: 'In the eyes of Egyptians, how did the Jews of Egypt go from compatriots to enemies?'

Scheduled to be screened in movie theatres across Cairo in the first week of March, the documentary zooms in on the lives of the Egyptian Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century, and the key events that shaped their lives: the birth of the state of Israel in 1948; Egypt's 1952 Revolution, which ended the British occupation; and the tripartite attack of 1956, which forced them into exile.

The multi-layered documentary reminds audiences of the influence of Egyptian Jews in various sectors during the first half of the twentieth century, including the art scene – in which Jews such as Laila Mourad, Mounir Mourad and Togo Mizrahi thrived – and the business industry, in which Joseph Cicurel owned a series of major department stores.

Both a historical and personal account, the film weaves testimonials by figures such as Mohamed Abu El-Ghar, author of 'Jews of Egypt: From Prosperity to Diaspora'; sociologist Essam Fawzi; and a Muslim Brotherhood member who participated in the 1947 attack on Jewish shops; together with nostalgic accounts by exiled men and women, mostly residing in Paris.

Along with presenting an account of the lives of politically engaged communists who participated in founding liberal, anti-imperialist movements in Egypt – including a snapshot of famed left-wing political activist and co-founder of the Democratic Movement for National Liberation Henry Curiel (a character who deeply intrigues Ramses) – the film also poignantly presents the candid, heartrending stories of Elie, Andre, Gerard and Isabelle, who were yanked out of their beloved Egypt.

Read article in full 

Update: Khaiber, a Qatari film is being made about Jews defeated by Muhammed (Jerusalem Post)

Jews of Egypt film causes uproar

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sarah Honig: Not all refugees are created equal

 Robert Capa's famous photo of a Jewish refugee from an Arab country in the Shaar Ha'aliya camp near Haifa, c.1951

Not all refugees are created equal, Sarah Honig writes in the Jerusalem Post - the Palestinian refugees are the world's darlings, while the story of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands has been erased and falsified.  Even this image of a Jewish refugee girl taken in a tent camp or ma'abara in Israel was promptly hijacked by Arab propaganda and falsely hyped into a Palestinian Arab poster child.  

(...) The Palestinians have always postured as the Jewish state’s victims, even if it was they who had attacked Israel. They were rendered refugees in a conflict of their own instigation, launched with the boastfully broadcast intention to “throw all the Jews into the sea” – i.e. perpetrate genocide and ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, a mere four years after the Holocaust (which the Arabs collaborated in and cheered) the UN could pass up no opportunity to single out the Jewish state for blame.

Given this mindset, no special succor was dispensed to Jewish refugees. The Brits chased them on the open seas to prevent their rickety “illegal” boats from reaching the Jewish homeland. Those caught were incarcerated in forbidding camps, under shocking conditions, after having just emerged from the Nazi nightmare.

Things were no better in Europe’s Displaced Persons camps, where Jews resided “legally.” Bombastic American Gen. George Patton regarded exiled and traumatized Holocaust survivors as sinister scum. He confined the Jews in DP camps under his command, within barbed-wire enclosures, in stark contrast to his treatment of German civilians – admiration for whom he never bothered to hide.

Jewish refugees from the Middle East – who outnumbered the Palestinian refugees, who had resided in the various currently Arab countries long before the first Arab appeared on their soil, who didn’t launch wars against anyone, who left behind far greater property than Palestinians ever had, who were terrorized and robbed in full view of the uncaring international community – were never even counted as refugees. To this day world opinion adamantly refuses to concede that an exchange of populations had taken place here.

Facts will never be allowed to interfere with popular prejudice – not so long as any refugee episode can be linked to some Jewish aspect or another.

There’s no end to the shameless perversion of truth. Soon after Israel’s independence, the young, embattled country was covered with tent cities full of refugees, many of them from Arab countries. In early 1950, legendary photographer Robert Capa captured the image of a tiny weeping girl in Haifa’s Sha’ar Ha’aliya transit camp.

In no time, the Arab propaganda machine hijacked the evocative image, falsely hyping it as that of a pint-sized Palestinian refugee crying her heart out. She became an instant poster child among self-professed humanitarians.

Nobody cared that she was, in fact, a Jewish refugee crying her heart out. The corrected caption put the picture out of mind. As we said – not all refugees are created equal.

Read article in full

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ma'amoul: a well-rounded start to Purim!

 Ma'amoul cookies for Purim

Just try to think of Purim without thinking about hamantaschen. It’s impossible, right? In the Middle East, however, Purim cookies have rounded, not triangular, shapes, the St Louis Jewish Light reports. Happy Purim to all readers!

The association this triangular cookie has with Purim is equivalent to that of matzah to Passover or latkes to Hanukkah. You simply can’t think of one without thinking of the other. Jews all over the world make this same association. However, in parts of the Middle East, there is another cookie strongly associated with Purim. That cookie is a ma’amoul, sometimes called meneina.

Among the Jews of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and Greece, ma’amoul is traditionally served at the se’udat Purim, the festive Purim meal. The beautiful cookie reminds us of the beautiful Queen Esther, its rich filling (ma’amoul in Arabic means “filled”) symbolic of the secret she kept from the king, namely, that she was Jewish. Unlike most traditional Jewish holiday foods, however, ma’amoul is a shared cultural treat. Christians in that part of the world celebrate Easter with ma’amoul, and the cookie is a beloved part of the feast marking the end of Ramadan for Muslims.

Each ma’amoul is a work of art. It is individually formed and intricately decorated using a wooden mold called a tabi or a special tweezers called maa’laat. The shortbread-like dough, which can be made using all-purpose flour or a mix of all-purpose flour and semolina flour, is rich with butter and flavored with orange blossom or rose water, which are potent perfume-like distillates of bitter orange blossoms or rose petals. Both waters are used in Mediterranean cuisines to flavor other cookies, cakes, and pastries, including baklava and madeleines.

Read article in full

Friday, February 22, 2013

Seventy years since "Megillat Hitler"

 Purim scroll or megilla from Mogador (Essaouira)

The great festival of Purim celebrates how the Jews of Persia were saved from the wicked Haman some 2, 500 years ago, but Jewish communities have had their own local festivities to mark their miraculous deliverance from catastrophe. It is 70 years this year since the Allied liberation of North Africa. The Jewish community of Casablanca commissioned a special scroll called 'Megillat Hitler', Raphael Medoff writes in the Jewish Journal. 

Among the more remarkable documents of the Holocaust is a scroll, created in North Africa in 1943, called “Megillat Hitler.” Written in the style of Megillat Esther and the Purim story, it celebrates the Allies’ liberation of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, which saved the local Jewish communities from the Nazis.

What the scroll’s author did not realize, however, was that at the very moment he was setting quill to parchment, those same American authorities were actually trying to keep in place the anti-Jewish legislation imposed in North Africa by the Nazis. On November 8, 1942, American and British forces invaded Nazi-occupied Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. It took the Allies just eight days to defeat the Germans and their Vichy French partners in the region.

For the 330,000 Jews of North Africa, the Allied conquest was heaven-sent.  The Vichy regime that had ruled since the summer of 1940 had stripped the region’s Jews of their civil rights, severely restricted their entrance to schools and some professions, confiscated Jewish property, and tolerated sporadic pogroms against Jews by local Muslims. In addition, thousands of Jewish men were hauled away to forced-labor camps.

President Franklin Roosevelt, in his victory announcement, pledged “the abrogation of all laws and decrees inspired by Nazi governments or Nazi ideologists.” But there turned out to be a discrepancy between FDR’s public rhetoric and his private feelings.

On January 17, 1943, Roosevelt met in Casablanca with Major-General Charles Nogues, a leader of the new “non-Vichy” regime. When the conversation turned to the question of rights for North African Jewry,  Roosevelt did not mince words: “The number of Jews engaged in the practice of the professions (law, medicine, etc) should be definitely limited to the percentage that the Jewish population in North Africa bears to the whole of the North African population… The President stated that his plan would further eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore toward the Jews in Germany, namely, that while they represented a small part of the population, over fifty percent of the lawyers, doctors, school teachers, college professors, etc., in Germany, were Jews.”  (It is not clear how FDR came up with that wildly exaggerated statistic.)

Various Jewish communities around the world have established local Purim-style celebrations to mark their deliverance from catastrophe.

The Jews of Frankfurt, for example, would hold a “Purim Vintz” one week after Purim, in remembrance of the downfall of an antisemitic agitator in 1620. Libyan Jews traditionally organized a “Purim Ashraf” and a “Purim Bergel” to recall the rescue of Jews in those towns, in 1705 and 1795, respectively.

The Jewish community of Casablanca, for its part, declared the day of the 1942 Allied liberation “Hitler Purim,” and a local scribe, P. Hassine, created the “Megillat Hitler.” (The original is on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.) The seven chapters of the scroll poignantly blend the flavor of the tale of ancient Persia with the amazing stroke of fortune that the Jews of Casablanca had themselves just experienced.  It uses phrases straight from Megillat Esther, such as “the month which was turned from sorrow to rejoicing” and “the Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor,” side by side with modern references such as “Cursed be Hitler, cursed be Mussolini.”

The Jews of North Africa had much to celebrate.  But after the festivities died down, questions began to arise. The Allies permitted nearly all the original senior officials of the Vichy regime in North Africa to remain in the new government. The Vichy “Office of Jewish Affairs” continued to operate, as did the forced labor camps in which thousands of Jewish men were being held.

 American Jewish leaders were loathe to publicly take issue with the Roosevelt administration, but by the spring of 1943, they began speaking out.  The American Jewish Congress and World Jewish Congress charged that “the anti-Jewish legacy of the Nazis remains intact in North Africa” and urged FDR to eliminate the Vichy laws.

“The spirit of the Swastika hovers over the Stars and Stripes,” Benzion Netanyahu, director of the U.S. wing of the Revisionist Zionists (and father of Israel’s current prime minister) charged. A group of Jewish GIs in Algiers protested directly to U.S. ambassador Murphy.  Editorials in a number of American newspapers echoed this criticism.

 Read article in full

The Moroccan Purim

Point of No Return articles on Purim

Iraqi-Jewish building to become heritage site

The Iraqi newspaper Alsumaria News has reported that a building constructed by a Jewish merchant in the city of Diwaniya will become a heritage site. The article fudges the circumstances surrounding the Jewish exodus, but it is a good sign that some physical evidence of the ancient Jewish presence is being preserved. Here is a rough translation (with thanks: Aymenn):

Diwaniya province announced Wednesday that it would convert a building built by the Jews early last century into a  heritage building: guards will protect the building to maintain its features, while the Ministry of Antiquities will offer to buy it from its owners.

The director of the heritage center in the province of Diwaniyah, 180 km from Baghdad. Ghalib al-Kaabi said in an interview with Alsumaria News that a decision had been issued by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to name a building constructed in heart of the commercial center of the city of Diwaniya, a heritage site.

The building, which consists of two floors and covers an area of more than 400m, dates back to the 1920s and was built by a Jewish merchant named Sasson Khadouri.

The present owners would be "barred from selling to any party other than the Minister of Tourism or change the character of the building according to the law."

The building is eligible to be a first class tourist site for its architectural style and unique inscriptions.

It is noteworthy that Iraq was home to a large number of followers of Judaism in the past, but many of them left the country in waves of mass displacement  after the establishment of the State of Israel in the aftermath of the war between Arabs and Israelis in 1948. Iraqi Jews were a sector rich and active within Iraqi society.

Read article in full (arabic) 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

After the Jews, Libya is now turning on Christians

A Jewish family in Libya (from The Last Jews of Libyacopyright Vivienne Roumani-Denn, used with permission.)

Recent news that the new Libyan government has arrested four foreign nationals on charges that they were proselytizing Christianity in Libya has been troubling Gina Waldman, of JIMENA, writing in the Times of Israel. It is reviving memories of her own expulsion in 1967:
Sadly, the story of the Swedish-American, Egyptian, South African and South Korean who were arrested for printing and distributing bible pamphlets in Benghazi by a unit of the Libyan Defense Ministry known as Preventative Security, brings back sad memories.

Even though Libya had a revolution, the country still maintains an archaic law from the era of the regime of “El Rais,” Moammar Gadaffi, which makes proselytizing any religion, other than Islam, a criminal offense punishable by death. One oppressive dictatorship has fallen but another one has replaced it. Libya continues to deny its citizens the freedom to worship in the religion of their choice.
I was born in Libya, but left the country as a 19-year-old in 1967. I loved my country, the food, culture and traditions of our people who had a history in Libya for more than two thousand years. But I left when mobs were roaming the streets, not chanting for democracy or yearning for freedom but calling for the heads of Jews. Violent political culture has often been part of Libyan society, especially towards its Jewish community. I suffered as a member of Libya’s Jewish minority just as Christians suffer for being a minority in Libya now.

After WWII, Arab nationalism spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa, leading to riots which often turned into violence directed at the Jewish communities. In 1945, more than 140 Jews were killed and many injured in a pogrom in Tripoli called the “Mora’ot.” The film: “The Forgotten Refugees” highlights these events.

My mother, Laura, escaped attacks on our house by jumping from rooftop to rooftop until she was rescued by a Christian woman. After the riots, my father helped bury the severed bodies of his friends; an experience that traumatized him for the rest of his life.

When Israel became a state in 1948, anti-Jewish riots escalated, synagogues were torched and Jewish homes were destroyed. This resulted in the mass expulsion of 30,000 Jews to Europe and Israel. By 1950, only 6,000 Jews were left from what was once a thriving Jewish community. I was one of those Jews. Today there is not a single Jew left in Libya.

While living in Libya my family and I, like the rest of the Jewish Community became prisoners in our own country. Jews were prohibited from leaving the country, holding citizenship, travel outside of Tripoli, holding government jobs or attending government schools. I was stripped of my basic human rights and treated as a Dhimmi, a subjugated, second class citizen, for my religious beliefs. Although I was raised in an orthodox Jewish home, I had no other choice but to attend Catholic school. I could recite prayers in Latin, but I was not even allowed to learn Hebrew, the religious language of my people.

My father had invested heavily in Libya. He had a business and a family. We always prayed that things would get better, but we were living in denial. The situation for Jews in Libya worsened. By 1967 during the six-day-war between Israel and its five Arab neighbors, mobs took to the streets burning Jewish homes. I became separated from my family and was hidden in the home of a Christian family.

By order of the Libyan Government, my family was expelled; all of our assets were confiscated. We were allowed one suitcase and the equivalent of $20 to take with us outside of the country. Fleeing for our lives, my family narrowly escaped death when the bus driver attempted to burn the bus taking us to the airport. We were rescued by Christians.

Today Libya is Judenrhein, Jew free, and recent events show it will soon be Christian-rhein. The Libyan government must find some enemy to justify the police state that rules over the Libyan people. “Proselytizing is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100% Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security,” a security official named Hussein Bin Hmeid told Reuters in justifying the arrests of the Christians.

Does it surprise officials of Western governments that intolerant societies like my native Libya could produce so many who are willing to murder in the name of religion?

On this day, 21 February (Cleveland Jewish News):

1897: In correspondence bearing today's date, “leading members of the Jewish community in Tripoli sent a letter to the President of the Alliance that gave a grim picture of Jewish life in rural Tripolitania."  The Jews reported that they were living as “dhimmi.” An Arab mob had destroyed the synagogue in the village of Zliten and in another village the authorities refused to find those who had murdered one Jew and injured his companion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Members of Parliament behaving badly

Hanin Zuabi rushed out of the Knesset as soon as she had been sworn in as an MK - in order to avoid standing for the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah. Quite a contrast to the behaviour of Jewish members of Parliament in Iraq, for instance - Zvi Gabay remarks in Haaretz. 

Beyond the lack of elementary politeness, one must ask: Why did Zuabi swear loyalty to the Israeli Knesset if she feels that way? Was it because the Knesset is the one that pays her salary or because she wants to exploit the democracy of the State of Israel, enjoy freedom of expression and movement to flout its authority and impress her supporters?

In light of her provocative behavior, I looked at how the Jewish members of parliament behaved during the first days of Iraq’s independence. Even though the ancestors of the Jewish MPs had settled in Iraq long before the Arabs conquered it, they respected Iraq’s laws, the rules of the ceremony and etiquette, including standing while the Iraqi national anthem was played. I behaved the same way when I served as Israel’s representative in Egypt while the Egyptian national anthem was played. That is how Jews who live in various countries behave and how cultured people behave all over the world, whether the words of the national anthem speak to them or not.

If Zuabi is disgusted with Israel because it is a Jewish state, she is free – unlike the Jews who lived in Arab countries – to leave and live in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya or any other Arab country. There, she will have as much freedom and as many rights as her heart desires. It may also be hoped that her living conditions will be better than they are in Israel and that she will not be discriminated against as she claims she is here.

There is nothing coincidental about Zuabi’s provocative behavior. Whether by supporting the terrorists on the Mavi Marmara or refusing to respect the symbols of the state, she encourages the radicals to behave as she does. Most of Israel’s Arab citizens live very well compared to their brothers in Arab countries.

Their living conditions can and should be improved. But there is no place for behaving rudely, as Zuabi did, to correct historic distortions.

Read article  in full

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

First official Jewish visit to Algeria in 50 years

 Jonathan Hayoun: first visit in 50 years

 Here's one story I had overlooked - but it is actually a landmark development in the recent history of Algeria. The Union of Jewish Students in France, led by Jonathan Hayoun, 28, was on the delegation with President Francois Hollande on his visit to Algeria in December 2012.

Parmi les membres de la délégation française qui accompagnait le président français à Alger et à Tlemcen figurait l’Union des étudiants juifs de France (UEJF). Pour la première fois depuis juillet 1962, cette organisation qui dit avoir soutenu la lutte des Algériens pour leur indépendance a pu se rendre en Algérie où la question juive demeure un sujet sensible. Jonathan Hayoun, 28 ans, président de l’UEJF, était du voyage à Alger et à Tlemcen. Entretien.

DNA : L’Union des étudiants juifs de France faisait partie de la délégation qui accompagnait le président français François Hollande en Algérie pour sa visite d’Etat. Pourquoi votre union tenait-elle à faire ce voyage ? 

Jonathan Hayoun : Cela fait plusieurs mois que nous demandions à l’Elysée de nous inscrire sur la liste de la délégation qui accompagnera François Hollande en Algérie. Nous avions demandé à l’Elysée de nous obtenir des visas pour faire partie de ce voyage. Nous voulions nous y rendre depuis des années.

 Read article in full (French)

The association of Algerian Jews MORIAL writes a letter to  President Bouteflika  asking for permission to visit Algeria (French)

MORIAL symposium, 2008 (Akadem)

'Suitcase or Coffin: 50 years since the exodus of the Jews of Algeria'  Harif talk in London, 8pm, 20 February 2013.

Murder victim's parents arrive in Israel

 Murder victim Moshe Nahari pictured with his family

Moshe Nahari's parents delayed their arrival in Israel in order to see that justice was done for their son Moshe, murdered in 2008. They are bound to be disappointed. The killer has not yet been sentenced, although he is back behind bars after a jail break. In a display of double standards towards Jews, the court has tried to fob the Naharis with blood money: if they had been Muslims, the death penalty would have been prescribed.

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- The parents of a Hebrew teacher who was killed in an anti-Semitic attack in Yemen immigrated to Israel.

Yisrael (Yaish) and Terneja Nahari, the parents of Moshe Nahari, made aliyah on Monday. The couple, in their 70s, were reunited in Israel with their four children and 20 grandchildren, including the nine children of Moshe Nahari, the son who was fatally shot in 2008 by an Islamist extremist.
Five of Moshe Nahari's children made aliyah immediately following the murder. His wife, Louza, and the remaining four children came to Israel last August.

Moshe Nahari, a ritual slaughterer and Hebrew teacher in the town of Raydah in northwestern Yemen, was killed in December 2008 by an Islamist extremist who reportedly had demanded that he convert to Islam. Nahari, 35, was buried in Yemen.

Nahari’s parents remained in Raydah to campaign for his murderer to be brought to justice. The murderer was caught and found guilty in a Yemen court but has not been sentenced.

The aftermath of the murder saw a wave of aliyah to Israel, with 113 Jews immigrating there since 2009, according to the Jewish Agency, which assisted in the move.

Read article in full 

Article in Arutz Sheva

 Prosecutor demands death penalty for Jew's killer

Yemen Jew killer ordered to pay 'blood money' 

Jew's killer bribes guards to flee jail

Monday, February 18, 2013

Baghdad-born poet Someck is not in exile in Israel

 Israeli poet Ronny Someck...not looking for roots

A baby when his parents left Baghdad, poet Ronny Someck is flattered by Sheikh Moqtada al-Sadr's invitation, issued two months ago,  to Iraqi Jews to return. "When someone puts out his hand you shake it", he argues. (Well, I don't quite agree with you, Ronny, as I explain below). Although intrigued by Iraq,  Ronny is otherwise not tempted to live there, nor does he take the interviewer's bait - that he is an inferior 'Arab' in Israel. No, this Israeli is not in exile - He is quite happy being what, and where he is, thank you very much. Read this interview by Jacky Hougie in al-Monitor:

“With the same chalk a policeman outlines a body in a crime scene
I outline the borders of the city my life was shot into.
I interrogate witnesses, extort out of their lips
Drops of arrack and imitate with hesitation the dance moves
Of pita over a bowl of hummus.
When they capture me, they will take a third off for good behavior
And will lock me up in the corridor of Salima Murad's throat.”
(from the poem “Baghdad” by Ronny Someck)

He has been flirting with his Babylonian origin his whole life: in his pride over his origin, in his contacts with Iraqi poets, in the stories on which he was raised. Mostly he does so in his work.

The Jews who lived there never regarded Iraq as a homeland. They felt they were in exile. But their departure, at least for some of them, bordered on an insult. They say that at the start of the 20th century, during the pogrom in Kishinev, the rioters yelled, ‘strike the Jews and save Russia’. I don’t think there’s any Arab who feels he’s saving Iraq when he strikes Jews.”

If Iraq opens its gates to you, would you go back? 

“I came here as a baby with a black box devoid of memories and my homeland is Hebrew. I very much want to visit there, everyone has an elementary right to visit the room where he were born. I will come as a native, not a tourist, but I won’t stay.”

Where would you go first?

“Shurja, the market I was told about. It probably no longer exists.”
It was torched during the war, but it still exists.

“The stories about that market are part of my childhood landscapes, made more vivid when my father’s and grandfather’s sisters arrived from Iraq at the start of the 1960s. Every time I held a fruit, they would tell me, ‘This is an excellent fruit but not like those you will find in the market’.”
And the second place you would visit?

“The fish restaurants on the Tigris. I’ve heard stories about the fish and the smell of the river and the large record players playing the songs of the great singers on which I was raised.” 
You didn’t mention your house or the adjacent synagogue.

“I’m not sure the house exists and I know that most of the synagogues were turned into mosques. A few years ago someone e-mailed me an irate presentation showing what had happened to the synagogues in Iraq. I sent it to my mother and she responded – it’s a good thing they were turned into mosques and not into dress boutiques. What does it matter, as long as they pray there to the same God?”

In Israel he lives in [the town of] Ramat Gan. He’s married to Liora and father to 21-year-old Shirley. He has a teaching certificate and he is an educator/counselor to street gangs. He makes his living as a teacher at a Tel Aviv high school that provides kids with a second chance. Over the past year he has expressed total political identification with his close friend [Yesh Atid Chairperson] Yair Lapid and was one of the founders of the Yesh Atid Party. Lapid was once asked whom he envies, and he answered, “Ronny Someck”, because after being exposed to his poetry he knew he could never be a poet. “In politics,” Someck explains, “one must have both feet on the ground. I maintain for myself the right to float.” Someck was placed in [the symbolic, honorary] 120th place on Lapid’s Knesset list.

His work is contemporary, its language winding (like “Arabesques,” he says), and its subjects varied. You will find Baghdad there, alongside Israeli existence, and [the late Egyptian diva] Umm Kulthum next to football. His poems have been translated into 41 languages, among them Albanian, Macedonian, Catalan, Nepalese and Arabic.

He never felt inferior in Israel, as a Jew from Iraq in a society where the tone was set by Jews of European origin. Perhaps this explains his total integration into Israeliness. “I’m not looking for roots because I never lost them”, he says. “Only on the first day of first grade the teacher told me to say ‘Bagdad’ and not ‘Baghdad’ as we said at home. As an adult I heard stories from friends who were ashamed when their parents listened at home to Arabic music. I used to turn up the sound.”

Nonetheless, you adopted the change in your family name that was imposed on you (Somekh is a Hebrew word! - ed) .Perhaps you understood that in order to be integrated, you had to distance yourself somewhat from “Arabness”?

“Certainly not. I started writing poems, made a name for myself and saw that I was identified with this name.”

He regrets that no one in Jerusalem responded to the declaration by Sheikh Moqtada al-Sadr.  “It’s a courageous call, he should have been greeted with applause”, says Someck. He’s a realist, and knows that when he goes to Baghdad he will find not only brothers, but ill-bearers, as well. “But there will also be fewer fanatics, and I will be protected. I will come as a friend, not as someone who wants to steal something from them”.

Did you leave behind property? 

“We left a lot of property. If they pay Jews for what they left behind, I would be happy to get it. But first of all, if someone puts out a hand to you, you shake it”.

If you were born in an Arab country, you carry its documents and you are not estranged from it, there are those who would define you as an Arab even though you don’t speak Arabic.

“I was born in an Arab country and I belong to its culture, but I’m an Israeli. I can understand [writer] Sami Michael and [Arab literature scholar] Sasson Somekh, who define themselves as Arab-Jews, because all their formative years were spent there. But my formative years were spent here. Because most Iraqi poets went into exile, my Iraqi colleagues regard me as an exiled Iraqi poet. But I live in my land.” 
My comment: Moqtada al-Sadr's invitation to return was to all 'oppressed' minorities, not just Jews. It can be seen as a cost-free, and rather cynical, PR move. There is no contrition, no attempt to acknowledge blame or guilt for the 'insult' of the Iraqi-Jewish exodus. Rather than seeking to turn the clock back, Iraq's leaders should attempt to build bridges with the Iraqi- Jewish community in Israel.  In spite his curiosity about the land of his forefathers, Ronny Someck is not in exile: he is an Israeli through and through - even a member of the Israeli establishment.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

173 years since the Damascus blood libel

 The great British philanthropist Moses Montefiore embarked on a voyage to the Levant to plead for the release of Jewish prisoners unfairly accused on the killing of a monk and his servant in Damascus .

The 19th century Damascus affair was a landmark crisis in the lives of Jews in Arab and Muslims lands, testifying to their absolute helplessness in the face of arbitrary accusations. What David B Green does not say in his Haaretz piece written on the affair's 173rd anniversary, is that no less than 18 blood libel accusations against the Jews were subsequently made throughout the Ottoman empire*.   

 On February 5, 1840, Father Tommaso, the Franciscan Capuchin monk who headed a monastery in Damascus, Syria, disappeared, along with his servant. This event led to what became known as the Damascus Affair, in which a group of Jews in the city found themselves falsely accused of murdering the priest. The affair aroused great public passions within the Muslim world, and became one of the first cases in which Jewish collective activity on an international level worked to end an injustice – in this case, a blood libel - against a Jewish community.

Syria at the time was under the rule of Egypt, led by Pasha Muhammad Ali, who had broken away from Ottoman control. Because Catholic citizens were protected by France, investigation of the case fell to the French consul in Damascus, Ulysse de Ratti-Menton, who was known for his anti-Semitic sympathies.

Acting on claims from the Capuchins that the priest had been killed by Jews who intended to use his blood for the upcoming Passover holiday, Ratti-Menton began rounding up residents of the Jewish Quarter. One of those arrested implicated eight other Jews under torture; they were arrested and also subjected to terrible physical abuse. Two died and a third converted to Islam, in order to have his life spared.

The Egyptian governor of Syria, Sherif Pasha, accepted the French findings and approved of the sentence issued to the Jewish defendants. A local crowd attacked and ravaged a Damascus synagogue. In the meantime, local authorities arrested 63 Jewish children, in an effort to force their parents to reveal where the blood of Tommaso was being stored.

A sympathetic Austrian consul in Damascus passed information about the tortures being imposed on the Jews to James de Rothschild, the honorary Austrian consul in Paris. This led to a series of intercessions by various European diplomats, and also aroused the sympathies of a wide variety of Jews both in Europe and the United States, some of them otherwise quite assimilated.

A delegation that included Moses Montefiore and Adolphe Cremieux traveled to Egypt to meet with Muhammad Ali. They asked the ruler to order the re-investigation of the affair by more objective authorities, and the release of the prisoners. Muhammad Ali refused to have the case reopened, but did act to have the Jews under arrest freed, on August 28, 1840.

The same delegation then traveled to Constantinople, where they prevailed upon the sultan, Abdul Mejid I, to issue a firman (edict), declaring blood libels untrue and prohibiting trials on the basis of such accusations.

Although the success of the Jewish delegation in effecting the release of the prisoners was celebrated in the Jewish world, the charges were never officially repudiated. Consequently, they continued to be circulated and widely accepted, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe, particularly France. In 1846, a two-volume set of the complete records of the French consul’s investigation was published in France, and subsequently in Arabic, German, Russian and Italian. To this day, the Damascus blood libel is repeated in the Arab world, most notably in a 1983 book by the then-Syrian defense minister, Mustafa Tlass.

At the same time, the affair is remembered for the impact it had on Jewish communities, not only in Europe, but also in the United States, where Jews began to organize politically in order to lobby the government to intercede on behalf of their brethren in Damascus. And indeed the American consul in Alexandria expressed a protest to that effect to the Egyptian ruler.

*p158, The Jews of Islam by Bernard Lewis

Read article in full 

From Damascus to Jenin by Elliott A Green

Friday, February 15, 2013

Israeli officials fear for safety of Tunisian Jews

 Salafists chanting slogans (Photo: AFP)

Israeli officials have expressed serious concerns over the safety of the Jewish community in Tunisia, Arutz Sheva reports. Has Tunisia reached the point of no return? 

Some 2,000 Jews still live in the country, and the Foreign Ministry's office for fighting anti-Semitism said that instability in the country could have serious negative effects on the country's Jews.

The recent murder of leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid has brought hundreds of thousands of angry Tunisians out into the streets, as popular opposition to the country's Islamist regime grows.  The unrest (...) could be a recipe for attacks on Jews, the Foreign Ministry said.

Public declarations of anti-Semitism, in social media and traditional media, have risen significantly in recent days, the Ministry said. In addition, local imams in mosques have been inciting against Jews, claiming that they are responsible for the liberal opposition to the Islamist Ennahda party, which runs the country.

Several Jewish cemeteries in Tunisia were desecrated this past week, local residents reported. Many residents are living behind locked doors out of fear that pogroms could evolve.

The Foreign Ministry has instructed Israeli diplomats around the world to ask the governments of the countries where they are stationed to intervene with the Tunisian government to ensure the safety of the country's Jews.

Moroccan king boasts of 'spiritual diversity'

Two rabbis at the ceremony marking the restoration of the Fez synagogue.

King Mohammed hailed the "spiritual wealth and diversity" of Morocco at a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the end of the restoration of a 17th century synagogue in the city of Fez, reports AFP in the Lebanese Naharnet. Forgive my cynicism, but the only value in restoring synagogues without communities is that it is good PR. In this case, the Moroccan government did not even have to pay the full cost: Germany part-financed the restoration work.

The ceremony was held in the medina, the Old City, of Fez, a UNESCO world heritage site, before more than 200 people including the country's Islamist prime minister and German parliament speaker Norbert Lammert.

Germany part-financed the 160, 000-euro ($215,000) work.

The two-year restoration of Slat Alfassiyine synagogue bore "eloquent testimony to the spiritual wealth and diversity of the Kingdom of Morocco and its heritage," Mohammed said in a message read by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane.

"The secular traditions of Moroccan civilization drew their essence from the fact that Moroccans are deeply ingrained with the values of coexistence, tolerance and harmony between the different components of the nation," the king said.

The new constitution adopted in 2011 against the background of the Arab Spring, recognized its Jewish heritage as part of Morocco's national identity, he said, calling for the renovation of all Jewish place of worship in the country. (...)

In 1900, Fez, then the imperial capital, had 10,000 Jews out of a population of 100,000 and 20 synagogues, according to (the late -ed) Simon Levy, a specialist on Judaism in Morocco. The city lies 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of Rabat. 

Read article in full

This JTA report on the same ceremony does not mince its words on the causes of the Moroccan exodus:

"Spurred on by a succession of pogroms, including in Oujada and Jerada, some 250,000 Moroccan Jews left the North African country between 1948 and 1967. Many settled in Israel. In 1959, Zionism was outlawed in Morocco and defined as a “serious crime.” Morocco ended that official animosity in the late 1980s and has maintained ties with Israel since then. Today, some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, according to the European Jewish Congress. "

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Jewish cemetery in Saudi Arabia

 The Jewish cemetery is located in the city of Hoful

 Its walls have largely crumbled and it is now a market, but there is still evidence of the Jewish cemetery in eastern Saudi Arabia. Fascinating piece by Nimrod Raphaeli in the Jewish Press.

A few years ago, a Saudi friend told me of the existence of a Jewish cemetery, or maqbarat al-yahud in Arabic, in the al-Ihsaa region in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The friend had been surprised to discover it and knew nothing about its history–about how the cemetery came to exist.

The mystery was answered with the publication in 2012 of a well-documented work by Yusuf Ali al-Mutairi on al-yahud fi al-khaleej (the Jews in the Gulf). The book provides a balanced and well-documented review of the history of the small Jewish communities in the Gulf region from the start of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th. The book states the obvious: that, unlike the large Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and North Africa, the number of Jews in the Gulf countries had never exceeded a few hundreds in any one country.

 Most of the Jews who settled in the Gulf countries, primarily in Kuwait and Bahrain, were of Iraqi origin, and many of them were seeking either to escape military conscription under the Ottoman Empire or to explore economic opportunities. Of these Jews, only a few have remained and probably only in the Kingdom of Bahrain, which, in fact, is represented in Washington by Ambassador Houda Ezra Noonoo, a Jew who speaks Iraqi Jewish Arabic dialect quite fluently.

 Saudi Arabia was a special case. The Ottoman authorities brought a number of Iraqi Jews to fill administrative and financial posts in the al-Ihsaa region, the key source of its oil. Al-Ihsaa had been incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1871 and governed under the Wilayat of Basra (Iraq) and remained so through 1913. A Saudi royal decree issue in 1956 changed the name of al-Ihsaa Region into the Eastern although local population continues to refer to it as al-Hasa.

 In his study on the Jews of the Gulf, Al-Mutairi relates that Jews occupied important positions in al-Ihasaa–notably that of the treasurer (during the Ottoman Empire the post was known in Turkish as sanduq amini). Three successive occupants of the post were Jews–Yacoub Effendi (1878-1879), Daoud bin Shintob (the Arabic version of the Hebrew word Shemtov) (1879-1894), and Haroun Effendi (1895-96). During their tenure, many of the entries into the books were made in Hebrew (most likely in Arabic transliterated in Rashi script).

Al-Mutairi has suggested that keeping the financial records in Hebrew may have been intended to prevent an audit of the accounts possibly to protect their Ottoman superiors. My own grandfather was a sanduq amini in the Province of Basra for more than two decades until the occupation of the city by the British in 1917. Like many people in his generation, he studied Torah and learned to write Hebrew in the old Rashi script.

 Jews were also employed in al-Ihsaa as treasurers in the Sunni office or in the court of cassassion of the district (liwaa). One Jew, known as “Elyahu the Jew,” served as the collector of customs in the port of Oqair, one of the most important ports in al-Ihassa at the time. But perhaps the most significant post held by a Jew was that of Director of Customs for the whole province, a post that was sought after by many individuals both inside and outside al-Ihasaa because it offered the potential for illicit income.

 Daoud bin Shintob (Shemtov) is thought by Al-Mutairi to have been the best-known Jew in al-Ihsaa because of the strong relationship he maintained with the Ottoman and local officials–in particular, with Mohammad Sa’id Pasha, the governor of the Liwa (province) of al-Ihsaa, during the latter’s third term as governor, 1896-1900.

Complaints against Sa’id Pasha relating to his special relationship with Shemtov ultimately led to his dismissal despite the absence of any viable evidence of misconduct.
According to our Saudi sources the cemetery is located behind Riyadh Bank main branch and across from Beirut restaurant in the city of Hufuf. In his book, al-Mutairi includes a photograph of a walled area taken by him on September 29, 2009, which he describes as the Jewish cemetery.

Read article in full

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

'Real Iranian bomb' Rita to perform at UN

It's something of a coup that the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, has been able to get singer Rita to perform at the UN General Assembly. YNet News has the story (with thanks: Elsie):

Iranian-born Israeli singer Rita, whose albums are being sold on black market, is about to make history once again: On March 5 she will perform at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, an privilege shared by few artists in the past, including Beyoncé.

Rita will perform songs in Persian from her latest album, "My Joys," as well as some of her greatest hits. The performance is expected to be viewed by the UN secretary-general, the General Assembly president, ambassadors and diplomats, leaders of the Jewish and Iranian communities and American artists. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor will address the audience before Rita takes the stage.

"The world will get to see the real Iranian bomb – Rita," he jokes. According to the ambassador, "The sounds usually heard at the General Assembly hall are of condemnation and criticism against us.

During Rita's performance, different sounds will echo – sounds of hope, peace and multiculturalism.
This is the real sound of Israel.

 "While we connect people through music, the only instruments the Iranian leadership plays on are the drums of war." Rita's performance at the UN was devised when Prosor attended the singer's concert in New York several months ago.

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Israel is a safe haven for the Jews fleeing Yemen

 The last Jews of Yemen are leaving -  for Israel. We may better advocate for Israel by telling the story of those Jews from Arab lands and Iran who had nowhere else to go, argues Sarah Levin in the J Weekly of Southern California:

Last September I had the privilege of attending an international conference in Jerusalem titled “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries,” which was organized by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Jewish Congress.

During my last day in Jerusalem, I walked to the Old City to put a note in the Kotel. As I was leaving, a short woman with a black hijab (head covering) brushed my shoulder. I instantly recognized her from Rachel Stretcher’s photographs, which were featured in the exhibit “The Last Jews of Yemen,” sponsored by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).


I approached the woman, whose name is Simcha, and in broken Hebrew she told me that her family had left Yemen’s northern town of Raida in 2009 after her husband, Said, a leader of the Jewish community, received death threats and a grenade was thrown into their courtyard. Said and Simcha had the choice of moving their family to “Tourist City,” a government-protected compound in Yemen’s capital Sana’a, or leaving Yemen altogether. Rather than live as refugees in their own country, Said and Simcha decided to immigrate to Israel.

Simcha told me about the horrible struggles of the Jews remaining in Yemen and how she thought they were all preparing to leave. She knew she made the right choice in moving to Israel, despite the difficult assimilation challenges she was facing.

In late January, news began circulating that the Yemeni government had stopped providing the necessary subsidies and protection for displaced Jews from Raida living in “Tourist City.” The Yemeni NGO Sawa’a: Organization for Anti-Discrimination, complained on its Facebook page that the displaced Jewish people are unable to return to their homes in Raida, because of the threat of religiously motivated violence against them by Shi’ite Houthis.

Following this news, Israeli and Arab news outlets were flooded with reports that an international effort is under way to bring the remnants of Yemen’s Jewish community to Israel. With fewer than 100 Jews remaining in Yemen, and their status now in danger, it’s fair to assume these reports are correct and that  Yemen may soon be added to the list of Arab countries that once had vibrant Jewish communities that were forced out, or have fled.

Revisionist history of the Middle East and North Africa conveniently excludes the experiences of indigenous Jews, who have had a continuous presence in the Middle East and North Africa for over 3,000 years. The fate of Yemen’s remaining Jews reminds us once again of the important role the State of Israel has played, and continues to play, in providing Jews around the world with a place of refuge when life at home becomes impossible. We are better able to effectively advocate for Israel by telling the almost forgotten story of Jewish communities from Arab countries and Iran who often had nowhere to go but Israel.

Read article in full

Monday, February 11, 2013

Does Interfaith Dialogue work?

 From left to right: Sheikh Dr Muhammad al-Hussaini; Dr Patrick Sookhdeo; chairman Martin Bright: Rev. Patrick Morrow, and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg at last week's discussion in London on interfaith dialogue.(Photo: M Huberman)

Update: To receive a sound recording file of the discussion, please apply to

"It's good to talk,"to quote the old BT ad. 'Jaw-jaw' is better than 'war-war', as Churchill once said.

Who can argue with interfaith dialogue? As with motherhood and apple pie - what's not to like? But is there a point where dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims can prove not just fruitless,  but destructive?

 At a panel discussion last week arranged at Friends' House in London by Harif and Spiro Ark: 'Interfaith dialogue: does it work?  it dawned on some that disapproval or  reservations about interfaith dialogue, publically expressed, could be dangerous to your health. Sheikh Dr Muhammad al-Hussaini, of the Council of Imams and Rabbis of the UK (Children of Abraham), drove home the point  that 'moderate' Muslims such as himself ran risks merely for being openly critical. He reduced the audience to tears as he threw away his prepared statement and talked with emotion about how his very appearance on the panel had exposed his family to threats and harassment.

Interfaith dialogue, he claimed, was an industry funded by petrodollars whose function was to manipulate genuine people of good-will for 'PR advantage' and confer legitimacy on extremists.

For fellow panellist Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, of the Barnabas Fund, serving persecuted Christians worldwide, interfaith dialogue reminded him of an encounter between a fox and a chicken where the chicken was on the menu.

Not only had interfaith dialogue failed to protect the rights of women, children and minorities, but hypocrisy was rife, he said. A Pakistani law-maker extolling the virtues of interfaith dialogue turned out to be the architect of the blasphemy law, under which Christians and converts from Islam could be condemned to death.

On the other side of the debate, Reverend Patrick Morrow of the Council of Christians and Jews said interfaith dialogue could lead to some real successes. He would dialogue with the devil if it helped. Rabbi Jonathan Wiittenberg argued that if there were a 0.0001 percent chance that dialogue could lead to better understanding, he would do it.

You dialogue with your enemies, not your friends: the example was proffered of Jo Berry: her father was blown up by the IRA, but she talked with her father's murderer.

The discussion, expertly chaired by Martin Bright, political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, was eloquent and far-reaching. The audience expressed a range of views for and against.

 The conclusion was that dialogue can be a good thing, especially when it occurs naturally and without contrivance. But be careful to check that the sheep you are talking to is not really a wolf, and make quite sure that you are not his next meal.

Report by Amie on Harry's Place 

In defence of Bright - Harry's Place

Telling the truth about dialogue by Martin Bright (JC)

It's not always good to talk by Geoffrey Alderman (Jewish Chronicle)

When interfaith friends fall out by Martin Bright ( Jewish Chronicle)