Tuesday, April 30, 2013

If Gideon Levy wills it, 'tis a nightmare

Lyn Julius argues in the Times of Israel that Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy's 'one-state dream' is an insult to the suffering of Jews in Arab countries. They did not flee to Israel to find themselves once more under Arab-Muslim dominion:

Gideon Levy may be the most hated man in Israel, or the most heroic, but the controversial Haaretz columnist has a dream. Recently, he expressed his enthusiasm for turning Israel into ‘one just state for two peoples.’
One state for two peoples? It has already existed for a while now. More than two peoples live in it – Jews and Arabs; ultra-Orthodox Jews; religious Zionist and secular Jews; Jews of Middle-Eastern descent and Jews of European descent; settlers and Palestinians. (…) This, though, is how an imaginary, just state would appear: It would grant everyone the right to vote, and have a democratic constitution that would protect the rights of all communities and minorities – including an immigration policy like that of all other nations.
Such a state would have a legislature that would reflect the mosaic of the country, and an elected government formed by a coalition of the communities and the two peoples’ representatives. Yes, a Jewish prime minister with an Arab deputy, or vice versa.
Levy’s Utopian ‘state of all its citizens’ will replace Zionism with ‘something infinitely more just and sustainable.’ In his dream, the lion will lie down with the lamb and all threats will dissipate. Foreign aid will flood into this cross-confessional nirvana.

One can assume that ‘an immigration policy like all other nations’ will not privilege Jews over Arabs. Very quickly, Arabs would become a majority, Hatikva would cease to be the national anthem, and the Jews will be forced to give up their national state.

Levy’s solution has already been tried. It has failed. Lebanon was a mosaic state, but following a bloody civil war, it is little more than a precarious collection of quarreling sects on the edge of another precipice. The Maronite Christians have become a beleaguered minority, prefiguring what will happen to the Jews of Israel. Who said the definition of insanity is proposing the same solution but expecting different results every time?

Gideon Levy’s dream is the triumph of hope over experience. The 650,000 Jews who sought a haven in Israel and now form a 52 percent Jewish majority – some 300,000 others went to the West – did not escape violence and repression in Arab states in order to find themselves once more under Arab-Muslim dominion.

Been there for 14 centuries, done that, got the blood-stained T-shirt.

Read article in full

Gideon Levy in Morocco: 'surprising coexistence'

Monday, April 29, 2013

Al-Ghriba pilgrimage passes off without a hitch

Hundreds of Jewish worshippers on Sunday completed an incident-free annual pilgrimage to Ghriba, Africa's oldest synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, where security was high to prevent any violence, AFP reports. Perez Trabelsi, who has major tourist interests on the island, said that it was a Jewish 'duty' to invest in Tunisia:

Organisers expressed satisfaction at the number of pilgrims, including Israelis who flew in from Europe, who took part in the ritual which had been scrapped in 2011, when a massive uprising toppled the regime of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

This year the pilgrimage, which started Friday when worshippers began arriving in Djerba, took place in a festival-like atmosphere with a final procession on Sunday attended by Tourism Minister Jamel Ghamra and Tunisia's Grand Rabbi Haim Bitan.

"Everything went well. I am looking forward to (seeing) thousands next year," said Perez Trabelsi, who represents the Jewish community in Djerba, as he embraced pilgrims preparing to leave Ghriba.
Rabbi Bitan praised the army and security forces for ensuring that the pilgrimage took place without any incident and said Djerba "is the pride of Tunisia and all its children, regardless of their religious beliefs."

He also urged Tunisian Jews across the world to invest in their native country. "It is your duty towards this country that welcomed and protected your ancestors and continues to protect your heritage."

The Tunisian tourist minister welcomed the pilgrims in the name of the Islamist-led government and said: "Post-revolution Tunisia will ensure the coexistence of all religions."

Read article in full

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Iranian-Jewish death toll is around 40

At least 40 Jews have been executed, murdered or have otherwise disappeared without trace in the 34 years since Iran was declared an Islamic Republic, writes Karmel Melamed (pictured) in the Times of Israel:

In May 1979, Habib Elghanian, the leader of the Jewish community in Iran was tried in a one-hour sham trial and then promptly executed by the Iranian regime for being a supposed “American and Zionist spy”.

Elghanian’s execution and the random killings of other innocent Jews in Iran, as well as the dire situation the Iranian regime had created for Jews resulted in more than 80,000 Jews fleeing Iran since 1979 for Europe, the U.S. and Israel.  While somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still live in Iran, many are risking their lives on a daily basis by remaining there and some have even lost their lives. For example, just this past November, Toobah Nehdaran, an impoverished, 57-year-old married Jewish woman was strangled, then repeatedly stabbed to death and had her body mutilated in a ritual manner by Muslim thugs who had broken into her home located in the Iranian city of Isfahan. Iranian authorities have still not investigated the case and no suspects have yet been arrested. 

Likewise, this past December, a 24-year-old Iranian Jewish young man was randomly shot to death in his home by unknown assailants. Various rumors have circulated regarding the circumstances surrounding his death, but again the regime’s leadership has not investigated the case.

Yet these killings of Jews are not uncommon for the current Iranian regime. According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and head of the Los Angeles-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran,” since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents. Likewise, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two Jews died while in custody and another 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Youssefabad synagogue in Tehran was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the Iranian Jewish community in the U.S. was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to save the lives of 13 Jews in the Iranian city of Shiraz that were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped up charges of spying for Israel and the U.S. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released. The Shiraz Jews were lucky. 

Between 1994 and 1997, 12 Iranian Jews were arrested by the Iranian secret police while attempting to flee from southwestern Iran into Pakistan. They have not been heard from since and their families now living in the U.S. and elsewhere have been enduring endless pain not knowing the status of their loved ones. In September 2007, seven Iranian Jewish families in Los Angeles and Israel filed a lawsuit in New York Federal Court against former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami holding him responsible for the arrests and disappearance of their loved ones.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

BBC asks: will 'Arab Jews' return?

 Over the next few days, the BBC Arabic Service (trailer below) is broadcasting a programme by Omar Abdul-Razek called 'Arab Jews in Israel'. On the plus side : the programme humanises Jews in Israel, and interviews some who voice mainstream views - notably, Eli Avidar and Levana Zamir, who deftly quash the idea of a return to Arab lands while these are being poisoned with antisemitism. On the minus side, the programme adopts a far-left discourse, assuming 'Arab Jews' were exploited by Ashkenazim as a labour reservoir and  stripped of their culture. It gives a voice to marginal figures like Professor Yehouda Shenhav and Almog Behar, who traffic the 1950s allegation that Israel suppressed the 'Arab ' heritage of Jews from Arab countries. The mere fact that the programme calls them 'Arab Jews' diminishes their separate Jewish identity. (Thanks to Levana for her translation from Arabic.)

Israeli Sociologist Yehuda Shenhav is standing before a plate hanging on one of the walls of his  library crowded with hundreds of books: an old letter in Arabic handwriting,  next to the envelope, is kept under glass.

Professor Shenhav says: "This is one of the letters exchanged between my father and my mother during my father's long absences from the house."

The text is filled with details and greetings to family members, asking about their financial and living conditions, but the envelope is covered with Israeli military censorship stamps.

Shenhav's father was working in Israeli intelligence, a sector in which Israel hired at its inception, a large number of Arab Jews, for the benefit of their language and in order to penetrate the "surrounding enemies". The problem in Shenhav's view is the contradiction that treated Israel's Jews from Arab Countries: "it erased their Arab culture and was increasingly in favor of the idea of ​​integration, and at the same time used their arabism  to legitimise the security organs of the State. "

The question of identity was the most pressing of for generations of Arab Jews. Says Shenhav: "It was the most important issue in the neighbourhood and outside the home. As a child in the tenth grade, for example, your family came originally from Iraq and spoke Arabic,  you were ashamed of the Arabic language before school friends and teachers, because the dominant culture was Ashkenazi culture."

Perhaps  the picture changed a bit with the improvement of political and social situation of the Arab Jews, and the emergence of a culture of indigenous music and food without stigma, though official statistics suggests that they come in third in the education sector, for example, after the Ashkenazi and Russian immigrants who came to Israel in the nineties.

History records that Arab  Jews in Israel live between marginalization and integration, but that most of them did not embrace the idea of ​​Zionism before the establishment of Israel. Yemenite Jews were the first arrivals to historic Palestine in the nineteenth century as an alternative to Arab workers in the plantations of European Jews. In Arahiv, a village near Kfar Saba generations the Dialy family lived. Eli has a large family at the moment. He speaks like a Palestinian Arab about his relationship with intimate neighbors in the Arab villages inside the Green Line, but his cousin Carvana complains of " Arab thieves" who are attacking the village and says she will not be upset if they are sent away. Arahiv itself was until Israel's occupation of the West Bank in 1967, a military zone in the front line with the Jordanian army. Eli recalls, "we lived among the lice, the place was full of snakes and coming from Yemen, they did not know any better - we worked and planted and raised cows until the situation improved." Eli's family came to Israel in 1949. Eli is taping his mother's recollections. She is approaching 100, her family from Yemen spoke the original dialect: "Yemen Melih Melih, Imam Yahya Melih."

As for the reasons for migration of Arab Jews from their countries to Israel,  history will tell that  many Jews believe Israel was the biggest beneficiary of the migration and even  displaced  Arab Jews so they would be a reservoir of labour. There are those who believe that they were forced to migrate after the escalation of the Palestinian Arab conflict.

It says that poor Arab Jews came to Israel through the Jewish Agency, and they had to live in development towns on the borders with the Arab countries, or in the homes vacated by Arab population, while the displaced middle class and the rich of them immigrated to Europe, America, Australia, South Africa. (Not true, especially in the case of Egypt, where only 6 percent of Jews were poor in 1948, according to historian Gudrun Kraemer - ed) Former Israeli ambassador Eli Avidar, head of manufacture of diamonds in Tel Aviv,  worked in the Mossad and as Israeli Ambassador to Qatar and the European Union. His family emigrated from Egypt in 1967 in the wake of the Six Day War. They had Greek citizenship from Egypt in 1967. I asked him how his family stayed in Egypt until that date, despite  rumors that Abdel Nasser persecuted the Jews?

He speaks in Egyptian slang which has not changed, "My father was a director of Cicurel, we were living well in Egypt without a problem, but after the 1967 war, there were demonstrations demanding the slaughter of the Jews," But what about the displacement in Egypt of its Jews? Avidar: "No one said it targeted the Jews, you will not find a history book to say it, but there was hatred of the Jews after the war, in 1948, and again with the 1967 war. We came to Israel only because our and relatives were here, but most of the Egyptian Jews who came to Israel emigrated after 1948."

On to the Egyptian Center in Tel Aviv, headed by Levana Zamir. She told me at length about the persecution suffered by the Jews in Egypt until they were forced to leave. "I was ten years old in May 1948, when David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. In the middle of the night a dozen Egyptian Officers came to our Villa in Helwan and arrested my uncle Habib Vidal. He was not Zionist, he had a printing-business. But King Farouk arrested 600 Jews when war broke out, to exchange them later with Egyptian prisoners of war. "

Levana tells how the Egyptian Government confiscated their family business, when a special law passed to confiscate all Zionists properties. And her uncle was released from prison after a year and a half, on condition he left Egypt for ever, without return.

Levana's family had to leave Egypt to France, where her father preferred to stay; but her mother insisted on going to Israel, to prevent her children from suffering racist abuse. The family were put up in a tent in the Tiberias Ma'abara (transit camp): "My mother was crying every night, because we could not get used to this kind of suffering, and I was ashamed to speak Arabic and I said I come from France, because Israel was then an Ashkenazi country".

 At the Iraqi Café, at Mahane Yehuda market, I met with the Israeli poet Almog Behar, backgammon players with Arak on the table and challenging each other in Iraqi-Arabic, and shamelessly eating Iraqi foods and drinking Arak. But Behar is telling me about the demise of the Arab Jewish heritage , which is the most dangerous thing in his opinion.

Behar's grandmother came from Iraq and forgot the Hebrew language in the last days of her life and began to talk only in Arabic only. He loved his grandmother and loved to communicate with her. He tells me: of course there was an attempt over the past decades to erase the Arab culture fully of the Jews of the Arab world, but this attempt did not succeed completely: my grandfather and my grandmother spoke Arabic but not my mum. The schools sent teachers home and called for Arab Jews to stop talking Arabic.

 According to Behar, what is becoming extinct is not only the Arab Jewish communities but the Arab heritage of Judaism, that heritage which was recited in prayer books and poems in synagogues over the centuries, but  does not exist now, because "the Zionist discourse that the Jews cannot be Arabs and Arabs can not to be Jews, has been accepted by both the Israeli and Arab sides, with the exception of countries such as Morocco.

 "In September of last year, sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, an international conference was organised at theUnited Nations entitled Justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, accusing the Arab League of responsibility for driving out the Jews from Arab countries, and demanded compensation for them no less than that demanded by the Palestinian refugees. Months afterwards, a controversy erupted in Egypt following the invitation launched by the Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian calling for Arab Jews to return to their home countries and the restoration of their property.

On the beach in the city of Bat Yam, where a large Egyptian community lives till today, I met Egyptians again, most of whom came from Alexandria. I asked them, why do not you return? They said: Israel is our country and we don’t know another one.

I asked Eli Avidar, he said: "The Jews from Egypt have still a positive memory of Egypt, but the problem is that when the Jews from Egypt listen to the radio and watch  television what is being said about the Jews, and even Jews of Egypt, one wants to forget that he was born in Egypt."

As for Levana Zamir, who participated at the UN conference, her opinion is that Egypt is not yet ready for this idea of Return: "Egypt where we were born, which we have built, and where we lived in prosperity, where the Jews of Egypt built the first banks and businesses, Bank Mosseri, Bank Qattawi … This Egypt of ours, disappeared, does not exist. "

The position expressed by Professor Shenhav, is nostalgic, but stresses that political realism will not allow this dream. Extremism comes from extremist Jewish nationalism and a sense of nationalism in the Arab countries as well.

The picture may seem complex, and complexity is an extension of the region's political scene, a scene that establishes Israel as a country of Middle Eastern or Mizrahi Jews and Arabs, the largest demographic group.

'Arab Jews in Israel' will be shown on the BBC TV Arabic Servlce at the following times (GMT):

27/04/2013      02:06:00        02:30:00                becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (first placing)

 27/04/2013      12:06:00        12:30:00              becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)

28/04/2013      12:06:00        12:30:00               becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)

29/04/2013      02:06:00        02:30:00               becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)
29/04/2013      10:06:00        10:30:00               becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)

BBC Watch

Friday, April 26, 2013

Desperately seeking mum and dad

 Refugee children in the Beit Lid camp, 1951

 In the chaotic first years of Israel's existence, many hundreds of children went missing -- at least 800, perhaps more than a thousand, reports Israel's State Archivist, Yaacov Lozowick. Was it conspiracy, or callousness -  he asks:

These children were younger than three, and their families were new immigrants living in tent camps (ma'abarot) where they were temporarily parked upon arrival. The children were sent to hospitals and never came back. When their bewildered and frantic parents went looking for them, they were told their children had died and been buried.

In some cases, letters from the military arrived in the late 1960s, requiring the teenagers be screened for service. By then the parents were no longer bewildered and disoriented refugees, and when they realized there were others like them, they demanded an investigation. Since then, there have been four separate public investigations. Since most (but by no means all) of the children were from Yemenite families, the issue is know in Israel as The Case of the Yemenite Children.

The various investigations have shown that indeed, most of the missing children really did die at the time - but not all of them have ever been accounted for. Some people continue to believe that there was a conspiracy to remove children from large immigrant families and to hand them over to wealthy childless Ashkenazi families. Also, keep in mind this earlier post, which told how many Yemenite Jews had never encountered a physician, which partially explains some of the context.

One of the documents we published as part of our Declaration of Independence collection deals with one of these cases. (ג-3013/12)

On November 3, 1950, Yehezkel Sahar, the Chief of Police, wrote to Minister of Health Moshe Shapira. A few months earlier, there had been a report in the media about an infant who had gone missing in one of the camps. Sahar assured Shapira that he put his best investigator on the case, and here's the result: a three-page detailed report written by S. Sofer.

We think the report undermines the conspiracy theory, but it does demonstrate a frightening degree of callousness in the chaos:

February 29, 1950: The story appeared in Davar.
March 17, 1950: A social worker from the Beit Lid camp confirmed that the 7-month-old child was transferred from there to the hospital on Dec 21, 1949. Having been cured, he was sent mistakenly to a different camp, Ein Shemer. At Ein Shemer they have his discharge paper from January 8, 1950 -- but they don't have him. Nor can they explain how they have his discharge form.
A doctor at the hospital confirms that the child was brought from Beit Lid on December 21. He was sent back on January 8 -- to Ein Shemer. She doesn't know who the ambulance driver was.
The parents reported that their baby son was sent to the hospital but not returned, and when they asked they were told he was sent to Ein Shemer. (Oddly, the dates in their recounting are a bit later, in February.)
A doctor at Ein Shemer fond no record of a child by this name, but confirmed that on January 8, an unnamed child was brought from the hospital.
A registrar at the hospital recorded all patients. But when they're sent back, it's with an ambulance service from Ramat Gan.
A doctor at the hospital remembers discharging the child and sending him to Ein Shemer.
The ambulance driver has a record for children transferred to Ein Shemer on January 8, one with this name. There is a procedure for handing over children, and he acted accordingly.
A doctor at Ein Shemer said that they refuse to accept children whom they didn't send. Sometimes, he says, drivers leave children and quickly depart so as not to be stuck with them.
A police sergeant found no records at Ein Shemer. He brought the mother to the children's home but she didn't identify her son. On April 7, he returned to Ein Shemer and heard from an administrator that there's lots of confusion in their records.
Officer Sofer completed his report with the comment that it might be possible to investigate further but he didn't see how this would help find the child. He recommended that someone look into the matter and determine who is responsible for the lax procedures. He complimented the original social worker who had invested time and her own money in traveling back and forth in her efforts to investigate.
At the ISA, we asked ourselves if we have any documentation about the child at a later stage of life. Since his name was common, however (we've withheld it in the publication), that wasn't possible -- and anyway, if we assume that he didn't starve in the Ein Shemer camp but was probably picked up by some other family, there's no way to know what his name was. If he's still alive he must be 64 years old.

The lost child of Beit Lid

With thanks: Ralph

Soly Anidjar in Maroc-Amitie has a similar tale, or tales, to tell about Jewish babies abandoned in Morocco, lost (or taken) in transit in France or on arrival in Israel. These babies are now in their 60s or 70s and may be desperately seeking their mothers and fathers.

There are two categories:

First, babies born out of wedlock to Jewish girls in their teens. The girls would have been made to abandon their babies at birth so as not to bring shame on their families. They were the result of a liaison with a boss, an American GI from the Nouaceur base, a married man, a non-Jew or a rape.

Then there were Moroccan-Jewish  babies stolen between 1946 and 1950 in the transit camp in Marseille or on arrival in Israel.

In 1946 in Marseille, a pregnant woman from Sefrou had twins. One was stolen a few days later. It was a large family, but unlike most of the other families in the camp d'Arenas in Marseille, the Benarroch family were given separate accommodation by Jewish Agency staff.

The children of new immigrants were stolen in Israeli hospitals. The doctor sent the supposedly ailing baby to hospital. When the parents arrived the next day, they were told that the baby had died in the night. The parents not speaking Hebrew and being naive, they were helpless when the doctor told them he could not show them the child's body, as it had already been buried that morning.

Says Anidjar, children were given to Ashkenazi families, to Holocaust survivors who had lost their children or were unable to have any. They were Moroccan or Yemenite children.

If you have a story to tell on this topic Soly Anidjar would like to hear from you

Jewish-Muslim 'coexistence' in Shiraz, 1893

 Mosque in Shiraz

In 1948, Iran had no quarrel with the newly-founded state of Israel, and good relations prevailed between the two countries for the next 30 years. Yet thousands of Iranian Jews flooded into Israel. The reason can partly be found in a Jewish memory of ill-treatment and subjugation, as described by blogger Elder of Ziyon. EoZ has been delving into  Jewish Missionary Intelligence. (The picture may be painted blacker than it actually was, however, to justify the need for JMI's missionising work):

Shiraz has the largest Jewish population in the south. Their number is 5,000, and they occupy 430 houses in their own quarter, called Mahale Yahoodian i.e., "the quarter of the Jews." They have ten large synagogues, two chief Rabbis, and five schools, where the children study Hebrew. No one knows the Talmud except the Rabbis. They read Hebrew in order to be able to say their prayers in the synagogue. Not one Jew in Shiraz can read the Persian language, or speak it properly. They speak a jargon Persian, quite different from the Jews of other parts of Persia.

All the Jews are very anxious to have a proper school in which to learn the Persian and European languages. By occupation they are goldsmiths and silversmiths, and have their shops on the back streets of the Mohammedan quarter. There are a good many petty merchants, who go to Fessa and Jahroom to buy opium, and return to Shiraz where they sell it to the Mohammedans on credit.

...Nowhere in Persia are the Jews so badly persecuted as in Shiraz. The chief Mollah has promulgated the following laws with regards to them:

1st. "They must not wear ordinary clothes like the Mohammedans." This law is carried to such an extent that no Jew dare put on a black hat like the Moslems.

2nd. "The Jews must not ride on horse, mule, or donkey to the towns." (I did not see one Jew acting contrary to this law.)

3rd. "A pervert to the Mohammedan religion has a right to claim the whole property of his deceased relative." At the present time the perverts have not so much power as before, and dare not claim the whole of the property, but they trouble their relatives, and get about 500 kerans from them, and then leave them in peace.

4th. "If a Mohammedan is in debt to a Jew, the Jew must not force him to pay, but the Moslem may pay his debt at his own pleasure; but if a Jew owes to a Mohammedan he must pay him on the first notice."

5th "If a Mollah or priest beats a Jew in the street or abuses him, that Jew must not return the abuse, but must pass on quietly."

These laws are in some respects similar to those enacted by the Mollahs of Ispahan for the Jews of that town.

Read post in full

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Djerba pilgrimage to go ahead amid tight security

This year's Lag La'Omer celebrations at the al-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba appear to be going ahead, but with unprecedented security, reports the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily) :

Tunisian police have upped security on the island of Djerba ahead of the anticipated arrival of hundreds of Jewish pilgrims to the El Ghriba synagogue.

The pilgrims were expected to arrive on the island of Djerba on Thursday, according to the Italian news agency ANSAmed. The news site Tunivisions reported security will be much tighter than in previous years.
The synagogue, which is located in the village of Hara Seghira, or 'Er-Riadh,' dates back to 586 B.C. In 2002, terrorists blew up a vehicle near the synagogue, killing 21 people.

ANSAmed reported that hundreds of armed officers are lining the entrance to the island as well as at the traditional sites where pilgrims gather for prayers.

Over the past few weeks, security forces have arrested a few hundred people suspected of having ties to Muslim extremist groups, the news agency reported.

Read article in full 

Last year's pilgrimage

Most pre-1952 immigrants were from Muslim lands

Refugees from Arab and Muslim lands comprised the majority of immigrants into Israel between 1948 and 1952, according to the English-language blog of the Israel State Archive:

Bear in mind that in May 1948 when Israel became independent, there were some 600,000 Jews in the country. By the time the battles subsided, towards the end of that year, 110,000 immigrants had arrived, 6,000 Jews had been killed in the war, and the stabilizing borders contained 100,000 Arabs or perhaps a bit more. 800-850,000 people all in all.

By the end of 1952, 738,891 immigrants had arrived (this includes the 110,000 who arrived in the second half of 1948). Of course, the immigration didn't end in December 1952, but that's beyond the scope of our file.

Muslim countries:
Turkey                                       35,025
Syria and Lebanon                    34,608
Iraq                                          124,226
Yemen and Aden                       48,375
Other Asian countries                 7,579
Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria        52,584
Libya                                         32,129
Egypt                                         17,114
Total Muslim countries:           377,251 of  889,700

Read post in full

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Middle East, the Ummah and the Jews

 The tragedy of the Middle East is 'cartography'

"A well-meant mistake of history."A few years back, thus was  Israel described by a certain Mr Cohen, a journalist for the Washington Post. In response, Zaki Elia, who lives in London, wrote an email to him. It was 'a delivery failure' : Richard Cohen never got to read it. Lately, Zaki stumbled upon it while tidying his old emails and thought to share it. (with thanks: Michelle)

To Mr Cohen, from a Middle Easterner.

Your analysis of the state of affairs in the Middle East where the state of Israel has been labelled as a ”well meant mistake of history” because of the persecution of European Jewry is puzzling today, taking into consideration that the great majority of the Jews living in Israel are from Sephardi and Mizrahi origin. You may not be familiar with the Mizrahi Jews as they have been conveniently and mistakenly classified as Sephardim. (from Spain and not the Middle East). I am a Mizrahi Jew - meaning Easterner,  the first generation outside the Middle East.

The Mizrahi Jews lived in Alexandria, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and beyond for one or two millennia before Mohammed had his revelations and proclaimed his subsequent Ummah. Today there are no Jews to speak of in the Muslim world: they all moved (including the communities of North Africa. (About one million of them migrated - dare I say an unrecognised equivalent to the Palestinian tragedy?) Some moved to Europe and the New World, others to Israel following a similar pattern of persecution that the Ashkenazim went through, thankfully without the outrage of the Holocaust.

Describing Palestine as “a Turkish colony” is fundamentally inaccurate and reveals your misinformed judgement. The Turks were the custodians of the Caliphate, the near-holy regency from Mohammed. Palestine was a province of the Ummah, and not a colony. You might say this is semantic, but the difference between Empire and Ummah is the difference between the profane and the sacred. The Ummah is the utopian equivalent of the promised land: Mohammed and his “khalifas/regents” brought the Ummah about by subjugating, pacifying and Islamising by the sword in the name of Allah. A truly Holy Empire, where Christians and Jews were tolerated, patronised and periodically persecuted. As dhmmis, they will eventually see the inevitability of the Universal Mahommedan vision . Therefore it would have been more accurate and true to use the expression 'a Muslim province '(loosely defined by topography and taxability).

That said, the true tragedy of the Middle East is one of cartography. The reasons behind the crisp borders are western reasons. Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq are all historical mistakes. I find it mystifying that you should single out Israel, otherwise how would you explain the dysfunctional societies of Iraq, Lebanon and others repressed and unexpressed, or the obliteration of Kurdistan? Or large swathes of Armenia? And what is the legitimacy of Pakistan and Bangladesh beyond Islam? Both these nations created refugee problems that dwarfed those of Palestine in human scale and magnitude, and yet we do not hear of them. The same parallel tragedy is playing havoc on the continent of Africa : borders were defined oblivious to the reality of the people living on that land. Let me assure you I am not an anti-colonialist in the Cold War mould. Borders are important, necessary concepts to manage an ever-shrinking world based on universal human rights as enshrined by the United Nations.

The creation of the state of Israel in the Muslim province of Palestine is one of the expressions of those human rights. Not only as a response to the Holocaust but also in response to a much earlier outrage namely the attempted obliteration of Judea by the Roman empire. At that time the ideas emanating from Judea later continued in the shape of early Christianity. They weres dangerous and subversive in a society economically based on slavery, were the fledgling ideas of democracy were only available to the few and were kings were gods and gods were kings.

Later, the crumbling decadent Roman empire mutated into the Holy Christian Empire by incorporating pagan ideas into monotheistic ideas (the cult of Mary, the god king and all saints). The Judean ideas remained a threat and were effectively banned from discussion in public spaces. Hence the birth of institutionalised anti-Semitism as the continuation of the pre-Christian intellectual rivalry between Greeks and Jews. Later came Islam, equally indebted to Judean ideas and narratives, it arose as a response to the Holy Christian Empire. And the Jews were again sidelined and superseded by simply stating that Mohammed was the last ever prophet with the last and only correct and absolute revelation. Ismael is the true inheritor of Abraham and by extension Islam, to the exclusion of all other claimants (Jews and later Christians).

The festering refusal of the Muslim world to legitimise the state of Israel Is rooted in that absolute revelation and is the same refusal to accept Lebanon as a Christian/multicultural entity (initially advocated by the French Protectorate for the then Christian majority), or any borders threatening the perceived integrity of the holy Ummah. Where ever you go in the world “Dar el Islam” (the House of Islam) is indeed at war with the rest of the world “Dar El Harb” (the house of war). The very existence of Israel is a question mark on that absolute truth and a front line of that war.

According to your understanding of history, Jews should have remained in a permanent state of statelessness despite the European lessons, where perfectly integrated communities were eradicated at will not long ago and despite The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They should have remained in a state of dhimitude in the Muslim world. Or maybe emigrate to America or anywhere generous enough to accept them. Better still, if Israel is a historic mistake surely The United States of America, to say nothing of the rest of the Americas, is even a greater one?  How could you justify it in the light of the tragedy brought upon the indigenous people when the white man arrived brandishing his bible and his gun? 

And by the way History never makes any mistakes, men do.

Zaki Elia

The myth of Jewish Colonialism

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The difficult life of a Jewish woman in Morocco

 The execution in Fez in 1834 of Sol Hachuel by Alfred Dehodecq. She refused to convert to Islam.

 This Jewish Press interview of Israeli Moroccan-born Flora Cohen by Rachel Avraham highlights the pitiable position of Jewish women in pre-independence Morocco - uneducated and vulnerable to abduction by Muslims. But conditions deteriorated further after the French left (with thanks: Noam; Lily):

Flora Cohen presently lives in Nahariyya, Israel. She has three children and 16 grandchildren. However, she was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. Flora was born and spent her childhood living under French colonial rule. Under French rule, Flora claims that Morocco was a modern European state, full of cafés. However, in other respects, the Moroccans did not enjoy the same opportunities that the Europeans did. Living as part of the Jewish minority there was not easy, since being a Jew was a dirty word both in French and Arabic.

While the situation on the whole was tolerable when the French were still in control of Morocco, Flora does not believe the situation was good in retrospect. Flora recalled that not every one was permitted to attend school; that required having the right connections. In her family, all of the boys managed to go to school, yet out of all of the girls in her family, only she was able to go to school. One of her sisters tried to go to school, yet was continuously rejected and thus was forced instead to go to a vocational school where she learned how to sew, instead of learning how to read and write.

Kindergartens only existed for the very rich and women thus had to stay at home to raise the children, despite the fact that it was very difficult to finance having nine to ten children without the woman working. Eighty percent of the students in Morocco were forced to quit their studying following the 8th grade because their families needed them to work for financial reasons. Flora blames the French for this, since they were the ones in control of the country, not the Arabs.

While the French were still in control, Jews were able to coexist for the most part with Arabs peacefully. Flora knew Arabs in her area who were very good people and got along with the Jews well. But there still were incidents.

Flora’s grandfather and his brother were murdered by Arabs, thus leaving her grandmother a widow with two children. The family wasn’t even able to retrieve the bodies for a proper Jewish burial. In June 1948, bloody riots erupted in Oujda and Djerada, resulting in the death of 44 Moroccan Jews while many more were wounded. An unofficial boycott was initiated against the Moroccan Jewish community that same year. Eighteen thousand Moroccan Jews went to Israel during that period. But since the situation was still not as bad as in other Arab countries thanks to the French, most of the Jews stayed in Morocco a bit longer than in other Arab states.

Nevertheless, it was a common practice in Morocco for some Muslims to abduct young virgin Jewish girls, forcefully convert them to Islam, and to make them marry Muslims. Indeed, one of Flora’s relatives suffered this fate and thus did not come to Israel from Morocco with the rest of the family. In addition, Flora mentioned that one woman from Fez also was going to be forced to marry a Muslim and she decided to commit suicide rather than endure this fate. Many Moroccan Jews who participate in Jewish heritage trips to Morocco visit her grave*. For this reason, Jewish girls were married off at a very early age, in order to avoid that horrible fate. This had the negative effect of inhibiting the development of Moroccan Jewish women.

Once Moroccans rose up against the French in their struggle for independence, the situation dramatically deteriorated for Moroccan Jews. Terrorism was widespread within the country and Jews were also the victims of such violence, not just the French, since the Jews supported the French. Flora claimed that the situation in Morocco was very similar to the situation in Israel during the Second Intifada. There were explosions everywhere. Supermarkets were blowing up. People were scared to go out.

Flora said that her brother was almost murdered by Arabs, but that another Arab saved his life by lying and claiming that he was an Arab Muslim from Fez. Soon after this incident, the family decided that they had to leave Morocco and make Aliyah to Israel, even though they weren’t allowed to bring more things with them than what could fit into just one suitcase. This is when most of the Jews in Morocco made Aliyah to Israel (most Moroccan Jews came to Israel in the early 1960s, as the Morccans imposed a five-year emigration ban - ed).

It took time for her family to leave the country. They spent two months stranded in a special camp in Casablanca, before they were permitted to leave. In August 1956, Flora and her family were able to fly to France, where they were forced to stay for another month before they were permitted to move to Israel. When they arrived in Israel, they were placed on trucks and taken to Moshav Barak. In the moshav, there were no paved roads and no indoor bathrooms. Since they were assigned to create the moshav, they had to do much physical labor. It took a couple of years for her family to get established, yet in the end, her life significantly improved upon making Aliyah to Israel.

In the moshav, her family had a house and was treated with dignity. The Ashkenazim and Mizrahim got along well together. She was very happy to come to Israel. In the end, she married an IDF soldier and raised her family near Haifa, before moving into a bigger house in Nahariyya. She reports that she is very happy with her decision to come to Israel.

Read article in full

* this seems to be a confused reference to Sol Hachuel, the 19th c. martyr. She was executed for refusing to convert to Islam and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Fez - ed.

Monday, April 22, 2013

'Righteous Albanian Muslims' exhibit lacks context

A new London exhibition will showcase the role Muslims played in saving Jews during the Holocaust, the BBC reported this week. 

"The Righteous Muslim Exhibition, launched at the Board of Deputies of British Jews in Bloomsbury, will feature photographs of 70 Muslims who hid Jews from the Nazis, alongside their stories and detailing their acts of heroism.

"These 70 Muslims were recently added to Yad Vashem's list of "righteous among the nations" detailing those who risked their lives to protect Jews during Nazi Germany’s reign of terror."

But Fiyaz Mughal of Faith Matters, one of the prime movers behind the project being shown at the Board of Deputies, spoke these rather worrying, if not downright offensive, words: 

"One of the main drivers of the project is that there are some small sections in Jewish communities who are trying to rewrite history and say that Muslims overwhelmingly helped the Nazis."

'Small sections in Jewish communities' could mean us: Point of No Return. In a post crossposted on Harry's Place, we accused Fiyaz Mughal of omitting vital context when he launched his booklet in 2010: 'Righteous Muslims'. 

There were just 200 Jews in Albania at the outbreak of World War 2. Their numbers swelled to 2, 000 after the war, because Austrian and German Jews were given safe haven in Albania.

This is no mean achievement, when almost all countries in Europe were slamming their gates shut to fleeing Jews.

In accordance with their code of honour, BESA, Albanians must be honoured for protecting Jews.*

But at the same time, it's only fair to point out that Muslims in Iraq murdered almost 200 Jews in a pro-Nazi pogrom in Iraq in 1941. Muslim SS divisions helped murder tens of thousands of Bosnian and Serbian Jews.

Otherwise, the Righteous  Muslims exhibit becomes a disingenuous attempt to sanitise a Muslim record of sympathy, if not active collaboration with the Nazis. I would argue that it is certain sections of the Muslim Community who are trying to re-write history.

I am reproducing two letters published in the Jewish Chronicle in July 2010. These sum up the main arguments:

"Fiyaz Mughal’s Faith Matters organisation is to be commended for its initiative (JC, July 9) to promote the stories of individual Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust : it shows not only that the Holocaust reached deep into Arab and Muslim lands, but can help counteract Holocaust denial.

However, the wartime bravery of Righteous Muslims can only be properly appreciated in the context of massive Arab and Muslim support for the Germans. Indeed, readers of the Faith Matters booklet will wonder why Muslims needed to be righteous in the first place, had their fellow-Muslims not collaborated in the persecution of Jews.

In Nazi-occupied Tunisia, for instance, for every Khaled Abdulwahhab, who sheltered Jews in his farmhouse there was a Hassen Ferjani, who sent Gilbert Scemla and his two sons to their deaths.

Antisemitism was not simply a matter of personal prejudice, but of ideology. The Palestinian leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, the only non-German leader to have visited a concentration camp, played a key role in inspiring the Nazis’ genocidal project, raised an SS Muslim division in Bosnia; and sent 20,000 European Jews to death camps through his personal intervention.

He also incited a pro-Nazi government to plan the 1941 Farhud, the Iraqi Jews’ Kristallnacht, in which 180 Jews were murdered.

The Arab world has never exorcised its Nazi demons, which fuel the rejection of Israel and caused the ethnic cleansing of a million Jews from communities predating Islam by over a millenium.

The Mufti was never tried as a war criminal, Nazi-style antisemitic propaganda and imagery are rife today, and both Islamic fundamentalism and Arab nationalism owe a great deal to Nazi influence.

If it is to work, interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Jews needs not just to dwell on positive stories of compassion and cooperation, but address these painful and uncomfortable issues.

Lyn Julius
Harif – Jews from the Middle East and N. Africa


As a Holocaust survivor born in Yugoslavia, I can only be thankful for the Muslim actions Fiyaz Mughal describes, but let us not forget that most Albanian Christians were actively saving Jewish lives, too.

Unfortunately we should also remember the 20,000 Muslim members of the Hanjar SS, on policing duty in Hungary and the two SS divisions recruited from Yugoslavia's Muslim populations, the Bosnian 13th Waffen Hanjar and the Albanian Skanderberg 21st Waffen SS Division. Nevertheless, Fiyaz' Mughal's effort to bring Britian's Muslim and Jewish communities closer is to be applauded.

Leslie Rubner

Jpost report

Controversy over Righteous Muslims rumbles on

*It has been pointed out that BESA had nothing to do with Islam - Albanians both Muslim and Christian observed this code of honour. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tunisian Jews reject tokenism

Earlier this month, the Tunisian Jewish community rejected the concept of a reserved parliamentary seat in the new democratic order. It's tokenism, reminiscent of the Iranian Majlis. But Jacob Lellouche, a Jew, here being interviewed in this piece for The Forward by Rachel Shabi, failed to win a seat in the last Tunisian elections. For all the lofty talk that 'we are all  Tunisians with the same problems', Jews do have specific problems - antisemitism, the preservation of their heritage. Is it not better for the 1, 500 Jews to be guaranteed a seat than have no voice at all? 

Jacob Lellouche...failed to win a seat (photo: Rachel Shabi)

“Like all Tunisians, we care for the need for there to be a real democracy,” he said, “where struggles between people are fought with words and minds, not with weapons.”

This approach was also evident in the Tunisian Jewish community’s rejection in early April of the government’s proposal for a reserved parliamentary seat for the Jewish community. Roger Bismuth, president of Tunisia’s Jewish community, recounted telling the government, “Forget it, and stop talking about religious minorities.”

Like Lellouche, Bismuth does not want his community to be seen as separate: “We have the same problems as all Tunisians; we — all of us — are living through a difficult period.”

Those difficulties don’t only involve violence. Since Ben Ali’s 2010 ouster, Tunisia’s economy has tanked. Unemployment has spiraled upward, and the tourists who used to flock to the country, with its picturesque Mediterranean coast, have yet to return. This has dealt a big blow to a country where tourism accounts for 7% of the GDP and 400,000 real jobs in the economy.

Now, some Tunisians, Lellouche among them, are seeking to rebuild the tourism industry from the bottom up, with boutique hotels, new restaurants and new cultural centers. Late last year, Lellouche opened up a Jewish heritage museum on the top floor of the building that houses Mamie Lily.

The rooms upstairs highlight Jewish contributions to Tunisian heritage: literature, handicrafts, music, politics and cinema. There’s a section dedicated to Albert Samama-Chikli, one of the world’s earliest cinematographers, who brought the first film screening to Tunisia in 1897. There is also some detail about Testour, a town in northern Tunisia that was jointly rebuilt by Muslims and Jews after Christians forced them into exile from Andalusian Spain in 1492. The museum broadly outlines the history of Tunisia’s Jewish community, which dates back three millennia, preceding both Islam and Christianity. Before World War II it was a community that numbered more than 100,000. Those figures dwindled following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the end of French rule in Tunisia in 1956. Both factors drove Jewish migration to Israel and, in greater numbers, to France in the succeeding years.

Among Lellouche’s prized pieces in the collection — which includes beautiful old hamsas, menorahs and Judeo-Arabic scripted books — is an old key to an Andalusian Jewish home, carefully passed down a family line in Tunisia.

When the museum opened in December of last year, Lellouche said, young Tunisians of all faiths were curious to visit. “They told me they felt like Tunisia was a chair with only three legs, and that after seeing this museum, the picture was complete.” The visitors, he added, realize that this Jewish museum is essentially about Tunisian heritage. “A country, and the love for one’s country, does not have a religion,” he said.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Goodbye Carmen, hello Magda


This Masri al-Yom clip shows the body of Carmen Weinstein being laid to rest on 18 April at the neglected Bassatine cemetery. (She was not buried according to her wishes next to her parents, as that part of the cemetery was flooded with sewage.) Rabbi Marc Alfassi from France intones prayers. The clip begins with the mourners assembling at the Adly St synagogue and concludes with the new Jewish community leader, Magda Haroun, saying a few words to the media (with thanks: Alec).

 A struggle for succession broke out even before Carmen Weinstein had been buried, Lyn Julius writes in the Times of Israel:

The king is dead, long live the king. Or in the case of Cairo’s Jewish community – the queen is dead, long live the queen. Carmen Weinstein, 82 (or according to some reports, 84), who led the community over the last 15 years, was buried on Thursday, but her successor had already been chosen on Monday.

 The chain-smoking Magda Haroun, 61, was unanimously elected leader of the Cairo Jewish community merely two days after Carmen Weinstein passed away. Why the unseemly haste? Rumour has it that Magda was voted in to out-maneuver Carmen’s boyfriend Yousri, who would have liked to be the next leader of the community.

The fact that Yousri is a Coptic Christian, not a Jew, does not seem to have been an impediment. A convert to Islam, Yousef Ben Gaon, became leader of the Jewish community of Alexandria (although he is since thought to have reverted to Judaism). More worrisome is that Yousri is suspected of having very close links with the Egyptian secret police, or Mukhabarat.

 What makes the leadership of the community such a sought-after prize? Not its paltry size: the Cairo community is said to comprise just 21 mostly elderly Jewish women. The Alexandria community amounts to just five women and one man. Apart from organising ceremonial Passover and Rosh Hashana seders for the benefit of visitors and with a rabbi imported for the occasion, the new leader will primarily be the custodian of Egypt’s Jewish heritage. With her, the community will certainly die out.

 But the vultures are circling: the Jewish community has untold assets in real estate. Its synagogues may be crumbling but they stand on prime property in Cairo and Alexandria. The sprawling Bassatine cemetery, where Carmen Weinstein was buried and which she fought to salvage from squatters and vandals, used to be on the outskirts of Cairo; now it occupies precious acreage virtually in the centre.

 Then there are the thousands of homes and businesses seized from or abandoned by Egypt’s 80, 000 Jews in their mass exodus. Egypt’s worst nightmare is that the Jews should return and claim it all back. In the meantime, property deeds are being forged and false ownership claims made. Such is the secrecy and confusion surrounding Jewish-owned property that a court case was brought against Carmen Weinstein herself in 2010: she was accused of fraudulently acquiring property. Weeks before her death, she was cleared of all charges.

An energetic and feisty leader, Carmen Weinstein can be credited with preserving Cairo’s Jewish heritage as best she could. Her legacy will be the magnificent Maimonides synagogue, restored mainly with Egyptian government funds. Careful not to ‘rock the boat’ with the Egyptian authorities, however, she was hardly a champion of diaspora Jewish rights. She never fought for restitution. She never supported diaspora Jews’ pleas for access to their communal records, or for the release of Jewish artefacts. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities now controls the fate of some 13 Cairo synagogues.

According to Levana Zamir, president of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel, Carmen Weinstein used warmly to welcome Egyptian Jews living in Europe or the United States coming to visit their synagogues in Egypt. But she was somewhat frosty towards the 37,000 Egyptian Jews and their descendants living in Israel. “She used to say that these are Zionists who betrayed Egypt by making Aliyah, and that she had nothing to do with Israel,” says Levana Zamir. “There was always the fear that the Egyptian authorities would accuse her of ‘normalization’.

” We will never know what part, if any, Carmen Weinstein played in sabotaging the so-called roots trip by some 40 Egyptian Jews from Israel and around the world. The trip was cancelled in 2008 after rumours spread that these Jews were coming back to reclaim their property.

One can understand why the remaining few Jews in Cairo should be eager to show their support for Magda Haroun, rather than allow the secret police to take over. This process, some believe, has already begun in Alexandria, where the head of the community, Ben Gaon, appears to be acting as a rubber stamp for the authorities.

Although Magda Haroun has spoken of the need to safeguard Egypt’s Jewish heritage, she seems more of a lightweight than her busy, prominent lawyer sister, Nadia. One of her main pastimes is ‘arts and crafts’. We do not know if she converted to Islam to marry her first husband. Her second husband is a Gentile. She has a daughter from each marriage. Her sister, Nadia, may play a key role behind the scenes.

One can expect that the new leader will continue to declare her first loyalty to Egypt. Her father, Maitre Shehata Haroun, was an active leftist who was opposed to the partition of Palestine and against Zionism.

He was among several hundred Jews arrested in June 1967, following the Six-Day War, and made to serve a long term in prison. When the time came for him to be released – on condition he left Egypt and directly boarded a ship out of the country – he refused to leave. He said: “I am Egyptian, and I want to stay on in Egypt until my dying day.” Maitre Haroun (1920-2001), was the founding member of the Tagamu Party along with other leading Egyptian politicians.

 In an interview on Egyptian TV a few weeks ago, Magda recalled that when another sister, then six years-old, was very ill in the early 1960s, doctors said that she could be cured only in Europe. But in order to be able to take her out of Egypt, her father was asked to give up his Egyptian identity – as all Jews were then asked to do. His Egyptian passport would be stamped with the notorious ALLER SANS RETOUR: he would not be allowed to return to Egypt after his daughter was cured. So Maitre Haroun decided not to leave Egypt and not to give up his Egyptian identity. He stayed with his daughter in Cairo. She died from her illness some months later.

 It takes a certain fanaticism to sacrifice one’s daughter to one’s country: it remains to be seen if Magda is her father’s daughter, and how far she is willing to stand up for Jewish interests.

Read Times of Israel  article in full

Jewish leader buried in neglected cemetery (NOW)

Associated Press Report 

Daily Telegraph report

Egypt Daily News report (via IMRA)

Jewish Leader honoured at funeral (VOA) 

Letter from Cairo by Alastair Beach (The Jewish Chronicle) 

A dwindling flock (The Economist  - with thanks: Vernon)

Three obituaries for Carmen Weinstein z"l 

New leader of dying Egyptian community is anti-Zionist (EoZ)

Michele Mazel in the Jerusalem Post

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Three obituaries for Carmen Weinstein

 Sheila Kurtzer, wife of Dan Kurtzer, who worked in the US embassy in Cairo, wrote this appreciation of Cairo community leader Carmen Weinstein, who died on Saturday, in the Forward:

In 1980, soon after my family and I arrived in Cairo, where my husband, Dan, had been assigned as a political officer at the American Embassy, we were introduced to an elderly woman. Esther Weinstein was the nominal head of Egypt’s small Jewish community. Slight and slender, she was dressed meticulously, in blue from top to bottom — blue suit, blue blouse, blue shoes, blue hat, blue bag. She was elegant and charming, with a warm smile and twinkling eyes.

We soon learned that the power behind her throne was her daughter, Carmen Weinstein. It was the younger Weinstein who ran the family printing business, managed the finances of the Jewish community and represented the community to the Egyptian government. Carmen Weinstein proved that she was a force to be reckoned with.

Carmen, who passed away on April 13, was a very strong-willed and determined woman, a tenacious defender of the integrity and independence of Cairo’s Jewish community. This appeared increasingly ironic as the years passed, and the community dwindled to about two dozen elderly Jewish women. You could find many of them in the Adly Street Synagogue, Shaar Hashamayim, every Saturday morning. Only occasionally would there be a minyan, but that didn’t matter to the remnants of the community.

Under Carmen’s leadership, a number of major projects were accomplished. She raised the funds for and oversaw the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in al Basateen, a rundown area where squatters had taken over mausoleums and gravesites. Headstones were strewn about, animals roamed freely, refuse blocked the walkways.

Carmen took control, mobilizing visiting students (and diplomatic spouses) to clean the area, map the gravesites and restore the cemetery. She took on and prevailed over the Egyptian government after the authorities decided to build a ring road around the capital that was to be routed through the Jewish area. Carmen won, and the highway was rerouted.

In Carmen’s company, I had the occasion to visit almost all of the more than 15 synagogues that remained in Cairo. Most of them were uninhabitable shells of their former grandeur. Over time, Carmen oversaw the rehabilitation of the downtown synagogue and the Ben Ezra Synagogue, in Old Cairo, and capped these efforts with the renovation of the Rambam (Maimonides) Synagogue. With its collapsed roof, exposed interior and flooded lower level, this historic site where Maimonides studied and attended to the sick was in severe disrepair and neglect. Carmen worked with the Cairo government and got the job done.

For all her determination and feistiness, she also had a blind spot: her adamant refusal to share power or responsibility for the community’s affairs.

Read article in full 

 Levana Zamir, president of the association of Jews from Egypt in Israel, writes in the Jerusalem Post:

After her unexpected passing - Carmen Weinstein, 82, had been President of the tiny Jewish Community of Cairo for more than 15 years - Jews from Egypt all over the world are worried: Who will maintain the remaining synagogues? Who will tend the Bassatine Cemetery - or what is left from it - and preserve the many Jewish buildings still belonging to the community? Who will organize the next High Holiday services at Cairo’s Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue? Who will take care of the 10 or 20 Jewish widows still living in Cairo?

As she was both devoted and indefatigable, during her presidency Carmen saved the last 20 synagogues of Egypt from being sold. They were salvaged from among the 60 abandoned in the mid-20th century, when most of Egypt's 100,000 Jews were deported or compelled to leave. But Carmen Weinstein - "the Iron Lady" - was a domineering figure too. She was the one to solve all problems, the tiny and everyday ones as well as the serious ones. But after she was charged with fraud in an Egyptian court, undergoing much suffering until her final acquittal lately, the Haroun sisters - Magda and Nadia - became closer to Carmen and began partaking in all Carmen's activities.

Nadia Haroun

Nadia and Magda Haroun, aged in their 50s and 60s, are Cairo Jews born and bred. One or the other will be elected to replace Carmen Weinstein (in fact Magda was elected - ed) in the next few days as President of the Jewish Community of Cairo. This is a tiny community, but still a very significant one. The job will involve much responsibility concerning the preservation of Jewish religious and cultural heritage, as well as undertaking the restoration of synagogues in Cairo in desperate need of repair.

Magda Haroun

(...) The sisters' late father, Mr Haroun, was among those Jews arrested in June 1967, following the Six-Day War, and forced to serve a long term in prison. When the time came for him to be released - on condition he left Egypt and directly boarded a ship out of the country - he refused to leave. He said: "I am Egyptian, and I want to stay and carry on living in Egypt until my dying day."

In an interview on Egyptian TV a few weeks ago, Magda even recalled that when her elder sister, then six years-old, was very ill in the early 1960s, doctors said that she could be cured only in Europe. But in order to be able to take her out of Egypt, her father was asked to give up his Egyptian identity - as all Jews were then asked to do. His Egyptian passport would be stamped with the notorious ALLER SANS RETOUR stamp: this would not allow him to return to Egypt after his daughter was cured. So Mr. Haroun decided not to leave Egypt and not to give up his Egyptian identity. He stayed with his daughter in Cairo. She died from her illness some months later.

Since Pharaonic times thousands of years ago, Jews had always lived in Egypt, as waves of successive rulers ebbed and flowed in the land of the Nile. The Jewish presence was sometimes glorious - as in Hellenistic times, 2000 years ago: there were one million Jews in Alexandria. Sometimes, as today, only a few survive in Cairo and Alexandria. But Jews have always been faithful, always there.

Carmen Weinstein used to warmly welcome Jews from Egypt living in Europe or the United States coming to visit their synagogues in Egypt. But she was somewhat frosty towards Egyptian Jews living in Israel. She used to say that these are Zionists who betrayed Egypt by making Aliyah, and that she had nothing to do with Israel. Before becoming President and since, Carmen used to come to Israel to visit friends, and to have special orthopedic surgery done on her knees. But when she did so it was in secret, for fear that the Egyptian authorities would accuse her of 'normalization'.

The funeral for Carmen Weinstein will take place on Thursday April 18th 2013 in Cairo, to allow her sister Glorice from Switzerland and friends from abroad to come and pay their last respects.

May her soul rest in Peace.

Read blogpost in full 

Lucette Lagnado in the Wall St Journal : Carmen Weinstein survived military dictatorships, but was defeated by the Muslim Brotherhood (with thanks: Lily)

Carmen Weinstein, the leader of Egypt's nearly extinct Jewish community, managed to survive the Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak regimes, only to die on April 13, barely 10 months into the rule of Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Coincidence? Oh, I suppose so—Weinstein was 82 and in frail health when she died Saturday in her Cairo apartment.

Except that to my mind there is a sad logic to the demise of this woman who held on during 60 years of military dictatorships, fighting to preserve what she could of Egypt's once-grand Jewish community—only to give up the ghost now, when democracy has produced a ruler who is, if possible, even more hostile to Jews than his predecessors were.

It has been more than 50 years since almost all of Egypt's 80,000 Jews left the country, most of them under duress. With their departure, magnificent synagogues fell into disrepair, Jewish schools shut down, and the famed Jewish hospital was taken over by the military. The Bassatine Jewish cemetery was left to ruin.

Weinstein, who chose to remain in the country of her birth, took on an impossible mission. She set out to rescue what she could, piece by piece, this old temple, that broken-down headstone.
Her passing comes at a fascinating juncture, as Egypt is starting—starting—to reckon with its Jewish past. Even as the country sees rampant religious intolerance and terrifying attacks on Christian Copts, there is a surge of interest among young Egyptians in the Jews who once lived among them.
Older Egyptians are nostalgic for the Egypt of their youth, they will tell you, when life was better and they enjoyed Jewish friends and co-workers. A documentary on Egypt's Jews by filmmaker Amir Ramses premiered to acclaim in Egypt in March, and my own memoirs of my Egyptian-Jewish family sell more briskly in Cairo than in Jerusalem.

Weinstein was toiling away years before Mr. Ramses and I came along. Aaron Kiviat, an undergraduate in Cairo a decade ago, recalls how she had him clean abandoned synagogues and dust off gravestones. If she had any budget, it was from the tourists she hit up for donations and, occasionally, foreign benefactors or American Jewish organizations.

I came to know Carmen Weinstein in the course of my trips to Cairo. She was far from warm and fuzzy, and I couldn't call her my friend. I found her tough, acerbic, abrasive, combative—and brave. I tried to woo her, citing my background as a fellow Cairene-Jew. But she had no use for journalists and regarded us with suspicion.

The Jewish community she headed was a ragtag group of mostly elderly and widowed women who ventured out every few months to the events she organized at the Adly Street Synagogue, a magnificent edifice in downtown Cairo. "The Gate of Heaven," as its name translates from Hebrew, had once welcomed several hundred Jews to Sabbath services. Now only these couple of dozen women in the twilight of their lives filled its pews.

The women seemed deeply appreciative. Watching them, I realized that Weinstein was performing miracles in this Muslim city.

I once told her of the piece I longed to write about her under the headline, "The Last Jew of Egypt." What a sizzling story she could tell—how she outwitted each of the military regimes, starting with Nasser. What compromises had she made? What deals had she cut—especially in the Mubarak years when she led the community? No matter how I pleaded, she refused to cooperate.

She had her enemies, including back in New York, where some in the expatriate Egyptian-Jewish community saw her as a traitor. Its members attempted to retrieve religious books and Torah scrolls left behind in Egypt, where they withered. Weinstein fiercely opposed their efforts, insisting that the holy items should stay where they were and belonged to Egypt. To these expats, Carmen Weinstein was the enemy, as much as the Egyptian government that forced them into exile.

I knew all this, yet could never really dislike her. She was a heroine to me, and I admired her quixotic efforts to save this or that decrepit synagogue.

Yet in the course of my interviews, I realized Weinstein harbored a fantastical dream: that someday the Jews would return. Yes! That is why she wanted to hold on to the Torah scrolls. The Muslim world had become more hostile to Jews, Islamism posed a greater threat than nationalism, yet that was her conviction. She told Mr. Kiviat, now married in Seattle, to come back with his family.
Under Presidents Mubarak, then Morsi, she made it a point to prove that a Jew could still function in Egypt. Recently, she gleefully reported on the Passover Seder held at the Adly Street synagogue, filled with VIPS such as foreign ambassadors. How she loved her VIPs. The unspoken message: The Muslim Brotherhood wasn't going to stop her.

To my mind, her greatest achievement was restoring the 800-year-old Maimonides synagogue. The shul in the Jewish Ghetto was a shrine for generations of Cairene-Jews. Maimonides himself was said to heal whoever came to pray. When I first saw it in 2005, it was dark, flooded and strewed with garbage. Weinstein raised funds and wangled permissions to rebuild it. I returned for its grand reopening in March 2010. There, in the heart of Cairo, I watched as American and European dignitaries mingled with observant Hasids from Israel who danced with worshipful joy in the gleaming sanctuary.

I suspect that Egypt's revolution wasn't kind to Weinstein. The tourists she depended on vanished. While President Morsi has praised her to the foreign press, I view his tribute with a gimlet eye: This is the man who denounced Jews as "descendants of apes and pigs."

Since the revolution I have often thought of that day when Hasids danced in Cairo, wondering if they ever will again. It was comforting to know that Maimonides' shul and other Jewish sites had a guard keeping watch: Carmen Weinstein.

Her funeral will take place in her homeland on Thursday, and one hopes there will be lots of VIPs. I assume that by now Carmen has reached the true gates of heaven.

Ms. Lagnado, a Journal reporter, is the author of two memoirs of her Egyptian-Jewish family, "The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit" (Harper Perennial, 2008) and "The Arrogant Years" (Ecco 2012).

Read article in full (subscription required)

The Economist epitaph

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Israel refuses entry to Moroccan parliamentarians

 With thanks: Noam

A minor diplomatic incident occurred last week between Morocco and Israel, causing great embarrassment to the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry.

Two Moroccan parliamentarians, members of an EU delegation en route to Ramallah via the Israel-controlled Allenby Bridge crossing, were denied entry.

Karim Ghellab, president of the Moroccan Lower House, condemned Israel's 'arrogance'. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs retorted that the two parliamentarians did not have the necessary visas.

To the Moroccan reply that they could not be expected to apply for a visa when there are no diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, the MFA said that, had they applied for the visas, the Moroccans would have been granted them.

An  embarrassed Sam Ben-Shitrit, president of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, wrote to both Mr Ghellab and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, expressing consternation at Israel's refusal.

The letter addressed to Mr Ghallab asks for the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry to be kept informed of planned visits so as to prevent such incidents in the future. Israel's actions appear 'ungrateful', considering that Israelis were warmly received by Mr Ghallab at the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat. Mr Ben-Shitrit also points out that Morocco has undertaken to restore the country's synagogues and Jewish cemeteries at its expense.   

For full text of letter see Noam Nir's Facebook page

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Magda Haroun is next Cairo Jewish leader (update)


Magda Haroun interviewed recently by the French TV Channel Arte

 Update: Al-Ahram online is reporting that Magda Haroun will refuse to use Israeli funds to renovate Egypt's synagogues, preferring UNESCO support. There is no history of Israeli funds being used, however - renovation work has to-date either been financed with money from the Egyptian government or money from diaspora Jewish bodies or wealthy individuals. In my view this is just another way of re-iterating Magda Haroun's credentials as a proud Egyptian.

Following the death of Carmen Weinstein, Magda Haroun, 61, was unanimously elected president of the Jewish Community of Cairo at what the Egypt Daily News describes as 'an extraordinary general assembly' meeting held in the afternoon of Monday, 15 April 2013. It was attended by various senior members of Cairo's Jewish community. Magda's sister Nadia is a prominent and successful Cairo lawyer.
Bassatine News, the journal of the Cairo Jewish community, reports: "Madga-Tania Chehata Haroun Silvera (Maggy to her friends) was born in Alexandria on 13 July 1952, the older of Chehata and Marcelle Haroun’s two daughters. Magda attended the Lycee Francais School in Bab El Louk, Cairo before graduating from Cairo University’s School of Applied Arts. Later, she joined the firm of Haroun & Haroun Patents/Trademarks and Legal Affairs partnering with her lawyer sister Nadia C. Haroun.

"The Haroun sisters were raised in a home where humanitarian values were sacred. Their father, Maitre Haroun (1920-2001), was a man of definite convictions and the reputed humanist and founding member of the Tagamu Party along with other leading Egyptian politicians.

"A mother of two university graduate daughters, Magda Haroun is fluent in Arabic, French, English and moderate Italian and is fond of painting and handicrafts. "

Read report in full

Monday, April 15, 2013

Our man in Beirut: the story of Isaac Shushan

A wonderful nail-biting story in The Times of Israel for Israel Independence Day about the brave Must'aravim spies, Jews from Arab countries, who risked their lives behind enemy lines. (I  beg only to differ with the author, Matti Friedman, on one detail: he claims that the distinction between Christian and 'Jewish Arabs' is a capricious one.) 

 When the state of Israel was declared in the spring of 1948, Abdul Karim Muhammad didn’t know about it. 
A young Palestinian refugee recently arrived in Beirut, Muhammad knew only what was reported in the Arab papers: The victorious Arab Liberation Army was in Haifa. The Syrians were at Degania, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and the Egyptians had reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
A few weeks earlier, when Muhammad crossed the Lebanon border on a northbound bus packed with refugees from Haifa, he saw military convoys rumbling past in the opposite direction to participate in the crushing of the Jews — trucks, howitzers, armored vehicles. “We had never seen such weapons before,” he remembered.
Isaac Shushan, around 1949 (Courtesy of Isaac Shushan)
Isaac Shushan, around 1949 (Courtesy of Isaac Shushan)

Only weeks later, when a wireless set finally arrived in Beirut concealed inside an ordinary radio, and after Muhammad stretched the antenna wire across the rooftop outside his rented room, did he hear the truth in a coded Hebrew transmission from the south.

The state had been established. It was called “Israel.” The fighting was desperate but Jewish forces were holding out.

Abdul Karim Muhammad was 24, and that was not his real name. He was Isaac Shushan, born in poverty in Aleppo, Syria, the son of a janitor at an elementary school. He was a Jew, and a spy.
Isaac is now a slight 89-year-old with glasses and a memory like a sharp steel blade. He laughs easily. The account here comes from a series of interviews conducted at his apartment block outside Tel Aviv.

At the moment of Israel’s creation 65 years ago, Isaac was a Jewish refugee from an Arab country who was in a different Arab country pretending to be an Arab refugee from a Jewish country. The multiplicity of lost homes and the layers of displacement in his story contain something essential about the country he helped found — a home for homeless people — and about the wars and loss among Jews and Arabs that have been part of its existence since then. Between the lines of his account, one can also discern the idea that perhaps the easy division between Jews and Arabs might not be as firm as we tend to think.

Around 1937, Isaac remembered, a teacher came to Aleppo from a place the children knew as “the Land of Israel.” Isaac was 13.

The teacher’s name was Monsieur Pedro. In a class at the Alliance Israélite school, he taught the Arabic-speaking children modern Hebrew. He told them about something called a “kibbutz,” and about workers’ cooperatives, like Egged, a Jewish bus company. He would cite passages from the Bible and describe the scenery from his own memory, because he had seen these places himself: Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem.

“We understood that what we read about in the Bible really existed. It wasn’t in heaven,” Isaac said.
The 10,000 Jews of Aleppo, descendants of a community at least 2,300 years old, spoke Arabic and lived among Muslims. They included a number of wealthy merchant families and a far larger number of impoverished people who did menial jobs and subsisted with the help of the community’s charitable institutions. Isaac’s family were among the latter. He and his brothers and sisters would wear cheap sandals or hand-me-down shoes that his father received from families in Jamiliyeh, a suburb home to Jews with enough money to leave the squalor of the Old City, where Isaac’s family lived. A photograph from Isaac’s bar mitzvah shows him and three of his siblings wearing shoes but no socks.

After Monsieur Pedro arrived in the city, Isaac and a few of his friends decided they would go to the Land of Israel and join a cooperative. “Otherwise we would have had to serve the rich people, bringing them food,” he said. “I would have been a janitor like my father.”

Animosity towards Jews in Syria was rising sharply alongside the tensions in nearby Palestine, and it was increasingly clear that there was no future for Jews in Aleppo. The previous year, a mob in Baghdad — a city which was, at the time, one-third Jewish — had murdered 180 Iraqi Jews, and there were smaller incidents elsewhere. Most of the Jews of Aleppo would be gone by the mid-1950s, and three decades after that there would be nearly no Jews left in the Islamic world.

Isaac Shushan, left, at 13. Aleppo, Syria, 1937 (Courtesy of Isaac Shushan)

Isaac Shushan, left, at 13. Aleppo, Syria, 1937 (Courtesy of Isaac Shushan)

In 1942, when Isaac was 18, he made a paper bundle with a pair of underwear, an undershirt, and a towel, joined his friend the baker’s son, Tawfiq Jiro, and boarded a train to Damascus. From the train station a tram took them to the nearby village of Jobar, where they found a synagogue that was serving as a temporary refuge for Jews in transit to Palestine.

There were perhaps 30 people in the synagogue by the time a smuggler by the name of Shamsi showed up one night. He told the women to cover their hair like Muslims, and instructed everyone else to remove any article that might identify them as Jews.

“If anyone asks,” Shamsi said, “we’re going to a wedding.”

They set off in a truck. A few hours later, in what seemed to Isaac to be the middle of nowhere, everyone piled out and started walking. An elderly rabbi rode on a donkey, the saddlebags bursting with Hebrew books he had saved from home. One fell out as the donkey picked its way along a mountainous trail, and Isaac remembers the rabbi ignoring the smuggler’s anger and refusing to budge without it. Isaac got down on all fours and scrambled around in the darkness until he found the book. The convoy proceeded.

Isaac became disoriented. After hours of walking through the countryside, they arrived at a clump of small buildings. They were greeted by people who spoke Hebrew.

This was a kibbutz. To this day, Isaac is not sure which one. The kibbutzniks gave the refugees bread with jam, and cups of tea.

“We were shocked that we had reached anywhere, that they were feeding us, that these were Jews, that this was the Land of Israel,” he said.

The kibbutzniks, however, didn’t appear surprised: “This seemed to have happened before.”

In the Land of Israel

A Palmach soccer team, around 1946. Isaac is standing, far right (Courtesy of Isaac Shushan)

A Palmach soccer team, around 1946. Isaac is standing, far right (Courtesy of Isaac Shushan)

Along with a group of Syrian boys like himself, Isaac ended up at Kibbutz Na’an, near the town of Rehovot. A counselor helped them acclimate, teaching them Hebrew and about things like toothbrushes and toilet paper; these were new to Isaac and to the others from poor families. They were put to work in the fields, weeding and unloading enormous sacks of chemical fertilizer.

One day in late 1945 or early 1946, officials from the Palmach showed up at the kibbutz. Palmach, or “Strike Companies,” was a hopeful name for what was then an under-equipped and rather anarchic array of underground defense outfits answering to the Zionist leadership. They needed Arabic speakers.

Isaac signed up with two others. Told to report to another kibbutz, Ein Hahoresh, they got there by hitching a ride on a milk truck. They were taken to a tent encampment set up in a eucalyptus grove some distance from the low buildings of the kibbutz. Inside Isaac’s tent were iron beds and a vegetable crate set on two bricks — this was their cupboard.

The Arabic Section, as the unit was called, was a mix of kids from Arab countries like Isaac and like Havakuk Cohen, who was from Yemen and had been named for one of the Bible’s lesser prophets, and a few Arabic-speaking Jews from Palestine like Balfour Mizrahi, who was renowned for his muscular physique and had been named for the British lord behind the famous 1917 declaration.
They worked in the kibbutz fields part-time to earn their keep. The rest of the day was devoted to training. An expert from the Palmach came and taught them to use Bren rifles, hand-grenades, and explosives. Havakuk learned to operate the radio.

Shimon Somekh, an Iraqi Jew known by his Arabic name, Sam’an, was in charge of teaching them about Islamic life and practice. They learned about the Five Pillars of Islam: Offering witness that Muhammad is the prophet, praying, giving charity, fasting, and making the haj to Mecca. Isaac can still recite the prayers by heart, and does so with evident appreciation for the power of the Arabic. He can still demonstrate how they were instructed to pray in the tent at the kibbutz, first standing, left hand on stomach, right on left, then bowing, forehead touching the floor. They learned how to dress. Isaac learned to move from his native Aleppo dialect to that of the Palestinian Arab working class.

 This was the art of the “mista’arev,” from a Hebrew verb meaning “to be like an Arab.” The irony at the heart of the enterprise was that in everything but name Isaac and his comrades were, in fact, Arabs. It is accepted that one can be a Christian Arab but not a Jewish Arab, but that is a capricious distinction: Isaac and his comrades were Arabic-speaking products of a culture that was native to the Middle East. They had run from their countries and wanted nothing more than to be like the new Jews of the Zionist imagination, and had discovered that their ticket into their new society was to become the people they had fled.

As time went by, Isaac’s commanders began to send him to collect intelligence –snooping around an Arab bus depot in Ramleh, praying at Al-Aqsa and listening to a sermon calling for war against the Jews. Eventually, he was involved in an attempted 1948 hit on an Arab guerrilla leader, Sheikh Nimr el-Khatib, who was badly wounded and put out of action for the duration of the war. In February of the same year he helped prepare explosives with acid-filled condoms for detonators, booby-trapped a car and then drove it into a garage on Nazareth St. in Haifa where there was thought to be an Arab car bomb ready for detonation. He escaped, the car blew up, and the garage was destroyed.