Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Jew founded Cairo's Al-Azhar university

Millions turned out in Cairo today to demonstrate against the Muslim Brotherhood's unpopular President Morsi. In all the turmoil gripping Egypt, it is forgotten that the centre of Sunni Islamic religious scholarship was once the 'moderate' Al-Azhar university, now eclipsed by the Islamists and Salafists. Also forgotten is that this respected institution was founded by a 10th century Jew, Yaqub Ibn Killis, who was born in Baghdad. (With thanks: Desi)   
 From Encyclopaedia Britannica:

"al-Azhar University, Arabic Jāmiʿat al-Azhar,  chief centre of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world, centred on the mosque of that name in the medieval quarter of Cairo, Egypt. It was founded by the Shīʿite (specifically, the Ismāʿīlī sect) Fāṭimids in 970 ce and was formally organized by 988. Its name may allude to Fāṭimah, the Prophet’s daughter, known as “al-Zahrāʾ” (“the Luminous”), from whom the Fāṭimid dynasty derives its name. The format of education at al-Azhar remained relatively informal for much of its early history: initially there were no entrance requirements, no formal curriculum, and no degrees. The basic program of studies was—and still is—Islamic law, theology, and the Arabic language.

"An Ismāʿīlī centre of learning, al-Azhar fell into decline after Egypt’s conquest by Saladin, founder of the Ayyūbid dynasty and a Sunni, in the second half of the 12th century. It was revived under the Mamlūks (1250–1517), however, and continued to thrive thereafter as a centre of Sunni scholarship. It was damaged in an earthquake in the early 1300s and subsequently repaired, and additions, alterations, and renovations to its structures were undertaken at various points throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, particularly in the later Mamlūk period, when it came under direct patronage.

 From Wikipedia:

"Fatimid Wazir, Abu al-Farj Yaqub bin Yusuf known as Ibn Killis, was born of an honorable family of Baghdad. By birth he was a Jew, born in 318 A.H./930 C.E. At the young age he came with his father to Egypt where he started his political life at the court of Kafur. He was very intelligent, hard working and honest. Very soon he secured an important position in the Court of Kafur as an expert in economics. In 356 A.H./967 C.E., he embraced Islam by which Kafur was highly pleased and appointed him as his courtier. By this promotion of Yaqub, Wazir Ibn Furat of the court of Kafur got excited with jealousy and was searching for a cause to bring him down.

"Incidentally in 357 A.H./967 C.E. Kafur died and Wazir Ibn Furat arrested all his companions including Yaqub bin Killis. It is said that Yaqub bribed the jailer and absconded to the West where the Fatimid Caliph Mu'izz was in power on the throne of Imamat and Caliphate. (..)

During his tenure as vizier, Yaqub bin Killis established various new departments for the administration of the state - promoted agriculture, reformed trade and stabilised currency. The country began to flourish and revenue from the provinces increased. In this period the Central Exchequer was so wealthy that neither before nor since had such wealth ever accrued. In 373 A.H. he fell from office and it is said that Imam Aziz penalised him with a fine of 200,000 dinars. The actual cause of his removal is not known.

Dr. Zahid Ali assumes that because Ibn Killis had treated badly one of the court prisoners of al-Aziz to whom the Imam had promised all honours, Ibn Killis had to pay a fine. All the same within a few months, in 374 A.H., he was reinstated in  office and forgiven.

It is said that Yaqub bin Killis fell seriously ill on the 21st of Shawwal 380 A.H. The Caliph Aziz visited him and said: "O Yaqub! If your recovery is to be gained through spending wealth then I am prepared to give away the whole wealth of the state. And if your life is saved by sacrificing any life, I am ready to sacrifice my own son". By this it is understood what position Yaqub bin Killis held with the Caliph Aziz. The sickness of Yaqub began to worsen day by day and on the 4th of Dhul-Hijja 380A.H./991 C.E. he succumbed to death.

His death was mourned throughout Egypt. His shroud was decorated with 50 pieces of clothes of which 30 were embroidered with gold thread. According to Ibn Khallikan, 100 poets composed lamentations and every poet earned his reward from the Caliph. In Cairo a place was named the Vizier's Quarter in his honour.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The forgotten refugees of 1948

  Jewish refugees from Jerusalem in 1948

A just and comprehensive Mideast peace is possible only when Muslim states recognize their role in two historic wrongs: displacing one million indigenous people only because they were Jews, and perpetuating the plight of Palestinian refugees by denying them citizenship.  Noah Beck's article in the Commentator  has also appeared in Frontpage magazine,  American Thinker,  The Times of Israel and the Algemeiner :

Media bias also explains why so few people know about the 1948 Jewish refugees from Muslim lands. A search for “1948 refugees” on the BBC news site generates 41 articles (going back to 1999); 40 discuss the Palestinian Arab refugees of 1948. Only three of those 40 (dated 9/22/11, 9/2/10, and 4/15/04) even mention the Jewish refugees from Muslim lands, and two do so only in a single, superficial sentence that presents the issue as a claim rather than a historical fact.

A search for “1948 refugees Jews from Arab lands” on the New York Times site produces 497 results (replacing “Arab” with “Muslim” halves the results), while “1948 Palestinian refugees” yields 1,050 results. Consider a comparison using Sri Lanka, another war-torn, multi-ethnic country that gained its independence from Britain in 1948. The nearly 26-year ethnic conflict there began in 1983 and claimed 80,000–100,000 lives, many multiples of the total casualties from the nearly 100-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sri Lanka’s conflict also produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, including at least 200,000 Tamil refugees in Western Europe alone. Yet a search for “Tamil refugees” generates only 531 articles – less than 5% of the 11,300 results for “Palestinian Arab refugees.”

Institutionalized favoritism at the UN has also enabled the Palestinians to monopolize the refugee issue, which undoubtedly reinforces the media’s bias. All non-Palestinian refugees around the world (nearly 55 million) are cared for by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, which works under the guidelines of the Convention on Refugees of 1951. But Palestinian refugees (whose original population was under one million) have a UN agency dedicated exclusively to them (UNRWA).

UNRWA’s unique definition of “refugee” includes anyone “whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.” So, in addition to families who lived in the area for generations, UNRWA’s definition includes any migrants who arrived as recently as 1946 but were then displaced.
And because the definition includes “descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition,” UNRWA’s refugee population has grown from 750,000 in 1950 to 5,300,000 today (making resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue even harder). Despite these problems, the United States continues to support UNRWA (with over 4.1 billion dollars since 1950).

The rest of the world’s refugees are assisted by the High Commission, which is mandated to help refugees rapidly rebuild their lives, usually outside the countries that they fled. Jewish refugees from Muslim lands did just that: they rebuilt their lives in Israel and elsewhere.

 But the fact that they quietly adapted and Israel granted them full citizenship doesn’t lessen the wrongs committed by their countries of origin. These Jewish refugees from Muslim lands suffered legal and often violent persecution that resulted in immeasurable emotional and physical loss. They lost billions in property and endured huge socioeconomic disadvantages when forced to rebuild their lives from scratch. Israel was unfairly burdened with the colossal social and economic cost of suddenly absorbing so many refugees. So any suggestion that Jewish refugees from Muslim lands don’t deserve compensation is resoundingly wrong.

On the recent World Refugee Day, the Israeli Knesset member Shimon Ohayon, whose family fled Morocco in 1956, called on the Arab League to “accept their great responsibility for driving out almost a million Jews from lands [in] which they had lived for millennia.” He explained that “In 1947, the Political Committee of the Arab League drafted a law that…called for the freezing of bank accounts of Jews, their internment and [the confiscation of their assets]. Various other discriminatory measures were taken by Arab nations and subsequent meetings reportedly called for the expulsion of Jews from member states of the Arab League.” Ohayon challenged the League to accept responsibility for “the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population from most of the Middle East and North Africa…[and] to provide redress to the Jewish refugees.”

A just and comprehensive Mideast peace is possible only when Muslim states recognize their role in two historic wrongs: 1) displacing one million indigenous people only because they were Jews, and 2) perpetuating the plight of Palestinian refugees by denying them citizenship. The first wrong requires financial compensation to the families of Jewish refugees from Muslim lands, which reparation can be administered by the states that absorbed them. The second wrong should be remedied by granting full citizenship to Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) who have resettled in Muslim lands. Both wrongs have festered for too many decades.

Read article in full 

Link in French (thanks Eliyahu)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Refugee memorial day to be 17 February

 Point of No Return exclusive (with thanks: Levana)

 MK Simon Ohayon

 The proposed annual commmemorative day marking the tragedy of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries will now be 17 February, Member of Knesset Shimon Ohayon has announced.

That day corresponds to the date in 1948 the Arab League  decided on a coordinated policy to persecute Jews living in Arab countries.

The original date chosen for the memorial date was 30 November, the day after the 29 November 1947 UN Partition Plan was rejected by Arab states. The decision to change to 17 February is to de-couple the tragedy of Jews in Arab Countries from the establishment of Israel.

Explaining the reason for the change, Dr Ohayon noted that the creation of Israel was a day of great happiness for the  Jewish people. Moreover, the decisions taken by the Arab League caused a tragedy for all Jews in Arab countries irrespective of where in the world they fled, not just those who immigrated to Israel.

Moroccan-born Dr Ohayon, MK for the Yisrael Beytenu party, tabled a Knesset bill proposing the memorial day for Jewish Refugees from Arab countries in May.  Lobbying for the bill to be passed will begin in earnest after the High Holydays at the end of September, or in October.

The Knesset plenary will debate the bill under the aegis of the Committee for Culture and Sports. (The minister responsible is Limor Livnat).  Ex-foreign minister Danny Ayalon laid the groundwork for the bill, then under the aegis of the Committee for Coins and Ceremonies.

The Jewish refugees campaign has the backing of senior Likud government minister Silvan Shalom, who was born in Tunisia.    


Moroccans condemn anti-Jewish exam questions


 The lecturer who set the offensive exam questions has been suspended.

The Moroccan university lecturer who set antisemitic questions in an English exam paper has been temporarily suspended.

The move comes after a storm of criticism in Morocco. A condemnatory blog post by Fahd Yata in La Nouvelle Tribune received hundreds of 'Likes', mainly from young internet surfers.

The chairman of the Human Rights Council, Driss El Yazami, announced that an inquiry would be launched into the issue. Several media condemned the antisemitic exam questions as 'an insult to Morocco's proverbial tolerance and a violation of the Moroccan Constitution.'

Ahmed Gayet, chairman of of the Association of Plural Moroccans, has publically condemned the lecturer, who is from the university of Oujda.

The French Jewish site JForum said that 'one swallow doesn't make a summer', but asked whether Morocco's condemnation of antisemitism might set an example to France.

As highlighted on Point of No Return, Essaouira-based blogger Noam Nir mentioned the scandalous questions in his article for the Hebrew newspaper Maariv.

The questions read as follows: 

 Answer each one of the two questions given below using correct English :

1) «How does the history of Jews prove their hatred towards other people ?»

2).«How would you justify the fact that immorality and misconduct in Judaism are basically due to spiritual gap? Use historical facts to highlight your answer».

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Egypt to try six Israelis as spies

US comedian Jon Stewart, who is Jewish, is hauled onto Bassam Youssef's Egyptian TV satirical show hooded 'as a spy'.

Another nail in the coffin for Egyptian-Israeli relations as six Israelis and three Egyptians are to be tried for spying, the Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Desi):
CAIRO - An Egyptian state security prosecutor said on Wednesday he had ordered six Israelis and three Egyptians to be tried for spying.

In a statement, he said the six Israelis and one Egyptian would be tried in absentia, along with two Egyptians now in custody, on charges of espionage for Israel.

The Israeli suspects include four intelligence officers who Egyptian authorities say had recruited the Egyptians to spy for them, a source in the prosecutor's office said.

The prosecutor's statement said the Egyptians were accused of giving the Israelis information that could damage Egyptian national security, including details on the security situation in Egypt and the location of army bases in the Sinai peninsula.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he did not know of any Israeli under arrest or being charged in Egypt. "It is unclear where such odd rumours emanate from," he said.

This month Egyptian authorities detained an Egyptian they said had been recruited by Israeli spy agency Mossad in 2011.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Two sides of the Moroccan coin

 Is Morocco a model of Muslim-Jewish coexistence or is it infected with the virus of antisemitism? Two articles have emerged recently showing both aspects: neither contradicts the other. The first, by Noam Nir in the mass circulation Hebrew daily Maariv, points to pernicious antisemitism in school exams. The second, filled with reminiscences  by Charles Dahan of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, tells why Morocco gives him hope for Middle East peace. A cynic would point out, however, that Dahan is writing from the comfort and safety of Florida, USA.

While Morocco's King Mohammed VI works to ensure coexistence and preservation of Jewish heritage, anti-Semitism is gaining legitimacy even in  academic circles in the Kingdom.
האנטישמיות מרימה את ראשה. שאלון הבחינה במרוקו
Anti-Semitism rearing its head. Morocco exam questionnaire

The latest antisemitic incident occurred last week in the city of Oujda in eastern Morocco. A few days before the King's visit to an academic institution, a local newspaper published a photo of a recent test of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences demonstrating serious examples of antisemitism.

Students being tested in English were asked to answer the following two open questions: "How does the history of the Jews show their hatred towards others?" And how how can one justify the fact that Jews use immorality and deception, basically, based on their spiritual bankruptcy? Use historical facts to explain your answer. "

It was a rare case in which antisemitism trickles down into an educational institution, but it is certainly not the only one. In 2009, for example, a leading current affairs magazine in Morocco revealed  students' elementary exam papers where Jews were called "pigs and monkeys" and prophets' killers. "

Perhaps this is not surprising considering that the annual book fair held in Casablanca, the business capital, features publishers who regularly promote anti-Semitic books, including "Mein Kampf" and the " Protocols of the Elders of Zion. "Has turned the past Wiesenthal Center, battling anti-Semitism, the Government of Morocco and sought to stop the selling books, but to no avail.

Google translation into English

Charles Dahan writes in the Washington Post:

As a Jew growing up in Meknes, a city in the northern part of the country, I attended public school, studying alongside Muslim (and Christian) classmates. To this day I remain friends with many of them, and not once did I feel different from them in anything but our religion. Even then, our traditions were always welcoming, constantly overlapping. Jewish families would often invite their Muslim neighbors for the traditional Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoons, where we served “dafina”—a stew of meat, potatoes, eggs, chickpeas and grains seasoned with favorite Moroccan spices like turmeric and cumin. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, I remember that the mayor of Meknes and many government officials, including the chief of police, were invited to receive a special blessing from the rabbis.

My favorite example of these exchanges is Passover. According to Jewish law, households must get rid of all bread products before Passover. In Morocco, we would give these to our Muslim neighbors before the start of the holiday. For eight days, Jews could not eat at Muslims’ homes due to the dietary restrictions. But at the mimouna—the festival meal marking the end of Passover—they joined us for a true feast, bringing sweets as a symbol of hospitality and friendship. Of course we were invited to Muslim holiday celebrations, too. Their holidays were like open houses, where everyone was welcome.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Immigration from Arab lands motivated by distress

 A refugee or transit camp (ma'abara) in Nahariya

Solid evidence that Jews were being 'pushed' from Arab countries  in the early years of Israel's establishment comes from Israel's National Archivist. The largest numbers (12, 000 in three months) were projected from Iraq in 1950. But 10, 000 were also arriving from Romania, and the state was faced with the agonising decision: which refugees should be given priority? (With thanks: Silke)
Today's document gives a taste of the atmosphere Israeli immigration officials operated in during the summer of 1950, when mass immigration of almost penniless immigrants had simply become the natural way of the world. It was penned by one Itzhak Refael, who later went on to become one of the leaders of the National Religious Party; the three-page document gives the projections for immigration in the coming three months (after June 1950). The purpose is to control the pace of arrivals, although, as Refael notes, this is only partially possible. The immigration from Arab lands, he explains, is motivated by distress, and if conditions get worse we can't keep people out. (My emphasis -ed)

Which is an interesting point, since present-day polemicists love to argue about whether the Jews were being forced out of the Arab lands, and were thus refugees, or they were coming because of religious belief in the centrality of Israel and the sudden possibility to move to a Jewish state, so they were immigrants (or worse, colonialists). As if there's necessarily a contradiction between being pushed and pulled.

Read post in full

Most pre-1952 immigrants were from Muslim lands

Only 14 Jews left in Egypt

 The Adly synagogue, Cairo

There are only 14 Jews left in Egypt, and they need the ministrations of a rabbi and government aid to pay for medical care, acccording to their new leader, Magda Haroun, in this JPost interview with Kenneth Bandler of the American Jewish Committee. Although the AJC has established a fund for the maintenance and preservation of Jewish cultural, religious and historical landmarks, including cemeteries, Haroun again shows her willingness to abdicate responsibility for Egypt's Jews and their heritage to Christians and Muslims. 

‘I knew that one day I would be the one that closes the door,” says Magda Haroun, one of Egypt’s last Jews. Numbering 80,000 more than 60 years ago, today only 14 remain. “It is sad and very heavy to bear.”

Haroun became president of Egypt’s Jewish community in April, following the passing of longtime community leader Carmen Weinstein. She comes with a dual commitment – enable the remaining Jews, mostly elderly and in need of assistance, to live in dignity, and ensure that the door on this historic community’s legacy will always be left ajar. To that end, she vigorously is making arrangements for the preservation of cemeteries, synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites.

“It is my duty as a Jew and as an Egyptian,” says Haroun. She has spoken a lot with Egyptian media, reinforcing the historical fact that Jews have always been integral to Egyptian society. “We don’t want secrecy about Jews. Egyptians have to know.”

Her immediate concern is finding ways to give the older Jewish women in Cairo “an easy end of life.” Ideally, she would like to establish a home where they could live together, and receive medical attention and social support. Three of the nine women in Cairo are in need of hearing aids and two require cataract surgery. The other three Jews in Egypt, one man and two women, also elderly, live in Alexandria, the Mediterranean city that was home to the country’s second largest Jewish community.

“Our community economically is worse than the economy of Egypt,” says Haroun. “We have no resources.”

The Egyptian government had provided a $1,000 monthly stipend for the Jewish community, but that lapsed following the revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime. Haroun recently sent a letter to the Ministry of Welfare requesting resumption of this vital assistance, and is optimistic that the government will restore the monthly allowances. “The Egyptian government should help these ladies who chose not to leave Egypt and are alone,” she says.

She also is seeking support for sustaining religious practice. “We asked the government to provide a rabbi and kosher food,” says Haroun. “I want a rabbi 24 hours a day, all year long. It is our constitutional right.”

Though not raised in a religious home – Haroun attended synagogue only on major holidays – she is deeply committed to assist, however she can. She lived abroad for 12 years for business reasons in Kuwait, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Istanbul, but returned home to Cairo in 1992. Egypt, she told me on a recent visit to the US, is her home.

The Egyptian Jewish community, once one of the largest in the Arab world, fell victim to the hateful politics of Arab leaders who punished local, centuries-old Jewish communities in vengeful response to Israel’s independence.

“One of the mistakes of the Arab regimes was to throw them away, to push the Jews through the open door,” says Haroun, who was born just days before the 1952 Nasser revolution. Most Jews left Egypt unwillingly after 1948 and the rise of Nasser, with additional waves exiting after the 1956 and 1967 wars.

Read article in full 

More about Magda Haroun

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cairo's summer of anti-Jewish terror

 The Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo

Sixty-five years ago this summer a series of bomb attacks shook Cairo, claiming the lives of up to 200 Jews and setting off a wave of emigration towards Israel.The culprits were the Muslim Brotherhood, who would later assassinate the Egyptian prime minister. David B Green continues his excellent 'On this day' series in Haaretz (with thanks: Levana):

 On June 20, 1948, a bomb detonated in the Karaite Quarter of Cairo killed 22 Jews and wounded another 41. As part of a series of attacks on the city’s Jewish population, the event gave a significant push to an ongoing wave of emigration of Jews from Egypt.

Jews had begun to depart Egypt in 1945, after the so-called Cairo pogrom of November 2 (the anniversary of the issuing of Balfour Declaration), when violent demonstrations by Islamists – including the Muslim Brotherhood -- and nationalists against British policy in Palestine turned their anti-Zionist rage on the city’s Jewish population. The Ashkenazi synagogue, in the Muski Quarter, and several other Jewish institutions were burned down, and a number of shops were looted. The next day, rioting spread to Alexandria. A total of six people were killed, with more than 100 wounded.

Egypt’s Jews thought they could distance themselves from the Zionist movement. Community leaders, including the chief rabbi and the presidents of both the Cairo and Alexandria Jewish communities, publicly repudiated Zionism, and those who were active in the movement went underground.

In 1947, the government, which until then had at least nominally protested anti-Semitic actions, began to take official measures against Egypt’s Jews. Foremost of these were the Company Laws, which set quotas on the percentage of non-citizens, the country’s Jews included, that could be employed by incorporated businesses.

After Israel’s declaration of statehood, on May 15, 1948, matters deteriorated further. Jews were rounded up for Zionist activity, which was now illegal, martial law was declared, and the assets of many Jewish firms were confiscated. These official measures were accompanied by more attacks by Islamists on Jews and their property.

When the bomb went off on June 20 in the Karaite Quarter, the authorities initially claimed that it had been set off by Rabbanite Jews, who constituted the majority of Egypt’s Jewish population. They also blamed it on the accidental detonation of fireworks that had been housed in Jewish homes. But details of the crime were censored in the press, and even the local Jewish newspaper did not fully cover the event.

That terror attack was followed by five more attacks on Jewish sites in Cairo during the summer and fall of 1948: the July 19 bombing of two Jewish-owned department stores, and similar attacks on two additional stores on July 28 and August 1; the September 22 blast in the (Rabbanite) Jewish Quarter, which killed 19 people; the destruction of a large Jewish-owned publishing firm, Societe Orientale de Publicite, on November 12. One source puts the number of Jewish deaths to bombings and other murderous attacks, in July 1948 alone, at 200.

Even had it wanted to, the government was not strong enough to stand up to the Muslim Brotherhood, especially not while war was being fought between Arabs and Israelis to the east. And after Prime Minister al-Nuqrashi did finally dissolve the organization, on December 8, 20 days later, he was assassinated by a member of the Brotherhood. 

In 1948, Egypt’s Jewish population stood at about 75, 000. According to the Jewish Agency, the number of Egyptian Jews who emigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1951 was 16, 514. Another 6,000 Jews departed Egypt for other destinations during the same period. By 1957, the number of Jews remaining in the country stood about 15,000.

Read article in full (registration required)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why Norway can show us the way

 Stavanger, heart of Norway's Bible Belt.

The Jewish refugee issue dramatically changes the discourse on Jews and Israel, as one group of sympathetic Norwegian activists has discovered. Not only is it a debate winner, but it pays other dividends, says Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel:

To put it mildly – Norway is not known for its sympathy to Israel, or indeed Jews. Arguably, anti-Zionist waters run deep in its sleepy fjords. The celebrated lawyer and advocate Alan Dershowitz received an Arctic welcome and was prevented from lecturing at Norwegian universities. A recent cartoon in the mass circulation Dagbladet marks a slide into mindboggling anti-Semitism.
Thus it came as a pleasant surprise to read of the experiences of David M Weinberg, Director of Public Affairs at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Weinberg spent a week with activists of Med Israel for Fred (MIFF), a dynamic Norwegian pro–Israel group. He writes:

Norwegian MIFF activists have learned that it is simply not enough to explain Israel’s security dilemmas or to revisit Israel’s diplomatic generosity toward the Palestinians. What’s needed is a much more basic restatement of Israel’s cause and purpose: Israel as a grand historic reunion of people and land, as a shelter for the Jewish People, and as a just and moral actor in the medieval and violent Arab Middle East.
One issue in particular delivers a ‘bombshell’ – or a ‘knockout punch’: Jewish refugees from Arab countries:
Particularly important in this regard is education of the non-Jewish public about the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Nobody knows about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were expelled from Arab lands and absorbed by Israel, and when they learn of this it dramatically changes the discourse. As opposed to a conversation about Palestinian rights vs Israeli security, the conversation becomes a debate about a balance of rights: about Israeli/Jewish rights and Palestinian/Arab rights.
MIFF has some 7,000 members, mostly in western Norway’s Bible Belt. One of its leaders, Odd Myrland, told Weinberg:
This evens out the playing field, and forces people to think about justice for Israel. We’ve extensively tested this messaging over a long period of time and it is a bombshell.
Jewish refugees from Arab lands is our successful knockout punch. We mustn’t ignore this important issue.
Some might object to the expression ‘knockout punch ‘: It trivialises an issue that goes to the heart of justice, human rights, and the Arab/Islamist conflict with Israel and the Jews. But if advocacy is a slanging match between rival narratives, the Jewish refugee issue is a surefire debate winner.

Inserting Jewish refugees into the discourse pays other dividends. Jews were indigenous to the region 1,000 years before the Islamic conquest, with an uninterrupted presence not just in Palestine, but all over the ‘Arab’ world. The issue turns on its head the common misconception that Israel is an outpost of western colonialism and imperialism. The 7th century Arab invasion turned native Jews and Christians into minorities in their own lands, converting them to Islam, appropriating their shrines and erasing their history.

Indeed, the true colonisers here are the Arab Muslims – and the colonised, Jews and other indigenous non-Arabs and non-Muslims.

A study of the history of Jewish communities swiftly demonstrates that antisemitism predated Israel by centuries and validates the Jewish state as a modern sanctuary.

This anti-Semitism takes the form of an ancient religious contempt for ‘dhimmi’ Jews, on the one hand, and a modern, Nazi-inspired, genocidal Jew-hatred on the other. The former accounts for a deep religious and cultural resistance to the idea of a Jewish state. The latter emptied the Arab Muslim world of Jews, as well as other sects and minorities, and still drives the conflict with Israel. The violence and abuse suffered by these Jews constitute an unresolved human rights issue. The common objection to the Jewish refugee issue – that the Palestinians had nothing to do with it – is an easily-demonstrable fallacy. 

Read article in full

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Campaigner for lost Yemenite children dies

The maverick 'rabbi' Uzi Meshulam, who demanded in the 1990s that Israel investigate what has come to be known as “the kidnapping of the Yemenite children," died on Friday at the age of 60, Arutz Sheva reports. Israel subsequently held four commissions of inquiry into the scandal. Some children were never accounted for, although the idea of a government conspiracy has been dismissed.

Meshulam was brought to rest on Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, in his hometown in Yehud.

Meshulam had disseminated information which said that between the years of 1948 and 1954, approximately 4,500 children of immigrants of Mizrahi origins disappeared while in the hospital. Their parents who came to visit them were told that their children had died and were buried, raising some suspicion since in many cases the children had been healthy, there were no death certificates, and bodies were not presented. These facts had led many to believe that the children had in fact been kidnapped and sold to be adopted.

Four different commissions of inquiry have been set up in Israel to investigate the allegations regarding the selling of the children over the years, but they concluded that there had been no decisive evidence regarding the fate of the children in some cases, while in others there was no doubt that the children had died.

Meshulam, who had for many years gathered evidence regarding disappearance of the Yemenite children, in 1994 locked himself along with his followers in a home in Yehud. Police forces and snipers surrounded the house, and several weeks later, they stormed it, arresting 11 of Meshulam’s officers and killing one, 19 year-old Shlomo Asulin.

Meshulam’s followers were accused of a number of offenses: conspiracy to commit a crime, obstructing justice, attempted aggravated assault, threats, endangering human life willfully and unlawfully production of weapons. They were sentenced to prison terms of between 15 months and five years. Meshulam himself was convicted of instructing his followers to throw firebombs at police and of obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to eight years, but was acquitted of one of the offenses and the sentence was reduced to six and a half years, out of which he served five after then-President Ezer Weizman deducted seven months from his sentence.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Last Java synagogue demolished

The unstoppable march of sharia law in Indonesia has claimed another victim: the Surabaya synagogue in Java. The Jewish Press reports: 

Over the last few days there have been several articles bemoaning the destruction of the last standing synagogue in Java, which is one of the islands of Indonesia (south of Viet Nam, north of Australia, for the geographically challenged).

The story had a human interest news hook: six American university students were visiting Indonesia to learn about “pluralism and democracy.”  Oops.  Not only was the only synagogue on Java demolished, but it had already been sealed off in 2009 by Muslims who also burnt an Israeli flag in response to the conflict in Gaza, according to the Jakarta Globe.

The Jakarta Globe article quoted lecturers from a local university who claimed that the American students still learned one or two things about pluralism from the city.

“They learned about how the residents form a pluralist and democratic community,” said Diah Ariani Arimbi, dean of the Airlangga University School of Literature.

That sounds awfully odd.  But sadly enough, it may be true.

Read article in full 

Java synagogue torn down (Mosaic)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

' Arab League must take blame for refugees' (updated)

On this day, World Refugee Day, Moroccan-born Shimon Ohayon, a Member of Knesset, is calling for the Arab League to accept responsibility  for the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Here is the text of a press release issued by his Israel Beytenu party. 

Update: Reporting on Shimon Ohayon's initiative, The Times of Israel quotes  the Palestinian response: "(spokeswoman Hanan) Ashrawi has rejected Israeli demands for recognition of the Jewish refugee experience, arguing that Jews left Arab and Muslim lands largely of their own free will, rather than in the face of rampant persecution and danger. She has called on Arab states to allow Israeli Jews to return to their former homes."


(Thursday, June 20, 2013) – On the date of the United Nations World Refugee Day, Member of Knesset Shimon Ohayon (Yisrael Beytenu) has called on the Arab League to accept responsibility for the exodus of Jews from countries from its member countries around the establishment of the State of Israel and in during the following decades.

“The Jews of Arab countries, starting in 1947, were used as weapons by the Arab League against the establishment of the Jewish State,” MK Ohayon said. “The Arab League drafted laws for its member states to withdraw civil and human rights from its Jewish inhabitants and it is time for it to own up to its role in the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population from most of the Middle East and North Africa.”

In 1947, the Political Committee of the Arab League drafted a law that was to govern the legal status of Jewish residents in all Arab League countries. Entitled: Text of Law Drafted by the Political Committee of the Arab League, the law called for the freezing of bank accounts of Jews, their internment and their assets confiscated. Various other discriminatory measures were taken by Arab nations and subsequent meetings reportedly called for the expulsion of Jews from member states of the Arab League.

“It is time for the Arab League, not just to make diktats for a resolution to the conflict, but also accept their great responsibility for driving out almost a million Jews from lands which they had lived in for millennia,” MK Ohayon continued. “I call on the Arab League not just to take responsibility but also to provide redress to the Jewish refugees.”

“This is a matter of justice and rights and has been ignored by the Arab League and the international community for too long. It is time to place the rights of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands at the forefront of the push for peace and reconciliation in our region.”

MK Ohayon, who along with his family fled Morocco in 1956, is the Chairman of the Knesset Caucus for the Rights of Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands and has drafted a law to hold an annual day to commemorate the Jewish refugees in the Israeli calendar.

Article in Arutz Sheva 

Jerusalem Post 

Jewish Press

Avi Shilon has it wrong on Jewish refugees

 This elegant villa belonged to the Jewish Shashoua family:  property or heritage?

If you wish to read articles critical of the ongoing campaign to raise awareness of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, look no further than Haaretz. Writer after (usually, leftist) writer bashed last's autumn's Foreign Ministry drive to put the question  of Jewish refugees on the map. But Avi Shilon's critique is different - he works for the Netanyahu-supporting Israel Hayom, and has written a biography of Menahem Begin. My comments are interpersed in italics (with thanks:Lily):

                                                         Avi Shilon

An advertisement has recently been broadcast on television in which entertainer Yossi Alfi encourages Mizrahim ‏(Jews of Middle Eastern origin‏) to tell their stories for the sake of the historical record. But beneath the welcoming title, “And you shall tell your son,” hides a program with historic implications that are hidden from the public eye.

Those who view the ad are invited to visit the website of the Pensioner Affairs Ministry and tell their stories. At first glance, this seems moving and justified: Just as it is important to document the heritage of the Jews of Europe, it is proper to document the history of those who came from Muslim countries.

Yet people who enter this site and seek to document their stories encounter a surprise: a bureaucratic form that instructs them how to file a claim for property in their countries of origin that was stolen from them when they emigrated to Israel. This week, apparently due to complaints, the section of the form that deals with documentation was given more prominence. Yet still, the bulk of the form deals with property claims.

Mr Shilon is splitting hairs. Since when does heritage exclude lost property? Such losses could encompass the ancestral home, the khan (a Middle Eastern cross between a warehouse and inn), the family business, a synagogue endowed by one's family and all  possessions and heirlooms.

The project “And you shall tell your son” stems from a 2009 government decision to change Israel’s long-standing policy on the narrative of Jewish immigrants from the Middle East. Until then, the state had objected to labeling them as refugees who were expelled from their countries and dispossessed of their property, for two reasons.

One was that, according to the Zionist ethos of David Ben-Gurion’s era, Israel didn’t absorb refugees who came to it against their will, but immigrants who arrived after 2,000 years of longing.

There is some truth to this: absorption was made easier because these newcomers to Israel were encouraged to see themselves as returning to the ancestral homeland. Israel did not seek to exploit its refugees for political purposes. 

The second reason was fear of creating an equation that acknowledged the fact that the War of Independence created two kinds of refugees: Jews expelled from Arab lands, and Palestinians expelled from Israel. Even their numbers are similar: Some 800,000 Jews arrived from Arab lands ‏(until 1967‏), and some 700,000 Palestinians were counted as refugees by the United Nations.

The figures are wrong. Some 300, 000 Jews did not go to Israel at all. Were these refugees or immigrants - because they found a home in France, Canada or Brazil? Just because they ceased to become refugees when they became citizens of their new countries does not mean that they were not refugees on arrival. It is true that Israel did no want to equate the two sets of refugees, in case the Arab side did so. But the Arab side never ceased to do so: Israel's silence created a distortion.

The change in the government’s approach toward this narrative of immigration stemmed from recognition of the fact that from an international standpoint, Israel would have trouble evading pressure to recognize its responsibility, at least to some degree, for the Palestinian refugee problem. Because the Palestinians’ demand for a right of return is taboo, it’s reasonable to assume that the state will be forced to contend, at the least, with their claims for compensation.

Here the author makes a false assertion: arguably, Israel is not responsible for the plight of Palestinian refugees. They are a by-product of a war instigated by their own side. The Jewish refugees, who neither wish to, nor can, return to Arab lands, do neutralise the Palestinian 'right of return' - an unreasonable and unprecedented political demand. Compensation is a separate issue.

Defining these Jews as refugees could thus accomplish two goals: overshadowing the Palestinians’ narrative of the Nakba ‏(“catastrophe”‏) with a greater Jewish catastrophe, and offsetting their financial claims against Israel. According to researchers’ calculations, Jews in Arab countries owned property whose value exceeded that of Palestinians in Israel.

Mr Shilon is out-of date: there is no talk of 'offsetting Palestinian financial claims with Jewish claims'. The thinking nowadays is that both sides should be compensated out of an international fund, as proposed by Bill Clinton in 2000.

Nevertheless, this equation also raises questions from the field of international law. For instance, Israel unofficially cooperated with the Iraqi parliament’s decision to confiscate Iraqi Jews’ assets in exchange for its decision to allow these Jews to move to Israel. Does this mean that Israel waived their property claims?

Not true. Israel cooperated with a plan to airlift out Jews from Iraq in 1950, but Iraq's law freezing Jewish property in March 1951 came like a bolt from the blue. The move created consternation and an angry reaction from the then foreign minister, Moshe Sharrett. "The Arabs have opened up a reckoning with Israel," he said.

Either way, the irony is that a right-wing government is the one that is undermining the Zionist narrative by treating Jewish immigrants from Arab lands as refugees. Judging by the personal history of my own family, which immigrated from Baghdad, the “refugee” definition is debatable. Granted, most of them weren’t engaged in Zionist activity and decided to immigrate because of the hostility that erupted against them after Israel’s establishment. But the Jewish consciousness they had preserved for hundreds of years is what caused the genuine excitement that accompanied their immigration, despite the difficulties and the loss of their property.

There is no irony. The 'refugee' definition is not debatable at all. One can be a refugee and still fulfil 2,000 years of longing. The pull factor of Eretz Israel does not cancel out the push factors of persecution and hostility in the country of birth. The author admits that his own family were not active Zionists: it is likely they would never have left Iraq at all had they not been forced to.  The 'right-wing' government's refugee campaign is correcting a distortion, it is not re-writing history.

If the government truly intends to try to reach an agreement, and not just to pose a counter to the Nakba, the equation between Palestinian and Jewish refugees has some value. It’s just a pity that along the way the state is misleading its elderly citizens twice over. Once is by enticing them to file a claim under the pretext of documenting their heritage. The other is by encouraging them to believe that filling out this form will help them recoup the value of their property, when the real purpose is to obtain a bargaining chip in the negotiations.

Property is an integral part of one's heritage (see above). Compensation is not inconceivable for these elderly claimants - from an international fund (see above). 

In this matter, at least, all Jews are brothers: The Mizrahim can ask Holocaust survivors about how much generosity the Israeli authorities have displayed toward them.

Shilon is confusing the issue. Holocaust survivors may have had a raw deal, but at least the German government recognised its responsibilites and sent reparations. There is no sign of Arab governments doing the same. It is disheartening that Shilon expects nothing of them, and yet is so cynical towards the Israeli government.

Read article in full (registration required) 

An exchange of views with the Asylumist

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tribute to Yom Tov Assis z"l (1942 - 2013)

Point of No Return mourns the passing on 16 June of  Professor Yom Tov Assis, head of the Ben Zvi Institute, aged 71, after a long battle with cancer. Professor Assis was many things: scholar of medieval Spain, lecturer, author, rabbi, hazan, tour guide. He was born in Aleppo, Syria, and experienced the pogroms of the late 1940s. As a tribute to Professor Assis, we are reproducing an extract from the Jerusalem Post interview, in which he describes the atmosphere of violence he was forced to flee.
'I remember very clearly," Prof. Yom-Tov Assis, head of the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, says of his youth in Aleppo, "how a Syrian officer entered our home with his gun and brought a Palestinian refugee, accusing my parents of being responsible for her terrible condition and demanding that we give her money and clothing.

"I remember the attempts to break through the gates to our building, all the occupants of which were Jewish. I remember how the people used to shout in the streets, 'Palestine is ours; Jews are dogs!' Demonstrations took place daily, from the time the United Nations decided to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab parts. Clubs and synagogues were burned. Jews were attacked."

In 1949, the Assis family fled the antagonism of Syria for the tranquility of Lebanon.
"We used to spend our summer holidays in the Lebanese mountains... It was paradise," he fondly recalls. When they left, "we pretended that we were going on our usual summer holiday... but we never went back."

Like the nearly 900,000 Jews who left - or were forced from - Muslim countries shortly after Israel's independence, Assis says, his family "left behind property, left behind wealth. We left behind everything."

From Lebanon, Assis moved to Turkey, and then to London, before making aliya in 1971. Ever since, the medieval scholar has had to disabuse people of what he calls "the fallacy of Jewish happiness under Muslim rule." That's the assumption that the "Golden Age" in Andalus (Muslim Iberia and North Africa), from the mid-700s to the mid-1100s, was both idyllic and common to Islamic rule in other times and places. Not only is that not the case - although Jews were generally better off under Muslim rule through the 10th century, there were large-scale pogroms in the 11th century - but, as Assis points out, it also disregards the fallout from the invasion of the Almohads, who "destroyed Jewish life" in the latter part of the 12th century.

"They left no Jewish community intact. There were many who were killed, many who were forcibly converted to Islam, many who had to escape - including the family of Maimonides, and other famous families," Assis says. "So to suggest that there was no persecution of Jews under Muslim rule is absurd."

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Jewish plot' behind Turkish protests

Anti-Erdogan Turkish protestors

 It was only a matter of time before Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan would blame the 'Joos' for his domestic troubles. David Harris of  The American Jewish Committee has expressed his concern:

For several weeks, Turkish citizens have demonstrated against the government, which has responded with force and arrests. Erdogan has called the demonstrators "terrorists."

In a letter to Turkey's ambassador to the United States, AJC expressed concern about Erdogan's "delusional prejudices" regarding Jews. The prime minister recently suggested that unrest in Turkey could be attributed to "the interest-rate lobby," a term that in the past has been associated in the Turkish media with an alleged conspiracy of Jewish businessmen.

Over the weekend, the Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak ("New Dawn") claimed that an American Jewish plot is behind the Istanbul protests. The paper asserted that several Washington, D.C., foreign policy experts, several of them Jewish, had developed a so-called "Istanbul Insurrection" plan that allegedly is a blueprint for the confrontation unfolding in Istanbul. The article further claimed without explanation that AIPAC and the American Enterprise Institute, misidentified as an Israeli organization, were involved in organizing the "plan."

"Whatever protests and opposition Prime Minister Erdogan may face domestically, they are home grown," said Harris. "To blame such disturbances on external forces and to resort to age-old Jewish conspiracy canards is pure cowardice and runs the risk of incitement. Erdogan should be called to task by responsible world leaders for such crude tactics rather than facing up to the reality that a significant segment of the Turkish public is challenging his authoritarian rule."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hebrew version of 'In Ishmael's House' is launched

At Ishmael's launch: from left, the British ambassador Matthew Gould, Knesset member Shimon Ohayon; Gail Asper, of the Asper Foundation, holding a copy; Sir Martin's wife Esther Gilbert, and translator Levana Zamir.

 Point of No Return reports on a remarkable event:

Some four years ago, a group of Egyptian Jews sat down in Levana Zamir's living room in her Tel Aviv apartment to share stories with Sir Martin Gilbert. These first-hand accounts of the Second Exodus were to find their way into 'In Ishmael's House', the first popular history of Jewish communities spanning 14 Arab and Muslim countries to be produced in English by the world-renowned historian.

That day, Levana Zamir, president of the Association of Egyptian Jews in Israel, determined that a Hebrew translation of Sir Martin's book was imperative:  most Jewish refugees - Levana's family included - had fled to Israel. Their children should know the sacrifices their parents had made, she said, so that they would be able to grow up in a country where no one would call them 'a bloody Jew'. Levana worked doggedly with Sir Martin. After he was taken ill, she worked with his wife Esther, herself a historian, to polish  up the Hebrew version.

The launching of the Hebrew translation of Sir Martin's book was put together virtually at the  last minute. The convalescing author was represented in Israel by his wife Esther: the late initiator, Israel Asper, was represented by his daughter Gail. Together with Knesset member Shimon Ohayon and translator Levana, they came together at the Centre for Egyptian Jews in central Tel Aviv last week. The guest of honour was H.E. Matthew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel. Visitors included Yves Fedida of the Egyptian-Jewish association Nebi Daniel, Maurice Maleh of the Association of Jews from Egypt in the UK, Itsik Devash, JJAC representative, Meir Cahlon of the World Organisation of Jews from Libya, and Lyn Julius of Harif.

The author of 88 books including a biography of Churchill, Sir Martin Gilbert is one of the leading British historians of his generation. But the impetus to have Sir Martin document the story of Jews from Arab lands came from a Canadian philanthropist who died 10 years ago, Izzy Asper. 

By a stroke of luck, Izzy Asper's daughter Gail was in Israel; Esther Gilbert,  Martin's wife happened to be there too. Levana could not have hoped for a better attendance of distinguished guests. Mrs Gilbert spoke of some of the characters in her husband's book: Maimonides, the medieval rabbi heavily influenced by Islam and Arabic, the Yemenite orphan who had escaped to Israel in order to avoid  forcible conversion to Islam; the Ottoman Sultan Majid, whom Sir Moses Montefiore had pleaded to protect the Jews following the scandal of the 1840 Damascus blood libel. Yet Sir Martin ended his book on a hopeful note: that Muslims and Jews might renew their 14 centuries of ties.

Shimon Ohayon MK at the launch (photo: Laurence J)

MK Shimon Ohayon of the Israel Beiteynu party is now spearheading the Knesset campaign for justice for Jewish refugees. He has recently proposed a bill formalising 30 November as Jewish Refugee Day.

Dr Ohayon said that the time had come for the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to tell their story. During the 14 centuries of  Muslim Jewish interaction, there were times of cultural and linguistic symbiosis - Hebrew grammar, for instance, was based on Arabic. But there were those who would deny 14 centuries of coexistence: haters and bigots had forced  a conference of Jews of Morocco  to be moved from the University of San Francisco to the University of Maryland.  In spite of the points of connection, he reminded his audience that there were also dark times of oppression and pogroms. In the second half of the 20th century, 'Arab' lands were emptied of their millenia-old Jewish communities, driven out by mass expulsion and persecution. These Jews left behind their heritage and all their assets and property.

The day belonged, however, to the indefatigable translator Levana Zamir, who one audience member likened to a 'supertanker'. In addition to her skills as author, artist and baker extraordinaire of Ma'amoul cookies, Levana had, only weeks earlier, organised a successful conference on Egyptian Jews in Nahariya. Never was the old adage truer: if you want something done, ask a busy person.

The launch of the Hebrew version, 'Ba'Ohalei Ishmael', was a landmark event. All the speakers hoped that if the history of the Jews in Muslim lands were better known, it would validate israel as a refugee haven and would provide a vehicle for peace, understanding and reconciliation with the wider Muslim world.

Reviews of Sir Martin Gilbert's 'In Ishmael's House'

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Arab refugees are the main obstacle to peace

A blogger to watch out for on the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is Rachel Avraham (pictured), a recent immigrant to Israel from the US married to an Iraqi/Moroccan Jew.  Read her latest post for the Jewish Press:

When Israel was established as a state, Israeli historian Benny Morris asserted in his book Righteous Victims that about 700,000 Arabs who were living in the Land of Israel left the country.

 He claimed, “The creation of the problem was almost inevitable, given the geographical intermixing of the population, the history of Arab-Jewish hostility since 1917, the rejection by both sides of the bi-national solution, and the depth of Arab animosity towards the Jews. ”

Around the same period of time, over 800,000 Jews from Arab countries also became refugees.  The difference, however, between Jewish refugees from Arab countries and the Palestinians is that Mizrahi Jews were absorbed into Israel as full citizens, while to date even the descendants of Palestinians who left Israel are denied by Arab governments the most basic of rights.

Read article in full

Rachel Avraham's blog

Friday, June 14, 2013

Let's all follow Canada's lead on Jewish refugees

Jewish refugees from Yemen cross desert

Last month, Ottawa once again took the international lead in raising an issue important to Israel and Middle East peace. The Harper government initiated hearings in the Canadian Parliament on the matter of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. David Weinberg explains in the Jerusalem Post why others should follow the Canadian initiative: (with thanks : Lily)

The hearings are part of a new push by Jewish groups (including Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which I represent in Israel, and the World Jewish Congress) to highlight the plight of the Jewish refugees in the context of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The issue is important because it highlights the justice of Israel as the legitimate expression of an indigenous Middle Eastern people. Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that Canada should officially recognize the persecution and displacement of more than 850,000 Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.

“Much of the Arab-Israeli peace process is about validation, of the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state and the recognition of the Palestinians as a people,” he said. “Redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries is another example of this, and needs to be included for true and lasting peace to be achieved.” Fogel noted: “Achieving peace in the Middle East is not a zero-sum game. The rights and claims of one group need not come at the expense of or displace those of the other. And thus, the purpose of incorporating the historic claims of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is not to diminish or compete with the claims of Palestinian refugees. The inclusion of the issue of Jewish refugees is meant to complete, not revise, the historical record.”

As gavel-holder of the multilateral refugee working group (a moribund product of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference), Canada is uniquely placed to raise the profile of the Jewish refugee issue and to ensure that it is given the fair consideration it merits.

The initiative in Canada needs to be repeated everywhere. In fact, there is a bill pending introduction in the US Congress which will require the State Department to report annually on what it has done to advance the Jewish refugee issue.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Shalom Bollywood coming to a screen near you

 Trailer for 'Shalom Bollywood'by Australian film-maker Danny Ben-Moshe

Shalom Bollywood: the untold story of Indian cinema is a feature length documentary about India's Jewish film stars, told in the style and feel of a Bollywood film. Its Australian director Danny Ben-Moshe has spent six years assembling information for his film. He claims it will 'reveal the unknown history of India’s tiny 2000 year old Indian Jewish (Bene Israel) community' . But several female superstars are from the 'white' Baghdadi Jewish community, who migrated to India as recently as the 19th century (with thanks: Gavin).

The film website says: "When Indian cinema began 100 years ago it was taboo for Hindu and Islamic women to perform on screen, so female roles were played by men – sort of Monty Python or Shakespearian style. While the conservative nature of Hindu and Muslim societies shunned the notion of female performers, the Jewish community was more liberal and educated and willing to embrace the exciting new medium of film. The fact that Indian Jews were a lighter shade of brown made these women seem all the more suited for celluloid. However, because of their stage names people thought they were Muslims.

"The story is told through the glamorous and often tumultuous lives of the famed Jewish actresses who, from the earliest days of Silent film through to the end of the twentieth century, passed the cinema queen baton onto each other and shaped what was to become the world’s largest film industry."

 Michael  Kaminer interviews Danny Ben Moshe in The Forward Prominent Baghdadi women in India The Iraqi-Jewish vamps of Indian cinema

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Virtual pilgrimage to Nahum's tomb in Kurdistan

 The virtual website Diarna seeks to re-create Jewish sites that barely still exist. Here's its latest  project, a video of the crumbling tomb of the Biblical prophet Nahum. His remains have supposedly been transferred to a nearby church. The tomb itself apparently is undergoing some restoration. The Diarna operatives spent 10 days in Kurdistan and were warmly greeted by the locals, who fondly remember their Jewish neighbours.

Nestled at the base of the first mountain ridge-line of the northern Iraqi-Kurdish highlands sits the purported tomb of the Prophet Nachum in the village of al-Qosh. 62 years after the last pilgrimage to this crumbling shrine, it draws few visitors. And yet Hebrew etchings, some barely discernible, still adorn the walls as reminders of its storied history.

Several thousand people–some sources say almost the entire Jewish populations of Mosul and surrounding villages–would arrive at the shrine to celebrate Shavuot. The highlight of their elaborate pilgrimage, known as “Ezyara,” was a dramatic staging of the giving of the Ten Commandments at a local stand-in for Mount Sinai, and a play supposed to pre-figure the battle of Gog and Magog. This was an event that, according to a popular saying, was unrivalled in the happiness it conferred upon participants.

Visit the Diarna website

No right of return for the Jews of Al-Qosh

The tomb of Nahum needs urgent repairs  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The 'Not Nice' takeover of Tel Aviv

                                         A street in Tel Aviv

Did you not know Israel's Finance Minister lives in 'Not Nice' street? He didn't know that either.  Several major Tel Aviv streets were renamed Sunday night – for a few hours anyway – as two rights groups pasted new names on street signs, mostly of Jewish artists and intellectuals with roots in the Middle East and North Africa. Haaretz has the story.

The groups are the Achoti women's organization and Lo Nehmadim, whose name, which means "they're not nice," is how Golda Meir once referred to Mizrahi activists when she was prime minister decades ago*.

Thus Allenby Street became Vicki Shiran Street, Sheinkin Street became Baba Sali Street and Hacarmel Street became Ofra Haza Street. There were many other examples.

The street where Finance Minister Yair Lapid lives, Feinstein Street, became Not Nice Street. Gritty south Tel Aviv wasn't ignored; for example, Hatikva Street became Tikva Levi Street after the educator and feminist who died a few months ago.

“There has been a steady exclusion of cultural, ethnic and national communities that manifests itself in the public sphere,” said Achoti director Shula Keshet, who helped organize the protest.

“The number of Tel Aviv streets named for Mizrahim is minuscule compared to those named for Ashkenazim. Jacqueline Kahanoff, for example, who appears on one of our signs, was an acclaimed writer and researcher who was born in Egypt and who for a few hours last night got the attention she deserves in the public sphere of Hebrew culture.”

In September 2010, Tel Aviv's commemoration and names committee approved new names for nine streets and squares, almost all of them after male Ashkenazim – Jews with roots in Europe.
“Several years ago we sent a list of suggested names to city hall,” said Keshet. “But our demand is not just for Tel Aviv; we want Mizrahim, Ethiopians and Arabs represented all over the country.”

Read article in full (registration required) 

* As commenter Dina writes, Golda was likely to have been misquoted: 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Erdogan's government 'bad for the Jews'

Turkish Israelis protesting against the Erdogan regime

The Israeli tourists have stopped coming, journalists are being muzzled, alcohol banned and Turkish Jews see less and less of a future for their children.  As the Turkish Spring protests play out in Istanbul's Taksim square Rachel Avraham interviews two Turkish-Israelis for the Jewish Press: 

According to Eyal Peretz, chairman of Arkadash, an organization promoting the Turkish community in Israel, “The Jewish minority in a very extreme fundamentalist state is not a positive situation. Of course a secular state is a much better situation for minorities. I hope there will be a change soon.” He continued, “Many Jews made immigration to Israel. I am sure if it will become worse, by Islamic laws, we will see Aliyah to Israel from Turkey.” Peretz worries that Erdogan is taking Turkey in the direction of Iran, by forbidding people from showing affection in public and restricting alcohol consumption.

Peretz also claims that the atmosphere Erdogan created within Turkey is very problematic for Jews. He explained, “You don’t see a future for your child. If you are old, you will die in Turkey. When you are a young person with a small child, you think, do I want my children to be raised in an Islamist state? You will say no. You are doing it for the future, not the present. You don’t see the future. You don’t see your children raised in an Islamist state. The community is becoming smaller and smaller; they don’t want their children to marry Muslims and they are coming to Israel. I think Turkey loses from that.”

Sivan Tfillin of the leader of the Kemalist Charshi Movement in Israel concurred that Erdogan’s government has been bad for Jews, claiming, “Erdogan is the one who ruined the friendship between Israel and Turkey. Israeli people are now scared to go to Turkey because of Erdogan. By the way, there are a lot of Muslims in Turkey that are convinced that Israel is a bad country because of the media. A lot of people that get to know me say Israelis hate Turks. […] Turkey is a really good friend of Israel and we shouldn’t let Erdogan ruin the friendship.”

Both Peretz and Tfillin expressed that Erdogan is trying to brutally suppress dissent. Peretz emphasized that presently, Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world , “more than Russia, more than China, more than Iran.” This fact is confirmed by Freedom House, which ranks Turkey as only partly free. He explained, “It says something of this fragile democracy, if you could call it a democracy. I don’t think a country that imprisons journalists is a democracy. People are afraid that Turkey will become an autocracy or something worse, like Libya or Syria.” Peretz complained that the Turkish people were barred access to international media outlets.

According to Tfillin, “Two years ago, when the Arab spring started, I was talking with my friends in Turkey and asked if the same will happen in Turkey. It’s hard because every one is afraid of him. Some journalists had to resign to because of Erdogan. After the Mavi Marmara, I have a friend who works in the news who said he can’t show any thing against him. Erdogan controls the press. All of the Turkish channels are showing shows and pop stars, not the protests. They don’t show anything except for one. We only have facebook and twitter.” Given this, Erdogan is responsible for the fact that Jews are now the main target of hate speech in the Turkish media, according to the Hrant Dink Foundation.

Read article in full