Monday, September 30, 2013

Yemen Jews 'exiled in own land'

 Elderly Yemeni Jew (photo: Mohamed al-Sayaghi / Reuters)

Twenty families in a guarded compound in Sana'a  - 90 people - are all that remain of Yemen's  2, 500-year-old Jewish communities. Very soon the young will be gone too. Time magazine reports:

“Jews who lived their entire lives there and resisted the notion of leaving for a long time are going now. It’s time,” says Misha Galperin, the head of international development for the Jewish Agency, adding that the recent airlift was a “clandestine operation” because Yemen and Israel have no diplomatic ties.

Most of the 20 or so families that remain, including Habib’s, live behind the walls of a government compound for expats near the U.S. embassy in Sana‘a called Tourist City, cut off from the rest of society. The elders never leave. Now and again the younger men venture out to sell jewelry at a nearby market.
Reels of razor wire, soldiers and German shepherds make the entrance look like a prison. Inside it is quiet and leafy. With a playground, two ATMs, a restaurant, pharmacy and a bus to shuttle them around the compound, it has the sleepy feel of a retirement community in Florida.

The Jews, who raise goats and chickens on plots of land next to the homes of Russian oil barons and aid workers, rarely leave the compound. Instead they rely on a monthly stipend for food and rent provided by the government.

In a modest apartment filled with smoke, a vacant Habib and several other Jewish elders rest on cushions, smoking shisha pipes and chewing khat. A portrait of Saleh dominates one wall. A wily tank commander turned politician, Saleh was well known for courting the Jewish community. He appeared frequently on state TV with the community’s rabbi, and once delivered legs of lamb at Passover to the families in Tourist City. His critics dismissed such gestures as window dressing for his dictatorial rule.

It was Saleh who, in 2009, enabled Habib and his family to flee to the capital after their house was bombed in Saadah — a northern province controlled by a Shi‘ite group called the Houthis, who count “Death to Israel, damn the Jews” among their slogans.

Life in the compound, while often mundane, allows Habib and the other Jews who fled other parts of Yemen a large degree of religious freedom. The women, who had worn veils in public in deference to their Muslim neighbors, walk between the houses in bright green dresses, carrying pots of lamb stew, or choula, and chatting loudly, their faces uncovered. The men, many in long white galabiya with their side curls and kippah in full view, sit in the compound’s synagogue reciting verses from the Torah, a practice that was previously confined to their homes.

But rising lawlessness in the aftermath of Saleh’s departure, and the failure to include Jews in an ongoing national dialogue, fuels a belief among the Jews that they are being abandoned by the transitional government. Last year the official in charge of Tourist City cut off food rations for eight months, and one of the residents, Aaron Zindani, was stabbed to death by a street vendor while at a nearby market with his children.

At the same time, anti-Jewish sentiment in Yemen is anything but universal. Yemenis, when asked, often refer to the Jews as their “brothers.” Many mourn the departure of their country’s oldest religious minority as a loss to Yemen and its once multiracial identity.

“They are Yemenis,” says Ashwaq Aljobi, who works at the Sawaa Organization for Anti-Discrimination, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for Yemen’s Jews and other marginalized peoples. “If they want to travel, it’s O.K. But if they stay here, it is still their country.”

Habib is torn. Yemen is his homeland, he says, and he plans to die here. But his family members are leaving one by one. His eldest son Ibrahim, who tucks his side curls under a Yankees cap when he leaves the compound to avoid attracting attention, says he plans to join his cousins in Tel Aviv later this year.

“Living in a state of exile in your own country … that’s no life.” says Ibrahim, gloomily. “It’s a sad thing [because] Yemen will always be part of me, but I can no longer be part of it.”

Muslim Kurds visit Jerusalem festival

 Israelis do a traditional Kurdish dance (photo: Hemi Itz)

Kurdish Muslims were among the unlikely guests this year at the celebrations for Saharane, an annual Kurdish Jewish holiday, held in Jerusalem's Sacher Park. The Times of Israel reports:

Saharane is the annual Kurdish Jewish holiday, now celebrated during Sukkot, when the ancient community gathers to sing, dance, eat, and trade stories from the old country in their traditional Aramaic tongue.

Last Sunday, Israel’s Kurds marked Saharane in Israel’s capital. Over 13,000 Israeli Kurds attended this year, according to Yehuda Ben Yosef, leader of the community in Israel. Smaller Saharane events were also subsequently held in Yokneam, Mevasseret Zion, and Yardena.

Jews in Kurdistan historically marked the beginning of spring with the Saharane festival, while at the same time their Muslim neighbors celebrated the Newroz holiday. They would head to the river banks and host mass picnics, complete with traditional garb and music competitions.

When the community emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s, they continued to celebrate Saharane during the intermediate days of Passover. However, the relatively small community felt their holiday was in danger of being swallowed up by Mimouna, the post-Passover holiday of the much larger Moroccan community. Ben Yosef’s uncle, Aviv Shimoni, the leader of the community at the time, decided to move the celebration to Sukkot in 1975. Unfortunately, this disconnected Saharane from its roots as a celebration of the blossoming of nature after a cold winter.

As ties deepen between Kurds in Israel and those in the Kurdish heartland, more Muslim Kurds are making their way to Israel to visit their former neighbors.
Darwish, whose extended family is still in war-torn Syria, came to Israel from the Netherlands especially for the festival. She found Ben-Yosef online, and contacted him before her trip.

“Yehuda is a special person,” she said. “I don’t feel that I was a guest. I feel directly that I was home. This feeling is not easy to get from everywhere. Because I know he’s a Kurd, I’m a Kurd — I cannot explain it.”

It was Darwish’s second visit to Israel. She also came in July with three Kurdish friends living in Sweden, but seeing the Israeli community gather left a powerful impression on her.

“I was walking from the parking garage to the park, I heard the music and I said, ‘Wow, it is so beautiful to hear the Kurdish music,’” she recalled.
“The Kurdish people you know are in four lands, and you go to Israel, a country like Israel — a powerful country, a big country — and you see Kurdish people there, and they are powerful, it makes you very very happy. I thought I will go and see old people, but I saw young people dancing, singing, it was really great.”
Seeing an immigrant Kurdish community thrive was especially exciting for Darwish.

“Before I came to Israel, I thought, no, nobody helps us, no one gives us anything. But now that I was there, and I saw the people, I say why not, these people are Kurdish, and they are strong, and they get help from Israel. And I think that between Kurdistan and Israel the relation is very good."

Read article in full

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Iraq clinging to Jewish archive is a bad joke

 Linda Menuhin, central figure of 'Shadow in Baghdad', together with the film's director, Duki Dror, at the Haifa premiere on 22 September

Powerful piece in JIMENA's Jerusalem Post blog  by Linda Menuhin arguing against the return of the 'Jewish archive' to Iraq. Linda is the central character of a new film, 'Shadow in Baghdad', honouring the memory of her father, who disappeared in 1972.

"More than 40 years have passed since I fled Iraq, yet Iraq has never left me. Time and again I earnestly tried to bury my past, without much success. This year on Yom Kippur I honored my father's memory with a sense of fulfillment.

"On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1972 my father, a distinguished lawyer in Iraq, disappeared. He was the first Jewish person to disappear during the Ba’athist regime’s years in power. In 2003, as U.S. troops entered Iraq, and the Ba’athist regime was toppled, denial of my father’s destiny was no longer an option. During that time, the memory of Iraq became a steady visitor at my home in Israel. All my energy became focused on deciphering the clues of my father’s disappearance. Friends all over the world, including some inside Iraq, tried to help trace documents that might give us a clear idea of what happened to him.

"This long lasting search for my father is the center of a new feature documentary, Shadow in Baghdad, by award-winning filmmaker Duki Dror. It took Mr. Dror four years to complete this film. For me, this story is a journey that I carry every day of my life. Documents helped me reconstruct my father's image and paved the way to a rational understanding of what happened to him.

"Documents are part and parcel of human history. They provide living memory that registers an entire community’s existence. To this end I am looking forward to visiting the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) exhibition, Discovery and Recovery, which will feature Jewish Iraqi documents seized by the American troops in 2003. This exhibition, which will open on October 11th, might present a balanced view of my life in Baghdad while highlighting the positive cultural relics of my living Iraqi-Jewish community and our ancestors.

"The exhibition may help me develop lost memories. Were it not for the recovery and rehabilitation of the Jewish archive, these documents would have been forever lost in the sewage water of Sadaam Hussein's secret police headquarters where they were found. While the U.S. government has rehabilitated and digitized these Jewish documents, they are committed to returning the originals back to Iraq despite the fact that there is no longer a Jewish community left there. It saddens me that the majority of Iraqi Jews will never be able to see the documents within the archive as Iraq does not allow Israeli citizens into the country.

"Some of these documents, like student records from the Frank Iny School, belong to Iraqi Jews, like myself, who are now living scattered around the world. This is not to mention religious books confiscated from Iraqi synagogues by the Ba'athist regime. Some of these books belonged to Jews who were afraid to carry them while fleeing the country illegally.

"Why would Iraq insist on retrieving this Jewish communal treasure while the country is ravaged by factional warfare? If Iraq cannot protect its own people how on earth can it protect documents of a living community it persecuted? The concept of Iraqis clinging to these Jewish documents and claiming them as part of Iraq's national heritage is a bad joke."

Read article in full 

Please sign petition if you haven't already!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

BBC TV mentions exodus from Egypt


The BBC trailer for Episode 5 of 'Story of the Jews' highlighted the sequence dealing with the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria and Schama's interview with Cairo-resident Levana Zamir, whose uncle was arrested for 'Zionism'. (32 mins into the video)

 It's possibly the first time that the expulsion of Jews from Muslim countries has ever been mentioned on BBC TV.

The trailer for Episode 5 of the historian Simon Schama's acclaimed epic 'Story of the Jews' begins with a clip filmed inside the majestic, but now empty, Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria. (The Shama family once had a pew here - perhaps that is why Schama is keen to tell viewers about it).

There follows an interview with Levana Zamir, indefatigable presidient of the association of Jews from Egypt in Israel. Levana tells Schama of her trauma, aged 10, when Egyptian officers came and rifled through her house, and arrested her uncle on charges of being a Zionist.

 It is good that Schama mentions that life was not always easy for Jews in Muslim lands before the establishment of Israel. Hard to judge the programme on the basis of a two-minute clip, but this programme, the last of the series, shows every sign of living up to expectations.

'Story of the Jews' airs tomorrow (Sunday 29 September) at 9 pm UK time on BBC 2.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Confessions of an Iranian canary

" Like a canary in a houseful of cats": that's how Kooshyar Karimi describes the predicament of a Jew in Iran. A doctor and the son of a Jewish orphan mother, Karimi has just published a book: 'I confess' to  publicise the precariousness of minority existence under the Islamic regime. Karimi's book - dedicated to Habib Elghanian, the Jewish businessman executed after the 1979 revolution - is an atonement for being forced to spy on his fellow Jews, resulting in the arrest of some. He was eventually granted asylum in Australia. Ynet News has the story:

Karimi described the hardships of growing up Jewish in Iran, living in constant fear, trying to run a double life aimed at concealing his religious affiliation. It's "like walking a minefield," he recalls.

He credits his faith as enabling him to survive. In his book he ascribes his survival to his "great faith" in God. He also recalls hearing about Israel and that each person has a destiny, it was then he decided to be a doctor.

Karimi's mother married a Muslim man who was already married to two other women. When she was pregnant, he moved her into a cellar where she effectively raised her children on her own. In wake of the family's poor economic condition, Karimi found his first job at the age of five, working in all manner of odd jobs – from selling watermelons to fixing bicycles. In the meantime, his mother maintained an affair with another man who financially assisted the family.  
His mother's secret affair put Karimi's life in direct danger, because adultery is illegal in Iran. According to him, despite all his mother's shortcomings, she symbolized the perseverance of Iranian Jews. She was the perfect combination of determination and resourcefulness, he noted, claiming his mother taught him to see beauty and love in everything. It was these, he asserted, that helped him survive Teheran's dark alleys.  

עטיפת הספר

Karimi studied medicine and specialized in emergency care. His studies put him in contact with a group of desolate women, the majority of whom were pregnant as a result of rape. In his book he reveals one of his best kept secrets – as a doctor he performed more than 200 abortions, and in some cases even performed hymen reconstruction surgery for young rape victims.

"Rape is a very common thing in the Middle East, especially in Iran," he said, explaining that rape victims are usually shamed and as a result large percentages of them commit suicide."

Abortions are considered un-Islamic by Iranian law, and Karimi was putting his life at risk when choosing a writer's career, which made it harder to escape public scrutiny.

In 1998, he was arrested and severely tortured for a period of two months. He eventually cracked and agreed to spy for the authorities in reporting about Jews around him, including his family. He then decided to flee to Turkey.

Karimi wasn't the only one. In an interview with Australian TV last year he said that many Iranians are forced to lead a double life, as many things are forbidden. Prohibitions notwithstanding, people drink alcohol and have sex, Karimi noted, adding that when everything is forbidden, people rebel purposefully.

  His book, "I Confess," was dedicated to Habib Elghanian, the first Jew who was executed in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Karimi said his mother was arrested after the book was published and was released 28 days later due to health problems. He noted that despite the arrest, she informed him she was doing well and that she was in full support of him. He said he intended to write another book, which will focus on rape victims in Iran.

In 2000, following 13 months in Turkey, Karimi was granted refugee status by the UN. He was then granted an Australian visa, and moved to Sydney, where he practises medicine.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Syrian rebels destroy 'Jewish' tombs

With thanks Ahuva; Jeremy

The Iranian-sponsored Press TV has been featuring a clip showing the shocking sight of hooded men with axes demolishing 'Jewish' tombs in the district of Aleppo a few days ago.

The clip links the vandalism to the earlier destruction of a Christian village. The report is obviously intended to discredit the jihadist rebels. In May 2013, supporters of the Iranian regime protested the destruction by jihadists of a Shia Mosque.

According to The Times of Israel, "Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists reportedly demolished several ancient Jewish mausoleums in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The graves were located in the historical town of Tadif, according to the semi-official Iranian FARS news agency and other Iranian news outlets. The terrorists reportedly belong to the al-Qaeda-backed al-Nusra Front.

"A tomb said to be that of Ezra the Scribe is located in the town. It is unclear if it was one of the damaged grave sites."

Update (with thanks: Ahuva):  the tombs may not be Jewish at all, as their green colour suggests they might be Muslim. This article (Hebrew) suggests that Iranian propaganda against the Sunni jihadists has a vested interest in describing the tombs as Jewish.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rouhani unexpectedly condemns Holocaust

Handshake or no handshake with President Obama, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, on his visit to the New York UN General Assembly, has unexpectedly broken with his predecessor by condemning the Nazi Holocaust. Rouhani's condemnation has been seen as part of a 'charm offensive' that has left Israel isolated. The Times of Israel reports:

Hasan Rouhani, the Iranian president, interviewed on CNN, September 24, 2013 (photo : YouTube screenshot)

In a major break from his predecessor, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani on Wednesday condemned the Holocaust as a crime against humanity in a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour.

“I am not a historian and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect,” Rouhani said during his visit to New York, choosing not to relate to the scope of the Holocaust.
“But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable,” CNN translated the newly elected president saying.
Earlier in the evening, before the interview aired on the US cable news channel, Rouhani spoke at length about “violence and extremism” and his country’s nuclear program before the UN General Assembly.
Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, repeatedly during his eight-year, two-term presidency, derided the mass murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany as a “myth” and a “great deception of the Holocaust” generated by Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli delegates to walk out of the UN General Assembly during Rouhani’s speech. He later defended his decision, saying their presence “would have given legitimacy to a regime that does not accept that the Holocaust happened and publicly declares its desire to wipe Israel off the map.”
As Israel’s prime minister, he said, “I won’t allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations charade by a regime that denies that Holocaust and calls for our destruction.”

Update: Media watchdog CAMERA argues that Rouhani's remarks about the Holocaust were mistranslated.Report also here.

Read article in full 

Reaction of Iranian Jews (YNetnews)

No NGO like Zochrot for Jewish refugees

 Jewish refugees arriving in Israel from an Arab country

With  less than a week to go before the opening of the Zochrot bi-annual conference advocating the Palestinian 'right of return' of millions of Arab refugees to Israel, battle lines between its supporters and detractors have been drawn.

Zochrot ('remembrance') is a leftist group which aims to gain recognition and accountability in Israel for the Palestinian 'Nakba'.

Its conference is provocatively scheduled to take place on 29 and 30 September at the Eretz Israel Museum in the heart of Ramat Aviv, the supposed site of Sheikh Munis, an Arab village whose 2,000 inhabitants fled the 1948 war.

Efforts to get the conference shut down have so far failed.  Im Tirzu, a Zionist group, has been trying to get Zochrot itself shut down for advocating the destruction of Israel by altering its Jewish character.

NGO Monitor has published a report pointing to European government funding for the Zochrot conference. The sponsors, mainly religious foundations, have been evasive about disclosing how much of the European taxpayer's money they were contributing to Zochrot. Two organisations denied they were supporting the conference, but have not withdrawn their names. 

An article in Haaretz has dismissed criticism of Zochrot's campaign for Palestinian refugees as 'envy'. But Zvi Gabay, also writing in Haaretz ('The selective memory of Zochrot' - Hebrew) says that the Palestinian Nakba must be viewed alongside the parallel tragedy of Jewish refugees forced from Arab countries. Gabay is envious of the fact that the Palestinian refugees have an NGO to fight for their interests in Israel. No such group exists in Iraq - or in any Arab country - to fight for the rights of the much greater number of Jewish refugees.

Lyn Julius writing in the Times of Israel says that a conference for Jewish refugees happening in Baghdad would be unthinkable. The participants would be run out of the city.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sephardi chief rabbi 'goes political'

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef speaking at the Shas rally (photo: Israel Hayom)

Only a week after being crowned Rishon lezion, the newly-elected chief Sephardi rabbi may be facing a run-in with Israeli law Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, son of the ailing ex-chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spoke at a rally for the orthodox Shas party. From Israel Hayom (with thanks: Michelle):

This past Saturday night, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef participated in a political rally for Shas in Bnei Brak marking the beginning of the local elections -- in violation of the law. 

The event took place at the Armonot Chen hall, and according to those present, was divided into two parts: The first part, during which the rabbis gave speeches calling to strengthen the support for Shas in the ultra-Orthodox city, and the second part, which featured traditional dancing. The rally, according to those taking part, was entirely political, and included the participation of rabbis and Shas officials. The guest of honor was supposed to be Aryeh Deri, but he was not available due to former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's illness. 

One of the highlights of the event was when the new chief rabbi, who is Ovadia's son, delivered a speech about the Torah and spiritual strength. However, according to clause 42.322 of the civil service regulations, Yosef was not allowed to participate in the rally at all because he is considered to be "a state employee, who ranks as one of the four highest positions in the administrative leadership." As such, he is subject to the "prohibition of participation in the public gatherings of political parties or of any political body as a lecturer on any topic, due to the fact that the appearance of the employee on a party stage may create the impression of party affiliation," as is written in the regulations. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Does Iraq deserve the "Jewish archive"?

A letter sent in 1918 by the British military governor to the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad. This 'Jewish archive' document is among thousands recently restored in the US and slated for return to Iraq

Ben Cohen has a dream: in a JNS article - already re-published in the Arabic press - he wishes he could take his family to visit the National Archives Museum in Baghdad to see the 'Jewish archive'along with Iraqi schoolchildren. However, he recognises that so deep is Iraq's hatred for Jews that his dream will never be realised. My dream is more ambitious: that Iraqi schoolchildren should be allowed to see the archive in the Babylonian Heritage Center in Israel where most Iraqi Jews now live.

Reminder: If you haven't already, please sign the petition asking the US not to send the Jewish archive back to Iraq!

 A few years ago, in response to a Palestinian critic who made a disparaging remark about the fact that I don't speak Arabic, I felt compelled to write an article explaining why that is the case. I said that under different circumstances, I could have been born in an Arab country and grown up speaking Arabic. My father's family had been settled in Iraq for generations, but they fled to England in 1941, the same year that Baghdad's Jews were convulsed by a June pogrom known as the farhud, presaging a much larger exodus of Iraqi Jews over the next decade.

Among my father and his relatives, there was little nostalgia for the old country, and therefore no reason, as they saw it, to ensure that their children born outside Iraq learned Arabic. It's not that they didn't appreciate the centrality of Iraq to Jewish history; this was the land where the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) was completed, where scholarship flowed from the Jewish academies of Sura and Pumbedita (now the city of Fallujah, site of some the most brutal fighting during the war in Iraq), and where, in modern times, Jewish merchants flourished alongside Jewish writers and musicians.

Yet there were also more\nrecent memories of Iraq, uglier and sharper. The farhud, a word which Edwin Black, the author of a fine book on the  subject, translates as 'violent dispossession' cast a pall over relations between the Jews and their Muslim neighbors, and the mistrust deepened because of the support of many ordinary Arabs for Hitler's Nazi regime. During the 1950s, anti-Semitic legislation and property confiscation forced the departure of the majority of Iraq's Jews, but the small remnant who stayed were not immune from persecution. In 1969, the Ba'ath Party fascists ruling Iran executed 11 Jews on trumped-up charges of spying, transporting Iraqis from all over the country to Baghdad to watch the gruesome spectacle of a public hanging.

Since these images are seared into the minds of Iraqi Jews, it doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to understand why the vast majority wouldn't consider returningthere even if they could, and therefore why there are vibrant Iraqi Jewish communities in cities like Tel Aviv, New York, and London, but not Baghdad or Basra. Indeed, the break with the mother country is so irreparable that Iraqi Jews are of one mind when it comes to the current controversy over whether the United States should return an archive of Iraqi Jewish treasures to the Iraqi government: it absolutely should not do so.

The archive of books, photographs, scrolls, writings and communal documents, including one item that dates back to 1568, was discovered by American troops in Baghdad in 2003, as they combed through the flooded basement in the headquarters of Saddam Hussein's much-feared secret police.

Lyn Julius, a London-based writer and advocate on behalf of Jewish communities from the Arab world, has noted that the archive was seized by Saddam's henchmen from the Bataween synagogue in Baghdad, in 1984. If the archive was stolen from its Jewish guardians at gunpoint, why on earth would the State Department, which has spent millions of dollars lovingly restoring its contents, return it to the Iraqi government? Simply because that government has suddenly decided that the archive constitutes, as one Iraqi representative put it, "part of our identity and history"? Or because the U.S. feels duty-bound to respect an agreement it made at the time to return the archive?

 Julius and other advocates on behalf of Iraqi Jews make a strong case that returning the archive essentially involves restoring stolen property to those who stole it. Instead,they say, the archive should sit with its rightful owners themselves, the close-knit Iraqi Jewish communities spread around Israel and the countries of the West. On moral and legal grounds,I cannot counter this position. But here is a confession: I wish I could.

 I wish I could envisage the sight of the archive on display in a Baghdad museum, much as it will be at the National Archives in Washington next month, with crowds of schoolchildren gathering to learn about the great community that lived among their great-grandparents. I wish I could organize a family trip to Iraq to see that hypothetical exhibition, safe in the knowledge that what is being shown belongs to our community, and that we are sharing it with the other ethnic and religious groups among whom we lived.

Read article in full

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Jewish MP to accompany President Rouhani

Ciamak MorehSedgh greets Sayyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

When under international pressure, show how tolerant you are to your minorities.Well, that seems to be Iran's strategy. Enter arch-dhimmi Siamak MorehSedgh (Morsadegh), Iran's sole Jewish Parliamentarian to vouch for the absence of antisemitism in his country. The Times of Israel reports:

The Jewish parliament member set to accompany Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to a UN summit in New York next week is a critic of Israel who has dubbed its treatment of Palestinians “inhuman.”

 Siamak Moreh Sedgh, a medical doctor and the sole Jewish member of Iran’s 290-strong Majlis (parliament), told Reuters in May 2008 that Iran’s Jewish community would not mark Israel’s 60th anniversary. “We are in complete disagreement with the behavior of Israel,” Moreh Sedgh told the news agency, adding that in Gaza Israel displayed “anti-human behavior… they kill innocent people.”

 Prior to his selection as the Jewish representative to parliament in March 2008, Moreh Sedgh headed the country’s Jewish community, estimated at 9,000 according to a 2012 census. Five seats in parliament are reserved for Iran’s recognized religious minorities — one for a Jew, two for Christians and two for Zoroastrians.

 In an interview with Russia Today in 2010, Moreh Sedgh denied that anti-Semitism existed in Iran, claiming it was a uniquely European phenomenon. He highlighted the affiliation of the country’s Jews to Iranian culture, noting that he had served 12 months at the front during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

 “Jews are safe in Iran. That’s true. Nobody needs guards. There has never been a single instance of anti-Semitism in Iranian society. This phenomenon belongs to the European, Christian world. There is no anti-Semitic sentiment in Iran. We have no attacks on synagogues or cemeteries as happens in Paris. Just so you know, there are 15 synagogues in Tehran,” he said.

 Raz Zimmt, an Iran expert at Tel Aviv University’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, said this would not be the first time representatives of Iran’s religious minorities accompany the president to the UN gathering.

In 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad brought along the five minority parliamentarians with him to the summit. “This is supposed to express [Iran's] so-called tolerance toward religious minorities,” Zimmt told The Times of Israel.

Read article in full

Friday, September 20, 2013

Celebrating Succot, Iraqi-style

With thanks: Janet

Jews eating in a Succah or booth (photo: BeyondBelief)

The festival of Succot is currently in full swing, and to celebrate here is a  piyut or  psalm sung in the Iraqi  style by Rabbi Yehuda Ovadia- Ftaya.

Listen out for the darbuka drum solo towards the end of the clip.

The  piyut is called Succah  ve Lulav. The Succah is the booth which Jews build every year to recall the 40 years during which the Children of Israel spent wandering in the desert before they were allowed to enter the Promised Land. Jews are enjoined to dwell in the Succah for eight days. The clip shows various Succot open to the sky with palm fronds laid across the roof.

The Lulav is a palm frond tied together with willow and myrtle. It is shaken together with an etrog, or type of outsize lemon.

Moadim lesimha to all who are celebrating the festival.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The awakening of the non-Arab Spring

Syrian Kurds demonstrate

It may not make headlines, but the process of national awakening by non-Arab groups in the Middle East is at least as important as the push by Arabs in the Middle East for freedom from authoritarian rule, writes Ari Soffer in Israel National News. 

 The ongoing rebellion against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad both captivates and confuses audiences throughout the world. The patchwork of competing ethnic and religious identities, claims, grievances and enmity defies the limited western conception of Syria as a homogenous "nation-state," and has pundits, politicians and the general public alike scrambling to find an simple explanation for the conflict.

 Increasingly, the bloodshed has been framed as the mutation of the "Arab Spring" into a new and bloody chapter of the Islamic civil war between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. But while that may be true to a great extent, attempting to frame the conflict in such terms is still something of an oversimplification - as is the very portrayal of the current regional upheaval as a purely "Arab" affair.

 Indeed, the so-called "Arab Spring" has seen many non-Arab nations play a significant role in the changing face of the Middle East and North Africa - as well as reaping the outcomes, both positive and negative, of popular revolutions throughout the region.

 For example in Libya, the Amagizh (Berbers) are undergoing a national renaissance of sorts, rediscovering their national identity and pride after casting off the yoke of the Gaddafi regime, which sought to forcibly Arabize them, as well. Under Colonel Gaddafi, their language and cultural symbols were banned, and their very identity bizarrely dismissed as some kind of "colonial relic" by the tyrannical leader of the "Libyan Arab Jamahiriya."

 There is one nation which has capitalized on the weakening post-colonial state boundaries perhaps more than any other. And then there is the plight of Egypt' s Coptic Christian community - which has received slightly better coverage in the western media, if only as a sad "sideshow" to the wider unrest.

Copts are both religiously and ethnically distinct from the Arab majority in that country, have played a significant part in successive popular uprisings. Their efforts have been "repaid" via a brutal backlash by Islamist groups resentful of such assertiveness by a non-Muslim community. The Kurds are the largest indigenous Middle Eastern nation without a state. Their homeland, Kurdistan, is currently occupied by Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, although Kurds in northern Iraq have enjoyed an unprecedented level of autonomy since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

 To say that the Kurds received a raw deal when the colonial powers carved up the Middle East would be an understatement. For the past hundred years they have struggled for their rights against four different authoritarian states, experiencing a horrifying range of massacres and campaigns of discrimination and forced assimilation along the way.

  But the Syrian civil war has promised to change their situation dramatically. Kurds in Syria make up around 10% of the population, and are concentrated largely in the north of the country. For decades the "Syrian Arab Republic" - first under the rule of Hafez al-Assad and then under his son Bashar - denied their heritage and sought to erase their identity through a forced campaign of assimilation, or "Arabization."

It was a process which other non-Arab groups - from North Africa to Israel to Mesopotamia - are all too familiar with. But as the "popular revolution" in Syria morphed into a real military threat, the Assad government withdrew its forces from Kurdish regions to focus on defending the major cities and other areas that are closer to the regime's center of gravity.

 Seizing the opportunity, Kurdish militias quickly moved in to take control - in particular the People's Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Popular Democratic Union Party (PYD). Whilst some Kurds joined the largely Arab Free Syrian Army, Kurdish separatists such as the YPG promptly declared their opposition to both the regime and the rebel movement, both of whom they say aim to continue a process of discrimination and "Arabization" against the Kurdish people.

 Since then, Kurdish groups have managed to fend off a concerted campaign by Arab Islamist groups, expanding their control over Kurdish areas and leading to increased calls forKurdish autonomy. Those calls have seen states on both sides of the Arab civil war in Syria - most notably Turkey, which backs the FSA; and Iran, which backs Assad - switching schizophrenically between attempting to coax Kurdish groups into their orbit and actively sponsoring Arab groups opposed to Kurdish autonomy, in a desperate attempt to prevent the spread of a "Kurdish Spring" among their own Kurdish populations.

 The Kurdish experience - as well as those of the many other non-Arab nations of the Middle East is one that Israelis can, and indeed should, relate to. A national awakening after a prelonged period of subjugation and assimilation; the revival of a common language which was preserved but largely abandoned in favor of the language of the oppressor; the battle against pan-Arab and Islamist forces as they attempt to smother that national awakening at birth; the casting off of foreign Arabic place names in favor of their original ones; and the hypocritical and perverse dismissal of their very heritage as somehow embodying "western imperialism."

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Imagine this conference happening in Baghdad

Jewish refugees arriving from Arab countries in Israel by ship

A conference advocating the demise of Israel through the return of Palestinian refugees may take place in Tel Aviv at the end of September.  An equivalent conference about Jewish refugees could never happen in Baghdad, reflects Lyn Julius in The Times of Israel.

   From the Eretz Israel Museum the conference may still be moved to another, albeit less symbolic venue. If the event takes place, the organisers reap the publicity.

 If it is cancelled, the organisers will have pulled off a stunt to draw attention to their cause and make Israel look bad. They will milk an outright cancellation for all its worth as an assault on freedom of speech unworthy of a democracy.

 It’s a win-win situation. If the speakers coming from abroad are deemed personae non gratae and banned from entering the country at Ben Gurion airport, Zochrot will relish the attention. The media will have a field day condemning the fascist, apartheid Zionists. ‘Silly NGOs’ on the fringes of public opinion can yet wreak a great deal of havoc.

 Israeli institutions would be well advised to learn from this episode and do their homework next time a ‘silly NGO’ seeks permission to hire out their premises, albeit for private events. Meanwhile, the question remains as to how so many well-meaning churches and international NGOs have been hoodwinked into supporting an event advocating the destruction of a UN member state. Zochrot acknowledges funding from, among others, Misereor,Christian Aid, Finn Church Aid, Broederlijk Delen, AFSC, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Mennonite Central Committee, Trocaire, St. Het Solidariteitsfonds, Oxfam GB and private donors*.

 While wringing their hands about depopulated Sheikh Munis, these bodies and Zochrot remain ignorant, silent and unmoved by another, forgotten tragedy: the cleansing of scores of Arab cities of their substantial Jewish populations simply for being Jews. There are almost no Jews living in Baghdad, Cairo, Alexandria, Tripoli, Rabat, Damascus and Tunis today. Most exchanged places with the Palestinian refugees.

 Imagine for a moment if a Zochrot-style conference were held in Baghdad, where Jews, who numbered 80,000, were once the largest single ethnic group. On second thoughts, don’t. It would not be a pretty sight: the Jews would be run out of the city and would be lucky to escape with their lives.

 *Update: NGO Monitor has published a report on the funding of the Zochrot conference. It reveals that both Oxfam and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation have denied sponsoring the conference. Read article in full

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shafik Ades was hanged, 65 years ago

 With thanks: Lisette

There is a street named after Shafik Ades in Herzliya. There are two other towns in Israel with 'Shafik Ades' streets. But most people have not heard of him.

Yossi Alfi, a storyteller and talkshow host, once heard the mayor of one of the towns being interviewed on the radio. The mayor was being accused of being anti-Arab. "Me anti-Arab?" he exclaimed. " But I've even named a street in my town after an Arab!

Alfi was furious and rang in. " Ades was not an Arab, he was a Jew! In fact, he was hanged because he was a Jew! You can't get more Jewish than that!"

This clip by Dan Len (Hebrew)  tells the story of Shafik Ades, the richest and best-connected man in Iraq, who was accused of being a Zionist and ignominiously strung up on the gallows in front of his family home in Basra while the mob cheered.

 It was September 1948 - exactly 65 years ago. All his wealth and his connections couldn't save Ades. The execution of Ades sent shivers of fear down the spines of Iraq's Jews. If it could happen to Ades,  a friend of the Regent, a man whose sympathies could not be further from Zionism if he tried,  it could happen to them, they reasoned. Shafik Ades's execution was one of the main reasons why Iraq's Jews streamed out when they were given the chance - the vast majority to Israel.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lustick misunderstands 'Arab' Jews

Ian Lustick (pictured) might be a US professor of political science, but how much does he know about Israelis that he hasn't read in Haaretz? Jonathan Tobin blogging in Commentary takes him to task for a long New York Times feature on the 20th anniversary of the Oslo accords that can only be described, to quote blogger Elder of Ziyon, as 'science fiction'. Lustick shows a total misunderstanding of Israelis, and especially Jews from Arab countries, whom he thinks will revert to being Arabs when the Lustick nirvana of the one-state solution rises on the ashes of the state of Israel (with thanks: Eliyahu): 

They (the Israelis) also understand just how dishonest Lustick’s vision of a post-Zionist Middle East is. The professor claims Israel’s collapse will lead to an alliance between secular Palestinians and post-Zionist Jews (those Haaretz columnists) and others to build a secular democracy. He thinks the large percentage of Israelis whose families fled or were thrown out of Arab and Muslim countries (a refugee population that no one thinks to compensate for their losses) will come to think of themselves as Arabs. He also posits an alliance between anti-Zionist Haredim and Islamists. He claims Jews who want to live in the West Bank can be accommodated in the post-Zionist world. All this is nonsense.

Israeli Jews know the fate of non-Muslim minorities in the Arab and Muslim world. If Israel acknowledges that all Jews would be evacuated from a putative Palestinian state it is not because they agree with the Arab vision of a Judenrein entity but because even those on the left know the Jews there would last as long as the greenhouses left behind in Gaza in 2005. Those “Arab Jews” that Lustick thinks will be at home in the Greater Palestine he envisages know exactly what fate awaits them in a world where they are not protected by a Jewish army.

The problem with Lustick’s anti-Zionism is not just that it is built on such blatantly misleading proposals. It is that his determination to ignore the nature of Palestinian intolerance for Jews causes him not only to misunderstand why peace efforts have failed but also to be blind to the certainty that the end of Israel would lead to bloodshed and horror.

Much as it may disappoint the legion of Israel-haters and anti-Semites, as President Obama reminded them during his visit to the Jewish state earlier this year, the State of Israel “isn’t going anywhere.” As difficult as their plight may be in some respects, Israelis understand that they have no choice but to survive and to wait as long as it takes for the Palestinians to give up on dreams of their destruction. Unfortunately, that day is not brought closer by the decision of a prominent organ such as the Times to give such prominent placement to dishonest pieces that serve only to feed those noxious fantasies of Israel’s destruction.

Read article in full

Sunday, September 15, 2013

We're still here - Cairo Jewish leader

 Magda Haroun, seen here demonstrating her support for the military's fight against terrorism (photo: JTA)

 Magda Haroun, the new leader of Cairo's 14 Jewish ladies - all that's left of a 80, 000-strong Jewish community - is trying to put on a brave face for the media, in this case The Tablet. But in my opinion her insistence on her 'Egyptian-ness' will only complete a process her predecessor Carmen Weinstein started - to deliver the dying community's substantial property assets into the hands of the state.

The Sha’ar Hashamayim synagogue, on a perpetually clogged strip of Cairo’s Adly Street, looks like a fortress. Its high, gray walls are imprinted with colorless Stars of David and palm trees, and its rectangular windows are darkened to keep out the sun. A small courtyard between the offices and the main hall features a dry fountain. At the entrance, manned gates prevent unwanted foot traffic, and a room full of policemen interrogate each visitor.

 Magda Haroun, the recently installed leader of Cairo’s tiny Jewish Community Council, acknowledges the building is sober. Today, it serves about 14 people, all women and all, except for Magda and her sister, Nadia, in their eighties. Because the women married non-Jews, their children are not considered Jewish by the Egyptian state, which assigns religion according to the father and makes it very difficult to officially convert from Islam. “We are a dying community,” she told me. Dying, maybe, but not dead, even in the wake of the seizures that have gripped Egypt this year.

 Haroun and I met on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, as she was preparing for the service to be conducted by a young American Jew living in Cairo. Her two grown daughters, both Muslim like their father, had taken the week off of work for the holiday; one had flown in from Cyprus carrying a shofar.

“By the time I was old enough to marry there were no Jewish men,” Haroun told me, in a characteristically matter-of-fact way. “And besides, I fell in love with a Muslim.” Her current husband—her second—is a Catholic. Haroun speaks rapidly, transitioning easily between French, Arabic, and English, and seems always on the brink of either a giggle or a deep sigh. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of Cairo’s remaining Jews—”My babies, I call them”—their health, their living situations, the health of their children.

“One of them lives with her daughter and grandchildren in one room,” she said, closing her eyes in concentration. “The daughter is also a widow. Another lives with her daughter who has two daughters and a son. The son is sick. She’s also a widow, and she has cancer. One is not married. One is divorced. Another is divorced, no children. So, they’re alone.”

 Haroun’s predecessor, Carmen Weinstein—who died earlier this year—was notoriously guarded. She rarely spoke to the press, and her events were known to be exclusive, designed to attract officials she thought could help her community. “She wanted to keep the community in the darkness,” Haroun told me. “She did it so well that Egyptians forgot that there are Jews in Egypt.” There were reasons for exclusivity that went beyond fundraising and prestige.

Weinstein was protective of Cairo’s Jews, anxious for their safety even at a time of relative stability—some would say oppression—under Mubarak and years before Islamists had any hope of taking over the government. Weinstein became so synonymous with Cairo’s Jews—her fights for property rights and the restoration of Jewish landmarks are legendary among both supporters and opponents—that when she died in April it seemed the community might bury itself along with her. Haroun’s “babies” were anxious. They had lost their leader, the streets were full of protesters, and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood seemed firmly in power.

“It was as if the sky was falling on my head,” Haroun said. Still, as soon as she was elected, Haroun threw open the curtains. In a telephone interview with a local television channel on the subject of Weinstein’s death, Haroun reached out to all of Cairo. “I said, ‘I call upon all Egyptians. If they want to come and share with us our sorrow, they are more than welcome.’”

Read article in full

Friday, September 13, 2013

Placing the colonial boot on the Arab foot

The post-colonial orthodoxy - that Arab Muslims cannot be colonisers - is being seriously challenged by the French historian Georges Bensoussan. Yes they can, he argues, and the Jews who lived under Muslim rule were the colonised. Lyn Julius explains in the Harif Clash of Cultures blog (Jerusalem Post):

It's been 46 years since the late French Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson published his influential essay, and later book: "Israel : colonial settler state? "

Reinforced by Israel's 1967 'occupation of Palestinian territories', and its auxiliary Apartheid myth, 'Israel: colonial settler state?' cemented the trope that Zionism was a European movement to displace the native Arab inhabitants of Palestine.
 Historian Georges Bensoussan (Photo: Gerard Cattan)

Now another French historian, Georges Bensoussan, threatens to stand the notion of 'Jewish colonialism' on its head: it is the Jews who lived under Muslim rule who were the true victims of colonialism.

His book, "Juifs en pays arabes: le grand deracinement 1850 - 1975 " published in 2012 in French, examines the reason why the Arab world was emptied of its Jews in barely a generation. Since most fled as refugees to the Jewish state from the Arab and Muslim world and now constitute at least half Israel's Jews, the question has huge implications for the Israel-Arab conflict.

Moroccan-born Bensoussan, who made his name as a Holocaust historian, argues that the Jews have been colonised thrice over.

The first wave of colonisation was Arab-Muslim. By the time the Arab conquerors had swept over the Middle East and North Africa, the Jews had been living in the region for 1,000 years.

Under Islam, according to the eighth-century Pact of Omar, indigenous Jews and Christians were permitted to practise as long as they acquiesced to the 'dhimmi' condition of inferiority and institutionalised humiliation. Dhimmis were exploited for specific talents and skills.

Bensoussan observes that the Islamic order was built on a 'colonial' notion - submission. The Muslim submits to Allah, the Muslim woman submits to her husband, the non-Muslim dhimmi submits to the Muslim. At the very bottom of the pile is the slave. Women, minorities and slaves are curiously absent from Edward Said’s postcolonial ‘bible’, "Orientalism", Bensoussan notes.

There were times when Jews could, and did, thrive, but Bensoussan puts paid to the assumption that Arab antisemitism is an understandable backlash to the creation of Israel in 1948. He produces incontrovertible evidence that, 100 years before Israel was established, most Jews in Arab and Muslim lands lived in misery and fear.

Dhimmi status was most strictly applied in Morocco, Yemen and Persia – parts of the Muslim world barely touched by European colonisation. Jews were regularly mobbed, robbed, their possessions looted, beaten up on the slightest pretext, or  false charge brought by a jealous neighbour. Jews were feminised in the Muslim imagination - cowardly, submissive, unable to stand up for themselves.

The second wave of colonisation – by the European powers - 'liberated' the Jews from the strictures of dhimmitude. In Algeria, the Jews even gained French citizenship. But in order not to antagonise the Muslim population, examples abound of anti-Jewish pogroms which the colonial forces of law and order were in no hurry to quell.

For Bensoussan, the post-1948 exodus of almost a million Jews in one generation was not a break with the Muslim world, it was an 'aggravated divorce'. The process began a century earlier when Jews began educating their children in western-oriented Alliance Israelite schools. What started as a crack became a gap, then a chasm.

Arguably, 19th century life was nasty and brutish for all, not just the Jews, but upward Jewish social mobility inverted the traditional pecking order. Jews were seen not just as collaborators with European colonialism, but had become 'too big for their boots'. The Muslim Arabs lagged behind in literacy by at least a generation.

Blood-and-soil Arab nationalism refused to admit Jews (and Christians, for that matter, unless they converted to Islam) as full participants. As the great Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi put it: "We would have liked to be Arab Jews, but the Arabs prevented it with their contempt and cruelty."

With the rise of Arab nationalism came marginalisation, exclusion and strangulation of Jews (and other minorities). The last 60 years saw a mass exodus. The Jews were dispossessed on the way out.

The third of type of colonisation belongs to the history books. The history of the Jewish people has been written by western historians; according to Bensoussan, oriental Jewish history has been crushed under the weight of the Holocaust. Even the Jewish museum in Paris, which might be expected to reflect a community originating primarily in North Africa, has reduced their history to folklore - with its displays of jewellery and traditional bridal costumes.

Bensoussan's great achievement is not just to blow out of the water the myth of Arab-Jewish coexistence predating the creation of Israel, but unfashionably to place the colonial boot on the Arab foot.

Since publishing his book, Bensoussan has had to contend with bien pensant denial (the prevalent post-colonial assumption is that the third world victims of western colonialists can never be seen as oppressors in their own right). He has met resistance from both Arabs and Jews.

Arab historians blame the Jews for causing their own suffering. Jews who deny Arab antisemitism usually lived a charmed life in the European quarters of Arab cities. Bensoussan cautions that reminiscence makes for unreliable history.

All in all, Bensoussan has dropped a bombshell of a book. A sovereign Jewish state in the land of Israel begins to look like the liberation of a colonised, indigenous people from 14 centuries of subjugation. Will Bensoussan have the impact on western intellectual thinking that Maxime Rodinson had, 46 years ago?

Read article in full

Crossposted at Harry's Place 
and the Algemeiner

With thanks for these fascinating links (French): Ahuva

Bensoussan speaking about his book

 La condition juive en orient avant 1914 (Akadem lecture)

Le Sionisme et la desalienation du juif (Akadem)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Give Jews of Iran full civil rights

 Former President Khatami visits a Jewish synagogue in Tehran

Assuming that it was President Rouhani himself who Tweeted New Year greetings to the Jewish community, Jerrold Sobel writes in the Israeli Advocate (no online link) that the gesture would have far more meaning if Iran extended full civil rights to its Jews (with thanks: Tom Gross):

Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-Syrian scholar and president of the International American Council on the Middle East.  He presently serves on the advisory board of the Harvard International Review.  Last week Front Page Magazine published an article written by him entitled: “Humanitarian Tragedy:  Iran’s Beleaguered Jewish Community”

According to Mr. Rafizadeh, at the outset of Khomeini’s rise to power he sought support from the influential Jewish community by  professing the Jewish people in Iran should enjoy the same citizenship rights as every other citizen.  But once the Shah was deposed those rights never materialized.  Almost immediately, both Khomeini and the ruling Mullahs began arresting the most prominent Jewish leaders and businessmen, many of which were accused of spying for Israel and soon executed.  Seeing the handwriting on the wall, those that could, particularly the wealthy began a mass emigration to both the United States and Israel.

In a Parliament of  290 seats, 3 or 1.1 percent are represented by Jews which are not elected but appointed.  None however are allowed to occupy key governmental positions.  Constitutionally, Jews cannot hold decision making positions such as being a member of the influential Guardian Council, a Commander in the Iranian Army, or serve as the President of the nation.  Furthermore, they are not allowed to serve as judges at any level nor assist in the judicial and legislative systems.  The author concludes by stating these “laws based on the Quran, and Shari’a law only begin to encompass the deep-rooted religious inequality of the region.”  Some disagree.

“They have no problems, praise God,” said Rabbi Yitzhak Ba’al Haness who before emigrating to the United States in 1990 was the chief Rabbi of the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz.  Neglecting to mention the arrest and imprisonment of several of his former students on trumped up charges of spying for Israel, the Rabbi went on to say: “Life is perfectly fine and there have never been any problems.”  When asked why he left, he replied because his children went to the United States to study in American yeshivot and he just followed.  Once again, oh skeptical me.  When questioned, former congregants in the Shiraz Jewish community felt the Rabbi, fearing for his life, more fled than emigrated.

The director of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, Dr. Esther Webman concurs: “There's still a very basic fear.  You can't paint a fantastic picture showing everything is alright....“Jews have to follow very clear and rigid rules.”

Others argue, with 30 active Synagogues in Teheran, despite the aforementioned, on a comparative basis Jews are tolerated far better in Iran than in most, if not all other Islamic countries in both the Middle East and Africa.  If you wish to use toleration as a measuring stick they’re right.

However, in an interview given to a reporter from the Institute for War and Peace, Moshe Hakimi, a Jewish man living in Iran’s second largest city Mashhad paints a different picture.  He had this to say:  “Every newborn is told from his first years of life that we are living in times of crisis and that they must lead a double life.  They are told we must not talk about our personal lives in front of non-Jewish people.  This absolute secrecy becomes second nature after reaching puberty.”  Some feel so threatened that many choose to convert to Islam, but continue to practice Judaism in secret.  As previously referenced, they too became known as “Crypto Jews.”

He goes on to say:  “All Jewish converts to Islam have two names: for example, my grandfather's Muslim name was Sheikh Aboulghasem and his Hebrew name was Benjamin.  My father's Muslim name was Ebrahim and his Hebrew name was Abraham. Outside they call me Mousa and at home, I'm called Moshe.  In my father's lifetime, many of the Jews had very Muslim names. They even went to Mecca on pilgrimage and became Hadjis.”

Further accentuating the deprivations of Jewish life in post revolution Iran, a female student named Sepideh had this to say about her chances of getting married to a Jewish man:  “There are almost no educated Jewish boys left in Iran to consider for marriage.  Emigration is the last resort that we must consider so that maybe we can experience a future free of restrictions.”

All things considered, Rouhani’s gesture wishing the Jews of Iran a blessed Rosh Hashanah is welcomed.  Duplicitous or not, such words would never have left the lips of the unabashed antisemite Ahmadinejad.  However if Rouhani truly seeks a rapprochement with his Jewish citizenry he should begin extending them full civil, political, economic, and social rights.  Likewise, ceasing the constant defamation of Israel would go a long way in breaking the rigid climate of fear and antisemitism Jews live under as second class citizens.  Actions such as these would belie skepticism and really mean a L’Shana Tovah; a good year, to the Jewish community of Iran.

BBC corrects estimates of Iranian Jewish population (BBC Watch)

Iran: where are your missing Jews?

 Jews pray in Shiraz

We don't need your New Year greetings, Iran. Put your money where your Tweets are! Michael Rubin blogging in Commentary tells Iran to come clean and tell us what happened to its missing Iranian Jews (with thanks: Eliyahu):

Iran’s new foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif eventually took credit for the Twitter stunt. By doing so, he not only seems to guarantee himself an appointment at Princeton or Harvard should he ever end up on the foul side of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but he appears to be pushing a strategy that Rouhani and former Khatami-era spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh once bragged about: Speak softly until the West lowers its guard, and then use the easing of pressure to push forward with Iran’s own special projects.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical, having studied for too long patterns of Iranian deception for a chapter of my forthcoming book. So, it would be nice if those willing to grasp Iran’s outstretched hands would ask Zarif, Rouhani, and the true leadership of Iran—Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Suleimani—to resolve the problem of Iran’s missing Jews.

During the 1990s—the reign of “pragmatist” Rafsanjani and “reformist” Khatami—security forces arrested several Jews who sought to flee Iran into Pakistan. Several were spotted subsequently in Iranian prisons. Here is the Simon Wiesenthal Center action alert from several years ago:

Between 1994 and 1997, 11 Jews, at the time ranging from 15 years of age to 57, were detained while attempting to cross the border from Iran into Pakistan seeking to be reunited with their families and in hopes of finding a secure future and a life of freedom. In addition, in February 1997, a Jewish businessman living in Tehran disappeared while visiting a provincial capital and has not been heard from since. The families of the disappeared have been virtually unable to get any information from the authorities as to the whereabouts of their loved ones. Several eyewitnesses (former Iranian intelligence officials who are now living in the West) claim they have seen some of the missing in Iranian jails and others in a detention center, but to date nothing has been substantiated. Several years ago, two credible Iranian officials privately assured a family member in Iran that the men were alive and had been transported to a prison in Tehran.

The appeal was delivered to Zarif while he was still Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. While it’s all well and good to applaud Zarif’s tweet, perhaps those who are seeking to draw broad conclusions from it might consider demanding the new government put its money where its tweets are, and come clean about what they have done to the missing Jews.

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Being 'frank' about Mizrahim

Avram Piha stumbles upon instances of lingering discrimination and prejudice in Israeli life - such as the derogatory term 'frank' for French-speaking North African Jews. But voting for the Sephardi orthodox Shas party is no solution. There's nothing that education, that perennial Jewish value, can't iron out. He blogs in the Times of Israel:

It was just another debate in my office. Opinions were flying, and one coworker uttered something that floored me: “I would be devastated if my children married Mizrachim.” I just looked at him. I wasn’t sure how to respond, and don’t remember how I did in the end … but it bothered me for a while. Was this train of thought common in Israel amongst the various ethnic groups?
On my drive to work, I stopped and offered a guy a tremp (hitchhike). He asked me how I was, and I responded, “Exhausted, slichot just started.” He looked at me, “Are you a frank?” I just stared at him in disbelief. Now, had he said this before the elections of this past year, I’d have had no idea that this term is a derogatory one for Sefardim and Mizrachim. However, when Yair Lapid almost blurted out the whole word on a live television interview when discussing the population Shas helps, it became a topic of discussion and I learned the meaning. I pretended it hadn’t bothered me, and continued the conversation. He probably didn’t mean it that way…
A four-part series by Amnon Levy recently aired over the past few weeks discussing the racism Mizrachim suffered in the 1950s and if it influences their lives today, and those of their families. Thankfully, what happened in the early days of the state has lessened dramatically, but the phenomenon is sadly still here. (There were a few editorials about how Ethiopians suffer far more due to racism – this is sadly true, but it doesn’t mean that the issues raised by Levy’s show are not relevant). The show raised some very disturbing issues, but what really hit me hard was teenagers saying that they couldn’t see themselves as doctors or lawyers and that they lacked the opportunity to get that far even if they wanted to. It was these comments early in the first episode that highlighted to me the way to start resolving the issue.

It’s not important who’s to blame for what happened, and the various issues we see today – that attitude just creates unnecessary tension and friction in this country. The fact is that both “sides” have to adjust their thinking to ensure that this is the last generation during which we see these gaps. I say this with the utmost respect, but Mizrachi parents have to push their kids to shoot for the stars – like those who went to France, or the US, or Africa during the ‘50s instead of to Israel. Yes, wrong was done to them here and did hold them back, but that doesn’t mean today’s generation needs to be weighed down by it; they can reach their potential in whatever field they choose. Jews for centuries have placed a heavy emphasis on education, and that has seen us survive and flourish regardless of environment. This is as much the key now as it was in the past.

Street named after 'Robin Hood' Marciano

 Saadia Marciano (Photo: Flash 90)

A street in Jerusalem is to be named after the Moroccan-born Black Panther Saadia Marciano, who died aged only 58 in 2007. This Robin Hood of the Middle East used 'controversial tactics' to fight for equality and social justice for the underprivileged in Israel. Arutz Sheva reports (with thanks: Ahuva): 

When the Israeli Black Panthers organization began its struggle in the early 1970s, they were rejected by state leaders as hooligans; then-Prime Minister Golda Meir famously called them “not nice people*.”

Now, one of the Israeli Black Panthers' founders is getting official recognition. The city of Jerusalem has decided to name a street for the late Saadia Marciano, one of the original “Black Panthers” who went on to decades of political and social activism and a brief stint in Knesset.

Marciano was born in Morocco and grew up in the Musrara (Morasha) neighborhood of Jerusalem in the 1950s. At the time, the neighborhood was an impoverished area crowded with new immigrants from Arab countries who had nowhere else to go. It was also on the seam between Israeli Jerusalem and the Jordanian-held eastern half of the city, and as such, was a frequent target of Jordanian attacks.

In 1970, Marciano and several friends living in Musrara, who had been inspired by the Black Panthers movement in the United States, began the Israeli Black Panthers movement. Like its American counterpart, the movement fought for racial equality and social justice, and was controversial for its forceful tactics.
The Israeli Black Panthers’ more controversial tactics included stealing milk from well-off Jerusalem neighborhoods to distribute in poor, Mizrahi-Jewish areas, and violent, unauthorized protests that sometimes ended in injury.

The movement quickly gained popularity in other poor, predominantly Middle Eastern Jewish areas, and led to government investigations into social inequality and discrimination against Jews of Middle Eastern origin.

Read article in full 

Saadia Marciano, Black Panther leader, dies at 58 

*A common misquote. Golda Meir actually said: "People who throw Molotov Cocktails at Jewish police aren't nice guys." (Ed)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The day of the Dhimmi is done

The progressive-left refuses to see the Arab-Israeli conflict in the context of 14 centuries of Jewish subjugation by the Muslim majority, argues Mike Lumish in this thought-provoking blog in the Times of Israel.

For reasons which I find unfathomable, we are failing to place the Arab-Jewish conflict within the history of the Jews in the Middle East under thirteen centuries of Arab-Muslim persecution. The conflict between the vast Arab-Muslim majority and the tiny Jewish minority needs to be understood in just those terms. The Jews of the Middle East were a subjugated people since Muhammed’s armies marched out of the Saudi peninsula in the 7th century. From that day to this the Jews were considered dhimmis, second and third class citizens under the boot of Arab-Muslim imperialism.

But the Day of the Dhimmi is Done: When people read about the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in the Middle East they are, today, generally given the distinct impression that Jewish militarists are oppressing an innocent, “indigenous” Arab minority. Ever since the 6 Day War Israel has been depicted as the “Goliath” to the Palestinian-Arab “David.” Sometimes, in fact, the Jews of the Middle East are even depicted as the “New Nazis” while the local Arabs are depicted as the “New Jews.” For those of us with relatives dead from the Holocaust, such depictions are sadistic and the extent to which they come from the progressive-left, or even progressive-left Jews like David Harris-Gershon, is the extent to which the progressive-left has betrayed its own alleged values.

Sadism toward Jews, of course, is nothing new and it was the theocratic hallmark of Arab rule for thirteen centuries. There is, however, an extreme reluctance within the international Jewish community to discuss this fact, but fact it is.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Oasis of Jewish life in Azerbaijan

 There's still a thriving, though dwindling, community of Jews in the Azerbaijan town of Krasnaiya Sloboda (the word shtetl is ill-chosen, as it tends to refer to Ashkenazi villages in eastern Europe). While young Jews leave for various reasons, antisemitism isn't one of them. JTA reports (with thanks: Michelle)

Over the years, the community known as Mountain Jews has endured pogroms by Persian warlords, repression under communism and the rise of post-Soviet nationalism. But the need for external funding highlights pressing questions about the future of this Jewish island that continues over time to lose its young to the rapidly growing cities depopulating the Azeri countryside.

 “Many have left, young and old, myself included,” says Yehuda, who divides his time between Krasnaiya and Or Akiva, Israel. “It’s good because out there we can earn enough to support the community. But it’s bad because it means the current population is a fraction of our past numbers.”

 According to Yehuda, the town had 8,500 Jews only two decades ago, but has lost 75 percent of its population to Israel, Moscow and the Azeri capital, Baku. The community’s former chief rabbi, Adam Davidov, left recently for Jerusalem.

The silver lining in the exodus has been hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from well-to-do natives who in the past two years have financed the construction of buildings, modernized burial facilities and transformed the town’s mikvah into an impressive glass-domed tower. Krasnaiya Sloboda also is seeing the construction of the world’s first museum of Mountain Jews. The project is being paid for by STMEGI, a foundation promoting the heritage of Mountain Jews and headed by the Krasnaiya-born businessman German Zacharayev, who lives in Moscow.

 In Azerbaijan, Mountain Jews, or Juhuro, are the largest of three Jewish communities, followed by Ashkenazim and Georgians. With lineage dating to the Jews of ancient Persia, Juhuro are believed to have settled in the region 1,000 years ago. They speak Juhuri, a mix of Farsi and ancient Hebrew.

 “Here, communists were less successful than elsewhere in encouraging Jews to assimilate because of our ancient and cohesive tradition,” Yehuda says. The best time to witness the special attachment between Krasnaiya Sloboda and its residents, past and present, is around Tisha b’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of both ancient Temples. Just ahead of the fast, the town’s population doubles overnight as Krasnaiya natives from all over the world return to visit the graves of their ancestors. Some, like Yehuda, stay for several months.

 Upon arriving, the returnees blend right back in to a community that despite not being very observant seems immune to the rapid modernization gripping their country. The nearby town of Quba boasts 24-hour supermarkets, Internet cafes and even a luxury spa hotel. But in Krasnaiya, toddlers accompany Jewish women wearing tichel head coverings and aprons to buy groceries from the kosher shops and convenience stores as they prepare for the High Holidays feasts.

The interior of Krasnaiya Sloboda's Kulkati Synagogue. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

 In the evening, after the older children finish studying in the local yeshiva, dozens of men accompany them down potholed alleyways to Kulkati Synagogue, a massive wood-paneled building with 30 windows and even more Persian carpets covering every inch of its floor. The town, spread out across 120 acres, has another 12 synagogues, most of them inactive. Among Russian Jews, the town once was known as “little Jerusalem.”

 In a custom reminiscent of the mosques in this predominantly Shi’ite country, visitors to Kulkati take off their shoes before entering. Other customs borrowed from neighbors are common among older Jews, who bury toenail clippings and hair and believe in evil spirits, part of an elaborate system of superstitions.

Conscious of their community’s uniqueness, Krasnaiya’s young Juhuros say they are determined to pass on the torch. “I will stay here and make a life here,” says Maxim Menachem, 18, an unemployed yeshiva graduate. “I have no plans to leave.”

But some elders are unconvinced. According to the United Nations, Azerbaijan has lost approximately 10 percent of its rural population since gaining independence. Across the region, the urbanization impulse, coupled with Zionist fervor and a desire to live in established Western democracies, has pushed about 1.5 million Jews from former Soviet countries to emigrate since 1991. But unlike other post-Soviet areas, anti-Semitism is not the reason here.

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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Iraq will 'sell returned archive to Jews'

If the Jewish archive is returned to Iraq, the Iraqis will only want to make money out of selling it back to the Jews, argues Sasson Azoory in the JIMENA blog on the Jerusalem Post:

Please sign petition if you haven't already!

My name is Sasson Azoory and I left Baghdad, Iraq in 1959 to study in the United Kingdom. When I left, Iraqi General Abd al-Karim Qasim was in the midst of his three-year rein. During this small window of time Iraqi Jews were granted freedom of movement and I am one of the few Jews who was able to leave the country using my Iraqi passport.

A couple of years after my departure, General Qasim was assassinated, ushering in a very dark period for the remaining Jews of Iraq. By the mid 1960s there were less than 6,000 Jews left in Iraq and they began leaving illegally at a considerable risk to their lives. In 1966, in the middle of my studies in the UK, the Iraqi Government revoked my passport and I became a stateless refugee. They did this simply because I’m Jewish. I immigrated to Canada in 1968 and received my Canadian citizenship five years later, in 1973.

Since the 1950s, a succession of Iraqi governments have revoked the citizenship of Iraqi Jews, confiscated our communal and private property, and made our lives generally intolerable. The Iraqi Jewish archive now being held in Washington DC, that the current Iraq government now wants back, is simply stolen property. In my opinion, any guarantee by the current Iraqi Government that they will protect the Jewish archive is a cynical way to deceive the US government. I find it laughable that these artifacts, including some holy Jewish scrolls in Hebrew, will be exhibited and appreciated by the Iraqi public who vehemently hate the Jewish people and who were instrumental in destroying synagogues and desecrating Jewish cemeteries.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Iraqi government tried to sell these artifacts to Iraqi Jews at a later date when the dust settles. In 1982, the Iraqi Jewish Association of Toronto paid a bribe of $10,000 to smuggle a Torah scroll to Toronto via London. The temptation to monetize these treasures, which are of no use to the Iraqi people, is very compelling. If the Iraqi Government, after kicking the Jews out of Iraq and confiscating their properties really want these artifacts as part of Iraqi history and heritage, they can show good faith by starting to repair and restore the many Jewish buildings and monuments throughout Iraq for their public to enjoy and appreciate.

As an Iraqi Jew, I believe the artifacts should be returned to an Iraqi Jewish community. More specifically to the Babylonian Heritage Museum in Israel, where 2/3 of the Iraqi Jews and their descendants now reside.

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Do not send treasures back to Iraq (Jewish Chronicle) 

Joe Samuels' blog (Times of Israel)