Wednesday, April 30, 2014

From Egyptian diva to cleaning lady

The Al-Kuwaity brothers sacrificed fame and fortune in Iraq for a kitchenware shop in the poorest quarter of Tel Aviv. Zohra el-Fassia, who used to sing for the King of Morocco, was reduced to shuffling about in her dressing gown in a tiny Israeli flat. Now The Times of Israel tells the story of an Egyptian-Jewish diva, Souad Zaki, who became a cleaning lady in Israel to make ends meet. Unusually,  Zaki's Muslim husband came to live with Zaki, a proud Zionist, in Israel. (With thanks: Orna)

TEL AVIV — Most people have heard of Egyptian sultry siren Umm Khultum, the greatest female Arabic singer in history who dominated Middle Eastern stages and airwaves from the 1930s to the 1970s and still enjoys widespread acclaim. However, though she too was a prominent singer of popular classical Egyptian music leading up to the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, the same cannot be said of Souad Zaki.

Had political realities been different, Zaki may have become an international singing sensation like Umm Khultum, who picked Zaki to co-star in the hit 1945 film “Salamah.” But as nationalism and anti-Semitism took hold in Egypt, Zaki, a proud Jew and Zionist, left her birthplace and privileged status behind for the life of a struggling immigrant in the young Jewish State. 

Thus, just as Zaki’s star was rising in Egypt, she became a cleaning lady at a bank in Tel Aviv.

In the wake of the recent Egyptian Revolutions, there has been renewed interest in famous female Jewish singers from Egypt. Music fans have been reintroduced to Layla Mourad, the voice of the 1952 Revolution. Mourad, who was of Iraqi-Jewish and Polish-Jewish descent, reportedly converted to Islam for her husband, or career — or both.

From diva singer to working single mother: A photo of Souad Zaki with her 5-year-old son taken right before they left Egypt for Israel. (Courtesy of Moshe Zaki)

From diva singer to working single mother: A photo of Souad Zaki 
with her 5-year-old son taken right before they left Egypt for Israel. 
(Courtesy of Moshe Zaki)

Faiza Rushdi, an Egyptian-Jewish singer who, like Zaki, moved to Israel, came to broad Israeli public attention over a decade ago when her daughter Yaffa Tusiah-Cohen staged a one-woman show titled, “Ana Faiza,” about their difficult mother-daughter relationship. (The story was followed up in a 2002 documentary film by Sigalit Banai, called, “Mama Faiza.”)

But of the three great female Jewish-Egyptian singers of the 20th century, only Souad Zaki has been all but forgotten by all but the most diehard Arabic music fans. For this reason, Zaki’s son Moshe, a psychologist from Haifa, was pleased to meet with The Times of Israel to recount his mother’s unusual life story.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Only 90 doomed Jews still in Yemen

This Sky News Arabic report on 26 April clearly blames antisemitism for the demise of the Jewish community of Amram, now reduced to three families. (Via MEMRI; with thanks: Lily)

The Jews of Yemen, now reduced to 90, will soon join the roll call of extinct Middle Eastern Jewish communities, Ari Soffer reports in Israel National News. Spare a thought for them on Holocaust Memorial Day:

 At the start of the twentieth century Yemen's Jewish community numbered approximately 60,000. But today, after centuries of anti-Semitism which peaked in the last century, the community stands at less than 90.

Most Yemeni Jews left the country in the twentieth century, during the region-wide campaign by Arab states to ethnically-cleanse their Jewish minorities, many of whose presence in those countries had predated the Arab conquest and the emergence of Islam by centuries.

In all, approximately one million Jews from Arab countries were either expelled or forced to flee due to anti-Semitic persecution. Many of them and their descendants currently reside in Israel, and account for more than half the Jewish population there.

But even the small number of Yemeni Jews who remain in the Middle East's poorest country are slowly disappearing.

On April 26, Sky News Arabic aired a program on the last Jews of Amran province in western Yemen. The program was translated by MEMRI (the Middle East Research Institute).

The report revealed how the province, once a thriving center of Jewish life, now consists of just three families.

The rapid decline of the community is blamed largely on Houthi rebels, a Shia Muslim separatist group fighting to secede from the Sunni-majority country. Interviewees explain how Houthi rebels have systematically scapegoated Jews in the region, both for religious reasons and due to the community's perceived loyalty towards Sana'a.

But Sunni Islamists linked to Al Qaeda have also been responsible for anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in the country, including the murders of Jewish schoolteacher Moshe Nahari in 2008, and of community leader Aaron Zindani in 2010. Both of their families subsequently fled to Israel.

One of the experts interviewed on the program predicted that "within a few years, nothing will remain of Yemen's Jewish community."

Indeed, by now that grim assessment is undisputed, but the question is why it has happened with so little media attention.

According to Jewish rights activist Lyn Julius, the relative silence of the Jewish leadership regarding the plight of Yemeni Jewry was necessary in order to avoid attracting even more hostile attention towards them - particularly as most have chosen to leave for Israel.

"The demise of this 3,000-year-old community is very sad," said Julius, who co-founded Harif, the Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. "But I can understand why the leadership has been silent - the exodus of the last Jews of Yemen has required discretion."

"There is the sensitive issue of the 70 or so still in Sana'a. Hopefully they too will see they have no future and leave," she adds, sadly mindful of the highly dangerous situation in which they live.

While most of the few Jews remaining in Yemen at the turn of the century have fled the country altogether as a result of this toxic cocktail of violence and intimidation, some - including Yemen's Chief Rabbi - opted instead for the relative safety of the capital.

Yet that has been little better, as the dwindling number of Jews offered "protection" by the government there are forced to live in a state of virtual siege - and face the constant terrifying specter of eviction from their last outpost of relative security.

In a rare interview last year Rabbi Yahya Youssef Salem detailed the miserable conditions of Yemen's remaining Jews.

Rabbi Salem explained how even in Sana'a he was forced to cut off his peyot (sidecurls), traditionally grown long by Yemenite Jews, as a result of regular harassment by local Muslims.

"They took our homes, our land, our cars - they even took my historical library!" he lamented, referring to the Houthis.

And so, as this ancient Jewish community joins the tragic fate of so many others in the Middle East, soon all that will be left is yet another memorial day.

Read article in full

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Dove Flyer film flies high

The Dove Flyer, a film by Nissim Dayan, based on the book by Eli Amir, has been wowing the Israeli public. Over 60,000 have flocked to see it on general release at cinemas around the country. Beyond all expectations, the film will recover its 9 million shekels' cost, and even stands to make a profit.

Daniel Gad plays a boy who takes on adult responsibilities

Here is a review by Nozz:

"This is a fairly straightforward, authentic-looking story about how the Jewish community of Iraq, having been part of the local society for two and a half millennia, was hustled out-- somewhere between expulsion and rescue-- after Iraq found itself on the losing side of Israel's War of Independence. (Iraq has no border with Israel, but sent troops anyway.) 

The story is shown through the eyes of a boy who sees previously hidden political activism and attitudes among his family and friends come to light, for better or worse, as the crisis develops and he is forced to take on adult responsibilities. Daniel Gad, as the boy, is too old-- or at least too big-- for the part. We're forced to mentally subtract a few years from his appearance. The period scenery, on the other hand, looks good except that there can be no very broad outdoor photography because there is too much modernity in contemporary Israel where the shooting took place. 

The film is almost entirely in Arabic; among the audience, those who know the language took delight in some salty and picturesque phrases that were lost in translation. Based on a novel and evidently filmed with the novelist's cooperation (he has a cameo), the film seems to take care to touch on several different angles within the political and social scene-- friendships between Jews and Muslims, the communist movement that was active during the same period, the assimilationist option extending even to conversion, the Zionist movement, the arrival of Arab refugees from Palestine, and the cultural influence of the West. For those unfamiliar with the experience of Jews in the world of Islam, it's an interesting picture and it suggests an important added perspective on today's tensions."

The film will be shown in London on 12 May at Cadogan Hall. Tickets £50 benefit the Babylonian Heritage Center, Israel. Tel 0207 730 4500

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How the Shoah affected N. African Jews

Libyan Jews returning from Bergen Belsen camp

Tonight is the start of Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Awareness is growing that the Holocaust not only affected European Jews, but also communities in North Africa. If they were largely spared, it is because the Nazis ran out of time.
Here is a detailed account of the impact of the Holocaust on North African Jews on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

The Jews of North Africa were relatively fortunate because their distance from German concentration camps in central and eastern Europe permitted them to avoid the fate of their coreligionists in Europe. They were also fortunate not to have had to live under German rule. The Germans never occupied Morocco or Algeria. Though they briefly occupied Tunisia from November 1942, after the Allied landings in Morocco and Algeria, until May 1943, the Germans never had the time or the resources to subject Tunisian Jews systematically to the measures implemented in areas under direct German rule in Europe.
Nonetheless, attacks on Jews and Jewish property by local European antisemites and native Muslims, which had taken place before the war in all three countries (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia), continued unhindered by the Vichy authorities.
Even before World War II, the French government had set up internment camps in the French Pyrénées region to hold Spanish Republicans who had fought against Franco's fascist rebels in the Spanish Civil War, persons suspected or convicted of political crimes, and Jewish refugees who had sought refuge from Nazi Germany in France.
After the armistice with Germany was signed, Vichy authorities sent foreigners (including Jews) who had volunteered for and fought in the French army against the Germans in 1940 and foreign Jewish refugees to work camps in Algeria and Morocco. Upon their arrival, the Jewish refugees received aid from local Jewish committees, as well as from the Joint Distribution Committee and the HICEM, an international Jewish migration organization. These organizations also tried to obtain visas and organize travel to the United States for the refugees.
The Vichy administration sent other Jewish refugees to camps in southern Morocco and Algeria to work as forced laborers on the pan-Saharan railroad line. There were approximately thirty camps, including Hadjerat M'Guil and Bou-Arfa in Morocco and Berrouaghia, Djelfa, and Bedeau in Algeria. Conditions were extremely harsh for the over 4,000 Jewish labor conscripts working on the railroad.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Henna customs of Jews of Yemen

Jewish bride and groom in Yemen

 Yemenite Jews shared with Muslims the custom of painting the hands of brides, but the Jews practised three distinct patterns. One survives to this day among the Habbani Jews of Moshav Bareqet in Israel. From specialist blogger Eshkol Hakofer: (with thanks: Michelle)

The use of henna among both Yemenite Jews (known as Temanim in Hebrew) and Muslims is described in the travelogues of a number of European writers (Niebuhr, 1772, pp. 65-66; du Couret, 1859, pg. 213; Saphir, 1866, pg. 81), and it is mentioned by Yemenite Jewish scholars as well (Saliḥ, 1779, 2:127; Qarah 1827).

But we still haven’t heard anything about henna patterns (Jewish or non-Jewish)! The earliest record that I’ve seen of henna patterns in Yemen comes from Freya Stark, an indefatigable British explorer (and an incredibly brave woman who travelled alone through the Arabian deserts and Central Asia at a time when few women dared do so).

She published a series of popular books on her travels, and included some descriptions of henna patterns that she saw (1936, pp. 47, 213):

[At a wedding in Makalla]: The palms of [the women’s] hands [were] reddish brown with heavily scented henna and oil and painted outside in a brown lacework pattern, like a mitten.

[In Tarim]: [The Sultan’s 10-year-old daughter] stood gazing at me, shy and gorgeous, her little hands done in lace patterns and wheels of indigo with henna tips; her hair in seventy-five plaits at least, fluffed out on her shoulders in curls.

Amazingly, Stark also includes a photograph of a woman’s hennaed hands (with the paste on), taken in the late 30s in the Ḥaḍramaut. She describes how the pattern is made “by an artist who lets a thin thread of the paste drip from her forefinger, guiding it into patterns as it does so” (1938, pg. 180).

Among Yemenite Jewish communities, however, I have seen records of three main types of henna patterns, each of which appears to be distinct from the types of patterns practiced by the neighbouring Muslim communities (at least according to Stark).

The first, common among the Habbani Jews of the Ḥaḍramaut, is characterized by a wide circle around the entire palm, sometimes with a dot in the centre. The fingers are then painted with broad stripes, and the fingertips are hennaed solidly.

This pattern was in fact continued after the Habbani Jews immigrated to Israel, and it's still done even today among Jews of Habbani descent (living mostly on a moshav called Bareqet) — the only Jewish henna patterning technique to really survive into the present day.
The second type was practiced among the various villages of central and north Yemen, consisting of rows of dots, usually clustered in triangles, diamonds, or quincunxes, between stripes across the fingers and back of the hand. Some brides in Israel continued this tradition into the 80s but as far as I can tell, it has essentially disappeared today. The third, the most elusive and the most elaborate, was practiced by the Jews of San‘a. It is described extensively by several Yemenite writers, including ‘Amram Qorah (1954), Yosef Kapah (1961), and Yehuda Levi Nahum (1962).

I summarize their description on my website: it was essentially a four-step process. First, the hands and feet were covered with henna, which was left on for a few hours and then washed off. The next day, a professional artist known as a shar‘e drew designs on the skin in molten wax (the pain being explained as symbolic of the pain of marriage… Lovely). After that, henna was applied over the wax and left on overnight. The next day, the henna was removed and the hands and feet covered with a mixture of ammoniac and potash (shaḍḍar), which was rubbed off after an hour — this turned the henna a deep greenish-black, while the areas protected by the wax retained their orange shade.

There were variations on this technique — sometimes the wax was applied directly on the skin before any henna; sometimes the overnight henna was skipped and they put the shaḍḍar right after the wax. But overall, it must have been stunning to see, especially with the additional ornamentation that was added in black (from a gall ink called kheṭuṭ), yellow (from turmeric,
hurud), and blue (indigo, nil).

Read article in full:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Egyptian antisemitism quite recent

Samuel Tadros
Antisemitism in Egypt is of comparatively recent vintage, given that intellectuals and politicians who sympathised with Jews and even Zionism  were not so rare. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Samuel Tadros sees antisemitism as a reaction to modernity in this must-read essay for American Interest:(with thanks: Eliyahu)
That anti-Semitism and its accompanying conspiracy theories are deeply embedded in Egyptian Islamist discourse is no surprise for those familiar with Egypt or Islamism, though familiarity does not lessen one’s astonishment at the bizarre and convoluted nature of the claims made in these and other stories. Perhaps more startling to outside observers is the prevalence of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories among Egypt’s non-Islamists, including its self-described liberals and even its Christian minority. Anti-Semitism is not only a dominant discourse in the country, but is rather the only common worldview shared throughout its political spectrum and among all levels of Egypt’s political class.
Given its widespread appeal and the fact that it elicits little disapproval among Egypt’s intellectuals and politicians, let alone its ordinary citizens, observers are not entirely at fault in assuming deep historical roots for the phenomena. Such assumptions, however, are misguided. Not so long ago, Egyptian intellectuals and politicians were not only, not anti-Semites; many of them were philo-Semites and even exhibited pro Zionist sentiments. In the 1920s it was not uncommon for a leading Egyptian intellectual to proclaim “the victory of the Zionist ideal is also the victory of my ideal.”
How has Egypt reached such a universal consensus on the existence of a Jewish conspiracy, with the only disagreement being on the question of who are its pawns? Why is Egyptian culture so drenched in anti-Semitism? And what are the ramifications of such an all-pervading belief on the country’s foreign relations and its future trajectory? To begin to answer those questions, one has to start by identifying the forms that anti-Semitism takes in Egypt and its foundations.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Racism has been worse on the left

Yemenite Jewish refugees: political primitives?
Seth Frantzman , opinion editor at the centre-right Jerusalem Post, jumps ship in order to sound off on Israeli racism in the Forward, a centre-left publication. Racism, he argues, has always been more virulent on the left. What about Mizrahi racism towards others , one may ask. In the last analysis, however, the state itself has overridden  individual objections and prejudice to open its doors  to Jews  of all backgrounds and circumstances.  It cannot be faulted for that.

Since the 1950s, this legacy of ethnocentrism has haunted Israel. When the philosopher Hannah Arendt visited Israel in 1961, she described her fear of Jews who “looked Arab but spoke Hebrew,” calling them “an Oriental mob.” In 1981, singer Dudu Topaz castigated non-Ashkenazi Jewish voters as “chachachim,” a derogatory term. In 1983, Shulamit Aloni lambasted Sephardic Shas supporters as “barbarous tribal forces.” Shmuel Schnitzer, a journalist, described in 1995 Ethiopian Jews as “thousands of apostates bearing disease.” Noted author Amos Elon pondered in 1953 what effect Moroccan Jews’ “uncontrolled fertility would have on the Jewish people’s genetic robustness,” and in a 2004 interview he was still claiming that “political primitiveness” came from immigrants to Israel.
This narrative of what Ehud Barak called a “villa in the jungle” has cast an immense shadow over the ability to confront racism in Israel. Stereotyping against citizens who are not considered European-origin “sabras” has been an integral part of the left and right, but ironically in Israel, it has been particularly virulent on the left. Ari Shavit states without compunction in his 2013 book “My Promised Land” that “many Oriental Jews are not aware of what Israel saved them from, a life of misery and backwardness in an Arab Middle East.” 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Going to law to recover the archive

 The books and documents ready packed for shipment from Iraq to the US in 2003

If you are following the controversy over the Iraqi-Jewish archive, you could do worse than follow the website called Docex. This specialises in exploring the legal issues surrounding captured documents, cultural property, etc.This entry looks into the possiblity of using the US court system to prevent the return of the archives to Iraq.

The ongoing controversy over the Iraqi Jewish Archives (discussed in other contexts hereherehere, and here) -- which were found in Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, brought to the United States for preservation, and are currently on display at the National Archives -- appears fairly straightforward: should they or should they not be returned to Iraq?

The U.S. government is planning to return the archives to Iraq next year, but there is significant opposition. An online petition and letters from Sen. Schumer and other members of Congress to Secretary of State John Kerry demand that the United States not return them.  Separately, Iraq has indicated it may be willing to negotiate to allow them to stay longer -- but still temporarily -- in the United States.

This post (the first of several on the debate) explores another potential forum for the controversy: a U.S. court. Could a lawsuit prevent the return of the archives and/or challenge Iraqi government assertions of ownership?

The short answer is that the chances of formally blocking the return of the archives to Iraq by court order are slim, but there is a navigable path to persuading a U.S. court to adjudicate legal ownership over the archives.  While litigation is often a poor method of dispute resolution, the Iraqi Jewish archives may present a scenario in which a court's careful balancing of the property rights of individuals with the sovereign rights of Iraq and a fact-intensive examination of the history, the law, and the documents could be uniquely valuable.

Read entry in full

" All (upper) middle class:" Egyptian Jews

 The Israeli resort of Eilat, where those attending a May Congress on the Jews of Egypt will be able to combine a holiday with a conference

 An Italian historian with a fresh approach to Egyptian Jewry  will feature among the presenters at a conference on the Jews of Egypt in the holiday resort of Eilat next month:

"We're all middle class now" -or even upper middle class - might best describe Egyptian Jews up to their mass exodus in the 1950s - even if they did not have money or status.

According to an Italian historian, Jews in Cairo and Alexandria identified as 'upper bourgeois' in culture, leisure and family values, behaviour and self-image.  

Dr Dario Miccoli, a historian from the Ca'Foscari University in Venice, will expound on the 'bourgeois' identity of Egyptian Jews at the Fifth World Congress of the Jews of Egypt in Eilat, Israel on 12-14 May 2014.

Congress president Levana Zamir said of Dr Miccoli:"finally a researcher, who  is not Jewish, has managed to formulate the 'bourgeois characteristics' of this vibrant, cosmopolitan community of Jews from Egypt until the mid-1950s. This community no longer exists but is dispersed all over the world, except when it gathers from time to time at world congresses such as that being held in Eilat."

At the Congress Dr Miccoli will present his book "Histories of the Jews of Egypt: an imagined bourgeoisie, 1880s - 1950s", soon to be published in the UK by Routledge.

Among other topics the Congress will discuss is "All you wanted to know about compensation to the Jews of Egypt and other Arab countries". A huge amount of communal and private property was left behind when Egyptian Jews fled. Only 14 of a community of 80, 000 remain.

For more information on the Congress (12 -14 May, Eilat) please click here.     

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mimouna Club braves ostracism

 The Mimouna Club in front of the Jewish Museum in Casablanca

To mark the end of the festival of Passover tonight, Moroccan Jews will celebrate the Mimouna. This unique symbol of Jewish-Arab connection, when Muslim neighbours brought pancakes and other leaven into Jewish homes, is now the name of a club started by Moroccan Muslim students. Of course, if Moroccans have anything to do with Jews and Israel, they run the risk of stigmatisation and ostracism, as Aomar Boum remarks in this Tablet article. See my comment below. (with thanks: Michelle) 

 The Club is called Mimouna, after the traditional Moroccan Jewish post-Passover celebration welcoming the return of leavened bread. For Moroccan Jews, Mimouna signifies the promise of redemption and the hopeful return of the messiah. Israel recognized it as a national holiday in 1966; the Mimouna Club contends that the observance deserves a place in Moroccan culture and society, as a celebration of ethnic diversity.

Today, it has foundation status and chapters in Fès, Rabat, Tetouan, and Marrakech. In December, I met a few members of the foundation in Rabat, where they were preparing to launch a cultural caravan, a 300-mile traveling roadshow about Moroccan Judaism. I asked them why they care about a topic that could potentially bring them nothing but stigma and social rejection. Almost all of them highlighted how little Moroccan youth know about their history and how significant it is for their compatriots beyond the walls of university campuses to embrace Morocco’s cultural diversity.

 For many Moroccans, particularly younger ones, the country’s Jewish story is part of the past and has no place in post-independence society. “How could we have a club about Moroccan Jews many of whom occupy Palestinian lands today?” one Mimouna critic in Casablanca whispered to me during a visit I made in 2010. It was an attitude I knew well from my anthropological and ethnographic research on Moroccan Jewish communities—but the social pressure on me as a professional ethnographer was minimal compared to the pressures the student members of Mimouna face.

A few acknowledged their frustration and anxiety about being ostracized just because of their interest in learning about Moroccan Judaism—really, about Moroccan history. Recently, the name of one of the Mimouna club members was listed in a public document published online by the Moroccan Observatory Against Normalization with Israel, alongside names such as André Azoulay, an adviser to King Mohammed VI; Driss El-Yazami the president of the National Human Rights Council; and Berber, or Amazigh, activists, some of whom have contact with Israeli institutions, citizens, and other public organizations.

 But when I spoke to these students in the course of completing work for a book on the monarchy, Jews, and Holocaust politics in Morocco, I was surprised to find that their interest in the history of Jewish-Muslim relations emerged from their own lives. The majority of them were born and raised in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, and Fès and knew their hometowns had complex histories. Elmehdi Boudra, the co-founder of the club at Al-Akhawayn—who subsequently went on to earn a master’s degree in coexistence and conflict from Brandeis—talked to me about how he never knew, growing up in Casablanca, about the longstanding relations between Jews and Muslims in the old city.

Boudra was also inspired by one of the group’s early mentors, Simon Lévy, a renowned linguist of Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Spanish, a political dissident, and former director of the Jewish Museum of Casablanca who also played major role in Moroccan politics since Independence as one of the leading figures of the Party of Progress and Socialism founded by Ali Ya’ta. Another student, Sami Gaidi, described how he went to school in Rabat with Moroccan Jews with whom he remained in touch; a third, Myriam Mallouk, talked about how she was hosted by a Moroccan Jewish family while studying law in France.

In 1998, in a famous Le Monde Diplomatique article titled “Israel-Palestine: A Third Way,” Edward Said responded to Arab critics after his call for seeking communication with Jewish partners in an article that he published for al-Hayat newspaper in June 1998. Said called on Arabs to engage Jews in a responsible conversation including understanding the Holocaust. “When I mentioned the Holocaust in an article I wrote last November, I received more stupid vilification than I ever thought possible; one famous intellectual even accused me of trying to gain a certificate of good behaviour from the Zionist lobby,” Said wrote. “Of course, I support Garaudy’s right to say what he pleases and I oppose the wretched loi Gayssot under which he was prosecuted and condemned. But I also think that what he says is trivial and irresponsible, and when we endorse it, it allies us necessarily with Le Pen and all the retrograde right-wing fascist elements in French society.”

 Mimouna has taken the challenge to heart. In 2011, the club attracted international attention after its members organized a conference on the record of Morocco’s King Mohammed V during World War II, when he resisted orders from the Vichy government to deport Jews living inside the kingdom. For the students, the point of organizing a conference on the Holocaust was to educate their fellow Moroccans about a period when refugees from Europe—many, though not all, Jewish—found shelter in Morocco before the Allies landed at Safi and Casablanca in late 1942.

 It was, one of them told me, a first step—“which is listening to the other and building a trustworthy relationship and a responsible discussion.” Speakers at the conference included a Holocaust survivor—a first for an Arab university. Within Morocco, Khalid Soufyani and other members of the anti-normalization movement argued that the conference undermined the Palestinians and their fight against Israeli occupation. Even Sion Assidon—a Moroccan Jew and former political dissident, critic of Zionism and Israel, and proponent of the BDS movement—harshly critiqued the club for what he saw as implicitly advocating normalization of relations with Israel.

 A year after the Holocaust conference, 16 members of the club took a trip to Israel, where they had a firsthand experience of daily encounters between Jews and Muslims—and the realities of the conflict in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Ramallah and other places. They were also able to meet different generations of Moroccan Jews in Israel and the West Bank.

The trip was organized in collaboration with Kivunim, a New York-based gap-year program created by Peter Geffen, the founder of the Heschel School on the Upper West Side. Geffen took the students to Jerusalem and Ramallah—and to Ashdod, where they visited a statue to Hassan II that stands in a city park. These young students reflected on the complexities of the conflict as their minds and emotions struggled to bridge the distance between Yad Vashem, Deir Yassin, the Haram al-Sharif, and the Western Wall.

Despite the anxieties of the experience, they cherished meeting in person Israelis and American Jews as well as Palestinian Arabs, Christians, and Muslims. When I asked a student if he regretted making the trip after it attracted public criticism, he replied with confidence. “No, I do not regret the trip,” he told me. “I developed a strong friendship with Israelis and Palestinians who work together as we speak now for a possible, just, and peaceful world. It is tough. But the fact of seeing Israeli women standing between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian worker gives me hope.”

 Read article in full

 My comment: The Mimouna club should be applauded for taking risks to build bridges between the two communities.They have been brave enough to arrange a trip to Israel; they have had to fend off accusations of normalisation with Israel. But I am uneasy about the kind of Israel they were taken to see. It is an Israel which confirms the Arab version of history - a version which sees Palestinians as victims. At the same time, it confirms the myth that Moroccans saved Jews during WW2. I bet that these young people were told nothing about Arab antisemitism.

 I am further uneasy that Boum quotes, of all people, Edward Said. Arabs should acknowledge the Holocaust so as not to be bracketed with far right fascists, he said. A bizarre and disingenuous argument.

Pro-Jewish students suffered antisemitism

Holocaust conference has its dangers 

Aomar Boum: A market without Jews is like bread without salt

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Israel champions persecuted Christians

Who would have thunk it? Israel has taken on the mantle of champion of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, rather like the western powers did in the 19th century. In his speech to the UN (reproduced as an op-ed in the Wall St Journal) ambassador Ron Prosor puts the persecution of Christians in the context of the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population of the region. (With thanks: Eliyahu)


An expert comments on Ron Prosor's UN speech on Fox News. The problem, she says, is that western states divorce politics and human rights in their dealings with the main offenders.

  This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible's Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population.

The persecution is especially virulent today. The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East's population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%.

Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born. In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers.

This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood. Christians are losing their lives, liberties, businesses and their houses of worship across the Middle East. It is little wonder that native Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries—yet in many cases they find themselves equally unwelcome.

Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq's 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria's Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today. I

n January, a report by the nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, and the 10th was North Korea. These tyrannical regimes uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws under the guise of protecting religious expression. In truth, these measures amount to systematic repression of non-Islamic groups.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, two men were prosecuted for the "crime" of converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the Islamic kingdom. According to the Saudi Gazette, one of the men, a Lebanese, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes, and the other man, a Saudi, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Those are relatively mild sentences in Saudi Arabia, where conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

 The "justice system" in other Islamic nations is not particularly just for Arab citizens, but it is uniquely oppressive for Christians. Radical Islamists in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa are using an ancient law called the "dhimmi pact" to extort local Christians. The community is faced with a grim choice: pay a tax and submit to a list of religious restrictions or "face the sword."

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressions of political dissent are regarded as acts of blasphemy. Last summer, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of "crimes against state security" and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of "waging war against God" and "spreading corruption on Earth." The scene unfolding in the Middle East is ominously familiar.

At the end of World War II, almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. The creation of Israel in 1948 precipitated an invasion of five Arab armies. When they were unable to annihilate the newborn state militarily, Arab leaders launched a campaign of terror and expulsion that decimated their ancient Jewish communities. They succeeded in purging 800,000 Jews from their lands.

Read article in full

Jew wants to join Moroccan Islamists

 Jewish lawyer Isaac Charia 

Why would a Jew become an Islamist? Because he despairs of the state of  Moroccan politics. But will the PJD party accept Isaac Charia as a member?  This is an opportunity for party leader Abdelilah Benkiran, who is also Prime Minister,  to show his 'moderate' credentials. (With thanks: Michelle)

 Diversity Watch reports:

In a first, Isaac Charia, a Moroccan Jewish lawyer who is based in Rabat, submitted an application to join the Moroccan Islamist political party "PJD"

Mr. Charia said that he was a supporter of the party's agenda and that he wanted to join in order to work for change and to help the party in its efforts to fight corruption and improve transparency in governance and politics.

Despite being a small community in Morocco, many Moroccan Jews are active in politics, from the halls of the royal palace to the grassroots work in political parties.

Update: the BBC has a report (French) 

'I would rather a competent Jew over my incompetent Muslim party members' - Benkiran (with thanks: Noam)  

'What you see is what you get' - an assessment of PM Benkiran by blogger Noam Nir

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Egyptians intercept Jewish artefacts

Photos released by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities show (from top):  A Torah crown inscribed in the name of Shimon Weinstein, two tiks to enclose Torah scrolls, breastplates, Torah finials and rimonim bells, Yadim (pointers).

The Egyptian authorities have announced that they have intercepted a  hoard of Jewish artefacts on their way to Belgium. A smuggler's free-for-all is the result of the country's 'security vacuum' since the Arab Spring broke out two years ago. A Torah crown inscribed with the name Weinstein suggests that the hoard could have come from one of the country's Ashkenazi synagogues. Jews leaving Egypt were not allowed to take with them Jewish artefacts more than 100 years old: Egyptian law considers these antiquities.

CAIRO (AP) — Authorities in Egypt say they have seized a cache of Jewish religious artifacts that smugglers wanted to ship to Belgium at one of the country's main ports.

Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said in a statement Friday that officials found the artifacts while searching cargo Thursday at the coastal city of Damietta.

Among the artifacts are a cylindrical wooden box plated in silver, which would have held Torah scrolls. Officials also found a silver knife dating to roughly 1890 with inscriptions, and bells commonly hung in synagogues.

A committee will study and date the cache, which the statement says "embodies a period of religious tolerance in Egypt's history."

Egypt has experienced a security vacuum since its 2011 uprising. Thousands of artifacts have been stolen.

Read article in full

Times of Israel

Friday, April 18, 2014

A perplexing rewriting of history

 Maimonides: the encyclopedia can't agree on the year of his birth

When does history become propaganda? When a new encyclopedia in French and English, supported by a huge promotional budget, sanitises Muslim-Jewish relations. Lyn Julius writes in the Times of Israel:

Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish thinker and physician, is famous for his Guide for the Perplexed. But readers of a glossy new 1150-page encyclopedia in English and French will be equally perplexed by accounts of Maimonides’ life that can’t even agree on the correct year of his birth.

The joint editors are a Tunisian professor at the university of Nanterre (Paris), Abdelwahab Meddeb, and Benjamin Stora, a Jewish professor of North African history and author of a history of the Jews of Algeria. The two men have been touring France, North Africa, Israel and Belgium promoting the encyclopedia.
“The Encyclopaedia of Jewish-Muslim relations from their origins to the present day” was launched in November 2013. There is a more modest English version, published by Princeton.

Critics such as the authority on Sephardi Jews, Professor Shmuel Trigano, have charged that the encyclopedia is nothing but a work of propaganda. It is all the more insidious because so much money has been spent on its promotion. Unusually for a book, the encyclopedia has a website all to itself and was the subject of a TV series on the French channel Arte.

Among the sponsors are The Alliance of Civilisations (co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey, and adopted as a UN initiative which excludes Israel from its Council of Friends), whose task is to change the ‘narrative’ by promoting the Spain of the Three Religions, the Andalusian Golden Age, and so forth.
Professor Trigano wrote:
An incredible publicity and ideological campaign is underway in France. Its target is world public opinion by way of the Jews, and more specifically Sephardi Jews – sorry, ‘Arab Jews’.
Dr. Rudi Roth, a mathematician and computer scientist who lives in Belgium, has spent hours combing through the encyclopedia, finding errors of omission and commission. He has contacted dozens of scholars and academics for their comments.

“It’s astonishing,” he says, “that an Encyclopaedia purporting to be precise and accessible, overseen by a 12-member scientific committee and more than one hundred contributors from the world’s top universities, contains major errors of fact and is sloppily edited.”

The encyclopedia variously lists Maimonides’ date of birth as 1135 or 1138 (the latter date is correct). Nowhere is it mentioned that his father was a Talmudic scholar, a mathematician and astronomer. On the other hand his son Abraham, like his father a physician and philosopher, is described as a Jewish ‘sufi,’ influenced by ‘Islamic mysticism.’

Aged 10, Maimonides was forced to leave his native Cordoba to escape the Almohad invasion. These were a tribe of fanatical Muslims who massacred Jews in Seville in 1147 and sought to forcibly convert Jews and Christians in Spain. But Maimonides’ flight is described as ‘an emigration.’ The family’s 12 years of wandering through Spain as it escaped persecution are passed over in silence. Arriving in Fez, Morocco, Maimonides was compelled to convert to Islam to spare his life. “It was only for appearances’ sake,” claims Mercedes Garcia-Arenal on page 143. Yet when he later rose to become head of the Jewish community in Cairo, Maimonides came under suspicion both from Muslims and Jews for living as a ‘converso.’

In his famous Epistle to the harassed Jews of Yemen (c.1172), Maimonides proffers advice. But Yehoshua Frenkel’s entry in English makes no mention of the persecution which the Yemenite Jews suffered. Similarly, no mention is made that Maimonides himself fled to Akko to escape Muslim persecution.
Maimonides died in Fostat (Old Cairo) in 1204, but Suzan Youssef (pps 1005 – 13) insists that he was also buried there. Yet historians are unanimous that his tomb is located in Tiberias.

Apart from the minimising of Jewish links with the land of Israel, Dr. Roth has identified inaccuracies and omissions that exaggerate Arab Muslim influence in culture and science while downplaying the Jewish contribution.

Read article in full

New Encyclopaedia is propaganda

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Driven from Tunisia to fight on in France

 Yael Konig, Tunisian-born author and poet

Yael Konig's early memories were of her family's flight as refugees from Tunisia, leaving everything behind. Your dowry will be your studies, said her father when they sought a haven in France, home of equal rights. But France is now also the home of rising antisemitism. In this lyrical article, Yael Konig says she will not abandon France, but will fight on against prejudice. (With thanks: Dominique)  

My grandmother's tears as she hugged my brother to suffocation; beyond, on the tarmac, a 'plane waiting impatiently to reach Marseilles; my mother frozen in the incomprehension of a situation beyond her understanding. These are a few of the images with which I departed the land of my distant ancestors, as it appears my blond locks and blue eyes would testify to my ancient affinity with Judaised Berber tribes led by the mythical Kahena. I was thus leaving in effect so as not to suffer the fate of that worthy but oh so unfortunate queen!

I was a child but my country Tunisia had already imprinted on me its beauty, its intimacy, its influence. Magnificent Tunisia!

They drove me out.

Who were 'they' - 'they' who had caused a break too great to imagine for a girl of eight. The mere thought of 'them' brought shivers of horror to my spine, fear of  redoutable persons unknown who had the power to shake up our personal space and destabilise my parents, those pillars holding up my childhood. 'They' made my mother cry, they fractured her life, stole away her bearings, deprived her of all her certainties.

'They' deprived my father of his life at the heart of his family, wrecked his sense of calm, wiped off his tranquil smile, extinguished his look. 'They' spend their time at best, driving us out, century after century, or trying to kill us. Why? Because we had the dubious priviliege of bringing monotheism to this planet? Because we were the only people who agreed to do so, while others balked?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tunisian Jew stabbed on Djerba

 With thanks: Ahuva

The Al-Griba synagogue, Djerba, a main focus for the Tunisian tourist industry. 

A Tunisian Jew has been treated in hospital on the Tunisian island of Djerba after being stabbed.

The Israeli medium, quoting the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior, reports that the man's assailant has been arrested. According to the preliminary investigation, 'there is no political or religious motive'.

Lassad Tounsi, 38, attacked Maurice El-Bchiri, a merchant from the main area of Jewish settlement, the Hara Kbira, with a blunt tool, and stabbed him in several places.

Sources have described Tounsi as a 'religious extremist'.

The incident has not yet been confirmed or widely reported.

Djerba is an important centre for the Tunisian tourist industry. In the run-up to the yearly Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage to the Al-Ghriba synagogue, which would attract thousands of Jewish tourists in a few weeks' time, the authorities would be understandably anxious to play down any antisemitic motive.

Read report in full

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Henna traditions and Hametz

 Jewish singers in the 1930s, Tissint, Morocco

Did you know Henna dye is associated with Passover, although Jews did consider it Hametz (leaven, and therefore Henna preparation was forbidden during the week-long holiday)? Henna is also associated with the exuberance of the Song of Songs, which is read at this time of year. Fascinating post at Eshkol Hakofer (with thanks: Michelle) :

Since henna was a symbol of celebration, it’s not surprising that it would make an appearance on Passover. One fascinating account comes from a British soldier known only as “Colonel Scott,” who had joined the forces of the great Algerian leader ‘Abd al-Qadir (or Abd-el-Kader, as Scott spells it).

On April 5, 1841, Scott was staying in the town of Taza in the Highlands of Morocco, which happened to be the day before Passover.

He writes: “The Jews have been extremely busy the last few days, white-washing their houses, and making preparations for the celebration of the feast of the passover, which commences to-morrow” (1842, pg. 53).

 Sounds about right!

 "He continues (1842, pp. 53-54):

The Jewesses here not only dye their nails, but also their hands for this festival. Their manner of performing this operation is as follows; having made a paste of henna as thick as dough, they cover their hands with it to the thickness of a penny piece, they then have them bandaged up for the night; in the morning the paste being rubbed off, their hands are left a beautiful red; and so firmly does the dye take, that it remains on for eight or ten days, without any occasion for renewing the operation; at the expiration of the eight days, which time the feast lasts, they wash their hands and return to their usual occupations. 

"Passover is a week-long holiday, and so the henna was the perfect marker of this special time. Of course, he was mistaken if he thought that they washed their hands at the end of the week to remove the henna. But nonetheless it is an interesting account, and I imagine it must have been very visually striking.

 A similar tradition was found among the Jewish communities of Kurdistan. Brauer (whom we met previously here) briefly notes (1947, pg. 232): “women dye their hair and hands with henna before the holiday, since henna is imagined to be hametz.

 Hametz, literally ‘leaven,’ refers to the foods forbidden on Passover: anything made of grain (wheat, rye, spelt, barley, or oats) that has been or could have been fermented (i.e., not baked immediately into matza).

It should be obvious, then, that henna is not hametz, since it is not made of grain. However, apparently the women saw too much similarity between the process of mixing henna and letting it sit to allow the dye to release, and the process of kneading bread dough and letting it rise.

When describing how they mixed henna, Brauer explains (1947, pg. 99): “the women knead the henna in a tashta [shallow metal bowl], moistening it with warm water and adding hamirit hinna [the henna yeast], which is made of smokeh [sumac]. The henna needs to ferment [lehithametz] like bread dough, until the evening.”

Kurdish Jewish woman making bread, Israel, 1950s.

"The sumac, which is an acidic spice, would have helped the henna dye release, and they understood it to act as a kind of fermentation, calling it hamirit hinna [the yeast of the henna]. Thus it makes perfect sense why they would consider henna to be hametz!

This also might explain why I’ve never found any reference to henna celebrations for Mimouna, the Moroccan Jewish festival at the end of Passover. While it would fit in perfectly, if henna was cleaned out at the beginning of the holiday and people had dyed their hands already, then I understand why people wouldn’t have henna at the Mimouna.  

Read post in full

Monday, April 14, 2014

Celebrating the First Exodus

The way we were: Upmarket Seder in Morocco

It's that time again: Passover, the festival of the liberation of the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, is here. Tonight, millions will sit down to a ritual Seder and eat symbolic foods to remember the Biblical Exodus.

Courtesy of the Moroccan-Jewish site Dafina, Point of No Return brings you a rendering by Rav Avraham Yossef Ouziel in  Judeo-Arabic of the Haggadah, the story of Passover.

Wishing all those who are celebrating Passover HAG SAMEAH and TISKU LESHANIM RABOT. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What happens now to Syria's Jewish past?

 Gunmen inside the shell of Aleppo's Great Synagogue

 How should the past in Arab states be maintained once the Jews have gone? asks Adam Blitz in Haaretz.  It's a good question. Before the Syrian civil war broke out and Jewish sites became a propaganda football tossed between the regime and the rebels, the Damascus Jewish quarter and synagogues were part of a restoration programme.  Forgive my cynicism, dear reader, but the government's main motive was not 'cooperation' or the preservation of Jewish memory, but lucrative western tourism. 
Immediately before the onset of the Syrian civil war two years ago, there were only a handful of Jews left in Damascus. But many synagogues – over a dozen – were still standing, a testament to a once-diverse community composed of Syrian Jews of ancient local lineage, as well as 'recent' Jews who immigrated from Iberia and Italy from the 16th century onwards. The Al-Raqay synagogue (Iraqi) and the Franji synagogue (Senores Francos, a reference to Italian Jews of the 16th century) were familiar fixtures in the communal landscape.

Damascus' traditional Jewish Quarter, Harat Al Yahud, in the south-east of the Old City, remained derelict and largely abandoned for many years after its Jewish inhabitants left, especially after Syrian independence and the UN partition of Palestine vote in 1947, which triggered pogroms against Jews in Aleppo and Damascus.

Harat Al Yahud's demise should be seen in the broader context of a city experiencing mass Jewish emigration, negative population growth, and a lack of social policy to address urban decay. In a country where nearly 90% of the housing is owner-occupied, the task of reviving any of the residential quarters of the Old City on a private basis remained a challenge. Assad's regime attempted to re-house Palestinian refugees in and amongst the remaining Jewish population, and offered the refugees subsidized rents, but it was not until a decade ago that Harat-Al Yahud would be regenerated.

Change came in 2004 when the Syrian sculptor Mustafa Ali bought the Bukhais ancestral home. The family of silk traders had left more than fifteen years prior. By 2005 their residence had been restored to its former glory and transformed into an art gallery. In the course of time, forty additional artists followed Ali’s lead and pitched camp in the Jewish Quarter.

Concurrent with the rise of an artists’ colony was a government-sponsored program to restore the Old City’s synagogues. This interest in minority affairs was spurred by the secularist ideology of the Assad regime which, somewhat instrumentally, voiced frequent affirmations of a multi-ethnic Syria.

Despite this gesture, there still remained no scientific attempt to survey the synagogues (before the rapid restoration program) or to catalog their holdings. The last attempt to grapple seriously with the Jewish record in Damascus was in 1995, when the photo-journalist Robert Lyons produced a survey for the World Monument Fund’s Jewish Heritage Program, which managed to cover 75% of the extant sites.

Still the question persists: How should the past be maintained once the Jews have gone? There have been examples of cooperation between Middle East authorities and their expatriate Jewish communities: The Beiruti community in France engaged with the Lebanese government and secured the eventual restoration of the Magen Avraham Synagogue. There are other examples of Iraqi Jewish artifacts, once illegally confiscated by the Iraqi authorities, that are now on loan to institutions in the U.S. (The expatriate Iraqi-Jewish community is NOT cooperating in this case. These artifacts ended up in the US for restoration by happenstance - if they had not been saved by an American Jew, the authorities would certainly have allowed them to rot in Iraq - ed)   

Then there are examples of where cooperation has soured. The Iraqis are now demanding the return of the Jewish archive. In Egypt, the remaining Jews have voiced criticism of the state’s involvement in the handling of their heritage sites – while this tiny community’s monuments have received state protection from potential Islamist violence.

I myself have pleaded that Jewish artifacts in Damascus’ synagogues should fall under the control of Syria's Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums. I have stressed the diligence of Dr. Abdulkarim, its director, and this has triggered discussions about the future of Jewish sites in both the free press as well as – surprisingly - Hezbollah's Al Manar, which accused the "Zionist intelligence agency", in coordination with al-Qaida, of stealing treasures from the Jobar synagogue via a commando unit to made up of combatants "of Arab origins: Iraqi, Moroccan and Lebanese, and were dressed in Islamist jihadists’ uniforms."

Syria's synagogues are now a battlefield for misinformation and half-truths by both the Assad regime and its opponents, with YouTube videos purporting to show plundered synagogues and blame thrown at both sides.  I simply do not believe that in the case of the Jobar synagogue the destruction has been as total as that put forward by these heavily edited and politically-engaged 'reports'. It is clear that several weeks ago the synagogue’s exterior was shelled, but it seems equally clear that the resulting press coverage has not differentiated between the exterior and the prayer hall across the courtyard.

What I do know is that the most recent videos in this media onslaught are composite pieces of propaganda. At a time when coverage of Syria’s war is mediated by soldiers, outsiders and the protégés of various warring factions, the free press should not be so quick to respond to online claims made by interested parties.

This virtual world often consists of hearsay and at other times mere subterfuge; the Syrian reciprocal blame game operates for every site that is reported damaged, and terms like "burned" or "destroyed" are standard phrases on both sides.  To the long list of the casualties of this most brutal war, it's clear that the first victim, as always, is the truth.

Read article in full 

Adam Blitz will be giving a talk in London on Syria's Jewish heritage for Harif on 11 June

Friday, April 11, 2014

Yemen positive press not that surprising

 Yemenites in Israel pictured with President Peres (photo: Yemen media)

Over at Elder of Ziyon, that most venerable blogger of bloggers has been marvelling at the fact that two articles in the Yemen press about Yemenite Jews have not attempted to whitewash their sometimes uncomfortable history.

It's not the first time that such sympathetic pieces have appeared. This one  published in June 2013 was remarkable for pulling no punches.

Elder of Ziyon reckons that these latest articles mark a significant change for the better. I would venture to suggest that much of the antisemitism in Yemen originated among the Shi'as of the north, and these are the same warring tribes causing the government trouble today. So there is no incentive for opinion-formers and official mouthpieces to gloss over the historical facts.

Another reason is that human rights and women's groups in Yemen are active on behalf of the 100 or so remaining Jews because they understand that Jewish rights are the thin end of the wedge for society at large.

A further reason could be the large numbers of converts to Islam of Jewish origin.

Finally,  the articles identified by EoZ cannot resist dredging up the usual Israel-bashing allegations, charging that the Zionist state discriminated against its Yemenite Jews, and restating the story of the Yemenite children who were abducted or mysteriously disappeared when their families arrived in Israel. So they are not as positive as all that.

The discrimination and abductions did happen, but they have been exaggerated for political ends. What was once considered acceptable is today termed 'abuse' or 'politically incorrect'.

Yemen Press article (translation by Google)

Turkish expulsion could have been worse

 Jamal Pasha, Ottoman military governor of Syria, on the shores of the Dead Sea (Wikimedia)

Why during the First World War did the Ottoman Turks commit genocide against the Armenians, but spared the Jews ? This article in the Armenian news medium Asbarez  says that the answer, according to a book by Israeli Professor Yair  Auron, amounts to 'the Jewish lobby'. This is not to underestimate the great suffering endured by non-Ottoman Jews deported north from Palestine on the eve of Passover 1917: some 1, 500 Jewish deportees are estimated to have died.

Armenians and Jews, as minorities in the Ottoman Empire, were convenient scapegoats for the whims of ruthless Turkish leaders. Interestingly, the Young Turks used the same arguments for deporting both Armenians and Jews. The Turks had accused Armenians for cooperating with the advancing Russian Army, while similarly blaming Jews for cooperating with British forces invading Ottoman Palestine. Furthermore, Jews were accused of planning to establish their own homeland in Palestine, just as Armenians were allegedly establishing theirs in Eastern Turkey. In yet another parallel, Jamal Pasha, one of the members of the Young Turk triumvirate, had cynically commented that he was “expelling the Jews for their own good,” just as Armenians were forcefully removed “away from the war zone” for their own safety!

In 1914, when Turkey entered World War I on the German side and against the Allied Powers (England, Russia, and France), Palestine became a theater of war. Turkish authorities imposed a war tax on the population, which fell more heavily on the Jewish settlers. Their properties and other possessions were confiscated by the Turkish military. Some Jewish settlers were used as slave labor to build roads and railways. Alex Aaronsohn, a Jewish settler in Zichron Yaacov, wrote in his diary: “an order had recently come from the Turkish authorities, bidding them surrender whatever firearms or weapons they had in their possession. A sinister command, this: we knew that similar measures had been taken before the terrible Armenian massacres, and we felt that some such fate might be in preparation for our people,” as quoted in Yeghiayan’s “Pro Armenia.”

In Fall 1914, the Turkish regime issued an expulsion order for all “enemy nationals,” including 50,000 Russian Jews who had escaped from Czarist persecutions and settled in Palestine. After repeated intercessions by German Ambassador Hans Wangenheim and American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, these “enemy nationals” were allowed to stay in Palestine, if they agreed to acquire Ottoman citizenship.

Nevertheless, on December 17, 1914, Jamal Pasha’s subordinate, Bahaeddin, governor of Jaffa, implemented the expulsion order, deporting 500 Jews who were grabbed from the streets and dragged to police headquarters, and from there forced to board ships docked in the harbor. Homes of Jewish settlers were searched for weapons. Hebrew-language signs were removed from shops and the Jewish school of Jaffa was closed down. Zionist organizations were dissolved, and on January 25, 1915, the Turkish authorities issued a declaration against “the dangerous element known as Zionism, which is struggling to create a Jewish government in the Palestinian area of the Ottoman Kingdom….”

In response to protests from Amb. Morgenthau and the German government, Constantinople reversed the deportation order and Bahaeddin was removed from his post. According to Prof. Auron, the condition of the Jewish settlers could have been much worse had it not been for “the influence of world Jewry on Turkish policy…. The American, German, and Austrian Jewish communities succeeded in restraining some of its harsher aspects. Decrees were softened; overly zealous Turkish commanders were replaced and periods of calm followed the times of distress.”

Back in 1913, Pres. Wilson had instructed Amb. Morgenthau upon his appointment: “‘Remember that anything you can do to improve the lot of your co-religionists is an act that will reflect credit upon America, and you may count on the full power of the Administration to back you up.’ Morgenthau followed this advice faithfully,” according to Isaiah Friedman’s book, “Germany, Turkey and Zionism: 1897-1918.” After arranging for the delivery of much needed funds from American Jews to Jaffa, Morgenthau wrote to Arthur Ruppen, director of the Palestine Development Association: “I have been the chosen weapon to take up the defense of my co-religionists….”

In spring 1917, the Turkish authorities issued a second order to deport 5,000 Jews from Tel Aviv. Aaron Aaronsohn, leader of the Nili group – a small Jewish underground organization in Palestine working for British intelligence – immediately disseminated the news of the deportation to the international media. Aaronsohn secretly met with British diplomat Mark Sykes in Egypt and through him sent an urgent message to London on April 28, 1917: “Tel Aviv has been sacked. 10,000 Jews in Palestine are now without home or food. Whole of Yishuv [Jewish settlements in Palestine] is threatened with destruction. Jamal [Pasha] has publicly stated Armenian policy will now be applied to Jews.”

Upon receiving Aaronsohn’s reports from Palestine, Chaim Weizmann, a key pro-British Zionist in London, transmitted the following message to Zionist leaders in various European capitals: “Jamal Pasha openly declared that the joy of Jews at the approach of British troops would be short lived as he would them share the fate of the Armenians…. Jamal Pasha is too cunning to order cold-blooded massacres. His method is to drive the population to starvation and death by thirst, epidemics, etc….”

American Jews were outraged hearing of the deportations in Palestine. News reports were issued throughout Western countries on “Turkish intentions to exterminate the Jews in Palestine,” according to Prof. Auron. Moreover, influential Jewish businessmen in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire demanded that their governments pressure Turkish leaders to abandon their plans to deport Jews. Jamal Pasha was finally forced to rescind the expulsion order and provided food and medical assistance to Jewish refugees in Tel Aviv.

Read article in full 

Exodus TO Egypt: the forgotten refugees of 1917 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gina Waldman : I escaped with my life

With thanks: Michelle

 Gina Waldman slept in a bathtub when she and her sister spent two years in a small apartment in Rome, arriving as refugees from Libya in 1967 before finally resettling in the USA. Here she tells her dramatic story of escape to Ezra Levant, talk show host at the Toronto TV station Sun News. 

My only gripe is this introduction:

Ezra talks to Gina Waldman, a Libyan Jew whose family was kicked out of the country because of the creation of Israel.

Gina Waldman was not kicked out because of the creation of Israel. She left almost 20 years after the creation of Israel as a result of Libyan antisemitism.

That antisemitism singled out Jews whose families had lived in Libya for generations - some for thousands of years.

It must be pointed out that some of the worst anti-Jewish agitation took place before the creation of Israel: over 130 Libyan Jews were massacred in 1945 and thousands made homeless.

Read Gina's personal story in more detail