Friday, May 30, 2014

A schoolboy's vivid memories of the Farhud

 On the eve of the 73rd anniversary of the outbreak of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq, Point of No Return is posting this vivid extract from the memoirs of Shmuel Moreh, who was then a Baghdad schoolboy. Some 179 Jews were killed and thousands wounded  in the two days of anti-Jewish mayhem which swept through Iraq's cities on 1 and 2 June 1941.

"The year 1941 was one of the most tragic years in the life of the Jews of Iraq. It was a year of quick changes in the political, economic and social relations between Arabs (Muslim and Christian) on one side and Jews on the other side.

As a child who lived in the modern Jewish quarter of al-Battawiyyin inhabited by upper middle class in Baghdad, I was a pupil of the Al-Sa'doon Exemplary School. It was established in 1937 as a Government mixed school founded for children of the Iraqi Royal family, high-ranking civil and army officers, judges and secretaries. It mirrored the attitude of the government towards the Jewish citizens of Iraq. I was one of three Jewish pupils who studied there among majority of Muslims. We suffered daily harassments, insults and mockery.

A few days after the defeat of the Iraqi army in its war against the British army at  its bases in Habbaniya and Sin al-Dhubban, Jews were attacked in the streets; their houses were marked as Jewish by anti-Jewish organizations, and I was able to narrowly escape being lynched by my Muslim and Christians colleagues at my school.

On 31 May, 1941 after the defeat of the Iraqi Army against the British in Iraq, Radio Baghdad announced that the next day, the Regent and the members of the Iraqi government would return to Baghdad and urged the people to receive him with joy. We were very happy and optimistic that the nightmare of the pro-Nazi government had collapsed, and felt safe to go out of doors.

 June 1, 1941 was the first day of Shevu'ot. My father went out to  the Meir Twaiq Synagogue near our home for the festival prayer. The minute he put his foot out of our door, Abu 'Alwan, the milkman who lived with his wives and cows opposite our house in the date palm orchard known as Bustan Mamoo, called my father in a warning voice: "Ibrahim, Abu Jack, return home quickly and close your door, nobody should go out today. You don't know what is happening in Baghdad?" He whispered to my father some words.

My father's face became very serious and worried. He closed the door quickly and ordered his six children with a severe voice to help him fortify the door with heavy furniture. He asked my elder brother to bring the revolver from its secret pit under the tiles of the bathroom, to load it and bring it to him.

 He ordered the rest of his younger children to collect bricks, iron bars and objects and to take them to the roof, to defend ourselves in case we were attacked. We were all tense and frightened at the news that some Jews were massacred in the Old Quarter of Baghdad.

In the evening we noticed heavy smoke and heard shots coming from that direction. At about eight o'clock a shot rang out near by from the direction of our uncle's house, followed by terrifying cries for help. We were able to recognize the voice of our uncle, a former Police Officer and Commander of a police station in Baghdad, Haim 'Aynachi, and his daughters.

We were terrified. We children couldn't stop our teeth from chattering, my mother and my two sisters were ordered to read a chapter of the Psalms asking God to save my uncle's family of four daughters and one son. Soon more fires and heavy smoke were seen; the firing of heavy machine guns and bullets was followed by the terrifying cries of desperate voices. Calls for help and mercy were heard from the faraway Jewish houses of the Old City. We were unable to sleep all night.

The next day, our gardener, the milkman, Abu 'Alwan, knocked at our door; I went to the window to see who was knocking. Abu 'Alwan was standing at our threshold. He took  a long, sharp knife out of his clothing and told me, "Sami, look, tell your father that I am guarding you and will defend you! Don't be afraid. Anyone who would try to attack you will be slaughtered with this knife!" I thanked him and ran to tell my family of Abu 'Alwan's noble gesture and bravery.

We felt somehow relieved. At least he didn't betray us, as some Muslims did to their Jewish neighbors. However, the thought that a single Muslim might help  stop the incited savage mobs, thirsty for the blood and property of defenseless Jews, was comforting.

Later on, frightening scenes and desperate screams were seen and heard once more. The turmoil of fast-driving lorries and cars, the firing of machine guns and screams were heard once more.  At the end of the second day of the massacres we were able to hear the news bulletin on the Radio of Baghdad announcing safe conduct. A Muslim cleric called to save the life of the Jews since they were Dhimmis, protected by the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad; order was maintained and people could go out for shopping and return to their business.

The first thing we did was to visit our uncle's family. He showed us the heavy furniture with which he fortified his door and was proud that he ordered his young beautiful daughter to cry for help while escaping from one roof to another to avoid being raped. He was furious with his Muslim neighbor for his betrayal: he had warned my uncle not to complain to the police.

My brother Raymond and I went to buy bread and food for the family. A Muslim girl ignored our queue. We ordered her to wait for us in the long queue. She looked us with hate and anger and shouted toward us: "You bloody Jews! In spite of our massacre, you are still daring to face us with your arrogant remarks. You will see, in the next Farhud, we will slaughter you all."

 Two days later, an endless stream of wounded and humiliated, hungry, and penniless Jews came knocking on the doors of the lucky Jewish neighborhoods which the rioters and murderers did not dare to attack. The told us with streaming tears in their eyes, about their horror and suffering, telling us terrible stories of rape, murder of men who dared to defend their wives and daughters' honor, their Muslim neighbors who defended or betrayed them, the merciless soldiers and policemen who kidnapped, raped and killed even small children. Our parents tried to prevent us from hearing about these vicious atrocities.

All the Jewish neighborhoods were kind enough to help with money, clothes, shoes, bedsheets, pillow, kitchen utensils for cooking. The poor victims would murmur angrily: "The damned rascals robbed us of everything. They even took with them brooms and old shoes". One of our relatives told us how her 12-year-old son was shot by a policeman when trying to escape to the next roof.

 Even after 50 years when I questioned her about the massacre of the Farhud, she started weeping as if it happened yesterday. "When my son fell by the bullet in his thigh, I took him in my bosom, trying to bind his wound in vain and ease his horror. He was bleeding heavily. He looked at me 'with his big blue eyes' screaming horrifying screams, asking for help. But nobody could help. Bullets were whistling above our heads and all around. Screaming, hungry and wounded men and women begged us for help, and anyone who dared go down to the streets would be killed by the maddened mob. My son was bleeding in my arms a slow, horrible death. Even God did not have mercy upon us, and he died, he died… He died upon my breast, from where I fed him when he was a child!" She was weeping and knocking upon her chest with great grief.

Back at school, we heard of other tragedies of friends.  My brother Mordechai brought home one of his friends who lost his parents in the terrible massacres. Our mother asked us to help him with clothes, money and supply all his needs.

At first, the attacked Jews felt that the main aim of the soldiers and policemen was to kill as many Jews as possible, but when the mob started stealing Jewish property, they joined in the plunder, and in this way many escaped certain death.

From the report of the Investigating Committee set up by the Iraqi government, we learned that the massacre known as the Farhud started when the Regent, his entourage and the former Prime Minister of Iraq returned and the British Army desisted from entering Baghdad to maintain order.

During these two days 179 Jews were killed and thousands were wounded. We felt humiliated and betrayed. When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, we were afraid that another Farhud would start. Most of us felt that the Iraqi government and the people did not consider us their citizens. A Jewish state had been established and a wave of persecution started. We felt that Iraq was not safe any more and in fact we have had to replace the Palestinian refugees who escaped the territory of the new Jewish State. When we had the choice to leave to Israel during 1950-1951, we left en masse to Israel on eagles' wings."

Shmuel Moreh is an emeritus Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel Prize Laureate in Oriental Studies 1999); Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland (1986); Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel and Chairman of the Academic Committee, The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Israel. 

More articles about the Farhud 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

'Terrorist attack on Djerba foiled'

Visitors at this year's Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage on Djerba

The Tunisian authorities foiled a terrorist attack aimed at the Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage which ended earlier this month.

According to Tunisie-Secret, interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa congratulated members of the national guard and army on 25 May for conducting a preventative operation to neutralise a 'spectacular' terrorist threat.

Three terrorists from the border with Libya had been arrested on the night of 24 May, according to Interior Minister Lofti Ben Jeddou. They were seeking to target not only the pilgrimage, a key money-spinner for Tunisia's economy, but also prominent personalities.

But Tunisie-Secret claims that, according to information leaked from the Ministry of the Interior, eight were arrested. They were part of a group of  20 terrorists, many home-grown, and including two who have been on the run since murdering the opposition leader Mohamed Chokri Belaid. 

Even before the arrests, however,  the terrorists were deterred by the massive security operation deployed on Djerba to protect the pilgrims to the al-Ghriba synagogue.

The spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, Mohamed Ali Laroui, said that the security services had found and neutralised mines and explosive belts for suicide bombers.

In April 2002 the bombing of the Al-Ghriba synagogue killed 19, including 14 German tourists.

Read article in full (French) 

Djerba pilgrimage attracts 1,500 

AFP report on Times of Israel

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Djerba jewellers go on strike

A souk on Djerba

The Jewish jewellers of  Houmet Essouk on the island of Djerba went on strike on 25 and 26 May following a stabbing of one of their number on 22 May. It's the fourth such incident since September 2013,  according to the Jewish website Harissa.

The stabbing victim was attacked by a religious extremist when he tried to stop him hurling insults at the Jewish shopeepers in the souk.

"We are asking the authorities to take this incident seriousy and not turn a blind eye. We are Tunisian citizens. There ought to be no difference between a Muslim and a Jew on Djerba. People of different religions have always lived together and should continue to do so," said Nahoun Mamou on Tataouine radio.

The day after the attack, the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities (ATSM) condemned the attack against a Tunisian and deplored the hostility which  the Jewish community of Djerba is facing from Islamist radicals. But the authorities have kept strangely silent. 

Read article in full (French)

Lebanon does not accept Jews as humans

The Lebanese passport of Yaacoub Larmen, a Jew born in 1904 (photo: al-Sharq al-Aswat)

The public face of the 'Lebanese Jewish community', Isaac Arazi, has been proclaiming its rebirth while denying that Lebanese Jews have any links to Israel. But three other 'clandestine' Jews tell A-sharq al Aswat that some in Lebanon do not accept Jews as human beings (With thanks: Sharon)

(..) The perceived relationship between Lebanon’s Jews and the Jewish ‘homeland’ to the south raises major problems for some Lebanese. Speaking forcefully, Arazi said, “To be clear, if our allegiance was to Israel, then we would not stay here another moment.” He explicitly denied any relation to those who wish to live on the land of Palestine, stressing that “not all Jews are Zionists. Our identity is Lebanese and we belong to Lebanon, a hundred percent.”

But Sonia, a Lebanese Jew in her sixties, differed from Arazi. She told Asharq Al-Awsat that, in her opinion, “there is no Zionist or Jewish; Jews are all one and they cannot evade their identity.”

“After the emergence of major hostility between Arabs and Jews, my husband’s family deprived me of my children because of my Jewish heritage,” Sonia continued. “They fought me using all forms of psychological torture. I left my family, who had chosen to go and live in Israel, in order to stay in Lebanon with my husband and children. But the consequences of the Israeli–Arab conflict show no mercy for my existence as a human being.” (My emphasis)

Sonia said that she did not care about the isolation imposed on the community, ending her comments unequivocally. “When I die, I want to be buried in a Jewish cemetery with a Jewish rabbi praying over me,” she said. “The Torah is my sacred text, and Judaism is my religion. I will never give that up.”

According to official statistics published in 2003, there were only 60 official members of the so-called Israeli community in Lebanon. More accurate statistics, however, indicate that this number is closer to 1,500, with most members officially switching to other religions in order to avoid persecution. One such clandestine member of Lebanon’s “Israeli community” is Ibrahim, nicknamed the “tailor of the princes.”

A Lebanese Jewish newspaper called the "Jewish Universe," published on August 24, 1922. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The August 24, 1922, edition of a Lebanese Jewish newspaper called the “Jewish Universe.” (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Qur’anic verses hang of the walls of the shop belonging to Ibrahim, a Jewish tailor in his seventies, along with pictures which dispel any doubts a visitor might have about his identity or religion. He sits on a brown leather chair wearing brown wire-framed glasses. In his hand he holds sewing tools which have accompanied him for more than 25 years—a needle, some thread—and some slacks that need mending.

Speaking with a Syriac accent, Ibrahim welcomes the customers who frequent his shop to buy suits and shirts because of the high quality of his tailoring and his reputation in the neighborhood.

Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat: “On paper, I am a Muslim. I changed my religion to escape the problems and absurdities that surrounded me. Some Lebanese do not accept our presence among them, and we have become obsessed with living as Jews in public.”

He stopped for a moment to light his cigar and brush the dust off his white shirt before continuing his narrative, recalling a time when Lebanon’s Jewish community did not have to hide: “Tailoring is a family business. I used to tailor clothes for princes, ministers and ambassadors of all Arab nationalities. I used to carry a diplomatic passport and receive invitations from Arab notables to accompany them to events in order to take care of their uniforms.”

Ibrahim laughed when asked about the way of life for a Jew in Lebanon. “Jews in Lebanon experience the same difficult social conditions as the rest of Lebanese society, and share with them a common concern for a country on the brink of the abyss,” he said. “Their opportunities for friendship are limited, and they keep their ‘Jewishness’ a secret. I’m one of them.”

On a street opposite Ibrahim’s shop, two women live in a nursing home. The home is old-fashioned, and its walls are decorated with paintings that demonstrate good taste. A clean and uncluttered grand piano sits inside the house with a book of sheet music perched on the side of the bench. Small religious tokens are scattered around, including a menorah.

A woman in her eighties spoke very slowly while sipping coffee with milk, her hands shaking. She relived the memories of her childhood in Wadi Abu Jamil—the former Jewish quarter of Beirut—with great sadness. “I was a music teacher,” she said. “I used to teach students how to read sheet music, and I loved to play the piano. My parents died and I was left alone with my sister in Lebanon after our relatives and friends traveled to the land of exile [Israel], leaving behind their homes and property. They still dream of someday returning to their first and only country: Lebanon.”

Speaking in refined French, she told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The number of Lebanese Jews today does not exceed 200, all of whom are between 50 and 70 years old. And the number of married women among them is few because of the great migration, which emptied the country of its Jewish men. It is difficult for a Jewish woman to be in a relationship with a man from another religion who does not accept the idea of their children, male or female, carrying the religious identity which, according to the Jewish religion, the mother passes on to her children at birth. So we are left without family.”

The “professor,” as she likes to be called, described Lebanon as an “open country” and its people as “intellectuals,” denying being exposed to any insult or abuse because of her religion. Friendship, love, and mutual respect link her with her neighbors. “In the 1970s, many people tried to entice us to travel to Israel with attractive offers, but the idea was rejected outright,” she said.

“Some bigots may ignorantly judge us, but they have to remember before anything that we are human beings.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

Judaica ascribed to 'destroyed' synagogue

 Auction houses in the West  may using exaggerated reports of the destruction of Jewish holy sites in order to make a mint on the sale of Judaica. Adam Blitz investigates in the Times of Israel: 
The Jobar synagogue near Damascus: contrary to some claims it is neither Syria's oldest nor has it been destroyed (Photo: Christopher Knoch)

On 17 December 2013 Sotheby’s (New York) commenced its Important Judaica sale. To be auctioned was “An Exceedingly Rare Hebrew Synagogue Carving” (Lot 93). Sotheby’s catalogue states that the object was made of Walnut and incised with seven words from Psalm 19 verse 9 framed by an ebony border and inlaid with bone.

The item (below) was perceived to be a door to a (Torah) Ark: the Aron ha Kodesh or Hechal , the ornamental cupboard within a synagogue in which the sacred scrolls were housed. Provenance was ascribed to Jobar, Syria’s much beleaguered synagogue of late, two kilometres North East of Damascus.
Lot 93 Sotheby's Wood Carving
Lot 93: the wood carving from Sotheby’s Important Judaica auction (courtesy of Sotheby’s)

The Catalogue Note was both explicit and ambiguous. It stated that the carving originated circa the 11th Century and was unequivocal in that the synagogue of Jobar was at least 2,000 years old. The reader, or rather the bidder, was informed that Jobar was “once the most important Jewish pilgrimage sites in Syria” and that the synagogue “ha[d] since been totally destroyed”. The object may in fact have been “all that remains of this ancient and venerable [Jewish] community”, we were similarly told.

Yet the same entry was also vague. Sotheby’s associated the carving with another item: an Ark door from the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo . And to this extent the auctioneers directed the public to the Walters-Yeshiva University exhibition, “Threshold to the Sacred: the Ark of Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue ”. However it was unclear from Sotheby’s Catalogue Note whether its object of comparison was a non-extant Ark door (which bore the same Hebrew text and discernible only from photographic evidence [4]) or an actual Ark door. One such door was on display in New York City at the time of publication.

The carving was listed by Sotheby’s with an estimated price between $30, 000 and $50, 000 US dollars. The Lot sold on the day for $40, 000 US dollars (or $50,000 US dollars including the Buyer’s Premium). The item was not purchased by a museum but by a private collector.

This was not the first time the carving had been sold on the open market. In July of 2011 the Israeli auction house Kedem listed the object as part of its Judaica Auction. No. 16. On that occasion the original estimate was $5,000 US dollars.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another Jew stabbed in Djerba (updated)

A pilgrim at the al-Ghriba synagogue. The festivities ended 6 days ago

Update: The Times of Israel is reporting that the assailant yelled: "the nation of Muhammad returns for vengeance!" He was arrested, but apparently released without charge.

Update to the update: Arutz Sheva reports:
"According to local media reports, merchants on the scene were able to apprehend the perpetrator and turn him in to local police. Justice will not be served, however; more than a hundred masked men surrounded the police station and threatened to burn it down if the terrorist was prosecuted.
The police released the assailant immediately."

A Jewish Tunisian man was stabbed in the chest after a fight at the Jewish market in Djerba.It's been a month since the last stabbing. Report in the Forward (with thanks: Lily)

Tunisia’s chief rabbi, Chaim Bitan, was quoted as telling the news site that the unnamed victim sustained wounds that are not life threatening in the stabbing Thursday and is currently in hospital. The report did not say what led to the man’s stabbing, but it said the attacker was a Muslim man.

Last month, a member of the southern Tunisian island’s 2,000-strong Jewish community was wounded in another stabbing, which Tunisian police said was not a hate crime.

Approximately 1,500 Jews, including Israelis, visited Djerba this month for the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the El Ghriba synagogue.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Iraqi minister denies deal over Jewish archive

 Point of No Return exclusive

Iraqi ambassador to Washington DC Lukman Faily: the deal stands

An internal dispute has broken out over the 'deal' reached between the US and Iraqi governments to extend by two years the stay of the Iraqi Jewish archive (IJA) in the US. The Iraqi minister of Tourism and Antiquities has denied that his ministry approved the agreement announced by the Iraqi ambassador to Washington.

According to an article in the Arabic press, the minister says he does not have knowledge of the agreement, which would allow there to be more exhibitions of the Iraqi-Jewish archive in the US. If true, the agreement would not be valid, as  the archive belongs to the Department of Iraqi Manuscripts, part of his ministry.

 However, the Iraqi ambassador to Washington, Lukman Faily,  representing the Iraqi foreign ministry, whose statement announced the original deal, has moved swiftly to reassure Iraqi Jews in the US, led by the New-York-based World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI), that the deal still stands. 

It is noteworthy that the Iraqi Minister of Tourism and Antiquities belongs to the Sadrist stream. The party lost more seats than expected in the Iraqi elections held in April.

However,  Nouri Al-Maliki (the present prime minister) 's Alliance coalition held its ground, winning more seats than in previous elections. Al-Maliki is therefore the front-runner to lead the next government, although victory is not a foregone conclusion.

"Obviously, it would be be to WOJI’s benefit if the Iraqi foreign minister and the prime minister’s National Security Adviser kept their posts in the new government that would take months to form," WOJI chairman Maurice Shohet observed. "Both of these officials gave the Iraqi Ambassador the approval to come up with his statement. If they are replaced in the new government, it would take the Ambassador extra effort to convince the new Iraqi officials on the issue of the IJA. "

Not without my grandmother

Albert Zubaida was a 17-year-old Jew in Baghdad during the worst persecution of the Saddam Hussein era following the Six-Day War. He told the hair-raising story of his escape from Iraq - he had vowed to his 85-year-old grandmother he would not travel without her  - at a briefing on Jewish refugees at Westminster in March 2014. Here is a summary of the transcript. (The full transcript of the event is available to members of the Henry Jackson Society. )

 Albert Zubaida tells his story at a briefing on Jewish refugees at Westminster

 I was born in Baghdad, my ancestors came from Jerusalem, some 2,600 years ago. They were taken as prisoners by Nebuchadnezzar and taken in to Babylon, and rebuilt Babylon.

The situation deteriorated so rapidly in 1967, after the war between the Arabs and Israelis, and I vividly remember that the president, or someone prominent in the Iraqi government, took it upon himself to rid Iraq of ‘traitors and spies.’ And, sure enough, within a few days, people started disappearing from the streets, having been arrested.

New rules came up within a few days; Jews could not work; if anyone employed a Jew, his business would be closed; telephone lines to Jewish homes were cut off; Jewish youngsters no longer were accepted in university; all travel outside of Baghdad, in a five-mile radius, was prohibited; if any person sold a property, he could not take the money, but had to leave it in the bank; passports had suspended for Jews in 1964, so no one could leave the country legally.

Within a few days of the 1967 war, there was a blackout; the government decided to switch off the lights at night, as they were worried in case Israel bombed Baghdad. I remember very well that one evening we had a knock on the door, my mum went to the window to see what was happening; there were a few policemen outside, and they asked her to open the door. She let one of the officers in, and he said, ‘don’t you know there’s a blackout? You left one of the lights in one of the bedrooms on’. She apologised, and he left.

 By the time she went to the bedroom, my father had had a massive heart attack from fright and we couldn’t ask a doctor to come as that day our telephone line had been cut off. By the morning he was deteriorating. We were worried to take him to hospital, because in 1941 (during the Farhud pogrom - ed) Jews were injected and killed in hospitals. Sadly, my father died within two weeks, at the age of 58.

At the beginning of 1969 – everyone knows about nine Jews being hanged in Baghdad, in the main square – well, as two Jewish boys we were going to school in the morning, the driver on the bus said, ‘why don’t you go down and go back home’. So we went back home, and when we got back home we figured out what happened with the situation. Two of my uncles were in prison at the time, with another 30 men and we didn’t know what their fate was to be.

 When leaving school in Baghdad, every boy needed to have documentation for the army, and normally they stamp it with ‘not suitable for army service, for medical reasons’. And I used to go to the ministry every ten days for a mark, during the heat of the day, waiting from 8 o’clock in the morning until 2 o’clock in the afternoon just to get my document stamped. Meanwhile my father’s friend appears who was in the jewellery trade, which I used to go and practice, I was good at making things, so I made my own stamp and gave myself six months leave.

 [Laughter] At that time I had promised my grandmother, who was living with us, to take her with me, and she took the offer. She was about 85, quite big, she can’t see well, and it took me six months to manage to take her, to find a smuggler willing to take us. We had to cross the border on mules and horses, so the smuggler took us in a Land Rover from Baghdad to the border [to Iran], and then I had to stand with my little suitcase and handkerchief opened, as a sign for the smuggler to approach. He came and we followed the track to his horse until the evening when he got a Land Rover, he put us in and covered us with canvas.

 I had, at that time, stuffed my shoes with dollars. We had to pass through five army checkpoints, and each time I was really sweating in case we got caught. It took us about two miles to reach this point until the Land Rover could go no more. So, the chap took us in the middle of the night and said, ‘why don’t you wait here and I’ll get some horses and mules to come pick you up’, so I begged him to keep one person with us or he might just leave us stranded on the mountain; he did. He went and he got the horse and mules, put my grandmother on, tied her up, and we proceeded.

After a couple of hours, we got to a small stream and he said that this was the frontier between Iraq and Iran. As soon as we crossed it, we were surrounded by army personnel, but when they came near us they were Iranians. And I told them we wanted political asylum, they said that was fine and brought an Army jeep to put us in, and took us to a frontier hotel. The next morning we had to go to the police station to register. They brought us teas and coffees, and what have you.

His accent, and his language, was so pure Baghdadi that I thought we hadn’t even crossed the border. So I asked him to take us to Tehran, about eight hours inland, and he said, ‘Fine, no problem’.

I got the doctor in Tehran to look at my grandmother, and he said that she was fine and had nothing wrong with her; he gave her some medication and within a couple of days we had a couple of people from the Israeli embassy who had information that we had crossed the border. I took her to Israel, she lived for two years, but had cancer, but I took all around – to the Kotel and everywhere, and I then got myself to England.

Link to transcript summary here

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Tunisia needs you Jews!"

Two elegant pilgrims at this year's festivities, which attracted around 2,000 tourists

"Tunisia needs you!"

There was no clearer message delivered to the 1,500 - 2,000 Jewish pilgrims who attended this year's pilgrimage to the Al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba than the speech (French) by the country's personable minister of Tourism, Amel Karboul.
Minister of Tourism Amel Karboul gets a kiss from Perez Trabelsi, leader of the Djerba Jewish community

Mme Karboul must, along with the rest of the government, be heaving a sigh of relief that the annual Lag ba'Omer pilgrimage passed off without incident. All officials concerned pronounced the event a success. Tensions between Islamists, who accused the government of 'normalising' relations with Israel if they let in tourists travelling on Israeli passports, and pragmatic politicians such as Mme Karboul who appreciate the importance of Jewish tourism to the Tunisian economy,  were running high in the run-up to the pilgrimage. But the pragmatists won the day.

MEMRI has a good summary of the arguments on both sides of the debate. The summary ends with extracts from an article by an Al-Hayat journalist, Ahmed Maghrabi. He makes the distinction between welcoming Israeli tourists (he does) and supporting the Zionist enterprise (he doesn't).

The journalist Nizhar Bahloul of Business News wrote that Tunisia does not have the moral right to exclude Israeli tourists. There is no question of 'normalisation'. Besides, it is good for business:

"Current Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, [the head of the Jewish community in Djerba] Perez Trabelsi, and the Tunisian Hotel Federation have [all] reminded us that the El Ghriba pilgrimage is important for Tunisian tourism. An MP from Wafa, one of the most extremist Tunisian parties, pretended not to understand the connection between the Israelis' visit and tourism. Do we need to remind him that most of the tour operators in Europe, who fill up our hotels, belong to the Jewish community, and that they will not tolerate discrimination against their co-religionists?...

"Furthermore,... there is a question of principles. Tunisia does not have the moral right to prohibit anyone from performing his religious rites just because it controls access to this religious site. This is both indecent and immoral. Muslims are well acquainted with the sense of injustice [felt] whenever Israel denies Palestinians access to the [Al-Aqsa] mosque in Jerusalem. We Tunisians should not behave like the Zionist Israelis do in Israel. Don't we often say that Islam is of a religion of peace and tolerance? Then let us implement these values!"

Read MEMRI transcript in full

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

'Jews' implicated in mine disaster

Just when you thought Turkey’s antisemitic government had gone far enough, it sinks to a new low - associating Jews with the recent Soma mine disaster. Report in the Algemeiner:

The pro-government daily Yeni Akit sought to implicate Jews in the country’s recent Soma coal mine disaster that left over 300 dead, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported on Wednesday.

The paper blasted its distaste for Jews with a headline that criticized the mine’s owner for having a Jewish son-in-law and ”Zionist-dominated media” for distorting the story.

Hurriyet said Yeni Akit ”has a long track record of anti-Semitic slurs” and noted the front page wording used to describe Alp Gürkan, the mine’s owner, for “giving his daughter to a Jew,” which it implied to be the main reason why the “Zionist-dominated domestic and foreign media” was “attacking Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” to “distort” the truth behind the disaster.

“While the cartel media in cooperation with Jews, Jew-lover parallel media and Jew controlled western media targets the Prime Minister over the Soma disaster, it is revealed that the groom of Alp Gürkan, owner of the company responsible for the disaster, is a Jew named ‘Mario Asafrana’ who changed his name and is now called ‘Mahir’,” the paper wrote.

Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center called for Turkey’s Prime Minister to repudiate the report.

Read article in full 

How it feels to be 'Israeli spawn' by Haymi Behar (Hurriyet)

Synagogue re-opens, without Jews

 The renovated Beirut synagogue is about to re-open

I have to confess I was reluctant to join the media circus promoting the re-opening of the reconstructed Maghen Avraham synagogue in Beirut. What purpose can this renovation serve, except as a publicity stunt for Hezbollah? The last Jew in the old Jewish Wadi Abu Jamil neighbourhood, Lisa Srour, has died and the few remaining Jews live too far to walk to the synagogue in the doubtful event of services ever being held.  Was Isaac Arazi's Israel-bashing outburst, reported by Jewish Press, really necessary? Only if you happen to know that he runs a food-machinery business, which has 1, 000 customers in Lebanon. His dhimmi statement is a small price (or Jizya) to pay to buy security for himself and his business. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

The Jewish community in Lebanon has officially denounced the State of Israel as the country’s sole synagogue prepares to reopen in Beirut.

“We have no connection to those who wanted to live in Palestine and kill innocent people,” Isaac Arazi, head of Lebanon’s dwindling Jewish community, announced to a reporter.

He spoke with the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview this week ahead of the impending reopening of Magen Avraham, the only remaining synagogue in Lebanon.

Founded in 1925, Magen Avraham was one of 16 synagogues in Beirut, named for the son of Abraham Sassoon, Moise Abraham Sassoon of Calcutta, and built on land donated by Isaac Mann. The synagogue is located in the former Jewish district of Wadi Abu Jamil in Beirut and was allegedly abandoned after shelling destroyed the building during the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s.

During the 1982 Lebanon War with Israel, the Palestine Liberation Organization forces headed by terrorist Yasser Arafat holed up in the Jewish neighborhood. They used the synagogue as a shield, forcing Israeli pilots to attempt a surgical air strike that failed, further damaging the building.

Renovations in process since May 2009 were estimated at approximately $1 million. “We even raised money from Lebanese Jews outside the country – but Christians and Muslims have also helped us renovate,” Arazi noted. “Even the company that is responsible for development and rehabilitation of Beirut helped us in accordance with the law that the state should help to renovate houses of worship.”

Arazi said as head of the community, he spoke for all of the remaining few dozen Jews who are left in the country north of Israel, home also to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization.

Although the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist organization, an Iranian proxy, is committed to Israel’s destruction, the group claimed it has no problem with the Jews in its midst.

One woman who was interviewed, “Sonia,” age 60, said that although she stayed with her Gentile husband and children when the rest of her family made aliyah, her in-laws nevertheless were opposed to her because of her faith.
Still, she told the newspaper, “There’s no such thing as Zionist or Jewish. The Jews are all one, and there’s no way to run from their identity.” (My emphasis)

Read article in full 

Jewish newspaper and passport of a Lebanese Jew. The term 'Israelite' was common as a substitute for 'Jewish': it lead to the conflation of 'Jew' and 'Israeli', Lebanese Jews complain.

Al-Awsat feature on the Jews of Lebanon  (Arabic - with thanks: Sharon)

It pays to restore synagogues in the Arab world

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Of Nakbas, fools and fingers

From left: Michelle Huberman of Harif, Georges Bensoussan, Lyn Julius and Nitza Spiro at the historian's London talk, a Harif/Spiro Ark joint venture.

While Palestinians marked the 66th anniversary of the ‘catastrophic’ mass flight of Arab refugees from Israel in 1948, the French historian Georges Bensoussan (pictured), on a visit to London, was focusing on a different nakba. He was asking a packed audience the rhetorical question: why do people, even when presented with incontrovertible proof, persist in their denial of the mass post-war exodus of Jews? Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:

It was at the height of the second intifada in 2002, when two Jews a day were being beaten up on the streets of France, that Bensoussan decided to write about Jews from Arab countries. The antisemitism sweeping France then, as now, was being blamed on the Arab-Israel conflict. But Bensoussan, who left Morocco with his family as a six-year-old, had a nagging feeling that the problem had deeper root-causes. 

Bensoussan spent ten years researching his 900-page book on the 850,000 Jews driven out of Arab lands in a single generation (Juifs en pays arabes: le grand deracinement 1850 – 1975). He chose not to base himself on unreliable memoirs, but on solid archival evidence.

The condition of Jews in Arab lands is not one of harmonious coexistence between Jews and Arab, shattered by the arrival of Zionism. Nor is it purely a lachrymose tale of woe. Yes, Iraqi Jews experienced the Farhud pogrom in 1941 – but next to the Ukraine, Iraq was paradise, Bensoussan contended.

 For 14 centuries, however, Jewish-Arab coexistence was laced with contempt: Muslims kept their non-Muslim minorities in a state of degradation and humiliation as dhimmis. Dhimmitude was most rigorously applied those parts of the Muslim world most remote from Ottoman influence – Yemen, Morocco, and Shi’a Iran. With western colonisation, the Arab world lashed out at its minorities. The word ‘ fear’ keeps cropping up in the archives in association with the Jews.

Jews were not uprooted from their 2,500-year existence in Arab countries by a few Zionist emissaries. Nor did their exodus begin after WW2. Jews were already leaving Morocco in the 19th century to found communities in Portugal, Brazil and Venezuela. Jews migrated from Iraq to India and China. (On the other hand, the Jewish population increased in Egypt).

Bensoussan traces the fault-line between Jews and their Arab neighbours to the onset of 19th century modernity and emancipation. The anti-Zionist Alliance Israelite Universelle schools network, paradoxically, ‘created a Jewish people and prepared it for Zionism’.

Whereas Ashkenazim chose between Judaism and secular Zionism, Sephardi/ Mizrahi Jews saw a continuity between the two, in spite of the initial weakness of the Zionist movement in Arab countries. But from 1929, Zionism also made Jews in Arab countries vulnerable to the repercussions of the conflict in Palestine. After 1948, Jewish communities were held hostage by Arab states.

Another cause of the mass exodus was the blood-and-soil nationalism which prevented Jews from becoming accepted as citizens of independent Arab states. The Arab world eagerly embraced Fascist youth movements and Black Shirts; the influence of the pro-Nazi sympathies of the Mufti of Jerusalem is well-known. His virulent radio propaganda broadcasts spread anti-Jewish hatred. And the Mufti was not the only pro-Nazi Arab leader.

But the key reason for the Jewish Nakba – not the only one but an essential factor – was a matter not of historical fact but deep-seated cultural mentality.
As dhimmis, Jews were despised as half-persons. The were feminised in the Muslim imagination. Like women, they were not allowed to carry daggers. Like women, they had to ride side-saddle. 

“The more I studied the question, the more I understood that there was no solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Georges Bensoussan.

The truth is that the colonised can also be a coloniser, the victim of racism can himself be a racist, and the martyr an executioner.

Like intellectuals blinded to the Soviet regime’s crimes, people today cannot see the truth before their very eyes. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “When the sage points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Would you honour the German Nakba?

This excellent op-ed by Ben Dror Yemini (pictured) in Ynet News exposes the world's hypocrisy over the Nakbas of many nations. Take Germans displaced by World War ll, in contrast to Palestinian refugees displaced by the first Arab-Israeli war. Guess which one is considered the 'crime of the century'? (With thanks: Jonah)

The month of May had, with an interval of a few days, two milestones. On May 9, the world celebrated victory over the Germans in World War II, and on May 15, Nakba Day events were also held around the world.

The Allied victory over Germany did not end with outpourings of reconciliation, quite the reverse. Between 12 and 16 million ethnic Germans were expelled from central European states at the end of the war and in its aftermath. Between 600,000 and two million were killed during those expulsions, which included innumerable pogroms and massacres. MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship carrying refugees, was sunk in January 1945 by the Soviet navy, taking with it 9,500 souls, but who remembers? What is more, representatives of the vanquished and of the refugees were not invited to the May 9 celebrations - their narrative did not appear.

And yet those who celebrated this great victory over evil crossed lines less than a week later to remember the great injustice that befell the Palestinians. They never dreamed of honoring the German Nakba, only the Palestinian one.

Now and then there have been proposals to pay compensation to those exiled to Germany. The countries concerned, such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, rejected the idea outright. No one denied the brutal pogroms and expulsions. "If someone were to sue us", they made very clear, "we would demand the money from Germany as war damages." Time passed, the wounds festered, but there was no compensation, and certainly no return. The European Court of Human Rights would take up a suit brought by a deportee – and promptly reject it.

The ethnic Germans, most of them innocent, were not the only ones who underwent forced displacement. Tens of millions in Europe and in Asia experienced same trauma in the same decade, both before and after the war's end. This is what happened to some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs.

And this is what also happened to 850,000 Jews. The Jews had a Nakba, so did the Palestinians, and so did the Germans. There was also a Polish Nakba, and a Hindu Nakba. Nakba was the cruel reality of that time. It was a global Nakba. For every nation, a Nakba.

According to Palestinian historian Aref al-Aref, some 13,000 Palestinian Arabs were killed in the 1948 War of Independence. We should indeed feel remorse for each death, but we should also take into account the fact that - according to impartial reports of the number of casualties, relative to the size of the population, or the number who fled or were expelled - the Palestinian Nakba was smallest of them all.

For the sake of comparison, in contemporaneous population exchanges between Poland and Ukraine, 100,000 people died out of the 1.4 million who were expelled from their homelands. Is anyone organizing a worldwide remembrance in their name? And yet, it is the Palestinian Nakba that is remembered around the world.

The Palestinians suffered. Every expellee suffered, paying the price for the actions of their leaders. The Palestinians had chosen Haj Amin al-Husseini to lead them, and growing evidence has been uncovered in recent years of his involvement in the extermination of the Jews.

Al-Husseini made clear that "the basic condition of our cooperation with the Germans was the freedom to exterminate the Jews of Palestine and the Arab world." He was one of the originators of the "Farhud" in Iraq, the first Nazi-inspired pogrom against the Jews in an Arab state. He worked against a deal to secure the release of Jewish children. He was the creator of "Operation Atlas" of 1944, which apparently included a plan to poison a quarter of a million Jews living in Palestine. He was not the only Arab leader of the time to identify with the Nazis – Fawzi al-Qawuqji and others did exactly the same.

Here and there one can hear claims that there is no connection between the problem of the Palestinian refugees and that of the Jewish refugees from Arab states. This is a ridiculous claim. A series of pogroms directed against the Jews in 1940s - primarily in 1948 in Aden, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Morocco - were a combination of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Similarly, the Arab League decided in the same year to freeze Jews' bank accounts and to confiscate their money to fund the war effort against "Zionist aspirations in Palestine." This was the Arab struggle, managed by the Arab League and the Arab Higher Committee, and headed by al-Husseini.

So there is indeed something absurd about the claim of "no connection". The Palestinian problem is commemorated because the Arab world has systematically refused any offer of restoration. The Arab states even opposed UN General Assembly resolution 194, which offered the possibility of some kind of Palestinian return to their former homeland under certain conditions, on the grounds that it included recognition of a Jewish state under the Partition Plan.

Read article in full

Djerba pilgrimage attracts some 1,500 visitors

 The Djerba pilgrimage 60 years ago (Harvard Library archives - via Lenny Ben-David)

 Some 1, 500 visitors - up on last year's tally, but way down on previous years when the site could expect to draw 10, 000 - attended the Al-Ghriba Lag Ba'omer pilgrimage on the Tunisian island of Djerba this year. At the last minute, the Tunisian government quashed a challenge from the dominant Islamists in the parliament to ban Israeli passport-holders. But the damage, opines Claude Sitbon in the article below, was done:

 Yahoo News reports:

Pilgrims were crowding into the sanctuary, votive candles were glowing under the arches, and a singer from Jerusalem named Moshe Giat was atop a low bench, leading the men in an old and rousing song that ended, “Hear, O Israel!”

Jerusalem? No. This scene took place in Tunisia, where about a thousand Jews are gathered this weekend for an annual Jewish pilgrimage and festival on the island of Djerba. The presence of Israeli visitors like Mr. Giat has become the focus of a sharp controversy among Tunisia’s political leaders.

On May 9, legislators at a raucous parliamentary hearing cited support for the Palestinian cause, opposition to Israel, and Israeli attacks on PLO figures in Tunisia in the 1980’s as grounds for removing two government ministers and reversing a recent decision to formalize procedures for Israelis visiting Tunisia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The government says the move will boost Tunisia’s struggling tourism industry by projecting a message of openness.

The polemic is quintessentially Tunisian, combining fears for an economy battered by the country’s 2011 revolution, evocations of the Arab world’s most enduring cause célèbre, and the tumultuous politics of an emerging democracy. For Tunisians, it’s also an occasion to weigh their country’s priorities.

Read article in full 

Claude Sitbon, a consultant to the 1993 pilgrimage,  offers this analysis for iNews 24:

(...)  do the Islamists know - as an expert on the Middle East conflict said - "that Egypt, despite its revolution and even with the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, has not even considered changing the peace treaty with Israel”? I was reminded of what a Palestinian minister told me once, that "foreign pro-Palestinians, with their extremism, do extreme harm to the Palestinian cause."

This appears an apt remark given that 80 members of the Constituent Assembly met in closed session recently to try and condemn the Minister of Tourism for his policy on Israeli tourists - and have mostly caused grave damage to Tunisia.
Israel is, without doubt, the most taboo name in Tunisia. To be more precise, I will make a distinction between those who have known the Jewish community and others, generally much younger, who are unaware that the Jews of Tunisia can trace their history to the time of Queen Dido of Carthage.

So concerned were the organizers about an Israeli presence at the pilgrimage, that they announced that participants would only be coming from France, Italy and Canada - even as AFP reported on the presence of Israelis in Djerba. President Bourguiba, who said at the time that "the non-recognition of Israel is a sham," must be turning over in his grave at hearing this debate, as barren as it is useless, affecting the image of Tunisia which he so wanted to be pluralistic.

The first visit by Israelis to their former homeland took place in December 1993. Invited as a consultant, I can attest that it was a special trip with a warm welcome and a police escort - visible and invisible - to ensure our safety. That trip undoubtedly paved the way for the annual Israeli pilgrimages to Djerba, which drew tens of thousands of participants.

At first, the Israelis received a special "flying visa" for their visit, but a few years later they were treated like all other tourists and had their passports marked with a Tunisian stamp. The flow of Israeli tourists did not stop, despite the closure of the Israeli diplomatic mission in Tunis, which was established in 1996 but closed down as a result of the second Palestinian intifada in the year 2000.

Against all odds, in 2011, the year of the "Tunisian Spring," the year when hopes of freedom and democracy were high, Tunisian authorities announced that for security reasons the pilgrimage would not take place. is it possible that the security of the Jewish pilgrims cannot be guaranteed in such a
small area? It was perhaps the beginning of the politics of the Ennahda party.

I can only hope that the many men of peace in Tunisia are able to recapture the spirit of Pierre Mendès France and Bourguiba, who spoke of the "free movement of people."

Read article in full

Sunday, May 18, 2014

'Archive must be accessible to its heirs'

Senator Schumer, the US Senator who spearheaded a campaign  for the Iraqi-Jewish archive not to be sent back to Iraq, has applauded the agreement extending the collection's stay in the US. However, the matter does not rest there. The archive must be accessible indefinitely to its owners, the Iraqi Jews, he said.

Schumer today applauded the decision to keep the collection in the U.S. until a permanent location in the U.S. is determined.

 “I applaud the decision to permit the Iraqi Jewish Archive to remain in the U.S. until a permanent location is found. However, we will not rest until the collection is made accessible to the Iraqi Jewish community indefinitely,” said Schumer.

“These sacred and treasured artifacts were taken from the Iraqi Jewish community during a time of state-condoned discrimination, and this community should have access to the precious possessions they were forced to leave behind.”

"I must convey the heartfelt sentiment of WOJI - to the US and Iraqi governments for reaching an agreement under which the Iraqi Jewish Archive will remain in the United States for the foreseeable future. It is WOJI's fervent conviction that we, the Iraqi Jewish community, are the rightful heirs of the Iraqi Jewish Archive, our precious patrimony,” said Maurice Shohet, Chairman of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI).

Read statement in full

The UK Jewish Chronicle reports: 

Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador in the US, said: "I am pleased to announce that, in order to continue this important work and to allow the exhibit to be displayed in other cities in the United States, the government of Iraq has authorised me to extend the period which the exhibit may remain in the US.

"We consider the history of Jewish communities in Iraq to be an integral part of the history of our country — one that we honor and cherish — and nothing can erase this history, nor change our commitment to preserving its memory."

Maurice Shohet, president of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI), who is based in New York, said: “WOJI will now work with all sides concerned to have the IJA Exhibit travel to other American museums, besides Washington, DC and New York, in the coming months, and hopefully to other cities in the west, where there is large Iraqi Jewish communities such as Montreal and London."

But London-based Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif, a UK group that represents Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, said: “This is a welcome development. However, the agreement only provides for an extension, it does not unequivocally establish the archive’s ownership, nor its final destination.

"We must continue to insist on the principle that this archive does not belong to Iraq, but to the exiled Iraqi-Jewish community from whom it was brutally and unlawfully seized.”

Read article in full

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ben Cohen: the archive belongs in the US

                                            Ben Cohen
 In spite of the Iraqi government acquiescing to extending the archive's stay in the US, the Iraqi-Jewish archive 's final destination has still not been decided. Ben Cohen, author of a new book on antisemitism,  shares his thoughts in his JNS column: the archive belongs in America, he writes. (Thanks, Ben, for calling PoNR a superlative blog).

The Jewish artifacts had been set to return to Iraq in June, in accordance with a 2003 U.S.-Iraq agreement that said the materials would return to Iraq after their restoration in America was complete. But in a major development on May 14, Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., said in a statement that the government of Iraq had authorized him to extend the exhibition of the materials in the U.S. The decision, Faily explained, was based on the recognition that the exhibit has led to “an increase of understanding between Iraq and United States and a greater recognition of the diverse heritage of Iraq.”

Not mentioned was another, perhaps more pertinent, consideration: the archive has been the subject of an intense political battle in America that may end up in the courts. The key reason for this is the fact that the archive was seized by Saddam Hussein’s feared Mukhabarat secret police from a Baghdad synagogue in 1984—a good three decades after the vast majority of Jews had been driven out of Iraq. If the archive was stolen by the Ba’athist regime, then by that logic, the present Iraqi government cannot unambiguously claim ownership of it; indeed, there’s a strong case to be made that the true owner is the Iraqi Jewish community, through its representative organizations.

That was certainly the thrust behind the U.S. Senate resolution passed in February, which “strongly recommends” that the original agreement between the American and Iraqi authorities to return the archive to Iraq be negotiated afresh. Critically, that resolution asserted that “the Iraqi Jewish Archive should be housed in a location that is accessible to scholars and to Iraqi Jews and their descendants”—a position that would preclude the permanent location of the archive in Iraq itself, given that virtually no Jews remain there, and that none of the descendants of those Iraqi Jews expelled in the 1940s and ’50s plan on “returning” to that country anytime soon.

The prospect of legal procedures can be added to the political pressure. At a New York conference on the archive at the end of March, lawyer Nat Lewin urged action before the archive was returned to Iraq, confident that such an appeal by Iraqi Jews would meet with a sympathetic hearing in America. Moreover, as observed by Point of No Return, the superlative blog focused on Jewish communities from Arab countries, legal scholars agree that there’s a strong case for keeping the archive on American soil, since the understanding between the Americans and the Iraqis reached in 2003 does not have the force of an international treaty. “Under the 1909 Hague Convention, the U.S. considered itself committed to helping the ‘occupied’ nation—Iraq—protect its property,” said Point of No Return. “But the current statutes did not take into account cases where the property belonged to a religious minority.”

Against this background, it’s tempting to think that the archive will remain in the U.S.—either through rolling extensions consented to by the Iraqi government, or a more permanent agreement. Hence, I return to the question I asked in this column last September: in an ideal world, wouldn’t the archive return to Iraq, “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?”

In that same piece, I acknowledged that another reality prevails: anti-Semitism is rife in Iraq, which means that an honest reckoning the fate of its Jewish community simply isn’t possible—certainly not in the way that Germany has faced up to its responsibility for the Holocaust. Sadly, that same reality has been confirmed by the much-discussed new Anti-Defamation League survey of anti-Semitism in 100 countries around the world.

Ambassador Faily said of the archive May 14 that it is important for Iraq “to recover this precious piece of our cultural heritage that documents an era of our country’s history.” But save for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, anti-Semitic sentiments are more entrenched in Iraq than in any other country on earth. Seventy-percent of Iraqis believe that “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars,” while 81-percent think that “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” Eradicating this poison is an immense task, certainly not one that can be resolved by placing the archive on display in a country that loathes the community it portrays. Not to mention the very credible fear that the archive could be lost or destroyed, given Iraq’s perilous security situation.

Read article in full 

Deal struck on Iraqi-Jewish archive

JTA report in Haaretz (Also in Times of Israel )

Arutz Sheva 

The Daily Telegraph 

World Jewish Congress

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Deal struck on Iraqi-Jewish archive

 The waterlogged basement of the Baghdad secret police HQ where the Iraqi-Jewish archive was found in 2003 (photo: courtesy Harold Rhode)

A deal between the US State department and the Iraqi government appears to have been struck to keep the Iraqi-Jewish archive in the US, the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) has announced.

The archive, as the collection of 2,700 restored Jewish books and thousands of documents is known, is due to return to Iraq after the 'Discovery and Recovery' exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York closes this week.   

Although the exact terms of the agreement are yet to be confirmed,  the vast majority of the material that constitutes the Iraqi Jewish Archive will remain in the US for an unspecified period. It is thought that the extension will be for two years.

The agreement comes after a firestorm of media controversy in the US and Canada, documented on Point of No Return. A resolution calling for the original agreement to return the archive to be re-negotiated was approved by the US Senate and a second resolution is awaiting a vote in the House.

Some duplicate Jewish books (such as the Aleph Bet primer, with more than 60 copies in the IJA collection) will be returned, as well as all the non-Jewish books and documents originally found with the IJA material in the basement of the secret police headquarters. WOJI says that these never belonged to Iraq’s Jewish Community in the first place, but were part of the Palestinian-Israeli Unit of the Iraqi intelligence HQ.

However,  a statement released by the Iraqi embassy in Washington gives the impression that all the material except for the 24 items belonging to the 'Discovery and Recovery' exhibit will be returned. This statement might have been phrased for home consumption.

WOJI is reassuring its members that no duplicates will be returned if they have any kind of annotation written on any page. Such 'annotated' books have already been digitized. "We will work with the National Archives to identify duplicate items which can go back without controversy," Maurice Shohet, WOJI's chairman, has declared.

The UK Telegraph has been one of the first media off the mark to report that a deal has been agreed. Article by Raf Sanchez (with thanks: Lily):

"But more than ten years later, after thousands of American deaths and amid frayed ties between Baghdad and Washington, the US is no longer so sure about returning historical documents it spent $3 million (£1.8 million) restoring.
Earlier this year the US Senate, in a rare moment of unanimity, passed a resolution calling on the Obama administration to renegotiate the agreement with the Iraqis.

"The senators argue that the archive belongs first and foremost to the descendants of the exiled Iraqi Jews, the vast majority of whom now live in Israel. Like most Arab nations, Iraq does not recognise Israel and it would be virtually impossible for those descendants to travel to Baghdad.

“This is a group of people that have had so much of their history taken away or destroyed over the years, and under no circumstances should these artifacts be handed back to Iraq,” said Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and the most prominent of the Senate’s ten Jewish members."

Read article in full 

New deal keeps archive in US (Jewish Chronicle )

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The letter that never got published

Today is 14 May. To coincide with what the Palestinians refer to as their 'Nakba' Day, the New York Times saw fit to publish a report by their Israel correspondent Jodi Rodoren, giving the oxygen of publicity to the nihilistic NGO Zochrot. Zochrot have just launched a new 'phone app' to identify the sites of 400 Arab villages destroyed in the 1948 war of independence.The NYT are following the Guardian, who did their promotional piece last week. In response, CiF Watch put up this post, questioning the revisionist and peremptory mention of the 'Jewish Nakba'. Predictably, the Guardian chose not to publish a letter from Lyn Julius, drawing attention to the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands.

CiF Watch writes:

On May 4th we posted about an article by Guardian Middle East editor Ian Black that whitewashed the radical anti-Israel agenda of the NGO, Zochrot.  However, what we didn’t address at the time was Black’s characteristic whitewash of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands in the following passage of the article:
Zochrot’s focus on the hyper-sensitive question of the 750,000 Palestinians who became refugees has earned it the hostility of the vast majority of Israeli Jews who flatly reject any Palestinian right of return. Allowing these refugees – now, with their descendants, numbering seven million people – to return to Jaffa, Haifa or Acre, the argument goes, would destroy the Jewish majority, the raison d’etre of the Zionist project. (Israelis often also suggest an equivalence with the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who lost homes and property after 1948 in Arab countries such as Iraq and Morocco – although their departure was encouraged and facilitated by the young state in the 1950s.)
We were going to comment on Black’s historical revisionism today when we learned that Lyn Julius - one of the more knowledgeable commentators on the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries – had submitted a letter to the Guardian in response which (unsurprisingly) the paper declined to publish.  
Here’s her letter:
Ian Black’s article (Remembering the Nakba: Israeli group puts 1948 back on the map) promotes a fringe Israeli NGO’s sick objective: the destruction of the state of Israel through the Palestinian ‘right of return’, while virtually ignoring the ‘Jewish Nakba’ of 856,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries at the same time.
Wringing their hands about depopulated Palestinian villages, Zochrot remain ignorant, silent and unmoved by the depopulation of scores of Arab cities of their age-old Jewish communities.
There are almost no Jews living in Baghdad, Alexandria, Tripoli, Sana’a and Damascus  today. While the Palestinians were the tragic by-product of a war their leadership launched and lost, a larger number of Jews became refugees through an Arab policy of scapegoating and ethnic cleansing.
The mass airlifts of these persecuted Jews to Israel were in fact rescue missions.
Antisemitism prevents any possible return of Jews to Arab countries.
Imagine if a Zochrot equivalent operated in Baghdad, where Jews were once the largest single ethnic group.
On second thoughts, don’t. The Jews would be run out of the city and would be lucky to escape with their lives.
Finally, here’s a graph by the group ‘Justice for Jews from Arab countries‘ quantifying the extent of the forced Jewish exodus.
main facts

Read post in full

Antisemitism rules OK in Arab world

It's no real surprise:  Arab countries are among the most antisemitic on the planet.  Of countries which still have Jews living in them,  what is surprising is  that younger Bahrainis are less antisemitic than their elders, while the converse is true in Morocco. Report in the Times of Israel. (With thanks: Lily)
The results are in: Of the 101 countries plus the West Bank and Gaza included in the Anti-Defamation League global survey released on Tuesday, anti-Jewish sentiment was found to be most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, with a staggering 74% of respondents harboring anti-Semitic views. All 10 of the world’s most anti-Semitic territories, indeed, are in the Middle East and North Africa.

Below are the top 10 most and least anti-Semitic countries, culled from the survey, which based its findings on surveying 53,100 people from 100 countries worldwide. 

1. West Bank and Gaza: The Palestinian territories were found to be the most staggeringly anti-Semitic in the world with a 93% overall index score. Among specific age groups, 92% of those between the ages of 18-49 were shown to have anti-Jewish views, and the figure jumped to 98% among those 50 and older.

Protesters chant pro-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slogans during a demonstration in Basra, Iraq, on Tuesday, January 8, 2013. The poster on the right reads, 'No Baathists after today.' (photo credit: AP/Nabil al-Jurani)

Protesters chant pro-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slogans during a demonstration in Basra, Iraq, on Tuesday, January 8, 2013. The poster on the right reads, ‘No Baathists after today.’ (photo credit: AP/Nabil al-Jurani)

2. Iraq: Trailing closely behind, Iraq reached an index score of 92%. While 10 of the questions on the 11-question survey measuring negative stereotypes were answered affirmatively by over 70% of respondents, only a third (33%) believed “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.”

Yemeni policemen sit in a pickup truck in front of Sanaa's International airport. (photo credit: AP/Hani Mohammed)

Yemeni policemen sit in a pickup truck in front of Sanaa’s International airport (photo credit: AP/Hani Mohammed)

3. Yemen: With an index score of 88%, anti-Semitism was shown to be at its lowest — although still remarkably strong — among participants over the age of 50 (79%), as compared to those between the ages of 35-49 (92%), and those between 18-34 (89%). The statement with the largest consensus was “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave,” with a 90% approval rate. Like Iraq, the statement least supported on the survey was the one about Jews talking about the Holocaust, with 16% of those interviewed agreeing with it.

Algiers. (photo credit: CC BY Damien Boilley, Flickr)
Algiers. (photo credit: CC BY Damien Boilley, Flickr)

4. Algeria: At 87%, Algeria tied for fourth place with Libya. Algeria showed a larger gender gap in opinion than the previous countries listed, with 92% of males, and 82% of females harboring anti-Jewish beliefs.

The remains of the Dar Bishi Synagogue in Tripoli, Libya. (photo credit: Courtesy, Meir Kahaolon)
The remains of the Dar Bishi Synagogue in Tripoli, Libya. (photo credit: Courtesy, Meir Kahaolon)

4. Libya: With an 87% index score, the two negative views of the Jews most espoused were the attribution of anti-Semitism to Jewish behavior, and that Jews pledged greater loyalty to Israel than their home countries, at 86% respectively. In 2011, Libyan Jew David Gerbi returned from exile in Italy and was met with protests when he tried to restore a synagogue in Tripoli.

A screenshot taken from amateur footage of the ransacked Beit El synagogue in Sfax, Tunisia (YouTube)
A screenshot taken from amateur footage of the ransacked Beit El synagogue in Sfax, Tunisia (YouTube)

6. Tunisia: At 86%, the Tunisians were more concerned with Jewish international “control,” than previous countries. 85% believed “Jews have too much control over global affairs,” and “Jews have too much power in the business world,” respectively, while 83% said that “Jews have too much power in international financial markets.” Earlier in May, a synagogue in Sfax was ransacked for a third time.

7. Kuwait: With a general score of 82%, the Kuwait results saw the gender gap enlarged even further, with 77% of females as compared to 85% of males endorsing the negative ethnic stereotypes.

After being dispersed by riot police firing tear gas, Bahraini anti-government protesters return to the streets and resume their demonstration in Malkiya, Bahrain on Thursday (photo credit: AP/Hasan Jamali)

After being dispersed by riot police firing tear gas, Bahraini anti-government protesters return to the streets and resume their demonstration in Malkiya, Bahrain in 2012 (photo credit: AP/Hasan Jamali)

8. Bahrain: The general score in Bahrain was 81%, however, the younger respondents until the age of 34 showed significantly lower levels of racism (77%) than their older peers (86%). Despite the anti-Semitism, the country’s ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2013 was Houda Nonoo, a member of the country’s tiny Jewish community.

Blue Stars of David painted in the foyer of the Amman courthouse where Jordanian-Palestinian judge Raed Zeiter, killed while crossing into the West Bank, worked. (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)

Blue Stars of David painted in the foyer of the Amman courthouse where Jordanian-Palestinian judge Raed Zeiter, killed while crossing into the West Bank, worked. (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)

8. Jordan: The negative stereotype most highly rated in Jordan, with a general score of 81%, was “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave” at 84%. Despite signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, many in the country still oppose normalization with the Jewish state.

The Jewish cemetery in Fez is home to more Jewish saints than any other Jewish cemetery in Morocco. (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)

The Jewish cemetery in Fez is home to more Jewish saints than any other Jewish cemetery in Morocco. (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)

10. Morocco/Qatar/UAE: With an overall score of 80%, Morocco, Qatar, and UAE took tenth place. The older Moroccans were shown to be less racist than their younger counterparts (75% of those over 50, 79% of 35-49-year-olds, 84% of 18-34-year olds). Qatar, UAE tied in their scores on the following statements: “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave” (82%); “Jews have too much control over the global media” (70%); Jews have too much control over global affairs (73%) and “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” (71%).

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