Sunday, August 31, 2014

More on the 1954 massacre at Petit Jean

 As promised, here is a little more detail about the massacre of Petit Jean, near Meknes, on 3 August 1954.  The massacre gives the lie to the myth that Moroccan Jews and Muslims had always lived peacefully together. As a commenter has pointed out, this pogrom was  the worst of a series of incidents - riots in Oujda in 1953 in which four Jews were killed, Sagan in 1955 (hundreds of Jews made homeless after their homes were burnt to the ground), riots in Wadi Zem (a family of five and two other Jews killed).

The aftermath of the massacre 

 The massacre of Petit-Jean (now known as Sidi Kacem) took place against a background of unrest and violence as Moroccan nationalists struggled for independence against French colonial rule. The tension was palpable during that fateful August of 1954.

What happened exactly on 3 August ?
Petit Jean was a commercial hub 20 kilometres from Meknes. Jewish shopkeepers prepared to shut their stores to comply with a nationalist boycott. But the French authorities told them to remain open and guaranteed them 'total protection'. The Jews paid dearly for such a lie.

According to Robert Assaraf, author of  Une certaine histoire des juifs du Maroc (p 579), at around 6.30 pm a horde of 1,000 excited Arabs converged on the old town and fixed a portrait of the exiled sultan, the future Mohammed V, on the front of a Jewish shop. The police commissioner climbed a ladder to remove it. The mob threw stones at him. He got away. For no apparent reason, the mob then took out their frustrations on  the Jews, clubbing them with iron bars. Some believed that a Jew had lent the policeman a ladder.

The names of the dead were as follows:

The manner of their death was particularly shocking: Samuel Boussidan, a father of 11, had his chest split open. The murderers then indulged in unspeakable atrocities. They hurled him on to a heap of sacks and set fire to him. Setting ablaze  a truck belonging to Chaloum Elfassy, the screaming crowd headed for Elfassy's warehouse, attacking him with bricks and killing his son, 22, a young married father of one. Other rioters attacked Elie Toledano, the head of a large family, and killed him and his son David. A sixth Jew, Abraham Amar, suffered the same fate.

The mob made a bonfire of the bodies and set fire to valuable stock, while their women ululated their joy. Witnesses saw the rioters distribute banknotes stolen from the unfortunate victims. The body of a sixth victim was found some time later.

It took four hours for the forces of law and order to come. The police, who were protecting the European quarter, began to fire on the rioters. They fled in all directions: 300 were arrested.

Assaraf points out that the rioters spared the shops belonging to Muslims, and even more incredible, the property of French and foreign companies. "At the SCAM warehouse, the mob enquired who was the owner," Assaraf recounts." When they learned it was a French company, they were careful to leave it alone, going off to plunder more Jewish assets."

The corpses,  charred beyond recognition,  were handed over to the traumatised Meknes Jewish community. On the seventh day of mourning, the community leadership publicised an open letter in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic to be read out in all synagogues: "Fathers and sons were sacrificed on the same day. Their murderers, full of hate, savage and cruel, made them suffer the cruellest torments. The dead are martyrs for the people of Israel." The letter ends with a plea for Divine vengeance.

This video, taken by the granddaughter of Samuel Boussidan's brother, ends with a view of the victims' tombstones filmed in the Meknes Jewish cemetery. Apparently they bear the engraved inscription: "Killed by Arabs on 3 August 1954."
Directing its anger as much at the murderers as at the police's failure to prevent the pogrom, the community  pledged to plant trees in the victims' memory in Eretz Israel.

Following the pogrom, letter of complaint in Judeo-Arabic sent by Meknes Jews to the Alliance Israelite headquarters in Paris

Was the riot premeditated or spontaneous? No one knows, but Jews had been singled out for an unusually sadistic death purely for being Jews. When the last French soldier left Moroccan soil, what fate lay in store for the Jewish community?

Nationalist leaders and the French governor condemned the massacre, but panic had already spread amongst the Jews. A few weeks later a Jewish merchant in Rabat was killed for opening his store in violation of the boycott of French goods declared by Moroccan nationalists.

JTA reported on the 'pogrom' atmosphere in Morocco:

Haifa (Aug 15): "The first group of 599 Moroccan Jews escaping from the pogrom atmosphere now prevailing in Morocco arrived here today. Most of the immigrants are young people and come from Marakesh, Fez, Rabat and Casablanca.

"The immigrants are the first of a stream of 25, 000 Moroccan Jews already registered for entry into Israel by the Jewish Agency. They left aboard the Israeli ship “S.S. Jerusalem” two days after the start of the anti-Jewish attacks, which resulted in at least seven Jewish dead and many injured at Petitjean and Fez.
Most Moroccan Jews, rich and poor alike, want to leave for Israel, and “the sooner they are transferred, the better, ” the refugees declared. They told how, when they were passing through the streets of Casablanca on their way to board their ship, Arabs shouted: “We’ll start war against the Jews within a week. “
Jews under Muslim rule in the 19th c, by David Littman

One hundred years since the Fez pogrom

Friday, August 29, 2014

1954: Morocco's summer of terror

Sixty-years ago this month, Morocco was in turmoil as it struggled for independence from France.  On the first anniversary of the deposing of the Moroccan sultan, who was sent into exile to Madagascar, Jews found themselves targeted by Moroccan nationalists. On 3 August 1954, a pogrom erupted in Sidi Kacem (Petit Jean), 20 km from Meknes: six Jews were killed. More about this pogrom soon.

Here is a JTA report from 12 August 1954 describing the aftermath of the pogrom:

"Twenty-five thousand Jews in Morocco have registered with the Jewish Agency for emigration to Israel, it was announced here today. In view of the tense situation in Morocco, the Agency started negotiations with an Israeli shipping company for their transportation. The first group of 600 will arrive tomorrow, followed by another group of 1, 000 by the end of this month, and 2,000 more in September.

A number of well-to-do Jews in Morocco have received threatening letters from Arab terrorists, ordering these Jews to leave the country within three months, it was reported here today by David Rubino, a merchant, upon his arrival from Casablanca.

Mr. Rubino, in giving the first eye-witness report on the Moslem terror against Jews in Morocco, said that seven Jews lost their lives in the pogroms in Fez and Petitjean last week. Many other Jews, he reported, were injured, shops were looted, businesses and artisans’ booths that had been maintained by Moroccan Jews for generations were smashed by the rioters.

The scene in Petit Jean following the pogrom of 3 August.

“The terror is not aimed specifically against the Jews,” he declared. “The terror has its own political motivation. But Jews are suffering, and losing their lives. Most Moroccan Jews want to leave the country, want to emigrate to Israel. This includes many who, up to very recently, had no particular desire to go to Israel. These have changed their minds overnight, because of the pogroms. “

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"I live. Send help": the Joint's 100 years

Top: Jewish refugees waiting to leave Algeria, 1962. Middle top: the Sephardi Old Age Home in Jerusalem, 1920s. Middle Bottom: Tunisian Jewish mothers queuing to collect free milk, 1951. Bottom: The Joint helped organise the airlift of Jews from Yemen in 1949, Operation Magic Carpet.

Many Jews displaced from Arab countries  owe a debt of gratitude to the prosaically-named Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee), which has been quietly going about its business of giving humanitarian aid to Jews in need. This year, the Joint celebrates its 100th anniversary. Point of No Return salutes the Joint's amazing work in the Middle East and North Africa with this photographic tribute. Here is some information on the special centenary exhibition being held in NYC until 21 September :" I live. Send help."

"On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) a new exhibition, “I Live. Send Help.” 100 Years of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, will be on view at the New-York Historical Society Museum; Library in New York City, is running until 21 September 2014.

Founded in New York City in 1914 as a response to the plight of Jews in Europe and Ottoman Palestine at the outset of World War I, JDC has become a premier humanitarian organization helping Jews and non-Jews in need worldwide.

A collaboration between the New-York Historical Society and JDC, the exhibition recounts JDC’s 100-year history with photographs, objects, films, and letters dating from 1914 compiled from JDC’s extensive Global Archives in New York and Jerusalem.

I Live. Send Help.” will chronicle JDC from its inception in 1914, when Jacob Schiff, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., and other Jewish philanthropists came together in New York City to help needy Jews in the Middle East and Europe suffering at the outset of World War I. After the war ended, new crises emerged and JDC - originally intended as a temporary initiative - continued and expanded its efforts around the world. During the buildup to World War II, JDC helped relocate Jewish refugees and save them from Nazi persecution, in places as far and wide as Shanghai, China; La Paz, Bolivia; Kobe, Japan; and Sosua, Dominican Republic. JDC was critical in rehabilitating and resettling survivors of the Holocaust after their liberation.

The exhibition also visits the challenges facing Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East, and focuses on JDC's most recent relief activities rebuilding Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union and aiding Filipinos in the wake of the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

Highlights of “I Live. Send Help.” include a long-lost 1940 letter from Albert Einstein to JDC Chairman Edward Warburg, revealing the renowned Jewish scientist and Nobel laureate's dedication to helping children escape Nazi persecution in Europe.  In the exchange, Einstein praises the JDC for its work and implores nations in the Americas to admit more Jewish refugees: “Efforts to save these children must not slacken... It is not only a question of bringing them to the States, other countries must be opened to them…In all these efforts the aid of the Joint Distribution Committee is of the utmost importance."

A 1921 photograph of elderly men, women, and children desperately waiting to receive food outside the JDC-sponsored Dreyfus Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem illustrates the chaos in which JDC operated in its earliest years.

The exhibit will feature rare audio recordings including entertainer Eddie Cantor’s radio endorsement of JDC’s WWII-era work and testimony by an Alaska Airlines pilot involved in the JDC-organized evacuation of Jews from Yemen."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The curious case of the 'Jewish' Kurds

Jews demonstrate in solidarity with Kurds. Do Kurds have a Jewish skeleton in their cupboards?

The current  rapprochement between Jews and Kurds, standing together against ISIS and in favour of the protection of oppressed minorities in Iraq,  has obscured an aspect of their historical relationship not often talked about : how many Kurdish Jews converted to Islam over the centuries?

The 18,000-member Kurdish-Jewish community was airlifted to Israel in 1950, so  Jews attending demonstrations in solidarity with Kurds are surprised to hear that Kurds have Jewish family members living in Israel or recall that their grandmothers were Jewish. One estimated that the 'Jewish' Kurds living in the Kurdish region numbered 150,000. This figure is almost certainly a fantasy.

In Kurdistan, they call them Ben-Ju: they are the descendants of Jews converted to Islam. To all intents and purposes, they are Muslim. But they remain aware of their Jewish ancestry, and this undoubtedly influences their views. Many are sympathetic to Israel. The Israel-Kurd magazine - whose editor disappeared without trace (reportedly kidnapped by Iranian agents) - was apparently an initiative of Kurds of mixed Muslim-Jewish ancestry.

There could be hundreds or even thousands of these cases.
 It's an intriguing thought that the scale of forced conversions in Kurdistan might even approximate what occurred in Morocco (one in four Moroccan Muslims in Fez, for example, are reckoned to descend from Jewish converts) Yemen, and Iran. It could be a skeleton in the Kurdish cupboard of massive proportions.

 Jews were under the protection of local tribal chieftains, or aghas. It is possible that these aghas seized Jewish girls as their wives.

A story doing the rounds in Israel tells that a military adviser was sent by the Israeli army to train the Kurds in the Sixties. He wrote that when he was invited one evening for a dinner at a Kurdish peshmerga army leader's house, a lady in that house brought him tea. When he looked at her, he thought he recognised her and  asked if she was Sarah. When she heard him calling her that name, she dropped the tray with all the tea on the floor out of  shock, and rushed out of the room. He  never saw her again. He added that when his family lived in northern Iraq, he had a sister by the name of Sarah who was kidnapped. He was sure that that lady was his sister.

This story echoes that told by  Ariel Sabar in 'My father's Paradise'. Ariel's aunt was kidnapped by her Muslim wetnurse as a baby, and never heard of again.

Of Kurdish barbers and Jewish converts


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Exposing Edward Said as academic fraud

A new book by Joshua Muravchik, Making David into Goliath, exposes the late academic Edward Said (pictured) as a fraud whose Orientalism turned history on its head: he made Arab Muslim imperialists into victims and colonised peoples  into colonialists. The brilliant Daniel Greenfield explains in Front Page Magazine:

Edward Said transformed the Muslim and Arab colonists into the oppressed indigenous peoples pitted against European colonizers. The complex nuanced realities of legitimate scholars who recognized that Europeans and Arabs had both been imperialists and colonizers in their time were swept aside by Said’s nationalistic polemics.

By damning legitimate scholars as racist colonialist Orientalists, Edward Said was able to impose his own racist and colonialist revisionist history on academia.
The New Left had made Third World nationalism into its new creed. Said’s support of the PLO made him a voice for justice no matter how many lies he told or how his botched scholarship perverted history. Third World nationalists could legitimately call on Western guilt and act as moral voices on campus at the behest of a left that glibly assumed that only political terror would end the cycle of oppression.

The unfortunate truth of human affairs is that everyone is oppressing someone else. The great question that the left has been unwilling to address is who their designated victims are oppressing.

By treating the likes of Edward Said as reservoirs of unchallenged morality, the left had become complicit in the oppression of others. The old lessons of the USSR and the French Revolution, the danger of handing unlimited moral authority to outraged fanatics with an agenda, had not been learned. Instead class made way for race. The elites who had claimed to speak for the workers in France and Russia were dismissed. The new elites were wealthy prep school grads like Edward Said who claimed to speak for a non-existent people in an imaginary country based on three vacations he had taken there.

It was not only a breathtakingly impudent act of colonialism, but one that had severe consequences for the intellectual integrity of academia. Edward Said had staked out his place in the academic revolution by denouncing just about everyone else for their Orientalism. Facts were his weak point, but his tactics were Stalinist. Denouncing potential opponents as a class allowed him to turn his own Orientalism into the Lysenkoism of his field. It was not the quality of his scholarship that won him influence, but the broadness of his denunciation. Said’s work was not inclusive, it was exclusive. It came to bar the door.

In Making David Into Goliath, Joshua Muravchik dissects many of the myths and frauds that Edward Said built up around himself. And yet the myths can never be entirely destroyed because of the crucial role that he played in the alliance between the New Left and Third World nationalists. His ideas helped assign intellectual credibility to the intertwining of two reactionary totalitarian movements struggling to remain relevant by denouncing every newer system of government and thought.

Like many racists, Edward Said’s denunciations of others were really expressions of his own limitations. Said condemned his academic enemies for failing to see the diversity of the east, when it was Said who refused to see the diversity of the west. Edward Said reduced his opponents to crude stereotypes while accusing them of reducing Arabs and Muslims to crude stereotypes.

Edward Said accused his opponents of constructing colonialist myths, but his obsession with Israel led him to promote a colonialist myth in which his imperialist ancestors were the true indigenous people and the Jews, the majority of whom were Middle Eastern refugees, were foreign usurpers. (My emphasis)

Edward Said tainted scholarship with this revisionist nationalist history. His defense of Arab and Islamic colonialism in an era in which academia no longer looked kindly on conquerors required him to turn history on its head and manufacture a narrative of oppressed colonizers suffering at the hands of the newly liberated indigenous people whom they had oppressed.

This local perversion of history fitted into the larger global perversion of Orientalism which indicted Middle Eastern scholarship for its intellectual colonialism as part of Said’s effort to colonize the study of the Middle East with his own tribal nationalism. Like a thief who pretends to be a policeman to scare away the other competing thieves he imagines are lurking nearby, Edward Said disguised the imperialism and colonialism of his agenda by dressing it up as anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism.

From his biography to his ideas, from his head to his toes, Edward Said was a fraud. Neither a great scholar not a great thinker, Said’s private nationalism played into a larger intellectual debate taking place within the culture. His work lives on because of grants from Saudi princes and because it serves as a pillar of a post-American academia in which political indictments have taken the place of research.

Arafat hijacked planes in the name of a phony nationalism, but Edward Said hijacked academia. These two Cairo natives had briefly lived in Israel as children and built careers around their imperialist efforts to colonize Israel with myths and violence, with lies and terror, pretending to be the oppressed when they were actually the oppressors.

Read article in full 

Placing the colonial boot on the Arab foot

Monday, August 25, 2014

Couple 'confesses' to Turkish -Jewish murder

 The caretakers for a famous Jewish couple in Turkey have 'confessed' to their murder. But Turkey's Jews say that the government has form when it comes to blaming local disputes for what is widespread antisemitism (with thanks: Eliyahu):

 The Jewish Press reports:

An Uzbek couple has confessed to the murders of Jak Karako and his wife, Georgia Karako, owners of Turkey’s upscale yarn manufacturing firm Ören Bayan.

The bodies of the Turkish Jewish couple were found by Istanbul police in their apartment in the Ortaköy neighborhood on Friday.

The suspects, ages 28 and 26, were identified only by their initials in the Todays Zaman newspaper due to legal restraints. The suspects, who were caregivers working for the family, allegedly confessed to the murders under interrogation that they killed their employers in a fit of temper.

Police arrested them at their own apartment, according to the report. Both allegedly confessed that they killed the Karakos because the victims withheld wages in compensation for items the caregivers had broken in the home, and they were angry they had received no money for two months.

But Turkey's Jews are sceptical, the Times of Israel reports:

An unnamed source in Turkey told The Algemeiner website that there is so much mistrust between members of the Turkish Jewish community and the Turkish government that the truth about the couple’s murder may never be revealed. “It will be some manipulated version of what had happened,” said the source.

“There have been several reported murders of Turkish Jewish businessmen throughout the past several years, but these incidents were either never solved or were blamed on some small local disputes which the community always looked at with suspicion,” the source added.

Pistachio nuts link Iran and Israel

 A Jewish wedding in Iran (photo: Hassan Sarbakhshian)

Relations between Iran and Israel are almost non-existent, except for the bizarre fact that Iranian pistachios flow freely into Israel. Claudio Gallo  from the Italian daily La Stampa takes the pulse of the local Jewish community, and asks if pistachios are the best hope for diplomacy.

In the most popular part of south Tehran, not far from the bazaar, there is a famous Jewish institution: Sapir Hospital and Charity Center. It is an old building with white walls on Mostafa Khomeini Street, named after the late son of the imam, but everyone still calls it by the name it had before the revolution: Cyrus Street.

The hospital is named after a Jewish doctor who died in the 1930s fighting the typhus epidemic that decimated the city. Sapir is funded by the Jewish Association in the capital as well as the Islamic State, though both patients and staff are 97% Muslim. The medical director is Ciamak Morsadegh, a surgeon with the physique of a sumo wrestler who is also a member of the Iranian parliament representing the Jewish community.  

Just out of the operating theater, Morsadegh explains that there are about 30,000 Jews in Iran (a figure contradicted by the latest census, which puts the numbers at under 10, 000 - ed) — the largest community in the Middle East after Israel — and half of them live in Tehran. "Every community has its own problems," he says, "But we live well here. There are more than 50 synagogues in the city, and a Jewish ghetto never existed here like it did in Europe (not true - Iranian cities had their mahaleh: the Tehran ghetto was called Oudlajan) . We are free to follow our religion as we please."

"We don’t need security outside synagogues," he adds, "Unlike in other parts of the world. There are a few limitations, however: A Jew can’t get to the higher ranks of the army or state bureaucracy. He will never be a minister or the president."

Military service is mandatory, as for everyone, but there are special permits during Jewish holidays. Among those killed in the Iran-Iraq war were 15 Jews (another source puts the dead at 150 Jews). "Things that really worry us, worry the rest of Iran too: jobs, inflation, the cost of living," he says.

Because of a topographical irony, one of the two kosher restaurants in Tehran is on Palestine Street. The owner, David Shumer, stands at the register. "We’re fine here," he says. "We’re fully integrated in society."

What about visiting Israel? "It’s not difficult. I’ve been there once." It’s still not so easy, though, as permits (especially multiple ones for families) are almost impossible to obtain. (Family members are kept back as hostages) . The truth is that Islamic authorities fear Israeli spies, and it complicates the relationship irreparably. 

On the opposite side of Cyrus Street from the hospital, there is a small synagogue called Molla Hanina. It even has its own Facebook page, though it’s not possible to use Facebook in Iran. "In a synagogue, unlike in a mosque, men and women can pray together," Marjan, 20, proudly explains. Everyone here assures me that they have no problems with the authorities. 

Oddly, the tenuous thread that unites the countries seems to be pistachio nuts. Israel is one of the largest consumers, and Iran one of the biggest producers. A few years ago, the Israelis quarreled with the United States to be allowed to continue importing Iranian pistachios. Could nuts actually spark diplomacy someday? Whatever the long shot, it seems to be the only hope. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Iraq's melting pot has almost gone

 Iraq has always been home to a remarkable melting pot of cults and religions. But for how much longer?

The most remarkable melting pot in history is about to be erased by a ruthless jihadist army, IS. It's not just a crime against humanity, but civilisation, writes Tom Holland in The Spectator.

To this day, though, across the Fertile Crescent, there remain communities which bear witness to the extraordinary antiquity of its religious traditions. There are the Mandaeans, who hold themselves, as Mani did, to be sparks of a cosmic light, and whose priests, like their Babylonian forebears, are obsessive astrologers. There are the Alawites, who revere Plato as a prophet, believe in reincarnation, and pray towards the sun. There are the Yezidis, whose home of Sinjar still preserves in its name an echo of the ancient Harranian moon god. Like the Harranians, they reverence the planets; and like the Harranians, they hold a special place in their hearts for the peacock. Melek Taus, the angel whom they believe to be God’s lieutenant here in the material world, wears the form of the bird; and back at the beginning of time, when the earth was nothing but pearl, he laid his feathers over it, and gave colour to its forests and mountains and seas.

Various strategies were adopted by these communities to survive the disapproval of their Muslim overlords. All of them kept the precise details of their faiths a secret; and all of them, when faced by bouts of persecution, would retreat to remote and inaccessible fastnesses, whether in marshes or on mountain tops. The Mandaeans, copy-ing the strategy of the Harranians, were able to market themselves as Sabaeans; the Alawites, some of whom believe Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, to have been the reincarnation of St Peter, took on a patina of Shi’ism. Even the Yazidis, who proudly keep a list of the 72 persecutions they have survived over the course of the centuries, were sometimes willing, when particularly hard-pressed, to accept a nominal baptism from an amenable bishop.

It is hard to believe, though, that they will survive the 73rd persecution. Their prospects, and those of all the religious minorities of the Fertile Crescent, look grim. Mandaeans, exposed to murder and forced conversions in the wake of Saddam’s overthrow, are now almost extinct in Iraq. The future of the Alawites is bound inseparably to that of their co-religionist, the blood-stained president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. As for the Yezidis, targeted as they are for extermination by the slave-taking, atrocity-vaunting murderers of the Islamic State, how can they possibly survive in their ancient homeland?

 Meanwhile, with Iraqi and Syrian Jews now only to be found in Israel, and Christians emigrating from the region in increasing numbers, even the Peoples of the Book are vanishing from the Fertile Crescent.

The risk is that all traces of what once, back in antiquity, made the area the most remarkable melting pot in history will soon have been erased. In cultural terms, it is as though a rainforest is being levelled to provide for cattle-ranching. Not just a crime against humanity, it is a crime against civilisation.

Read article in full

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why Jews need to support the Kurds

 Jews need to support Kurds in their fight to defeat ISIS and protect threatened minorities, argues Michelle Huberman in the Harif JPost blog 'Clash of Cultures'. That's why she has been busy protesting on the streets of London with them:
It all began when  a video clip went viral of a tearful Yazidi MP in the Iraqi parliament. Screaming in despair, Fiyan Dakheel begged the international community to save her people - they were being massacred, buried alive, their women taken away to be sold as slaves. Soon after images of dehydrated and starving figures, their faces beaten by sun and sand, began to appear on our TV screens. Here was a catastrophe of epic proportions - 50,000 Yazidis stranded on a mountain in northern Iraq.
It was an opportunity for Harif - our  association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa - to show that we stood in solidarity with the Yazidis  and other beleaguered minorities fleeing the barbarism of Islamic State, the jihadist army sweeping across Syria and Iraq.
We were invited to take part in a predominantly Kurdish demonstration on Wednesday 13th August outside the Prime Minister's residence in Downing Street reported here. The welcome was warm: Kurds addressed us in Hebrew and called us 'their brothers.' We were all chanting  "Down with Isis, Solve the crisis". "We are all Peshmergas!” I was interviewed for Kurdish TV and I told them I felt like I was watching the people board the train for Auschwitz. It was not enough  just to drop emergency aid to let the Yazidis live a couple more days. Not since the Allied war against the Nazis had we been confronted with such evil.  I felt that we needed to bomb the enemy into submission. To destroy ISIS. 
Michelle Huberman standing next to (reformed Islamist) Maajid Nawaz . (Photo: Daniel Levy)
Photo: Daniel Levy
Later, a Harif representative joined with Kurds, Hindus and Pakistani Christians to present a petition to the UK Prime minister to call for the government to strengthen Kurdish fighters and prevent a genocide.
On Saturday we heard about a second demonstration: I had forsaken synagogue to be at the demo outside the BBC offices in Portland Place. The crowd was double the size of Wednesday's - more like 1,000, and it swelled during the protest that culminated in a march down to Trafalgar Square. The red flags of the communist Turkish Kurds were in evidence, and some banners called for an end to Zionism and imperialism. We already had our Harif posters - which we had made for a protest three years earlier bringing attention to the non-Muslim and non-Arab minorities in the Middle East. They seemed appropriate once again, and probably more pressing now.  To this demonstration I also brought some homemade posters showing both the Kurdish and Israeli flags - overprinted with WE SUPPORT THE KURDS - DOWN WITH ISIS. 
The Christians, the Yazidis and other minorities in the Middle East need our support. They are experiencing the same brutality that the Iraqi and Kurdish Jews experienced when they lived there when Iraq was ruled by an  Arab Sunni Muslim regime. I have met too many Jewish refugees and heard their first-hand testimonies to know that the Yazidis are experiencing the same persecution. It is a myth that minorities and Arab Muslims lived in harmony together. Hundreds of Jews were murdered in the pogrom of 1941- known as the Farhud.  Many escaped Iraq through the south to Iran just before the state of Israel was born. Israel airlifted out 90 percent of the community in 1950 and 51 and in the 1970s the remnant of Iraqi Jewry were smuggled out at great risk by Kurdish people. The Kurds also had a discreet military alliance with the Israelis .
Photo:  Neil Shroot
When I reached into my bag and pulled out my little A4 Israeli Kurdish flag, I hesitated at first but then held it high above my head so that everyone could see.  I could feel the whole crowd slowly turning towards me. Slightly shocked at first, but then turning to smiles. People started coming over and saying, 'thank you'. I was joined by friends who also held up the same mini- posters and had the same experience.
I was interviewed by an Italian journalist on what were my views on the Palestinians. "I told them that we feel very sorry for the Gazans and the problem was Hamas. They are like ISIS suppressing their people and murdering those that don't agree with them. They need to be overthrown like ISIS.” 
To another journalist: "ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram - they’re all the same. An enemy to civilisation. They need to be destroyed.”
Jews need to have a presence at these demonstrations. We need to show that we stand with other minorities against religious fascism and fanaticism. The Israeli and Kurdish flags need to flutter side by side.

Egyptians fear Jews will become citizens


A sequel to Amir Ramses's film 'Jews of Egypt' was premiered in Cairo on 20 August. The sequel:' Jews of Egypt: end of a journey' explores the prospects for tolerance in Egyptian society.  

Such is the level of popular antisemitism in Egypt that a rumour that foreign investors will be able to buy Egyptian citizenship becomes 'all about Jews'. As Elder of Ziyon points out, this is only the latest example of the country's paranoia that the Jews will return to reclaim their stolen property:

There has been a recent rumor in Egypt that the government might start selling Egyptian citizenship:

Economic experts have recently begun discussing the idea of selling of Egyptian citizenship to foreign investors as a solution to the deteriorating investment climate in Egypt.

Following the 25 January Revolution, official figures show Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) fell drastically due to instability, from approximately $13.2bn in the 2007/2008 fiscal year to around $5bn in the last fiscal year (FY). A total amount of $2.8bn of the $5bn was in the first half only, according to chairman of the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) Hassan Fahmy. In FY 2012/2013, FDI had marked $3bn.
Although the rumors have been denied, the Egyptian street is in an uproar about it.

Because they are worried that Jews will become Egyptian citizens.

In late 2012 there was a similar uproar when an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood official said that Jews who used to live in Egypt should be able to return when Israel is properly destroyed.

Egyptians are paranoid that the Jews they expelled will come back and claim all the land and buildings that were stolen. In early 2013 there was a rumor that the Muslim Brotherhood had burned down a museum that included state archives in order to allow Jews to come back and claim their stolen heritage.

Read post in full

My comment:  few will appreciate the irony that 40 per cent of Egyptian Jews were stateless when they lived in the country. The concept of selling citizenship turns what the West considers a basic right into a commodity.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

'Jews burn Algerian flag' claim debunked

 If you can't report the news, make it up. That seems to be the watchword of a disturbingly large sector of the media. In this case, expertly debunked by Elder of Ziyon, the Algerian paper El Chorouk is projecting the impression of Algerian-born Jews as disloyal colonialists by inventing a story of flag-burning.

Algerian newspaper El Chorouk is covering the Muslim attacks on Jews in France - but it is claiming that it is violence between the groups, not the one-sided would-be pogroms we have seen.

According to the paper, French Jews have been burning the Algerian flag in response to French Muslims burning the Israeli flag. According to the article, French Jews and Muslims have lived together in peace, but (Zionist) French TV coverage of Muslims burning Israeli flags, along with them carrying Algerian flags, has caused all the problems of Jews returning the favor.

"For the first time by the Jews of France protests are not against the Palestinians and against Hamas, but against Algeria and its symbols," the article says.

The article helpfully adds that Algerian Jews - who lived in Algeria for centuries - were colonialists who helped the French during the revolution and who were therefore expelled.

We are told that Algerians are afraid of the Jews in their midst, and that - get this - Jews in France are trying to gain the trust of French Tunisians, Moroccans and Turks in an attempt to isolate the Algerians.

Looking through photos and video, I could not find a single instance of a Jew burning an Algerian flag.

Read post in full

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Liberals, look at the new Middle East

A petrol depot ablaze in clashes in Tripoli, Libya

Smoke billows after a petrol depot was set ablaze during clashes between rival militias near the international airport in Tripoli, Libya, August 13, 2014. Photo by AFP
Leading Haaretz columnist and liberal Ari Shavit is right. Liberals need to revise their world view in the light of the terrible violence and brutality we are now seeing in the Middle East. But his view is still frustratingly Eurocentric: he fails to view the Jews as an authentic Middle Eastern minority, and the first to have been ethnically cleansed from the Arab world. Stuck in his mental rut of bashing Israel for its West bank settlements, he fails to draw the main lesson of the catastrophe befalling the Yazidis: that the Jews are essentially on the side of liberal values against religious fascism and fanaticism. They are vindicated for having a homeland of their own, a safe haven called Israel.

The new Middle East is a brutal one. Many Sunnis hate Shi’ites and many Shi’ites hate Sunnis. Many Sunnis and Shi’ites hate Christians, Jews, women and homosexuals. In numerous countries in the region, a considerable part of the majority hates the minorities – Kurds, Druze, Copts, Turkmen, Yazidis. Monarchs and secular people hate members of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the Muslim Brotherhood hate secular people and monarchs.
These hatreds turn into violence. The violence becomes ferocious. Too many demons awaken and begin devouring people. Heretics are murdered, sinners are stoned, women are sold to slavery. A new Middle East is exposing its face these days, and it’s a face of horror.

The Middle East was tainted with inter-religious fanaticism and inter-tribal hostility in the past as well, but the Ottoman Empire, the colonial powers * and Arab nationalism forced members of other religions and tribes to live together and restrain the primeval hatreds. The collapse of modern nationalism in recent years led to the breakdown of the joint frameworks and to a horrific outbreak of hate crimes. This is why today we see hideous sights that seem to have been taken from the Middle Ages. That is why today we’re facing a Sambatyon river of barbarism. The chopped heads and limbs of innocent human beings are much more than a blood-curdling metaphor. In large parts of the new Middle East there’s no place for human rights, human dignity or freedom. In many regions in East Asia and North Africa there is no room for individuals, equality for minorities or compassion for the weak.

Violent fanaticism has spun out of control in Iraq and Syria, but is also raging in Libya and Lebanon and threatening Egypt and Jordan. Only Tunisia and Kurdistan still hold up the torches of progress. In all other states in the region, the choice is reactionary monarchy, military dictatorship, theocracy or murderous chaos.

It is difficult for the Western liberal to observe the new Middle East. His worldview is based on criticizing the West and granting sweeping amnesty to those who are seen as its victims. This liberal’s code of values forbids him to define Third World evil as such. So he demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, but kept silent in the face of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. He opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but kept silent in the face of the oppression in Iran.

This is why he hastens to denounce Israel, while displaying leniency toward Hamas’ fascism. The Western liberal knows how to rise up against Western exertion of force and likes doing so. But at the sight of Arabs slaughtering Arabs, he is lost. Whom will he rage against? Whom can he demonstrate against? At whom will he feel holy fury?

The American President Barack Obama did the right thing this week when he provided humanitarian and military assistance to the murdered people in northern Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry did right when he said uncompromising things about ISIS. Leading media in the United States and Europe have done and are doing holy work to expose the horror.

But all these are not enough. The new Middle East is now raising penetrating questions that must generate an upheaval in liberal thought. Liberals can no longer ignore the awful plague of Middle Eastern brutality and the fact that millions of Arabs live with no rights and no future.

While voicing justified criticism against Israel (for the occupation, settlements, racist fringes), they must lift their eyes and see the expanse in which Israel is located. An expanse in which Yazidis are massacred and Christians are persecuted and women are stoned. An expanse in which there is no democracy, or peace, or grace. This is a Middle East that liberals must see as it is – and deal with its diseases courageously.

Read article in full  (subscription/ registration required)

Jews and the Left: an alliance breaks up, by Philip Mendes (Israel Hayom)

*This statement rings hollow in the light of the Armenian genocide, 19th c. blood libels and pogroms against Jews and the gassing of the Kurds by the British - ed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

85 years since the Hebron massacre

 It is 85 years ago this month since the 1929 Hebron massacre. This massacre claimed 67 Jewish lives - 133 Jews were killed across Palestine. It preceded 'occupation', the establishment of Israel, 'Palestinian' claims, and marks the abandonment, on British advice, of Jewish communities on the 'West Bank', parts of Jerusalem and Gaza. I am re-posting this blog from the 80th anniversary.

Wrecked synagogues and Jewish homes, stained with the blood of 67 Jews. Such was the scene on this day in 1929 when a mob rampaged through the ancient Jewish community of Hebron. Here are some rarely-seen photos of the destruction from the Picture-a-day American Colony collection. The leaders of the Hebron Jewish community have admitted not having seen them before.

On Yom Kippur 1928, Jews brought chairs and screens to prayers at the Western Wall. This purported change of the status quo was exploited by the Mufti, Haj Amin el Husseini, to launch a jihad against the Jews. Husseini’s campaign continued and escalated after a Jewish demonstration at the Kotel on Tisha B’Av in August 1929. Rumors spread that Jews had attacked Jerusalem mosques and massacred Muslims. The fuse was lit for a major explosion. 

Starting on Friday, August 23, 1929 and lasting for a week, attacks by enraged Arab mobs were launched against Jews in the Old City in Jerusalem, in Jerusalem suburbs Sanhedria, Motza, Bayit Vegan, Ramat Rachel, in outlying Jewish communities, and in the Galilee town of Tzfat.Small Jewish communities in Gaza, Ramla, Jenin, and Nablus had to be abandoned.
The attack in Hebron became a frenzied pogrom with the Arab mob stabbing, axing, decapitating and disemboweling 67 men, women and children. At least 133 Jews were killed across Palestine. In 1931, there was a short-lived attempt to reestablish the Jewish community in Hebron, but within a few years it was abandoned until the Israel Defense Forces recaptured Hebron in 1967.

The British indulged the Arabs and responded by limiting Jewish immigration and land purchases.

See post in full
Synagogue desecrated

Large common grave of Jewish victims. Later the grave
was destroyed
Jewish home plundered

Today in Hebron: A recent Jewish service in the rebuilt
Avinu Synagogue (with permission of photographer)

Scars of a  Hebron  survivor (Haaretz)

  Lessons for coexistence of the Hebron massacre (This post has been updated to take account of errors in the original source article.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dual citizens targeted in Turkey

Against the background of presidential elections where Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the front-runner, the  antisemitic climate in Turkey is worsening.  The pro- Turkish government daily Milat has picked up a social media campaign questioning a law allowing dual-nationals to serve in the military of a country Turkey recognises:  Israeli citizens who have served in the national army, it alleges, 'have blood on their hands and are responsible for the killings of civilians in Gaza'.

Milat, a staunch pro-government paper that uses political Islamist rhetoric, used English in its headline, stating “Go home killer” in reference to Turkish Jews who allegedly serve in the Israeli army. The article stated that after Israel announced its recent military campaign, Turkish Jews who hold dual citizenship rushed to “massacre” Palestinians. The paper also commented that Jewish Turkish citizens involved in fighting against innocent Palestinians come back to Turkey and “resume their lives as if nothing happened.”

Milat based its report on a social media campaign launched by a number of journalists and activists with the hashtag #israilaskeriistemiyoruz (We do not want Israeli soldiers). A website under the same name urges citizens to sign a petition and send it to Parliament so as to revoke the Turkish citizenship of anyone who fights in the Israeli army on the grounds that they have committed premeditated murder. The petition also requests that the Ministry of Defense abolish an existing legal exemption regarding military service for people who carry dual citizenship and have served in the Israeli army. According to a 1993 law, citizens with more than one nationality are exempt from military service in Turkey if they have served in the military of a county that Turkey recognizes.

 Read article in full

Meanwhile, anger at 'Israel's behaviour in Gaza' is spilling over into racist insults against Turkish Jews 'for political benefit'. This surprisingly sympathetic article comes from Al-Jazeera (America):

Necmettin Erbakan, the Islamist political mentor to Erdogan in the 1980s and ’90s, was known for his anti-Semitic views. In early 2005, a wave of anti-Israeli sentiment pushed Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the bestseller list in Turkey. And just last year, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay blamed the “Jewish diaspora” for the nationwide Gezi Park protests.

On July 18, the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League expressed alarm at the increasingly hostile environment in Turkey, calling on Erdogan to reject the targeting of Turkish Jews. To his credit, the prime minister has done just that. “I don't approve of any attitude against Jews in Turkey, who are our citizens,” he said at a recent campaign rally. “They are under our guarantee.”

But this is similar to a dinner party host releasing a pack of Dobermans on his arriving guests, and then chastising his four-legged minions as they sink their teeth into the visitors’ necks. Erdogan and his party believe this rhetoric resonates with their base and, possibly, boosts their standing in the Arab world.

Read article in full 

The silence of Turkish Jewry (Jerusalem Post)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jews are natives, Muslims colonists

 There has been a small but almost continuous Jewish presence in Palestine for 2,000 years.  When the state of Israel was declared in 1948,  Muslims in Palestine were colonists from other parts of the Ottoman Empire who had been resettled  there for less than 60 years. The narrative that Jews, Yazidis and Copts are settlers is false, Ezequiel Doiny argues in the Gatestone Institute:
Religious leader at the Yazidi temple at Lalish. Yazidis, Copts and Jews are not settlers in the Middle East

The Muslim rulers not only kept the number of Jews low through discriminatory taxes, they also increased the Muslim population by providing incentives for Muslim colonists to settle in the area. Incentives included free land, 12 years exemption from taxes and exemption from military service.
Bat Ye'or continues:
"By the early 1800s the Arab population in Palestine was very little (just 246,000) it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s that most Muslim Colonists settled in Palestine because of incentives by the Ottoman Government to resettle displaced Muslim populations because of events such as the Austro-Hungarian Occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Crimean War and World War 1. Those events created a great quantity of Muslim Refugees that were resettled somewhere else in the Ottoman Empire... In 1878 an Ottoman law granted lands in Palestine to Muslim colonists. Muslim colonists from Crimea and the Balkans settled in Anatolia, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine."
Justin McCarthy, a professor of history at the University of Louisville, writing in his Annotated Map, "Forced Migration and Mortality in the Ottoman Empire," also notes that there were about five million Muslims displaced due to the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Crimean War, Balkan wars, the Turkish war of independence and World War I.

Sergio DellaPergola, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in his paper "Demography in Israel/Palestine: Trends, Prospects and Policy Implications," provides estimates of the population of Palestine in different periods. As the demographic data below shows, most Muslims living in Palestine in 1948 when the State of Israel was created had been living there for fewer than 60 years:
1890: Arab Population 432,000
1947: Arab Population 1,181,000
Growth in Arab population from 1890 to 1947: 800,000
The Yazidi in Iraq and the Christian Copts in Egypt are not "settlers" and "occupiers;" neither are the Jews in Israel. They are victims of a common enemy that seems to want a Middle East free of non-Muslims.

Read article in full 

Jews have always been part of the landscape

Friday, August 15, 2014

' It could have been us. It used to be us'

  Click on image to enlarge

The catastrophic plight of the Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq should remind every Jew of what life was like before we had a safe haven in Israel. Eloquent article ('We must not ignore this cry') in the Jewish Chronicle by Eylon Aslan-Levy.

"For Jews this tragedy has special resonance. This used to be us. This is how we lived before we had Israel: stateless, defenceless, helpless minorities under the perpetual Damocles sword of Genocide. This is how we lived: at the whim of hostile powers and the mercy of an apathetic or hapless international community.

This would have been the fate of Iraqi Jewry, had it not found a safe haven in its own sovereign corner of the Middle East. (...)

The Mizrachim among us are the lucky ones: the ones who got away."

Read article in full

Don't forget Iraq's oldest persecuted minority 

Minorities need a land of their own

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jews join Kurds in anti-ISIS protest

 (Left:) Ranbir Singh of the Hindu Human Rights Group and Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association (third from left) together with Kurdish representatives and Lyn Julius of Harif  presented a petition to David Cameron, UK Prime Minister.

Some 500 demonstrators gathered outside Downing St yesterday evening  to protest noisily against the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Yazidis and Assyrian Christians in northern Iraq by the jihadist army ISIS,  also known as IS (Islamic State). Shouting 'Stop the crisis, down with ISIS", 'Today the Middle East, tomorrow the UK' and 'We are all peshmerga (a reference to Kurdish independence fighters)!" the crowd was dominated by a spirited contingent of Kurds, some in traditional dress.

Joining the protest, which was organised at short notice by Solidarity against ISIS and the British Pakistani Christian Association, was a group from Harif, the UK association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. A couple of Harif members, Michelle Huberman and Ralph Assor, gave interviews to LBC and Kurdish radio.

Left, ex-jihadi Majid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation, Harif's Michelle Huberman and a Kurdish supporter

"We are here to stand in solidarity with persecuted minorities in the Arab and Muslim world," said Harif co-founder Lyn Julius." As we all know, Jews are, tragically, no strangers to genocide. The Jewish community, one of the oldest, was the first to be ethnically cleansed from Iraq. As the saying goes,"first the Saturday people, then the Sunday people. " What begins with the Jews never ends with them."

Mrs Julius added:" We are also here because we owe a debt of gratitude to the Kurdish people.  Kurds helped smuggle over the border Jews escaping from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and saved many Jewish lives."

In their turn Kurds greeted the Jewish protestors with enthusiasm, thanking them for their support. One referred to them as 'our brothers'. Some addressed them in Hebrew and confided that they had Jewish family members in Israel. 

Lyn Julius was part of a delegation, including a Pakistani Christian, a Hindu human rights activist, a Sunni Muslim and several Kurdish representatives,  presenting a petition to David Cameron. The UK Prime Minister had just returned to Downing St from his holiday. The petition called on the British government "to live up to its obligations and prevent the vortex of genocide and killing taking any more innocent lives."

Harif members met a Yazidi Phd student at Reading University, one of 200 members of the UK community. A 4000-year old  pre-Islamic sect, the Yazidi religion combines Zoroastrianism with Jewish and Christian elements. Like Judaism, it does not proselytise. The Yazidi student, from Mosul,  had not had any news from his extended family in Iraq.

ISIS has been targeting the Yazidis - there are estimated to be some 200, 000 -  because they are considered infidels who must either convert to Islam or die. While the world  had begun to respond to the humanitarian disaster on Mount Sinjar, where Yazidis besieged by ISIS  were stranded  in the unbearable heat without food or water, stories abound of mass executions, beheadings, women raped or sold into slavery. ISIS buried alive hundreds of Yazidis, including women and children.

The predominantly Kurdish demonstrators chanted "Stop the crisis, down with ISIS!". (With thanks for photos to : Daniel J Levy, Sharon Da, Sai Arjun, Wilson Chowdhry.)

Report in the Jewish Chronicle

Ardent about argent from Yemen

 Delicate silver filigree work on a Yemeni dagger (photo: Al Ahram)

An American couple, Marjorie and David Ransom, have dedicated themselves to preserving the dying art of Yemenite silversmithing, traditionally a Jewish craft. Even though the Jews have left for Israel, Yemeni jewellers refer to their most highly prized and intricate work as 'Jewish'.  Review of a book by Marjorie Ransom in Al-Ahram:

Yemeni Jewish craftsmen were known throughout the Middle East for their delicate work: they had comprised much of the silversmithing craft in North Yemen prior to their 1949 exodus to Israel. Although there were many fine Yemeni Muslim silversmiths, the art for was clearly threatened when the Jews departed. Preservation became for us a principal goal,” the author tells the tale, the commencement of her infatuation with salvaging Yemeni silver accessories. Eventually she had so many precious pieces that she was unable to display them all simultaneously.

Ransom’s seminal work is not guilelessly divided into “North” and “South” Yemen. That would have been nothing short of obscene and unbecoming for a collector with a keen eye for precision.

The author took pains to distinguish the peculiarities of regional stylistic variations. From Saada and Amran in the far north of Yemen, regions that have recently been embroiled in civil wars to the Tihama on the Red Sea coast and the capital Sanaa, Taiz, Aden, sprawling Hadramout, Mahra and even the the enigmatic island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, off the African continent.
“Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, is one of the oldest cities in the Arab world and one of the best preserved traditional Islamic cities in the Arabian Peninsula. It is also the highest capital city in the Middle East, situated at 2,295 meters above sea level.

In the heart of the old city is the salt market, or Suq Al-Milh, where the silver market, or Suq Al-Fidhdha, is located. It is where I lived for most of my time in Yemen and did much of my research. Silver dealers and silversmiths opened their homes to me as they shared valuable information about their craft,” Ransom recollects.

The craftsmanship of the indigenous Jewish  silversmiths in Yemen was stunning even with the most mundane everyday objects featuring highly intricate and alluring distinctive designs.

And, Yemeni women of yesteryear never bought silver jewelry on a whim. Ironically, Muslim Yemenis countenanced the Jewish silversmith’s ingenuity and inventiveness even if it subtly displayed uniquely Jewish religious imagery and inscription such as the Star of David. Silver jewelry was traditionally brought for a specific purpose, invariably as bridal appurtenances.

Contemporary Muslim silversmiths have scrupulously adhered to the age-old Jewish classical styles. “Although most Jews left Yemen in the late 1940s in Operation Magic Carpet, which took Jews from Aden to Israel, silver dealers to this day will use as their best sales pitch that the piece is shughl Yahoudi, or Jewish work,” Ransom extrapolates.

Read article in full

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Minorities need a land of their own

 Female members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and an Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter take position on the front line in Makhmur, some 50 km south of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on 9th August 2014. (Image: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

What lesson can Jews teach Yazidis and Christians in Iraq? The unfashionable idea that without a homeland to call their own they will always be at the mercy of others, Ed West blogs in the Spectator (with thanks: Lily)

 A clear lesson that the Yazidis and Christian Assyrians have learned is that without a patch of land for oneself, and soldiers to protect it, no people is safe.

Ten years ago, when the pogrom against Iraq’s Christians began with a number of church bombings and sectarian murders, Christian leaders in that country proposed an administrative area in the Nineveh Plains where Iraq’s minorities, including the Assyrians and Yazidis, and smaller but equally persecuted groups like the Shabak and Mandeans, would have political and military autonomy, with a police force composed of minorities to protect them.

Iraq’s more powerful groups rejected the idea, and the Americans did nothing to help; the counter-argument was that Iraq’s minorities should be encouraged to remain part of a multi-denominational country, and that a safe haven would be a magnet for jihadis. The former argument is fine in theory, but the latter looks rather irrelevant now.

The lesson of history, especially Europe’s, is that without a homeland or safe area of its own, no minority is ever entirely safe. The Kurds learned this lesson under Saddam Hussein. After 1991 Iraqi Kurdistan gained de facto autonomy. Now it looks certain to emerge as a nation-state. While I cannot say what will happen in the battle between the Islamic State and the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters),
Kurdistan will certainly survive and will have even acquired a foundation myth, its status in the world elevated after a struggle against an evil enemy.

For a long time now there has been an idea among many western intellectuals that we had somehow outgrown the nation-state. No one told the Kurds, obviously. And while nationalism is discredited because of its associations with 1914-45, it can also act as a counter-balance to other forces, namely religious extremism. It may not be coincidence that Turkey, the one Islamic nation in the region with a very strong national identity, is the most resistant to Islamism; perhaps it is only a matter of time but second-generation Turks in Europe also seem far less prone to religious extremism than men whose families hail from weak states with multiple, competing identities, such as Pakistan. (I’m not suggesting this is the main reason — Pakistan is, after all, much more religious than Turkey.)

One Iraqi minority, of course, learned this lesson very, very painfully some time ago. Baghdad was one-third Jewish a century ago. Had Israel not come into existence, how might Iraq’s Jews have fared today? Not very well, I’d imagine.

Read article in full

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More about the Constantine pogrom, 1934

 The devastation following the Constantine pogrom, which claimed the lives of 28 Jews

Last week Point of No Return flagged up the 80th anniversary of the Constantine pogrom in Algeria.  Elder of Ziyon has unearthed two more detailed contemporary accounts of what happened. It should be noted that rioting occurred in neighbouring towns as well:

From the Encyclopedia of Antisemitism:
Between August 3 and 5, 1934, Muslim mobs went on a rampage in the Algerian city of Constantine, attacking Jews and Jewish property. In the attack, 25 Jewish men, women, and children were killed, most from having their throats cut or their skulls crushed, and 26 more were injured, according to official statistics. More than 200 Jewish-owned stores were ransacked. The total property damage to homes, businesses, and synagogues was estimated at over 150 million Poincare francs. Some 3,000 people, one-quarter of Constantine's Jewish population, were in need of welfare assistance in the aftermath of the pogrom. During the rampage, anti-Jewish incidents were recorded in the countryside of the Department of Constantine, extending over a 100-kilometer radius. Jews were murdered in Hamma and Mila, and in Ain Beida, Jewish homes and businesses were looted. In all, 314 Jews left Ain Beida for good, seeking the relative security of larger communities. During much of the rioting, the French police and security forces stood by and did little or nothing to stop the rioters.

Differing analyses of the causes of the Constantine pogrom were offered by the French colonial administration, by Jews, by Algerian Muslims, and by later historians. All agree that the spark igniting the violence was an argument between a Jewish Zouave (infantryman), Eliahou Khalifa, and worshipers in a mosque adjacent to his home. Eyewitness accounts differed over the precise circumstances. The antisemitic French colonial authorities and press reported only the Muslim version that Khalifa was drunk, urinated on the Arabs, and insulted Islam. A report by the Jewish authorities claimed that he was not inebriated, that he had asked the Muslims to close some windows opening onto their ablution hall for the sake of modesty, and that in the ensuing argument, they had cursed him and his faith and that he in turn cursed them and their religion. ("God curse your religion" is a common imprecation in North Africa freely and frequently used by Muslims and Jews, even between members of the same faith.) Jewish public opinion at the time blamed the incident on a conspiracy between European antisemites in the Algerian colonial bureaucracy and on pan-Arab propaganda. In the official government account at the time, the rioting was described as a completely spontaneous event. The antisemitic pieds noirs (colonists) and some Muslims blamed the outbreak on the enmity of the native underclass caused by the arrogance of nouveau riche Jews, who supposedly flaunted their superiority as French citizens  under the Cremieux Decree of 1870, and by the alleged exploitation of Jewish moneylenders.
JTA reported:
A scene of utter desolation and horror, of Jewish girls with their breasts cut off, of little children with numerous knife wounds and of whole families locked in their homes and burned to death, was described by a Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent, who succeeded in reaching this city today.

“It will take days before the world will obtain a true picture of all the atrocities committed by the Arabs during the pogrom on the Jewish quarter,” the correspondent wired.

“The only comparison I can think of is the Palestine riots of 1929. I found Jewish girls with their breasts cut off, greybearded Jews stabbed to death, little Jewish children dead of numerous knife wounds and whole families locked in their homes and burned to death by the rioters."
Read post in full 

Lest we forget: Constantine, 1934 

For Jews in France, 'plus ca change'

Monday, August 11, 2014

Don't forget Iraq's oldest persecuted minority

The tragic plight of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq should not be seen in a vacuum. Before Sunday comes Saturday: the Jews were the first minority to be ethnically cleansed from Iraq, Lyn Julius reminds Times of Israel readers:

Yazidi women shelter in a school in Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Until a few days ago, not many people in the West had heard of the Yazidis – 50,000 are stranded without food and water on the Sinjar mountains escaping the genocidal intentions of the Islamic State’s ( IS) army.

Now that the international community has bestirred itself to relieve their dramatic plight with US and British airdrops of desperately-needed supplies, the under-reported tragedy of Iraq’s pre-Islamic religious minorities – not just Yazidis but Assyrian and Chaldean Christians – is finally capturing the headlines. 

The gruesome details are trickling out, of IS’s barbarous treatment of the local population as they advance into Kurdish areas: mass executions, crucifixions and beheadings, women and children forced into slavery.

Church leaders, among them Canon Andrew White, the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, lament:
“We are witnessing today an act of religious and ethnic cleansing toward Christians as well as many other communities such as Sufis, Shabaks, Mandaeans, Yazidis, Turkmen, let alone Shi’is and Sunnis, as extremists drive people out of the lands that have been their home for thousands of years.”
Missing from the list of persecuted groups is the oldest of Iraq’s religious minorities : the Jews. Canon White, who has taken on the mantle of protecting Baghdad’s remaining five Jews, knows better than most that Iraq’s 150, 000- member Jewish community has been driven to extinction. First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people. But there are so few left in Iraq that Jews – once Baghdad’s biggest single ethnic minority – do not merit a mention.

There is no doubt, however, that had there still been Jews in the area which has fallen under its control, IS would have massacred them all. Mercifully, the 18,000 Jews of the Kurdish region fled in 1950.

For IS, the next best thing to ethnic cleansing is to eradicate all memory of Jewish history in Iraq. Already it has blown up the tomb of Jonah, who is revered not just by Jews but Christians, and Muslims who do not subscribe to IS’s nihilism. The jihadists have also blown up the tomb of Seth. (There is also a claim that they destroyed the tomb of Daniel in Mosul, one of several supposed burial sites.)

Now IS is threatening the tomb of another Biblical prophet. The terrorists of IS are but five miles from the shrine of Nahum, who lived during the Assyrian period and is buried with his sister Sarah in the Christian town of El-Qosh. The positive news, however, is that 500 young armed residents have stayed behind to make a stand against IS, while their families have been evacuated to Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Before they fled to Israel, almost the entire Jewish populations of Mosul and surrounding villages would arrive at the shrine of Nahum to celebrate the festival of Shavuot. (...)

The Shavuot pilgrimage last occurred in 1951. In the words of a popular Kurdish Jewish saying: “He who has not witnessed the celebration of pilgrimage to Nahum’s Tomb has not seen real joy.”

Despite the destruction of their heritage, the only sentiment one can feel nowadays is boundless joy that the Jews of Kurdistan, and of Iraq, found a safe haven in Israel. Unlike the Christians and Yazidis, the Jewish minority of the Middle East, now concentrated on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, have the luxury of a sovereign state of their own. Yes, the Jews of Israel are faced with a genocidal campaign by IS’s ideological cousins, Hamas – but at least they have the means to defend themselves.