Thursday, April 30, 2015

Al-Ghriba all set for pilgrimage next week

Pilgrims flock to Al Ghriba (photo: Fox News)

 The synagogue of al-Ghriba is all set to welcome thousands of visitors on 6 and 7 May 2015 for the annual Lag Ba' Omer pilgrimage. The Tunisian government seems particularly keen to show it has taken all necessary security precautions, according to Tunis Afrique Presse. Not only has the synagogue been a target of a terrorist attack in 2002, but 21 tourists were gunned down at the Bardo Museum in March.

Tunis — Minister of the Interior Mohamed Najem Gharsalli, on Friday, said his department has taken appropriate measures to ensure the success of the pilgrimage to El Ghriba, Djerba scheduled from May 6 to 7, 2015.

"The ministry has prepared the security reinforcements needed for the success of this event," he indicated at a meeting, attended by ambassadors of Algeria, France, Russia, USA, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, South Africa, Czech Republic, Spain, China, Netherlands and Canada.

The Synagogue of El Ghriba, which was the scene of a terrorist attack in 2002, hosted nearly 2,500 pilgrims in 2014.

Mr. Gharsalli said all precautions have been taken to protect the residents and visitors in their travel and stay in Tunisia.

The government will be represented at this event by several ministers, including the Ministers of the Interior and Tourism, to show its commitment to the success of the pilgrimage season and to rooting out terrorism.

Read article in full

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

1930s Iraq: Jews have the best of everything

                                                   A Jewish wedding in the 1930s

This article by Ameen Al-Mumaiiz from his book, Baghdad as I know it (1930), gives a fascinating insight, through the eyes of a Muslim, into how Iraqi Jews were at the forefront of modernising the country. It must be emphasised, however, that the Jewish upper classes were a small percentage of the community as a whole, most of whom, as per the autobiographies of Nissim Rejwan and Salim Fattal, were poor. Thanks to Ivy Vernon for her translation.

"The Iraqi Jews ate the most expensive and rare of fruits and vegetables. As soon as the fruit is available in the market, the Iraqi Jew would buy it no matter how expensive.

He eats a healthy( kosher) meat and chicken diet checked by the Rabbi - this in obedience to religious edicts which orders them to thank God for the first season fruits, as well as to check the slain animal that no bones are broken and that it is free from any infectious diseases.

The majority of the Jews wear the best quality clothes sewn by the superior Baghdadi tailors (Armenians, Muslims, Jewish or Farma the Indian) to celebrate their festivals as per the Torah edicts. Most of them ..............celebrate in their houses with the best foods, like the fatty chicken breasts and sweets (Haiwwa).

The Jewish man will frequent the best snack bars and cafes in Baghdad with names like the River Cafe, al Basha, Shabandar, Moshe, and Mummaiiz Cafe, where he can relax and be entertained, as well as make business deals. He does not care how much he pays to the owner of the snack bar.

They own the best clubs in Baghdad, as well as the high class ones i.e. Al Rashid, Laura Kaddouri. These are exclusively Jewish and no-one else is allowed to join.

They also have the schools with the highest standards, both primary and secondary: The Alliance, Shamash and Frank Iny schools, so that sending their kids to finish their higher education in the American or European universities can be achieved easily with no problem, conditions or limitations.

If, for example, an Iraqi Jew needs to defend himself in court, he can bring in the best lawyers from abroad (as seen in the case of the extremely well off Mr Shemmail Jemaila) when he brought in Mr Parkiton-Ward, the famous English lawyer to do so.

 The Jews use the most luxurious and pedigree milking cows, handle the rarest of domestic birds, the parrots, canaries and love birds. They were the first to import American cars into Iraq - for example the Ford agents were Ibrahim and Shafiq Ades.

The agents for General Motors were the Lawee brothers. They appreciate the nutritional value of the Nabeq (tiny soft fruit from trees), the manna, Jammar (from wood in the trees), roasted beetroots, and they will pay whatever price to get them. The Jews will only buy live fish and buy it directly from the (supplier or fisherman?).

They will put up their summer tents on the riverside only in the best locations like the A'Athamiyyah beach and Al Kahouriya. They only left when threatened by Nu'man al A'thami, as he was afraid they were plotting to make the area all Jewish.

The Jewish Rabbi was the most skilled in circumcision and many Muslim families resorted to using his skills to circumcise their boys.

 For foreign languages, the best teachers were Jewish, for example Shummail for Fench and Heskel Effendi for the English language. The best swimming instructors were Jewish at Said Sultan's Organization and the teacher Saffani was the most able.

The majority of the merchants who imported the hygienic artefacts and instruments from abroad were Jewish... Salem Shamoun introduced the bathtub and the boiler to bathrooms. The Shasha family imported the variety of cloths in the Saffaffir warehouse. The Hakkak family imported the "Singer" sewing machines, the gramaphones "Lady's voice", and "Pythaphone" records."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tunisian students admire Hitler and Islamists

French media have revealed that  students at at least two high schools in Tunisia, the land where the Arab Spring began, have marked their sports days with huge banners in support of Hitler and Islamic State (Da'esh). Are the students acting out of ignorance or conviction? (With thanks: Eliyahu)

In Tunisia, "Islamofascism" is not merely a media formula. It can take on a quite concrete appearance. . . .;At the high school in  Jendouba in the northeast of the country, a banner showing Hitler saluting the German flag was displayed. (France TV - Geopolis)
In another high school in the area of Jendouba, it was the black flag of the Islamic State that was put on display. . . . . (France TV - Geopolis)
In the girls high school of Kairowan (LJFK), the religious center of Tunisia, a banner showing a representation of the persecutions of the Islamic State was hung on a wall. One can see on it a masked warrior armed with a scimitar accompanied by two prisoners dressed in the typical orange pajama. One of them in flames might represent the Jordanian pilot burned alive by Da`ash [ISIL] last February. (Le Figaro, 15 April 2015)
Blogger Eliyahu M'Tsiyon comments:
"The article in Le Figaro looks for an excuse why many in the Arab world are so fascinated with Hitler. And the reporter finds a false reason: "The fascination for the 3rd Reich is not rare in the Arab countries, which did not undergo the trauma of Nazism and are gladly hostile to Israel."

"This reason is false because in fact Nazi German troops, the Wehrmacht, did occupy Tunisia in late 1942 and early 1943. The Jews there were subjected to the preliminary stages of the Holocaust while mass murder camps were being built in North Africa. In fact, Walter Rauff, the Nazi expert in murdering Jews spent several months in Tunisia. Read excerpts from his reports to his superiors and diaries here."

Read post in full 

Did Tunis terror target Jewish collection?

Monday, April 27, 2015

'Shadow in Baghdad' reaches Iraqi viewers

With thanks: Niran

Who knew?  This report (Arabic - sorry, no English subtitles) on a London screening of the film 'Shadow in Baghdad' appeared on Iraqi TV. The screening was organised by the Meir Basri Forum. Some 80 people attended - mainly Iraqi Muslims and Christians. The Meir Basri Forum was founded by an Iraqi Jew and a Shi'a Muslim in 2010.

The film tells the story of Linda Menuhin Abdul-Aziz, whose lawyer father disappeared in Baghdad in 1972, presumed murdered by the regime. An Iraqi Muslim journalist offers to help Linda trace her father's last movements. Linda achieves closure of sorts, and her faith in humanity is reaffirmed.

 The TV channel Al-Hurra has also been interviewing Linda Menuhin and Duki Dror, the film's director, an Israeli of Iraqi origin.

Images of the terrible hangings of nine Jews on 27 January 1969 fill the screen.

 What is interesting is that the Arab media is engaging with Iraqi Jews who now live in Israel and carry Israeli passports.

 Linda's story may elicit sympathy from an Arab audience, but have they really come to terms with the fact that Iraqi Jews have moved on? These Jews do not yearn to return to the Iraqi motherland, but are now citizens of the West and of Israel. Their children may still speak some Arabic and enjoy the music and the food, but they are firmly established in their new countries.

At last, the story of the oppression and flight of the Iraqi Jews is reaching a mainstream Arab audience - surely, a miraculous development.

'Shadow in Baghdad' reviewed

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why is there no Ma' abarot Day?


Why is there no Ma'abarot Day to recall the first home - a tent camp - that 80 percent of Israel's oriental immigrants experienced when they first arrived? Article in Haaretz:

An odd question is posed by the protagonist of the television series “Zagouri Empire,” in the first episode of the new season. Why, he asks, does the Israeli calendar have no “Ma’abarot Day” – a reference to the 1950s’ transit camps that mainly housed Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

You won’t find an entry for ma’abarot in the Encyclopedia Hebraica. The 1978 edition contains a terse discussion of the subject (27 lines), but not as a separate entry, rather in the general volume devoted to the Land of Israel.

Nor do we have a “Museum of Ma’abarot.” We have an Israel Air Force museum and a Yitzhak Rabin museum and a Palmach museum and a Ya’ir Stern museum (commemorating the founder of the pre-state underground organization Lehi). But to learn about transit camps, you’ll have to poke around in archives or listen to old wives’ tales.

In a collection of Davar Le’Yeladim – the weekly children’s magazine published by the (now-defunct) Hebrew daily Davar, which was a mouthpiece for the ruling establishment – from 1951-1952, I found barely 15 articles on the subject, most of them written by young readers themselves.

Who is responsible for constructing our history? Who is charged with the role of filling with content that odd and self-interested concept referred to as “collective memory”?

When it comes to subjects like transit camps and poverty, this is not only a question for learned historians. Recent surveys have provided painful findings about the number of poor children in Israel. A heated debate has also arisen about who’s responsible for the fact that housing prices have lurched out of control – Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak, or maybe it was the other Ehud (Olmert), or possibly Menachem Begin, Golda or Ben-Gurion?

Perhaps the question should be rephrased: Who is responsible for the fact that there are some people who have no prospect of being able to buy an apartment today, whereas others own entire buildings? That’s a question that calls for a consideration of the history of poverty in this country.

The history of poverty here is a huge blank. Our great cultural repression. The ma’abarot, the product of Israeli poverty, are a historical wound that’s been removed from the map. And not by chance.

In 1951, a quarter of a million people were living in ma’abarot, 80 percent of them from Islamic lands. Most of the camps were dismantled by 1959. Ten forgotten years. Memories erased.

Here, in a nutshell, are a few important points which are apparently inconvenient to recall. The first inhabitants of the ma’abarot lived in tents, one per family. Afterward, an improved tent, hut-shaped but still made of canvas, came on the scene. Later, there were tin huts and wooden shacks. Some of the ma’abarot weren’t hooked up to the water or power supply, and filthy public toilets often served dozens of people.

In April 1949, Zalman Aranne, a leading member of the Mapai ruling party (and later minister of education), warned that a “catastrophic situation” existed in the camps. Elihayu Dobkin, a senior figure in the Jewish Agency, described the conditions as a “holy horror.” But David Ben-Gurion ruled that the improved dwellings that were being demanded for the new immigrants were too costly: “I don’t accept this pampering [approach] with respect to people not living in tents. We are spoiling them. People can live for years in tents. Anyone who doesn’t want to live in them needn’t bother coming here.”

Beginning in September 1949, the Jews of Poland were allowed to immigrate to the nascent Jewish state. Toward the end of that year, the Agency reached the conclusion that the new arrivals from Poland deserved better absorption conditions than the immigrants who preceded them. “There are respected individuals among them,” was its explanation.

To spare these newcomers the suffering of the transit camps, it was proposed to house them in hotels. At the same time, meetings were held among the authorities about speeding up the Poles’ placement in permanent housing – including in apartments originally allocated for immigrants from the Arab countries.

“They were all aware that giving preference to the Polish immigrants was wrong and so they resolved to keep it secret,” wrote historian Tom Segev in his book “1949: The First Israelis.”

In January 1953, the Agency’s Immigrant Absorption Department in Jerusalem noted, “Most of the European families have long since left the ma’abarot, and more than 90 percent of the camps’ inhabitants are from the Oriental communities.”

During the past month I’ve been visiting distressed areas in Israel – the winter 2015 version. Every morning I arrive in a different place. Kfar Shalem, Ofakim, Or Yehuda, Ramle, the long and depressing tenements of Jaffa Dalet. Distressed neighborhoods of Israeli Jews. Happily, I haven’t seen especially harsh sights.

The images I had in my mind of the ma’abarot and other sorts of immigrant camps have been shattered. At the end of the 1970s, Project Renewal was launched to rehabilitate rundown neighborhoods, and outwardly the situation has over the years become fairly reasonable. But many of the people I’m meeting are unemployed; a great many lead hardscrabble lives.

It seems to me that before we talk about the distress of the retail price of Milky, the chocolate pudding snack that symbolizes the middle class, we should recall this country’s distressed neighborhoods.

Read article in full

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jews and Armenians record stories of 1915 genocide

 Memorial at Yerevan, Armenia on 24 April 2015

 Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians? These words were spoken by one A. Hitler in 1938, as he embarked on another genocide. On the centenary of the Armenian genocide, Stephen Smith in Jewish Journal reports on a joint Jewish-Armenian project to record oral histories before the last survivors die off.

As the Jewish community knows very well, denial is the final act of genocide. It excuses killers, obfuscates victims and deeply hurts survivors and their families. It is an insult to the living and the dead; cowardly, weak and harmful. Genocide is never a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. The Armenian community has been hurting too. Just imagine if the government of the United States denied that the Holocaust was the genocide of the Jews.

The Jewish community and the Armenian community have much in common. They are both clearly identifiable ethnic groups, both of whom have a homeland, yet with more people living in diaspora than in the homeland itself. They each have a specific language, history and, of course, food.  They also both have genocide in living memory.

Jews and Armenians therefore hold a common responsibility. Each understands well the enduring pain and consequence of genocide. The fact that they have different backgrounds, different religions and traditions, and went through vastly different experiences makes the point all the more clearly: that genocide can visit any of us, at any time and we all need to be vigilant. How powerful when two communities speak together with one voice on behalf of humanity.

As the last few centenarians who survived the genocide die, Armenians face the challenge of living memory transitioning into history. Los Angeles resident Yevnige Salibian at 102 is one of the last, but as sharp as she is, there is not much she can say about her experiences during the genocide, as she was a child at the time.

That’s just one reason why the USC Shoah Foundation and the Armenian Film Foundation have come together to digitize and preserve more than 400 testimonies of survivors and experts on the Armenian genocide collected by J. Michael Hagopian, a filmmaker who survived the Armenian genocide. Those testimonies can be seen alongside the 53,000 testimonies of witnesses to the Holocaust. Testimony is revenge. It puts the truth in the hands of the eyewitness and resists denial. Even when justice cannot be done, there is poetic justice in the freedom to speak, to have the final word, to leave truth in the hands of future generations. The first 60 testimonies of Armenian witnesses are online at USC Shoah Foundation to mark the anniversary. Their voice thereby takes its place in the collective conscience.

Read article in full

Friday, April 24, 2015

Iran projects rosy version of Jewish history


The Ayatollahs cannot claim credit for the Golden Age of Iranian Jews  under the Shahs. Indeed they are peddling a rosy picture of Iranian-Jewish history that has no bearing in reality, argues Shahrzad Elghanian, the grand-daughter of Habib Elghanian (pictured), the community head and businessman executed in 1979. Interestingly, Elghanian had already irked a Shi'a cleric by building Tehran's tallest building, in defiance of traditional dhimmi rules. Article in the Washington Post (with thanks: Lily):

Until Iran’s leaders decide to get their facts straight about Jews, they should stay quiet on the subject. No, I’m not talking about former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying antics. These days, as Iran’s leaders try to soften their image to seal a deal to limit the country’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions, they’re peddling a revised and rosy version of Iran’s own 2,600-year Jewish history.

Asked by NBC’s Ann Curry during recent talks in Switzerland whether Iranian leaders understand why Jews have been wary of their rhetoric, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “We have a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people, and with — Jews everywhere in the world.”

That’s not quite right. Iran’s Jews did have something of a golden age relatively recently, but Zarif, in his role as representative of a regime that eschews pre-revolutionary Iran, can’t take credit for it. That era was a brief period when the conservative Shiite clergy were stripped of their power — after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 gave Iranians of all religions and ethnicity equal rights, and before  Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979.

Jews have lived in Iran since 586 B.C. In the 16th century, conservative Shiite scholars and clergy under the Safavid dynasty had restrictions placed on all minorities, including Jews, to bar them from economic activity and to prevent them from passing their “ritual impurity” to Muslims: Don’t open shops in the bazaar, don’t build attractive residences, don’t buy homes from Muslims, don’t give your children Muslim names, don’t use Muslim public baths, don’t leave your house when it rains or snows, don’t touch anything when entering Muslim shops. Jews weren’t protected by the legal criminal system, but they could convert on the spot to save their lives if attacked by Muslims. There were short periods of reprieve here and there but as a whole, life was pretty grim for the next several centuries. (For more on Jewish history in Iran, see Houman Sarshar’s “Esther’s Children.”)

Late in the 19th century, French and British Jews lobbied to establish schools for Jews, and eventually Iranian-Jewish philanthropists, with the help of Israeli organizations, funded a network of schools in the country. After Reza Shah founded the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925, he started a modernizing spree in which Jews participated and prospered. By 1979, according to David Sitton’s study of Sephardic Jewish communities, 80 percent of Iran’s estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Jews were middle class or higher, and 10 percent were part of the economic elite. Jews were not only successful businessmen, but also prominent university professors, journalists and doctors.

It was during that window of relative Jewish affluence that my grandfather Habib Elghanian, born in 1912, became one of Iran’s most famous industrialists, after he and his brothers introduced the plastics industry to the country in the late 1940s. In 1959, he was elected the chairman of the country’s Jewish association.
Still, some members of the clergy were uncomfortable that a Jew had become so successful. In 1962, when my family  built the country’s first private sector high-rise, the 17-story Plasco Building in Tehran, Shiite cleric Mahmoud Taleghani objected to the idea that a Jew had built the tallest building of its time in Iran.

Khomeini’s protests went further than Taleghani’s. Khomeini railed against the White Revolution, a series of economic and social reforms Reza Shah’s son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi started in 1963. His attacks on the shah’s modernization efforts were also aimed at Israel, Jews and Baha’is. “The shah takes so many of his cues from Israel that we wonder if he is not a Jew himself,” Khomeini said during one speech against the reforms. In a 1964 address, Khomeini offered his antidote to westernizing Iran. “The objective is Islam,” he said. “It is the country’s independence; it is the proscription of Israel’s agents; it is the unification of Muslim countries. The entire country’s economy now lies in Israel’s hands; that is to say it has been seized by Israeli agents. Hence, most of the major factories and enterprises are run by them.” That speech singled out two people in particular: One was my grandfather, and the other was a famous Baha’i industrialist, Habib Sabet.

When Khomeini returned from exile in February 1979 as the head of the Islamic revolution, my grandfather was among the first civilians he went after. On May 9, 1979, my grandfather was executed after a 20-minute trial on trumped-up charges that included being a “Zionist spy.” The Revolutionary Court did not allow my grandfather to have a lawyer. After a firing squad killed him, the new regime stole what he had spent his lifetime building.  (Most of the rest of my family had already left Iran by then.) The execution prompted Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) to sponsor a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran – which would prove to be a key moment in souring diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the new regime.

Read article in full

Habib Elghanian's execution was a turning point

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Escapee from Iraq: 'I owe my life to Israel'

To mark Israel's 67th Birthday, I am reposting the moving story of Moshe Kahtan, one of the last Jews to be smuggled out of Iraq before the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Israel has always dedicated itself to rescuing Jews in distress, wherever they might be. The post is dedicated to the unsung Israeli heroes who secretly helped engineer Moshe's escape, and the escape of thousands of other Jews in the 1970s through Kurdistan.

Moshe Kahtan

Moshe tells the dramatic story of his escape from Baghdad in this film by his son David.

Moshe feels he owes his life to Israel. A man called Yossi, disguised as a Bedouin,  helped organise Moshe's escape by boat to the Iranian coast and paid bribes to all the key officials on the Iranian side of the border.

Moshe and his wife Dominique now live in Israel.

Here is Moshe's story, as summarised in the synagogue newsletter by Barbara Saunders of Sutton Synagogue. The film was shown there on 29 April 2012.

"Moshe was educated in England, but by returning to Iraq in 1965 to be with his sick father, he fully understood that he would not be able to leave. His passport was confiscated on arrival.

"Although his English degree entitled him to become an officer, his Jewish status meant that his degree would not be recognised. Compulsory conscription was accompanied by sweeps of those without service papers, who could simply disappear in prison. One day an army truck crashed into the back of his car and though the colonel admitted fault, on discovering Moshe’s name, he blackmailed him. Eventually Moshe had to make the hard decision to go.

"Moshe calculated that each time he tried to prepare the way to put his affairs in order, such as selling his home, he had to deal with thirty different officials, each expecting a bribe or bakshsish. However, as the paperwork was only valid for a month, he repeated the whole procedure about three times. Eventually, he managed to arrange a necessary cholera injection, without the necessary travel documents, and flew to Basra on the border with Iran. The plan was to hire a boat as though he were taking a small trip on the lake, then meet a boat that would smuggle him over to Iran. However, the smuggler did not show up until very late.

"Although Moshe was eventually picked up, the authorities were alerted, gave chase and opened fire on the launch, which fortunately was faster than the police boat. He was smuggled across the water after an ordeal which lasted five and a half hours instead of ten minutes. “We were just part of the commodities.”

"Sadly, the smuggler was identified by his boat and he was arrested, tortured and hanged.

"On arrival in Iran, Moshe was interviewed by a colonel who acted courteously, just demanding that he sign a statement explaining why he had to leave Iraq. On the first day of the Six Day War, the Iraqi secret service came looking for him at his home in Baghdad, as they did to many other Jews who were imprisoned and tortured. Nine Jews accused of spying for Israel were given a show trial and publicly hanged. The film is dedicated to the memory of these nine men, aged between 20 and 60 years old, who were murdered in Baghdad on 27th January 1969.

"Moshe reflects on the behaviour of the Iranians then and now and the malleability of the human mind, that is so easily brainwashed, just as the German population were by Hitler, including the cream of the intelligentsia, many of whom were in the SS: philosophers, poets and doctors. Moshe concludes that he owes his life to the State of Israel, which is where he feels he belongs and where he and his wife Dominique now live."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A tiny Jewish haven in the Far East

Singapore's first chief minister was David Marshall, of Iraqi-Jewish extraction. Even today, on the anniversary of his death, residents of Singapore from all religions pay their respects to him. Article in Y-net News (with thanks: Michelle):

A serious crisis took place in Singapore after World War II, and few Jews remained in the country: Only 150 out of several thousands, most of them Iraqi Jews from Baghdad, who lead the community to this very day. Since then, the community has grown significantly and numbers some 1, 500 men and women today (including the Israelis and Jews who arrive for a short relocation period for business purposes).

The community is mostly Orthodox, wealthy and very inviting. Slowly, over the years, the community grew and expanded thanks to people who arrived from all over the world, including several thousand Israelis who are sent to Singapore every year by their workplaces on missions or special projects.

The Elias building which belongs to Singapore's rich Jews and has been well preserved by the government (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)
The Elias building which belongs to Singapore's rich Jews and has been well preserved by the government (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)

The few Jews who remained in Singapore after the war stood out. For example, David Marshall, who was a successful Jewish lawyer and served as Singapore's first chief minister from 1955 to 1956. To this very day, on the anniversary of his death, many residents from a wide spectrum of the country's different religions pay their respects to him.

In 1965, when Singapore gained its independence and split from Malaysia, Israel was one of the few countries which helped the new republic. Singapore's residents are still grateful to Israel to this very day, and the Israelis are very popular in the country.

The community is led by Rabbi Mordechai Abergel. I met with him in his modest office after a comprehensive security check at the entrance to the community building. He has been serving as the community rabbi since 1994, but although more than 20 years have passed, it seems that his vigor and positive energies have only increased over the years.

The rabbi is very involved in everything taking place in his community, and keeps it united by holding joint Shabbat meals and communal events during the Jewish holidays. The highlight of the year is the Lag B'Omer bonfire, which brings together 700 people.
Rabbi Abergel also serves as the community's slaughterer. He slaughters the poultry himself in a bid to keep the prices low and reasonable for kashrut observing consumers. The rabbi believes that every Jewish home, wherever it is, should observe kashrut, and therefore only the cost price is charged for the chicken. The beef, on the other hand, has to be imported from Australia, so its price in Singapore is much more expensive.
The rabbi is also an authorized mohel but prefers not to take any chances, so most new parents privately book a mohel from Israel for their son's circumcision ritual.
There are two active synagogues in Singapore, Chesed-El and Maghain Aboth. The latter, which was built in the early 20th century, is located in the community compound on Waterloo Street, which also includes a ritual bath for men and a ritual bath for women, a kosher store which offers a variety of products from Israel and around the world, and a banquet hall which holds weddings, bar mitzvah, anniversaries and workshops.

The Maghain Aboth Synagogue (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)

The Maghain Aboth Synagogue (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)

Read article in full

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rauff: Jews hopeful, Arabs stressed at Allied advance

Walter Rauff, the inventor of the 'gas van' and a senior officer in Nazi occupied Tunisia, kept a detailed diary: it sheds light on arrangements for recruiting Jews into 24 forced labour camps. Following the defeat of the Wehrmacht at El-Alamein,  Rauff commented that the Jews and the French were 'hopeful and happy' in hopes that the Allies would soon conquer Tunis. The Arabs were 'stressed and depressed'. Report in Y-Net News. (With thanks: Yoel)
A new finding of the diary kept by Walter Rauff, the Nazi colonel credited with masterminding the "mobile gas chamber," sheds light on the Nazi conquest of Tunisia that lasted from November 17, 1942 and up until 1943.
The high-ranking SS officer was one of three German representatives who ruled Tunisia during that period. In his diary, Rauff describes the various plans the SS considered for the Jews - including using them has a human shields against approaching Allied Forces.  

Tunisia during Nazi occupation
Tunisia during Nazi occupation

Rauff's diary is a collection of reports and daily entries that he sent from Tunisia to the Gestapo headquarters in Germany, and in them he described what was happening around him.
Over the years, the diary was kept in London archives and recently made its way to a documentation center for North African Jews, and now has been translated into Hebrew.
"Today, Kesselring's order arrived to recruit Jews for the work of building fortifications. In a meeting that took place with the acting commander, we agreed on how to fulfill this order,"  he wrote.

Walter Rauff center
Walter Rauff (centre)

"In the meantime, 3,000 Jews will be recruited by the operational force. The arrival of the Jews to the work sites and their overseeing will be the responsibility of the Wehrmacht (German forces). For this I set up a committee of Jews that will be responsible for this process to go smoothly.

"The first workers will be ready for work on the 7th of December in the morning. I gave in order to mark all the Jews that are coming to the work force with a yellow star. The financing, concern for food and sleep will be done by the Jews themselves, without strain on the German authorities. I announced that if the orders will not be completed, severe reprisals should be expected," wrote Rauff.

In December, 1942 the high-ranking German officers gathered for a crucial meeting. The topic was the draft ordinance for Jewish personnel for the benefit of the German army in 24 forced labor camps across the country. Thousands of Jewish youth were sent to these camps.
A few years earlier, Rauff had been involved in the invention of the "gas van," a type of truck transformed into a mobile gas chamber and used to annihilate Jews and others. It was the precursor of the gas chambers in concentration camps, and some 200,000 people are believed to have been murdered in this way.
In November, 1942, the German-Italian forces, under the command of Erwin Rommel, were defeated by Allied Forces in a battle known as "Al Alamein." Their defeat prevented a second advance of the Axis forces into Egypt.
In the meantime, US forces had landed in Morocco and in Algeria as part of "Operation Torch" and began to advance from Algeria toward the border between Tunisia and Algeria.

In order to prevent a situation in which German-Italian forces became trapped as they retreated from Libya, the Germans decided to place numerous forces in Tunisia in order to create a wedge between the incoming American troops advancing from east to west. This is how Tunisia fell into the hands of the Germans.
Tunisia was the only Islamic country that came under direct German occupation. During the six-month conquest, Tunisia was swept with war on two fronts in the south and the north. Constant shelling took its toll on the Tunisian people.

At the head of the Tunisian occupation stood Rauff, who commanded the entire Gestapo and deployment groups.

"Rauff did not operate based on feelings and did not trust anyone," says Dr. Haim Saadoun, who studied and translated Rauff's diary.
"He tries to become the central figure to determine German policies in Tunisia, and does so in a strategic and organized way, with the assumption that Germany will win the battle in Tunisia and by doing so save the entire North African front for the Germans and the Italians.
"He is a rationalist, organized and extemely sophisticated. He does not hurry to carry out his plans. He puts aside time to learn and build Germany's policies and his place in Germany's hierarchy."
On November 25, 1942, Rauff expressed concern that the Jews and the French were conspiring against the Nazi forces.

"The atmosphere in the city is more hostile than on previous days. The French and the Jews talk openly and say that in a short time enemy forces will conquer the city. The atmosphere among the Jews and the French is happy and hopeful, in contrast to the Arabs, who are very stressed and depressed. (My emphasis - ed) The military situation, naturally, is completely overshadowing the political situation."

Nine days later, Rauff sent another report, in which he came out against the plan of Rudolf Rahn, who served as a German diplomat to Tunisia. Rahn requested to turn the Jews into a sort of human shield against Allied forces that were expected to reach the state.
"Today Rahn brought up in a meeting with the general the possibility of deporting 70,000 Jews to the west, towards enemy forces. I greatly warned against immediately putting this measure into practice, because this type of move would fail in every respect.
Tunisian Jewish men taken to forced labor camps
Tunisian Jewish men taken to forced labor camps

"I proposed that in the meantime the Jews should be marked. The decision has not yet been made, as it seems that the time has not ripened for these steps and they will cause unrest that German forces will not be able to handle," he wrote. Two days later it was decided to send the Jews to forced labor camps.(...)

Tunisia during Nazi occupation
Tunisia during Nazi occupation

Yigal Halamit, who lives in Jerusalem today, was 12 years old at the time, and living with a family in Tunisia. "I remember that there was almost no food, I would stand every day for hours in a line in order to get bread."
"Our neighbors were kicked out of their home, my uncle was taken hostage and overall we lived with twice the fear – on the one hand the Germans, and on the other the aerial bombings by the Allied Forces that devastated the city. We had to go sleep in a store with a basement because there were no shelters then. The Germans took all the Jews over the age of 18 to work camps, among them my two older brothers."
(Clement ) Hori (a Tunisian Jew), also wrote in his diary about the recruitment of the Jews of Tunisia to labor camps and describes the meeting of the recruitment committee during which Rauff demanded that the Jewish community levy the cost of the equipment, food and wages of the Jewish workers.
"The prescribed amount is 20 million a month and the wealthy Jews were required to band together and take care of collecting this amount in order to satisfy the immediate demands. It seems that their demand was made and carried out," Hori wrote in his diary.
Hori also wrote of a young worker who disappeared one night, and arrived the next day after being captured while hunting and taken to a work camp. "He also said that 500 people were given only five water bottles and that everyone got one bun for dinner, each worth one penny. They spent the entire night outside, under the hood of the sky and pouring rain. Simply horrible! Barbarianism that fits the 15th century and we are living in the 20th!"

On the second week of December 1942, both diaries depict the German decision to ban Jews from owning radios.
Rauf writes in his diary on December 12: "According to the command of the supreme commander, today the ban begins on radio devices for the Jews, except for the radios of Jewish Italians. This move is being carried out smoothly, with the support and help of the French police. The confiscated devices are available to the German forces."
The confiscation of the radios had two purposes, says Dr. Saadoun. "One was to prevent the Jews from hearing what is going on in Europe and the second was to enable the Germans to stay up-to-date on what is happening on the North African front, through BBC coverage."
Halamit added: "There were huge placards in the street that called on all Jewish males to register. My father and mother were very worried about the fate of my brothers who had been sent off - we had no contact with them. There were people from the community who took care of food for them and they sent us reports on my brothers' fate. About what was happening then in Europe we had no idea, we had no clue. I personally found out only two years later. I was shocked, we were all in astonishment."

The subject of the Jews – as much as it was important to the Nazis, became less significant to the Germans as the Allied Forces made their way closer to Tunisia.

Their prime concern was their inability to combat the Allied Forces, keep their commitments to Italy and their relationship with the French government and the Arab Tunisian Government, which continued to function in Tunisia.

In his diary, Rauff described the Arab population and its cooperation with the Nazis. "In the border regions the atmosphere is similar to that in Tunis: The French community assumes that the enemy forces will arrive soon and are awaiting it; the Arab community is friendly towards the Germans and is willing to help."

"The Arabs that we took to accompany us on the drive from the airport to the city were immediately released when we arrived, and they were given instructions to continue with their old ways, discover the general atmosphere and send us the addresses of the Jews whose homes and cars would suit our needs. The recruitment of Jews for work had a positive impact on the atmosphere in the Arab sector."

The cooperation of the Arabs was not enough to help the Germans, who were eventually defeated by the Allied Forces. At the end of March 1942, Rauff sent his final reports to the Gestapo commander in Germany – just before he escaped with the rest of the high-ranking officials in Tunisia.

Rauff made his way to Milan, Italy about two months before Tunisia was liberated from German occupation, but was caught by the Allied Forces. In December 1946, he managed to escape from a prisoner of war camp and was hidden at a monastery in Rome.

He succeeded in fleeing Italy, and in 1948 he was drafted into the Syrian intelligence service. Rauff lived in Damascus for a year, before moving onto Ecuador and eventually settling in Chile.

Extradition requests submitted by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1963 at the request of the Simon Wiesenthal Center were turned down by Chile. The Chilean Supreme Court declined on the grounds that the country's laws applied to the crimes Rauff was accused of committing, and that the statue of limitations had expired.

Rauff died a natural death in Santiago de Chile in 1984.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cairo-born singer Richard Anthony dies (updated)

 With thanks: Ahuva

The death has been announced of the great 1960s singer Richard Anthony, aged 77.

Born Richard Btesh in Cairo, Egypt, he was that rare phenomenon, a French singer who managed to become equally successful across the Channel. He recorded 600 songs - 21 reached No.1 in the charts - and sold 50 million records.

There was 'J'entends siffler le train', 'It's my party', 'Let's twist again,' If I Ioved you', 'Itsy Bitsy Bikini'. (Try as I might, I could not  find a single hit that was not a cover for another performer.)

His father Edgar Btesh came from Aleppo in Syria. He was a textile manufacturer in Egypt, but Richard's mother Margaret was British from an Iraqi- Jewish family. Her father was the British honorary consul in Alexandria, Samuel Shashoua Bey.

Richard had a privileged childhood in Egypt but his family was forced into exile by rising nationalism. They first lived in Argentina and then moved to England: Richard, aged 9, was sent to  the prestigious Brighton College. He was a soloist in the school choir.

You may be surprised to learn that in 1966 he recorded 'Zionist lyrics' to this song - more familiar to the English-speaking world as 'California Dreamin' -  and renamed it 'La terre promise' (The promised land).

The (mostly Jewish) rebellion you've never heard of

The story is not well known of how mostly Jewish underground resistance fighters in Algiers helped the Allied forces land on the north African coast without a shot being fired. Adi Schwartz writes for i24 News:

It all seemed like a Hollywood fairy tale: around midnight, a few hundred young men spread across the city, aiming towards governmental buildings and the army barracks. They were untrained, and most of them never held a gun before. Some of their rifles didn't even have bullets. Their target, no less, was to take over the city and neutralize the entire French army.

The date is November 1942 and the location is Algiers, where the American army is about to disembark in order to fight the German armies in North Africa. In the city itself, a coup d'├ętat takes place by a Gaullist underground, comprised mostly of Jews, who tries to facilitate the American takeover of the city. In one of the more surreal chapters of World War II, a tiny and unorganized army of volunteers managed to fool 20, 000 French and Axis soldiers.

Imperial War Museum/WikipediaI
Imperial War Museum/Wikipedia"A British Crusader III tank crosses a ditch at Mersa Matruh, Libya during the British 8th Army's pursuit of the retreating Axis forces, November 1942"

The plan was simple: allied forces would land on the coast of northwestern Africa, controlled by Vichy France, and the underground would take care of paralyzing the regime's troops in order to hand over the city to the Allies. The underground presented fabricated orders from the Vichy General Staff, stating that soldiers in central institutions must be replaced by civil guards.

This allowed hundreds of underground members to take over the post office, the commissariat, the communications room and the commissioner's house, and the bewildered Vichy soldiers simply made way for them. Their commanders, including Vichy leader Philippe Petain's deputy, were taken into captivity without a single shot being fired. The chain of stunning events included a Jewish man impersonating a French general and ordering through the radio the entire army to surrender. Eventually, as day broke out, the Americans arrived and took over the city.

This untold drama is recounted in the film "Night of Fools," to be aired on Thursday in Israel during Holocaust Remembrance Day. The story remained practically unknown since nobody was interested in including it in the historical narrative: the Americans had no desire to share their victory, and the Vichy French were reluctant to be embarrassed by this episode. Historians, on the other hand, devoted most of their time and energy to studying the Holocaust in Europe.

Read article in full 

Story of unsung Algiers heroes shown on Israeli TV

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Israel must banish invented stereotypes

It's time to banish the discourse of invented ethnic identities to the dustbin of history, writes Dr Seth Frantzman in the Algemeiner in the wake of the resurgence of the supposed 'ethnic demon' behind Likud's  election victory (with thanks : Lynne T)

A scene from the film Sallah Shabati, a parody of  Mizrahi immigrants to Israel

The fallout from the Israeli elections have produced an unprecedented outpouring of stereotypes and racist statements in the media. The ones that got the most attention abroad were those directed at Arab voters by the Prime Minister. But another real problem remains unresolved in Israel: The visceral hatred and contempt that many “Ashkenazi” or European-origin Israelis have for “Mizrahi” Jews, and the way that the media exacerbates racial stereotypes by repeating them without self-critique.

When the election was over and the results had shown that Netanyahu’s Likud had gotten 30 seats in the Knesset, an outpouring of rancor began on social media. Someone was to blame. Like in all nationalist societies – and Israel is a nationalist society on the left and right –  the blame must be directed at a group. In Israel one doesn’t blame “Likud voters” but rather an ethnic scapegoat called “Mizrahim.”

Larry Derfner at the website +972 asked “what’s an Ashkenazi Leftist to do?” He wrote he was “referring only to poor, generally under-educated Mizrahim who make up the base of Likud supporters.” He asserted that “Israeli leftists…are disproportionately Ashkenazi.” He claimed “Israeli leftists say we have to treat the poor Mizrahim as equals.”

 In no other democracy in the Western world would a self-described “left wing” person wonder about the need to treat others as equals. Equality is at the basis of a liberal, leftist, and progressive outlook.

Following on the heels of the Derfner piece was one by Avi Issacharoff at the Times of Israel entitled, “Why did Bibi win? Because he speaks fluent Mizrahi.” He claimed that “Mizrahim are celebrating their ‘victory’ over the Ashkenazim in the recent elections.” Just as Derfner had argued poor Mizrahim were racist, Issacharoff claimed that many people of Mizrahi origin have “xenophobia, particularly towards Arabs.”

These authors and many others invent a stereotype of poor racist “Mizrahim” that are responsible for the election of Likud. No one surveyed Likud voters to see how many are actually “Mizrahi.” In fact many Likud voters come from areas that are wealthy and middle class, like my own neighborhood of Rehavia, where at least 25 percent voted Likud. Are Likud voters more racist towards Arabs than Zionist Union voters? Did anyone take time to poll both groups and ask?

On a TV program, a former professor was invited on after he had bashed Mizrahi voters on his Facebook account. He told a Moroccan woman on the show that “nothing bad would have happened if your parents had stayed in Morocco and rotted there.” Another campaign on Facebook was started to “punish” poorer towns in Israel by not giving charity to them. Guy Spigelman, CEO of the NGO PresenTense asked after the election in an article in Haaretz, “Why should we feel extra responsibility for the education, health and welfare of all Israelis?” There aren’t words to describe how wrong that is.

Some Israelis are trying to search for a scapegoat for Netanyahu’s victory. Some of them who define themselves as left wing, “Ashkenazi” and progressive have painted a stereotypical picture of “the poor” as “racist.” It is as if to be born white and from a European family automatically makes you better in Israel, despite the fact that Baruch Goldstein, Meir Kahane, and most of the virulent racists in Israeli history have also been European-origin Jews.

It’s time for Israelis to banish this discourse to the dustbin of history.  Haven’t Jews been scapegoated long enough without reflecting that hate-mongering tool inward?

Ashkenazi and Mizrahi are invented identities, born of a misreading of Jewish history. There were European Jewish families from Egypt and Sephardic Jewish families from Amsterdam who came to Israel; there is mass intermarriage. There are more than a million Russian-origin Jews in Israel; Ethiopians and Druze; and some of them vote Likud.

Read article in full

There is no abyss between ethnicities

A dose of Neanderthal realism

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Nazis no longer 'a product of the Oriental imagination'

 Survivors returning to Libya from Bergen-Belsen (Yad Vashem)

 The author, Yossi Sucary, writing in + 972 Magazine, takes a sarcastic (yet poetic) swipe at the Israeli establishment for daring to suggest that the plight  of  Libyan Jews during WW2 was a figment of the Oriental imagination. The Jews who ended up in Bergen Belsen were those with British passports. All are thought to have survived. It is an exaggeration to say that 'thousands of Libyan Jews were massacred by the Nazis' - several hundred died in camps like Giado, but most casualties were a result of the bombing, mostly by the Allies.

I wanted the believe that the Nazis’ bullets, which struck the heads of my mother’s 12 and 13-year-old cousins with frightening precision, accidentally missed the history books of the State of Israel.

I wanted to believe that my grandmother, who was taken from the blazing heat of the Sahara Desert, where she lived as a free and loving woman, on a three-year journey that ended in Bergen Belsen concentration camp in snowy Germany, could not be contained in the pages of history of the State of Israel, because her feet were simply too lazy to take her to the Education Ministry and tell the people there about it.

I wanted to believe that I learned, over and over again, about the 49 people who were murdered during the Kishinev pogrom of 1903, but I didn’t learn a thing about the thousands of Jews from Libya who were massacred by the Nazis in the Jado, Gharyan, Said al Aziz, Bergen Belsen and Birenbach Reiss concentration camps, all due to a silly mistake by a lowly clerk in the Education Ministry of the State of Israel.

I wanted to believe that my mother’s cries, who for years woke up crying in the middle of the night, in a mix of Arabic and Italian, fearing that the Germans were coming to take her, were not heard by a single writer of history, only because it was too soft, and it is her fault that she did not cry louder.

I wanted to believe that when Nachum Goldman, the President of the World Zionist Organization, rejected my aunt Saloma, who asked to receive reparations after her young son was shot at point-blank range by the Germans, he did so because he truly believed his own words: “You have never seen a German in your life, you have an Oriental imagination.”

In fact, I wanted to believe that Israel was not interested in erasing the history of part of its citizenry, but rather was interested in changing what was said about it. This is why I wrote my book “Benghazi—Bergen-Belsen” on black pages — the kind that the State cannot easily scribble on.

Read article in full 

Lessons of Bergen-Belsen remain unlearned

Friday, April 17, 2015

Israeli journalist who visited Iran accused of spying

An Israeli journalist who recently visited Iran has been accused of being a spy by an Iranian MP, and has clearly embarrassed the authorities. Orly Azoulay travelled on an American passport with a delegation from the New York Times, but did not conceal her identity. Report in Y-Net News: (with thanks: Ahuva)

Orly Azoulay's recent reports of her visit to Iran have caused quite a stir in the Islamic Republic, which has come out against Ynet's print-publication Yediot Ahronoth's "Zionist emissary who managed to enter the country under the noses of the authorities."

Armed with a visa issued by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and without making any efforts to conceal her identity, Azoulay went to Iran as part of a delegation organized by the New York Times - and was warmly welcomed by her hosts.

Orly Azoulay in Iran (Photo courtesy of Orly Azoulay)
Orly Azoulay in Iran (Photo courtesy of Orly Azoulay)

After leaving the country, she described her visit in a report published over the Passover holidays, telling of her time in Tehran, her visits to a synagogue in Isfahan and the tomb of Queen Esther in Hamedan, and various other experiences in the country.

The report has now sparked an outcry in Iran, with the media and social networks filled with discussions on how and why Azoulay received permission to visit the country.

The members of the Jewish community of Isfahan won't discuss Netanyahu's speech to Congress and are adamant in their loyalty to the state. 'We don't talk politics,' they say. On Tuesday, the Lenziran video website published an extensive report on the subject of the "Zionist journalist," charging that Azoulay's reports are false.

"She has no business here other than espionage," said one Iranian member of parliament who appeared in the Lenziran report. "The question is: where is our intelligence system?"

The report also described how the various Iranian government ministries are trying to blame one another for the "oversight." And according to the report's presenter, "Azoulay's entry into Iran is like a virus entering the human body."

 Orly Azoulay finds herself watching Netanyahu's Congress speech from the lobby of an Iranian hotel, and encounters a country desperate for a deal that will free it from crippling sanctions.

In response to Azoulay's article, the spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Hossein Nooshabadi, said she had "entered Iran on an American passport, she didn't have a press card and came in as a tourist, an American resident with an American group – the Foreign Ministry and intelligence services must therefore provide an answer."

Read article in full 

Video (Hebrew) shows Orly Azoulay visiting the tomb of Esther in Hamadan where 15 Jews remain, and the synagogue in Isfahan where one member sings a song wishing for peace between the peoples of Iran and Israel.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The lessons of Bergen-Belsen remain unlearnt

It is not widely known that Jews were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from Libya. Barely three years later, the Jewish community of Libya was ethnically cleansed. The lessons of Bergen-Belsen were not learned in 1945, and still have not been today, with the proliferation of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish Islamist groups. Lyn Julius writes in the Jerusalem Post:

Holocaust survivors returning from Bergen-Belsen to Libya

On April 15, the world marked  the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

More than 50,000 prisoners, mainly Jews, died there – of starvation, overwork, disease or following gruesome medical experiments. Anne Frank was probably the most famous victim. She and her sister perished of typhus in the camp just one month before liberation.

Among the prisoners liberated on that glorious day in April were several hundred Libyan Jews, deported to Bergen-Belsen via Italy. A photo exists of these survivors, dangling their legs out of a railway carriage on which they had scrawled, “Going home” and “Back to Tripoli.”

According to The Jews of Libya by Professor Maurice Roumani, some 870 out of the 2,000 Jews in Libya with British passports were deported to Italy as part of the “sfollamento” policy to send away foreign nationals. Members of the same family could be dispersed to Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria – then under pro-Nazi, Vichy French control.

Two transports of 300 Jews, and another 120, were shipped from Libya to Naples on cargo trains to Bergen-Belsen and arrived on May 25, 1944. Jews arriving from Libya in Bologna were taken by train to Innsbruck- Reichenau, part of the Dachau camp system, in July 1943.

Reaching Bergen-Belsen relatively late in the war, the Libyan Jews survived. Some were exchanged for German POWs. They received packages from the Red Cross and obtained some relief in their working conditions. They even managed to keep kosher, exchanging cooked food for dry bread. One Jew, Zion Labi from Benghazi, started a school.

The deportation of Jews from Libya to the northern shores of the Mediterranean gives the lie to the widespread misconception that the Holocaust touched only European Jews.

Although their suffering cannot be compared to the horrors inflicted on the Jews of Eastern Europe, Jews in North Africa were not spared the impact of the war. Some 2,500 Libyan Jews were shipped by the Italian Fascist regime to the notorious Giado labor camp. One fifth died of typhus or starvation.

Neighboring Tunisia came under direct Nazi control for six months. Some 2, 000 Tunisian Jewish men, wearing the obligatory yellow star, were frog-marched into labor camps. Jews were used as slave labor in Algerian and Moroccan work camps. And all the while, thousands of Jews died in aerial bombardments as the Allied and German armies wrestled for control.

Arguably, North African states, having not yet achieved independence, were not responsible for the anti-Jewish measures adopted by the Vichy regime and the Italian fascists. But apart from individuals who saved Jews, the sympathies of the Arab masses broadly lay with the Germans.

Iraq, independent since 1932, was the scene of a pro-Nazi coup in 1941, leading inexorably to the Farhud, the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht. In this two-day orgy of murder, rape, mutilation and looting, up to 600 Jews were killed, according to British archival records. The exact figure will never be known.

The Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem played a central role in plotting the pro-Nazi coup in Iraq. In exile in Berlin from November 1941 until the end of the war, he broadcast anti-Jewish propaganda to the Arab world.

He proved more zealous than the Nazis in promoting the “final solution” to the Jewish question. The mufti is thought to have been directly responsible for 20,000 European Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.

At the end of WWII, the mufti should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg.

He was indicted, judged and convicted by Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, arising from his pivotal role in the Handschar and Skandeberg SS divisions which deported Balkan Jews from Kosovo, Macedonia and Thrace. But the Allies shrank from offending the Arabs. The mufti remained a hero for tens of thousands.

Nazi Germany lavished money and propaganda on the Arab world in the hopes of fomenting an anti-colonial uprising. It funded the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Egypt in 1928. Its founder, Hassan al-Banna, made the Nazi concept of the Jew as the epitome of all-embracing evil, overlaid with traditional anti-Jewish Koranic prejudice, the core of the Brotherhood’s ideology. By the war’s end, the Brotherhood had a million members.

Shortly after the Belsen survivors had returned to Libya, the Jews of Tripoli and outlying villages suffered a vicious threeday pogrom, which claimed the lives of 130 and made thousands of Jews homeless.

How was this possible barely six months after news of the terrible extermination of the Jews of Europe had reached the Arab world? The November 1945 Libyan riots were a spillover from disturbances in Egypt in which five Jews were murdered. While some blame the clash of Zionism and Arab nationalism, historians report that the rioters in Libya did not shout anti-Zionist slogans. The mob did not even know what Zionism was, a Jewish Agency report stated. It is noteworthy that the Egyptian rioters, incited by the Muslim Brotherhood, targeted Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions as well as Jews.

It is common to view the mass exodus and spoliation of a million Jews from the Arab world as revenge for the displacement of Palestinian Arabs in 1948. A more plausible explanation is that Nazi-inspired blood-andsoil nationalism, and xenophobic Islamism, which had entrenched themselves in the Arab world over the preceding decade, aimed to destroy, or at best, exclude non-Muslim minorities from public and political life.

In 1947 the Arab League drafted a plan to treat their Jewish citizens as enemy aliens, before a single Palestinian Arab had fled.

Barely three years after the end of WWII, Arab League member states emulated Nazism with their Nuremberg-style laws, criminalizing Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas, imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. Violence and the threat of violence did the rest. The result was ethnic cleansing of age-old Jewish communities in a single generation.

The ghost of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish bigotry was never exorcised: after WWII, the Arab world gave safe haven to Nazi war criminals on the run. They became military advisers and spin-doctors of Jew-hatred.

Adolph Eichmann, Nazi architect of the “final solution,” hoped his “Arab friends” would continue his battle against the Jews, who were always the “principal war criminals” and “principal aggressors.” He hadn’t managed to complete his task of “total annihilation,” but the Muslims could still complete it for him.

Not only has the virus of Nazi anti-Semitism never left the Arab and Muslim world, it has grown exponentially. Muslim immigrants have carried the virus of Jew-hatred back into European countries. Saudi petrodollars have financed the spread of Islamism, with its implicit anti-Semitism, worldwide.

Eichmann would have been pleased to see that the Arab world is effectively judenrein: there are no Jews in Libya, and no more than 4,000 in the rest of the Arab world today. The Muslim Brotherhood, and its local Palestinian branch Hamas, al-Qaida, Islamic State and assorted Islamist groups still carry the torch for an ideology born in the Nazi era.

Read article in full

Cross-posted at Harry's Place

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

'Righteous' candidate did not risk life

 Why have more Arabs not been nominated as 'Righteous Gentiles'? the answer, at least in Khaled Abdul Wahab's case during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia, is that Jews were sheltered with the knowledge of the Nazis and involved no personal risk to him. The Times of Israel reports:

Abdul Wahab (pictured) was twice nominated to Yad Vashem for the honor, in 2007 and 2010, and twice rejected.

According to Robert Satloff, author of the landmark 2006 book, “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands,” it is a “sordid story of Yad Vashem applying criteria to this case that it has failed to apply in other cases. Regrettably this is not Yad Vashem’s finest hour.”

“Among the Righteous” opens with the simple question, “Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?” The book and a follow-up 2010 PBS documentary reflect Satloff’s scholarly and personal journey in searching for Arab involvement in the Holocaust — Arab villains, heroes, and those in between.

Robert Satloff, author of the landmark 2006 book 'Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands' (courtesy)

Robert Satloff, author of the landmark 2006 book ‘Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands’ (courtesy)

“In the course of research for this book, I came to the sad conclusion that there are two main reasons that no Arabs have been included among the list of the ‘righteous’ — first, many Arabs (or their heirs) didn’t want to be found, and second, Jews didn’t look too hard,” wrote Satloff.

Abdul Wahab’s wartime deeds are recounted in “Among the Righteous” by the Jewish Middle East historian after he heard testimony from Weisel’s sister, Anny Boukris, who was also hidden by Abdul Wahab at age 11.

In conversation with The Times of Israel Tuesday, Satloff said he is “always impressed by how many Arabs ask me about” Abdul Wahab. Many have difficulty understanding why he has been honored by other Jewish organizations, but not by Israel.

Abdul Wahab’s daughter Faiza, who only heard of her father’s wartime experiences after the publication of Satloff’s book, said in a 2010 Ynet interview, “My father opened his home to Jews and Yad Vashem did not open their home to us.”

Head of the Righteous Among the Nations department Steinfeldt explained that part of the criteria for deciding who is eligible for the title relates to the question of whether the nominee saved a Jew from deportation or threat of death under risk of death or imprisonment, with altruistic motivations. All this must be affirmed through detailed Jewish witness testimony or, in rare cases, other documentation, such as police records of arrests.

Most are nominated by those rescued or their children, and Steinfeldt’s multi-lingual staff of 10 begin the process of verifying their eligibility. The file is prepared, which takes on average a year, and given to the Yad Vashem commission, which is headed by a Supreme Court judge, for debate.

In the case of the North African countries, said Steinfeldt, during the “German conquest, the occupation was so short there wasn’t time to implement the Final Solution.”

Therefore, she explained, there is a smaller likelihood that there would be Righteous Arabs from these parts, “not because the people were different, but because the circumstances were different.”

Families didn’t have to hide, said Steinfeldt, and though some Jews stayed with Muslim countrymen, it was done in full knowledge of the Nazis.

“Jewish families were thrown out of their homes and hosted by local Arabs. They were not hiding, but hosted,” she said. “The hosts didn’t do anything illegal.”

In the case of Abdul Wahab, Yad Vashem’s Steinfeldt said, “as much as his deeds were admirable” in hosting Jews at his farm, he broke no law and the Germans knew of their stay.

Additionally, according to testimony Yad Vashem received from Satloff’s source Boukris, “the men continued their forced labor service under German supervision, and on Thursdays, to prepare for Shabbat, the family would join the other Jews of Mahdia who had been evicted from the town and concentrated on a Jewish-owned farm in Sidi Alouan,” close to Abdul Wahab’s estate.
As explained by a Yad Vashem spokesperson, the element of personal risk is a clear criteria for the Righteous Among the Nations status.

“If the Germans knew about – and checked on – the Jews who were staying with him, the element of extraordinary risk is clearly lacking,” she said.

The Muslims in Europe were a different case, said Steinfeldt. For example
, Yad Vashem has granted the title of Righteous Among the Nations to many Muslims from Albania, the only European country that ended WWII with more Jews than it began with due to its famous protection of the up to 1,800 Jewish refugees who joined the country’s indigenous Jewish population of 200.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A wartime childhood in Benghazi

 This is the story of Benjamin Doron, whose childhood was shattered by WWll. His mother died of typhus, his father was imprisoned as a 'British collaborator' for four years till the end of the war, and an uncle died in the notorious Jado (Giado) camp in the Libyan desert. Doron was one of five Jews allowed an immigration certificate into Palestine in 1946. Here is his deposition at Yad Vashem (with thanks: Nitza):

My name is Benjamin Doron. My father’s name was Morchai or Mordechai Dadosh.

My mother’s name was Diamantina; her nickname was Mantina.
Let me tell you about my grandmother, who played a central role in my childhood. Her name was Henriquette or Regita Arbib (Nadjari). She was my mother’s mother. She was born in Saloniki, and from there she went to Alexandria in Egypt to visit her brothers.

She met my grandfather who was there on business. Later they married and came back to live in Benghazi.

I feel more connected to the name I adopted when I came to Israel after the War of Independence, which is Doron. When I was living with my parents, my name was Dadosh.

Father was a worker at the port of Benghazi. He worked there until the first occupation of the British. We weren’t rich, but we were not poor either. My mother was a housewife. We were three children, my brother Amos, my sister Rachel and I. I was the eldest.

Benjamin Doron aged ten and (right) as he is today
My grandmother lived in the Eastern part of the city, which bordered on the Muslim quarter, and we lived in the Italian quarter of Benghazi, on the third floor of an apartment building. Our toilets were inside the building, but where Grandmother lived, the buildings were older - from Turkish times - and all the facilities were outside. She lived there with her son, Herzl, my uncle, who was 17. She had to work to make a living to look after herself and her unmarried son. She ironed shirts. Most of the Jews lived in the new city and a few from the older generation lived in the old part where my grandmother lived. There was no Jewish ghetto. Grandmother had Jewish and non-Jewish friends. Some of her friends came from Greece, and Malta. In the synagogue everyone was the same. There were four synagogues and everyone prayed in the Sephardic tradition.

The Jewish children went to the Italian Jewish school, where there were three classes. Some non-Jewish Italian-speaking pupils also went to our school. I started to go to school when I was 7, but at the age of ten and a half, the Second World War started and the school closed. I don’t recall or know of any specific anti-Semitic incidents at school. After school some of the children went to learn limudei kodesh (religious studies), at the Talmud Torah. I went at the beginning, but discontinued later, I don’t really know why.
The promenade in Benghazi, Libya, 1939, called Lungomare Mussolini 
The promenade in Benghazi, Libya, 1939, called Lungomare Mussolini
Part of our curriculum in January, February and March 1940, was to learn about fascism! We even wore the black or grey uniform of the Fascist Youth movement and sang Fascist songs. I remember when Mussolini visited Benghazi in 1935. He arrived in the main square on his horse and met with officials.(...)
There were about 3,000 Jews in Benghazi at this time. After 1938, with the advent of the Racial Laws, all Jewish-owned shops and our school had to be open on Shabbat. The Chief Rabbi told us not to go to school and we asked non-Jewish people to open the Jewish-owned shops on Shabbat.

During WWII
My last school report was from April 1940 and this was the end of our schooling and the beginning of the trouble. Regular schooling for all children in Benghazi ended in April.

The first British occupation began at the end of 1940 but life continued more or less normally. There were no changes in the daily family routine. Receiving the British army was a cause for rejoicing. As children, we use to get small additions in food like jam, and bread but we weren’t hungry at this point. There were a lot of bombings, and my uncles had no work.

Now according to grandmother’s story, the British authorities tracked my father down as someone who had worked in the port and since they wanted to operate the port, they got him to get things moving in the port for them. He got the other workers to report for work. Boats began to dock and nothing was missing at home. My uncles, who were tailors, had a more difficult time since they were not receiving many orders, but I don’t think that they were missing the basic commodities.

We lived on the third floor of a long block of flats with four or five entrances, and when there were bombings we went down to the shelters. One could run across the roof of the whole long building and descend to the street from the last steps in the building, but more of that later in the war.

In the spring of 1941, the Afrika Korps (German expeditionary force), led by General Rommel, arrived and pushed the British army out, ending the first British occupation. There were some Italian soldiers attached to Rommel’s army as well. This was the beginning of a much harder period for us. Firstly someone informed on my father to the Italian judicial authority as having collaborated with the British in helping to open the port for their use. He was tried in an Italian court and sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment for aiding the enemy. During this entire period it was impossible for us to see him or visit him.

When the Germans entered the city, it resulted in looting and hooligan behavior on the part of the Italians against Jewish shops and I remember this clearly. I saw it from the windows of the flat on the third floor - Italians rampaging down in the streets.

We never saw father again until after the war. He was never prepared to talk about this period. He did tell my brother that he suffered during this period and he saw difficult things but he never elaborated on this general statement. He was taken to Tripoli and from there transferred to Italy on a troop carrier, and jailed there.

Our mother fell ill with typhus and died and we remained with our grandmother who looked after us as orphans. She moved into our apartment with Herzl our uncle, because it was on the third floor and therefore safer than the ground floor where she lived. We would use the water hole that she had in her courtyard because of water shortages, and it became my responsibility to walk to her home to fetch water for use in our flat. Life became harder, the city was very dirty and lice became a problem to be dealt with. Food wasn’t as plentiful as before but I don’t remember actually feeling starved. You could get basic foodstuffs. We stayed at home most of the time and the only time I went out of the house was to fetch water and to go to synagogue on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Grandmother sold off her private jewelry from time to time in order to support us, and it appears that this was sufficient for us to buy food.

You must remember that there were also aerial bombardments so we did not move around a lot. When there were bombings at night, and it was too dark to go out, and there were no alarms to warn us of the incoming bombs, I remember that my grandmother would tell us to each stand in a corner, and to say “Shema Yisrael”[1], and to just wait. It was war for us, meaning limited movement, some hardships, fear but nothing unbearable. The Jews remained within their community and didn’t experience anything really bad at this stage except for the racial laws.

At the end of 1941, beginning of 1942, the British pushed the Germans out and we received the British army again with rejoicing. However this period didn’t last too long. During this period we met some soldiers from Palestine who were serving in the British Army, but not many.

Again in 1942, the Germans returned for the second time and Mussolini ordered the Jews to be expelled from certain areas in Libya, and they had to congregate in Benghazi. The German governor together with the Italian governor demanded the creation of lists of all the Jews in Benghazi that the Rabbi and the community leaders refused to supply. We didn‘t know where they were being sent. And then a Jew called Docha made the lists for the Germans and these lists were posted in the synagogue. The Jews listed had to appear at a certain meeting point on a certain date, from which they were taken away in trucks.

We knew nothing about the fate of the Jews elsewhere although at this time, some Jewish refugees from Europe arrived in Benghazi and the Jewish community helped them with the basics, such as bread, beans and water from the well etc., but shortly afterwards they were sent back to Europe and I don’t know what happened to them.

So every few weeks, a few trucks with Jews were loaded up and taken away and we didn’t know to where. For some reason, we were at the end of the list, although some of my uncles from my father’s side were trucked out in the first convoy.
Page of Testimony of Mordekhai Burbea, a Lybian Jew sent to Bergen Belsen 
Page of Testimony of Mordekhai Burbea, a Libyan Jew sent to Bergen Belsen
Slowly Benghazi became a ghost city with only about 250 Jews left. This was a very difficult period because the city had emptied out and it was very difficult to find provisions. Non-Jewish French and British citizens began to leave and return to their countries, and Jews of French nationality first went to Tripoli and were sent to Tunisia, and those of British nationality were sent to Italy and from there some were sent to Bergen Belsen.

At this point we began to suffer from starvation. I became responsible for gathering food, even from the German army, like remains of jam from tins, but it wasn’t enough.

Most of the houses and shops belonging to Jews had been broken into. Grandmother then had an idea that I should go into broken-down houses and look for food, which I began to do, and I succeeded in finding enough food to keep us afloat: beans, tomatoes etc.

Only once do I remember that German soldiers shooed me away from near their head- quarters.

Concerning bodily ablutions, I was responsible for emptying out the buckets, cleaning and bringing water back from Grandma’s well near the sea. I was the only one who left the house of the five of us. Twice a day, morning and night I did this.

One day, around August or September, we finally had to leave on one of the trucks. Grandma prepared a load for each one to carry – a little food, blankets. When we reached the main road to Tripoli, a German roadblock stopped us and returned us to the city. We were told to get off the trucks and we headed for Grandma’s house near the sea. When we got there, her Arab neighbor said it was better for us to stay only one night and to leave the area of the city for a certain village further out, probably because of the aerial bombings. He had already sent his own family there. So the next day we started out and my sister and I remember resting and sleeping in the Jewish cemetery on the way out of the city.

By evening, after walking the whole day, we arrived in the small village made up of mud huts with all the activity centered around the watering well. The Arab neighbor accompanied us to the village since his own family was there and we remained there until the end of the war. We were given a small single room wooden hut and subsisted on the basics that the Arab neighbor would bring to Grandma every so often, such as bread, beans, water from the well. As before, her manner of paying for his keeping us alive was with a piece of her jewelry from time to time.

We were the only Jewish family in the vicinity and were under his protection, until the beginning of 1943 when Grandma told us to gather our belongings, and we returned to Benghazi to both houses, which had been broken into.
Life after WWII
The British army was now back with soldiers from India and New Zealand and they were generous in what they gave us to eat, to keep us alive, such as jam, yellow cheese, and tea. We settled into the third floor flat.

My uncle, who was seven years older than me, took over the reins.
This is where the soldiers from the "Jewish Brigade" of the British army arrived, speaking Hebrew and looking for the Jews. The Jewish soldiers guarded us, giving us food, and they organized a school for us, one class with forty, or fifty kids until the remnants of the Jado (Giado) camp[2] started returning. And then they started opening extra classes. You have to imagine that what days before had been a ghost town was now transformed under the British influence and especially the Jewish soldiers into a different reality with education restarting, books, pencils, blackboards and everything being held in Hebrew. The school was called a Talmud Torah and this way the British had no problem in allowing ‘religious instruction’. They were all in soldiers’ garb and amongst other things were teaching Zionist ideas with songs. I remember the stamps of the Keren Kayemet with pictures of Ein Harod and other kibbutzim and clearly this was part of imparting ideas about Israel. We began to speak in Hebrew, and I spoke Hebrew with my brother, and learned arithmetic in Hebrew. Some of the soldiers remained illegally to continue teaching us but a young man called Skolnick had started training local people to take over the brunt of the educational endeavor.

There was also the phenomenon of fictitious marriages between soldiers and local girls so that they could enter Palestine ‘legally’ and some local youths who were even dressed in British uniforms with the army ‘pass’ of Jewish soldiers who remained behind in Benghazi. Some of the Jewish soldiers met and married Jewish girls from Benghazi.

One of my uncles, my father’s brother, named Benjamin Dadosh, was the second Jew to die in the Jado Camp. (See Page of Testimony). My uncles told me that people died there from starvation and disease. There wasn’t a family who didn’t have someone who had died in the camp.

Emigrating to Palestine
Document issued by the British Military Administration in Cyrenaica, Libya, in lieu of a passport, to Benjamin, in 1946, to allow him to immigrate to Palestine by boat.  The back of the document shows the stamps by the Government of Palestine, Department of Migration, when Benjamin arrived in Haifa on July 31, 1946. 

Document issued by the British Military Administration in Cyrenaica, Libya, in lieu of a passport, to Benjamin, in 1946, to allow him to immigrate to Palestine by boat. The back of the document shows the stamps by the Government of Palestine, Department of Migration, when Benjamin arrived in Haifa on July 31, 1946.
In 1946, five entry certificates arrived from Palestine to school in Libya. I was one of the students given a certificate. I still have a copy of it. I don’t know if there was a draw, or how I got one, but they said they took good students from the higher classes. Around the same time, a boat containing cows arrived from Palestine. The boat was called “Aliza”.

In 1946, I sailed to Palestine on the Aliza, with the cows, and began my new life. The five of us from Benghazi went to the Youth Village in Ben Shemen. The other people there looked at us strangely as they had never seen Jews from North Africa before. All the staff came from Germany, and they didn't know who we were, and didn't know how to look after us. Soon they saw we were polite, and we spoke Hebrew. They decided to send us immediately to agricultural school and integrate us as soon as possible.

 We didn't know anything about physics or chemistry, but after three months, we sat and learned everything: physics, chemistry, mathematics. We had a problem with music, especially classical music, as we hadn't heard music for three years, all throughout the war. We also didn’t know anything about art; we had never heard that pictures could “speak” to you.

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When the Jewish Brigade came to Benghazi (Doron's account of the Jewish school )