Tuesday, June 30, 2015

'Seeds of conflict' could sow confusion

 Kibbutz pioneers 'did not understand' Arabs

 A documentary to be broadcast tonight on PBS blames the conduct of Jewish pioneers in a particular incident in 1913 for the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lyn Julius offers an alternative perspective in the Times of Israel, claiming the programme obscures a history of persecution of Jews by Arabs in Palestine.

One day in 1913, a group of Arabs stole some grapes from the vineyards of Jewish pioneers in Rehovot. An altercation followed, leaving one Arab camel driver and one Jewish guard dead. The incident marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, and planted the seeds of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Far-fetched as it may sound, this is the theory advanced by a one-hour PBS documentary, ‘Seeds of Conflict,’ shown in the US on 30 June. Grievances between different communities, once happy to mingle in coffee houses, were allowed to fester, the programme argues, and the conflict soon took on the proportions we know today. 

Those most to blame for ruining the hitherto idyllic relationship between Jews, Muslim and Christians, it claims, are the young Ashkenazi Jews of the Second Aliyah, who came to the land of Israel fleeing Czarist pogroms.

Seeds of Conflict, (preview here) which the film-makers say was made in consultation with a number of experts, insists that, according to the Arabic press and complaints of the time, these Jews showed ‘no understanding of the ways of the Arab inhabitants’ — unlike the earlier Jewish inhabitants in Palestine, who were Sephardi and spoke Arabic.

The so-called Old Yishuv was indeed composed of Arabic-speaking Jews who had settled in Tiberias, Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed, boosted by 15th century refugees from the Spanish Inquisition.

But life for these Jews was neither secure nor prosperous, and they subsisted on charitable handouts from abroad. Crucially, they had to ‘know their place’ under Muslim rule. From time to time, the Arab inhabitants made the Jews ‘understand their ways’ — which could consist of bloody pogroms. For instance, in 1834, the Palestinian Arabs of eastern Galilee took advantage of a regional war between Egypt and Turkey to attack their Jewish neighbours in Safed and strip them of everything they had — clothes, property, homes. Jews were beaten to death, sometimes by their own neighbours, synagogues destroyed and holy books desecrated.

The 1929 Hebron massacre targeted mainly members of the Old Yishuv, not the new Zionists from Russia.

The small Sephardi community of Palestine was so abased under Muslim rule that a contingent of Ashkenazi followers of the ‘false Messiah’ Shabbetai Zvi, seeking refuge in Jerusalem in 1700, refused to put up with the humiliations suffered by the Sephardim. “The Arabs behave as proper thugs towards the Jews…” one wrote. Jews could be slapped by passing Muslims, have stones thrown at them by small children, be banned from riding a horse — a noble animal — and suffer all manner of degradation as second-class ‘dhimmis’.

Jews were not allowed to worship freely at their holy places. The Mamluks forbade them from treading beyond the seventh step on the staircase to the burial place of the Patriarchs in Hebron. “Nothing equals the misery and suffering of the Jews of Jerusalem”, wrote Karl Marx. “Turks, Arabs and Moors are the masters in every respect.” To be a dhimmi was to be continually reminded of Islam’s supremacy over Judaism and Christianity.

In truth, it could be argued that the breakdown of the traditional dhimmi relationship was one of the root causes of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Perhaps the decisive incident took place, not in 1913, but in 1908, when the Hashomer Hatza’ir pioneers of Sejera dismissed their Circassian guards — who protected their settlement against Bedouin raids — ­ and replaced them with Jewish guards. For the Jews, this was an ideological statement of self-sufficiency. But for the neighbouring Arab fellaheen, they had crossed a red line. They had reneged on their part of the bargain: the dhimmi, who was not allowed to bear arms, should always look to the Muslim for protection.

The arrival of the young Zionist pioneers, with their socialist vision of a brave new world, threatened to overturn the existing pecking order. Yet many Arabs benefited from the influx of European Jews. As the Jews toiled to drain the swamps and make the desert bloom, waves of Arab immigrants flooded in from neighbouring countries, eager to take advantage of the jobs and prosperity created.

The program’s creators say that 1913: Seeds of Conflict dispels a number of myths and is ‘an admittedly arbitrary glimpse that captures the Palestine of a hundred years ago’. But to substitute a tale of ‘European colonialists’ invading Palestine in order to trouble a multiculturalism of mythical equality would be to indulge in dangerous revisionism.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Egypt-Israel talks signal warm-up

One week after Egypt said it would return its ambassador to Israel after a three-year hiatus, top diplomatic envoys from the two states met Sunday for talks in Cairo to discuss the deadlock on the Palestinian front and security issues facing the region. Relations between the two countries are warming up, for the first time in four years. The Times of Israel reports:

While specific details from the confab were under wraps, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was “pleased” with the outcome of the talks and that the two countries see “eye to eye” on a number of issues, the NRG news site reported. The session was believed to be the first between senior Israeli and Egyptian figures in Cairo since 2011. 

Israeli diplomats were said to be satisfied with Cairo’s plans to maintain its tough stance toward the Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, despite recent media reports signalling an easing of restrictions on the Palestinian enclave.

Foreign Ministry director Dore Gold and Egyptian diplomats hashed over topics such as Iran’s nuclear program, growing Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, Cairo’s foreign policy toward Hamas and a possible re-launch of peace talks with the Palestinians — in the first powwow of its kind between the two nations in four years.

Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Osama al-Majdoub made it abundantly clear to Gold that Cairo views the Palestinian deadlock as “the heart of the conflict in the region,” and stressed the importance of restarting high-level negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, according to Reuters .

“It is the Arabs’ central problem, and its solution is a basic condition to reaching stability in the region,” al-Majdoub said.

Egypt’s position regarding the Palestinian issue remains “unchanged” and solutions to promote the peace process were “at the top of the agenda” during the consultations, he added.

Israeli officials noted that recent reports regarding the removal of Hamas from Egypt’s list of terror groups reflected a “tactic” rather than a change in overall strategy, and that Cairo’s outlook on regional developments is closer to Israel’s than expected.

“In Israel [we] speak Hebrew, in Egypt [you] speak Arabic, but when discussing regional challenges, both countries speak the same language,” Gold told his Egyptian hosts, according to NRG.

Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)
Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi rose to power. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “deeply welcomed” Egypt’s appointment of its new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat.

Cairo’s last ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, arrived in the Jewish state in October 2012. He was recalled soon after, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.

In the unrest that followed the ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo, but it has begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the relative calm.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A potted history of the Jews of Sousse

 The bloody massacre of 39 people, mostly tourists, in the Tunisian resort of Sousse has prompted this piece of research into the Jews of Sousse. At its height, in 1951, the community numbered 6, 400 souls. Very few Jews, if any, remain - having migrated to Israel or France. Tunisia's Jews once numbered 100, 000. Via Harissa.

  Sousse Casino  

Sousse is a port and fishing center, near the city of Kairouan (in the center of Tunisia).

 The Jews appear to have settled in Sousse in the 7th century, before the Arab conquest. Until the capture of the city by the Almohades in 1158 (extremely devout Muslims whose influence extended far beyond North Africa to Spain), the community flourished economically and culturally. Many Jews were then engaged in commerce and trade.

Tunisia's main export - clothing- was largely under the control of Jews in the city. The Almohades, who ruled the city from 1159, offered the Jews a choice between conversion to Islam or death, which caused the  cultural, economic and spiritual collapse of the community. Accordingly, many Jews converted while others fled the country or were martyred.

Sousse centre and shoreline

Under the Hafsids (1228-1524), Jews were allowed to return to live in the town. Many converts returned to Judaism. The majority of them settled in a separate area  known as the "Jewish quarter" where they took up their economic activities once more.

In the 15th century, the Jews of the city were spiritually led by Rabbi Isaac B. Sheshet (nicknamed the Ribesh) and Rabbi Simon B. Benati Duran.

In the 17th century, the Jews of Livorno (Italy) arrived in Sousse where they were known under the name "Grana", from the Arab name of Leghorn-Gorna. Despite the tension between the wealthy, new  Grana community and the local native community (Tounsa), there was no separation between the two until 1771,  when the Grana established their own community with its own institutions.

From 1899, there was a single chief rabbi for all of Tunisia;the first was Rabbi Nathan Abergil.

At that time, the community was composed of about 100 families, among them famous Dayanim (religious judges) and many Torah scholars, such as Rabbi Shlomo Assuna.

The French protectorate was established  in 1881 and brought to Tunisia a degree of modernization and French cultural integration: the Jewish community was a beneficiary. 

The Alliance Israelite ( "Kol Israel Haverim") opened  schools for boys and girls in the city:  they learned French and other subjects in addition to religious studies.

In 1916, the  "Terakhem Zion" association was founded by influential men of the community. They included David Tubiana and Sober Baraness.

Early history (French)

Modern history of  Sousse after 1916 (French)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why did it take 74 years to mark Farhud Day?

Writing in a number of news media, Edwin Black asks why it took so long to establish International Farhud Day, marked for the first time this year on the anniversary of the bloody pogrom in Iraq. The crushing weight of the Holocaust, the minimisation or ignorance of the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, and the scepticism of the politicising media all contributed to the marginalisation of the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht :

 From left, Shahar Azani of StandWithUs, Israeli Ambassador David Roet, Malcolm Hoenlein of the President’s Conference holding the proclamation, historian author Edwin Black, Avi Posnick of StandWithUs, Rabbi Elie Abadie of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and Alyza Lewin of the American Association of Jewish lawyers and Jurists, at the United Nations on International Farhud Day.

First, persecution of Jewish victims in Arab countries did not conform to the established line of study that followed the classic Holocaust definition, as archetypically expressed by the USHMM’s mission statement: “The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945.” Note the pivotal word “European.” This geographic qualifier left out the Jews of Iraq as well as their persecuted coreligionists in North Africa, where some 17 concentration camps were established by Vichy-allied and Nazi influenced Arab regimes.

Second, because the persecution of Jews in Arab lands during WWII and their forced exodus was considered beyond the thematic horizon, the type of well-financed and skilled scholarship that has riveted world attention on the Holocaust in Europe, generally by-passed the Sephardic experience. Certainly, the overwhelming blood and eternal sorrow of the Holocaust genocide was experienced by European Jewry. But their deeply tragic suffering, including that endured by my Polish parents, who survived, does not exclude the examination of other groups. Years of focus on the plight of Gypsies, Jews in Japan, and other persecuted groups proves that. Undeniably, a solid nexus clasps the events of the Middle East, roiling in oil, colonialism, and League of Nations Mandates, to a European theatre brimming with war crimes and military campaigns.

After the 1941 Farhud and during the subsequent years Husseini was on Hitler’s payroll, the Mufti of Jerusalem toured European concentration camps and intervened at the highest levels to send European children to death camps in occupied Poland rather than see them rescued them into Mandate Palestine. In his diary, Husseini called Adolf Eichmann “a rare diamond.” What’s more, the tens of thousands of Nazified Arabs who fought in three Waffen SS Divisions in the Balkans and across all of Europe, were fighting for a Palestine and a greater Middle East Arab cause that hinged on Jewish extermination and colonial upheaval. When I wrote The Farhud in 2010, the focus was on excavating the details of a forgotten pogrom and a forgotten Nazi alliance. Only in recent years has a renewed trickle of excellent scholarship yielded gripping new research into the Arab role in the Holocaust. For example, there is Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, which The Wall Street Journal reviewed as “impeccably researched.” A second book, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by (Barry Rubin and... - ed) meticulous Arab and Turkish culture researcher Wolfgang Schwanitz, was published by Yale University Press. There are several excellent others.

Third, critics say, that many of the leading Jewish newspapers and wire services, now vastly more politicized than they were in the prior decade, did not devote sufficient space and informed knowledge to the topic. Moreover, some these critics suggest that in recent years, the Jewish press seemed to have marginalized the atrocity and its aftermath as a political discussion. “When former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was doing his 2012 campaign for Jewish refugees from Arab lands,” asserts Lyn Julius of the British organization HARIF – Association of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, “hardly a day went by when certain Jewish or Israeli newspapers did not politicize the matter, or suggest Israel was exploiting the issue for political gain.”

In that vein, the day before the June 1, 2015 UN event, one prominent Jewish newspaper published an article on the Farhud, which included this observation: “Now, Jewish organizations and the Israeli government deploy it [memory of the Farhud] frequently to support their claims for refugee recognition on behalf of Middle Eastern Jews.” Before the UN ceremony, three different irate members of the audience showed me this article on their tablets, and the consensus of disdain was expressed by one Sephardic gentleman who objected, first quoting the newspaper with derision: "'Deploy it frequently to support their claims for refugee recognition on behalf of Middle Eastern Jews?'" and then adding, “They would never say such a thing about the European Kristallnacht!” The complainers were equally astonished that this prominent article made no mention of the Mufti of Jerusalem. They felt the complete omission of Husseini’s involvement and the marginalization of their nightmare was typical of the roadblocks they had encountered during their decades-long struggle for recognition of their anguish.

But on June 1, 2015, yes, 74 inexcusably years late and, yes, not an hour too soon, after waiting for thirty minutes beneath a gaggle of umbrellas in the torrential rain at a narrow admittance gate on First Ave, and then into a packed hall at the UN, attended by diplomats from several countries, human rights activists of various causes and key Jewish leaders from a communal spectrum, in an event broadcast worldwide live by the UN itself, the stalwarts of Farhud memory gathered to finally make the proclamation of International Farhud Day — and made it loud and clear. In doing so, they made history by simply recognizing history.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Egyptian TV series slammed as anti-Israel

 Episode 4 of Haret al-Yahud. You can view other episodes here

The Israeli embassy in Cairo initially welcomed Egyptian Ramadan TV soap opera Haret al-Yahud as projecting a more positive image of the Jew (although the series misrepresents all Jews as rich, for example). Later, it criticised the series for its attacks on the state of Israel. Egyptian Jews have also been critical. Report by AFP:

 The series initially won praise from Israel whose embassy in Cairo said it was pleased to see "for the first time, Jews represented according to their true nature, as human beings".

The show is openly anti-Zionist, however, and the Israeli embassy later criticised what it described as a "negative turning point" in the series and "attacks against the state of Israel".

The soap is being aired during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, considered television peak season in Egypt.

More than 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 marked the start of an exodus.

Today only a few dozen, mostly elderly women, remain in Cairo and Alexandria.
With the many wars waged between Egypt and the Jewish state and the anti-Semitism they generated, Jews were either expelled or pressured to leave the Arab world's most populous country.

The plot revolves around the love story of Aly, a Muslim officer in the Egyptian army fighting in the 1948 war, and his Jewish neighbour Leila, an elegant francophone saleswoman working in one of Cairo's upscale department stores, which were owned by influential Jewish businessmen.

It stars Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar and Egyptian actress Menna Shalabi.
"We discover Egypt at a different time," said Rana Khalil, 23, an enthusiastic viewer of the series, sitting in a posh Cairo cafe.

"The characters are elegant and well-dressed. I am also learning a lot about Judaism," she added.

The show highlights the political upheavals that shook the flourishing Jewish community, particularly bombings targeting Jewish businesses which it blames on the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Islamist movement has been the target of a sweeping crackdown since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who has since become president, ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

One scene shows Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna encouraging supporters to stage attacks, saying: "The war is not only in Palestine. Jihad here is no less important than it is there".

Sisi has pursued closer ties with Israel than Morsi, who had promised a tougher stance towards its neighbour without calling into question peace agreements.

The television series has however faced criticism from Egyptian Jews.
Magda Haroun, the chief of Egypt's tiny remaining Jewish community, pointed out historical errors including religious practices presented in the series.

She also denied that Egyptian communists supported Zionism as the show suggested.

Albert Arie, 85, was also disappointed.

The Jewish former communist activist, who converted to Islam to marry his Muslim wife, had taken part in a campaign against cholera in the Jewish quarter back in 1947.

He explained that unlike the characters in the series, residents of the district "were among the poorest Jews in the world".

"I asked myself: 'What is this crap?'" Arie said, speaking in French, and suggested that the show would have been more credible if it had been shot in one of the Cairo neighbourhoods inhabited by middle class Jews.

"The set makes no sense. It shows rich houses while Haret al-Yahud was a jumble of alleys, with old houses and houses that collapsed," recalled Arie, who was jailed for 11 years for his activism.

Despite the inaccuracies, however, he acknowledged the fact that the series showed "a positive image of the Jew, who is no longer a bastard".

Read article in full 

New York Times article (with thanks: Lily)

Muslim-Jewish love story sends sparks flying (NPR)

 Egyptian series does not call for normalisation 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

BBC tells Libyan Jewish refugee's story

 With thanks: JIMENA

It's progress of sorts: the BBC has decided to show both sides of the story in its examination of the repercussions of the Six-Day War.

This World Service Witness programme (10 minutes - downloadable MP3) tells the story of Liliana Serour, a 19-year Libyan Jew now living in Israel. In June 1967,  she was caught up in terrifying riots in Tripoli. Crowds screamed 'kill the Jews'. "You could see the hatred in their eyes,"says Liliana. The family received threatening 'phone calls 20 times a day. Her father's high-level contacts with the government could not save them.

Despite the BBC's valiant efforts to show balance, the equivalence between a Palestinian Arab 'refugee' and a Jewish refugee from Libya collapses: Israel soldiers allowed the Palestinian family to move back to Jerusalem, while Liliana's family, together with some 4, 000 others, was forced out of Libya for good, because the government could not assure their safety. Today there are no Jews in Libya.

Gina Waldman: I escaped with my life

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jews are our cousins, say Kurds

 Did you know that Shimon Peres was a Kurd? Seth Frantzman, who writes for the Jerusalem Post, found much sympathy for Israel when he visited Kurdistan. Here is his report, published in The Forward:

The tomb of Nahum...hard to find (photo: Haaretz)

Writing for an Israeli newspaper, flying over territory held by ISIS to a Muslim country in the heart of the Middle East could create difficulties. “Don’t worry, they love Israelis here,” Huff told me. He asked if I could bring along a prayer book. I had also been in touch with an organization called Shevet Achim, which helps children with life-threatening heart problems by flying them to Israel for treatment. “Can you bring us Polycose, a dietary powder? There is an extremely malnourished child who needs it,” their local volunteer asked. So we had two large canisters with giant Hebrew writing on them, and I couldn’t stop thinking how odd it would look at customs: a Jewish prayer book, and some canisters full of white powder.

On the ground in Kurdistan. all fears were allayed. Old peshmerga fighters cradling AK-47s reminisced about the 1960s, when Israel helped them in the war against Saddam Hussein.

“My uncle went to Israel through Iran in the 1960s to be trained. Israelis came here to the mountains to help us,” one told me. There is a warm affinity for Jews among many Kurds. “Did you know that in most Muslim countries Jews could not carry weapons and had to wear a distinctive ‘Jewish’ dress ( a sign of dhimmitude - ed),” a Kurdish professor from Syria living in Erbil noted. “Jews in Kurdistan carried weapons and dressed like us and had the tribal names of our tribes.” One Kurdish fighter was convinced there is a mountain named Peres in Kurdistan that proves Shimon Peres is Kurdish. “Israel is a brave country fighting all the time against the enemy; they are in everyday war and they are like us, except we have been fighting since before 1948 for our independence,” another Kurdish officer explained.

Overlooking the Nineveh plain, with its yellowish parched grasslands that fan out around the large city of Mosul, which is held by ISIS, is the ancient Christian village of Al-Qosh. Before 1948 there was a Jewish community here and a synagogue with the prophet Nahum’s grave. After passing through a checkpoint to get into the village, we inquired about its location, but people seemed uninterested in helping us locate the building. Although recent reports claimed that the tomb is “in danger from ISIS,” the fact is, the Jewish heritage faces danger only from neglect. After 2008 a corrugated metal roof was built over the ancient brownstone structure whose roof is caved in. A Hebrew inscription is mounted on one wall. Rubble and barbed wire adorn the place. The old Jewish quarter is easily identifiable by the houses left in ruins nearby. Looking for the grave and being sent in circles on the hot day, I joked to our Kurdish colleague from Duhok, “Even the prophet Nahum couldn’t find his own tomb.”

It reminded me that all is not what it seems in Kurdistan and Iraq. Here was a Christian village whose residents seem nonplussed by tourists looking for a Jewish site, and here was a large Muslim nation of millions with a keen interest in Jewish heritage. In Erbil we met an Arab professor from Mosul whose family chose to stay and live under ISIS. One of the professor’s close friends on Facebook is a Jewish academic. “ISIS uses religion as a mask, but we must all relate to each other as people first,” the professor said. Even bookshops in Erbil sold history books on the Jews of Kurdistan with a small Star of David on them. Biographies of Golda Meir were also on offer.

Many Kurds asked us why Jews who left Kurdistan don’t come back. A former government minister from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan told us: “In some places there is anti-Semitic propaganda, but not in Kurdistan. Even if we critique the policy of Israel, you cannot confuse Jewish people and the politics of Netanyahu.” Back with the peshmerga , sitting under the scorching sun 30 kilometers from Mosul, a 50-year-old officer boasted to us that he had killed two ISIS fighters with his Soviet-made AK-47. “We are proud to have journalists from the U.S. or Israel here. You are our cousins.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Turkish Jews host iftar meal

The Turkish Jewish commmunity has been hosting an iftar dinner (the meal that ends a day of Ramadan fasting) in the newly renovated synagogue at Edirne in north-western Turkey. What this article does not tell you is that the Edirne community has a splendid new synagogue, but just one Jew. The Daily Sabah reports:

The iftar meal (Dogan News agency)

Turkey's Jewish community hosted an iftar dinner for hundreds of Muslims in the Great Edirene Synagogue, also known as Kal Kadosh Ha Gadol, in the northwestern city of Edirne on Monday.

Around 250 people were hosted at the dinner during which an exhibition of Jewish clothes and dresses from the Ottoman era took place and a choir from the Culture and Tourism Ministry performed hymns of Turkish Sufi music.

The dinner was announced by İshak İbrahimzadeh, leader of the Turkish Jewish community. Reported on June 3, he said: "We are preparing a special event on June 22. It will start with an exhibition of Jewish clothes and dresses from the Ottoman era. A choir from the Culture Ministry will then sing hymns to be followed by an iftar dinner. Our community in Istanbul will join their fellow citizens at the dinner. We are also planning another iftar outside the synagogue."

The community also organized another iftar dinner for around 700 people on Sunday. Regarding the organization, İbrahimzadeh indicated that the community has been holding iftar dinners for 15 years in Istanbul and said: "This year, we opened the Great Edirne Synagogue with the General Directorate of Foundations. We could not thank the people of Edirne enough. So we thought about how to deal with this issue and felt that sharing this iftar dinner, contributing to their iftar, was the best way of presenting our thanks. We thank all of them very much."

Warm relations between the Turkish state and the Jewish population in the country are good despite an article published in The New York Times alleged before that the Turkish state promotes anti-Semitism in the country with many Jews deciding to go to Spain where a law of return has recently been passed. In a statement that the Turkish Jewish community made to Daily Sabah following the publication of the article, the community rejected the claim of pressure from the state and pointed out that freedom of expression should not be an excuse to make generalizations and does not reflect the opinion of the whole community.

Read article in full 

When Jews mark Ramadan

1942: Radio silence in Nazi-occupied Tunis

When the Nazis directly occupied Tunisia in November 1942, they turned the Great Synagogue in Tunis into a giant warehouse for radios confiscated from their Jewish owners. 

So as not to offend their Italian fascist allies, the order did not affect  Jews of Italian citizenship. For this reason too, the Nazis did not implement a systematic deportation of Jews to death camps, although Jewish males were sent to labour camps. From the Documentation Center of North African Jewry:

"December 12th, 1942 - Walter Rauff (the Commander of the SS in Tunisia) wrote: "Today began the confiscation of all the Jews' radios, except those of the Italian Jews. The procedure was carried out smoothly, with the help and support of the French police. The confiscated items were put at the German forces' disposal."

"December 13th, 1942 - Clement Houri (a Tunisian Jew who kept a diary during the German occupation) wrote: "I brought my radio to the synagogue, and it was clear to me that the Germans were taking the most attractive and lightest radios for themselves. Going into the synagogue with the radio that I had brought with me was a very difficult experience. The whole room was filled with radios of all shapes and sizes, of all makes… and whoever came in was not sure if this was the Great Synagogue on Paris Avenue or a huge department store."

  More details at the site of the Documentation Center of North African Jewry during WWII

More about Walter Rauff, SS commander in Tunisia

Monday, June 22, 2015

Moroccan Miri's cultural revenge?

Is Miri Regev, Israel's minister of culture of Moroccan origin,  striking back at Israel's Ashkenazi-dominated elite in what Israeli newspapers have called the country's 'culture wars'?  Disparaging comments by predominantly left-wing writers, artists and actors about the country's predominantly Mizrahi Likud supporters, created a storm. While the left-wing Independent fears Regev's threats to cut arts funding to 'defamatory' works are political censorship, centre-left commentator Ari Shavit (below) pens  a surprisingly scathing critique of Israel's elites.

 Miriam "Miri" Regev , a former Brigadier-General and IDF spokeswoman, was born in Kiryat Gat in 1965 to Moroccan-Jewish parents.  Revital Madar (a Tunisian-Israeli writer in Haaretz), has argued that Miri Regev had faced discrimination within the Likud hierarchy due to the fact that she is a Moroccan woman, "whose forthright behaviour is perceived as being stereotypically Mizrahi." But Ms Regev has also defended the rights of lesbians and gays in the IDF. Despite the left's attempts to stereotype her as a cultural fascist, she seems to revel in her unpredictable 'difference'.

The (UK) Independent states:  

Miri Regev, the hard-right Israeli Minister of Culture, has accused the country’s artists and performers of being “tight-assed” hypocrites after they raised vocal objections to her policies, which many consider a threat to freedom of expression.

Ms Regev’s remarks, aired in a television interview, were the latest escalation in what Israeli newspapers are calling a “culture war” between the government and much of the country’s predominantly left-wing artistic community.

Ms Regev, a reserve brigadier-general who formerly served as the chief military censor, alarmed many artists after she took office in May by saying she would cut government funding to those who harmed the army or contributed to “defamation” of Israel.

She followed this with threats to cut funds for an Arab-Jewish children’s theatre after its founder, the Arab Israeli actor Norman Issa, refused to perform with the Haifa Theatre at a settlement in the occupied West Bank on grounds of conscience. The settlements are considered by the international community to be illegal.

Israeli Minister of Culture Mire Regev  

Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev
"Ms Regev cut funding this week to the Arabic-language al-Midan theatre, which has been staging Parallel Time, a controversial play about the prison life of a Palestinian who killed an Israeli soldier. Her office said the decision was made after the director of the play, Bashar Morcos, told a culture ministry official that he identified with the killer. However, Mr Morcos denies this and is threatening to sue Ms Regev over the claim.

"Also this week, the Jerusalem International Film Festival dropped a film about Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and is serving a life sentence, after Ms Regev threatened to withdraw funding. According to a deal struck with the culture ministry, the film is to be screened out of the festival schedule at a private theatre."

Read article in full

Ari Shavit writes in Haaretz:

" Instead of leading Israel in a mature, responsible way to a different future, the center-left sank into a toxic swamp of dejection, querulousness and disapproval. Lost is the joie de vivre. Gone is the daring with which it faced reality. An oppositionist obsession, sterile and bitter, gradually became a spiteful maliciousness, which is very hard to break out of. So anyone who thinks one strong man or another will save the center-left in the next elections is mistaken.

Anyone who thinks that a sharper ideology (on the one hand) or a blurrier ideology (on the other hand) will do the trick, is delusional. Of all people it was the artists, with their intense expressions, who exposed what the soft-spoken politicians are trying to hide.

The center-left is ill. On the one hand, it is beset with cannibalism that leads it to devour itself while delighting in its leaders’ slaughter. But on the other hand its hatred of others distances most Israelis from it. On the one hand, it is incapable of real soul-searching and accountability for its past mistakes and failures. On the other hand, it is incapable of offering a convincing, inspiring vision.

 The obsessive, constant preoccupation with bashing Bibi, the settlers, the ultra-Orthodox, the successful and the heartland Israelis makes the center-left irrelevant. It does not convey love of man or radiate love of Israel. Nor does it bring to the national table new ideas or inspiring new proposals. All it does is gather in the shouters’ corner and the whiners’ alley, which long ago lost all trace of appeal and effectiveness."

 Read article in full (registration required)

A dose of Neanderthal realism

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Egyptian TV series does not call for 'normalisation'

 With thanks: Lily 

Update: whereas the usual suspects (Islamists) have slammed the series as an attempt at 'normalisation' with Israel, Magda Haroun, who heads the tiny Jewish community in Egypt, has criticised the series for depicting Jews as rich. She points out that the gateways of the Jewish Quarter were not as splendid as they are depicted  (indeed, much of the Old Jewish Quarter of Cairo was a slum). Not all Jews had  refrigerators in the 1940s - indeed only the king and a few others had them at that time.  The scenes inside the synagogue are imaginary and the Jewish worship rituals mostly gibberish;  no one, let alone Jewish women, wore mini-skirts in 1944 ; the scene about the air raid of Cairo grossly misrepresents the Jewish community as having better access to shelters than non-Jews. 

Trailer for Haret-al-Yahud, Egyptian TV series for Ramadan

Egyptian viewers are currently glued to their Ramadan TV soap opera, Haret al-Yahud. As already remarked on Point of No Return, Jews are portrayed in a more sympathetic light than in the past - reflecting the new Al-Sisi regime's thinking. This does not mean that the series advocates 'normalisation' with Israel - far from it.

In this TV studio discussion (via MEMRI) with the makers and actors of Haret al-Yahud (Jewish Quarter), the scriptwriter,  Medhat al-Adhel, says he has tried to evoke the cosmopolitan Egypt of the past where different communities rubbed along in harmony. He also evokes al-Andalus in medieval Spain, where Jews thrived under Muslim rule.

Al-Adhel says that Israel is still the Arabs' primary enemy. The panellists are agreed that a distinction must be made between Jews and Zionists: Egyptian Jews are Egyptians first.

However, one actress is appalled that Egyptian Jews are not even able to practise their religion in freedom (She thinks there is quite a community, although there are in fact only eight Jews living in Cairo). She asks why all synagogues are locked. She was told that Jews are afraid to say they are Jewish, describing themselves as Christians.

The writer El-Adhel puts forward the novel idea that Israel is to blame for enticing poor Egyptian Jews to Israel as a result of the Lavon affair. The wealthy Jews expelled by Gamal abdul-Nasser did not go to Israel, but to Europe and elsewhere, he maintains.

According to Wikipedia, The Lavon Affair refers to a failed Israeli covert operation, code named Operation Susannah, conducted in Egypt in the Summer of 1954:

Egyptian Jews were recruited by Israeli military intelligence to plant bombs inside Egyptian, American and British-owned civilian targets, cinemas, libraries and American educational centers. The bombs were timed to detonate several hours after closing time. The attacks were to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Communists, "unspecified malcontents" or "local nationalists" with the aim of creating a climate of sufficient violence and instability to induce the British government to retain its occupying troops in Egypt's Suez Canal zone. The operation caused no casualties, except for operative Philip Natanson, when a bomb he was taking to place in a movie theater ignited prematurely in his pocket; for two members of the cell who committed suicide after being captured; and for two operatives who were tried, convicted and executed by Egypt. "

This explanation fails to account for the flight of  14, 000 Egyptian Jews to Israel in 1948/49 following violence - ironically,  much of it in the Haret al-Yahud in Cairo - arrests and internment. A substantial number of Jews expelled by Nasser also went to Israel.


This extract from the 3rd programme in the series shows that the prayers and rituals are mostly made up.(Clip: Elder of Ziyon)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Arabs and Jews: a failed population transfer

Writing in  American Thinker, Jeff Lipkes explains the root cause of the Middle East conflict, the only one of 20th century conflicts where the population transfer of refugees failed. Read it all!

Jewish refugee girl from an Arab country, 1949 (photo: R.Capa)

There were often transfers of populations.  An ethnic or religious group fleeing a new country was replaced by individuals who had been ousted in turn from a neighboring country.  The dusty columns of refugees, the packed trains, the crammed ferries passed each other.  It’s worth taking a look at three of these exchanges of populations (out of some 50), because what happened in the Middle East in the years after 1948 was a failed population transfer.  Or, rather, a thwarted one.  For the first and only time in the 20th century, a people turned their backs on their own kinsmen.  That decision is at the root of the crisis Israel faces today.

1.  Greeks had lived on both sides of the Aegean Sea for at least 3,000 years.  Western Anatolia was called Ionia, and its cities were the birthplace of Western poetry, philosophy, and art.  Homer was supposed to have been an Ionian.  So was Heraclitus, the greatest pre-Socratic philosopher.
When the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, the Greeks were given control of this coastal region, pending a plebiscite in five years.   They had already invaded Anatolia the previous May, following the surrender of the Ottoman Empire to the British.  After initial successes, the Greeks suffered a crushing defeat in August 1921.  Their lines were over-extended, the French switched sides, joining the Soviet Union and Italy in supporting the Turks, the army was demoralized by purges, and it faced a formidable opponent in Ataturk.  The Greeks had committed atrocities against Muslim villages both as they advanced and retreated, and the Turks upped the ante when they retaliated.  Some 440,000 Armenians and 260,000 Greek civilians were killed as Ataturk’s army swept westward.  In the exchange of population that followed, over 1.2 million Greeks crossed the Aegean, while about 350,000 Muslims were expelled from Greece.
The refugees were welcomed into their new homelands.  But, not surprisingly, the persecution of Christians continued in Turkey.  After a pogrom in September 1955 in Istanbul, only 2,500 Greeks remained in the country.  Over 200,000 had lived in the former capital of the Byzantine Empire during the 1920s.  Meanwhile, the Muslim population in Greece increased to about 150,000.
2.  In the closing months of World War II, Germans fled en masse ahead of the Soviet Army.  After the war, ethnic Germans were expelled from the Netherlands, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Ukraine, and Romania.  Some 12 to 14 million people trekked west or south.  An estimated 500,000 to 2.25 million refugees were killed.  The totals are hotly contested.
Some were colonists of the Third Reich, but the overwhelming majority were descended from ancestors who began settling in Central Europe in the 13th century.  East of the Oder-Neisse Line, the new border, were Prussian, Pomeranian, and Silesian lands regarded as German for centuries, and famous medieval cities like Danzig, Stettin, Breslau, and Königsberg.   But Germany, like Greece in 1922, had lost the war, and civilians were paying the price for the unspeakable atrocities of the National Socialist occupation and for the activities of German minorities in the inter-war period.

This was the largest mass-movement of human beings in history.  The record, however, lasted only one year. 
3.  In July 1947, India was granted independence.  Much to the amazement of Gandhi, Nehru, and Jinnah, who imagined that the hostility between Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs was the result of the machinations of the British, pursuing a strategy of divide and rule, members of the three religious communities immediately began slaughtering each other.  Not surprisingly, it was the Muslims who began the killings, just as Direct Action Day in Calcutta in 1946, the great Muslim League rally on behalf of an independent Pakistan, kicked off with a massacre of Hindus.  The violence after partition was all the more brutal as most of the victims were clubbed, hacked, or stabbed to death rather than shot.  The death toll, contested as always, was probably somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million.
Hindus and Sikhs from the Pubjab and Hindus from East Bengal were welcomed by the new government in Delhi.  So were the Muslims who’d moved to what had become West Pakistan and East Pakistan.  Under far more difficult conditions the previous year, ethnic Germans from Central Europe were welcomed into the new Federal Republic of Germany.  Its cities were in ruins, its economy moribund, but the refugees were provided with food and shelter, and, eventually, housing and jobs.  The Greeks, earlier, had also faced a daunting task in providing for the influx of their Anatolian cousins.  The refugees increased the population by 20% -- as if 63 million Americans had been driven out of Canada and crossed the border.  The Greek economy was weak.  The drachma was twice devaluated by 50% during the ‘20s.  But the newcomers were provided with land and over 50,000 homes were constructed for them.
In 1948, there was still another population transfer.  Again, it followed a war.  But whereas in 1922, 1945-6, and 1947, those on the losing side were brutally slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands, their homes pillaged, their neighborhoods destroyed, this time there were occasions when the victors pleaded with the vanquished to remain.  And the numbers were miniscule compared to the millions displaced earlier in the decade, and in the ‘20s.
In the population exchange that followed the war for Israel’s independence, some 583,000 to 633,000 Arabs fled the new state.  (Figures range from about 475,000 to 850,000; the official Israeli total is 550,000.  Efraim Karsh provides a detailed summary.)  About 146,000 to 160,000 chose to remain.  The Arab population of Israel today is 1,660,000.  This thriving community, which enjoys rights no other Arabs do in the Middle East, took a pass on the Arab Spring in 2011.
There is an endless and contentious debate about what motivated the Arabs to flee.  The inhabitants of some villages in strategic zones and along roads were expelled by Haganah; there were attacks on civilians in a few other villages during military operations, famously and controversially, Deir Yassin and Lydda.
  Many others fled at the urging of the leaders of the five Arab nations invading the territory of the new state, so as not to impede the attacking armies.  They would, after all, soon be returning to their homes, and local Arab leaders had already decamped for Beirut and Damascus.  In some areas, Jews urged the Arabs to remain, dispatching trucks with loudspeakers -- something that certainly did not happen in Anatolia, in the Punjab and Bengal, in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, etc.
Meanwhile, around 820,000 Sephardic Jews were expelled from their homelands in the Middle East.  The immediate causes of the flood of refugees also varied, but it was nearly always violence against Jews, with government complicity -- pogroms, riots, attacks.  Sometimes it was the arrest and trial of leading Jews on trumped up charges, the confiscation of property, legislation directed against Jews, etc. -- actions taken directly by governments.  Of the total fleeing Arab lands and Iran, about 586,000 emigrated to Israel. 
We know the rest of the story all too well.  The Jewish refugees were settled in Israel and quickly absorbed.  The Arabs, eventually to be called “Palestinians,” were for the most part housed in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Mossad removed 1,060 shoes from Morocco

A Muslim activist has been accusing the Mossad of stealing his shoe, but the truth is that Mossad has more important work to do, says Brian of London of the blog Israellycool. Yes, Mossad moved 1, 060 shoes, and the 530 children who were wearing them at the time. Now the story of Operation Mural has been published as a book, launched in Israel earlier this week:

Two pairs of shoes worn by Mossad agents - Photo: Brian of London
Two pairs of shoes worn by Mossad agents – Photo: Brian of London

This is the real “Mossad”. Across all of its history, and despite the impressions you may have from Spielberg movies and other reality-based fiction, The Mossad has devoted more than half of all its resources to rescuing Jews.

We can laugh at the #MossadStoleMyShoe jokes about Asghar Bukhari and his delusions of extraodinary grandeur in thinking he matters enough for The Mossad to move his shoes but the truth is they have important work to do. (While we ridicule him, be aware this clown is a serious hater of Israel and the Jews and not to be taken lightly.)

On Tuesday night in Jerusalem I attended a book launch. The book is the definitive history of an amazingly daring mission to take Jewish children out of Morocco. Just the children with the parents staying behind with only a hope that they might, one day, be allowed to leave.

The book is named after the operation and the operation is named after the code name of the main agent: David Littman. Both David and his new, young wife and his baby daughter, took on immense personal risk to rescue the children. At the time he did not even fully realise who he was working for. Operation Mural is an amazing story. The book is the collected testimonies of many involved, it contains newly declassified, original documents and the stories of the children that were brought, via Switzerland, to Israel.

The book was started by David Littman but he passed away before it was completed. His daughter and widow carried on the work and it has just been published.

Read post in full 

Rescuer of 530 Moroccan-Jewish children recognised at last

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mufti concocted own brand of antisemitism

 More evidence has come to light that the wartime Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, developed his own brand of antisemitism, lacing half-remembered Koranic episodes with modern Christian anti-Jewish tropes. Boris Havel supports his argument by quoting from the pamphlet distributed to members of the Bosnian Muslim SS division, Islam and Judaism.  Article in Middle East Quarterly (Summer 2015):

The booklet Islam and Judaism offers a stark illustration of the lengths taken by the mufti to demonize Jews and Judaism. Qur'anic passages are freely paraphrased without reference to sura and verse while apparent quotations (like those about Jews converting insincerely to Islam in order to drag Muslims away from their faith) are nowhere to be found in the Qur'an, certainly not in the translation by Muhammed Pandža and Džemaluddin Čaušević[20] used by Yugoslav Muslims since 1937.

 Indicating the pamphlet's clear propaganda and incitement purpose, this sloppiness reflected both Hajj Amin's poor religious credentials and his apparent conviction that the pamphlet would not be subjected to critical scrutiny or even read by believers well-versed in the Qur'an. For, though bestowed with the title of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine's highest religious authority, it was common knowledge at the time that Hajj Amin did not possess the necessary religious credentials for such a lofty post. Indeed, he even failed to make the final short-list for the mufti's post having received only nine of the electors' sixty-four votes; but the Husseinis and their British champions forced one of the final three candidates to step down in his favor, paving the road to his appointment.[21]

Some of the pamphlet's assertions indicate the mufti's deficient familiarity with Islamic history and theology. Nor was Hajj Amin averse to introducing novelties and fabrications for the purpose of defaming Jews. His text contains details with an unconventional interpretation of Qur'anic accounts, some of them erroneous. He accuses the Jews of having "attempted to undermine Muhammad's honor by spreading a rumor that Muhammad's wife Aisha committed adultery."

But renowned Islamic scholars, including Tabari, to whom the mufti refers in the booklet, do not mention the Jews at all in the context of this event: Aisha's accusers were all Arabs. Some came from the tribe of Kharzaj; at least one was from the Quraish, Muhammad's tribe, and another was the sister of Muhammad's wife. Their names are listed in both Ibn Ishak's and Tabari's accounts of the event. After God revealed Aisha's innocence to Muhammad, some of the accusers were punished by flogging.[22]

Furthermore, the mufti claimed that Muhammad attacked Khaibar because its Jews bribed Arab tribes to attack Medina. The sources, however, do not mention any such activity by the Khaibar Jews. Khaibar was in alliance with the Arab tribe of Ghatafan—which at this point seemed to be rather defensive—with the Quraish, and with the Persians. Muhammad's attack occurred shortly after he concluded the peace of Hudaibiya (March 628) with the Meccans. It is hard to envisage that Muhammad's enemies would plot an attack from the north without Meccan support. On the contrary, it seems that he concluded the peace of Hudaibiya to secure his southern front so as to be able to attack the Khaibar Jews, whose Persian allies had just been defeated by the Byzantine army.[23]

There remains a deep connection between Islamism and Nazism based on the common characteristics of racism, nationalism, religious bigotry, and intolerance. Hitler's Mein Kampf has been a bestseller for years in predominantly Muslim countries, including the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

There was, however, an event reminiscent of the mufti's story that occurred a year earlier. The Jews of Medina had invited the Quraish and Ghatafan tribes to attack Muhammad. It was at this point, after the Battle of Badr, that the Quraish asked the Jews whose religion was better, theirs or Muhammad's. Encouraged by the Jews, the two tribes marched on Medina, and their subsequent abortive attack came to be known as the Battle of the Ditch.

After their retreat, Muhammad attacked Medina's Jewish tribe of Banu Quraiza.[24] It seems likely that the mufti—unless he intentionally invented stories, a possibility that cannot be ruled out—confused the episode of the Banu Quraiza with that of Muhammad's war on Khaibar.

Far more important than these technical details and idiosyncratic interpretations are the novelties the pamphlet introduces in Islamic political discourse regarding the Jews. By combining the Islamic canon with pre-Christian and Christian anti-Judaism, it attributes strengths and powers to Jews that cannot be found in Islamic tradition by portraying them as far more cunning and successful in their vicious designs than previous mainstream Islamic thought had recognized or permitted.

A simpler example of this anti-Jewish eclecticism can be found in the mufti's accusation that Jews brought plague to Arabia. This statement evokes medieval European myths with similar themes. More significant is the notion that Muhammad's death might have been a result of poison given to him by a Khaibar Jewess.

To be sure, Ibn Ishak and Tabari do mention how during the illness that led to his death Muhammad spoke to Umm Bashr, mother of his poisoned companion, and complained about his pain, caused by poisonous meat he had tasted three years earlier.[25] However, in classic Islamic thought, this tradition was not interpreted as proof that the Jewess had succeeded in her attempt on the Prophet's life but as a desire to attribute to the Prophet the highest of virtues: martyrdom. In Ibn Ishak's words, "The Muslims considered that the apostle died as a martyr in addition to the prophetic office with which God had honored him."[26] Tabari repeats this explanation, as does Ibn Kathir (1300-73), who referred to eight different hadiths asserting that Muhammad had been warned by God about the poison: proof of his being a genuine prophet. Conversely, Ibn Kathir states that "the Messenger of God died a martyr."[27]

The core theme of all these traditions is the Prophet's martyrdom and not the Jews' lethal craft; the reader is left with the clear impression that the two phenomena were unrelated. In contrast, the mufti's pamphlet establishes the link and changes the emphasis from the Prophet's virtue to the Jews' mendacity. Apparently, his intention was to draw parallels with Christian traditions regarding Christ's killing by the Jews. This accusation was intended to provoke more anger among Muslims, but it also violated Islamic tradition and theology.

The implications of the mufti's claim that the Jews were successful in killing Muhammad despite God's warning imply that Jews possess the power to defy God's will. Such a blasphemous thought would be worse than Christian accusation of deicide. Jesus overcame death, and by his suffering, death and resurrection brought salvation to his community of believers; however, Muhammad not only remained dead but also failed to appoint his successor due to the rapid progression of his illness and his sudden, untimely demise. Consequently, the umma was split by different claimants to authority, and the dispute eventually led to the fiercest internecine strife in the history of early Islam, known as the fitna.

While the mufti's Palestinian successors would not tire of reiterating this story (as late as November 2013, Palestinian Authority minister of religious affairs Mahmoud Habbash claimed that Yasser Arafat was poisoned by the Jews just as they had poisoned the Prophet Muhammad to death),[28] most contemporary Islamic scholars have a different understanding of this hazardous theology; inasmuch, the accusation that the Jews killed the Prophet has largely faded as a theological theme with mainstream Islamic commentary viewing the Jews, along the Qur'anic derision, as "adh-dhilla wa-l-maskan," translated by Yehoshafat Harkabi as "humiliation and wretchedness."[29] Bernard Lewis further explained:
The outstanding characteristic, therefore, of the Jews as seen and as treated in the classical Islamic world is their unimportance. ... For Muslims, he might be hostile, cunning, and vindictive, but he was weak and ineffectual—an object of ridicule, not fear. This image of weakness and insignificance could only be confirmed by the subsequent history of Jewish life in Muslim lands.[30]
Departing from this conventional view, the mufti did not interpret contemporary events as a new historical phenomenon to which Muslims should respond in a new, ad hoc manner. Instead, he traced Jewish accomplishments of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and the alleged Jewish power and ambitions, to supposed Jewish activities at the time of Muhammad. In doing so, he created a precedent, later followed by prominent Islamic actors in the Middle East and elsewhere, particularly after Israel's stunning military victories over its Arab adversaries. Thus Hamas accuses the Jews of "wiping out the Islamic caliphate" by starting World War I and of starting the French and the communist revolutions, establishing "clandestine organizations" and financial power so as to colonize, exploit, and corrupt countries.[31] Likewise, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Muhammad accused Jews of ruling the world by proxy.[32] Attributing such gargantuan accomplishments to the Jews, many of them at the expense of Muslims, presents a theological innovation with an immediate political consequence. Linking early Islamic with medieval Christian depictions of Jews results in their portrayal as "a demonic entity," thus making their "extermination legitimate."[33]

Read article in full

Never too late to have a Barmitzvah!

 It's never too late to have a Barmitzvah. Lovely story about an Iraqi-born man who never went through this rite of passage in Baghdad. The Boston Globe reports (with thanks: Lisette):

Fred Ezekiel (photo: Boston Globe)

LEXINGTON — In his 86 years, Fred Ezekiel escaped a massacre that killed up to 180 Jews in Baghdad, earned four degrees, became a mechanical engineering professor at MIT, raised a family, and spent 50 years worshiping at Temple Emunah.

But he never had a bar mitzvah. That was until Saturday — two days after his 86th birthday.

“I’m delighted,” he said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am.”

Ezekiel’s 73-year journey to his bar mitzvah dates to his childhood in Iraq, where he was raised Jewish in a family that was not observant. His 13th birthday came and went without Ezekiel marking his bar mitzvah.

“We didn’t go to synagogue on shabbat,” he said. “Lots of people from Baghdad have not been bar mitzvahed. It’s not a very common thing like it is in the United States.”

Then eight months ago, Ezekiel said he was “cornered” by his rabbi’s wife, Sharon Levin, and another congregant, Jill Goldenpine, 37. They told him he should have a bar mitzvah.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Jewish refugees can respond to BDS

 Archbishop Tutu with Omar Barghouti during his visit to South Africa in 2013

The man behind the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has given an interview to 972 Magazine explaining the aims of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel.

"Israel's deepest injustice", he says, " is the denial of the right of return to Palestinian refugees."

Couched in the language of human rights, Barghouti is advocating in no uncertain terms  the destruction of Israel by overwhelming it demographically with millions of returning Palestinian Arab refugees.

BDS is old wine in new bottles: Arabs joined Nazis in boycotting Jewish businesses in the 1930s; the Arab League declared a trade boycott of Israel. The reason why BDS has appeared to gain traction is the support of  'human-rights' NGOs, some churches and on campus.

The fundamental injustice of the BDS position is apparent if you consider that 51 percent of Israeli Jews are in Israel because the Jewish state gave them refuge from Arab and Muslim antisemitism.

This Arab Muslim antisemitism was not a consequence of the establishment of the state of Israel, but created the need for a country where Jews could exercise a right of self-defence. Together with indigenous Christian groups such as Copts and Assyrians, Jews in the Arab and Muslim world had to submit to a form of 'colonisation' as 'dhimmis'.

 Jews were utterly at the mercy of their Muslim rulers for 14 centuries.

There is no doubt as to the antisemitic motives underlying BDS. In the 20th century, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem was complicit in a genocidal project that would have destroyed not only the Jews of Palestine, but Jews all over the Arab world - before Israel's creation . The Palestinians have never been called to account for their genocidal objectives, and still today these racist aims are enshrined in the Hamas charter. Today Hamas is in a unity government with Fatah.

After failing to annihilate the young state of Israel,  Arab Muslim antisemitism created 870,000 Jewish refugees, driven from their homes in Arab states and dispossessed of their property.

But these Jewish refugees are invisible, as far as the BDS movement is concerned.

 Israel represents the liberation of colonised Jews from the yoke of Arab and Muslim rule. It is the expression of the  right to self-determination of the Jewish people, a right enshrined under Article 80 of the UN Charter.

The Jewish people are an authentic Middle Eastern people in continuous residence in the region - 1, 000 years before Arab Muslim imperialism and colonisation.

A right of return for Palestinian refugees cannot be considered without also considering the same right for the 870, 000 Jewish refugees. But returning to hostile states where antisemitism is endemic is hardly a solution. Peace should instead be founded on the concept of an irrevocable exchange of refugee populations.

For a genuine peace based on truth and justice, the BDS movement and Arab states generally, need to acknowledge the fundamental injustice done to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Jewish refugees do not want a right of return to Arab states, but an apology for their suffering and compensation for their losses.

The rest of the world needs to call account the Arab and Muslim world for the injustices perpetrated against their Jewish and  non-Muslim minorities and to recognise the rights of non-Arab peoples in the Middle East and North Africa to self-determination.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Baghdad Sami, champion of the world

 As this extract from Professor Shmuel Moreh's schoolboy memoirs shows, Jews in Iraq - generically referred to as Hisqeil (Ezekiel) - were thought of as cowards and were not expected to fight back. Hence, the deep Arab sense of humiliation when Israel defeated Arab armies in successive wars. The serialisation of Professor Moreh's autobiography on the online site 'Elaph' created much interest amongst Arab readers. He later published his memoirs under the title: Baghdad mon Amour.

Professor Shmuel Moreh (photo:Jerusalem Post)

 Sitt (Mrs.) Martha, who lived on our street, in the third house on the right, visited us suddenly and told my Dad about the "Al-Sa'doon Exemplary School”, established in 1937 as a Government mixed school that she headed.

This school was founded for children of the Iraqi Royal family, high-ranking civilians and army officers, judges and secretaries. It had changed its status from boarding school to day school and was opening its gates to students from all communities. She was interested in achieving equality between all the different religious communities within the school: she was asking my father to send ‘one or two’ of his six boys and girls, so there would be two Jewish children alongside the three Christian pupils who had joined recently. She added that her school was unique in Iraq, where boys and girls learned together and advanced teaching methods were used. Besides, it treated its students with respect and equality. The teachers abstained from insulting, cursing or humiliating students and did not use physical punishments, as was the tradition in other schools in Iraq.

 My father agreed to send me to that school. He sent with me my brother Raymond, so that I could keep an eye on him. In this way my father was able to save the high educational fees charged by the Jewish community, known then as “The Israelite Community”. Yes, that is how it was called before the establishment of the State of Israel. The name Israel was used by the Community to avoid the curse of “humiliation and submissiveness” imposed upon the Jews in the Qur'an if they were called “The Jewish Community”. Later on, after the establishment of State of Israel, and the stoning of the Community Center because it was called “The Israelite Community”, the name was changed to “The Musawiyeen” – the Community of the followers of the religion of Moses.

Upon hearing the words of Sitt Martha about equality, my father commented with irony: “Here we are! Great, the problem of equality with religious communities in Iraq will now reach its perfect solution”.

The day I joined my new school was unforgettable and full of events and surprises. On that historic day, and before leaving for the British “Andrew Wire Company for Import and Export”, where he was the Head Accountant, my father told me: “Take Raymond and go to school and give my regards to Mrs. Martha. Tell her that we are the children of Mr. Ibrahim Mouallem, my father sent us to study at your school according to your request.”

My father didn’t think it appropriate to send an escort to register us at the school, because in his eyes, I was already a man and should know to manage alone. Together with my brother Raymond, we were the only Jewish pupils in the whole primary school at that time.

 The students' attitude towards me showed me how much the Muslims and the Christians despised the Jews and mocked their notorious cowardice in a community which considers brutality as bravery. The minute in which I entered the school yard, one of the students approached me to ask the common question in Iraq: - “Are you a Muslim or a Jew?” - “Jew!” I answered spontaneously and indifferently.

Suddenly he shouted mockingly, while rubbing his hands together in delight: “Friends, come and see! There is a Jew here, a Jew, if you don't believe me, come, and look!” The other students arrived joyfully, shouting: “Jew! Jew! Where is the Jew?”

All of a sudden, one of them kneeled on one knee as if pointing a gun and shouted in a frightened and quivering voice, representing the parody of a Jew at a firing range in the Iraqi Army: "Abdalak Hisqeil (May I be your ransom, Hizqeil!), please tell me if the gun has fired or not?” The Jew was too scared to tell if the rifle had fired or not, and asked his friend, Hisqeil. Later, I realized that it was a sketch from a folk comedy, making fun of the cowardly Jewish soldiers doing target practice in the Iraqi army.

My uncle, the pharmacist Moshe Meir Rahamim Mouallem, told us that when he finished his studies in the Pharmaceutical Faculty in Baghdad in 1938, he was called for duty to train in the Reserve Officers' course with graduates from other Iraqi colleges and European universities. (Among them was Dr (now Sir) Naim Dangoor, today one of the real estate tycoons in London).

When it was my uncle's turn to train in target shooting, all the graduates gathered around him, mocking and shouting:”let’s tell Moshe the Jew if his gun fired or not”. They were surprised by his accurate target shooting. He was not confused when he shot the bullet. They congratulated him and said: "The usual rejoinder does not apply to you: "What did your heart tell you, Hisqeil [the Jew], when the shot exploded (Ash qal qalbak Hisqeil min taqqit al-tiqqaqa!).”

An Iraqi critic said after the Six-Day War: “It is a wonder how Israel made out of the Eastern Jews that were known for their cowardice, soldiers who fought so courageously against the Arab armies.” However, the world is a wheel of fortune, one minute you are up, the next you might be down.

After the sketch, other students acted out a different parody. They carried on their shoulders a young pupil and sang in a dialect mimicking the Iraqi -Jewish mother, lamenting the recruiting of her beloved son to the Army: Hesqeil imdalla' salleitunoo / waddonoo lil-Saghayoo / wu-Ummu tibki waghayoo / wil-fina ib-ghasoo tiftagh / Tala' usmoo bil-daftagh. (Hisqeil the dandy, may God bless him / They took him to the recruiting base/ His mother is weeping behind him / His skull-cap is loosely circulating upon his head / For his name appeared in the Registry Book (of recruiting). )

One of the students played the part of Umm Hisqeil (The mother of Hisqeil), worried because her pampered and spoiled son is joining the army. She escorts him, crying, to the army recruitment base, “Al-Saray”. Another played the part of Hisqeil. A third passed around the phina (the kippa religious Jews wear) on Hisqeil's head, paralysed with fear at his recruitment, and a fourth played the part of the clerk simulating registering Hisqeil in the book of recruits.

Later I realized that they had also made up a comedy making fun of the mothers of the Jewish young men who are scared to death and cry because their sons are enlisting in the army. After those spontaneous comedies, they looked at me triumphantly. I was surprised and embarrassed at their noisy enthusiasm and joyful mockery, as if they had won a battle. Suddenly, one of them shouted: “Hey, Jew, when we leave school, you’ll be done for!”

 At the end of the school day, and the endless teasing - they passed their finger across their necks to signify slaughter - and shaking their fists as if to say - “wait and see what we will do to you”, I felt alienation, frustration, loss and awful loneliness, or, as the Arab proverb says: "like orphans in a wicked people’s party". I felt obliged to agree to their challenge, put my faith in God and went out with them. They surrounded me and said, “Wrestle with us, or we’ll beat you up!” I answered in a challenging voice: “You go down to the ring one at a time, or two at a time, not all of you together against me.” They laughed mockingly but were surprised that I had agreed to wrestle with them and did not run away.

'Isaam shouted:” What does he think of himself, a hero?”. The leader of the pack, 'Abd Al-Rahman al-Jabi, who was the oldest of us, ordered the Christian student to be the first contestant. “Hey, Khayri, go for him!” As quick as lightning I put my right leg behind both his feet and, like the Iraqi famous wrestler 'Abbas al-Dik” who defeated Fritz, the German hero in a contest in Baghdad, I pushed Khayri to the nearest dry ditch on the boulevard, opposite the former minister Baban’s Palace.

Khayri's cheering friends were shocked at the sight of their hero lying on his back on the bed of the narrow canal, bewildered and helpless. One of his shoes flew away from his foot at the time of battle. (The shoes (Qundara) and slipper (Kala) are the weapon of choice among men and women to hit an enemy with. This kind of weapon they used to throw against British airplanes, hit Saddam Husain’s fallen statue in Al-Firdaws Square in Baghdad in the year 2003, and an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoe at President Bush in Baghdad in 2008 ).

 I took the shoe that flew off Khayri’s foot, sat on his chest, lifted it above his head and shouted: “Do you surrender or not?” Khayri answered, pleading: “Enough, please, enough!” His friends shouted: “Hey Khayri, it seems that you are a chicken, you are a failure!" I turned to his Muslim friends with the shoe still in my hand and asked “Come on! Who wants to be next?” Everyone answered as one: “No, no, from now on you are our friend! You showed yourself as brave, and not as a Jewish chicken!” That’s how I became one of the gang and my place was second to 'Abd Al-Rahman at the head of the pack.

 Later on, when xenophobia prevailed in Iraq, we were split into two groups; one included only Muslim students of Arab mothers. The second faction consisted of children of Christian women married to Iraqis who studied in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Britain and other European countries as well as children of Turkish women. I joined this group because they too felt like me, that they are an alien minority up against the majority of the children of Arab Muslims.

 Iyad 'Ali Ghalib, the son of a beautiful Swiss lady, became the head of the minority group and 'Abd al-Rahman Al-Jabi, his brother Talib and Faisal the son of Prime Minister Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani, headed the group of the sons of the Muslim women. When Faisal's father was appointed Prime Minister, he tried on the same day to blind the writer of these lines with his stick, a well-known punishment for Jews who dare to oppose persecution.

 The atmosphere in Iraq was tense and full of fear and anxiety. The arrogant behavior of the Fascist paramilitary youth groups, the news of Hitler’s victory (“the undefeated leader of German,”) the booming voice of Yunis Bahri behind the microphone calling “Hail o Arab!” from Bari, Italy, enthusiastically broadcast the victory of the Axis armies. On all war fronts, Rommel's victorious army in North Africa approaching towards El-Alamein on the Egyptian border near Alexandria, contributed to the atmosphere of fear and terror that gripped the Jews in the Middle East.

The walls of the school yard of Sa'doon school as well as other institutions turned into advertising boards for slogans commonly found in the streets and among the people, who were thrilled with the Axis victories. Those slogans were carved on the brick walls, and the students drew swastikas on them and other expressions of praise for the German leader: “Long live Hitler, the defender of the Arabs and Islam”, “Eliminate the germs”, “Hit Britain with your shoes”, “No ‘Monsieur’ and no ‘Mister’, God in heaven and Hitler on earth ” and other such awful statements directed against the Jewish population. The administration of the school hung up Qur'anic verses like: “Don’t think of the people who are killed for the sake of Allah as dead, but of living people who stay in the shadow of Allah”, and sayings from the ‘Hadith’ of the prophet like: ”live simply because a life of luxury eliminates pleasure and comfort.”

The children of the higher-ranking army personnel would come to school wearing army uniforms, decorated with diagonal leather strips on their chests and wide belts, and in their hands a commander's stick. On their small epaulettes the emblem of the high rank of Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army. The paramilitary youth organization “Al-futuwwa” and “The youth brigade” were proud of their army outfits and would search the bags and clothes of the Jews in the streets in order to find if they had electronic devices, mirrors and other articles that could be used for alleged spying and beaming messages to British aircraft.

After a while, Umm Saati', the vice-principal of our school, announced that the Iraqi Board of Education had recommended that non-Muslims students be permitted to attend Qur’an classes, together with their Muslim brethren, without actively having to learn by heart the Qur’an. I saw in this a step towards equality, because we, the non-Muslims, spent time outside the Qur’an class getting bored and feeling that we were different from the Muslim majority.

 My friend, 'Abd Al-Rahman, would ask me to hear his reciting by rote certain verses of the Qur'an selected for children and I corrected his reading mistakes. In this way I learned it by heart with him too. When it was his turn, he would forget certain words and I would whisper them to him. One day, Umm Sati' noticed my whispering to him. She was angry and scolded him: "Shame on you, you silly idiot, Ya 'Abd al-Rahman! What! A Jew is teaching you the Qur'an by heart?" The kids laughed at the vice-principal’s words and 'Abd al-Rahman felt embarrassed. After that, he relied on himself to learn the Qur'an by heart without my help.

Once, when we were playing together by ourselves, 'Abd al-Rahman, who was older and bigger then me, said suddenly: "Sami, What do you think? Let’s wrestle!” I agreed. One held onto the other and he was watching out to prevent me from wedging my right leg behind his two feet to trip him up on to his back, a trick that had defeated others so easily. So I used the grip which we called the “the needle” (pressing two fingers between his ribs) against him. He stretched out his back in pain. At that moment my right leg did the job, and I was able to throw him on his back. He fell and quickly I sat on his chest and defeated him. He stood up alarmed, and looked around to see if there were any students who had witnessed his shame. He asked me in a begging voice, "please, don't tell anyone you defeated me. It is a great shame for a Muslim to be defeated by a Jew." I honored his request and reveal only now this incident, after 66 years. I ask his forgiveness for revealing his shame to my readers.

 A few months later, Jews were attacked on the streets; their houses were marked as Jewish by anti-Jewish organizations. On June 1, 1941 after the defeat of the Iraqi Army against the British, the massacre known as the Farhud started. That was when the Regent and the former Prime Minister of Iraq returned and the British Army abstained from entering Baghdad to maintain order. During two days 137 Jews were killed and thousands were wounded. We felt humiliated and betrayed. When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, most of us felt that this was our State and in 1950-1951 we left en masse to Israel on eagles' wings. ·

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

Shmuel Moreh: from boxer to prize-winning poet