Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year in Review

Time for Point of No Return to take stock of the main events of the Year:

Je suis juif: This past year will be remembered as a bad year for the predominantly Sephardi Jews of France. The Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket attacks of January 2015 took a particularly heavy toll of Tunisian-born Jews. Record numbers of French Jews  - 8,000 - are making aliya, but les Feujs are also coming to the UK.

Meanwhile, Spain granted citizenship to over 4, 000 Jews who could prove their Sephardi roots. A number have been Turkish Jews, who have been feeling the heat from President Erdogan's antisemitism, despite a  recent  warming of Relations with Israel.

This year Egypt revised its image of Jews for the better in its  Ramadan TV series, Iran put an end to school for Jews on Saturdays, and Hanucah lighting ceremonies were held for the first time in Bahrain and Turkey. Israel re-opened its embassy in Cairo. Wishful thinkers opened an Iranian embassy in Tel Aviv.

This year we lost the following greats: Sir Martin Gilbert, author of 'In Ishmael's House', Professor Robert Wistrich, authority on antisemitism, Joan Peters, author of 'From time immemorial', Nessim Dawood, translator of the Koran into English, Sir Naim Dangoor, businessman and philanthropist, chansonniers Richard Anthony and Guy Beart, actors Arieh Elias and Roger Hanin, Judeophile Egyptian playwright Ali Salem. Not forgetting the personal loss of our  regular commenter, Suzy Sultana Vidal, whose pithy comments on this blog will be greatly missed.

This year continued to be a bad year for  pluralism  in the Middle East despite the efforts of Steve Maman and Lord Weidenfeld to rescue Christians and Yazidis. It was a good year for those Yemenite Jews who managed to flee the civil war.

It was a good year for Israeli survivors of the Farhud who won 'Holocaust' reparations from the Israeli government.

The annual commemoration  of Jewish refugees from Arab countries on 30 November is achieving results.The Knesset's new lobby for the recovery of Jewish property from Arab countries laid the groundwork for a Knesset bill establishing an international compensation fund.

Best article of the year: travels of a tray.

This year Point of No Return gained still more readers, and we would like to thank all our faithful followers for your interest, your comments, your hat- tips.

Wishing you all a very HAPPY, HEALTHY and PROSPEROUS 2016, and see you in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Egypt should discuss Jews' displacement

An effect of the Arab Spring is to cause Egyptians to go through a period of introspection and look back with sympathy and nostalgia to the time when Jews lived in and contributed to the land. In political scientist Amr Hamzawy's vew, Egypt ought to recognise  Jews' displacement in this frank interview (via MEMRI). He idealises the Jews as integral to Egypt's Arabic culture - not always true, some did not even speak Arabic - and says very few went to the Zionist entity - not true, about half Egypt's Jews went to to Israel. (With thanks: Lily)

The Years Following The 'Displacement' Held For Them Precisely What They Had Feared When Their Ships Left The Shores Of Egypt: The Trip Was One-Way, With No Return Tickets"
"It is an odd thing, these people who were forced to leave Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s. They left it knowing no other homeland, and most of them did not know their final destination. The majority came upon safe havens in which to stay, settle down, and work, in a number of European countries and in the United States. 
"The years following the 'displacement' held for them precisely what they had feared when their ships left the shores of Egypt: The trip was one way, with no return ticket. 
"These are the Jews of Egypt, only a handful of whom knocked on Israel's door, and about whom I am writing today as a human concern, without any connection to politics.
"The strange thing about them is that in successive generations they have preserved their Egyptian identity, defining it as an emotional connection, a cultural identity, and a constant interest in... the homeland that was... Those who left Egypt in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, and who as mothers and fathers brought their children to Western societies, still use Arabic intensively. Some have managed to pass it on to their children and grandchildren – though while some of the elderly use an Egyptian dialectic whose expressions and forms are from the 1950s and 1960s, the middle-aged and the young use literary Arabic. [This is because] their emotional connection to Egypt prompted them to gain or refine their linguistic skills, and they studied [the language] academically – as do Westerners interested in Egypt or in the Arab countries in general."
The Egyptian Jews Remember "Human Solidarity... From [Both] Muslim And Christian Egyptians" – As Well As "Negativity, Vengefulness... And Denial Of Their Rights... From Other Egyptians"
"As for the [displaced Jews'] emotional connection to Egypt, its main source is the memories of those who left the places where they lived, studied, and worked. [These memories are] of their neighbors and the particulars of social life; of intellectual, artistic, and political activity; ...of the human solidarity some [of the Jews] received from Muslim and Christian Egyptians when they were collectively punished with displacement and were unwillingly embroiled in issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict; and also of the negativity, vengefulness... greed, exploitation, and denial of their rights that they encountered from other Egyptians...
"An additional source of this emotional connection is [their] continued fondness for Egyptian culture and its various forms of creative expression: music, song, cinema, and popular culture... and likewise the[ir] continued interest in current events in Egypt..."
The Egyptian Jews' Culture Of Remembrance "Should Drive Us In Egypt To Frankly And Sincerely Discuss... The Displacement, Oppression, And Collective Punishment Forced On The Jews Of Egypt In The 1950s And 1960s"
"Today I am not talking about politics, and I am not concerned with the various positions of the Egyptian Jews living in Western societies regarding the Palestinian people's right to self-determination – which some of them justly affirm and others wrongly deny. And I am not concerned with those who regularly visit Israel, or with those who refrain from doing so out of rejection of the occupation, the crime of settlement, and the violation of the Palestinians' rights and liberties. 
"Today I am not concerned with any of that. I am just taking note of this singular case of the culture of remembrance and the safeguarding of a love for the homeland that was... [It] should drive us in Egypt to frankly and sincerely discuss the facts about the displacement, oppression, and collective punishment forced on the Jews of Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s – which call for a culture of remembrance of a different sort [in Egypt].

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Al-Baghdadi breaks silence on the Jews

Shmuli Boteach, blogging in the Jerusalem Post, was not surprised when the leader of Da'esh in Baghdad, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,  finally came out with bloodcurdling threats against the Jews. Yes, 'kill the Jews!'  is a rallying cry for desperate Islamists, but it is a safe bet that had there been any Jews still living in the areas controlled by Syria and Iraq, they would long ago have met the same sorry fate as the Yazidis and Christians.
Islamic State fighters (Photo: Islamic Social Media)
Something I have found so surprising throughout all these events is how IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have hardly made even the smallest mention of Israel or the Jews. I was waiting for that inevitable day when IS would declare its intentions to destroy Israel and commit genocide against the Jewish people.

It’s kind of a coming of age, a rite of passage for a terrorist group when the day comes that they announce their intentions to wipe out the Israelites. But the weeks and months passed and we heard not a peep.

I was not alone in noticing this. For the past few years a favorite rumor among conspiracy theorists and haters of Israel alike has been that IS is actually a Mossad organization, and Baghdadi is in reality a Jew.

Why else have they not done anything to harm the Jews? After all, no one can deny that, barring immediate existential threats, the Jews pretty much always receive the top honors on the genocide wish lists of terrorist organizations.

And now suddenly this last Saturday, after IS had finally taken a real beating from Western forces and air strikes, Baghdadi released a message to his demoralized fighters in which he declares, “We are getting closer to you [Israel] day by day. Do not think that we have forgotten about you.”

Baghdadi continues, “God caused the Jews of the world to gather in Israel, and the war against them has become easy. It is the obligation of every Muslim to carry out Jihad.” He added, “Jews, you will not enjoy Palestine. God has gathered you in Palestine so that the Mujahedeen can reach you soon and you will hide by the rock and the tree.

Palestine will be your graveyard.”

Read article in full

Monday, December 28, 2015

Bensoussan in hot water over 'mother's milk' remarks

With thanks: Michelle

Georges Bensoussan, historian and editorial director at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris, is at the centre of a firestorm accusing him of 'incitement to racial hatred'.

A group of left-wing intellectuals, including the controversial academic Shlomo Sand,  lodged  a complaint against Bensoussan with MRAP, a French  anti-racist movement. Bensoussan may be called to face a tribunal.

During a TV discussion broadcast on 10 October 2015, Repliques, Bensoussan commented that France cannot hope to integrate its Maghrebi immigrants unless it recognised that these immigrants imbibe antisemitism 'with their mother's milk'.

Bensoussan, whose family comes from Morocco and who authored an 800-page volume on the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries Juifs en pays Arabes: le grand deracinement 1850 - 1975  in 2012 , claims that he was paraphrasing the words of a 'brave' Algerian sociologist, Smain Laachar." Everyone knows it but nobody will say it," Laachar had declared of Arab/Muslim antisemitism.

Laachar has since denied having said or written this 'ignominy'. He said it was outrageous for Bensoussan to have claimed that antisemitism was transmitted by blood.

Bensoussan has countered that Arab antisemitism was not transmitted biologically but culturally. He accused his critics of 'intellectual terrorism'.

"These intellectuals  have trouble imagining that the ruled can be rulers, racists, antisemites and violent people," said Bensoussan. He accused the Left of still being hung up about the 'colonial ' Algerian war, 53 years later: "The war has not ended. We still think we are at war with our immigrants."

Over 60 academics and intellectuals, including Bernard Henri Levy and Pierre -Andre Taguieff, have rallied in support of Bensoussan. On 4 December 2015, they had a letter published  in Le Figaro.

"We affirm our support for Georges Bensoussan, salute his courage and his freedom to express himself," the letter said.  "His defamers avoid addressing the disturbing facts he refers to, preferring instead to accuse, denounce, besmirch and threaten. Jew-hatred is behind such strategies, continually renewed."

Book review (Jerusalem Post)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Leisure at the Lido: Libyan Jews' pre-67 idyll

Enjoying the Tripoli beachfront and hobnobbing with Sophia Loren and Little Tony, the wealthy Jewish elite who stayed on in Libya after the mass exodus of their co-religionists in 1949 lived in an Italianate bubble. Their charmed life was marked by constant contradiction, writes Eyal David in Haaretz - until it was rendered intolerable by the violent Libyan reaction to the Six-Day War.

"On June 5, when the first news of the Six Day War reached Tripoli, the riots broke out (...) Tripoli, the clean and pleasant city has become something out of Dante's Inferno. The air was heavy, smoky, police and soldiers armed with rifles and submachine guns were everywhere. The streets were littered with broken glass, broken objects, broken wood and looted goods from shops (...) it was clear that the rioters were going first to the Jews, but now they are after everything foreign...".

This quote, taken from a testimony of a bank teller, reveals the 'discordant final note' in the life of the small and wealthy Jewish community that remained in Tripoli in the fifties and the sixties - its elimination in 1967 following the Six Day War. The war exposed Jews to violent riots in which 17 people were murdered, including two entire families that were killed by a Libyan officer: the Luzon family and the Baranes-Raccah family, the family of my grandfather's sister. This pogrom was the third in two decades (previous pogroms occurred in 1945 and 1948), and came after years of political and economic restrictions that narrowed the activity of Jews in the economic and commercial life of the city. The Jewish community, which was for generations an integral part of the social fabric of the country, had to hide and quickly leave the country, their homes, and all their possessions. A small number of Jews did remain in the country until the 1969 military coup of Muammar al-Qaddafi, who, through a series of measures and rules immediately clarified that in the 'new Libya' under his rule there was no place for foreigners and Jews.

The small Jewish community that remained in Libya after the great wave of immigration to Israel from 1949 to 1951 was concentrated mainly in the capital of Tripoli (a few remained in the city of Benghazi), numbered over 4,000, and according to some reports was one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in the world at the time. These Jews were mainly members of the upper middle class who chose to remain in the country under the independent Libyan regime of King Idris (starting December 1951) and did not have their bags packed in anticipation of an opportunity to leave, as one would think. On the contrary, they were integrated into a narrow stratum of foreign and Muslim elites, all of whom roamed in the same social milieu and were rooted in Tripoli by their property, assets, and financial interests.

The lives of the Jews in the city were marked by constant contradiction and it seems that they, whether consciously or unconsciously, "walked on eggshells". On the one hand, they were locals; some of them even came from families with old roots in the country that continued to play a vital and stable role in the domestic economic scene even after the discovery of oil in the country in the late fifties and the resulting foreign investment. But on the other hand, with their behavior and dress, they made it clear that they were not Arabs. Like the other foreign members of the elite, they saw the center of their identity in Europe, especially in Italy, and thus neither in Africa nor in the Arab world. Some of them even held European nationalities, mainly Italian but also French and British for example. Therefore, they adopted Western cultural trappings and symbols of social status, which separated them from the surrounding Muslim society.

  Although they lived in an independent Muslim country, most of the time they conducted their lives in Italian and not in Arabic. In addition, they maintained their Jewish identity albeit with a high degree of religious flexibility, even when their Judaism brought discriminatory laws against them. And in general, they kept their distance from the Muslim population, which constituted the majority of Libya. For these Muslims, the Jews, in their clear identification with the Italian culture and language, turned their backs on Libyan Arab society. Moreover, their high socioeconomic status completely contradicted the low status they should have had historically as "ahl al-dhimma" (a protected religious minority under Muslim rule). Further, anti-Jewish propaganda on the radio and in newspapers as well as in sermons in mosques, which intensified in view of the prolonged Arab-Israeli conflict, increased hostility against Jews.

Despite the restrictions, prohibitions, and harassment that the Jews faced at that time and the natural sense of fear that some of them felt, they continued to live a comfortable and vibrant life, which was characteristic of the narrow bourgeois social stratum in Tripoli. From interviews I conducted with members of the community in Israel and Italy, as well as the little written documentation that exists on the subject, it was revealed that the places of entertainment and leisure were their escape points, in some ways "islands of sanity" in a social reality that was changing from moment to moment against them. Furthermore, these places gave them a stable anchor to hold on to, albeit illusory and fleeting.
Libyan Jews at the Tripoli Lido (photo courtesy Vito Raccah)

The community spent its leisure time at the beach of Tripoli, or the 'Lido' as it is called in Italian, in house parties, coffee shops and modern cinemas that screened mostly Italian but also French and Hollywood movies. Besides these, you could find the upper middle class Jews of Tripoli in the exclusive clubs of the Italians and the British in the city. One of the most prominent clubs was The Italian Club (Il Circolo Italia), which was located in front of the impressive and beautiful promenade, Il Lungomare, which was built near the beach during Italian rule. It was a prestigious member-only club that offered its patrons a variety of activities in the fields of sports and entertainment, including sport teams like basketball and boxing, various classes in areas like theater and ballet, and Bridge tournaments. 

The club, as its name indicates, was designated for the Italian community in the city, but among its members were also some wealthy Jews including a few members of the community I interviewed. They stressed that Muslims did not frequent the club at all, only Christians and Jews, but not only those holding Italian nationality. They said they had sent their children to the classes held at the club and that they visited the club when there were concerts and shows in Italian and for the Christmas and the New Year celebrations (Capodanno in Italian). One of the interviewees talked about how "when it was Christmas, rich Jews were taking up the tables and the Italians were upset: 'What is going on, this is our celebration and the Jews are taking all the places?!".

The hotels located on the promenade were other centers in which parties and celebrations were held. The most glamorous one was the Uaddan hotel, which was established in 1935 and was described as the "jewel of modern African architecture". Daily cocktail parties were conducted at the hotel and it had a fancy entertainment hall where different balls were held, such as the New Year's Eve ball, Saturday night parties that "gave a good reason to hang out until after midnight", costume parties, and festive events as varied as weddings of the rich, including Jews. 

 Jewish guests at a dinner in honour of the film star Sophia Loren (photo courtesy of Vittorio Halfon)

The Uaddan hosted famous artists from Italy in the fields of music, theater and cinema, such as Sophia Loren, Little Tony, Peppino di Capri, Rita Pavone and many others and the rich echelon did not miss their performances. It also had a large swimming pool and it was the home of the only casino in town. The nightly entertainment in the casino was favored by more than a few Jews who visited it on weekdays as well as on Saturdays and holidays, and often lost a lot of money.

Another recreational pursuit that should be mentioned is that of brothels and nightclubs. The interviewees mentioned names of two major nightclubs - the more prominent was the Mokambo and the other was a nightclub that operated in Suq al-Mushir (سوق المشير), one of the markets within the old city. These clubs held "deluxe" cabarets, as one interviewee described them, as it was "something with class, not something dirty," and the people who came there were "people who had some money, also Arabs". They hosted dance performances and stripteases of "beautiful girls, but not Arabs. They were all foreign, European. Most of them from Italy, but there were also Yugoslavian, German, English, Spanish, French... ".

In conclusion, most of the Jews who remained in Libya after the great wave of immigration of 1949-1951 continued to live their lives, while enjoying many comforts but struggling to maintain their fractured identity as the social space where it existed slowly diminished. This continued until the living conditions became intolerable and they were forced to leave. At once, they had to abandon the rich and full life they had had and start from scratch, as immigrants in a new country. Only about a half of the community that had moved to Italy in the late 1960s, mainly the adults, immigrated to Israel later. A few from the last wave immigration and the former ones reached other countries such as the USA, France, and England.

Eyal David received his MA from the department of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His thesis "The Daily Life of Upper-Middle Class Jews in Tripoli, Libya: 1951-1967" was written under the guidance of Professor Harvey Goldberg and Doctor Liat Kozma of the Hebrew University. Contact: 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Religious leaders fear elimination of Christians

 On Christmas Day Christian and Jewish leaders have finally plucked up the courage to condemn the persecution of religious minorities by those who 'hate difference'. Let us remind them that the first ethnic minority to be expelled from the Arab Middle East were the Jews.

 Sky News reports: 

Christianity is facing "elimination" in the Middle East at the hands of an Islamic State "apocalypse", the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby used his Christmas Day sermon at Canterbury Cathedral to say IS is "igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression".

He branded the Islamist extremists as "a Herod of today" - a reference to the Biblical despotic king of Judea at the time of Jesus's birth.

"Confident that these are the last days, using force and indescribable cruelty, they (IS) seem to welcome all opposition, certain that the warfare unleashed confirms that these are indeed the end times," he said.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

 Justin Welby
"They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began.

"This apocalypse is defined by themselves and heralded only by the angel of death.

"To all who have been or are being dehumanised by the tyranny and cruelty of a Herod or an ISIS, a Herod of today, God's judgement comes as good news, because it promises justice."

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis used his own festive message to urge all faiths to unite in the face of attacks on their freedom to worship.

He said: "It has been reported that persecution of Christians persists in over a hundred countries, more than for any other religion.

The Pope delivers his sermon at the Vatican
"Faith communities have a responsibility to stand together to oppose discrimination and attacks on freedom of religious expression wherever they are to be found.

"Most recently, the shocking ban on public celebrations of Christmas in Brunei is reflective of an intolerance that as Jews, we simply cannot countenance."

Read article in full

Florida museum extends archive deadline

So popular has its exhibition of the Iraqi-Jewish archive turned out to be, that  the Jewish Museum in Florida (JMOF - International University) is to extend the run by a month to 6 March. (With thanks: Maurice)

The exhibition at JMOF-Florida International University was due to close on 14  February. A delighted JMOF said: the exhibition “is being so well received, and we are getting visitors from all over the world”. 

The Iraqi-Jewish archive exhibition consists of highlights from a collection of documents salvaged from the flooded basement of the secret police headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 and restored over ten years by NARA, the US National Archives and Records Administration.

The archive was due to return to Iraq in June 2014 after NARA put on the 'Discovery and Recovery' exhibit in Washington DC and New York. However, the Jewish community outside Iraq protested that it was the rightful owner of the documents, which were seized from Jewish homes, schools and synagogues. The archive's final destination has since been a matter of dispute with the Iraqi government.  The deadline for its return to Iraq has been extended for two years. The exhibit has been touring the US. The archive will stay in  America  as long as new venues are found to host the exhibit.

In addition to extending the exhibition deadline, the JMOF management has decided to celebrate “Iraqi Jews” for their annual Florida Jewish History Month celebration on Sunday 3 January 2016 at 2:00 pm.  They are asking Florida Jews who are from Iraq or have Iraqi descent to come and share memories. Contact the Museum Director Jo Ann Arnowitz ( ) for more information.


The sale of a very rare Bomberg Talmud invites speculation about how much the oldest document in the Iraqi-Jewish archive, a Talmud from 1568, might fetch at auction.

The Times of Israel reports that a 16th-century copy of the Talmud sold at auction Tuesday for $9.3 million in New York, a global record for any piece of Judaica, auctioneers Sothebys announced.

The extremely rare Babylonian Talmud had been expected to fetch between five and seven million dollars. 

“The extraordinary volume was purchased by Stephan Loewentheil for the 19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop” in New York, the auctioneers said.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Moroccan King who signed anti-Jewish decrees honoured

The Jewish press here and here are enthusiastically reporting that the late King Mohammed V of Morocco has been posthumously honoured for 'protecting' his country’s 250,000 Jews during World War II. Some fact-checking is sorely needed, because  the Moroccan Sultan actually signed every anti-Jewish decree presented to him by the Vichy authorities who ruled Morocco. For proof that Jews  suffered persecution in Morocco between 1940 and 42, look no further than the fact that they have been declared eligible for 'Holocaust' compensation.

Peter Geffen of Kivunim addressing the audience at the Bnai Yeshurun synagogue ceremony. (Photo: Asher Krell)
 The Jerusalem Post reports: 

KIVUNIM, the Institute for World Jewish Studies honored the king with the first The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. – Rabbi Abraham Heschel Award, to mark the organization’s 10th anniversary. The honor was presented to granddaughter Princess Lalla Hasna of Morocco on Sunday at New York City’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue as part of the group’s three-day conference to mark its milestone.

 Kivunim is a gap-year program that sends Jewish students to 12 countries each year, including India, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Morocco.

During World War II, King Mohammed V kept the lives and property of the country’s Jews under his protection, and did not subject them to the Vichy Laws.

Later on, in response to anti-Jewish rhetoric in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel, Mohammed V warned Muslims not to hurt Moroccan Jews, reminding them that Jews had always been protected in Morocco.

 Andre Azoulay, a Jewish advisor to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, said in a statement read on behalf of the king that: “Today, we need, more than ever, to ponder the lessons and relevance of this part of history in order to stand up more forcefully to the deadly aberrations of those who are hijacking our cultures, our faiths and our civilizations.

What is the truth about Mohammed V? What role did King Mohammed V actually play? Point of No Return comments:

Surrounded by a group of Judeophobic advisers like the antisemite al-Mokri, it was probably remarkable that the King did not support Vichy more enthusiastically. Journalists from the Moroccan Tel Quel magazine reassessed the king's role. 'Just but powerless', they concluded.

As the historian Michel Abitbol explains : "People forget that real power lay with the Resident-general of the French protectorate ( Abitbol told Information juive - July/ Aug 2008 - Les juifs d'Afrique du Nord sous Vichy). The King kept the trappings of sovereignty, but had no way of opposing the French, unless he put his throne at risk, as he did in the early 1950s.

 In the 1940s, however, the king had no choice but to countersign French edicts, such as the notorious 1930 Berber Dahir, a real blow against Islam, and the anti-Jewish Vichy laws. On the personal level, however, he was sympathetic to the many Jews in his entourage. But as the 'statesman', he was forced to sign. "

 It is not true to say that His Majesty (Mohammed V) managed to oppose the enforcement of the racist Vichy laws against Moroccan citizens of the Jewish faith.  Mohammed V signed every single anti-Jewish decree. There were decrees forcing the Jews back into their ghettos, instituting quotas or bans in higher education and restricting them in their professions. But he procrastinated on some, keeping them in a drawer unsigned for a month, and tried to reassure a Jewish delegation, who came to see him in an armoured truck, that the decrees meant nothing.

Was the King of Morocco a righteous gentile?

Algerian police chant, 'skin the Jews!'

When is anti-Zionism antisemitism? When the Algerian Gendarmes chant, "kill the Jews, skin the Jews!". Antisemitism is no stranger to Algeria. There are no Jews remaining of a community of 130,000, and it has long been a prerequisite for obtaining a passport that your father be a Muslim. The Times of Israel reports, via MEMRI: (With thanks: Lily)


The troops march in formation to an Arabic jody call, responding to turn to lines shouted by an officer.
“Oh, Arabs… sons of Arabs… march on… and turn your guns towards the Jews… in order to kill them… slaughter them… and skin them,” they alternate saying.
The clip was posted online on November 1, Algerian Revolution Day, and was recently translated to English by the Middle East Media Research Institute. It didn’t specify when the clip was filmed.
“Long live our free Algeria,” they sing. “Its land will belong to the Muslims forever.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pipes: 'Jews fled Christendom for Muslim lands'

Daniel Pipes is a well-known, Arabic-speaking, global authority on the Muslim world, with a regular column in the Jerusalem Post among others. So in an interview about the Muslim migration into the West, it came as a surprise to hear him make certain statements that are uncharacteristic and even historically dubious. Point of No Return sets the record straight (with thanks: Lily):

Update: When challenged to amend his remarks, Pipes replied:
"The latter (PoNR)  seems to think I am saying Jewish life in the Muslim-majority countries was wonderful. But I am not saying that; I am saying it was better than in Christendom. I really don't think there is any argument there. "


 Daniel Pipes...historically dubious

Pipes: Yes, the Muslim world is at a low point today, going through a crisis, and the West is not going through a comparable crisis. But this is but a brief moment in time. In 1943, where would you have rather been living?

In Germany or in Iraq? In Italy or in Senegal? Let's not say that the Judeo-Christian world is so wonderful on the one side, while the Islamic world is so horrible on the other.

Pipes makes an unfortunate comparison between Germany and Iraq. If you were unlucky enough to be caught up or killed in the pro-Nazi pogrom called the Farhud,  it would have been small comfort to be told that Germany was worse.

Pro-Nazi forces in the Arab and Muslim world were defeated because Nazism lost the war. But Nazi-style ideologies still endure today - and threaten the West - in the form of Islamist 'fascist' groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, who glorify violence and antisemitism.

Pipes then goes on to make the following controversial statement:
" In the long history of Jews living in predominantly Christian and Muslim lands, it is striking to note that from the origins of Islam until the close of World War II, that is to say from 622 until 1945, a very, very long period of time, Jews almost always fled from Christian-majority countries to Muslim-majority countries. They voted with their feet because they rightly expected to be better off in Muslim countries. It's only the last 70 years, since 1945, a moment in time, that Jews have fled Muslim-majority countries for predominantly Christian countries.

Not true: Jewish tribes were massacred by Muhammed in 7th century and ethnically cleansed from the Arabian peninsula, except  at the southern tip in Yemen.

 Jewish communities lived in the Middle East and North Africa long before these countries became Muslim.

Their numbers were continually eroded by pressure to convert, and the occasional forced conversion. The so-called Golden Age in Spain was interrupted by the Granada massacre of 1066.

Jews in Yemen and Iran suffered massacre, degradation and conversion  under Shi'ism. In the Maghreb, al-Maliki Sunnism treated Jews particularly harshly, after wiping out the Christian presence in North Africa.

Much is made of the fact that Jews fled the Spanish Inquisition for the Maghreb,  Turkey and Eretz Israel, but Sephardim also went to Holland and Northern Europe, and re-established the British-Jewish community in the 17th century.

Jews fled 19th century Iraq for India and the Far East, not just to seek economic opportunities along the trade routes of the British empire, but to escape the oppressive rule of Daoud Pasha in Iraq. In the late 19th century Jews fled blood libels and the Ottoman draft in Syria for the UK, the US and Latin America.

The great mass of Jews in Arab and Muslim lands could not escape. With the dawn of the colonial era, Jews fled Arab rule whenever they could - seeking the protection of western powers and a western passport.

Deliverance from persecution only arrived in 1948, when three-quarters of Jews in the Middle East and North Africa fled Arab rule for Israel - the only country which would accept Jews unconditionally. The rest went to the West, not because it was Christian, but because it was democratic and protected civil rights.

Read transcript in full

Monday, December 21, 2015

Syrian refugees are not like Jewish refugees

Comparisons between today's Syrian refugees and yesteryear's Jewish refugees are commonly being made nowadays: the West should take in refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, President Obama and liberal politicians are urging.  But New York City Mayor Bill di Blasio's pleas to a congregation in Brooklyn composed of  Syrian Jews had them shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

Refugees disembarking in Greece after a hazardous escape.

The New York Post reports:

"Some worshippers disputed the mayor’s historical interpretation.
“I don’t think it’s a fair comparison . . . The Jews never had a history of being destructive,” said Brooklyn resident Judy Zarug.
“I was sitting next to a woman who is a Syrian refugee and she really reacted and it was uncomfortable.”
Another congregant, whose family fled Syria, also disagreed, explaining:
“The difference between me coming here in 1991 with my family is that we were kicked out for being Jewish.”

Rav Zev Shandalov in the Jewish Press: 

"Jews were refugees because they committed the offense of being Jewish. They fled because they needed to save their lives. Not one of the Jewish refugees who left Poland, Hungary, Germany or any other country, had committed any atrocities before fleeing. None of them had sworn to destroy the United States, Great Britain or Canada. None of them were KNOWN terrorists. They fled to save their lives and only to save their lives. There was no hidden agenda; nor were they trying to infiltrate (what to them was) an enemy country."

Joseph Puder in Front Page Magazine argues  that Jews escaping the Nazis and Arab lands had no choice: they were targeted for being Jews. More controversially, he argues that Syrian citizens do have a choice. Clearly,  they are leaving a war zone where their lives are at risk. But it is the neighbouring Arab countries, especially the rich Gulf states, who are choosing not to give them refuge, leaving the West to carry the burden.

"President Obama is wrong to compare Syrian refugees who have choices, and Jewish refugees who had none. Syrian citizens are choosing to leave their homes. True, Assad’s barrel-bombs have killed indiscriminately, and Islamic State (IS) brutality has impacted on many. Yet should the U.S. and its allies impose “no fly zone” safe havens in civilian areas, Syrians (unless they are Christians, Kurds, or Yazidis) wouldn’t have to abandon their homes. Yesteryear, Jews from Arab lands had no choice. They were thrown out of their homes were they lived for millenniums, with literally the “shirts on their back.” Jewish properties were confiscated by the Arab authorities or taken by street mobs.

Similarly, survivors of the Holocaust could not return to their homes, and all their properties and belongings were taken by the native non-Jewish population or the Nazis.

Nazi Germany aimed to eradicate all Jews from Europe and elsewhere, while no such danger has faced Syrian refugees. In fact, there are 57 Islamic nations that are able to receive their fellow co-religionists. The Jews of Palestine during WWII would have done their utmost to absorb Jewish refugees had the British Mandatory regime in Palestine not closed the gates to the Jews of Europe."

A small proportion of  refugees from Syria include Yazidis and Christians. Yet, for reasons of political correctness,  the US State Department will not recognise Christians as genocide victims, writes Nina Shea  in the National Review.

"Yazidis, according to the story by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, are going to be officially recognized as genocide victims, and rightly so. Yet Christians, who are also among the most vulnerable religious minority groups that have been deliberately and mercilessly targeted for eradication by ISIS, are not. This is not an academic matter. A genocide designation would have significant policy implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other protections to such victims. Worse, it would mean that, under the Genocide Convention, the United States and other governments would not be bound to act to suppress or even prevent the genocide of these Christians."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jewish author wins Tunisian literary prize

As reported in the Times of Israel, a French-Jewish author and ethnopsychologist has won a prestigious literary prize in Tunisia for a book he wrote about the life and expulsion of Egyptian Jews. Tobie Nathan had an academic career and served as cultural attache to the French embassy in Israel in the early 2000s. The award may be interpreted not only as a recognition that Jews were forced out of the Arab world, but to show that, in spite of sporadic terror attacks and the rise of Islamism since the Arab Spring, the secular Tunisian elite is philosemitic. (with thanks: Veronique, Lily and Jeff)

Tobie Nathan (Photo: Joël Saget AFP)
The jury of the “Goncourt List: The Choice of Tunisia” award voted Wednesday to give its first-ever prize to Tobie Nathan for his book “This Country that Resembles You,” which was published in French earlier this year. 

The Tunisian award was established earlier this year as the local version of France’s Goncourt Prize, awarded annually since 1903 by the Académie Goncourt literary society in Paris to the author of “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year.” Prominent members of the French society visited Tunisia in October to assist the Tunisian affiliate in selecting candidates for the prize.

Nathan was announced as the affiliate’s first-ever laureate at an event Wednesday at the French Institute of Tunisia. The four final candidates were selected according to the votes of 176 literature professionals and students from 12 institutions, the news site reported Thursday.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book explodes myth of Moroccan coexistence

In January 2015 the Qatar-owned satellite channel al-Jazeera broadcast a programme about Jews in Morocco. "Jews first began to settle in Morocco over 2, 000 years ago," said the presenter."... and for centuries they and Muslims have happily co-existed there." Now the English version of a compilation of commented original documents, L'Exil du Maghreb, mainly but not exclusively found in Jewish sources, will provide a corrective to this common historical distortion. Professor Paul Fenton, director of Hebrew and Arabic studies at the Sorbonne,  gave a Harif/Spiro Ark lecture about his book, written jointly with the late historian David Littman. Report by Lyn Julius. 

Exile in the Maghreb is a compilation of documents shedding light on the conditions in which Jews lived in the Maghreb over 10 centuries. It was produced at first in French by two British-born historians. It is about to be published in English.

The makers of the Al-Jazeera programme might never have heard of the fanatical Almohades, who ruled Morocco for 250 years in the 13th century and invaded Spain, causing many Jews to flee. Fundamentalist Almohad rule led to Christianity being wiped out in the Maghreb. Many Jews such as Maimonides converted to Islam on pain of death in the Middle Ages, if only for a short time - according to some historians.

When conditions later improved under the Marinids, converts reverted back to Judaism. Sephardi Jews from Spain came to settle in the coastal towns of Morocco, but one group headed for the deep south - the city of Touat.

These commerce-minded, cultivated Jews soon established a thriving presence in Touat. They set about building synagogues. One even overlooked a mosque, in violation of traditional rules.

What they did not reckon with, in the fateful year of 1492,  was the arrival in Touat of a cleric from Tlemcen (in present-day Algeria): Muhammed al-Karim al -Maghili.

Al-Maghili, who was instrumental in converting large numbers of Africans in the south of Morocco to Islam, was shocked by the Jews he saw in Touat. He wrote an epistle to the local chieftains calling on them to destroy the synagogues and  expel those swine Jewish infidels, or enslave them. (The epistle is among the documents featured in Exile in the Maghreb.)

This the chieftains did.

It is a sorry sign of how intolerant of minorities were the theologians of the al-Maliki school of Islam in the Maghreb until the colonial era, that one of the first things they  published when the printing press came to Morocco in the 19th century, was not a scientific tract, or even the Koran, but the Epistle against the Jews  which al-Maghili wrote to the chieftains of Touat five centuries earlier.

Maghreb scholars preserved a strict interpretation of the dhimmi laws which governed the relationship of Jews and Muslims under the 8th century Pact of Omar.  The Arab prophet of Islam Muhammad had spared the lives of the defeated Jews and Christians  as 'People of the Book', rather than put them to the sword, but they had to abide by rules denoting their subjugation and inferiority to Muslims.

Following codification in the 13th century by the literalist theologian Ibn Taymiyya, 'Dhimmi' acquired a precise meaning in Islamic jurisprudence: non-Muslims would be 'protected' by Muslims in return for a capitation or poll tax. This begs the question - protected against whom?

Violent mobs singled out the Jewish 'Other' for  attack and looting.  Jews would 'cop it' at times of political turmoil or trouble.

Jews could not build new synagogues or repair them without permission; they had to allow Muslims to enter them at will. Jewish homes had sometimes to be painted red or blue, even after Jews had been permitted in modern times to  move out of the Jewish mellah into the medina.

Jews were forbidden from teaching their children the Koran. This was to prevent Jews engaging in theological polemics with Muslims.

Jews had to wear special badges and black attire. A Jew's djellaba was worn awkwardly 'off the shoulder' for maximum discomfort. Jews were not permitted to blow the ram's horn (shofar) in a public place. The Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem would use this pretext to incite anti-Jewish riots in 1929.

Jews could be accused of insulting Islam on the slightest pretext - so they avoided including 'Allah' in their greetings in case they were overheard and misinterpreted. The penalty was conversion to Islam. For 600 years, and as late as 1890,  Jews had to submit to a humiliating slap on the neck when they handed over the jizya or poll tax.

It was to help overcome these arbitrary and degrading rules, recorded by 19th century travellers and reported by the teachers of the Alliance (AIU) schools network, founded in 1860, that the AIU, the Anglo-Jewish Association,  and their German-Jewish counterpart, determined to improve the lot of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, primarily through education.

There was almost no escape  unless a Jew managed to obtain a foreign passport. As go-betweens, translators or agents of European powers, Jews demanded colonial protection. The Jews of the port of Mogador were lucky enough to hold British passports.

Exile in the Maghreb consists of a wealth of original documents amassed by David Littman. He found them  in the archives of the Anglo-Jewish Association, the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) and British foreign office documents. The Alliance teachers felt it was their duty to get better legal protection for their Jews, even at the cost of their lives.

The myth persists that the Jewish communities at the heart of the Ottoman empire were better treated than the Jews in the Maghreb. Conditions were generally less harsh because the Jews were among several minorities, and the Christians bore the brunt of any popular violence. However, Professor Fenton did come across one document where Jews in Safed complained to the Ottoman sultan that the local Pasha was making them clear animal refuse on Shabbat. Jews could even be required to do chores on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

As for the myth that Islam was more tolerant of Jews than Christendom, Professor Fenton pointed out that more Jews (3,000) had been massacred in Granada, Spain, in 1066 - in a Muslim backlash against the Jewish vizir Joseph ibn Naghrela - than lived in the Rhineland towns of Speyer, Worms and Mainz during the Crusades.

(Copies of Exile in the Maghreb (regular price $59.99) by Paul B Fenton and David G Littman may be obtained from at a 30 percent discount (39.17 Euros) until 31 December 2015. Quote code UP30AUTH16.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lobby drafts historic 'compensation' bill

Point of No Return exclusive

Levana Zamir, head of the organisations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel, and Avi Nahmani,  director of the lobby for the recovery of stolen property from Arab lands, listen while  MK Oren Hazan (right) reads out the draft Convention.

Israel is reported to be in secret talks with Arab governments to agree on an international fund to compensate  losses sustained by both Jews and Palestinian refugees.

According to Likud MK Micky Zohar, talks have been taking place with the Egyptian government and with the full knowledge and support of the Israeli  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

MK Micky Zohar, together with Likud MK Oren Hazan, co-chaired a meeting of the Knesset lobby for the recovery of stolen Jewish properties from Arab lands  on 15 December to finalise a Convention proposing the establishment of an International Fund. This concept, first proposed by US president Clinton in 2000, will compensate both Jewish refugees from Arab lands and individual Palestinian refugees for their losses.

The lobby will work together with the government and Knesset to get the fund set up. It considers the International Fund a 'tool for peace' because it is thought that compensation will lead the Palestinians to drop their 'right of return'. 

The heads of the representative bodies of Jews from Arab countries put their signatures to the Convention. "It was very moving," said Levana Zamir, overall head of the representative bodies of Jews from Arab lands. " We thought of our parents who did not have this privilege and did not survive to see their sufferings recognised. It was a miracle."

Barring  a few amendments, the Convention will form the basis for a bill to be proposed in the Knesset. In 2010, the Knesset passed a law stipulating that no peace treaty could be signed without compensation for Jewish refugees being on the agenda.

As the numbers of  Jewish refugees still living are fast diminishing, the Convention will also propose a law to enable descendants of refugees to qualify for compensation.

The lobby undertakes to push for a renewed campaign to register property claims. It will also do its utmost to publicise the 'Jewish Nakba' and establish a museum dedicated to the history of Jews driven from the Middle East and North Africa.

For a copy of the text of the Draft Convention (Hebrew), please email

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Halabi film-maker to focus on Codex

An Israeli of Syrian origin is planning a documentary film to reveal new information behind the disappearance of the Aleppo Codex, the oldest and most valuable Bible in the world. It will portray the glory days of the Aleppo Jewish community, largely destroyed in 1947.

 A fragment of the Aleppo Codex, now in Jerusalem (Photo: Irene Pshedezki)

 The Aleppo Codex (a.k.a the Crown or Keter) was kept for centuries in the great synagogue of Aleppo, Syria. A third of it disappeared on its way from Syria to Israel, while the rest is kept at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

The circumstances leading to the disappearance of the missing pages, as well as the claim of ownership or the appropriation of the Crown by the state of Israel, have remained open questions.

New testimonials reveal a story that was never told about the disappearance of the crown and about the identity of its holders.

 The film, named “The Lost Crown”, will uncover the true story of the disappearance of the Crown and will tell the story of the Aleppo community in its days of  glory.

 The director, Avi Dabach, is an Israeli filmmaker and the great- grandson of Ezra Dabach, the caretaker of the great synagogue in Aleppo.

For the last five years, Avi has been researching the Halabi (Aleppan) community of Syria. Now, he says, is the time to take this project one step forward from the research stages to production: “Since I have begun to take an interest in the story of the Crown, I have been finding new details, some surprising and some disturbing. It appears that the official account is not necessarily true, and certainly not the whole truth. I invite people to join the journey to the Aleppo communities, spread around the world. Together we will reveal some of the secrets surrounding the Crown, and tell the secret this unique, stubborn community, of which I am proud to be part of”.

The story of the missing pages was the focus of a book by Matti Friedman. How will the film be different? "I have read Mati's excellent book, but my point of view is different," says Avi Dabach.

"I'm acting as a member of the Halabi community, and I put much emphasis on the remaining parts of the Aleppo Codex, held in the Israel Museum, not only the missing pages."

 The film makers are looking for crowd-funding to finance 'The Lost Crown'. For details click here

Hebrew Manuscripts from Syria go on display

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

England refused asylum to Jews from Sudan

 The World Jewish Congress commemorated the 30 November day to remember the exodus of Jews from Arab countries with this testimony from a Sudanese Jew. It is one of several compiled by Daisy Abboudi, author of Tales of Jewish Sudan.

In 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, the Arab League Summit convened in Sudan to issue the Khartoum Resolution, declaring that there would be “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it”.  In spite of this, the Sudanese government never formally expelled or evicted its Jews.  The 1,000-strong community was a financial asset, with many of its members owning large wholesale businesses.  This meant that by 1967, it was extremely difficult for Jews to get an exit visa or transfer any assets out of the country.
Nearly the entire Jewish community had to leave Sudan under false pretense, fabricating holidays or business trips and leaving all of their belongings to sympathetic friends or neighbors.  They settled in Israel, America (where immigration quotas meant they could easily attain citizenship), England (via other African colonies) and Switzerland.

In 1977, some remains were moved from the Jewish cemetery in Khartoum to Jerusalem, although many more remain in terrible condition in Sudan.
As Israel marks November 30, the day designated by Knesset to commemorate the lost communities of almost one million Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, here are a few personal stories told by members of the Jewish community in Sudan who left the country more out of necessity than by choice. Special thanks to Daisy Abboudi, author of Tales of Jewish Sudan, for compiling these testimonies.

Click here for more testimonies at Tales from Jewish Sudan

Here is one testimony:

“I had just finished my O-Levels in the summer of 1967, I was 16 and we went for a holiday with my family to England, only my older brother he stayed in Sudan to work in the shop.  We went for a holiday but then because of the 1967 war with Israel we couldn't go back.  My brother that stayed, he was 21 and he wanted papers to leave the country.  But they wouldn’t give him, they put him in prison overnight to interrogate him.  And not just him, all the young Jewish men.  They took them to interrogate them in the prison.  After one night they saw he has nothing, and they let him out.  But then he wanted to leave the country! And he couldn’t.  No papers he can’t go.  So he went from one Embassy to another, to another.  No-one will give him, only the Swiss.  He finally came to the Swiss Ambassador and he came to him and he said,
‘Can you help? I need to go.  I am a Jew and I need to leave this country.’
The Ambassador said, ‘I know the problem, I will do something for you’.

He gave him the papers, and he went out of that country to Geneva as a refugee.
But what about us? We were still in England, we asked them to give us asylum they said no.  Canada? ‘No’. South Africa? They said that we are born in Sudan we might be black and so,‘No’.

Nobody.  My father even had a heart attack in England after that.  He left everything.  The shop as it is, the house as it is.  He had told my brother to give the keys of the shop to a man who was working with him there, a Nigerian man.  All the stock he lost.  And the house - everything in it - we gave to the woman who used to sell the eggs and the pigeons because we were friends with her and we used to eat at her place a lot.  So, no asylum, we went to Israel."

Read article in full

Monday, December 14, 2015

First Hanucah lighting takes place in Turkey

Chief Rabbi Izak Haleva and Beşiktaş Mayor Murat Hazinedar (2nd left) Photo: Murat Hazinedar

For the first time in the history of modern Turkey, a public Hanucah lighting ceremony was held in Istanbul. Whether they take place in Washington DC, Bahrain or Berlin, these ceremonies are a good PR exercise by which governments reassure their Jewish minorities and show off a shared culture. The Turkish ceremony comes at a time when the Jewish community is dwindling - thousands are applying for Spanish passports. Predictably, the authorities  are denying that the Jews of Turkey are suffering anti-semitic pressure from the state.

The Times of Israel reports: 
The event was organized by the municipality, and attended by the Turkish chief rabbi and members of the Jewish community, according to Turkey’s Jewish Şalom newspaper. 

Government representatives were also present at the candle-lighting, which coincided with the eighth and final night of the Jewish Festival of Lights.
A video of the ceremony, held outside the scenic Ortakoy Mosque on the European side of the Bosphorus, showed the eight-branched candelabra set to be lit as the Muslim call to pray rang out. Pictures from the event posted on social media showed Turkish girls in headscarves standing beside the Jewish holiday lamp.

Last week, in a Hanukkah message, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “our Jewish citizens are an indispensable part of our society.”
“With these thoughts I wish peace, happiness and well-being to all Jews on the occasion of Hanukkah,” Erdogan said on December 7, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.

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The Daily Sabah reports:
 Turkey's Jewry usually state that they do not suffer from any kind of segregation or discrimination in the country. The community rejects allegations in news sources or dailies that the Turkish state promotes anti-Semitism in the country with "many Jews deciding to go to Spain where a law of return is presently being legislated."

In a statement to Daily Sabah, Turkey's Jewish community refuted the accusation of pressure from the Turkish state on their community and said: "Pressure from the state is out of question."

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