Thursday, March 31, 2016

Roseanne Barr: 'US Jews ignore Nakba of 'brown' Jews

 With thanks: Michelle

Roseanne Barr interviewed in Israel: US Jews are ignorant of the Nakba of 'brown' Jews

The comedienne Roseanne Barr has accused US Jews of' having no idea'  about the  Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in their midst.

" It's all about class and race. It really bothers me to see privileged Jewish students of European descent who have no idea of the Nakba of brown Jews", she told an interviewer on Israeli TV.

Roseanne Barr, on an advocacy tour of Israel, has shown she is one step ahead of many other Israel advocates by bringing up the issue of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews. " Most (Israeli) Jews do not come from Europe," she said.

The question of 'white privilege' and 'intersectionality' has been a subject of controversy in academic circles in California. While some Jews complain that they can never be considered an oppressed group of colour, like black women, other Jews self-define as 'whites'.

Barr said she found the ignorance of most Ashkenazi Jews 'staggering'. She urged Ashkenazi Jews in the US to 'build bridges' with the tiny Sephardi and Mizrahi communities in their midst, which were often poor.

See the video  clip here on the Facebook page of 'Israel Beyond'.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Guardian letter highlights exodus of Iraqi Jews

 Surprise, surprise. The Guardian has published a letter  pointing out that Jews preceded Christians in their 'ethnic cleansing' from Iraq.

Jewish scribes at the shrine of Ezekiel, Iraq in the 1930s
"The decline in the number of Christians in Iraq is indeed disturbing (Loose canon, 25 March). It is part of a wider decline in the Middle East, where numbers have dwindled from 20% of the population 100 years ago to 5% today.

The Jewish experience in Iraq also reflects a story of a once flourishing community which has been persecuted to near extinction. Jews first went there 2,700 years ago, and while the community experienced highs and lows over centuries of Muslim rule, the population grew steadily. Jews accounted for one-third of Baghdad’s population by the time of the first world war, and by 1936, official figures showed there to be 120,000 in the country.

However, the period between the world wars, when the British mandate ended, marked the start of terrible antisemitic persecution in Iraq. Thousands of Jews fled: 104,000 emigrated between 1949 and 1951.

The history of the Jews in Iraq is a warning, if any were needed, of the unfolding tragedy facing the Christian community there today.

Zaki Cooper
Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Turkey foils terror plot on Jewish children

 A Turkish policeman runs after an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on 19 March 2016. (AFP / Bulent KILIC)

News of a imminent attack on Istanbul's Jewish children by cells of Islamic State (Daesh) comes as no surprise to Jews in the diaspora, who have long had to protect their synagogues and institutions from terrorist threats. What is new, however, is that the story was broken by Sam Kylie at Sky News, thus making it newsworthy to a mainstream mass audience. Times of Israel reports:

Islamic State terrorists are planning an imminent attack on Jewish kindergartens, schools and youth centers in Turkey, according to a report by Britain-based Sky News Monday.

The report came hours after Jerusalem issued an alert for all Israeli citizens to leave Turkey as soon as possible, citing an Islamic State threat, and nine days after three Israelis were killed in a bombing in Istanbul. 

According to Sky News, citing an “intelligence source,” terrorists are plotting to attack a synagogue which also doubles as a school and community center in the Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul.

The source said the threat was imminent and could happen at any moment.
“This is a more than credible threat. This is an active plot,” the source said. “We don’t know when it’s scheduled for. It could be in the next 24 hours or next few days.”

Monday, March 28, 2016

Egyptian activist raises $2,000 for Cairo Seder

 Update: Meligy has been told by the community leader Magda Haroun that the seder this year will not take place after all because the members are too elderly or unwell to attend.

The Egyptian Jews of Cairo will be able to celebrate their Passover Seder this year thanks to the efforts of an Egyptian peace activist.

When Ahmed Meligy visited the Shaar Hashamayim synagogue in Adly St, Cairo with his friend Isaac Cohen, he was told by the community's leader, Magda Haroun, that they did not have enough funds to arrange their Seder night, let alone preserve Egypt's Jewish heritage. Meligy rang a rabbi friend of his and managed to raise the money.

Meligy tells why he is passionate about working for peace  in this touching video. He describes how it took him five years to persuade Cairo-born Isaac Cohen, now living in the US, to overcome his fears and make a return visit Egypt. Cohen's family had been summarily expelled with one suitcase along with tens of thousands of others in the 1950s. Meligy took Isaac Cohen around his old haunts, including his apartment and school, and got Cohen access to the Adly St synagogue, where he was able to sit in the same seat he had occupied as a child and read from the same 1946 prayer book.

Wherever Isaac went, he was greeted with warmth and sympathy by young Egyptians. All 'apologised' for what had happened to Isaac, and Ahmed too apologised.

However, Ahmed Meligy's peace work has not come without cost. Meligy runs the risk of upsetting the Egyptian authorities and has even been jailed. He has been the butt of insults and opprobrium for expressing sympathy with Jews, including Hadar Cohen, the 19-year-old IDF soldier who lost her life protecting others from a Palestinian terrorist.

At the time of posting his video has been blocked on Facebook. Please share this post as widely as you can so that as many people as possible can view it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Arab press admits Jews' history of persecution in Yemen

Except for the obligatory swipe at Israel's 'Ashkenazi discrimination towards Mizrahi Jews', this article offers a surprisingly frank record of the persecution to which  Jews have been subject in Yemen through the centuries. The article, in Middle East Monitor, dates such persecution back to the 16th century, when Jews were reputed to have 'collaborated ' with the Ottomans. However other sources say that active persecution of Jews gained its full force when the Zaydi clan seized power from the more tolerant Sunni Muslims early in the 10th century.

In a secret operation on Sunday evening, Israel evacuated 19 Yemeni Jews, leaving only 50 behind fearing that this precious minority which has contributed immensely to Yemen’s history may soon be no more. The video of the Jews arriving in Israel showed them wearing traditional Yemeni clothing, greeting friends and family in Arabic and removing a 600 year-old copy of the Torah from its case. In front of the world, this marked a bittersweet moment in their lives.

They were flown to safety, but were forced to leave their rightful homes, because a group of extremists decided that they do not belong in their own country.
“Curse the Jews” has been a Houthi slogan chanted by thousands each day. Posters of the slogan are plastered around Houthi-controlled areas. Given that the home province of most Yemeni Jews is Sa’ada, the Houthi heartland, they would have had to suffer such abuse daily. Many of the remaining Jews in Yemen now live in Sana’a, which was taken over by the Houthis in September 2014.

The institutional marginalisation of Yemeni Jews dates back as far as the Zaydi Imamate, which was established in 897 CE and abolished in 1962. The first Imam, Yahya Al-Hadi Illa Haqq, wished to keep the treatment of Jews close to the way that Prophet Muhammad had treated them, regarding them as “Ahl al-Kitaab”, which translates as “People of the Book”.

Attitudes towards the Yemeni Jews began to change noticeably in the fifteenth century when the regime’s jurist Imam Ahmad Ibn Yahya Al-Murtada wrote a book called Kitaab Al-Azhar, though historians still dispute whether the sentiments in the book were implemented at that time. It is important to remember that the Imamate did not establish an official monarchy over North Yemen until 1918. Before that, the Imams ruled with tribal and religious authority, often in competition with different dynasties.

Extreme changes of attitudes towards the Jewish population in Yemen began after the Ottoman conquest of Sana’a. During the reign of Al-Mutawakkil Isma’il (1644-1676), there was a serious crackdown on Jewish rights as they were believed to have collaborated with the Ottomans in their quest to govern Yemen. Because of this, harsh discrimination got worse as tensions between the Zaydis and Jewish populations grew. This led to Al-Mutawakkil Isma’il’s successor, Al-Mahdi Ahmad, to conduct one of the most traumatic events in Yemeni Jewish history, the exile of Mawza. From 1679-1680 the Jews of Sana’a were forced to go to Mawza, which is now a district of Taiz, and confined in uninhabitable conditions; many died slowly and painfully. The marginalisation of Jews continued throughout the Imamate, but at different levels as policies varied from time to time.
Jews of Maswar in Yemen, 1902

The tensions between the Jews and some Zaydis in the highlands of Yemen today clearly have a historical basis. It is an essential part of being a Houthi to perpetuate violent sentiments towards Jews, not only through rhetoric, but also through actions. Soon after the Houthi movement took up arms in 2004, it began to attack and displace the native Jewish population, starting with Sa’ada. In early 2007, the Houthis gave the Jews in Sa’ada an ultimatum to leave within 10 days, or they would be attacked in an attempt to expel them. Since then, they have been subject to such violent attacks that the Saleh government was forced to move them out of their homes to a compound within Sana’a, to protect them from further violence. This compound was built like a refugee camp and was barely sufficient for a competent relocation project.

The Jews were also left out of the political process. When Ezer Ibrahim announced his candidacy for municipal elections in January 2001 on behalf of Saleh’s General People’s Congress party, he was rejected because of his Jewish faith.

The systematic marginalisation, under-representation and ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population in Yemen by the government, tribes and non-state organisations has led to there being fewer than 50 Jews left in Yemen today. This is compared to the 350,000 Yemeni Jews in Israel, the 50,000 in the US and 5,000 in the UK, reflecting the distressing reality that they feel safer outside, rather than inside, their home country.

It’s undeniable that their lives are much less at risk after their evacuation, but there is also the question of how the Yemeni Jewish diaspora will be able to preserve their unique and mysterious culture. Israel is dominated by the Ashkenazi Jewish culture, which is attributed commonly to European Jews; the Yemenis are Mizrahi Jews, who can also be found in Jewish communities in parts of Africa and Asia. They are generally under-represented in Israeli society, with only nine per cent of the academic staff in universities being Mizrahi Jews despite them making up 40 per cent of Israel’s Jewish population. There are 15 Supreme Court judges in Israel and only two of them are Mizrahis.

Their history has also been under-represented in school text-books, as most of the Jewish education in Israel is Ashkenazi-centric. They do not suffer the systematic oppression that Palestinians receive, but the fact that they were only allowed into Israel as a form of Jewish solidarity and are under-represented at official levels means that their heritage may not be as secure as many would like to think.

Read article in full

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Yemen escape plan failed three times

Manny Dahari had been working from America for two years with the US State Department and Jewish Agency to get his family out of Yemen — and this week he succeeded, The Times of Israel reports:

On Sunday night, 17 members of the Yemenite Jewish community were brought to Israel from the civil war-stricken country, a few days after two other Yemeni Jews arrived. 

Many of the details about their escape are still being kept secret, Dahari told The Times of Israel over the phone. According to Saudi sources, however, the Houthi rebels who controlled the area where the family lived were bribed to allow safe passage for the 19 Jews.

From the Houthi-controlled city of Sanaa and the nearby village Raydah in western Yemen, the 19 Jews flew to Amman, Jordan and then to Israel, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

“I’ve known about it all along, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure of when,” Dahari said.
Manny Dahari, who helped orchestrate the airlift to remove his family and other members of the Jewish community from Yemen, receives an award from the Israeli American Council in March 2016. (Courtesy)

Manny Dahari, who helped orchestrate the airlift to remove his family and other members of the Jewish community from Yemen, receives an award from the Israeli American Council in March 2016. 

Dahari had been working closely with the Jewish Agency to help orchestrate the move. Today, the 22-year-old studies marketing and political science at Yeshiva University in New York, he said.

“Over the past month we’ve tried maybe four times. Three times we failed, and this time it finally happened,” he said. “I’m just so relieved right now. I know that they’re safe,” Dahari said.

In the wake of the escape, at least two Yemenites — a Muslim and a Jew — have been arrested by the authorities there for their alleged involvement in the operation.

The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016. (Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)

The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied 
by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016. (Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)

The charges against the two apparently have less to do with the escape of the 19 Jews and more to do with a nearly 600-year-old Torah scroll that was brought out of the country with them, which the Houthi rebel leadership claims is part of its heritage.

Read article in full 

Zion, another member of the Dahari clan, tells how he was reunited with his family in Israel. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Zion Dahari hugs his sisters Malka, right, Hodaya, center, and Ester, left, after the girls arrived at an immigration centre in the Israeli city of Beersheba on March 21 following a secret rescue operation in Yemen.(Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)

Zion Dahari left his native Yemen as part of an international effort to bring its remaining Jews to Israel.

He was 14 and not sure if he would ever see his family again.

Four years later, they were reunited in an Israeli immigration facility after 17 of his relatives were airlifted out of their war-torn homeland. After stops in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, they arrived in Israel on March 20.
“I found out they were arriving in Israel at the last minute, I dropped my study books, caught the bus and ran,” said Dahari, surrounded by his parents, six brothers and sisters and nine other relatives at the immigration center.

“All of my family are now in Israel,” he said. “I am touching the sky with excitement.”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Yemen jails two for helping Jews escape

A Jew and a Muslim have reportedly been jailed after being  accused of helping Jews escape Yemen and ' smuggle' out with them an old Torah scroll. 
The scroll which the Yemen government now claims was 'smuggled' out of the country

The Yemeni government and Houthi rebels claim that the Torah scroll belongs to Yemen. The Dahari family, they allege,  had no right to take it with them to Israel.

"The statement is absolutely false and I urge them to release the detainees immediately", says Manny Dahari, US-based son of Rabbi Saliman Dahari who brought the scroll out with him." The Torah scroll has been in my family for hundreds of years and we will never give it up for anything or anyone."

Manny Dahari (pictured) says that he has received offers from organisations to take custody of the scroll and protect it under  international law. "My family will respectfully decline. My family has protected it for hundreds of years and will continue to do so for thousands of years. "

He challenged the Yemeni government to sue his family in a court of law.

The Yemen government and rebels are likely seeking to deflect  criticism from social media networks that they connived with Israel to engineer last weekend's exodus of the 19 Jews.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the arrival of a final group of Yemenite Jewish immigrants in Israel Monday morning aroused widespread criticism from Yemenite citizens on social media networks, claiming that the move was a result of a secret understanding between Israel and pro-Iran Houthi militias.

The newspaper reports that  opponents to this "secret deal" between Israel and the Houthis launched a social media campaign defaming Houthis as traitors under the hashtag, "The Houthis are Israeli agents".

The charge that Jewish private or communal property is part of a nation's heritage has been used by Egypt, which lays claim to Jewish communal registers and Torah scrolls over 100 years old. Iraq also uses the argument to reinforce its claim to the Iraqi Jewish archive, which was seized from individual Jews, schools and synagogues.

Jerusalem Post

The Cairo Purim: saved from the vizier in the bath

Wishing all Point of No Return readers a very Happy Purim. Click here to play  a Purim tune popular with the Jews of Egypt. 

 March 4, 1524, is remembered by Jewish tradition as the day on which the Jews of Cairo were spared from the slaughter planned for them by the city’s Ottoman vizier Ahmed Pasha. By the time he had emerged from his bath, his plans had been thwarted. David B Green tells the story in Haaretz:

Instead, it was Ahmed himself who lost his life on this day, an event commemorated each year with a “little Purim,” a local holiday celebrating deliverance from destruction, much as the standard Purim recalls how the Jews of Persia were saved from the designs of the evil vizier Haman.

Egypt had come under Ottoman control seven years before, in 1517, the same year that Jerusalem was captured by Suleiman. Three years later, on the death of his father, Selim I, Suleiman became the Ottoman sultan. To represent him in Cairo, Suleiman appointed Ahmed Pasha as viceroy, or governor.

Ahmed had hoped for more. As an official in the court of Selim, he had stepped in to take command of Ottoman forces during the siege of Rhodes, in September 1522. It was thanks to his military prowess that the Ottomans conquered the island stronghold from the Knights of St. John.

Ahmed expected Suleiman to make him grand vizier, his chief of staff, in the imperial capital of Constantinople, but the sultan appointed a boyhood friend of his to that position. The rebuff was apparently sufficient to drive a resentful Ahmed Pasha to plot a rebellion.

As one ancient Muslim chronicler described it, Ahmed “allowed himself to be led astray by the devil, and plotted for the sultanate.” He imprisoned or executed military figures he considered loyal to the sultan, and he began confiscating the wealth of provincial officials and peasants alike for his own use.

At a more symbolic level, he instructed his name to be used in place of the sultan's in the Friday sermon at local mosques and on locally minted coins.

It's here that the traditional Jewish version of the tale begins to resemble the original tale of Haman, Esther and Mordecai.

The head of the mint was Abraham de Castro, a Jew, who prudently requested of Ahmed that he put his request in writing. He then took the written order to Constantinople, where he showed it to Sultan Suleiman. 

When he became aware that he had been denounced, Ahmed Pasha resolved to take vengeance on de Castro and the Jewish community in general.

As the story goes, Ahmed called 12 prominent Cairo Jews to his palace, and ordered them to collect 200 silver talents, a sum of money described as astronomical. He gave them a deadline and said that if they didn't meet it, he would have all the Jews of Cairo killed.

The Jews’ initial response was to declare a day of prayer and fasting, and to begin gathering money. When they had amassed what they could, about one-tenth of the demanded ransom, they brought that to the palace, hoping the vizier would accept it as a down payment.

The Jewish notables were received by the vizier’s secretary. He examined the ransom, determined that it was insufficient, and said that Ahmed Pasha would have no choice but to order the punishment to be carried out – as soon as he emerged from his bath.

Just at that moment, Ahmed was attacked by a group led by one of his officials, Mohamed Bey. Though he survived that assault, he was soon captured – and beheaded.

That momentous rescue occurred on Adar 28, which corresponded to March 4, 1524, and it is that date that became an annual day of celebration for the Jews of the city, the Purim al-Mizriyin, or Cairo Purim.

More conventional historical chronicles tell a similar tale, but without the emphasis on the Jews. Several chroniclers reported that he was in the midst of having his head shaved when his bathhouse was attacked by a rival officer, Janim al-Hamzawi.

"The attack prevented him from having the other half shaved," one chronicler recounted (as quoted in "The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule," by Jane Hathaway), and he fled by way of the bathhouse roof. Janim al-Hamzawi gave chase, and eventually, with a force of 1,000 Janissaries, captured the renegade vizier. Ahmed was beheaded, and, according to one account, his head was pickled.

Read article in full 

Another version of the Cairo Purim

The basic Purim story

The Hebron Purim 

The Algiers Purim

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

'Jewish Nakba' demonstrators picket Zochrot parley

 Jews driven from Arab countries demonstrated outside a conference organised  on 21 and 22 March by Zochrot, which claims to fight for Palestinian rights.

 Just as Israel was rescuing the last batch of  Jews from Yemen, a hotbed of civil strife and antisemitism, the conference was getting underway in Israel calling for the mass return of Palestinian 'refugees' to Israel.

Demonstrators young and old from Jewish families 'ethnically cleansed' from Arab countries carried placards drawing attention to the 'Jewish Nakba' and handed out pamphlets about the 'real story of the 1948 war'. Some 800, 000 Jews are thought to have been driven from Arab countries by violence and persecution, many with little more than the clothes on their backs, although they were non-combatants. There are estimated to be fewer than 4, 000 Jews left in the Arab world.

Hundreds of thousands of  Palestinians left in 1948 on the urging of their leaders, who were confident of decisively defeating the newborn Israeli state.

Zochrot was holding its third international conference in three languages to promote the so-called 'right of return' for Palestinians. The NGO derives its funding from the EU and the New Israel Fund, which has donated millions of Euros to the far left. 

Jews from Arab countries have no funding and little  international support.

Dr Edy Cohen, one of the key activists in the Jewish Nakba campaign and a researcher at Bar Ilan University, commented bitterly that the Zochrot conference programme was printed on thick and glossy paper and in colour. "It turns out money buys everything, even people who betray their own  and actively promote a mendacious narrative."

Dr Cohen published an article in Ynet News to coincide with the Zochrot conference and plans a counter-conference on 15 May, Arab Nakba Day.

The Conference programme: glossy paper

Arab Facebook readers roast Jews over dish

The Israeli Foreign Ministry's Arabic language Facebook page has become the scene of a heated debate over a Shabbat dish. While Iraqi and Egyptian commenters were mostly sympathetic, Palestinians were not. Israel Hayom has the story: (with thanks: Lily)

 Tbeet - Shabbat chicken and rice, contains 'children's blood' according to some Palestinians (Photo: Linda Dangoor)

Over the weekend, the ministry's "Israel speaks Arabic" page posted a recipe for tibit, the traditional Iraqi Jewish chicken and rice dish slow-cooked and eaten on the Sabbath. The post said tibit is part of the heritage Iraqi Jews brought with them to Israel, and that many families still cook it according to recipes passed down from generation to generation. 

The post has gained thousands of likes and shares and been viewed more than 200,000 times. Some commenters called on the Foreign Ministry to open a separate page for posts about Jewish and Israeli foods to help bring the peoples of the region together. A number of Iraqi commenters praised their former fellow countrymen and their rich culinary heritage. Some said they missed the Jews who were uprooted from Iraq and expressed hope they would return someday.
But Palestinian commenters took a more negative approach. They criticized Iraqis who expressed support for Israel, and some even claimed Israelis used the blood of Palestinian children as an ingredient. 

The Foreign Ministry said that for some time now, it has noticed positive comments about Israel from Iraqi commenters. Nearly 1 million people from the Arab world follow the ministry's Arabic language Facebook page. A majority are from Egypt, but there are also many from Iraq.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Guardian airlift report omits Yemen antisemitism

A Guardian report, on Israel’s dramatic airlift over the weekend of nineteen of the last 70 or so remaining Jews in Yemen, all but ignores the extremism and antisemitism at the root of the crisis necessitating their rescue, Adam Levick of UK Media Watch reveals. (To be fair, other reports have also made little reference to the antisemitism that has driven Jews away from Yemen. )

Some of the 19 Yemeni Jews brought to Israel by the Jewish Agency for Israel at an absorption centre in Beersheba. (Photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Similarly, the report, by the paper’s former Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood (Israel airlifts 19 of last remaining Yemeni Jews, March 22), notes that the Jewish community in Yemen dates back two millennia, and numbered over 55,000 in the middle of the 20th century, but gives no clue as to why their numbers dwindled so dramatically.

Of course, the original Israeli airlifts in 1949 and 1950 were orchestrated in response to the increasingly perilous situation for Yemen’s Jews following antisemitic violence by Muslims. These include riots following the UN Partition Vote in 1947 in which 82 Jews were killed (and hundreds of Jewish homes destroyed) in Aden, and additional deadly attacks on Jewish communities following Israel’s creation in 1948. This omission mirrors the Guardian’s broader pattern of failing to report the state-sanctioned antisemitic attacks and discrimination in Arab countries which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of roughly 850,000 Jews in the region between 1947 and the early 70s.

Additionally, Sherwood (now the Guardian’s religion correspondent) provides little in the way of context to readers about the attacks on Yemen’s remaining Jews by Islamic extremists in the 2000’s to understand the recent airlift.  In addition to several high profile antisemitic attacks and murders, “jihadist gangs” have been harassing Yemen’s Jews, Jewish girls have been abducted and forced to marry Muslims, and all Jews have suffered various systemic social and economic handicaps under sharia law.  (Also ignored by Sherwood: one family that arrived in Israel from Sanaa is related to Aharon Zindani, who was killed in an antisemitic attack in 2012.)

Sherwood also fails to clearly convey that Iranian-backed Islamist (Houthi) rebels, in 2007, forced Jews in Saada to relocate to a secure government compound in Sana’a after threats of violence, including a letter sent to the community which reportedly read: “You should leave the area, or we will kidnap you and slaughter you.” 

In short, the Guardian failed to inform readers that the Jewish community in Yemen has almost entirely “relocated” to Israel because endemic antisemitism and Islamic radicalism in the country made continued Jewish life untenable. 

Read article in full

Ars Poetica: 'You can hear the hegemony crashing'

New-wave poetry is challenging Israel's 'Eurocentric cultural elite' and giving a voice to Mizrahi women. It's all  thanks to Adi Keissar, the founder of Yemenite origin of Ars Poetica, a beguiling mixture of parties and poetry readings. Ayelet Tsabari, herself an author of Yemenite origin, reports for the Forward


We squeezed our way toward the stage, where DJ Khen Elmaleh was playing high-energy Mizrahi and Arabic tunes. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and perfume. Minutes later, an excited murmur swept over the crowd as Erez Biton, the first Mizrahi writer ever to win the Israel Prize for literature, was ushered in like a celebrity. Onstage, Biton said, “I’m as thrilled to be here as when I received the Israel Prize in Jerusalem.” He thanked Adi Keissar for making the event happen.

Ars Poetica, a wordplay reclaiming the word “Ars”— Arabic for “pimp,” and a derogatory name for Mizrahi men in Israel — is Keissar’s brainchild. A young poet of Yemeni descent, Keissar started writing poetry late in life. “I saw poetry as white and elitist and unrelated to me,” she said in an interview. It didn’t help that the poetry she learned in school was almost exclusively written by Ashkenazi men.

Three years ago, feeling out of place at conventional poetry readings, she decided to create an alternative and make it a hafla, Arabic for a party. “It was my way of reconciling the dissonance in my head,” she said. “To create a space I feel comfortable in, a ‘room of my own.’” She invited a few poets, a DJ, a belly dancer. “There was electricity in the air that night,” she said. “We all felt it.”

Keissar curated another event, and then another. A dedicated and passionate following gathered around the series. Israeli media started to take notice.
Ars Poetica features more Mizrahi and Palestinian poets than your average poetry reading, giving voice to ethnic groups whose stories are rarely told in Israeli literature. It is also, Keissar proudly notes, run entirely by women. “In Israel, like in the world,” she said, “there’s one narrative that erases and defines other narratives.” The reading series also features Ashkenazi poets. “The idea of Ars Poetica is that it doesn’t exclude.”

Yet in Israeli media, the series is associated with a Mizrahi revolution, and its critics often neglect to see the inclusiveness Keissar so carefully constructs. “It’s guerrilla, it’s an eruption, it’s undefined,” she said. “It sidesteps the gatekeepers, and the establishment does not know what to make of it.” Or, in the words of fellow poet Naaman, “You can hear the sound of the hegemony crashing.”

Monday, March 21, 2016

Nineteen Yemen Jews brought to Israel

A last group of Jews living in Yemen was brought to Israel in a secret mission in recent days, the Jewish Agency announced. Clandestine activity of the Jewish Agency culminated in the aliya of the 19 Jews, fourteen from the town of Raydah and a family of five from the capital Sana'a. This leaves 50 Jews in Yemen, most of them  in a guarded compound in Sana'a. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Yemenite Jews arrive in Israel. Below: ancient Torah scroll brought out by Rabbi Saliman Damari (photos: Jewish Agency)

According to Channel 2, the US State Department was involved in the mission and helped coordinate the complex transfer of the Jews after the group faced persecution on its way to Israel.

Among the new immigrants was Rabbi Saliman Dahari who arrived with his parents and his wife and met his children upon arrival at the absorption center in Israel. The rabbi brought with him a Torah scroll that is 500-600-years-old.

One of the new arrivals on Monday was the son of  Aharon Zindani, who was murdered in an anti-Semitic attack in 2012. Also in 2012, a young Jewish woman was abducted, forced to convert to Islam, and forcibly wed to a Muslim man. The Jewish Agency said that as Yemen has descended into civil war and the humanitarian situation in the country has worsened, the Jewish community has found itself increasingly imperiled.

More than 51,000 Yemenite Jews have immigrated to Israel since the country’s establishment in 1948. In 1949, Israel organized their mass transfer to the newly-established state in Operation Magic Carpet.  

The Jewish Agency noted that some fifty Jews remain in Yemen, including approximately forty in Sanaa, where they live in a closed compound adjacent to the US embassy and enjoy the protection of Yemeni authorities. These last Jews have chosen to remain in the country without Jewish communal or organizational infrastructure, the Jewish Agency said.

Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said hailed the mission as a "significant moment in the history of Israel and of aliya."

Read article in full 

PM Netanyahu meets Saliman Damari and his family (clip)

MFA newsletter (with thanks: Imre) 

BBC News

 One young Yemenite student announced the news on his Facebook page:

 " I have waited ten long years to say that my parents, grandparents and the rest of my family is finally out of Yemen. I just got a phone call from the Jewish Agency confirming that they're on their way to Israel."

The news was announced yesterday by Manny Dahari, a student in the US.

The family are from Raida in the north of the country, driven out by the civil war  and the rise in antisemitism.

After three failed attempts to leave Yemen in the space of two years, Manny Dahari's's five young siblings arrived in Israel in October from the war-torn country.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Independent is a puppet in Iran's Purim spiel

 With Purim just around the corner – the Jewish festival which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of Persia from the wicked Haman –The Independent’s feature on the Jews of Iran by Kim Sengupta, the paper’s defence and diplomatic correspondent, could not be more timely. But how accurate is it? Lyn Julius dissects it for UK Media Watch:

The article (Iran’s Jews on life inside Israel’s ‘enemy state’: We feel secure and happy, March 16th) opens with a propaganda lie : Iran has ‘the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel.’ Turkey has a larger community; and the competition in the neighbourhood is not very fierce,  all communities  from Arab countries having been virtually driven to extinction. Sengupta fails to inform us that four-fifths of the Jewish community has fled since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979.
“Israel has portrayed Iran as an implacable enemy,” Sengupta writes. 

Surely it is the reverse. 

While relations were good between Israel and the Shah’s regime until the Iranian revolution – and the Independent  journalist, eager to show Israel in the worst possible light,  is careful to emphasise that the Jewish state propped up the repressive machinery of the Shah’s regime – Iran is the only state openly committed to the destruction of what it calls the Little Satan. 

Even its freely proclaimed Holocaust denial proved too much for the cowed Jewish community, whose erstwhile leader Haroun Yashayaei felt compelled to remonstrate with President Ahmadinejad in 2006. Under the so-called ‘moderate’ President Rouhani, the regime has toned down its desire to exterminate Israel as a centrepiece of public diplomacy. But the regime still runs distasteful Holocaust cartoon contests aimed at proving that the Israelis are the new Nazis in their treatment of the Palestinians.

Sengupta overstates the ‘reformist’ nature of the present Iranian regime, which remains ideologically committed to spreading Islamist revolution. Great changes are about to happen in Iranian politics and history, Sengupta announces brightly: the nuclear deal (billed as a personal failure of Netanyahu’s campaign – never mind that Iran’s nuclear threat had Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states quaking in their boots) ushers in a new post-sanctions era of prosperity.

“Iran is a place where Jews feel secure and happy,” the article tells us. 
 Of course the Jewish community fares much better than the Baha’i,  not protected under sharia law, and the Assyrian Christians, whose church property has lately been sequestered. The Jews are allowed to practise their religion in freedom, as long as they eschew any connection with the Zionist entity, a crime punishable by death, and submit to discriminatory sharia law. Jews are left to run their businesses unmolested and are even looking forward to the economic bonanza which Iran will enjoy when sanctions are lifted. 

The community’s mouthpiece, the one Jewish MP, Siamak Morsadegh, is more than happy to do the regime’s bidding. Sengupta would have almost certainly had a minder breathing down his neck – an experience which another journalist has described as ‘causing anxiety and fatigue’. Neither does Sengupta mention that secret service police infiltrate every communal gathering, and ‘phones in Jewish homes are bugged.

The lies and half-truths keep coming thick and fast. ‘There are not more Jewish MPs because they are not interested in politics’ (a lie – all minorities are limited to one MP). ‘Iranian Jews are free to leave’, Morsadegh tells us, omitting to mention that the rest of the family are kept as hostages. The small matter of unequal ‘blood money’ where the lives of Jews are worth less than Muslims, has hardly been solved – insurance companies have been made to pay the difference in traffic accidents! 

The article also does not mention the inheritance laws that favour a convert to Islam over his Jewish siblings. These iniquitous rules continue to wreak havoc in families. 

The next lie Sengupta  serves up is that Iran’s Jewish population is growing. Last time I looked, the official census results had reported just over 8,7 00 Jews, a fall of 90 percent over the 1948 figure. The regime appears to be echoing President Putin’s call for Jews to come to Russia, a haven from western European antisemitism. 

Unbelievably, the Ayatollahs’ regime is also trying to present itself as a haven for Jews in Europe (anti-Semitism in Europe is never caused, we are told, by Shia Muslims!). Enter Arik, an Iranian Jew in a shiny suit who wants to persuade his brother to come back  to Iran from France. Arik will be perfectly placed to reap the fruits of the post-sanctions era.  All the Jews Sengupta meets have returned to Iran from stints abroad.

The Independent journalist then furnishes us with a potted history of Iran’s Jews. Theirs is an ancient community dating back to the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE. But Sengupta fails to mention that the Persian king Cyrus the Great was the first Zionist: he permitted the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. There is no mention that over the centuries Persian Jews suffered a dhimmi status of impoverishment and degradation, were considered ‘unclean’ (najas) by Shia Islam, confined to ghettoes and subject to forced conversions, such as occurred in the 19th century to the Jews of Mashad.

It is an astonishing phenomenon that western journalists leave their critical faculties at the door when they write about the treatment of minorities by autocratic regimes. 

Independent readers will remain blissfully ignorant that the Jews of Iran are both instruments of regime propaganda and  vulnerable hostages to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Gullible Western journalists are no better than puppets in a Purim spiel.  Here the spiel is the Iranian regime’s Public Relations campaign, paving the way for western tourism and trade.

Read article in full

Boys arrested for Purim prank

The festival of Purim celebrates the defeat of the wicked Haman, who planned to massacre the Jews of Iran. The Jewish Press reports:

 Jews praying in Iran

While there’s no problem in Iran to yell out “Death to America” or “Death to Israel”, don’t you dare paint graffiti on a wall saying, “Death to Haman”.

 Two 17-year-old Jewish boys have been arrested in Tehran, the Iranian capital, for writing that message on a building’s wall as part of a Purim prank, according to Maariv. 

Iranian police have been informed that the act was not a political one and simply connected to the upcoming holiday. The police said the would release the boys, but haven’t done so yet.

Read article in full

Friday, March 18, 2016

Kuwaiti singer opens Sephardic festival

With thanks: Lisette 

Medley of songs by Ema Shah reflecting the multilingual backgrounds of Sephardi Jews. Her songs ranged from compositions by Enrico Macias to Arabic songs and Hava Nagila in French and Hebrew.

The Kuwaiti singer Ema Shah serenaded the audience at the opening night of the American Sephardi Federation's 19th New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival.

Ema Shah, who shocked people in 2010 by singing Hava Nagila, speaks for many Arabs when she says that she doesn't care about the Israel- Palestine conflict. Ema Shah is a superstar in Kuwait and the Arab world.

Known for her singing and her musical style, which blends pop and classical influences, she is also a pioneer for women in the region, choosing to dress as she wishes--not just on stage but in everyday life as well.

Lately, Shah--is trying to break a political taboo by reaching out to Jewish musicians--defying cultural hostility to Israel, hoping she can help cultivate peace. The 34-year-old Shah's interest in Hebrew dates to 2010, when she caused an international controversy by singing the familiar Jewish folk song, "Hava Nagila," at a nightclub as part of a performance involving multiple languages.

The New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival runs from March 10th to 17th 2016 at the Center for Jewish History in New York City (15 West 16th Street).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Newfound engravings highlight Arabia's pre-Islamic roots

In 2014, researchers from a French-Saudi expedition studying rock inscriptions in southern Saudi Arabia announced they had discovered what could be the oldest texts written in the Arabic alphabet. But they did so very quietly, perhaps because the context of the texts is something of an embarrassment: the Christian and Jewish roots of pre-Islamic Arabia. Ariel David writes in Haaretz :(with thanks: Lily)

The dozen or so engravings had been carved into the soft sandstone of the mountain passes around Bir Hima – a site about 100 kilometers north of the city of Najran, which over millennia has been plastered with thousands of inscriptions by passing travelers and officials. Conveniently, at least two of the early Arabic petroglyphs that were discovered cited dates in an ancient calendar, and expert epigraphists quickly calculated that the oldest one corresponded to the year 469 or 470 CE.
Similar engravings found in Wadi Rum, Jordan, indicate a pre-Arabic script

The discovery was sensational: the earliest ancient inscriptions using this pre-Islamic stage of Arabic script had been dated at least half a century later, and had all been found in Syria, which had suggested that the alphabet used to write the Koran had been developed far from the birthplace of Islam and its prophet.

Yet the announcement of the discovery was subdued. A few outlets in the French and Arab media tersely summarized the news, hailing the text as the “missing link” between Arabic and the earlier alphabets used previously in the region, such as Nabatean. Most of the articles were accompanied by stock photos of archaeological sites or other ancient inscriptions: it is almost impossible to find a picture of the inscription online or a reference to the actual content of the text.

Only by delving into the 100-page-long report of that archaeological season published in December by France’s Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres – which supports the study – is it possible to see the find and learn more about it.

According to the report, the Arabic text, scrawled on a large rectangular stone, is simply of a name,  “Thawban (son of) Malik,” followed by the date.

Underwhelming? Well, there is the matter of the large, unmistakably Christian cross that decorates the head of this inscription. The same cross systematically appears on the other similar stelae dating more or less to the same period.

Behind the low-key announcement of the find, one can almost sense the mixed feelings of Saudi officials faced with an important discovery for their heritage, which, however, seems to connect the origins of the alphabet used to pen their sacred book to a Christian context, some 150 years before the rise of Islam.

Further consternation may have arisen when realizing that these texts are not only the legacy of a once-numerous Christian community, but are also linked to the story of an ancient Jewish kingdom that once ruled over much of what is today Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

While the Koran and later Muslim tradition make no bones about the presence of Jewish and Christian communities across the peninsula in Mohammed’s day, the general picture that is painted of pre-Islamic Arabia is one of chaos and anarchy. The region is described as being dominated by jahilliyah – ignorance – lawlessness, illiteracy and barbaric pagan cults.

The decades immediately before the start of the Islamic calendar (marked by Mohammed’s “hijra” – migration – from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE) were marked by a weakening of societies and centralized states in Europe and the Middle East, partly due to a plague pandemic and the incessant  warfare between the Byzantine and Persian empires.

The bleak representation of pre-Islamic Arabia was less an accurate description, it seems, than a literary metaphor to emphasize the unifying and enlightening power of Mohammed’s message.

Reexamination of works by Muslim and Christian chroniclers in recent years, as well as finds like the one in Saudi Arabia, are producing a much more elaborate picture, leading scholars to rediscover the rich and complex history of the region before the rise of Islam.

One of the key, but often forgotten, players in Arabia at the time was the kingdom of Himyar.

Established around the 2nd century CE, by the 4th century it had become a regional power. Headquartered in what is today Yemen, Himyar had conquered neighboring states, including the ancient kingdom of Sheba (whose legendary queen features in a biblical meeting with Solomon).

In a recent article titled “What kind of Judaism in Arabia?” Christian Robin, a French epigraphist and historian who also leads the expedition at Bir Hima, says most scholars now agree that, around 380 CE, the elites of the kingdom of Himyar converted to some form of Judaism.

The Himyarite rulers may have seen in Judaism a potential unifying force for their new, culturally diverse empire, and an identity to rally resistance against creeping encroachment by the Byzantine and Ethiopian Christians, as well as the Zoroastrian empire of Persia.

It is unclear how much of the population converted, but what is sure is that in the Himyarite capital of Zafar (south of Sana’a), references to pagan gods largely disappear from royal inscriptions and texts on public buildings, and are replaced by writings that refer to a single deity.

Using mostly the local Sabean language (and in some rare cases Hebrew), this god is alternatively described as Rahmanan – the Merciful – the “Lord of the Heavens and Earth,” the “God of Israel” and “Lord of the Jews.” Prayers invoke his blessings on the “people of Israel” and those invocations often end with shalom and amen.

For the next century and a half, the Himyarite kingdom expanded its influence into central Arabia, the Persian Gulf area and the Hijaz (the region of Mecca and Medina), as attested by royal inscriptions of its kings that have been found not only at Bir Hima, just north of Yemen, but also near what is today the Saudi capital of Riyadh. (....)

The growing outside pressures ultimately took their toll on Himyar. Sometime around the year 500, it fell to Christian invaders from the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum.

In a last bid for independence, in 522, a Jewish Himyarite leader, Yusuf As'ar Yath'ar, rebelled against the puppet ruler enthroned by the negus and put the Aksumite garrison to the sword. He then besieged Najran, which had refused to provide him with troops, and massacred part of its Christian population – a martyrdom that sparked outrage amongst Yusuf’s enemies and hastened retribution from Ethiopia.

In 2014, the French-Saudi expedition at Bir Hima discovered an inscription recording Yusuf’s passage there after the Najran massacre as he marched north with 12,000 men into the Arabian desert to reclaim the rest of his kingdom. After that, we lose track of him, but Christian chroniclers recorded that around 525 the Ethiopians caught up with the rebel leader and defeated him.

According to different traditions, the last Jewish king of Arabia was either killed in battle, or committed suicide by riding with his horse into the Red Sea.

For the next century, Himyar was a Christian kingdom that continued to dominate Arabia. In the middle of the sixth century, one of its rulers, Abraha, marched through Bir Hima, leaving on the stones a depiction of the African elephant that led his mighty army. A later inscription, dated 552 and found in central Arabia, records the many locations he conquered, including Yathrib, the desert oasis that just 70 years later would become known as Madinat al-Nabi (the City of the Prophet) – or, more simply, Medina.

Were they ‘real’ Jews?

One big question that remains about the Jews of Himyar is what kind of Judaism they practiced. Did they observe the Sabbath? Or the rules of kashrut?

Some scholars, like the 19th century Jewish-French orientalist Joseph Haley, refused to believe that a Jewish king could persecute and massacre his Christian subjects, and dismissed the Himyarites as belonging to one of the many sects in which Christianity was divided in its early days.

Robin, the French epigraphist, writes in his article that the official religion of Himyar may be described as “Judeo-monotheism” – “a minimalist variety of Judaism” that followed some of the religion’s basic principles.

The fact is that the few inscriptions found so far, along with the writings of later chroniclers, who may have been biased against the Himyarites, do not allow scholars to form a clear picture of the kingdom’s spirituality.

But there is another way to look at the question.

Through Christian and Muslim rule, Jews continued to be a strong presence in the Arabian Peninsula. This is clear not only from Mohammed’s (often conflictual) dealings with them, but also from the influence that Judaism had on the new religion’s rituals and prohibitions (daily prayers, circumcision, ritual purity, pilgrimage, charity, ban on images and eating pork).

In Yemen, the heartland of the Himyarites, the Jewish community endured through centuries of persecution, until 1949-1950, when almost all its remaining members – around 50,000 – were airlifted to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. And while they maintain some unique rituals and traditions, which set them apart from Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, no one would doubt that they are indeed, the last, very much Jewish descendants of the lost kingdom of Himyar.

Read article in full (subscription required)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

'We (Egyptians) were all hugging'

 Isaac Cohen and Ahmed Meligy (in the red shirt) at the Adly St synagogue (photos: A Meligy)

 Two Egyptians came together this week in a Cairo synagogue - one a Muslim peace activist, the other a Jew who was visiting his native city from the US after many decades.

 It was not easy for the two to gain access to the Art Deco synagogue, 'Shaar Hashamayim' (Heaven's Gate) in Cairo's Adly Street.

Peace activist Ahmed Meligy wrote this Facebook entry on 11 March: " The most emotional moments in Isaac Cohen's life and for me as Ahmed Meligy (were) to not give up on knocking on Heaven's Doors to get the permit to gain access to the Egyptian Synagogue today. Trust me, wasn't easy but our God made it happen so my fellow Egyptian Jew could sit and pray on his bench that he used to sit on when he was a child back in the 1940s.  And I prayed and lit the candles for our beloved as a Muslim as usual." 

Isaac, who lives in Chicago, Illinois, toured his childhood haunts over three days with Ahmed, including his old apartment building and school. He had this to say:

" The Egyptian youth is just amazing. Yesterday in the Khan Khalil bazaar in Cairo I barged into a group of young student girls, all wearing scarves on their head, identified myself as a Jew, probably the first they had ever seen,  and you should have seen in their eyes the sorrow while hearing the story of my family and Egyptian Jews being thrown out of here, expropriated from their own country. And also their joy of agreeing to take a picture with me. And, yes, we were all hugging. With their scarves and all.... Ultra orthodox Jewish women would not touch me with a ten-foot pole. They are the future of Egypt."

Struma commemoration masks alarming antisemitism

Turkey has just commemorated the Struma disaster, a tragic episode 74 years ago when a boatload of Holocaust survivors was sunk, violating Turkey's wartime neutrality. It is the second time the victims have been officially remembered and is seemingly part of Turkey's recent charm offensive towards the Jewish community and Israel. But anti-Semitism in Turkey has reached frightening levels of  intensity, writes Burak Bekdil of the Gatestone Institute.
Turkey's sinking of the Struma claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews fleeing the Holocaust

Until this year Turkey, one of the main culprits, had only once commemorated the victims. This year, official Turkey decided, should be the second time. A wreath and carnations were hurled at the sea in the shadow of the horrible event that took place decades ago.

At the commemoration ceremony at Sarayburnu harbor on the Bosporus were the head of Turkey's Jewish community, Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and Istanbul's governor, Vasip Sahin. In his speech, Sahin said: "We observe that the necessary lessons were not drawn from such tragedies." He was right, at least from a Turkish point of view.

When it comes to diplomatic conflict between Turkey and Israel or Turkish anti-Semitism, there is always an unusual optimism in the official language chosen by Israeli officials or Jewish community leaders.

For instance, Ibrahimzadeh praised "recent steps by the Turkish state to mend history with the Jewish community." Echoing the same optimism, chairman Stephen Greenberg and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, assured that Turkey's small (less than 17,000-strong) Jewish community feels "safe and secure" despite being placed in the middle of a political feud between Turkey and Israel -- sparked first in 2009 by then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's clash with former Israeli President Shimon Peres at a World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Such optimism in official narratives is normal, especially because Ankara and Jerusalem have been privately negotiating a deal to end their hostilities and normalize their diplomatic relations. Non-constructive, let alone explosive, speeches from any state or non-state actor will not help diplomats from either side in their efforts to reconcile. All the same, facts on the ground are a little bit different than the rosy picture.

If Turkish Jews are "safe and secure" in Turkey, why do they feel compelled to protect their schools and synagogues with heavy security? Why do most synagogues in Istanbul look almost like a U.S. embassy in Baghdad or Islamabad?

On Jan. 20, 2016, a Turkish synagogue in an old Jewish neighborhood in Istanbul was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti days after holding its first prayer service in 65 years. Vandals painted the external walls of the Istipol Synagogue with the script: "Terrorist Israel, there is Allah."

"Writing anti-Israel speech on the wall [outside] of a synagogue is an act of anti-Semitism," said Ivo Molinas, editor-in-chief of Turkish Jewish newspaper, Şalom. "Widespread anti-Semitism in Turkey gets in the way of celebrating the richness of cultural diversity in this country.

Read article in full

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mizrahi Jews 'intersect' with a far-left agenda

It has been argued that 'intersectionality', that voguish concept bandied about on US campuses - applies to all 'oppressed' groups except Jews. Not so, says Sigal Samuel in the Forward, producing evidence that Mizrahi Jewish intellectuals saw their fate bound up with Arabs since the 1950s, an argument popular on the radical anti-Zionist left. The comments I have selected below this extract do a good job of rebutting Samuel's assertions (with thanks: Amie):

Ma'abara residents in the 1950s

"If you’ve been tuned in to the Israel-Palestine conversation over the past few months, you’ve probably heard the word “intersectionality.” The idea that different forms of oppression are linked — so that standing up for victims of sexism and homophobia should also mean that we stand up for, say, victims of Israeli state violence — has touched off a frenzy in the Jewish media.

"But whether you listen to those supporting or to those opposing the idea that Jews must stand in solidarity with Palestinians because our liberation is intrinsically tied to theirs, you’ll find that almost everyone is talking about this idea as if it’s a new development.

"Which is strange, because it’s not. And it’s only because of Jews’ fixation on a mainstream Ashkenazi-centric history that we’ve managed to forget how far back this idea goes among Mizrahim, Jews from Arab lands.

"They weren’t using the term “intersectionality” back then, of course — that was coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. But Mizrahim were developing a robust intersectional politics and culture way back in the early 1950s, soon after the State of Israel was created. As they struggled in ma’abarot, transit camps, many Mizrahi intellectuals and artists saw their fate as inextricably bound up with the fate of the indigenous Arabs, with whom they shared not only cultural markers like the Arabic language, but also the experience of severe discrimination at the hands of the Israeli government."

Read article in full

Here are three comments from the thread: 

This is insanity. First of all, intersectionality itself is an inherently flawed concept, as it would have people put aside the specific, legitimate interests of their community for some broader left-wing goal.
Secondly, Samuel is being hugely disrespectful to the millions of Mizrahi Jews today who feel absolutely no sense of identification with "Palestinians". These people do not suffer from false consciousness - they are instead wisely able to differentiate between right and wrong, democracy and terrorism.
Fortunately there will continue to be a flowering of Mizrahi culture in Israel without any of the political gobbledygook that Samuel recommends. After all, German Jews in the US and Israel could appreciate Goethe and Beethoven without celebrating the Nazis.

One of the intellectuals quoted in the article tells us that Israel has to acknowledge that it is an oriental country in order to have a constructive encounter with the Arabs. I would have expected that the author would protest the demand that Israel adopt a particular collective identity. After all, she repeats the supposed demand that in order to be a good Jew one must shed "any aspect of Arabness". Our author, so it seems, has a very selective sensitivity. Israel has a right to be herself, and she has the right to expect others to accept her as she is. Moreover, the time has come to try and come to terms with the reality of conflict. It's really silly to think that this is a conflict between a "European" society and an oriental society. Such a view is merely an expression of animosity to Ashkenazim. The Arabs reject the Jewish claim that Palestine is their ancient homeland, and this Arab rejection includes all the Jews.

The Jews from the Arabic-speaking world did not have an Arab identity. There are a number of anti-Zionist intellectuals who claim that they are "Arab Jews", but their ideological fervor is not a reflection of the sociological reality. The Jews in the Arab world were not Arabs - not in their own eyes, and not in the eyes of the Arabs. Their peoplehood identity is Jewish.

Finally, it is important to point out to our author that animosity towards Ashkenazim is also a very improper trait. It's in the same nasty category as all the other prejudices.

Intersectionality-- the reason that Mizrahi Jews who, in 1948, were stripped of their possessions, deprived of their (second class) citizenship in Arab countries, and thrown out of their homes to find new lives in the fledgling Jewish state should now be feeling warmth and kinship for the Palestinians who would cheerfully murder them, and antipathy towards their fellow Israeli Jews. Makes about as much sense as most of what Sigal writes!

More about Sigal Samuel

Monday, March 14, 2016

Livni compares Palestinian to Jewish refugees

 This statement by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni marks a break with her reluctance to even mention Jewish refugees when she was in office. From the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily):

 MK Tzipi Livni chatting with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev at the Global Baku Forum in Azerbaijan 

Europe should see the Palestinian refugees as an example of what not to do in its current refugee crisis, MK Tzipi Livni said at the Global Baku Forum in Azerbaijan on Friday.

Speaking at the international conference on security matters, Livni (Zionist Union) compared the absorption of Jewish refugees from Arab states to the situation of Palestinian refugees, saying that the latter are “used as bargaining chips” by their own leaders.

“Refugee status is inherited, and the issue makes it difficult to solve the conflict. They’re waiting for a solution that will never be,” she stated.

The world can only learn from Palestinian refugees how to create a problem, Livni added, emphasizing that they are the only refugee population in the world in which the status is conferred to later generations.

Read article in full 

MK calls Livni to account 

Livni the latest to forget Jewish refugees

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Education minister learns from Biton committee

 Education Minister Naphtali Bennett learned something new when he expressed surprise at the extent of displacement and persecution  Jews from Arab countries had suffered. He was taking part in the first session of the Biton committee convened last week. The Committee was set up to advise how the history and culture of Jews from Arab countries might be introduced into the Israeli school curriculum.

The photo shows Levana Zamir in the foreground at the opening session, with (L-R): Prof. Maman, Zahava Shemesh (coordinator) Michal Cohen, Director General of Ministry of Education, Minister Naftali Bennett and Erez Biton.

During the opening session of the Biton committee, titled :"One People: that is what it is all about" (Am Ehad: zeh kol ha sipur ) most of the topics centered around literature, poetry and heritage. However, Mrs Levana Zamir, chairman of the Israeli umbrella organsiation representing Jews from Arab and Muslim countries,  said: " it is important of course to renew  books on culture, poetry, Zionism and the Golden Age of Jews in Arab countries, but it is equally important to introduce in the new textbooks the "tragedy" of Jews from Arab countries, the expulsions, persecutions, the forced departure, the escapes, the loss of properties and identity, etc."

 Minister Bennett answered:  "I did not know it was such a mass expulsion and that there was such persecution in Egypt and other Arab countries." The Minister noted in his working paper that all this will be clearly included in the new programs.
The committee, chaired by the Algerian-born poet Erez Biton, is aiming to submit within three months to the Minister of Education a program on how to implement the history and culture of Jews from Arab countries in the educational system. 

The Biton Comittee is a public committee of seven members, which will provide advice on various issues and brainstorm new ideas. 

Erez Biton - head of the committee, will expand the Israeli TV series 'Amoud Ha'esh' (Pillar of Fire).'  These 19 TV chapters on the rebirth and creation of the State of Israel from 1896 to May 1948 did not include a single chapter about the heritage,  role and tragedy of the Jews from Arab countries. Biton will introduce new chapters on the Jews of Arab lands, and will initiate new TV productions to expose their cultural, spiritual, and historical richness.

Professor Aharon Maman is responsible for History. Dr. Yehuda Mimran heads the Philosophy Committee, Dr. Alfasi the Literature Committee, Dina Drory poetry, Prof. Moshe Amar heads the Academic and Research committee. Ms. Zehava Shemesh is the coordinator of the whole Biton Committee.

Also present were two Mizrahi singers: Etty Ankri (Morocco) and Kobi Oz (Tunisia). They did not perform, but explained the importance of introducing Mizrahi heritage in Israeli music 

Is a Mizrahi curriculum boost doomed to fail