Thursday, June 30, 2016

Jews reach out to Muslims for Ramadan (updated)

Update: Not all Jews reaching out to Muslims have been welcomed: Israelis driving to Ramallah for an Iftar meal were greeted with rocks and firebombs, then ejected by the Palestinian Police.

Jews  have been reaching out to their Muslim neighbours during the month of Ramadan, taking part in Iftar (the evening meal concluding a day's fasting) and visiting them. In Morocco, Jews, Christians and Muslims have been distributing food to needy families, reports.

 Chabad distributing food in Morocco

A total of 1, 500 boxes of food, worth approximately $60,000, were delivered to 8,000 Muslim families in three cities. The care packages contained traditional staples — such as tea, dates, lentils and chickpeas — for breaking the Ramadan fast each evening.

The endeavor was organized by the non-profit organization International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), in partnership with the Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco and the Mimouna Association, a local group of Moroccan Muslim students who work to create ties between Jews and Muslims.

“We are privileged to help support Moroccans in need celebrate the holy month of Ramadan,” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of IFCJ, said in a statement. “This inspiring joint initiative serves as a shining model of bridge-building between Christians, Jews and Muslims, and shows that the world’s faith communities can unite around shared values to make a difference for good.”

 Edwin Shuker (centre, in the dark suit and blue tie), a member of the British Board of Deputies, at an Iftar celebration in Kurdistan.

Jews visit Arabs for Ramadan 

Turkey's Jews host Ramadan iftar

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Benjews protest non-recognition by Israel

This DW article by Judith Neurink casts a spotlight on the 'failed' aliya of  Kurds of Jewish descent in the 1990s. Almost all of these 'Benjews' - most likely descended from Jewish women abducted or forced into marriages with Muslims - returned to Kurdistan. Although the Israeli Law of Return allows an individual with one Jewish grandparent to become a citizen, the status of people who 'feel Jewish' or whose Jewishness goes through the male line remains ambiguous. It puts them in the category of Spanish marranos, Ethiopian Falashmura and other 'lost tribes'.

 The Kurdish directorate for Jewish affairs has been holding memorial ceremonies to attract the sympathy and support of diaspora Jews

"Israel should accept us," says Sherko Sami Rachamim, a Kurd with Jewish roots, who lives and works in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. For years he has been wanting to settle down with his family in Israel, "but the Israelis closed their doors."

He says that many Jews who converted to Islam like him feel the same. Rachamim is one of thousands of so-called Benjews in Iraqi Kurdistan, whose grandparents converted during the persecution of Jews before and after the founding of the state of Israel. In the 1950s, two thirds of the around 150,000 Jews living in Iraq fled to Israel or elsewhere. Others converted or left during the 1970s when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein resumed the persecution.

Although some of the converted Jews became devout Muslims, many are Muslim in name only. Like Rachamim, who shrugs when asked about his faith. "I am not interested in Islam." His wife does not wear a scarf, he did not educate his three children according to Islam either, because he feels Jewish.

"People in [the town of] Koya know me for my criticism about Islam; sometimes friends tell me to shut up for my own safety," he smiles, as if it is a joke. "I consider religion a private thing."

After the Kurdish region gained de facto autonomy from Saddam in 1991, Israel organized two secret operations to evacuate Jews - and children of converts - from Kurdistan. Rachamim's parents were airlifted in one of them.

Their sons visited them in Israel, but found out later that they were not allowed to join them. After 10 months their parents returned to Kurdistan. Even though Rachamim had sold his house in order to move to Israel, he was not accepted. "Because my grandfather and father were Jewish they do not accept us," he told DW. Rachamim finds it hard to swallow that Israel only accepts heritage through the mother's line. His wife's Jewish bloodline also goes through the male line of her father, whose mother converted.

Read article in full 

Israeli expert denies there are Jews in Kurdistan

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Forward seeks to politicise Yemenite band

 Should Mizrahi Jews, like Israel's  highly-successful A-wa Yemenite music trio, become cultural ambassadors to the Arab world? Maybe not, says Leeron Houry in The Forward - but they should become more politically-engaged if they want a real 'Mizrahi revival'. Begging the question whether Mizrahi culture in Israel needs a revival, this is another article trying to portray Mizrahim as a bridge to the Arab world, without regard for their painful history there.

(...) The recent international attention directed at these bands raises new questions. Media coverage outside Israel tends to envision these Arabic-singing Israeli musicians as a potential bridge between Israeli Jews and the Arab world.

(One article highlighted how “Habibi Galbi” was widely popular in Yemen, a political paradox.) At first, this conclusion seems logical: If more Israelis can appreciate the fact that their heritage is rooted in the Middle East, maybe this can serve as a bridge to understanding how “the Arab is the enemy” has been used not only against Mizrahim, but also against Palestinians.

But what does it really mean to be a singer in Arabic today? Do these musicians have any political responsibility based on the language they choose to sing in? Or is it possible for them to make music in Arabic and then remain relatively separate from the larger conversation about Israel/Palestine?

These questions are complicated because Mizrahi musicians sing in Arabic mostly as a way to return to their heritage. This does not automatically make them cultural ambassadors between Israel and the Arab world — and that seems to be how the media wants to portray them.

Read article in full

Monday, June 27, 2016

The 451st to be dismissed, by Naji Noonoo

Over 30 years Naji Noonoo survived a pogrom, losing his job and assets, imprisonment and persecution in Iraq - in order to escape to Israel. Here is his harrowing story, (via The forgotten Million blog) as translated by Arieh Shamash and Yamin Nounou. (With thanks: Lisette)

The 1950s were very hard years for the Iraqi Jews. The authorities gradually removed all Jews from their positions in government ministries and public companies. 
At the time I was a friend of the management of the trains' authority. I got 
the job by accident. Management was looking for someone fluent in in both Arabic and English. I decided to go for an interview. My skills fitted the job and I was accepted. Because of this, I resigned my previous job as secretary of one of the senior judges at the Justice Ministry. 
At the time, most railroad workers were Jews. Why was the number of Jews working at the Railway so high? In my opinion, there were a number of reasons.
1.          1. Salaries were low 

2.          2.  The job locations were too remote 

3.          3. Railway jobs required people who were knowledgeable in English and Arabic. 
Jews, graduates of the Alliance (AIU)school, were more proficient in these languages than their Arab counterparts. Arabs who were proficient in English did not work for low wages, but filled  more senior positions in government offices. Therefore most of the railway workers were Jews. 

During the 1950s, when they started to fire the Jewish workers, I was called for an urgent meeting with the British Commissioner. As soon as I entered the room, he told me, “Mr. Noonoo, I was instructed by the authorities to immediately fire 450 employees.” 
I replied, "I'll make up the list of employees and you decide which ones." 
"No,” he said, “No need, the Ministry of Justice sent a detailed list of those to be dismissed, you only need to tell them." 
Reading the list, I couldn’t believe my eyes: all those being dismissed were Jews. Not even one Arab name was included in the list. 
"Excuse me, sir," I said, "Please list 451 fired."
The manager looked at me in wonder and asked, "What do you mean?" 

"I am asking to be the 451st person to be dismissed", I said.
The next day I did not return to work in the Railways. My name was published in the paper along with the other 450 dismissals. 
I survived all the tribulations, the pogroms, and the persecution in Iraq, such as the Farhud that took place in 1941. I escaped in 1970 after the Ba’ath Party purged the remaining Jewish community (in the 1960s). 
During the time of the Farhud in 1941, I lived in the Bataween neighborhood in Baghdad. I was not personally impacted by the pogrom. An Arab friend, a lawyer by profession, who was married to a Jewish woman, saved me and many others from the rioters. 
On the second day, after the end of the pogrom, when my brother Naim did not return home, I went looking for him. I wandered through the hospitals, and after a few hours of searching, I found him lying wounded without treatment in the back of the room. He was all bruised from head to toe. No doctor came to him for a whole day and night to treat him. Dozens of Jews were lying there wounded and untreated. When I saw that the doctors ignored him, I immediately took him out of the hospital and brought him home. The hospital director was notorious for his hatred for Jews. Every Jew that was seriously wounded had to be euthanized and did not recover, while the wounded were abandoned to their own fate. 
These horrible days passed without anyone being punished. Also, a lot of Jewish property that was looted and stolen was not returned to the rightful owners. 
The Jewish community had a deep emotional crisis following the horrible massacre and plunder. Community leaders were quick to help the families affected, especially for children left as orphans after their parents’ murder. In the aftermath of the riots, the British entered Baghdad and things returned to the way they were before the Farhud. The peaceful times enabled by British forces that stayed in Baghdad led to economic prosperity. The economic bloom benefited both Jews and Arabs. 

The memories of the events of the pogrom began to fade. 
After I quit the Railway Board, I decided to establish my own business. My friends helped me, and soon thereafter I started a housewares company. Luck shined on me, I accumulated a lot of assets. In addition to good business, my wife inherited from her father 18 plots, each plot being 1⁄2 acre. 
I decided to spend the money to build a mansion in an exclusive area in Baghdad. For this purpose, I even mortgaged the plots that my wife had inherited. The house was more beautiful than anything in the surroundings. I lived there only a short time. The Iraqi authorities had begun their anti­-Jewish policies. Many Jews felt threatened and sought to sell their property, but the religious authority and the national newspapers warned the public to avoid buying the property of Jews, because the property would go to the Arabs soon anyway. These happenings made it impossible to realize the real value of property. As a result, I had trouble selling the house. Also, one local policeman coveted my house and in his capacity threatened every prospective buyer. I finally had to sell the house for such a small amount, I could not even cover the mortgage on some of the plots. I lost my house to the policeman and the lots to the lenders. 
When the mass exodus of the Jews in the 1950s started, I had not made up my mind whether to abandon Iraq. The news and rumours coming back from Jews arriving in Israel were tough: immigrants from Iraq were living in tents under poor conditions. They had no food and no work. They faced hard conditions, and many of them got sick. These rumours increased my hesitation to leave Iraq. As time passed, the window of opportunity to leave Iraq closed to a further Jewish exodus. 
Almost all Iraqi Jews had fled. Only 6,000 Jews remained scattered in several cities. 
As a small and insignificant minority, we lived in constant fear until 1958. That year there was a coup. In place of King Faisal, his prime minister Nuri Said and the regent, General Qasim came to power . The Qasim regime improved the treatment of the Jewish minority. They recruited the Jews to do their work. I also received a blessing, my work prospered, which allowed me to build a new house. The positive attitude of General Qasim towards the Jewish minority enabled us to develop good  relations with our Arab neighbours. 
Unfortunately, General Qasim’s rule ended after another military coup. Qasim was assassinated and replaced by General Al ­ Bahar. The new ruling party did not sympathise with the Jewish community and our movements again were limited. Restrictions reached their peak after the Six Day War in 1967. 
Right after the war I came as usual to the office; police detectives were waiting for me at the entrance. I was asked to accompany them for questioning. I did not know what for and why.
When I got to the police station I was thrown into a cell size of 20 sq.m. There I  met 420 Jewish prisoners, who had arrived along with me. After only a short time in the cells, I was called to stand before a judge. Within minutes, my indictment was read to me: "spying for Israel." The judge asked if I pleaded guilty. 
I refused to plead guilty to this false accusation. As a result, I was thrown back in the cage, along with all the other detainees. 
For three months I stayed in detention, the inter
rogation going on daily. One day a new prisoner was brought to jail, whose name was Albert Judah Noonoo. The man was bruised all over his body, he was dying from all the torture in the basement by the Iraqi secret police. 
A Jewish doctor named Albert Rabie, who was also among the detainees, began to treat him with devotion. Gradually, he began to recover. 
When the interrogators saw that his physical condition was improving, he was executed by hanging. 
The detainees were horribly abused. One of the detainees, Fouad Jacob Shasha, who refused to plead guilty to the charges attributed to him, was hanged on the fan in front of his father by his feet, his hands down. 
As a result of the investigations, harsh detention conditions, news of the executions of Jewish youth, and lack of contact with my family, I lost half my weight. My wife, after four  months of wandering and searching, found the warden, but could not identify me. 

 The memorial in Ramat Gan, Israel, to the Iraqi Jews murdered in the Farhud and executed by the Ba'ath regime

One day, soon after the hanging of nine Jews, guards entered my holding cell, opened the doors, and told us to go. 
We did not understand their intentions: they told us we were really free. Having learned from experience, we feared they were sending us into a hidden trap. Why did they open the prison doors? And if they were really going to free us, why did our families not come to welcome us? We did not know where we were. With grave misgivings, we left the jail and began walking. After walking for hours, we found our way home.
Soon after we were freed, we were taken back to jail. This time, they insisted that each of us find an Arab to provide a financial guarantee that we would not break the law after we were freed. This was not logical at all. I was lucky, I had a Kurdish Arab friend who agreed to vouch for my release. Many were not so lucky and remained in detention. That way I was released a second time from jail. 
For six months, my family and I stayed at home. We  were afraid to leave the house. The general mood in the neighbourhood was that Jewish blood was cheap. 
My wife and my family pressed me to take a chance and escape. I was afraid to do it, but family pressure was strong and made me change my mind. 
I paid a lot of money to smugglers. We  left late at night,  we abandoned our home and all its contents. The brothers of Naim Hayal’eli (who was hanged a year earlier) ran away with us. 
Only a long time afterwards did I find out why we were released from jail on the same day in such an extraordinary and rushed way. It turned out that the hangings of Jews had caused a great shock to world  public opinion. Abba Eban, then Israel's UN representative, heard that there were many other detainees, so he asked for UN intervention. Iraq's representative denied that anybody was detained, and so he agreed to allow a UN representative to come to Iraq to examine Israel’s claims. 
That's why we were released unexpectedly that day. When the UN representative reached the prison, he did not see any detainees. But, as soon as the UN representative left Iraq, we were arrested again. The mechanisms of denial and deception were very familiar to us. 
In addition to the physical and mental suffering I went through in prison, my money of £ 60,000  that I had saved for years after working in Rafidan Bank was confiscated, and my home was seized. 
I came to Israel without anything, penniless and without any assets. I slaved to work hard to rehabilitate myself. At my advanced age, this was not a trivial matter. 

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Friday, June 24, 2016

TV report focuses on Jewish refugees from Arab lands

Thanks to two Israeli activists, World Refugee Week did not pass without a mention of the neglected million Jews driven from Arab countries before and since the creation of Israel.

In a 16-minute report on the i24 News Channel on 23 June, Dr Edy Cohen and Golan Barhoom put the case for the Jewish refugees and the millions they had lost in property and assets.

The two men, orientalists from the organisation Kedem, had  helped organise an event in May to highlight the plight of Jewish refugees called The Jewish Nakba. When the programme presenter, Tal Heinrich, suggested that nakba was somewhat provocative, Golan Barhoom said that word spoke to the Arabs in their own language.

Golan Barhoom (left) and Dr Edy Cohen with presenter Tal Heinrich in the i24 News studio. To see full TV report click here. 

Dr Edy Cohen and Golan Barhoom explained that an era of Arab-Jewish coexistence had come to an end with the rise of Nazism and the rise to power of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Both the Nazis and the Palestinian Arab leader had a common enemy, the Jews.

The US author Edwin Black, who had earlier this year led 75th anniversary commemorations in four cities of the pro-Nazi pogrom known as the Farhud, interjected to explain the background to Arab-Nazi wartime alliance.

The i24 News report featured a clip from the London Commemoration by the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev. Regev said that there had been far too many Arabs who identified with Nazism's aims. To hear Mr Regev's remarks in full click here.

The report ended with an extract from a British film to be released in October 2016: Remember Baghdad: the journey of Iraqi Jews, directed by Fiona Murphy.

Algeria to expropriate Jewish cemeteries

As if the uprooting of its Jews were not enough, the Algerian regime is now embarking on a policy of expropriating Jewish cemeteries, the French-Jewish blog JSS reports (with thanks: Nelly).  

Tombstones at the St Eugene Jewish cemetery, Algiers (Photos: V. Probst Benserenda) 

For the last ten years, and with France's approval, the dead are being exhumed and reburied in mass graves. On 26 May 2016, the French foreign ministry  published an obscure announcement  regarding cemeteries in Algiers, Oran and Annaba that are to be amalgamated.

Families who wish to have the remains of their loved ones transferred to France have six months to do so at their own expense. They must notify the French consul-general in Algiers, Annaba or Oran.

However, JSS points out, applicants will be deterred by having to produce documentary proof of the exact location of their relatives' graves. Most Jews will have left with nothing. They might not even recall which cemeteries their antecedents were buried in. The memory of their parents will be destroyed and their bones stuffed into a mass grave without regard for Jewish laws of burial.

Below is the list of cemeteries slated for destruction. The middle column indicates which cemeteries have been earmarked for 'amalgation' and the column on the right indicates which cemeteries will be grouped together.

The original article gives contact details for the French consul-generals in Algeria. Families can seek general advice by writing to

Read article in full (French)
cimetiere juif cimetierejuif2 cimetierejuif3

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cooking up fantasies about Mizrahi Jews

Jonathan Cook: fantasist

The Nazareth-based, British-born propagandist Jonathan Cook has been spreading the lie that a Palestinian official was barred from entering Israel by the new defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, for ‘trying to open a dialogue’ with Mizrahi Jews. Lyn Julius takes him to task in Jewish News:

In actual fact, 70 Israelis of Mizrahi and Sephardi descent met Mohamed Madani and other Palestinian officials in Ramallah in April with the approval of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

It was Netanyahu’s last-ditch attempt to persuade the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Madani is close, to make peace. Bearing giant images of Baghdad in the 1920s and sweets from Iraq, the Palestinians paid a return visit to the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center Or Yehuda near Tel Aviv: they warned that it could be Israel’s last chance to make peace while Abbas was in power.

Mohamed Madani, Cook alleges, was banned for ‘European colonialist’ reasons. In fact the Israeli government has accused Madani of ‘subversive activity’ and ‘political terror’.

Undeterred, Cook brazenly sets out his ‘European colonialist’ stall.
Using the offensive expression ‘Arab Jews’ Cook alleges that Israel’s Ashkenazi establishment “excluded Jews from Arab countries from their nation-building project.” He pads out his thesis with cherry-picked quotes from Ben Gurion and others denigrating Mizrahi Jews as “a rabble” and “mentally-retarded.”

Cook cooks up the theory that Israel’s European leaders were motivated by a need to prevent ‘Arab Jews’ from making a political alliance with Palestinians. This explains why Israel’s establishment smothered the immigrants with DDT, segregated them from their Palestinian brothers and then tried to disinfect them of their Arabness.

What’s even more clever, is that the Israeli Government managed to make Mizrahi Jews “internalise the self-hatred cultivated for them by the state.” Hence, Mizrahim have been brainwashed to vote for the far-right and scream “death to the Arabs” at football matches. Genius, no?

With impeccable logic, Cook says this Arab-hatred has led to such incidents as the Hebron shooting by a Mizrahi soldier of a Palestinian as he lay wounded.
Cook trots out other hackneyed fantasies, such as “Israel engineered much of the migration of Arab Jews, inducing them with false promises or conducting false-flag operations to foment suspicion of them in their home countries.”

Even in his own writings, Mahmoud Abbas admits that Arab regimes made a ‘fatal’ mistake — causing the Jews to emigrate en masse as a result of discriminatory laws.

Jonathan Cook describes himself as a journalist — but he seems better at writing fiction.

Netanyahu wants closure on vanished Yemenite children

Yemenite immigrants in Israel [Archive]

Documents about the so-called "Yemenite Children Affair" may finally be unsealed after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as many cabinet ministers and MKs, voiced support this week for the release of the minutes from the special state commission set up to investigate the matter two decades ago. Israel Hayom reports: (With thanks: Michelle)

The affair involves the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of hundreds of babies and toddlers of mostly Yemenite immigrants from hospitals in the early years of Israel's statehood. The parents were told their children had died, but never saw a body or received a death certificate. 

"This is an open wound that continues to bleed for those families who were left in the dark, not knowing what happened to their children," Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

He made the comments in a pre-recorded video message to the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee, which held a special hearing on the matter. Netanyahu said that "those families [whose children were unaccounted for] seek the truth and want to know what happened. I believe it is time to find out what happened and to right this wrong. It is beyond me why those documents are sealed, but we will look into this matter and take care of it, with your help."
Netanyahu asked Minister Without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) to spearhead the government's efforts on the matter. 

Likud MK Nurit Koren, who called the hearing, said: "I am of Yemenite descent and this affair tops my list of concerns. The stories of disappearance have been part and parcel of my childhood. As a mother and a grandmother, I can't even imagine what it feels like when a baby is taken from his mother's arms. It is our moral obligation to put an end to this injustice. I will not rest until the truth comes out." 

Habayit Hayehudi MK and committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky said it was "surreal that in a democratic state we have those documents lie in some locked safe as if they were Israel's nuclear secrets." He said he planned to ask the cabinet to unseal all the documents and transcripts involved, and said he believed most of the MKs would join him. 

"If my request is not met, I will introduce legislation that will compel the government to do so," he said. 

Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen said, "I would like to open the archives so that not even a single document is kept under wraps. As MKs, we are duty bound to find the truth." 

Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah said a cousin of his had been hospitalized for hepatitis and had disappeared. 

"The doctors said she died, but when her father asked for a death certificate, he was told, 'Do you think you're in Iraq? Here in Israel we don't issue death certificates for babies,'" Yonah said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Menachem Klein and the invention of the 'Arab Jew'

Biting Jewish Press article by Steve Plaut about the academic Menachem Klein, who is ressucitating the 'Stalinist' myth of peaceful coexistence prior to the creation of Israel. Klein claims that Jews considered themselves 'Arab Jews' and were in the forefront of local national movements. While Jews took part in the Iraqi cultural renaissance or Nahda (and some, like Leon Castro in Egypt, were nationalists) they were, unlike Arab Christians,  not prominent and their nationalism was soon torpedoed by the rampant antisemitism practised by the emerging Arab states.

In recent years Klein (pictured) has devoted his energies to resuscitating the old Stalinist myth about Arab-Jewish euphoria before the rise of Zionism and especially the silly pseudo-history around the notion of the “Arab Jew.” Invented by a small group of Israeli Stalinists led by Tel Aviv University sociologist Yehouda Shenhav, these people claim that Oriental Jews are actually Arabs of the Mosaic persuasion. Never mind the proportion who would slap you silly if they hear you calling them Arabs of any sort. Shenhav has promoted his view that Asian Jews are Arabs in numerous articles and his book, The Arab Jews: Nationality, Religion and Ethnicity, won rave reviews from Arab extremists and from PLO front groups.

Shenhav considers Zionism to be a form of colonialism. Indeed, Shenhav has long argued that Asian Jews and Arabs need to unite to fight Zionism, that old “common cause” of the communist party in Iraq and “Palestine” from the 1920s onward. Asian Jews and Arabs are, in his view, two wings of the same struggle in absolutely everything – except that Shenhav has staunchly opposed the idea of compensation for Asian Jews from Arab countries for their property stolen.

Now years later, Klein tries to steal the anti-Zionist thunder from the Stalinists, but by beating the same old tune. The only difference is that Klein rewrites Jewish-Arab relations based upon the supposed euphoria in “Palestine” before Israel’s creation – not in Iraq – when the local Jews were supposedly Jewish Arabs. This tooth fairy historic revisionism is the focus of his book, ‘Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron.’ It is in effect science fiction focused upon the past.

Countless murders of Jews and pogroms against them notwithstanding, Klein’s proof is that in Hebron in 1929, almost half the Jews there were not massacred by the local Arabs. Klein then argues that not only were pre-Independence relations among Jews and Arabs in “Palestine” idyllic, but that the Jews considered themselves Arabs in all things. Something even Shenhav never claims. The problems only began when “nationalism” made its appearance on the scene, and you will not be disappointed to learn that he does NOT mean Arab nationalism, something presumably Jewish Arabs could embrace and join.

From the toady Haaretz review of his book:
Arab-Jewish identity, writes Klein, did not only develop in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron. “It was a fact of life throughout the Arab world. By the end of the 19th century it was a self-conscious identity in the major cities of the east, such as Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad. In these urban centers Jews took part in the Arab cultural renaissance and local national movements.” …

Yet even then, in the midst of the looming nationalist conflict, the lines remained fluid. Jewish women worked in Jaffa’s cafes and restaurants as waitresses, singers and dancers. Jaffa’s young men flocked to Tel Aviv’s cafes and beaches, wide-eyed at the sight of scantily dressed women, unimaginable in Jaffa itself, and the Hebrew city’s atmosphere of sexual licentiousness. Older Arab men courted middle-aged Jewish women at the Casino Café, on the beach, which offered live music, weekly formal dance nights and a crèche.

Like a Graham Greene novel.

The fatal death blow to the bucolic paradise came in 1948, when those accursed Zionists declared Israeli independence. Clearly Klein, who wants Jerusalem to belong to the “Palestinians,” thinks the solution is for the Jews to go back to being obedient and easily-massacred Jewish Arabs.

Read article in full 

"Arab Jew'? - it's like saying 'Hispanic countryside'

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tunisian Jews move the dead to Israel

A sluggish economy and few opportunities for women, together with security concerns, are persuading the small Jewish community of Tunisia that they have no future there. Even Perez Trabelsi, the Djerba community head, has arranged for the bones of his ancestors to be transported to Israel. Excellent report by Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty:

 Elian Haddad, Djerban jeweller: I'd  move to Israel if business gets worse

Hundreds of Jews who moved away over the past five decades have taken their relatives' remains with them, leaving only these slabs of Hebrew-inscribed marble behind.

"There are bones that are 80, 90 years old. When you lift them up, they can break," said Yossif Sabbagh. The 42-year-old local helps exhume about a dozen bodies each year for transport to Israel, where the majority of Tunisian-born Jews have moved, and where they want their ancestors to move, too.

  The flight of the dead seems to portend a bleak future for the Jews of Djerba, who trace arrival on this island to more than two millennia ago, after the sacking of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C. More Jews arrived after the Spanish Inquisition and from Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.

They were once the traditional, observant branch of a vibrant Jewish community that numbered 100,000 across Tunisia. But the 1,100 Jews in Djerba are nearly all that are left after most others fled persecution between the 1940s and '60s.

Those who remained have been rewarded with new growth thanks in part to an emphasis on large families and patriarchal values. But the community now faces another challenge: Jewish women chafe at their restrictions and men suffer from the battered Tunisian economy.

Moving to Israel, where as Jews they are entitled to automatic citizenship, could resolve both issues but could also bring an end to one of the last Jewish societies in the Arab world.

Read article in full 

Reproduced in the Guardian

Monday, June 20, 2016

A refugee video for Refugee Week

 With thanks: Eliyahu

Today, 20 June, is the start of Refugee Week in the UK. In honour of Jewish Refugees from Arab lands, I am posting this video clip by Ambassador (ret) Yoram Ettinger, the 820, 000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Seemingly taking over where ex-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon left off, Ettinger is recording a 'six-minute video seminar' on various Middle Eastern topics.

Our reader Eliyahu has summarised its main points:

1. Unlike the 1948 320,000 Arab refugees, the Jewish refugees did not terrorize their host countries; did not join invading military forces; and did not collaborate with Nazi Germany.

2. The persecution and expulsion of 820,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands exceeded the scope of the Palestinian Arab refugees, and occurred before, during and following the 1948-49 Arab war on Israel.

3. On November 14, 1947, before the war, Egypt’s UN representative, Heykal Pasha warned: “The partitioning of Palestine shall endanger a million Jews in Moslem countries…”

4. On March 1, 1944, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the top Palestinian Arab leader, incited in an Arabic broadcast from Nazi Germany: “Killing the Jews would please God, history and religion.”

5. The persecution of Jews in Arab lands has persisted since the rise of Muhammad who, in 626 AD, beheaded, enslaved and expelled the three leading Jewish tribes of Arabia.

6. The Nazi “Yellow Patch” originated in Arab lands, where Jews – and other “infidels” - were forced to wear a “Yellow Badge of Shame.”

The entire video seminar

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Iraq's absurd lawsuit against Israel

 The call by Iraq's deputy speaker for Israel to be sued for bombing Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor 35 years ago is offensive to the Jewish survivors of persecution in Iraq. It is the Jews who deserve compensation for their dispossession and for the damage, both mental and physcial, Iraq has done to them. Important article by Edy Cohen in Israel Hayom: 

Humam Hamoudi, the Iraqi parliament's first deputy speaker, recently said his country was prepared to sue Israel for reparations for bombing the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. A potential lawsuit is justified, according to Hamoudi, because Israel recently marked the 35th anniversary of the military operation. In other words, the "celebrations" were a public affront to Iraqis and to Hamoudi himself.

Hamoudi's announcement amazes me only because of its timing, which coincides with Israel's recent commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the 1941 Farhud massacre. In that massacre, hundreds of Muslim Iraqis raided Baghdad's Jewish neighborhoods, murdering hundreds of Jews in cold blood and stealing their property. To this day, Farhud survivors essentially suffer from post-trauma. It is important to note that Iraqi Jews arrived in Babylon before Islam did.

The assault on the Jews of Iraq didn't end with Farhud; quite the opposite. From the establishment of the State of Israel and throughout the entire 20th century, Jews in Iraq were targeted. On March 15, 1951, Iraq introduced racist anti-Jewish legislation. The most prominent of these laws called for the national seizure of money and property belonging to thousands of Jews. This law essentially led to the waves of immigration to Israel in the 1950s -- beginning with Operation Ezra and Nehemiah in 1951 and 1952, which airlifted between 120,000 and 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel -- following the Iraqi government's decision to allow Jews to leave the country if they renounced their citizenship and surrendered their property.

During the rule of the Baath Party in 1968 to 1973, the remaining Jews in Iraq were harassed by the authorities, which denied them freedom of movement and seized their property. In 1969, some 50 Iraqi Jews were murdered in the Baghdad hangings and in other incidents, which further accelerated Jewish emigration.
Today, the property left behind by Iraqi Jews upon immigrating to Israel or other countries is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Those Jews came to this barren land as disinherited and downtrodden refugees, struggling tooth and nail to forge lives for themselves out of nothing. The majority of them integrated into society and contributed greatly to the country. Others, having had their wealth and property stolen in Arab lands, remained mired in multi-generational poverty. Hamoudi can choose from among the aforementioned events how to balance out the money he wants from Israel.

Israel needs to sue Iraq for reparations, not just for the Farhud victims and their looted property, but also for the damage caused by Saddam Hussein when he bombarded Tel Aviv with Scud missiles in 1991. In addition, the issue of property belonging to the Jewish communities of Iraq, Egypt and other Arab countries needs to be put on the national agenda, especially as the Saudi peace initiative is currently being discussed.

Read article in full 

 Jews can counterclaim billions for Osirak reactor

Friday, June 17, 2016

The IDF soldier from Casablanca

 Fascinating article in Ynet News about a Jewish IDF soldier whose family still lives in Casablanca. The Moroccans he grew up with and the Arabs he is fighting are not the same, he says. 

 Suddenly the meaning of the mysterious phone calls her husband was receiving over the past few weeks became clear. The family sat around the living room for several hours, listening to IDF stories told by A., who had just come from active operational duty in southern Israel.

A.'s family lives in a third-floor apartment in central Casablanca, Morocco's largest city. Only about 2,000 Jews remain from what was once a large and proud community. A.'s neighborhood, which is near Boulevard D'anfa, one of the city's main boulevards, is marked by shaded streets and well-kept buildings. Their apartment is spacious. The light emanating from beyond the colorful crystal chandeliers highlights photos of the family and of the rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Chaim Pinto. The living room has two seating areas, one old and one Moroccan-styled. The large kitchen has stacks of carrots, potatoes, beets, zucchinis, coriander, and strawberries. The holiday cooking is in progress, and like most Jewish families, A. is using the services of a local young woman who comes in every day. The family members speak French among themselves. A.'s two younger sisters, who are 11 and 15 years old, study at the same Jewish school that A. attended.

The soldier on leave greets his family in Casablanca

It's a warm, happy family, with a special, fun, manner of interaction. A. himself turns out to be a charismatic, generous, clever guy, who admires the IDF. He still doesn't have complete command of Hebrew and his fellow soldiers poke fun at the mistakes he makes. In Israel, he lives with two roommates, both of whom are also lone soldiers. He also sees his girlfriend when he's on leave. His older sister, 25, moved to Israel before A. and earned a master's degree in microbiology. She married a Jewish man who moved to Israel from Martinique, so A. isn't completely alone in the country.

The move to Israel and the IDF enlistment gave A. a chance to go on a new path, after feeling a bit lost. "When I finished school, I didn't really know what to do. I helped my dad with his business a bit, but I'd go to sleep late and get up in the afternoon each day. I was bored, everything I wanted was done for me. When I wanted a glass of cola, I asked the maid. I didn’t give my parents a lot of reasons to be proud before. I wasn't an excelling student, and all I was interested in was soccer. Ever since enlisting, I feel like they're really proud of me."

We go for a walk in the 'medina', the city's ancient market, which consists of a bunch of crowded streets at the city's center, surrounded by a wall. There are lots of souvenir stalls and shops for pottery, carpets, glass and leather at ridiculous prices. Buyers are welcome, even expected, to bargain, and often a deal is forged over cups of sweet tea with lots of mint. During our walk around, A. runs into acquaintances and childhood friends, who excitedly respect the fact that he is an IDF soldier. They converse in French, and A. is not afraid to translate into Hebrew. "In any case, Moroccan Muslims know how to identify who is Jewish or not," A. explained. "One could say that our Jewishness is written on our foreheads."

Indeed, shopkeepers try to tempt us to inspect their wares with greetings of 'shalom' and 'baruch haba' (welcome in Hebrew – ed.). A.'s family say that there are almost no signs of anti-Semitism in Casablanca. The Jews enjoy the protection of King Mohammed VI, the authorities are able, at least for now, to deal with the threat of radical Islam, and Passover prayers at the synagogue were secured by police. Contact between Jews and other Moroccans is, of course, a daily occurrence.

The young Muslim at a shawarma shop is entirely familiar with Jewish dietary customs. Neighbors, family acquaintances, neighborhood business owners are happy to meet A., and it seems that everyone is aware that he has spent the last year and a half in Israel.

He himself is careful to distinguish between the Muslims with whom he grew up and with the enemy he fights as an IDF soldier. "It's not the same," he says emphatically. "I do not hate Arabs. These are people I grew up with, and most Moroccans I know do not care about the Palestinians. But my job is to defend my country against enemies who want to destroy it," he said.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nissim Kazzaz: my vanished father was a hero

  Dr. Nissim Kazzaz gave this witness testimony at the ceremony held on 6 June 2016 in the Knesset to mark the 75th anniversary of the Farhud. The Farhud is the pogrom against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1–2, 1941 during the Festival of Shavuot (Pentecost).  You can see the video of the proceedings here and here. (With thanks: David Kheder Bassoon).

"I am Dr. Nissim Kazzaz. I was born in Iraq in 1930 and made aliya in 1946, with the Halutz movement. I have been married for 52 years and I have three children and nine grandchildren. I served in the Israel army for 29 years and completed my service with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. I studied History of the Middle East and Arabic Language and Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

I lost my father Nahum Yossef Kazzaz, who was murdered on June 1st, 1941 during the pogrom in the Jewish community in Baghdad in which 180 people were murdered and thousands more were injured, raped and robbed.

In May 1941 when the war between Great Britain and Iraq began, things became tough for the Iraqi Jewish community. The community was terrified - facing unjustified arrests, physical assaults and murders. As a result, during this month, Jews attempted to keep a low profile. They did not attend to their shops, did not conduct business, and preferred to stay home at night behind locked doors.

During that month, my father and his partner Meir Khlef were unable to attend their silken and golden thread shop, which they owned at El Kazzazin market. My father was also unable to communicate with the Muslim owners of the stables where he kept his noble horses/ steeds.

On May 31st after Rashid Ali’s pro Nazi government and Haj Amin El Huseini had fled from Iraq, the Iraqi radio announced a ceasefire and the return of the Iraqi regent Amir Abed El Ileah to Iraq. Citizens were asked to go out to welcome him.

The joy amongst the Iraqi Jews was twofold. Not only was the rule of the pro- Nazi and anti-British government was over, that day also happened to be the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Leaders and respected people from the Jewish community, dressed in holiday outfits, went out to welcome the regent. Others went out onto the streets of Baghdad, visiting friends and relatives and attending coffee shops to alleviate the accumulated stress they experienced in the preceding weeks.

On that day, before noon, my father and his business partner, Meir Khlif, went out to visit one of the stables where my father kept his horses. I was 11 years old at that time and I joined my father on this visit. My father partner’s brother, Naim, who was 25 years old at that time, joined us as well.

In the afternoon, after we completed our visit, the four of us took a minibus home. Meir took the seat by the driver, and Naim, his brother, sat on a bench behind him. My father and I took the back seat in the bus.

The minibus made its way along Ghazi Street. Suddenly, when it approached the Bab Ei Sheikh neighborhood, it was blocked by a mob that surrounded the bus. Some of the rioters managed to open the front door of the bus. They approached Meir, who had a very distinct Jewish appearance and attacked him, hitting him with opened fists. His brother, Naim, attempted to protect him by punching them back, but was unable to stop them from pulling his brother off the bus.

Meanwhile, as this was happening, my father, who sat by the rear left window, managed to get off the bus through the window. I watched him as he started to walk towards the other side of the street where it was less crowded. I tried to follow him by getting myself out of the bus through the same window. Half of my body and one leg were already out the window, but before I was able to jump out - the bus driver took off and drove the bus out of the area. I had to stay on the bus with Naim, leaving my father and his partner behind. This was the last time I saw my father.

I believe that my father’s actions were heroic. I am convinced that he got off the bus and walked towards the neighborhood in an attempt to get help to save his partner. I know that he had many acquaintances in that neighborhood since he employed many women who lived there as silk spinners for his silk business.

Unfortunately he was unable to help his partner and he paid for his heroic attempt with his life.

The bus driver dropped Naim and  me at our homes at the Jewish quarter. As we walked home, we noticed that the houses were locked and the streets were empty. There was not a soul outside. We announced the horrible news to our families.
Grief and sadness filled our souls and our lives were forever altered."

Read post in full

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What links the Farhud to Sarona?

Last week, Palestinian Arab terrorists murdered four Israelis at Sarona. Seventy-five years ago on Shavuot, there occurred the Farhud: an armed mob went rampaging through cities in Iraq to kill Jews. What do the two events, 75 years apart, have in common? Lyn Julius blogs at The Times of Israel:

The former German colony of Sarona in Tel Aviv was pro-Nazi

By now, the word ‘Farhud’ will be familiar to many. The term means ‘violent dispossession’ in Arabic. The Farhud‘s victims — loyal and productive Jewish citizens who had been in Iraq for 27 centuries — were murdered, mutilated, decapitated, poisoned, raped. The official death toll is 179, but was probably far higher.

 The event has been termed the ‘Arab Kristallnacht’ because the massacre’s perpetrators were undoubtedly influenced by anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda. During the 1930s the German ambassador to Baghdad Fritz Grobba sought to ferment anti-British activity in Iraq. He spread Nazi propaganda, had Mein Kampf translated into Arabic and had Iraqi officers seduced by blond German secretaries. Although the Farhud was on a tiny scale compared to the catastrophe that befell the Jews of Europe, the intentions behind both were the same: the incitement against the Jews of Iraq stemmed from a Nazi mindset that considered Jews a nefarious fifth column in strategic control of Iraq, and therefore worthy of extermination.

 Much of the blame for the Farhud slaughter of unparalleled brutality has, rightly, fallen on the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. His wartime activities in Berlin as a guest of Hitler are well known. The Mufti was exiled by the British to Iraq in 1939 after they crushed the Arab Revolt in Palestine. For two years the Mufti incited and intrigued to overthrow the pro-British monarchy and government in Iraq. In April 1941 he and four pro-Nazi military officers seized power. The pro-Axis regime, under Rashid Ali Al Ghaylani, was short-lived and its leaders sent into exile just days beforehand, but weeks of intense anti-Semitic incitement had already laid the groundwork for the Farhud.

While the Mufti was a key factor in causing the Farhud, scholars have tended not to pay much attention to the Syrian and Palestinian emigres who were the driving force behind anti-Semitism in Iraq. By the time the Farhud broke out, there were more than 400 families in the country. They exerted an influence far beyond their numbers. They were doctors, teachers and intellectuals who had mainly escaped with the Mufti after 1936 and were to join him in Berlin after 1941.

 But some had been in Iraq since the 1920s. When Emir Faisal arrived in Baghdad to become the British-installed king, his aspirations to rule a pan-Arab kingdom from Damascus thwarted by the French, Syrian nationalists came with him. At their head was the Syrian Sati al-Husri, who became Director General of Education of Iraq and turned it into the “Prussia of Arab nations”. Together with a large contingent of exiles he engaged in vicious anti-Semitism. The Palestinian Darwish al-Miqdadi returned from studying in Germany and became leader of the pro-Nazi youth brigade, the Futuwwa. The Futuwwa went around daubing the houses of Jews with a red khamsa prior to the Farhud in order to indicate to the mob which were the Jewish homes.

 The Palestinian nationalist leaders were in turn much influenced by Nazi Germany. A number, like the Mufti himself, were officers of the Ottoman army, Germany’s ally in WWI. Some had studied in Germany. Propaganda had been spread by the seven German colonies in Eretz Israel and the Schneller school established by the Templars. One German settlement was Sarona, the scene of the murderous terrorist attack on 8 June 2016.

 Herein lies the Sarona connection. When Hitler came to power, a wave of pro-Nazi support swept the German colonies. It is said that a third of all colonists became members of the Nazi party. For seven years, the swastika flag fluttered proudly on the Community House at Sarona. The Templars actively aided the Arab revolt of 1936 and were later deported from Palestine by the British. But their anti-Semitism found fertile ground among Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian terrorists who sprayed bullets at Israelis drinking coffee at Sarona have squared the circle.

 The Farhud could be seen as the first battle in the Mufti’s Palestinian war against Jews, not Zionists. Sarona is only the latest skirmish. Whether they lived then in Baghdad or live now in Tel Aviv, Jews became — and remain — legitimate targets.

Read article in full 

Zionism didn't cause the Farhud, Israel didn't cause Sarona (Ben Dror Yemini)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Edwin Black: the truth about the Farhud

An interview with Edwin Black, the US writer behind the idea of the global commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Farhud, was broadcast on the Israel Broadcasting Authority's English language channel over the festival of Shavuot.

Mr Black told IBA anchorman Eylon Aslan-Levy that the Farhud, a two-day pogrom in June 1941, was carried out, not by Arab fascists, but Arab Nazis who idolised Adolph Hitler and identified with his aim of exterminating Jews wherever they happened to be in the world.It therefore merited to be called the Iraqi-Jewish 'Kristallnacht.'

The Farhud was relatively unknown because European historians and western Holocaust Museums had framed the Nazi extermination of the Jews as a European story.

 When asked why the world was silent about the 800,000 + Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Mr Black said that there had been created two classes of refugee - the privileged 'Arab refugees' and the 'untermenschen' Jewish refugees. In order to achieve peace, the Jewish refugees must obtain justice - but justice is only conditional on recognition.
More about the Farhud commemoration
Envoy calls on Palestinians to condemn pro-Nazism

Tunisia's Djerban Delusion (updated)

Update: (from Elder of Ziyon blog): 

Representatives of the Jewish community in Tunisia are presenting a request to the Truth and Dignity Commission (Instance de Vérité et Dignité) to investigate institutional abuse of Jews in Tunisia from 1955 to 2013.

The filing demands an investigation into "abuses and violations and other illegal acts suffered by the Tunisian citizens, whose only fault is that they are affiliated with the Jewish religion, since independence."

The Commission was set up in 2013 to address these sorts of complaints from citizens.

The complaint lists various examples of abuse suffered by the community, such as losing their citizenship and losing their property.

 Well-meaning westerners perpetuate the myth that all is - and has always been - well with the Jews of Tunisia. But Tunisia's rapid cleansing of its Jews has been a catastrophic failure, argues Lyn Julius in the Huffington Post:

In May this year, 2,000 foreign tourists, accompanied by hundreds of journalists, converged on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The visitors had defied Israeli security warnings in order to take part in the Lag Ba’ Omer pilgrimage to the ancient Al-Ghriba synagogue (pictured).

The Tunisian authorities had taken extraordinary precautions to protect the pilgrims. Armed police were everywhere and a helicopter hovered overhead. The last thing Tunisia could afford was a terrorist attack. Last summer’s atrocity, when Islamist terrorists combed the beach at Sousse picking off sunbathing tourists with machine guns, was uppermost in their minds. And the Al-Ghriba itself had been bombed in 2002, with the loss of two dozen lives, almost all German tourists.
The Al-Ghriba synagogue is a magical place of arching pillars clad in tiles of every shade of blue. Legend has it that the first Jews to settle on Djerba, 2,500 years ago, brought with them a stone from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, now preserved in the synagogue.
One of the modern-day pilgrims was a rabbi from England: Liberal Judaism’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Danny Rich.
As well as visiting Al-Ghriba — the oldest synagogue in Africa — Rabbi Rich met Tunisian government members.
“Jews have lived successfully in Tunisia for centuries and the authorities seem determined to ensure that the ancient Jewish communities in Djerba and Tunis are both safe and able to thrive,” Rabbi Rich told the Jewish Chronicle.
His words must have been music to the Tunisian government’s ears.
Yes, Jews had lived in Tunisia for centuries - indeed there were 105, 000 in 1948. But Tunisia had failed miserably to hang on to its Jewish community - just 1,000 still remain, most in the enclave known as Hara Kbira on Djerba. By anyone’s reckoning, Tunisia’s rapid cleansing of its Jews is a sign of catastrophic failure. Tunisian Jews have been departing in waves over the last 50 years.
The latest wave was in June 1967, following the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours. About 100 Jewish-owned businesses in Tunis were attacked and looted. The Great Synagogue, on the Avenue de la Liberte, was ransacked and set on fire. Rioters called out to “throw the Jews into the sea” and to burn them. Some 13,000 Jews took the hint and fled - many with nothing but a suitcase.
Numbers continued to dwindle and families left Djerba in the wake of the Arab Spring, which broke out in Tunisia in 2011.
But well-meaning westerners such as Rabbi Rich perpetuate the delusion that all is, and always has been, well. Tunisia is desperate to boost its fragile economy and image as a tourist destination, its Number One industry - and Rabbi Rich is all too willing to play the game. The Al-Ghriba pilgrimage is the highlight of the tourist calendar, bringing much-needed tourist dollars to the island of Djerba and filling its hotels.
While in Tunisia Rabbi Rich attended a conference at which the Minister of Culture promised support for a museum of Tunisian Jewry.
Few can argue with that. Except that if numbers continue to decline, the Museum of Tunisian Jewry may end up as nothing more than a forlorn reminder of Hitler’s project to establish the Museum of an Extinct Race.

Read article in full 

Netanya reminds one of Sousse (Harissa - French: with thanks: Michelle)

Monday, June 13, 2016

The rabbi who lived after his death

 The tomb of Rabbi Hai Taieb Lo Met in Tunis

To mark the second day of the festival of Shavuot, here is a story about the great 19th century Tunisian sage, Rabbi Hi Taieb lo Met, abridged from the article on the Harissa website.

Born into a family of rabbis in 1743 (he died in 1837), Rabbi Hai Taieb lo Met  distinguished himself from a young age by his knowledge and intelligence. He was a Talmudic scholar who moved easily into the study of the Zohar.
An only son, Rabbi Hai Taieb lived with his mother and spent long hours studying the Talmud and Kabbala. He used to note his comments on sheets hanging all over his room.
His mother thought that they served no useful purpose,  or perhaps she feared for the mental health of her son and burned them inadvertently. One work was saved: Helev hitim. From then on, however, the rabbi  began drinking heavily (boukha - Tunisian fig brandy).

Tales and legends abound on the miracles and good works accomplished by this rabbi.

 There was a rich merchant in Tunis who used to bring together a minyan (quorum)  to read the "Tikkun Leyl Shavuot". In the morning he would prepare a hearty meal and offered gifts to his guests. The merchant suffered a reversal of fortune and to continue this minhag (custom),  he went off to sell his wife's jewellery. On his way back he met Rabbi Hai Taieb who asked him for money. He could not refuse the rabbi.
On returning home, the merchant met an envoy of the Bey who said: "The Bey wants an  expensive china coffee service  to drink coffee with his ministers. It is impossible to find such a service in the market." 
The Jew went on his way and  met a merchant who said:"in my storeroom I have a coffee service: I do not know what to do with it, take it at any price. "The merchant then returned to the Bey and sold him the coffee service at an exorbitant price. He again  met Rabbi  Taieb who asked him: "what was better, the amount that you gave me, or the one you received from the Bey?" The rabbi blessed him and ever since the merchant became a very wealthy man.

There are many other stories. Why is he called Rabbi Hai Taieb lo Met? 

When the Rabbi died, the  engraver was about to inscribe his tombstone with the words: "Died in the year..."  The rabbi appeared to him in a dream that night and tried to strangle him. "What have I done to you? "the engraver exclaimed." Why  do you write ' Died' on my tombstone?" said the rabbi." Do you not  know that tzaddikim (wise men) are called alive after their death? " Excuse me, said the engraver. "Only if you add the prefix lo -  not dead, said the rabbi." And the rabbi disappeared from his dream. The correction was of course made the next day.
In the Belleville quarter of Paris there is a Tunisian-Jewish synagogue named after Rabbi Hai Taieb lo Met.

Read article in full (French) 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pressure mounts on Turkey's medieval messianics

According to this fascinating Media Line report in The Jerusalem Post,  the rising authoritarianism of Turkey's ruling AKP party, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has left the descendants of the followers of the medieval 'Messiah' Shabetai Zvi, the Donme, increasingly uncomfortable. Although they have been Muslim for centuries, some are, like many Turkish Jews,   applying for Spanish and Portuguese passports. (With thanks: Lily)

 Shabbetai Zvi: proclaimed himself Messiah, then chose conversion to Islam

Following the First World War and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Salonika Dönme, officially considered Muslims, were forced to move to Istanbul in a Christian-Muslim population exchange between Greece and the newly established Turkish republic. They had to leave most of their wealth behind in Salonika and didn’t meld into the young Turkish republic, where they were viewed with suspicion and soon tarnished with scurrilous conspiracy theories. Most of them assimilated into republican society, losing their unique culture, while the few that retained their religion hid their identity from the public. “In this climate, the Dönme were extremely secretive,” Kösemen says. “Years passed, [and] these people either died, forgot their [religious practices], or hid them.”

After much research that eventually became a book, Kösemen realized that on his father’s side, he himself was one of the thousands of Turks who unknowingly have Dönme ancestry. There are still perhaps 2,000 Dönme remaining in Turkey who have maintained their identity and beliefs, though many of their religious practices have evolved with time. Due to rampant discrimination and religious obligations of secrecy, most extant Dönme conceal their identities and don’t speak to outsiders about their communities. However, The Media Line was able to meet two of their members, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Cem is from the more secularist and Judaic Kapancı sect, and Osman is from the more spiritual Karakaş sect. Both are in their forties, and neither speak for the Dönme in any official capacity.

Cem and Osman agreed that, although the Dönme have been victims of discrimination since the early days of the republic, the rise of the currently ruling and ardently Sunni Justice and Development Party (AKP) has made them feel more uncomfortable than ever before.

“With the 2002 election of the AK Party, everything changed,” Osman says. “There’s a new kind of disturbance with this government.”

Cem supported the AKP’s liberal reforms in its early years, but stopped around 2009 due to its authoritarianism and other troubling practices. He says the AKP has tried to socially engineer society in favor of pious Sunni Muslims, and this new model excludes religious minorities and secularists.>

“You have to be one of them in order to be a good citizen,” Cem says. He and other Dönme are trying to gain Spanish or Portuguese citizenship, since their ancestors are Sephardic Jews who fled religious persecution in those countries in the late fifteenth century.

“This is like Plan B [so that] if things go sideways I have another place to go to,” Cem says.

After their Messiah’s death, the Dönme eventually split into three sects, each with quite different beliefs. “The differences between the sects were so visible, so strong, that by the second half of the nineteenth century, there were almost no social connections between them,” says history professor Cengiz Şişman, one of the few Dönme experts in the world and author of a book about them, The Burden of Silence.

Cem goes even further.

“I would call them different religions even,” he says. The two other Dönme sects are largely a mystery to him, keeping their practices secret even from other Dönme sects.

“We didn’t inter-marry; we didn’t believe in the same theology […]; we had different places of worship; we had different neighborhoods we lived in,” Cem explains.

The Dönme developed a unique Kabbalist culture that was partly influenced by Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism. “They borrow some ideas from Sufism, but only so long as it fits into the Jewish mystical framework,” Şişman says.

Cem considers Sabbatai Zevi a kind of reformer, comparing him to Martin Luther and saying that he made Judaism more inclusive to women.

“He kind of spiritualized Judaism,” he says.

Osman says that, at least for the Karakaş, the Sufi-influenced practices aren’t just to blend in with Muslims, but are genuine.

“The important thing about these Dönme Muslim rituals is that they aren’t some sort of fake display. They’re all honest and heartfelt.”

However, Cem says his sect, the Kapancıs, hasn’t been influenced by Islam at all, and is now completely secular.

“We never really considered ourselves true Muslims at any point in history,” he says. “To me, it’s an ethno-cultural identity, not a religious identity.”

The Ottoman Dönme would purposefully break traditional Jewish and Islamic rules, eating non-kosher foods, working on the Sabbath, and breaking the Ramadan fast five minutes early. They developed their own liturgy and beliefs, reading from tiny, easily concealed prayer books, and following a unique religious calendar based upon Jewish and Sabbatean holidays and respecting Muslim ones. The Dönme holidays are more festive than Jewish ones, with no mourning. For instance, even on Tisha B’Av, (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av), a sad commemoration of the destruction of Judaism’s two sacred temples in Jerusalem during which observant Jews fast for 24-hours, is a time of rejoicing for the Dönme since it’s Sabbatai Zevi’s birthday.

“We only have joyous holidays because there’s no reason for having observances of grief after the coming of the Messiah,” Osman explains.

“We’re not so much of a fast people; we’re more of a feast people,” Cem adds.

Read article in full

Turkey's crypto-Jews unsettled by threat to shrine

Friday, June 10, 2016

Commemorating the Farhud at Shavuot

 Here are more articles that have appeared in the news media to mark the 75th anniversary of the Farhud pogrom in Baghdad.

The Israel Project's video on the Farhud.

Ben Cohen writes in JNS:

Every Iraqi Jew has a tale to tell about the Farhud, the two-day pogrom that befell the Jews of Baghdad 75 years ago in June 1941. In the case of my own family, it was a matter of heeding the advice of a Muslim business colleague of my grandfather, who told him that dark days were looming for the Jews, and that he would be wise to get his family out of the country as quickly as possible—which my grandfather did.

Ben Cohen

But my grandfather was part of a fortunate minority. When the Farhud—which means, in Arabic, “violent dispossession”—erupted, there were around 90,000 Jews still living in the Iraqi capital, the main component of a vibrant community descended from the sages who, 27 centuries earlier, had made the land once known as Babylon the intellectual and spiritual center of Judaism.
By the time the violent mob stood down, at the end of the festival of Shavuot, nearly 200 Jews lay dead, with hundreds more wounded, raped, and beaten. Hundreds of homes and businesses were burned to the ground. As the smoke cleared over a scene more familiar in countries like Russia, Poland, and Germany, the Jewish community came to the realization that it had no future in Iraq. Within a decade, almost the entire community had been chased out, joining a total of 850,000 Jews from elsewhere in the Arab world summarily dispossessed from their homes and livelihoods.

That the Farhud is even remembered today is in large part down to a handful of scholars and activists who have committed themselves to publicizing this terrible episode. During the week of the Farhud’s 75th anniversary, some of them—like the American writer Edwin Black and Lyn Julius, the British historian of Middle Eastern Jewry—have been organizing memorial ceremonies in the U.S., the U.K., and especially Israel, which absorbed the great majority of Iraqi-Jewish refugees. I myself was honored to address the memorial ceremony at New York City’s Safra Synagogue, where 27 candles—one for each century of the Jewish presence in Iraq—were lit and then promptly snuffed out, to symbolize the sudden extinction of Iraqi Jewry.

Commemorating the Farhud, and establishing its rightful place as an example of the persecution of the Jews during the Nazi era, has been a difficult task. For several decades after the Second World War, the importance of the Farhud was subsumed by the widely held notion that the Holocaust was something that consumed only European Jews. The truth was that the Nazis had both a direct presence and significant influence across the Arab world. So when, in 1941, the British had suffered a series of blows in southern Europe and North Africa, the time was right for a coup against the pro-British government in Baghdad. The strategic goal of the Nazis was to seize Iraq’s oil fields, thereby providing them with the fuel needed for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

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Lyn Julius writes in Jewish News:
In the lead-up to Shavuot, we have been commemorating a little-known event which occurred 75 years ago. The Nazi-inspired pogrom, the Farhud, sounded the death knell for Iraq’s ancient Jewish community. It heralded the ethnic cleansing of 99 % of Jews from Arab countries.

At a moving ceremony last Thursday attended by 300 people and the Israeli ambassador Mark Regev, eight children lit candles for each of the defunct Jewish communities in Arab countries. Twenty-seven notes were blown on a plaintive shofar to represent the 27 centuries that Jews had lived continuously in Iraq since the Babylonian exile. 

My mother still remembers those fateful two days in June 1941 when her aunt’s terrified Jewish cook pounded the door pleading to be let in: “I was on a bus, and the Muslims were pulling the Jewish passengers out and killing them. I said I was a Christian.”

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Rabbi Jeremy Rosen blogs: (With thanks Michael and Su):

 Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

This week we recall the tragedy of al-Farhud. The pogrom against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1 and 2, 1941. The riots followed the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali. Over 180 Jews were killed and 1,000 raped and injured. Nine hundred Jewish homes were destroyed.

Al-Farhud was just one more example of the way Jews suffered under their hosts. In the Arab Buraq Uprising of 1929 and in the Arab riots from 1936 to 1939, defenseless women, children, and rabbinical students were massacred. Long before a Jewish state. And the anti-Semitic murder, rape, and looting that followed across the Arab world in 1948 only underlined the degree of popular hatred. Were all Arabs and Muslims Jew-haters? Of course not, then or now. But the virus was there and remains, poisoning cultures and religions and reiterating the need for Jewish self-determination. The “Jewish Question” attracts irrationally disproportionate attention and odium today, as much as it did a hundred years ago. But facts, history, can be forgotten, distorted, and twisted. Can we do anything about it?

In Israel’s struggle for independence there were indeed “Jewish terrorists”. Except that they were roundly condemned by all the main Jewish authorities and representatives, not idolized or rewarded. Terrorism rarely succeeds by itself. That was not what drove the British out of Israel. Rather, as with India, Cyprus, and Kenya after the Second World War, Britain lost the means and the morale to maintain its political control militarily. Israel was not an imperialist invasion, but a Jewish liberation movement.

The ongoing conflict is being perpetuated by a refusal to accept reality or to engage in civilized debate. It is not just in the Middle East. It is everywhere. Our world is the world of form, not content. Calm, rational argument and discussion is disregarded in favor of ideological posturing, slogans, and abuse. No longer are universities, or even most of the media, places where one finds unbiased analysis or calm debate. Wherever you turn opposing sides are at each other’s throats.

Democracy, it seems, is only acceptable when you agree with the results. So no debate is possible, because whenever one hears a point of view one does not like, it is dismissed, shouted down, or childish terms of abuse are used to disparage one’s opponent. What hope then is there for civilized debate? Intellectually, we now live in the world of George Orwell’s 1984 doublespeak. Politicians, activists spout nonsensical, contradictory ideas and use the bully pulpit to try to impose politically correct (and incorrect) views on others. Or win elections in America by insulting opponents. We are not dealing with logic.

At the London commemoration on 2 June 2016,  Malcolm Miller sounds the shofar to recall 27 centuries of Jewish life in Babylon (Photo: Bea Lewcowicz)

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How the expulsion of the Jews backfire on Iraq (Edwin Black)

Dr Cohen: Israel is denying Farhud's Nazi roots (Edy Cohen)

Why do people ignore or deny the Farhud? (R. Andrea Zanardo)

The world knows nothing of the ethnic cleansing of Jews (Zvi Gabay)

Speak up about the crimes of Nazi-supporting regimes (Hen Mazzig)