Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Moroccan version of the Kol Nidrei chant

Tonight, Jews all over the world observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The service that begins Yom Kippur is Kol Nidrei.It heralds 25 hours of prayer and fasting to atone for the individual's sins of the past year.

 The congregation chants a solemn prayer of the same name in Aramaic: "All vows, and prohibitions, and oaths, and consecrations, and konams and konasi and any synonymous terms, that we may vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves, •from the previous Day of Atonement until this Day of Atonement and ...• ♦from this Day of Atonement until the [next] Day of Atonement that will come for our benefit.♦ Regarding all of them, we repudiate them. All of them are undone, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, not in force, and not in effect. Our vows are no longer vows, and our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths. "

Rabbis have always pointed out that the dispensation from vows in Kol Nidrei refers only to those an individual voluntarily assumes for himself alone and in which no other persons or their interests are involved. According to Jewish doctrine, the sole purpose of this prayer is to give protection from divine punishment in case of violation of the vow.
This stirring version is sung by Rabbi Eliyahou Elbaz of Meknes, Morocco.  

Wishing all our readers who are observing Yom Kippur חתימה טובה and well over the fast.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tunisia names four streets after prominent Jews

A Tunisian city where Islamist terrorists struck in 2015 has named four streets for local prominent Jews. The municipality of Sousse, a popular tourist resort, has announced that the streets, in the north of the city, memorialise Claude Sitbon, a lawyer (not to be confused with the historian and sociologist of the same name); Daniel Uzan, a physician who died in 1985; Yvonne Bessis, a midwife; and the late Ichoua Ghouila-Houri, a city developer (who donated the Boujaafar park and a building for the disabled), the news site Kapitalis has reported.

 JTA (via The Times of Israel) reminds us that the official promotion of Tunisian Jewish heritage counters a growing current of Islamist antisemitism:

" In 2015, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack in Sousse that killed 38.

"The Tunisian Association for Support to Minorities, or ATSM, which often flags expressions of anti-Semitism, praised the Sousse municipality’s move and called it “important for encouraging multiculturalism.”

"Last year, Tunisia joined several other Arab countries in banning the film “Wonder Woman,” apparently because its lead character is portrayed by the Israeli film star Gal Gadot. The Jewish-French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who is not Israeli, was greeted during a 2014 visit to Tunisia by dozens of Islamists carrying signs calling on “Levy the Zionist” to leave.

"The invitation to a Tunisian festival in July 2017 of the Jewish comedian Michel Boujenah provoked protests in Tunisia that ATSM said were anti-Semitic. Tunisia has several pending bills, introduced by Islamist and secular nationalists, proposing a blanket boycott on Israel and a ban on any Israelis from entering the country."

A potted history of the Jews of Sousse

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The forgotten Palestinian refugees

 Nobody really knows how many Jews were forced to flee areas of Palestine that became Arab in the 1948 war. According to a new book on the subject, the number could be as high as 70,000. David Shayne reports in the Jerusalem Post: 

70 years ago, war ravaged what was, until May 15, 1948, the British-ruled “Palestine Mandate.” As is common in war, many civilians were uprooted. This well-publicized fact is the heart of the Great Debate over the justice or injustice of Israel’s founding. Arguments rage over the number of Palestinian Arab refugees – anywhere from 300,000 to 800,000 – and the causes of their dispossession.

However, a lesser known fact is that between 10% and 20% of “Palestinian” refugees were Jews. Not the 400,000-800,000 Jews who fled or were driven from Arab countries during the same time, but Palestinian Jews – or Israelis, as they were later called.

I first encountered this surprising fact in Benny Morris’s book 1948, where he puts the number of Jewish refugees at 70,000 but provides little discussion as to why the number is so large.

I asked acquaintances whom I consider to be knowledgeable, how many Jewish refugees the war created and all believed only few hundred to a couple of thousand – considering only the most devastating defeats, like the fall of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc.

I wondered whether Prof. Morris, among Israel’s most valuable and important historians, made a mistake in citing such a high number, or perhaps a typo – may be he meant 7,000?

Enter Dr. Nurit Cohen-Levinovsky, a historian with the Rabin Center and author of Jewish Refugees in Israel’s War of Independence (Hebrew). Her book supports Morris’s claim – she estimates closer to 60,000 Jewish refugees – and provides a broad analysis of the causes and scope of that Jewish flight.

Read article in full

Friday, September 14, 2018

Fund allocation reflects Arab-Israeli conflict

StandWithUs video about the conflict's refugees  After 1948, the US invested funds in a mini-Marshall plan for the Middle East. But while Israel spent the money on housing projects and infrastructure to rehabilitate the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, the Arab states allocated it to UNRWA or just kept it for themselves. The 2008 US Congress resolution to recognise the rights of Jewish refugees squares the circle, argues Kobby Barda in Mida.

Yeshayahu (Si) Kennan was the spokesman for the Israeli delegation to the UN during the Marshall Plan. Kennan’s boss, Ambassador Abba Eban, rejected his proposal to demand from the American administration a parallel plan in the Middle East, arguing that the Arabs would use the money they received against Israel. Kennan then joined the American Zionist Council (AZC) and in this framework began to lobby for the implementation of a similar program in the Middle East. At that time there were about 1.6 million refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East – half of them Jews and half Arabs. Kennan’s desire was for the countries to use grants to rehabilitate the refugees in the countries they came to after the war.

Jewish refugees from Yemen arriving in Israel (Wikipedia)
Encouraged by the success of the Marshall Plan in Europe, the Americans sought to rehabilitate the Middle East by the same means. The Truman administration’s support for the establishment of the State of Israel ( contrary to Marshall’s position) created a sense of responsibility among the administration for the consequences of the declaration of independence and the War of Independence.
Against this backdrop, Kennan’s initiative found a sympathetic ear in Congress and the State Department. 164 members of Congress signed a proposal to carry out the initiative, and in response the Arab countries began to exert counter-pressure. Kennan then harnessed leading economists to persuade Congress that aid to Israel was good not only for Israel but also for the United States.
In September 1951, nearly two years after the establishment of UNRWA, Kennan’s efforts bore fruit: Congress approved $160 million in aid to rehabilitate the region: $68 million was granted to Israel, and the rest were distributed between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.

The Story of the Whole Conflict
The manner in which these funds were distributed is one of those specific cases that in miniature, tell the story of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict: The young State of Israel invested these funds, which came several years ahead of reparations from Germany, in housing development and infrastructure, and in the tremendous effort to absorb the Jews who were escaping en-masse from Arab countries. In this way, Israel acted similarly to the European countries’ handling of the American aid funds that came from the Marshall Plan.
On the other hand, the Arab states allowed these funds to be swallowed up within UNRWA’s overall budget, or perhaps just kept it for themselves. Schwartz and Wilf’s book describes the mechanism used by the Arabs against the American administration: they allowed UNRWA to provide humanitarian aid to refugees and agreed in principle to huge projects for infrastructure construction that would advance their countries alongside the rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees. In practice, the Arab governments were dragging their feet and preventing reconstruction from happening. The motive was to leverage the plight of the refugees as a means of delegitimizing the State of Israel. In retrospect, then, it appears that Abba Eban was right in opposing the plan.

The UNRWA monster has become a petri dish in which anomalies have multiplied as far as the treatment of refugees goes: Palestinian refugee status is inherited, UNRWA itself is not working to rehabilitate the refugees but only involved in humanitarian aid, and a large majority of its workers are Palestinians themselves. UNRWA has become a decisive factor in perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather than in solving it.

In April 2008, a month before Israel’s 60th Independence Day, there were first signs of an American awakening: in the face of the “unquestionable rights” of the Palestinians, Congress decided to grant identical rights to the Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries. Congress instructed the president to determine that the rehabilitation of the refugees in their places is the way to solve the problem of the conflict in the Middle East, and the “refugees” refers to people who fled all Middle Eastern countries during the 1948 war.

The Trump administration’s decision to cease funding for UNRWA looks like closing a circle. Time will tell whether the move will succeed, but if this is indeed the case, it can be assumed that this is a significant step towards quelling the end of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Read article in full

For a sweet New Year go straight to Brooklyn

 How better to start off a sweet New Year than with a mouthful of sweet pastries from Mansoura, a Heliopolis (Cairo) pastry shop transplanted to Brooklyn and catering to the palates of Syrian and Egyptian Jews. However, Point of No Return has it on good authority that since Mansoura stopped using samna (buffalo milk) or butter so that desserts could be eaten after meat or chicken meals,  the taste has suffered, but  its ka3aks,  apricot paste rolls with pistachios, rolled konafa with pistachios and Egyptian bassboussa remain second to none. Feature in the New York Times (with thanks: Viviane, Alain):

For nearly six decades, Jews from near and far — especially those of Egyptian and Syrian heritage — as well as gentiles who appreciate a good pistachio treat —have flocked to Mansoura Pastries on Kings Highway. The kosher shop, with its glass counters of chocolate-covered orange peels and date-filled cookies called ma’amoul, is especially popular during the Jewish holidays.
Benjamin Douek, 68, an investment banker, trekked there recently from Scarsdale to pick up shortbread-like graybeh with his wife, Bunny, 66. He has known about the pastry shop since childhood. “Growing up in South Carolina, my father used to talk about Mansoura,” he said, “from the old country,” referring to the bakery’s previous iteration in Cairo.

Ms. Mansoura packs up an order of knafeh, described by one regular customer as “some of the best he’d ever tasted in New York.” (Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times)

At the front counter, Josiane Mansoura, 63, an owner, traced the history of the family business, all the while segmenting rows of glistening baklava. The ancestors of her late husband, Alan, ran a bakery in Aleppo called Mansoura during the 18th and 19th centuries, she said. By 1910, Alan’s grandfather had moved to Cairo and had opened another Mansoura, a bakery-turned-cafe, which would count King Farouk among its clientele.

In the 1950s, as animosity toward Jews grew in Egypt, the family fled to Paris, later settling in Brooklyn in 1961. There they planted their Mansoura flag, yet again. It would soon become a fixture in the burgeoning Sephardic neighborhoods around Ocean Parkway. Today, Ms. Mansoura and her sons Jack, 29, and David, 41, can be found sweating in between a FireMixer and sheet pan racks, shaping and cutting sweets like Turkish delight and basbousa, an orange blossom-tinged semolina cake.

Jack Mansoura delivers an order to a customer’s car in advance of Rosh Hashanah. (Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times)

“We make only what people like,” Ms. Mansoura said. “Rich stuff.”
These flavors were what Aviv Mosovich, 45, sought out when he first moved to Brooklyn from Israel 14 years ago, nostalgic for home.
“She uses the right products,” said Mr. Mosovich, a private chef, about Ms. Mansoura’s handiwork. Retrieving a package of cheese sambousek (small pies) from the wheezing refrigerator, Mr. Mosovich joked, “I don’t say good things for free stuff.”
The shop has customers all over the world. Ms. Mansoura can be found chatting on the phone in some combination of English, Hebrew, French or Arabic, scribbling orders for, say, a wedding in Argentina, or a medical conference in Minnesota.

Read article in full

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cairo community marks Rosh Hashana

 Gentiles will have outnumbered Jews at the Rosh Hashana service at the Adly St synagogue in Cairo this year: seven elderly Jewish ladies comprise the Jewish community, under the leadership of Magda Haroun. Report in Egyptian Streets (with thanks: Viviane):

The ceremony was attended by the head of the Egyptian Jewish community Magda Haroun and members of the community, as well as the Egyptian “Drop of Milk” Association.

According to online magazine Manteqeti, a number of public figures, including Dr. Mohamed Abul-Ghar, writer Amina Shafiq, the writer and novelist Ashraf Ashraf Ashmawi, the French Ambassador to Egypt and the Ambassador of Singapore also attended.

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Why Rachel Shabi's 'alliance of colour' will go nowhere

Well hello again, Rachel Shabi.

Our token Mizrahi Corbynista has been gracing the columns of the Guardian as a  pundit commentating on local politics. But on the question of the antisemitism rampant in the far-left of the UK Labour party, a note of anguish has been creeping into our Shabi's writings.
Rachel Shabi

In response to a Labour centrist MP's charge that Labour is 'institutionally racist', her latest piece acknowledges that antisemitism is a real problem in Jeremy Corbyn's faction. What about anti-Zionism? Is there such a thing as antisemitic anti-Zionism? 'Zionism is both racist and anti-racist', she fence-sits unhelpfully, despite having written a book portraying Mizrahim as victims of Israel's Ashkenazi establishment.

She finds the view common among leftwing ideologues  that Jews are 'white' allies of the Christian West to be wrong. "We are a racialised minority' she protests.  She herself is a Mizrahi Jew of Iraqi origin.

Her answer is to start a Jewish-black-Asian-Muslim alliance that would relaunch Jews as 'people of colour'. This alliance is not based on shared Judeo-Christian values. 'If there is a historic sharing of values it is a Jewish-Muslim one,' she writes.

" Commonly but by no means exclusively used by the far right as a way of excluding Islam, this Judeo-Christian tradition is a surprise to those who recall that the deadly depictions of Jewish people as responsible for killing Christ or drinking the blood of babies came out of Christian Europe. Or that Jews and Muslims enjoyed the centuries-long creative coexistence of a Golden Age in Spain – until Christian armies rolled up and expelled both communities in 1492. Or that Jews living in Arab and Muslim lands did not suffer the regular pogroms and persecutions inflicted upon their co-religionists in Christian Europe during the same period. If there is a historic sharing of values, it is a Muslim-Jewish one." 

Here Shabi indulges in 'dhimmi denial' while trotting out the hoary and simplistic myth of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in medieval Golden Age Spain. The status of Jews in Spain was precarious, and expulsions of Jews by the Muslim fundamentalist Almoravids and Almohades did occur. (Christian armies did not simply 'roll up' in 1492, but the Reconquista had begun centuries earlier. )

Shabi's new alliance 'of colour' will go nowhere unless it admits that   Arabs/Muslims  could be antisemites, oppressors, colonialists and slave-traders. But that would mean taking a stance against the 'politically-correct', anti-western orthodoxy of our times.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Iran sends Rosh Hashana greetings to Jews

Along with Presidents Putin and Erdogan, Iran's Foreign Minister has sent greetings to Jews on the occasion of Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year. Yet Israel and Iran have clashed in Syria. A tweet from Mohammad Javad Zarif was accompanied by photos of Iranian Jews worshipping in a synagogue, underlying the assumption that Judaism is merely a religion.  The Times of Israel reports:

With one designated member of parliament, Iran’s Jewish community is one of three officially recognized religious minorities. Armenian Christians have two designated MPs, while Assyrian-Chaldeans and Zoroastrians have one each.
Still, many Iranian Jews complain they are not treated equally under the law. In July an Iranian court overturned a ban on religious minorities standing in municipal polls.

 Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Zarif’s wishes come after a year of heightened tensions between Jerusalem and Tehran that saw the largest ever direct clash between Israeli and Iranian forces and Israeli agents brazenly steal Iran’s nuclear archive — material that proves, according to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the regime has lied when claiming it has not sought to build a nuclear weapons arsenal and that it intends to resume its pursuit of nuclear weapons when it can.
In May, some 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military bases by Iranian forces from southern Syria with Israeli jets then targeting numerous Iranian-controlled sites across Syria.

The Israeli army said the initial missile barrage was carried out by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Forces. This appeared to be the first time that Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran, which generally operates through proxies.

In response, Israel launched an extensive retaliatory campaign, striking suspected Iranian bases throughout Syria for hours following the initial Iranian bombardment.

Senior Iranian officials have relentlessly encouraged the destruction of Israel, and Iran finances, arms and trains terror groups on Israel’s borders.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also sent Rosh Hahsanah greetings to the Jewish people and agreed to meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon after the holidays.

Read article in full

 Karmel Melamed slams western media who are eager to do Iran's bidding by portraying Iran's Jews as happy and peaceful:

 USA Today's report on Iran's Jews is both inaccurate and irresponsible (Jewish Journal)

Every so often the when the Iranian regime’s public image in the West has taken a hit, the regime’s leadership loves to invite various Western media outlets to Iran in order to parade members of the Jewish community in front of them in an effort to bolster their true negative image as an anti-Semitic repressive regime.  The regime’s Intelligence Ministry has hand-picked leaders of the Jewish community in Iran telling the Western reporters that Iran is a supposed a “safe and peaceful place” for Jews to live in. Unfortunately in the past Western media outlets such as the Guardian in England, the Forward in New York, the New York Times, CNN or NBC News have either been naïve enough to believe and report these lies, or just complicit in spreading them. Again such has been the case with USA Today recently publishing an article claiming the Jews of Iran feel “safe and respected”. As an Iranian Jewish journalist who has been covering Iranian Jewry worldwide for nearly two decades, I feel compelled to expose USA Today’s inaccurate and irresponsible reporting on Iran’s Jews.

Read article in full 

What is interesting here is that Al-Bawaba - an Arab-owned medium based in Jordan - is using the status of the Iranian-Jewish community as a tool to lambast the Iranian regime. 

Are Iranian Jews proud or frightened? (Al Bawaba)

 Given that he has been repeatedly re-elected by Iran’s Jewish community, one should not dismiss Morsadegh’s words outright. But nor can his rosy declarations of Iranian Jewish life be taken for granted. Iranian Jews are largely left in peace by the regime because the government trusts them not to protest. But there is justifiable suspicion that Jews keep quiet not because they don’t have grievances with the regime, but because they know that the consequences of expressing them would be dire. At a time when Israeli-Iranian relations are best described as hateful, it would be all too easy for ruthless parliamentarians to make Persian Jews a target. 

Read article in full

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Morocco's shrines to famous rabbis

Rabbi David Kadoch, an eminent Moroccan rabbi

The period of prayer, introspection and  atonement leading up to Rosh Hashana, which begins tonight, is called Selichot (forgiveness). Here is a clip of a Selichot chant according to the Moroccan tradition. The video is interesting as it criss-crosses the country showing famous rabbis' shrines in Morocco. These are visited by Muslims as well as Jews.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Sephardi recipes for a sweet New Year

 On Sunday Jews celebrate the start of the Rosh Hashana, the 5779th year since 'the creation of the world'. It is tradition to eat sweet foods to herald a happy, healthy and prosperous year.  Sephardi custom can draw on a rich selection of tasty dishes. Here are some suggestions from JIMENA. Wishing all readers who are celebrating Shana tova u'metuka! 



Zucca Sfranta in Forno (Baked Mashed Squash)
Moroccan Butternut Squash Chickpea Soup
Levana Cooks
Pumpkin Borekas
The Boreka Diary
Pastelicos With Meat and Rice Filling
The Boreka Diary
Black Eye Pea Stew imgres
Katherine Romanow for Jewish Women’s Archive
Keftes De Prasa and Keftes de Espinaca, Turkish Leek and Spinach Croquettes
Gilda Angel for The Forward

Main Course

False Mahshi: Layered Swiss Chard, Beets, Rice and Beef
Joan Nathan for New York Times
Moroccan-style lamb shanks
Danino family recipe adapted for Chicago Tribune 
Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts, and Honey
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for Epicurious


Khoresht Fesenjan (Persian Pomegranate Walnut Stew)
My Jerusalem Kitchen
Dried Fruit Couscous. Meat and Poultry Variations
Levana Cooks
Braised Short Rib Mujadara
Alon Shaya for Tasting Table


Chorosht’e Be (Quince Stew)
Reyna Simnegar for Epicurious
Sephardic Jeweled Rosh Hoshanah Rice
May I Have That Recipe?
Prassa Quajado, Leek and Potato Bake
The Boreka Diary
Honeyed Carrots and Roasted Chickpeas with Tahini
Tami Ganeles-Weiser for My Jewish Learning


Travados (Almond-filled, Honey drenched crescents)
Stella’s Cookbook
Apple Tarts with Goat Cheese and Honey
My Jerusalem Kitchen
Persian Saffron Pudding
Tori Avey
Pistachio Biscotti
Boreka Diary
Honey Cake Classic
Sarina’s Sephardic Cuisine

Recipes for breaking the Yom Kippur Fast

Avgolemono (Egg and Lemon Soup), Besce Al’Ebraica (Fish – Italian Jewish Style), Djadja Zetoon (Moroccan Style Lemon Chicken with Olives), Zucca Disfatta (Pumpkin Puree)
Linda Morel for JTA
Meme Suissa’s Moroccan Harira Soup
David Suissa for Jewish Journal
Sephardic Fish in Tomato Sauce (Pescado Helado)
Katherine Romanow for Jewish Women’s Archive

Read article in full

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Jewish refugees 'were lucky to be alive'

Concern over antisemitism in the British Labour party  is leading to some surprising revelations and articles, such as this one in The Times by convert to Judaism Stephen King, whose usual beat is Economics. (With thanks: Lily, Annie, Avril)
Stephen King

My mother-in-law was born in Baghdad to a Jewish mother who had grown up in Egypt. My mother-in-law moved to the British Mandate in Palestine in the early 1930s. My father-in-law was also born in Iraq — in his case, Basra — but spent his formative years at an English school in Mumbai. He then came to England before heading to Israel, where he met and married my mother-in-law. A few years later he returned to England with wife and first child in tow.

The specific reasons behind my mother-in-law’s family’s journey to the Mandate have been lost in the sands of time, but their departure from Iraq was ultimately repeated by thousands upon thousands of other Arab Jews. In the 1920s, the decade in which my in-laws were born, the population of Baghdad was about one-third Jewish. There were, remarkably, well over 800,000 Jews living across the Arab world as a whole.

They upped sticks for a variety of reasons. Some were enthusiastic Zionists. Others were fearful of rising support in the Arab world for Hitler and his henchmen. Many left because local attitudes towards Jews had considerably worsened.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to violent pogroms, partly a response to the growing clash between Arabs and Jews over Palestine. Things became much worse, however, after Israeli independence in 1948, an event that — too often forgotten — led to tragedies on both sides of the conflict: Jewish enclaves all over the Middle East and north Africa, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old, vanished almost overnight. Of the Arab Jews who headed to Israel, many did so as reluctant refugees. The rulers of the lands they had fled had confiscated their possessions. Often, the refugees were lucky to be alive.

My mother-in-law was Iraqi, of Egyptian parentage, but also a Jew, a Palestinian, an Israeli and, finally, an Englishwoman. Born in Baghdad, she’s buried in Bushey, Hertfordshire. In theory, she could have been attacked by European racists for hailing from Iraq; criticised by English nationalists for having a Middle Eastern accent; called out by antisemites because she was Jewish; treated as a second-class citizen by Ashkenazi Jews from Europe who frowned upon Sephardim from Arab lands; and condemned by Palestinian Arabs for being a “settler’’. More than anything else, however, she was a human being, someone who eventually made a home for her family in the UK, a country she loved for its tolerance.

Read article in full(registration required)

Telegraph : 'Jews are only safe because of Israel'

For perhaps the first time in a mainstream British newspaper, the narrative of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who found refuge from persecution and death in the Jewish state, is used as a moral argument against the anti-Zionism of the hard left. Column by Allister Heath in the Telegraph:

I’m a Zionist, dear reader, and I cannot understand how any mainstream politician in Britain today could not be. I find the fact that so many on the extreme Left and at the top of the Labour Party now routinely describe themselves as anti-Zionists to be not just baffling but absolutely horrifying. The implications of their ideology fill me with dread, and the fact that the Labour Party has now adopted, with a key caveat, the international definition of anti-Semitism resolves very little.

 Allister Heath: 'it is horrifying to be anti-Zionist'

Zionism involves accepting a simple proposition: the Jewish people should have their own country in the historic Land of Israel, from where they were expelled all those years ago. Zionism is not a programme for government; it is neither “Left-wing” or “Right-wing”. Apart from agreeing that there should be Jewish national self-determination in a viable, secure homeland in Israel, Zionists disagree on everything else, including on where borders should be drawn. Plenty believe that Palestinians have been very badly treated.

It was one thing to be an anti-Zionist in 1896, when Theodore Herzl published Der Judenstaat, launching the modern Zionist movement; or in 1898, when Emile Zola wrote J’accuse in defence of a Jewish officer set up by the French establishment; or even in 1917, when Lord Balfour issued his declaration officially supporting “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

Israel didn’t exist then, even though tens of thousands of Jewish refugees had already fled to Palestine. Some were even tempted by alternative locations, including Uganda, or by the view that America was the real promised land, despite the fact that Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the Western Wall are to be found in Jerusalem.

In fact, in the early 20th century, many Jews were opposed to Zionism, despite the pogroms and ambient anti-Semitism; the Holocaust proved these anti-Zionists catastrophically wrong but it was, at the time, perfectly legitimate to debate such issues.

But once Israel was created in 1948, following a vote by the UN General Assembly, anti-Zionism became either obsolete or an entirely different, malign proposition. The original debate is over: Israel now exists. Being a Zionist today thus means advocating the survival of Israel, a prosperous country of 8.5 million that has just turned 70. Being an anti-Zionist must therefore entail reversing this, seeking to undermine Israel to such an extent that it ceases, for all intents and purposes, to exist in any recognisable form, with all of the calamitous implications that this implies for its Jewish citizens, given the hostility of most of its Arab neighbours.

To be clear, those who rail endlessly against “the Zionists” aren’t merely demanding a two-state solution (a goal that most Israelis and all Western democracies rightly support), better treatment for Palestinians or even lobbying for a Left-wing party to win the Israeli elections: all of that would be compatible with Zionism. No, what today’s anti-Zionists are committed to is far more radical and extreme, which is why Left-wing Israeli politicians have fallen out with the Corbynites.

The hard-Left wants to dismantle the only truly democratic nation state in the region and, one way or the other, force the Jewish people, once again, into minority status, subsuming them into some greater, antagonistic regional autocracy. There would no longer be Jewish self-government, a majority Jewish state: the Zionist interlude would be over.

Imagine the implications of such a “one-state” solution and what would happen to Israel’s 6.5 million Jews under any realistic version of such a scenario: that is why anti-Zionism is such a shocking ideology, and why anybody in Labour who subscribes to it should be ashamed of themselves. Anti-Zionism of the sort propounded by the hard Left is racism of the worst kind: obsessed with delegitimising the world’s only Jewish country (and no other), in the full knowledge that its existence is what protects its people from persecution, misery and even death. How is that not anti-Semitic?

Jewish minorities in North Africa and the Middle East suffered immensely over the past 100 years, and are only safe today because of Israel’s existence. There were regular riots and outbreaks of murderous violence long before the rise of fascism in Europe, and it got much worse during the Second World War and its aftermath.

In Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab World Vanished Overnight, Lyn Julius recounts how almost the entire Jewish populations of North Africa and the Middle East were ethnically cleansed, partly in retaliation for the creation of Israel, even though they had been settled for thousands of years. Some 850,000 Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews were forced to leave, with the vast majority moving to Israel. So much for the idea that Israel is racist and that Jewish Israelis are all “white colonial settlers”, a claim that is hideously offensive as well as wrong on all counts.

Jeremy Corbyn's statement to the Labour NEC this week said that it should not be deemed “anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist"

There were 100,000 Jews in Tunisia during the Second World War; today there are barely 2,000. In Egypt, there were 80,000 Jews a century ago; now there are just a handful. The same happened in Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and everywhere else across the region. Yet in the hard-Left’s world-view, these refugees don’t seem to count. Why?

The reality is that Israel is the best place in the region to be a minority. Why do the Corbynites not care about the massive exodus of Christians from Iraq in the 2000s, or the fate of the Kurds, or the Baha’is in Iran and Yemen? Or the massacres in Syria, which amount to the worst crimes against humanity in recent history? Or, more generally, the hideous, never-ending violations of human rights across the region, and the fact that so many Muslims have been murdered by governments and the likes of Isil in recent years? Why do they only seem to care about Israel?

Why did Jeremy Corbyn’s statement to Labour’s NEC, which was rejected, include a passage stating that it shouldn’t be deemed “anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact”? What does the hard Left imagine a triumph of anti-Zionism would look like?

If Labour really wanted the best for the Middle East, it would return to its Zionist roots and dedicate all of its energy to seeking a genuine, workable peace and a two-state solution. Until then, it doesn’t deserve even the faintest whiff of power.

Read article in full (registration required)

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

A Tunisian Jew's tale

Yesterday, I met a Tunisian Jew now living in France.

Joseph H told me his story. His family left Tunisia at the time of the Bizerte crisis in 1961. His family did not have French nationality, and his is the only branch of his family not to be living in Israel (The Tunisian Jews arriving in the early 1960s were sent to Beersheva).

The port city of Bizerte, until 1961 an important French naval base

When the Bizerte crisis broke out, Jews were caught up in the conflict between the French and the Tunisian Muslims who wanted to expel the French from their naval base. There were about 1,000 Jews living in Bizerte at the time. Soon they were accused of collaborating with the French and threatened with violence.

The French government was ready to evacuate all their nationals from Bizerte, including the Jews who had French citizenship. But it was due to the powers of persuasion of Colonel Uzi Narkiss that the French  eventually agreed to include  300 (stateless, or)  Jews of Tunisian nationality in their rescue operation. (Click here to read the full account).

Joseph H's family let the country with nothing. The refugees were transported to the transit camp at Camp d'Arenas in Marseille. They had every intention of continuing their journey to Israel.

Even though Joseph's father was not allowed to take any assets out of Tunisia, he had managed to send a small sum of money in advance out to relatives in Bordeaux, France to pay for the onward journey. He went to retrieve what was his, but was told there was no money for him.

And so Joseph's family was forced to settle in France. It was a blessing in disguise for them, as they were spared some of the hardships that confronted new immigrants to Israel.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Congressmen write to Trump about archive

Three members of Congress have written to President Trump 'strongly objecting' to the Iraqi-Jewish archive returning to Iraq. Four members of the Senate have already introduced a bill to this effect. Israel Hayom reports:

Child's primer found in the archive (NARA)

Three members of Congress – Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), Daniel M. Donovan Jr. (R-NY) and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) – recently addressed a letter to President Donald Trump demanding that he prevent the documents from being returned to Iraq later this year.
“In 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters, U.S. forces in Iraq found a trove of Jewish artifacts,” the letter reads. “The U.S. rescued these precious documents and brought them to the United States. … We strongly object to these documents being returned.”
The three lawmakers said that although “they respect the right of any nation to have its rightful cultural and historical artifacts returned to it. … In this case, the return of these treasures to the custody of the Iraqi government would be extremely inappropriate.”

Read article in full

Monday, September 03, 2018

Iraqi-Jewish refugees put their case on radio

The decision of the Trump administration to cut US funding to the agency dedicated to the care of Palestinian 'refugees' has provoked lively debate - not least on Maajid Nawaz's show on LBC radio on 1 September.

Maajid Nawaz

Maajid introduces the show by applauding the Trump decision, yet expressing misgivings that the demise of UNWRA would have a destabilising effect on an already unstable region.

The first caller to join the debate is Salman of Mill Hill (1:21 into the programme). Salman is an Iraqi Jew whose uncle's brother-in-law was executed in Basra by Saddam Hussein. He puts the case for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries: where is the fairness, he asks?

At 1:25 Niran from Edgware also rings the show. She mentions that there were almost a million Jewish refugees. No other set of refugees in any other conflict had an UNWRA or any other body to care for them, she says.They were some 52 million refugees since 1948.

Listen to programme

Sunday, September 02, 2018

UNWRA and the Jews

The news that the US is no longer funding UNWRA (the UN Works and Relief Agency) should remove one of the major obstacles to settling  the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. UNWRA has been perpetuating the delusion that the Palestinians are in transit to their permanent home in Israel and that one day they will return. If the ‘refugees’ come under the umbrella of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the focus will be on rehabilitation and resettlement in their host countries. Jewish refugees can serve as a model, writes Lyn Julius in The Times of Israel: 

Jewish refugees fleeing areas conquered by the Arab Legion in 1948. Some 3,000 Jews fled East Jerusalem. 
It is not generally known that UNWRA was established with the aim of helping refugees on both sides of the conflict.

According to Don Peretz (Who is a Refugee?)  initially UNRWA defined a refugee “as a needy person who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” This definition included some 17,000 Jews who had lived in areas of Palestine taken over by Arab forces during the 1948 war and about 50,000 Arabs living within Israel’s armistice frontiers. Israel took responsibility for these individuals, and by 1950 they were removed from the UNRWA rolls leaving only Palestine Arabs and a few hundred non-Arab Christian Palestinians outside Israel in UNRWA’s refugee category.

At the time there was no internationally recognised definition of what constituted a refugee. In 1951,  The UN Refugee Convention agreed the following definition:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

This definition certainly applies to the 850,000 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Arab countries, synagogue burnings, arrests and riots. Returning to these countries would have put – and still does -their lives at risk.
The burden of rehabilitating and resettling the 650,000  Jewish refugees who arrived in Israel was shouldered by the Jewish Agency and US Jewish relief organisations, such as the Joint Distribution Committee. They were shunted into transit camps or ma’abarot. The conditions were appalling.

From an early stage in the conflict, the UN was co-opted by the powerful Arab-Muslim voting bloc to skew its mandate and defend the rights of only one refugee population – the Palestinians. The UN dedicated an agency, UNWRA, to the exclusive care of Palestinian refugees.There are ten UN agencies solely concerned with Palestinian refugees. These even define refugee status for the Palestinians explicitly: one that stipulates that status depends on ‘two years’ residence’ in Palestine.The definition makes no mention of ‘fear of persecution’ nor of resettlement. Palestinian refugees are the only refugee population in the world, out of 65 million recognised refugees, permitted to pass on their refugee status to succeeding generations, even if they enjoy citizenship in their adoptive countries. It is estimated that the current population of Palestinian ‘refugees’ is 5,493, million. Instead of resettlement, they demand ‘repatriation’, an Israeli red line. (This begs the question: why would any Palestinian wish to return to an evil, ‘apartheid’ Israel?)

In contrast to the $17.7 billion allocated to the Palestinian refugees, no international aid has been earmarked for Jewish refugees. The exception was a $30,000 grant in 1957 which the UN, fearing protests from its Muslim members, did not want publicised. The grant was eventually converted into a loan and paid back by the American Joint Distribution Committee, the main agency caring for Jews in distress.

Yet on two occasions the UN did determine that Jews fleeing Egypt and North Africa were bona fide refugees. In 1957, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, August Lindt, declared that the Jews of Egypt who were ‘unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of the government of their nationality’ fell within his remit. In July 1967, the UNHCR recognised Jews fleeing Libya as refugees under the UNHCR mandate.

Needless to say, no Jew still defines himself as a refugee. Despite the initial hardships, they are now all full citizens of Israel and the West. As such, they are a model for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in their host countries or in a putative state of Palestine alongside Israel.

For any peace process to be credible and enduring, the international community would be expected to address the rights of all Middle East refugees, including Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries. Two victim populations arose out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Arab leadership bears responsibility for needlessly causing both Nakbas – the Jewish and the Arab. As the human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler observes: ‘Put simply, if the Arab leadership had accepted the UN Partition Resolution of 1947, there would have been no refugees, Arab or Jewish.'

Read article in full

Friday, August 31, 2018

Iraqi online poll favours return of Jews

 Most respondents to an online poll conducted on an Iraqi Facebook page were in favour of Jews coming back to Iraq. Of course, the poll asked the wrong question, seeking to turn the clock back 70 years to when Iraq had a thriving Jewish community. The question should have been: would you be willing to build bridges with Iraqi Jews in Israel? Nonetheless, the results do show that Jews have a positive image among most young, middle class Iraqi Facebook users. Meron Rapoport reports in +972 Magazine :

 Iraqi and Kurdish Jews arriving in Israel (Photo: Teddy Brauner/ GPO)

“Iraq’s Jews: 70 years after their expulsion, they seek to return to Iraq and become citizens again. Are you in favor or against their return, and granting them citizenship?"

This was the question posed last Friday by Al-Khuwwa al-Nathifa (“The Clean Brotherhood”), one of the most popular Facebook pages in Iraq, which has more than 1.7 million followers. More than 62,000 people participated in the poll, which received over 5,000 likes and 2,800 comments. The bottom line is, a significant majority favors the return of Jewish Iraqis: around 77 percent voted for, 23 percent were against, and the voting ends on Thursday, which makes the overall results unlikely to change.
I cannot attest to reading all 2,800 messages, but I did skim over several hundred of them. Some of the comments are amusing: “Why would they come back? To drink the waters of Basra, and live without electricity? They might as well stay wherever they are,” one person wrote. But the general sense is that, even among those who are less enthusiastic about Jewish Iraqis returning, or want to limit their return, “Iraq is for everyone.”

Many respondents recalled the place Jews occupy in Iraqi history. “Iraq’s Jews helped develop Iraqi history in several fields: political, economic, cultural, religious and social,” wrote Samir al-Sirafi. “We hope that they will be granted the rights that were taken away from them, because they are sons of this land, and are partners to its well-being,” he added. Another wrote, “the Jews are the original inhabitants.” Jews had lived for centuries as a minority in Iraq, until the late 20th century, when hundreds of thousands of Iraqis either fled or were forcibly displaced from the country.

Others explicitly link the return of the Jews to the treatment of other minorities: Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, and others. “We are all humans, the Jews and the Christians are our brothers,” wrote Mustafa al-Mihdawi. “There is no difference, and this is their country. We must cooperate, following Prophet Muhammad’s moral tradition in collaborating with all the monotheistic religions with pure intentions. Jews and Christians, I love you.” This reaction earned 28 likes, more than any other comment.

Some view Judaism as the remedy to the problems Iraq is facing today. “We tried Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni,” wrote Amir al-Araji, “they are all thieves. We will hand the government over to a Jew or a Christian, maybe they will let us live in dignity.” Another person wrote: “I am willing to give up my citizenship and hand it over to a Jew.” Qassem Sima even finds a political opportunity in Jews: “The return of the Jews to Iraq and their participation in the Communist Party are the only solution to this country.” It seems the memory of the large membership of Jews in the Iraqi Community Party pre-1948 is still alive.

A significant number of people who commented distinguished between being Jewish and being Zionist. “The Jews are not our enemy,” wrote Aziz Falah a-Shujiri, “our enemies are the Zionists who occupied Palestine.” Despite that, he still supports the return of the Jews to Iraq. Generally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was present in the comments, but not very definitively. Some suggested that, for Jews to receive Iraqi citizenship, they should give up their other citizenships – especially their Israeli one. Several said they support the return of Jews to Iraq but only if Palestinian refugees would also be allowed to return to their homes. One commenter, Ahmad al-Khudeir, said that Iraq “needs to reach a peace agreement with Israel,” to guarantee peace and security.

Of course, this is not a representative sample. The Facebook page – administered by young Iraqis in their 30s – offers real-life assistance to its members, and takes a strong stand against sectarianism in Iraq, which they believe is the source of all problems afflicting their nation. After Saddam Hussein’s persecution of Shiites and Kurds, and after civil war, triggered by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, one can understand why such an anti-sectarian position is gaining traction.

Read article in full

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Return will not solve the refugee problem

 A recent call by the US ambassador the the UN, Nikki Haley, for an 'examination' of the Palestinian 'right of return' bodes an historic cut-off of US funding to UNWRA, the agency sustaining the Palestinian 'refugees'. This is a timely opportunity to re-post an extract from this article by Lyn Julius in Jewish News. She argues for recognition of an exchange of refugee populations, not a Right of Return.

Nikki Haley (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

According to Adi Schwartz, author of a new book with Einat Wilf called The War for Return (Hebrew) , the problem at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that ‘Gaza’s inhabitants do not view that piece of land as their home, but rather as a transit camp they will inhabit until the day they can return to what they believe is their home. Because of this, they will far prefer to invest their efforts and resources in returning to their “true” home – by force if necessary – than in cultivating the temporary one where they currently reside.’
The idea that the refugees should return to Israel, and not to Palestine, runs counter to the two-state solution. What is the point of establishing a Palestinian state if the Palestinian refugees still cling to their ultimate objective of returning to Israel?

Apart from the fact that it would soon turn Israel into a majority-Arab state, little thought is given to the mayhem that such a return would produce. Refugee questions after such a long lapse of time have not been solved by return. The great majority of Palestinian refugees today never lived in the homes that they are programmed to ‘return’ to. Most might no longer exist. In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Greek Cypriots who demanded to return to their properties in the northern part of the island now under Turkish-Cypriot control. As so much time had elapsed since 1974 when the Turks invaded the island, the Court ruled, in the words of Tel Aviv professor Asher Susser, that ‘it was necessary to ensure that the redress offered for these old injuries did not create disproportionate new wrongs’. If this was true for Cyprus since 1974 it is all the more true for Palestine since 1948. But the issue of the Palestinian refugees needs to be seen alongside the parallel plight of the Jewish refugees, who fled Arab countries for Israel in roughly equal numbers at about the same time. A permanent exchange of refugee populations occurred. The last thing the Jews want is a ‘right of return’ to countries which remain as hostile and antisemitic as the day the refugees fled.

As long as the Right of Return is the cornerstone of the Palestinians’ strategy, the 650,000 Jewish refugees who fled from Arab lands to Israel remain its antidote. Yet the issue of the Jewish refugees is either denied or ignored. When Jewish and Palestinian ‘narratives’ are juxtaposed, the Jewish refugees remain invisible. When Fisk goes hunting for original Palestinian homes and the locks which fit the Palestinian keys, invariably he finds a Jew from Poland or Romania now occupying the Arab home, never a Jew from Yemen or Iraq. In other words, Jews did not come to Israel because they were fleeing Arab and Muslim antisemitism.The innocent Palestinian is ‘paying the price of the Nazi Holocaust’ – a European crime.

Do the Palestinians really believe that they will return, 70 years after the fact? Even Robert Fisk is doubtful. But the two-state solution is now dead, he claims without a hint of irony, because of Israeli ‘violence’.

It seems that the Palestinian strategy is, with the help of anti-Zionist Jews, to radicalise Arab Israeli youth (sorry – the Palestinian citizens of Israel). Their greatest hope is to raise an insurgency of enraged Arabs within the Green Line. The far-left website 972 features Udna (The Return): this is is a subversive organisation, advocating certain war and turmoil, not peace, based on nostalgia for places that no longer exist and are only a few kilometers from where these young Arab Israelis live now. The young are not told any context: their villages were destroyed in a war which their side started and lost. (The Druze and several Bedouin clans in the Galil did not have their villages destroyed, because they did not take up arms in the 1948 war). And as usual for 972, the stories of Jews expelled from Arab lands – half the Jews of Israel – their former homes, their glorious synagogues, their seized land and property – is totally ignored. Another far-left anti-Zionist organisation called Zochrot, supported by EU bodies and churches, holds conferences actively preparing for the day when the Palestinian refugees will return. Zochrot considers the Jews from Arab countries only relevant in their role as victims of the ‘European, colonial’ state of Israel. There is never any discussion of compensation or even recognition of the injustice done to Jewish refugees and their descendants – now half the Jews of Israel.

Other internationally-funded Israeli organisations working for the Palestinian Right of Return include the Coalition of Women for Peace, Gush Shalom, the Alternative Information centre, Adalah, Mossava and Mada-al-Carmel.
Thus these organisations work against peace and reconciliation, not to further it.

Lyn Julius is the author of ‘Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight’ (Vallentine Mitchell)

Read post in full 

Is a historic decision on UNWRA imminent? 

Why are Palestinian refugees different from all other refugees?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tunisian play grapples with persecution of Jews

A Mediterranean Theatre festival taking place in the once-overwhelmingly Jewish resort of La Goulette in Tunisia is featuring what appears to be a thoughtful play on Jewish identity in the Arab world, blogger Elder of Ziyon reveals. Although it is predictably anti-Zionist, Elder thinks 'Joyev' is rather remarkable since it deals with a subject which he believes has never been addressed in Arab arts: Jews persecuted in Arab countries. But the 2015 Egyptian TV series The Jewish Quarter broke new ground with its sympathetic Jewish characters.  

The Jewish characters from 'Joyev'

The piece seems to be titled "Joyev" and it deals with Jews in a fictional Jewish village during the Tunisian revolution. Parts of the plot include a Jewish law student who was expelled from university because of her religion, Jewish families who are too frightened to go out into the streets for fear of the Arab mobs, and a Jew who wants to smuggle out an ancient Torah to preserve it (presumably in Israel) while others want it to go to a Tunisian museum because Jewish heritage is an integral part of Tunisian history.

The piece is also predictably anti-Zionist, saying that Israel tries to sow and exploit divisions among Jews in Tunisia to prompt them to make aliyah.

But it asks basic questions of how to be a Jew in a country that has treated Jews badly even though they have lived there for years; how Jews grappled with the idea of emigrating to Europe when they were in danger, the Jewish struggle to defend their country of birth when they were marginalized. These are some serious topics and I have never seen them addressed in Arabic arts.

Read blog in full

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Museum could be memorial to extinct mountain Jews

Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel could not be better, but  they cannot stop the decline of the local Jewish community. A new Jewish museum may be no more than a memorial to a dying community, reports Cnaan Liphshiz in Israel National News:

For one day each summer, the hills overlooking the centuries-old Jewish town of Krasnaiya Sloboda in Azerbaijan echo with the sound of wailing women.
The women ascend up a narrow path from this town of several hundred residents in northern Azerbaijan to its vast cemetery. It's an annual procession on Tisha b’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

At the cemetery, each woman sits next to a loved one’s grave – usually a husband or child, but sometimes a parent or sibling. She sings mournfully for hours in Juhuri, a dying Jewish language made up of Farsi and Hebrew with Aramaic and Turkic influences that is spoken only by the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus.
Hundreds perform the ritual each year; some travel halfway across the world to attend. It is a testament to how Krasnaiya Sloboda’s Mountain Jews have endured for about a millennium since Persian Jews established the town with the blessing of a local Muslim ruler.

Next year, the community hopes to strengthen its sense of identity even further with the opening in town of a multimillion-dollar Mountain Jews museum. Spearheaded by a wealthy expatriate living in Moscow, the museum will feature artifacts collected from throughout the Caucasus, including ritual objects, documents and other evidence of the Jewish life that thrived here for centuries on the border between Europe and Asia.

But amid growing emigration by Jews from the rural and impoverished area, some locals and experts on the community fear for its long-term viability and that of its language -- and that the museum will be less a living tribute than a memorial.

“The demographic trajectory isn’t promising,” said Chen Bram, an anthropologist from Hebrew University and Hadassah Academic College who has researched Mountain Jews for decades. “I hope this new museum doesn’t eventually become a monument for an extinct community" in Krasnaiya Sloboda.

Read article in full

Monday, August 27, 2018

Musings on hearing a Persian wedding song

 Jews and non-Jews from the Persian city of Shiraz recite a wedding song unknown to other Iranians. It set Tabby Refael thinking about how age-old cultural traditions still survive in contemporary America. But for how much longer? Article in the Jewish Journal of LA:

I am intermarried. 

That is to say, I am a Jew from Tehran who married a Jew from Shiraz, Iran. 
In the United States, that’s usually about as far as intermarriage goes for Persian Jews. For now, anyway. 

Some are beginning to marry non-Persian Jews, and their Ashkenazi spouses appear ecstatic to finally be able to eat rice during Passover — and only slightly less important, finally to have found love.

At a recent ketubah-signing for my sister-in-law (a Shirazi) and her fiance (a Tehrani), the sound of the non-Persian rabbi’s voice as he spoke about the obligations of marriage was drowned out by the melodic unity of Shirazi mothers pouring their hearts out singing “Vasoonak Shirazi,” the wedding song whose melody all Iranians in Iran know, regardless of faith. I knew that song before I could walk, talk or grill my own meat by the age of 3.

Beyond its soulful poets, famous gardens and, before the revolution, its winemaking legacy, the southern city of Shiraz also has produced one of the greatest Persian songs of all time, whose words, sadly, few in my generation of 30-somethings know (much less 20-somethings and younger folks). At least the original song has been commercialized — some will recognize it as “Mobarak Baad,” which has a few of the original couplets.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Jewish exodus Jeremy Corbyn ignores

The ideology of Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour Party leader, is based on a series of myths - the obverse of the truth. Lyn Julius debunks them in the Jewish Chronicle:

In 2013, Corbyn and a panel of speakers at a Hamas conference were asked by a member of the audience about Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Listen to their response here.

Hardly a day goes by without another shocking revelation of Jeremy Corbyn's association with antisemites. But while most of us recoil at Corbyn's documented support for his 'friends' Hamas and Hezbollah, his appearances on the Iranian-funded Press TV, and his tribute to the perpetrators of the Munich massacre, little has been said about the intellectual underpinnings of an ideological worldview that Corbyn has clung to for 40 years. It is time that they were debunked from a Sephardi or Mizrahi perspective.

I doubt whether Corbyn has heard of Mizrahi or Sephardi Jews. Did he know that 850,000 Jewish refugees fled Arab and Muslim antisemitism in a single generation? Would it appal him that ancient communities once numbering thousands of Jews - from Morocco in the West to Yemen in the East – were driven to extinction (barely 4, 500 are left), their property stolen and their rich heritage erased? Maybe he will blame the Zionists - or say that the Jews left of their own free will.

The evidence of a forced Jewish exodus is incontrovertible, however. The Jews fled in larger numbers than the Palestinians from Israel. The majority of Jews escaped harassment, intimidation, violence and persecution – ranging from arrests and imprisonment to execution on trumped-up charges. Theirs was the largest mass movement of non-Muslims until the post-2003 flight of Christians from Iraq.

Clearly, Corbyn's revulsion for the state of Israel lies at the heart of his belief system. Many believe that he has been reluctant to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism so that he might continue to call the Jewish state 'racist' and make offensive comparisons between Zionists and Nazis. He insists on distinguishing between ‘good’ anti-Zionist Jews and ‘bad’ Jews - the great majority of whom identify with Israel.

Yet the bitter experiences of Middle Eastern and North African Jews teach us that the distinction between Jews and Zionists cannot be maintained for long. Arab states criminalised Zionism but soon conflated Zionists with Jews, albeit these were non-combatants. In Iraq, Jews wearing watches were arrested for 'sending secret signals to the Zionists'. The Jewish quarters of North African cities became fair game for attack by vengeful mobs. Anti-Zionist Jews in Egypt were imprisoned. Sooner or later, Jews are persecuted for being Jews.

Central to Corbyn's worldview is that Israel is a European, white, settler, colonial, imperialist state. Israel is accused of being built on the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population. The injustice to the Palestinians can only be rectified if they achieve national liberation through their 'right of return', leading to the destruction of the Jewish state by demographic means.

This myth turns the truth on its head. Originating in Judea, Jews had been settled in the Middle East and North Africa since Biblical times – 1,000 years before the Islamic conquest. Comprising some three million people today - over half the Jewish population of Israel – these indigenous 'Jews of colour' never left the region, most refugees finding a haven in the only state that would accept them unconditionally.

Arab and Muslim antisemitism did not begin with the creation of Israel. For 14 centuries of Muslim rule Jews lived as a subjugated dhimmi minority with few rights. Israel’s Mizrahi citizens will never agree to return to ‘colonised’ dhimmi status in a Corbyn-approved majority-Arab state.

The Arab and Muslim quarrel with Israeli ‘imperialism’ becomes absurd when viewed against the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries claim that Jews lost more than the Palestinians - including privately-owned land in Arab states equivalent to five times the size of Israel.

The far left believes that Israel has genocidal designs on the Palestinians reminiscent of the Nazis. The myth of the Arabs as innocent bystanders, who had no responsibility for the Holocaust—and indeed, paid the price for a European crime when Israel was established—is a tenet of Corbynism.

Truth be told, Arabs overwhelmingly supported Nazism and imported the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories rife in the Muslim world today. Antisemitism is a core belief of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their ideological cousins, Islamic State. The wartime Palestinian Mufti's collaboration with the Nazis was not simply a pragmatic anti-colonial alliance. Had Nazism triumphed, the Mufti would have overseen the extermination of the Jews of the Arab world as well as in Palestine. The Mufti’s anti-Jewish genocidal project is enshrined in the Hamas charter and kept alive today by the Ayatollahs of Iran.

Finally, Corbyn sees the Arabs, like other Third World peoples, solely as victims of Western colonialism, incapable of oppressing others. The West overlooks their misdeeds. For example, the Taubira law memorialising slavery (adopted in France in 2001) mentioned the 11 million victims of the transatlantic slave trade, while ignoring the 17 million slaves trafficked by Arabs and Muslims.

Corbyn and his acolytes are cheerleaders for the true forces of (Arab and Muslim) imperialism in the Middle East. The Palestinians are the foot-soldiers in a pan-Arab, and now Islamist struggle – couched in terms of ‘Palestinian rights’ - to abolish the Jewish state and re-establish Arab-Muslim majority control. The Arabs already have 22 states, but Corbyn has never advocated for the suppressed rights of indigenous Kurds, Baloch, Berbers and Assyrians.

The Jewish nakba vindicates a sovereign Jewish state in the region. As an aboriginal Middle Eastern people, Jews have an inalienable right, enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, to self-determination.
Corbyn’s worldview may be too entrenched to change. The pity is that young people are growing up with a similarly distorted view of the Middle East, fuelled by media bias, in which in Israel uniquely evil and the Palestinians the sole victims of injustice. More alarmingly, if Corbyn’s hostility to Jews is mainstreamed, most ordinary folk would give a shrug of indifference.

Read article in full (p.32)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Iraq-born Jew pledges solidarity at Yazidi conference

 Edwin Shuker

A London-based Jewish businessman attended the first conference on the genocide of the Yazidis and pleaded for Iraq to return to its diverse and tolerant past.

Speaking at the conference in Erbil, organised by the Kurdish Rudaw Research centre, Edwin Shuker, who had escaped the country in 1971,  pledged his solidarity with the persecuted Yazidi minority 'as an Iraqi'. Chronicling the persecution that beset the 'ethnically cleansed' Iraqi-Jewish community as he was growing up,  the  63-year-old Baghdad-born Shuker urged Iraqis to uproot D'aesh - Islamic State - not just physically, but from their hearts.

Mindful of those who have denied the Holocaust, he advised the Yazidis to keep records of their sufferings so that it would be harder to deny them in the future.

He urged the Yazidis not to emigrate but to remain wedded to their 6,000-year old culture and educate their children about Yazidism.

Edwin Shuker said he had prayed at the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul - a Jewish prophet in a Muslim shrine in a Christian city - that the tolerance that all religions had known in Iraq should again prevail.

Up to 4,000 Yazidis were massacred on Mount Sinjar in 2014 in what the international community has recognised as a genocide. Many were forced into exile from their ancestral lands, sold into slavery and forcibly converted to Islam.

Click here to see Edwin Shuker delivering his speech

More about Edwin Shuker

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Archive saviour sees Erdogan as neo-Ottoman

Dr Harold Rhode is the man who discovered  the Jewish books, Torah scrolls and documents floating in three feet of water in the secret police headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. (The collection, now known as the Iraqi-Jewish archive, is still the subject of a tug-of war between Iraq and its exiled Jewish community). This interview with Dr Rhode is also worth listening to because of his unique insights into Turkey and Iran born of 40 years' study of the Muslim world. (With thanks: Imre)

 Dr Harold Rhode...insightful

Rod Bryant and Jerry Gordon interviewed Dr. Harold Rhode while he was in Macedonia lecturing on the Iraqi Jewish archives and the importance of Jewish identity. Rhode was able with both Iraqi opposition and Washington connections to miraculously retrieve the Iraqi Jewish archives found in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 that were eventually and wonderfully restored by the US National Archives and Records Agency. The archives are awaiting a Trump White House decision to determine whether the Archives remain in the US or go to Israel, instead of Iraq.

This wide ranging interview with Dr. Rhode addressed Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dictatorship, Iran’s divisions in the facing of rising protests by its people seeking a change from the tyranny of the Mullarcracy and Revolutionary Guards. He noted how the Islamic Regime abused the release of over $150 billion in funds under Obama’s nuclear agreement in misadventures in Syria and Yemen instead of benefitting its people. The Iranian people who he cited now denounce the ‘dictatorship’ of Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei, instead praising the Crown Prince of the late Shah, Reza Pahlavi, a resident of the US.

Rhode also addressed the matter of whether Israel’s rumored alliance with the Sunni Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, is tactical or strategic, given that Israel is recognized in recent rankings as the eighth most powerful country globally. As we noted, Dr. Rhode has lectured in China universities about Jewish thinking behind Israel’s rise. He noted that the Chinese attributed Israel rise globally to ancient Jewish religious traditions of “thinking about the unthinkable” that affirmed Ha Shem’s covenant with his people.

Israel News Talk Radio Podcast here