Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Year in Review

 WISHING ALL POINT OF NO RETURN READERS A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR! thanks for your visits, hat tips and comments. See you in 2019.

Another year has flown past and it's time to look back over 2018, its highlights and low points. Point of No Return continued to attract a  healthy following, with 58,143 page views.

The good news is that the issue of Jews of Arab countries began to penetrate the mainstream press and media - the Boston Globe (Jeff Jacoby), the Daily Telegraph (Allister Heath) and a BBC Radio 4 programme by historian Simon Schama to mark Israel's 70th anniversary.

The '30 November' commemorations took place worldwide, but the exodus of Jews from Arab lands is still not on the global agenda, according to Ashley Perry and Lyn Julius.  

It was a good year for:
* Relations between the Gulf States and Israel. Israel's minister of culture Miri Regev shed tears of joy when she heard Hatikva at an Abu Dhabi sports competition; the Dubai synagogue emerged into the media limelight and a Bahraini prince visited Israel.
*Rene Trabelsi, appointed Tunisian minister of Tourism.
* 25,000 Algerian-Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who each received $3,100 compensation for their wartime suffering.
*Mordechai Ben-Porat. After decades of accusations that Zionists planted bombs in Iraq to kill Jews, more evidence emerged vindicating the Mossad architect of the mass aliya of Iraqi Jewry in 1950-1. Ben-Porat had always protested his innocence.
*The Iraqi-Jewish archive. This collection of Jewish artefacts and documents remains in the US beyond the deadline for its return in September 2018.
* 'Uprooted' by Lyn Julius (Vallentine Mitchell), which grew out of Point of No Return. The book was favourably reviewed in a number of prestige publications and on radio.

It was a bad year for the following :
*French historian Georges Bensoussan  (although he was acquitted of charges of  anti-Muslim hate speech, he lost his job at the Memorial de la Shoah.)
*Kurdish representative of the 'Jewish community' Sherzad Mahmoud Mamsani, who was fired.
 *UNRWA, the agency dedicated to the exclusive care of Palestinian refugees: President Trump cut off aid, amid revelations that the US donated funds for the absorption of refugees on both sides in the 1950s.
* The fifty remaining Jews in the war-ravaged Yemen capital Sana'a, short of money and food.
*Jewish moveable property in Arab lands: the US has signed Memoranda of Understanding with several Arab states legitimising theft of Jewish artefacts still in Arab states.  Eighteen Jewish organisations have written to the US secretary of state in protest.

70 years since the first airlift of Jews from Yemen and since the  'summer of death' following riots in Egypt, Libya and Morocco.

Deaths in 2018: Historians Bernard Lewis, Robert Assaraf. Iraq-born philanthropist Uri David, writer and diplomat Zvi Gabay, Libyan-Jewish leader Meir Kahlon, Brooklyn rabbi Shaul Kassin, Morocco chief rabbi Aaron Monsonego.

Outstanding articles of 2018: the Iraqi-Israeli who infiltrated the Muslim Brotherhood. Jews from Arab countries in  Mexico. Adenis in Port Said. Mizrahim who shill for Arab nationalism. Minorities in Iran. Claudia Cardinale and waning diversity in Tunisia.

Other end-of-year Reviews: 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Iranian-born Jewish woman enters US politics

The election of an Iranian-born Jewish woman to the New York state Senate marks a new departure for her community, traditionally excluded from politics. For Anna Monahemi Kaplan, it's an opportunity to give something back to a country which saved her, reports The Tablet (with thanks: Michelle):

Anna Kaplan: from refugee to senator

Democrat Anna Kaplan’s recent victory over Republican incumbent Elaine Phillips helped flip the New York state Senate, long dominated by Republicans, to Democratic control. That’s a very big deal in New York politics but the win is notable for other reasons as well—it makes Kaplan, who came to America as refugee from Iran, the highest ranking Persian-Jewish elected official in the state. 

Kaplan was born Anna Monahemi in Tabriz, Iran, and raised in Tehran. There was a recorded Jewish presence in Tabriz, located in the mountains of northwest Iran, since at least the 12th century, but that ancient community of some 400 Jews was wiped out in a blood libel massacre in 1830. About a century and half later, when she was 13 years old, Kaplan fled the Islamic Revolution as a child refugee and arrived in the United States as part of an airlift of Iranian children. She initially stayed in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and then fostered with a family in Chicago where she learned English and attended high school until her parents and family were able to legally join her in the United States more than a year later. She went on to graduate from Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. 

“Persian Jews stayed out of politics in Iran,” writes Kaplan on her Facebook page. “My parents and community were afraid of being noticed—they were a small, vulnerable minority in a conservative part of a conservative country. But here in the United States, we have been given so much opportunity and I am so grateful to this country for opening its arms that I’ve had to give back.”

Read article in full

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Does the Mizrahi campaign delegitimise Ashkenazim?

Where does the campaign for Mizrahi rights leave Ashkenazi Jews? Lyn Julius, writing in the Times of Israel, reassures them: Jews are all one people, whose two halves have been reunited.

A battle is currently raging to rebut the calumny in the court of world opinion that ‘Israel is a ‘white settler’ state. Leftist groups in the US have recently gone further, and tarred all Jews – not just Zionists in Palestine – with the ‘white’ brush.  The postcolonial orthodoxy is that Palestinian ‘people of color’ are the true natives; Jews are foreign interlopers who have ‘stolen’ their land.

My organisation, Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, has been playing its part in trying to dispel these myths. Harif was founded to raise awareness of the post-war destruction and dispossession of ancient Jewish communities in the Arab and Muslim world and their transplantation, in large part, to Israel. But does making the case for Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews necessarily detract from the right of Ashkenazi Jews to self-determine in Israel? Does the fact that our sister organisation JIMENA has
 an ‘I’ in its name that stands for Indigenous – imply that non Sephardim/Mizrahim are not indigenous?

The purpose of groups such as Harif and JIMENA is to draw special attention to a sector of the world Jewish population whose existence is routinely denied or ignored. The Mizrahim never left the ‘Arab’ world – they merely moved from one corner of the region to another. It is essential emphasize their indigeneity vis-a-vis the Arabs, who arrived in the greater Middle East and North Africa 1,000 years after the Jews. Native Jews, who now happen to comprise the majority of the Jews of Israel, also have a specific quarrel with Arab and Muslim states: these regimes need to be called to account for ‘ethnically cleansing’ their Jews. Our job is to advocate for Mizrahi rights to justice – recognition and redress. The plight of Middle Eastern Jews is also essential to understanding the ongoing Arab and Muslim conflict with Israel and the persecution of minorities.

There is another important goal: to vindicate the legitimacy of the sovereign state of Israel in the modern Middle East. As an aboriginal people of the Middle East the Jews of the region have no less a right to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland. In the words of the great Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi:’if one were to base oneself on this legitimacy and not on force and numbers, then we have the same rights to our share of these lands – neither more nor less – than the Arab Muslims.’

To campaign for Mizrahi rights is not to delegitimize Ashkenazi Jews. Jews from East and West form one Middle Eastern people, whose two halves have become reunited in their ancestral homeland.

A montage of ‘white’ US Ashkenazi celebrities (Dani I. Behan)
Jews from the West were often treated as swarthy aliens during their 2,000-year peregrinations in Europe, and have closer genetic links with their Sephardi and Mizrahi brethren than they do with non-Jewish Europeans. Nowadays it is fashionable to smear Ashkenazi Jews as Khazar converts with no roots in the Middle East. Replacement theology declares Jesus to be a Palestinian and the Palestinian Arabs the new Jews.

It was not always thus. Only 75 years ago, millions of Jews became non-white sub-human victims of the Nazi genocide. They had been despised as exotic, but unwanted, outsiders in Europe. As the Israeli novelist Amos Oz wrote:’When my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets of Europe were covered with graffiti,”Jews go back to Palestine’, or sometimes worse:’Dirty Yids, piss off to Palestine’. When my father revisited Europe fifty years later, the walls were covered with new graffiti,’Jews get out of Palestine.’

A disturbing new trend in the West sees Jews no longer as an oppressed minority, but part of the white establishment, identified with wealth, success and power.
For all the reasons listed in Dani Behan’s excellent article, Ashkenazim are part of the nation of Israel. Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi are mere geographic terms.
Now that the pernicious vogue for describing all Jews as ‘white’ is spreading in leftist circles in the US, it is important for all Jews to show our credentials as ‘people of color’, no matter how silly and reductive this label is.

We are all one people, with a common origin and a common destiny.

Read article in full

Friday, December 28, 2018

Resist the forcible 'bleaching' of Jews

An alarming  new trend in the US to brand Jews as  'white' is antisemitic and must be resisted at all costs, declares Seth Frantzman in The Jerusalem Post. This also strips Jews of their wonderful and historic diversity.

 Jews from Warsaw in Poland

The term “white Jews” is anti-Jewish because no other group is subjected to this same slur of forcibly shoehorning them into a false whiteness. For instance, Muslims, of which there are almost two billion, are not called “white Muslims.” Only Jews are called “white Jews.” Used often enough, the term is designed to dehumanize Jews and take away their diversity, forcing them into the “white” category in America, the category that means “majority” and “privileged.”

The term “white Jews” should be resisted. It is designed solely to make Jews not only an “other” but at the same time a member of the majority. “White” means “majority” in the US, while “Jew” means “other.” So labeling Jews “white” is a way to purposely attack and single out this one group. You’ll notice that those who use this term don’t say “white Muslims, white Hindus, white Catholics.” There is only one group whose religion they seek to lump in with “white.” The goal is to say this often enough until the word “Jew” is synonymous with white. And you’ll notice that “white supremacy” is often lumped in as well, until the word “Jew” in some American circles will be synonymous with “white supremacy.”

This strips Jews of their historic and wonderful diversity. Jews are from Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Ethiopia, India and many other places. When Americans say “white Jews” the idea is to rip that diversity away and bleach it out until there is no history of Jewish people. Jews are even told now that any discussion of Jews being victims of racism is a way for Jews “dwell” or “center” on themselves. The only minority group in America told that it cannot discuss its suffering, and that it is “white.” Just as the term antisemitism, coined in the 19th century, led to dehumanizing of Jews, the term “white Jews” is designed to dehumanize, to package Jews into one monochrome and binary concept of race.

Read article in full 

More articles by Seth Frantzman

Thursday, December 27, 2018

How Mossad misread the Iranian revolution

 The Islamic revolution in Iran was motivated by antisemitism, not anti-Zionism, argues Colin Schindler in the Jewish Chronicle. It ended 30 years of collaboration between Israel and Iran. History might have taken a different turn, however, had Mossad, which knew little about Iranian politics,  agreed to assassinate the revolution's leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

For many in the Jewish community, it was Khomeini’s theological dislike of Jews — not solely Zionists — that mattered. In 1970, he had written: “Since its inception, the Islamic movement has been afflicted with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and joined its various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to our present day.”

Khomeini viewed the Jews of the 20th century through the same lens as the Jews of the 7th century who were in conflict with the Prophet. In his eyes, Jews were corruptors of Muslim society, mistranslators of the Koran, controllers of the Iranian economy and agents of imperialism.

In power, Khomeini refused to insert the word ‘Democratic’ before ‘Islamic Republic’ because it was “too Western”. As Khomeini’s clergy strengthened its grip on power, secular teachers were pushed out of education, women purged from the judiciary, members of the Bahai faith dismissed from government positions and their places of worship closed. All this unnerved Iranian Jews and hastened the exodus of a community that traced its history back to Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE.

Khomeini often praised the work of a Palestinian pan-Arabist writer, Akram Zu’aytar, which seems to have shaped his views. Originally from Nablus and a member of the nationalist Istiqlal party, Zu’aytar worked for the Iraqi Ministry of Education in the 1930s and was regarded by the British as having pro-Nazi sympathies.

The founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, Reza Shah, had allowed the Jews in 1927 to live outside their assigned ghettos, to vote and to own land. Like his son, the Shah, he blew hot and cold regarding the Jews. Yet Iran de facto recognised Israel in 1950, the second Muslim country to do so. Such contacts developed in the years ahead. Turkey and Iran were viewed as the northern tip of “the doctrine of the periphery” — states which were resisting the advance of Nasserism and Soviet influence. While their political and military elites were cosmopolitan, their rural populations, often poverty stricken and illiterate, were devout Muslims.

Yossi Alpher, the author of Periphery: Israel’s Search for Middle East Allies, records that on the eve of the revolution, several thousand Israeli businessmen were living in Iran. There was even an Israeli school in Tehran. Despite Iran’s support for OPEC’s oil embargo after the Yom Kippur War, by 1977, “oil sales were booming”. Despite the turmoil all around, Israel and Iran were busily negotiating a $1.2 billion bilateral arms deal. The project would use Iranian finance for the development of six new Israeli weapon systems and a new generation of Jericho missiles.

In 1978, Mr Alpher had become the Mossad’s chief intelligence analyst on Iran. He comments that no one in the Mossad or the Foreign Ministry actually possessed any deep knowledge about events there.

Mr Alpher recalls in his book a meeting with the head of the Mossad, Yitzhak Hofi, on 28 January 1979. Mr Hofi said that Shapour Bakhtiar, the Shah’s last prime minister, had called in Eliezer Shafrir, the Mossad’s representative in Tehran, and asked the Mossad to assassinate Khomeini in France. Before the astonished Mr Alpher could respond, Mr Hofi said that he thought that Khomeini would never last. “Let him return and the army would deal with him”. Mr Bakhtiar escaped from Tehran, but was subsequently murdered in his home in Suresnes near Paris by Iranian agents in August 1991.

Within a couple of months of Khomeini’s return, the communal leader and philanthropist, Habib Elchanan, was executed as a spy for Israel and opponent of the revolution. Three days later, a chastened communal delegation travelled to meet Khomeini in Qom. Khomeini recognised that “the Iranian Jews are not Zionists and we work together against Zionists”.

Ayatollah Khomeini
However, such a welcome comment belied Khomeini’s past attitudes. While the official line was to make a distinction between “Jews” and “Zionists”, reality often intervened to prove otherwise.

The Iranian press spoke of “a Talmudic mentality” and “a kosher brotherhood” while Salman Rushdie’s book, Satanic Verses, was part of a Zionist conspiracy to destroy Islam. Jewish suffering as depicted in Schindler’s List was no more than an attempt to deflect attention away from the Palestinians. Cartoons in the Iranian media bore an uncanny resemblance to the antisemitic stereotypes depicted in the Soviet press.

Khomeini’s fundamental opposition was not based on where the borders of Israel should be situated but on its existence. Israel was not “a natural phenomenon”, it was a tumour to be excised from Muslim lands. For Khomeini, Islam was not privatised religious practice, but a political power. There was therefore a sacred duty to liberate Palestine.

During the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the Iranian cry was that “the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad”. An elite group of several thousand Revolutionary Guards was established to form the Quds (Jerusalem) Force. Yet Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Defence, perceived that Saddam Hussein’s forces were the greater threat to Israel and ordered that arms should be sent to Khomeini in unmarked aircraft via European airports.

The Iran-Iraq war was one of trench warfare and gas attacks, but it also spawned the rise of the suicide bomber — first used by the precursor of Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s and later by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in attacks on Israeli citizens.

In the UK, the brutality of Khomeini’s tenure did not deter Jeremy Corbyn or Ken Livingstone from regular appearances on Iran’s state controlled Press TV. Mr Corbyn sat silently when anti-Jewish remarks were made, his regular presence was a betrayal of the thousands of Iranian socialists killed by Khomeini’s men. Mr Corbyn’s comment during the “English irony” episode was that his detractors “don’t want to study history”. His role as a fellow traveller here is yet another example of his superficial grasp of the complexity of the past.

Read article in full

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

'Arab unity' is based on suspicion and division

 The suggestion by Donald Trump that Arabs might form their own peace-keeping force prompts Norvell B DeAtkine in Lima Charlie News to write this thoughtful piece debunking the fantasy of Arab unity. The problem is that many peoples within the Arab world wanted no part of Arab nationalism. Hostility to Israel has failed to unify the Arabs, who are still more loyal to family, tribe or clan than to their own states. (With thanks Melvyn)
Arab League meeting in Jordan in 2017: more divides than unites them (Photo: Raad Adayleh)

The Ottoman Empire that followed the fall of the Abbasid Empire was a distinctly Islamic empire constituting what anthropologist Carleton Coon, in his seminal study Caravan, described as a “mosaic” of people. The Ottoman Sultan ruled over a pastiche of peoples, religions and sects. People were divided by religion, not race or nationality.

The major groups, Christians, Jews and Muslims, by practicing fealty to the Ottoman Sultan, lived more or less independently within their religious communities – called Millets. Jews and Christians were distinctly second-class citizens, but understanding their subordinated position in political life, they generally were able to live peacefully and, sometimes, thrive within the Ottoman Empire. Religion came to define the economic mosaic system based on religious doctrine and traditional culture. For example, Christians were often barbers or butchers, and Jews were a critical element in business and finance.

 Into this rough, but seemingly medieval economic system, the Europeans introduced the ideology of nationalism. The Ottoman Empire, widely considered the last Islamic Empire, splintered into nations, hurried along by various European powers.

Unfortunately the concomitant ideas of democracy and individual freedom did not take root. The non-Arabs or non-Muslims were suddenly outsiders in their own homelands where they had lived for centuries. With the post-Ottoman expulsions of Jews and steady erosion of Christian communities the intricate mosaic system ceased to exist and the economic health of the “Arab world” declined dramatically. The simple truth is that Arab nations did very little trade with one another and almost all was outside their region.

Because of this, attempts to form an Arab economic union have been singularly ineffective. I have observed that whereas the European Union is based on the free travel of citizens and goods, the Arab world is the exact opposite. Political and regime ruling anxieties create a hostile environment to unified economic development.

A development directly related to the intrusion of Western ideology into the Arab world became known as Arabism or Arab nationalism. The problem was that many peoples within the Arab world wanted no part of Arab nationalism. This was not just most Christians, Jews and Kurds, but also most Shi’a Arabs.

 In fact most Arabs, enthusiasts and detractors, see Arab nationalism as Sunni Arab nationalism. It did not unify Arabs – it further divided them. A critical pillar of this Arab unity dream was the establishment of the Arab League in 1946 under the leadership of King Farouk of Egypt. Farouk saw himself as replacing the ousted Sultan of the defunct Ottoman Empire.

While the British government eyed the concept of Arab unity suspiciously, many British Middle East experts supported it wholeheartedly. As the British Middle East historian, Elizabeth Monroe wrote, “The idea of Arab unity between the Arabs of the former Ottoman Empire never died out.”

Most Sunni Arab elites were ebullient on the concept of Arab unity and enthusiastically welcomed the Arab League, but Mohamed Hussein Haykal, the highly respected Egyptian journalist and historian, questioned its usefulness from the beginning. He opined that not only would political differences be an obstacle but also the fact that history, legal codes, agriculture, and industry “are necessarily different in the different Arab states.”

 Elie Kedourie, the distinguished Orientalist wrote, “Events have proved him [Haykal] right, and have shown the Arab League to be a system based on conflicting ambitions, and cemented with bitter mutual suspicions.” Kedourie believed that the Pact of the League “proved to be a device designed not so much to bring about Arab unity as to keep the so-called Arab states at arms length from one another.” It was another chimera producing what Lebanese writer Fouad Ajami called the “Dream Palace of the Arabs.”

The League failed to unite the Arabs politically, culturally, economically, or most importantly, militarily. It is the latter which graphically exposes the shaky structure of the whole idea of Arab unity, a prime example being the Arab States “peacekeeping” forces inside Lebanon. The history of the Arab Deterrence Force (ADF) sent into Lebanon in 1976 to quell the bitter civil war between Christian militias and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is a case study illustrating the ineffectiveness and dangers of this type of Arab operation.

Although it was supposed to be a joint Arab force, the vast majority of the forces were Syrian and, as the Christians had assumed all along, the Syrians turned the peacekeeping operation into a permanent occupation of Lebanon. Entering Lebanon in 1976, they remained until 2005. It is a legitimate fear of Arab regimes that inviting brother Arab forces to assist in their defense will lead to permanent occupation.

 Conventional wisdom among much of the Western Middle East scholarly community is that the greatest threat to stability in the Arab world was the creation of Israel. As one who lived in the Middle East for over eight years, I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “Israel is a foreign body lodged in the heart of the Arab world.” Generations have been brought up to having this embedded in their worldview.

British historian Albert Hourani wrote that the primary issue confronting all Arabs was “Israel and the fate of the Palestinians.” Celebrated British adventurer and official Freya Stark repeatedly reminded the British government that the Palestinian issue was the one which undermined the British campaign to counter the very popular Arab-oriented fascist propaganda in the early days of World War II.

 Given the supposed universal and visceral hatred of the Israeli state, one would be moved to believe that in efforts to erase the “Zionist” state Arab unity would be at its zenith. But that has not been the case. Nothing has illustrated the disunity of the “Arab world” more than its efforts to destroy the Israeli state. This is despite the humiliation inflicted on over 400 million Arabs by just nine million Israelis (20% being Israeli Arabs) in four wars.

 It must be plainly stated that the Arab lack of success has nothing to do with innate intelligence or courage. No nation or people have an earmark on that. Rather is it a function of a culture that, as the peerless Tunisian historian Ibn Khaldun wrote, promotes individuality in which every man wants to be the leader. “[T]here is scarcely one among them who would cede their power to another.”

 It is still a largely tribal/clan oriented society in which a civil society has never taken root. Concentric circles of loyalty, in which only family, tribal or clan relatives are completely trusted, vitiate the trust in your fellow soldier.

 Read article in full

Libyan-Jewish leader Meir Kahlon dies

The death has been announced of Meir Kahlon, Chairman of the World Organization of Libyan Jews and a founder of the Libyan -Jewish museum in Or Yehuda. Kahlon was also for many years head of the organisations representing Jews from Arab lands in Israel before he was succeeded by Levana Zamir.

The funeral takes place today at 1200; the procession will pass the Or Yehuda Libyan-Jewish Museum.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Iraqi Christians return to celebrate Christmas

A sign that Iraqi Christians may be beginning to recover from the brutal oppression of ISIS is that Iraqi Christians have returned to celebrate Christmas in the city of Qaraqosh this year. Seth Frantzman reports in the Jerusalem Post

Christians filled churches in the city of Qaraqosh, southeast of Mosul, on Christmas eve to celebrate the holiday for the second year after their community was liberated from ISIS. At the Grand Immaculate Church, the hall was packed with worshipers and priests conducted prayers. It was one of many Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East celebrating the holiday with hope that the wave of extremist anti-Christian violence had subsided.

Iraq’s Christian community has faced difficulties in recent years, with waves of Islamist extremist terror and kidnappings, especially after 2003. Many emigrated. When ISIS attacked in 2014, the Christian towns of Nineveh were destroyed and their residents forced to flee to the Kurdish autonomous region, where many then decided to search for a life elsewhere.

However, a glimmer of hope appeared in October 2016 when ISIS was driven out of Nineveh plains and Christian cities like Qaraqosh, once home to some 50,000 people, and smaller towns nearby, were retaken. Last year, some Christians returned to Qaraqosh to conduct holiday services. Qaraqosh is an important symbol because it was the largest Christian majority urban area in Iraq. In other cities, such as Baghdad, Christians are a small minority, but Qaraqosh is a bellwether for the possibility that Christian communities in Iraq can rebuild and thrive.

Read article in full

Monday, December 24, 2018

How do Middle Eastern Christians feel about Jews?

On his visit to the Middle East last January, Vice-President Mike Pence planned to meet with local Christian leaders and to follow up on the promise he had made to suffering Christian communities in Iraq and Syria: “help is on the way.” To his dismay, not a single Christian leader agreed to meet with him. The reason: the Trump administration’s announcement that it would relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Samuel Tadros in Mosaic reports on the frequently hostile or ambivalent relationship between Middle Eastern Christians and Jews. (With thanks: Michelle)

Orthodox priests in Istanbul

Few instances in recent memory so starkly illustrate the gulf between American and Middle Eastern Christians as do the enthusiasm for the embassy move expressed by evangelical Christians in the U.S. versus the anger of their coreligionists in Arab lands. Underlying this difference in attitudes toward the Jewish state, moreover, are fundamentally different attitudes toward Jews themselves.
The major shifts that took place in Western churches’ relationship with Judaism—some in the wake of the Holocaust, others going all the way back to the Protestant Reformation—never occurred in the Eastern churches. Middle Eastern clergy do not speak of a “Judeo-Christian” tradition, or of a special relationship with the Jews, or even of a need to distance themselves and their flocks from historical anti-Semitism. Thus, the latest manifestation of Jewish-Christian harmony—Pope Francis’s 2013 Evangelii gaudium, in which he wrote that “the Church believes that Judaism, the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to His promises”—is simply unimaginable in the East. Even less imaginable are the motives and convictions that have led so many American evangelicals to support Israel.

For the most part, Middle Eastern Christianity has firmly rejected Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration condemning anti-Semitism and exculpating the Jewish people of collective responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus. Instead, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, rife today in the Islamic world, find fertile ground among Middle Eastern Christians as well. Over recent years, an Egyptian Coptic priest could write of the dangers allegedly posed to his church by Jews and Zionist-controlled Freemasons; the bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Lebanon, citing as evidence the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, could blame the Jews for the civil wars and violence sweeping the Arab world; and the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch in Iraq could trace a deadly 2003 terrorist attack to “a Zionist conspiracy against Islam.”

Conventional wisdom holds that behind such attitudes there lies the Arab-Israeli conflict—either because Middle Eastern Christians see themselves as Arabs and therefore will automatically side against Israel and the Jews or because, as a vulnerable religious minority, they fear provoking the animosity of their anti-Israel and frequently anti-Semitic Muslim overlords. But these explanations, while telling part of the story, by no means tell all of it. Not only are there deeper historical and theological factors at play, but attitudes toward Jews and Israel are at once more intricate and more contradictory than they might appear at first glance.

Any examination of this topic is complicated by the multicolored mosaic that is Middle Eastern Christianity. While the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant denominations do have a presence in the Middle East, most Christians in the region belong to one of the dozens of Orthodox native churches that broke off from European Christianity as a result of theological debates in the 5th century or the Great East-West Schism of 1054.

Broadly speaking, we can discern three major groupings. The Oriental Orthodox churches—an example is the Coptic church that predominates in Egypt—are in communion with each other but not with the major European churches. Then come the Eastern Orthodox churches of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Finally, and smallest in number, there are the Eastern Catholic churches, of which the most important is the Maronite church in Lebanon.

Nor do the native churches break down neatly along geographical lines. Syrian Christians are divided between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Oriental Syriac Church, while most Iraqi Christians are either Catholic Chaldeans or Assyrians. Notably, Maronite, Coptic, and Assyrian Christians don’t consider themselves Arabs, even if Arabic is their primary language, in contrast to many Syrian, Israeli, and Palestinian Christians who do so identify themselves.

Read article in full

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The US is complicit with Arab states which stole their Jews' artefacts

By signing Memorandums of Understanding with Arab countries blockading the import of artefacts, the US government is legitimising the theft of Jewish and minority property by Arab governments. On the other hand, the US government is committed  to returning Jewish documents, stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community, to the country which persecuted them. Here is an extract of an article in the Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter  by lawyer and activist Carole Basri, who has a personal stake in the so-called Iraqi-Jewish archive.  

Detail from a Haggadah found in the 'Iraq-Jewish archive'

In May 2003, over 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents, records, and religious artifacts were discovered by a U.S. Army team in the flooded basement of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters. The written records provide a better understanding of the 2700 year-old Iraqi Jewish community. The Jewish Iraqi Archive was brought to the U.S. to be preserved, cataloged, and digitized, and has been exhibited in various cities for several years.

Based on an agreement signed on August 19, 2003 between the Coalition Pro-visional Authority and the National Archives and Records Administration, and extended by the U.S. Government in an Executive Order by President Obama, the Iraqi Jewish Archive was to have been returned to Iraq after September 2018. Then on a parallel track, but unbeknownst to the Iraqi Jewish community, Congress amended the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 in 2008 to include import restrictions on Jewish artifacts. These import restrictions included Torahs and other Jewish artifacts made on or before 1990.

After this, the U.S. State Department put together separate Memoranda of Understanding regarding Jewish religious and cultural artifacts from Syria, Egypt and Libya. If followed, Jewish cultural and religious artifacts could be returned to countries that have engaged in ethnically cleansing their Jewish communities.
The Iraqi Jewish Archive should be understood in relation to the Emergency Protection Act as well as the recent Memoranda of Understanding made by the U.S. State Department with Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya. Additionally, the Red List with Yemen and the pending Memorandum of Understanding with Algeria should be taken into account.

The critical issue concerns whether the U.S. Government should be complicit in returning religious and cultural property from ethnically cleansed Jews to the very countries that have persecuted them. On August 29, 2018, Members of Congress Tom MacArthur, Daniel M. Donovan Jr., and Yvette D. Clarke called on President Trump to “revisit and reconsider the United States’ position regarding this matter, and not to implement any current plans that would result in these Jewish treasures being returned to the custody of the Iraqi government.”4 By extension, to return Jewish cultural treasures to other countries which ethnically cleansed Jews such as Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Algeria should be revisited and reconsidered.

Concerning Iraq, the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 (Title III of Public Law 108-429) as amended effective April 30, 2008, desig-nates the types of imports restricted, in Section IX, F, including Torahs on parchment made on or before 1990.

 The April 30, 2013 amendment notes that "There have been active Jewish communities in Iraq since at least 586 BC. Torahs used in these communities are parchment scrolls bearing Hebrew writing in black ink. The scroll is wound around two wooden rods, and metal finials may cover the tops of the rods. The Torah is housed in a cylindrical case of wood that may be decorated with inscriptions and/or semi-precious stones."

Concerning Syria, the Public Law 114-151 applies to Syria as of August 15, 2016 for Jewish religious and cultural artifacts including, specifically, Torah scrolls written on or before 1920 AD. According to the Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 157, Monday August 15, 2016 pg. 53919, Section IX. Parchment, Paper, and Leather, Parchment A. 2, “” Further, Section X. Painting and Drawing, A. 2, includes a reference to “Jewish paintings may include iconography such as meno-rahs.” Additionally, Section XII. Writing includes writing “[o]n paper, parchment, leather, wood, ivory, stone, metal, textile, stucco, clay, mosaic, painting, and ceramic, in pictographic, cuneiform, Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Arabic scripts.”

Concerning Egypt, the Memorandum of Understanding is effective as of Decem-ber 5, 2016 for religious artifacts includ-ing Torahs created on or before 1517 AD. The Egyptian import restrictions imposed on December 6, 2016 in Federal Register, Vol 81. No. 234 (December 6, 2016) pg. 87809 covers in Section X. Papyrus “[s]crolls, books, manuscripts, and documents, including religious, ceremonial, literary, and administrative texts. Scripts include hieroglyphic, hieratic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic and Arabic.” And Section XIII. Writing covers “[o]n papyrus, wood, ivory, stone, metal, textile, clay, and ceramic, in hieroglyphic, hieratic, Aramaic, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Arabic scripts.

Concerning Libya, the Memorandum of Understanding with Libya signed on February 23, 2018 had a hearing at the US State Department on July 19, 2017 after publishing a notice in the Federal Regis-ter on June 16, 2017 for hearings on religious artifacts including writings on parchment made on or before 1911 AD. According to the presidential memorandum signed by President Donald J. Trump on February 9, 2018 known as the Notice Regarding the Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Libya,

On February 25, 2011, by Executive Order 13566, the President [Obama] declared a national emergency to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701‑1706) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and his close associates, which took extreme measures against the people of Libya, includ-ing using weapons of war, mercenaries, and wanton violence against unarmed civilians. In addition, there was a serious risk that Libyan state assets would be misappropri-ated by Qadhafi, members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates. The foregoing circumstances, the pro-longed attacks against civilians, and the increased numbers of Libyans seeking refuge in other countries caused a deterioration in the security of Libya and posed a serious risk to its stability.

The situation in Libya continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the [United States] national security and foreign policy, and [according to President Trump] measures are needed to protect against the diversion of assets or other abuses by members of Qadhafi’s family, their associates, and others hindering Libyan national reconciliation:

"For this reason, the national emergency declared on February 25, 2011, must continue in effect beyond February 25, 2018. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am con-tinuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13566."

This presidential memorandum on Libya regarding the national security emergency with Libya was signed by President Trump less than two weeks before the signing of the Libyan Memorandum of Understanding.

The full article can be read at the Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter (Fall 2018)

More about Memorandums of Understanding 

Friday, December 21, 2018

How an Israeli understood Yemenite Jews - perfectly

For Sarah Ansbacher, one of the perks of working at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum is meeting people with interesting anecdotes. Here she recounts an encounter between an Israeli and the small Jewish community of Rada'a in the north of Yemen. The Jewish community of Rada'a no longer exists, its Jews either having fled the country or now living under terrible conditions in a compound in the capital Sana'a. 

 In this photo taken in 2009, Jewish boys travel back to Rada'a after a morning of Hebrew classes in a neighbouring village (Photo: AP/Hamza Hendawi)

The other day, I heard a fascinating story from an Israeli man who went on a trip to visit Yemen in 2000 (who had no prior connection or roots to the country). He did a trek from the capital Sanaa to a town called Rada’a, a few days’ walk south.

There, they discovered a small Jewish community that was still in existence, numbering something like 100 people. (He’s not sure if it still remains, as a result of the subsequent civil war.)

In his words, it was like he had stepped back in time. The lifestyle of this little community appeared little unchanged as it would have been several hundred years ago; in modes of dress, trades (the men engaged in traditional trades like leather crafts), the little children he saw playing together.

When they learnt he was a Jew from Israel, they welcomed him in with open arms (even slaughtering a little sheep for a special meal with him.)

But one of the most remarkable things was that they were able to communicate. They spoke fluent, biblical Hebrew - as it would have been spoken over two thousand years ago. And he spoke to them in Ivrit - modern Hebrew.

Would a modern-day Italian be able to communicate without difficulty with an ancient Roman or a contemporary Athenian with an ancient Spartan? Or would I easily be able to get to grips with Chaucer’s English? I'm not sure…

But this is exactly what happened here. The man told me the conversation was wonderful to hear, they'd use biblical expressions so it would sound something like, “And behold, it was light.”

But, they understood each other. Perfectly.

The Yemenite builder's son - with a PhD

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Miss Iraq 'rebuilding relations between Muslims and Jews'

Feel-good story in the Wall Street Journal by Eliora Katz about how Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan, has been helping good Jewish causes in Israel and abroad. What the article does not say is that Iraqi hostility to her pro-Israel activities caused Sarah and her family to flee the country in 2017 for the USA. (With thanks: Lily)

The first Miss Iraq, Renée Dangoor, was a Baghdadi Jew. She was crowned in 1947. Last year Sarah Idan became the first Iraqi in 45 years to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, held in Las Vegas. There Ms. Idan took a selfie with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, and posted it on Instagram.

“Saddam’s regime taught us that Israel and the U.S. are our enemies, and so we need to be at war with them,” Ms. Idan tells me at an Iraqi restaurant near Regent Park. Ms. Gandelsman sits to her left. The two have reunited to host a fundraiser supporting United Hatzalah of Israel.

Sarah Idan (in white) was the special guest at JIMENA's commemorative event for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran

The Jerusalem-based organization is the Uber of emergency medicine. It trains, equips and deploys 5,000 volunteers to medical emergencies through a smartphone app. When Israel’s 911 receives a call, a GPS-enabled app dispatches the closest and best-suited volunteer before an ambulance arrives, reducing average response time to 90 seconds.

Volunteers wear orange vests and carry medical bags. They sometimes board motorized “ambucycles,” which can traverse heavy traffic more swiftly than a conventional ambulance.
The volunteers are Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze: “I have people who pray five times a day and people who might be afraid of them,” says founder Eli Beer, 45. The people whose calls they answer are similarly diverse: a fish vendor in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market, a man praying in a mosque in the Arab town of Kfar Qara, a rabbi teaching Torah.

“I’m also working to rebuild the relationship between Jews and Muslims,” Ms. Idan says. “So when I learned how so many Muslims who volunteer with Jews in Israel have started to see the Jews in a completely different light, I had to help.”

Read article in full 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What are Egypt's motives for restoring heritage?

Why is Egyptian president al-Sisi spending millions on restoring Jewish sites? The government has allocated 71 million dollars  for restoration, but it has since insisted that this sum is for restoring Coptic and Muslim sites, as well as Jewish. Does this development herald a better phase in Egypt's relations with Israel? asks Haisam Hassanein of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (With thanks: Boruch)

Some local political pundits have responded by saying the initiative should not come at the expense of impoverished Egyptians, arguing that foreign Jews should pay for it instead. Yet the announcement followed a string of favorable statements from prominent quarters regarding Egyptian Jewish heritage.

All that remains of this abandoned Cairo synagogue is the Ark

On December 6, editor-in-chief Khaled Salah of al-Youm al-Sabaa—a news outlet with close ties to Egypt’s security services—tweeted praise for Hanukkah, calling it a victory for monotheism against “paganism” and advising his audience to read about the Jewish festival’s central historical figure, Judas Maccabeus. This coincided with the first public Hanukkah celebration in decades at the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue in Cairo, attended by members of Egypt’s tiny Jewish community alongside an American delegation. On November 4, during the World Youth Forum in Sharm al-Sheikh, Sisi stated that Egypt is willing to “build houses of worship” for Jews just as it does for other religions. He also declared that “it is the right of the citizen to worship as he wishes.” Three motivations best explain the government’s positive discourse toward Jews since Sisi came to power in 2013:

Improving Cairo’s standing in Washington. The government sees American Jewish citizens and organizations as a gateway to U.S. policymakers, whom they perceive as overtly sympathetic to Jewish causes.
2. Boosting tourism. Since the 2013 coup, the government has been actively trying to bring lost tourism revenue back to the country. Officials seem to believe that investing more money in restoring Jewish heritage will help market the country as a destination for global Jewish tourism.
   3. Putting on a moderate face. According to Egyptian media rumors, the government plans to amend the constitution very soon in a manner that allows Sisi to stay in power past the normal limits. To ease the outcry likely to erupt from this and other upcoming decisions, the president’s advisors may be trying to burnish his image as a tolerant leader beforehand. In addition to enhancing relations with American Jewish organizations, this approach could also win him favor with the evangelical Christian community and its associated political organs. Yet taking a friendly approach toward Jews and Israel also raises several challenges for Sisi. Historically, Islam has regarded Jews as a protected and tolerated religious minority with some civil and religious rights, but without political status.

Hence, most traditional Muslims in Egypt have trouble comprehending or accepting the idea of a Jewish state, Jewish army, or Jewish political community. Moreover, a central tenet of the fundamentalist Islam practiced widely across Egypt is that Israel and the wider West are huge threats to Islamic territory and culture—a view that is periodically reinforced via negative images of Jews in certain Islamic traditions. Even those Egyptians who agree with Sisi’s attitude toward Jews would still have trouble accepting the idea of a neighboring Zionist state. The concept of Zionism has been vehemently rejected in national discourse for decades, to the point that the very word is almost impossible to mention in public due to its negative emotional connotations. Thus, while some Egyptians may be able to digest the idea of Israel as a territorial state with a government, ambassadors, and army, accepting Israel’s ideological foundations as a Jewish state is beyond everything they have been brought up to believe. As for Egypt’s Nasserists and leftists, they will seemingly never accept Israel. Nasserists tend to view the country as an outpost of Western imperialism, while many leftists (especially those with a strong pro-Russian orientation) see it as an intolerable tool of American hegemony in the Middle East.

  POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS: Washington should continue encouraging Cairo to press Egyptian religious institutions on moderating their discourse. It should also insist that the government open the door for Egyptian liberals and moderate clerics who espouse peaceful notions and tolerance toward religious minorities. And in cases where public figures or the Nasserist/leftist media open popular debates on controversial subjects, Cairo should stay neutral and refrain from punishing those who speak out.

  Read article in full

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

'Yellow vest' antisemitism boosts interest in Aliyah

An American organisation which encourages aliyah (emigration) to Israel has received dozens of enquiries from families in France (most of whom are of North African origin) interested in moving to Israel  in the wake of the antisemitic tendencies displayed by the 'yellow vests' demonstrators. Here is an abridged version of a Times of Israel article:

A policeman in anti-riot gear at a 'yellow vest' demonstration in November 2018 (Photo: AP, Michel Eulier)

Keren LaYedidout, founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, raises money from Jews and Christians in the USA to help emigrating Jews. Most of the Jewish community of France hails from North Africa. The organisation has assisted more than 1,200 Jews from France to make their aliyah by granting them financial aid.

 The French deputy representing Jews abroad, Meyer Habib was also targeted in a long video whose theme is "why do Zionists resent the yellow vests"?

 In the street and on social networks, several figures of the extreme right and antisemitic Holocaust-deniersalso supported the "Yellow Vests." Rabbi Eckstein was a major donor to the Jewish Agency for Israel, the government body responsible for immigration, until 2014, when he cut ties to create his own group, a sign of the beginning of a quarrel. He also took part in the creation of Nefesh B'Nefesh, another major aid group for aliyah, but cut short their relationship in the early 2000s. Keren Layedidout offers scholarships of $ 1,000 or pays six months' rent per adult.

Read article in full (French)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Egypt 's renovation budget is not just for Jewish sites

The Egyptian cabinet has refuted reports that the state had allocated 71 million dollars for the sole renovation of Jewish sites, stating that the allocation was intended to cover Coptic and Muslim sites as well. Al Ahram reports (with thanks: Levana)

A statement by the cabinet’s media centre on Friday said that the reports that the whole amount had been allocated to renovate Jewish heritage sites solely were “unsubstantiated rumours.”

The Giza pyramids are part of the renovation project

Last week, several local and international media outlets reported the Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany as saying that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had allocated the amount as part of the ministry's plan to renovate Jewish heritage sites in Egypt.

 “The Ministry of Antiquities has allocated EGP 1.3 billion to renovate a number of archaeological sites in Egypt, including the Jewish synagogue in Alexandria,” read the Friday statement. “The Egyptian government gives equal attention to Egypt’s entire heritage, whether Pharaonic, Jewish, Coptic or Islamic,” it added.

 According to the cabinet, some of the archaeological sites included in the renovation plan are the Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis, Mohamed Ali Pasha Palace in Shubra, the Giza Pyramids, the Jewish synagogue and the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Alexan Pasha Palace in Assiut governorate, and King Farouk’s lounge near the Giza Pyramids.

  Read article in full

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Israel launches testimonies website

Israel’s ministry of Social Equality  last week launched a website carrying some 500 testimonies of Jews who lived in Arab lands.

Gila Gamliel at the launch of the Seeing the Voices website

Minister Gila Gamliel launched the website, titled ‘Ro’im et ha’ kolot’ ( Seeing the Voices)
Ces) at the Yad Ben Zvi Institute before a packed audience. Some 10 million shekels were earmarked for the  recording of the testimonies of refugees from Arab and  Muslim lands and their absorption into Israeli society. The project also involved the Museum of the Daspora, the Steven Spiegel Fund and JIMENA. There are plans to extend the project to immigrants from the ex- Soviet  southern republics.

Musicians from the Yad Ben Zvi Institute  sang traditional piyutim

An App has also been developed so that grandchildren would be able to upload an interview with their grandparents.

The initiative is part of the government campaign to raise awareness of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands before that generation is lost.

Friday, December 14, 2018

18 groups petition Pompeo not to restrict import of Jewish items

Seventeen groups representing Jews from Arab Countries have joined JIMENA the San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes Jewish culture of the Middle East and North Africa,  to co-sign letter urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make sure Jewish heritage in the Middle East and North Africa is respected. Jewish Journal reports:

Dar al-Bishi synagogue in Tripoli, Libya

The letter, which concerns agreements made by the U.S. with other countries in order to prevent looting and theft of cultural heritage, asks Pompeo to exclude Jewish artifacts from the agreements, saying they don’t really belong to those countries’ governments. “

The signing of memoranda are based on the false premise that property confiscated from Jews when they fled or were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries constitutes the national heritage of these countries,” JIMENA director Sarah Levin said in an e-mail to J. JIMENA is concerned about important objects of Jewish heritage — from Torah cases to prayer books — left behind as Jews fled countries in which they were persecuted following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and says the State Department agreements deny Jews access to their own past.

“There are estimates that in today’s current values Jewish refugees were forced to leave behind six billion dollar’s worth of private and communal property and we are committed to pursuing justice for these losses,” she normal; line-height: The letter was co-signed by organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the World Jewish Congress North America. It calls on Pompeo to ensure “that a policy is in place that protects Jewish and Christian heritage by explicitly excluding them from any import restrictions and reject any stateclaims to communal or individual property."

Read article in full

Full text of letter:

Dear Secretary Pompeo,
On behalf of the undersigned Jewish organizations we are writing to encourage the State Department and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to explicitly recognize the rights of Jewish and minority heritage when negotiating future cultural property agreements with countries in North Africa and the Middle East. During the 20th century, 850,000 indigenous Jews from the region were ethnically-cleansed or forced to flee lands their ancestors lived in for over two-thousand years. Virtually all of their personal and communal property was confiscated. The dispossession and denationalization of nearly one million Jewish refugees was done under the color of law and today there are very few Jews remaining in most of these countries.
The State Department has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between the United States and other governments that deny Christians and Jews from Arab countries the right to their historic heritage. The Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was enacted to deter the looting of archeological sites by enacting temporary import restrictions on significant cultural items as part of a multilateral effort.  Unfortunately, over time these restrictions have expanded beyond both the law’s intent and its legal authority.
We recognize the importance of these MOU agreements in deterring the pillaging of archaeological and ethnological materials. However, an additional goal of these agreements, as noted in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, is to, “increase international access to cultural property.” This has a particular relevance with regard to Jewish heritage, which encompasses both moveable (e.g., Torah scrolls, ritual objects, libraries, communal registers) assets and immovable (e.g., synagogues, cemeteries, religious shrines) assets. Regrettably, it is not safe – and in many cases forbidden by national law – for Jewish refugees from Arab countries to return to the countries that exiled them.
On July 31st, 2018, during a public hearing at the Department of State on the Request of the Government of the People’s Republic of Algeria for U.S. import restrictions on virtually the entire cultural heritage of Algeria, representatives of exiled Middle Eastern Jews urged the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the President to withhold these import restrictions. Algeria has failed to meet the criteria set for restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act. It would be unconscionable for the United States to give the Algerian government authority and control over the property of its oppressed and exiled Jewish and Christian citizens.

As MOU agreements demand that the governments themselves show they are taking measures to preserve and protect the heritage in their own countries, North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Algeria, requesting MOUs should be asked to present an inventory of remaining Jewish moveable and non-movable patrimony and an account of what they are actively doing with respect to the care of synagogues, cemeteries and other sites and items of Jewish and Christian heritage.
The recent statement by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, Joan Polashick, that the State Department is working on an additional five MOUs with Middle Eastern and North African nations makes it essential that a policy is in place that protects Jewish and Christian heritage by explicitly excluding them from any import restrictions and rejecting any state claims to individual and communal property.
We ask that the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Heritage adheres to the limitations set by Congress under the Cultural Property Implementation Act by denying broad, excessive import restrictions to nations that have neither valued nor cherished the ancient heritage of Jewish, Christian, and other minority peoples. We  further request that all future MOUs from the region include provisions that list and name specific Jewish and Christian items to be excluded from the restricted list of items. Such items include: Torah scrolls, Torah cases, Jewish prayer books, Jewish manuscripts, religious ceremonial articles, and all Jewish ritual and prayer materials that include Hebrew inscriptions or references to original Jewish owners – whether they be individuals or Jewish institutions.
It is more important than ever for the United States to stand in solidarity and defense of Christian, Jewish and other religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa, to ensure that these living communities are not deprived of their rich cultural heritage. Thank you for your attention.  We look forward to remaining in communication with the State Department on this crucial issue.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Egypt to invest in renovation of its 'Jewish heritage'

 First the good news: Egypt is to invest millions in the restoration of crumbling synagogues. (Of the 13 synagogues in Cairo, only three are in use: the Ben Ezra, Shaare Shamayim in Adly St, and the Karaite synagogue). The not so good news is that moveable Jewish artefacts are also being declared the property of the Egyptian government.

My comment: while the restoration of synagogues is a welcome move, Jewish organisations outside Egypt will have no stake in the project, and therefore no say in how the restoration is undertaken. It must also be emphasised that several synagogues and their contents were private family property abandoned by  owners who were forced to flee. These owners never gave their consent to an Egyptian state takeover.   Jewish artefacts, which were the property of the community or of Jewish individuals,    are being appropriated to boost tourism.  In addition, the state sets a worrying precedent by asserting an unlimited  right to the  property of Egyptian Jews outside Egypt (while denying the right of Egyptian Jews abroad to access civil registers). Point of No Return has reported that Magda Haroun, the  Cairo Jewish leader, has called for four paintings in the Louvre belonging to an Egyptian Jew who died in WWII to be 'returned' to Egypt. Jewish community leaders  abroad have called the demand 'outrageous' and crazy'.

Inside the Ben Ezra synagogue, one of the few still functioning in Cairo

Israel National News quotes a report in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper:

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi will allocate $71 million for the renovation of synagogues and Jewish heritage sites in the country.

 The announcement about the grant was made by Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, Khaled El Anany, who said that "there is importance in renovating the Jewish synagogues, just like the renovation of the pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic heritage.

It is important to remember that the Jewish items and synagogues belong to the Egyptian government." “Most of the synagogues in Egypt are in poor condition, and must be renovated so they can be turned into visitors' centers," added El Anany, who was quoted in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

 The announcement said that the renovation will be carried out by the Egyptian government only, without the intervention of foreign governments and Jewish organizations from abroad.

Read article in full

  Smadar  Perry in  her Hebrew  Yediot Aharonot article reports that 500 Jewish  items collected from the synagogues will be put on public display.  "President El-Sisi  affirms that Jewish artefacts and synagogues belong to the Egyptian government.''

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tunisian-Jewish minister of tourism provokes protests

It was perhaps inevitable that the appointment of Rene Trabelsi as Tunisian minister of Tourism should have provoked street protests. The so-called 'moderate' Ennahda-led government is Islamist, but Jewish tourism to the island of Djerba is a major source of national income. The Times of Israel  reports (with thanks: Lily):

TUNIS, Tunisia — Dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged a protest in Tunisia’s capital against Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians Saturday.

 The protest was held outside the Tourism Ministry. The country’s newly named tourism minister, Rene Trabelsi, is Jewish, only the third Jewish person to ever be named a minister in the country. Protesters expressed anger about Israeli settlements and called for a Palestinian state, with posters reading “Palestine is Arab, no choice but rifles,” and “Tunisia is free, Zionists out.”

 The crowd included left-wing groups pushing a law that would make it a crime to normalize relations with Israel.

Tunisians hold anti-Israel posters outside the Tunisian Tourism Ministry in Tunis, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (AP/Hassene Dridi) 

 Tunisia’s government has downplayed the proposed law, and moderate Islamist party Ennahdha warned such a bill could hurt Tunisia’s relations with Western nations and international organizations. Tunisia, like most Arab countries, doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Trabelsi, a tour operator who also organizes a yearly pilgrimage to the country’s famous Ghriba synagogue, became the first Jewish minister in the country in decades when he was named to the post last month.

 Trabelsi grew up on the island of Djerba, the heartland of Tunisia’s Jewish community and the site of a pilgrimage which attracts thousands of people each year. Tunisia is seen as a model of tolerance in the region but has faced growing Islamic extremism.

  Read article in full

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Call for 'return' of Louvre paintings to Egypt 'outrageous'

 With thanks: Boruch

Magda Haroun, the head of the tiny Jewish community of Egypt, has asked for four paintings in the Louvre in Paris to be 'returned' to Egypt.

The paintings were owned by an Egyptian Jew who was killed during WWII. Mrs Haroun has written to the Egyptian Ministry of Culture  asking for the paintings to be displayed in Egypt, unless there are living heirs.

Paris-based Yves Fedida of the Nebi Daniel Association has called Mrs Haroun's suggestion 'rather outrageous and inadmissible.'  Mrs Haroun has not yet received an answer to her letter from the Egyptian government.

Magda Haroun endorses Egypt's claims to Jewish property, which it considers 'national heritage'.

As there are so few Jews still in Egypt, Mrs Haroun has for the first time opened up the Adly synagogue to the public for a Hanucah celebration.  News Africa Now reports:

 Magda Haroun: 'our numbers are no longer great'

For the first time in decades, Egyptian non-Jews have been invited to the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue to celebrate Hanukkah Day, or Eid al-Anwar, one of the faith’s most important holidays.

The celebration was also attended by members of the Drop of Milk Association for the preservation of Jewish heritage, a 24-person US-Jewish tourist delegation, and head of the Jewish community Magda Shehata Haroun, who opened the event with a welcoming speech:

“Our number as Egyptian Jews is no longer great, but we have Muslim and Christian friends who are interested in preserving the Jewish heritage. They are among us today, and there are many others who joined the Association of Drop of Milk…We have a great heritage, and personally, I’m not worried about it, because the young people of Egypt will preserve it,” she remarked.

Read article in full 

Egypt has almost completed the indexing of Jewish artefacts which Mrs Haroun has handed over to the government, Egypt Today reports:

CAIRO – 6 December 2018: Head of the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities Sector, Gamal Mostafa, presented the works of recording and documenting the fragments of the Jewish temples to Assistant Minister of Antiquities for Technical Affairs, Mostafa Amin.

The authorities thwarted the 'smuggling' out of Egypt of this silver Torah scroll crown

This comes within the framework of the Ministry of Antiquities' plan to record and document the artifacts of the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish civilizations.

Amin confirmed that this is the first time that the registration of 500 Jewish artifacts from various Egyptian synagogues has been completed.

Read article in full

Monday, December 10, 2018

'My refugee grandparents never played victim'

Moving reflections by Philippe Assouline, a Canadian Jew, on the trials and  tribulations endured by his Moroccan-born grandparents. Never once did they complain as they rebuilt their lives from discomfort and destitution.

My parents and amazing grand parents never even told me they FLED Morocco out of fear (how serious the danger was in Morocco is another matter, but it was serious enough, with Nasserist fascism rising) to exile -  an entire, large, 2,600 year-old community within 20 years). They never complained or informed us -- not even once amid thousands of often nostalgic, always very talkative and boisterous shabbat and holiday meals -- that they had to suddenly leave all of their friends, memories, culture, references and belongings behind -- to save their lives and families.

I found out only at the age of 24 that they came to Canada destitute, supported by charity and optimism, and had to start over with many kids in tow.

 To see video by Hen Mazzig, click here.

My grandfather z""l, a light unto mankind, lost a coffee making business and became a door to door salesman in the great Canadian north (imagine an African in -30 degree weather, smiling door to door while carrying encyclopedias). My grandmother -- a legend of a woman who made her home feel like the Temple in Jerusalem, z"l - became a seamstress, gathering what she could in extreme elegance. My other grandfather z"l, with his consummate warmth and charm, a heart on each of his sleeves to go with his endless smile, worked into the late night as a tailor, while my dad and others shared a living room as a bedroom, supported by the endless courage of my grandmother z"l, a pillar of knowledge and values, who pushed the entire family to focus on education, self -improvement and dignity.

Never did they whine, play victim or complain. It was unimaginable to even resort to social services in times of need, let alone make the world carry us. Never was I raised to believe that my misfortunes were caused by others or that the world owed me anything. I was raised to believe that I had no misfortunes, BH and that I owed the world to be good and happy. To look forward, be a good CITIZEN, be a good person, and enjoy life and family.

That blessed attitude is why we, ACTUAL refugees, entirely blameless and exiled by Arab regimes and a war we had no hand in starting or contact to, never got redress. This, while the people who chose to wage genocidal war and lost, have appropriated the "refugee" mantle while fitting neither its moral nor legal definition.

It is high time that our story be recognized, and even more than that, the incredible dignity and honor and class of our elders who suffered and kept moving forward with a smile.

And we're just getting started.