Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Iranian Jewess hopes for Purim salvation in Holland

With the festival of Purim beginning tonight, it seems appropriate to feature the story of Sipora, an Iranian-Jewish refugee in Holland. Sipora was sentenced to death in her native Iran for helping abused wives, but has not been offered asylum by the Dutch authorities, who are tightening up their immigration policies. She could go to Israel, but fears putting her husband, still in Iran, at risk. (In the past, Israel has insisted on being the sole destination for Jewish asylum seekers: it is not clear if this is also a factor in Sipora's case). JTA reports:

Sipora at her daughter's house in Holland (photo: Cnaan Lipshiz)

Sipora, 60, was sentenced in absentia to death by public execution in 2013 by a Tehran court that convicted her of “violating Islamic rules [of the] Islamic Revolution” and “anti-regime activity.” Her crime: running an underground organization that found housing solutions for women with abusive husbands who could not obtain a divorce.

 Luckily for Sipora, she had already left Iran a year prior to her sentencing to help with the pregnancy of her daughter — herself a political refugee who has been living in the Netherlands since fleeing her native land in 2010. Sipora’s daughter, Rebecca, fled in connection with her involvement in the making of a documentary film about the fight for democracy in Iran.

 “A few weeks after I came to Holland, I called my husband on the telephone. He asked me to go on Skype. I knew something was wrong,” Sipora recalled. Sipora’s husband of over 40 years, a Jewish building contractor with a heart condition, told her online that Iran’s dreaded secret police were looking for her and other members of her group. “In that moment I knew there is no going back,” Sipora recalled.

 Unfortunately for her, Sipora’s legal troubles back home coincided with a toughening of immigration policies in the Netherlands, where the center-right ruling party is bleeding votes in favor of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom, which favors a shutdown of immigration from Muslim countries.

 Rebecca received a temporary residency permit and later citizenship without delay even though she had no death sentence against her in Iran. Meanwhile, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service has consistently declined requests by Sipora two years later. Instead, she is in legal limbo — neither granted asylum nor deported, despite her whereabouts being known to authorities.

Read article in full

Wishing all Point of No Return readers a Happy Purim!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Purim 'days of Miracle' in Basra

A feast at the court of King Ahasuerus

The boisterous and joyful festival of Purim is upon us, beginning tomorrow evening. It celebrates the liberation of the Jews of Persia from the evil Haman. His plan to destroy the  Jews was foiled by Mordechai and his niece Esther. She had been chosen by  King Ahasuerus as his queen.

The story of Purim is told in Megillat Esther, but different Jewish communities have celebrated their own miraculous deliverance at different times. The Jews of Basra celebrated the Persian Purim of 1775.

The British Library Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic collection contains an imprint which prefaces the Megilla with an account of the 'miracle' of Purim in Basra in 1775.

Events surrounding the capture of Basra by the Persians indicate the clear preference of the Jews for Turkish rule over that of the Persian rulers. The rising importance of Basra's Jewish merchants had led to Persian fears that their own coastal ports on the Persian Gulf would decline.

Despite the aid of the Saraf (banker), Jacob Aaron Gabbai, the Turkish governor of Basra could not stand up to the Persians. The Persians demanded a ranson from the Jews and when they could not meet this heavy tax, ordered troops to search Jewish homes for the money which they thought the Jews had hidden. This they did with great brutality. Jewish women died rather than submit to rape. The heads of the community were exiled to Persia.

Four years later, the Persians left Basra unexpectedly. Following the death of the Shah of Persia. Jacob Aaron Gabbai returned from exile, was granted state privileges by the Turks and was appointed Nasi of Baghdad Jewry.

It was to celebrate 2 Nissan 5535, the  'days of miracle' of the disappearance of the Persians that the Persian Megillah was authored by Jacob Shaul ben Eliezer Jeroham (Eliashar) and printed by Ezra Reuven Dangoor in 1905/6.

Point of No Return articles on Purim

Monday, February 26, 2018

International team works to save Nahum's tomb

Emergency work has been carried out to save the tomb of Nahum in northern Iraq by Cheryl Bernard with a team from the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage. But the restoration work will only prolong the shrine's life for another two years. Seth Frantzman reports for the Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Lily) 

 “I was struck by the beauty but it looked like it might be too late,” recalls Cheryl Benard.

 The tomb of the Prophet Nahum lies in the ancient Christian town of Al-Qosh overlooking Nineveh Plains. Nahum was one of the minor prophets who predicted the destruction of the city of Nineveh located in the outskirts of modern-day Mosul.

The tomb is on the border between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Mosul. For centuries the tomb was a major site of Jewish pilgrimage and many Kurdish Jews would come to the tomb and synagogue around it, which is thought to date back more than 800 years. In the 1940s and 1950s Jews of the region moved to Israel, and the town’s Christian residents took care of the tomb as best they could.

 "It’s noteworthy, the community there is amazing, it has been a place of sanctuary,” says Benard. “They are proud of their shrine but they were not in a position to maintain it.”

 After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 there was talk of restoring the tomb and the US Army Corp of Engineers even paid a visit.

In 2014, Islamic State conquered the plains below the tomb and threatened the site. Kurdish Peshmerga and the US-led coalition pushed the extremists back. I visited the tomb in 2015 and saw the tremendous state of disrepair. There was a rusted metal awning over the collapsing building to keep rain out. The tomb itself had a green blanket over it and showed signs that some pilgrims still

  The tomb of Nahum has now been stabilised (Photo: Lisa Kiara/Springs of Hope)

 In 2017, conservation experts told Benard that it looked worse than it had been a few years before and might not survive another winter. Benard, who holds a PhD in international relations and has worked at the RAND Corporation, hoped the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage could help save the site. “The structural integrity was imperiled and they explained that the way it was constructed, the columns and arches were connected so that if the outermost ones collapsed, then it could destroy the others.

Benard and her team rushed to get funding. There happened to be a Czech firm working on preserving the ancient citadel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region. Called Gema Art Group, the Czechswere experts in construction and preservation and had experience not only in the Kurdistan Region but also in preserving religious buildings.

About an-hour-and-a-half drive south of Nahum’s Tomb, the Czech experts were also familiar with Al-Qosh and said they could help stabilize Nahum’s tomb and would do it for the cost of the materials.However, hurdles remained. In September 2017, the Kurdistan Region held an independence referendum and Baghdad punished the Kurds by ordering the Erbil international airport closed. Suddenly the equipment the Czechs wanted to bring in couldn’t come directly to Erbil but had to go through Baghdad on a local airline.

“They were concerned for their equipment but they went ahead with it and you can see the results,” says Benard.

 Read article in full

More about the tomb of Nahum

Sunday, February 25, 2018

US memo to Libya is licence to steal Judaica

A US move to curb the illegal trafficking of goods and artefacts from Libya becomes a mechanism for the state to 'steal' what does not belong to it. As with the Iraqi-Jewish archive, there are fears  a conflict between national and communal heritage  will legitimise the nationalisation of movable items such as Torah schools and books. The Times of Israel reports: (with thanks: Lily)

 On Tuesday, the State Department announced that the US will sign a memorandum of understanding that will impose restrictions on importing ancient materials from the country. In the announcement, the State Department said the memorandum continues “similar regulations” imposed in December through an emergency restriction. The agreement, which is set to be signed on Friday, prohibits artifacts dated 1911 and earlier from being brought into the country from Libya.

The Dar al-Bishi Synagogue, Tripoli

 The State Department further said in the announcement that the import limitations are meant to curb illegal trafficking on goods. Jewish activists said the agreement gives the Libyan government ownership of materials taken from the Jewish community. The emergency restrictions from December list many general categories of artifacts, and specifically mention “scroll and manuscript containers for Islamic, Jewish, or Christian manuscripts.” Among objects listed in the memorandum request last year were Jewish ritual objects, including antique Torah scrolls, tombstones and books.

 Gina Waldman, a Libyan Jew who is the president and co-founder of the group Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, or JIMENA, said in a statement to JTA on Thursday that the agreement legitimized Libyan confiscation of Jewish property.

  Read article in full

Friday, February 23, 2018

The War of 1916, and the War of the Veils

 All photos Picture-a-Day/IWM collection

With thanks: Robin

In the same year as the battle of the Somme, one of the great catastrophes for the British army took place on eastern front: the battle of Kut al-Amara. The Ottoman army laid siege to British forces from December 7, 1915 to April 29, 1916. Thousands of soldiers died in combat and from disease.  After the British surrender, more soldiers died in captivity as they were marched to Aleppo in Syria.  The British recaptured Kut in February 1917.

These photos, published at a Picture-a-Day, are from the Imperial War Museum's collection.The top one shows Jews and Christians disembarking from steamers as they return to their homes in Kut in 1917. The middle photo shows Jews and Muslims being taught to sew at a military base. The bottom photo was taken in Baghdad: It shows a group of Jewish women. The  fully-veiled one on the left is betrothed.

How come the women in these pictures can be identified as Jews? Because they wear coloured or white veils, in contrast to the black abayas worn by Muslim women.

These photos of veiled women were taken during a period known as the 'war of the veils': Jewish women were succumbing to modernisation and European influences.  Many were tempted to copy their teachers, who wore western dress. But according to Shmuel Moreh's Studies of the History and Culture of Iraqi Jewry,  fathers and even heads of the community resisted the abandonment of the veil, which was meant to cover a woman from head to toe, arguing that the very fabric of the community was being undermined. After WW1, women stopped wearing the veil and in 1932 the production workshops for veils closed down. In the 1950s, however, a time of great tension between Jews and Arabs, Jewish girls resumed wearing the black abaya so as not to stand out. Female members of the Zionist underground found the veil a useful camouflage for smuggling illegal weapons.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Iraqi-born philanthropist Uri David dies

The Iraqi-Jewish community in London and Jews with Iraqi roots in Israel  have lost one of their major benefactors. Uri David died on  21 February 2017.

Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center, Or Yehuda.

He had suffered ill health in recent years.

A businessman with interests in Africa, David was jailed for being a Communist in his early years in Iraq. He was one of the main contributors to the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda and was on its Board of Trustees. He was also active in the affairs of the Iraqi Jews in England. He moved to Israel in recent years and contributed to many charities.

He is survived by his wife Ruti, his daughters Ronit Azzouri, ex general manager of The Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center, Anat and Michal.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sephardi victim of mass shooting buried

One of the first funerals to take place after the mass shooting on 14 February 2018 of 17 children at a Florida high school was that of Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, one of five Jews murdered.  (According to Wikipedia, Alhadeff is a Sephardi name borne mainly by Jews from the island of Rhodes. )The New York Post reports:

Alyssa was born in Queens but also lived in Woodcliff Lake in Bergen County, NJ, with her family from 2010 to 2014 before moving to Florida, according to
“I would have protected you,” the mother told the tearful crowd, some clutching white roses, as she added, “Alyssa had a zest for life.” “When Alyssa wanted something, she found a way to get it. Nothing would stop her,” the mom said, describing a typical conversation with her daughter that went something like: “Why Mom? Why? Why can’t I go to the mall? OK, Alyssa — you can go.” A day earlier, Alhadeff made a gut-wrenching plea to President Trump on live TV, begging him to “do something” about the country’s rampant gun violence. (...)

Alyssa, a freshman honors student and soccer player at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who volunteered at a homeless shelter, had her life cut short Wednesday during the senseless shooting rampage by a maniacal expelled former student.

 The young girl’s father, Dr. Ilan Alhadeff, also spoke during the Jewish service, which was so packed that roughly 100 mourners spilled out onto the sidewalk outside the funeral home. He described his daughter as “such an amazing person” as he vowed to fight to help prevent more deaths by gun violence.

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Islamist party nominates Jewish candidate

A Jewish candidate, Simon Salama, has been nominated by the Ennahda party, a member of the government coalition, to stand in the May municipal elections, The Tunisian Gazette reports. As the Elder of Ziyon blog points out, it is not clear if the Ennahda party has moved away from its Islamist roots, or whether this move is a cynical political manoeuvre. Approximate translation by Google Translate.  

Supporters of the Ennahda party
The Tunisian Ennahda (Renaissance) party, which has an Islamic prerogative, is working to nominate a Jewish figure in one of its lists to run for municipal elections scheduled for May 6.
The movement believes that this step "reflects the openness of the Ennahda and its civilization," while others assert that it is a "political maneuver" to win the support of more voters in the next municipal benefit.
"The Tunisian Jew, Simon Salameh, will be on one of the lists of the Ennahda party, after the completion of the legal procedures for its submission," party spokesman Emad Khmiri told Magharebia.
This comes at a time when the movement, participating in the coalition government, began to present its party lists "open" to the independent figures.
On Thursday, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) opened the door for nominations to be closed on February 22.
Commenting on the move, a member of the political bureau of the Ennahda party said that their candidacy for a Tunisian Jew on top of one of its lists is "further proof of the openness of his movement and its embodiment of the meaning of citizenship, which is not based on the principles of efficiency and serving the demands of the people."
"Religious minorities are Tunisians on an equal footing with the Muslim majority, and the laws guarantee them the same rights."

Monday, February 19, 2018

The 'ethnic cleansing' of the Jews of France

What is happening to the Jews of France, increasingly targeted by antisemitic attacks, is 'ethnic cleansing', writes Guy Milliere for the Gatestone Institute. It is of great concern to this blog, since most Jews in France originated in French North Africa, yet is minimised, lied about or ignored.

 A view of the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, site of many anti-Jewish attacks

Those French Jews who can leave the country, leave.

Those who have not yet decided to leave or who do not have the financial means, move to safer neighborhoods.

Most departures are hasty; many Jewish families sell their homes well below the market price. Some families end up in apartments that are too small, but prefer discomfort to the risk of being mugged or killed.

The French Jewish community may still be the largest in Europe, but it is shrinking rapidly. In 2000, it was estimated at 500,000, but the number now is less than 400,000, and sinking. Jewish districts that once were thriving are now on the verge of extinction.

"What is happening is an ethnic cleansing that dare not speak its name. In few decades, there will be no Jews in France," according to Richard Abitbol, ​​president of the Confederation of French Jews and Friends of Israel.

Without the Jews of France, France would no longer be France, said Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2016 . But he did not do anything.

Recently he said that he had done his best, that he could not have done more. "The problem," he said, "is that anti-Semitism today in France comes less from the far right than from individuals of the Muslim faith or culture".

He added that in France, for at least two decades, all attacks against Jews in which the perpetrator has been identified have come from Muslims, and that the most recent attacks were no exception.

Valls, however, quickly suffered the consequences of his candor. He was elbowed to the margins of political life. Muslim websites called him an " agent of the Jewish lobby" and a "racist." Former leaders of his own party, such as former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, said that Valls' wife is a Jew and hinted that he was "under the influence".

In France, telling the truth about Islamic anti-Semitism is dangerous. For a politician, it is suicidal.

Read article in full

Sunday, February 18, 2018

'Foreign migrants have destroyed our neighbourhood'

Lost in the discussion about the Israel government's policy to deport migrants back to Africa,  the residents of south Tel Aviv, many of them Jews from Iraq,  tell Ynet News how the African presence has changed their neighbourhood.

They have been living in Hatikvah neighborhood for decades and know each other since their children were small and still lived in the neighborhood, yet the veteran residents of south Tel Aviv described our recent meeting at the neighborhood's community center as one of the last remnants of their old communal life.

Addressing the controversial decision to deport asylum seekers, many of whom have settled in the blighted neighborhood, 72-year-old Yaffa Salah said: “I was born in Iraq, came to Israel 60 years ago and have lived in the neighborhood for 55 years. When I came, the place was nice and flourishing. The neighbors got along an would eat watermelon and sunflower seeds together. Today, the neighborhood has changed completely. The foreign migrants totally destroyed our neighborhood.”

Hatikva residents (Photo: Shaul Golan)

Hatikva residents (Photo: Shaul Golan)

Salah says the foreigners drink lots of alcohol, driving many residents away. “They no longer want to live here. My problem is not with them, it is that they are in south Tel Aviv. They need to be moved to other places.”

For Yaffa and her friends the controversy regarding the future of the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel directly impacts the future of their neighborhood. They are less concerned with the question of deportation and more with their desire to live in safety.
“I feel that I have no more desire to live here anymore, they should be moved to north Tel Aviv. I am really scared to leave the house. Friday nights they sit and make barbeques; I feel as if it is no longer my country,” said 73-year-old Tziporah Fattal.

“We blame the government. It is responsible for what is happening here,” said another resident.

Ariel Zacharia, 58, was born in the neighborhood and never left. He says there is enough space for 13,000 people and the neighborhood now holds 25,000. “All sorts of real estate people turned their homes into residencies for money.
“They turned a warehouse into small apartments. People here are suffering. There are 11 kindergartens, one religious, the rest are for the foreigners. The youth flee the neighborhood,” he said.

Read article in full 

Why are Mizrahim failing to support African migrants? 

Women of South Tel Aviv speak out (Mida)

 This video by Bezalel Yaakov criticises Israel's professional classes for  campaigning in favour of Africans threatened with deportation from Israel. No such campaign has been launched on behalf of an Israeli captive in Gaza, he says. Israel should give priority to Jews.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Mazin Latif: displacement of Jews a crime against all Iraqis

Since the Arab Spring, Iraqis have been rediscovering their lost Jewish community. Here is a fascinating interview in Al-Alam newspaper with Mazin Latif, an Iraqi writer who is somewhat obsessed with Jews. But what is more remarkable, perhaps, is that the interviewer is the Israeli researcher Ronen Zaidel. (With thanks: Linda) Imperfect translation by Google Translate. 
Iraqi Jews enjoying themselves before their mass exodus

The Iraqi publisher and writer, Mazen Latif, is active in documenting the lives of the oppressed, oppressed and oppressed Iraqi minorities and sects. While Iraq was in the early 20th century a country full of diversity, it is at the dawn of the new century free of the diversity on which its civilization, culture and history were based. Therefore, there is a pleasant attempt to restore the good spirit that has inhabited Iraq for centuries and since its first civilizations, and continued its citizenship until it was brutally uprooted from its motherland and abandoned for political reasons related to racial understanding and chauvinism against good Iraqi citizens like Jews. A gentle effort is focused on documenting the tremendous services provided by Iraqi Jews to their countries, documenting the lives of their media and intellectuals, as well as the tragedies they have experienced. In addition, he is active in introducing the other authentic Iraqi sects, which also faced no less horrendous persecution.

He published and wrote more than 14 books about Jewish citizens and their national role, as well as the rest of the other groups facing deportation and expulsion from Iraq.

Why is your  interest in the subject of the Jews of Iraq so paramount?

I always ask this question. What raised my interest in the subject of the Jews of Iraq is that my grandmother (my mother's mother) told me stories, and I was a child aged  seven. She talked about their importance and role and how they were peaceful and honest.  I kept these tales in my memory. When I reached an early stage of consciousness, I began looking for books and sources on the history of the Jews of Iraq. I look for any information even  oral history,  as I search and write. I promised to write and publish about the Jews of Iraq after the subject was banned for more than half a century.

How do you explain the growing interest in Jews? What is its relation to the current situation in Iraq? Who is interested?

 Iraqis still have many memories of Iraq's Jews, whose existence has ebbed, and they studied many of their physical features, posing a historic responsibility for the need to record their oral heritage. If the oral histories defined by historians include a set of traditions of legends, facts, knowledge, doctrines, opinions, customs and practices, when we write the history of an ethnic or religious group, we mean the history of all Iraq because the communities of Iraq and its people are bound by history, geography and a common life.

What is the position of the Iraqi street on this issue? Have you changed? Is there a nostalgia for the Jews?

 The position of the Iraqi street fluctuates, in a sense it is sympathetic to the Jews of Iraq and knows their achievements and their role in building Iraq in that period, but at the same time it accuses as Zionists those who defend them and write about them. It is a paradox that reflects the dual personality of the Iraqi man.

Are there difficulties in writing about Jews? 

There are those who accuse anyone who cares about writing about the Jews of Iraq to be a Zionist and other typical charges. I was initially subjected to a lot of harassment, when I wrote about the Jews of Iraq. The reason is we were raised the culture of the Baath party: Anyone who deals with a subject about the Jews is considered a Zionist or an Israeli, but the situation now in Iraq is that there is a lot of freedom and democracy that allow one to address this issue. When I write about the Jews of Iraq, I write about an Iraqi community that has an important role in the history of modern Iraq.

Frankly, the issue of the Jews of Iraq has some difficulties, because the Iraqi consciousness is still suffering from some backwardness, because the majority view the subject of the Jews of Iraq from a racist point of view, express any issue as Israeli or Zionist, and tie it to the subject of Palestine. Frankly I encountered and still find many difficulties, because of my obsession with the subject. Many try to distort my reputation, and accuse me of being a Zionist, working for Mossad, Israeli and other typical charges.

How do you see the status of Jews in Iraq before deportation? 

The Jews of Iraq produced culture, journalism, art and economy, which is the highest in the history of Iraq centuries ago. The status of the Jews of Iraq was very important in building the Iraqi state, many excelled economically, in newspapers, in the media and in other fields. And how we regret the rising generations of ignorance of their contributions and integration within the Iraqi state. The public discourse on Iraqi culture continues to be rife with them: Iraqis have been enraged by a nationalistic past, sectarian and arrogant sectarianism, preoccupied with the erosion of Iraq's cultural and self-identity, and the marginalization of the other ancient minorities that once formed Iraq's genius.

How do you explain the exodus? 

The displacement of the Jews of Iraq left the curse and sorrow in the hearts of those close to them and who loved them sincerely. Iraq has been an oppressor to Iraqi elements and minorities. The Jews of Iraq have been forcibly displaced, the Kurds have been abandoned, the Christians have been abandoned, the Sunnis have been abandoned, the Shiites have been abandoned, and so have I: the displacement of the Jews of Iraq was a crime against Iraqi citizens who served Iraq with all their possessions. At the same time, the Iraqi government provided for the displacement of the Jews of Iraq and did the best favour to Israel, after they expelled people with high-level skills that were running the country. The displacement of the Jews of Iraq at the time created a gap in the economics of the country, as they were in control of the economy of Iraq, and  many Iraqis so far are waiting for the Jews of Iraq, and considerthem real Iraqis, Iraq list a lot. The truth is that these people were planted in the Iraqi land more than 2,600 years ago. They were not occupiers, but they were exiled Sephardim. They loved Babylon and the two rivers and saved them, and they witnessed the crucifixion of Iraq while occupiers or oppressors had free rein.

The decision to strip Iraqi nationality from the Jews of Iraq during the period of the Tawfiq al-Suwaidi government in 1950 and the freezing of their funds and arbitrary arrest on numerous trumped-up charges, including Zionism and communism, and then expelling them from their ancient Mesopotamia, came in the context of a well-known global conspiracy. From then on, Iraq began to bleed.

Read article in full (Arabic)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Israel flag is torn in Tunisian Parliament

 A Tunisian legislator tore an Israeli flag during a parliament session while promoting a proposed bill to criminalize relations with Israel, the Associated Press (via JNS) has reported.

Legislators sitting in the government’s opposition had previously proposed the bill that would make attempts to normalize relations with Israel illegal.
Debate on the bill was suspended indefinitely because parliament officials did not consider the law a priority.  To protest the delay, opposition lawmaker Ammar Amroussia tore a paper with the Israeli flag printed on it at the parliament’s podium, while calling for a vote on the bill.  The incident was carried on state television.

Moderate Islamist party Ennahdha*, which is part of the governing coalition, warned such a law could hurt Tunisia’s relations with western nations and international organizations.

Tunisia, like most Arab countries, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.  In the late 1990s Tunisia and Israel briefly opened relations within specific interest sections, but Tunisia suspended relations in 2000 during the Second Intifada.

In 2014, Tunisia’s tourism minister Amel Karboul was nearly forced to resign for traveling to Israel in 2006 to participate in a U.N. training program for Palestinian Arab youths.  Karboul and  another minister similarly faced censure later that year after being accused of promoting “normalization” with Israel. 

Read article in full 

*The Ennahda party grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian revolution, so its moderate credentials are questionable.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Did Bob Marley have Syrian-Jewish roots?

With thanks: Michelle

Well I never. The late reggae legend Bob Marley had Jewish roots.

 The World Jewish Congress tells us so, so it must be true. In fact the WJC has gone to the lengths of making a video giving special mention to Bob Marley in a potted history of Jewish Jamaica, the Caribbean island where Marley was born.

According to the video, Bob Marley's father was a Jamaican called Norval. But Norval's mother was Ellen Broomfield, a (white) Syrian Jew.

Quite what a Syrian Jew was doing in Jamaica, the WJC does not tell us.

Hang on a minute! This website says that Ellen Broomfield was a coloured Jamaican. And this website says:

"There is unsubstantiated information circulating that Ellen was a Syrian Jew, but the name is not Syrian or Jewish and is an old Jamaican/English name.
A "wedding certificate for the marriage of Robert Marley [Bob's paternal grandfather] and Ellen Bloomfield [his paternal grandmother] lists him as 'white' and her as 'colored'."

Sorry to disappoint you, folks. The balance of probability is that Marley's grandmother was not Jewish. But take crumbs of comfort in the fact that Marley seems to have been a philosemite. And his own son Julian (below left) has visited Israel.

Campaigner and fighter Sidney Chouraqui dies

The death has been announced of Sidney Chouraqui at 104, Algerian-born resistance fighter, Casablanca lawyer and lifelong campaigner for human rights. Here are extracts from an article in JForum

Born on October 13, 1914 in Algeria, Sidney Chouraqui faced anti-semitism very early on and throughout his life. He became a lawyer in Casablanca and joined the army in 1939.

"Refusing to surrender,  in 1940 (when France fell to the Germans) he created a group of Jewish resistance fighters in Morocco. Under the Vichy laws,  he was struck off the bar. Volunteering on theTunisian front, he escaped from the Bedeau camp for Jews and joined General Leclerc in Libya and the Free French of General de Gaulle.  

Sidney Chouraqui took part in the fighting in France, battles in Normandy, the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg, but also  Landsberg and Dachau camps. He finally reached Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest' in Berchtesgaden on May 8, 1945.
For his wartime feats, Sidney Chouraqui earned many medals and the Legion d'Honneur. He risked his life "both through patriotism, for the liberation of France, and through humanism, for the defence of human rights odiously trampled, for the ideals of 1789 of Freedom-Equality- Fraternity withdrawn by Vichy,  as well as for dignity and justice."

After the war, he  resumed his job as a lawyer in Casablanca. He trained Moroccan lawyers, many of whom became ministers. Resettling in France in 1966, he joined the Aix-en-Provence bar. He was one of the founders of LICRA (International League against Racism and Antisemitism) and the Jewish Cultural Center,  a leader of the Judeo-Christian Friendship and Interfaith Coordination Committee for Israel, which was threatened with extinction in 1967.

From 1982, he was one of the main initiators of the Memorial project of the Camp des Milles.

Read article in full (French)

Monday, February 12, 2018

US Jews launch appeal to stop return of archive

 The Iraqi-Jewish community in the US has launched an urgent appeal for financial support in the wake of the US government's decision to return the Iraqi-Jewish archive to Iraq in September 2018.

Page from an eighteenth-century collection of sermons, customs and rituals for Jewish fast days,  probably printed in Venice. It was one of 2,700 Jewish items found in the police headquarters in Baghdad.

The collection of books, documents and manuscripts was saved from the waterlogged basement of the secret police headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 and shipped to the US for restoration. A memorandum was signed by the Coalition Provisional Administration in Iraq promising to return the archive. But the US government failed to consider that the archive itself constitutes the property of the Jewish community and was stolen by the Iraqi regime.

This community now resides outside Iraq. If the archive returns to Iraq, it will become inaccessible to them. There are also fears that the archive will not be preserved, and might even be deliberately destroyed, if it returns to Iraq.

Jews in the US have been pursuing a two-pronged strategy. The World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI), has pursued the diplomatic route. To-date WOJI has negotiated the cooperation of the Iraqi government and the State Department in extensions and delays to the return of the archives. The archive has been travelling around the US over the last three years. It is presently on display in Atlanta, Georgia and an exhibition in Dallas, Texas will end on 3 September.

JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) has an activist approach. Inspired by the experience of Holocaust survivors to recover stolen Nazi art, JIMENA has been raising public awareness of the issue and is working with a group of lawyers and strategists to pursue legal avenues.

A committee representing the American Aid Society, Congregation Bene Naharayim in Great Neck and the Babylonian Jewish Center will disburse the funds to WOJI and JIMENA as the need arises.

 "We have reached a critical time limit. We need to act before it is too late, otherwise these precious books, manuscripts and milestone family records of our ancestors will be lost forever," says Alice Aboody of the Babylonian Jewish Center.

An 'Archive' account has been established at the BJC (Babylonian Jewish Center), 440 Great Neck Road, Great Neck, NY 11021, where all donated tax-deductible checks with the memo "Archives" will be deposited. Tel (516) 773-9876.

Harif's petition 'Don't let the Jewish archive go back to Iraq'  has attracted over 10,000 signatures. Click here to add your signature.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

How an Iraqi-Jewish school outfoxed the authorities

After Iraq had declared war against the new state of Israel, between 1948 and 1951, Jewish schools in Iraq were under great pressure and in a state of continual tension.  Jews were being arrested for Zionism or Communism.  The principal of the Jewish Shamash secondary school, Meir Hayya, had this anecdote to tell:

A street in Baghdad in 1917

"On 15 May 1949, about 20 percent of the pupils came to (the Shamash) school.  The rest remained at home  to celebrate Israel's Independence Day. Fearing that the government superintendent would choose specifically this day to visit, I put the pupils in three classes and half an hour later the superintendent appeared. I brought him into my office and asked the secretary to ensure that the pupils would make a lot of noise outside, to create the impression that all the pupils were in recess in the  yard.

"After a while, the superintendent asked to visit the classrooms. I accompanied him on his visit to the three  classrooms, then brought him back to my room and hinted to the secretary to put the children, in different combinations, in three other classrooms, with different teachers.

"The superintendent visited these three classes, and thought he had visited six classes. When he saw that all the classes were studying, he left, satisfied. The afternoon newspapers  published articles with large headlines that the Jewish secondary school pupils had celebrated Israel's Independence Day that day by demonstratively being absent from their studies. The next day the Education Ministry published a denial, stating that the superintendent had visited the Shamash school the preceding day, and he had found that all the pupils were present in the school."

From 'Traditional and modern education' by Yosef Meir in Annals of Iraqi Jewry, ed Ora Melamed, Eliner Library, 1995.

Friday, February 09, 2018

'We left Iraq as Jews and entered Israel as Iraqis'

For the great mass of Jews fleeing Arab countries, adapting to their new countries meant cultural adjustments, as Lyn Julius describes in her new book Uprooted.

 Invitation to the wedding of Shafika and Saadiya Nuri in a wooden hut (Photo by permission of Or Yehuda)

One word encapsulates the Mizrahi refugee experience in the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s: ma’abara. Ma’abarot were transit camps of fabric tents, wooden or tin huts. They were conceived by Levi Eshkol of the Jewish Agency to provide temporary housing and jobs. The first ma’abara was es- tablished in May 1950 in Kesalon in Judea.

The EU as a whole, with a population of over 300 million, has been taking in as many immigrants as Israel, a country of half a million, absorbed in the early 1950s. As well as 100, 000 Holocaust survivors, the tiny struggling country took in 585,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, most of them destitute. By the 1960s, the refugees had tripled the country ‘s population. The size of Israel’s endeavour was Herculean. A nation of 650,000 absorbed 685,000 newcomers, some arriving with dysentery, malnutrition, ringworm, trachoma and TB.

During the first years of statehood, roughly two-thirds of Jews from Muslim countries availed themselves of the Law of Return, passed by the Israeli Knesset in 1951. The newcomers came to Israel on some of the largest airlifts in history. It was a miracle that there were no accidents. The chartered aircraft were overloaded and fuel was short. Desert sand damaged the engines. It took sixteen hours for Yemenite Jews to reach Israel, and planes from Iraq were, at first, not permitted to fly direct. 

Conditions in the ma’abarot were deplorable – too hot in summer, too cold in winter, exposed to the wind and the rain. Everything from food to detergent was rationed. 

Refugees had to line up to collect water from standpipes. The water had to be boiled before it could be drunk. The public showers and toilets were rudimentary. The 113 ma’abarot housed a quarter of a million people in 1950. 

Slowly the ma’abarot turned into permanent towns. Some residents stayed in the camps for up to thirteen years. ‘Bring a million Jews’, declared Ben-Gurion. But news of what awaited them deterred those Jews still in Arab countries from joining their relatives in Israel. Bitter and disappointed Iraqi Jews spread rumours that the Mossad had planted bombs in order to make them leave the ‘paradise’ that was Iraq. Later, there arrived in Israel Moroccan Jews, disparaged as ‘Morocco sakin (cut-throats), who, faced with multiple hardships, idealised the sultan of Morocco as their protector and saviour. 
The male heads of household in particular never got over the degradation of becoming refugees. Raphael Luzon writes of his father, who once owned several pharmacy and cosmetics stores in Benghazi, Libya, until the family were forced to leave in 1967: 

After his soul surrendered, his body followed and soon he became ill with kidney failure. Apart from a brief stint in employment, he refused to work. Once a man of wealth, he never would have thought about standing in line at the soup kitchen with charity coupons to get meals for himself and his family. My mother urged him to fight back, but her words fell on deaf ears. He had long ago lost the will to live.

Other newcomers remained quietly philosophical: Egyptian Jews incongruously maintained their bourgeois cultural habits in the camps – playing cards and ballroom dancing on a Friday evening. 

The Jewish state wished to build a new national identity and fashion those Jews who did reach its shores in its own Western image. Many refugees launched themselves with gusto into the task of nation-building, making an effort to speak only Hebrew (Arabic was often associated with unhappy memories) and even Hebraising their family names. The young people were carted off to kibbutzim to learn Hebrew and controversially secular Western values, wear shorts and mix socially with the opposite sex for the first time, as Eli Amir describes in Scapegoat. 

But these values were actually ‘only slightly Western’, as Yitzhak Bar Moshe discovered when he arrived from Iraq. Israel was the state of Eastern European Jewry. With the exception of rare figures like President Yitzhak Ben Zvi, it did not know about Mizrahi Jewry – worse still, it did not want to know about them, their sages, their rabbis, authors, paytanim (poets) or judges: ‘We understood that we were one of many communities. We left Iraq as Jews and we entered Israel as Iraqis.’

Still, cultural adjustments were necessary in all facets of life. Shmuel Moreh’s father could not comprehend the lack of corruption in Israel: 

He used to say, gritting his teeth: ‘By God, I don’t understand this up-side-down country. May the Lord have mercy on Iraq. There we knew how to calculate our steps. Open your hand a bit, slip a few dinars into the official’s hand in order to grease the process of your request a bit and everything will fall right into place. Here there is no bribery, there is no cronyism and there isn’t the magical religious saying: ‘Do it for the sake of God! Do it for the sake of the Prophet Muhammad!’ Here everything is according to the dark law of the inhabitants, a law I don’t understand’. 

For the family of Chochana Boukhobsa, who came to Paris from the small Tunisian town of Sfax, cultural differences had some hilarious side-effects. Her grandfather, a ritual slaughterer, had brought with him his sharp knives and the habits of a lifetime. Her mother paid top price for a cockerel she found on the Seine quayside. 

The cockerel stayed under the kitchen sink of our tiny apartment on the rue de la Roquette. He crowed at the crack of dawn. Puzzled neighbours searched the whole block looking for him. ‘Did you hear a cockerel crow?’ They asked my mother. ‘No’, she answered, mortified. As soon as the door shut, she told my grandfather. ‘Quick, kill that cockerel and be done with. In this city, the police come after those who keep live birds in their apartments.’

From 'Mizrahi Wars of Politics and Culture', in Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation  in the Arab World Vanished Overnight by Lyn Julius (Vallentine Mitchell).  Available on Amazon.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

'I chose the side that resettled Jews from Arab countries'

 It is always a pleasant surprise to come across Arabs who break with the consensus and support Jews and Israel. Often the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is a salient issue in their thinking. Read Fred Maroun's piece - he is a Canadian of Arab origin - in the Times of Israel.

 Fred Maroun

I chose to stand with a people (Jews) that defied all odds and became the only ancient civilization to reclaim its native land from imperialist invaders (Arabs, my ancestors).

I chose to support a state that managed to survive in 1947/49 against much more numerous invaders, and despite the indifference and even hostility of most of the world.

I chose to support a nation that stunned and repelled its allied Arab enemies in six short days in 1967 despite an embargo and condemnation by France which had previously been its main weapons supplier.

I chose to stand with the Jews who despite early setbacks in 1973, and despite a slow and hesitant re-supply by the US that had to overcome a flight ban by most European countries, forced the attacking Arab armies into retreat.

I chose the side that resettled hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands while the Arab world refused to resettle Arab refugees from Israel so that they could be used as pawns in a never-ending war of hatred against the Jewish state. (My emphasis)

I stand with Israel because its Arab minority has full democratic, economic, and religious rights while the Arab world has made its few remaining Jews invisible and irrelevant.

I stand with the Jews because most of today’s world chooses the expediency of appeasing anti-Semitic mobs rather than the arduous road of supporting the tiny minority that deserves to be supported.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Bahraini prince visits Israel

A visit from a Bahraini prince to Israel follows that of an interfaith delegation and testifies to the burgeoning unofficial relations between the two countries. Middle East Monitor reports:

 Ayoob Kara (left) with the Bahrain Prince.

Israeli Minister of Communication Ayoob Kara claimed yesterday that Bahraini Prince Mubarak Al Khalifa is visiting Israel.

“I met publicly for the first time in Tel Aviv with Mubarak Al Khalifa, a Bahraini prince in order to strengthen relations between the two countries,” Kara of Israel’s ruling Likud party said on Twitter.

“Tomorrow [Monday] I will have the honour to host him in the Israeli Knesset,” he added.

Bahrain says it has no relations with Israel however it has been reported that officials from both countries maintain contact and visits privately.

An official Bahraini delegation visited Tel Aviv in December under instructions from Bahraini monarch Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

25,000 Algerian Jews to receive WWII compensation

From today 25,000 Algerian Jews will be eligible to lodge compensation claims with the Conference on Material Claims against Germany for suffering endured during World War II.  None of the press covering this story has found it odd that the pro-Nazi Vichy French government, not the German, was in charge, but is not being held accountable. The Forward's report is typical:

Algerian Jews had their French citizenship stripped by the Vichy government, which then ruled the area, in 1940. Nuremberg-like laws banned Jews from working as doctors, lawyers, teachers and in government. Children were kicked out of French schools.

On Tuesday, 78 years after they endured suffering that left families penniless and starving, and pariahs in their own country, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany will begin taking their applications for recognition as survivors, making each eligible for a one-time “hardship grant” and additional services like food vouchers and in-home care.

Each survivor approved will receive a hardship grant of 2,556 euros, the equivalent of roughly $3,100. The euro figure is the equivalent of 5,000 deutschmarks, a sum the Claims Conference negotiated with the German government in 1980. The money will be distributed beginning in July.

The youngest Algerian survivors, born in 1942, would today be 76 years old. Most, however, are in their 80s and 90s, Schneider said. As important as the money is, even more valuable is acknowledgment of their suffering, Schneider told JTA. “They weren’t murdered but there were lots of deprivations” under the anti-Semitic Vichy laws.

“There weren’t extermination camps in Algeria (There were labour camps on the Algerian-Moroccan border - ed) but a person’s childhood was turned upside down because of this persecution targeting Jews. It becomes a huge part of a person’s identity. The experience during the war for so many people defines them, is the seminal experience of their lives. All these decades it’s never been acknowledged,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.

Read article in full  

Haaretz report 

The New Arab  

DW report
Algerian Jews had their French citizenship stripped by the Vichy government, which then ruled the area, in 1940. Nuremberg-like laws banned Jews from working as doctors, lawyers, teachers and in government. Children were kicked out of French schools.
On Tuesday, 78 years after they endured suffering that left families penniless and starving, and pariahs in their own country, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany will begin taking their applications for recognition as survivors, making each eligible for a one-time “hardship grant” and additional services like food vouchers and in-home care.
Each survivor approved will receive a hardship grant of 2,556 euros, the equivalent of roughly $3,100. The euro figure is the equivalent of 5,000 deutschmarks, a sum the Claims Conference negotiated with the German government in 1980. The money will be distributed beginning in July.
The youngest Algerian survivors, born in 1942, would today be 76 years old. Most, however, are in their 80s and 90s, Schneider said. As important as the money is, even more valuable is acknowledgment of their suffering, Schneider told JTA. “They weren’t murdered but there were lots of deprivations” under the anti-Semitic Vichy laws.
“There weren’t extermination camps in Algeria but a person’s childhood was turned upside down because of this persecution targeting Jews. It becomes a huge part of a person’s identity. The experience during the war for so many people defines them, is the seminal experience of their lives. All these decades it’s never been acknowledged,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.
Read more:

Monday, February 05, 2018

Why are Mizrahim failing to support Africans in Israel?

As African 'refugees' are served with their deportation papers from Israel, there is something disturbing about this cry from Yair Asulin in Haaretz for Mizrahim to rise up in solidarity just because both populations are non-white. Why would the predominantly Mizrahi residents of south Tel Aviv, whose experience of living cheek-by-jowl with the Africans has been less than happy, excoriate the Netanyahu government for taking steps to solve the refugee problem? (With thanks: Sylvia)
African migrants queue at the Israeli ministry of the interior (Photo: Meged Gozani)
The most resounding silence surrounding the refugees’ issue is that of the “Mizrahi movement.” I’m referring to the silence over the absurdity of the refugees’ expulsion and Israeli society’s disregard for the weak. I’m talking about the silence of those who deal with the Mizrahi issue, those who repeatedly seek to point out the racism in Israeli society and smash existing conventions, and who want to challenge prejudiced views about people and human nature.

On the face of it, what’s so surprising? A quick glimpse at almost any newspaper shows that the struggle seems to be between the Mizrahim – “south Tel Aviv,” “Shas” – and the asylum seekers. On the face of it, that’s the story: Are you for south Tel Aviv, are you for the women who kissed Netanyahu’s hand during that visit, the women who look just like your grandmother – or are you for the refugees, the foreigners, the blacks? 

This tension also corresponds, of course, to the left-right fault line. It’s troubling to see how Mizrahi rhetoric, by its silence, falls into line with this story, with these old divisions. How it doesn’t rise up against this characterization of Mizrahi as “south Tel Aviv.” How it adopts, almost automatically, the identity that those in power designate for Mizrahim. How come there’s no uprising?

I deliberately talk about “uprising,” because the situation actually provides a real opening to escape from these labels. This situation is an opportunity to break down the order, a chance to say, “We stand in solidarity,” “We are no longer playing this game,” “Israel has deeply, criminally neglected south Tel Aviv since long before the asylum seekers, don’t con us, don’t sell us that nonsense, don’t cover one evil with another.” It’s a chance to say, “This is us.”

And yet, there is silence. We see Mizrahim identify with the old, cynical, degenerate order, with those who in the name of racism want to deport asylum seekers to a bad place. Obviously there is no equating the Mizrahi struggle with that of the refugees. That’s not the argument. Solidarity is something much deeper.