Friday, March 30, 2018

How Jews from Egypt marked the feast of freedom

Some 25,000 Jews were forced to leave Egypt after the Suez crisis of 1956. Here is  the late Teddy Nahmias's account of Seder night aboard the ship taking him to freedom in his new home of Italy. Jewish Renaissance carried the story:

 Following the unfortunate events of 1956 and the Suez Canal crisis, hundreds of Jewish families packed their belongings and left Egypt, most boarding ships sailing from Alexandria , bound for 26 European Mediterranean ports.My family chose Italy, my father's dream land. As a Corfiot he felt Venice was his cultural home, so we were on our way to Venice and Trieste. The vessel was the S/S Enoiria, a smaller version of the famous S/S Esperia of Adriatica fame, those white luxury liners that rode the Mediterranean with the Lion of Venice watching over from the yellow chimneys.

Egyptian-Jewish  refugees leaving Port Said

We took the lift down from our fifth floor flat in Mazarita for the last time. Some of our neighbours opened their front doors and stood in silence on the landings to watch us go. Mohammed, our imposing Sudanese (porter), was sobbing like a child. There was no coming back. The emotion was high and my mother could not stop her tears. Dad became tense as we went through customs and police clearance, but felt more comfortable as he walked the steps to the deck. After all, he was already on Italian soil.

 As for myself, I was in a daze, feeling that something irreversible was taking place, but too young to realise the implications. I was probably hoping to find another group of youngsters at the other end that would recreate the rock 'n' roll fun-loving crowd I had left behind. As the ship started to move away from the dock and head for the high seas, we all waved goodbye, and slowly turned our heads from the land that we were not to see again for perhaps half a century.

I noticed a few young people around my age and naturally was drawn to them. My parents by now were in conversation with other Jews who were on their way to Canada. Others were due to catch a ship from Trieste to Australia. Suddenly someone said," but tomorrow night is Pesach night.

Shouldn't we mark the occasion somehow?" A charming and understanding officer decided we could use a section of the dining room, and I recall about 25 of us sitting around a number of tables assembled to form a long table. To top it all, as a gift from the Captain, a beautiful cake was placed in the centre of the table with the compliments of the Chef, the crew and the officers. How embarrassing: no matzah but instead a massive torta to celebrate the festival of the unleavened bread.

I remember my father laughing and I also remember a discussion on who would officiate. A Haggada was found. I cannot remember whether or not the cake was eaten. We were Jews leaving Egypt, celebrating Jews leaving Egypt. Had we fallen into a mysterious time warp? Although not realising it at the time, we had gone through a unique experience never to be repeated. This time the bread had risen.

 Read article in full

Wishing all readers Hag Pesah Sameah or a Happy Easter!

Posts about Passover

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ben Porat produces proof of Baghdad bombers

Who threw the Baghdad bombs? For decades an accusing finger has been pointed at the Zionists in Iraq, and their leader, Mordechai Ben Porat. More evidence that the nationalist Istiqlal party was responsible has come to light in Ben Porat's recently-published autobiography, From the Land of Birth to a Homeland. Review (roughly translated from Hebrew) by Zvi Gabay:

Mordechai Ben-Porat, now in his nineties

After the throwing of a hand grenade at the Masuda Shem Tov synagogue on January 14, 1951, during the registration of the Jews of Iraq to immigrate to Israel, three people were killed, six were seriously injured and 19 were lightly injured. Since the Iraqi government was not quick to publicize its findings, a malicious rumor spread that the Zionist movement had done the utmost to expedite the departure of the Jews from Iraq.The accusation of serious misconduct in the Zionist movement harmed its members and its head, Mordechai Ben-Porat. For years he fought to clear the name of the Zionist movement and his own name, including in a libel suit in court, and hoped to expose the truth about the affair.

Mordechai Ben-Porat's autobiographical book, "From the Land of Birth to a Homeland" (published by Teper), now has new evidence about the grenade shells lobbed at  the synagogue and a cafe where young Jews used to gather. The testimony is included in the book "History of the Zionist Movement in Iraq and Its Role in the Immigration of Jews in 1950-1951", published in Iraq in 2013, which includes the research of the historian Shamel Abd al-Qader.The study includes a video of the culprit and his partner saying that they threw the grenades, directed by the national poet Adnan al-Ravi, a leader of the nationalist Al-Istiqlal party, which worked to expel the Jews from Iraq.

Thus, Mordechai Ben-Porat, when he reached a ripe old age, received direct testimony from the perpetrators of the crime, who of course were not punished. Today the Jews of Iraq are happy not to live in bloodied Iraq, where they lived since they were exiled to it with the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. The highlight of Mordechai Ben-Porat's public activity is, of course, his secret mission to Baghdad and the organization of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, together with Shlomo Hillel, in which some 110,000 Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel.The huge operation was conducted without a hitch, until the hand grenade was thrown at the synagogue, which was the last stop on the way to the airport.

The path of Mordechai Ben-Porat passes through sensitive intersections of modern Israeli history. He immigrated to Israel in 1945 and after the establishment of the State of Israel became the first officer of the IDF officers' course. During his mission in Iraq, he was arrested by the Iraqi secret police and a step away from execution. He escaped from his detention and escaped on one of the immigrant planes to Israel.In Israel he enlisted to assist in the absorption of immigrants in the tent camps and became the founding father of Or Yehuda and of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center.He was a disciple of David Ben-Gurion who appointed him, along with others, to the executors of his will. In his search for the challenges of public activity, he was elected to the Knesset and became minister in the governments of Yitzhak Shamir. He worked tirelessly to achieve national reconciliation and to establish a national unity government. Mordechai Ben-Porat reveals new details about central personalities in Israeli politics, including Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin. Prime Minister Menachem Begin appointed him to head the ministerial committee to formulate a solution to the Arab refugee problem. The committee's recommendations are still relevant and are presented in the book.

He worked tirelessly to integrate the Sephardim in society and fought for the Jews of Arab lands and to achieve justice for them.In 1974, he initiated the establishment of the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, which organized international conferences and raised the claims of Jews from Arab lands for justice.Under his influence, Moshe Dayan, when he was foreign minister, raised the issue at the United Nations General Assembly and demanded equal treatment with the issue of Arab refugees.It's a shame that foreign ministers have not followed through.

Mordechai Ben-Porat's book tells a fascinating life story of a man of great deeds who worked secretly and openly for the state and the community.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Read Google translation in full

Tom Segev on the Baghdad bombings

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

US Sephardim thank King of Morocco

At a presentation on the Jews of Cape Verde, a US Sephardic synagogue thanked the King of Morocco for investing in the restoration of hundreds of Jewish sites. Without his help, Jewish heritage will be crumbling and cemeteries left derelict. The North Africa Post reports: (With thanks: Malca):

A mosaic Menorah testifies to an ancient Jewish presence in the Cape Verde Islands (photo: Cape Verde Heritage project) 

The Sephardic Synagogue Magen David in Washington expressed its gratitude to King Mohammed VI for launching a restoration project of cemeteries of Moroccan-born Jews. A ceremony was organized by the Synagogue during which participants lauded the lofty actions of the King to preserve the Moroccan Jewish heritage at home and abroad.

 The event was attended by Chairwoman of “Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project (CVJFP), Carol Castiel who told the press that “without this contribution in 2011, this project would never have been possible.”

 Castiel also recalled that in June 2015, a Jews delegation from Cape Verde made a trip to the country of their ancestors, Morocco, on the initiative of the ministry of Moroccans living abroad and Migration Affairs.

Read article in full

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Syrian envoy accuses Israelis of Jobar looting

The Syrian ambassador to the UN has complained that Israeli and Turkish intelligence operators have removed precious artefacts from what is left of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus. It is not clear how much of the site survived a bombing in 2013. Rumours have since circulated that the Syrian army or the Islamist rebels had looted the synagogue. The Israeli ambassador to the UN has accused the Syrians of trying to divert attention from the civil war. Story in the Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Yoel)

What's left of the Jobar synagogue after its bombing in 2013

In a formal complaint sent to the United Nations Security Council, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari accused the two countries of cooperating with “terrorist groups” to remove valuable items from the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, also known as the Jobar Synagogue.

The Jobar synagogue as it was

“[My] government wishes to transmit highly credible intelligence to the effect that the terrorist groups that are active in the area of Jobar, near Damascus, cooperated with the Turkish and Israeli intelligence services to loot artifacts and manuscripts from the ancient synagogue there,” Ja’afari said. 

The Syrian ambassador went on to write, “The items were then smuggled through local and foreign intermediaries to Istanbul, where they were received by antiquities experts who certified that they were extremely valuable antique objects. The items were subsequently smuggled to New York.”

In a response provided exclusively to The Jerusalem Post, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called the letter a distraction aimed at drawing the world’s attention away from the Syrian civil war, which has left more than 500,000 people dead over the past seven years. 

Read article in full

Monday, March 26, 2018

Moshe Kahlon tells it like it is, in Arabic

Israel's finance minister Moshe Kahlon is of Libyan origin, but he's not quite the bridge-builder with the Palestinians that Haaretz would like him to be. He speaks basic Arabic but has some honest things to say in the language: he tells his Palestinian interlocutors  that he is the minister from the refugee camp - the ma'abara where his mother still lives. And declaring 'Rahat al-Quds!' ('You've lost Jerusalem') is his way of speaking truth to power, albeit with a smile.

The tension of the days of rage that followed America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital remains palpable. The Palestinians have totally cut themselves off from the Trump administration. A peace deal seems further away than ever. And into the Muqata in Ramallah marched a senior Israeli minister who, with a broad smile on his face, declared in Arabic, “Rahat a-Quds!” (“You’ve lost Jerusalem!”)
In another place and time, this certainly could have been a casus belli, but in this story, which took place at the end of last month, those present responded with forgiving amusement and shook the hand of their guest – finance minister and security cabinet member Moshe Kahlon.
It wasn’t Kahlon’s first visit to Ramallah, nor was it his first meeting with senior Palestinian Authority officials. His remark was accepted forgivingly because they are familiar with Kahlon’s direct but endearing style. Since he became finance minister, the former Likud member who now heads a party, Kulanu, which doesn’t have a clear diplomatic agenda, has succeeded in developing a quiet channel with the Palestinian leadership. First it was on the basis of economic cooperation and coordination under the auspices of the defense establishment, while later on other issues were added, spurred by an American bear hug. In essence, since the Palestinians declared that they will not come to the negotiating table if Washington is the mediator, Kahlon is currently the only active diplomatic channel.
Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset on March 5, 2018.
Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset on March 5, 2018.(Photo: Olivier Fitoussi)
Some Palestinian officials refer to him sarcastically as the minister from the refugee camp, because during one of his meetings he told them of his difficult childhood in the projects in Givat Olga. His conversations are sprinkled with the Arabic he learned from his Tripolitan parents. This detail has attracted the attention of foreign news outlets, which have labeled him “the Arabic speaker who could lead Israel.” Only Kahlon really understands Arabic, people familiar with these meetings told Haaretz, in a barb clearly aimed at Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but they hasten to add that Kahlon’s Arabic is very basic and his conversations with PA officials are conducted with the help of interpreters or in English.
Although these meetings were never really a secret, even if all the details aren’t known, the Kulanu chairman tries very hard to conceal this aspect of his work. On all his very lively social networks, among the hundreds of announcements about new financial benefits and pictures of his elderly mother (who still lives in Givat Olga), you will find only a handful of references to diplomatic or security affairs in general and to his ties with Ramallah in particular. That’s no coincidence, of course. Kahlon is proud of his work in this area, but he is also afraid to undercut his right-wing image.

The connection began when he took over the Finance Ministry in 2015, with a telephone call from his Palestinian counterpart Shukri Bishara, which led to a meeting at which they were joined by PA Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh. This wasn’t an unusual gesture or a demonstration of good will. Under the Paris Protocol governing economic relations between Israel and the PA – which was even updated in 2012 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said then this was aimed at “supporting Palestinian society and strengthening its economy” – Israel is obligated to coordinate various economic moves with the PA, including the transfer of taxes collected by Israel on the PA’s behalf.

Over the years Israeli governments have at various times held these Palestinian funds hostage, delaying or freezing their transfer as a form of pressure or punishment. This being the case, even a decision to regulate the transfer of funds becomes a significant diplomatic decision, as is a decision on what level of official comes to the meetings. Kahlon’s associates note that the previous finance minister, Yair Lapid, had also met with Bishara under these circumstances, but the relationship never developed in the same way and the debts could not be worked out.
In 2017 Kahlon also started meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, with Netanyahu’s knowledge and blessing. The two have met three times in Ramallah and are expected to hold another meeting in Jerusalem. The pair, along with members of their staffs, also connect by phone. These meetings are attended by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, whose responsibility includes the financial and security coordination mechanisms. Sometimes Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj has also attended.
But some Palestinian officials aren’t so enthusiastic. They say the relationship with Kahlon is totally businesslike and stems from the need to manage economic agreements with Israel. The senior PA officials have no partiality toward whoever is managing the contacts with them, as long as he is not a settler, they stress. There are those in the Palestinian “street” who would prefer to cut off all contact with Israel, but they don’t understand that the PA can’t do that because it has obligations, they say.

Read article in full

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Jew runs for Islamist party in Tunisian elections

Simon Slama and his family are the only Jews left in the Tunisian city of Monastir, once home to a thriving Jewish community. But instead of joining the exodus, he is running for office – as a candidate of Tunisia's Islamist party.

Mr. Slama's candidacy with the Ennahdha party in May municipal elections is causing a sensation in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, and some controversy.

Critics see it as a calculated tactic by Ennahdha to regain power and to restore its reputation among Western allies like the United States. Others however see it as an example of Tunisia's long-standing traditions of tolerance.
A sewing machine salesman and repairman, Slama says he just wants to serve his country and the city where he was born, suffering from economic difficulties and social tensions.

"I chose Ennahdha because I found that because of the crisis the country is going through, everyone is turning toward this party," he told The Associated Press in his workshop.

"I see no difference between the Islamic and Judaic religions. We are all one family and we are all Tunisian citizens and we should go hand in hand to build the Tunisia of tomorrow," he said.

Slama returned to Monastir, on the Mediterranean coast about 105 miles south of the capital, Tunis, after studying in the French city of Strasbourg even as other Jewish families left because "we love the city and it has the spirit of my ancestors."

Tunisia is home to an estimated 1,500 Jews nationwide. Monastir "used to have 520 Jewish families. Today mine is the only one left," Slama said.

Read article in full 

Islamist party nominates Jewish candidate

Friday, March 23, 2018

Netanyahu's Mizrahi support remains solid

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beset by allegations of scandal and corruption, but his Sephardi/Mizrahi support base in Israel's poor periphery remains solid. This New York Times article by Isabel Kershner typically attributes his popularity to Sephardi resentment of the Ashkenazi 'discrimination' these Jews experienced on arrival in Israel. But it is fear and mistrust of the Arabs, among whom they lived for generations, which drives their politics.

 Posters of Israel's prime ministers look on in a street in Netivot (Photo: NY Times)

Reflecting one of Israel’s oldest social divides, many of Likud’s staunchest supporters come from so-called development towns like Kiryat Malachi. These grew out of transit camps hurriedly set up in the 1950s to absorb waves of immigrants, mainly Sephardic Jews from Arab countries.

The country’s Zionist pioneers of European descent, socialists who dominated the state after it was founded in 1948, were struggling to populate the more remote corners of their young and poor country. So they directed the new immigrants to these once-desolate outposts while denigrating their culture.
The tents and shacks gave way to rows of public housing that became hubs for the have-nots on the margins of Israeli society. The development towns have since expanded to include neat neighborhoods of single-family homes and have absorbed immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.

Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin was the first leader to harness the feelings of resentment among the Sephardic Jews, helping to sweep Likud to its first victory in 1977. The power of the conservative camp has only grown since. But among Netanyahu supporters, the underdog sentiment and distrust of the old, liberal elite still run deep.

Israel has long been polarized between a hawkish right-wing that has taken a harder line toward the Palestinians and a leftist camp more willing to compromise on territory to reach an accommodation.

“The Sephardim in Israel won’t change their skin even if there’s no food in the house,” said the greengrocer, Mr. Ayyash, whose family came from Morocco. He described how his mother would sit in their tin shack with six of her 11 children on her lap to keep them off the wet floor in winter.

Mr. Ayyash said all five of his children, now married, also support Likud.
“It’s genetics,” he said. “I don’t need to tell them anything.”

Read article in full

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Awards go to outstanding Mizrahi research projects

For the second year running, Israeli government Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel has honoured three outstanding Israeli research projects for their contributions to the study of Mizrahi Jewish communities at a special awards ceremony in Jerusalem. Israel Hayom reports. (With thanks: Lily)

The 150,000-shekel ($43,000) Prime Minister's Prize for Encouraging and Empowering Research about Jewish Communities in Arab Countries and Iran was split equally among the three winners: Dr. Ovadia Yerushalmi, for his research titled  "The Five Long Minutes" on the arrests of hundreds of Egyptian Jews in the 1967 Six-Day War; the Association for Society and Culture of Yemenite Jewish Tradition, for its publication of the Teima Journal for Judeo-Yemenite Studies; and the World Organization of Libyan Jews for Gershon Stav's "From the Abyss" research on Libyan Jewry during World War II.

This was the second year of the ceremony was held, after Gamliel suggested the prize and won the cabinet's approval and a budget in 2016.

The 2018 ceremony was attended by Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, research institute and publishing house Yad Ben-Zvi's CEO Ya'akov Yaniv, academics and social activists.

"Over the past two years, the State of Israel, which has taken part in historic injustices [in failing to sufficiently recognize Mizrahi Jews], is itself spearheading efforts to bring historic justice through the Social Equality Ministry," Gamliel said. "It is important that we honor the pioneers who have invested all of their efforts to research the legacy and history of Eastern Jewry, turning the wheels of history."

 Read article in full

Last year's Awards Ceremony

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Israel Eurovision entry a hit with Arabs

More evidence that music can help break down barriers between Israel and the Arab world: Israel's Eurovision entry for 2018 by Netta Barzilai seems to have gone down well with the Arab world. Haaretz reports: (with thanks: Yoel)

Netta Barzilai: empowering women

Israel’s Eurovision entry is already the favorite to win the tournament on betting sites, and now, it’s arousing interest in Arab countries as well. 

The Foreign Ministry shared a video of Netta Barzilai performing “Toy” on its Arabic-language Facebook page, which has 1.5 million followers. Several users declared that they hate Israel but nevertheless wished Barzilai success. 

“I liked it,” wrote Hamad from Morocco. “Good luck, girl. Morocco is with you.”

Olaya, a woman from Morocco, wrote, “I’m in love with this song!” Another Moroccan even invited Barzilai to make a joint video with two Moroccan singers. 

Abu Majd from Saudi Arabia was also encouraging. “This isn’t the type of music I like, but this song has everything it takes to become an international hit,” he wrote.
Ahmed, an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, wished Barzilai luck. That prompted an Egyptian, also named Ahmed, to attack him. 

“You’re a Muslim, but your feelings are Jewish,” he wrote. “You don’t deserve the name Ahmed.” 

The Iraqi retorted, “What does religion have to do with music and competitions?” 

Another user called the song "wonderful", saying it mixes Arabic, Western and European music. A resident of Yemen said Barzilai had a beautiful voice and also wished her luck. 

Yonatan Gonen, who heads the Arabic desk in the Foreign Ministry’s digital diplomacy department, said the post also garnered many comments from women, even though the page has few female followers. 

“Many women from Morocco commented on the song,” he said, adding that Morocco “is a relatively open and liberal country, so many women apparently found something empowering in this song and wrote about it. The fact that it was posted around International Women’s Day was significant in this regard.” 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Yemenites reunite with US pilot after 70 years

 More than 200 Yemenite immigrants, many of whom came on the Wings of Eagles operation, gathered in Be'er Sheva to hold a festive reception for Captain Elgin Long, 91, the last of the surviving Alaska Airlines pilots. The American company   brought 1, 800  Yemenite immigrants to Israel in a secret operation. Report by Branza. (With thanks: Yoel)

Long, who flew especially from Los Angeles to Israel, was very excited: a Yemenite folklore group from Kiryat Ekron who came to the event in Be'er Sheva, dressed him in traditional Yemenite dress and led him by playing drums and dancing to the hall next to the synagogue. Many people, already adults in their eighties, got to their feet and gave him lengthy applause.  

"I was a little girl when I came to Israel, but I will not forget the flight. We came in 1949, we arrived in Be'er Sheva in 1950 and we grew up and raised a family. Today I came to say thank you to this dear man, "says Rachel, who is not ashamed to reveal her age.
Captain Long (seated), wearing traditional Yemenite clothing and enjoying himself (Photo: Danny Beller)

Captain Long (seated), wearing traditional Yemenite clothing and enjoying himself (Photo: Danny Beller)
 Captain Long told an amusing incident in retrospect, but not welcome at the time: "As we fly in total darkness, you suddenly smell smoke from the engine room. I went down myself to check what had happened and I saw the immigrant making tea in a teapot that he warmed with a fire, right next to the fuel tanks. "

The aliya of Yemenite Jews was made possible thanks to the airline, when Israel did not have a national airline. Only this American company was willing to fly the Jews from Yemen to Israel, with little  means. During the flight, the captain's navigational equipment failed and he navigated by looking at the sky. "When we got to Israel, I asked the control tower to turn on the lights on the runway, but there were none, because there was a war. Now, when I arrived  in Israel, I saw at the airport in Lod a picture of the airport as it was 70 years ago and as I remember it. "
"The pilot is one of the best people from the early years of the country who took a huge risk," said the initiator of the event, Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom, chairman of the Yemenite Heritage Foundation.

A special Yemenite evening, held in honor of the pilot, was put on by the Northern Yemen dance company from Kiryat Ekron and the Be'er Sheva singer Ram Cohen. During the day, Long was a guest at Hatzerim base, and visited the Israel Air Force Museum. The visit and tours in Israel were led and accompanied by Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom, Chairman of the Association for the Promotion of the Heritage of the Jews of Yemen, with help from StandWithUs.  During his visit, he is expected to meet with President Reuven Rivlin and visit as a guest of the Knesset, an event sponsored by Minister Gila Gamliel and others.

Long flew the plane secretly, in a bold and dangerous operation in which thousands of Yemenite Jews immigrated to Israel, passing over enemy states exactly 70 years ago, starting on the eve of the country's establishment. The second part of the operation between 1949 and 1950 brought about another 50,000 Jews.

Ben-Shalom commented: "First of all, Long is one of those good people at the birth of the country who took a huge risk for us and we appreciate his contribution because we, many of the Yemenite Jews who came to Israel and their descendants, simply owe him the success of the secret immigration to Israel. His encounter with those who immigrated and their children and with other immigrants from Yemen points to something else that is no less astonishing in the Zionist enterprise. With all the difficulty of a different culture, with all the difficulties of integration, the Yemenite Jews succeeded here amazingly. Long is so excited to meet happy, happy people who live here, families, and succeed in their professions in all areas of life. "

Read article in full (Hebrew) 

Monday, March 19, 2018

The answer to racism is not a return to patriarchy

Amid the controversy created by the screening of a film alleging discrimination against Mizrahim resettled in Israel's outlying development towns, this brilliant article by Ben-Dror Yemini in Ynet News says that racism demands distributive justice, not a return to the patriarchal societies of the East. This is a rough translation from the Hebrew. (With thanks: Yoel)

Most of the Mizrahim in Israel, that is, those who are called Mizrahim, are no longer Mizrahi. They do not have much to do with the East, and what they do is exactly what the third generation Poles have with the East, and what the French have with the East. Mainly music and food. Those who speak in the name of "Mizrahim" or "Orientalism" are usually the ones who have undergone a process of politicisation. You can call it "Westernization". They recommend to others what they have not adopted for themselves.
There is no dispute that there was discrimination and racism. The TV series Sallah, Here is the Land of Israel - and before that the film - presents these things. And in any case, when you look at the gaps between East and West - there is no doubt that the encounter between them created discrimination and racism. This happened within the framework of colonial control in the Middle East, and it happened with waves of immigration from the East to the West. But the fact that there was - and there is - discrimination, oppression, exclusion and racism does not make the Middle East a worthy alternative. The solution, as long as there is a solution, is not Easternisation, because one of the greatest differences between East and West is the status of women.
Edward Said, one of the most influential intellectuals of the last half-century, was more concerned with representations and descriptions of the East in the service of the West than in the East itself. The East mostly fits the descriptions of those writers and thinkers who so moulded Said. The East is patriarchal, magical, and usually primitive. That's a fact. This is not an opinion. There are also some good things there. Haredi culture has good too. So what? There is a rule that works in almost all human communities: the more patriarchal a society is, the weaker it is. The more a society discriminates against women, the lower its achievements. Most of the Mizrahim in Israel are no longer at that stage. And the more egalitarian the older Mizrahim are, the more equal they are.
In a completely distorted fashion, some of the militants who fly the Mizrahi flag supported or supported Shas, which was once a conduit for protest, but nothing good can come out of a movement that has been for years trying to promote a return to the old patriarchy. It reminds me of the coalition of intellectuals and western progressives - such as Jeremy Corbyn, Judith Butler, Gianni Atimu (?), Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zižek and Norman Finkelstein - with the Islamists, including Hamas and Hezbollah. What they have in common is hatred of the West and an abhorrent hatred of Israel. It is anti-Semitic and destructive, and we do not have to import it here.
Israel is not Britain. But it seems to be worth looking at what happened there. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. Some came from Indian subcontinent, with similar economic backgrounds. There were Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims. There was racism and discrimination, and that was how it was. Now the Hindus are at the pinnacle of achievement. In education they surpassed the white natives and also the Jews, who until recently were the most educated group. Many Muslims have also advanced. But those who insisted on perpetuating the culture with which they came - mainly patriarchy and oppression of women - were left behind. They are in ghettos. One who oppresses is depressed, just as one who strives for equality. The Muslims advanced. The others advanced even further.
All human beings are equal. Not all values ​​are equal, and not all cultures. Multiculturalism can be wonderful when it comes to music, art, art. In practice, multiculturalism has failed. The "other" remains within a cultural ghetto, with its customs and values ​​and with its culture. As early as 1999, Susan Muller Okin wrote the groundbreaking article: "Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?" Nearly two decades have passed. The situation today is worse. Multiculturalism is bad for women, not just for women. It did not create integration. It created separatism. It perpetuated patriarchy. Muslim feminists in the West, such as Fadela Amara of France, (?) of Belgium, Sayran Atash(?) of Germany or Ayan Hirsi Ali of Holland, oppose multiculturalism. They know this is a false formula. The change will come from the liberation of the woman, not from the recognition that the culture of the "other" is equal. What did not work in the West will not work in Israel.
Prof. Momy Dahan found, in the most serious study in the field, that the gaps between Ashkenazim and Sephardim are narrowing, both in terms of income and education. The gaps between Jews and Arabs are also shrinking, but there is a significant gap between Muslims and Christians in Israel. One can assume that Christians, by virtue of their Arab identity, also suffer discrimination, but they manage to overcome and achieve impressive achievements. In the matriculation exams, for example, they pass the Jews. Is this gap between the Christian population in Israel and the Muslim one related to patriarchy? Presumably yes. The higher the status of women, the better the community does.

Poster from Sallah, this is Eretz Israel (English version: The Ancestral Sin). The film has been stirring controversy.

Most of the Mizrahim in Israel, members of the second and third generation, do not exactly connect with the Mizrahi identity that some people try to infect them with. They want to live in a democratic and liberal state and even, God willing, Western. It is true that there is a phenomenon of Mizrahi youth who discover their Mizrahi identity, and there is something romantic about the phenomenon, but it is mainly a protest against discrimination, exclusion and racism. This is a protest that demands distributive justice, even in the field of culture. But despite the cultural yearning for the East, and even the construction of a memory, often imagined, of harmony between Jews and Arabs in Arab countries, it is doubtful whether any of the current protest activists would want to live under an oriental regime, that is, an Arab one. It was not always that way. The East was once more advanced. The oldest university in the world, El Kerouan, was established in Fez, Morocco. But that does not change the fact that in the past few centuries the Arab East has been lagging behind.
One of the great problems of the East, which Yehoshafat Harkabi dealt with as early as the end of the 1960s, is the externalization of blame. There is no self-responsibility. They are all guilty. The West, capitalism, colonialism, Zionism. Just not the East itself. Patriarchy? Suppression of women? tyranny? Yuk. The flock of academically-blind bishops has become partners to the great deception that absolves the East of responsibility. The greatest challenge of the Arab East is to take responsibility. This does not mean that there are no signs of racism and discrimination today. We must fight for distributive justice, changing the municipal boundaries and theoretical education in places where there is still a paved road. But embracing racism, in and of itself, distances self-responsibility, and "integration into the East" is a recipe for exacerbating the problem.
There was oppression. There was racism. It is not over. But that's not the point. Between Ashkenazi oppression and oppression in the style of Eastern countries - the first is much less terrible. After all, about 70 percent of those members of the oppressive generation have granddaughters and grandchildren of Mizrahi origin. The melting pot, despite all the blows it has sustained, is what is winning. It is therefore not advisable to be impressed by the claims of the postcolonial school, which is usually anti-Zionist. This is propaganda. And propaganda is also created in academia. Reality is much stronger. And it is winning.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Philanthropist calls for archive to lead to better relations

With the Iraqi-Jewish archive poised to return to Iraq in September 2018, businessman and philanthropist David A Dangoor makes a plea in JNS News for the archive to be a bridge-builder for normalising relations between Arabs and Jews and restoring the rights of Iraqi Jews. It does not matter to him where the archive ends up as long as Jews have access to it (with thanks: Imre, Independent Observer).
David A Dangoor commissioned the film Remember Baghdad
The answer to what happens next should lie in not whose property it is, but where would it be best preserved and provide access for all, especially in its potential use as a gateway towards better relations between Jews and Arabs.
Between 1950 and 1952, approximately 130,000 Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel, where they became fully integrated into the country despite their arrival with no assets. This constituted around 75 percent of the total Iraqi Jewish community at the time. While the creation of the State of Israel was the proximate driver, the Jewish community, which had been living in many places around Iraq, had already been traumatized by the Nazi-directed troubles in the early 1940s that highlighted the need for a safe haven, which Israel now represented.
 The way we were: a scene from Jewish life in Iraq as captured in Remember Baghdad
Those of us who remained behind subsequently fled in the ensuing years—after the Iraqi government stripped us of our citizenship, property and business interests—to places like the United Kingdom.
Many of us, despite how it ended, look back fondly on our lives in Iraq and are deeply proud of our more than three-millennia sojourn there. Some of the greatest rabbis, scholars and artists enriched not only world Jewry with their work, but the non-Jewish world around them.
Arabic was our mother tongue, our culture and a strong part of our identity. Iraq is still in our blood and in our bones. It’s like a distant bell ringing in the back of our heads, always reminding us where we came from.
For those, like for me, Baghdad is the formation of our identity.
To be a Jew is sometimes to be a bridge to the past, but I believe that we can also serve as bridges to the future.
In the Iraq where I was raised, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sunni or Shia worked, learned, sang and danced together. We lived side by side in peace and harmony.
I believe that while the Jewish community there is no more, perhaps the Iraqi Jewish Archive can serve as a new conduit between peoples, nations and religions.
With ISIS finally expelled from Iraq, this could be an auspicious time for Jews of Iraqi origins to rebuild ties with our former country, and for the leaders of the Republic of Iraq to provide gestures of reconciliation to its Diaspora Jewish community.
We hope it could begin with ensuring the Jewish character of holy sites such as the Prophet Ezekiel and Ezra the Scribe, and that the cemeteries of our families and ancestors are well-maintained. Most of all, we hope to be provided with visas to visit Iraq, or better still, to have our passports and citizenship returned and restored.
I know I speak for many when I say I would love to travel to Iraq to see my family home on the banks of the Tigris and visit the places in my dreams of childhood.
For that to happen, there would need to be a complete change in the way the people and government of Iraq viewed people of different faiths. There would need to be a genuine desire to welcome them, treat them with care and consideration, and respect their national aspirations—something now common in many parts of the world.
If this were to be achieved, it would matter less where the archive resided because we would have access to it. Perhaps an agreement could be formulated whereby the archive would also be on display at various locations, allowing this collection of artifacts to educate and inform others.
For Jews and non-Jews around the world, this could serve as a testament to the good relations that Jews and Arabs shared in the past, and serve as a point of entry in exploring how these ties could become strong and vibrant once again.
To Iraqis, the archive communicates the long-standing Jewish community that lived among them. They could demystify the tradition and culture of the Jewish people in the hopes of exploding certain myths and as a point of greater engagement.
I call on all those who are involved in the issue not to use the Iraqi Jewish Archive as a point of division, but instead, as a point of unity and harmony. Not to hide the materials away in the dark, but to allow the artifacts to shine a light in informing the world about how Jews and Arabs are not so very different. About how we can and should live side by side.
Let these artifacts inspire and not discourage relationships, so that we can regain aspirations of a better future for all the peoples of the region.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Jewish Affairs rep fired by Kurdish government

The representative of the Jewish Community in Kurdistan, Sherzad Mahmoud Mamsani, has been fired 'to appease Baghdad' according to this Times of Israel piece. The news does not come as a total surprise to readers of Point of No Return. In March 2017, we reported that the Jewish Directorate had been suspended, ostensibly for lack of funds. From the outset, rumours have been swirling around the figure of Mamsani: he is not a Jew, he is responsible for the 'fake news' that Kurdistan still has a Jewish community - and even enlisted the help of an Israeli rabbi to reconstruct it in order to attract US funds - or, he is an Iranian agent. Whatever the truth, it seems that Kurdistan wants to reset its relationship with Baghdad following the disastrous independence referendum in September 2017.(With thanks: Lily)

Update: Mamsani himself has left a comment. This accuses the journalist, Judith Neurink, of misinformation putting his life at risk:
There is some very misleading information in the report
Some information is threatening my life
I am three years with all my efforts I served my mother's religion in the midst of fire
If I have a position or without positions
I am proud of my Jewish religion and our Jewish and Kurdish people
So far I am a constant activity and struggle
Sherzad Mamsani

IRBIL, Iraq – After working for Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs for two years, the region’s Jewish representative, Sherzad Mamsani, has been let go. The move is especially peculiar since Mamsani’s position was unpaid.

Mamsani said he was not forewarned about his dismissal, which occurred while he was on sick leave abroad.

Mariwan Nasqshbandy, the director of religious coexistence at the Endowment and Religious Affairs Ministry, hinted that the firing could be an effort by the Kurds to reconcile with Baghdad following shaky relations after an independence referendum in September of last year. In the referendum, 93 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted for secession and an autonomous state.

Nasqshbandy said that the move was likely political because the Religious Affairs ministry previously ignored his complaints that Mamsani was proving ineffective at mobilizing Kurdistan’s dormant Jewish community.

Mamsani was one of seven religious minority representatives whose posts were created by the Kurdistani parliament in 2015. The Jewish representative’s position was unique in that its aim was to unite Kurds whose Jewish grandparents converted to Islam. He wanted to offer them a Jewish education and opportunity to return to their roots.

To help rebuild the Jewish community in Kurdistan, Mamsani looked for help from Rabbi Daniel Edri, the chief of the Haifa, Israel, rabbinical court.
In a telephone call with The Times of Israel, Edri claimed that Kamal Muslim, the Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs, appointed him chief rabbi of Kurdistan. (Naqshbandy said he had no knowledge of this.)

A December 30, 2017 post on the Facebook page entitled Rabbi Daniel EDRI, Kurdistan claimed that the region had a new rabbi for the first time in years.

Sherzad Mamsani, left, with Israeli Rabbi Daniel Edri, who is helping trace Jewish lineage and rebuild the community in the region. (Courtesy)
“Hello my friends from all over the world,” the post said. “Its Kurdistan have new Rabbi after 70 years [sic]. Its the first time after 70 years a Rabbi can start in Kurdistan the new Jewish life.”

The rabbi stressed that Israel did not send him and that he has no political motivations. “I will only work for the religion, since the [locals] do not have any information on the Jewish laws,” Edri said.

Since the September referendum, Kurdish airports have been closed for international flights and Iraqi troops have taken control of disputed territories formerly overseen by the Kurds, including the oil rich city of Kirkuk. Iran also temporarily closed its borders with the Kurdistan region.

Edri expects to return to Irbil as soon as international flights are resumed, although Naqshbandy said he would prefer to have a Kurdish rabbi who speaks the language.

In most Muslim countries leaving Islam is considered a crime, but returning to Judaism is especially discouraged by the staunchly anti-Israel governments in Baghdad and Tehran. Both countries were incensed when Israeli flags appeared at rallies during the referendum campaign, where Israel was touted as the only state supporting the Kurdish demand for secession.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sephardim 'would have set up another Arab country'

 Had Sephardim, not Ashkenazim been first to settle in Israel, they would have set up 'another crappy kingdom' in the Middle East. This is the view of Eli Moyal, Sderot's ex-mayor, himself of Moroccan origin. Moyal's reaction, reported by Haaretz,  was part of the fall-out to the TV screening of The Ancestral Sin, a controversial documentary allegedly revealing  discrimination by the Israeli authorities towards Middle Eastern and North African immigrants.  The film has led to ministerial calls for the Jewish Agency archive to be opened, although at least one academic claims that the documentation has long been accessible to  interested parties.

Sderot ex-mayor Eli Moyal: how many universities in Morocco?

Speaking Monday on Israel’s Southern Radio, Sderot (ex-)Mayor Eli Moyal discussed claims that the authorities, during Israel’s early years, were biased against Jews who were not of Ashkenazi, or Eastern Europe, descent. “It’s good that the Ashkenazim received the Sephardim and not the other way around, because otherwise they’d have set up another Arab country in the Middle East,” he said. “If the Sephardim had come first, this would be another crappy kingdom.” 

The country's Sephardim and Mizrahim should look in the mirror, Moyal went on to say. “How many universities were there in Morocco? What did we know about the developed world? How much technology was there in Morocco? When you move cultures, the first and second generation pay the price. You can’t get away from that. The price is justified, and I understand it. In exchange, we received independence and democracy.” 

Yael Ben Yefet, director of the Sephardi Democratic Rainbow, called Moyal a “racist” and a “collaborator.” 

Moyal's comments were possibly related to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's declaration on Sunday that she intends to open the Jewish Agency’s archive to the public. Shaked, who is also in charge of national archiving, made the decision in response to the 2017 documentary series “The Ancestral Sin.” 

Aired on Channel 2, “The Ancestral Sin” reveals archive documents, some reportedly shown for the first time, that show the racist, discriminatory attitudes Israeli authorities had toward immigrants from Middle Eastern and North African countries, who were relegated to development towns in outlying areas – mainly in the southern and desert areas. After the series was first broadcast, government authorities including Interior Ministry Arye Dery and Culture Minister Miri Regev demanded that the Agency archive be opened.
“There is no reason for materials that deal with the country’s history not to be revealed. We will go over the documents and recommend publishing them, as long as they do not include matters that could jeopardize state security,” Shaked stated on Sunday.

 Read article in full

Film stirs controversy over development towns

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

'The Christians owned the land, Muslims came as guests'

The Al-Khoei family are religious Shi'ites in Iraq with a reputation for moderation. Here scholar Jawad-al-Khoei demonstrates his sense of history and how distant Islamism can be from his brand of Islam. From MEMRI: (with thanks:Lily)  

Jawad Al-Khoei: Violence in our region has its origins here. We are all in the same boat. There is no difference between Syria, Iraq, and so on. Some of the violence is the outcome of the injustice of the dictatorships that ruled us. Poverty, ignorance, deprivation, and oppression all stem from that. Some of the violence is religious violence. It exploits religion.

 The birth of ISIS is not an anomaly. ISIS is deeply rooted in Islam. Its roots can be traced back 1,400 years, to the first century of Islam. When you read [Islamic] history, you find that people would kill someone, then exhume the body, cut off his head, and then burn the body.

Hostess: But all nations experienced this kind of violence.

Jawad Al-Khoei: Fine. But violence is a bad thing, and when it dons the cloak of religion, it is a hundred times more evil. 

Hostess: From what you are saying it sounds as if violence is predestined to remain in this region, because it is so deeply rooted.

Jawad Al-Khoei: No. This depends on our determination, our resolve, and the will of our rulers. If our rulers really want… I mean, is it really conceivable that to this day, there is not a single page in the religious curricula in Iraq about Christianity or about the Yazidi faith?

Hostess: Even though the first Christians were…

Jawad Al-Khoei: They were the owners of this land, and the Muslims came in as their guests. Read transcript in full

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Iraqi newsman calls for apology: English transcript

An Iraqi top news presenter, Ahmed al-Hamdani, called for Iraq to make an apology to Iraqi Jews (and other minorities) recently and called on the Iraqi foreign minister to 'rectify that historic error'. MEMRI has now posted the full transcript of his broadcast. (However, Al-Hamdani's solution is for Iraqi Jews to return. It is not to recognise that Iraqi Jews are now irrevocably Israeli, but to say that many 'refused to go to the Israeli entity'.) Nevertheless, al-Hamdani's call is historic. In contrast, an Algerian politician conjures up anti-Jewish conspiracy theories while rejecting their 'hellish plan' to 'return' to Algeria, a prelude to their takeover of the world. (With thanks: Lily) 

Al Hamdani: "Some seventy years have passed since our honorable Jewish Iraqi community fell victim to a human tragedy and to reckless behavior, when they were taken prisoner and subjected to forced deportation. The consecutive Iraqi governments that followed the monarchic era realized that this had been an error of historic proportions.

All those governments maintained that the property of the Jews was off-limits. That property remained frozen because of the sense that an historic mistake had been made. If such [non-democratic] regimes have acknowledged the tragedy, it is our duty, after seventy years, to rectify that historic error.

It is the same historic error that has been suffered by the Christians, our loyal compatriots, who were banished or killed. It is the same historic error that has been suffered by the Sabaeans, our loyal and honorable compatriots, who were also banished or killed. And it is the same thing that has happened to our loyal and honorable Yazidi compatriots, whose girls, our sisters and our compatriots, have been abducted, which is a crime of honor, a crime [against] humanity.

Hence, seventy years later and from our studio here, I would like to go on record and say that it is our duty to apologize to our Iraqi Jewish compatriots for the tragedy that befell them.  (My emphasis) We should indeed apologize to them, and those who have remained loyal to Iraq should regain their property. Many of them refused to go to the Israeli entity, and have remained loyal to Iraq in the U.S., in Europe, in Britain…

On the Facebook page of the Iraqi Jews, I saw a story about an Iraqi woman called Majdoleen. She talked about the tragedy of being driven out of Iraq with her family. But to this day, she continues to love and respect Iraq and to be loyal to it. Let’s listen to what she has to say.

Majdoleen: The Jews lost all their property. Everything. My father sold our home and put the money in the bank. Then [the bank accounts] were frozen, and he couldn’t withdraw a single penny. We came here [to Israel], and lived for two and a half years in a tent in a refugee absorption camp – two and a half years in a tent, after having a house in Iraq. My father used to be an accountant for the Iraqi airline.

(Majdoleen here seems to be having a flashback to the 1941 Farhud): Some two thousand Arabs came, and burst open the huge iron door [of the market] with knives and axes. They shattered the door, and within one hour, they had cleared out the Salem Shimon market.

We closed the door to grandma’s home and peeped through the windows. One of the thieves said about grandma’s home: “This is a Jewish house”. We placed all kind of things up against the door so that they couldn’t open it, but two thousand people just gave it two or three blows and broke down the door.

They beat up my grandma. She was overweight and could not go upstairs, so she stayed downstairs. They beat her up. They made an “orange”. Do you know what an “orange” is? A stick with a ball of tar. This hurts! They beat her on the head, asking: “Where are the girls?” They were looking for girls. Each time she screamed, I would cry and say: “They killed grandma”.

Hajj Moussa was a prominent businessman, and we went to him. When we walked in – may they rest in peace… When they saw us, the mother and her two daughters began to cry. The mother was cursing the people who had done this.

The first thing the two girls did was to open the sewing machines. They brought some material and sewed dresses for us. They said: “Here you have new clothes, and you can cook for yourselves, since you do not eat the food of the Muslims”. They gave us a roof. In Iraq, we used to sleep on the roof in the summer. They gave us a roof for ourselves, and they slept on another roof. They brought food from their fields. I heard that they had handed out food to all the Jews in the neighborhood. They gave food to all the Jews, who were left without anything.
It was not like in Europe, where there were camps and ghettoes for the Jews. Our neighbors were just like me. We used to eat at each other’s home.

We have come here, but Iraq is dear to our hearts. We grew up and studied there, and we have friends there. What is happening in Iraq is painful to us.

Al-Hamdani: I salute all of our people who have suffered injustice, including the Iraqi Jews who remained loyal to Iraq, despite the seventy years that have passed since the tragedy. I salute them wherever they may be in the world. Someone asked me what about the [Shiite] Feyli Kurd minority. Well, I salute them just as I salute all the others. People, if we do not care about the tragedies of others, nobody will care about our own tragedy.

If I were the foreign minister, I would invite Majdoleen and say to her: “Here is a plane ticket. Come and see your country after seventy years”. I would give her an official welcome, thus sending a positive message to the world. But where can we find a reasonable person who would understand that? If [Foreign Minister] Ibrahim Jaafari has brains, he should do it. We should get him a doctor to see whether he has brains in his head or something else.

Read article in full
Meanwhile, Algerian MP Naima Salhi, Secretary-General of the Parti de l'équité et de la proclamation, warned of a "hellish plan to create a second Zionist entity - a so-called 'Israeli state ' in the Maghreb," and to restore the Jews from Arab countries to their countries of origin. "By now [they] have taken over the world financially," she said. "[Their state] in Algeria will spread to Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, and Mauritania," she warned.

View transcript page