Monday, April 30, 2018

Ethan Katz muddies the waters of Muslim antisemitism

Ethan Katz is to give the Maurice Freeman Trust lecture at the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College in London on 1 May. He is a history professor at the University of Cincinnati and the author of Burdens of Brotherhood, a study of 100 years of interaction between Jews and Muslims in North Africa and contemporary France. In italics I am reproducing  the blurb advertising Katz's lecture. I have interspersed my comments.
Headlines from France suggest that Muslims and Jews have renewed an age-old struggle. But the past tells a different story.
Academics like Katz have come under fire for 'whitewashing' Muslim antisemitism. They are accused of muddying the waters and confusing the reader/student  with 'complexity' where actually, matters might be quite simple. The 100-years war in Palestine it is not a struggle between Muslims and Jews, but a Muslim/Arab struggle against Jews. Prior to the colonial era in the Maghreb, Muslims had power. Jews were a defenceless minority  in an Arab/ Muslim majority country.  All Jews were eventually forced out.There is no equivalence between the two groups.

The past Katz work refers to is the comparatively recent past. It fails to delve into the dhimmi status of Jews in the Maghreb before French rule - a history of subjugation and even forced conversion. Then Jews were confined to ghettoes - for their own protection against a hostile population. Jews and Muslims were never brothers - Muslims always assumed they were superior and entitled to wield power over non-Muslims. Both Jews and Muslims in Algeria were offered French citizenship by the 1865 Senatus-Consulte, but the Muslims refused, because it would have meant compromising their personal status.  The constitution of independent Algeria discriminates against Jews, for only a person with a Muslim father or grandfather is entitled to Algerian citizenship. Non-Muslims would never be accepted as part of the Algerian nation, even those who had supported the FLN nationalists.

In this talk, Ethan Katz discusses the findings from his prize-winning book, The Burdens of Brotherhood. He traces the simultaneous development of coexistence and conflict among Jews and Muslims in France across the twentieth century and up to our own time. Katz takes us inside little known relationships between individual Jews and Muslims around common culture and shared interests cafes, concert halls, neighbourhoods, and athletic clubs.
The prominence  given by post-modern academics like Katz to cultural and socio-economic factors over people, historical events and politics has served to falsify the history of Jews from Arab countries. No matter how many cups of coffee they shared with their neighbours, even the most 'arabised' of Jews, such as the Jews of Iraq, were eventually driven out. Friendships between Jews and Muslims did not remain immutable - they could turn to enmity at the drop of a hat. 
At the same time, he shows how the defining events of the past hundred years - from the rise of fascism and the Holocaust, to the French-Algerian War and decolonization, to the Israeli-Arab conflict and the rise of global jihad - have become increasingly difficult to escape and have had a far-reaching impact on the interactions and mutual perceptions of Jews and Muslims in France.
The underlying assumption is that Jews and Muslims lack any kind of agency, and are buffeted about by external forces beyond their control. However,  the driving force behind the Israel-Arab conflict, for instance,  has always been Arab rejectionism. The  global jihad is the product of an ideological,  anti-modern and antisemitic movement in the Arab and Muslim world. Some ten Jews have been murdered by Muslims in France in the last decade. No Arabs have been murdered by Jews. These murders did not just happen in a vacuum, and cannot be blamed on French colonialism, or economic, civil or social grievances.

To book for Ethan Katz's lecture Jews, Muslims, Frenchmen: The Promises and Perils of Fraternity click here.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

From the Nile to Lake Geneva, the 'dhimmi' to Eurabia

Gisele Littman had always wanted to write a novel. For years, the potential characters danced around inside her head. Instead, turbulent events in her life threw her in quite a different direction.  Lyn Julius reviews her autobiography in the Times of Israel:

Born in Cairo, she was forced to flee Egypt with her family after Nasser’s mass expulsion of Jews in 1956. As a result, she immersed herself in politics and dedicated her writing talents to the study of the volatile relationship between Jews and Muslims. Her best-known work is ‘The Dhimmi’: an account of the subjugated status of defeated non-Muslims as a by-product of jihad. She has also championed the cause of Middle Eastern Christians. More recently, she coined the term Eurabia for the anti-Zionist strategic ‘alliance’ between the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the European Community. 

Gisele and David met in London as students and fell in love. They were an unlikely couple – she the francophone, shy, diminutive and destitute Jewish refugee from Egypt, he the tall, confident, patrician product of a British public school and scion of a wealthy family.

Gisele and David Littman settled near Lake Geneva and forged a remarkable partnership during his lifetime, which ended in 2012.

Wading through the mountains of documents and letters which David kept scattered in the office of their Swiss home, Gisele Littman has now written her political autobiography (in French).

David meticulously checked her work and translated her books into English. He had a prodigious memory for facts, answered the ‘phone for her and made all her arrangements. No manuscript could go to a publisher until he had been through it with a fine toothcomb. David shielded her from hostile critics. Sparks did fly between these two strong characters, but her book is in many ways, an elegant, and absorbing, tribute to David: ‘L’amour est plus fort que la mort.’

David and Gisele Littman with their baby daughter Diana. 
The family spent three months in Morocco working 
on ‘Operation Mural’ in 1961.

It is a measure of her courage, so soon after she had fled another Arab country, that Bat Ye’or ( a pseudonym meaning ‘Daughter of the Nile’, adopted by Gisele for security reasons) consented to accompany her husband to Morocco in 1961. In a covert Mossad operation posing as an Anglican gentleman, David risked his life to help smuggle out over 500 Jewish children to Israel via Switzerland in ‘Operation Mural’. (He bitterly refused to visit Israel until his work had been officially recognised). In the 1970s, the couple were among the founders of the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries. David was a lifelong human rights activist, a lobbyist at the United Nations and a historian.

They had a circle of academic admirers and like-minded friends – Paul Fenton, Robert Wistrich, Leon Poliakov. But Bat Yeor’s work set on her on a collision course with the doyens of the politically-correct, the interfaith mavens and the revisionists, who accused her of everything from insanity to feeding the Islamophobia of the far-right. In one memorable vignette, she found herself seated at a Geneva dinner party next to Professor George Steiner, a man with fashionable pro-Palestinian views. She told him that Jews in the Maghreb could not leave their quarters with their shoes on. ” I don’t believe a word you say,” he shot back. Between the cheese and the dessert, a fierce argument erupted between George Steiner and David Littman, always fearlessly outspoken in defence of his wife. It ended with Steiner storming out of the dinner party.

Personal tragedy cast a shadow over David and Gisele’s life – their daughter Diana was born mentally handicapped and their son Daniel committed suicide. Nevertheless, Bat Ye’or soldiered on in her mission. She will go down in history as one of the major contributors to the understanding of political Islam and its treatment of religious minorities. She may never get to write her novel. Fiction’s loss is scholarship’s gain.

‘Autobiographie Politique: De la découverte du dhimmi à Eurabia’ by Bat Ye’or: ( 24 Euros, Les Provinciales, 2017)

Read article in full

Friday, April 27, 2018

BBC mentions Jewish refugees, but mainstream is silent

Seventy years since the exodus from Arab countries began to Israel, we can report that Jewish refugees are being mentioned with greater frequency. Even that bastion of bias, the BBC in its 'In pictures - Seven major moments' in Israel's history, saw fit to state:

"Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were driven from their homes in the war that followed Israel's creation, marking the beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem that continues to this day. About 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, as well as some 250,000 Holocaust survivors in Europe, settled in Israel in the first few years of the state's existence, more than doubling its Jewish population."

However, the issue is still absent from the international mainstream press and media. Gaza's Great March of Return campaign should have invited comparisons between Palestinian refugees who want to return to their homes in Israel, and the greater number of Jewish refugees of the same era, who do NOT want to return to Arab countries. But no journalist has yet ventured into this territory, and attempts to get the message into op-eds in the New York Times and Haaretz have so far met with failure.

Curiously, Haaretz did publish an article by Moshe Arens declaring the Palestinian refugee issue a weapon of war against Israel. Although Arens mentioned refugee exchanges resulting from the Greek/ Turkish and India/Pakistan conflicts, not once did he mention Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

This is a cause for concern. It shows that campaigners for Jewish refugees still have some way to go before their issue becomes central to the conscience of Israel's Eurocentric 'liberal' elite. Haaretz Commenters either ignore the issue or blame the Zionists for creating the Jewish refugee problem.

We must redouble our efforts to change this disappointing state of affairs.

Click on this oriental version by Daniel Saadon of the state's national anthem Hatikva. It was released on Israel's 70th anniversary

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jewish uprooting: the counter to Palestinian propaganda

If more people knew about the banishment of Jews from Arab countries, it would serve as a counter-weight to Palestinian propaganda. It would also make those Jews themselves more conciliatory, argues Ada Aharoni in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily) :

 Yemenites landing in Israel

One of the major recognized causes of the current wave of antisemitism in Europe and other places is Palestinian propaganda. This sweeping brainwashing effort has succeeded in producing an anti-Jewish climate in many parts of the world. One of the ways to combat this basic source of lies is to reveal the truth about the banishment of the Jews from Arab countries. The world has mainly heard about the injustice experienced by Palestinian refugees, and almost nothing about the plight of the Jews from Arab countries, mainly Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Let us compare the uprooting of the Palestinians with the uprooting of the Jews.

Whereas the Palestinians refugees numbered 650,000 in 1948, the Jewish refugees from Arab countries numbered 850,000 (UNRWA statistics). The Jewish property, both private and communal, sequestered by Arab governments when the Jews were forced to leave was much vaster than that left behind by the Palestinians in Israel (documented by the International Court at The Hague).

There was practically an ethnic cleansing of Jews in Arab countries. Very few Jews are left in these countries today. Egyptian Jewry, for instance, numbered 100,000 in 1948, but there are only 28 Jews in the whole of Egypt today, and only 22 Jews remain in the whole of Iraq of the 1948 population of 160,000. In Syria and Lebanon there are no Jews left.

On the other hand, there was no ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Israel; there are a million Arab/Palestinian citizens living in Israel today, constituting 20% of Israel’s citizens.

It is important to spread these crucial historical facts as widely as possible, as they contradict the evil and distorted image presented by anti-Israel propaganda. In addition to the possible turning of public opinion in Europe and other places, telling the story of the banishment and uprooting of the Jews from Arab countries has additional potential advantages.

The realization that they are not the only ones who have suffered, and that the Jews from Arab countries have suffered just as much as the Palestinians when they were thrown out of the lands of their birth with only their shirts on their backs and were made so miserably destitute at the hands of Arabs, may cause Palestinians to become more conciliatory and less intransigent regarding peace with Israel.

Read article in full

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Israel must do more to integrate the Mizrahi narrative

Rena Nasar's grandfather or jidoh escaped violence and state-sanctioned persecution in Syria, walking for 20 hours until he reached Israel. Why is his story not told, and isn't it time that Mizrahim were given a seat at the table, Rena asks in the Jerusalem Post:

I grew up knowing that my jidoh’s story, like that of so many Mizrahi Jews, was inseparable from Israel’s story.

AND YET, in most presentations and programs about Israel, my community is not represented, my jidoh is not represented, I am not represented.

I encounter this problem in my own work as an Israel educator. Sometimes, well-meaning programs inadvertently center the Ashkenazi experience and tokenize us as an exotic “other.” Other times, we are exploited to promote anti-Israel agendas that hardly any of us would ever support. More often, our story isn’t mentioned at all.

My most recent trip to Israel was illustrative of this problem. At Mount Bental, as my group overlooked Syria, our guide talked about Syrians and Israelis but never mentioned Syrian Jews. I stood in the back, debating if I should speak up about what Syria – now caught in a vicious civil war – meant to my community and how its expulsion and escape, along with the expulsion of Jews from other neighboring countries, shaped the Middle East.

Chief rabbi Jacob Shaul Dwek, Aleppo, 1907
Being written out of or misrepresented in the story of Israel and the Jewish people is crippling. It can even trigger an identity crisis that leads members of my community to disengage from Israel and their heritage. Yet this is what happens in far too many programs that are aimed at fostering connections to Israel and Jewish identity.

How many American Jews know that the Holocaust extended deep into the Middle East? Can we meaningfully talk about the abuse Egyptian Jews faced or the veritable house arrest Syrian Jews lived under until 1992? I’d argue that education about the Middle East is woefully incomplete if we disregard the still-recent history of families like mine.

While my organization, StandWithUs, has developed materials centered on the plight of Middle Eastern Jews and given Mizrahi employees like myself a platform to share our stories, more must be done by us and others. This is why I want to challenge Jewish institutions and communities to do better at integrating Mizrahi Jews into our communal narrative. Here are just a few possible steps toward that goal: • Examine Israel curricula and programs, and incorporate our story systematically.

This should be done together with Mizrahi scholars, as well as organizations like Jimena and 30 Years After.

• Mentor young Mizrahi leaders for senior roles within Jewish community and Israel education organizations.

• Put Mizrahi stories in the spotlight at high-profile Jewish community events.

• Include Mizrahi and Sephardic religious traditions in our communal spaces.

This is not a one-way street. Mizrahi communities must also make a bigger effort to participate as an unwavering voice. But we must be welcomed and embraced as we do so. So many important causes today deserve our time and attention that it can be easy to overlook our internal struggles. Nevertheless, if we want to reach our potential as a Jewish community, we must start to fully include members of our family who have far too often been forgotten.

Read article in full

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pro-Palestinians dumbstruck by Jewish refugee event

It was an extraordinary sight testifying to the effectiveness of Dumisani Washington's Mizrahi Project:  pro-Palestinian activists were visibly moved by what they saw and heard at a 'Night to Honor Israel', as Jews from Arab countries told their harrowing stories. Pastor Washington posted the following on his Facebook page:

"Some 15 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members came to stage what amounted to a silent protest at the CUFI On Campus at UTSA - The University of Texas at San Antonio event tonight. Some came with their mouths taped shut, and some holding signs smearing Israel with apartheid, hate...the usual canards. However, the event was the Night to Honor Israel, and the theme?

Pro-Palestinians at the Mizrahi Project presentation 'were impacted and will not forget what they heard', according to Dumisani Washington

The over 850,000 Jewish refugees from North Africa & the Middle East. The Mizrahi Project.

Yes. These students sat silently and watched the PragerU video, “Why Are There Still Palestinian Refugees” and heard how the UN and Arab leaders have been using the Palestinians as pawns for decades. 

They watched as Hillel Neuer of UN Watch demanded that the Arab state leaders answer the question, “Where are your Jews?!”

They listened to Rachel Wahba tell of her dad fleeing Egypt after Hitler’s Mein Kampf became an Arabic language best seller.

They listened to Elie Nounou tell how he attended Cairo University with Yasser Arafat, who already had a deep hatred of Jews - long before calling himself a Palestinian and forming a terrorist organization that feigned concern for them.
They sat in rapt attention as David Suissa told how his grandfather escaped from Morocco, and how Jews from all over the world are returning to Israel for a “family reunion.”

And they watched Hila Oved Brog explain how her parents did not allow her family to hate Libya or Germany from where here father’s and mother’s families were expelled after losing everything.

They sat and listened. The expressions on many of their faces were betraying. They were touched. They were impacted; so much so that even when I opened the floor for questions, they sat there and either stared blankly or simply looked down. They were completely unprepared for what they heard. They will not forget it. There is no doubt in my mind that some of their hearts have already begun to turn."

Rap by Ari Lesser about the Jewish refugees from Arab countries

Monday, April 23, 2018

Port Said once had a thriving Adenite community

'Port Said', to Israelis, is a trendy restaurant in Tel Aviv. Not many know that once there was a thriving Jewish community in  the city of the same name on Egypt's Suez Canal.  A daring Mossad mission in 1956 rescued many of them. Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch pieces together the history of its mostly Adenite Jews in Haaretz. (With thanks: Lily)
Jewish woman from Port Said in the late 19th century

At its peak during the 1920s, the Jewish community numbered almost 1,000 people. It had two synagogues – one Sephardi and one Adenite – a rabbi, ritual slaughterer and mohel, a number of Jewish organizations such as B’nai B’rith, as well as Zionist, Revisionist (right-wing) Zionist and women’s organizations.

The city’s flagship was the large Simon Arzt department store, which was owned by Jews and is remembered in Israel for its decorated tin cigarette boxes that competed with the cigarette industry of the Jewish community in British Mandatory Palestine. Many members of the Port Said Jewish community were employed by the department store, and others worked in shipping, commerce and the free professions. 

In the mid-’30s, an estimated 75 percent of the members of the Jewish community had an Adenite background. At some point during this decade, Jews began leaving the city, a trend that picked up after the founding of Israel in 1948, leaving only about 300 Jews in the city in 1956. 

Anyone trying to catalog the surnames of the Jewish community beyond the general classification of “Adenites, Sephardim who speak Ladino and Ashkenazim” will find this a very difficult task. The matter of the last names is serious; in many cases they hold the key to allowing an understanding of where these people came from, another path in the history of Jewish wanderings.

As opposed to the Jewish communities of Cairo and Alexandria, a number of whose sons and daughters wrote fascinating memoirs about their communities, only one book was written about Port Said by a Jew born there, the 2000 English-language work “Port Said Revisited” by Sylvia Modelski. Her paternal grandfather was from Aden and her maternal grandmother (a relative of former Haifa Mayor Shabtai Levy) was from Istanbul. 

The book is no different than most of its genre, written in a personal and nostalgic tone, but it rarely mentions names outside a small circle of close friends. As a result, it’s up to the rest of us to put together the puzzle of Jewish last names of Port Said. The project requires us to burrow into the internet and libraries, as well as meet with former residents who still live among us. All this effort has its reward because at the end of the journey the data and general historical descriptions turn into faces of real people.

I used Yad Vashem’s online Hall of Names, which contains the names of Holocaust victims and their places of birth. After typing in Port Said, I received the following names and years of birth: Lucien Lazare Blaustein, 1889; Carlo Cohen Venezian, 1886, who is listed among the Holocaust victims in Italy; Josef Botshaim, 1888, a tailor whose name I later found in the Berlin directory; and Sara Laufer, 1883, who was murdered in Sobibor. 

The Hebrew newspapers in Israel and Europe of the 1890s and the early 20th century occasionally reported on the happenings in Port Said, including ads. For example, an announcement appeared in 1898 in the newspaper HaZvi about the engagement of Hannah Leah Benderli from Port Said to Chaim Kahana from Beirut. 

Shmuel Benderli (from the same family based in Safed) wrote a notice in the newspaper Hashkafa in 1904 about the opening of the Hotel Jerusalem. Members of the Benderli family were among the richest in Port Said and were part owners of the Simon Arzt department store. One family member was the president of the Italy-Egypt chamber of commerce in the city and bore the Italian title comandante

In 1913, Shmuel Amdurski announced in the newspaper Haherut the opening of an import-export business and even provided a mailing address: P.O. Box 101 in Port Said. 

The following year in Haherut, Pinchas Weiss announced the opening of the Carmel Hotel in Port Said. The problem with these newspapers, which are scanned on the online archive of Jewish newspapers, is the spelling; different newspapers transliterated the name Port Said into Hebrew in a number of different ways. 

Another way to research the question is to check the genealogy website JewishGen and see who is looking for ancestors from Port Said – and there are a few such people. One lives in Australia and is a descendant of the Arzt family. He has documents of a relative who was born in the city of Jaroslaw in Galicia. She completed midwife studies in Lvov and began practicing the profession in Port Said in 1882. 

It turns out that Simon Arzt himself, who seems to have been one of the very first Jews in the city in 1870, brought a number of relatives to live there. He opened a store selling cigarettes that was later bought by Max Mouchly, Arzt’s nephew and the son of the founders of Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek neighborhood. Mouchly turned the small store into the famous department store, got rich and headed the Port Said Jewish community – he even became the honorary consul for Czechoslovakia and Romania in Port Said. 

In the 1920s he employed his cousin and her husband Gedalyahu Neiman (Ne’eman) as managers of the department store. Neiman was the father of former Israeli minister and nuclear physicist Prof. Yuval Ne’eman. His sister – law professor and Israel Prize winner Ruth Ben-Israel – was born in Port Said.
Other famous Jews born in the city include the Israeli-American political cartoonist Ranan Lurie, whose grandfather headed the Ashkenazi community there. Yossi Ben-Aharon, the director of the Prime Minister’s Bureau under Yitzhak Shamir, grew up in Port Said, though he was born in Jerusalem, and was a member of the Adenite community. 

The large synagogue in Port Said, Ohel Moshe, was built with a large donation from the Adenite philanthropist Menachem Messe (Musa) Banin, who is remembered as the “Rothschild of the East.” Later, the Sephardi synagogue Sukkat Shalom was built by Shmuel Mayo, who was born in Istanbul and opened a glass business in Port Said. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Memories of Iraq still linger in Israel

 There are some 600,000 Iraqi Jews and their descendants living in Israel today. While some Jews stilll retain bitter memories, a wave of nostalgia for the lost Jewish community is sweeping over a number of Iraqi Muslims. The Jerusalem Post has this Reuters report (with thanks: Penina, Joyce and Imre):

Iraq-born Rehovot resident Aharon Ben Hur holding a photo of himself as a young man

Drive west to the shores of the Mediterranean - just a day’s journey geographically but a world away politically - and there is a lament inscribed at the entrance to the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Centre in Israel - “The Jewish community in Iraq is no more."

It is no accident that such a somber epitaph to Iraq’s Jews should be found in Israel, where tens of thousands of them fled after 1948 amid the violent spasms that accompanied the birth of that state.

That transplanting of an educated, vibrant and creative community unquestionably enriched Israel, which celebrates its 70th anniversary on Wednesday.

But it also denuded Iraq of a minority that had long contributed to its political, economic and cultural identity.

In 1947, a year before Israel's birth, Iraq’s Jewish community numbered around 150,000. Now their numbers are in single figures. And they are missed.

Ziyad al-Bayati, an Iraqi Muslim who looks after the rarely visited graveyard near the East Baghdad neighborhood Sadr City, said his father used to reminisce about an Iraq in which ethnic communities lived together.

It was a time, Bayati said, that predated the turmoil around Israel's creation, the wars of later years, and the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and unleashed years of sectarian bloodshed.

"My father used to say it was the good times when people lived peacefully side by side,' said Bayati, 48. “There is no concern shown for the cemetery, (even if) the culture of people here is to respect the dead and their graves."

The chronology of Jews in Iraq stretches back some 4,000 years to the biblical patriarch Abraham of Ur, and to the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar, who sent Jews into exile there more than 2,500 years ago.

Key figures in that story are buried in the Baghdad cemetery, including Sassoon Effendi Eskell, Iraq's first finance minister. (This is a fabrication - Eskell is  buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris - ed)

The creation of Israel in 1948 and its successive defeats of Arab armies caused further bursts of popular anger and violence against Jews, an episode of history that is written in graves n the cemetery, where five Iraqi Jews accused of spying for Israel now lie side by side.

Between 1950 and 1952 about 125,000 Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel. Each came with one suitcase, and all had to give up their Iraqi citizenship.

For one of them, Aharon Ben Hur, memories of Iraq are bitter. Now 84 and the owner of two falafel restaurants in Tel Aviv, he recalled the 1941 Farhud pogrom that killed more than 180 Jews during the Jewish festival of Shavuot. His father and younger brother were among them.

"They were thrown from the second floor. My father died ten days later and the boy almost immediately. He held him in his hands, and they threw them down 100 stairs. I was saved," Ben Hur said.

He left early, in 1951. Some hung on much longer. Emad Levy, 52, was the last of Baghdad's Jews to immigrate to Israel, in 2010.

“We kept our tradition, the holidays, the synagogue,” he told Reuters during the build-up to Israel's Independence Day. “But it’s not the joy you feel here during a holiday, walking down the street where most people are Jewish.”

Levy is among perhaps 600,000 Israelis, out of a population of some 8.8 million, who can claim a measure of Iraqi ancestry, according to the heritage center in the town of Or Yehuda near Tel Aviv.

Read article in full 

Same piece at YNetNews (With thanks: Ruth)

Profile of Emad Levy ( Reuters - with thanks: Elsie)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Mossad set up sham resort to smuggle out Ethiopian Jews

This amazing story - improbably featured on the BBC website - demonstrates how far Israel has been prepared to go to fulfil its humanitarian missions to rescue Jews in distress.   The article reveals how the Israeli secret service, the Mossad, established a  Red Sea diving resort in the Sudan as a base for its operatives. The resort, which attracted bona fide tourists, and even made money, was a front for the smuggling of thousands of Ethiopian Jews through Sudan and on to Israel.  A film based on the book by Mossad agent Gad Shimroni is soon to be released. (With thanks: Lily; Janet)

Mossad agent Gad Shimroni at the Red Sea 'resort' of Arous in the Sudan

"For us it was a godsend (says one Mossad agent). If we could get hold of this place and do it up, we could say we're running a diving village, which would give us a reason for being in Sudan and furthermore for roaming around near the beach."

What happened next is the subject of a soon-to be released Hollywood film called Red Sea Diving Resort. Filmed in Namibia and South Africa, it tells the story of the operation and the village. Though while it is based on true events, some of the scenes are fictitious.

Completed in 1972 by Italian entrepreneurs, the resort was a cluster of 15 red-roofed bungalows, a kitchen and a large dining room opening out to the beach, a lagoon and the sea.
However, with no electricity, water supply or even a road, the Italians found the project impossible and the resort never opened.

"It's a very difficult place to run, if you don't have the Mossad behind you," says the unidentified agent.

Using false passports, a group of agents posing as employees of a Swiss operating company went to Sudan, convinced the authorities of their business proposition, and rented the village for three years for $320,000 (£225,000).

They spent the first year renovating it and struck a deal with local suppliers for fresh water and fuel.

The resort was also kitted out with Israeli-made equipment, including air-conditioning units, outboard motors, and top-of-the-range water sports gear, all smuggled into the country.

"We introduced windsurfing to Sudan," says Gad, smiling. "The first board was brought in - I knew how to windsurf, so I taught the guests. Other Mossad agents posed as professional diving instructors."

They also recruited about 15 local staff, including chambermaids, waiters, a driver and a chef "poached" from a hotel. "We paid him double," says the unnamed operative. None of the staff knew the resort's real purpose, or that their Caucasian managers were Mossad spies.

Female agents were put in charge of the day-to day running of the place, which it was thought would lower any suspicions.

The diving storeroom was out-of-bounds. In it were concealed radios the agents used to keep in regular contact with headquarters back in Tel Aviv.

While seeing to their guests by day, every so often at night a squad would leave under cover of darkness and head to a rendezvous point 10km (six miles) south of Gedaref.

"We'd tell the staff we're going to Khartoum for a few days, or to meet some Swedish nurses from the hospital in Kassala," says Gad.

They would pick up groups of Ethiopian Jews, smuggled out of the camps by so-called Committee Men - a handful of Beta Israelis recruited for the job.

"The Ethiopian Jews were given no notice, as we could not risk word getting out," says Gad. "They did not even know we were Israelis. We told them we were mercenaries."

Thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel after it became too risky to transport them by ship.

From there, a convoy of lorries carrying dozens of bewildered refugees drove a two-day - 800km - journey, evading detection at numerous checkpoints along the way by a combination of guile, bribery and occasionally ramming their way through.

At breaks, they would try to pacify the frightened passengers.
"When we let them sit in the driver's cabin and touch the wheel, they were in seventh heaven," Gad says, in his book Mossad Exodus. "It was amazing to see how happy they were at sharing a piece of chewing gum among 20 children. They looked at us as though we were creatures from outer space."

When they got to the beach, north of the holiday village, Israeli navy special forces would come ashore on Zodiac dinghies, collect the refugees and transport them a further hour and a half to a waiting naval vessel, the INS Bat Galim.
The ship then took them to Israel.

Read article in full

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Happy 70th Birthday Israel!

Thousands of Israelis gather up and down the country to sing in celebration of Israel's 70th anniversary as part of a project called Kooloolam. Here the song is 'Chai', which was popularised before her tragically early death by the Yemenite diva Ofra Haza in 1983 (with thanks: Malca) 

Israel is marking its 70th birthday with celebrations around the world. It has a lot to celebrateit has turned from a poor and developing into a developed nation, a world leader in so many fields.

What is unprecedented - and often overlooked  - is the enormous challenges it has faced to ingather Jews from East and West, North and South and integrate them in Israel's vibrant and colourful society. Most of those Jews came with nothing, yet were accepted without condition.

 The state still remains embattled and under existential threat. By any yardstick, however, and whatever the social and cultural tensions, Israel has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. 

Happy birthday Israel ! יום הולדת שמח

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

'I've been cut off from my Baghdad soul'

 A young Israeli living in Berlin, Orit Arfa, asks why the Jewish world hardly ever talks about her Iraqi grandmother's heritage. Why are there no serious attempts to recover Jewish property there, to open Jewish archives in Arab countries or evn to plan a Mideast 'March of the Living'? Read her article in JNS News (with thanks: Claire)

 Orit Arfa: 'you would have thought Jewish life never existed in Baghdad'

I remember one night, when I lived for a few months with my Iraqi grandmother in Givatayim near Tel Aviv, I saw her cry in the corner, listening to Arabic love songs on the radio. I asked her if she was OK as tears rolled down her wrinkled, 80-something-year-old face. She said the songs make her think of Iraq, and the good times she had there. Since the Nazi-inspired Farhud pogrom drove Iraqi Jewry out, I don’t think she ever really enjoyed life in Israel as much as she did in Baghdad, where she married and gave birth to my mother. She suffered a lot in Israel, with the premature loss of her husband and brother to health compilations. She didn’t live with as much luxury and even, up until the persecution of Jews in Iraq, with as much security.

She made the most delicious Iraqi foods, which I long to replicate but which are way more complicated than matzah-ball soup. Safta knew the recipes masterfully by heart for kubba, tibit and those Iraqi, date-filled Purim hamantaschen. The Jewish world produces countless kosher cookbooks on Ashkenazi delights, but hardly any for Iraqi delights.

My mother is extremely proud of her Sephardi heritage, even though she has since been “Ashkenized.” She prays at an Ashkenazi shul every Shabbat, but she still takes her Sephardi machzor, prayerbook, with her on the High Holidays, feeling great nostalgia for the Iraqi cantors that make her almost as emotional as my grandmother was that night she cried.

But the Jewish world also hardly ever talks about Iraq and Jewish life in Arab lands. Every other day you’ll see a headline about Germany or Poland, and something Holocaust-related, but one would think, from the dearth of coverage, that Jewish life never existed in Baghdad, when it was Baghdad—Babylon—that was the cradle of Jewish intellectual civilization, the first Diaspora where Jews thrived and developed their great legal, literary and religious traditions.

Aside from the work of a few underfunded organizations, we don’t hear of any serious attempts to recover Jewish property there, to open Jewish archives in Arab countries and to create Jewish “heritage” tours in those lands. I realize that it’s physically unsafe, but why not prepare for an eventual Mideast “March of the Living”?

' March of the Living to Baghdad' drawn by Point of No Reader reader Ala Atar.

Baghdad is a part of my soul from which I’ve been largely cut off. Jewish life in Middle Eastern lands has become a side note to Jewish history. Perhaps, when Israel was founded, Jewish life in former Babylon no longer wanted to be glorified. After all, Babylon is the archetypical symbol of the Diaspora, and here Jews are returning from the seat of the first exile! Why cry by the rivers of Babylon now?

But we should. While Germany owed the Jewish people the most after World War II (so the focus on German restitution is understandable), these days the Jewish people are in conflict with Arab lands, not Europe. While Palestinians lay exaggerated and often illegitimate claims for their own land, Jewish property in Arabs lands has never even been put on the table.

Read article in full

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Jewish refugees from Arab lands get new attention

The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries has gained unprecedented prominence in the latest issue of  Congressional Quarterly Researcher (13 April 2018). Sarah Glazer tells the story of Syrian-born Joseph Esses and interviews Lyn Julius, author of Uprooted.

Joseph Esses, who was born in 1919 in the Syrian city of Aleppo, had fond memories of growing up Jewish next to his Muslim neighbors. But Arab attitudes toward Jews took a fateful turn after 1948, when the state of Israel was founded.
One evening after that historic event, Esses was walking home from his clothing shop when three Muslim men cornered him on the street. Beating him with fists, rocks and sticks, they taunted him, “You want a country? Here is your country!” Esses recalled witnessing numerous atrocities against the Jewish community in Aleppo — the killings of friends and relatives in broad daylight and hangings for the “crime” of being a Jew. After being in and out of jail for two years and enduring torture, Esses escaped to Lebanon in 1950 and found his way to Canada, leaving behind all his family heirlooms and property. 1

After 1948, 856,000 Jews were forced to leave the Middle Eastern countries where their families had lived for generations. Most of this migration occurred rapidly: 90 percent of the Jews who fled Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen had departed by 1951. About 650,000 ended up as refugees in Israel; another 200,000 went to the United States, Canada or Europe. 2

The forces pushing Jews from their homelands included discriminatory laws — stripping them of citizenship, confiscating their property and barring them from specified jobs — as well as anti-Jewish riots.Within a few years, thriving Jewish communities in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Yemen had virtually disappeared.

Today, outside of Israel, only 4,500 Jews remain in the Middle East, almost all in Morocco and Tunisia. 3

In Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight, British writer Lyn Julius, the daughter of Iraqi Jewish refugees who fled to the United Kingdom in 1950, chronicles this story. More Jews than Palestinians were forced from their homelands after 1948, and about as many Middle Eastern Jews ended up as refugees in Israel as the number of Palestinians displaced from that land, she wrote. 4

“The Palestinians have to recognize there are two sets of refugees — not just them,” says Julius, who thinks recognition of this fact and compensation for Middle Eastern Jews, known as Mizrahi Jews, should be on the agenda of any future peace negotiations. “This hopefully would lead to a recognition that a wrong was done to people on both sides and would lead to a kind of reconciliation.”

President Bill Clinton took a step in this direction in July 2000, immediately after the Camp David peace talks, when in an Israeli television interview he suggested creating an international fund to compensate Jews from Arab countries who became refugees in Israel. At the Camp David summit, Clinton said, “the Palestinians said they thought these people should be eligible for compensation.”

In 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proposed compensation for Jews from Arab countries ahead of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. 5 However, no such international fund has been established.
Recently, in Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries, interest
has grown in Jewish culture. Exemplifying this trend are a popular Egyptian TV series, “The Jewish Neighborhood;” the emergence of films and novels in Arabic featuring Jewish characters; Jewish cultural festivals; and the restoration of abandoned synagogues. 6

Palestinian scholar Najat Abdulhaq, who is based in Berlin and teaches at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, traces this growing interest among young people to the 2010-11 Arab Spring protests and the questioning of their governments’ official line. “Literature, culture and films are intellectual spaces where we can discuss taboos” about Jews and can go beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said during a recent talk in London.

Curious about shuttered synagogues and nostalgic for the once-cosmopolitan, inclusive societies portrayed in films, young people are seeking a reappraisal of the role that Jews played in their societies, she said. 7

 Joseph Esses, shown with his wife, Olga Abadi Esses, in 1960 in Beirut, fled Syria to Lebanon in 1950 and eventually settled in Canada.

Julius said she is skeptical of a real rapprochement, suggesting the trend toward restoring Jewish synagogues is driven by Arab countries’ desire to attract Western tourism — garnering favorable public relations “without the inconvenience of live Jews.” 8

In her book, Julius argued that anti-Semitism in Arab countries predated the Israeli-Arab conflict. Bigotry against non- Muslims has a long tradition in the Middle East, she wrote. 9

“Even minorities who’ve got no Israel of their own have been persecuted,” Julius says. “You only have to look at the plightof Christian groups and Kurdish Yazidis."

For many years, the Israeli government described the migration of Mizrahi Jews as the product of a long-held desire to return to the Jewish homeland. But Julius says that most arrived out of desperation. Wealthier families went to the United States, Europe or Canada. In the early years, Mizrahis were typically housed in tent camps and faced discrimination in a society dominated by European Jewry.

Only recently has Israel recognized the plight of the Mizrahis. In 2010, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a law declaring that compensation to Jewish refugees from Arab lands for property losses should be part of any future peace negotiations. 10

1 Michelle Devorah Kahn, “Tales of a convicted Jew’s escape from Syria,”
National Post, Dec. 1, 2014,
2 Lyn Julius, Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab
World Vanished Overnight
(2018), pp. 120, x-xxiii, 5.
3 Ibid., pp. 132, 5, 264.
4 Ibid., p. x. An estimated 711,000 Palestinian Arabs, who had left what
became Israel after the 1948 war, were recognized by the U.N. as refugees
in 1950. See “General Progress Report and Supplementary Report of the
United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, Covering the Period
from 11 December 1949 to 23 October 1950,” United Nations Conciliation
Commission, Oct. 23, 1950,
5 Alan Baker, ed., Israel’s Rights as a Nation-State in International Diplomacy
(2011), p. 61,; Julius, op. cit., 267-69.
6 “Rethinking and Reclaiming History: Emerging Arab Interest in Jewish Heritage,”
SOAS University of London, Jan. 30, 2018,
7 Ibid.
8 Julius, op. cit., p. 234.
9 Ibid., p. 87.
10 Ibid., p. 270. 

Read report in full 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Saudi writer laments forgotten Jewish exodus

Surprise, surprise. An article about the forgotten plight of Jews driven from the Arab world has appeared in the Saudi Gazette, of all places. But do not get too excited yet: Hussein Shobokshi's sympathy does not extend to Israel, despite the Saudi government's recent favourable noises.

Hussein Shobokshi: tragic stories
The Jews were part of pure Arab societies and the region was their home. They were forcibly driven out as a result of persistent harassment, questioning their loyalty. If the sustained pressure did not yield the desired result, their property was nationalized. They were subjected to systematic target often being accused of betrayal and disloyalty despite the fact that they were proponents of the arts, economy and civilization in the country in which they lived.

I recall a “famous” incident that happened to me (and was written about by the famous American writer David Ignatius in The Washington Post) when my daughter was preparing for a major surgery to remove a malignant tumor in the United States. I was in Jeddah attending Friday prayers. I objected to imam during an interval over the supplication on the Jews and Christians, telling him that the doctor who will perform the operation for my daughter was a Jewish surgeon. I also told him why to curse people who did not hurt me. Later on I began to find out situations of Jews in the Arab world. There is Serge Berdugo, who was Moroccan minister of tourism from 1993 to 1996, and who told me that the Jews in Morocco have full citizenship rights, and there is a famous dealer of electronics, the owner of the shop famous near Bab Al Bahrain, who told me about the respect of Bahrain for the rights of the Jews in it.

Apart from these two examples, there were tragic stories of stolen rights, humiliation racial treatment. Properties of the Jews were seized by force and coercion without any crime. These examples were known in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen. Iraq, where the family of Kadoorie lived and later fled to Hong Kong to establish the most ancient hotels (the Venezuelan) (sic - The Peninsula - ed), which with passage of time became a respectable chain around the world. The Sahati family also settled in Britain to become the leader of the advertising industry (Saatchi), and from Syria the Safra family went to Brazil to establish the most important financial empire, and from Egypt came out the family of the giant stores.

All these models were lost by the Arab economy and society, as it was not able to demonstrate tolerance in practice and eventually turned into an exclusionary model. Israel’s despicable crimes against the Palestinians do not justify the same type of action meted out to the citizens who have nothing to do with Israel but following the same Jewish religion.

Read article in full

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Haaretz publisher in hot water over racist Tweet

Soon after the leftwing newspaper Haaretz newspaper branded Hatikva and Jerusalem of Gold as two of Israel's most hated tunes, its publisher  Amos Shocken was accused of racism for tweeting that the family of one critic, with a Moroccan-sounding name, was 'climbing trees' while his was part of the Zionist leadership. According to Yediot Aharonot,  he later deleted his Tweet.  See my comment below. (With thanks: Michelle/ Andrea):

 Amos Shocken: deleted 'racist Tweet' (Photo: Saul Golan)

The supplement aroused outcry on social media in short order, with many users criticizing the paper. Responding to one of them, Ravit Dahan, Shocken tweeted, "You're insolent. My family was part of Zionism's leadership while you were still climbing trees.

"Haaretz has been in the Shocken family for the past 83 years, and we have gotten on fine without your ideology, and will continue to do so."
A short time later the Haaretz publisher deleted the tweet, possibly realizing his mistake, but many of his followers were appalled by the utterance nonetheless.

Israel Radio presenter Keren Neubach, for instance, wrote, "Blatant and shameful racism. The tweet exposes what Shocken really thinks about parts of the Israeli public."
Avi Dabush, who ran for the Meretz party's leadership in a race eventually won by Tamar Zandberg, tweeted, "We may have 'climbed down' from trees 70 years ago and came to Israel, but it appears it will still be some time before we pass the absurd admission committee headed by Amos Shocken."
Later comment from Shocken himself sought to clarify he deleted the tweet once he realized it was ascribed meaning he did not intend, stating he merely wished to point out the commenter's "ignorance."

Read article in full 

My comment: The incident points to a fault line between the borderline anti-Zionism of some of Israel's leftist Ashkenazi elite and the old-fashioned patriotism of many Mizrahim. The elite like to 'virtue signal' by supporting the Palestinians and African refugees, for instance, while leapfrogging over the concerns of Mizrahim.

Amos Shocken's shocking racism (Tablet)

A dose of Neanderthal realism

Iraqi-Jewish artist recreates Assyrian bull in London

A winged Assyrian bull made of 10,000 cans of date syrup - popularly known to Iraqi Jews as silan - is now gracing the fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square. It is a statement by Michael Rakowitz, an artist-provocateur with Iraqi-Jewish roots, about the destruction of Iraq's heritage.  The Guardian has the story (with thanks: Michelle):

Rakowitz's Assyrian winged bull is made of 10,000 date syrup cans

In February 2015, Isis militants videoed themselves drilling the face off one of the commanding stone statues that had guarded the gates of the ancient city of Nineveh for more than a thousand years. The lamassu – winged bulls with serene human faces – were among the most monumental casualties of a spree of destruction that over just a few days reduced many of Iraq’s most precious artefacts to pebbles.

On 28 March, 2018, the life-sized “ghost” of one of these fabulous Assyrian creatures will be unveiled atop the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, where it will stand with its back to the National Gallery, gazing south-east past the Foreign Office and the Houses of Parliament towards its spiritual home in the Middle East.

The 14ft-long statue is both a one-off statement and part of an ambitious long-term project by Michael Rakowitz, a 44-year-old Iraqi-American who has become one of the world’s most political – and powerful – artist-provocateurs. The aim of The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is no less than to reconstruct all 7,000 objects known to have been looted from the National Museum of Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion by the US-led coalition. (...)

Though he has never set foot in Iraq, Rakowitz is saturated in the culture of a country where his mother’s family lived until 1946 when, fearing for their safety as Arab Jews in an increasingly divided region, his grandfather made the decision to move them to the US, continuing to run his import-export business from New York.

From there, a generation on, they watched in horror as – in his mother’s words – the country they had escaped to invaded the one from which they had escaped. The start of the Iraqi looting coincided with Rakowitz’s own development, in his late 20s, from an artist who worked mainly in public spaces to one who was part of the gallery system. “When you get involved with galleries you have to come to terms with the thought that you’ve made something that’s going to be sold; and at the same time all these artefacts were being put up for sale.”

He became addicted to eBay (“It’s like a search engine for me”), on one occasion buying 18 of Saddam Hussein’s dinner plates from a US veteran and a refugee whose father had been a high-ranking soldier in the Iraqi army. The plates were to feature in one of his more mischievous works, Spoils (2011), in which he persuaded a Manhattan restaurant to use them to serve an Iraqi dish of venison and date syrup.

The project was halted after two months when the restaurant received a cease-and-desist letter from the US Department of State. The plates were confiscated and returned to Iraq in a diplomatic deal that he says was brokered by Barack Obama. “He was meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, so it was a ceremonial handover – a photo op … these 18 plates, which were a symbol of Saddam, going back on the plane of the Iraqi prime minister.”

Rakowitz insists he is not interested in controversy or spectacle but concedes that his work asks difficult questions. “I think discomfort is important. I describe the work I’m involved in as a process where problem-solving is also troublemaking.”

Read article in full 

More about Michael Rakowitz's projects

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Allied entry into Sfax in April 1943

 With thanks: Lily S.

 Rare photographs showing the entry of the first Allied tank into Sfax in April 1943. Left: evidence that Jews in Sfax wore the yellow star

A few years ago, The Documentation Centre on North African Jews at the Ben Zvi Institute  found the photo you see here in the Imperial War Museum in London. It shows a crowd rejoicing after the liberation of the Tunisian town of Sfax by the Allies on April 10th 1943.

When they enlarged the photo, they were amazed to see sitting on the tank – named Roosevelt – a young man with a yellow star sewn on the right side of his coat. This is the first photographic evidence of a yellow star being worn in Sfax. (It is thought that  Sfax was the only town where Jews were mandated to wear the yellow star under the six-month Nazi occupation.)

One of the Jews sitting atop the tank was the 10-year old beret-wearing David Bar-Rabi, now 85. In this rare clip - aired on Israeli TV - he shares his memories of the war with his grand-daughter, a historian. No Arabs came out into the street to greet the Allies that day, he says. They were almost all pro-German.

 He recalls that the Allied bombing eventually forced his family out of the city into a village in the Tunisian countryside. All the young Jewish men - some 5,000 - were sent to forced labour camps. His wife remembers that her brother was sent to one of these camps. Their mother was so embarrassed to admit the fact that she said that he was in prison. Mrs Bar-Rabi also remembers burying their possessions - including a prized radio - in a cemetery. The Nazis were after gold, and David Bar-Rabi remembers that a Jewish woman directed them as to where they might find it.

The Ben Zvi Facebook page has attracted sympathetic and moving comments from Arabs. One even sent a picture of what the street where the tank photo was taken looks like today. Meanwhile, the Institute is anxious to identify the man wearing the yellow star.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

How Nazism impacted on the Jews of North africa

Today is Yom Hashoah, when Jews reflect on the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. The Holocaust is commonly treated as a European catastrophe, but Nazism had an impact on North Africa where Jews were stripped of their rights and some sent to labour camps. Several hundred Libyan Jews were deported to Bergen-Belsen. Some 2,000 Jews born in Arab countries and living in Europe perished in the death camps. Here is an extract from a new book, Uprooted by Lyn Julius: 

Victor 'Young' Perez, Tunisian-born boxing champion, was deported from France and died on the Death March from Auschwitz in 1945.

The Nazis incorporated the Jews of the French Maghreb in their extermination plans at the January 1942 Wannsee conference. The statuts des juifs – stripping Jews of their French citizenship, seizing property and bank accounts and expelling Jews from state schools, universities and the professions – were implemented in Morocco and Algeria under Vichy rule.

 Tunisia was occupied by the Nazis for six months from November 1942 under the leadership of SS Commandant Walter Rauff, the inventor of the mobile gas van. Rauff had been responsible for the deaths of over 90,000 Jews in Eastern Europe. But Nazi plans for the extermination of the Jews – the Einzatsgruppen Ägypten death squad was standing by in Greece – were thwarted by the Allied victory over General Rommel at El-Alamein in October 1942.

Nonetheless, beginning on 9 December 1942, some 5,500 male Jews – some as young as 17 – were rounded up and sent to labour camps. Jewish property was pillaged and hefty fines imposed on the community ‘to pay for the damages caused by Allied bombing’.Scores were killed. Jewish eye-witnesses claim that the Germans had begun building gas chambers in Tunisia: had the Americans not recaptured the country in May 1943, the extermination of the Jews would have been underway two months later.

 In 1938, Italian racial laws came into force in Libya. Some 600 Libyan Jews died from starvation and typhus in the country’s notorious Giado camp. Around 870 Libyan Jews of British nationality were deported to Bergen- Belsen, though the majority are thought to have survived. Legend has it that the Moroccan sultan, the future Mohamed V, saved Moroccan Jews from being deported to concentration camps in Europe: but deportation across the Mediterranean was never a realistic possibility.

The philo-Semitic sultan famously declared: ‘ There are no Jews, only Moroccan subjects’. It might be fair to say that he may have prevaricated, but he did not fail to sign every single Vichy anti-Jewish decree: Jews were shunted back into the teeming Jewish ghettoes from the European quarters of Moroccan cities, they were forbidden to employ Muslim maids, and as in Algeria and Tunisia, an inventory of Jewish property was drawn up, quotas were instituted in schools and universities and Jews excluded from public service and the professions. The sultan was branded, in a recent feature, ‘just but powerless’ by the Moroccan medium Tel Quel . Real power lay with the French Resident-General.

Servicemen of the defeated French army, together with political prisoners from Spain, were sent by the Vichy regime to thirty forced labour camps on the Moroccan-Algerian border. They included 2,000 European Jews interned at the Bergent camp. Dozens died from starvation, torture and neglect in the camps, as they built the Trans-Sahara railroad. The Moroccan sultan raised not a single objection.

 The governments of Egypt and Iraq were pro-British and tens of thousands of Muslims served in the British and Free French armies – but popular feeling was largely pro-Nazi in the Arab world. In his diary Walter Rauff described the Tunisian Arabs as ‘depressed’, the Jews ‘hopeful’ at the Allied advance in early 1943. A majority of Egyptians supported the Germans.The Jews of Alexandria fled to Cairo, and the Jews of Cairo moved to the old quarter of Fostat. They watched with trepidation as the front line between Egypt and Libya shifted back and forth during 1941. In Morocco, Jews were subject to mob attacks as soon as General Patton’s troops landed in late 1942 (Operation Torch).

Albert Memmi remembers the atmosphere before the Allies recaptured Tunisia from the Nazis in May 1943:

"I have described in Pillar of Salt how the French authorities coldly left us to the Germans. But I must add that we were also submerged in a hostile Arab population, which is why so few of us could cross the lines and join the Allies. Some got through in spite of everything, but in most cases they were denounced and caught."

Uprooted : How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world Vanished Overnight by Lyn Julius is released in paperback from today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mizrahi leader of Israel Labour severs ties with Corbyn

The decision by the Mizrahi leader of Israel's Labour party to sever ties with Jeremy Corbyn's British  Labour party over its antisemitic views throws into focus the gulf between the Corbynistas' misconceptions about Israel - and the reality.

Avi Gabbay, leader of Israel's Labour party, born in Israel of Moroccan parentage.

The Guardian reports:

The leader of the Israeli Labor party has said he will cut ties with Jeremy Corbyn and his office over the handling of antisemitism, but would preserve the link with the party as a whole. Avi Gabbay, the chair of the centre-left Labor party, which is the main opposition to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud, said he would sever all relations with Corbyn on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day.

Gabbay said in a letter sent to the British Labour party leader on Tuesday that it was “my responsibility to acknowledge the hostility that you have shown to the Jewish community and the antisemitic statements and actions you have allowed”. In the letter, Gabbay said Corbyn had expressed “very public hatred of the policies of the government of the state of Israel, many of which regard the security of our citizens and actions of our soldiers – policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned”.

Read article in full 

This comment, by Point of No Return reader L.,  sums up the paradox neatly:

 "It is going to be very awkward for the Corbyn cultists to continue labeling Israel as a 'white European colonialist' state after this episode -- since there is nothing white or European about Avi Gabbay, the leader of Israel's Labour Party.

 "Gabbay is the son of Moroccan Jews. Like the other 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Middle East, Gabbay's parents were driven out from their homes from several Arab states after WW2. And like the Middle Eastern Christians who have been persecuted and oppressed in recent years, Jews were indigenous to the region, and pre-dated the arrival of Islam by many centuries. Jews from Arab lands, and their descendants, now comprise over 53% of Israel's 6.5m Jewish population. In effect, they were forcibly expelled from one part of the Middle East to another. That is how they ended up living in a narrow sliver of land -- as little as 9 miles wide in parts -- along the eastern Mediterranean coast. It is offensive to call them 'colonialists', when they were driven out of their own homes by colonialists."

In her Times of Israel/Jewish News blog Lyn Julius argues that more needs to be done to dispel common postcolonial myths if Israel is not to lose the support of the non-Jewish young altogether:

All this comes from a post-colonial world view that ignores or downplays Arab and Muslim crimes. To give a flagrant example, the Taubira law memorialising slavery (adopted in France in 2001) mentioned the 11 million victims of the transatlantic slave trade, while ignoring the 17 million slaves trafficked by Arabs and Muslims. How did people get it so wrong?  It is time that some of the misconceptions, that the left especially has been labouring under for decades, were exploded.

  Read blog in full

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Indonesians mark Passover amid upsurge in hostility

In an unmarked warehouse in a commuter suburb of Jakarta, 20 Indonesians with Jewish roots  discreetly  sat down for a Passover Seder, officiated by Indonesia’s only ordained rabbi, Benjamin Meijer Verbrugge. Report in the Financial Times (with thanks: Laurence):

Fonny Ratumbanua holds up a piece of matzo at a Seder service in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta (Photo: Krithika Varagur)

 It is not easy to be Jewish in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country but it is even harder this year, as anti-Semitic sentiment has grown since Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is holy to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians. Hardline Islamists organised mass protests in Jakarta and top Indonesian leaders rebuked Israel.

“Every time the Israel-Palestine issue flares up, it gets harder for us to live in Indonesia,” said Mr Verbrugge. Mr Verbrugge, like many of the roughly 200 Jewish Indonesians today, is descended from Dutch Jews who came to the archipelago in the colonial era. His grandfather was a Dutch civil servant, and Mr Verbrugge lived as a Muslim and a Christian before converting to Judaism and founding the United Indonesia Jewish Community. Judaism is not one of the six religions officially recognised by the Indonesian constitution.

“We aren’t ashamed of our faith but we don’t go around proclaiming it to strangers,” said Fonny Ratumbanua. “I still list my official religion as ‘Christian’ on my national ID card,” she added.

Read article in full (Subscription required)

Monday, April 09, 2018

Baghdad Book Fair features more Jews than ever

This year's Baghdad International Book Fair 2018 has witnessed an unprecedented cultural openness, writes David (Khedher) Selim Basson, Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel.  The man who did more to pave the way to this openness was the late Professor Shmuel Moreh, Basson's predecessor. 

Some of the titles by Jewish authors on display at the Baghdad Book Fair

"Books by writers from the first generation of Iraqi Jewish immigrants and their descendants (second generation) were exhibited. Most of these writers lived or are living in Israel. In addition, many books related to the Jews of Iraq, their history, heritage and personalities, published by the publishing houses in Iraq such by the leading house Mesopotamia, were exhibited at the fair.

This openness needs to be commended. It contributes to building bridges of knowledge, culture and rapprochement between Iraqi and Israeli intellectuals, especially those from Iraqi roots. Real peace is built from the roots.

The Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, in Israel and its founder, Prof. Shmuel Moreh, have played a great role in building this bridge. We welcome the exhibition of these books in Baghdad fair and we pledge to all intellectuals that we will continue this role, and stretch out our hands to all Iraqi and Arab intellectuals.

This is a list of books exhibited this year at the Baghdad International Book Fair
• Selim Al-Basson – Al-Jawahiri ,“His voice My pen” 2013. It was the first book by an Iraqi Jew to be published in Iraq, sponsored the Ministry of Culture, on the occasion of Baghdad the capital of Arab culture. The introduction to the book was written by the late Professor Shmuel Moreh
• Tsionit Fattal - Pictures on the wall. The first novel by a second generation Israeli from Iraqi roots, to be translated from Hebrew and published in Iraq. The novelist Tsionit Fattal is the Vice-Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq and member of the board of Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center
• Esther Meir Glitzenstein - "The departure of Iraqi Jews" 2016. First book by a second generation Israeli from Iraqi roots to be translated from Hebrew and published in Iraq
• Amatzia Baram, Achim Rohde, and Ronen Zeidel, Editors - Conflict of Identities in Iraq 2017 translated from Hebrew. The writers are experts on Iraqi affairs but not from Iraqi roots
• Shlomo Saleh Al-Kuwaiti - Saleh Al-Kuwaiti: melody of the beautiful time 2014 (second generation)
• Hesqel Qojaman - Contemporary Art Music in Iraq 2015 ((first generation)
• Nissim Rejwan - Summary of the history of the Jews of Iraq from the Babylonian captivity to 1951, (first generation)
• Nissim Rejwan - The Last of Baghdad's Jews, Memories of lost homeland
• Almog Behar – Chahala and Hesqel, 2016 , first novel by an Israeli second generation of Iraqi roots to be translated from Hebrew and published in Cairo
• Daoud Samra - Memoirs 2012, Reprint of memoirs published in Bagdad in the sixties.
• Tamara Murad, Dennis Shasha , Robert Shasha, Last Jews of Iraq
* Mordechai Zaken - The Jews of Kurdistan - The art of survival 2013, first book by Israeli generation of Kurdish Jews to be translated from English.