Thursday, May 31, 2018

Recalling the Farhud stymies revisionist history

On the Farhud's 77th anniversary, Edwin Black in The Algemeiner recalls the bloody events of the anti-Jewish massacre, which ultimately led to the expulsion of 850,000 Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Remembering the Farhud makes it harder for an invented Palestinian history to take root. (With thanks: Imre)

Haj Amin al-Husseini as an officer of the Ottoman army

When International Farhud Day was proclaimed at a conference convened at the United Nations headquarters on June 1, 2015, its proponents wanted to achieve more than merely establish a commemoration of the ghastly 1941 Arab-Nazi pogrom in Baghdad that killed and injured hundreds of Iraqi Jews. Farhud means"violent dispossession'.The Farhud was but the first bloody step along the tormented path to the ultimate expulsion of some 850,000 Jews from across the Arab world. That systematic expulsion ended centuries of Jewish existence and stature in those lands.

 Jews had thrived in Iraq for 2,700 years, a thousand years before Muhammad. But all that came to end when the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, led the broad Arab-Nazi alliance in the Holocaust that produced a military, economic, political, and ideological common cause with Hitler. Although Husseini spearheaded an international pro-Nazi, anti-Jewish Islamic movement from India to Central Europe to the Middle East, it was in Baghdad — a 1,000-kilometer drive from Jerusalem — that he launched his robust coordination with the Third Reich.

 In 1941, Iraq still hosted Britain’s Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which controlled the region’s oil. Hitler wanted that oil to propel his invasion of Russia. The Arabs, led by Husseini, wanted the Jews out of Palestine and Europe’s persecuted Jews kept away from the Middle East. Indeed, Husseini persuasively argued to Hitler that Jews should not be expelled to Palestine but rather to “Poland,” where “they will be under active control.” Translation: send Jews to the concentration camps.

Husseini had visited concentration camps. He had been hosted by architect of the genocide Heinrich Himmler, and the mufti considered Shoah engineer Adolf Eichmann not only a great friend, but a “diamond” among men.

 Nazi lust for oil and Arab hatred of Jews combined synergistically June 1–2, 1941, burning the Farhud into history. Arab soldiers, police, and hooligans, swearing allegiance to the mufti and Hitler, bolstered by fascist coup plotters known as the Golden Square, ran wild in the streets, raping, shooting, burning, dismembering, and decapitating. Jewish blood flowed through those streets and their screams created echoes that have never faded. (...)

 After the State of Israel was established in 1948, mufti adherents and devotees throughout the Arab world, working through the Arab League, openly and systematically expelled 850,000 Jews from Morocco to Lebanon. Penniless and stateless, many of those refugees were airlifted to Israel where they were absorbed and became almost half the families of Israel. Remembering the tragic facts of the Farhud process will make it harder for the newly-invented history to take root. (...)

The established and incontrovertible facts chronicling the Arab world’s deep and enthusiastic anti-Jewish alliance with the Third Reich during the Holocaust, which exploded into the Farhud, plus the subsequent population shift that Arab governments engineered to expel 850,000 of their own Jewish citizens, make it impossible to weave a fabric of invented history. 

Read article in full

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Survivors to appeal to have Farhud seen as a Nazi event

Survivors of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq are to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court after their failure in the lower courts to have the 1941 pogrom recognised as a Nazi-inspired event, writes Ofer Aderet in Haaretz. The judge seems to fear that such an indictment would let Arabs 'off the hook' for antisemitism. (With thanks: Lily)

The Supreme Court in Jerusalem will hear the Farhud survivors' appeal

Until now, however, the Israeli government has refused to recognize any ostensible connection between the Farhud and the Nazi regime, and as a result has not granted monetary compensation to its victims in the context of the Victims of Nazi Persecution Law. In February a panel of judges in the Haifa District Court rejected a lawsuit filed by about 2,000 survivors of the Farhud, who demanded legal recognition as Nazi victims. The judges sided with the government, ruling that the Farhud was not a pogrom whose roots lay in Nazi Germany.

“Nazi Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust of the Jewish people is not under discussion,” wrote Judge Ron Shapira in his ruling, although he also noted that Nazi Germany should receive “all the blame for pogroms against Jews everywhere.”

He added: “Anti-Semitism, in its various forms, existed prior to the rise of the Nazi regime, and didn’t disappear from the world after Nazi Germany was defeated. There are many causes for the phenomenon of anti-Semitism and some change from one period to the next.”

The judge criticized the attempt to blame the Nazis for the Farhud, and said that anyone who does so “is missing the mark and removing responsibility from any others who championed anti-Semitism and racist theories and xenophobia – and do so to this day.”

Shapira also wrote that, “We should not allow rioters and those fomenting anti-Semitism and xenophobia to claim their innocence either, and impose responsibility for their acts and their behavior on the Nazis and others of their ilk.”

Doron Atzmon of the David Yadid law firm, who was among those filing the compensation lawsuit on behalf of the Iraqi Israelis, reads the course of history differently. “We claim that there is a causal connection between the Nazi incitement and the Farhud,” the lawyer explains.

The appeal submitted by Atzmon's firm in March to the Supreme Court included the following text: “Thank God, the Jews of Arab countries were not caught in the claws of the Nazi beast of prey, but the waves of hatred, evil and cruelty that emerged from Berlin during the years of Nazi rule reached up to the banks of the Euphrates and the edge of the Tigris, and caused the murder of Jews there too.”

The authors of the document claimed that, “The Jews of Iraq are also victims of Nazi persecution, and the time has come to recognize that and their entitlement to compensation for the suffering caused them due to the Nazi anti-Semitic hate propaganda, among other things.”

Debate over the Farhud began in 2011, when thousands of victims demanded that the Finance Ministry's Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority recognize them as entitled to compensation according to the Victims of Nazi Persecution Law. They based their demand on the fact that several years earlier, the government had recognized the Jews of Tunisia and Libya who suffered from Nazi persecution as eligible for such compensation.

In their lawsuits the survivors of the Farhud claimed that the 1941 pogrom in Baghdad was carried out under the aegis of a government that was supported and guided by the Nazi regime, and therefore they deserved financial compensation as victims of that same regime. But the lawsuits were rejected; moreover, in the last year, two Magistrates Courts’ appellant panels also rejected their claim.
Discourse has centered around the extent of Nazi Germany’s influence and involvement in events in Iraq in 1941. The government has claimed that, “Iraq was an independent country at the time of the Farhud itself,” and its lawyers convinced the courts that “there is absolutely no proof that at any relevant time Germany controlled Iraq or was able to deny the Iraqi institutions their ability to exercise free choice.”

But the plaintiffs presented a different assessment, as laid out in their recent appeal to the Supreme Court. It describes a pro-Nazi Iraqi regime that rose to power following a military coup carried out with the encouragement of Jerusalem Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who is described in the appeal as “an agent of Nazi Germany.”

According to this version of events, individuals who were outright Nazi sympathizers served in the new government, and senior officials, including the commander of the army and the mufti himself, even received German funding for their activities. At the same time, Nazi propaganda was disseminated in Iraq, broadcast directly from Berlin via radio, and also penetrated deep into Iraq by means of a German representative on its soil, it is argued in the appeal.

The opinions of historians that were cited in the victims' appeal included a lengthy description of the connection between this propaganda and the Farhud. Dr. Nissim Kazaz, an expert on Iraq, wrote, “For many years German propaganda introduced the poison of Jew hatred into the minds and hearts of broad circles and strata of the Iraqi population. This hatred erupted full force in the Farhud.”

Dr. Edy Cohen, an expert on Nazi propaganda in Arab countries, noted that, “Nazi propaganda in Arabic helped to introduce radical anti-Semitism to the Middle East and tried to acquire the affection of the Arab population for the Nazis and the Fuehrer.” He said that it “strengthened and fanned the flames of Jew hatred, to the point where it caused it to erupt in a fatal and horrifying manner in the events of the Farhud.”

Michael Eppel, a professor of history at the University of Haifa, wrote, “The German propaganda created an ‘ideological climate’ of hostility and Jew hatred, granted legitimacy, which hadn’t existed until them, to the murder of Jews for being Jews, and allowed them to be killed. In so doing it constituted, to the best of my historical-professional understanding, a decisive cause for the events of the Farhud.”

Prof. Yitzhak Kerem, an expert on Middle Eastern Jewry was quoted as saying that, “The combination of all the data leads to the conclusion that the decisive cause for the outbreak of the Farhud was Nazi incitement against the Jews in Iraq. The incitement was carried out by the Nazi regime by means of its representatives and agents, and was funded by it.”

But all of the historians' arguments were rejected by the Haifa District Court.
“None of the studies points to Nazi propaganda as a dominant and central cause that led to the feeling of hatred for the Jews and the outburst that caused the Farhud. It’s impossible to assert that without the German incitement the events of the Farhud would not have taken place,” wrote the judges.
In the final analysis they accepted the argument that hatred of Jews existed in Iraq even before the rise of the Nazi regime and that in this context, the Farhud was launched.
According to attorney Atzmon, the problem with this argument is that this was a historical event that took place nearly 80 years ago, and was naturally influenced by many factors in addition to Nazi incitement. For that reason, he says, it is not fair on the part of the court to demand unequivocal proof of the fact that such incitement was the exclusive cause of the Farhud.
“History is not an exact science, and in the context of a historical discussion it is impossible to isolate a particular cause from the other causes that came to play, to the point of a definite assertion that it was ‘crucial,’” he explains.
“The facts are that in Iraq for a prolonged period preceding the Farhud, there was an anti-Semitic Nazi campaign of incitement, which was directed and funded by Nazi Germany. The Nazi incitement campaign influenced the Iraqi population’s hostility against the Jews living among them, and therefore this incitement campaign was one of the causes of the Farhud, in addition to other causes,” Atzmon argues.
In 2015, at the height of the legal wrangling over this case, the Finance Ministry decided that the Jews of Iraq, Morocco and Algeria who were persecuted in the Holocaust would also receive financial compensation. However, as opposed to the demand of victims of the Farhud – to receive the same compensation received in the past by others, who were deemed eligible for it – the government decided that the sum would be substantially lower than for Jews in other countries. So survivors of Holocaust-related persecution from those three countries were granted a yearly sum of about 3,600 shekels (about $1,000), compared to a monthly grant of about 2,200 shekels distributed to victims of Nazi persecution in Europe.

The Iraqi victims of the Farhud now have their hopes set on acceptance by the Supreme Court of their arguments and, in turn, a ruling instructing the government to grant them the same compensation as that received by other Jews who filed for compensation as victims of the Nazis.
At the same time, in lower judicial instances, there has been discussion of similar lawsuits filed by Moroccan Jews, who suffered from persecution by the pro-Nazi Vichy government. Their demands were also rejected in the first stage by the government, which ruled that “the anti-Semitic policy adopted toward the Jews in Morocco was not carried out based on an order issued by Nazi Germany.”

Read article in full 

For the text of the court verdict (Hebrew) apply to

Survivors of Nazi-sponsored pogrom deserve reparations 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Real Nakba: Jacoby on the Jewish exodus

In the flurry of articles published on or around 14 May, the anniversary of  the Palestinian Nakba, Jeff Jacoby's article for the Boston Globe stands out - it is one of the few that focuses on the Jewish exodus without reducing it to a one-sentence throwaway. It is also one of the few pieces  to reach a mainstream audience.

The New York Times presaged 'a tragedy of incalculable proportions' would befall the Jews of the Arab world

Over the years, enormous attention has been paid to the issue of the Palestinian refugees. Even after seven decades, the topic remains raw and emotional. It is frequently said that there can be no lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict until the plight of the Palestinian refugees is settled. To this day, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas claim a “right of return” for the original refugees and their descendants.

More than 1.5 million Palestinians live in dozens of refugee camps administered by the United Nations, their predicament intensified by the refusal of every Arab country save Jordan to grant them citizenship.

 The “Jewish nakba” of the 1940s is now largely forgotten. Yet in terms of the number of people affected, property lost, and history erased, the catastrophe that befell the Jews of the Arab world dwarfed what happened to the Palestinians.

But with the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, antisemitic fury erupted across the region and those roots were ripped out. As the UN in 1947 debated whether to adopt the partition plan authorizing a Jewish state, Arab leaders had warned that violence against Jews would be uncontrollable.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, the Egyptian ambassador Heykal Pasha threatened “the massacre of a large number of Jews” if the partition plan were adopted. In reality, the waves of expulsion and expropriation that ensued were orchestrated less by Arab mobs than by Arab governments, which passed harsh new laws stripping Jews of their property. In time, some 900,000 Jews were dispossessed or banished. Most of them made their way to Israel, which welcomed them as new citizens. Many had little more than the clothes on their backs; they had no choice but to rebuild their lives from scratch, while dealing with the trauma of upheaval and shattering loss as best they could.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Works in Arabic translation can be 'unscholarly and manipulative' (updated)

 Update: For a link to the full document (in German) please click here.
 A German scholar fluent in Arabic has discovered numerous flaws in an  Arabic version of Professor Mark R. Cohen’s Book Under Crescent and Cross. The Jews in the Middle Ages, calling it  highly manipulative, Islamically-correct and deficient in scholarship.  Such a translation cheats the author, the official sponsors and the unsuspecting reader. Friedhelm Hoffmann summarises his findings for Point of No Return:

Professor Mark Cohen: 'would be enraged' by the Arabic translation of his work
The Point of No Return post of 2 May 2018, “Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Abbas?”, blamed the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for distorting history. Speaking during the National Palestinian Council in Ramallah, Abbas had stated that “such pogroms did not take place in Arab nations, which had Jewish communities”. Abbas’s statement seemingly relied on evidence provided by Jewish scholars. Indeed, he might have been truly convinced that his opinion was actually supported by serious historical research done by leading western scholars of Jewish studies.

Maybe Abbas had had his views confirmed by reading the Arabic translation of a treatise on Jewish history in the Islamic world, authored by the renowned American scholar of Jewish studies Professor Mark R. Cohen from Princeton University. Could he have assumed that what he had read in Arabic corresponded to what Cohen actually had written in the English original for the American and international readership? Not necessarily. He might have been unwittingly duped by a manipulated and “politically correct” Arabic translation.

This would be the case had he relied on the Arabic translation “Bayna l-hilāl wa-l-ṣalīb. Waḍʿal-yahūd fī l-qurūn al-wusṭā / بين الهلال والصليب : وضع اليهود في القرون الوسطى” (Cologne/Baghdad 2007) of Prof. Cohen’s book “Under Crescent and Cross. The Jews in the Middle Ages” (Princeton 1994). A decade after Cohen had written this historical treatise, he himself saw to its translation into Arabic and delegated the task to two promising Arab researchers at the Free University of Berlin, Islam Dayeh (إسلام دية) from Jordan and Mouez Khalfaoui (معز خلفاوي) from Tunisia. The aim was noble, the result disillusioning, despite the fact that leading research institutions and networks in Germany and the US, such as the Berlin research programme “Europe in the Middle East – The Middle East in Europe” and the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study, the Department of Near Eastern Studies of Princeton University, the BMW Foundation, Herbert Quandt and the Zeit Foundation, Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius, were the project’s official sponsors.

What a noble aim – to overcome the gap between western scholarship in the field of Jewish studies and the Arab readership – to open up western humanities to the Arab reader in his own tongue: a truly enlightened endeavour. Moreover – and this might have been the real reason behind the whole enterprise – this translation granted an academic seal of approval to the two Arab translators. Promoting them as open-minded researchers who do not shy away from delicate topics, such as the situation of Jewish minorities in the Latin West and the Islamic East during the Middle Ages.

Alas, neither aim was reached. What deep disappointment awaits readers of Arabic! One might choose at random any page of the Arabic translation and would find it full of mistakes and misunderstandings of every kind, sometimes even downright and deliberate distortions. Thus, the Arab reader will be confronted with quite astonishing historical and religious assertions. He will read that the Roman emperor Constantius [II] ruled in the fourth century BC (p. 297 n 1); that Judaism counts among its holy scriptures a Hebrew (pp. 87, 268) as well as a Jewish gospel (p. 315); that Islam reveres the “Evangelical personalities” of the Jewish Bible as prophets (p. 309); that the better conditions Jews experienced in the medieval Polish realm, compared to other Western European kingdoms and principalities, materialized in the fact that the Polish monarchs treated their Jewish subjects as badly (sic) as did their Western European counterparts (p. 27). Moreover, according to the Arab translators Dayeh and Khalfaoui, Voltaire (sic) advised Arabs to build modern nation states (p. 43 
n 2). And to believe this translation, Cohen talks about “the peoples of Israel” (p. 86) and “all the Jewish peoples in the Islamic world” (p. 233) in the plural. The Arab reader will encounter this kind of mistranslation (and unconscious manipulation) all over the book.

More worrying are the downright distortions wherever Cohen’s facts or judgments do not fit into the worldview of the two translators. To give a major example: Cohen states that “this indulgence of non-Muslims ended abruptly with the Mongols’ conversion to Islam in 1295’: he implies that the “pagan” Mongols were more tolerant rulers prior to, than after their conversion to Islam. Since such a positive judgment in favour of non-Muslims seems not to be acceptable to Khalfaoui and Dayeh, they elide the Mongols’ conversion into “the invasion by the Mongols” [of Baghdad] (p. 25 n. 2), thereby postponing the Mongol invasion of Baghdad from 1258 to the key date of 1295. By this manipulating ruse, the translators manage to lay the blame for the deteriorating standing of non-Muslims in Iraq after 1295 on the alleged invasion by the pagan Mongols, while Cohen originally had traced the deterioration to their very conversion to Islam. Apart from the ideological twist, the translators thereby commit a grave historical error, disclosing their own ignorance of Islamic history, the destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 at the hands of the Mongols being a major turning point.

This is just one of many such distortions, which seem to have their origin in a mindset close to the Muslim Brotherhood’s. Apart from the distortions, the translation does not comply with generally-accepted academic standards. One third of the annotations in the footnotes have been omitted for no reason, another third have been kept in the English original, and the last third have been rendered into Arabic in a way which can best be called a preliminary draft.The neglect of the annotations deals a further blow to the academic character of the book.

The translation of the main text is of a higher quality. Nevertheless, it abounds in misunderstandings and mistranslations in addition to a deficient Arabic vocabulary of Jewish and Christian terms and general historical terminology relating to Western Europe. Indeed, the translation does not meet the prevalent academic standards in serious Arabic publications in this field.

Finally, the most serious defect is the complete lack of any references to contemporary Arabic publications in the field of Jewish (and Israeli) studies as would be normal in similar publications by serious scholars and translators in the Arab world.

The Arabic reader will not find any references in his own language, be they Arabic translations of international standard treatises of Jewish studies or indigenous Arabic treatises on Jewish and Israeli topics. This lack cannot be justified on any grounds, since Arab scholars have been building up quite a voluminous library of Jewish and Israeli studies over the last decades.

To sum up, this translation gives a misleading impression of the English original, thereby misrepresenting the discipline of Jewish studies as pursued at American universities. It exploits the Arabic reader’s good faith in the trustworthiness of the translators and the quality of the translation. Yet, this is exactly what Prof. Cohen himself affirms in his preface to the translation. Cohen enthusiastically thanks the able translators and stresses the high quality of the Arabic rendering, thereby admitting that he never read any part of it, otherwise it would have enraged him.

For the Arabic translation reaches its lowest ebb when even the Islamic creed “I confess that there is no god but God” is gravely distorted in the Arabic rendering, thus shaking any Arab reader’s trust in Cohen’s scholarship. If the mistranslation of the Islamic creed was intentional, one can only assume that the two Arabic translators wanted to make fun of Professor Cohen and ridicule his reputation as an international expert of Islamic studies in the eyes of the Arabic reading public.

Such a lopsided, manipulated and “Islamically-correct” translation into Arabic does not benefit anyone. It only furthers the careers of the translators who fake their intellectual grasp of the topic translated. Neither will the western scholar know the Arabic readership’s response on his treatise, since they did not get to read what he wrote, but a deficient version of it. The Arabic readership are cheated as well, since they put their trust in a translation which does not accurately render the ideas of the western scholar. If the two translators thought it wise to distance themselves from some of Professor Cohen’s more delicate topics and conclusions, they could have easily done so in the notes, instead of stealthily interfering in Cohen’s main text.

To come back to my starting point: What is the benefit of joint academic projects between western and Arab scholars, like this translation, if in the end the Arabic readership is deceived and made to believe that they are getting a trustworthy rendering of what the western scholar has written? How can they critically compare between their own viewpoints and convictions and those held by authors and scholars from the West? Does it not, in the final analysis, hamper mutual understanding, when the Arab readership, among them decision-makers like Mahmoud Abbas, are misled ?

Readers who are interested in a more detailed treatment of the Arabic translation discussed above and with a reading command of German, are invited to click here for a free PDF copy of the complete review essay (136p.) from the online server of Tübingen University Library.  The reviewer Friedhelm Hoffmann is  at


Sunday, May 27, 2018

On Farhud's 77th anniversary, let's mark the Jewish 'nakba'

While the Nakba is marked every year with demonstrations and wide media coverage, the Jewish expulsion, heralded by the Farhud in Iraq 77 years ago,  does not merit public or media notice, argues Zvi Gabay in the Jerusalem Post. It is about time it did (with thanks: Imre, Lily):

This despite the fact that its human and physical dimensions were larger than those of the Nakba (the number of Jewish refugees forced out of their homes was about 856,000, while the Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine numbered about 600,000).

Only on February 22, 2010, was the issue placed on the Israeli agenda with the enactment of the “The Law of Preservation of the Rights to Compensation of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran,” which states that any negotiations for the achievement of peace in the Middle East must include the subject of compensation for said Jews.

And only four years later, on November 2014, did a memorial ceremony take place in the president’ residence to honor the existence and expulsion of the Jews from Arab countries, according to a law adopted by the Knesset that year.

The attacks against the Jews in Arab lands occurred even before the establishment of the State of Israel. In Iraq, they began with discrimination, in the economy, in education and public life.
Afterward, Arab nationalism ignited rioting against the Jews, which came to a peak in the Farhud of 1941. Similar tragedies happened to the Jews of Libya, Aden and other Arab countries. In Egypt, a mass expulsion took place in the dead of night.

In Iraq, the combination of xenophobic Sunni nationalism and antisemitism produced a powerful hatred of the Jews.

This hatred was abetted by Nazis such as German envoy to Baghdad Dr. Fritz Grobba and pseudo-religious leaders such as Haj Amin al-Husseini, who fled from Mandatory Palestine and found in Iraq a convenient venue for his anti-Jewish activities.

The Jews were left with no choice but to flee Iraq and the rest of the Arab countries that they had helped to found and bring into the modern era with their contributions to government, the economy, medicine, education, literature, poetry and music.

Seven years later, the threatening anti-Jewish climate that prevailed in every Arab country was accompanied by inflamed anti-Jewish declarations broadcast on radio, and even from the podium of the United Nations. Government harassment and popular attacks drove the Jews of the Arab world to migrate en masse to Israel.

There were certainly Muslims in the Arab countries who did not support the attacks on the Jews, but their voices were not heard. The Jews were the scapegoats in internecine power struggles between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, just as today Israel is at the center of the struggle between the Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni states.

In recent years, a process of awakening can be discerned in the Arab world, especially among intellectuals, who recognize that it was not only the Palestinian Arabs who suffered a “nakba” but also the Jews of the Arab world.

For the sake of history and educating the future generations, a proper commemoration of the plight and the heritage of Jews from Arab countries should take place in Israel.

Palestinian leaders would do well to stop parroting slogans about “the right of return” and deluding their people, because there is no turning back the wheel of history.

Read article in full

More from Zvi Gabay

Friday, May 25, 2018

Historian Bensoussan wins hate speech appeal

The historian Georges Bensoussan won his case in the Paris appeal court and was acquitted of all charges of racism and incitement to hatred yesterday.


The case was originally brought against him by the CCIF (Committee against Islamophobia in France) and other human rights bodies. The CCIF had appealed against his original acquittal in March 2017.

 The March 2018 appeal was heard in an atmosphere noted for its aggressiveness towards the historian, who ,among other works, wrote an 800-page volume on Jews in Arab lands.

Bensoussan confessed to feeling very angry, not just against the Islamists and their leftist apologists, but against all those who had supported the case against him. While the acquittal came as a relief, Bensoussan is not out of the woods yet.

 His relationship with the Memorial de la Shoah, where is the director, has been rocky in recent months and his future there may not be assured.

  Read article in full (Marianne - French)

  Anti-Islamophobics to appeal Bensoussan acquittal

Thursday, May 24, 2018

How Habiba Messika created a Maghreb sensation

 Murdered aged 27 by her lover Eliahyu Mimouni, Habiba Messika had a short but scintillating career as one of Tunisia's superstar singers and actresses (She was known as the second Sarah Bernhardt). Chris Silver, who collects North African Jewish music, writes that she recorded a staggering number of records between 1924 and her death in 1930. (with thanks: Elbie)

‘Never before in Tunisia’, noted the worried French Protectorate’s Director of Public Security, ‘has such a funeral taken place’. The cause of his concern was the funeral of North Africa’s first superstar, held in Tunis on 23 February 1930. By half past twelve, thousands of people had gathered on the Avenue de Londres, the main artery leading to Tunis’ Jewish quarters. They had come to mourn the singer Habiba Messika, who, aged 27, had been brutally murdered two days earlier.

In French-occupied Tunisia, this was an unusually large ‘native’ gathering and it gave the authorities cause to worry. Messika’s death had not only brought Muslims and Jews together, but it had also attracted Destourians, Tunisian nationalists. Members of the Destour – a political party founded ten years earlier with the aim of reclaiming Tunisian sovereignty – had long regarded Messika as a fellow traveller. Her records, especially her interpretations of pan-Arabist songs made for the Baidaphon record label, had recently been found in the possession of Destour supporters.

From the Avenue de Londres, some 5,000 people began a two-and-a-half kilometre procession to the city’s Jewish cemetery. At the funeral, the celebrated theatre director Bechir Methenni delivered an impassioned eulogy. Habiba Messika’s murder, he told the mourners, ‘was stupid and sadistic’. But neither her memory nor her music would be forgotten. He then addressed the deceased:
Alas dear comrade, your voice may no longer be with us but rest assured that its memory remains etched in our minds. When our children listen to your records, it will be with tears in our eyes that we will tell them about your life, about your generous spirit, and that we will instill in them the idea that no one was ever the equal of your genius.
His words were not empty. In the aftermath of Messika’s death, her records circulated rapidly across North Africa. A French intelligence report described Messika’s shellac discs as having the potential to ‘provoke unrest in the Muslim milieu’. Speaking to her fans from beyond the grave, the French authorities thus moved to silence her.

The brief but extraordinary career of Tunisian Jewish superstar Habiba Messika is little known, even among those familiar with her music. Between 1924 and 1930 Messika released a staggering number of phonograph records – close to 100 – for the Pathé, Gramophone and Baidaphon record labels. She was an accomplished actress, heralded as the ‘Second Sarah Bernhardt’ by her 21st birthday. Her style and looks also earned her a coterie of (male) fans known as the ‘soldiers of the night’, an ‘army’ which included Habib Bourguiba, who would become the first president of independent Tunisia in 1957. That Messika achieved so much, so quickly and did so at such a young age meant that her interwar funeral constituted one of the largest and most significant Tunisian gatherings of the early 20th century.

In the aftermath of her murder, Habiba Messika’s memory was kept alive by the recording industry that she had helped shape. Her records flowed across Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in huge numbers, outselling anything else released in the Maghreb since the birth of the recording industry at the turn of the 20th century. Messika’s death also inspired recorded outpourings of grief by half a dozen Tunisian and Algerian artists. Those laments, made in Tunis and Algiers and distributed transnationally across the Maghreb and beyond, included songs like ‘Moute Habiba Messika’ (‘The Death of Habiba Messika’), recorded by Tunisian-Jewish vocalist and dancer Flifla Chamia for Gramophone in December 1930. Chamia sang from the perspective of the slain Messika, asking – in rhyme – what strange (ghriba) and unprecedented (ʿajiba) events had befallen her (Habiba). The song is made available here for the first time in nearly a century.

Despite the fragility of the shellac on which Habiba Messika’s history was inscribed – and the years of war, movement and displacement to which its owners were subjected –many of her records survive. Messika’s oeuvre allows us to examine the largely overlooked North African and Middle Eastern soundscape, in which a burgeoning trade in Arabic-language records animated fans, fanned French fears of subversion and were passed from hand to hand for decades. More than a mere echo of the period’s politics, narrating a history of the greater Middle East through its records challenges many of the most basic assumptions about the region’s history – of the ephemeral quality of music, of an unravelling Jewish-Muslim relationship and even of the exclusivity of emerging nationalist movements.

Habiba Messika’s story is that of an Arabic-singing Jewish star, as comfortable in her blended identity as her mixed audiences of Jews and Muslims. Her legacy is that of an interwar Tunisian nationalist who was equally at ease playing the role of Romeo on stage as she was dressing as a flapper off it.

Marguerite Habiba Messika was born in Tunis in 1903. Like many North African musicians of her era, she descended from a musical lineage. And, like many associated with music-making in the countries of the Maghreb in the early 20th century, Messika was Jewish. At the outset of the last century, just as the phonograph began to be widely used in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, a striking number of indigenous Jewish vocalists and instrumentalists, record label concessionaires, record-store owners, proprietors of cabarets and musical impresarios began to play a prominent role in the production of Arab music. Among these music-makers was Messika’s father, an amateur musician, who may have recorded a small number of discs. But it was Leïla Sfez, Messika’s aunt, a staple of the café-concert scene of Tunis and among the country’s first artists to record for French Pathé in 1910, who provided her entry into the music industry.

Pathé’s Tunisian record catalogues in the early 20th century were filled with Jewish artists like Sfez and the label’s local artistic director was an Arabophone Jew. When Messika began recording for Pathé a few years after being discovered in 1918, she would do so under the direction of Tunisian-Jewish virtuoso pianist Messaoud Habib.

Acoustic recording to flat, shellac disc began in Algeria and Tunisia during the earliest years of the 20th century, as it did in many parts of Europe. Pathé, for example, started recording in Algeria as early as 1904. The English Gramophone Company began its operations there and in Tunis in the same year. The French subsidiary of the German Odéon label soon followed. In French Algeria, indigenous Jewish impresario Edmond Nathan Yafil not only served as interlocutor for the labels but directed their efforts on the ground. By hand-picking which musicians were brought to the recording studio in the coming years, Yafil himself would be largely responsible for the construction of a burgeoning North African music scene based around an overwhelmingly Jewish group of music-makers. By the outbreak of the First World War – when recording around the world ground to a halt – a half dozen labels operating in the Maghreb boasted deep catalogues of mostly Jewish artists performing Arab music.
The postwar period was an auspicious time to embark on a career in music in North Africa. After the First World War, public concerts recommenced. The 15-year-old Messika, ‘discovered’ at the war’s end, soon headlined thousand-plus seat venues across Tunis, Algiers and further afield. ‘More than 1,500 people applauded the return of our talented and incomparable Tunisian star, Mademoiselle Habiba Messika,’ the Tunisian newspaper Le Petit Matin reported of a concert at Le Palmarium in Tunis in September 1921. Messika garnered similar responses in the capital’s grand Municipal Theatre.

Municipal Theatre, Tunis, c.1910.
Municipal Theatre, Tunis, c.1910.

As with the concert circuit, the record industry picked up where it had left off just before the war. Pathé resumed its activities in the Maghreb, as did Gramophone, which began recording again in Tunis in 1921. By 1925, Messika had begun recording with Pathé and appeared, heralded as a ‘superstar’, on the cover of its Tunisian catalogue for that year.

Messika made dozens of records for Pathé, including some of the era’s most popular and ribald Egyptian songs, such as Sayyid Darwish’s ‘Harrag Alaya Baba Ma Rouhchi Cinéma’ (‘My father didn’t let me go to the cinema’) and ‘Cham el Cocaine’ (‘Snorting Cocaine’), Tunisian folklore and the lighter pieces of the Andalusian repertoire, a classical genre inspired by Islamic Spain. Her voice – crisp, clear, smooth and sensual – captivated her audiences. She became known as the ‘queen of musical ecstasy’. Habib Bourguiba and other ‘soldiers of the night’ were infatuated with the young Jewish superstar, though they were taken by more than just her voice. The few surviving headshots of Messika show a young Tunisian woman who dazzled in black and white. She was a flapper, the likes of which few in the region had seen before.

Messika was also among the most sought-after theatre actors of her generation in North Africa. Throughout the 1920s, she committed herself to demanding roles. These included Romeo in an Arabic-language staging of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette in Tunis in 1924. In assuming the male lead, Le Petit Matin proclaimed that Messika was conjuring ‘Sarah Bernhardt in the role of l’Aiglon’ – Edmond Rostand’s six-act play about the child emperor Napoleon II. When Messika later played Napoleon II in Tunis, the comparison to the ‘divine’ and ‘fantastic’ Sarah Bernhardt – the pencil thin, Jewish actress who conquered the fin-de-siècle French stage in traditionally male roles –was cemented. Both the press and her peers began referring to Messika as ‘the second Sarah Bernhardt’.

Between 1925 and 1928, Habiba Messika continued to record for Pathé while also recording for Gramophone. In a world of exclusive contracts, which bound musicians to a single label, Messika was among the first North African artists to record for multiple labels simultaneously. Similarly, when most of her peers were paid only for their initial recording session, Messika demanded – and won – the right to her royalties. In 1928 Baidaphon, established by the Baida family in Beirut and since headquartered in Berlin (a centre of the global recording industry), began operating in full swing in the Maghreb. Theodore Khayat, recently installed in Casablanca as head of North African operations, made contact with Messika. By April 1928, the Tunisian superstar was heading to Berlin to record with the label.

In a letter written to the executives at Baidaphon, Messika regarded her recordings for the label as ‘better than anything I have recorded previously’. She was especially taken by Baidaphon’s foray into electric recording, which, unlike acoustic techniques, allowed for the unparalleled reproduction of her voice and multi-tonal sounds of her instrumentalists. But recording in Berlin had another advantage: she could do so away from the watchful eye of the French authorities. While she continued to make records with suggestive titles, like ‘Ala sirir el nom’ (‘On my bed, spoil me’), she also recorded a number of marches dedicated to King Fuad in Egypt, King Faysal in Iraq and the Bey of Tunis, Muhammad VI, as well as anthems extolling Egypt and Syria.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

US to share Holocaust archives with Morocco

With thanks: Lily, Shulamit
The wartime sultan of Morocco

The exchange of WW2-era information with Morocco continues apace. First Jewish documents held in France were handed over, now the Holocaust Museum in Washington is following suit. (With thanks: Lily, Shulamit)

WASHINGTON, DC -  On May 7, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., signed a cooperation agreement with the Archives of Morocco to share archival materials on the Jews of North Africa during the Second World War held by each institution. The agreement will expand the Museum’s archival holdings on this understudied aspect of history and will enable scholars from North Africa, Europe and around the globe to conduct research both in Morocco and at the Museum.

The agreement follows a meeting in Morocco in October 2017 between Prince Moulay Rachid and a Museum delegation that included Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. The participants discussed the importance of Holocaust education both as a way to memorialize the victims and to help educate people about the dangers of extremism and hatred today.

“The signing of this agreement with Morocco is an important step in the Museum’s work in collecting archival documentation from North African countries and making them available for research,” said Tad Stahnke, the Museum’s Director of International Outreach. “The Museum signed an archival sharing agreement with the Moroccan National Library in 2008, and Morocco remains the only Arab nation with which we have an archival agreement. We are extremely pleased that this relationship will benefit our understanding of how the Holocaust touched the North African region.”

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Did the media do more to mention Jewish refugees?

The 70th anniversary of the state of Israel has given Jews,  Israelis and their supporters cause for celebration. But the media are always scrupulously careful to 'balance' the story of the miraculous rebirth of the Jewish state with the catastrophic nakba in which 700,000 Palestinian refugees lost their homes.

In past years, the parallel story of the Jewish refugees seldom got a hearing. Has this year been any different?

Nurit Greeger in her Jerusalem Post blog told the story of two refugees - one Jewish and one Arab - while Emily Shrader on Politics Web wrote about the Double Nakba.

In his forensic account of how the Palestinian refugees have been uniquely indulged by the international community,  Efraim Karsh makes only an incidental reference to Jewish refugees. Moshe Arens writing in Haaretz did not mention them at all. Even the BBC website did better.

This year, the media should have been paying even more attention to the Jewish refugees when Hamas declared the Great March of Return  - its ultimate objective being to seek to breach the border with Israel in order to allow Gazan refugees to exercise their 'right of return' to Israel proper. Joseph Puder writing in Front Page magazine unveils their real agenda.  But his mention of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is still a cursory one and he fails to explain how a political accommodation might be reached.

By far the biggest surprise of the 70th anniversary/Nakba coverage has been Jeff Jacoby writing in the Boston Globe. Jacoby devotes most of his piece to the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. This is an important milestone: the story is getting into the mainstream.

Jewish refugees made their debut on Simon Schama's BBC radio programme

Another first was the historian Simon Schama's BBC  Radio 4 programme Israel at 70: a personal reflection, in which Lyn Julius, author of Uprooted, was given several minutes to describe the plight of Jewish refugees (her segment starts from about 9 mins 54. The programme, first broadcast on 18 May,  may be heard until 18 June 2018.)

Elsewhere, the media and public events did their customary best to focus on Palestinian refugees and ignore the Jewish refugee issue. Writing in The Australian, Vic Alhadeff slammed the Sydney Writers' Festival for its failure to mention the greater number of Jewish refugees.

Even the Jewish Chronicle gave space to a Palestinian, Ehad Naser. It was left to readers like Lyn Julius to point out the omission of the 'Jewish Nakba:' Her letter was published in the 18 May issue (no link). She wrote:

"More Jews than Arabs were made refugees and robbed of their property and ancient heritage. Hundreds were murdered. Many Arab cities - Baghdad was once a quarter Jewish - are today Jew-free. Mizrahi refugees and their descendants today comprise over half Israel's Jewish population.

The Palestinian leadership must be held to account, not just for dragging the Arab League into war with Israel, but for inciting violence - such as the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Iraq - against Jews in Arab lands.

No solution can be found to the Palestinian - Israeli conflict unless a permanent exchange of refugees is recognised to have occurred."

Hen Mazzig went further, and in his Jerusalem Post op-ed The Nakbas, drew parallels between the Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and other victim peoples of forced Arabisation and exile.

Conclusion: while there are notable signs of progress, the story of the Jewish refugees has still to make further inroads into public discourse.

On the 77th anniversary of the Farhud, a Holocaust event

The holiday of Shavuot is now past. It is an occasion to remember the gruesome events of the Farhud, the pro-Nazi pogrom which devastated the Iraqi-Jewish community over Shavuot 1941. Tiffany Gabbay's father was nine at the time. She writes in The Rebel (with thanks: Lily, Shulamit): 

 Tiffany Gabbay

There are few chapters in history that have ever revealed the face of evil or wrought more human suffering and degradation than the Holocaust. What many don't realize, however, is that the poisonous barbs of Hitler’s final solution were not confined solely to Europe, but stretched far beyond to the Middle East where Arabs, even more practiced in their anti-Semitism, were eager to commit a genocide of their own. Leading the charge was Palestinian-icon, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

During the Shoah, notorious "Palestinian" Jew-hater, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, sought to realize his long-held goal of purging the Middle East of its Jewish communities. Believing that what the Nazis were orchestrating in Europe could also be successfully implemented in the Arab world, the mufti began his courtship of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and other prominent Nazis. Steadfast, the mufti traveled to Germany requesting the practical and material support required to "solve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine and other Arab countries."

After all, he reasoned, “the Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies.”

While Hitler never publicly declared his support for al-Husseini, he did fulfill his promise to furnish the Arab nationalist with "practical aid to the Arabs involved in the same struggle” and help facilitate the "destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere.”

One of the most significant gifts the Nazis bestowed on al-Husseini were the tools needed to conduct successful propaganda campaigns — ones far more sophisticated than the Islamic world were privy to before. Their pilot program began in Iraq, where a pro-Nazi government had already been successfully established.

By the late 1930s, Nazi-Arab momentum had gained considerable steam and the German embassy in Iraq was headed by Nazi diplomat Fritz Grobba. Under his stewardship dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda material increased markedly. By purchasing Arab newspapers and translating Nazi content into Arabic, soon Iraqis were feasting not only on their own brand of Quranic anti-Semitism, but also a Western equivalent that validated their already-held, twisted beliefs.

In fact, one such newspaper, al-Alam al-Arabi (The Arab World), published the first Arabic-language translation of Mein Kampf. Likewise, Grobba ordered German Nazi broadcasts to be translated into Arabic and aired across Iraqi radio. The German embassy also spurred the creation of al-Fatwa, the Muslim counterpart of Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth).

To illustrate how effective Nazi-Arab collaboration was, consider that al-Fatwa's rallying cry invoked Hitler's perceived grandeur. Historian Edwin Black documented that a delegation of al-Fatwa members even attended a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1938. Upon their return they'd often be heard chanting in Arabic, "long live Hitler, the killer of insects and Jews."

Needless to say this was fertile ground for anti-Semitic atrocities to take place and soon the Arab street became more dangerous than ever for Jews who'd called Iraq home, in some cases, for millennia. With the environment primed, the mufti's next step was to organize a full-fledged pogrom.

On June 1, 1941, Jewish families in Baghdad were home preparing meals in anticipation of Shavuot, a holiday that marks the gifting of the Torah (Bible) by God to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. By all rights it is a festive occasion and although members of the Jewish community were aware Arabs were conspiring against them, they were assured by local leaders that they would remain safe.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.

As the holiday commenced, Jewish homes and businesses were marked with a bright red hamsa, or “hand of God," to single them out for attack. And, with the mufti's plan in place, a violent mob of Iraqi Muslims took to the streets armed with swords, axes, knives, guns, torches and pipes. They killed every Jewish man, woman, and child they could find.

No one was spared, neither young nor old. Jewish women were raped in the streets while their infants were murdered before their eyes. Jewish men were hacked to death with axes. Even bearing in mind the long history of Islamic Jew-hatred, the massacre that took place on Shavuot, 1941, was bloodier and more gruesome than anything that had occurred, to that point, in modern-day Baghdad.
My father was there. He recalled the savagery in complete and utter detail for the duration of his life. And although he was only a child no older than nine, the situation demanded he become a man. As the oldest son, my father felt an onus to stand by his father and protect his family.

Somehow numb to the fear that should have overwhelmed anyone such tender age, he resolved to fulfill his duty and positioned himself on the roof of his house, poised with metal buckets brimming with scalding hot cooking grease, heavy stones, bricks, a knife and a metal pipe. My grandfather, meanwhile, remained below with his guns — a rare commodity back then, but one he was fortunate enough to have.

As the rampage continued, savages stormed the grounds of my family’s home and my father launched his defensive, emptying the pails of cooking grease and hurling projectiles from on high. Once he'd depleted his reserves he ran downstairs to fight the attackers off with knives while my grandfather fired his shots with precision. The attackers were wild with rage but ultimately, dispersed. How many of them were wounded or if any were even killed, remains unknown. Also unknown is how my family managed to stave off that violent mob and certain death, at all. Such are the mysteries of life.

In the end, British forces intervened to disperse the rampaging mob and restore some semblance of order, but it was too little too late. The Babylonian Heritage Museum estimates that 800 innocent Iraqi Jews were killed. In addition, an estimated 1,000 Jews were injured, nearly 600 Jewish businesses were looted, and another 1,000 Jewish homes ransacked.

The bloody, two-day massacre was called the “Farhud,” Arabic for “violent dispossession.” It came to be known as the forgotten pogrom of the Holocaust.
It was also the beginning of the end of Iraq’s 2,700-year-old Jewish community.
Shortly after the Farhud my father fled to Israel, but the rest of my family, along with approximately 130,000 Iraqi Jews, would remain another ten insufferable years until most were ultimately rescued by Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. Their homes, businesses, money, jewelry, even photographs and birth records were confiscated. It was the price to pay to escape living under Islamic authoritarianism.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Bernard Lewis, giant of Middle East scholarship, dies

The death of Bernard Lewis just short of his 102nd birthday is a great blow to Middle East scholarship. Speaking and reading twelve languages including Arabic, Turkish and Hebrew, he had a remarkable grasp of Muslim history and politics, and was uniquely insightful and lucid in his prodigious writings.

Martin Kramer, an expert analyst of Middle East politics, and one of Lewis's disciples, writes: It will be a long time, perhaps generations, before the study of Islam and the Middle East will invite and admit another genius of his caliber."

The author of many books, Lewis turned his attention to the status of Jews in Jews in Islam and explored the impact of Nazism in Semites and Anti-Semites. He  wrote this passage in the 1970s, well before the emergence of the Taliban and ISIS:

"Is a resurgent Islam prepared to tolerate a non-Islamic enclave, whether Jewish in Israel or Christian in Lebanon, in the heart of the Islamic world?’

"Islam from its inception is a religion of power, and in the Muslim world view it is right and proper that power should be wielded by Muslims and Muslims alone. Others may receive the tolerance, even the benevolence, of the Muslim state, provided that they clearly recognize Muslim supremacy. That Muslims should rule over non- Muslims is right and normal. That non-Muslims should rule over Muslims is an offense against the laws of God and nature, and this is true whether in Kashmir, Palestine, Lebanon, or Cyprus. Here again, it must be recalled that Islam is not conceived as a religion in the limited Western sense but as a community, a loyalty, and a way of life— and that the Islamic community is still recovering from the traumatic era when Muslim governments and empires were overthrown and Muslim peoples forcibly subjected to alien, infidel rule. Both the Saturday people and the Sunday people are now suffering the consequences."

Bernard Lewis, a giant of Middle Eastern scholarship
 The Wall St Journal reports: 

Once upon a time Western scholars of Middle Eastern culture and history were known as Orientalists. That label is now considered politically incorrect, like so much else, but we can safely say that the last of the great Orientalists was Bernard Lewis, who died Saturday at age 101.

Lewis taught at the University of London but moved to Princeton University in 1974. His fame grew beyond academia as his deep learning helped him to foresee and explain the turmoil that has dominated the Middle East in recent decades. His books were especially valuable after 9/11 in explaining what animated radical jihadists.

 In “What Went Wrong?” in 2001 and other works, he distinguished between Turkey under Kemal Atatürk, who attempted to adopt some Western practices, and Arabs who blamed the West as the cause of their own technological and economic backwardness. Yet by 2010 he was predicting that Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan would turn to Islamic rule while Iranians would tire of political Islam and embrace secular nationalism. So far he’s been right about Turkey.

Though Jewish and a friend to Israel, Lewis was also deeply sympathetic to Arabs who had to live under fanatic or dictatorial rule. He liked to note that pro-American regimes that were dictatorial often had anti-American populations, but anti-American regimes like Iran had pro-American populations.

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Guardian obituary 

The conflicted legacy of Bernard Lewis (Foreign Affairs - Martin Kramer)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

To understand Israel, listen to its music

When  Mizrahi singer Sarit Haddad does a cover of a classic Israeli song, you know that Mizrahi music is now the dominant genre. Matti Friedman explores Israel's cultural revolution in The Globe and Mail:

 Sarit Haddad: 'musical ISIS'

The division between Jews from Europe and from the Islamic world remains one of Israel’s most painful fault lines, and it has played out in pop music. For many years, the Mizrahi sound was scorned by the curators of Israeli culture and kept on the margins. In record stores, you’d have a section for “Israeli” music, meaning mostly music by artists of European ancestry and orientation, and a separate section for “Mizrahi” or “Mediterranean” music, even though this music, too, was in Hebrew and produced in Israel. There was a time when you could barely get Mizrahi music played on the radio, and anyone who wanted to keep up with the latest hits had to go to a cluster of scruffy cassette shops around the Tel Aviv bus station. That reality was an expression of the broader disenfranchisement of Israelis from the Islamic world, who were rarely spotted in the academy or in the corridors of power.

 Recent years have seen a reversal. Mizrahi music is now the country’s leading pop genre. When the daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot published a list of the most-played songs of the year in 2017, the paper’s political reporter Amihai Attali remarked on Twitter that all 15 of the artists were Mizrahi: “Anthropologically, it’s an incredible statistic,” he wrote. These days, it’s Mizrahi performers who fill the biggest venues. Stalwarts of the old music scene line up for collaborations with stars such as Ms. Hadad, which would have been unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago.

The Israeli army’s official 70th anniversary song (yes, there is such a thing), released in early March and sung by a military entertainment troupe, is also a cover of an Israeli classic, Don’t Worry, a comic number popular after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In the song, a soldier at the front writes to reassure his girlfriend that he has plenty of time to rest “between bombardment and barrage,” and asks her to send fresh underwear. The original is very much a product of the style and sentiment of the young Israel. But the new cover makes it a product of the present by adding a reggae beat and a Mizrahi twist, featuring two up-and-coming Mizrahi singers doing their mandatory army service, and adding warbling Mideastern-style vocals.

 Not everyone loves this development, or what it signifies. Asked last month for his opinion of a different Mizrahi cover by Ms. Hadad, this one of a 1974 hit by the beloved Israeli rock band Kaveret, band member Efraim Shamir called the new version “a musical ISIS” – that is, a particularly Middle Eastern kind of desecration. He was echoing an infamous comment from Tommy Lapid, a late politician and Cabinet minister born in Yugoslavia : Asked for his take on a Mizrahi song, Mr. Lapid joked, naming a Palestinian city, that “we didn’t conquer Tulkarm, Tulkarm conquered us.”

The contentious politician responsible for this year’s anniversary celebrations – and for Ms. Hadad’s cover – is the Culture Minister, Miri Regev, a combative voice known for railing against the old cultural elites. Ms. Regev, who is of Moroccan descent, belongs to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, whose political base has traditionally been heavy on Israelis with roots in the Islamic world. Ms. Regev regularly stokes nationalist sentiment and is reviled on the left; the liberal daily Haaretz has called her “Trump in high heels.”

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Remember the other nakbas

 In this seminal piece in the Jerusalem Post timed to coincide with the nakba, Hen Mazzig wishes that all the people who have sympathy for the Palestinians showed an ounce of it to the victims of Arab, Persian and Turkish imperialism - Jews, Berbers, Assyrians, Copts.

 Commemorating the Armenian genocide (Photo: Reuters)

Indeed, much noise is made around the world about the “sexy” Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians (the Arab community at the time) and their advocates are extremely vocal. But lost in the debate over what happened or didn’t happen to the Palestinians in their catastrophe are the stories of the tens of millions – yes, tens of millions – of victims of genocide, expulsion and forced assimilation (cultural genocide) from Arab and Turkish imperialism.

My family are Berber Jews on my father’s side and Iraqi Jews on my mother’s. Both were expelled from their lands, and because of this persecution I came to learn about these largely untold stories. Over time I have learned that many other groups were persecuted, en masse, without any restitution or “right of return,” and the global community is (and was) silent. Why the double standards? In the last 150 years, “nakbas” occurred to those indigenous to North Africa, the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The approximate number of victims from genocides one rarely hears about include: The Assyrians (300,000 from 1914-1920); Armenians (1.5 million from 1914-1923); Kurds (50,000-180,000 from 1986-1989); Greeks (450,000-750,000 from 1913-1920); Yazidis (10,000 in 2014 alone, other numbers unknown); and the Sudanese in Darfur (300,000 from 2003-2009).

The victims of expulsion and persecution leading to emigration include: Lebanese Maronites (eight million-14 million Lebanese in the diaspora, and four million in Lebanon); Assyrian Christians (15 million in the diaspora and in Syria); and the Armenians under the Turkish Empire (11 million in the diaspora today).

In Lebanon and Syria, both states deliberately created nationality laws that would bar Christians from returning, ensuring a Muslim Arab majority in these countries.

From North African and Middle Eastern Jewish communities, 850 000 Jews were expelled or forced to flee North Africa and the Middle East. Additionally, one million Copts have left Egypt.

But even where expulsions or emigration did not occur, widespread persecution did.

Who hears about the forced assimilation of the Berbers, Kurds and Sudanese? Since the 1960s, these communities have been suffered under forced Arabization in schools and government institutions. For example, Berber only became an official language in Algeria in 2002; prior to 2002, Kurdish was forbidden in Turkish media; and apartheid laws against Jewish communities in Yemen dictated that Jewish children be taken from their families and given to Muslims in forced conversions. There are numerous similar examples against Jewish communities throughout the Middle East – even in the late 20th century. To this day, no restitution has been made by the persecutors of these heinous crimes.

As I noted in the opening, these are not stories you will hear in the newspaper, or in the universities, or at chic parties in London or in Paris and certainly on Al Jazeera, AJ+, Turkish television and sadly, even in the mainstream international media.

INSTEAD, CNN, BBC and Middle Eastern studies faculties around the globe will tell you that the Middle East is Turkish, Arab and Iranian since the dawn of time. These same journalists will wax eloquent about how these peoples have been the victim of European and Zionist aggression, all the while ignoring the histories of every other group in the region.

If that’s not enough, when presented with the historical realities of how the Turks and Arabs have oppressed communities all over the Middle East, they will whitewash these crimes of colonialism by claiming the Arab, and later Ottoman Turkish Empires, were peaceful and tolerant, allowing minorities to flourish, even going so far as to say how Europeans led the Turks and Arabs to violence.

They sought independence separate from the empires. This was true for the Armenians, Georgians, Assyrians, Kurds, Jews and Lebanese Christians. And before them, even the Greeks and the Serbs. And yes, many of these smaller groups of peoples appealed to Western Europeans for help.

In response to the national awakening of these smaller groups in the late 1900s, the imperialist nations, the Turks, Arabs and Iranians not only sought to preserve their power but even claimed the land of these nations in a process called irredentism. In a narrative flip, these imperial peoples of the region (particularly the Turks and Arabs) claimed the nations seeking independence were stealing land from them and used violence to retrieve it.

From the 1880s until 1923, The Pan-Turks not only sought to unite the various Turkish peoples, but they were also central in claiming the places that Turks had conquered as settler colonialists like Armenia, parts of Greece and the Assyrian parts of present-day Turkey. They were also instigators of genocides in these areas when groups subject to their rule showed any sign of pursuing independence, including the Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians.

Turks ensured the Kurds and Assyrians who remained would be subjected to forced assimilation and they expelled all of the Greeks and Armenians from Turkey.

Pan-Arabs, who were also active from the 1880s, claimed areas where Arabs had settled under settler colonialism in the Middle Ages and sometimes later, as original Arab homelands. In aiding the British in overcoming the Ottoman Empire, Arab leaders positioned themselves to take over multicultural countries and pursue their own imperialistic goals.

Thus, Pan-Arabs forced Arab culture and customs upon the Assyrians, Berbers, Maronites and Egyptian Copts. By the 1940s, they had created the Arab League and tried to Arabize all of North Africa and the Middle East. In fact, Pan-Arabs – even more than the Pan-Turks – were different from the Pan-Germans, for example, in accepting the assimilation of non-Arab peoples as Arabs in principle, even though in practice they still viewed them as different.

Hence, the policies of Arabization and forced assimilation.

In fact, all of the indigenous peoples of the Middle East – from the Kurds to the Assyrians, to the Jews and the Maronites, many already diminished by mass murder – were present at the Versailles Treaty and called for their national self-determination.

Of all of these people, only the Jews and the Armenians (both under the rule of rival empires, the Jews under the British and the Armenians under the Russians) were able to obtain independence.

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