Saturday, June 30, 2018

70 years ago, Morocco pogroms caused 10% of Jews to flee

This month, seventy years ago, a murderous riot broke out in the cities of Oujda and Djerada in which 44 Jews died. As a result, 10 percent of the Jews of Morocco fled. Point of No Return is republishing a blog we first posted seven years ago:

 Sunset in Oujda

On the morning of 7 June 1948, a riot broke out against the Jews in Oujda (Morocco), a city in the north-east of the country close to the border with Algeria. Five Jews were killed and many wounded.

The following day, 8 June, the rioting spread to the small mining village of Djerada, 60 km south west of Oujda. There, the Jewish community numbered some 100 souls: 38 were slaughtered, sometimes entire families. Among the dead was the community's rabbi, Moshe Cohen, and his wife, his mother, 13-year-old son, daughter aged six and a baby of one year. The badly wounded were left for dead. Material damage was great, especially in Oujda.

The Pasha of Oujda expressed his regrets and went to meet each individual victim's family. Subsequently he was violently attacked in the mosque of Oujda. Prosper Marciano, commenting on the weblog Dafina, reveals that one of the victims was his maternal grandfather Messaoud Bendayan, lynched and hurled from a balcony.

According to the historians Haim Saadoun and Yaron Tsour and others, quoted by Jeff Malka in his blog SephGen, several factors led to the outbreak of rioting:

1. The feeling of brotherhood towards the Palestinian people;
2. The huge progress made by the local nationalist movement of independence;
3. The fact that hundreds of young Jews were illegally leaving Morocco and crossing the border between Morocco and Algeria, close to Oujda en route towards France and Israel;
4. The speech given by the Moroccan Sultan, Mohammed V, in which he expressed concern about Morocco's Palestinian Arab brothers, although emphasizing Moroccan Jews' loyalty to Morocco. He ended by calling for countrywide calm. Unfortunately, many listeners only heard the first part of his speech.

Some claim that the massacres were deliberately instigated by the French authorities following a failed attempt to incite trouble in Fez on the last day of the Maimouna festival, but Michel Abitbol, in his book Le passe d'une discorde, says there is no evidence for this. What is clear is that in both places, the police arrived too late to prevent the disturbances and were only able to take note of material damages.

The result was that 10 percent of the Jewish population of Morocco left in the first wave of emigration to Israel, according to the historian Andre Chouraqui. The leaders of the Miners' Federation were accused of being behind the massacres and brought to trial. The verdict was delivered on 25 February 1949: none was condemned to death, but four were given life sentences for hard labour, and others sent to prison.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A partial paean to coexistence in Morocco

This is another article, based on an Australian ABC TV report,  regretting the end of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in Morocco. Joseph Sebag, the last Jew of Essaouira,  is its poster boy. Israel is portrayed as the cause of the exodus and the Jews of Morocco persuaded to leave against their better judgement by Zionist agents. The threats of forced conversion, abduction and daily incidents of violence and intimidation are omitted, or minimised, and the six-year emigration ban to Palestine not mentioned.  What is new, is that French colonialism is also blamed (and the teaching of Hebrew instead of Arabic!)  for tearing the two communities apart before Israel's creation. Yet the French can be credited for liberating the Jews from their subjugated dhimmi status under Islam.

Joseph Sebag, last Jew of Essaouira
In an antique shop in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira sits Joseph Sebag, a charming old man with a shy smile.
He is all that remains of the city's once thriving Jewish community. But he remembers what it was like before the exodus.
"There was no Jew that didn't have a Muslim friend, and there was no Muslim that didn't have a Jewish friend," Mr Sebag says.

Jewish merchants first arrived in Africa around 500 BC. In the centuries that followed, thousands of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe established new lives in Morocco.
For most of Morocco's history, Jewish people lived in relative harmony with Muslims.
But when Israel was established in 1948 the friendship was severed beyond repair.

Tensions between Arabs and Jews, which had been stroked under French colonial rule, exploded into a terminal confrontation.

Arab nationalists expressed their solidarity with displaced Palestinians by turning on their Jewish neighbours.

In Morocco, as with much of the Arab world, many Jewish communities faced looting, arson, and riots.
"It was very sad, people that had lived there for hundreds of years all packed up and went," Mr Sebag says.


The country was once home to more than 300,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population of any country in the Arab world. It now hosts only 5,000.
"Before the exodus the Jews in Morocco were everywhere, in the cities, in the small villages," says Mechthild Gilzmer, a professor in Jewish studies at Saarland University.
"It was a large and vibrant community."
Unlike the biblical exodus of ancient Jews from Egypt, the migration of Arab Jews in the 20th century was more like a slow divorce than an instant separation.
For more than 30 years before the creation of Israel, French colonists had been working to drive a wedge between Muslims and Jews in Morocco.
Education programs were rolled out encouraging Jews to embrace French culture and language. Classical Arabic was left off the curriculum in favour of Hebrew.
A symptom of disintegrating relations, looting and rioting broke out in Jewish Quarter of Fez in 1912.
Jews fled large cities to smaller towns and villages on the urban outskirts, creating Jewish ghettos reminiscent of 19th century Europe. (This makes no sense - surely the opposite was true ?-ed)

In Morocco some Jews left to seek the long-promised land, but many chose to stay despite the growing tide of anti-Semitism in some cities.
"Unlike elsewhere in the Arab world, the creation of Israel did not immediately spark widespread animosity or attacks on Jews [in Morocco]," Professor Gilzmer says. (A statement contradicted by what follows - ed)

Carrying the flag of the newly-established Arab League, the Moroccan nationalist press began fostering hostility against Jewish Moroccans. Many shops and homes were looted.

In the early weeks of June 1948 an anti-Jewish riot broke out in the north-eastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada. At least 44 people were killed.
After a long history of coexistence, "many Jews were made to feel like they were no longer welcome", Professor Gilzmer says.

After the violence in Oujda and Jereda, the stream of Jews making the journey across the Mediterranean became a flood. By 1950, 18,000 of Morocco's Jews left for Israel.

Marc Cohen left Morocco 50 years ago, when he was 18. He now lives in Melbourne.
"I remember buses full of Jewish people not knowing where they were going," he says.
 "They started closing one synagogue after the other, most of my school friends left, and then everybody left.
"For many it was the end of the exile".

Against a backdrop of rising Arab nationalism, European Zionists began arriving at Moroccan synagogues telling stories of the new Jewish homeland. They encouraged the local Jewish community to migrate.

Israel had sent dozens of Mossad officers to North Africa who acted as missionaries for the Zionist cause.

According to Professor Gilzmer, even when threats were minimal, "many Jews left after being told by Zionist agents they were in danger".

Read article in full

Thursday, June 28, 2018

L' Aurore archives now accessible online

 Donations from the UK, Israel and France among others have enabled JPress (part of the National Library of Jerusalem) to digitise issues of the Egyptian-Jewish newspaper L'Aurore. What is remarkable about this newspaper  - a treasure trove of data about the interwar Jewish community in Egypt, edited until its demise in 1941 by Jacques Maleh - is that it continued to publish articles sympathetic to Zionism and to refugees from, and victims of, Nazi antisemitism. Here is a synopsis of the history of L'Aurore by Ovadia Yerushalmi. (With thanks: Maurice)

Issue of 10 January 1941: until its demise the newspaper continued to publish articles about Zionism and the victims of Nazism.

The weekly newspaper L'AURORE was founded in 1909 by Lucien Sciutto in Istanbul, Turkey. In 1919 it was shut down either by government pressure or, as rumors had it, due to economic difficulties that followed Sciutto’s clashes with the local Jewish community. In 1921 Sciutto moved to Cairo. Three years later, in 1924, under pressure from his devoted readers who considered L'AURORE to be a means of expressing their liberal views in French, Sciutto started publishing the magazine again, in Cairo,  in its original name and format.

The reborn Weekly had a great success among Jewish readers of Greek and Turkish descent in Egypt. It became a significant competitor to the weekly ISRAEL.

At that time L'AURORE housed the Cairo agency of the United Palestine Appeal (UPA) in its offices. Consequently, from October 1924 onwards the UPA headquarters in London supported the magazine by paying 10 Pounds Sterling per month – a sum that was equal to an apartment’s  monthly rental charge. This support lasted till June 1931. Ensuing this date the Weekly started encountering economic difficulties and on two occasions its publication was halted. In July 1931 Jacques Maleh, Sciutto’s partner, took over and for a few months tried to publish the magazine at his own expense. However, as Maleh’s debts piled he had to ask for help. He found it in the B'nai B'rith organization whose members teamed up to save the magazine. They founded a committee, headed by Simon Mani, with the goal of revitalizing the magazine. With the guarantees that were provided by Léon Bassane and M. Markovitz,  who were members of the committee, Maleh managed to improve the magazine’s image and status within the community. L'AURORE became independent and successful. It was only in 1941, as a result of the economic consequences of World War II, that the magazine was closed for ever.

Like the magazine ISRAEL, L’AURORE defined itself as a Jewish National publication and presented succinct pro Zionist inclinations. Sciutto was outraged at the indifference of most of the Jewish community, including its religious and institutions’ leaders, who shunned from taking part in the Zionist effort to establish the National Home. In 1925, when Baron Jacques de Menasce was elected the head of the Zionist board in Alexandria, Sciutto urged the wealthy in Cairo to follow the Alexandrian example.

L’AURORE was the first Jewish magazine to struggle against the Nazi regime. Already in 1933 it alerted its readers of the Nazi movement that had just risen to power. L’AURORE published an open letter to Egypt’s Acting Prime Minister demanding to outlaw the Nazi party in Cairo and to expel its leaders. The magazine warned the world from the consequences of the Nazi ascend  to power. In fact L’AURORE became the voice of the “Contra Anti-Semitism League” in Cairo.  

Lucien Sciutto was a Zionist activist, a journalist, an author and educator. After his departure from the magazine he devoted himself to teaching French in high-schools and in 1941he became a principal of a Jewish school in Alexandria.

Click here to access L'Aurore archive

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

'Jewish life in Turkey is slowly being suffocated'

Turkey feels like a dictatorship hiding in plain sight, writes Annika Rothstein  in this insightful piece in Rebel. Yet few Jews would have voted for anyone in the recent elections other than Prime Minister Erdogan, believing he alone would ensure stability. No Jew has ever been arrested, but fewer identify publically as Jews. 'It is a slow suffocation of Jewish existence, as opposed to an outright shot to the heart'. (With thanks: Michelle)

Nisim’s grandfather suffered under the Turkish “wealth tax” that as instituted in the early 1940s, aimed at Armenians, Jews, Greeks and Levantines. The official reason for the tax was to amass funds for a possible entry into WW2, but in reality it was a way of throwing Turkey’s non-Muslims into financial ruin and despair.
Because of his inability to pay the massive dhimmi-tax, Nissim’s grandfather was thrown into a prison camp and his grandmother borrowed money from Muslim bankers in order to get him out. Once freed, he was forced to work several jobs for the rest of his life, just to manage the payments, and all the untold stories of this hardship is reflected it Nisim’s eyes as he stands at the foot of his grave.
I take a picture of Nisim but he asks me not to post it on social media.
“The government is already monitoring me, and I don’t want to give them an excuse to say that I am some sort of terrorist, speaking ill of Turkey or complaining about our history.”
I try really hard not to show the anger I feel at his words; anger at how little has changed since the dhimmi-laws and the outright persecution, and at how the Jews of this land are still locked in a prison of fear and silence. Feeling that my reaction would somehow be disrespectful or patronizing I walk next to him in silence, reading each name out loud to myself; making sense of the words as the outside world befuddles me.

During Ramadan when I was there, the pace of the city is sluggish in the unrelenting heat. Nisim and I go to a nearby kosher restaurant, the only one around, and Nisim shows his ID-card at the unmarked door, revealing the word "Musevi" (Jew) in bold black letters. The owners of the otherwise empty eatery treat us like royalty, and while they speak no Hebrew they chatter in fluent Ladino, one of the few remnants of a time that was.

There is a warm familiarity between the two of us, despite the fact that we didn’t know each other’s names just a few days ago. Regardless of geography, age or our levels of observance, we are just two Jews sharing a meal, cooked according to the rules of our ancient faith. Right below the restaurant lays a small but ornate synagogue, and as we walk through it we are approached by the curious keepers of the keys, asking for our names and ID. This is the case in every Jewish institution in this city; the doors are unmarked but heavily guarded and usually, getting in takes more than one form of verification.

That feeling is everywhere – the low-level fear and hostility. Turkey is a deeply conservative country, shrouded in modern attire. While there may be plenty of scantily clad European tourists on the streets of Istanbul, I am told not to walk alone at night and definitely not wear my Magen David necklace or tell anyone that I am a Jew. Having already spent time in Iran I am surprised at how this place feel more menacing, somehow, perhaps because the world is in agreement on what Iran is, whereas Turkey still is able to play the role of country among countries while its leadership does away with basic rights and freedoms. It feels like a dictatorship hiding in plain sight, jailing and killing minorities and journalists while millions of tourists take selfies on the beaches of Antalya.
Erdogan has achieved stability, says Turkish Jewish author Rifat Bali when I meet up with him in his downtown office. He agreed to meet with me after a great deal of coaxing, and as soon as I walk in I can sense a tension coming off of him, in action as well as in words:
“Erdogan is the best option for the Jews in this election. I mean, what options are there? Anything but Erdogan would mean chaos, and chaos has never ever favored the Jews.”

Rifat Bali: 'Turkish Jews live a dual life'

Nissim is sitting next to me and he boldly interjects in disagreement, receiving little but a scoff for his trouble. Mr. Bali assures me that the Jews will not be persecuted under Erdogan and that, as far as he knows, no Jew has even been arrested. When I ask him about the President’s constant and virulent anti-Israel rhetoric, Bali shrugs and says that this is a language that means very little in actual terms in this part of the world:
“Turkish Jews live a dual life, where we know not to put Israel on the forefront, but keep that private. The Turkish Jews that remain here are well off, they live good lives, and they know how to survive in this environment where very few Turks carry the baggage of rational thought.”
And he is not wrong, at least not about the last part. The remaining Turkish Jews have developed excellent survival skills, and very few still carry their Jewish family names but have adapted and changed to accommodate their surroundings. There is still more of a Jewish framework here than in my native Sweden – such as several kosher butcheries, three kosher mikvaot and at least three daily minyanim – but the power of self-censorship has set in long ago and fewer and fewer keep kosher, use the Mikve or partake in any other form of observant Jewish life. It is a slow suffocation of the Jewish existence, as opposed to an outright shot to the heart.

As Turkey approaches their general elections, Jews are keeping well out of the way of the public debate and focusing on staying off the radar. Recent events, such as the embassy moving to Jerusalem and violent riots in and around Gaza, has raised the threat level and caused discord within the community, as many now feel that they are being targeted based on Israeli and American policy, despite doing their best to slip into the shadows.

Nisim and his family listen to me as I sing the "Birkat Hamazon," and afterwards we retire to the living room with the traditional glass of chai and delicate plates, overflowing with fruit. We are in a Jewish bubble now, a place of comfort for all of us, and very little reminds us of the troubling status quo that looms outside those doors. By nightfall the next day, I will be leaving, and the family will stay in a country that for decades has done its best to force them out. I am as impressed by their dignity and tenacity as I am heartsick for their peril, and as a fellow diaspora Jew with centuries of roots in a land that treats me like a stranger I fully understand why they feel they have to stay and see this through.

Perhaps Rifat Bali was right; maybe the leadership of Turkey doesn’t matter to the Jews, as there are no leaders left who would protect them. To seek the status quo, though, is a fallacy, because Erdogan will likely not rest on his laurels if he lives to fight another day. Mr. Bali laughed at me when I asked him if Turkish Jews faced a possible expulsion under an even more totalitarian Erdogan rule, saying that this was typical hyperbole, emanating from an ignorant foreign media. But after a week in Istanbul I see that there are many ways to expel a people, or to simply make them disappear. Nisim’s grandfather is proof of that, having been taxed out of house and home and penalized to near assimilation. Today’s Turkish Jews are fading into the woodwork, despite thousands of years of glorious history, and while the Turkish government may claim it is done by choice it is clear to me that this is done out of heartbreaking necessity.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Stop Algeria claiming Jewish heritage as its own!

 On 31 July 2018, The Cultural Property Advisory Committee in the US will meet to review Algeria’s request for US import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material. On the surface, a country cannot be faulted for wanting to safeguard its archaeological and cultural heritage. But every Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the US and Arab countries legitimises the appropriation of moveable Jewish heritage - scrolls, documents, artefacts - seized by Arab governments from their expelled and dispossessed Jewish communities. The best example of this is the Iraqi-Jewish archive: a campaign has been underway to stop the archive from returning to Iraq. But this case is just a symptom of a much larger picture of abuse, argues JIMENA.

 Torah scrolls in the ark at the Bone (now Annaba) synagogue 

Unfortunately, the Iraqi Jewish Archive case is only one of several instances where our American Government has signed agreements recognizing Arab governments’ seizures of Jewish property. Our government has been signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) – agreements between the US and foreign governments that blockade the entry of art and cultural property to the USA and deny Jews from Arab countries the rights to their historic heritage.  The signing of MOUs with Middle Eastern countries validates those countries’ confiscation of Jewish property and heritage and simultaneously denies the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to their cultural patrimony.

The signing of the MOUs is done under the auspices of The Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). This law provides for the US to enter into agreements with foreign nations to temporarily restrict the import of “significant” cultural items as part of a multi-nation effort to deter looting of ancient archeological sites. Over time the State Department has broadened the scope of the law to provide for “near permanent” bans on the import of ALL cultural items to the present time. The MOUs recognize those nation’s claims and seizures of all cultural property, including the personal property of individuals and the communal property of religious and ethnic groups.

The MOUs are based on a flawed premise – that Jewish cultural property constitutes the national heritage of Arab governments. In fact, Jewish cultural property in Arab countries was expropriated from private homes, schools, and synagogues. It is the heritage and patrimony of 850,000 indigenous Jewish refugees who were ethnically cleansed and fled their homes and property under duress. Jewish patrimony was never the property or national heritage of Arab governments – in fact most Arab governments have done little to preserve the remnants or memory of Jewish history in the countries. Today Jewish communities from Arab countries and their descendants live outside of the Arab world and most are restricted from entering their countries of origin.

Examples of these MOUs include:
Algeria: ACTION REQUIRED NOW! – Following the lead of Yemen, the Algerian government has recently requested an MOU from the State Department.  The open session of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee will be held on July 31, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. (EDT). It will last approximately an hour and a half.  Members of the public and press will participate electronically. If you wish to make comments you must do so no later than July 15, 2018. More information on how to participate and submit comments can be found by clicking here
Egypt: The U.S. MOU with Egypt, signed in November, 2016, covers virtually all objects of cultural heritage dating from the Predynastic period (5,200 B.C.) through 1517 A.D, including Hebrew scrolls, books, manuscripts, and documents, including religious, ceremonial, literary, and administrative texts.”
Libya: On February 23, 2018, the US Department of State signed an MOU with Libya to restrict importation of objects of ‘Libyan cultural heritage’ including items owned by the ethnically-cleansed Libyan Jewish community.
Syria: The 2016  designated list of import restrictions from Syria includes “[t]orahs and portions thereof” and “Jewish paintings [which] may include iconography such as menorahs,” and “religious, ceremonial, literary, and administrative material,” including but not limited to  maps, archival materials, photographs, and other rare or important documentary or historical evidence.”
Yemen:  On January 31, the International Committee of Museums announced the release of a Red List for Yemen, which targets Hebrew manuscripts and Torahs, while reaffirming the Yemeni government claims to Jewish property.  Frequently, issuing a State Department funded Red List is the first step in a campaign to smooth the way for an MOU.
The aforementioned nations either ethnically cleansed, expelled or terrorized their ancient Jewish communities into flight and seized their property.  Under UN Resolution 242,  Jews fleeing Arab countries were bona fide refugees yet today, these nations claim private and communal Jewish property as their own heritage through cultural patrimony laws. Unfortunately, US government agreements effectively endorse these seizures of Jewish property.

No further agreement should be made with a state where Jews were subjected to state-sanctioned Anti-Semitism, Nuremberg like laws and ethnic-cleansing. No persecuting nation can lay claim to the legacy of a proud and ancient Jewish community. Moreover, the annual State Department Human Rights Report annually reports violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and that Report must include violations of the Declaration’s Article 17.  Article 17 states that no individual or community should be arbitrarily deprived of their property. Therefore, the United States should not enter into any agreement, and should withdraw from any existing agreement, with a with a foreign state that either condones, supports or promotes any Article 17 violation by that state.

These MOUs claim to be about looting, but their broad scope and limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a legal vehicle to legitimize foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership claims. Legitimate efforts to curb looting are essential, but they must be targeted to preserve archaeological resources, and not to disguise the brazen property confiscations of tyrants.

The US must stop returning stolen property to Arab states 

 Cultural property agreements and the rights of ethnic minorities in the Middle East

Monday, June 25, 2018

Israelis cheer football teams of Muslim countries

Israelis have been cheering the teams of their ancestral countries  in the World Cup, Al-Monitor reports:

Fans of the Iranian soccer team leaped out of their seats cheering wildly and waving Iranian flags when Saeid Ezatolahi thumped the ball into the back of the net in Wednesday's World Cup game against Spain, tying the game 1-1 and leaving Iran a chance to advance. A moment later, groans of disappointment spread as the goal was disqualified.

The scene during a televised match in a cafe in Jerusalem (photo: Ilan Ben Zion)

This scene did not take place in Tehran or at the stadium in Kazan, Russia. It was in a bar in Jerusalem, where the fans were mostly Israelis expressing their shock and disappointment at Iran’s defeat.

Geopolitics set aside, many Israeli Jews are rooting for Muslim countries in this year’s World Cup, including Israel’s archrival Iran. The Israeli national team has only competed in one World Cup, in 1970, leaving local soccer fans to root for other teams when the quadrennial event rolls around.

This year, Iran and four Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt — are competing in the World Cup in Russia. This rare showing of countries from the Muslim world, from which a large percentage of Israelis immigrated in the 20th century, has prompted many in Israel to cheer on the teams of their ancestral countries. As of 2011, Israel was home to 141,000 Jews of Iranian descent, 492,000 Jews of Moroccan descent, 134,000 of Tunisian and Algerian descent, and 57,000 of Egyptian origin, according to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Read article in  full 

By contrast a man draped in an Israeli flag was pursued by Tunisian fans in Moscow shouting 'Palestine'. The story that Moroccan fans tried to snatch an Israeli flag has proved false. JTA story here.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jewish refugees the antidote to the 'right of return'

 If there is one thing that the “Great March of Return”—the ongoing campaign since 30 March to break through the fence into Israel from Gaza—has taught us, it’s that the “right of return” remains the overriding objective of the Palestinians.  Jewish refugees could be its antidote, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News.

The “right of return” cannot be dismissed as meaningless rhetoric. This form of “demographic subversion” remains the single biggest stumbling block to peace, if not a recipe for continuing bloodshed. Even so-called Fatah “moderates” will not give up their “right” to Arabize Israel by flooding it with the millions of descendants of Palestinians, who, under the aegis of the UNWRA, are uniquely permitted to pass on their refugee status from generation to generation.
In 2009, Omar Barghouti (the founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), told The Electronic Intifada that “people fighting for refugee rights like I am know that you cannot reconcile the ‘right of return’ for refugees with a two-state solution. That is the big white elephant in the room, and people are ignoring it.” The Palestinians re-iterate this demand at every turn, but the West remains deaf to it, pretending that what the Palestinians really want is an end to the Gaza blockade, self-determination in the West Bank and humanitarian aid.
As long as the “right of return” is the cornerstone of the Palestinians’ strategy, the Jewish refugees who fled from Arab lands to Israel in roughly comparable numbers remain its antidote.

Jewish refugee from Egypt
The Palestinians, it is widely believed, cannot be held responsible for what happened to the Jewish refugees. Even Israeli government negotiators, such as Tzipi Livni, who served as Israel’s Minister of Justice, declared in 2013 that “there was no connection between Jewish and Palestinian refugees.” She asserted that while Israel could legitimately discuss Palestinian refugees in peace talks, Jewish refugees would have to address their grievances to Arab states.

It is a fact, however, that both refugee populations were created by the Arab countries’ belligerent refusal to accept the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan; both groups became refugees during the same period in history; and both were declared to be bona fide refugees, under international law, by the appropriate U.N. agencies: the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the U.N. Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA).

The common objection to the Jewish refugee issue—that the Palestinians had nothing to do with it—is an easily demonstrable fallacy. In 1948, seven Arab states declared war against Israel. However, an extremist Palestinian leadership—the wartime Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini collaborated with the Nazis and incited anti-Jewish hatred all over the Arab world in the decades preceding the creation of Israel—played an active part in all Arab League decision-making and dragged Arab states into conflict with the new Jewish state. It was a conflict they lost and whose consequences they must suffer. The Palestinians cannot escape some measure of responsibility for both the Arab and the Jewish nakbas (“catastrophes”).

Linkage between the two sets of refugees opens up a window of opportunity for a political accommodation. A “right of return” for Palestinian Arab refugees to Israel—a state where they were not citizens—is a concept non-existent in international law. It is, in any case, a non-starter, for it promises nothing but upheaval and strife between Arabs returning to 1948 Israel and resident Israeli Jews. A “right of return” for one set of refugees is morally untenable; it is not equitable to give one set such a right without giving the same right to the other. Apart from the chaos and turmoil it would generate, giving Jews from the Arab world a “right of return” to countries that spat out them out is like asking a prisoner who has tasted freedom to go back to jail. “The masts of our ships are broken, our sails are torn,” said the late Baghdad-born Professor Shmuel Moreh, poetically. “Iraq is no place for us. If the Muslims are slaughtering their brothers, how can we return?”

Three generations of Jews have now been resettled in Israel and the West after their painful uprooting. No Jew would wish to return to an Arab country in present circumstances, except perhaps as a tourist, unless they are Jews who, in 1948, lost their homes in Jerusalem and areas that have fallen under Israeli control and are seeking restitution. The key to peace is therefore to recognize that the exchange of refugees is permanent and irreversible.

One might argue that no comparison between the two groups of refugees is possible; after all, one problem has ostensibly been resolved, while the other has not. It’s hard to justify a position that defends the non-resettlement of Palestinian refugees—an abuse of their human rights. The biggest obstacle to their absorption is the existence of the UNWRA, the U.N. agency dedicated to perpetuating refugee status through the generations. It is extraordinary and concerning that UNWRA should attract one-third of the budget for the UNHCR—the agency that deals with all refugees globally, excluding Palestinians—and that it should have four times the number of staff. It is a cause for alarm that UNWRA indoctrinates its young Palestinian charges with the idea that they are temporarily living in Gaza until they are able to return to Israel proper—a country the vast majority of “refugees” has never seen.

Israel should not be penalized for “doing the right thing” by absorbing its Jewish refugees. Palestinian Arab refugees need to follow the model of successful Jewish refugee resettlement by being allowed to acquire full citizenship in a future Palestinian state or in their host Arab countries. This is, sadly, a right that the Palestinian leadership has, to date, declared no intention of granting them.

Lyn Julius is the author of “Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight.”

Read article in full

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tribute to Robert Assaraf, author and philanthropist

A tribute to the key Moroccan-Jewish figure, historian, writer and philanthropist Robert Assaraf (1936 - 2018) is to be paid on 24 June 2018 at the ECUJE in Paris.

Assaraf was born in Rabat and worked with the royal counsellor Ahmed Reda Guedira when Morocco became independent. Founder of a research centre on Moroccan Jewry, he became president of the World Union of Jews from Morocco.

He was the author of several books on Moroccan Judaism and his 'Une certaine histoire des juifs du Maroc' is considered a classic. He was chairman of Radio Shalom and on the Board of the magazine Marianne.

He died in March 2018 in Ramat Sharon, Israel, where he spent his last years.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Too late to save Mosul's Christian and Jewish sites?

International efforts to rebuild Mosul after it was devastated by ISIS may come too little, too late. This article in the Kurdish medium Rudaw asks what will happen to Jewish and Christian sites, which are crumbling to dust.

Inscriptions in Hebrew on what remains of Jewish homes in Mosul are quotes from the Bible or tributes to the son of the local Jewish Mukhtar, who financed the building

In 2014 ISIS blew up the Mosque of Nabi Younis, or the Prophet Jonah, where he is believed to have been entombed. ISIS said the mosque, which had previously been used as an Assyrian church, had become a place of apostasy and not of prayer.

The United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and UNESCO announced a $50 million partnership at the Iraqi reconstruction conference in February to rebuild "the cultural heritage of Mosul," as part of the 'Revive the Spirit of Mosul' programme.

"Education, culture and heritage will also be key elements for successful reconstruction. UNESCO's initiative to coordinate international efforts for the reconstruction of the Old City of Mosul deserves our full support," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the time.

Mosul and its surrounding areas are historically some of the most diverse in the Middle East — at different times home to Babylonians, Assyrians, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, and other groups who have followed Abrahamic religions and other faiths like the Yezidis.

The conflict monitor Mosul Eye tweeted photos on Monday of engravings from the west or right bank of Mosul: "Anyone can read and translate the Hebrew inscription, please? One of the Jew's houses in old Mosul, unfortunately, it was destroyed by an airstrike, and this is what's left of it."

Yona Sabar, originally from Zakho in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, is professor a emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where he specializes in Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures. He told Rudaw English the inscriptions mostly come from Deuteronomy.

"The Lord shall command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you set your hand unto... with long life, peace and success... May God bless you and open His good treasure for you ..." translated Sabar.

He revealed that one of the inscriptions reads: "May the name of Hakham (Rabbi) Yihya son of Meir Daddo, who donated this inscription in honor of his late father, be remembered for his good deeds."

A book written in Hebrew by Ezra Laniado in Haifa in 1981 details that Daddo was the mukhtar, or local representative, of Mosul's Jewish community during World War I.

The book explains that Daddo's son, Yihya, was very altruistic, including donating money to build the southern section of Sasson Synanogue in Mosul, which is where Sabar believes the inscriptions originated before being turned into a house.

Read article in full

BDS supporters confuse Jewish and Arab refugees

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel scored an own goal when it inadvertently promoted the cause of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. ( This is not the first time that a photo of Jewish refugees has been hijacked). On World Refugee Day, it attempted to draw attention to Palestinian refugees by sending out  a photo of Jewish refugees in a transit camp in Israel. The photo was re-tweeted by COSATU, the South African Trade Union group. Story in the Algemeiner (With thanks: Michelle)

 The photo used by BDS shows Jewish, not Arab refugees.

The group’s gaffe was mocked by several commentators on Twitter, one of whom sarcastically wrote, “Thank you Cosatu for bringing to the world attention the plight of Jewish refugees exiled from their homes in the 40’s and 50’s. Truly doing good work!!”

The issue of Palestinian refugees dates back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state less than a day after it declared independence. Some 750,000 Palestinians left or were expelled from their homes during the fighting, and they and their descendants are today considered refugees.
That year also saw the beginning of an exodus of an estimated 850,000 Jews from across the greater Middle East, whose communities were targeted with antisemitic pogroms and discriminatory laws following Israel’s creation. A majority of the refugees — hailing from countries including Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, and Libya — were resettled in Israel, where their descendants now make up half of the Jewish population. Others made their way to the United States and Europe.

Yet the issue of Palestinian refugees — which today number over five million, according to the United Nations — remains unsolved, and their “right of return” to Israel is a central tenant of the BDS campaign.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Story on missing Syrian Judaica is 'inaccurate and confused'

With thanks: Boruch, Lily

The veracity of an article by the Associated Press alleging that  Jewish artefacts have gone missing from the Syrian synagogue of Jobar has been lambasted as 'conflated, inaccurate and confused.' The story is not in fact new and is once again dependent upon an anonymous source by the name of Al-Dimashqi.

The article, by Beirut-based Bassem Mroue, quotes activists' claims that ancient parchment Torah scrolls, put into safe keeping in 2013, have gone missing:

"The main missing cache, they say, contained torahs written on gazelle leather as well as tapestries and chandeliers, and was given to a militia by a local council for safekeeping when rebels surrendered the neighborhood to government forces earlier this year. That group, the Islamist-inspired Failaq al-Rahman brigade, later said that it was not in possession of the items after the council arrived at a new rebel base in Syria’s north after evacuating earlier this year.
Another set of objects appears to have been stolen by a Syrian guardian entrusted by the local council to hide the items in his home. The man, who officials involved declined to name, disappeared with the artifacts in 2014 before some allegedly resurfaced in Turkey."

 The Jobar synagogue as it was before it was destroyed in May 2014

Adam Blitz, an anthropologist and expert in ancient Syrian synagogues, speaking by 'phone, was quick to point out the broader context of news coverage and to highlight reports from the BBC of deliberate cyber propaganda by the regime, notably at times of regime offensives. This is the case today, with the regime focusing not on the Ghouta, but the south.  'Cultural heritage has been weaponised and disseminated across mainstream and social media,' Blitz claims. Jewish heritage is a political football, with the regime and rebels accusing each other of the bombardment and theft of antiquities.

Predictably, an article has appeared in the Iranian press repeating many of the AP allegations and misconceptions.

There is indeed much trafficking of artefacts in Turkey but the Judaica mostly turn out to have been crude fakes . Jewish activists have been determined to 'rescue' endangered artefacts and smuggle them out of Syria, itself a crime, as Blitz notes.  At least two Torah scrolls have resurfaced, not in Israel, as the article alleges, but in the US, and have been publically re-dedicated.

The Jobar synagogue, which is dedicated to the prophet Elijah, was routinely bombed by regime forces for several years during rebel occupation and finally succumbed on 23 May 2014. Only a few structural pillars remain standing in the rubble. The synagogue does not date back to Biblical times, as is often claimed by the media, but is most likely medieval, according to Blitz, based on literary evidence, where archaeology is of little assistance.

The AP article makes other overstatements. Syria was never home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East. No more than 12,000 Jews lived in  Damascus at the turn of the 20th century, according to Blitz, who also refers to the Ottoman census.

Prior to the civil war, the Assad regime had a relatively good record for preserving Jewish heritage and has protected the few Jews still living in Damascus and the synagogues of the Old City. This is not to say that there has not been state-sponsored antisemitism, however.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Harif writes to Westminster MPs about the 'other' refugees

To mark World Jewish Refugee Day, Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, has written to all Members of the UK Parliament at Westminster to remind them of the existence of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

The catalyst for the campaign has been 'The Great March of Return' in Gaza. This demonstrates that the objective of the Hamas regime is not 'two states for two peoples', but 'a right of return' for Palestinian 'refugees', with the aim of overwhelming the state of Israel by demographic means.

The need to raise awareness of the Jewish refugees issue has become all the more acute since the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, reaffirmed his support for the 'rights of Palestinian refugees'.

 Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn: supports Palestinian refugee rights

'To acknowledge Palestinian refugee rights without also recognising Jewish rights would be a distortion of the truth and a grave injustice. No credible peace settlement could be reached,' says the letter. MPs who wish to find out more are advised to consult the Harif and Point of No Return websites, or to invite Harif in to give them a personal briefing.

Here is the text of the Harif letter to MPs:

 The Other Middle Eastern Refugees

You may be aware that the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, recently re-iterated his support for the rights of dispossessed Palestinian refugees.

While Palestinian suffering needs to be acknowledged, there is no question that in 1947-48 (and in some cases much earlier), Arab countries, with the encouragement of the Palestinian leadership, deliberately targeted their Jewish populations, stripping them of citizenship and forcibly depriving them of their property. Some 850,000 Jewish refugees also arose out of the 1948 conflict between Israel and the Arab states. In one of the worst examples of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century, violence, expropriations and expulsions ensured that ancient and long-standing Jewish communities, which in many cases had predated Islam by a  thousand  years, ceased to exist.

The majority of these Jews sought refuge in Israel where, after great hardships integrating in large numbers into a state that was struggling with many other economic, social and military challenges, they were fully absorbed. Unlike Palestinian refugees, no Jew still calls him or herself a refugee.


At the time this injustice was recognised by international actors: the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recognised on a number of occasions that the plight of the Jewish refugees fell within its remit. This is also why UNSC Resolution 242 refers to “a just settlement of the refugee problem” without specifying the “Arab” or “Palestinian” refugee problem.

It must be recognised that an exchange of roughly equal numbers of refugee populations took place between Jews and Palestinians. Today, the Jews from Arab and Muslim countries form over 50 percent of the Jews of Israel.

To acknowledge Palestinian refugee rights without also recognising Jewish rights would be a distortion of the truth and a grave injustice. No credible peace settlement could be reached, quite aside from the impact of a mass “right of return” on Israel’s character as a Jewish state, and the way in which this would undermine the principle of “two states for two peoples”.


StandWithUS video for World Refugee Day

Bahrain shrugs off Israel attendance at UNESCO meet

 Update: Bahrain does not view Israel as an enemy, a Bahraini official said Tuesday in an interview with the i24News website. The unnamed official spoke to i24News days before an Israeli delegation is scheduled to visit the islands nation for a meeting of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. He also said that it was important for Israel to take part in the meeting.

An article attempting to embarass the Bahraini ruler by claiming he is 'normalising' relations with Israel has appeared in Middle East Eye. Bahrain responds that Israel is just one of the countries attending a UNESCO meeting on the island next week. (With thanks: Lily)

 Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain will host an Israeli delegation this month for meetings of the World Heritage Committee, organised by Unesco and the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, local newspaper Akhbar al-Khaleej reports.
The meetings, scheduled to be held on 24 June, will be sponsored by Bahraini ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Like most Arab countries, Bahrain does not officially recognise Israel, though it has signalled over the past year that it could be on the cusp of normalising relations.
Last year, Bahrain hosted its first ever visit of an Israeli official at FIFA's 67th congress which was hosted in Manama.
Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities' world heritage advisor Mounir Bouchenaki told Akhbar al-Khaleej that Bahrain will avoid politicising the meetings, despite Israel's participation.
"The meeting is international, and any country in the United Nations has the right to participate, including Israel," he said, adding that the Palestinians will also attend.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why the Arab world declined after flight of Jews

With thanks: Ian

 Former Wall St Journal journalist Bret Stephens, now at the New York Times.

This Prager education video may be a year old, but it remains highly topical: the journalist Brett Stephens (now at the New York Times) explains why antisemitism is at the root of the Arab world's stunted growth and corrupts every aspect of Arab society.

You will not hear this explanation from journalists and academics, who assume that antisemitism in the Arab world is as natural as desert sand. The culprit is not colonialism, unemployed youth, the Sunni-Shia divide or any other politically-correct excuse.

The flight and expulsion of some 900,000  Jewish citizens led to a social, economic and intellectual decline. It is a documented fact that post-Inquisition Spain went into decline after expelling its Jews; so did Tsarist Russia at the turn of the 20th century. The Arab mind tries to find a scapegoat for its failures. Antisemitism makes the world seems simple: it all boils down to a malevolent Jewish conspiracy.

Nor is Israel the cause of antisemitism: pogroms in Palestine, Iraq and Libya predate the creation of Israel, and the 'Oslo peace' years saw the worst violence against Israel.

 Successful nations learn from their neighbours; Arab states have made a point of hating theirs. For Israel it's a pity, for the Arabs it's a calamity.

Monday, June 18, 2018

My grandfather practised Judaism in secret

Shirley tells the story of her family to Daisy Abboudi, who runs Tales of Jewish Sudan, a website dedicated to the Jews of the Sudan. These numbered around 1,000  at their peak; the community is today extinct. Shirley's grandfather was forced to convert to Islam by the fundamentalist Mahdi in the 1880s but continued to practise Judaism in secret. He eventually became president of the Jewish community.

Succoth lunch in Khartoum, 1948 (Courtesy: Daisy Abboudi)

My grandfather Moshe, they called him Mousa, was the first who built the community in Sudan.  Originally they were Spanish, and then from Spain they went to Turkey, and then from Turkey they came to Israel, at that time it was Palestine, they came to Hebron.  From there they went to Sudan, that was in 1842.  After that there was the Mahdi and so on.  There were very few Jews then, about three families all together. They were compelled to be Muslims, my grandfather remained Jewish, but he didn't do it openly.  He used to go to his house and to pray and to put on his tefillin and everything, but outside they thought he was Muslim.  They gave him the name - his name was Moshe Ben Zion Koshti - so they gave him the name 'Bassiouni'.  I don't remember him because he died in 1917, a very long time ago!

My grandparents were well-known; my grandfather was the president of the Jewish community until he died in 1917.  He also erected the first synagogue in Sudan a few years before he died in Omdurman.  He made a cemetery too for the Jews in Omdurman and he and my grandmother are buried there. My grandfather also sent for a Rabbi from Egypt to convert my grandmother to Judaism before she gave birth to the children, and this Rabbi also circumcised his first son.  He had four children and my mother is the second one.

My grandmother was very...she didn't study at all...but she was very wise.  She lived with us at home - with my mother and father, and she died around the age of seventy.  She wasn't born Jewish, she was a Copt, but the Mahdi forced everybody to marry again when he made them all convert.  My grandfather already had a wife from Turkey, her name was Bechora and she was Jewish, but he had to marry my grandmother.  The other wife was living at the same house but she died a few years after and she was also buried there in Sudan.

Read post in full

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Love it or hate it, amba is here to stay

Introduced into Iraq from India by Jewish merchants, amba is now a staple of contemporary Israeli cuisine, claim Daniel Monterescu and Joe Hart in Haaretz (with thanks: Lisette)

A seemingly innocent, tangy condiment – one popular in Israeli, Indian and Iraqi cuisines, among others – encapsulates the story of how ethnic, class, cultural and physical boundaries are crossed in the Middle East, and beyond. You can love amba, you can hate it, but you definitely cannot ignore it or its potent smell, which stems from a mixture of fenugreek, vinegar, turmeric and mango ("amba," means mango in the Indian language of Marathi). 

 A jar of amba is now an indispensable condiment accompanying  many dishes

The origin of amba reflects tortuous foodways across the Indian Ocean. The common urban legend is that it was invented in the late 19th century by members of the Baghdadi-born Sassoon family of Bombay, whose discovery of the mango led them to send barrels of it, coated in vinegar, to Basra port, thus confirming its role in the story of the Jewish culinary diaspora, with roots in Iraq. 

Remaining persistent in form and ingredients over the years, amba took global leaps across diasporic communities, while assuming different meanings and uses in the process. Israelis will often tell you it is Indian, even though Mumbai’s Jewish community typically eat locally made chutneys and pickles instead. In the Arabian Gulf, in a manner that’s similar to the way many Indian cuisines use pickles, it is eaten with rice yet retains the name amba. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Iraq beauty queen in Israel: 'people looked like my people'

An Iraqi beauty queen has made history by visiting Israel at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee. In one respect, Sarah Idan's visit is in keeping with the growing interest and sympathy that Iraq's youth and middle classes have been showing towards Iraqi Jews. In another respect, it is a sign of how hostile Iraq remains towards 'normalisation' with Israel: Sarah and her family were forced to flee Iraq for the US after receiving death threats. (with thanks: Michelle)

 Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman (left) with Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan in 2017.Click here  to see the video of Sarah Idan's tour through the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.

Iraqi-born beauty queen Sarah Idan -- whose selfie and unlikely friendship with Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman during the 2017 Miss Universe pageant earned her family death threats and forced them to flee their native country -- made an extraordinary visit to Israel where she was praised for her bravery and message of peace.

A Hadashot television news report which followed Miss Iraq on a tour of Jerusalem’s iconic Machne Yehuda market showed the 26-year-old being showered with praise by Israeli fans.

One woman thanked Idan “for being so brave” calling her “an inspiration to all the women in the world.”

Another Israeli woman, of Jewish-Iraqi descent, told Idan she hopes one day to return to Iraq to which Idan replied “Inshallah,” or God willing.

 Sarah Idan (right) with Lily shor, manager of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Museum during a visit to Or Yehuda. She was touched to see an exhibit explaining that Iraqi Jews could not return

“It actually felt weird — the people look like my people. And the city looks like Damascus, like Syria, and I’ve been there, so everything seems familiar to me,” Idan said of her visit to Jerusalem.

Idan, who lives in the United States, withstood a torrent of backlash in 2017 after she posted a selfie with Gandelsman with the caption "Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel".

Idan’s family was forced to flee Iraq after receiving death threats over the selfie as well as photos of her modeling in a bikini. Idan told Hadashot that she was surprised by the backlash sparked by the viral photo.

“I did not think it would blow up like this when I took this picture,” she said. “I lived for many years in the US, I have many friends who are Jewish or Israeli, I don’t think about people like that.”

Read article in full 

More on relations between Iraq and Israel

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What a Pakistani Muslim learnt from a Jew

A chance encounter with a Pakistani Jew in Israel leads Ibrahim Rashid to conclude that Israelis and Palestinians can never reconcile unless Muslim states come to terms with the disgraceful treatment of their Jews. Story in the Daily Times of Pakistan (But sadly, the comments show that many readers are still in denial):

On my first day in Jerusalem, I woke up, performed wudu (ablution) and donned a new shalwar kameez that my grandmother had sent from Pakistan.
I thought to myself, “Today, I am representing my culture, religion, and family – and I will do it with pride.”
As I boarded the bus for the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, my driver asked, “Where are you from?”
“Pakistan!” I responded, to which he replied, “I’m from Pakistan, too!”
I was stunned to know that there were Pakistanis in Israel.
“What’s your name?” I asked in Urdu.
“Shimshon!” “Shimshon?” That’s an odd-sounding Pakistani name, I thought.
“How long have you been in Israel for?”
“Since 1957.” “Wow, that’s a while. When were you last in Pakistan?”“1957.” Confused, I asked him, “Why haven’t you gone back since?”
“Because I can’t – it’s not safe for me.”
In that moment it hit me. Shimshon is Jewish! I was shocked. I never imagined there could be Pakistani-Jews.

With Shimshon, Ibrahim Rashid's  Pakistani-Jewish bus driver on the way to the Western Wall

He spoke about growing up in Karachi – the city my family is from – and fearing for his life during his stay. He was harassed in the street, his synagogue was targeted and along with the rest of Karachi’s Jews, he had to flee to the only country that would take him, Israel.

As we parted ways and I made my way for the Wall, he was all I could think about. We come from the same land, speak the same language, and he could even pass for one of my relatives but because of his religion, our country failed him and now he’s in Israel, the only place where he feels safe.

From feeling pride in my heritage, I was overcome with shame. How can I be proud of my country when this is how we treat our minorities?
When you enter the Wall, you’re taken aback by its beauty. People are dancing, children are singing, and everyone, irrespective of faith or nationality, is vibrating as one. And that’s when I got it.
No matter how I feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, upon witnessing the wall, I realised that Israel is a place where people like Shimshon can feel safe.

 Read article in full

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Diarna races to map Jewish heritage in the Arab world

Since 2010, Boston-based Diarna (“our home” in Judeo-Arabic) has used the latest in 3-D digital mapping technology alongside traditional scholarship and oral interviews to document more than 2,500 Jewish sites in the Middle East and North Africa. But the race is on to record these sites before they disappear altogether, Larry Luxner writes in the Times of Israel (With thanks: Vernon, Yvonne):

Jason Guberman, founder of the Jewish nonprofit organization Diarna, speaks at Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville, Maryland. (Larry Luxner/ Times of Israel)
Many of these sites are found in Morocco (460), Iraq (352), Algeria (320), Yemen (301), Tunisia (231) and Syria (63).

“When I talk about Jewish fortresses in Saudi Arabia, I get blank stares. But this highlights a forgotten history and also the sensitive nature of the work we’re doing,” said Jason Guberman, Diarna’s co-founder and coordinator.
“This is a historical project. We don’t get involved in the politics of the region. We focus on identifying and documenting sites, and on gathering data,” he said.
Guberman, interviewed during a recent speaking trip to the Washington, DC, area, said the concept behind Diarna took shape 10 years ago. It was spurred by his early graduation from college and a vague desire to chronicle the history of Middle Eastern Jewry outside of Israel.

 Jewish pilgrims at the al-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. 

“A friend who had just gotten back from Morocco said his daughter had Jewish roots there, and he was concerned how she’d connect with her Jewish heritage, as sites were decaying and getting destroyed,” Guberman recalled.

“We started thinking about how we could preserve this heritage and make it accessible. Then we struck upon this idea of using Google Earth to identify and document sites. We had two laptops — one showing Google Earth and other connecting pictures. With that gap year ahead of me, and this crazy network of friends throughout the Middle East, we launched in August 2008,” said Guberman.

Read article in full 

More about Diarna

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

NY Times: Jews 'magically disappeared' from Arab lands

 With thanks: Alain, Paulette

Writing in the New York Times, Michael David Lukas has been searching out  traces of a lost Jewish presence in Tunisia, Egypt and other places. So far, so very romantic. But as Elder of Ziyon points out, not once does he mention why these Jews left - the  result of Muslim antisemitism.

Exterior of the Ben Ezra synagogue, Cairo
"He ends off the article this way:
It might be difficult to find the traces of Jewish history in Kolkata or Cairo or Baghdad or Fez. And it might be difficult to imagine that now-vanished world in which Jewish bakers lived side by side with Muslim doctors, Armenian tailors and Zoroastrian jewelers.

But that’s all the more reason to search out those places. In visiting these semi-abandoned cemeteries and synagogues, in seeking out the remnants of this mostly forgotten past, I’ve tried, in my own small way, to pay my respects to the dead and to remember that lost world in which they lived.
Not once in the article is the reader given any context as to why the Jews who had lived in these places for so long suddenly disappeared.

The taboo of mentioning the obvious fact of Muslim antisemitism - especially after Israel was reborn, but also throughout history - is simply too strong.

Instead of being ethnically cleansed, the Jews who attended these synagogues just magically disappeared."

Read post in full

Monday, June 11, 2018

Hitler vanishes as Yad Vashem becomes 'politically-correct'

Is Yad Vashem rewriting history? Changes at the world's premier Holocaust museum in Jerusalem seem to be suggesting that it is seeking to downplay the links between Adolf Hitler and the Palestinian leadership during World War II. As a result, fewer visitors to Yad Vashem will learn of the Arab role in the Holocaust.

Infamous meeting between Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler in November 1941: the photo has been taken down

A veteran Israeli tour guide, Shalom Pollack, has noticed that a floor-to-ceiling photo of the infamous meeting between Hitler and the Mufti of Jerusalem has been replaced by a tiny photo of the Mufti with Himmler."Many structural and technical innovations have upgraded the visiting experience," he says.
"However, one very glaring content change has caught my eye now for a while and it leaves me no rest."

When Pollack complained, he was told that the new museum 'concentrates on the victims rather than the perpetrators, and therefore does not offer much space to them.'

However, Pollack points out, there is  a full wall of very large photos of German perpetrators just a few steps away from the Mufti-Himmler one.

"I assume that it was decided to tone down and hide the Arab (Palestinian) role due to the post-Oslo attitude and policies of building bridges with our new peace partners," Pollack complained in a letter to Avner Shalev, the Yad Vashem director.

"There are rumours that our popular peace partner, Faisal Hussaini himself, insisted that his uncle's photo be removed from the museum.
In any case, it is deeply disturbing and a national tragedy that a new generation of visitors, Jew and non-Jew, are not educated to a very basic and significant part of the Holocaust."

Individuals such as Edwin Black, author of Farhud, and the late Professor Shmuel Moreh have been campaigning for Holocaust Museums worldwide to  feature the Arab-Nazi alliance in their displays. It has been an uphill struggle.

Readers of Point of No Return are urged to write to Avner Shalev, demanding that the situation be rectified at once. Email: