Monday, July 30, 2018

Mind the Gap!

Point of No Return will be taking a short summer break. Back soon!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Zvi Gabay, Jewish refugee rights advocate 1938 - 2018

Point of No Return is saddened to learn of the passing of Zvi Gabay, former Israel ambassador to Ireland and a dogged advocate for the rights of Jews from Arab lands. Gabay was born in Iraq in 1938 and made his career in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, travelling around the world. But the issue closest to his heart since his retirement was always the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. 

He never failed to keep the issue alive in the Hebrew press, and some of his pieces were published in the English-speaking press, most recently this Jerusalem Post article on 77th anniversary of the Farhud pogrom in Iraq.

Zvi Gabay's memoir, From Baghdad to the Pathways of Diplomacy, reflects modesty and restraint. Typically, his memoir understates his tireless advocacy in newspapers and fora for the rights of almost a million Jews driven from Arab lands. As a tribute to him we are reproducing Lyn Julius's review:

"In his book he barely mentions the issue which – apart from his love of Arabic poetry – has consumed much of his time since his retirement.
Born in Baghdad in 1938, Zvi Gabay (brother of the famous film actor Sasson Gabay) was just old enough to remember the turmoil of 1947, when the Iraqi government tried to divert popular attention away from domestic issues to the Jews. Iraq was among the seven Arab countries that declared war against the new state of Israel. Arrests of local Jews, executions and travel bans followed. The writing on the wall was clear to Zvi: the Jewish community of Iraq was doomed.
Although he comes from a comfortable middle class family, several frightening incidents stick in Zvi’s childhood memory: Palestinian youths hurling stones at Zvi’s bicycle, for instance. The hostility he encountered in Baghdad made Zvi loathe the city and strengthened his determination to emigrate to Israel.
There was a two year stint at a ‘cold and alienating’ kibbutz, night school, then military service in the IDF. Expecting to be punished for playing without permission his passion, tennis, in his lunch break, Zvi tells an amusing anecdote when the base commander insisted, davka, on playing with him. It was ‘tennis under orders’.
His family having sought security in Israel, then came a terrible twist of fate: his father was murdered in his Haifa grocery store by a Christian Arab.
Zvi undertook intermittent higher studies and embarked a long career in the Israeli Foreign Ministry which took him to Ireland (where he served as ambassador) and Australasia. As a fluent Arabic speaker he was one of the first diplomats to be assigned to the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Much of the work was unglamorous: arranging official visits, undertaking painstaking mediation behind-the-scenes for the release of Israelis in Egyptian jails. His disappointment at the cold peace which followed the 1979 Israel-Egypt Treaty is palpable. The Egyptians he dealt with remained smiling and polite but ultimately uninterested in advancing relations with Israel.
Zvi Gabay z''l: thoughtful and restrained
The most fascinating section of Zvi’s memoirs relates to Egypt. He tells a hilarious story of Israelis stuck in a lift ‘with a mind of its own’. The repairmen’s stock answer was ‘patience, patience.’ The doorman refused to help, convinced that the cries of the trapped Israelis were the voices of jin (spirits). The firemen arrived, put out an imaginary fire and left. Zvi and his friends had no choice but to free their suffocating colleagues with their own hands, by breaking a hole through the adjoining wall.
A suitable metaphor for the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, perhaps: the Israelis make all the running, while the Egyptians imagine Zionist conspiracies, pay lip service, and urge ‘patience’.

What was the status of Judeo-Arabic in Iraq?

 In the light of the controversy over the status of Arabic in Israel - 'special' but not official' - it is interesting to examine what the status of Judeo-Arabic was in Iraq. Few Iraqi Jews, and almost no non-Jewish scholar could read the Hebrew characters in written documents called Hetzi Kalmus.  In the 1940s, writes historian Sami Sourani, the Iraqi government demanded that all official records be translated into Arabic. Today in the Arab world there is renewed academic interest in Jewish history and language.

The official documents of the  Iraqi Jewish Community are written in ancient Hebrew letters (modified) and called Hetzi Kulmus. The letters were modified to accommodate words from various languages that were assimilated in the spoken Jewish dialect over time. There were words that were adopted from classical Persian, Greek, Mongolian, Arabic, Turkish, and some words from other ethnic communities that lived in Iraq.

A document written by the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad in Hetzi Kalmus (NARA)

 The documents were written by different writers and each has his style of writing. There are very few Iraqi Jews who can read and understand what was written and what was behind the words and contemporary expressions. There is no doubt that there is hardly an Iraqi non-Jewish scholar who can read this language.  A few years after the Farhud, the Iraqi Government demanded that the Jewish Community of Baghdad  translate into Arabic all important documents and records of meetings and send a copy to the Ministry of Interior Affairs. This Ministry had the right to ask questions and elaborations of anything in those documents.

When the Jews lived in Iraq and when they felt that they were an integral part of this country, there was no academic interest in their history or language or anything related to their culture. There was hardly anything mentioned in textbooks studied at schools. The Iraqi Government closed Jewish newspapers even though they did not deal with politics but mostly with Arabic literature.

 In recent years there has been some interest in Jewish culture, in general. The University of Cairo has now a Department of Jewish studies and some research studies were written about the Jews of Spain. The University of Baghdad has a new Department for Jewish studies with a faculty teaching Hebrew and you even find such a department at the University of Najaf. Thre are a few Ph.D. dissertations about the history of the Iraqi Jews! The common thing in all those is that they show the nice side of the coin and the good life of the Jews once upon a time.

A recent article written about the Jews of Iraq was written by a professor at the University of Baghdad. There is nothing new in it, except that there is an appendix to this research showing the names of Iraqi Jewish families that hold the highest number of land deeds  registered at the Department of Land Deeds Registration in Baghdad, that is called TAPO in spoken Arab Iraqi Language.

More from Sami Sourani

Friday, July 27, 2018

Israel's State Law: Turkey and Arab states are hypocrites

 Israel's Nationality Law has provoked a furious reaction around the world. Some have criticised it because they are not comfortable with any expression of Jewish self-determination.  It has been pointed out that many countries around the world, including European democracies, have similar laws asserting the pre-eminence of the majority ethnic group, religion and language, but only in Israel's case is this deemed 'controversial.'

(Others - including in Israel's own government -  think that more should have been done to reaffirm minority rights in Israel, pointing out that  the 'downgrading' of Arabic from an 'official' language to one of 'special status' has frightened loyal minorities such as the Druze.)

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League countries have joined the chorus of disapproval. Jews who have lived in Arab countries - and were forced to leave them -  can only marvel at their monumental hypocrisy: not one of these countries has every treated their minorities fairly and nearly all are Judenrein, yet they have the gall the lecture the Jewish state.

Naturally, the Turkish dictator Tayyip Erdogan has not missed this opportunity to slam Israel.  This post from Elder of Ziyon is interesting because Erdogan is often blamed for a resurgence of Turkish antisemitism. Secular, westernised Turkey under Mustapha Kamal Ataturk is held up as a model for Muslim nations to follow. But as this snapshot of the anti-Jewish atmosphere in 1934 shows, not only were Jews at the mercy of the mob, but Ataturk himself declared himself unwilling to stand between the Jews and the destructive will of the people.

 From the blog of Yekta Uzunoglu, quoted in Elder of Ziyyon (with thanks: Jeanette):

May 25, 1934

The Jewish community in Turkey, in despair and fear of the coming pogroms, approached the Prime Minister Ismet Inönü himself and to the Minister of Interior Affairs Sükrü Kaya and appealed for protection provided by state authorities, against the attacks by crowds, goaded by mysterious forces… The appeal was never answered.

June 14, 1934

The Turkish government responded in a special way, by approving a shameful fascist law aimed especially against the Jews and their properties.

The law begins with a quotation: This law has been approved to make sure that one language is spoken in the country, there is one thought, one and identical feeling and consciousness, especially for the Islamic homeland, and therefore:

a) The areas where Turkish culture represents a minority are nationalized
b) All of the areas and regions, where representatives of Turkish culture could be relocated, are nationalized
c) All of the buildings, facilities, including houses and factories belonging to those who are not Mohammedan, are nationalized. They will serve for our health, culture, politics, army and civil guard.
Section 11 of the same law states:

 “Those who do not speak Turkish as their mother tongue have no right to set up new neighbourhoods, new villages, new workplaces, artistic groups or societies, new schools, and they have no right to cede their trade, their professions or companies to their descendants, relatives or people of the same origin.”

June 21,  1934

The Turkish Government issued the Surname Act

All minorities living in Turkey were obliged to accept the Turkish surnames they were assigned etc. They were the Jews, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Roma, simply all of them. A new wave of forcing minorities to become Turks began and it continues until now. Just exceptionally, a member of such a minority succeeds in making the Turkish authorities to approve the change to the original surname. Well, in recent years some of them may have succeeded in claiming the original surnames back but it happened only due to bribes, but the ban is still in force. The order was not related just to peoples’ names but also to the names of mountains, rocks, streams, animals, plants or even flowers.

Immediately, after the law was passed, a lot of Jews dwelling in the European part of Turkey, i.e. near the borders with Greece and Bulgary, were relocated to the steppes of Central Anatolia, under the pretext of intelligence activities.

June 21, 1934

In the City of Dardanelles, where nearly 1500 Jews lived at that time, attacks were started against Jewish shops. “Unofficial” guards were standing in front of the shops and did not let citizens enter. They placed notices on Jewish house doors, with a threatening appeal saying that the people must leave the city immediately to avoid being murdered.

June 25, 1934

All of the Jews of Dardanelles and the city of Gelibol left the cities and they were allowed to take just personal belongings with them… On the same day, “purely by coincidence”, the city was visited by the Turkish President Atatürk, the Father of all Turks, accompanied by the Iranian Shah Riza Pehlevi… they came as conquerors. And they were greeted by applause and cheering by the fanaticized crowds…

Mustapha Kamal Ataturk meeting Shah Reza Pahlavi I of Iran

One of the witnesses described the arrival of “the Father of the Turkish Nation” Atatürk, just on the fatal day when the Jewish residents were forced to leave the city, saying:

“… the crowd cheered at Atatürk’s arrival, shouting “May he live forever!” and Atatürk’s car stopped among the cheering crowds, he got out of the car, more self-confident than ever, his appearing put the crowd to the top of ecstasy. Atatürk enjoyed the feeling of being admired, as the person giving wealth to his pears, he walked among them, stopped for a while, and at that moment a citizen broke away and ran towards him. The guards tried to stop him but Atatürk, believing that the man is one of his admirers, ordered the guards to let him come and they had to obey.

The disillusioned citizen knelt down on the ground and raised both arms towards heaven, saying in despair,

“-My Pasha, for the God’s life, are they driving us out of our own city? Where are we to go? What shall we do, oh my God?”

Atatürk understood immediately who the man was and what he expected from him, nevertheless he asked him ironically and in a mocking way, “-Who are you?”

“-My Holy Pasha, I am a local Jew from Dardanelles, Avram Palto.”

“-And who is driving you out? The Government? The Laws? The Police? The Gendarmerie? Go ahead, tell me”!

The Jewish citizen of Dardanelles, who was to lose all his property on that day and to leave his own city, replied in despair,

“No, my Almighty Pasha, the people are driving us away!”

And Atatürk started laughing and then said with a strict look,

Well, if they are the people, nothing can be done, if the people wished, they could drive away even myself,” and he returned to his car where there was his guest, the Shah of Iran.

Read post in full

Thursday, July 26, 2018

'Let Iraq have digitised copy of archive'

There is a good case for not sending the Iraqi-Jewish archive back to Iraq, writes Sheldon Kirchner in the Times of Israel. Now that the archive has been digitised, there is no reason why  Iraq should not have a  copy. (With thanks: Imre)

A compelling argument for maintaining the status quo with respect to the present locale of the archive was made last year by Gina Waldman, the founder and president of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. As she put it, “There is no justification in sending (it) back to Iraq, a country that has virtually no Jews and no accessibility to Jewish scholars or the descendants of Iraqi Jews. The U.S. government must ensure that (it) is returned to its rightful owners, the exiled Iraqi Jewish community.”

 Detail from Torah scroll tik found in the Iraqi-Jewish archive (photo: NARA)

That doesn’t mean that Iraq should be totally deprived of its cultural patrimony. Since the archive has been fully digitized, there is no reason why a copy of it should not be made available to Iraq. The Iraqi authorities could then display the most important pieces in a permanent exhibition, thereby enabling Iraqi Muslims and Christians to learn a valuable lesson in history.

With the flight of most of Iraq’s 120,000 Jews following the declaration of Israel’s statehood, a succession of governments demonized, marginalized and persecuted Jews, obliterating their stellar contributions to Iraqi society. This policy hardened after the 1963 Baathist coup, the 1967 Six Day War and the 1979 accession to power of Saddam Hussein.

A digitized version of the Iraqi Jewish Archive in Baghdad could have a positive influence on Iraqis who wish to expand their knowledge of their nation.

Read article in full 

Politicians and advocates push to keep the Jewish-Iraqi archive in the US (Hamodia)

State department working to extend archive deadline

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Arab sports world remains bigoted against Israelis

So much for warming relations between Israel and Arab states. The sports and leisure world remains a bastion of bigotry and boycott against Israeli participants. The latest victim is the diminutive chess whizzkid, Liel Levitan, who was banned from a chess tournament in Tunisia because she is Israeli. Report in The Times of Israel:

Schoolgirl Liel Levitan from Haifa is unable to accept an invitation to play in the World Chess Championship because host nation Tunisia will not allow Israelis to compete, it was reported Thursday.

Liel Levitan: banned
This is not the first time Israeli chess players have been denied the opportunity to participate in international tournaments due to their nationality.
Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing in the Middle East or against Middle Eastern countries, due to hostility toward the Jewish state.
“Just a few months ago, a World Chess Championship was due to take place in Saudi Arabia,” chess player Lior Aizenberg told Hadashot news. “It was clear to everyone that outstanding Israeli chess players would not be able to participate.”
Aizenberg has instead founded the World Alternative Championship, which takes place in Israel and extends competition invitations to players from across Europe and the Arab world.

Liel has also been invited to compete at the competition, which counts outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky and American pro-Israel group Stand With Us among its supporters.

“The time has come to put an end to discrimination against Israelis in chess, in sports and in every field,” said Aizenberg.

The International Judo Federation on Friday stripped the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia from hosting two international tournaments due to their failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes.

The decision to suspend the tournaments came after organizers at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

JIMENA partners Israel in oral history project

JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) has announced a new partnership program with Israel’s Ministry of Social Equality (MSE), Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of Jewish Peoplehood, and Ben Gurion University (BGU), to produce a comprehensive collection of Oral History testimonies of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. (With thanks: Tony, Carol)

Yemenite children in an Israeli transit camp in 1949
Beginning in 2010, JIMENA launched an Oral History Program in California to record and preserve the memories of Jews born in the Arab world and Iran. Inspired and guided by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute, the project gives former Mizrahi and Sephardic refugees an opportunity to assert and preserve their personal histories and rich traditions in the countries their ancestors lived for over 2,500 years. JIMENA witnesses document their stories of positive memories as well as human rights abuses, displacement and integration in new societies.

As an outgrowth of that Oral History Project, JIMENA and BGU launched a unique partnership in 2012 to ensure JIMENA’s significant collection of testimonies is shared with scholars and preserved in perpetuity. International Graduate Students at The Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism diligently transcribed, cataloged and added JIMENA’s Oral History collection to The Ben Gurion Archives, where it now proudly resides.

As part of Israel’s 2014 legislation to recognize and advance the history and heritage of Jews from Arab countries and Iran, in 2016 Israel’s Ministry of Social Equality allocated $2.6 million dollars to launch a robust national initiative to collect video recorded testimonies of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. JIMENA and Israel’s Ministry of Social Equality pledged resources and support to train BGU students to collect testimonies to add to Israel’s National Collection and JIMENA’s Oral History collection at Ben Gurion University.

Read article in full 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Victor Deloya, Oslo Children leader, dies

 With thanks: Soly Anidjar and Michelle

Victor Deloya, one of the main organisers of the migration of Jewish children from North Africa to Israel via Norway in 1949, has died.  

Victor Deloya was born in Casablanca, the eldest of eight children. He left Morocco to teach, and while in Marseille became the first Moroccan to serve the Hanoar Ha'Aliya Zionist youth group.

He was the father of four children, and grandfather of eight. At the time of his death he was living in Miami and New York, while continuing to work for Israel. He was the president of the Sephardic Moroccan community in New York, and took care of his small synagogue as a technical officer while working on his family's genealogy.

Victor Deloya

In 1949 at the age of 18, after a long stay in Norway, he brought back 200 North African Jewish children (the children of Oslo) to Israel.

Victor Deloya  was forced to leave the country following the illness of his wife Anne-Marie. She was also involved in the Children of Oslo project. She suffered from multiple sclerosis, and lived in Norway until her death a few years ago. 

 Isaac Allal, the only survivor from the plane crash taking children from Tunis to Oslo in November 1949.

In 1949 an agreement was signed between the JDC and the Norwegian Ministry of Welfare to admit 200 Jewish children from North Africa to a tuberculosis recovery centre,  to strengthen their health prior to  moving to Israel.

In April 1949 the first group of 200 Moroccan children arrived at the Norwegian Centre. The second group was from Tunisia. On 20 November 1949 two DC-3 Dakota aircraft of Euro Netherlands, took off from Tunis to Oslo. One plane arrived safely. The second plane landed in Brussels for radio repairs and took off at 12:56 continuing to Oslo. Just before landing the pilot encountered heavy fog. He lowered his plane in the mountainous terrain. Near Hurom, 30 miles south of Oslo, one of the aircraft wings hit a tree. The plane continued another 60 feet and crashed into a mountainside. The impact of landing flipped the plane over: most of the passengers were knocked out and the front of the plane caught fire. All the children were killed except for one, Isaac Allal.

In 2010, the Israeli government commemorated the 'Oslo Children’s Disaster' in a state ceremony.

More about the Oslo children.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tisha b'Ab, Moroccan-style

Today is the festival of Tisha B'ab, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. It is a fast day and commemorates the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem and other disasters to have befallen the Jewish people.

Here is a Moroccan rendering by Rabbi Moshe Nahon of the kinot of Arvit (the evening service) recited before al Naharot ('By the rivers of Babylon').

More from the PoNR archives about Tisha b'Ab

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Jewish graves are desecrated in Egypt and Tunisia

Egypt Today reports (with thanks: Boruch):

CAIRO - 16 July 2018: Head of the Egyptian Jewish community, Magda Haroun, said that the tomb of her father, prominent Jewish lawyer Chehata Haroun, was vandalized.

The tomb is located in the 1200-year-old Jewish cemeteries in Bassatine, Cairo, which is considered the second oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world.

Haroun posted on her Facebook page photos of the vandalized tomb, saying “I spoke. People, help us build a fence. If I were financially capable, I would actually build it myself, brick by brick, to protect the memory of the people buried here."

The desecrated tomb of Shehata Haroun in Cairo's Bassatine cemetery

Read article in full

 Europe-Israel reports (with thanks: Michelle): 

Update: Elder of Ziyon quotes Tunisian media saying that the police have arrested six men for this offence. Sadly, it is thought these men are different from the culprits.

The Jewish cemetery of Sousse (Tunisia a country of tolerance) was desecrated this Tuesday, July 17, 2018, by anti-Semitic Muslims who openly organized a mechoui (barbecue) on Jewish graves.

 Having a barbecue on a Jewish gravestone

Tunisia has become one of the most active centres in the Muslim world for spreading anti-Semitism. This hatred of the Jews does not spare the dead and the cemeteries.

These acts of hatred in the third city of Tunisia deepen the disappointment of the small Tunisian Jewish community, which can not rely on local authorities to prosecute the culprits.

This kind of behavior is tolerated by the local authorities who want to reclaim the land using these same people. The city of Sousse, led by the new mayor Tawfik Aribi, seeks to take over the property of some Jewish families who have not yet left.

In 1946, the Jewish community of the city of Sousse had 3,530 people. In 2017 there are only 31 people left.

Read article in full (French)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

State Department 'working to extend archive deadline'

 Some good news at last regarding the Iraqi-Jewish archive: four senators have introduced a bill (to be posted tomorrow) calling for the agreement to return the archive to Iraq to be re-negotiated by the State Department. The State Department  say that they are working with Iraq to obtain an extension. This means that the collection of Jewish books and documents  shipped to the US for restoration in 2003 will almost certainly stay there beyond the September deadline: 

Pages from a Pesah Haggadah found in the archive - before restoration.

 Here is the press release issued by Senator Pat Toomey, one of the bill's sponsors:

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have introduced a bipartisan measure to help protect a trove of historic Jewish artifacts.
Known as the Iraqi Jewish Archives, U.S. soldiers uncovered the collection of 2,700 priceless books, religious texts, and civic documents in the basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters in 2003. Because the archive was in a badly damaged state upon discovery, the U.S. and the Coalition Provisional Authority signed an agreement whereby the U.S. would restore the material and then send it back to Iraq.
In addition to preserving the archive, since 2013 the National Archives and Records Administration has displayed the collection throughout the United States for the benefit of scholars, citizens, and the Iraqi Jewish diaspora. The collection is currently set to return to Iraq in September 2018, despite the fact that only a few Jews live in Iraq today. The Senate resolution calls on the United States to renegotiate the agreement with the Iraqi government to allow the archive to remain in America for a longer period of time.
"In 2014, I introduced a resolution with Sens. Blumenthal and Schumer calling on our government to keep this priceless archive in the United States," said Senator Toomey. "That resolution passed the Senate unanimously. It makes no sense for this material to return to Iraq when the vast majority of Iraqi Jews and their descendants live in the Diaspora. I hope that the Senate swiftly approves our resolution to once again urge the State Department to keep these artifacts in the United States."
"These personal and irreplaceable trove of Jewish artifacts still belong where they can be preserved and accessed by the Jewish community and scholars, not returned to Iraq," said Senator Schumer. "These invaluable cultural treasures like a prayer book and Torah scrolls belong to the people and their descendants who were forced to leave them behind as they were exiled from Iraq. The State Department should make clear to the Iraqi government that the artifacts should continue to stay in the United States."
"By urging the State Department to renegotiate our agreement with the Iraqi government, this resolution will help ensure that the recovered Iraqi Jewish artifacts remain in the United States, where they can be protected and preserved for future generations," said Senator Rubio.
"These recovered Jewish artifacts must be protected and preserved," said Senator Blumenthal. "Keeping these artifacts in the United States will ensure that people from around the world will be able to see these priceless pieces of history for years to come."

*Gina Waldman of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North africa) welcomed the news as a 'good step'.
"We are keeping the pressure on and  working on this very diligently.  Almost 80% of JIMENA time is spent on the Iraqi archives," she said. She urges US citizens to show a copy of the bill to their representative and ask for their support. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Forward trilogy does not do archive saga justice

At first glance, it is heartwarming to see that Talya Zax, the culture editor of the Forward, has devoted a trilogy of articles to the saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archive, which the US has promised to return in September. But reader irritation and even anger soon begin to mount.

A crate of waterlogged items from the Iraqi-Jewish archive. The crate was marked with the name of  Harold Rhode, an orthodox Jew working for the Pentagon in Baghdad in 2003, who first drew attention to the archive.

Firstly, Zax has got elementary facts wrong: the Babylonian exile began in 586 BCE, not in 596 BCE. The troubles of the Jews are said to have started in 1948,  ie can be blamed on the creation of Israel - no mention of the 1941 Farhud in this context.Then the man who discovered the archive in the waterlogged basement of the secret police headquarters is not even named - Harold Rhode. The impression is given that members of the Iraqi National Congress were present at the salvage operation. (More accurately, Ahmed Chalabi  facilitated it. Other key figures like Natan Sharansky  are not given the credit they deserve.) The Hebrew inscription in the photo is not on the ceiling but the wall of Ezekiel's shrine ( bizarrely, the caption calls the site by its Muslim name, Dhu al Kifl).

But the most egregious omission is that nowhere in the three articles does Zax refer to the fact that the archive was not abandoned by departing Jews in the same way as they 'lost their life', homes, assets and property, but was physically seized by Saddam Hussein's regime. Witnesses watched aghast as Saddam's men carted off piles of books and documents from the ladies' gallery of the Bataween synagogue.The ownership of the archive ceases to be 'up for debate', but appears more of an open-and-shut case of brazen theft.The extraction from Iraq may have been legal, but was based on a false premise.

Zak  gives credence to the Iraqi ambassador who claims that Iraq has a 'deep emotional tie to the archive'. Yet there has ben hardly a peep about 30,000 other documents concerning the Baath regime  : the US shipped these from Iraq and insists on retaining them 'for security reasons'. Who might guarantee that the 'museum-like space in which the ambassador pledges to house the archive on its return to Iraq will be preserved, and the archive smuggled out, sold to the highest bidder  or destroyed? Then there is the fear  that the archive will not be accessible to them exiled Jews themselves, an argument which the writer fails to develop. (Past experience does not inspire confidence.)

The horrific stories told by the Iraqi  ladies of the Bene Naharayim congregation  contradict the idea that these Jews left 'voluntarily, but under duress'. No amount of quibbling can deny the fact that these people fled Iraq as dispossessed refugees and that Arab states were responsible for the Jewish exodus. Granting reparations to the Palestinians should not obviate reparations to Jews.

 It is a pity that the articles are written in the style of, 'he said, she said', with scrupulous equivalence between thief and victim. With the return of the archive to Iraq imminent, few readers new to this issue will be persuaded of the justice of the Jewish claim.

For links to articles click here

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Impact of the Suez crisis on the Jews of Egypt

Useful summary in  History is Now of the expulsion of Jews from Egypt after 1956. (With thanks: Boruch)

The Suez Crisis, aside from producing an understandable rise in support for President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his regime, had devastating effects for persons living within Egypt who had become ‘egyptianized’ i.e. those who were not Egyptian citizens; or those whose ancestry was not wholly Egyptian, but had attained Egyptian citizenship through various legal statutes.

 These people were collectively known as the mutamassirun, and, in the immediate post-colonial period in Egypt (from 1922 onwards) they owned a large share of capital and operated a large number of businesses in Egypt. They were also acknowledged to have made significant contributions to Egyptian cultural, religious and linguistic diversity in the past.

Although measures to expel members of the mutamassirun were already underway before the Suez Crisis came to a head, the Crisis is widely seen as giving Nasser the necessary impetus and legitimacy to proceed to make it extremely difficult for ‘egyptianized’ persons to remain in Egypt. It was a natural step for Nasser to seek to blame the Suez Crisis on the mutamassirun population.

After all, Nasser had risen to power on an avowedly pan-Arab, anti-colonial message. As Britain had directly ruled Egypt from the late nineteenth century until 1922, and France had previously invaded under Napoleon in 1798, the mutamassirun were easy targets for blame post-Crisis Egypt, as many were of British or French nationality or extraction. There was also a sizeable population of Jews living in Egypt around the turn of the twentieth century.

As the pre-Crisis period coincided with an increasingly confident and assertive Zionist movement, leading up to the creation of Israel in 1948, which led to great discomfort across Arab states, the Crisis only provided Nasser with a further reason to expel large numbers of the Egyptian Jewish population in its aftermath. For the Jews specifically (including those Jews who also happened to be British or French citizens), Nasser’s policy of removal post-1956 was carried out in two ways: expulsion and ‘voluntary’ emigration.

With regard to expulsion, the Egyptian government was able to make the number of Jews removed from Egypt seem much lower than the actual number by statistical sleight of hand: the estimate that at least 500 Egyptian and stateless Jews were expelled from Egypt by November 1956 does not include the expulsion of those Jews that were French or British citizens, nor does it include any member of a family who was not deemed by the Egyptian authorities to have been the ‘head of a family’, but who nonetheless had to leave Egypt along with the head of their family.

Read article in full

Monday, July 16, 2018

Iraqi-Jewish archive ownership 'up for debate'

The first of three articles in the Forward about the Iraqi-Jewish archive by the culture editor, Talya Zax, makes depressing reading. (For full background to the case, see under 'Jewish archives').  As well as claiming that the ownership of the archive is up for debate, the article disturbingly claims that the  status of the archive is ambiguous because Iraqi Jews 'left voluntarily, if under duress'. Apparently it is not a violation of international law for a government to have seized its citizens' property. Should the Iraqi-Jewish community bring a lawsuit against Iraq,  it is also unclear if the case could be heard in a US court.  However,  successful Holocaust restitution does set a precedent. 

Page from a Haggadah found in the Iraqi-Jewish archive

One reason the ownership of the archive appears to be up for debate is that the majority of the Jews who left Iraq did so voluntarily, but under duress. That was also the case for many European Jews who fled the Nazi menace, and the decades-long work of Holocaust reparations has established a mixed precedent as to what can and ought to be done with their property. Ambassador Yasseen declined to discuss the grounds on which Iraq claims ownership of the archive.

 I asked Gina Waldman, president of the advocacy organization Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) how the Iraqi Jewish community can claim ownership of materials left behind when their owners chose to leave. “This was what was considered communal property,” Waldman said. “No one person could sign off and say, well, this synagogue now belongs to the Iraqi government.”

 Basri, in an article outlining a legal argument for the United States to refuse to return the archive, refers to U.N. Resolution 242. Passed after the Six Day War, that statute calls for a “just settlement of the refugee problem.” Yet the Iraqi Jewish community has limited legal opportunities, says Patty Gerstenblith, director of DePaul College of Law’s Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law. The State Department, Gerstenblith said, granted the archive a status known as immunity from seizure, meaning that courts cannot hear cases or issue orders about it. “Doesn’t matter if it’s stolen property,” she said.

 That leaves only one option, which would be for the community to bring suit against Iraq. It’s unclear if such a claim could be heard in American court. “Usually,” Gerstenblith said, “when a government takes property away from its own citizens that’s not a violation of international law.” What about the example of Holocaust restitution? Objects looted during the Holocaust can be recoverable so long, Gerstenblith said, as suits are brought by clearly identifiable owners. A less direct precedent has been set for communal property. “In a sense, the Holocaust expropriations have been treated as a unique set of cases,” Gerstenblith said. “Having said that, there’s no reason that a court couldn’t extend that to another historical circumstance.”

 The Iraqi Jewish community has yet to attempt any legal action. In the short term, it’s unclear if they’ll have to, as the State Department would not comment on plans for the archive’s return. A spokesperson specifically declined a request to confirm that the current administration intends to return the archive in September, as scheduled. If the return is delayed, it won’t be for the first time.

  This is the first of three articles on the Iraqi Jewish Archive. Come back tomorrow for part 2, “In Exile, Iraqi Jews Are Desperate To Reclaim Their Artifacts — But So Is Iraq” and Tuesday for part 3, “The Iraqi Jewish Archive’s Future Is Uncertain. Foreign Policy Depends On It.”

  Read article in full

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A double whammy for the Jews of France

The Jews of France have sustained a double blow - an antisemitic crime is attributed to mental illness, while an  institution of the Jewish community ostracises one of the foremost experts on Arab and Muslim antisemitism. Lyn Julius writes in JNS News:
Sarah Halimi: hurled from her balcony
The first is that the murderer of Sarah Halimi, who shouted “Allah Hu Akbar” as he tortured and hurled the Orthodox Jew to her death from her balcony in April 2015, may not even stand trial. Kobili Traore has been declared “mentally incapable” by a panel of psychiatrists. After months of foot-dragging by the judge, the panel has reversed the findings of an earlier evaluation, which had retained the charge of anti-Semitism as an “aggravating circumstance.”
The second blow delivered to the Jewish community concerns the shoddy treatment of French historian and director of the Paris Holocaust memorial Georges Bensoussan. Over the last three years, Bensoussan has been fighting charges of “Islamophobia” and incitement to hatred against Muslims. In a television debate, he had said that Arab anti-Semitism was endemic, quoting the words of an Algerian sociologist that “Arabs sucked in antisemitism with their mother’s milk.”

Georges Bensoussan: dismissed
Thus far, Bensoussan has been acquitted in the French courts. But his reward has been to be unceremoniously dismissed from his job after 25 years of faithful service. His contract had still had two years to run, but the lock to his office was changed. When he was eventually allowed in to collect his possessions, a minder looked over his shoulder.
The Sarah Halimi case points to the institutional denial of Islamist anti-Semitism. Not for the first time have the perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes been declared “insane.” France does not want to admit that its terrorism problem has ideological roots. It prefers to blame economic grievances, despair or mental illness.
The Bensoussan case points to the fecklessness of Jewish community institutions in France. They have remained silent or have ostracized or have refused to support one of the most respected historians of their generation. Bensoussan may have won the argument in court, but he has become an embarrassment to the bien-pensants.
The Halimi and the Bensoussan cases are two sides of the same coin. The first was another instance of jihad terrorism against Jews: an anti-Semitic crime whose criminal nature has been denied. The second is a judicial jihad, in collusion with human rights and anti-Islamophobia organizations: the attempted criminalization of the act of calling out anti-Semitism. He who is reckless or bold enough to venture into this politically unpalatable territory is himself branded a racist.
The writer Albert Camus once said that “to misname things is to add to the woes of the world.” How right he was. If the French can’t even identify a problem, then how can they ever hope to deal with it?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Belly dancers admired by the Egyptian king

Double vision: the Jamal sisters perfected synchronised belly dancing

The Egypt of the interwar years had its fair share of Jewish celebrities. This is the amazing story of the Jamal Twins, who introduced a new style of belly dancing. Read their story in Israel National Library (with thanks: Michelle):

The foreign military forces that filled Egypt’s main cities in the post-World War II era brought about many changes in the local entertainment culture. Many nightclubs were opened and musicians, actors and dancers – both male and female – took advantage of the tremendous thirst for entertainment, which they were more than happy to supply.

The big stars of Helmieh Palace were “The Jamal Twins -” belly dancers who introduced a new style into this ancient style of eastern dancing. The sisters, Leila and Lamia, became the foremost stars of the Egyptian entertainment world at the end of Farouk’s regime. Their audiences were always packed and the Egyptian king was one of their greatest admirers. What was the magical secret of these girls that launched their star studded careers?

 The Mediterranean Sharkiya dance was one of their specialties. The musicians who accompanied the pair practiced with them for hours at a time to match the choreography to the musical repertoire, which was carefully selected. Grueling practice sessions, endless exercises and daily rehearsals produced extraordinary results.

The Jamal sisters’ performance was bright and innovative; the two dancers moved in wonderful harmony, with the dance and the music completely in sync. Their dance performances, in which they also used various stage props, was not simply another exotic oriental dance. They knew how to create a symmetrical picture of movement and make it virtuosic, while vibrantly expressing the music they moved to. The connection between them and the musicians was lively and exciting for the audience.

 The Jamal sisters’ musical talents were wholly unsurprising. They were daughters of musicians and had learned to play instruments from early childhood. Their father, Fishel Alpert was a violinist in the Vienna symphony orchestra. His name reveals his origins as a Jew who had moved from Chernowitz to the Austrian capital, where he became a professional musician. The reason for his emigration in the 1920’s to Egypt is unknown. It could well have been the great economic crisis which propelled him far away from Europe, to a place where he would have a dignified position in an orchestra and a decent income. In Alexandria, Fishel met his wife, Jini (Janin) Elpert. The impressive presence and the beauty of this opera singer, the daughter of Jewish emigrants, captured his heart. Their firstborn daughter, Helena, was born just a year after their wedding and her younger sister, Bertha, was born two and half years later, in 1932.

  Read article in full

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Jewish Mosul re-emerges from under the rubble

 After the devastation wrought by ISIS, Mosul is slowly coming back to life, and traces of Jewish existence are re-emerging from under the rubble. Seth Frantzman and Omar Mohammed report in The Forward:

Mosul once had a thriving Jewish community whose roots stretch back to the 8th century B.C.E. There are tombs in and near Mosul that commemorate the biblical prophets Jonah and Nahum — ISIS blew up the tomb of Jonah, known as Nabi Yunis in Arabic, in July 2014.

Many other local Jewish sites were known to local people but were kept secret after the last Jews left Mosul. The community secreted away inscriptions and items with family friends; these were passed down or left aside to collect dust. The fact that they were hidden kept them safe from ISIS invaders. Some of the sites, such as the synagogue, were used for other purposes — ISIS turned the synagogue into a storage area for bombs and used it as a hideout to avoid coalition airstrikes, according to the Voice of America. The former Jewish quarter in Mosul was called ‘Mahalet al-Yahud’ (Jewish neighborhood), and now it’s called ‘Ahmadiya’.

After the destruction from the 2017 fighting subsided, we found a local resident who asked to remain anonymous and was posting photos that were circulating privately online of inscriptions and old buildings. He didn’t know what the pictures were of, but someone noticed the Hebrew letters. Residents thought one of the buildings was “just rubbish.” We checked it out and the writing on a stone lintel was indeed in Hebrew. It is not surprising that people thought the site was “rubbish” — an American soldier wrote about finding the building in 2003 and described it as a “garbage dump.”

Read article in full 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

How an Egyptian Muslim became a Zionist Superhero

 The sad truth is that individuals like Hussein who reach out to Jews and change their negative views about Israel are all too easily branded as traitors and harassed by their own. Rachel Wahba tells his story in The Times of Israel:

 Rachel Wahba

Hussein’s story is unusual to say the least. His courage, after he unintentionally unearthed the truth in a land of censorship, is epic. He could not stop, and he could not stay silent once he started learning the truth about Jews, Israel, Christianity, and the world.

The middle child in a Middle class mostly secular Muslim family, Hussein was eleven years old when he embarked on a religious path. He began praying several times a day, getting more and more devout. He found himself praying for the destruction of the Jews and Israel. By the time he was a teen he hated us with a passion, a budding Jihadi ready to fight the good fight against the Zionists.

Obsessed with comic book Superheroes, Hussein channeled his hate in a wholly original way – He was going to be a superhero.  He, Hussein, would “learn everything about the Arch Enemy, the Jew,” the ultimate evil in the universe, responsible for everything wrong with civilization.

He studied Hebrew, first on his own via the internet and then in university. He knocked on the door of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and got a hero’s welcome (they don’t get many visitors). They gave him books, a world opened.

Threatening calls came to his home, He was arrested for a night, his father was arrested, he was told several times to stop visiting the embassy. He didn’t take the arrests seriously enough, he refused to stop blogging his new ideas.

His consciousness expanded, his friends thought his new ideas were crazy, he kept learning. He studied Jewish history, and then Christianity. There were no Jews in Egypt, but he saw how Egyptian Christians (like Jews), were not the dirty, smelly, vile sub-human filth he was taught. He read about Israel. He wrote.
Instead of becoming the Superhero he set out to be, he rejected Islam. He became a Zionist, an enemy of the state.

He was arrested and tortured for two months until he lost the capacity to see color, to care about anything except dying. Eventually he was helped out of the country, to flee for his life, into America, where I first heard him speak on a panel with other dissidents from the Middle East.

When I first met him, I asked about criticizing Islamic ideology without being silenced as “Islamophobic.”  He laughed, saying one cannot care about that. It was validating, because I am accused regularly, even when I am talking about my family’s experience. Even when I tell the story of how my Iraqi mother, accompanying her father to Basra on business, seeing the Shia merchant wash his hands to cleanse himself, after doing business with the Jewish merchant, my grandfather. This story is “Islamophobic.”

The validation I experience and every Zionist feels with Hussein is a blessing. We need our story understood.

I don’t have to explain to Hussein how sick to their core it makes Islamists that although they got rid of us Jews in their countries all over the Middle East, Israel rose and keeps thriving as a Jewish country in their midst.

With Hussein I don’t have to find ways to explain the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish country, or how the Palestinians were and continue to be inhumanely groomed by Political Islamic ideology as a means to get rid of us after major aggressive wars to destroy the one Jewish country failed. I don’t have to try to convince him that the “refugee” issue and “peaceful protests” in Gaza that keep multiplying in numbers is a cruel sham. He knows.

He knows first-hand, as did my family, as do most Jews from Arab lands, as does anyone who refuses to live in ignorance of a reality we have to wake up to if we want Israel to survive. This connection with him means the world to me.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In Morocco, antisemitism was rampant, but not fatal

 Zineb El Razhoui was a journalist with Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine whose staff were gunned down by Islamist terrorists in 2015. In this eye-opening article for the Nouvel Observateur she responds to an initiative by prominent French intellectuals to stem 'the new antisemitism'. The 'new antisemitism' is as old as the hills in her native Morocco, she contends. But it need not be fatal. (With thanks: Penina)

"When I first heard the word Yhoudi (Jewish) more than 30 years ago in Morocco, it sounded like an insult. It was at a large family reunion, the kind of meeting where the adults enjoying the reunion are irritated by their brats running in all directions. Someone had just called his child Yhoudi ould lyhoud (Jew son of a Jew!) to tell him he was a naughty kid. I was going to have the opportunity to hear this " insult " in different forms during my life in Morocco, a country that I later learned was the least antisemitic in the Arab world.

Zineb El Razhoui: grew up insulting Jews 
"Hachak (with all due respect) is a word that Moroccans, very concerned about verbal politeness, attach to any infamous term. Thus, a Moroccan will say "hachak garbage" or "hachak donkey". But more surprising still, many Moroccans would say "a woman, with all due respect" or "a Jew, with all due respect". Moreover,  legend  has it that before the lions of the Atlas mountains became extinct in time immemorial, the traveller who feared an attack of wild beasts had to gird himself with Jews, of flesh so vile that the king of the animals would not stoop to go after him.

"A little later at Al-Amani Primary School in Casablanca where I learned Arabic, French, and had many lessons in religion, it was rumoured in the courtyard that the terraced house was inhabited by Jews. We then thought that we,  little schoolchildren of a rather bourgeois private establishment, were allowed to throw insults and rubbish from the windows of our classrooms. The owner complained to the director, a graduate of the Al Azhar Theological University in Cairo and a doctor of Arabic literature, who furiously doled out punishments to us. For the first time, the neophyte antisemites that we were had just learned that hating the Jews was wrong. Ironically, it was Mr. Fahmi Shanti, a brilliant Palestinian intellectual refugee in Morocco and founder of our school, who taught us this lesson.

"This lesson I was never going to forget. I learned that antisemitism - with all due respect  to the detractors of Georges Bensoussan* - is indeed atavistic - that one has a good chance of suckling it from one's mother's breast  if  receiving a standard Islamic education.

Atavistic, but not fatal. I have also learned that the Palestinian cause cannot be a pretext for antisemitism, even for those who have pad a personal price like Mr Shanti. As an Al-Azhar theologian he was particularly keen to maintain good relations with his neighbours. If he could live together with his Jewish neighbours, why can't we in France?

Read article in full (French - registration required)

* a reference to the case of the French historian who was accused of 'hate-speech' after quoting a Muslim sociologist who claimed Arabs 'sucked antisemitism with their mother's milk'.

Monday, July 09, 2018

'Farhud casualties could have exceeded 1,000'

With thanks: Janet 

The Mossad report of 17 July 1941 on the Farhud

The Farhud pogrom of 1 and 2 June 1941 in Iraq could have claimed up to 1,000 Jewish casualties, according to a contemporaneous Mossad report.

The report, issued on 17 July 1941 after the Iraqi government had tried to suppress news of the pogrom, was apparently based on eye-witness testimonies and letters. It claimed that 90 Jews were murdered on the morning of the first day and many others were injured.

 On the second day, the mob began to attack Jewish homes. "Police and military officers and students, moved from house to house, killing young boys and the elderly, without any mercy. Their actions were even more severe than of the Kishinev pogrom's killers. Jewish blood was nothing and poured like water. Besides the killing, there was looting and robbing of houses and stores," said the report, putting the total value of property lost at a million Israeli lira.

The report puts at 120 the number of Jewish patients poisoned in Iraqi hospitals.  This would give a total of 210 deaths, exceeding the official estimates.  But the report goes further: לפי אומדנא מגיע מספר ההרוגים והאבודים למעלה מאלף איש. ("According to estimates the number of dead and lost is greater than 1,000." )

Although the figure of 179 dead is commonly quoted, the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center  has managed to identify the names only of 141 dead in Baghdad and seven in the rest of the country. Zvi Yehuda of the Center says he is aware of the report but refutes the figure of 1,000, arguing that no evidence exists for this number.

The final death toll may never be known. The prominent historian Elie Kedourie put the numbers of Jewish dead at 600. The  bodies were buried in a mass grave in the old Jewish cemetery, which itself was later destroyed. Whole families are thought to have been wiped out in the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, with no-one alive to witness the deaths.

The report claims that the Jewish community paid over enormous amounts of money to the rioters.  It points to the complicity of the police in the violence:"Suddenly rebel gangs attacked the Jews, and among the gang members, there were police officers that removed their police insignia." After the poisoning of the Jewish patients became known, Dr Diab Bik, the local hospital manager, had his licence to practice medicine suspended for five years.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Mossad finds Eli Cohen's watch, but not his body

 The Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, has recovered a watch belonging to the famous spy Eli Cohen. Born in Egypt, Eli Cohen was one of Israel's most audacious spies. He was caught and executed in 1965 in Syria but his body has never been found. The Sydney Morning Herald carries this story by Ronen Bergman:

Tel Aviv: The news came in a brief announcement from the Israeli Prime Minister's office: A watch belonging to a legendary Israeli spy had been recovered in a secret operation and brought back to Israel.
The watch belonged to Eli Cohen, whose spying in Syria is credited with helping Israel to a quick victory in the 1967 war, long after he had been caught and executed by the Syrian government.

Eli Cohen wearing the watch in Damascus, early 1960s

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the "determined and courageous action" of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, for returning "a memory from a heroic fighter who contributed greatly to the security of the state."
But the Thursday announcement was tantalisingly short on specifics, setting off a buzz across Israel. Cohen was a national hero, with streets and buildings named after him and ceremonies honouring his memory every year. But had Mossad, as Netanyahu implied, carried out a secret operation to recover a wristwatch?
In part, yes.

The operation, according to an Israeli official with knowledge of it, was part of a broader 14-year hunt by Mossad to find Cohen's body, which 53 years after his execution in Damascus had never been located. The main goal was to recover the body and return it for a hero's burial in Israel. But part of the operation was to recover any personal items belonging to the spy.

The spy agency has invested huge sums and resources in the larger quest, including endangering human life and paying bribes to agents and crooks, Israeli intelligence officials said. Still, the body has not been found.
But during the search, the official said, Mossad agents located a man who had the watch and began an operation to obtain it.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

How can a Pakistani visit Israel?

The name Fishel Benkhald (Khalid)  is familiar to those who have been following his campaign to have his identity as a Jew recognised by Pakistan. Now, writing in the Daily Times,  he has set himself another challenge: to get the law changed so that he can visit Jerusalem. His Pakistani passport bans him from visiting the country. However, Israel would not consider his visit illegal, as long as he obtains a visa. Point of No Return's advice  to Fishel is to break his journey in one of the following countries with an Israeli diplomatic mission: Baku, Azerbaijan; Nairobi, Kenya; Yangon, Myanmar; Accra, Ghana, and  Kathmandu, Nepal.

I am stuck in a real life conundrum. Being a practicing Jewish man, I want the freedom to perform my religious duties, a right granted to me and other minorities in the country by the constitution. However, the reality is that my Pakistani passport states that ‘this passport is valid for all countries of the world, except Israel’. As per the constitution, every citizen has the right to practice their religion, including religious pilgrimages. How then, can the state be justified in prohibiting not only Jews, but Pakistani Christians, Messianic Jews, and even Muslims from travelling to Jerusalem? This self-conflicting sentence on our passports is flawed and inconsistent with our constitution, and it is time to challenge this archaic law.

All I simply want is to invoke my given constitutional right to perform a religious pilgrimage without having the threat of criminal persecution from the state of Pakistan hanging over my head. This is a flaw in the laws that govern the state of minorities in the country and it specifically discriminates against the small community of Jews, Christians and Muslims that want to observe their rights.

I want to observe the Passover (Pesach) Seder in Jerusalem next year in April, and as the situation stands at the moment, I am unable to do so. But we need to realize that even though laws are not meant to be broken, they are supposed to evolve, so that any flaws can be ironed out over time. If the lawmakers today realize how the law banning Pakistanis from travelling to Israel, despite their desire to just perform a religious pilgrimage, is contradictory to the rights highlighted in the constitution, then I implore them to amend the laws accordingly.

Read article in full

Friday, July 06, 2018

The wonder woman of World War 2

 If you have seen the film Casablanca, you will know that Morocco was a conduit for refugees escaping Europe during WW2. Less known is a remarkable Jewess called Helen Cazes Ben Attar, who spearheaded the effort to support the refugees and found them jobs. Here is a post by North African Jews in World War 2:

Not many people are familiar with Helen Cazes Ben Attar.
Helen was in the forefront of the progress of women's rights in Morocco and worked tirelessly for the Jewish refugees who had escaped Europe.

Helen had been a trailblazer from early on, when she was one of the first Jewish girls to complete the Moroccan matriculation exams. She went on to study law and became the first female Jewish lawyer in Morocco. She soon became active in the Jewish community in Casablanca and worked with welfare organizations, the Jewish National Fund, and was appointed the first head of WIZO (the Women's International Zionist Organization).

Helen was also first in other respects. Following the outbreak of WWII she was the first to recognize the dire straits in which the Jewish refugees from Europe found themselves. She acted to alleviate their hardship and worked to mobilize the Jewish community to welcome and support them.

After the liberation of North Africa by the Allies, Helen continued to work for the refugees - she found work for 1,276 Jewish refugees in the American Army and in the factories which supported the Allied fighting forces. She also became the head of the Joint.

On her gravestone, her children inscribed the following: "To our mother, a legendary woman who delivered innumerous souls from danger." Helen was a wise and courageous woman with a kind and warm heart.

The website North African Jews in World War 2 is seeking more information - documents, photos or personal accounts - which could shed light on the unique figure of Helen Ben Attar.