Friday, August 31, 2018

Iraqi online poll favours return of Jews

 Most respondents to an online poll conducted on an Iraqi Facebook page were in favour of Jews coming back to Iraq. Of course, the poll asked the wrong question, seeking to turn the clock back 70 years to when Iraq had a thriving Jewish community. The question should have been: would you be willing to build bridges with Iraqi Jews in Israel? Nonetheless, the results do show that Jews have a positive image among most young, middle class Iraqi Facebook users. Meron Rapoport reports in +972 Magazine :

 Iraqi and Kurdish Jews arriving in Israel (Photo: Teddy Brauner/ GPO)

“Iraq’s Jews: 70 years after their expulsion, they seek to return to Iraq and become citizens again. Are you in favor or against their return, and granting them citizenship?"

This was the question posed last Friday by Al-Khuwwa al-Nathifa (“The Clean Brotherhood”), one of the most popular Facebook pages in Iraq, which has more than 1.7 million followers. More than 62,000 people participated in the poll, which received over 5,000 likes and 2,800 comments. The bottom line is, a significant majority favors the return of Jewish Iraqis: around 77 percent voted for, 23 percent were against, and the voting ends on Thursday, which makes the overall results unlikely to change.
I cannot attest to reading all 2,800 messages, but I did skim over several hundred of them. Some of the comments are amusing: “Why would they come back? To drink the waters of Basra, and live without electricity? They might as well stay wherever they are,” one person wrote. But the general sense is that, even among those who are less enthusiastic about Jewish Iraqis returning, or want to limit their return, “Iraq is for everyone.”

Many respondents recalled the place Jews occupy in Iraqi history. “Iraq’s Jews helped develop Iraqi history in several fields: political, economic, cultural, religious and social,” wrote Samir al-Sirafi. “We hope that they will be granted the rights that were taken away from them, because they are sons of this land, and are partners to its well-being,” he added. Another wrote, “the Jews are the original inhabitants.” Jews had lived for centuries as a minority in Iraq, until the late 20th century, when hundreds of thousands of Iraqis either fled or were forcibly displaced from the country.

Others explicitly link the return of the Jews to the treatment of other minorities: Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, and others. “We are all humans, the Jews and the Christians are our brothers,” wrote Mustafa al-Mihdawi. “There is no difference, and this is their country. We must cooperate, following Prophet Muhammad’s moral tradition in collaborating with all the monotheistic religions with pure intentions. Jews and Christians, I love you.” This reaction earned 28 likes, more than any other comment.

Some view Judaism as the remedy to the problems Iraq is facing today. “We tried Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni,” wrote Amir al-Araji, “they are all thieves. We will hand the government over to a Jew or a Christian, maybe they will let us live in dignity.” Another person wrote: “I am willing to give up my citizenship and hand it over to a Jew.” Qassem Sima even finds a political opportunity in Jews: “The return of the Jews to Iraq and their participation in the Communist Party are the only solution to this country.” It seems the memory of the large membership of Jews in the Iraqi Community Party pre-1948 is still alive.

A significant number of people who commented distinguished between being Jewish and being Zionist. “The Jews are not our enemy,” wrote Aziz Falah a-Shujiri, “our enemies are the Zionists who occupied Palestine.” Despite that, he still supports the return of the Jews to Iraq. Generally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was present in the comments, but not very definitively. Some suggested that, for Jews to receive Iraqi citizenship, they should give up their other citizenships – especially their Israeli one. Several said they support the return of Jews to Iraq but only if Palestinian refugees would also be allowed to return to their homes. One commenter, Ahmad al-Khudeir, said that Iraq “needs to reach a peace agreement with Israel,” to guarantee peace and security.

Of course, this is not a representative sample. The Facebook page – administered by young Iraqis in their 30s – offers real-life assistance to its members, and takes a strong stand against sectarianism in Iraq, which they believe is the source of all problems afflicting their nation. After Saddam Hussein’s persecution of Shiites and Kurds, and after civil war, triggered by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, one can understand why such an anti-sectarian position is gaining traction.

Read article in full

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Return will not solve the refugee problem

 A recent call by the US ambassador the the UN, Nikki Haley, for an 'examination' of the Palestinian 'right of return' bodes an historic cut-off of US funding to UNWRA, the agency sustaining the Palestinian 'refugees'. This is a timely opportunity to re-post an extract from this article by Lyn Julius in Jewish News. She argues for recognition of an exchange of refugee populations, not a Right of Return.

Nikki Haley (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

According to Adi Schwartz, author of a new book with Einat Wilf called The War for Return (Hebrew) , the problem at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that ‘Gaza’s inhabitants do not view that piece of land as their home, but rather as a transit camp they will inhabit until the day they can return to what they believe is their home. Because of this, they will far prefer to invest their efforts and resources in returning to their “true” home – by force if necessary – than in cultivating the temporary one where they currently reside.’
The idea that the refugees should return to Israel, and not to Palestine, runs counter to the two-state solution. What is the point of establishing a Palestinian state if the Palestinian refugees still cling to their ultimate objective of returning to Israel?

Apart from the fact that it would soon turn Israel into a majority-Arab state, little thought is given to the mayhem that such a return would produce. Refugee questions after such a long lapse of time have not been solved by return. The great majority of Palestinian refugees today never lived in the homes that they are programmed to ‘return’ to. Most might no longer exist. In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Greek Cypriots who demanded to return to their properties in the northern part of the island now under Turkish-Cypriot control. As so much time had elapsed since 1974 when the Turks invaded the island, the Court ruled, in the words of Tel Aviv professor Asher Susser, that ‘it was necessary to ensure that the redress offered for these old injuries did not create disproportionate new wrongs’. If this was true for Cyprus since 1974 it is all the more true for Palestine since 1948. But the issue of the Palestinian refugees needs to be seen alongside the parallel plight of the Jewish refugees, who fled Arab countries for Israel in roughly equal numbers at about the same time. A permanent exchange of refugee populations occurred. The last thing the Jews want is a ‘right of return’ to countries which remain as hostile and antisemitic as the day the refugees fled.

As long as the Right of Return is the cornerstone of the Palestinians’ strategy, the 650,000 Jewish refugees who fled from Arab lands to Israel remain its antidote. Yet the issue of the Jewish refugees is either denied or ignored. When Jewish and Palestinian ‘narratives’ are juxtaposed, the Jewish refugees remain invisible. When Fisk goes hunting for original Palestinian homes and the locks which fit the Palestinian keys, invariably he finds a Jew from Poland or Romania now occupying the Arab home, never a Jew from Yemen or Iraq. In other words, Jews did not come to Israel because they were fleeing Arab and Muslim antisemitism.The innocent Palestinian is ‘paying the price of the Nazi Holocaust’ – a European crime.

Do the Palestinians really believe that they will return, 70 years after the fact? Even Robert Fisk is doubtful. But the two-state solution is now dead, he claims without a hint of irony, because of Israeli ‘violence’.

It seems that the Palestinian strategy is, with the help of anti-Zionist Jews, to radicalise Arab Israeli youth (sorry – the Palestinian citizens of Israel). Their greatest hope is to raise an insurgency of enraged Arabs within the Green Line. The far-left website 972 features Udna (The Return): this is is a subversive organisation, advocating certain war and turmoil, not peace, based on nostalgia for places that no longer exist and are only a few kilometers from where these young Arab Israelis live now. The young are not told any context: their villages were destroyed in a war which their side started and lost. (The Druze and several Bedouin clans in the Galil did not have their villages destroyed, because they did not take up arms in the 1948 war). And as usual for 972, the stories of Jews expelled from Arab lands – half the Jews of Israel – their former homes, their glorious synagogues, their seized land and property – is totally ignored. Another far-left anti-Zionist organisation called Zochrot, supported by EU bodies and churches, holds conferences actively preparing for the day when the Palestinian refugees will return. Zochrot considers the Jews from Arab countries only relevant in their role as victims of the ‘European, colonial’ state of Israel. There is never any discussion of compensation or even recognition of the injustice done to Jewish refugees and their descendants – now half the Jews of Israel.

Other internationally-funded Israeli organisations working for the Palestinian Right of Return include the Coalition of Women for Peace, Gush Shalom, the Alternative Information centre, Adalah, Mossava and Mada-al-Carmel.
Thus these organisations work against peace and reconciliation, not to further it.

Lyn Julius is the author of ‘Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight’ (Vallentine Mitchell)

Read post in full 

Is a historic decision on UNWRA imminent? 

Why are Palestinian refugees different from all other refugees?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tunisian play grapples with persecution of Jews

A Mediterranean Theatre festival taking place in the once-overwhelmingly Jewish resort of La Goulette in Tunisia is featuring what appears to be a thoughtful play on Jewish identity in the Arab world, blogger Elder of Ziyon reveals. Although it is predictably anti-Zionist, Elder thinks 'Joyev' is rather remarkable since it deals with a subject which he believes has never been addressed in Arab arts: Jews persecuted in Arab countries. But the 2015 Egyptian TV series The Jewish Quarter broke new ground with its sympathetic Jewish characters.  

The Jewish characters from 'Joyev'

The piece seems to be titled "Joyev" and it deals with Jews in a fictional Jewish village during the Tunisian revolution. Parts of the plot include a Jewish law student who was expelled from university because of her religion, Jewish families who are too frightened to go out into the streets for fear of the Arab mobs, and a Jew who wants to smuggle out an ancient Torah to preserve it (presumably in Israel) while others want it to go to a Tunisian museum because Jewish heritage is an integral part of Tunisian history.

The piece is also predictably anti-Zionist, saying that Israel tries to sow and exploit divisions among Jews in Tunisia to prompt them to make aliyah.

But it asks basic questions of how to be a Jew in a country that has treated Jews badly even though they have lived there for years; how Jews grappled with the idea of emigrating to Europe when they were in danger, the Jewish struggle to defend their country of birth when they were marginalized. These are some serious topics and I have never seen them addressed in Arabic arts.

Read blog in full

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Museum could be memorial to extinct mountain Jews

Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel could not be better, but  they cannot stop the decline of the local Jewish community. A new Jewish museum may be no more than a memorial to a dying community, reports Cnaan Liphshiz in Israel National News:

For one day each summer, the hills overlooking the centuries-old Jewish town of Krasnaiya Sloboda in Azerbaijan echo with the sound of wailing women.
The women ascend up a narrow path from this town of several hundred residents in northern Azerbaijan to its vast cemetery. It's an annual procession on Tisha b’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

At the cemetery, each woman sits next to a loved one’s grave – usually a husband or child, but sometimes a parent or sibling. She sings mournfully for hours in Juhuri, a dying Jewish language made up of Farsi and Hebrew with Aramaic and Turkic influences that is spoken only by the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus.
Hundreds perform the ritual each year; some travel halfway across the world to attend. It is a testament to how Krasnaiya Sloboda’s Mountain Jews have endured for about a millennium since Persian Jews established the town with the blessing of a local Muslim ruler.

Next year, the community hopes to strengthen its sense of identity even further with the opening in town of a multimillion-dollar Mountain Jews museum. Spearheaded by a wealthy expatriate living in Moscow, the museum will feature artifacts collected from throughout the Caucasus, including ritual objects, documents and other evidence of the Jewish life that thrived here for centuries on the border between Europe and Asia.

But amid growing emigration by Jews from the rural and impoverished area, some locals and experts on the community fear for its long-term viability and that of its language -- and that the museum will be less a living tribute than a memorial.

“The demographic trajectory isn’t promising,” said Chen Bram, an anthropologist from Hebrew University and Hadassah Academic College who has researched Mountain Jews for decades. “I hope this new museum doesn’t eventually become a monument for an extinct community" in Krasnaiya Sloboda.

Read article in full

Monday, August 27, 2018

Musings on hearing a Persian wedding song

 Jews and non-Jews from the Persian city of Shiraz recite a wedding song unknown to other Iranians. It set Tabby Refael thinking about how age-old cultural traditions still survive in contemporary America. But for how much longer? Article in the Jewish Journal of LA:

I am intermarried. 

That is to say, I am a Jew from Tehran who married a Jew from Shiraz, Iran. 
In the United States, that’s usually about as far as intermarriage goes for Persian Jews. For now, anyway. 

Some are beginning to marry non-Persian Jews, and their Ashkenazi spouses appear ecstatic to finally be able to eat rice during Passover — and only slightly less important, finally to have found love.

At a recent ketubah-signing for my sister-in-law (a Shirazi) and her fiance (a Tehrani), the sound of the non-Persian rabbi’s voice as he spoke about the obligations of marriage was drowned out by the melodic unity of Shirazi mothers pouring their hearts out singing “Vasoonak Shirazi,” the wedding song whose melody all Iranians in Iran know, regardless of faith. I knew that song before I could walk, talk or grill my own meat by the age of 3.

Beyond its soulful poets, famous gardens and, before the revolution, its winemaking legacy, the southern city of Shiraz also has produced one of the greatest Persian songs of all time, whose words, sadly, few in my generation of 30-somethings know (much less 20-somethings and younger folks). At least the original song has been commercialized — some will recognize it as “Mobarak Baad,” which has a few of the original couplets.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Jewish exodus Jeremy Corbyn ignores

The ideology of Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour Party leader, is based on a series of myths - the obverse of the truth. Lyn Julius debunks them in the Jewish Chronicle:

In 2013, Corbyn and a panel of speakers at a Hamas conference were asked by a member of the audience about Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Listen to their response here.

Hardly a day goes by without another shocking revelation of Jeremy Corbyn's association with antisemites. But while most of us recoil at Corbyn's documented support for his 'friends' Hamas and Hezbollah, his appearances on the Iranian-funded Press TV, and his tribute to the perpetrators of the Munich massacre, little has been said about the intellectual underpinnings of an ideological worldview that Corbyn has clung to for 40 years. It is time that they were debunked from a Sephardi or Mizrahi perspective.

I doubt whether Corbyn has heard of Mizrahi or Sephardi Jews. Did he know that 850,000 Jewish refugees fled Arab and Muslim antisemitism in a single generation? Would it appal him that ancient communities once numbering thousands of Jews - from Morocco in the West to Yemen in the East – were driven to extinction (barely 4, 500 are left), their property stolen and their rich heritage erased? Maybe he will blame the Zionists - or say that the Jews left of their own free will.

The evidence of a forced Jewish exodus is incontrovertible, however. The Jews fled in larger numbers than the Palestinians from Israel. The majority of Jews escaped harassment, intimidation, violence and persecution – ranging from arrests and imprisonment to execution on trumped-up charges. Theirs was the largest mass movement of non-Muslims until the post-2003 flight of Christians from Iraq.

Clearly, Corbyn's revulsion for the state of Israel lies at the heart of his belief system. Many believe that he has been reluctant to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism so that he might continue to call the Jewish state 'racist' and make offensive comparisons between Zionists and Nazis. He insists on distinguishing between ‘good’ anti-Zionist Jews and ‘bad’ Jews - the great majority of whom identify with Israel.

Yet the bitter experiences of Middle Eastern and North African Jews teach us that the distinction between Jews and Zionists cannot be maintained for long. Arab states criminalised Zionism but soon conflated Zionists with Jews, albeit these were non-combatants. In Iraq, Jews wearing watches were arrested for 'sending secret signals to the Zionists'. The Jewish quarters of North African cities became fair game for attack by vengeful mobs. Anti-Zionist Jews in Egypt were imprisoned. Sooner or later, Jews are persecuted for being Jews.

Central to Corbyn's worldview is that Israel is a European, white, settler, colonial, imperialist state. Israel is accused of being built on the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population. The injustice to the Palestinians can only be rectified if they achieve national liberation through their 'right of return', leading to the destruction of the Jewish state by demographic means.

This myth turns the truth on its head. Originating in Judea, Jews had been settled in the Middle East and North Africa since Biblical times – 1,000 years before the Islamic conquest. Comprising some three million people today - over half the Jewish population of Israel – these indigenous 'Jews of colour' never left the region, most refugees finding a haven in the only state that would accept them unconditionally.

Arab and Muslim antisemitism did not begin with the creation of Israel. For 14 centuries of Muslim rule Jews lived as a subjugated dhimmi minority with few rights. Israel’s Mizrahi citizens will never agree to return to ‘colonised’ dhimmi status in a Corbyn-approved majority-Arab state.

The Arab and Muslim quarrel with Israeli ‘imperialism’ becomes absurd when viewed against the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries claim that Jews lost more than the Palestinians - including privately-owned land in Arab states equivalent to five times the size of Israel.

The far left believes that Israel has genocidal designs on the Palestinians reminiscent of the Nazis. The myth of the Arabs as innocent bystanders, who had no responsibility for the Holocaust—and indeed, paid the price for a European crime when Israel was established—is a tenet of Corbynism.

Truth be told, Arabs overwhelmingly supported Nazism and imported the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories rife in the Muslim world today. Antisemitism is a core belief of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their ideological cousins, Islamic State. The wartime Palestinian Mufti's collaboration with the Nazis was not simply a pragmatic anti-colonial alliance. Had Nazism triumphed, the Mufti would have overseen the extermination of the Jews of the Arab world as well as in Palestine. The Mufti’s anti-Jewish genocidal project is enshrined in the Hamas charter and kept alive today by the Ayatollahs of Iran.

Finally, Corbyn sees the Arabs, like other Third World peoples, solely as victims of Western colonialism, incapable of oppressing others. The West overlooks their misdeeds. For example, the Taubira law memorialising slavery (adopted in France in 2001) mentioned the 11 million victims of the transatlantic slave trade, while ignoring the 17 million slaves trafficked by Arabs and Muslims.

Corbyn and his acolytes are cheerleaders for the true forces of (Arab and Muslim) imperialism in the Middle East. The Palestinians are the foot-soldiers in a pan-Arab, and now Islamist struggle – couched in terms of ‘Palestinian rights’ - to abolish the Jewish state and re-establish Arab-Muslim majority control. The Arabs already have 22 states, but Corbyn has never advocated for the suppressed rights of indigenous Kurds, Baloch, Berbers and Assyrians.

The Jewish nakba vindicates a sovereign Jewish state in the region. As an aboriginal Middle Eastern people, Jews have an inalienable right, enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, to self-determination.
Corbyn’s worldview may be too entrenched to change. The pity is that young people are growing up with a similarly distorted view of the Middle East, fuelled by media bias, in which in Israel uniquely evil and the Palestinians the sole victims of injustice. More alarmingly, if Corbyn’s hostility to Jews is mainstreamed, most ordinary folk would give a shrug of indifference.

Read article in full (p.32)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Iraq-born Jew pledges solidarity at Yazidi conference

 Edwin Shuker

A London-based Jewish businessman attended the first conference on the genocide of the Yazidis and pleaded for Iraq to return to its diverse and tolerant past.

Speaking at the conference in Erbil, organised by the Kurdish Rudaw Research centre, Edwin Shuker, who had escaped the country in 1971,  pledged his solidarity with the persecuted Yazidi minority 'as an Iraqi'. Chronicling the persecution that beset the 'ethnically cleansed' Iraqi-Jewish community as he was growing up,  the  63-year-old Baghdad-born Shuker urged Iraqis to uproot D'aesh - Islamic State - not just physically, but from their hearts.

Mindful of those who have denied the Holocaust, he advised the Yazidis to keep records of their sufferings so that it would be harder to deny them in the future.

He urged the Yazidis not to emigrate but to remain wedded to their 6,000-year old culture and educate their children about Yazidism.

Edwin Shuker said he had prayed at the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul - a Jewish prophet in a Muslim shrine in a Christian city - that the tolerance that all religions had known in Iraq should again prevail.

Up to 4,000 Yazidis were massacred on Mount Sinjar in 2014 in what the international community has recognised as a genocide. Many were forced into exile from their ancestral lands, sold into slavery and forcibly converted to Islam.

Click here to see Edwin Shuker delivering his speech

More about Edwin Shuker

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Archive saviour sees Erdogan as neo-Ottoman

Dr Harold Rhode is the man who discovered  the Jewish books, Torah scrolls and documents floating in three feet of water in the secret police headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. (The collection, now known as the Iraqi-Jewish archive, is still the subject of a tug-of war between Iraq and its exiled Jewish community). This interview with Dr Rhode is also worth listening to because of his unique insights into Turkey and Iran born of 40 years' study of the Muslim world. (With thanks: Imre)

 Dr Harold Rhode...insightful

Rod Bryant and Jerry Gordon interviewed Dr. Harold Rhode while he was in Macedonia lecturing on the Iraqi Jewish archives and the importance of Jewish identity. Rhode was able with both Iraqi opposition and Washington connections to miraculously retrieve the Iraqi Jewish archives found in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 that were eventually and wonderfully restored by the US National Archives and Records Agency. The archives are awaiting a Trump White House decision to determine whether the Archives remain in the US or go to Israel, instead of Iraq.

This wide ranging interview with Dr. Rhode addressed Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dictatorship, Iran’s divisions in the facing of rising protests by its people seeking a change from the tyranny of the Mullarcracy and Revolutionary Guards. He noted how the Islamic Regime abused the release of over $150 billion in funds under Obama’s nuclear agreement in misadventures in Syria and Yemen instead of benefitting its people. The Iranian people who he cited now denounce the ‘dictatorship’ of Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei, instead praising the Crown Prince of the late Shah, Reza Pahlavi, a resident of the US.

Rhode also addressed the matter of whether Israel’s rumored alliance with the Sunni Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, is tactical or strategic, given that Israel is recognized in recent rankings as the eighth most powerful country globally. As we noted, Dr. Rhode has lectured in China universities about Jewish thinking behind Israel’s rise. He noted that the Chinese attributed Israel rise globally to ancient Jewish religious traditions of “thinking about the unthinkable” that affirmed Ha Shem’s covenant with his people.

Israel News Talk Radio Podcast here

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Uri Avnery: a love-hate relationship with Mizrahim

Israel's best know leftist and peace activist, Uri Avnery, has died aged 94. His relationship with Israel's Mizrahim  was a rocky one. Some would say it was a love-hate relationship. 

Uri  Avnery was the first Israeli to meet Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader

 In 1976 he was even sued by a Sephardi group.

Yet he claimed to fight discrimination against Mizrahim. His newspaper Haolam Hazeh was one of the first media outlets to raise the issue of discrimination against new immigrants from Arab countries. He wrote:

 "Then came the riots in Haifas Wadi Salib neighborhood, after a policeman killed a Mizrahi man. HaOlam HaZeh was the only Israeli publication to side with the protesters. A few years later, a group of young people in Jerusalem started a protest movement, appropriating the American name Black Panthers. I supported the group. Golda Meir famously pronounced them not nice people."

Avnery's opposition to discrimination began in 1948. "During my military service, in the 1948 War of Independence, I was promoted to the lofty rank of squad commander. I had to choose between new immigrants from Poland or from Morocco. I chose the Moroccans, and they saved my life: As I lay wounded, exposed to the enemy, four of them risked their own lives to rescue me under fire.

"It was then that I got a foretaste of things to come. One time we had a few precious hours of leave. While climbing into the truck to Tel Aviv, a few of my soldiers refused. The girls in Tel Aviv dont want to go out with us, they complained. They say were black."

But  Avnery ended his life  'angry' with the Mizrahim. He pronouced the rift between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim the most salient in Israeli society, more than the difference between Jews and Arabs, rich and poor, men and women or right and left:

"The Mizrahi-Ashkenazi conflict dominates many aspects of our lives, but people generally don't like talking about it openly. For example, the great majority of Likud voters are Mizrahim, although the party leaders are Ashkenazi. The Labor Party, in contrast, is almost entirely Ashkenazi. It recently chose a Mizrahi leader, in the vain hope that this will change Mizrahi attitudes to it."

"I have always believed that Israel has no future as a foreign island in the sea of Middle Eastern nations (villa in the jungle)" he wrote. "I don't stop at peace. I dream of Israel blending into the Semitic region (a term I coined 70 years ago).
How? I had great hopes of the second or third generation of Mizrahim remembering that its forebears were an integral part of the Islamic Golden Age, that they would act as a bridge between the new Hebrew nation and its Palestinian neighbors and the entire Muslim world. It seemed natural to me for Mizrahim to recall their glorious heritage, the time when Jews in Iraq, Spain, Egypt and other Muslim countries were full partners in a flourishing civilization — while  most Europeans were still savages."

He believed that mixed marriages  - Ashkardim, he called them - would solve the rift. Instead, every such family joins one of the two communities.

 His anger arose out of a fundamental misunderstanding of the Mizrahim.
"When Jews from Arab countries came to Israel, my hopes evaporated", he wrote. "Instead of becoming a bridge between Israel and the Arab world, they became the most extreme Arab-haters. Centuries of Jewish-Muslim culture were erased, as if they never were.
"Why? Disdained by Ashkenazim, Mizrahim began to disdain their own heritage. They tried to become European, Arab-hating, super-patriotic, extreme right-wingers (A Mizrahi guy once told me: We don't want to be a bridge. A bridge is something people walk on)."

Mesmerised by the myth of the Golden Age, Avnery never understood that  Mizrahim were driven to vote for the right because of their bitter experience of  Arab and Muslim antisemitism. Point of No Return pointed to the fallacies in his worldview here.

He was in many ways typical of Ashkenazi leftists, contemptuous of the rights of Mizrahim, and leap-frogging over the memory of their persecution in Arab lands, while embracing the Palestinian 'narrative' and the justice of the Arab cause.

Prickly discussion on the Palestinian 'right of return'

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Jews would be unequal with Arabs in one state

With more voices calling for a 'one-state solution' for Israel and the Palestinians ( see here, here and here) it is time to re-visit this article by Einat Wilf in Fathom. Wilf wrote it in 2016 as a rebuttal to a piece by Perry Anderson. She reminds him that dhimmi Jews have never been treated as equals by Arabs, nor have they ever been recognised as a nation deserving of self-determination. A one-state solution would not resolve the conflict, but re-invent it as a Jewish-Arab civil war. (With thanks: Petra Marquardt-Bigman)

Einat Wilf: Arabs never accepted two states for two peoples

The intellectual argument for a one-state solution collapses if any of the sides can demonstrate they have good reason to believe that the single-state framework would deny them justice and equality. When religious supremacist Jews argue for a one-state solution, conveniently excluding Palestinians in Gaza and the Diaspora and offering convoluted responses to the questions of whether there will be civic equality for all, Arabs can make a very strong case that such a ‘solution’ is not promoted in good faith, and that Palestinian Arabs could not expect to be treated justly or equally in such a state.

That is more than enough to reject any such plans.

The reverse is equally true: when Arab Palestinians, or left-wing intellectuals who claim to uphold the Arab Palestinian cause, promote a one-state solution (even if only as a rallying cry), in which, as a result of immigration and growth rates, Arabs would quickly be the majority and Jews would live as a minority, the burden of proof lies squarely with the Arabs. Jews have every right to ask if they would be treated justly and equally in a single Arab majority state.

Can they make a compelling case that they can be entrusted with the equal treatment of Jews in a single state in which the Arabs are a majority? No.
To be fair, even today, very few countries in the world could make such a compelling case. (It is for precisely this reason that the Jews insist on realising their universal right to self determination.) Even those very few countries that could demonstrate their ability to treat Jews as equals and protect their rights, have only fully done so in recent decades, and among them even fewer countries appear substantially secure from the danger of reversal of their equal treatment of Jews. Indeed, the very few countries on this list are the only ones where Jews live and prosper in large numbers.

No Arab country is on that list. Jews, as individuals, have never been treated as the equals of Arabs in any country where Arabs have been a majority. Jews, as a collective, were never accepted as an equal people: equal to Arabs in their claim to their ancestral land or equal in their claim to any part of the decaying Ottoman Empire, where they both lived. Arab society has continuously denied the idea that the Jews are their equals as individuals, and have certainly and violently denied the notion that the Jews are a people and a nation, of equal standing to the great Arab nation or the various Arab nations.

A mythology reigns in some circles, promulgated at times by the Arabs themselves, that Jews and Muslims lived for centuries in harmony in Arab lands. The implication is that were it not for Zionism, this could have continued. It is akin to the myth promulgated by Margaret Mitchell of the harmony of blacks and whites in Gone with the Wind. To the extent any such harmony existed between Jews and Muslims in the Arab world, it emerged from Jews acknowledging and accepting their subordinate status as inferior ‘Dhimmis’, tolerated and protected by Muslims as ‘people of the book’ (rather than being killed or forcefully converted as infidels). As long as Jews accepted their status as ‘protected subservient people’ to the Arab Muslims, and it was clear who was the master and called the shots, they could live in relative harmony. It is a harmony that could only endure as long as those considered inferior did not have the gall to claim their equality.

The Arab Muslim world can definitely demonstrate extended periods in history when it treated the Jews better than had Christian Europeans, and could pride itself on not having committed industrial genocide of the Jews – albeit that is quite a low bar – but it cannot make any claim that it ever saw or treated the Jews as genuine equals.

The so-called harmony between subordinate and superior was indeed disturbed when the Jews, first under colonial rule, which introduced the idea of emancipation, and later with the rise of Zionism, dared to claim their equality. The preposterous Jewish claim to equality with Muslims in Arab lands led to the rise of violence, blood libels and pogroms against the Jews, culminating in the ethnic cleansing, property confiscation and expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands – approximately one million in number, some in communities which pre-dated Islam – in revenge for the greatest transgression of all: the Jewish insistence that they are a people and a nation, no less than Arabs. Moreover, that they have a right to a sovereign state of their own in a small corner of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, which also happens to be their ancestral homeland, and which the Arabs have considered their own, since their conquest of it in the seventh century.

Ever since, Arab society has continually denied that the Jewish people are their equals as a people, accepting them as members of a religion only, and denying their collective rights in their land, arguing that the Jews are not a people of the land, but foreigners, with no connection to it. Zionism was not the source of Muslim Arab attitude towards Jews – it merely forced that attitude into sharp relief.

The 1947 UN partition, and all other subsequent offers and opportunities of partition between a Jewish state and an Arab state were denied, not on account of the inequitable division of the land, but on account that a Jewish state in any part of the land – whether it be on 1 per cent or 99 – was considered an insult. The Jewish claim of equality with the Arabs as a people has been the fountain of the persistent refusal of Arab and Palestinian leaders to accept any two-state solution, whether in 1947, 1967, 2000 or 2008.

The casual assumption that Arab Palestinian leaders have at any point truly accepted the two-state (as in a Jewish state and an Arab state) solution, and that Israel is at fault for killing off this option through settlement building – rehearsed here by Anderson – conveniently ignores the fact that the Arab Palestinians never accepted the two states for two peoples solution, nor any agreement that would create a Palestinian state – if such an agreement entails the final acceptance that the land would be shared with a Jewish state. At least in 1947 the Arab states had the integrity to publicly admit that their rejection of partition was based on the conviction that any Jewish state, of any size, was an intolerable insult.

But perhaps Jews should ignore all this baleful history and look with optimism to the present? Unfortunately, there is little in today’s Arab world which inspires confidence that the Arabs are transcending their past and are willing to include and protect minorities. Anderson ignores the blunt truth: today, violence is engulfing the Arab world and is leading to the ethnic cleansing and genocide of minorities who are considered inferior to (Sunni) Muslim Arabs. Ancient Christian peoples and sects are being expelled and killed, and the only minorities capable of avoiding this fate are those which possess arms.

So if no-one can point to a moment in history when Jews were treated as equals by Arabs, whether individually or as a collective, and the present appears even worse than the past, on what grounds should we follow Anderson and urge the Jews to ‘rely on the kindness of strangers’, entrusting their fate to those who refuse to recognise them as a people with a legitimate claim to the land and well as their individual equals?


The partisans of the so-called ‘one-state solution’ are blind to the necessary condition for two peoples living peacefully in one state: mutually accepted collective and individual equality. Since that necessary condition does not exist, the one state framework would merely serve to change the title of the conflict from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Jewish-Arab civil war. It would solve nothing.

Ultimately, there are two peoples, tribes, and nations on this land. Whatever argument each side makes about the invented nature of the other, it is clear that at the very least, each side sees itself as distinct and different from the other people in that land. Both believe they have the legal, emotional, historical, and just claim to the entirety of the land. Save for a few rare and courageous individuals, the Palestinians believe that the Jews have no legitimate claim to the land. The Jews are generally divided on the issue of the legitimacy of the Arab claim. This says nothing about their respective moral nature – merely their differing regional realities. The Jews are keenly aware of their minority status in the region; they can ill afford to ignore the Arabs. The Palestinians, who live in a region where Arabs enjoy predominance, believe they can continue to imagine that the Jews are foreigners and crusaders who will not endure.

Read article in full

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Jewish archive is a clear case of brazen theft

The deadline for the return of the Iraqi-Jewish archive to Iraq falls this September. For Lyn Julius there is no question: the archive should not be returned to those who stole it. Blog in the Jewish News (Times of Israel): 

Place: Baghdad. Time:  the 1970s.

Eyewitnesses watched aghast  as Saddam Hussein’s men carted off piles of books and documents from the ladies’ gallery of the Bataween synagogue to the secret police headquarters. There they remained for some 40 years, rotting and forgotten, until some quirk of fate put them at the centre of an international controversy.

The  so-called Iraqi-Jewish archive consists of Jewish books, documents, Torah scrolls and random correspondence from synagogues and Jewish schools. They were discovered in 2003 during the US invasion of Iraq in the waterlogged basement of the secret police headquarters in Baghdad. A US bomb had burst the water pipes of the building but had failed to detonate. An apologetic US  shipped the collection for restoration in Texas, signing a diplomatic agreement committing to returning the collection to Iraq when the restoration work was completed.

Fifteen years later, the deadline for return falls this coming September, but Iraqi Jews have been protesting against the repatriation of an archive that they say has no place in Iraq. It belongs to a community which endured decades of persecution and is now living outside the country. The archive  does not contain items of great value except to the community itself, and does not belong to civilisations long extinct. Indeed the owners of some of the material, including school reports and photographs, are still alive. The ownership of the archive appears  an open-and-shut case of brazen theft from a community forced into exile. In their haste to draw up a  diplomatic agreement, the 2003 US-run government of Iraq promised to return the archive on a false premise.

But the culture editor on the ‘progressive’ Forward newspaper, Talya Zax, has been drawing a parallel between the recent repatriation of  eight Sumerian artefacts and the issue of the Iraqi-Jewish archive. Thousands of ancient artefacts were looted from Iraq in 2003. Artefacts looted from the Sumerian site of Tello have been recently returned from the US. Ms Zax has interviewed the Iraqi ambassador to the US, who declares the archive must go back because it shows the former diversity of Iraq’s population, and the emotional ties between the country and its former Jews. She writes:
“Despite its unique and complicated place in the broad collection of culturally significant items removed from Iraq, in the course of, and after the US invasion, it (the Iraqi-Jewish archive) is indisputedly part of that collection.”
Preventing a war-ravaged country’s heritage being pillaged, smuggled out and sold on the international market is one thing. Countries have every right to protect their cultural property. But there the similarity with the Iraqi-Jewish archive ends.

A bill has been introduced by four US senators urging that the archive not be returned to Iraq. But even if passed, that bill will have no legal force. The Iraqi-Jewish community in the US would have to fight for its ownership rights in a court of law.

If the Iraqi-Jewish archive were to return to Baghdad, Iraqi  Jews and their descendants (most now resident in Israel) would not be able to see them. Moreover, what guarantees are there that Iraq, where popular anti-Jewish feeling still runs high, would be able to preserve the archive or prevent it being looted or destroyed in the future?

It is a source of dismay that the voices of those who wish legitimise the dispossession of Jewish refugees from Arab countries are given credibility. And that, in the end, is what the issue of the Iraqi-Jewish archive is all about.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 19, 2018

History of Libyan Jews, seen through memories

This is a useful potted history of the Jews of Libya by Eness Elias in Haaretz, the differences between the Tripoli and the Benghazi communities, and the differences between the acculturated upper classes, who mainly went to Italy, and the great majority of Jews who went to Israel, where life was difficult. (With thanks: Imre) 
Nonna Eness Hasson, z'l

My grandmother died a little more than three weeks ago. Grandmother Eness, for whom I’m named, was born in Tripoli, Libya, and lived there until age 13, when she immigrated with her family to Israel. Here she met my grandfather, Tzion Hasson, who was born and raised in Benghazi. 

My grandmother’s house was filled with laughter, people and joy, and we all waited for Nonna, as we called her, to put on her show. Sometimes she emerged from the hallway dressed up like a gorilla and scared us to death. She had all kinds of masks in her closet, and we waited in suspense for the next thing. She told us stories, impersonated family members, stung us with loving sarcasm and was always there for the big family that she had brought into the world. 

Life in Tripoli wasn’t harder for Nonna than life in Israel. She was an educated girl who possessed joie de vivre, knew four languages even before she learned Hebrew (Arabic, Italian, English and Ladino), loved to sing the songs of the Egyptian artists Farid el-Atrash and Abdel Halim Hafez, was an avid dancer and later did all she could not to let the difficult life in Israel break her. The story of my grandfather and grandmother is the story of an ancient community that disappeared from Libya but found itself in Israel, where it carries on the customs that sustained it for thousands of years. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Jordanian calls for Jews to return to their countries

 There is only one word to describe the former Jordanian minister of culture Salah Jarrar: delusional. In his peace proposal, to compete with President Trump's, he suggests that all Jews who came to Israel after 1917 'will return to the countries from whence they came, taking nothing with them'. The 850, 000 Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries will certainly be keen to return (sarcasm off). And what about  the five million Arab refugees who have fled Syria and the four million Iraqis displaced from the country? Should they all go back? See this MEMRI report. (With thanks: Lily)

 Salah Jarrar: delusional
"Amid this dangerous reality... we must end our silence and idleness and declare, first of all, that we categorically oppose all the Zionist and American plans and that we will be the ones to choose the deal we want as a solution [to the conflict]. It will be the Deal of [our] Lifetimes, not the Deal of the Century, and will include the following clauses:
  1. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River will end.
  2. All the Jews who came to Israel after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, as well as their children and descendants, will return to the countries from which they came, without taking anything with them.
  3. The U.S. and Britain will compensate the Palestinians for all the damage caused by the Zionist occupation to the land and its people.
  4. The U.S. and Britain will compensate the Arab states for the damage caused to them by the Zionist aggression against their lands, and for hosting the [Palestinian] refugees throughout the years of occupation.
  5. All Israelis who took part in killing Palestinians will be turned over to the Palestinians to be prosecuted and to receive the punishment they deserve.
  6. The Palestinian refugees will return to their homes and their property.
  7. The leadership of the Zionist occupation will sign a document stating that they have no rights, historical or otherwise, in Palestine.
  8. Should the Israeli side, or its American ally, wish to negotiate about any of these clauses, this will be put to referendum among the Palestinian people, and [negotiations will occur] only if all the children of Palestine and the families of all the martyrs agree to this.
Some may claim that the above clauses [describe] a dream that cannot be realized given the current state of the Arab nation. [But] I say that the current state, grave as it is, does not deprive anyone of his rights, and that these clauses [describe] our rights and we must continue to demand them, whether we achieve them today or at a future time..."


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Iran discriminates against Jews and other minorities

Insightful Iranwire report into how the Iranian regime discriminates against Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. Zoroastrians and Christians are accused of proselytising and all minorities are subject to legal discrimination. Jews are not allowed to reprint religious books and there is no rabbi, as foreign-trained clerics are not allowed to take office in Iran.

 Zoroastrians praying at a temple dug into a mountainside

Robert is an Armenian Christian, and he echoes much of what Armaiti says about discrimination. “Many of our Muslim friends ask us about converting to Christianity but in Iran we are not allowed to proselytize,” he says. According to Robert, the official Armenian churches are carefully monitored by security forces to prevent any kind of proselytization.

Maryam is a Christian convert who was baptized in a home-church in the northwestern city of Urmia. “In home-churches they both teach about Christianity and hold prayers and ceremonies like official churches,” she says. “In recent years, holding prayers at home-churches has become very difficult and dangerous. Under the guise of being interested in Christianity, security agents infiltrate home-churches to identify Christian converts and proselytizers.”
According to Maryam, converts are now very cautious about going to home-churches for prayers and ceremonies after many converts were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. In less than two months in 2017, 11 converts and one priest were sentenced to a total of 125 years in prison.

Robert, however, says that the ban on proselytizing is not the only discrimination minorities face. It extends to many spheres of life. “For example,” he says, “no member of a religious minority can be elected president because, according to Article 115 of the Islamic Republic constitution, the president must be a believer in the official religion of the country — that is, Shi’ism. But this is only one of the most obvious examples. Religious minorities are clearly discriminated against in laws [which prevent them from taking on] government jobs, testimony in court, punishment for murder and so on.”

Members of religious minorities cannot join the armed forces and, according to the 1987 Law of the Islamic Republic Military, this option is reserved only for Muslims. Also, according to the Islamic Penal Code, if the victim of a murder is a Muslim then the murderer is punished by qisas (“retribution”), but if the victim belongs to a religious minority then the murderer has only to pay diya or “blood money.”

What is more, the diya for a murdered Muslim was higher than the blood money for a non-Muslim. But the sixth Islamic Republic Parliament (2000-2004) changed this, and ruled that the diya for both Muslims and non-Muslims must be equal. The Guardian Council, which must approve all laws, rejected this, but the parliamentarians insisted and the Expediency Council overruled the Guardian Council.

Another example of legal discrimination against minorities is testimony in court. Iranian law does not accept the testimony of a non-Muslim against a Muslim — whatever the case.

Pouya Dayanim, President of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee (IJPAC), tells IranWire about other areas of legal discrimination, including inheritance laws. “In inheritance laws, if one child of a minority family converts to Islam he gets all the inheritance and the rest of the family gets nothing,” he says.

Article 881 B of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic states: “An infidel does not get inheritance from a Muslim and if there are infidels among the heirs of a deceased infidel, the infidel heirs do not take inheritance even if they are prior to the Muslim as concerns class and degree.”

Iran’s official media also discriminates against minority religions on a regular basis. “The magazine Payam-e Daneshjou compared the Jews to monkeys and the weekly Yalasarat al-Hussein, which belongs to Ansar-e Hezbollah, compared them to mice,” says Dayanim. “Movie actor Akbar Abdi praised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for rubbing the noses of the Jews in the mud.”

Dayanim believes that the government’s anti-Israeli propaganda over the last 40 years has confused people, many of whom now do not distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and, as a result, insult Jews.

“Printing books in Hebrew is not permitted in Iran,” says Dayanim. “Most of the Hebrew and Siddur prayer books are from 40 years ago and reprinting them is not allowed. We are also not allowed to bring religious leaders from among foreign academics into Iran. Iran is the only country with a Jewish community that has no rabbi. A rabbi is a graduate of a Jewish university who returns to lead religious ceremonies. Iran has no rabbi because it has no schools for teaching Judaism and rabbis from other countries are not allowed to come to Iran. So a group of religious individuals who have learned the traditions from their parents teach others.”

Dayanim believes that the Islamic Republic’s inheritance laws are designed to encourage members of religious minorities to convert to Islam. “I know a rich Zoroastrian family whose son converted to Islam to get his hands on all his father’s inheritance,” he says. “His mother, sister and brother took him to court and the court ruled in their favor. Then he wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, asking him: ‘My family is Zoroastrian and I have converted to Islam, so does the family get the inheritance?’ Ayatollah Khamenei answered that if there is a Muslim inheritor then the infidel will not get the inheritance unless they convert to Islam.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mizrahi:'Israel's critics did not understand my films'

Revealing article by Uri Klein in Haaretz about the late Moshe Mizrahi, the only Israeli film director to win an Oscar. The Israeli establishment excluded Mizrahi's films from Israeli cinema, and its output of 1960s bourekas films, such as Sallah Shabati, were 'disgusting' in their representation of Jews from Arab countries, in Mizrahi's opinion.

 “Since my films tackled relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim differently [referring to European Jews and those of Spanish, Middle Eastern or North African origin, respectively], I suffered throughout my career from a lack of understanding on the part of both the Israeli establishment and the critics.

“For years, I wasn’t included in the narrative of Israeli cinema – and I really have no idea why. I have no idea how one can speak about the history of Israeli cinema without including my films. It’s possible that because of my biography, which led me from Alexandria to Jerusalem to Paris, I appear to be a foreigner. But, unless I’m mistaken, the films I make aren’t foreign.” 

Moshe Mizrahi: bourekas films were disgusting
No, Mizrahi was not mistaken. The films he directed in Israel – of which there are many, but especially “I Love You Rosa” (1972), and “The House on Chelouche Street” and “Daughters, Daughters” (both 1973) – are milestones in the history of Israeli cinema. Their quality even heralded the revolution in Israeli cinema in the present century. 

They were created in the midst of a wave of comedies dubbed “bourekas films” – comedies that flooded Israeli movie theaters at the time and were mostly concerned with relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim.
But there was a huge difference between Mizrahi’s films and those movies. In the same interview, he told me that the manner in which Sephardim – now more commonly known as Mizrahim – were presented during that period actually deterred him. He said it was “a disgrace” that they became cult films. 

“What does [Budapest-born filmmaker Ephraim] Kishon know about Mizrahim?” he asked, adding that “Sallah Shabati” – about a Yemenite Jewish family immigrating to Israel – was “a disgusting film in the way it presented Jews from Arab countries.” 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mahathir: Jews silence critics with antisemitism smears

In an interview on Monday, Malaysia’s avowedly anti-Semitic prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said accusations that he was anti-Semitic were meant to silence his criticism of Jews “for doing wrong things.” (Malaysia has almost no Jews.) Associated Press reports:

Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (photo: AP)

In an interview with the Associated Press that ranged from trade with China to the Rohingya crisis in nearby Myanmar, Mohamad, a longtime champion of Palestinian causes, was asked about his record of comments seen as anti-Semitic.
“We should be able to criticize everybody,” he said, and assailed laws against denying the scale of the Holocaust.
“Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things,” he said.

Mahathir led his opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition to a surprise victory in national elections in May. On Thursday he took his oath of office before the king, Sultan Muhammad V. He is a larger-than-life figure in Malaysia, with his influence dominating the multiethnic country’s politics from the Cold War into a new millennium. His first turn as prime minister stretched for 22 years, coming to an end in 2003.

He is also famous for his virulent anti-Semitism. He wrote on his personal blog in 2012 that “Jews rule this world by proxy,” the Associated Press has reported.

Read article in full

Monday, August 13, 2018

Chief Rabbi of Morocco Monsonego dies

 Rabbi Monsonego with the King of Morocco

The death of Rabbi Aaron Monsonego, Chief Rabbi of Morocco since 1998, was  reported on 7 August. He died in Shaare Tsedek hospital, Jerusalem according to Morocco News:

Monsonego was a significant figure in the history of Jewish Morocco. Born in 1929, he was the son of Yedidya, the rabbi of Fez. Between 1945 and 1952, he studied at the Talmudic and Science High School in Aix-les-Bains, eastern France, where he also taught between 1950 and 1952. He obtained his rabbinic diploma and (qualified as a) judge (dayan) at the Council of the Three Great Orthodox Rabbis of Paris in 1951.

In 1952, Monsonego returned to Morocco following the call of Itshak Chalom, president of the Jewish community of Casablanca. Monsonego ran the Talmud Torah school in Casablanca, which, at that time, had more than 1,500 students. Rabbi Aharon Monsonego has been head of Morocco’s chief rabbinate since 1998, when he was appointed to replace Shimon Suissa, his predecessor.

Due to his elderly age and worsening health, Monsonego decided to leave Morocco for Israel four years ago, in order to be able to live his last years with his children.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Eldar: Trump's plan should include Jewish refugee rights

Amazing! A former senior Haaretz journalist, Akiva Eldar, has called in Al-Monitor on the Trump administration, in its forthcoming blueprint for a peace settlement, to couple its expected demand for UNWRA to be shut down with compensation for Jewish refugees. Why has Eldar, who has never written about Jewish refugees before, woken up to their existence? He is right that Arab states would have no incentive to resettle  Palestinian refugees unless they are made to admit their responsibility for the expulsion and dispossession of their Jews. Eldar's other motive is domestic: to haul the Left out of the political wilderness by encouraging it to champion the rights of Israel's three million Jewish refugees and their descendants - an issue it has hitherto  viewed as an obstacle to peace. (With thanks: Gina)

In January, the Trump administration informed the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that it was cutting tens of millions of dollars in aid to the organization. Recently, the administration declared that UNRWA’s mandate must be changed.
The campaign launched by the Trump administration against the UNRWA has directed the spotlight once again at the issue of the Palestinian refugees who fled their homes or were expelled from them in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a tragedy they dubbed “Nakba,” Arabic for “catastrophe.”

 In emails he sent in January that were reported by Foreign Policy magazine, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner suggested that the Arab states take in the Palestinian refugees and ensure their rehabilitation. Someone should remind Kushner that the Arab states did not expel the Palestinians and turn them into refugees, nor did they confiscate their property. On the other hand, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, North Africa and the Gulf states did expel the Jews living there, confiscate their property and turn them into refugees.

What Trump calls the “ultimate deal” that presumes to find a regional solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must also offer a practical resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem and at the same time seek to rectify the injustice to the Jews who were expelled from their homes in Arab countries and Iran or fled from them. The riots against Jews and the anti-Semitic incidents that followed the UN’s 1947 Partition Resolution and the declaration of Israel’s independence turned 865,000 Jews into refugees. In 1957, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recognized them as refugees in accordance with the UN Convention on Refugees.

 Ambassador Zvi Gabbay, who died July 29, wrote in 2012 that while the UN has adopted dozens of resolutions in support of the Palestinian refugees, established the UNRWA to aid them and allocated huge budgets for its operation, the organization did nothing for the Jewish refugees. “This one-sided approach,” the Iraq-born diplomat said, “has not solved the problem and has exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

 Akiva Eldar: 'has woken up' to existence of Jewish refugees

(...) Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that a special section in his road map for Israeli-Palestinian peace refer to compensation for Jews from Arab lands. Special envoy Martin Indyk also spoke to Jewish leaders about the importance of recognizing the rights of those Jews who had been ignored for decades by the international community and Israeli society.

But Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who represented the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in negotiations with the Palestinians, gave Kerry’s proposal the cold shoulder. Israel’s peace camp views inclusion of the Jewish refugee issue in negotiations with the Palestinians as a right-wing ploy designed to forge a troubling link with resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem and thereby sink the peace process. Thus, for fear of undermining prospects of an agreement with the Palestinians, the Israeli left has ignored the pain and rights of Jews from the Arab world who, together with their descendants, constitute about one-half of Israel’s Jewish population, which means over 3 million people. Although the right wing has been in power longer than the left, this attitude has led to the left being solely blamed for “establishment” arrogance toward Israelis displaced from Arab lands.

A scathing special report issued in 2014 by the State Comptroller showed successive right-wing governments did not go out of their way, either, for these Israelis. Despite the “festive declarations” by Israeli governments about their commitment to act on behalf of these groups, the findings show “an unsatisfactory level of commitment by the government to carry out its decisions and very little work” to ensure that proper attention was given to the issue, according to the report.

The Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel are not responsible for the injustice perpetrated by Arab states against their Jewish communities. Nonetheless, promoting a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is an excellent opportunity, if not a crucial condition, for realizing the rights of the Jewish refugees. The “Israeli Regional Initiative,” an organization dedicated to advancing regional peace based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, has included compensation of Jews from Arab states in its blueprint. This section appears separately, deliberately so, from the chapter relating to a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution, alongside other regional issues such as security, economic cooperation, environmental protection and more.

Arab states are highly unlikely to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Trump, who has called for them to take in the Palestinian refugees, thereby freeing Israel and the international community from responsibility for them. Just as one cannot wave away the issue of Jerusalem from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating table (on a final-status solution), Trump’s declaration to the contrary notwithstanding, shutting down the UNRWA will not wipe out the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere. Either way, presenting the refugee issue in the context of a regional arrangement provides the Israeli left with an opportunity to wave the flag of regional peace with one hand and stretch out the other to Israelis whose mother tongue was Arabic, to recognize their narrative and to identify with them as equals. This may be the way to extricate them from the tentacles of the nationalist right and with them the entire state.

Read article in full 

Kerry deal to compensate Jews from Arab countries 

Knesset committee slams government 

Livni: no linkage of refugees

Friday, August 10, 2018

Egypt plans first ever 'tolerance' museum

In a bid to show how 'tolerant' Egypt is (it has fewer than 15 Jews still living there), the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities has announced that a committee will be appointed the task of creating Egypt’s very first museum of religious tolerance. Report in Egyptian Streets: (With thanks: Boruch)

 It is thought it will be located in the New Administrative Capital, near the city’s main mosque.

It will also include pieces from the ancient Egyptian period as well as the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish civilizations all while highlighting Islam’s teachings of tolerance and Egypt’s diverse religions.

The council is undergoing an election process of centerpieces  that will be made ready for display at the time of the museum’s construction, under the supervision of a panel of professionals.

Ex-Antiquities minister Zahi Hawass will be on the museum selection panel

According to local news, those on the panel are the General Director of the Tahrir Egyptian Museum Sabah Abde Razik, General Director of the Islamic Museum Mamdouh Othman and ex-Antiquities Minister and Egyptology Zahi Hawass.
Currently, there exists the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, as well as Islamic Art Museum near Tahrir, in Cairo’s downtown. Although there is an extremely small number of Jews in Egypt, the country  boasts a few synagogues, namely Ben Ezra which is open to the public unlike the others.

Magda Haroun, head of Egypt's Jewish Community Council, is said to be attempting to create a national Jewish museum.

Read article in full

Thursday, August 09, 2018

'The archive will not be safe in Iraq'

A Senate resolution sponsored by four US senators will attempt to delay and even reverse the US government's commitment to returning the 'Iraqi-Jewish archive' to Baghdad. One reason is that there are no longer any Jews able to care for or see it. Report in the Tribune Review:

 Dr Harold Rhode sifting through the waterlogged items of the Iraqi-Jewish archive in 2003. Dr Rhode was the first to identify the books and documents of the collection as Jewish.

The collection, known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive, is scheduled to be returned to Iraqi next month. If that happens, experts fear neglect could pose a new threat to the sensitive materials. 

“I really don’t think they’ll be safe in Iraq,” said Carole Basri, an attorney and documentary filmmaker who has deeply researched the archive and Iraq’s Jewish history. 

Heading an effort to postpone the archive’s return is U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, the prime sponsor of a resolution urging the U.S. State Department to renegotiate the return. 

“My concern is Iraq is really no longer a good place to store this Jewish historical treasure since there are no Jews to safeguard it, to see it, to care for this treasure,” Toomey told the Tribune-Review. 

Included in the archive is a 400-year-old Hebrew Bible, a German rabbi’s sermons from 1692, a 200-year-old Talmud and thousands of other books printed in Italy, Jerusalem, Turkey and Lithuania. Among the books are the writings of the famous late 19th-century Baghdadi interpreter of Jewish law Rabbi Yosef Hayyim, who is often referred to by the name of his most famous work, the Ben Ish Hai. 

New publications of the Ben Ish Hai’s work stand to influence how Jews interpret law today, said Rabbi Raymond Sultan, director of Sephardic Heritage Museum, which is about to publish a third book of the Ben Ish Hai’s work from the archive. 

“There is a lot of stuff people will definitely use to formulate law,” Sultan said.
Also included are school and financial records, lists of residents, university applications and other community records that document Jewish life in Iraq from the 1920s through 1953. 

Toomey’s resolution, cosponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, cites the Iraq government’s anti-Semitic policies from the 1930s onward — including making Zionism punishable by death and confiscating Jewish artifacts — to make a case against returning the archive. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Christians and Yazidis not getting international help

 Former BBC journalist Rebecca Tinsley reports on her visit to Kurdistan in Jewish News. While the region slowly recovers from the ravages of ISIS, she finds that Iraq simply pays lip service to minority rights, and Christians and Yazidis are not receiving the international aid they need. (With thanks: Jonathan)

Jewish woman from Kurdistan photographed in Israel

What do these three news items have in common?
1) The beautiful synagogue in Akra in Iraqi Kurdistan is crumbling to the point of collapse, as Iraq’s famous Jewish families (Sassoon, Saatchi, Gubbay, etc.) are written out of Iraqi history.

2) Thirty six Iraqi Christian churches were destroyed by Islamic State in 2014, but thousands of Christians cannot return from internal exile. Their homes are now occupied by Muslim Arabs, and their former communities are controlled by opposing Arab and Kurdish militias who each claim territory in the plain of Nineveh.

3) August 3rd marks the fourth anniversary of Islamic State’s jihad against the Yezidi minority. Tens of thousands of men were killed, and 6,000 women and girls were enslaved, being bought and sold on WhatsApp, even by men who used to be their Iraqi neighbours. No one has collected forensic evidence from the 94 mass graves, and 3,200 of the women are still missing. No one has been prosecuted for what the international community recognises as genocide against the Yezidi.

What these stories share is the disconnect between the theoretical protection of minorities in the Iraqi constitution, and the reality, particularly in the aftermath of Islamic State’s conquest and retreat.

The Jews of Iraq predated the Christians, and the Yezidi predated even the Jews. Yet, the prevailing narrative is that Iraq’s history began when Islam arrived in the fertile region between the Tigris and the Euphrates. In practice, this means that ethnic and religious groups with deep and ancient roots, including the Jewish businesspeople who played a central role in the commercial development of Baghdad a century ago, are absent from history. It also means that minorities are increasingly treated as if they don’t belong.

In the nineteenth century, Akra, a town perched on a promontory in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, had 19,000 Jewish residents. By 1930, following a wave of anti-Zionist feeling, there were only 1,000. The 1917 census recorded 80,000 Jews in Baghdad: is thought seven Jewish people remain now in the Iraqi capital.
With the rise of National Socialism in Germany, intolerance took hold in Iraq. Dohuk, Erbil, Ruwandiz, Barashi and Sukho, all ancient Jewish towns, saw thousands flee. In 1941, Nazi-inspired riots left 200 Jews dead. In 1945, the Kurdish Jews were expelled from Erbil. Finally, the founding of the state of Israel led to a wholesale exit from Iraq, as the Jewish population was made to feel unwelcome.

After two days on the road, during which I searched for remaining synagogues, my Kurdish driver admitted his mother and grandmother had been Jewish. However, like many families who stayed, they told people they had converted to Islam in a bid to fit in. The driver was proud of his Jewish roots, but he also knew to hide them for the sake of an easy life.

Now, the Kurdish Regional Government boasts it is The Other Iraq (meaning modern and tolerant). It is true that there is a greater acceptance of minorities, and the Iraqi Kurds gave refuge to hundreds of thousands of Yezidi and Christians when IS drove them from their homes. A 2015 law guarantees parliamentary seats to Christians, Turkmen and women. However, there is little political will in the Kurdish Regional Government to prosecute IS members for the deliberate targeting of the Yezidi, or the use of rape as a weapons of war (a precedent established in Bosnia), despite a wealth of survivor testimony which includes the names of IS perpetrators.

In the 1950s, an Iraqi rabbi reputedly warned a Christian cleric, “Sunday follows Saturday,” meaning that having forced out the Jewish population, the Christians were next. There have been Christians in Iraq since the first century – the world’s longest continual Christian presence. However, their numbers have recently collapsed from 1.5 million to fewer than 250,000.

Nuns in Qaraqosh on the plain of Nineveh told me how, in 2014, as IS rampaged across Iraq, the authorities assured the Christian communities they would be safe. Yet the Kurdish peshmerga militia withdrew suddenly without telling the Christians, leaving thousands of people scrambling to escape a mere 30 minutes before IS arrived.

The Iraqi government claims it respects the rights of minorities, and it is a signatory of sundry international conventions protecting the rights of different ethnic and religious groups. However, I was told that much of the humanitarian aid appears to have been directed at Muslim areas, even though the Christians and Yezidi suffered disproportionately.

Read article in full