Wednesday, October 31, 2018

How Carol Isaacs answered the call of the wolf

For Jews in Iraq, a wolf's tooth was a popular good luck charm. It inspired Carol Isaacs, an artist and musician, to produce an original graphic memoir, accompanied by live Middle Eastern music. The Wolf of Baghdad will have its premiere on 21 November in London for the 5th Memorial Day to remember Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran. (Booking link here) In her animated presentation,  Carol imagines herself travelling back with the wolf to her family's roots in Iraq, and explores the complex relationship of second-generation Jews in the West with their Mizrahi origins.  Rebecca Taylor interviewed Carol for Jewish Renaissance.

 Where do I belong, London or Baghdad? Video clip here.

RT: Did you grow up being aware of your Iraqi background?
CI: No, my parents didn’t talk about it. I started playing music when I was four years old, but if I think about music in my parents’ house, it was classical. In Baghdad they were very Europeanised. Theywore European clothes and had European names. I never heard any Arabic music in the house.

My father would have passed as a British gent. He went to his office in the City
in a pinstriped suit, with arose from the garden in his buttonhole. The only vestiges of Iraq were in the food. My mother was a fantastic cook– she made great bourekas.

My father also often had non-Jewish business associates who came to visit from Iraq. Then you really felt you were in Baghdad because they brought
presents – sometimes gold – and they talked all night with my family about
what was going on back home. On those occasions I felt as if I lived in two worlds.

RT: Do your Iraqi roots influence your own music?
CI: The Wolf of Baghdad will be shown on screen at various events in the
autumn and my band, 3yin, will accompany some of the screenings. For this project I play Arabic accordion. I’ve had to learn how to playmusic using the Arabic scale, which gives a different feel than a Western one. It’s
like learning a whole new language. It’s very special. It’s funny going back to learn this music that I never thought had any relevance to me. Now I see that it has. It’s important to preserve it. (...)

RT: Would you like to go to Baghdad?
CI: I have mixed feelings about the place. All my life I’ve known that the Iraq that my family has spoken about with such affection is not there any more. Our houses are gone, the cemeteries are gone. There is one hidden synagogue that is looked after by some Muslim residents. There is nothing left of that former life. That’s what the memoir is addressing: on the one hand, why would I want to go back? On the other hand, I have that longing for a place I don’t know. It’s something that many second generation immigrants have.

Read article in full

Interview on Nahrein News with Carol Isaacs and Daniel Jonas  from the band 3yin (22 mins)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Hatikva played for first time in Abu Dhabi

In a sign of increasingly warm relations between Israel and the Gulf States, the Israeli national anthem was played in Abu Dhabi at an international judo competition in the presence of an emotional Israeli minister of culture, Miri Regev. In a previous contest, Hatikva and the Israeli flag were banned and  the winning Israeli had to sing the words himself. Regev also made history by being the first Israeli minister to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  The Jerusalem Post reports:

Hatikva (was  heard a second time) in Abu Dhabi as Israeli judoka Peter Paltchik won gold in the under 100 kg weight category on Monday. Paltchik defeated Azerbaijani judoka Elmar Gasimov in the finals.

Miri Regev moved to tears during the singing of the Israeli national anthem (Photo: IJF)

Paltchik, who was born in Ukraine and moved to Israel when he was 9 months old, began learning judo at age four. The 26-year-old judoka won his first gold medal at the "Grand Prix Cancun" in June 2017.

He also won a bronze medal in the 2018 European Judo Championships that was held in Tel Aviv in April.

Judoka Sagi Muki won gold on Sunday in the under 81 kg weight category. Israel's national anthem "Hatikva" was played, even though sport event organizers in the Guft have made Israel's participation conditional on it not displaying national symbols.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who was in attendance, openly wept. Following the event on Sunday, Regev made an official visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.  “The whole message here is of unity and peace,” she stated.

Read article in full

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Expert musicologist Heskel Kojaman dies

Update: friends and admirers will gather at 10 am on Sunday 4 November at Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London NW11 to pay their respects to Heskel Kojaman.

 The death is announced of the great Iraq-born musicologist and author, Heskel Kojaman. A member of the anti-Zionist League and then the Communist party of Iraq, Kojaman was arrested in 1949, released in 1958 but re-arrested; he spent another 18 months in prison. He spent his latter years in London and is survived by his wife Habiba.

Emil Cohen writes:
"Heskel Kojaman has passed away two months before his 98th Birthday. He was a man of great intellect and wrote regularly in “Alhewar”. In fact, he was such a prolific writer that, last year I checked, he had written some 560 articles. He studied avidly communist ideology and was strongly principled in his interpretations and approach. He spent many years in prison in the infamous Niqrat Salman and other Iraqi prisons. He was a strong lover of music and studied Iraqi Maqam and wrote a book that is considered the most important source of Iraqi traditional music. He was thought of as an expert musicologist and was visited by many Iraqi musicians and singers as he kept an open house for all the writers and musicians."

Heskel Kojaman z''l

A lost world (New Statesman)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

A potted history of the Jews of Oman

The visit of Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Sultanate of Oman may have taken much of the western media by surprise. In fact relations between the two countries have been an open secret for some time. Netanyahu's  is the latest in a series of visits by Israeli leaders: Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, Shimon Peres in 1996; the Omani foreign minister paid a visit to Jerusalem in 1995. Israel even had a trading mission until it was shut down at the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000. In 2008, Tsipi Livni, then Israel's foreign minister, visited Oman.

Benjamin Netanyahu with Sultan Qaboos during his one-day visit to Oman

The small gulf state of Muscat and Oman, on the trade route to India and the far east, has been home to a small community of Jews until recently. The grave of the prophet Job is said to be 45 miles from Salalah, located in the south, and very close to the border with Yemen. Benjamin of Tudela,  who kept a diary on Jewish communities around the world, visited Muscat around 1170. Jewish merchants lived in Suhar since medieval times. According to the Gazetteer of Place Names in Muscat, published in the 1970s, travellers reported the presence of Jews in Muscat in 1625 when the port was under Portuguese control. A synagogue was built in 1673. 

In 1828 Jews fled the oppressive rule of Daoud Pasha in Baghdad and settled in Oman, where they practised silvercraft, money-lending and alcohol production. It was claimed that Oman had as many as 350 Jewish families there, mostly from Yemen and Iraq. Between 1830 and 1860 they represented British interests, as in the port of Aden,  but by 1900 they had mostly disappeared.

The last Jew of Oman was thought to be Sulayman al-Yehudi. He left the state in 1948: his children and grandchildren converted to Islam. 

Today expatriate western Jews live in the sultanate, but there is no official Jewish community. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Who owns Middle Eastern Jewish culture?

The fate of ancient Jewish archives rescued from war-torn Iraq is at a crossroads. Lyn Julius reports in Jewish Renaissance (October 2018) on the fierce debate over the ownership of Jewish history.

“They stole our lives, they stole our childhood, they stole our memories. Our memories lay in the flooded basement of Saddam’s Intelligence HQ. The government wants to return to an Iraq without Jews what Saddam stole from the Jews of Iraq. Do you want to insult us?”

Writing in the Arabic newspaper Elaph in December 2003, journalist David Kheder Bassoon expressed the anger and frustration felt by Iraqi Jews living outside of their country at the uncertain future of the Jewish archive – the enormous collection of books and manuscripts that document Jewish life in Iraq. This autumn marks the deadline for the return of these materials to Baghdad from where they were rescued by American troops in 2003 and taken to the US.

Under Saddam Hussein, thousands of books, manuscripts and other documents were seized from Jewish homes, schools and synagogues. Much of it was locked away at the headquarters of Iraq’s secret service in Baghdad. In 2003, the archive was discovered in the flooded basement of the building, containing tens of thousands of items including books, religious texts, photographs and personal documents that activists say were looted or left behind by Jews forced to flee the country. 

The Americans shipped the archive to Washington DC for restoration and hastily signed a diplomatic agreement promising to return the material to the Iraqi government. The US government spent over $3 million to restore and digitise the archive, which has been exhibited across the country. The collection includes a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793 and an 1815 version of the Jewish mystical text Zohar – as well as more mundane objects such as a Baghdad telephone book. 

Although tens of thousands of Iraqi documents were shipped to the US, the Iraqi government has only formalised its claim to 2,700 books and 30,000 documents of the water-stained archive, which it claims are the country’s ‘precious cultural heritage’, a last emotional link with its ancient Jewish community, and a reminder of Iraq’s former diversity. 

But over the past five years, the Iraqi Jewish community in exile has been waging a bitter battle to recover the collection and prevent it being sent back to Iraq. They say that to return the archives would be like returning property looted by the Nazis to Germany. Activists argue that the archives should be kept somewhere where they are accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants, and question whether Iraq would properly take care of the items were they to be sent back. 

 A Haggadah found in the Iraqi-Jewish archive

A similar fight is simmering for many Jews of Egyptian origin living abroad. Dozens of  volumes, containing every detail of the births, marriages and deaths of Jews from Alexandria and Cairo, and dating back to the middle of the 19th century were once kept in the two main synagogues in each city. But in 2016, government officials arrived unannounced at the synagogues and took away the registers to be stored in the Egyptian National Archives. Access to the records is restricted.

The Egyptian government claims that all Torah scrolls and Jewish archives, libraries, communal registers and any movable property over 100 years old constitutes part of Egypt’s national heritage. 

Egyptian Jews living abroad are frustrated  that they cannot even obtain photocopies of brit mila (circumcision),marriage and death certificates from these communal records. Such records are often the only formal Jewish identification Egyptian Jews have to prove lineage or identity for burial or marriage. Repeated efforts since 2005 to intercede with the Egyptian authorities have come to nothing.

In this case, the Egyptian government has been supported by the tiny remnant of the Jewish community that remains in the country. The community’s leader, Magda Haroun has made it clear in various TV appearances that her intention is to leave the community’s assets to the government. Last year Haroun helped revive a former Egyptian Jewish charity, A Drop of Milk, turning it into a heritage NGO with the aim of curating the Jewish archive with the approval of the Ministry of Culture. There are plans to transform the former Heliopolis Synagogue in Cairo into a national Jewish museum, with the hope that the archive’s registers will be available for consultation there.

Most Egyptian Jews left the country after 1948 and again after 1967. The biggest ex-pat Egyptian community is in Israel, but there are groups in France, Canada, the US, Brazil, Australia and the UK. 

But for organisations fighting on behalf of the rights of Jews from Arab countries, the Iraqi and Egyptian cases are symptomatic of a larger problem. Since 2004, the US has been bound by law to impose import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material that constitutes a country’s cultural heritage and has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) to this effect with Egypt, Syria and Libya. An agreement with Algeria is expected. In January 2018, the International Council of Museums released a ‘Red List’ for Yemen aimed at protecting Hebrew manuscripts and Torah finials from leaving Yemen. All but 50 Jews have fled the country, taking what possessions they could, but even these ultimately could be returned to Yemen.

“These MOUs claim to be about [stopping] looting, but their broad scope and limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a legal vehicle to legitimise foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership claims…The MOUs are based on a flawed premise. It is the heritage and patrimony of 850,000 indigenous Jews who fled their homes and property under duress,” says Sarah Levin of the California-based Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

It is understandable that the international community should wish to prevent the looting and smuggling of ancient artefacts and their sale on the international art market. That is how Islamic State financed much of its conquest of northern Iraq and Syria. Jewish  artefacts purported to be from devastated sites, such as the Jobar  synagogue near Damascus, have turned up in Turkey. These mostly turn out to be fakes. In Syria, mindful of the interest in Middle Eastern Jewish heritage in the West, both the regime and the rebels have been using Jewish artefacts as a political football in the civil war. Reports have surfaced - usually at times of regime offensives - in which both parties accused each other of stealing cultural heritage from Jewish sites. 

But there is a distinction between theft for financial gain, and legitimate salvage of Torah scrolls or books taken by fleeing Jews to be used for prayer. 

In centuries past, armies had carte blanche to plunder enemy property. The ‘Monument Men’ were assigned by the Allies to hide away cultural treasures in occupied Europe during World War II to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Postwar international treaties, such as the Hague Convention of 1954, were introduced to protect states’ cultural property from wartime looting. But the days when Britain could ship the Elgin Marbles from Greece, or Napoleon could plunder ancient Egyptian obelisks as ‘war booty’, are over.

 In the aftermath of extensive looting after the invasion of Iraq, some 3,800 archeological artefacts have been returned to Iraq from the US. Recently eight Sumerian artefacts sold to the British Museum were sent back. But the Iraqi-Jewish archive does not belong to some long-extinct civilisation: some of the owners are still alive. International law is based on the outmoded assumption of territorial sovereignty. It needs updating, specifically to resolve the tug-of-war between minority and national heritage, where the minority has been persecuted and displaced.

Almost no Jews remain in Iraq. If the archive were to return, most Iraqi Jews – now in Israel – would not be able to visit it. Nor could the authorities guarantee its safety. 

Four US senators have tabled a bill and three congressmen have written to President Trump “strongly objecting” to the return of the materials. As I write, a scholar in the US, who follows these issues but has asked not to be named, has told JP that the State Department has agreed to renew permission for the exhibition of Iraqi-Jewish documents to continue for another two years. "There are some (mostly Jewish groups) who want to keep the archives in the US. They have no plan on how to do that. US museums might be reluctant to accept them, because they would be permanent custodians. Who owns the archive? Technically, the Iraqi government since it is state cultural property. The State Department has to figure out how to handle keeping the archives  in the US without contravening basic precepts of international law,' the source said.

The Jewish community may need to resort to the courts to assert its claims. There has been one precedent for this: lawyer Nathan Lewin successfully sued for the restitution of the library belonging to the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Seized by the Russians in 1917, it is now in New York.

However, the Jews fighting to stop the return of their property to Iraq, or the release of blockaded property in Arab states, can take comfort from Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This states that no individual or community should be arbitrarily deprived of their property. 

As Sarah Levin of JIMENA puts it: “The US should not enter into any agreement and should withdraw from any existing agreement with a foreign state that either condones, supports or promotes any Article 17 violation by that state.”

Lyn Julius is the author of Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight, Vallentine Mitchell, 2017. 


Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Muslims of Morocco could not do without their Jews

In Fez you can visit the house where Maimonides lived for a short while on the run from fundamentalists in his native Cordoba. Today, the house is crowded with artefacts representing a community on the verge of extinction. Its memory hangs by a thread, writes Cyril Garcia in Tribune Juive (with thanks: Paul)

But if today "the house" symbolizes the Jewish history of Fez and Morocco, it is especially because the main living room is full of religious pieces from the great synagogue of Fez, local Jewish schools, private individuals. A chandelier, a mezuzah, a bench with names of the faithful, a Torah scroll ... Pieces more than 500 years old representing forgotten stories. With the departure of the Jews of Fez, all religious items stayed behind. Nothing has been brought out ... everything is frozen in time and in the ground, for lack of buyers - because neither the state of Israel (where the "Moroccans" and their descendants remain the second community with 800,000 people after the "Russians"), nor the many Jewish associations of France, Navarre and worldwide have been interested in these treasures! Without the dedication of a 73-year-old Sarcelois native of Fez, where would this heritage, which goes beyond religious or community history, be, if not  part of the historical heritage of humanity? How do they define a world where the past, memory and transmission have evaporated into the nimbus of the here and now?
Well guarded by an old Muslim, like the majority of Jewish sites in the country, its other guardian - its memory - tries by all methods to find a way out.
Descendants of "toshabim" (these Berber tribes Judaized in the time of North African Roman) or "megorashim" (exiled by force of Spain or Portugal after the Reconquista), the Jews have with Morocco a vivid history, full of passion. The majority were artisans, shopkeepers even peasants in the Atlas mountains. They occupied jobs devalued by Islam: cobbler, blacksmith etc. These dhimmis - second-class subjects  - also  possessed within the great dynasties - Merinides, Almohades, Almoravids -their representatives, their elites: rich traders, influential scholars or even doctors at the Court of different caliphs or sultans.

In fact, from top to bottom, the Muslims could not do without their Jews. As the historian Denis Rivet explains very well : "The Jews are neither within Maghreb society nor outside it, but between the two: neither the masters in town nor the pariah victims of dhimmitude. [...] With Muslims, they live in a state of neighborhood and exclusion, complementarity and competition, proximity and differentiation. "

It is with the French protectorate that things change. The arrival of a new "industrial" economy destroys small trades and drives many Jews into poverty. The crisis of 1929 makes things worse. But like their co-religionists in France or Algeria, they set their sights on republican values. Benefiting from French schools opened in Fez or Casablanca (or intra-community structures of the Alliance Israelite Universelle), many Jews will take advantage of this breakthrough to excel in their studies and rise socially in "their" kingdom or sometimes abroad, especially in France. Zionism appeared;  in the 1920s it attracted little interest . Mohammed V protected the Jews during the Second World War, according to tradition, but soon the events in the Middle East would have an impact on their fate. Pogroms there were, especially before the protectorate. In Casablanca and Fez, to be precise, the mellah was set ablaze on numerous occasions, athough some do not like to hear it.  As early as 1033, the Zenetes had massacred Jews in the city. Closer to home, from 17 to 19 April 1912, the 12,000 residents of the mellah flee, pursued by the (Arab neighbours), because they were suspected of being too close to the colonial authorities, one month after the signing of the treaty. Forty-six Jews die. The mellah is on fire and many books are destroyed.

Read article in full (French)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The little-known language spoken by Maimonides

 One of the foremost experts on the language of Jews in the medieval Arabic-speaking world is a 99-year Hungarian-born Jew, Joshua Blau. Emeritus professor at the Hebrew University, Blau gave this fascinating interview to Haaretz reporter Smadar Reisfeld (with thanks: Lily):

 Joshua Blau

SR: We always say that Judeo-Arabic is a combination of literary Arabic and spoken Arabic, but how do we actually know what the spoken language was? After all, only the writings remain.
“Overall, we don’t know for certain – only from the 19th century, when the investigation of the different dialects began. As for the spoken Arabic of the Middle Ages, I can only guess, but there is some evidence that makes the guess an educated one. First, the grammar of the literary language is far more organized than that of the spoken language. Comparing the grammar of texts written in Judeo-Arabic to that of literary Arabic, we discover a great many changes, and the hypothesis is that they reflect the spoken language. As I mentioned, such deviations from literary Arabic characterize minorities, because they allow themselves to write in a lower register, in the way that people speak.

“An additional way to know what spoken Arabic was, is to find texts that are written phonetically, preserving the sound of the word and not its regular spelling. A few weeks ago, I received such a text in Judeo-Arabic. It deals with magic and is written in a completely free form. Nothing in it is consistent: The spelling is sometimes vocalized, sometimes unvocalized. A word that’s repeated several times is spelled differently each time. It’s awful writing, but marvelous from our perspective, because it provides information about the form of speech.” 

 A letter written by Maimonides in Judeo-Arabic

SR:Apart from the mixture of registers – literary and spoken Arabic – Judeo-Arabic is also obviously influenced by the Hebrew to which Jews were exposed through the Scriptures. Are there words in Judeo-Arabic that were absorbed from Hebrew? Are there hybrid expressions, like those used by Palestinian Arabs, who say, for example, “khiar hamutz,” combining an Arabic word and a Hebrew word to produce “pickle.”
“The more religious the texts, the more Hebrew words they contain. Hebrew words that entered Judeo-Arabic include, for example, galut [exile], hayei sha’ah [living for the moment] and kame’ah [amulet].” 

SR:If one were to read to an Arab in the Middle Ages a text written in Judeo-Arabic, would he understand?
“Definitely, unless there were religious terms, which he would of course not understand. For example, if ‘The Guide for the Perplexed’ had been read to him, he would have understood it in part.” 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Of Claudia Cardinale and waning diversity

Excellent must-read by Alberto M Fernandez, a member of the board of MEMRI. Fernandez points out that the greatest cost of waning Middle Eastern diversity is to the very countries who expelled their minorities. (With thanks: Lily)

The procession  of the Madonna of Trapani through the Tunisian resort of La Goulette was revived in 2017. It was  the first since 1960.

A friend reminded me during a recent visit to Tunis that it was the birthplace of both the famed historian Ibn Khaldoun and the popular Italian actress Claudia Cardinale. The 80-year-old Cardinale still has fond memories of Tunisia and made her feature film debut in a French-Tunisian co-production of Goha (1958) starting Omar Sharif as the eponymous Middle Eastern folk hero.[1]
The Italian community of Tunisia she belonged to had roots going back hundreds of years and Tunis provided refuge in the 16th century to Jews from the Italian city of Livorno, Sephardic Jews from Italy who had, in turn, been expelled from Christian Spain. Cardinale's ancestors came later, poor Sicilian Catholic migrants to the French Protectorate of Tunisia arriving in the 19th century by the tens of thousands. Many worked in ports and in fishing. The seaside town of La Goulette (Halk Al-Oued) which had its picturesque "Little Sicily" Quarter, was a famed center for this migration. A 1959 French newsreel on the Feast Day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 8) in La Goulette showed a lively community with a public procession of the Madonna of Trapani featuring thousands of participants.

A few years later that entire community was gone. The Virgin of Trapani would not be carried in public ceremony again in La Goulette until 2017 when a much smaller and largely Sub-Saharan African crowd of devotees would do so in a much more modest ceremony. Tunisia's Italian minority was driven out by state action spurred by a May 1964 nationalization law that targeted European-owned farmland and other properties. In recognition of the end of a once vibrant community, the Vatican reached an accord in July 1964 with the Tunisian government handing over 107 now redundant churches, some of which are still being used as schools or sports clubs or police stations or have fallen into ruin.

As befits a country known for its relative tolerance, the end of the historic Italian community in Tunisia was not violent. Roughly contemporary with its disappearance was the rapid decline of Tunisia's Jewish community, which fled to Israel or Western Europe as part of a cruel process of "decolonization" and nationalism well described by the great Tunisian Jewish intellectual Albert Memmi. A person who considered himself a Tunisian "Arab Jew," who was strongly in favor of the "oppressed," found that he had no place in a nationalist Arab Muslim state or society which was free of outside control but anything but tolerant or liberal .

 What happened in Tunisia happened in the Republic of Turkey, in Nasser's Egypt, and in Hashemite Iraq as ancient non-Muslim communities were driven out in the 20th century. The 1955 Istanbul riots organized by Turkish officials targeted, of course, a native Greek community long established before the first Turk arrived in Anatolia. The 1961 and 1963 nationalizations by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser drove out a Greek community with roots in antiquity. The 1941 pogrom or Farhud of Iraqi Jews in Baghdad focused on another community with roots dating to Ezra and Nehemiah and the Babylonian captivity. Of course, the cases are different. In Egypt and Tunisia, economic and political pressure forced out communities of long-resident foreigners. In Iraq and Turkey, state-organized violence targeted local citizens belonging to religious minorities. But in all these circumstances, it was modernizing nationalist or secular regimes that aggressively drove out these minorities, not Islamists.

Whether done in the name of Turkification or Arab Nationalism or Cyprus or Palestine, local innocent people had to be made to pay for the supposed political transgressions of others elsewhere or for the mere fact of being the wrong type of person in the wrong place and time. These early rounds of ethnic cleansing preceded most of the wars and revolutions that would wrack the Middle East and North Africa, and preceded the rise of political Islam that would target still other religious and ethnic minorities in the region. Whatever the tragedy of destroyed communities, abandoned structures, and uprooted families, the greatest cost was, in my view, to the countries doing the uprooting themselves. They became duller, more monochrome and insular.

These emigres and refugees enriched Europe, America, and the nascent state of Israel. They probably avoided worse horrors if they had stayed where they were in the lands that would see decades of turbulence. What the nationalists destroyed in that frenzied period from the 1940s to the 1960s was an older, Arab, Turkish, and Islamic tradition of cosmopolitan life which, while not to be romanticized, brought great vitality to these crossroads, to the Mediterranean, to Anatolia, and to Mesopotamia. Jews had once found refuge in the Muslim East from intolerant Europe.

The Ottoman Sultans had brought minorities from throughout the empire and settled them in Istanbul to enrich their new capital. While Greeks had an ancient history in Egypt, it was Muhammad Ali Pasha in the 19th century who facilitated their flourishing. In Tunis, it was the Bey Al-Hussein II who in 1830 granted the Catholic Church land to build and hold in perpetuity the Cathedral of Saint Louis of Carthage (now a music hall).These nationalist regimes would eventually falter and various strands of intolerant political Islam would, if not always rule, strongly influence public opinion with xenophobia replaced by religious bigotry.

That same hatred would, in the absence of these departed communities, always find new targets for this ceaseless purifying war against cosmopolitan diversity: secular or liberal Muslims, freethinkers, homosexuals, Turkish Kurds, Copts, and Yazidis.

Read article in full

Monday, October 22, 2018

The US refugee aid bill that disappeared from history

While researching the establishment of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee under the auspices of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, Kobby Barda found his way to the personal archive of one Isaiah Leo "Si" Kenen, a Canadian-born lawyer, journalist and philanthropist who was one of the founders of the pro-Israel lobby. Barda discovered a lost chapter in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 'Marshall plan for refugees of the early 1950s' has already featured in the work of Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, but this article by Eldad Beck in Israel Hayom is the first to reveal the politics of the time. (with thanks: Lily)

At the start of the 1950s, in addition to pouring money into the Marshall Plan to rehabilitate Europe after World War II, the U.S. decided to provide money to Arab states and Israel so they could find a solution to the refugee problem created by the 1948 War of Independence. The American aid earmarked to solve the issue of Middle East refugees was supposed to have been split evenly between Israel and the Arab states, with each side receiving $50 million to build infrastructure to absorb refugees. The money to take in the Arab refugees was handed over to the U.N. agency founded to address the issue of Palestinian refugees, and the Americans gave Arab countries another $53 million for "technical cooperation." In effect, the Arab side received double the money given to Israel, even though Israel took in more refugees, including ones from Arab nations – Jews who had been displaced by the regional upheavals. The amount Congress allocated to provide for Middle East refugees – Jewish and Arab – at the request of then-President Harry Truman was equal to $1.5 billion today.

Kobby Barda: 'in complete shock'

"When I saw the documents, I was in complete shock," Barda says. "The U.S. undertook to fund a solution to the refugee problem in the Middle East. A message Harry S. Truman sent Congress explicitly says that this is where the matter ends. It was a commitment the president made in a letter to convince Congress to vote for the aid bill. In other words, an important chapter in the history of the conflict has been lost, simply swept away by history. The people who worked on it aren't alive anymore, and there's no one who will put it back on the table. Now, when the Trump Administration is coming up with new ideas to solve the conflict and address the refugee issue, the information takes on new relevance.

 In hindsight, the Americans have already paid to have the Palestinian refugees accommodated, but they are still defined as refugees and still living in refugee camps. Israel, on the other hand, has taken in [Jewish] refugees from Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, given them citizenship, and ended the matter. In Jordan, where most of the Palestinian refugees wound up and which signed the aid deal with the U.S. – unlike Syria, which refused – there are still Palestinian refugee camps. This is the asymmetry that has been created in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it's very important to the historical narrative and to any future attempt to reach an agreement," Barda explains.

 The decision to send aid to the Middle East to solve the double refugee problem was the result of an Israeli initiative. The young Jewish state urgently needed foreign aid to confront the many challenges it was facing. One option was to appeal to the U.S., both because of its size and because of the influence of the American Jewish community. To promote the idea, Israel asked to establish a pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Abba Eban suggested that Kenen – who served as spokesman for the Israeli delegation – to travel to Washington and work with the American authorities. The need for a congressional lobby was born out of the Israeli embassy's failed efforts to convince the State Department to provide Israel with a grant, despite the support of President Truman.

Truman tried to convince his cabinet that American foreign aid laws allowed him to move up to 10% of all foreign aid grants, meaning that the money for the Middle East would be taken out of the Marshall Plan for Europe. But then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson was a vigorous opponent of the idea of the U.S. sending aid to Israel. Thus it was decided to hand the decision over to Congress, even though there were still obstacles to its passage. Eban wanted Congress to pass an aid law specifically for Israel. Kenen, as head of the new pro-Israel lobby, thought that the best way to secure aid for Israel would be by expanding the Marshall Plan to the Middle East and make it part of the humanitarian framework to address the post-war refugee problem as a whole.  

Abba Eban wanted his law to be included in the refugee aid bill. Kenen and others, including some in Congress, told him, 'With all due respect, you're wrong.' The bills presented to Congress in 1951 included a bill to send Israel aid to take in refugees. It was the first and last time that any mechanism was established for the Jewish refugees," Barda says."To avoid creating the impression that [the U.S.] was trying to provide aid to Israel alone, Kenen said, 'Let's attach it to the Marshall Plan, include the Arab countries, and break down the opposition in the State Department.' 

The U.S. State Department has objected to the establishment of Israel as well as to giving it any money. In the end, the aid bill passed, because they managed to convince the same government operatives that the lion's share of the aid was going to Arab states. Israel was only mentioned in passing, in half a sentence. Congressman Abraham Ribicoff Connecticut [who would later become a cabinet secretary under President John F. Kennedy] even argued that it was a terrible mistake to put Israel's name in the bill. The idea was to soften the State Department objection through simultaneously sending aid to Arab countries, and it became the historic basis of that same deal," Barda says. 

In May 1952, Truman sent a message to Congress explaining the importance of passing a law for international aid and laying out his vision for the Middle East. Truman said that Israel and the Arab countries needed a regional approach to basic problems of economic development, which he called "vital" to easing existing tensions that were mainly the result of a satisfactory solution to the refugee problem. 

Truman said that the aid he was proposing for Arab nations would allow them to produce more food and develop their water infrastructures, whereas the aid to Israel would help the young state sustain its economy in a crucial time of national development. Moreover, the president argued, aiding Arab refugees from Israel would serve three purposes: It would help their new home countries; strengthen the countries where they settled; and help Israel and the Arab countries by eliminating the refugee problem, which he said presented a "serious threat" to peace in the region. Barda sees this as an enormous miss for Israeli foreign policy and public diplomacy. 

"This information completely changes the perspective on the matter of [the Palestinians'] right of return. There are two nascent sides, both of whom a rich uncle agreed to pay so they could solve their problems about the refugees once and for all, just like what happened in the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey after World War I, and in the spirit of the action taken to rehome the German refugees in central and eastern Europe, who after World War II were returned to Germany, partly through the Marshall Plan. Both sides received hefty sums of money and were told: take compensation and let's move on," Barda says. 

"Israel took in refugees from Arab countries and didn't perpetuate their status by giving them any different status [here]. Arab counties didn't do that – even though it was clear that the Americans had given them the money so they could feed the refugees, develop agriculture, provide housing and employment for them – in addition to the aid that was transferred directly to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. 

"If today [U.S. President] Donald Trump really wants to make a move toward creating a mechanism of compensation for the refugees, particularly with Jordan, where most of them live, he can take into account that any additional compensation will in effect be superfluous. This story could be a very powerful card to play, as Jordan and other countries have already received money to take in refugees," Barda says. 

The documents Barda found in Kenen's archive show that just before the aid plan was passed, another obstacle popped up. A congressman from South Carolina put together a coalition to block any aid to Israel. Returning from a tour of Jericho, Gaza and Jerusalem, where he witnessed the distress of the Palestinian refugees, he decided that there was no reason to send American aid to Israel. Nevertheless, his gambit failed, and the bill passed in the House of Representatives in a vote of 146:65. 

The decision to bundle American aid to Israel in with aid to Arab states turned out to be the right one. The aid bill passed in the Senate, as well, and became law. Only a few days before the law passed, Deputy Secretary of State George McGhee addressed the Senate and told legislators that the regional economic plan included three parts: direct aid to Arab countries, direct aid to Israel, and helping the U.N. coordinate refugees from Arab countries.

 "The American aid plan rebalances the historical narrative. The U.S. undertook to pay both sides to put an end to the refugee issue. Israel also played a part in the equation. There was drama the entire time it took to get the aid approved, which was the first U.S. foreign aid to Israel. They were always trying to cut down the amount. This story doesn't exist in history books. In contemporary journalism, it is mentioned offhand. Kenen's archive opened my eyes and let me see the full picture and understand what happened and why it provides us with a lot of armor," Barda says.

Read article in full

Sunday, October 21, 2018

For Chloe, there was more to life than lunch

This clip is from the World Jewish Congress, and illustrates the rich and varied contribution made by the Jews of Egypt in all walks of life. Here's the Beit Hatefutsot entry about Gaby Aghion, founder of the Chloe fashion brand: 

Jewish success in the fashion industry is well documented – from generations of textile traders to modern day fashion icons like Donna Karran, Ralph Lauren and Isaac Mizrahi. But the story of Gabrielle Hanoka is somewhat different: The Parisian fashion legend out of Jewish Egypt.

She was born in Alexandria and commerce was never foreign to her, as her father managed a tobacco factory. Like many young girls of the local elite she received a French-style education. She first visited Paris as a student at the age of 18, the year before her marriage to Raymond Aghion. Aghion was a man with family wealth but leftwing political convictions. The couple moved to Paris in 1945.

 Gaby and Raymond Aghion in Cairo (photo: Chloe Archive)

The move made sense in retrospect. The Israeli-Egyptian conflict soon made Jewish life in Egypt uncomfortable. In Paris the Aghions gravitated toward Communism – but of the bohemian style. They knew writers such as Louis Aragon and Tristan Tzara, the legendary painter Picasso, poets Paul Éluard and poet-writer Lawrence Durrell. Raymond later opened a modern art gallery.

Despite her comfortable lifestyle, Gabrielle strove for more. In 1952 she allegedly told her husband “I’ve got to work … it’s not enough to eat lunch,” and fashion was the obvious choice.

She had had six sample summer plain high-quality cotton dresses sewn in  her Paris apartment. Rather than labelling them under her own name she chose the brand name Chloé, after a friend.

Casually styled to be easily altered to fit, the dresses were a great success. She would soon team with a business partner, Jacques Lenoir, and the business never looked back. Their twice a year prêt-à-porter (Ready-To-Wear) collection paraded over breakfast in the Café de Flore on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, first launched in 1956, became a highlight of the Parisian fashion calendar.

“Everything was yet to be invented, and this thrilled me”, she once said and as brand Chloé had unique vision, much in line with her socialist inclination, she would bring quality fashion to the masses. Her vision was astute: soon the ready-to-wear industry would comprehensively outgrow the ready-to-measure products of the elite.

She had a unique eye for talent. In 1966 she made Karl Lagerfeld her main designer and soon the company’s illustrious customers included Jackie Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot, Maria Callas and Grace Kelly, and in 1971 the company launched its first Parisian boutique.

Gabrielle sold her share in the company in 1985, but remained closely involved in the industry until her death in 2014, at the age of 93.

Friday, October 19, 2018

'Uprooted' : corrective to one-sided discourse

 'Uprooted' by Lyn Julius is a welcome corrective to the one-sidedness prevalent in public discourse regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, writes Brandon Marlon in his Jerusalem Report review:

The British-born daughter of Mizrahi Jewish refugees from Iraq, Julius (co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the United Kingdom) compiles a series of historical essays highlighting the plight of the lumpen and often forgotten Jewish communities throughout the Arab world that, after many centuries of existence, met their fateful and sudden demise variously between 1950-1980. While in 1945 as many as 856,000 Jews dwelled in the Middle East and North Africa, today approximately 4,500 remain – an unprecedented international dislocation of Jews.

Moroccan immigrant family, 1949

The author depicts two competing historical narratives concerning Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry: the mythic Convivencia (mutual toleration during the Golden Age), and the lachrymose conception of Jewish-Muslim history, which sadly but evidently is the more accurate of the two. She makes clear that only those who downplay the ubiquitous dhimmitude and Muslim antisemitism can avoid the dolorous facts, from the massacred Jewish community of Khaybar in Arabia under Muhammad to the collaboration of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini with Nazi Germany, to the vicious Farhud of 1941 in Iraq (in which 179 Jews were brutally murdered) and subsequent mass expulsions wherein “the Jews were faced with a stark choice: suitcase or coffin.”

The culminating period of woes following the advent of the State of Israel, termed the “Jewish Nakba,” is portrayed as a shortsighted and wholly avoidable upheaval: “Two victim populations arose out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Arab leadership bears responsibility for needlessly causing both Nakbas – the Jewish and the Arab.”

Moreover, the number of Jewish refugees fleeing 10 Arab countries exceeded that of Palestinian Arab refugees fleeing what is now Israel by more than 100,000: “Their displacement was on a larger scale than that of the Palestinians, and their material losses were greater. Whereas Arab refugees fled a war which Arab leaders had instigated, the Jews were victims of unpredictable violence and a deliberate legislative policy scapegoating them for being Jews.”

Julius decries the West’s lack of awareness of and attention to the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, ascribing the dearth to a warped schema: “In the fashionable ‘hierarchy of oppression’ of marginalised groups, Jews rank well down the list. They are seen to enjoy power, despite their history as a vulnerable minority, and ‘white privilege,’ despite their ethnic origins in the Middle East.” She likewise laments how, even in Israel, the suffering of Mizrahi Jewry has not received its rightful place in the political context: “The peace agenda is seriously skewed when a trauma afflicting more than half the Israeli population – those who descend from refugees from Arab and Muslim countries – has been airbrushed out of dialogue and coexistence projects.”

Well-researched and accessible, “Uprooted” is a modern and welcome corrective to the one-sidedness frequently prevalent in public discourse regarding the Arab-Jewish conflict. Julius rightly calls attention to salient points elided by purblind post-colonialists insensible of the reality “that Arab and Muslim rule is a colonialism that predates Western European colonialism.” She holds to account countries bereft of their Jews who, nonetheless, promote phantom communities for tourism’s sake, “without the inconvenience of live Jews.” As a text, “Uprooted” joins important predecessors including Norman Stillman’s “The Jews of Arab Lands” (1979), Joan Peters’ “From Time Immemorial” (1984), and Martin Gilbert’s “In Ishmael’s House” (2010), and as a historical narrative complements the documentaries “The Forgotten Refugees” (2005, director Michael Grynszpan) and “The Silent Exodus” (2009, director Pierre Rehov).

While some readers may understandably prefer a single, linear narrative as opposed to the book’s serialized articles, “Uprooted” will especially suit piecemeal perusers. The book is generous with photographs of the people, holy sites, historical documents, and lively culture of the now-defunct Jewish communities across the Arab lands and includes numerous appendices, a bibliography, and an index.

Read article in full

More reviews of UPROOTED

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Trigano's 'End of Jewry' published in Hebrew

Professor Shmuel Trigano's important work 'La fin du Judaisme en terres d'Islam'   has been translated into Hebrew and  published by Carmel in cooperation with Dialogia.

A graduate of the Hebrew University, Shmuel Trigano is emeritus professor of the University of Paris and the author of 25 books on philosophy, history, sociology - mostly of Jewish interest.

The French original, published in  Paris in 2009 by Denoël, featured chapters edited by Professor Trigano and written  by  Ruth Attias Toledano, Richard Ayun, Rifat Bali, Yigal Ben-Nun, Levana Zamir, Jacques Taieb, Shmuel Trigano, Yaron Harel, Esther Meir Glizenstein, Maurice Roumani and Orly Rahimian.

Front cover of the Hebrew version

 Between 1940 and 1970, after the destruction of European Jewry, an event was ignored. The Jewish communities of the Arab-Muslim world have disappeared almost completely. About one million Jews were forced to leave their countries. Some 600, 000  found shelter in Israel, where they constituted the majority of the population. Without them, Israel would not have survived.

Nevertheless, The history of their aliyah concealed the other side of that history: the side of the expulsion, of exclusion, of  oppression, of discrimination for nationalist and Islamic motives. Colonial rule freed the dhimmi, the other Muslims from the state of humiliation they were in. But once the colonialists had gone, the Jews were again destined to be second-class subjects. Crucial proof of this is the hostility of the Arab-Muslim world that persecuted them. As Israelis in the State of Israel,  they became free citizens. Why and how was this history repressed, first and foremost by the Israelis, and even by some of the Sephardim themselves? Worse still, why was it ignored by academia and political elites?

This is the best-kept secret of the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its ramifications for Israel's image in international policy are particularly damaging. It paves the way  to an ideological war waged by the Palestinians against the State of Israel. More deeply, it forbids the Sephardim from putting their trauma into words and prevents them from revealing their own history.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Yemen Houthis are still cursing the Jews

 There are barely 50 Jews left in Yemen, yet the Iranian-backed Houthis who control much of the country still incorporate a curse on the Jews in their slogans. Report in the Jerusalem Post:

“Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam,” is the slogan printed on small cards handed out at Sana’a University in Yemen. Nadwa Dawsari, a specialist on conflict and tribes in Yemen, posted a photo of a laminated “student and staff ID” on October 9 on Twitter.

The slogan has been used for years according to Dave McAvoy, a security and risk analyst who tracks developments in the region.

“It’s an integral part of their propaganda and chanting. It’s the Houthi slogan,” says McAvoy. 

Houthi flag: "God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam."

The Houthis are a Yemeni rebel group that conquered Sana’a and almost took control of Aden in 2015, threatening the country’s most important cities. A Saudi Arabia-led alliance has been fighting the rebels since then. The Houthis are backed by Iran and have fired ballistic missiles at Riyadh. In recent years they have increasingly incorporated anti-Israel rhetoric into their speeches, as part of the growing network of Iranian-backed groups in the region, such as Hezbollah, that is obsessed with fighting Israel.

The Houthis have incorporated the antisemitic “curse the Jews” slogan into their chants as well.

“They chant it at their marches. They shout it in their combat videos and they hold signs which read it,” says McAvoy.

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

New film explores Shalom Shabazi, poet and legend

 Mystery surrounds Shalom Shabazi, Yemenite Jewry's most famous rabbi and poet. An orphan born into poverty in the 17th century, Shabazi has been elevated into a symbol and saint. A new film tries to do justice to different interpretations of his life and character. David Guedj writes in Haaretz :
Young Yemenite, early 20th century (photo:  Ephraim Moshe Lillen)

Despite his financial plight, Shabazi acquired a very broad religious education, one that encompassed the entire universe of Jewish tradition. He achieved extraordinary fluency in the three languages that are the pillars of Jewish wisdom – Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic – as well as classical Arabic. Hence the intercultural mosaic that underlies his writings.

A poetic spirit impelled Sharazi from youth. Even though he was immersed in the study of Judaism in all its facets, poetry was the core of his spiritual activity, and the medium in which he was most prolifically creative. His 850 poems (written in both Hebrew and in Arabic translated to Hebrew) will be published next year in an academic edition, under the aegis of Professor (Yosef) Tobi. 

The manifold narratives of Shabazi’s life are reflected in the remarks of the film’s interviewees. Shaer Meoded has chosen not to set forth one single story; there are as many versions as there are speakers. Judaic studies scholar Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman, for example, relates that Shabazi had three children, whereas poet Tuvia Sulami refers to four. The latter adds that Shabazi’s father died of natural causes, but Lea Avraham, a singer and former member of the Inbal dance troupe, describes the father was tortured to death in the presence of his young son. The diversity of biographical information stems from the fact that there are almost no surviving contemporaneous, written testimonies about Shabazi. The meager information we have derives from popular traditions handed down from one generation to the next and from biographical tidbits interspersed in his poetry. 

The multiplicity of voices expressed by the interviewees is reflected in a particularly meaningful way thanks to the various interpretations the director offers for the poems. Thus, for example, “Ayelet Chen” (Graceful Gazelle) can be read as a work about love between a man and a woman, according to the bold exegesis of Lea Avraham, literary scholar Galili Shahar, and writer and poet Almog Behar. Alternately, it can be seen as a poem of longing for the Shekhinah – the “divine presence,” according to Jewish mystical tradition – and for the Holy Land, according to the conservative interpretation of Yehuda Amir, an expert in Yemenite poetry, and Uri Melamed, a scholar of modern Hebrew. The film itself shows no preference for either possibility. On the contrary: It creates tension and interest precisely through the debate among speakers characterized by different religious beliefs, age, gender and academic expertise. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Yemenite builder's son with a PhD

 Sarah Ansbacher runs the Aden Jewish heritage museum in Tel Aviv. Sometimes the visitors to the museum she meets have such interesting stories to tell, they deserve to be shared with a wider audience. Thanks to Sarah for giving us permission to post this one: 

Sometimes the most ordinary-looking people are anything but. So it was with an older gentleman in his eighties I met on Friday with an inspiring story about success against all odds. (Grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea - this is a good one.)

‘Ah, Adenim!’ he said when he entered, ‘We always used to be against them.’ There was a twinkle in his eye and his smile was good-natured. It was obvious he wasn’t being serious. ‘Why is that?’ I asked.

‘I’m Temani. We were in school together. There was always this rivalry. They’d say, “You Temanim!” we’d say, “You Adenim!”’

‘But why?’
A street in Keren Hateimanim, Tel Aviv

He gave an amused shrug. ‘I don’t know… we were children.’ He told me he needed to sit down, he'd just returned from shopping in Shuk Carmel (the market) and was a bit tired. Since it was quiet I joined him on the bench and by then, it had somehow been established I was originally from London. He switched to near-flawless English with a slight accent. Perhaps I should have been surprised, but it didn’t occur to me yet. And then, he told me his extraordinary story.

He was born to Temani parents in Kerem Hateimanim, a neighbourhood in Tel Aviv close by, next to Shuk Carmel. His great-grandparents had come here from Yemen in the 1880s and settled in Kfar Shiloach, a village in Jerusalem just outside the Old City walls, also known as Silwan. His father didn’t speak much Hebrew back then. Amongst themselves, they spoke Arabic. He was also fluent in Yiddish and Ladino to converse with the Ashkenazim and Sefardim. Nearly destitute, his parents moved to Tel Aviv shortly before he was born as his father had found work there as a builder.

Kerem Hateimanim, the neighbourhood they moved to, was the poorest in Tel Aviv and made up predominantly of Yemenite families. There was no paving between their hovels, only sand.

Growing up in the thirties, there was a friendly rivalry between the Temanim and Adenim, who lived in Mahane Yosef (the adjoining neighbourhood - where the museum is situated). Between the two neighbourhoods, besides the sea and stretching to Yaffo was an Arab neighbourhood. It looked much like Kerem Hateimanim, with low homes and sandy streets. In fact, the landlord of his parents' home at the time was Arab. The children of these three neighbourhoods would play together in the streets. And apart from the usual childhood arguments, they all got along.

The school he went to was in Kalisher Street, not far from his home. It was a Talmud Torah and all the boys were Temani or Adeni. In those days there was segregation - the boys weren’t admitted to any of the Ashkenazi schools. The school went up to kita chet (last year of primary school). He told me of all the boys he knew during the time he was there, in the entire school, not a single one went on to high school. Some didn’t even finish up to kita chet. They’d go into manual jobs. Working in a garage or as builders etc. They were given the most menial jobs. He gave me the example of a rabbi from Yemen who, having recently arrived and needing to support his family, would be forced to take a job sweeping the streets to survive.

On 29 November 1947, after the UN vote, everything changed. From north to south the Arabs began to riot and murder Jews. From the minaret of the Hassan Bek mosque (which still stands across the road from the David Intercontinental Hotel) snipers were posted who would fire into Kerem Hateimanim. They killed several people in the streets in this way, who were just going about their business. He remembers how they would often have drills in the school to teach them how to take cover from the snipers who regularly took aim at the windows of their school and homes. He told me that if you were in the street and heard a bullet whistle past; you ran as fast as you can because that meant you had a few seconds to take cover before he reloaded.

After several months of this, his mother being terrified for the family, took him and his siblings somewhere else for refuge. For a while, they lived in the back of a cafe on Allenby Street, while his father remained in the home to make sure no one stole it. There were many other families in the same situation. They were known as the Yaffo (Jaffa) refugees and the government eventually settled them in another area.

In this new area, there was an opportunity to go to a different school. But he was religious and felt out of place, so returned to his old school, cycling on his bike several miles every day there and back. Like all the other boys, he finished school at around thirteen years old and then went to work with his father employed as a builder.

His best friend from school, who was Adeni, also started off in manual labour. But he eventually opened his own business and became a self-made millionaire and helped others in the community by employing them.

As for him, the question suddenly occurred to me about his excellent command of language and I asked him where he had learnt such good English - in school? He laughed. ‘No! not in that school,’ and then almost matter-of-fact he said: ‘I learnt it when I went to University in England to do my PhD.’

I was astonished! ‘What?’ I asked, ‘How did you manage that?’

And then this unassuming man explained how his employer was very unkind and didn’t treat his father, who was older, with respect. He decided to leave and swore he’d never be employed by someone as a manual worker again. He was just fifteen when he set up on his own renovating houses and at the same time, he decided he wanted to go back to study for his bagrut (high school diploma). He went to evening college to study for his exams - the only one in his class who was a builder. During the day he would spend two weeks out of every month studying in the library and work for two weeks as a builder to help support himself and parents. He got his bagrut at 18 and after mandatory army service (where he was promoted to officer) he studied for a law degree. He moved to England for a few years to do his PhD where he also met his wife and then returned to Israel.

Having told me his story, he decided he had to continue on preparing for Shabbat. He wished me a warm Shabbat Shalom and went on his way. And I was left in awe over this amazing man, thinking about him and his incredible story for much of the day.

Guardians of the memory of Jewish Aden

Sunday, October 14, 2018

When Iraq considered dumping 50,000 Jews in Kuwait

The Iraqi government floated a scheme to deport 50,000 Jews to Kuwait in 1951, according to documents in the UK National Archives. Lyn Julius uncovers this little-known episode in The Times of Israel:

A law passed in March 1950 permitted legal emigration, on condition that the Jews, who were being harassed and persecuted, forfeited their nationality. Those Jews who wanted to leave were stranded in Iraq while waiting to be airlifted to Israel. By mid-November 1950, 83,000 Jews were thought to have been deprived of their nationality and were ready to depart, but only 18,000 had left the country. Israel had been airlifting about 4,000 a month via Cyprus, as the Iraqi government would not allow direct flights: the stopover made the operation slow and cumbersome. Israel made things worse when it halved he quota in November 1950 to give priority to Jews from Rumania and Poland, thought to be under greater threat.

In Iraq the waiting Jews had been stripped of their rights and many had no means of support. This made them vulnerable to expulsion by the Iraqi government.
Iraq feared that they would be a danger if it took months, even years, for the Jews to be airlifted to Israel. The government predicted a repeat of the 1941 Farhud pogrom. A confidential memo from the British embassy in Baghdad to the Foreign Office relayed Iraq’s anxiety.

It was the bombing of the Massouda Shemtob synagogue on 14 th January 1951, with the loss of three lives, that lent even greater urgency to the matter. The incident dramatised the plight of the Iraqi Jews. The British embassy sent its memo on 5th February 1951.

Iraq was considering transporting these Jews anywhere outside Iraq – such as Jordan, Syria or Kuwait and sought great power support for its plan. ‘Unless a solution were found the Iraqi government would be compelled to drive them over the frontier to Kuwait or elsewhere,’ the British embassy in Baghdad reported to London.

The Iraqi plan to dump  Jews in Kuwait ‘would create the utmost difficulty, politically and otherwise’, the British warned in a confidential memo.

Jordan refused to allow convoys of Jews to be dumped at the frontier with Israel in spite of a promised Iraqi military escort. The Jordanian option was quickly quashed – the regime feared that the Palestinian refugees would witness the Jews passing through. It would be strange indeed if Iraqi Arabs and Palestinian Arabs clashed over the security of Iraqi Jews.

Less well known is the Kuwaiti option. This too was a non-starter. Northern Kuwait did not have the water or resources to accommodate the Jews. The Iraqis talked of locking the Jews up in detention camps.

The British ambassador told the Iraqis that the UK could accept no responsibility for the Jews. Its interest was purely humanitarian. The only solution was for Israel to increase its monthly quota for Iraqi Jews. In any case the UK had not been consulted about the law stripping Jews of their citizenship. The US refused to cooperate.

The bombing of the synagogue, which was used as a registration centre for departing Jews,  galvanised the Israeli government into drastically stepping up the numbers of Jews to be transported to Israel before the law allowing legal emigration expired in March 1951. Yet Israel had neither the money, food nor housing to cope with them. In spite of all its threats, the Iraqi government still managed to hold up the airlift by dragging its feet on issuing the refugees’ paperwork.

The airlift was completed in May 1951. By then, 90 percent of Iraq’s 150,000-member Jewish community had left for Israel.

Read blog in full