Thursday, January 31, 2019

Beach Video: Amnesty's 'ethnic cleansing' hypocrisy

This video is Hen Mazzig's response to Amnesty International's latest campaign to discourage tourists from visiting Israeli historic and religious sites in protest against Palestinian 'human rights violations'.

Hen Mazzig is a young Israeli activist and writer. Mazzig's family was driven out of Iraq and Tunisia. The self-righteous human rights community raises  not a whimper when tourists visit Arab countries guilty of ethnically cleansing their Jews or abusing  gays and others.

It's high time that Amnesty was reminded of its double standard. There's another word for it:  antisemitism.

Reaction to Gamliel's $250 billion compensation claim

Earlier this month, the sensationalist claim by Gila Gamliel (pictured), Israel's minister for Social Equality, that Israel will be seeking $250 billion in compensation for property and assets lost by Jews driven from eight Arab countries, caused a flurry of interest in the Israeli and western media. (Note: It is not known how Gamliel arrived at this figure, nor why she left out Lebanon and Algeria from her list of countries who owe Jews compensation). Point of No Return has been looking at international reaction to the story.

Middle East Monitor quoted Al-Wattan Voice as its  source:

"The prospective American peace deal, dubbed as the “deal of the century”, is to include that $250 billion be paid by Arab states in compensation for Jewish property left behind after the creation of Israel, Al-Wattan Voice said yesterday.
Reporting Israeli media, the news site said that the occupation government had valued Jewish property in the Arab states of Libya and Tunis to be worth $50 billion, while Jewish property in the entire region to be $250 billion.
According to Al-Wattan Voice, talling the cost of losses began one and half a years ago secretly in Morocco, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, in addition to Iran."

 The Russian TV channel RT balanced Jewish with Palestinian claims:

 "Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has also sought $100 billion in compensation from Israel for assets left by Arabs forced to leave the lands controlled by Israel today. Palestinians have also sought a “right of return” for the surviving refugees and their descendants — a demand that has repeatedly been dismissed by Israel. The Trump administration also seems to have taken Israel’s side on that issue, halting funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) last year."

The most  trenchant reaction came from Ramzy Baroud writing in Arab News. In an article titled The moral travesty of Israel seeking Arab, Iranian compensation, Baroud denied the Jewish exodus altogether:

"Contrary to what Israeli historians want us to believe, there was no mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran, but rather a massive campaign orchestrated by Zionist leaders of the time to replace the Palestine Arab population with Jewish immigrants from all over the world.
To hold Arabs and Iran responsible for this bizarre and irresponsible behavior is a transgression on the true story, in which neither Gamliel nor her ministry are interested."

The same article by Baroud turned up on Arab Media Internet Network 
 as well as at the Palestine Chronicle, The Jordan Times at Five Pillars and at the leftist Counterpunch.

The Jewish refugee question must have been giving  Baroud sleepless nights because here is his article again on 30 January in a slightly re-worked version in Gulf News.

 While Africa News  and Morocco World News published the news report without editorialising, Yabiladi ('Israel demands billions from Morocco') was concerned that Morocco was implicated 'in violent riots that swept the region following the establishment of the state of Israel'. It was keen to provide an explanation for the rioters' anger:

For the record, 2,000 Moroccan Jews fled the Kingdom in 1948, crossing into Algeria after a series of riots took place in the cities of Jerada and Oujda.
On the 7th and 8th of June 1948, an outraged group of people in Jerada and Oujda surrounded the Jewish population of the two cities killing 42 individuals and injuring 29 others. 5 Moroccan Jews were savagely murdered in Oujda and 37 others were beaten to death by the population of Jerada.
The riots emerged after the residents of the two northeastern towns, were angrily influenced by the situation in the Middle East and the formation of the State of Israel.
The Jewish cemetery at Oujda, Morocco,  where dozens of Jews were buried after riots in 1948

Middle East Online published an article headed 'Arab states unlikely to pay Israel for loss of Jewish assets' (Also at Controversial Today)

LONDON - Israel is reportedly planning to seek an estimated $250 billion from Arab countries and Iran in compensation for assets left by Jews who fled their homes in Middle Eastern countries after the founding of Israel in 1948.
The request, if it’s officially made by Israel, is unlikely to receive approval from Arab countries embroiled in economic troubles or civil strife.
Compensation is to be requested from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran, said a report by private Israeli television station HaHadashot. The report added that Algeria and Lebanon, would not be asked for funds. It did not say why.
“The time has come to correct the historical injustice of the pogroms in seven Arab countries and Iran and to restore the hundreds of thousands of Jews who have lost their property to what is rightfully theirs,” Israel’s Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel told HaHadashot.
No Arab country has officially responded to the comments of the Israeli Minister for Social Equality.

For the record, 2,000 Moroccan Jews fled the Kingdom in 1948, crossing into Algeria after a series of riots took place in the cities of Jerada and Oujda.
On the 7th and 8th of June 1948, an outraged group of people in Jerada and Oujda surrounded the Jewish population of the two cities killing 42 individuals and injuring 29 others. 5 Moroccan Jews were savagely murdered in Oujda and 37 others were beaten to death by the population of Jerada.
The riots emerged after the residents of the two northeastern towns, were angrily influenced by the situation in the Middle East and the formation of the State of Israel.

...More :
For the record, 2,000 Moroccan Jews fled the Kingdom in 1948, crossing into Algeria after a series of riots took place in the cities of Jerada and Oujda.
On the 7th and 8th of June 1948, an outraged group of people in Jerada and Oujda surrounded the Jewish population of the two cities killing 42 individuals and injuring 29 others. 5 Moroccan Jews were savagely murdered in Oujda and 37 others were beaten to death by the population of Jerada.
The riots emerged after the residents of the two northeastern towns, were angrily influenced by the situation in the Middle East and the formation of the State of Israel.

...More :

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Aciman: 'Egyptians are the nicest people'

'The politics took over, but fundamentally Egyptians are the nicest people,' says Andre Aciman in this sentimental clip on the Egyptian site Elsaha. Aciman left his native Alexandria aged 14.

Speaking to Elsaha in a mixture of Arabic and English, Aciman has passed on all the words he knows, including the curses, to his children. 

The author of Out of Egypt, a childhood memoir, Aciman recalls that propaganda confused Jews and Israelis while he was growing up. Eventually he felt he did not belong in Egypt.

'Egypt is still a beautiful place, and Egyptians are the nicest people I have ever met' he says. Among his cherished memories are going to the beach on a hot day and returning to a wonderful lunch.

More about Andre Aciman

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Cairo newspaper that provoked and criticised

 Jews produced more periodicals in Egypt than any other minority. Until its demise in 1941, L'Aurore was not afraid to criticise the local Jewish leadership, nor to display its sympathies with Zionism. In December 2018, back issues of the newspaper were uploaded to the Historical Jewish Press website, which is managed and maintained by the National Library and Tel Aviv University, with assistance from the Union des Juifs d’Égypte en Israel Association, AJE in the UK and ASPCJE in France. Blogpost on The Librarians site. (Note: Editor Jacques Maleh was not a banker but a lawyer, and Leon Castro, who spearheaded the boycott against Nazism, did not use l'Aurore as a mouthpiece - the newspaper invited Castro to write for it):

A February 1933 edition of L'Aurore

One of the most important Jewish newspapers in Egypt was L’Aurore (The Dawn). Its owner and first editor was Lucien Sciuto (Thessaloniki, 1886 – Alexandria, 1947), a writer and educator, who originally founded the paper in Constantinople, Turkey. Conflicts with leaders of the local Jewish community led to its closure, and, in 1919, Sciuto immigrated to Egypt. L’Aurore was published in Cairo from 1924 to 1941.

The weekly newspaper, characterized by its Zionist and Jewish affiliation, covered many areas of interest – Religious affairs, local Jewish community leaders, relations with world Jewry including the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine and relations with the Egyptian regime. In addition, the paper published translated articles from newspapers in Mandatory Palestine and starting in 1938, it even included a page written in Italian.

L’Aurore was considered a critical and provocative newspaper. It was not afraid to criticize the heads of the local Rabbinate and Jewish community in Egypt. It was also the first Jewish Egyptian newspaper to send reporters into the field, rely on sources and carry out investigative journalism to expose the reader to deficiencies in the local Jewish leadership.

 Read article in full

Monday, January 28, 2019

Persian youth defy regime to remember Shoah

An anonymous Iranian takes part in the #WeRemember social media campaign for International Holocaust Memorial Day. (Photo: Israeli Foreign Ministry Farsi Facebook page.)

In an unexpected display of solidarity with the Jewish community, young Iranians have taken to social media to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Algemeiner reports:

Joining a popular global social media initiative, the young people photograph themselves holding signs with the hashtag #WeRemember in English and Hebrew. Some are also pictured wearing symbols of the Holocaust such as yellow stars and armbands. All of them hide their faces.

According to Israel’s Channel 2, the phenomenon first appeared last week when Sharona Avginsaz, director of digital media for the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Farsi-language service, received a message from an Iranian who had urged his friends to take part in the #WeRemember campaign.

“January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the Iranian wrote. “People from all over the world take part in it, and also we Iranian citizens want to express our solidarity and friendship with Israel’s citizens and Jews all over the world, and share our pictures with this hashtag."

Read article in full

On Shoah Memorial day, Mizrahim remember too.

The 1941 Farhud in Iraq is now recognised as a Holocaust-related event, fuelled by Nazi propaganda. At least 179 Jews were killed. Sephardi Voices UK has released these extracts from transcripts of interviews with Iraqi and Libyan Jews for Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Farhud marked the turning point in the history of the Jews in Iraq and marked the start of the Jewish exodus from the country.  

A recurrent theme throughout accounts of the Farhud is the ‘friendly neighbour’ who protected a Jewish family from the mob. Those Jewish families who lived in mixed, often slightly wealthier, neighbourhoods were more likely to have been protected.

Yehezkel Kojaman

“At that time, in 1938, there were four classes in Secondary School. They were only different in the second foreign language and most of the Jews went to the French and most of the Muslims liked German. There were almost no Jews in the German class. The boys, the Muslim boys, also went to the German Club. They got two hundred and fifty pence a month to write against Jews in the Club. They may be with my, my friend hand in hand and they write anti-Jewish things. The boys were paid two hundred and fifty pence a month and the teachers had payments according to their salaries. Two hundred and fifty at that time was enough for cigarettes, cinema and to eat many times in a restaurant. Because a meal in a restaurant was twelve pence, you can eat kebab and laban [yoghurt] and tea, and all for twelve pence. The cinema was twenty-five pence, so two hundred and fifty pence was enough. It worked very well, but we didn’t have any anti-Jewish incidents between the students. In writing things changed but our relations were like brothers.

 Heskel Kojaman
‘The Farhud was in 1941. I was a teacher at that time. When the British Army had a victory against the government, all the government ran away to Germany. The British army was supposed to cross the bridge to the main part of Baghdad on the 1st of June I think, which was a Jewish feast, Shavuot. The Jews at that time were celebrating, and some of them went to see the British army as it crossed the bridge, but the British army did not cross the bridge and of those who went to the bridge to see them, not one of them returned. So Baghdad remained without a government for forty-eight hours and during that time, some people who came from outside Baghdad came and attacked the poor area of the Jews.

I was in my brother’s house during the feast and I had to go back home. My brother advised me not to go on the new street, but to go by the old streets. All those who went back from the new street were killed. They used to stop all the busses and see who is a Jew and they kill him. I and my relative went by foot on the old streets and we arrived home safely. Our family was in an area where these people did not arrive. They arrived very near but did not reach our house.

It was mostly people who came from all parts of the outside of Baghdad who had no work. It was mostly those people who did it. Not those who went to the German Club.”

Marcelle Shamash

“In the Farhud we were at home and some farmers were in the street and they came to our house, we were afraid to be at home. We had a neighbour, a doctor, a very well-known doctor. Actually, he was with the Germans, he liked the Germans, but as neighbours he accepted for us to stay with them. And he was a Nazi, but you know, we were neighbours for a long, long time and they knew us and everything about us, and so they accept us into their home. Believe me, I can see the lady, his wife, doing the beds for us herself.

Our house was on the corner and we had two doors, one door on one street and one door on the other street. When they came to attack us, these people, they came from one door and we went out the other door and we went to this neighbour. They went in and they took everything, all the furniture. On the other side of the house our neighbours were Jews, and they had a friend. He came to look for them because he was afraid – because everywhere the people were against the Jews. He came to the house and he saw,
‘It is getting burgled!’
So he took a gun and he shot one shot in the air and the people got scared and they threw everything on the street and ran away!

Actually, the lady who used to take care of my grandfather, to make the tea and coffee – her and her children – they were killed.”

The mob of the Farhud.
Otniel Margalit Collection, Photo Archive, Yad Ben Zvi. Accessed via

“And then the pogroms started. It was a time near Shavuot, at half past six, seven o’clock in the morning when my mother, my aunty, and the maid went to the kitchen, to prepare the breakfast. My cousins were grown-ups and they were at work. So they took the bus to go to town to work, and they looked outside and they found change, some disturbance. People were maybe dead, maybe not, on the street. So they turned back, took the bus back, and they said,
‘The city is not normal today. There is something, but we don’t know what.’
By that time, the milk woman, she used to bring the milk every morning, she came to the back door and she told my mother,
‘Let everybody stay inside today’.
We were still in our pyjamas, before breakfast, before anything. We followed her.  They used to live, they used to live at the back of the property, in mud huts, mud houses. She took us to her hut, a small room, half the size of this room, mostly bedding. By the time we closed the back door the front door was broken down and the mob came in.

We didn’t see them, luckily, we could hear the noise, the bullets. We closed the door and we sat there. She told us,
‘Nobody to speak.’
We could hear bullets, we could hear screaming. We didn’t know what was happening. Our parents didn’t even know. They said to us not to speak, with their fingers on their mouth. We stayed there from seven o’clock in the morning ‘till half past five in the evening. No food, no water, hot.

A friend of my father, who was in the army, he was a good friend and he was looking for my father. His name was Kassam. He knew about the pogrom and he was looking for my father. So, he came in this car, to look for us and what he found – the house was empty. Literally empty. Even the windows were taken out, the doors were taken out, the banisters were taken out, and there were only papers in the house, and our cat. We used to have a cat, she was meowing all the time, and there was no sign of life at all.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Islamists are torch-bearers for Nazi antisemitism

As Iran declares its impatience to wipe Israel from the earth, Holocaust Memorial Day is being marked  worldwide. But too many still do not see the continuity between antisemitic Nazism and antisemitic Islamism. Point of No Return is reposting this article by Lyn Julius in JNS News:

The West self-righteously deplores the old European anti-Semitism of the “far right.” But a new Green-Brown-Red anti-Semitism—encouraged by an alliance of the Far Left, the Greens and Islamist sympathizers—is studiously downplayed, ignored by the media, or blamed on Israel.

Truth be told, the virus of Nazi anti-Semitism was exported to the Arab and Muslim world as early as the 1930s. It gave ideological inspiration to Arab nationalist parties like the Ba’athists in Syria and Iraq and paramilitary groups like Young Egypt, founded in 1933. Anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are the central plank of the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, and their ideological cousins, Islamic State, who sought to impose Allah’s kingdom on Earth through jihad and forced conversion of non-Muslims.

The Holocaust was, in the words of author Robert Satloff, as much an Arab story as a European. In spite of efforts to trumpet the stories of individual “righteous” Muslims who rescued Jews (particularly in Albania), scholars continue to uncover evidence of Arab sympathy and collaboration with Nazism.
Said Walter Doehle, german consul in Jerusalem, wrote in 1937:

“Palestinian Arabs in all social strata have great sympathies for the new Germany and its Führer. … If a person identified himself as a German when faced with threats from an Arab crowd, this alone generally allowed him to pass freely. But when some identified themselves by making the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute, in most cases the Arabs’ attitude became expressions of open enthusiasm, and the German gave ovations, to which the Arabs responded loudly.”

When Tunisia came under direct Nazi occupation between November 1942 and May 1943, some 2,000 Jews were sent to work in labor camps. The reaction of Tunisia’s Muslim majority was, according to Satloff, “widespread indifference.” He wrote: “Gestures of support and active assistance for the minority being displaced, disenfranchised, plundered and conscripted into forced labour were very rare. Arab passers-by would publicly insult and physically attack individuals.”

Although he was not the only collaborator with Nazism—Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Rashid Ali al-Kelani, Abu Ibrahim al-Kabir, Hassan Salama and Arif Abd al-Raziq spring to mind—the role played by Palestinian leader and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini in fomenting anti-Jewish incitement and violence, not just in British Palestine but across the Arab world, is key. From 1931, he conflated “Zionists” with “Jews.” Any Jewish community became fair game for collective punishment—and still is.

The Mufti met with Hitler in Berlin in November 1941 to discuss the extermination of the Jews in the Middle East. He spent the rest of the war as a guest of the Nazis.

Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wisliceny (later executed as a war criminal) in his Nuremberg Trials testimony stated, “the Mufti was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures.”
On a visit to Auschwitz, the Mufti reportedly admonished the guards running the gas chambers to work more diligently. Throughout the war, he broadcast regularly on German radio to the Middle East, preaching his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic message to the Arab masses back home.

Had the Allies not liberated Tunisia from the Nazis, Libya from the Italian fascists, and Algeria and Morocco from the Vichy regime in 1943, it is a fair bet that the local Arab population would not have lifted a finger to halt the deportation of the Jews of Palestine and the Arab world to death camps.

Arguably, North African states—having not yet achieved independence—were not responsible for Jewish suffering: anti-Jewish measures were implemented by the Vichy regime and the Italian fascists. But the Iraqi government cannot so lightly be let off the hook. Iraq, independent since 1932, was the scene of a pro-Nazi coup in 1941, leading inexorably to the Farhud, the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht. In this two-day orgy of murder, rape, mutilation and looting, up to 600 Jews were killed, according to British archival records. The exact figure will never be known.

The Palestinian Mufti played a central role in plotting the pro-Nazi coup in Iraq.
The Mufti was personally responsible for the deaths of 20,000 European Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. He organized the killing of 12,600 Bosnian Jews by Muslims, whom he recruited to the Waffen-SS Nazi-Bosnian division. He personally stopped 4,000 children, accompanied by 500 adults, from leaving Europe and had them sent to Auschwitz and gassed; he prevented another 2,000 Jews from leaving Romania and 1,000 from leaving Hungary for Palestine—they, too, were sent to death camps.

Only three years after the end of World War ll, the members of the Arab League were bent on emulating the Nazis. They set about making the Arab Middle East Judenrein (“free of Jews”)They applied Nuremberg-style laws, criminalizing Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas, imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. The result was the mass exodus and spoliation of a million Jews. Yet very few Arabs acknowledge they are to blame for the so-called Jewish nakba (“catastrophe”). Holocaust denial goes hand in hand with Jewish nakba denial.

In 1945, the Mufti of Jerusalem should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. He was indicted, judged and convicted by Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, arising from his pivotal role in the Handschar and Skandeberg SS divisions that deported Balkan Jews from Kosovo, Macedonia and Thrace. But the Allies shrank from offending the Arabs.

Not only has the virus of Nazi anti-Semitism never left the Arab and Muslim world, it has grown exponentially. Muslim immigrants have carried the virus of Jew-hatred back into European countries. Saudi petro-dollars have financed the spread of Islamism, with its implicit anti-Semitism, worldwide.
That is why today, in the Arab and Muslim world, Holocaust denial is alive and well.

The ghost of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish bigotry was never exorcised from the Arab world. In fact, Arabs became its torch-bearers. On Jan. 14, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose university thesis was an exercise in Holocaust denial, shocked all right-thinking individuals with a speech dripping with anti-Semitism and blaming the Jews for their own deaths in the Holocaust.
Eichmann himself hoped that his “Arab friends” would continue his battle against the Jews, who were always the “principal war criminals” and “principal aggressors.” He hadn’t managed to complete his task of “total annihilation,” but the Muslims could still complete it for him.

Enough said.

Lyn Julius is the author of “Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight” (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018).

Read article in full

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Pakistan to allow Jew to visit Israel

Pakistan's only self-identifying Jew has been granted permission to visit Israel on a Pakistani passport, despite an official ban. Cynics would say that the move has to do with prime minister Imran Khan's wish to improve relations with the Americans; but for Fishel it represents success after a long campaign for recognition. Pakistan Today reports: (with thanks: Lily)

Fishel Benkhald‏, a Pakistani Jew, said on Wednesday that he has been allowed to visit Israel on his Pakistani passport by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 Fishel Benkhald: bureaucratic struggle

Taking to Twitter, Benkhald said, “Dear @ImranKhanPTI on 2-Jan Ministry of Foreign Affairs called to informing that I can visit Jerusalem Isreal on Pakistani passport. I’m applying visa from Isreali embassy. Thank u Dr Faisal @ForeignOfficePk.”

 He said he will now apply for a visa and wait for Israel’s approval. “I will be coming to Jerusalem Israel in April,” he added.

 Dubbed as “Pakistan’s last Jew,” Benkhald, a resident of the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, was originally registered as a Muslim and was named Faisal Khalid. After several months of bureaucratic struggle and paperwork, he was finally recognised by the Islamic country’s authorities as a Jew in March, 2018.

Last year, Benkhald requested the government to allow him to visit Jerusalem, Israel, on his Pakistani passport. Pakistan does not recognise Israel and, therefore, doesn’t have diplomatic relations with it.

The Foreign Office is yet to comment on the matter.

Read article in full 

More about Fishel Benkhald

Friday, January 25, 2019

Fifty years since the Baghdad hangings of nine Jews

This Sunday, 27 January marks 50 years since the hangings in Baghdad of nine Jews on trumped-up spying charges. (Dozens more Jews disappeared without trace. ) The event will be marked with special commemorations in Sephardi synagogues. It took Faiza Saigh fifty years  to summon up the courage to give this account in Jewish News of the execution of her brother Daoud, 23. (With thanks to Lisette and others)

 Faiza Saigh with a photo of her executed brother Daoud

One night, me and my sister went to sleep and my father stayed up listening to the radio as always. We had a TV but most of the news came through the radio. That’s when he heard the trial being broadcast, that night, Daoud and the others confessing to spying for Israel, ‘we went here, we did this,’… They confessed and that’s when the judge ordered their death by hanging. They were killed there and then. Early the next morning, before 5am, their bodies were put in the square. It all happened so quickly.

“We heard they tortured them. It was freezing in those two winter months, severe cold, and I had a dream one night that Daoud was sleeping on a block of ice [breaks down crying]. We used to buy ice from a van in the street as we didn’t have freezers. I dreamt he had to sleep on one of those blocks. We heard they were taking their nails off. They made them confess.

 “My mother never told us what happened next, but I found out what happened after she died in 2012. When my mother heard that their execution had been ordered, she didn’t think it would happen, so she went to take a taxi to the airport to fly to Basra. The son of the Cohen family, David Cohen, was told to go with her to the road to get a taxi. He was 15 at the time. He now lives in England and told me what happened. My mother asked the driver to take her to the airport. He looked at her and said ‘Lady, don’t you know? They’re hanging the spies in Liberation Square. All the roads are blocked. Where can I take you?’

At this point, David told me that my mother asked the driver to take her to the square. There were thousands of people. She went and saw the bodies, the people dancing underneath. She never told us. “She asked the Cohens to take care of things like burial, shiva, whatever needs doing, so she could return to her family. She couldn’t fly so she took a taxi all the way to Basra, five hours.

Later they brought three people to be hanged in Basra as well, to make a point. The whole country despised the spies. They were using the Jews to show they had power, using us like guinea pigs. “My father got diarrhoea when he heard about Daoud. I couldn’t move from my bed for a week.

I was in my final year at Uni, everybody knew me, knew Daoud, knew he’s my brother. How could I go back? It was January, my final year was May, so I forced myself to go. Even my closest friends were scared to talk to me, to wish me long life. I was dressed in black. I remember my first lecture back, five minutes in, I just burst out crying, sobbing so loud, it was uncontrollable. Nobody knew what to do with me, nobody breathed, then the lecturer just carried on like nothing happening. My sister was 12 so my mum told her Daoud had gone to London to be with my other brother. How do you tell a 12-year old?

“People didn’t treat us badly but they were too scared to show sympathy. I felt different, like a black sheep, the sister of the spy. They all knew it’s not true but who can say anything? They were very sad for me, I could see, but even Jewish friends were scared to come to see us, they were worried they would be seen and assumed to be spying themselves. Eventually the families got together. We were all in the same situation. The way we were being treated, it was like the Gestapo.

Read article in full 

More articles about the Baghdad hangings 

The tenth man - and his sister

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Iran's Holocaust denial forces Jews to lead double life

For all the Iranian regime's efforts to show that its small Jewish community are safe and protected, Majid Rafisadeh argued that Iran's anti-Israel campaign and Holocaust denial has created a hostile environment leading Jews to lead a double life. In the Tablet he tells the moving story of Sarah, a Jewish student he taught in Iran.

Later, I learned that my student, Sara, had relatives on her grandfather’s side who died in the Holocaust. I was saddened and surprised. Many questions raced through my mind: Is she Jewish? The shock of that thought brought on another, important question. Why am I surprised to have met a Jew? Why did I suddenly begin feeling as if I had met a foreigner, someone from another country? Her relatives had actually lived longer than mine in Iran. Why was she hesitant to say that she was Jewish?

I soon came to understand the reason she felt the need to keep herself hidden. They were the same feelings that many other people commonly felt in the region when they were faced with the decision of whether to reveal that they were Jewish.

First, there are systematic and concerted efforts made from the top down by the theocratic regime and several other governments in the region to eliminate Jewish history. There is also a strong push to incite antagonism against the Jewish people.

The regime openly encourages debates that revolve around casting doubt on and questioning the authenticity of the Holocaust. They ratchet up anti-Israel slogans, and celebrate national anti-Israel holidays such as Quds Day. They promote and accept Holocaust deniers such as the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the intricate teachings that may imply that Jews are impure (najis).
All of these actions, combined with many more forms of intimidation enacted by the regime, not only create a hostile environment for Jewish communities inside Iran, but also abroad.

Other examples of disrespect and fearmongering that the regime engages in include inviting people from around the world to participate in Holocaust cartoon competitions with a nearly $50,000 prize. This is sponsored by two organizations that are directly or indirectly linked to the Iranian government. The Owj Arts and Media Organization is funded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Sarcheshmeh Cultural Center is supported by the Islamic Development Organization (IDO), funded by the parliament.

To have the ruling leaders torment them in this way only further isolates the Jewish community and puts them at risk of being targeted by both extremists and regime loyalists.

These policies force many families and individuals to have two different lives in private and public, two different names, and maybe two different religions. This, in turn, breeds a deep mistrust toward the Jewish community, which only enhances the “them-versus-us” culture that has been building for decades. A deep division runs through the society, leaving interaction unstable at best, and potentially explosive at worst.

Despite generations of their families living on the same land, and the rich history and influence that they have had in the region, many Jews do not feel that they are safe or a welcome part of the society. One man I spoke to, who asked that his last name not be revealed, said he does not tell people about his life. This isolation is no longer just physical, but mental and emotional, a state of existence that could create long-lasting psychological trauma.

Second, the Iranian regime promotes its anti-Semitic and anti-Israel narrative through various means including the curriculum taught in schools, commentary on social media, news reports and entertainment on television, and nonstop political rhetoric. Its narrative does not stop at the borders of the Middle East. Lately, it has attracted an audience in the West as well.

Iranian Jews demonstrating in favour of the regime

From the perspective of these Islamist leaders, Jews, like other religious minorities, are regarded as a potential threat to the regime’s national security and national identity. They may be viewed as outsiders who disrupt the regime’s attempt to homogenize the population for easier control.

One reason behind these perceptions of Iran’s theocratic establishment is that the roots of Jews in Iran date back to a pre-Islamic era, an era that the Iranian government attempts to de-emphasize or erase from the memory of the society. Another reason is rooted in the notion that for the Iranian regime, Jews and Israel are mingled in one category; if you are Jewish, the thinking goes, then you are an Israeli. Since the Iranian regime is opposed to Israel’s existence, Iranian authorities view the Jewish people through prisms of suspicion. They are viewed as Israeli allies, conspirators, and loyalists to Israel and the United States, not the Iranian government.

Some Jews secretly confess that they are indeed living two separate lives. In their private life they practice their faith, but in public they are extremely cautious, avoiding saying anything about their lives. Out of fear or in order to survive economically, socially, and academically, some may convert to Islam on the surface but continue to practice Judaism at home. Some have two names, one Muslim, one Jewish.

Despite this solid bias against Jews, in order to enhance its global legitimacy in some circumstances and events, the Iranian regime has boasted about tolerance, and pointed to the fact that there are Jews in Iran, as a sign that the regime is cosmopolitan and civil. Depending on the circumstance the Jewish community may be paraded past foreign governments as an example of progress, or trampled down by the Iranian regime as a toxic presence in the country and region.

Not surprisingly, I was admonished for speaking about human rights and the Holocaust in my class. I never saw Sara after the last day of class. She took the time to give me a thank-you card. She was carrying an English book with a title suggesting religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. I hoped in that moment that I’d reached her, and my decision to speak about human rights had aided in the liberation of her mind, and hopefully the minds of her classmates.

When I flipped the card open to read it, the words inside brought tears to my eyes. It read, “My Hebrew name is Yaffa.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Why a Mizrahi refused to join the Women's March

Mizrahi women and their history of persecution in Arab countries are ignored and alienated by 'progressive and feminist' movements in the West. Writing in JNS News, Sarah Levin Krames, executive director of JIMENA, explains why she refused to take part in the 2019 US Women's March:

Despite the Women’s March welcome calls for diverse Jewish participation and their request that we, as Jews, sit in difficult spaces and face certain realities, they clearly weren’t willing to do so in a context where conversation might be uncomfortable and difficult for them, and that exclusion was noted. It’s very clear to me that these leaders are not willing to create or hold shared space for the ideological diversity that comes with truly welcoming intersectional communities into the tent.

Rather than being a place of freedom and liberation, the Women’s March has elicited feelings of unwelcomeness and alienation—feelings that are not uncommon for Jewish women from the Middle East and North Africa. Many of the Sephardic and Mizrahi women in the communities I work with feel completely maligned and ignored by progressive movements, including the Women’s March and Jewish feminist movements, simply for being who they are. Jewish women from Arab countries have a visceral understanding and concern of the inequities and oppression faced by women in the Middle East.

Our mothers and grandmothers lived to tell stories of being oppressed, third-class citizens who fled or were chased out of the region as refugees because of anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist governments. They moved on only to have their experiences and resulting outlooks ignored. Although we descend from the Middle East and North Africa, Mizrahi and Sephardic women don’t easily fit into American constructs of race. Controversies around “white Jews” versus women of color ignore important nuances of Jewish diversity by totally leaving out Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish women. This erasure further alienates Sephardic and Mizrahi women. It feels as though our inclusion in the national Women’s March will only be welcomed if we align with a narrative where Middle Eastern women stand in opposition to the views of “privileged, white Jews” and Zionism. I totally reject this.

 Sephardic and Mizrahi women’s intersectionality provides incredible opportunities for relationship-building in progressive spaces, but the vast majority of us continue to be on the margins, unable to feel we belong or are truly, unconditionally welcomed in movements like the Women’s March. My refusal to participate in the Women’s March was fueled by progressive feminists in the United States, including Jews, who routinely ignore the very real and ongoing plight of Middle Eastern women, including Jewish women.

This is personal for me as I reflect on my great-grandmother who fled anti-Semitism in Turkey, and as I sit and listen to my mother-in-law recall traumatic memories of escaping state-sanctioned anti-Semitic persecution in Iraq. I don’t want to join any women’s movement that doesn’t speak out loudly and boldly against the mass human-rights violations and brutal oppression of Muslim, LGBTQ and religious minority women in Arab countries as a result of war, extreme patriarchy and misogynistic religious interpretation. I didn’t want to march because I am an unapologetic Zionist who stands in complete solidarity with Israeli women who have endured never-ending cycles of anti-Semitic violence.

To be clear, my Zionism does not mitigate my desire to see Palestinian women live freely in peace and prosperity. I simply cannot march in a movement towards universal women’s freedom when its leaders promote a boycott of half the Jewish women in the world because of their nationality and refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. I didn’t want to participate because I feel that the Women’s March has an unspoken ideological litmus test of who gets in, and who needs to leave their identities and ideological orientations at the door. This has hurt some of the most vulnerable, alienated and intersectional women in the Jewish community, including Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and Jewish women whose lives have been directly impacted and upended by violent anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

I also feel strongly that the Women’s March leaders’ implicit bias against white, Jewish women has alienated and offended powerful potential allies, and I reject in any way that I’m betraying my Mizrahi and Sephardic communities to think so. If the Women’s March wants to be truly in integrity with intersectional frameworks, then it must come to terms with Jewish intersectionality in all its messiness. We are a very diverse and complex people after all. Like so many other Jewish women, my choice not to participate came from a place of deep pain and of even deeper mistrust of social-justice activists and movements that are holding up the banner of progress while waving flags and delivering speeches that so many Jews, including myself, perceive as blatantly anti-Semitic.

 While I understand the critical need for dialogue, I have serious doubts that we can constructively progress with a movement whose national leaders routinely vilify Zionism, refuse to name and denounce anti-Semitic ideologies and leaders, and have hurt our community. I personally don’t see this as a reason to come to the table; I see it as a reason to leave it.

 Like so many Jewish women, I’m tired of the tension between wanting to walk away, yet still desiring to fully show up and participate. As Women’s March leaders are asking Jewish women to step outside our comfort zone and recognize how we benefit from the same structural privileges that harm their communities (and members of our own community), I wish they could make an effort to see how important it is for us that they step outside their comfort zone to recognize, in the clearest terms, the diverse ideological power structures in America and beyond that continue to perpetuate anti-Semitism and violence against Jewish women.

The main reason I decided not to participate is because over the course of these last couple months, every time I thought about the Women’s March, my mind would recess to the darkest places in modern Jewish history. For me, the Holocaust is also personal, and as I grappled with my thoughts about the march, I would constantly feel the heavy pull of my other great-grandmother, who was murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust. I felt the spirit of her taken life warning me to never align with a movement whose leaders are so deeply embroiled in anti-Semitic scandals. Sadly, while the Women’s March should have filled me with the hope of progress, it brought up pain that is all too familiar to many second- and third-generation survivors.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jewish Tunisian minister 'toes the line' on Israel

 It did not take long for Tunisia's new Jewish tourism minister to have to declare that normal links with  Israel are a 'sensitive' issue. Middle East Monitor reports (with thanks: Lily):

 Rene Trabelsi takes the oath as tourism minister

 Tunisian Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi has described the issue of diplomatic normalization with Israel as a “sensitive matter”.

Trabelsi, a Jewish Tunisian businessman who was recently given the government’s tourism portfolio, made the remarks during an interview with Israel’s i24 television channel, parts of which were aired Tuesday on Tunisian TV.

“As… minister of tourism, I have to follow the line of my government,” he said during the interview. “I would add that Tunisia has been historically committed to peace in the Middle East.

“The Palestinian cause is close to our hearts… and we have served it well,” Trabelsi added. “But our message is to look for peace. The notion of peace is very important in Tunisian culture.”

The minister’s comments on the controversial subject triggered considerable controversy on social-media platforms, with some commenters opining that the interview itself constituted a form of normalization.

Read article in full

Monday, January 21, 2019

Why do anti-Zionist groups ignore Mizrahi suffering?

Lea Suissa, who left Morocco aged nine,  has this timely response in the Jerusalem Post  to IfnotNow and other US anti-Zionist groups  who accuse Zionist initiatives like Birthright of rehashing IDF talking points. She asks why these groups consistently ignore the suffering of Jews in Arab countries, including forced conversions, and praises Birthright for exposing their young tourists to Druze and Bedouin culture. (Isn't it time Birthright also took them to meet Moroccan or Iraqi Jews?)

 The grave of Solika Hachuel, who chose to die rather than convert to Islam

While Morocco did not expel its Jews like countries such as Egypt and Iraq did, Moroccan Jews still suffered from an intense wave of antisemitism from the moment French rule was declining, until the day my family left the country. In the 1950s, a wave of terror attacks targeted the Jewish community. It was just as bloody as the Second Intifada. While there was a decrease in anti-Jewish terror attacks after Morocco attained independence, Jews still feared for their future.

By the 1960s, the bulk of our community had already departed the country, and we were cut off from those dearest to us. At the same time, we remained Jews in a Muslim-majority nation, which is a very difficult situation. One of my relatives was abducted, raped and forcefully converted to Islam. Non-Muslims frequently suffer such indignities in the Arab world. In fact, when I recently traveled to Morocco, I visited the grave of Suleika, a Jewish woman who was martyred because she refused to leave the faith of her ancestors and marry a Muslim. To this day, she serves as an inspiration for Moroccan Jewish women, with many pilgrims from around the world visiting her grave. My relative spent her entire life as a hostage, unable to join the rest of our family in Israel. Many Moroccan Jewish girls got married young just so they would not face a similar fate.

Given what my family suffered, it is highly disturbing that the young Jewish American activists of IfNotNow demonstrate complete ignorance of my Middle Eastern history. While the epicenter of their mission is combating Palestinian suffering, they mention nothing on their website about the injustices suffered by the Jews of the Arab world except for a brief mention of the economic injustices we faced. There is no mention of the horrors Arab countries inflicted upon Jews.

I am an olive-skinned, marginalized Jewish woman from Morocco. When my son participated in a Birthright tour as an Israeli, he represented our voice and did everything he could to share Moroccan Jewish culture with the Americans on the trip. On the same tour, Americans were exposed to Druze and Bedouin culture as well as other aspects of Israel’s diverse landscape – far more than rehashing IDF talking points, as IfNotNow accuses Birthright of doing. Jews from the Arab world are invisible to IfNotNow and other radical leftist groups in the US.

For anti-Zionist Jews, the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entails violent, white, “colonialist” Jewish settlers fighting against poor, dark-skinned, oppressed Palestinians. Yet there are plenty of impoverished Jews of color whose narrative they blatantly ignore.

Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi – the blonde-haired, blue-eyed terror advocate and media darling who participated in violent riots and smacked an IDF soldier – lives like a celebrity, going on world tours to champion the Palestinian cause.

Simultaneously, peaceful dark-skinned Middle Eastern Jewish refugees, who want nothing more than to be compensated for their suffering and to move on with their lives, can only dream of garnering the public spotlight that Tamimi receives.

It is time for this charade to end. If not now, when?

Read article in full

Response to JVP by Jewish and Mizrahi communal organisations

Sunday, January 20, 2019

No-cooking recipes for Tu b'shevat

 Tonight begins the Jewish festival of Tu-Bshvat. Traditionally, it is a more important festival in the Sephardi tradition. Here are some recipes collected by Ronit Treatman in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice:

The following Sephardic recipes are adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.  These traditional Tu B’Shevat recipes are vegan, gluten-free, and diabetic friendly.  They are very tactile, and require no cooking.
North African Date-Walnut Balls
  • 1 Lb. dried dates
  • 2 ½ cups toasted, chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup toasted, ground walnuts
Place the dates in a food processor.  Grind them into a paste, adding a little cold water if necessary.
When the dates are transformed into a paste, mix in the chopped walnuts.
Rub a little olive oil into your hands.  This will prevent the paste from sticking to your fingers.  Shape the paste into little balls.
Roll the date-nut balls in the ground walnuts to garnish.

Syrian Apricot-Pistachio Balls
  • 1 Lb. dried apricots
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped pistachios
  • ½ cup toasted, ground pistachios
Prepare in the same manner as above for the Date – Walnut Balls.
The following recipe is from Jewish Spain.  It is a celebration of the almond, the first tree that blooms in Israel in the springtime.

Judeo-Spanish Dates Stuffed With Marzipan
  • Pitted dried dates
  • 5 ½ cups toasted, ground almonds
  • ½ lemon
  • 3 drops of almond extract
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1-cup water
Bring to a boil the water, sugar, and juice of ½ lemon in a saucepan.  Allow to boil for about 10 minutes.  Add the almond extract and ground almonds.  Stir well for about 3 minutes.
Lubricate your hands with a little olive oil, so the paste does not stick to your fingers.
Stuff the dates with the almond paste.

Read article in full

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Anti-Zionist group co-opts Mizrahi story

It has been said that Jewish Voice for Peace is neither representative of Jews, nor is it pro-Peace. Its voice on the far left edge of the US Jewish community has been rather shrill since the organisation was founded in 1996.
Now, however, with the publication of its Jews of the Middle East worksheet and its document Our approach to Middle East Peace, JVP is employing a new tactic: to co-opt Mizrahi Jews into its anti-Zionist struggle.

Drawing on the revisionism of the academics Zvi Ben-Dror Benite, Yehouda Shenhav and Ella Shohat,  JVP begins by falsifying the history of Middle Eastern and North African Jews. We are not told that these Jews were settled in the region since Biblical times, predating Islam by 1,000 years, lest the impression be shattered that Jews are other than white 'colonial settlers'. JVP begins its history lesson with the Ottomans. Jews paid a poll tax so that  the Ottoman empire might protect them, and violence against them was 'unusual'.

Two falsehoods in one sentence. The dhimmi system was a Mafia-style protection racket built on extortion and humiliation : Jews  were granted few rights. Pre-1948 massacres against the Jews were not unusual.

If Zionism was a European movement, so was Arab nationalism. In fact the latter was predicated on a myth:  that a common language was enough to glue disparate tribes together.  Arab nationalism turned out to be a dismal failure -  a recipe for tyranny and internecine conflict, while Israel, despite never knowing a minute of peace,  has been an outstanding success.

While Mizrahim were not, by and large, fans of the modern secular Zionist movement,  fledgling Zionist groups were established in Arab countries. Jews in Iraq turned to underground Zionism  in large numbers after the trauma of the 1941 Farhud massacre, although the Jewish leadership in Arab countries was anxious to disassociate itself from Zionism for reasons of self-preservation. Mizrahim had always been spiritual Zionists, and this explains the messianism that guided pious Jews fleeing Yemen and the Maghreb to Israel.

But JVP downplays the 'push' factors of persecution and violence which drove these ancient Jewish communities to extinction. 'It's complicated,' it implies. 'Jews left for a variety of reasons'. Yet barely 4,000 remain out of one million. No ethnic cleansing there, according to JVP.  The real victims, it believes,  were the Palestinians who still number over a million in Israel itself, after a war started by their own leadership.

 Jews hanged in Baghdad in 1969: even non-Zionists were victimised  in the end

What JVP does not grasp is that even non-Zionist Jews who refused to move to Israel were victimised in the end. This month we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the brutal hangings of nine Jews in Baghdad's liberation square on trumped-up spying charges, and the disappearance of scores more. These Jews had had no contact with Israel for 20 years.

JVP assumes that the  relations between Jews and Muslims were cordial and brotherly, until colonialism imposed a stratification of whites at the top, Jews  in the middle and Arabs at the bottom. In fact pre-colonial relations between dhimmi Jews and Muslims were unequal, often tense and fearful.

Muslims resented the European colonials for overturning the traditional hierarchy, which had Muslims at the top and women, non-Muslims and slaves at the bottom.

JVP abhors Jewish power. When JVP talks about 'peace' it means submission.  JVP is proposing nothing less than a return to 'dhimmi' status in a majority-Arab state. It would do well to learn from the Mizrahi experience.

Friday, January 18, 2019

30,000 people download oral history app

Gila Gamliel, minister of Social Equality, launched Seeing the Voices.

Some 30,000 people have downloaded a smartphone app for documenting the personal stories of Jewish immigrants to Israel from Arab states and Iran in the three weeks since the app first launched on the website Seeing the Voices. The app enables children or grandchildren to interview relatives born in Arab countries or Iran. The Seeing the Voices website already has 500 video testimonies. JIMENA is a partner with the project, and has donated funds for testimonies to be translated into English. (With thanks: Imre, Gina)

 An initiative of the Social Equality Ministry, the Hebrew-language Seeing the Voices app is available for free and allows Israelis from Arab countries and Iran to record and upload videos of them telling their stories.

 The app is one prong of the Seeing the Voices initiative to tell the story of immigrants from Arab countries and Iran, whose story has been marginalized in Israel. The government has invested 10 million shekels ($2.7 million) in the project to date. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel says the application "makes the mission possible and accessible."

"I'm glad the younger generation has mobilized in support" of the project, Gamliel said.

Read article in full 

Israel launches testimonies website

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Maya who? 60s singing star dies

Born in Morocco in 1941, internationally famous chanteuse Margalit Azran, better known as Maya Casabianca, passed away last week at age 78, after living during the last decades of her life in a small house in Haifa. Haaretz reports (with thanks Lily):

Her only daughter, Natalie Yishai, put a temporary sign on her mother’s grave bearing her well-known stage name, and decided to issue a statement about her
death to the media.

Yigal Bashan passed away not long ago, and then there was Amos Oz,” says Yishai. “And I thought – Maya Casabianca will pass away and no one will remember her. No one will know or say anything about it.” But Yishai’s announcement did make a difference, at least a small one. Because of it, many people, like me, decided to look up this person – to understand just who this famous singer was, the one who hobnobbed with the rich and famous in France and had a secret, years-long affair with Farid al-Atrash, one of the great Arabic singers of all time.

Why has she been forgotten in Israel? In the 1960s, Casabianca was a huge star who performed on the world’s biggest stages – at L’Olympia in Paris; in front of Soviet leaders at the Bolshoi in Moscow; with Syrian rulers in the audience in Damascus; before the shah in Iran. She lived in Paris and hung out with the likes of Georges Brassens, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret and Sacha Distel.

All told Casabianca recorded more than 300 songs in Arabic, French, Turkish, Farsi and later in Hebrew, and topped the charts alongside Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour, back in the day. She made such a contribution to French culture that she received an entry in the encyclopedia of the most influential people in France.

Read article in full

Monday, January 14, 2019

Radicals: 'nation-state law is anti- Mizrahi'

  Over 50 prominent Israeli Jews of Mizrahi origin have filed a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding it strike down the Jewish Nation-State Law, saying it 'discriminates against both Palestinian citizens and Jewish Mizrahi citizens of Israel'. The signatories are a who's-who of radical leftists and activists. I have 'fisked' in italics this article from +972 by Orli Noy, one of the signatories. (With thanks: Daniel)

There is an assumption here that Arabs and Mizrahi Jews have common values - which is demonstrably untrue.

According to the petition, the law, which demotes Arabic from an official language to one with “special status,” is “anti-Jewish” for excluding the history and culture of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, “while strengthening the impression that Jewish-Arab culture is inferior…and anchoring the identity of the State of Israel as anti-Arab.”

Not all Jews from Arab countries speak Arabic, and when they do, it is a dialect often unintelligible to Muslims. What is Judeo-Arabic culture? You could define the mainstream trends in Israeli culture, music and food as Judeo-Arabic. It is absurd to claim that Israel discriminates against its dominant culture.

The petition, which was written and submitted by Attorney Netta Amar-Shiff, also refers to a clause in the law that establishes Jewish settlement “as a national value.” According to the petitioners, every time Israel takes it upon itself to demographically “re-engineer” the land, it harms Mizrahim by pushing them into the country’s underserved geographical periphery. This process hinders their access to highly-valued land through admissions committees, which allow communities across the country to reject housing applicants based on their “social suitability.”

There is a lot to be said against admissions committees but there is nothing in the nation-state law about them. Nor is there any force 'pushing Mizrahim to the periphery'.  
Author Sami Michael
Among the signatories are renowned author Sami Michael, Professor Yehuda Shenhav, Professor Henriette Dahan-Kalev, Israeli Black Panther and social justice activist Reuven Abergil, among others. (Full disclosure: the writer is one of the signatories of the petition). According to the petitioners, Mizrahim were largely excluded from the law’s formulation, despite the fact that it would affect their community’s right to preserve its heritage, and that its blatant anti-Arab bias would adversely affect Jews from Arab countries.

 Professor Yehouda Shenhav
These are all radical leftists. What proof is there that Mizrahim were excluded from the law's formulation ? The Knesset passed this law by a small majority and there is no evidence that Mizrahi MKs were excluded from the vote.

Following Israel’s establishment, authorities did everything they could to suppress Arab identity and culture among immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries through a forced “melting pot” doctrine, leaving them both materially and culturally disenfranchised. More than six decades ago, Israeli diplomat and Arabic scholar Abba Eban said: “The goal must be to instill in them a Western spirit, and not let them drag us into an unnatural Orient. One of the biggest fears… is the danger that the large number of immigrants of Mizrahi origin will force Israel to compare how cultured we are to our neighbors.”

Mizrahim walk around the Mamila neighborhood in West Jerusalem, 1957. Mamila, like countless other neighborhoods and communities, was empied of its Palestinian residents in the 1948 war. (GPO)
Mizrahim walk around the Mamila neighborhood in West Jerusalem, 1957. (GPO)
For 70 years, this worldview formed the basis for how Israel viewed Mizrahim.

Not true. One can cherry-pick similar quotes by Israel's founding fathers till kingdom come. There are also positive statements.

The political establishment demanded Mizrahi Jews renounce their Arab identity, while driving a wedge between them and their cultural histories. And yet, despite the establishment’s attempts at cultural erasure, expert opinions and affidavits attached to the petition show that many Mizrahim — including younger generations — continue to view Arabic as both culturally and linguistically relevant to their personal lives.

One can equally argue in its drive to create a new Hebrew-speaking Israeli out of its citizens, the state discriminated against Yiddish and the culture of Eastern Europe.

The expert opinions also seek to lay out the complex histories of Jews from Arab countries, in order to explain why the law, akin to a constitutional amendment, would be both harmful to the cultural legacy of Mizrahim and would continue to negatively affect them. According to Professor Elitzur Bar-Asher, a linguist and expert on the Hebrew language, the goal of the law is not to “strengthen Hebrew [at the expense of Arabic], but to lower its Arabic counterpart.”

In his expert opinion, Dr. Moshe Behar demonstrated how Arabic was an inseparable part the Jewish intellectual world in the Middle East during the Ottoman and British Mandate periods, respectively. According to Behar, Jewish intellectuals considered knowledge of Arabic as a necessity for all Jews in the region.

Cultural researcher Shira Ohayon described the influence of the Arabic language and its connection to the revival of the Hebrew language, poetry and Jewish liturgy, while cultural scholar and film director Eyal Sagui Bizawe noted how Jews living in Arab countries took an active part in the creation of Arab culture, and how that very culture became part of their own heritage.

The petition is an important, and perhaps revolutionary milestone in the Mizrahi struggle in Israel. Among the signatories are women and men, religious, secular and traditional, those who define themselves as Zionists and others who do not. The petitioners seek to anchor Mizrahi identity in its deepest sense by demanding our cultural and historical rights, while using all legal, academic, and moral tools to reject any attempt to isolate Mizrahi Jews from our natural environment — all for the benefit of Israel’s “melting pot” ideology.

Read article in full

Sunday, January 13, 2019

New video: The Untold Exodus from Arab Lands

Lyn Julius, author the book UPROOTED and co-founder of Harif, presents J-TV's new eight-minute video, The Untold Exodus of Jews from Arab Lands. In a week, the video has had over 80,000 views on Facebook and hundreds have seen it on Youtube.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Mind The Gap....

Posting will be light to non-existent while Point of No Return takes a short break. See you soon!

Friday, January 11, 2019

'An earthquake is shifting Iraqi opinion about the Jews'

Fascinating interview in Hamodia by Sara Lehmann with the protagonist of the film Shadow in Baghdad, Linda Menuhin, whose father was abducted in 1970s Iraq and never seen again. Linda will be showing the film at SOAS in London on 17 January 2019. 

 Yaakov Abdul Aziz, Linda's father, in dark suit and glasses with the last rabbi of Iraq (in turban and dark classes), Rabbi Sasson Khedouri.

 How did the war affect your everyday life as a Jew?
 They started to come after the Jews. They enacted many measures against the Jews. Jews were kicked out of social clubs, not admitted to university, not allowed to work anywhere. There was a kind of tightening of the rope around us. There was also incitement against Jews on the radio, in the newspapers. Even our Muslim friends and neighbors were scared to show any relationship with Jews. Just like in Germany.

What happened in Germany was the result of long-simmering anti-Semitism that gradually found expression in German laws against the Jews. But despite anti-Semitic allusions in the Koran, it seems as if this anti-Semitism had national and political origins.

Yes, you are absolutely right. Somehow those allusions didn’t float to the surface all these years. First of all, Jews pre-dated Islam in Iraq by 1300 years. So we were the indigenous people and we really didn’t feel anti-Semitism. Apart from the incident of the Farhud, anti-Semitic acts were exceptions to the rule. When the Baath Party came to power, they tried to intimidate the whole country. The best way is to start with the Jews, the most vulnerable component of the population. And then they went after the Christians and afterwards the Muslims themselves. I always say, first Saturday people, then Sunday people, and then Friday people.

In the documentary you talk about the public executions of Jews at Fahrir Square. Can you describe that episode and how it affected you?

 In 1969, following a fake trial, Iraqi authorities publicly hanged 14 people accused of spying for Israel, nine of whom were Jews. I remember there was a live transmission on the radio of the fake trials for months. It was a terrible period for the Jews. During that time, we used to fast every Monday and Thursday and pray, as was customary in a time of trepidation for Jews. We prayed things would improve. In 1968, more and more people were arrested, interrogated, beaten in prisons, and never returned home. A 40-year-old relative of mine was taken to be questioned and came back in a body bag. Eventually they even stopped returning bodies and there was no burial. It was a cruel and violent regime that affected everybody.  

Is that what drove you to leave Israel on your own in 1970?

Since childhood, my mother always told us stories about her family in Israel, and there was constant correspondence with our relatives there. So we grew up with the sense that we would eventually move there. But all these atrocities convinced me that we Jews will have the same fate in Iraq as those arrested and should move to Israel to join our brothers and sisters. I left with my brother in December 1970, and my mother and younger sister left six months after us. Our escape route took us through Iran, in the bitter cold. We left on a Friday and on Sunday my father was arrested, which proves that they were following every move of the Jews. He was arrested, released and then arrested again after my mother’s departure. We believe he was arrested because he bailed out 132 Jews who were caught trying to leave Iraq. My father signed an affidavit of support and was held responsible for their commitment to stay in Iraq and not run away again. He couldn’t do it for all of them because he had to pay a sum of money for each, so he had to find Muslim lawyers to do it. At that time, it wasn’t easy, because who would want to bail out a Jew? But he found some young Muslim lawyers trying to make a living who agreed to do it. Once these Jews started to leave again, my father didn’t have the capacity to pay all these amounts. I don’t know what happened to the other Muslim lawyers.  

On the one hand the Iraqis didn’t want the Jews, and on the other they didn’t want them to leave?

 It’s not that they didn’t want Jews to leave. That was a pretext. They were looking for ways to extort them. I was always trying to find a common denominator among those Jews who were arrested; the majority were rich people that the government would benefit from by arresting. But in the end my father didn’t have the capacity to pay all the amounts he obligated himself to. Also, it was easier to pick him up because he was alone and didn’t have family left to inquire about him.  

What prompted you to start searching for your father after so many years? 

 In 1991, during the Gulf War in Iraq, I was working as an Israeli television commentator and began having a very tough time. I started to have nightmares about Saddam Hussein and my position as an Iraqi working for Israelis. All of a sudden, I began to hate the Arabic language, which was my mother tongue. I eventually had to quit my job as a Middle East correspondent and editor with the IBA (Israeli Broadcast Authority) in Arabic and went to work for the Israeli police in intelligence. By 2003, the Iraq War put Iraq in the news again on a daily basis. But now things were different. Before then, there was an iron curtain which prevented me from even asking questions; now there was internet access to the Iraqi press. I approached the American embassy and then the Israeli Defense but nothing came out of it. Next, I went to London, because many Iraqis fled there from the Baath regime, primarily non-Jews. I met people who knew my father, but got no concrete information. I followed the news coming out from Iraq about the Baath regime’s mistreatment of Iraqis. I felt sympathy for all those who suffered. It wasn’t only me. I also saw sympathy expressed for the Jews. So I started to write and publish again in Arabic in a more personal way, and I started to get feedback.  

Through such feedback you describe meeting an Iraqi journalist who tried to help you solve the mystery of your father’s disappearance. Were you surprised to get help from an Iraqi?

 Yes. And I was very proud that I was able to penetrate the Arabic world. It used to be taboo. Who would ever publish something in Arabic by a Jew? Or an Israeli? But there were many people who wanted to help me who are not in the film. The Iraqi journalist spoke of his grandmother who remembered the “peace-loving Jewish neighbors who were forced to flee” and asks, “Why do we talk about the Christians and other minorities but not about the Jewish community? The community was here for over 2000 years.”

 Do you think he is an anomaly? 

  No. These days, on the contrary. I wrote many pieces about the earthquake that is shifting public opinion about the Jews. First of all, the Iraqi population was a collective victim of its rulers and I think the violence had touched everyone. And there was fear, so no one would stand up for a Jew. They wouldn’t stand up for their brother. Now Hebrew and English books about Iraqi Jews are being translated into Arabic. I even have a picture of an Iraqi minister buying books about Jews. I think this is because it’s an issue of Iraqi identity, not just a minority identity. Now that everything is ruined, they are trying to rebuild that identity.  

The Bush Doctrine that guided the Iraq War was intended to create democracy in Iraq but failed because of corruption and an ideological entrenchment of anti-democratic forces. Would you agree that it’s an uphill battle to change this mindset?

Yes, there was a culture of violence with political upheaval and indoctrination of entrenched violence. Bush came and wanted to change it, and it doesn’t change. But in relation to the Jews, it’s different. They look at the Jews as always having been part and parcel of the Iraqi fabric of society. Not only that, but the Iraqi Jews had contributed so much to the Iraqi society and economy. So dreaming of the Jews coming back is not just idealistic. They keep asking for their return. Looking for the Jews is not just a whim; it’s a practical goal. There’s a strong belief that since the Jews left, there’s no brachah in Iraq. There’s also a change of attitude towards Israel. The Iraqis see that Israel has done so much for the Palestinian cause and they think that the Palestinians have exempted themselves from the burden of responsibility. They feel that the Palestinians should focus on taking care of themselves.

 Do they contrast the Palestinian refugee problem with the successful Israeli absorption of close to a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries?

Yes, but this population swap wasn’t highlighted enough. The story of the Jewish refugees was cut off from the narrative, both in Israel and abroad. And that’s what made me start advocating for this case. I have been active with the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries initiative.

 I also helped to achieve the Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from Arab Countries, which was instituted in 2014. This day, celebrated on November 30, is commemorated in Israeli schools too, where it needs to be taught. There are two types of populations in Israel: Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews. 50 percent of Jews don’t know about their own history, which is not fair.

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