Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Moroccan-Jewish family injured in US shooting

Members of the Dahan and Peretz families, originally from Morocco, were injured in the synagogue shooting on 27 April 2019 at Poway in California. Ironically, the family had moved to California to escape rocket attacks in Sderot, the Israeli town a kilometre away from the Gaza strip.  The Times of Israel reports: 

Eight-year-old Noya Dahan in hospital: her family had moved from Sderot

“We came from fire to fire,” said Israel Dahan, Noya’s father, referring to the family’s move from the rocket-battered Gaza-border town of Sderot to California.
Dahan told Israel Radio that the family’s home in Sderot had been hit by rockets several times over the years, and that he was injured on one of those occasions.

After moving to the US several years ago, he said, the family’s new home was targeted — this time by anti-Semites, who spray-painted swastikas on the walls.
“It can happen anywhere. We are strong,” he said.

Peretz said he was able to quickly protect children from harm during the attack due to instincts he honed over years rushing to shelters to hide from thousands of rockets fired by terror groups in the Gaza Strip over the last 15 years.

Read article in full 

CNN Interview with Noya

Monday, April 29, 2019

What happened to Jews in Egyptian prisons after 1967?

This Times of Israel blog by Hussein Aboubakr makes for painful reading: it tells the tragic story of the 400 Jews arrested as 'Israeli PoWs' in 1967, after Egypt's defeat in the Six Day War . Some were tortured and sodomised.

Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and the subsequent Arab-Israeli wars, the Egyptian government, along with the rest of the Arab world, decided to strip, banish, and imprison the Jews in their lands.
Hussein Aboubakr

Some 100,000 Egyptian Jews fled to Israel, North America, and Europe. A sizable minority of Egyptian Jews remained to face the horrors of Arab rule.

Following the Six Days War, the Egyptian government arrested every Jewish male in the country and detained them in Abu Zabaal, a major detention facility in Cairo still operative till this very day. Jews were arrested wherever they were, bedrooms, schools, buses, and workplaces.

 Upon arrival to Abu Zabaal, Jews were greeted by the chief Rabbi crucified above the gates (he was strung up but not killed -ed). They had to pass under the Rabbi into the nightmares the Egyptian officers had prepared for them. Upon arrival, they were met with a barrage of insults, kicks, and punches. Then they to choose a female name each, because that’s how it works in my part of the world, being a woman is the ultimate degradation.

 Read article in full

List of detainees at Abu Zaabal prison (HSJE)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

US donates more towards restoration of Nahum's tomb

The United States announced Friday that it would contribute an additional $500,000 to help restore the tomb believed to be the resting place of the biblical prophet Nahum in the town of Alqosh in northern Iraq, the Times of Israel reports. While the Kurdish authorities (and private donors) have also contributed, it is interesting that Kurdistan has not claimed the site as its 'national heritage', in contrast to Egypt, for instance.

Joey Hood pledged the money on a visit to the tomb last week
“Chargé d’affaires Joey Hood and Consul General Steve Fagin visited the Tomb of Nahum, a site rich in cultural importance to the region’s Jews, Christians and Muslims,” the US Consulate General in Erbil announced. (..)

In November 2018, the US also gave $500,000 to assist in restoring the tomb, according to Adam Tiffen, the deputy director of the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH), a US-based non-governmental organization overseeing efforts to repair the site.
Both private donors and the Prime Minister’s Office of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have also made donations to help ensure the conservation of the tomb, Tiffen told The Times of Israel in a phone call.
The 1,500-year-old building was for centuries the site of a major Jewish pilgrimage each year on the holiday of Shavuot.

Friday, April 26, 2019

How Mimouna became an Israeli celebration

A plate of Mimouna goodies graces the front cover of the Jewish Journal of LA. Shmuel Rosner tells how a Moroccan-Jewish tradition - a party to mark the end of Passover - is now celebrated by 38 percent of all Israelis. 

This process is evident in the waning of some “ethnic” traditions, such as the tradition of refraining from eating kitniyot during Passover (see graph, right). It’s also evident in the spread of “ethnic” traditions. While Ashkenazic Jews are losing the ethnic battle over kitniyot (probably for their own good), another group is winning the battle over another ethnic custom: Mimouna. This festival ceased being merely an “ethnic” custom long ago. It is a national holiday. So much so, that in 2016, then-Environment Minister Avi Gabbay decided to exempt Mimouna (like Independence Day) from the general ban on making noise after 11 p.m. Mimouna celebrations, which include late-night ululations, received an official stamp of approval.

Mimouna is an end-of-Passover tradition that was imported to Israel by a minority. A “marginal, sectarian” festival that received the “status of a national holiday, partly religious, partly civil,” as Rachel Shabi wrote in a book on the subject. Moroccan immigrants celebrated it in their homes until someone had the idea to take it public in the mid-1960s. Initially a few hundred came, then thousands, then tens and hundreds of thousands, and with them the politicians, who understood the electoral power represented by the revelers. “Moroccan immigrants celebrated Mimouna in their homes until someone had the idea to take it public in the mid-1960s.”

At some point, the celebrations turned mainstream in a way that made some keepers of the ethnic traditions uncomfortable. These people — a minority — started complaining of too quick a switch “from the erasure of a culture to its appropriation.” They argued that at first Israel pushed the Moroccan immigrants and their culture to the margins, but then was seduced by the smell of mufletot — the traditional Mimouna pancakes — to appropriate this part of the culture. Around half a million Moroccan immigrants, whether first- or second-generation, live in Israel today. This corresponds with our finding that one-tenth of Jews in Israel (9%) say they “host Mimouna at home.”

Around half of the hosts also “wear traditional dress” on Mimouna (4%). These are the numbers that represent a traditional “ethnic” holiday. Mimouna, however, requires not only hosts but also guests. In Morocco, Jews used to invite their Muslim neighbors to Mimouna. In modern Israel, they invite their Jewish compatriots from other communities, who are not fortunate enough to have such a beautiful festival of their own.

Therefore, almost 4 in 10 Israelis attend Mimouna (38%). More than one quarter of Ashkenazic Jews report that they attend Mimouna (27%). A similar proportion of Jews from the former Soviet Union report the same (28%). That’s not to mention Mizrahi Jews (48%) and Israelis from mixed families (43%). A simple calculation of hosts and guests reveals that almost half of Israel’s Jewish population celebrates Mimouna.

  Read article in full

More about Mimouna

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Singing from a multitude of songsheets

If asked how to define her identity, Aline P'nina Tayar would say she was a Jewish Maltese Australian Englishwoman.

Multiple identities are not uncommon among Sephardi Jews, but Maltese? to be a Jew of  Malta is unusual, pace  Christopher Marlowe.    

Aline Tayar was born in Malta in 1948 from a family of Tunisian Jews of Livornese descent on her mother's side. Her father's great-grandfather was a rabbi who had settled in Malta. Devoutly catholic and claustrophobic, Malta was not a particularly hospitable place to be a Jew, and the community never had more than 100 members in modern times. Aline's family remained far-flung, with eccentric,  multilingual relatives living in France, Italy, Tunisia and Egypt.

Aline's memoir How shall we sing? is a tale of 'survival through geographical re-arrangement' as she quaintly puts it. Aline takes the reader on a journey around the Mediterranean to meet members of her tribe, and explore what it is to be a Jew belonging nowhere and yet at home everywhere. Her own dislocated nuclear family could not resettle successfully on an Israeli kibbutz, so her father moved them to Australia.

Aline admits to being 'both drawn and repelled' by the Jewish determination to remain exclusive, yet 'a world without cultural differences is unattractive'. No matter how hard Aline's family tries to run away from the past, it catches up with them. The book's characters are finely observed, the atmosphere evocative, the writing engaging and funny. About Israel, the attitude is  'we want the state to exist, on the other hand, we would prefer other people to live in it.'

It is 19 years since How shall we sing? was first published by Pan MacMillan in Australia. A retired conference interpreter, she now teaches conference interpreting in Shanghai. She is seeking financial backers for the film adaptation of her 2011 prize-winning novel ' Island of Dreams'.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Rabbi Pinto elected leader of Moroccan rabbinical court

For the first time in 100 years, a dayan (judge) has been appointed head of the rabbinical court in Morocco, reports  Times of Israel.  Rabbi Yeshayahu Pinto, who is from Israel where he spent a year in jail for corruption, was inaugurated lat week as a new Yeshiva for 40 rabbinical students was opened in Casablanca. The yeshiva heralds a possible  renaissance of Moroccan-Jewish life. A new chief rabbi will be appointed soon.

 Inaugurated Saturday night at the end of Shabbat, a yeshiva, a center for Talmudic studies, opened at the Beth-El synagogue in Casablanca, Morocco, the HuffPostMaghreb reported. This is the only institution of its kind in Morocco. The ceremony was attended by the(governor) of Casablanca, Serge Berdugo, Secretary General of the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco (CCIM), and Yoshiyahou rabbi Pinto,appointed at the same event av beth din of Morocco, leader of the rabbinical court which will also officiate notably as head of the kashrut in the country.

Rabbi Pinto was appointed at a ceremony attended by Muslim and Jewish leaders

The school was created through Rabbi Pinto's Shuva-Morocco association and in partnership with the CCIM, which will provide the premises of the synagogue. It will host 40 students. Questioned by the HuffPost Morocco, Serge Berdugo said: "You realize the importance of the thing? Students of Moroccan origin, from around the world, will come to study the Moroccan Judaic tradition."

 In a statement, the CCIM announced that the objective of the association Shuva-Morocco was the "spread and dissemination, within the Jewish community of Morocco, of Torah study, Hebrew culture and traditional Judeo-Moroccan precepts, general education, Hebrew and Arabic languages, training of teachers and rabbis, and support and help for the needy.

The opening ceremony of the yeshiva and the appointment of Rabbi Yeshiyahu Pinto to the post of av beth din of Morocco took place in the presence of the governor of Casablanca and Serge Berdugo. During the ceremony, Yeshiyahu Pinto, descendant of a line of great Moroccan rabbis, promised the small Jewish community of the predominantly Muslim kingdom that they would "follow a new path" under his direction.

In his speech, following his nomination as av beth din, the rabbi briefly recalled his one-year prison stay in Israel: "It was God who put me to the test. "

The Rabbi, a Kabbalist who enjoys great international popularity with celebrities and businessmen, settled in Morocco in early 2017, after his release from prison. He had been convicted of bribing a police official in 2014.As part of a plea bargain he had agreed to testify against Menashe Arviv, the former head of the police's anti-corruption unit, who is suspected of having accepted bribes from businessmen associated with the rabbi.

As the head of several charities and institutions specializing in the study of Torah in the coastal city of Ashdod and the United States, he has also been the subject of a number of investigations by the FBI.

 More recent articles of interest: (with thanks: Stan, Lily)

Morocco is a trove of Jewish history if you know where to go (Times of Israel) 

 Pilgrimage to Agadir saint Rabbi Khalifa ben Malka (Ya Biladi)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Haaretz: Jewish reparations claims could 'derail' Trump plan

Long Haaretz article by Eeta Prince-Gibson controversially suggesting that reparations claims for Jews from Arab countries could derail the Trump peace plan. The article gives prominence to voices on the left like Lara Friedman, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who has form in delegitimising Jewish claims, while privileging Palestinian claims. The issue of reparations is portrayed through the classic leftist lens of Israel's 'discriminatory treatment and manipulation' of Mizrahim for political purposes. My comments appear in italics in the text. (With thanks: Edward, Imre)

 Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal last month by a group of Iraqi Jews demanding to be recognized as victims of the Nazis.

While acknowledging that the Nazis had been heavily involved in creating the anti-Jewish atmosphere that led to the pogrom known as the Farhud (which took place in Iraq in June 1941), the court determined that they could not be recognized as victims of the Nazis under existing Israeli legislation. Such recognition would have allowed the group to receive pensions and other monetary benefits. The court’s decision marked the final stage in a case that had been ongoing since 2011.

 But it does not put an end to the issue of compensation to Jews from Arab lands, including Iraq, who fled their homes after the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948. At the time of the state’s foundation, almost a million Jews lived in Arab and Muslim countries and Iran. Some of these communities dated back to ancient times. Although in some countries they had experienced intermittent anti-Semitism and persecution throughout the ages, many of the communities and individual Jews were prosperous.

Jewish immigrants from Morocco arrive at Haifa's port
Jewish immigrants from Morocco arriving in Haifa port

However, according to Jews for Justice from Arab Countries ( sic :Justice for Jews from Arab Countries)— an international umbrella group of Jewish community organizations — as hostility toward Israel and Jews intensified, some 850,000 Jews left or fled their homes in Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt, abandoning their property and assets. Today, only a few thousand Mizrahi Jews are left in all of those countries. Reparations initiatives resurface every few years, in both Israel and the United States. But unlike the question of reparations for victims of the Nazis, the compensation demands for Mizrahi Jews are more complicated and have become inextricably linked to regional peace — leaving some to question whether the true intent of the reparation efforts is to shackle any possible peace negotiations with the Palestinians and/or Arab world.

Two refugee movements occurred at the same time and in similar numbers. It is only reasonable to regard them as an irrevocable exchange of refugee populations in the Middle East.

The reparations issue was first raised in the 1970s, spearheaded by the likes of former MK Mordechai Ben-Porat. The first relevant organization to be established was the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries in 1975, which demanded that any settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem also recognize the Mizrahi Jews forced to flee from lands where they had lived for centuries. The organization disbanded in 1999 and was superceded by Jews for Justice from Arab Countries (sic: Justice for Jews from Arab Countries) in 2002.

In February 2010, the Knesset passed legislation preserving the right of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran to compensation. This law obligated the State of Israel to ensure that any negotiations for peace in the Middle East would also include the subject of compensation for Jewish refugees. At the same time, the National Council for Jewish Restitution was established. However, it was subsequently disbanded and has never been reestablished. Most recently, a report on Israel television’s Channel 10 in January revealed that Israel intends to demand over $250 billion from seven Arab countries and Iran as compensation for what the Mizrahi Jews left behind. According to the report, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel was coordinating the process of assessment and demand with the National Security Council, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office, and has engaged the services of an international accountancy firm. Jews for Justice from Arab Countries was apparently involved in these efforts, too. The report said that Israel was first set to seek $35 billion in compensation for lost Jewish assets from Tunisia and $15 billion from Libya. Claims against Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran would follow later.

The figures produced by Minister Gamliel remain  arbitrary until the results of the professional assessment are announced.

 Repatriation of Jews to Arab lands is not and has never been a viable option.

Why is repatriation to Israel  ('the right of return') for Palestinians a viable option? This right does not exist in international law.

Furthermore, for geopolitical as well as practical reasons (in most cases, there are no listings of properties or assets), financial or material compensation are not likely either. So why has the issue resurfaced, and why now?

Officials contend it is because of genuine concern for justice.“It is time to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms in seven Arab countries and to restore to the hundreds and thousands of Jews who lost their property what is rightfully theirs,” declared Gamliel in announcing the initiative.

And on its official website, the Israeli Foreign Ministry writes that “Official recognition of rights [of Jews displaced from Arab countries] which were neglected and the need to grant justice is an issue of national, ethical and moral importance.”

To some, these efforts are a vindication of their experiences — both in their country of origin and in Israel.

Mazal Ashkenazi, now 79, left Morocco clandestinely with her family in 1955, afraid for their lives. “It is about time that the state stood up for us,” she says. “My family was terribly poor when we came to Israel. We gave up all the comforts that we had to come to Israel, and it is only right that if there ever is an agreement, we should receive compensation — for what we left behind and for the suffering we experienced here.”

“They called us avak adam [“human dust,” or “wrecked people”],” says Shoshana Ben Abu, 73, a retired teacher whose family came to Israel from Morocco, citing a particularly derogatory remark about immigrants commonly made by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. “In Morocco we were Jews; here we were nothing. But at least now the state is standing up for us,” she says.
However, following her announcement earlier this year, Gamliel’s office has not issued further statements about the reparations and the issue has not come up at all during the election campaign. Her office did not respond to requests for comment.

In fact a political party, Peula Le'Israel, stood in the elections on a platform of demanding reparations for Jews from Arab countries. It came 17th out of 40 parties in the vote.

Political issue

There are some who contend that these efforts are little more than a ploy to preemptively kill any peace deal with the Palestinians and the presumed demand to recognize the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees.

On the contrary, recognising the claims of Jews from Arab countries would improve the chances for peace. Half the Jewish population of Israel have roots in Muslim and Arab lands. No peace deal which ignores their rights will have credibility.

Michael R. Fischbach, professor of history at Virginia’s Randolph-Macon College, has extensively researched this issue and published a widely regarded book in 2008, “Jewish Property Claims Against Arab Countries.” He says that for years, various actors — but especially Israel — have linked the resolution of Jewish property claims to the fate of Palestinian refugee property and repatriation claims. “The term has been politicized, using the Mizrahim as a weapon against the Palestinians,” he tells Haaretz in a phone interview. “The linkage takes an individual or a family’s assets and subsumes them into an Israeli political issue.”

One can only marvel at the double standards here. For over seventy years the Palestinian issue has been politicised, to the extent that the Arab states and Palestinian leadership have refused to integrate their refugees, maintaining them as a weapon against Israel. 

The Jews for Justice from Arab Countries group strongly refutes this. On its website, it writes that “the legitimate call to secure rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees. ... However, it emphasizes that “it is important to ensure that the rights of hundreds of thousands of Jews displaced from Arab countries be similarly recognized and addressed. ... For any peace process to be credible and enduring, it must ensure that all bone fide refugees receive equal rights and treatment under international law.” Fischbach argues, though, that the involvement of international groups like Jews for Justice from Arab Countries is controversial. “There is a strong, ethical and historical question here: By what moral and legal right do these organizations, which are not representative in any way, take upon themselves to speak for the Mizrahim in Israel?”

These organisations are certainly more representative than Michael Fischbach, a US professor whose sympathies lie with the Palestinians.

 American politicians have reinforced this claim. During the Camp David peace talks of 2000, President Bill Clinton announced that if an accord were to be reached, an international fund should be established to both compensate Arab refugees and Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Since then, the U.S. Congress has passed a series of resolutions stating that Jewish refugees should be recognized as refugees by the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and that an international fund be established to compensate Jewish and Palestinian refugees for the loss of their property. The most recent resolution, in 2016, was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler and called for a report on U.S. actions that have been taken “to ensure that a just, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace accord also finds resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.” The resolutions are not binding, says Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace — a Washington-based think tank dedicated to the promotion of “a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But, she adds, they do have tremendous symbolic significance. “Congress acts to systematically delegitimize Palestinian refugees,” she argues, “while introducing more bills recognizing Jewish [people] from Arab lands as refugees whose claims/grievances must be addressed.

Ms Friedman's warped idea of justice does not seem to recognise that the Jewish refugees have any legitimate claims whatsoever.

“The main goal is to impose new terms of reference on future peace negotiations,” she says — “terms that place full responsibility on the Arab world both for Palestinian refugees of 1948 and for Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries in the wake of the creation of Israel.”

These efforts, she says, are merely a “cynical exploitation of Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries. Do the supporters of these efforts inside Congress ... believe that the Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries see themselves as unwilling exiles in a foreign land, dreaming of the day they can return to their true homes in, say, Yemen, Egypt or Tunisia?” she asks. “Is Israel the homeland of the Jews, or is a generic country that magnanimously gave permanent refuge to a group of foreigners (who happened to be Jewish) who were fleeing persecution in their native countries?” she continues. “It can’t be both.”

It can be both. These Jews left Arab countries because of 'push' factors: persecution, mob violence, popular antisemitism. The return to Zion was for many pious Jews a 'pull' factor. Ultimately, however, Israel was the only possible destination country which would unconditionally accept Jews stripped of their rights and property.

 Friedman notes there has been a flurry of new congressional initiatives in response to leaks around the U.S. administration’s Middle East peace plan. She calls this “absurd. If the intent is to shackle the administration, it’s unnecessary. This administration has already delegitimized the Palestinians and ‘the deal’ [of the century] is unlikely to go anywhere.” The linking of Mizrahi reparations with the Palestinian right of return angers some Mizrahi activists, who say it perpetuates the discrimination the community has long felt in Israel.

Fischbach says the issue has become a partisan problem because connecting the reparations claims with the Palestinians’ right of return “takes an individual or a family’s assets and subsumes them into an Israeli political issue,” thus creating divisions between right-wing and left-wing Mizrahim.

Two comments from people interviewed by Haaretz for this article highlight that divide. Lawyer Moshe Karif, whose parents came from Tunisia and Iran, tells Haaretz that “it takes a lot of arrogance, chutzpah and racism to pit the Mizrahi assets against the Palestinians’ assets. Why should my grandparents’ modest assets be used as an excuse not to pay the Palestinians?! Now, after all we’ve suffered, we’re supposed to be the ones who ‘pay off’ the Palestinians or be part of the failure of a peace process? Where’s the justice in that? Why didn’t anyone do that with the reparations from Germany?”

The Clinton international fund envisages compensation for individual refugees on both sides, not a trade-off.

Ben Abu, for her part, has a different outlook. “I don’t really think we’ll ever see any money from the countries we left — so the Palestinians shouldn’t get anything either,” she says.
“Both the Ashkenazim and Mizrahim arrived in this country as refugees, with nothing of any material value. But while the Ashkenazim received reparations and were able to build themselves financially, the Mizrahim have remained in the lower classes until now. The state has no right to nationalize the assets that my family lost,” says Yonah, whose parents both came from Iraq.

Fischbach says that in all of the proposed plans for compensation from Arab countries, the monies would not go directly to individuals but to the state.

Not true. The Clinton international fund will compensate individual refugees on both sides.

Read article in full

Monday, April 22, 2019

When chaos reigned in Israel's transit camps

It’s a chapter in Israel’s short history which has not received the attention it deserved – until now. Channel 11 (Kan)  recently broadcast a three-part documentary series on the ma’abarot. These were transit camps which greeted hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, doubling the local population almost overnight.  Lyn Julius reviews Part 1 of the programme in her Jewish News blog (with thanks: Ralph):

The newcomers were promised that their stay would be transitory, but some remained in the camps for up to 13 years.

While  arrivals could be housed in property abandoned by Arabs during the 1948 War of Independence, for instance in Jaffa, the vast majority were sent to former British army barracks and from 1950 to camps of tents, wooden or tin huts. The camps were fenced in with barbed wire and eerily reminiscent of concentration camps. One immigrant was shown to a large tent, only to learn that his family would have to share it with another family with seven children. Instructions were boomed to the residents through a megaphone. One religious family thought initially it was the  voice of God.

The conditions were dire and the camp residents were at the mercy of the elements. Refugees from Iraq recalled  their tents collapsing under the weight of  snow. Children tramped through puddles and mud. Meanwhile a war raged outside, taking a heavy toll – one percent – of the population. The meager rations the immigrants were promised often did not materialise.

 Jews came from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, but the bulk was from Muslim countries. Spraying with DDT to protect against ringworm was the norm. One European Jewess said that she had been sprayed with DDT on every stop she made on her way to Israel. Another was shown smiling as he was sprayed with the chemical. But the reason for the DDT was not explained to Jews from Muslim countries – hence the myth arose that the Israeli authorities were singling them out for discriminatory treatment.
Refugees from Yemen at the Ein Shemer camp, 1950 (IGPO)

‘Bring a million Jews’, Prime Minister Ben Gurion had declared, even though many newcomers – especially the Jews of Yemen – arrived sick. The documentary showed starving children with twisted limbs. The new state tried to do what it could to save them, but nurses and doctors had stones thrown at them if they tried to move the children to hospital. Inevitably, Part 1 of the programme dealt with the scandal of the ‘disappeared children’.  Parents were told that their children had died but were not given death certificates, nor even shown the bodies. One Yemeni father was told that he might lose his job if he complained. A nurse said she did not think that children were being trafficked for an adoption racket. Chaos reigned. Parents moved from one transit camp to another, sometimes leaving their children behind, she claimed.

 For many, their time in the ma’abarot was a  period of  discomfort  and distress. The disappointment was palpable – ‘for this we came to Israel?’ they asked. But ultimately, despite all the hardships, 586,000 Jews became successfully integrated into Israeli society and never looked back.

Read article in full

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Israel outside Tel Aviv voted for Likud

In his perceptive analysis of the aftermath of the Israeli elections for the Wall St Journal, Jonathan Spyer identifies three elements driving support for the Likud party in the Israel which the media always neglect : the first is that Israel needs to stay strong in the face of unrelenting Arab rejectionism. The second is a deeply felt attachment to religious tradition.(With thank: Michelle)

Dr Jonathan Spyer

The third element is a resentment toward elites—cultural, judicial, professional and academic. This is most plainly expressed in accusations that Israel’s Supreme Court has overstepped its authority. Another example is Mr. Netanyahu’s claims, which his supporters largely find credible, that his own legal travails reflect an effort by those elites to destroy him.

 Who are the Israelis who identify with these views, and where are they from? In liberal, Western-looking Tel Aviv, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White list took 54% of the vote to Likud’s 9%. All told, the center-left won 79% of the vote in Tel Aviv.  In more conservative and nationalist Jerusalem, by contrast, Likud scored 25% of the vote, Blue and White only 10%. The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism list came second with 23%.

 In the town of Sderot, bordering the Gaza Strip, Likud won 43.5% to 9% for Blue and White. This part of Israel traces its recent familial origins largely to other parts of the Middle East—Morocco and Kurdistan, Iraq and Tunisia—and also to the former Soviet Union. This Israel speaks less English and finds itself of far less interest to the global media than the West Bank settlers, Tel Aviv liberals and elite-class Palestinian Arabs whom the West treats as the main players in events between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

 That focus should change. In spite of their self-perception as outsiders, this public increasingly sets the tone for the Israeli mainstream—in elections, cultural atmosphere and demographic realities. According to the 2018 Israeli Democracy Index, 64% of Israeli Jews age 18 to 34 identify as right-wing, compared with 47% of those 35 and older.

In many ways, Likud was a prototype for the populist insurgencies whose successes are now a notable feature of political life across the democratic world.

  Read article in full (subscription required)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Haroset for Passover: an Adeni recipe

Haroset is eaten as part of the Passover Seder in all Jewish families. It symbolises the bricks and mortar used by the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt.  There are almost as many recipes for Haroset as there are Jewish communities, and each family seems to have its own variation. This recipe comes from Aden (with thanks: Sarah):

Video made by Sarah Ansbacher, with help from  Chen Yefet and Mony Arovo. Recipe by Sara Arovo. 

Recipe for Adeni Duka (Haroset)

Duka is the Adeni name for this delicious traditional Haroset recipe from Aden for the Pesah seder. Here is the recipe and a short video so you can make it too.

Dates (Recommend Medjool)
Crushed walnuts
Lemon juice
Sugar (optional)

Put whole dates in a pot. Add a bit of hot water and simmer on a low heat and mix until it
has the consistency of porridge. Mix every so often to prevent it burning and add more water as needed. Then add wine, a dash of lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon (sugar, if you want) and crushed walnuts. Taste and add more of any ingredient as needed to taste. Cook for a further 10 minutes or so to infuse all the flavours.
Cover and cool. Then refrigerate in a sealed container.

חג פםח שמח!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

US law seeks to preserve MENA Jewish heritage

According to the Jerusalem Post, new legislation has been proposed  in the US Congress to extend the jurisdiction of a Commission charged with preserving 'American' heritage abroad to include the Middle East and North Africa. The group representing Jews from the MENA in the US, JIMENA,  is applauding this move.  Congressman Lee Zeldin cites the exhumation of Jewish cemeteries in Algeria as an example (With thanks: Lily, Imre)

WASHINGTON – The United States may now be able to prevent the destruction of Jewish heritage sites in the Middle East and North Africa.

Last week, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) introduced the Protecting US Heritage Abroad Act. The bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul (R, TX-10) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D, FL-23) would extend the current mandate of the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad to include the Middle East and North Africa, and would provide access to protected cemeteries, monuments and buildings.

Republican congressman Lee Zeldin

The commission is led by Paul Packer. “There are many countries beyond the current jurisdiction of the commission where Jews and other [members of other] religions are facing a hostile government and other adverse realities where their heritage is at risk, from cemeteries to synagogues and churches and more,” Zeldin told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview. “There are issues where the foreign heritage of US citizens needs to be better protected.”

Implementation of the act would have to be negotiated individually with each nation.

The commission was established in recognition that the population of the United States is composed mainly of immigrants and their descendants, and therefore the US has an interest in the preservation of sites in other countries that are an important part of the cultural heritage of many Americans. The types of properties that the commission seeks to preserve include cemeteries as well as archaeological and archival material.

The catalyst behind the commission was the Holocaust, and therefore it was aimed at preservation in Europe. After six million Jews were annihilated, few were left to continue to care for the communal properties that represented historical culture in the area or that constituted an integral part of the Jewish religion.

The commission has operated in more than 25 countries to date. It is based in Washington and staffed by presidential appointment. Today, many properties continue to be endangered, Zeldin told the Post. Governments and communities in the region face fundamental and competing challenges. Some Jewish sites have been affected by a resurgence of antisemitism.

Zeldin said that once the legislation is approved, the commission would have the authority to take its work within its current jurisdictions in Europe, and utilize that model to work with governments of other countries outside the continent, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa, “to protect the remains of Jews where they’re being threatened, to protect churches and to protect synagogues, and more.”

He cited Algeria as an example of his aims, “where a plan unfolds for Jewish remains to be dug up from 31 different cemeteries and buried in one mass location. It is of concern for United States citizens for this commission to have the ability to protect those remains.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The story behind Habiba Msika's piano

The exhibition Leaving, without ever returning (on at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum until 31 July) 31 treats with due seriousness the immigration to Israel of the Jews from Arab countries and Iran. So what’s a simple piano, adorned with a pair of simple pewter candlesticks, doing there? Haaretz has the backstory (With thanks: Imre; Yoram)

The explanation is both fascinating and tragic: The piano belonged to Habiba Msika, a Jewish actress and singer who in the 20th century was considered one of the greatest Tunisian artists, adored by Muslims and Jews alike.  Msika was born in 1903 to a poor family in Tunis’ Jewish quarter. An orphan at an early age, she went to live with her aunt. She developed her singing talent at Jewish weddings and later as an actress in the new Arab theater.  “There were singers with better voices who were more beautiful, but the secret of her success lay in her exceptional personality and her ability to create a warm connection with the audience,” wrote Prof. Yaron Tsur, an expert on the history of the Jews in the Islamic world.

That exceptional personality included multiple romances, unusual at the time, with Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Msika was also unusual in her feminism. She demanded, and received, a higher salary than male actors and singers, as well as leading roles, including a “masculine” role (the biblical Joseph), which unleashed a scandal. Her career soared and she also performed in Berlin, Nice, Paris and Monte Carlo – but everything ended tragically at its peak. In 1930, shortly before she married a young non-Jewish Frenchman, she was murdered by an older Jewish man who was in love with her. When she didn’t respond to his advances (and according to a different version, when she ended the affair with him), he set her on fire in her home and committed suicide.

 Guests pose for a photo at Fawzi Abu Rish's bar mitzvah, Damascus, Syria, early 20th century.  (The Oster Visual Documentation Center at Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Avraham (Fawzi) and Fanny Mizrahi)
She lived only one more day, even though she was rescued from the fire by her neighbor, Rachel Tubiana. The Msika family invited Tubiana to choose a souvenir from the items the star had left behind. She chose the piano. In 1952, when her family immigrated to Israel, the piano came too.

The curator of the exhibition, Dana Avrish, was born in 1979 and is a third-generation descendant of IranianLebanese and Syrian Jews. She knew this piano from her visits to her friends Yoel and Rinat Shetrog, who live in the community of Lapid, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, along the Green Line. Yoel, a professional photographer, is Tubiana’s grandson.
Avrish and the Shetrogs would listen to the songs of Corinne Allal, the Israeli singer who was born in 1955 and immigrated to Israel from Tunisia at age 8. The Shetrog girls would play that old piano in their living room. Recently, when Avrish did the research for the new exhibition, the family agreed to lend it as one of the exhibits.

 Shetrog provided the exhibition with another item that sheds light on Tunisia’s Jewish community: medals won by his grandfather Yehoshua Shetrog for his famous fig arak. Shetrog was an important mohel (a ritual circumciser), an important shohet (a ritual slaughterer) and a rabbi. His students included Yehuda Meir Getz, the Western Wall rabbi who died in 1995.

Yehoshua Shetrog was also a winemaker and the owner of a café where his arak was served. The medals show that he won competitions in Milan, Barcelona, Paris and London. In 1956 he immigrated to Israel with his family.

The piano and the medals are evidence of the flourishing, ancient Jewish community in Tunisia, a country that won independence in 1956. The exhibition also tells the other side of the story about the Jews who for thousands of years lived in Arab lands and Iran – the persecution, pogroms and anti-Semitism that reached a peak when Israel was established in 1948, leading to the exodus of about a million such Jews, the Mizrahim. 

“Along with their strong roots and an attachment to the cultures of the Islamic countries in which they lived, the Jews throughout the generations, especially in modern times, also experienced hardships that uprooted them from their homes and turned many of them into refugees,” Avrish says. She says that their aliyah to Israel was a painful departure that reverberates to this day.

Read article in full 


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How to make 'authentic' soft matzah at Passover

They call it soft or 'authentic' matzah - the kind that Sephardim have been eating for thousands of years at Passover. My Jewish Learning traces the development of matzah through the centuries - from soft to the 'hard' norm - and explains how to make your own 'soft' matzah . (With thanks: Michelle -Malca)

While most matzah today is baked at a factory into uniform squares of brittle, crunchy crackers, hundreds of years ago, matzah was a thicker, softer, hand-made variety that few today would recognize. Some Sephardic Jews, however, still make matzah in this style, and when we found out, I wondered if this unleavened flatbread might be a clue to what matzah looked like before mass produced, factory-made matzah.

The Sephardic Passover blog, Too Good To Passover, writes “In Ethiopia, matzah is made just like it it had been done for the first Passover when the Jews were fleeing Egypt through the desert: By hand. And FAST.” The bread is still made in under 18 minutes, and it’s fried on a flat clay pan. The result is a flatbread that’s about the size of a pita, with a nutty, earthy taste. Since this type of matzah has a short shelf life, it’s eaten immediately or within a day or two.
This style of baking matzah is often referred to as “authentic,” resembling the way that matzah was made thousands of years ago.

Chabad.org echoes these sentiments, writing, “by the 17th century matzah had thinned out to about the thickness of a finger, it was still soft, and so would not stay fresh for more than a few days.” It explains that matzah became thinner and more cracker-like due to concerns that the bread wasn’t entirely cooked within, and therefore not kosher for passover. Another interesting trend arose during the 18th century — there was a greater demand for more shelf-stable matzah that wouldn’t start to mold. By adding less water to the mixture and by kneading longer and with more effort, matzah bakers were able to achieve extremely thin, crunchy matzah that took days or even weeks to spoil. By the end of the 18th century, hard matzah was the new norm.

Today, of course, the process of making matzah is so modernized and efficient that matzah can be made months in advance of Passover and still considered “fresh.” But there’s still Sephardic and Yemenite families who make soft matzah by hand according to their own traditions handed down for generations, during the week of Passover.

If you’re interested in making your own soft matzah this year, here are some recipes to get you started:

Ethiopian Kit’ta Matzah from Too Good To Passover
Soft Matzah Baking in Homade Tandoori Oven, Part 1 (youtube video by Jenni Aaron Asher)
Soft Matzah Baking in Homemade Tandoori Oven, Part 2

 Read article in full

Monday, April 15, 2019

Eli Cohen remains 'coming back to Israel' (updated)

Update: The IDF has now denied these reports.
 In the wake of the return of the body of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel after 37 years, the media are rife with rumours that the remains of  Eli Cohen are coming home. The Egyptian-born spy was hanged in Damascus in 1965. The Jerusalem Post reports:

 Eli Cohen

Unconfirmed Syrian reports have claimed that the Russian delegation that just recently left Syria, allegedly departed with an Israeli coffin containing the remains of Israeli spy Eli Cohen.

The spy was hanged in Damascus in 1965.The reports have not yet been denied by any Israeli party. The censor has now authorized the publishing of the reports, although it is unclear how reliable they are, according to Yaron Avraham of Channel 2 News.

Read article in full 

Times of Israel 

More about Eli Cohen

Sunday, April 14, 2019

BBC report: Afghan Jew's writings torn up

 With thanks: Violet
Simantov with his torn Hebrew writings

Afghanistan's last Jew, Zevulun Simantov, has long been a curiosity for the western media.

  The BBC has just visited him again and has filed this video report. 

In previous reports, Simantov has almost laughed off the Taliban's efforts to convert him. But this time, things seem to be getting serious. Someone has pulled Jewish 'placecards' off the walls and torn them up. Afghans are still trying to convert Simantov to Islam. But he won't do it, even if they paid him.

The report gives the impression that the 5,000-member community left as a consequence of the creation of Israel in 1948. In fact their situation had deteriorated beforehand.  Jews are also said to have left after the 1979 Soviet invasion but there could have been no more than a handful still in the country at that time.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Ashkenazi Jews are Middle Eastern too

Strident anti-Zionist voices on the left of the US Democratic party are trying to distance  Ashkenazi Jews from their ancestral homeland in Israel by calling them 'white Jews'.  Joshua Robbin Marks writes in The Times of Israel that Ashkenazi Jews who are conditioned  also to describe themselves as 'white' need to de-colonise their minds: all Jews are Middle Eastern.

 On a recent Friday night I learned about the Jews of Turkey at a Shabbat sponsored by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) which took place at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. When I told the woman sitting across from me at the dinner following services that I am 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish she seemed surprised and replied “but you look Middle Eastern.”

Ashkenazi Jews: 'non-white'

This response also occurred at a similar JIMENA Shabbat at the same Sephardic synagogue last year when we learned about the Jews of Libya. Same surprised look. Same response to me being Ashkenazi. That I look Middle Eastern.
My response is always that we are Middle Eastern. Many Ashkenazi Jews are phenotypically Middle Eastern or Mediterranean reflecting modern genetic studies that attribute at least half of our DNA ancestry to the East Mediterranean/Levantine Middle East which Israel is right in the middle of – where the ethnogenesis of the Jewish people took place thousands of years ago and where Diaspora Jews originated.

The reality is that on a genetic level there is virtually no difference between Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews except that Ashkenazi Jews have slightly more European admixture reflecting our long sojourn on the European continent dating back to Roman times and even earlier in the Mediterranean Diaspora to Greek times.

Ashkenazim only came together as a distinct Jewish subgroup around 900 years ago in the Rhineland. Before that we were Italian Jews (Italkim) and before that Roman Jews and before that we were Judeans and before that Israelites – the same ancient source population that was exiled or voluntarily left the Land of Israel as traders and merchants across the Mediterranean, Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

This is where the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews came from – the same source population as Ashkenazi Jews with later admixture events in the Diaspora.
But if Ashkenazi Jews are at least half Middle Eastern and probably more in nearly all cases, then why do anti-Israel activists such as Linda Sarsour call us “white Jews” or the “white Jewish community” when Sarsour as a self-described Person of Color is actually lighter-skinned than many Ashkenazi Jews that she calls white? And why do so many Ashkenazi Jews call themselves “white Jews” as a juxtaposition with “Jews of Color” when many of them actually have darker features and look more Middle Eastern than the JOC that they so badly want to be seen as virtue signaling allies of?

What is going on with the likes of Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib and other anti-Israel leaders is an attempt to distance Ashkenazi Jews from our ancestral homeland by calling us white Jews as part of the effort to portray Israel as a European colonial project that forcefully displaced the native Palestinians rather than seeing the Zionist movement as the return of an indigenous people to their ancestral homeland not to displace anyone but to reinvigorate the Jewish people and our traditions in our birthplace and to provide a safe haven from anti-Semitism that has too often turned violent and even genocidal in the case of the Shoah.
They call themselves POC as a way to deflect any criticism of their positions even though Sarsour herself has stated that when she removes the hijab she is seen as a white woman and again Sarsour is lighter-skinned than many Jews she labels white.

The Ashkenazi Jews who call themselves white Jews have not acknowledged our Middle Eastern ancestry or don’t want to. They only look at our recent experience in Europe or that they might be light-skinned and presume that Ashkenazi Jews are native to Europe despite many genetic studies finding that we have substantial Middle Eastern ancestry with later European admixture events.

Read article in full

'We're Jews, we're non-white, we define ourselves'

Thursday, April 11, 2019

NY Times: the Moroccan exception

Writing in the New York Times, Anouar Maji and Yaelle Azagury have produced a nuanced view of Morocco's relationship with its Jews. The King is rightly  applauded for preserving and promoting Jewish heritage. The writers blame 'European colonialism, the creation of Israel and the emergence of Arab nationalism, imbued with elements of anti-Semitism, for dividing the Jewish and Muslim communities'. But the causes of the mass exodus predate the 20th century.   European colonialism was in the main good for the Jews, as it liberated them from centuries of 'dhimmitude'  and forced conversions.There were a few privileged financiers and courtiers, but popular feeling was very often anti-Jewish, leading the Jews being locked into ghettoes for their own safety, and  to more pogroms than in other parts of the Arab world. (With thanks: Gina, Boruch)

Celebrating Succot in Marrakesh, 2017

The 2011 Constitution acknowledges that Morocco’s identity has been “nourished and enriched” in part by “Hebraic” components. Around that same time, King Mohammed VI embarked on a wide-ranging rehabilitation project that reflects his “ the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Moroccan Jewish community.

More than 160 Jewish cemeteries with thousands of gravestones have been uncovered, cleaned up and inventoried with funding from the kingdom. In addition to synagogues, former Jewish schools have been renovated with the king’s support. The original names of the Jewish neighborhoods where many of these synagogues have stood for centuries have also been reinstated. In 2013, Abdelilah Benkirane, then the prime minister of Morocco’s Islamist-led government, read a message by the king at the reopening of the newly restored Slat al Fassiyine synagogue in Fez in which he pledged to protect the Jewish community.

Other houses of worship, like the splendid 19th-century Nahon synagogue in Tangier, are now museums. The Ettedgui synagogue in Casablanca and the adjacent El Mellah Jewish Museum, founded in 1997 by Moroccan Jews who believe in a shared future between Jews and Muslims, were restored and rededicated by the king in 2016. El Mellah is the only comprehensive Jewish museum in the Arab world. There are plans for three more in Morocco. (...)

Much still remains to be done, but these are promising developments. The question is, why now?

With a mere 2,500 Jews left in the kingdom, compared with some 240,000 in the 1940s, this endeavor may indeed appear purely symbolic, or even designed to bolster Morocco’s image in the world. It will not bring Moroccan Jews back in any great numbers. But the kingdom’s embrace of Jewish heritage is a strong reminder of the Jews’ rightful place in Morocco’s history, despite some strained chapters.

In the 20th century, European colonialism, the creation of Israel and the emergence of Arab nationalism, imbued with elements of anti-Semitism, divided the Jewish and Muslim communities and set them on different paths. Fearing violence and persecution, Jews left the kingdom for Israel and elsewhere. But the Moroccan Jewish diaspora in Canada, France, Israel and Venezuela have retained strong ties with their old homeland, often helping to fund renovations.

In the popular imagination, Jews and Muslims are seen as locked in an eternal struggle, but this wasn’t always so. From Morocco to Iran, Jews have lived in Muslim lands for centuries, with the two communities developing complex linguistic, cultural and commercial ties. Their coexistence was far from perfect, but as the historian Michel Abitbol and others have shown, Jews fared significantly better in Arab lands than their brethren in the shtetls of Central and Eastern Europe. From the Middle Ages throughout the Early Modern period, Sephardic Jews often prospered as merchants, translators, administrators and agents for the sultan. 

Nowadays, the global media — which tends to dwell on what separates, rather than unites, Jews and Muslims — and the spread of Islamic fundamentalism on the internet has left Morocco’s youth largely unaware that a sizable Jewish community lived among them only 60 or 70 years ago. As the Moroccan anthropologist Aomar Boum has argued, Muslims have only “memories of absence” of their Jewish neighbors. Morocco’s gestures of openness help remind its citizens, and the world, that the country’s Jewish history matters and is worth honoring.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The story of Judaism is liberation from imperialism

The “Arab world” today is the creation of modern pan-Arabism, which arose after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and which has roots in the Arab empires of the Middle Ages. The term “Arab Jew,” a term not historically used by Mizrahim (Jews of the Middle East), has been bandied about by anti-Zionists and is now becoming mainstream.  Must-read in the Jerusalem Post by activist and writer Hen Mazzig:

They are forcing an Arab nationalist and imperialist narrative on us. As the son of Zionist Iraqi Jewish mother and a North-African Amazigh (Berber) father, I am appalled by their distortion of history.

The term “Arab Jew” subverts Zionism because it is Arab nationalist/imperialist orthodoxy. Arab nationalists/ imperialism reject Jewish national identity and political power, while they generally accept Jewish religion. The term “Arab Jew” encapsulates this rejection.

As they reject Zionism and Israel they say Zionism is racist against Mizrahim. Their perspective runs against the view of the vast majority of Mizrahim in Israel who, despite the difficulties we and our parents faced in the “Maabarot” (the Jewish refugee camps Mizrahim were sent to by the Ashkenazi [European] Jews when they first arrived to Israel) are Israeli patriots and Zionists. This is an incredibly patronizing view that has no connection whatsoever to reality.
They’ve created narrative that is reflective of only their wild imaginations and Arab nationalist fantasies.

Many Mizrahi Jews were Zionist long before the establishment of Israel. And while some Mizrahi Jews had friendly relationships with their Arabx neighbors, like the Christians in the Middle East they were without sovereignty and equality and were therefore often victimized throughout their history in the Muslim Diaspora.

These activist also belittle the Mizrahi experience, the lives of 850,000 Jewish refugees who even in the successor states to the Ottoman Empire of the early twentieth century were de facto treated as “dhimmis,” an Arabic term for a protected minority that pays for said protection, until the oppressor decides to end this agreement.

The story of my family, and the Jewish Iraqi community, is a great example of the aforementioned.

In Iraq, despite being “equal citizens,” they experienced ongoing oppression, which culminated in the brutal attack of the “Farhud,” and other anti-Jewish attacks. The Farhud was a Nazi-incited riot in 1941 that claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews and forced the country’s entire Jewish population to live in absolute fear.

With the radicalization of Arab nationalists who could not tolerate any political power other than their own in North Africa and the Middle East, Jews across the region were expelled.

These refugees, many of whom joined relatives who had already left decades earlier, building cities and neighborhoods like the Kurdish Jewish community in Jerusalem and the Yemenite Jewish community in Tel Aviv. They sacrificed whatever they had left, and happily returned to their indigenous homeland, Israel, which they contributed mightily to building up and defending.

The term Arab Jews glorifies a small minority of assimilated Jews who regretted leaving the Arab world as if they represented the majority. They do not. Many Mizrahi Jews seem to be able to do what this minority cannot, which is to appreciate Arab (and Persian, and Kurdish, and Berber and Yemenite) culture without rejecting Israeli culture and sovereignty.

Hen Mazzig: 'progressives never speak about Arab imperialism'

These anti-Zionist in fact reverse the empire-nation narrative. Israel is national entity while the Arab world is an imperial one. You can always tell an empire by language. Arabic is an imperial language like English and French, promoted through settler-colonialism and imperial hegemony throughout the Middle Ages.
Since the twentieth-century rise of pan-Arabism, leaders advocated Arabization policies of indigenous national groups, whether the Kurds, the Berber or the Sudanese, and sought to permanently reduce the status and power of indigenous religious groups, such as the Copts and Maronites, across the region.

These “progressives” and their ideas neglect the truly oppressed minorities, while promoting Arab imperialistic ideas. They completely ignore the Copts, Kurds, Berbers and Maronites who are now increasingly reclaiming their autonomy and sovereignty. We are so used to the “Arab world” that we forget it is a product, in modern terms, of Nasser and his encouragement “Arabization” programs whether in Algeria or Iraq, as well as of the Saudis and other Gulf leaders who have also encouraged “Arab” unity.

They never speak about Arab imperialism, about Saddam and the Kurds, about the war in Algeria, or the Berbers. Granted the latter causes are hardly as popular as the Palestinian/Arab one, which has the backing of Gulf oil money and the support of European intellectuals who march en masse for Palestine and have not uttered a peep about the Kurds in the most recent war.

The greater issue is that there is a misguided school of thought dominating the conversation about Israel and the Middle East which is distorting the whole imperial and colonial history of the region. There have been several nations that have acted as empires in the region, conquering, settling and dominating peoples outside their own homeland. These have been the Arabs, Turks and Iranians, and more recently the British, French and Italians.

The Jews, in contrast, have merely returned to their only homeland. Israel is the only Jewish state in the world and less than 0.3% of the entire Middle East.
The central narrative of Judaism is the story of national liberation in the face of an imperial power. The liberation of Jews from other empires has occurred in living memory.

Let’s remember this. It is a place where a group of indigenous people reclaimed their land and revived their ancient language despite being surrounded by hostile neighbors. Reality and history play no role in this debate and it is time to call out these activists for the ideology they promote and to oppose their lies.

Read article in full

More from Hen Mazzig

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Is Egypt showing signs of rebuilding links? No comment.

Is Alexandria's Jewish community experiencing a revival? Or is its  Nebi Daniel synagogue, for a time reinvigorated by an Israeli minyan during the High Holidays, destined to be a memorial to a defunct community?  Richard Spencer in The Times puts a positive spin on recent promises by Egypt to restore Jewish heritage, but it's not convincing. (With thanks: Lily, Boruch)

Alexandria’s sea front and many of its belle époque mansions were built by Italian Jewish engineers. Round the corner from the synagogue stood the Maccabee billiard hall where Lawrence Durrell courted Eve Cohen, model for the femme fatale Justine in his Alexandria quartet.

Then everything went into reverse. Waves of hatred after Israel was established were accompanied by expulsions under Nasser and by 1970 most Jews had fled. There can be little doubt that the community is on the verge of extinction. Or is it? Behind those high walls on Nebi Daniel Street, something remarkable is happening.

After the uprising of 2011 the authorities deemed Alexandria too insecure to guarantee the safety of the annual Israeli visitation. Shortly after, in a symbolic blow, the synagogue’s roof fell in. This year, however, the sound of hammers has rung out. Renovation has begun, sponsored by the antiquities ministry, intent on not just repairing the roof but rebuilding the finest synagogue in the Middle East.
It is a rare good news story for Egypt — at least I think it is. As with the history of Alexandria itself, the thinking behind the restoration has many layers. It was not possible to visit. The ministry referred me to the state information service, which referred me to the state security bureau. Letters were stamped. But even so the army construction company carrying out the repairs declined.

 The Nebi Daniel (Eliyahu Hanavi) synagogue in Alexandria

The deputy antiquities minister, Hisham Samir, was happy to meet. He is a brigadier-general, however, who was less happy at suggestions that the anti-Islamist President Sisi might be sending a signal. “This is not political,” he insisted. “We have a legal responsibility to restore antiquities.” Is Egypt showing it disavows antisemitism, I asked. “There is nothing like this at all,” he said, smiling but ambiguous.

I was given a tour of other Jewish sites by Zahraa Adel Awad, a guide and trove of information. She said that the opening to Jews was real, partly motivated by an investment climate quietly attracting Egyptian-born businessmen living abroad. Another source said that the restoration was being funded not by the government but by three overseas Egyptian-born Jews. Again, it was hard to establish the truth. The community’s few representatives were “unavailable”. One, eventually, admitted they had been asked not to talk to journalists until restoration was complete.

One man who did was Yves Fedida, 73, whose parents were married in the synagogue and who played there as a child. Now living in London (Paris -ed), he maintains a benevolent watch on Egypt’s Jewish heritage.

He said with a wink in his voice that the ministry was funding the restoration — but that state coffers received generous donations. He also returned to history’s complex layers. “What’s remarkable is how Egyptian governments, all of them, managed to protect the synagogues,” he said. “Even during the worst outbreaks of violence, there were always guards.”

Perhaps the biggest miracle is that 2,350 years after Jews helped Alexander the Great to build his dream city, they are still there. Maybe, with the restored synagogue, some will return. Even if not, they will have a fitting memorial.

Read article in full (subscription required)

Monday, April 08, 2019

Recalling the forced conversion of the Jews of Mashad

 One hundred and eighty years have passed since the forced conversion of the Jews of Mashad in Persia to Islam, known as the Allahdadi event. To commemorate this 1839 trauma, the Mashadi community in Greatneck, USA has produced the above 15-minute video.

Jews have lived in Persia since the destruction of the first Jerusalem temple in 586 BCE, but history has not always treated them kindly.

 The video tells how synagogues were burnt down and thirty-two Jews died in the Allahdadi pogrom (Persian for 'God-given') , one of a series of assaults; the entire community of 400 families decided to save themselves by reciting the shahada marking their conversion to Islam.

Known as New Muslims, the community used subterfuge to maintain their Judaism secretly. The children were taught the precepts of their religion by the elders behind closed doors. The Mashadi Jews developed a script called jadidi which only Jews could understand.

Jews took on a Muslim name in addition to their Jewish name. The prefix Hajj denoted a person who had been on pilgrimage to Mecca or Karbala, the great Shi'ite shrine in Iraq.

 In effect, they led double lives. Children were betrothed at a young age to prevent a Muslim demanding a Jewish girl's hand in marriage. Two marriage certificates were produced at a wedding - one Muslim, one Jewish. (It is interesting that even though they were now Muslim, society at large still considered them 'untouchable' or najjas : the Jews of Mashad were forced to build their own bath houses.)

A Mashadi bride received both Muslim and Jewish ketubot
So successful were the Jews of Mashad at preserving their Jewish traditions that a thriving Mashadi community exists today. 

For a full history of the Jews of Mashad, see this issue of the Aish magazine Perspectives. An article by Mehran Levy begins on page 14.(With thanks: Michelle)