Friday, May 31, 2019

Remember the Farhud, 78 years on

On  the 78th anniversary of the Farhud on 1 and 2 June 1941,  we recall the most traumatic event in the collective memory of Iraqi Jewry. It  took place  on the Jewish holiday of Shavuoth: 180 people were brutally murdered, thousands were wounded and raped, and shops and synagogues were plundered and destroyed. Here is an account prepared by the Museum of the Jewish People (Bet Hatfutsot) and reproduced in Haaretz:

The attack on the city's flourishing, peaceful Jewish community is usually referred to as the trigger for the Iraqi aliyah to Israel. But seldom is the question asked: How could such a pogrom have occurred in the first place in Iraq – a place where Jews had lived in peace for centuries, a country that did not seem to suffer anti-Semitic norms? 

An examination of the historical background reveals the Farhud's causes: the opposing interests of the Iraqi government and the British Empire, Nazi Germany's influence, internal Arab movements, and a struggle between groups of Iraqi intellectuals. The unfortunate Jews were caught in the middle. 

Historian Nissim Kazzaz has researched Iraqi Jewry and managed to put the Farhud in its historical context. Until the 1920s there was no significant evidence of anti-Semitism in Iraq. Old restrictions from the Ottoman era were abolished during the 20th century and the establishment of the British Mandate after World War I soon changed the Jews situation for the better. 

Yet World War I had other outcomes as well. The Iraqi elite were introduced to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged text that was partly translated from the original Russian into Arabic. New movements were rising in that period in Iraq, some of which argued that as long as the Jews did not hold national inspirations, they were part of the Iraqi nation without obstacles.

Jews at a synagogue waiting to waive their Iraqi citizenship in order to emigrate to Israel, Baghdad, March 1950.
(Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy David Petel)

But other movements, such as Al Istiklal, had a different opinion. Perceiving the Iraqi nationality as Arabic and Muslim, they would not include religious minorities such as the Jews. Formally, after Iraq received independence from Britain in 1932, the Jews were considered Iraqi citizens, but some voices always argued against their integration.

At the same time, the world was going through profound changes. Fascist leaders rising in Europe such as Hitler and Mussolini had supporters among the Iraqi elite who resented the British. Even after independence, the British still expected certain privileges, especially in the transfer of goods through Iraq, which the Iraqi nationalists would not yield. They insisted that Iraq should establish a close relationship with Germany instead of being exploited by Britain. 

Meanwhile, Hitler's Mein Kampf and speeches were translated into Arabic, and German educators came to Iraq to spread radical anti-Semitic propaganda. Iraqi newspapers went all the more pro-German, especially after 1939. They asserted, for example, that Iraqi Jews and the Zionists were one and the same, that world Jewry was scheming to ruin the glorious nation of Iraq, and that Jews must be banished from public life. 

With help from the Germans, the Al-Fatwa religious movement was founded; it espoused the keeping to strict Islamic rules and practices by all citizens, and it was inspired by the Hitler Youth. At a certain point, all students and teachers were forced to join the movement – including the Jews. In 1939 the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, settled in Iraq, lobbied for the Germans and spread hatred against the Jews. 

The tension boiled over on April 1, 1941. Until that day Iraq did not assist the British, but it also did not assist Germany directly. Eventually, Prime Minister Rashid Ali decided it was time to switch allies. He launched a coup against the pro-British officials; he then announced that Iraq would no longer assist Britain with airplane fuel, and even sent military forces to British bases in Iraq. By the end of April, the British had attacked the Iraqi army, which was now backed up by Luftwaffe pilots. 

In May, the British fought the German-Iraqi force and had help from groups like the the Irgun Jewish militia based in British Mandatory Palestine. In one operation in Iraq, Irgun chief David Raziel was killed by the Germans and his body was kept by the Iraqis until the early 1960s. Finally, with support from Indian forces, the British forced the Iraqis to surrender, and on May 30 the pro-German Iraqi officials escaped to Iran. Their successors signed the surrender documents.

From that point the Jews were in immediate danger. The surrender agreement stated that the British would enter Baghdad within two days. The Al-Fatwa religious movement saw a window of opportunity to incite the masses and blame the Jews for the military failure against the British. They marked the houses of the Jews in red and the next day, June 1, the mobs started rioting against the Jews – the first such riots ever in Iraq.The rioters destroyed synagogues and murdered, raped and wounded people – the elderly and infants were not spared. The mob used all manner of weapons and also ran people over with vehicles. But some Jews were hid by their Muslim neighbors, who put themselves at great risk.

A platoon of soldiers in compulsory military service that was imposed on high school students by the Iraqi Army, Baghdad, 1940. A quarter of these conscripts were Jewish.
(Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy the Sehayek family)

The massacre only ended when the British entered the city. The British actually knew about the pogrom a day earlier but did not try to prevent it; just like the local authorities, they preferred to let the masses vent their rage. 

After the Farhud, the Iraqi authorities held an investigation, blamed nationalists, and even executed a few army officers involved in the incitement. Husseini, the mufti, was also mentioned in the investigation, and the German involvement was recognized over the years. 

A monument in memory of the victims was put up in Baghdad, but even so, the Farhud triggered the mass emigration of Iraq's Jews. Between 1950 and 1952, Israels Operation Ezra and Nehemiah (1950-1952) brought some 120,000 people – 90 percent of Iraqs Jews – to the young state. 
For Beit Hatfutsot - The Museum of the Jewish People website go to:

Israeli performers build musical bridges

With thanks: Hen and Joseph

The Israeli musical offspring of Jews from Arab countries are drawing inspiration from their Arabic roots, modernising classic songs and building cultural bridges to Arab audiences via social media.

Dudu Tassa is the grandson of Daoud al-Kuwaity, one of the famed Al-Kuwaity brothers, who made  a lasting mark on popular music in Iraq and Kuwait in the 1940s, 50s and even into the 60s. Dudu has been resurrecting some of the old favourite songs and giving them a modern twist with his electric guitar. Dudu's dream is to be able to perform to audiences in Iraq and Kuwait, as he explains in Arabic in this video clip made by JIMENA. 

Dudu Tassa: his dream is to perform in Arab countries

It is just four years since the Israeli -Yemenite girl group A-awa took the musical world by storm with their hit song Habib Galbi. This video and song ('This is not Yemen' )  from their new album has already garnered almost a quarter of a million views on Youtube. Sung in Arabic, the lyrics evoke the hardships suffered by  their grandparents in the Yemenite aliya (1949 -50) . Consigned to tents, the new arrivals, fleeing Yemen as refugees, were branded 'primitive', given a tent to live in with four other families, and ended up in cleaning jobs or working the land. But the bountiful land of Israel is home. With time, they feel they will belong....

“Land of wheat and barley, grape and olive
Fig and pomegranate, date and home Where will I stake a home?
(You have a tent for now)
Or at least a small shack
(Along with four other families)
And here I will raise a family
(Don’t let them take your daughter)
I’ll find myself a job with an income
(Either in cleaning or working the earth)
And I will learn the language
(Lose the accent)
With time I’ll feel like I belong
(Here is not Yemen)
Where will I stake a home?
(You have a tent for now)
Or at least a small shack
(Along with four other families)

I came to you a stranger
You saw me as primitive
I came to you fleeing
I saw you as a last resort...”

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Drugs-fuelled Halimi murderer will not stand trial

The decision of the French courts to blame the murder of Sarah Halimi on drugs and not on Jew-hatred has caused consternation among Jewish groups: the murderer has been declared unfit to stand trial. This sets a dangerous precedent: a driver who kills under the influence of alcohol could have his sentence commuted. Jerusalem Post report:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center Europe expressed concern to French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet about the findings of French magistrates in the case of the murder of Sarah Halimi, and said he was “sickened” by the ruling that Halimi’s murderer will not stand trial.

Sarah Halimi: tortured and thrown out of the window
Halimi, a Jewish citizen of Paris, was brutally killed on the night of April 3, 2017 when Kobili Traore, a Malian native, broke into her apartment in the Belleville district of Paris and beat her before throwing her from a third-floor window. Reports by neighbors who heard the attack stated that Traore was heard quoting verses from the Koran, shouting “Allahu Akhbar” and calling Halimi “Satan.”
Traore, despite having no psychiatric history, was subjected to three separate psychiatric assessments over the two years since the attack, and has been finally declared mentally unfit to stand trial due to marijuana intoxication at the time of the attack.

The Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, stated, “It is just over a week since our congratulatory letter, regarding the [May 16] police ‘reconstruction’ of the murder of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll. We had viewed this as a major step forward in the case.”

Knoll was murdered in her Paris apartment in March 2018, and the case was immediately declared an antisemitic hate crime. The case of Sarah Halimi took until September 2017 before French courts acknowledged it was an antisemitic attack.

  Read article in full

Ben Cohen in the Algemeiner

More on the Halimi case

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

'Non-white' US Jews are still an embattled minority

 Reading about the making of the film Aladdin, Dani Ishai Behan was astonished to discover that the actors playing the main Arab characters in the 1992 version were Ashkenazi Jews, yet they have been described as 'white'. Read Behan's excellent blog in the Times of Israel:

In fact, it is part of a wider pattern of refusing to acknowledge the Levantine origins/ethnic identity of Ashkenazi Jews — something no one had ever denied before 1948. The reasons why this is bullshit – not to mention antisemitic — have been discussed at length in previous articles. But just to recap…

1. If we are “white,” then we are not indigenous to the Middle East
In 21st century parlance, essentially anyone of non-European descent (bar one obvious exception) is considered a person of color, even when their skin is the same shade as talcum powder (see: Linda Sarsour). And because the Middle East spans Western Asia and Northern Africa, Middle Easterners are by and large excluded from the ambit of whiteness. The Jewish people are indigenous to Eretz Yisra’el, which sits in the Asian part of the Middle East, so it’s natural that they be considered non-white as well, right? Absolutely. But our enemies on the left side of the spectrum aren’t having any of it, at least not anymore. The reason being that if Jews in particular are white but Middle Easterners writ large are not, then it logically follows that Jews are not “really” Middle Eastern, therefore we cannot be considered indigenous to land of Israel and ultimately have no moral claim to it.

As such, calling us white airbrushes us out of the Middle East, out of our land, out of our identity, and out of our rights. This is cultural erasure of the most insidious order. Antisemites like to justify this by claiming that we’ve been in Europe for “too long”, but this is nonsense. There is no sober intellectual or scholar who would argue that prolonged displacement and colonization is just cause for depriving a dispossessed indigenous people of their identity and rights.

2. If we are non-white, the anti-racist left can no longer justify ignoring us 

Western progressives pride themselves on how closely attuned they are to the experiences of disadvantaged groups, especially ethnic minorities. In fact, so attentive they are to how the white majority wields and exercises its privilege to keep the rest of us at the bottom, that they should be natural allies for the Jews. But that is not the world we live in. Instead, they have grouped us with the white majority, with the privileged folks perched at the top of the pecking order (more on that below). In their worldview, we are not an embattled minority — despite reams of insurmountable evidence proving that we are — but rather “white people crying about their privilege”. By situating us inside the white majority, we are denied the critical protections and solidarity accorded to all other vulnerable groups. And as anti-Semitism on both sides of the political spectrum grows, Jews are placed in an increasingly untenable position. But instead of standing with us in our hour of need, the anti-racist left have abdicated their commitments and responsibilities to the Jews, and become part of the problem itself.

3. It is an assertion of Jewish distinctiveness and vitality

As we are (arguably) the world’s oldest extant victims of colonialism, having continuously suffered from it for over 2000+ years, anti-Semitism has always had a built-in totalizing nature. In other words, anti-Semitism’s main function is to dilute Jewish identity, deny our peoplehood, and incorporate us (either by coercion or force) into the identity of our oppressors – or, if that doesn’t work, genocide us. That is how anti-Semitism has worked ever since its inception, in every place it has ever existed.

In ancient Israel, Greek (and later Roman) colonists sought to impose Western/Hellenistic identity on us. Through their efforts to root out Jewish religion, language, and culture, they hoped that we would abandon our “barbaric” ways and become “civilized”. These efforts culminated in a series of Jewish revolts. And although we successfully managed to repel the Greeks (see: Hanukkah), the Romans defeated us and carried a large numbers of Jews off to Europe as slaves, subsequently renaming our country Syria-Palaestina (Syria-Palestine, after the Assyrians and Philistines respectively). But despite all of that, their efforts to destroy the Jewish people were ultimately unsuccessful.
And yet, the Jewish exiles in Europe would soon face a new threat in the form of Christianity — a Jewish religion appropriated by Europeans and infused with European paganism. Over the next 15 centuries, Europe would try again and again to wipe us out via conversion and assimilation to Western culture, with each failure ending in yet another expulsion or massacre (usually both). But once again, the Jewish people emerged intact.

Around the same time, Arabs began colonizing and occupying large swathes of Asia (Israel included), all of North Africa, and various parts of Europe. Although their treatment of the Jews was markedly less violent than that of their European counterparts (at least insofar as we “knew our place”), they were no less determined to see us disappear. Initially, they believed that we would either mass convert to Islam, or languish in dhimmitude (second class status) until we died off. The success of Zionism shattered this view, and from that point forward their brand of antisemitism took on a decisively “European” (read: genocidal) slant. But thus far, their (still ongoing) efforts to annihilate us have ended in failure.

In Enlightenment Europe, Jews living in the Western hemisphere continued to be regarded as savages, as well as an uncultured Oriental (this was before Zionism, so the revisionist theory that Jews are “European converts/not really Semites” hadn’t been invented yet) menace who, by all rights, should be mass deported back to the Middle East. Enter Napoleon, whose unprecedented offer of full legal equality and citizenship to the Jews came at a cost that almost no self-respecting minority today would accept: abandon their ethnic identity and become “good Frenchmen”. As noble as this offer might have seemed at the time, it didn’t change the fact that Jews were once again being called upon to erase themselves. Moreover, as the Jews were the most conspicuous non-European diaspora living in Europe at the time, racial differences often got in the way, as the Dreyfus Affair (and later the Holocaust) would soon show.

This Ashkenazi actor playing in Aladdin is classified as 'white'

This brings us to North America. Although our experiences on this continent initially bore many similarities to what we experienced in Europe, North American anti-Semites (hardcore white nationalists notwithstanding) soon took notice of the fact that overt expressions of racism – including antisemitism – were going out of style, and embraced what appears to be an amended version of the Napoleon strategy. In other words, their new hope is that North American Jews (i.e. the largest Jewish population outside of Israel) will continue divorcing themselves of their ethnic identity, assimilate, and fade away into “whiteness”. Assimilation will inevitably bring about a decline in religious observance as well, and once the Jewish state (that *infuriating* guarantor of Jewish safety, vitality, and permanence) is abolished, the Jewish people will (finally!) take their rightful place in the dustbin of history, as we should have done centuries ago.

But Jews collectively identifying as non-white, thereby re-asserting their distinctiveness and demanding *real* solutions to anti-Semitism, throws a wrench into this process. It reads as a declaration of Jewish defiance: “NO! We will not abandon our Jewishness. We will not disappear. We will survive and we will force you to account for your anti-Semitism, by any means necessary.” Obviously, it’s just more torture for people whose fondest wish is that we would just go away.

 4. It is a crippling blow against the hyperpower myth 

Notions of Jewish “whiteness” often interlock with classic anti-Semitic beliefs in very intriguing ways. For example, they dovetail rather nicely with the age-old Orientalist myth of Jewish hyperpower. The leap from “Jews are white” to “Jews are privileged” (which is itself packed with anti-Semitic connotations) is pretty damned small, and it’s not a far step from there to “Jews are powerful” to “Jews control the banks” to “Jews control the US government” to “Jews are conspiring against us all” to “Jews are malicious tentacle monsters bent on world domination” to “Jews already control the entire world and are a threat to mankind”. But this Jenga tower of anti-Semitism falls apart pretty quickly once you pull out the “Jews are white” block, unless you’re a neo-Nazi.

Read article in full 

More about 'white' Jews and 'Jews of color'

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Jewish poets who harked back to Egypt's past

 Egypt is less well known for its interwar Jewish writers than Iraq, for instance. Nevertheless, according to HaSepharadi, poets did exist, writing primarily in French. They extolled the 'tolerant' Pharaonic past and their sense of belonging to Egypt. (With thanks: Boruch)

One notable case, however, is the Cairo Jewish writer Ya’qub Sannu’, who is predominantly remembered for his significant role in late nineteenth-century Arabic journalism and theater. Respectively, virtually all the texts written in Egypt in Hebrew, during colonial and monarchic times, were rabbinical studies. The choice of writing in French thus depended on one’s education and family background, but was also due to the fascination that France, and especially Paris – as a global capital of culture – held for the Egyptian middle class.

“Wake up, Pentaour, and sing a novel song! A song of grace, of euphoria, a song of joy!”: these words open Georges Cattaui’s 1921 poem Lève-toi, Pentaour! Cattaui was born in Paris in 1896, a son of one of the most prominent families of the Cairo Jewish elite. He was educated in both France and Egypt, and in the 1920s after acting as secretary to King Fuʾād, began work as a diplomat in Prague, Bucharest, and London. In the 1930s, he embarked on a full-time literary career. He converted to Catholicism in the 1920s and subsequently left Egypt for France and Switzerland, where he died in 1974.

In Lève-toi, Pentaour!, Cattaui goes back to the Pharaonic era, using it as a lens to discuss early twentieth-century Egypt. The protagonist is Pentaour, priest, poet, and scribe of Ramses II, who wrote a poem about the Battle of Kadesh (1274 BC), where the forces of Ramses II battled the Hittite empire. From the distance of a millennia, Cattaui celebrates the upcoming Egyptian independence from the British, which would lead to the birth of the monarchy in 1922:

Frontispiece of Georges Cattaui, Lève-toi, Pentaour!…, 1921 (National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, photo by Dario Miccoli)
Egypt, among perishable people,
you kept your essential character for four thousand years,
you are here again without a yoke, without a chain under your sky,
you are here free again ruling over your sand!
On the tomb of Amrou, may, oh Muslim,
this holy day be blessed among your propitious days!
Blessed be this day, oh Jew, next to the Nile whose waters
took the fragile cradle of Moses;
and you, oh Copt, in your mysterious church,
where the Virgin and the Child rested!6

Cattaui evokes a nation where Muslims, Jews, and Copts live together peacefully and stresses how Egypt maintained its unique characteristics against all odds for four thousand years. His words echo ideas of Egyptian exceptionalism, which in the 1920s expressed itself through Pharaonism, vis-à-vis the other Middle Eastern countries. According to Cattaui, Egypt had a separate identity, rooted in the country’s ancient past, which went beyond its Islamic heritage and made it different from the rest of the Arab world.

Cattaui was not alone in attempting to inscribe the Jews within the Egyptian national narrative. A second notable author is Emile Mosseri, born in 1911 into another upper-class Jewish family in Cairo. A lawyer by training, Mosseri wrote several plays and collaborated with magazines like L’Egyptienne. Mosseri’s most important achievement was the publication of the collection of poems La ballade de la rue in 1930.
The poem J’ai marché quelque soir describes a visit of the poet to Luxor:

I marched one night when the moon was round,
in the temple of the gods of Thebes and Luxor
I passed under your shadow at this hour when everything sleeps,
and I thought that just like the priest of Hathor
a people followed me, enlivening the blonde night.

Mosseri travels back to ancient Egypt in search of his lost past and identity, wandering around the ruins of the city. The evocation of ancient Egypt and its archaeological vestiges had a clear national connotation and reinforced claims to Egyptian sovereignty. Let us also recall the Arab Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqi, who talked about Pharaonic ruins as markers of the country’s national past. In the case of the Jews, ancient Egypt related to one of the most important episodes of the Tora, the Yeṣiʾath-Miṣrayim (“Exodus from Egypt”). This ancestral connection to the land was of utmost importance in the 1930s, when notions of citizenship and the status of minorities were being discussed and the Egyptian liberal party system entered into a crisis.

Egyptian Jewry, around the 1930s, exhibited strong sentiments towards Egypt, celebrating its modernity and their ability to maintain their religious and national feelings of belonging. This received particular importance, as Europe was becoming an inhospitable environment for Jews. Subsequently,  some found solace in the promises of the past, among Muslim countries: 
Frontispiece of Emile Mosseri, La ballade de la rue, 1933 (National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, photo by Dario Miccoli).
…the green banner [of Islam],
on a tent or on a city,
declares to the man who follows a desert road:
‘Come, brother, the door of hospitality
is wide open!’.
It says: ‘Oh brothers of race,
let us ask together, kneeling,
that God keep us under his grace,
that he protect us and encourage us,
and that peace may be upon us!’
The author of these lines is Lucien Sciuto, a journalist of Jewish origin born in Thessalonika, Greece, in 1868 who later moved to Cairo in 1924 and died in Alexandria in 1947. The poem Islam is taken from his 1938 volume Le peuple du messie. The book, written “under the Egyptian sky, on the borders of the desert, in a serene and peaceful setting,”was dedicated to Faruq, the second and last King of Egypt, who reigned from 1936 to Nasser’s Revolution in 1952. Sciuto, in his poem, wrestles with the fact that at the time he was writing, Europe had become an inhospitable place for Jews; yet in the Islamic world, they had found and could still find refuge from persecution. 

Read article in full

Monday, May 27, 2019

Tunisian politicians object to 'Israeli' rabbis

It did not take long, following this year's Lag Ba' Omer pilgrimage to Djerba, for Tunisian politicians (as reported in Middle East Eye)to stir up trouble by protesting the presence of 'Israeli' rabbis as proof of unwanted 'normalisation' between Tunisia and Israel. Yet a group of 300 Israeli pilgrims were allowed in to the country on special visas. (With thanks: Lily) 

Tunisian politicians have accused the government of normalisation with Israel after Israeli rabbis reportedly visited the country’s El Ghriba synagogue, according to the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi.

Rabbis 'not Israelis but Tunisian Jews'

Tunisian media outlets shared pictures of rabbis - thought to be from Israel - taking part in a pilgrimage on the Tunisian island of Djerba, known for its longstanding Jewish history. Jewish activists in Tunisia have nonetheless said that the rabbis were "not Israelis, but rather Tunisian Jews living abroad and who visited Tunisia many times previously".

Tunisia, like most Arab countries, has no official diplomatic relations with Israel. Zuhair al-Maghazawi, the secretary-general of the People's Movement party, called the rabbis’ visit a "scandal with the government’s consent", and called for an investigation into the case, according to Al-Quds al-Arabi.

 "We have no problem with the Jews, as they are the brothers of the Muslims and they have the right to the annual visit to El Ghriba Synagogue,” Maghazawi said. “Our problem is rather with the Zionist movement, which is trying its best to normalise, establish relations and take advantage of such occasions to penetrate the social and political life in Tunisia.

  Read article in full

Minister tries to defuse passport row

More about 'normalisation' 

LA Times readers respond to Hen Mazzig

In the wake of the controversy generated by a ground-breaking op-ed by Hen Mazzig and his dispute with Marc Lamont Hill, the LA Times  has published the following three letters:

To the editor: Hen Mazzig’s piece serves as an important corrective to the oft-repeated lie that Israel consists of white Ashkenazi Jews. This lie has allowed intersectionality extremists to falsely paint the conflict as one between white Europeans (Jews) and dark-skinned natives (Palestinian Arabs).
In fact, hundreds of thousands of Jews once lived in the Arab world but were driven out or killed when Israel declared statehood. Everyone knows the story of the Palestinians, but most people have never heard of the many Jews forced out of their homes in the Arab world. These Jews were welcomed into Israel.
There is simply no way to resolve this conflict when the basic facts — and the Jews’ basic right to live in their ancient homeland in peace — are buried underneath ignorance and lies.
Sara Miller, New York
.Jews fleeing Yemen 
To the editor: Massig talks eloquently about the experience of Mizrahi Jews who were forced to flee their homes in Iraq and other Muslim countries and found refuge in Israel.
But it is striking that he never mentions the historical experience of another Middle Eastern people, the Palestinian Arabs, which is at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
He decries the characterization of Israeli policy as “apartheid.” But that’s a characterization hard to avoid given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks that Israel is “not a state of all its citizens,” but only of the Jews.
In referring to Israel’s Jews, Massig says “an indigenous people have reclaimed their land,” but seems completely oblivious of that other indigenous people, the Arabs, who were the majority in Palestine from the 7th to the 20th century.
Mazzig might want to consider how much his story, and that of other Jews exiled from their millenniums-old homelands in Iraq and Tunisia, mirrors that of Palestinian Arabs.
David L. Saffan, Santa Barbara
To the editor: It isn’t just Israel’s Mizrachi and Ethiopian Jews whose remarkable stories repudiate the “Israel is a European colonial enterprise” falsehood. European Jewish history does too.
First, genetic studies confirm the ancestral ties of Ashkenazi (European) Jews to the Levant. If people indigenous to the Middle East are to be deemed “people of color,” this necessarily applies to European Jews too.
Second, Jews in Europe were oppressed and subjugated, not privileged. The Romans who destroyed Judea brought 100,000 Jewish slaves to Europe; it was they who built Rome’s Colosseum. For 2,000 years, European Jews were confined to ghettos, expelled and massacred, culminating in the Holocaust.
Israel is the very antithesis of white supremacy. Rather, an indigenous people has reclaimed its ancestral homeland and turned it into a thriving liberal democracy.
Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco

Read letters in full 

My comment: David Saffan's letter treats the Palestinian Arabs in isolation, as if their leadership had no agency in their plight and no role, neither in causing the war against Israel, nor  the Jewish refugee problem. The 'apartheid' slur does not merit to be taken seriously unless the situation in Arab states is considered in tandem.

Challenging the myth of 'white. colonial' Israel

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Jewish exodus from Arab lands is a 'black hole'

How can Israeli coexistence initiatives between Jews and Arabs succeed if Jewish refugees from Arab countries are absent from 'the narrative'? says Janet Dallal, who witnessed terrible persecution in her native Iraq. She tells her story to Deborah Danan of the Jewish Journal:

In 1972, 16-year-old Janet Dallal’s father was arrested in Baghdad for the crime of being a Jew. He barely survived and was released in the winter of 1973.
In April that same year, Dallal’s friend and classmate, Joyce Qashqoush, was brutally murdered along with her parents and two brothers when Iraqi members of the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) stormed Qashqoush’s Baghdad home.

“There was this feeling of dread all the time that tomorrow it could be me,” Dallal recalled. 

Months later, when the Yom Kippur War broke out, Dallal’s teacher at her Christian school told her students that instead of class, they would go and cheer on a parade of Iraqi troops returning from the Syrian-Israeli border.
“I stood on the terrace and chanted praises to ‘our heroes,’ ” Dallal said. But doing so made her physically ill. Consigned to bed for three weeks, Dallal thought her heart would explode with the tempest of her emotions. Some of the Iraqi officers were her friends’ and classmates’ fathers, yet they were fighting Jews — and her own relatives — in Israel. Two years later, she and her siblings fled to Israel. 

Janet Dallal: the scars refuse to fade

Today, Dallal’s voice is still laced with the anguish of the scars that refuse to fade. Part of the reason, she said, is because her story — and that of close to a million others — never received the recognition it deserved. The Jewish exodus from Arab lands “is a black hole in history; no one ever touched it,” she said. “Our history is almost deleted, our narrative is absent,” she said, before quietly adding, “and we have mostly ourselves to blame.”

For decades, Dallal, like so many other Iraqi and Mizrahi Jews, was silent about her past. Ironically, it was only when she became involved in Israeli-Palestinian coexistence initiatives in 2011 that she broke her silence. 

During one summit, the moderator began drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the Nakba (catastrophe) — the term for the displacement of Palestinians after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. 

The discussion sparked Dallal’s ire. “It is forbidden to make that comparison,” she said. “The Holocaust was the result of Nazi hatred toward Jews while the Arab Nakba was the result of war and had nothing to do with anti-Islamism or anti-Arabism.”

There are, however, parallels to be drawn between the Arab Nakba and what Dallal calls the Jewish Nakba, Dallal said. “I use that term because we too were entrenched in Arab culture and language,” she said, adding that Babylonian Jewry had a rich heritage dating back 2,500 years.  

The coexistence summit, she said, made her realize, “I’m transparent, I don’t exist. So how can there be coexistence if I don’t exist?” For the first time, she delivered a stirring account of her suffering. The moderator, she said, was diplomatic but aloof, vaguely promising to include the topic in future sessions. Absurdly, Dallal said, it was the Palestinians who seemed to be the most affected by her story.

Read article in full

How coexistence initiatives can hinder peace (Jerusalem Post)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Tunisian prime minister attends al-Ghriba pilgrimage

Earlier this week, thousands of Jewish pilgrims, including 300  Israelis, flocked to the island of Djerba for the annual Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage to the ancient Al-Ghriba synagogue. It is customary for senior ministers to attend the event, but for the first time, Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed paid a visit. The Jewish Chronicle reports:

You might not expect the Prime Minister of an Arab country to attend a Jewish gathering during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Rene Trabelsi, Tunisia's Jewish minister of Tourism

 But then the festival of the Ghibra, celebrated by the historic Jewish community of Djerba off the southern coast of Tunisia over Lag Ba’Omer, is a unique event. Its unusual coincidence during Ramadan this year made it the ideal opportunity to highlight the country’s pledge of religious co-existence.

 Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed hailed Djerba on Wednesday as a “worldwide symbol and example to be followed.”

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Jewish Chronicle report

Previous Al-Ghriba pilgrimages

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Challenging the myth of 'white, European' Israel

Marc Lamont Hill
Hen Mazzig

According to the late Israeli author Amos Oz, when his father was growing up in eastern Europe, the graffiti on the walls read “Jews go back to Palestine.” For centuries, Jews were considered swarthy aliens in Europe. This trend reached its tragic nadir with the mass Nazi extermination of the Jews as racial untermenschen.
Nowadays, the inverse message is in evidence—not so much on walls, but in the media, on campus and in the writings of academics and journalists obsessed with identity politics. Jews are portrayed as members of a privileged and powerful  elite—white Westerners who came to colonize and steal land from the “native” Palestinian people. As a result,  Jews are excluded from “intersectionality”—the idea that oppressed social groups, especially in the United States,  stand up for each other.

This anti-Zionist, postcolonial trend, in which Jews can never be victims, has lately been insinuating itself into the ideology of the radical left of the U.S. Democratic Party. Positioning Israel as a white European colonialist aggressor delegitimizes Ashkenazi Jews as interlopers. This canard denies the Levantine origin, genes, culture, religion and language of  Jews from Europe and the Americas.

The sin is compounded by the erasure from the narrative of Mizrahi Jews (Jews from Arab and Muslim countries), who now form the majority of Israeli Jews. These Jews are from now-extinct communities founded long before the Arab Muslim imperialist conquest subjugated indigenous peoples to Arabization and Islam. In the 20th century, a million Mizrahi Jews were dispossessed and forced to flee as refugees.

Hen Mazzig, an Israeli activist and writer whose parents are Jews from Iraq and Tunisia, has been taking up the cudgels against this pernicious trend.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, he accuses the likes of Women’s March activist Tamika Mallory, Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill and, more recently, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) of misrepresenting Israel.

The reaction from Hill was swift (his tweet has since been deleted, but is still visible on Mazzig’s Facebook page). In it, he claims to be “baffled as to the basis” for Mazzig’s statement that Hill has “ignored Mizrahis or the racial diversity of Israel.” He then goes on to state that, “What [Mazzig] ignores, however is the racial and political project that transformed Palestinian Jews (who lived peacefully with other Palestinians) into the 20th century identity category of ‘Mizrahi’ as a means of detaching them from Palestinian identity.”

The misconceptions lurking behind Hill’s tweet merit unpacking. By clumsily referring to Mizrahim as a false Jewish component of “Palestinian” identity (it is no longer de rigueur to talk about the “Arab-Israeli” conflict), Lamont-Hill is purveying the notion that Mizrahim are Jewish Arabs.

It is fashionable in far-left circles to push the line that Mizrahim have been torn away from their Arab brethren by Zionism, which has prevented them from making common cause with the Palestinians. The Mizrahim allegedly suffer from a “false consciousness,” alienated from their true, “Arab” selves.

Radical leftists align themselves with anti-Zionists who argue on behalf of an “Arab Jewish” identity as a way of repudiating Jewish nationalism. They presuppose that Jews were just another faith group in the Arab world, that Arabs and Mizrahi Jews are natural allies and that both are postcolonial victims of the Ashkenazim, who lured Mizrahim to Israel under false pretenses as a reservoir of cheap labor.

Israel is thus delegitimized, and to blame for ruining the harmonious relationship which supposedly prevailed between local Jews and Arabs.

The myth is easily debunked—as Mazzig points out, Jews were always inferiors in Muslim society, never equal and ever more marginalized in the post-Ottoman Arab successor states. Sporadic outbreaks of mob violence, such as the 1941 Farhud in Iraq, meant that Jewish citizens were never going to be assured of the security they deserved.

Mizrahi Jews are loyal and fervent Zionists, taking a full part in building and defending their ancestral homeland. They have stamped an unmistakably Middle Eastern identity on the Jewish state. Israel is the free and democratic expression of the self-determination of an indigenous Middle Eastern people after centuries of Arab and Muslim subjugation and colonization.

This is what social justice warriors in the West ought to be celebrating, and fighting for.

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Article by Ben Maxwell Freeman (Harry's Place) 

Rebuttal to Marc Lamont Hill by Hen Mazzig (The Tablet)

Dispute erupts over 'Palestinian' Mizrahi Jews

 An article by Hen Mazzig in the mainstream US press debunking the myth that Jews are 'white, European colonialists', an idea increasingly prevalent on the left of the democratic party,  has elicited an angry reaction from Marc Lamont Hill, a professor who was sacked as a CNN political commentator for anti-Israel comments. Seth Frantzman reports in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily, Yoel)

 Marc Lamont Hill: 'studies Yemeni and Moroccan Jews'
In a Facebook post on May 20 slamming Hen Mazzig’s article in The LA Times, American academic and activist Marc Lamont Hill described Mizrahi Jews as an “identity category” that had been detached “from Palestinian identity.” CNN severed ties with Hill last year after anti-Israel comments.

Hill’s latest excoriation of Israel, posted to his 90,000 followers, followed Mazzig’s argument that Israel is not a country of “privileged and powerful white Europeans.” Mazzig sought to emphasize the role of Mizrahi Jews in Israeli history and condemned the tendency of critics to define Israelis as Ashkenazi Jews alone. Hill responded that Mazzig ignores “the racial and political project that transformed Palestinian Jews (who lived peacefully with other Palestinians) into the 20th century identity category of ‘Mizrahi’ as a means of detaching them from Palestinian identity.”
Mazzig posted a screenshot of another exchange with Hill in which Hill wrote that “I literally study Yemeni and Moroccan Jews for a living.”

Jimena, an organization that describes itself as committed to achieving universal recognition to the heritage and history of 850,000 indigenous Jewish refugees from Arab countries, said Hill was trying to speaking over the voices of Mizrahi Jews.

Read article in full

More by Seth Frantzman 

More by Hen Mazzig

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Samir Naqqash: victim of a double exile

Samir Naqqash never felt entirely at home in Israel, and insisted on writing in Judeo-Arabic even after he was forced to flee his native Iraq. Now his book Tenants and Cobwebs is available in English, and casts light on the psyche of this unusual writer. Tablet essay by Mardean Isaac: 

A Jew transplanted from one ancient home to another, and scantly read in either, Naqqash has mainly existed as an academic curio, in a parallel purgatory to his personal one. The recent publication of an English translation by Sadok Masliyah of Tenants and Cobwebs—Naqqash’s first novel, originally published in Arabic in Israel in 1984, and his first translated into English—is set to mark a significant moment in the life of his work. If Israel is the Jew of nations, and Israelis are the Jews of Jews, then Naqqash was a Jew among both.

Naqqash was part of a special generation of Iraqi Jews: the last to have direct experience of the country, and the first to be able to write and speak freely about their experiences, from Israel and diaspora. “I was a spoilt brat,” Naqqash said of his childhood in Iraq. “The entire family was involved in taking care of me.” It was a materially comfortable life, but also one replete with a bounty of experience: sensory, verbal, social. “Our house was a kind of meeting place for many different kinds of women and men,” Naqqash said. The presence of Christian and Muslims (including “Muslim women of all classes”) was common. The opportunity to listen to those other voices from within it, were taken from him through upheaval.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Film traces Geniza story until digitisation

 The Times of Israel reports on a new film about the Cairo Geniza, a unique collection of Jewish documents preserved in the attic at the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo  and discovered at the end of the 19th century by European Jewish scholars. (With thanks: Lily)

A new documentary, “From Cairo to the Cloud: The World of The Cairo Geniza,” traces the amazing story of the Geniza from its discovery by Solomon Schechter and other 19th century ancient manuscript hunters through to its digitization more than 100 years later. The film, which premiered in late 2018, is set to screen in Boston on May 16 and 18, as well in other cities worldwide this year.
A child's Hebrew primer, found in the Geniza

Michelle Paymar, who produced, directed and filmed “From Cairo to the Cloud,” told The Times of Israel she had been unaware of the Cairo Geniza until someone mentioned it to her some years ago.

“As an Ashkenazi Jew, I had little knowledge or education of Jews in the Islamic World. Around 90% of world Jewry lived under Islam in the medieval period. I didn’t know this or what was brought to Jewish civilization by it,” she said.

Paymar was fascinated to learn that Jews were well integrated into society under Islam. This was especially so in Fustat, the Egyptian city that served as the administrative center of power, and which eventually became part of modern-day Cairo. The Jews flourished under Islam in the 10th to 12th centuries, which is the period most predominantly represented among the documents of the Cairo Geniza.

“Jews were part of the scenery in the Arab world. One would definitely have preferred to have been a Jew in Cairo than in the Rhineland at this period,” Paymar said.

“From Cairo to the Cloud” traces the story of the Cairo Geniza in a more or less chronological fashion. The narrative of how the Geniza was discovered, studied, and more recently digitized for greater access flows clearly. However, it is conveyed by an overwhelming number of academics, librarians and conservators. Paymar interviewed 40 people from various countries, and it is hard to keep track of who they are and how they are connected to the Geniza.

Read article in full

Monday, May 20, 2019

Stop tainting Israel as an extension of Europe

A western trend positioning Israel as a colonialist aggressor rather than a haven for all Jews fleeing oppression erases the history of Mizrahi Jews like Hen Mazzig, who now form the majority of Israeli Jews. Must-read in the LA Times:

Along with resurgent identity politics in the United States and Europe, there is a growing inclination to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of race. According to this narrative, Israel was established as a refuge for oppressed white European Jews who in turn became oppressors of people of color, the Palestinians.

As an Israeli, and the son of an Iraqi Jewish mother and North African Jewish father, it’s gut-wrenching to witness this shift.

I am Mizrahi, as are the majority of Jews in Israel today. We are of Middle Eastern and North African descent. Only about 30% of Israeli Jews are Ashkenazi, or the descendants of European Jews. I am baffled as to why mainstream media and politicians around the world ignore or misrepresent these facts and the Mizrahi story. Perhaps it’s because our history shatters a stereotype about the identity of my country and my people. Jews that were expelled from nations across the Middle East have been crucial in building and defending the Jewish state since its outset.
Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, was not established for just one type of Jew but for all Jews, from every part of the world — the Middle East, North Africa, Ethiopia, Asia and, yes, Europe. No matter where Jews physically reside, they maintain a connection to the land of Israel, where our story started and where today we continue to craft it.

The likes of Women’s March activist Tamika Mallory, Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill and, more recently, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) falsify reality in their discussions of Palestinians’ “intersectional” struggle, their use of the term “apartheid” to characterize Israeli policy, and their tendency to define Israelis as Ashkenazi Jews alone.

I believe their misrepresentations are part of a strategic campaign to taint Israel as an extension of privileged and powerful white Europe, thereby justifying any and all attacks on it. This way of thinking signals a dangerous trend that positions Israel as a colonialist aggressor rather than a haven for those fleeing oppression. Worse, it all but erases the story of my family, which came to Israel from Iraq and Tunisia.

For most of history, the Mizrahim have been without sovereignty and equality in the Muslim world. In Iraq, despite being “equal citizens” on paper, my family experienced ongoing persecution. The first organized attack came in 1941, the brutal Farhud, a Nazi-incited riot that claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews and forced the survivors to live in fear. My great-grandfather was falsely accused of being a Zionist spy and executed in Baghdad in 1951. My mother’s family was permitted to emigrate that same year, but with only one suitcase.

Iraqi Jews arriving in Israel
Any erasure of the Mizrahi experience negates the lives of 850,000 Jewish refugees just like them, who, even in the successor states to the Ottoman Empire of the early 20th century, were treated as “dhimmis,” an Arabic term for a protected minority whose members pay for that protection, which can be withdrawn at any time. Demographic ignorance also works to deny the existence of almost 200,000 descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were threatened by political destabilization in the early 1990s and airlifted to Israel in a daring rescue operation.

Read article in full

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ezekiel's tomb feared lost to Jewish heritage

The future of Jewish culture and heritage in Iraq will be on the agenda at an international two-day conference in Israel on 20 and 21 May 2019*.  But for age-old synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish shrines, it may well be too late to save them.

Speaking to a reporter from Israel National News (click here for video),  Dr Zvi Yehuda of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center at Or Yehuda, which is hosting the conference jointly with Bar Ilan University, said that  2,600 years of Jewish heritage was being wiped out altogether.

Of 33 synagogues in Baghdad, only one remains. It is almost permanently shut. Although the new Jewish cemetery - the old one was destroyed under the Qasim regime in 1958 -  still exists in Baghdad, Dr Yehuda has received eye-witness reports that other cemeteries have been destroyed and built over. In one instance, a school was erected on Jewish graves.

A huge mosque now envelops the Jewish shrine of Ezekiel

Concerning Jewish shrines, Dr Yehuda deplored what has happened to Ezekiel's shrine, which was the most important of Jewish pilgrimage sites prior to the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq in 1950 -1. A huge Sh'ia mosque, built in 2016 -7, now encircles the burial chamber and adjoining synagogue of the Biblical prophet.

Ezekiel's burial chamber with its Hebrew inscriptions on the walls is still intact, but the tomb is now said to be that of Ali, the founder of Shi'ism

This means that no Jew will be able to visit the shrine, as no Jew is allowed access through the mosque. Sh'ites consider  non-Muslim najas, or unclean. While for centuries Muslims attributed the shrine to the obscure Muslim prophet Dhu al-Kifl, the new Sh'i'a mosque has been rebranded as the burial place of Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and the founder of Sh'ism.

For 1,000 years the Jewish character of the shrine had been preserved.  Even Saddam Hussein had not dared to touch the shrine, Dr Yehuda said, and until recently the Iraqi authorities contemplated preserving the shrine in order to attract Jewish tourism. They feared international pressure**, especially from the US government. At a meeting with Unesco in Paris in 2014, Professor Shmuel Moreh had sounded warnings that the Iraqi Wakf (religious endowment) intended to build a mosque, but he was told not to meddle in the matter. The Wakf went ahead regardless. Professor Moreh died in 2017.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

* To book email or tel 03 - 5317959.

**Point of No Return's petition to preserve the shrine drew over 1,000 signatures.

Eurovision hosts boast Middle Eastern roots

From left:  Assi Azar, Lucy Ayoub, Bar Refaeli and Erez Tal

It is a tribute to Israel's diversity that all four presenters of the Eurovision Song Contest extravaganza of 2019 have some Middle Eastern or Sephardi roots. Presenter Eretz Tal's father is from Algeria, while Assi Azar is of Bukharan and Yemenite descent. Lucy Ayoub's parents are Christian Arab and Ashkenazi Jewish. Even Bar Refaeli has one Sephardi (Italian) grandparent.

All four of the past Israeli winners of the Eurovision song contest have Middle Eastern roots: Netta Barzilai is of Moroccan-Libyan parentage, while Dana International, Gali Atari and Izhar Cohen all descend from Yemenite Jews.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Rabbi appointed to head UAE Jewish community

 The first new community of the United Arab Emirates is to have a 'chief rabbi'. But the duties of Rabbi Yehuda Sarna will not be pastoral, they will be to foster 'interfaith dialogue'. JTA reports (With thanks: Boruch):

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the New York University chaplain, will be the first chief rabbi of the Jewish Community of the United Arab Emirates.

David Weinberg, the international affairs director for the Anti-Defamation League, made the announcement Tuesday at an event co-hosted by the ADL and the UAE embassy on interfaith tolerance.

Rabbi Sarna retains his post as chaplain to New York University, but will travel to Dubai four times a year

Sarna told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the position is unpaid, and that he will travel four times a year to Dubai, where worship services have been taking place in a private home. He said he will stay on as chaplain at NYU and as the executive director of the university’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life.
“What we see is the first emergence of the first new Jewish community emerging in the Arab world for centuries,” said Sarna, who says there are hundreds of Jews in the UAE from all over the world to take advantage of employment opportunities.

He said his hope is to nurture a structured community so that paid staff, including a full-time rabbi, could one day take over.

A Jewish Council of the Emirates official told JTA that Sarna’s role would not be pastoral. Sarna’s “primary role” will be “pursuing interfaith dialogue and building the office of the JCE Chief Rabbi.”

Read article in full 

Haaretz article 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Palestinian antisemitism spilled over into Arab world

The Jewish world is justifiably in an uproar about comments made over the weekend by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). In an act of monumental chutzpah, Tlaib has made the claim that the Palestinians helped create “a safe haven” for Jews fleeing the Holocaust—a thought, she said, that gave her a “kind of calming feeling.” Not only were Palestinians allied with the Nazis,  they spread the anti-Jewish hatred against Jews in Arab countries, writes Lyn Julius in JNS News: 

Scholars and journalists have rebutted her revisionism by drawing attention to the  pivotal role the the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, played in Arab politics, to the Arab-Nazi alliance he spearheaded, and to the anti-Semitic propaganda he broadcast during the four years he enjoyed Hitler’s hospitality in Berlin. They have pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Arabs were Nazi sympathizers; the Arabs pressured the British to curtail Jewish immigration into Palestine that could have saved millions of lives. The Arab leadership led an anti-Semitic campaign within Palestine as early as the 1920s.
But few critics of Tlaib’s words have observed that the mufti, as well as other Syrian and Palestinian nationalists, began to sow the seeds of virulent anti-Semitism outside Palestine as early as the 1920s. The result was the mass displacement of 850,000 Jews from the Arab world, most of whom resettled in Israel after 1948. Does this forced exodus, directly attributable to Arab anti-Semitism, also give Tlaib a “calming feeling”?

Wherever the mufti went in the Arab world, persecution and mayhem against the local Jews followed. In 1921, Yemenite Jews in the Yishuv claimed it was due to Palestinian Arab pressure that the decree forcing Jewish orphans in Yemen to convert to Islam was reinstated. This, they said, had come about after a Palestinian Arab delegation had visited Yemen to demand that the Imam stop all immigration to Palestine. The Orphans’ Decree, argues scholar S.D. Goiten, was the single most important reason Jews were desperate to flee Yemen.

In the 1940s, visits of Palestinian Arabs to Aden (then a British crown colony) became more common, and so did the expression of anti-Jewish sentiments.
From December 1931, when he convened a World Islamic Congress in Jerusalem, the Mufti ceased to speak of Zionists, and instead spoke of Jews. All Arabs were exhorted to treat the Jews of their countries “as the Jews treat the Arabs of Palestine.”

The congress was followed by anti-Jewish violence in Morocco—in Casablanca in 1932, Casablanca and Rabat in 1933, Rabat and Meknes in 1937 and Meknes in 1939. In Tunisia, an entente between Tunisian nationalists and the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee sparked violence in Sfax in 1932. The Algerian ulema (religious scholars) declared a boycott against Jews in 1936, obeying the mufti’s instructions.

British reports noted the intense propaganda in Yemen. Jewish refugees tried to make for British-controlled Aden. In 1939, a crowd was incited against the British and the Jews when they were shown fabricated photographs of Arab children hanging from telegraph poles. Other newspapers mendaciously reported that thousands of Arabs had been killed and bombs thrown at the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. In addition to his relentless his efforts to encourage pro-Nazi officers in Iraq to seize power, the grand mufti of Jerusalem incited the Farhud pogrom in Iraq by inciting the local Arabs against the Jews during his two-year exile in Baghdad.

Palestinian and Syrian exiles played a key role in inciting anti-Semitism in the Arab world. They could be credited for laying the groundwork for the Farhud, the brutal massacre of Iraqi Jews on 1 and 2 June 1941—seven years before Israel was created—in which at least 179 Jews were murdered. The 1941 Farhud against the Jews of Iraq could be termed the first deadly skirmish in the Palestinian Arab war against Jews, not Zionists. By the time the Farhud broke out, there were more than 400 such emigre families in the country. They exerted an influence far beyond their numbers. They were doctors, teachers and intellectuals who had mainly been exiled from Palestine with the mufti after 1936 and were to join him in Berlin as Hitler’s guests after 1941.

However, a contingent of disappointed exiles from Syria and Palestine had arrived as early as 1920. They had accompanied Emir Faisal when he arrived in Baghdad to become the British-installed king. Their aspirations to rule a pan-Arab kingdom from Damascus had been thwarted by the French. At their head was the Syrian ultra-nationalist Sati al-Husri, who became Director General of Education of Iraq and turned it into the “Prussia of Arab nations.” Al-Husri engaged in vicious anti-Semitism, doing his best to undermine Iraq’s first finance minister, the Jew Sir Sasson Heskel.

Al-Husri founded the nationalist Muthanna club. From this club sprang the ringleaders of the wartime Farhud pogrom. Al-Husri was later joined by the Syrian Fawzi al-Quwukji (who fought in the 1948 war against Israel) and other virulent anti-Semites. Some took matters (literally)  into their own hands: Palestinian doctor Amin Ruwayba was accused of throwing a hand grenade at a Jewish club in 1936.

Al-Husri promoted Arab nationalism through education. In 1930s’ Iraq, the strident pan-Arab nationalists who surrounded the king had already ensured that there was really no place for Jews within political parties.In Iraqi schools, the teaching of Hebrew was banned and the school curriculum was “Nazified.” In 1937, the director-general of the Iraqi Ministry of Education, Fadel Jamali, was warmly welcomed in Germany and invited to send a delegation to the Nuremberg Nazi Party congress in 1938. The pro-Nazi government under Rashid Ali in Iraq in May 1941 cemented the only official alliance between an Arab country and the Axis powers.

The Palestinian Darwish al-Miqdadi returned to Iraq from studying in Germany and became leader of the pro-Nazi youth brigade, the Futuwwa. The Futuwwa went around daubing the houses of Jews with red khamsas prior to the Farhud in order to indicate to the mob which were the Jewish homes.

Exclusionary Palestinian nationalism, fathered by the mufti, was a hybrid creature of racial and religious anti-Semitism. The strands became impossible to disentangle. Almost from the start, the hostility to Jews at the core of Palestinian nationalism spilled over into the Arab world and was aimed at Jewish citizens.

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Same article at Algemeiner