Sunday, June 30, 2019

Ayelet Tsabari: How to be a Mizrahi woman writer

Ayelet Tsabari, Israel's only Yemenite author with a global audience, has written a second book, The Art of Leaving. This interview with Tsabari in Haaretz also looks at Mizrahi women artists through the prism of 'identity politics'. (With thanks: Lily)

Back in 1988, 21-year-old Ayelet Tsabari was just like thousands of other Israelis celebrating the end of their mandatory army service by backpacking to India and the Far East. But unlike the other young Israeli travelers, she never headed home, choosing instead to embark on a journey that would last for decades.

 Ayelet Tsabari

On a quest to escape Israel, the traditions of her large Yemeni family and the grief of losing her father at a young age, Tsabari exiled herself to New York, Thailand and India. She embraced the nomadic lifestyle, falling in and out of love with men and women, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and occasionally waiting tables in order to earn enough money to set out on the next adventure.

 Wind the tape ahead several years and Tsabari finds herself following her new husband — a fellow traveling spirit she met in India — to Canada. The marriage did not last, but she stayed on. This wild tale of a modern wandering Jew could have ended there but, tired from years of instability, Tsabari tried to reawaken her old passion: writing. She had been a promising young journalist in her teens, writing regularly for the Israeli daily Maariv.

 But now, in her thirties, the Israeli adventurer had not written in years. And when she did, what emerged were scrambled journal entries in a mixture of Hebrew and English. In 2006, she published her first work in English. In its wake came 2013’s debut collection of short stories, “The Best Place on Earth.” She continued trying her hand at essays — until it became clear that, together, the essays and stories were a joint attempt to explain to herself why she had fled her home and what she had been running away from.

 The fruits of her labor saw the light of day this February in the form of her befittingly titled memoir “The Art of Leaving.” In conversation with Haaretz in Tel Aviv — where the 46-year-old moved with her second husband and daughter 11 months ago — Tsabari admits she initially felt uncomfortable with the book being labeled a tell-all. “I never thought I was going to write a memoir, there’s something a little crazy about it,” she says, while acknowledging that these were stories she had to tell.

“I had lived my life making sure I would have them, I was collecting stories,” she notes. Some of those stories were not just her own. In one of the book’s first essays, “A Simple Girl,” Tsabari describes how marginalized she felt growing up as an orphan in a family of Yemenite descent in 1970s Israel.While many other Mizrahi Jewish writers have written about the racism directed at their families by Ashkenazi Jews in the early years of the state, accounts of the abuse suffered by the Yemenite community — which was historically looked down upon by other Jews — have only begun to emerge in recent decades.

  Read article in full

Friday, June 28, 2019

Press reports on Jewish refugees Westminster debate

Last week's historic debate at Westminster demanding that the UK recognise Jewish refugees from Arab lands has been reported in the Israeli and Jewish press. The Times of Israel (via JTA) reports (with thanks: Imre):

JTA — A British lawmaker called on the UK government to recognize the plight of Jews forced to flee their homes in Arab countries during the 20th century.

Theresa Villiers, MP

Theresa Villiers, who represents the Conservative Party, said the government should acknowledge Jewish refugees when discussing the Middle East and urged fellow Parliament members to support efforts to preserve Jewish sites in the region, the Jewish Chronicle reported Monday.

 Some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa following the establishment of the State of Israel.

Read article in full

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bahrain:'Israel is here to stay, we want peace with it'

Bahrain's foreign minister sees the US-led economic workshop taking place in Manama this week as a possible “gamechanger” tantamount in its scope to the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the Gulf state’s foreign minister  has said. Report in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

 “We see it as very, very important,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop.

Foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa: workshop a possible  'gamechanger'

Khalifa also stressed that his country recognizes Israel’s right to exist, knows that it is “there to stay,” and wants peace with it. He said the US-organized conference here, which is focused on the economic aspects of the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, could be like Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977, which helped pave the way to the Camp David Accords and the normalizing of relations between Egypt and Israel.

 “As much as Camp David 1 was a major gamechanger, after the visit of President Sadat — if this succeeds, and we build on it, and it attracts attention and momentum, this would be the second gamechanger,” Khalifa said. In an interview in his suite at Manama’s posh Four Seasons hotel, Khalifa did not commit to normalizing diplomatic ties with Israel in the near future, but unequivocally affirmed Israel’s right to exist as a state with secure borders.

While Bahrain might be only Arab state, besides Egypt and Jordan, to publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, “we know our brothers in the region do believe in it” as well, he said. Khalifa pointed to the Arab Peace Initiative as the blueprint for normalizing ties with Israel. Israel’s rejection of the plan is a “missed opportunity,” he lamented, but Jerusalem can always rethink its position.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Bahrain synagogue comes back to life

The Bahrain synagogue, which is seldom used, came back to life briefly when a shabbat service was held for delegates at the Bahrain peace summit. The service was organised by Times of Israel Raphael Ahren, together with former Ambassador to the US Huda Nonoo. Donald Trump's Middle East adviser Jason Greenblat, Rabbis Marvin Hier and Marc Schneider, with senior editors and Israeli reporters, made sure there was more than a minyan (quorum of ten men) (with thanks: Lily): 

MANAMA, Bahrain — Businessmen, reporters, five rabbis and a senior White House official held rare morning prayers at the only officially declared synagogue in the Gulf Wednesday, on the edges of a peace conference being held in the tiny gulf kingdom that was once home to a thriving Jewish community.

 At the end of the service, which took place on the sidelines of the US administration’s economic peace workshop held in Bahraini capital Manama, the men, clad in prayer shawls and phylacteries, broke out in song, walking around the bimah and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” — the people of Israel live.'

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Jews have not appropriated hummus from Arabs

Contrary to what anti-Zionists would have us believe, Hummus and pita were not Arab foods appropriated by Jews, they were mentioned in the Torah. Writing in the Times of Israel Dani Ishai Behan joins battle in the food arena:  

With the “debate” over Israel’s legitimacy permeating Western campuses and media, Israeli culture has periodically oscillated in and out of the limelight. In particular, disputes over what aspects of Israeli culture – especially Israeli cuisine – are “authentically” Israeli (hint: if it’s Middle Eastern, then it’s “obviously not Israeli”) have become one of the most contentious frontiers of the entire anti-Zionist war on Jewish rights.

 Attendant to the narrative that Zionist returnees in Israel/Palestine are “settler colonists” who “stole” Arab land, anti-Semites similarly charge Israelis and diaspora Jews alike with “stealing” Arab culture in the hope of weaving a convincing tale of Jewish indigeneity out of whole cloth. It is a fictive that aims to dispossess Jews of their own cultural heritage, identity, peoplehood and, eventually, their land.

Read article in full

Monday, June 24, 2019

Discrimination ‘unbearable’ in Arab lands

Last Thursday was World Refugee Day. And according to the United Nations page devoted to this commemoration, every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. I am one of those people, declares Miriam Shepher in this JTA piece. (With thanks: Ralph)

Refugee tent  in a 'ma'abara' in Israel

 In 1948, when I was 6 months old, my mother risked everything to escape Tunisia with my siblings and me in search of a better life. My father stayed behind until he could meet us years later at our final destination. We crammed into a ship called the Negba and endured a difficult journey to France. We waited for a year until it was our turn, at last, to enter the land that my mother had always considered our home: Eretz Israel.

 I am just one of 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran who left, fled or were expelled from the countries where they had lived, in many cases, since the Babylonian period. In the years that followed the independence of the State of Israel, Jews in Arab countries suffered unbearable discrimination and acts of violence that led to their forced expulsion. Jews were forced out of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and later Iran. They left behind their property and belongings, carrying only necessities as they escaped to safety.

Entire Jewish communities were wiped out, and centuries of religious customs, traditions, culture and music vanished from the Middle East and North Africa. Like my family, nearly half of these refugees settled in Israel. Our stories remainlargely untold. Many still do not know of our collective trauma.

Read article in full

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The 1936 Directory gives a bygone snapshot of Iraqi diversity

With thanks: Michael

'Religious freedom is guaranteed. Mosque stands beside Church and Synagogue.' These words, from the Iraq Directory of 1936, published yearly under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior, sound rather hollow nowadays with the drastic decline of the Jewish and Christian population.

The Directory provides a snapshot of a bygone era of diversity: Mandeans, Sabeans, Bahais and Assyrians are all part of the Iraqi people. Hebrew was listed as one of the six languages of Iraq (the others were Arabic, Kurdish, Chaldean, Turkish and Armenian.) The Jewish community (the genteel term Israelite' is used) was governed by a 1931 law based on an Ottoman statute. The community , whose president was Rabbi Sassoon Khedoori, was subdivided into regional districts, each with its own hierarchy and Councils. The lay council in Baghdad, led by Yehudah Saleh Zeloof, controlled nine boys' schools and two girls' schools, synagogues, charities, and the way money was raised and spent.

It lists 41 synagogues in Baghdad. The oldest, the Great synagogue, is said to date back to the 5th century BCE and the Shaykh Ishaq synagogue to the 7th century. The rest were built in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Today five Jews live in Iraq and all the synagogues have either been destroyed or have fallen into disrepair, except for one, Meir Tweig, which is almost permanently shut.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

On this day, music master 'Cheikh' Raymond was shot

On 22 June 1961, while shopping in the market with his daughter, the great music master Raymond Leyris was shot in the neck in the Algerian town of Constantine. The murder, by the pro-independence FLN, shocked the Jews of Constantine and precipitated their exodus. Within a year almost all the Jews of Algeria had fled. 'Cheikh' Raymond's granddaughter Alexandra wrote this  tribute in Tribune Juive :
 (with thanks: Michelle):

A master of Arab-Andalusian music, he was a symbol of Judeo-Arab fraternity which was expressed in music between the 1930s and 1950s. Raymond Leyris was born in 1912 of a Jewish father from Batna, the capital of Aurès and a French mother. He was abandoned by his mother, following the death of his father on the Somme front, during the First World War, and  adopted by a very poor practising Jewish family.

 Attracted by music, he trained at  malouf with Sheikhs Omar Chaklab and Abdelkrim Bestandji. Malouf is the Constantine form of music from the Arab-Andalusian musical tradition. A heritage common to Muslims and Jews, the malouf celebrates courtly love. Gradually becoming a match for his masters, Cheikh Raymond  was respected by both Jews and Muslims in Algeria, who called him in the mid-1930s "Cheikh Raymond" as a sign of respect.
Rare video clip showing Raymond Leyris and his ensemble playing 'malouf'
Read article in full (French)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Oral History project launches English app

On  World Refugee Day, JIMENA  ( Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) launched  the English version of an Israeli mobile application, “Seeing the Voices.” 

 Synagogues Hall, Beit Hatefutsot (Museum of the Jewish People)

 This is part of a $2.6m initiative spearheaded by Israel’s Ministry of Social Equality to build an international Oral History archive of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews sharing their personal stories.
In partnership with Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of Jewish Peoplehood and Yad Ben Zvi Institute, the project enables individuals anywhere in the world to capture the personal stories of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East and add them to the growing international collection utilizing basic mobile technologies. The user-friendly “Seeing the Voices” Mobile Application guides individuals through the process of the interview from start to finish. Users are provided with a step-by-step guide and questionnaire to conduct and video record testimonies with their phones. Each interview collected with the mobile application is automatically added to Israel’s official database of testimonies and are made available for viewing online.
Since 2018, JIMENA staff have worked with the Israeli team on developing the English version of the application. The stories recorded with the aid of the app will form part of a centralised archive.
Download the app: iPhone; Android

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Jewish refugees debated for first time in UK parliament

For the first time, the issue of Jewish refugees  from the Middle East and North Africa was debated in the UK Parliament on 19 June 2019. The hour-long debate in Westminster Hall, secured by MP Theresa Villiers, obtained unanimous approval by all parliamentarians present for Jewish refugees from the MENA to be 'considered' by the House. You can read the full HANSARD transcript here.

Click here to see the video recording of the debate,  or fast forward to 16:58  here

Participating in the debate were Dr Andrew Murrison, the junior minister in charge of the Middle East at the Foreign Office and  Opposition spokeman Fabian Hamilton, nine back-bench members of Parliament from both the main parties (no Liberal Democrat MPS attended), as well as representatives of the Northern Irish DUP and the Scottish Nationalists.

However,  in reply to questions from MPs Zac Goldsmith and Matthew Offord,  junior minister for the Middle East Dr Andrew Murrison refused to commit the UK government to following the lead of the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament: both had passed a resolution calling for explicit recognition  for Jewish refugees. Dr Murrison referred to Security UN Resolution 242 as the template for considering the rights of both refugee populations 'in the round'. He did not  comment on the imbalance in UN resolutions, 172 of which dealt with Palestinian refugees, not one on Jewish refugees.

The minister  (pictured above)  mentioned  'examples of countries that have done relatively well in a dismal scene'. "I cite Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan* countries where there has been a more benign attitude towards Jewish refugees," he said."This must not obscure the general  awfulness,"  he acknowledged.

Introducing the topic, Ms Villiers said that the 856,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from pre-Islamic communities in Arab countries were the key to understanding the Middle East conflict. She agreed with MPs Andrew Percy (who had relatives of a persecuted Yemenite family in his constituency) and Stephen Crabbe that awareness of the issue was key to debunking the 'false narrative' that Israel was a creation of the West and that no Jews had ever lived in the Middle East. She pointed out that a disproportionate amount of airtime was devoted to the Palestinian refugees. Despite the early hardships, the integration of MENA Jews into Israel had been a 'huge success'', with Mizrahi Jews today a valued part of the fabric of Israeli society as well as in the West.

Robert Halfon lent a personal flavour to the debate: his grandfather Renato Halfon had been deprived of both his home and his business by the Libyan leader colonel Gaddafi;  Fabian Hamilton, whose father was of Turkish/Greek ancestry, mentioned that his great-uncle was mayor of Tangiers.  John Howell gave a run-down of the decline of the Iraqi-Jewish community, several of whom were his personal friends. Dame Louise Ellman pointed out that almost no Jews now existed in the Arab Middle East outside Israel and that over half its Jews had roots in Arab and Muslim countries. She hoped that a 'peaceful resolution  will once again welcome Jewish people right across the region, to their places of origin.' Alex Sobel called for reparations for Jewish refugees who had suffered great losses. Independent MP Ivan Lewis said it was time to question why Palestinian 'refugees' were still living in camps. 'Refugees, especially children,  should not be used in the forefront of a Public Relations campaign', he said.

Scottish MP Peter  Grant  spoke of the 'ethnic cleansing' of Jewish refugees. He said conflicts rarely produced refugees from only one side and both sets deserved equal recognition.  Echoing Theresa Villiers' anxiety that Christians were now following the Jews out of the Middle East, he quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: 'What starts with the Jews rarely ends with the Jews.'

Jim Shannon pointed out the parallels with Northern Ireland, where the Protestant population, like the Jews, was under threat of 'ethnic cleansing'. He also remarked on the media bias of the BBC, which invariably omitted any mention of Jewish refugees.

Opposition spokesman Fabian Hamilton remarked that 'for many Israelis, the issue of refugees remained one of the outstanding obstacles to peace that must be resolved in any final status negotiations'.
Just before he came to the debate,  Hamilton had a meeting with Dr Saeb Erekat from the Palestine Liberation Organisation. " He asked me to say quite openly that the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority believe that just as Palestinians should have their rights to return with full compensation, so should all Jewish refugees. I thought that was very interesting," he said.
 It was perhaps disappointing that Hamilton had not thought to point out to Erekat that no Jew wishes to return to an Arab country.
In her concluding remarks, Theresa Villiers said:  " This story has stayed untold for far too long. We need this debate to be the start of a process by which we ensure that more people know about this unresolved injustice.
"I echo the request from all parts of the House that the Government explicitly refer to the matter of Jewish refugees in statements, discussions and debates about the middle east because, as we have heard, it is not possible properly to understand the middle east conflict or to formulate a fair solution without an understanding of the issue with which we have been grappling this afternoon."

*Jordan never had any Jews to speak of. In 1948 the Arab Legion expelled every Jews from  territory in the West Bank and Jerusalem which it conquered and occupied until 1967.

Conservative Friends of Israel newsletter report

This is London report

Jewish Chronicle report

Ancient Baghdad shrine is now a semi-ruin

The remains of the tomb of Sheikh Ishaq Gaon in Baghdad

 Two young boys guide a visitor to the  site of the tomb of a Jewish  holy  man in Baghdad, the shrine of Shaykh Ishaq Gaon (around 4 mins into the video by Falah Hasan and Dhikra Sarsam).  The tomb is now a semi-ruin, surrounded by rubble and rubbish.

According to Zvi Yehuda's book Tombs of Saints and Synagogues in Babylonia, Shaykh Ishaq Gaon was the sarraf, the chief treasurer of the Caliph Ali b Abi Talib. Shaykh Ishaq Gaon died in the year 688 CE and was buried in today's Hannun neighbourhood inside the old Jewish quarter in Al-Rusafa in east Baghdad. Muslims call him Sheikh Ishaq, Ali's treasurer.

The burial place of Shaykh Ishaq Gaon also served as a synagogue populated by 'ten idle men' supported by the Baghdad Jewish community. The tomb was in Jewish hands until the exodus, when it fell into disrepair.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

70 years since the airlift of 45,000 Yemen Jews

In May 1949, when the Imam of Yemen unexpectedly agreed to let 45,000 of the 46,000 Jews in his country leave,  transport planes operated by Alaska Airlines flew them to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. The Yemenite Jews, mostly children, were brought to Israel on some 380 flights in one of the most complex immigration operations the state has ever known. Article in the San Diego Jewish World:

As the War of Independence ended in early 1949, Israel was devastated and virtually bankrupt. Notwithstanding, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, defying logic and the advise of his economic advisors, ordered the immediate and rapid “Ingathering of the Exiles”. Where would Israel get the money? “Go to the Jews in the Diaspora and ask them for the money”, Ben-Gurion answered the skeptics. For the Jews of Yemen, Egypt had closed the Suez Canal to them and therefore they would have to be transported by air to Israel. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the international Jewish humanitarian aid organization, agreed to fund the Yemenite exodus and organize the airlift, but they needed aircraft. Alaska Airlines was founded in 1932, when Mac McGee purchased a used three passenger Stinson and started an air charter business in Alaska. With the arrival of James Wooten as president in 1947, the airline began to purchase surplus planes from the U.S. Government and within a year became the world’s largest charter airline.

The JDC approached Wooten and asked if Alaska Airlines would agree to accept the Yemen airlift. Wooten wanted Alaska Air to take on the mission of mercy but Ray Marshall, Chairman of the Board, was cool. Marshall felt the deal was a waste of the Airline’s time and money. It would take at least $50,000 to set up the charter, cash that the Airline did not have. Marshall insisted that Wooten front the funds himself. Wooten raised the $50,000 by borrowing it from a travel agency associated with the JDC.

 The contract was signed and Operation On Wings of Eagles, more popularly known by its nickname, Operation Magic Carpet commenced. As Yemen would not permit the Jewish refugees to be flown out of their country, Britain had agreed to the establishment of a transit camp in the adjoining Crown Colony of Aden from which the airlift could commence. Alaska Airlines set up its base in Asmara, Eritrea with their ground crew, pilots and aircraft, – DC-4s and C-46s. The arrangement was to fly from their base in Asmara to Aden each morning, pick up their passengers in Aden and refuel.

Thence fly up the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba to the airport in Tel Aviv, unload the refugees, fly to the safety of Cyprus for the night and return to their base in Asmara at dawn, before starting all over again. The round trip would take about 20 hours. The aircraft as configured could not carry enough passengers or sufficient fuel. So, the planes were modified by replacing the regular airline seats with rows of benches and fitting extra fuel tanks down the length of the fuselages between the benches. Aircraft intended to carry 50 passengers could now carry 120 and fuel would last a skinny extra one hour. Meanwhile the transit camp in Aden, called “Camp Geula” (Redemption) was organized by the JDC and staffed by Israeli doctors and social workers under the directorship of Max Lapides, an American Jew. Also headquartered at the camp were emissaries responsible for paying various Yemeni tribal chiefs a “head tax” which would permit the Jewish refugees to pass through their territory.

As news of the evacuation reached the Jews of Yemen, they left their few possessions behind (except their prayer books and Torahs) and like the biblical exodus began to walk out of slavery into freedom. They traveled in family groups, some hundreds of miles, through wind and sandstorm, vulnerable to robbers and a hostile local population, until half-starved and destitute they reached the border with Aden where Israeli aid workers met them and transported them to the transit camp. There they encountered electricity, medicines, running water, toilets and personal hygiene for the first time. During the entire operation, the Jews of Yemen arrived at Camp Geula in a steady stream, newer ones arriving as an earlier group was airlifted out.
Getting the Yemenite Jews to Aden was one problem, getting them on the aircraft was another. Nomads who had never seen an airplane before and never lived anywhere but in a tent, many of the immigrants were frightened and refused to board. Once reminded that their deliverance to Israel by air was prophesized in the Book of Isaiah, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles”, reinforced by the painting of an eagle with outstretched wings over the door of each aircraft, induced them to board the planes. Once inside many preferred sitting on the floor to unaccustomed soft seats. Keeping them from lighting fires to cook their food was a task. During the flight, about half would get sick vomiting over the extra inside fuel tanks. Notwithstanding, the Yemenites upon landing in Israel chanted blessings and burst into song.

Read article in full

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Iranian regime 'Jew-washes' its antisemitism

Journalist Karmel Melamed slams  the Iranian regime for claiming credit on behalf of previous dynasties and individuals who saved Jews in the course of history. Writing in the Jewish Journal, Melamed attributes the phenomenon of Jews supporting the regime's 'Jew-washing' narrative to three factors: coercion, pay-offs and propaganda. 

 Abdol Hussein Sardari:  an 'infidel' who saved Jews during World War II

During World War II, the Consul General of Iran in the area of Nazi controlled France was a man by the name of Abdol Hussein Sardari. From 1940 to 1944, Sardari helped exempt Iranian Jews and other Central Asian Jews living in German-occupied France from anti-Jewish measures decreed by French and Nazi authorities.

 He likewise issued thousands of Iranian passports to other European Jews who feared for their lives and were seeking to escape the Nazis in France. The actions Sardari took to save Jews from Nazi persecution and genocide were indeed noble, but he took these actions of his own free will and not under any government direction to do so.

Besides, Sardari was a civil servant working for the government of the late Shah. As a result of his ties to the previous Shah’s regime, the current Islamic regime of the ayatollahs who came to power in 1979 rejected Sardari and anyone else who worked in the previous Shah’s regime as “infidels”.

So it is downright absurd that all of sudden Zarif now wants to claim Sardari as one of his own when Sardari had totally no connection whatsoever to the radical Islamic regime which Zarif proudly serves in today. It is therefore obvious to anyone with half a brain that the historic good deeds of Sardari belonged to Sardari alone and no other government or regime.

 In the end, if western reporters had any kind of backbone or journalistic integrity, they would challenge Zarif on his absurd attempts to paint his demonic anti-Semitic Islamic regime as one that “saved the Jews three times”. Anyone can clearly see that the current Iranian regime never saved the Jews of Iran or any other Jews for that matter during the last 40 years!

If anything this radical Islamic regime in Iran has formally executed two dozen Jews, randomly arrested and imprisoned thousands of other Jews, confiscated billions of dollars in Jewish assets and forced into exile the vast majority of Iran’s Jews who now live in America, Europe and Israel. Moreover, the thugs who run the radical Islamic regime in Iran today, not only repeatedly deny the existence of the Nazi genocide of six million Jews, but they also repeatedly call for a genocide of the people living in the only Jewish state.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Comic book traces Alexandrian family story

A month after his grandmother’s death, Jeremie Dres was forced to put his grandfather into a retirement home. It was then that the comic book author and multimedia artist realised how urgent it was to record his maternal grandparents’ story. This nostalgic foray into Egypt's past says nothing about the antisemitism which drove Dres's family out - not surprisingly, as Middle East Eye is  a Muslim Brotherhood publication. (With thanks: Lily)

 Dres, who is based in Paris, headed off on a two-week trip to Egypt, retracing the trail of his grandparents, both of whom were Jews born in Alexandria. “I’d already tried my hand at the family history genre, with We Won’t See Auschwitz,” he says of his previous work, in which he and his brother try to understand what it means to be Jewish and Polish.

 “My grandparents had always been a link for me to the world at large. When they died, I realised the link was going to disappear with them, and I was afraid my roots would too." His efforts to safeguard his family heritage led to Remembering Alexandria, a compelling graphic novel that captures the heyday of Egypt’s cosmopolitan past.

But what began as an investigation into resurrecting and preserving his family history led him to uncover the forgotten heritage of the Jewish community in Egypt – and sent him on a remarkable adventure, leading to encounters with a number of emblematic figures. When he reached Cairo, Dres immediately met the few remaining representatives of Egypt’s Jewish community, including Magda Haroun, a lawyer (incorrect - ed) and community leader based in the Egyptian capital, and Amir Ramses, a film-maker whose works include a documentary on the last Jews of the country. “I wanted to meet them because they could all tell the story of a bygone era,” he says.

 “And yet today, these people, who are part of the history of Egypt, are regrettably seen as objects of fascination.” Cairo’s Jewish community has now dwindled to less than a dozen people, yet it possesses a collection of unique cultural artefacts that its remaining members are determined to preserve.

Remembering Alexandria tells of how Jewish non-profit groups around the world are fighting over the pieces: while some believe the relics should remain in Egypt, others say they should be entrusted to the countries where their rightful heirs now live.

Read article in full

Sunday, June 16, 2019

No justice for the dispossessed: a tale of two Menashes

 Exclusive to Point of No Return

It is well known that  Jews forced out of Arab countries lost assets and property, but it is only when you hear of individual cases that the true extent of the dispossession hits home. This is a tale of two Menashes, one in Egypt and one in Iraq, which recently came to Point of No Return's attention. The names in the Iraqi case have been changed.

Jacques Mawas is an 87-year old pensioner living in rural Sussex, England. He was expelled from Egypt in 1956 together with some 25,000 other Jews. After 1956, Jewish property was sequestrated and little, if any, compensation was forthcoming.

Jacques Mawas's family on his mother's side were the Barons de Menasce. Felix de Menasce was the president of the Alexandria Jewish community and bought land in order to build housing for Jews fleeing from Europe in the 1930s.  The Menasces owned, and still do own, land in the suburbs of Alexandria.

 The  Menasce heirs instructed a lawyer to sell the land. He discovered that 700 feddans of land (1 feddan = 4200 sq. m) were still the property of the family. Some 240 feddans remained in their name as attested by official certificates from land taxes and the public registry office. The lawyer obtained final judgements from the French and British Courts of Appeal denying that the family had received compensation by the Egyptian government. But in the absence of the rightful heirs, three different Egyptian government authorities falsely claimed ownership. The family managed to obtain the annulment of these claims: some land had been sold to influential government people who pretended that they had bought the land in good faith.

"This is a massive claim which has been blocked by the Egyptian authorities, although we have the court judgements and certificates to prove it," says Jacques Mawas.  Considering the value of a square metre to be 1,000 Egyptian pounds, the compensation due to his family could amount to $100 million, he believes.

An Iraqi Jew also by the name of Menashe owned a substantial amount of land in Zafraniya (14.5 dunams: about 35,000 sq. metres), Baghdad. Like all Jews, he was forced to leave his assets behind when he escaped Iraq.  The family gave up any hope of ever seeing any compensation.

Recently, however, Menashe's daughter Charlotte was contacted out of the blue by Ahmed, an Iraqi Muslim whose grandfather was a security guard living on the land in a mud hut. Although they had never paid rent, Ahmed's family constructed brick homes on the site to accommodate their growing numbers.

But a wealthy businessman called Ali wanted to evict Ahmed and his family and sell the land, which at today's prices is very valuable.To do so, Ali falsified the deeds which were in Menashe's name and put the property in his own name.

Desperate to stop the eviction of his family, Ahmed pleaded with Charlotte to intervene so as to demonstrate that the genuine owners were Jews. But his pleas may have come too late.  The photo shows Ali's  bulldozers moving in.
A bulldozer demolishes Ahmed's family home on Menashe's land

This case leaves Charlotte and her family with an opportunity.  But to engage expensive lawyers to support her family's claim may prove futile. It will only offer a slim hope of getting her father's property back. Even Jacques Mawas, whose claims were vindicated in the courts after embarking on a long legal process, seems to have no right to justice.

These cases have been duplicated across the Arab world: squatters have moved in and deeds have been falsified, often aided and abetted by powerful and well-placed individuals. The dispossession may have happened decades ago, but Jews are still haunted by the bitter ramifications.

Jewish refugees from Aden: more stories of frustration

 With thanks: Sarah.

Further to our post flagging a Jewish Chronicle article on the difficulties that Jewish refugees from Aden are encountering in renewing their British passports, more refugees have come forward to voice their frustration. 
Rami Kanzen had to produce five expired UK passports before he received his new passport

When the UK government does renew passports, it states as 'Yemen' the holder's birthplace. Aden ceased to be a British protectorate in 1967.

When Sammy David's father tried to renew his British passport, Sammy had to produce up to 50 documents to satisfy the UK Home office. The process took years. When his father finally received his passport, his place of birth was said to be 'Yemen' and not 'Aden'. It took more correspondence pointing out the family's important role in the colony before the UK government agreed to change his place of birth back to Aden.

However, Sammy's uncle has a passport stating 'Yemen' as his birthplace. The two brothers  do not travel together in order to avoid having to answer awkward questions.

Sammy David's great-uncle got so frustrated with the process that he gave up his British nationality and took out US nationality.

 There have been other similar cases. 'Aden' does not come up as an option if renewing one's passport online.

 It is hard to estimate when Jews from Aden first began to experience difficulties in renewing their passports. According to Sammy David, it could be as long  ago as ten years. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Jewish refugees to be debated at Westminster

The UK Parliament is for the first time to devote an hour-long debate to Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The debate has been called by MP Theresa Villiers and will take place on Wednesday 19 June at 16:30 in Westminster Hall.

"This is a neglected aspect of the Israel/Palestine conflict and this debate is a long-overdue  attempt to give this issue equal prominence with the far more familiar issue of Arab/Palestinian refugees," says Lyn Julius of Harif, a UK organisation representing Jews from the MENA.

Some 850,000 – a larger number of Jewish refugees – were driven out from Arab countries at the same time. The majority found a new home in Israel, but some tens of thousands were resettled in the UK .

In 1947-48 (and in some cases much earlier) Arab countries deliberately targeted their Jewish populations. In all Arab countries, violence, expropriations and expulsions ensured that Jewish communities, which in many cases had existed for thousands of years, ceased to exist. Most who left were forcibly deprived of their property.
At the time this injustice was recognised by international actors: the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recognised on a number of occasions that the plight of the Jewish refugees fell within its remit. This is also why UNSC Resolution 242 refers to “a just settlement of the refugee problem” without specifying the “Arab” or “Palestinian” refugee problem.

Some countries today, namely the US and Canada,  have also recognised this refugee issue as the injustice it is.

Over 50 percent of the Israeli Jewish population has roots in Arab and Muslim countries. A peace settlement that ignores their rights to recognition and redress will not be credible.

It is hoped that as a result of the debate the  British government will take steps to recognise the injustice that was suffered by more than 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and to ensure that it recognises this tragedy alongside that of the Palestinian refugees in its stance on the Middle Eastern peace process.

There will be limited public access to the debate. It should be recorded on this website.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Albert Memmi: Zionism is national liberation for colonised Jews

 Must-read by author of the Lions' Den Susie Linfield in Fathom magazine about the politics of Albert Memmi, one of the rare intellectuals on the left to see Zionism as a liberation movement. This owed much to his experience as a Tunisian Jew, the 'colonised of the colonised', and his disappointment with decolonisation in the Arab world, which 'preferred to do without its Jews'. Read the whole thing: Memmi's insights are worth it.

The social and political position of Tunisian Jews was complex. “We were not even citizens,” Memmi recalled. “But, after all, very few people were.” Physically and culturally, poor Jews were close to their Muslim neighbors. But Jewish Tunisians were a tiny minority, and in many ways a powerless one. “Even the most underprivileged” Arab, Memmi wrote, “feels in a position to despise and insult the Jew.”

With shame, Memmi remembered “the extraordinarily fearful timidity of our community in Tunis. We were taught to be nice to everyone—the French who were in power, the Arabs who were in the majority”; with no citizenship or real political power of their own, Jews were “emasculated, castrated.” Almost inevitably, the Jewish community looked to the French for protection—though not always successfully, as they would discover at great cost during the Vichy period. Tunisian Jews were colonisers and colonised, advantaged and disadvataged. Memmi described himself as “a sort of half-breed of colonization, understanding everyone because I belonged completely to no one.” Memmi was a preteen Zionist at a time when the movement seemed at best a utopian adventure and at worst a dangerous fantasy. His education in Zionist youth organizations included “tossing grenades” and learning “the doctrines and precepts of revolutionary action. . . .

On Sundays, we would set out for the country, pretending to be Israeli pioneers. We didn’t even forget to imitate the internal bickering of the distant, young national movement.” His adolescence corresponded to a particularly hopeful time in world politics, and he remembered the year 1936 with special affection: “The entire world seemed to invite me to a marvelous wedding celebration.” Though fascism was on the rise, the Popular Front had won the French elections, and in Tunisia there were “joyous open-air meetings” in which “we rubbed elbows with Arab peddlars, Sicilian bricklayers and French railroad workers, one and all dazzled by these new feelings of broth- erhood. In Spain, however, the war was beginning, never to end. Yet . . . we cried out joyously: ‘No pasarán!’ ” It was a perilous moment, but a confident one. That “they shall not pass” was a certainty.

In this atmosphere, a distinct Jewish identity seemed self-absorbed, cumbersome, and embarrassing. “I no longer wanted to be that invalid called a Jew, mostly because I wanted to be a man; and because I wanted to join with all men to reconquer the humanity which was denied me.”

 Memmi became an ardent Francophile, in love with French culture and republican principles. “After all, it was they who had invented the remedies after the ills: equality after domination, socialism after exploitation.” Zionism ceased to matter: “I thought no more about Palestine. . . . ‘The Jewish problem’ had been diluted with the honey of that universal embrace.” Memmi’s anti-nationalism was part of a more general rejection of all presumably bourgeois attitudes and institutions, common to young leftists of his time (and ours). Already, he could detect the death “of religions, families and nations. We had nothing but anger, scorn and irony for the die-hards of history who clung to those residues.”14 Energetic hope and energetic contempt braided together.

In 1939, Memmi graduated from his French lycée in Tunis, winning the country’s top philosophy prize. He enrolled at the University of Algiers, but his time there was brief. With the outbreak of war, he was expelled from Algeria and sent back to Tunisia, which was then occupied by the Nazis and the Vichy French. Memmi was sent to a forced labor camp for Jews, from which he escaped; some of his fellow prisoners were deported to the death camps. After the war he finished his degree in Algiers, then moved to Paris for further study in philosophy at the Sorbonne. But here, too, as a Jew and North African, he found that he belonged to “them,” not “us.”

 Albert Memmi

As with Deutscher, the war and the genocide dented Memmi’s faith in Western humanism. “The Europe we admired, respected and loved assumed strange faces: even France, democratic and fraternal, borrowed the face of Vichy.” And dented his faith, too, in a universal brotherhood into which Jews would be seamlessly integrated: “I had learned the harsh lesson that my destiny [as a Jew] did not necessarily coincide with the destiny of Europe.”

But his basic convictions remained. Surely a new world, a world of dignity for all, would emerge from the ashes. In 1949, the Tunisian independence movement drew him back home.

Tunisia was home, and Memmi viewed the fight for its independence as his own. “How could I, who applauded so wildly the struggle for freedom of other peoples, have refused to help the Tunisians in whose midst I had lived since birth and who, in so many ways, were my own people? . . . Thus, having ceased to be a universalist, I gradually became . . . a Tunisian nationalist.

 Memmi was a founding editor of the promi- nent pro-independence magazine Jeune Afrique, whose cultural pages he edited for several years. He wrote that he fought for Arab independence “with my pen, and sometimes physically.”

Alas, Memmi’s love for Tunisia was unrequited. The new state established Islam as the official religion, Arabized the education system, and quickly made it known that, as Memmi put it, “it preferred to do without” its Jews.

 Despite the Jews’ millennia-long presence in the country—“we were there before Christianity and long before Islam,” he protested—they were not viewed as genuine Tunisians.19 Following independence, a series of anti-Jewish decrees made it virtually impossible for poor Jews to make a living. Memmi’s hopes for a secular, multicultural republic of equal citizens were dashed. This rejection by his brothers felt deeply personal; it was not just a political wrong turn but an intimate, humiliating wound. An exodus of Tunisian Jews, most to Israel, some to France, ensued; an even larger group would leave after 1967.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Justice campaigner Raphael Bigio dies in Montreal

 Raphael Bigio z"l

A tenacious campaigner for restitution of his family's assets in Egypt, Raphael Bigio has passed away at his home in Montreal without seeing justice. His death on Shavuoth was announced by his daughter Esther on Facebook. The funeral took place on 11 June 2019.

Jewish refugee Raphael Bigio took the Egyptian government to court  for the expropriation of his family's Coca-Cola bottling works at Heliopolis. The Bigios then took their fight to the US  when they learnt that their assets  had been acquired by Coca-Cola International. The latter avoided presenting factual evidence of their direct involvement in the acquisition of the family's  real estate assets and factories, pointing to the liability of a subsidiary.

Although represented by the international lawyer Nat Lewin, Bigio seemed to give up the fight in 2011, citing his mother's death as the reason.

Click here for articles on the Bigio case

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Libyan-born leader Tesciuba dies in Rome

 Shalom Tesciuba, leader of Jews of Libyan descent for 50 years, has died in Rome.  He led the rebirth of the Tripoli Jewish community in Italy and helped revitalize Roman Judaism after the war, La Stampa reports. 

Born in Tripoli in 1934, Tesciuba escaped from the pogroms and the Arab riots against the Jews and managed to reach Italy in July of '67, during the mass exodus of the entire community. From there he immediately began to help newly-arrived refugees to integrate into the capital, and  keep alive the millennial traditions of Libyan Judaism, enriching and reviving the entire Roman Jewish community. 

"Relations with the Community of Rome were very close  straight away," Tesciuba said in an interview with La Stampa -Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff worked hard with us, and gave me carte blanche to enforce Jewish standards for everyone. " This is how Tesciuba helped Toaff to rebuild Judaism in Rome, still deeply affected and weakened by war and the Holocaust. (...)

Thanks also to its activity, the turnout in synagogues and study groups reached the highest levels in the 1980s. Thus Tesciuba transformed an old cinema into a synagogue, the Beth El, still one of the beating hearts of Jewish life in Rome.

In June 2017, together with Sion Burbea, another leader of Libyan Jews, he was given an award by the then Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, during the ceremony at the Tempio Maggiore di Roma marking  50 years since the arrival of the Jews of Libya in Italy.

Read article in full

Israel's new minister Ohana has Moroccan roots

Amir Ohana is Israel's first openly gay minister; he is also the son of Esther and Meir, who came from Morocco to build the Jewish state. Matti Friedman profiles Israel's new minister of justice in the New York Times:

Israelis sometimes speak about two Israels: one Western-oriented and left-leaning, with roots in Eastern Europe, and the other working-class, traditional and rooted in the lost Jewish communities of the Islamic world.

Although Mr. Ohana grew up in the middle class, in that simplified division his North African last name and family background place him in the second Israel. Mr. Ohana’s parents were raised in Morocco. Along with many other Arabic-speaking Jews who came to Israel, they landed in rough immigration camps in the southern desert, then fashioned new lives for themselves against steep odds.

The Ohanas’ social world was conservative, and their dusty city was far from the sexually liberal bubble of Tel Aviv; there weren’t many openly gay people around Beersheba in 1991. Having a gay son wasn’t something they’d planned.

But when he was 15, Mr. Ohana told his parents the truth. “That was me and there was nothing I could do about it,” he told me recently. “I couldn’t change and I didn’t want to.” They took it, he remembered, “very badly.”

 When Mr. Ohana was 18 he joined the army, serving as an officer in the military police. He was discharged in 2000, as peace negotiations collapsed and the Second Intifada began. He then joined a Shin Bet intelligence outfit tasked with stopping the Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks wreaking havoc on Israeli streets.

Polls show that Israelis of Mr. Ohana’s generation and younger are drawn increasingly to the right. (He says he was always there.) He spent six years in the security service, studying law at night.

Read article in full

Monday, June 10, 2019

Iraqi Jew's story: betrayal by a 'brother'

 Exclusive to Point of No Return

History books  tell us about major events as they happen. They fail to tell us the specific stories of individuals who suffer  as a result of those events. Many remain unrecorded, and are eventually forgotten. However, Iraq-born Sami Sourani has made sure to record this story for Point of No Return. Every word is true, although names have been changed.

Sami Sourani

The following is a true story: it happened in Baghdad after the establishment of the State of Israel. Jews in Arab countries, especially in Iraq, had a very hard time at the hands of the Iraqi government. Eventually, the Jews had to leave Iraq, bringing an end to a Diaspora that had lasted about 2,600 years.

This is a story about two men, one Jewish ( let us give him a name: Yusef) and the other Muslim  (let us call  him Hamid). They were partners in cultivating fruit orchards located by the Tigris river not very far from Baghdad. Both partners inherited this land from their ancestors who owned it for many generations.

For many years, the partners divided their profit in a way called “share cropping”. This means that they shared all costs involved - such as the cost of irrigation, fertilizers, seasonal workers, etc. Then they divided the crop equally: for example, one ton of oranges for this partner and one ton for the second partner. The produce was then delivered to the fruit market n Baghdad and sold by public auction.

Over the years, the two partners became very friendly. Hamid called Yusef, “my brother” and had  great respect for him. At the end of Jewish holidays, Hamid used to send to Yusuf’s house a big tray of fresh Iraqi pita, vegetables, fruits of the season and yogurt. When Hamid was sick, Yusef took him to the best Jewish doctors in Baghdad and took care of all his needs. He also looked after Hamid ‘s wife when she was seriously ill. On her death bed, she told her husband,” Take care of Yusef and do not betray him. He is more faithful to you than your brothers of your own flesh and blood”. Hamid replied, ”Yusef is my brother: I shall always protect him.”

In the 1950s, as the situation of the Jews became intolerable, Yusef’s  family escaped Baghdad  for Israel illegally. Yusef stayed in Baghdad hoping that he could sell his property and join his family soon.

It happened that Hamid had a son who finished high school and wanted to study further. Hamid did not like his son’s idea: he wanted his son to be a farmer like himself. Yusef convinced Hamid to let his son further his education. The son went to study at a university,  but at the end of the year he failed.  While  a student, he was  swept up in a fanatical  Muslim movement. He returned home and  tried to convince his father to tell the Iraqi authorities that Yusef  was a Zionist. This way, Yusef would be put in jail and his father  would benefit from the whole land, not just half of it. Some Muslim friends who overheard that scenario between  father and  son, came to Yusef telling him that his freedom was in danger. Yusef smiled, saying, 'Hamid is my brother -  he will never betray me'. A few days later, Yusef was arrested. He was taken for interrogation and jailed. For five years, Yusef was in and out of prison in Baghdad for interrogation and torture. As a result of the torture, he could not sleep on his back for the rest of his life.

There  were  still some good people in this world, Jews and Muslims, who knew Yusef. They tried to bribe the authorities to let him out of jail. The Iraqi government took possession of all his property. He was given a one-way permit to leave Iraq. He had to sign a document  to say that he was giving up his birthright,  assets, and that he would be persecuted for any attempt to come back to Iraq. He had no other choice but to accept this condition. His friends got him some clothes and  food and drove him to Iraq's international airport where he boarded a plane to Beirut, Lebanon and from there to Cyprus. He was allowed by the Iraqi authorities to take with him only five Iraqi dinars .

 Iraqi-Jewish merchants (Photo: Beit Hatfutsot)

At the airport in Cyprus, custom officers opened his suitcase as they did for all passengers. They were surprised to find that it contained no clothes, only garbage and scraps of old newspapers. It seems that the Iraqi prison guards who inspected his suitcase before he left had taken his clothes and replaced them with garbage.

In Cyprus, an Israeli agent arranged his flight to Tel Aviv. Yusef was re-united with his family in Tel Aviv, after five years. He was overwhelmed. He cried, saying that the Iraqi government had taken away all his assets and he had come empty-handed, with only five Iraqi dinars in his pocket. 

It is very hard to accept defeat. The situation  had been imposed on him. His confidence and willpower  were gone. He was a mental and physical wreck. The family tried to calm him down: the main thing was that he was  alive. A few days later, he realized that there was no other choice but to accept his situation. Like many Iraqi businessmen who lost their property, he went to work as a laborer in construction, thanking Hashem that he was alive. Friends who knew him from Baghdad could not believe that he had lost his assets. It was hard for him to speak about his situation and how he had suffered at the hands of the Iraqi prison guards.

A few years later, Yusef and his family decided to leave for Canada. A week before leaving Israel, an elderly close relative of the family arrived  in Israel.  Because of his  advanced age, that person had been allowed to leave Iraq.  He had tried very hard to reach Yusef: he had a message for him  from Hamid, his Muslim partner. Yusef was anxious to hear it. ” My dear brother Yusef, I am sending you those words and I am on my death bed, dying of cancer," Hamid 's message said. " I do not know how many days I have left in this world. I lost all the money I took from you, and I have nothing to pay you back. I can feel how hard life was for you and for your children, I left you penniless. My final request from you is just to send me a piece of paper saying that you forgive me for the hardship I caused you and your family. I want to stand before God and confess my sins, as long as you agree to forgive me. This is my last wish, dear brother. Please forgive me.”
When Yusef heard those words, he cried like a child. He said that they were like brothers in one family. "We respected each other, but it seems that he was motivated by greed to do what he did to me. " 

Yusef's children were very surprised that their father still felt pity for his partner. They told their father that they had had a hard time, until they had managed to study and stand on their feet. It was not easy to accept defeat and it is also very hard to stand  up to  the challenges of life when you are penniless, and all  you have is blind ambition. Yusef said that mistakes could happen in many families and that life was simply give-and-take. We had to learn to forgive  and forget. This is the only way to live in peace and harmony.

Upon arrival in  Canada, Yusef  wrote a letter to Hamid. He did not tell his family the contents of the letter. Yusef waited patiently for a reply from his partner, but no reply was ever received.
This episode or similar ones could have happened to many Jewish families, but they were kept unrecorded and eventually forgotten. However, many questions rise to the surface. Are there Iraqi Muslims who feel sorry for what was done to the Jews of Iraq, a country which made them leave after 2,600 years? Will there come a day when Jews and Muslims may live together under one roof,  working together to build the Middle East? At present this seems a mirage. Yet miracles can happen!
Let us pray for miracles.

Video of Sami Sourani

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Aden refugees must 'jump through UK passport hoops'

The Jewish Chronicle has an exclusive story about Jews who came to Britain as refugees from the former British protectorate of Aden (many of whom were secretly airlifted to the UK fifty-two years ago this week).  Lately, these have met unprecedented difficulties in their attempts to renew their UK passports, despite having lived in Britain for decades.

 Rami Kranzen had to produce five expired British passports for the authorities

Jewish refugees from Aden who have lived in Britain for decades have spoken of having to “jump through hoops” they have never previously encountered when applying to renew their passports, and being made to feel they are “not British citizens” .

One of those who fled the former British protectorate, which is now Yemen, said he had “been made to wait months and asked to produce documents never needed before”.

Nearly the entire Jewish population fled Aden between June 1947 and September 1967, mostly heading to Israel and Britain.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, those who remained had to be secretly airlifted out by the Royal Air Force in the middle of the night and were brought to the UK. Those who came were issued with British Overseas Passports.

Rami Kanzen was among the Jews who came to the UK in 1960 and applied to renew his passport using the express channel last month. Mr Kanzen, once given an appointment at the passport office, was told it would take a few hours and that he could come back to collect his passport the following day.

But after a delay over an issue with the first photo he provided, he encountered another setback when officials asked him to return and present copies of his older expired passports.

“I provided some five expired passports, all showing me to be a UK citizen even though I have never had to do that before,” he said.

But that did not appear to be enough for passport officials and they asked him to present his birth certificate, then his parent’s birth certificates and wedding certificate.

 Read article in full

Friday, June 07, 2019

Farhud mentioned in New South Wales Parliament

The Deputy Chair of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel, Walt Secord, has spoken in the NSW parliament, Australia,  about the Sydney Sephardi Jewish community’s commemoration of the Farhud on 2 June. During the commemoration,  pubished poet Yvonne Green read out the poem she  was commissioned to write on the 75th anniversary of the pogrom (41 mins into the video), in which at least 179 Jews lost their lives. In 2020 the Sydney Jewish Museum will stage an exhibition on Jews from Arab lands (with thanks: Vernon, Yvonne):

Walt Secord

Here is Walt Secord's address, as reported by J-Wire: 

"It is part of a welcome development in recent years to mark significant events involving the Sephardi and Mizrachi community and their history.

In 2015 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Sephardi community marked Farhud jointly for the first time and in 2020 the Sydney Jewish Museum is planning an exhibition on Jews from Arab lands.

While I have some knowledge of the Sephardi community, which stretches back to the 1980s when I was a journalist at The Australian Jewish News and my visits to Israel, I concede that I am more familiar with the Shoah and the destruction of European Jewry. However, I have become increasingly aware of the horrific events of 1941 and the expulsion of the Jewish community from Arab lands after the establishment of the State of Israel.

The Farhud was a pogrom in Iraq in 1 and 2 June 1941 and the phrase was coined by the Iraqi Kurdish population. It means “violent dispossession”, referring to the attacks on the Jewish community in Baghdad. Conservative estimates put the number of those murdered around 178, including 142 in Baghdad alone in the pogrom. Looting of Jewish property took place; 900 Jewish homes were destroyed and there were also rapes. A synagogue was invaded and its Torahs burned. Afraid to give the dead a proper burial, the corpses were buried in a mass grave.

The Farhud was an extraordinary development in the history of Iraq as there has been a Jewish presence there for more than 2,600 years, dating back to the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Jewish population of Iraq was estimated to be around 250,000, although it had decreased to 150,000 by the middle of the century.

From 1950 to 1952 up to 130,000 Jews were airlifted out of Iraq to Israel. They faced much discrimination, persecution and anti-Semitism after the establishment of the State of Israel and most were forced to flee from Iraq. The Sydney commemoration was a solemn and dignified affair.

I congratulate the Sephardi community and its president, Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel, on organising the event. The Sydney Sephardi community spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Chriqui, read a psalm.

One of the other highlights was chatting and meeting the award-winning British-Bukharan Jewish poet, translator and barrister, Yvonne Green, who read from her work, The Farhud. The poem was commissioned for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Farhud and was recited in the Israeli Knesset when it commemorated it.

Finally, I look forward to accepting the invitation from Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel to visit the Sephardi Synagogue at Bondi Junction in the near future. I thank the House for its consideration."

Read article in full 

Yvonne's journey to celebrate the power of poetry (Plus 61)

Articles in the Hebrew and Arabic Press:

The third generation battles to preserve the memory of the Farhud (Makor Rishon : with thanks, Yoel)

Why does the state not recognise the Farhud victims as victims of the Nazis (Nissim Kazzaz) (Makor Rishon)

Article in Al- Alam by Tsionit Fattal Kuperwasser

Podcast: Why did Jewish life vanish from Arab lands?

In the week of the 78th anniversary of the 'Farhud' massacre of Iraqi Jews, prominent radio presenter Jonny Gould chose to focus his 'Jewish state' podcast on the issue of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. You can hear his podcast interview with Lyn Julius  (38 minutes) by tuning into the following:

Lyn Julius campaigns for the culture, history and lives of the Mizrahim, the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa.

Click here to see a short video clip introducing Gould's 'Jewish State'  podcast.

Mizrahi is the Hebrew word for Easterners - and their story of life in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran and Algeria has perhaps been overlooked in the last century. After 3,000 years of vibrant Jewish life, interspersed with persecution and exile, the Mizrahim have all but been erased from those countries. Their 3,000 year existence in Arab and North African countries all but vanished overnight. Why?

 Lyn’s Iraqi parents came to England in 1950. She cofounded Harif, an organisation which promotes and represents Mizrahim. The podcast also includes Hillel Neuer and his “Where are your Jews?” speech at the UN. Gould secured his personal permission to do so as it chimed perfectly with Lyn’s message. Lyn also shares her thoughts about professor Marc Lamont Hill, who has controversially described Mizrahi Jews as an 'identity category detached from Palestinian identity'.