Wednesday, July 31, 2019

How can antisemitism thrive where there are no Jews?

How can antisemitism be so rampant in Afghanistan when only one Jew still lives there? Scholars have been puzzling this question in this Times of Israel piece. Iranian money has fuelled anti-Israel gimmicks such as Al-Quds Day, but there could also be residual anti-Jewish feeling from the Nazi era. (Contrary to the impression given that Afghan Jews have suffered no prior persecution, this was a time when Jews were expelled from northern cities and in 1935, a pogrom erupted).

Quds Day is held on the last Friday of the Muslim month of Ramadan, which this year fell out on May 31.

“Every year, Sayed Hussain Mazari pays street boys in Kabul to hold a rally celebrating Quds Day,” said Yousufi. Few religious centers in Afghanistan are self-financed or locally funded. Similar to other Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and Pakistan, many of the Shiite scholars in Afghanistan are bankrolled by Iran.

Yousufi claims that Mazari is among them, though he believes the latter will not publicly acknowledge this. The Islamic Republic of Iran, whose government is outspokenly anti-Israel, also maintains an intelligence presence in Afghanistan and supports groups here that serve its national interests.

Some experts believe Iran might be behind the spread of anti-Semitism within its neighbor to the east as part of an effort to build a united front against the Jewish state. Can it be anti-Semitic if there are no Jews?

 “[The phrase] ‘Death to Israel’ is decidedly anti-Semitic,” said Prof.Shana Sippy, who teaches religious studies at Centre College, a private liberal arts school in Danville, Kentucky. “But there is also a lot of criticism of the Israeli government which isn’t anti-Semitic, and that is part of the challenge.”

 Scholars have long researched sources of anti-Semitism, and have reached a degree of consensus on where it stems from in European countries such as Germany. But in Afghanistan, which is dominated by Islamists and bereft of a Jewish community, understanding anti-Semitism has become something of a challenge. There is currently only one known Jew living in the country.

 Zebulun Simantov, the last Jew in Afghanistan

 “It is puzzling, and scholars have been debating sources of Jew-hatred in countries such as Afghanistan, where it is very unlikely that this [hatred] comes from any experience with Jewish people,” said Dr. Gunther Jikeli, a visiting Jewish studies professor at Indiana University whose research focuses on anti-Semitism.

 “[Moshe Dayan Center senior research fellow] Esther Webman says that Pan-Arab Nationalism and radical Islamist teachings have nurtured not only a hate against Israel, but also against Jews,” Jikeli said. Jikeli says Jew-hatred in Afghanistan may also be a residual effect of propaganda efforts by Nazi Germany during World War II, which included radio programs the regime broadcast to Arabic-speaking countries demonizing Jews.

Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler still enjoys widespread popularity in Afghanistan, and his image is sometimes used in advertisements — including for a public speaking course which touts him as a model orator.

 A common Afghan expression says that Hitler left some Jews alive to remind the world just how noxious they are. “There is also a debate on anti-Jewish elements in Islamic traditions,” Jikeli said.

“For example, [Canadian-Pakistani journalist] Tarek Fatah or [political scientist and professor] Bassam Tibi argue that Islamists misinterpret Islam and endorse anti-Semitic rhetoric.” In private conversation, Afghan religious hardliners compare terrorists with Jews, saying that “even” Jewish people are better than terrorists. And in political spheres, non-Pashtun ethnic groups hypothesize that the Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest demographic, were originally Jews.

 Dr. Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, rejects the hypothesis that the Pashtun were once Jews, saying that the theory was developed with a political agenda. While the Pashtun may not descend from Jews, there indeed once flourished a large Jewish community in the central Asian country.

In 2013, researchers discovered rare medieval Jewish documents dating from the 11th to 13th centuries in the caves of Afghanistan’s central Bamyan province. At its peak, the country’s Jewish community is estimated to have been as many as 40,000 strong, though they gradually emigrated over the years. Israel’s creation in 1948 drew most of the Jews that remained. In the 1960s, Afghan Jews left the country en masse, resettling in New York and Tel Aviv after living for centuries in peace and harmony with their Muslim neighbors.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Matti Friedman: Israel is a Middle Eastern country

Insightful Times of Israel interview with Matti Friedman, the Canadian-born journalist and writer of Spies of No Country and the Aleppo Codex. Outsiders are baffled by Israelis and their politics because they apply outmoded 'European' categories to a Middle Eastern people, the continuum of Judaism in the Muslim world.

"I came from the West, with the European stories of Israel — the kibbutz, the Holocaust… The longer you’re here, the more you realize those stories don’t fully represent Israel. Half the country came from the Muslim world, and that informs everything about Israel — cuisine, behavior, music, religion, politics.

Many Israelis think the basis of the country is the European Jewish world — Herzl and Ben-Gurion — and that the Jews of the Middle East then came and joined that story. I think it’s the opposite: Israel is part of the continuum of Judaism in the Muslim world, together with the remnants of European Jewry.

The Netanyahus at a Mimouna celebration

 ‘The original tenets of Zionist faith… included the communal idea of the kibbutz, the desire for a “new Jew” free of Judaism, and the belief that eventually the Arab world would make peace with the Jewish state as the world moved toward greater amity.

These were ideas from Europe, and they’re dead… In the ensuing ideological vacuum, Israel’s Middle Eastern soul has come out of the basement.

 And the Jews of European origin are becoming more Mizrahi here — in their behavior, their attitude to religion. Your Israeli kids are more Middle Eastern than you if you are a Western immigrant. It’s hard to wrap our heads around that. Many people try to gauge the country through these outmoded categories: religious or secular, for instance, when most Israelis are neither; right and left — again, when most Israelis are neither.

On Judaism, we’re generally traditional. The pollsters ask: Are you religious or secular. So people try to answer. But do most Israelis light Shabbat eve candles? Yes. Believe in God? Yes. Believe in the power of prayer. Yes. That’s all very Middle Eastern. In the Middle East, people aren’t “religious” or “secular.”

  Read article in full

More about Matti Friedman

Monday, July 29, 2019

UK Labour party ignores suffering of Middle Eastern Jews

Condemned for antisemitism, the British Labour Party has tried to show that it is resolving the problem. But it has failed to acknowledge the history of antisemitism in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and tries to project Zionism as a purely European reaction.     Its attempt to encompass both Zionists and anti-Zionists in the party's ' big tent' will also fail,  as the Zionists are viewed as a 'foreign' group  disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn. Scathing piece by Andrew Apostolou in Jewish News: (with thanks: Lily)

British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn

The Labour Party’s most recent attempt to resolve its antisemitism problem has been a failure.

 On 21 July, the party released “No Place For Antisemitism” and a microsite to “provide Labour members and supporters with some basic tools to understand antisemitism so that we can defeat it.” The leaflet accepts the seriousness of Labour antisemitism. Unfortunately, it also promotes a flawed history that will allow antisemites to claim that Zionism and the creation of Israel are illegitimate western European guilt trips.

This will validate, rather than refute, the anti-Zionism that antisemities use to harass Jews in the Labour party. The leaflet gives the false impression that antisemitism is largely a western European phenomenon and Zionism is the Jewish reaction. Readers are told, for example, that the Holocaust was the murder of “six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.” This is a common mistake. Far from being limited to Europe, the Nazis' German Death squads sought moutain Jews in the North Caucasus. German's Vichy allies imposed discrimination against Jews in North Africa. In 1942 the Germans had a special unit ready to start the slaughter  of Jews in the Middle East were Rommel to prevail in the Western Desert.   

 The West European focus of “No Place For Antisemitism” means that it excludes the important history of antisemitism in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The leaflet’s potted history includes the expulsions and massacres of Jews during the Crusades from “Germany, England, France and Austria.” What that misses is important events such as the forced conversion of Jews in Iran (17th century), the blood libels in Damascus (1840), Corfu (1891), Shiraz (1910), the pogroms in Greece (1931), Turkey (1934), Iraq (1941), Egypt (1945) and Libya (1945 and 1948).

The closest this pamphlet comes to acknowledging the experience of Middle Eastern Jews is a passing reference to “discrimination after the founding of the State of Israel.”

 These errors allow the Labour leaflet to describe Zionism as a “response to 19th Century European antisemitism.” This is also faulty. The first wave of modern Zionist thought began with Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai in the Ottoman Empire. It was the Damascus blood libel that convinced Alkalai that the Jews needed to control their own fate. Read article in full

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Mufti's war against the Jews

This month marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Amin al-Husseini, the one-time Grand Mufti of Jerusalem — and a Nazi collaborator. Hailed as a “pioneer” by current Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, during World War II al-Husseini raised SS regiments in the Balkans, promoted the Reich’s propaganda in the Arab world, toured death camps, and plotted the genocide of Middle Eastern Jewry. Sean Durns writes in JNS News:

After he escaped justice, conventional wisdom has it that the Mufti ceased to be a political force in the post-war years. But conventional wisdom is wrong.

 Declassified CIA documents — many revealed for the first time — and a recent book tell a different story, one in which al-Husseini continued to be influential more than a quarter-century after the war’s end. Although he would never regain the power that he once wielded, the Mufti remained a force to be reckoned with. Intelligence agencies closely monitored him, and Arab regimes variously sought his support or his assassination.

Through it all, he remained not only an unapologetic antisemite, but also an inveterate schemer. The Mufti’s rise to power was itself owed to intrigues. The British, who ruled Mandatory Palestine after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, appointed al-Husseini the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, making him both the country’s highest Muslim cleric and leading Arab political figure.

 As Wolfgang Schwanitz and the late Barry Rubin revealed in their 2014 book Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, the 24-year-old with no religious training was likely chosen in recognition of his service as a spy for the British in the final years of World War I. The decision, the historians conclude, “was one of the most remarkable errors of judgment ever made in a region rife with them.”

 Indeed, al-Husseini would spend the next two decades inciting anti-Jewish violence and refusing numerous British-led attempts to broker peace. By the 1930s, the Mufti was actively seeking — and receiving — support from fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. US intelligence would later conclude that the 1936-39 Arab Revolt, in which Palestinians led by al-Husseini murdered rivals, Jews, and British officials, “was able to continue only because of Nazi funding.”

 In October 1937, the now ex-Mufti fled to Lebanon, but not before he released an “Appeal to All Muslims of the World,” in which he “urged them to cleanse their lands of the Jews … and laid the foundation for the antisemitic arguments used by radical Arab nationalists and Islamists down to this day,” note Schwanitz and Rubin. He would eventually make his way to Berlin, where he would aid the Axis powers, befriend high-ranking Nazi officials like Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann and, in a November 28, 1941,  Adolf Hitler, ask for “a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world.”

Read article in full

Friday, July 26, 2019

The tragic demise of Iraqi Jewry

In an important and wide-ranging piece, Alyssa Dwek traces the tragic demise of Iraqi Jewry through the 20th century. (Via Honestreporting) 

Zionism rose to prominence following the First World War. However, few Iraqi Jews were initially interested in making Aliyah, believing that Zionism too closely resembled socialism. In addition, Iraqi Jews were generally not interested in the agricultural work required of those moving to Mandatory Palestine. Therefore, despite their sympathies with the Zionist vision, many disregarded moving to Israel as a viable option.

 Two years after the Great War, in 1920, the “Jam’iyya Adabiyya Isra’iliyya” (Jewish Literary Society) Zionist group was founded in Baghdad. The society was initially permitted by the Iraqi government, but after two years a new law passed by the Iraqi government required societies and associations to register with the Ministry of the Interior.

 Despite existing for two years by then, the Minister delayed the Jewish Literary Society’s permit until 1924, and even then the society was allowed to operate in a limited area, thanks to much pressure from the Zionist Organisation in London.

Over the next five years, a number of Zionist societies and groups were established; some clandestinely, some openly. Just as Zionism began to gather steam as a force among Iraqi Jews, things changed for the worse when the 1929 Palestine Riots broke out in Mandatory Palestine. Angered by rumors of a Jewish attempt to convert the Western Wall into a synagogue, Muslims launched numerous unprovoked attacks on Jews, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and Jewish property being looted.

Distorted reports of the clashes spread across the Arab world, claiming that thousands of Arabs were killed due to Jewish aggression, and soon reached the ears of Arabs in Iraq. Hearing this, the Arabs regarded the Jews as responsible for the alleged massacres of Muslims, and turned their anger on the local Jewish community, including against those Jews uninvolved in the Zionist movement. As a result of these events, Jews were met with hostility and Zionist movements in Iraq were banned later that year.
Iraqi Jews being airlifted to Israel in 1950

According to many historians, this point marked the beginning of the end for Iraqi Jewry. Throughout the 1930s, as the status of Mandate Palestine continued to be debated, the position of the Jews in Iraq became increasingly uncomfortable, with Zionists in particular targeted. The head of the Zionist Movement was exiled and had to leave Iraq. Discrimination towards the Jews worsened throughout this period. The Iraqi authorities routinely turned a blind eye to Muslims harassing their Jewish neighbors, with antisemitism viewed as natural by many in society. Jews were the victims of various cruel acts, with one Jew, Yitzhak Bezalel, remembering a particularly nasty incident in Baghdad when a group of hooligans, aware that Jews refrain from wearing leather footwear on Yom Kippur and therefore walk barefoot, spread broken glass on the ground, resulting in many Jews cutting their feet.

 In 1934, Jews were excluded from jobs in the public sector and the number of Jews accepted into institutions for higher education was limited through the use of quotas. Anti-Jewish sentiment was once again worsened by the arrival of a number of pro-Nazi activists. These activists from both Mandate Palestine and Syria incited hatred against the Jews. Although they were spared the hell of the German death camps in Europe, Jews in Arab countries faced their own difficulties which have been largely overlooked. The eruption of the Second World War in the late thirties affected great swathes of the globe, and Iraq was no different. With the growing British presence in the country enraging Arab nationalists, support for the Germans rose.

 Iraqi government officials publicly spoke out in favor of the Germans, and pro-German messages were spread in Iraqi newspapers and radio. A nationalist movement, called the Al-Fatwa movement, was created. Inspired by the Hitler Youth movement, Al-Fatwa membership eventually became compulsory for all children and teachers. With the Nazis finding support among Arabs resentful of British rule, Baghdad was the early base for Nazi Middle East intelligence operations during World War II.

 Rashid Ali al-Gaylani attempted to carry out a coup against the British authorities, and announced that Iraq would no longer provide Britain with natural resources as required. The move infuriated the British, who were also concerned by the possibility of the Nazis gaining influence in the Middle East. By the end of the month, British forces struck back against the Iraqi army and regained control. The frustrations generated by these events led to a potent mixture of hatred and resentment stewing in an atmosphere of lawlessness, with disastrous consequences for the Jewish community of Baghdad.

The resulting massacre of Jews, known as the Farhud, is regarded by many as the death knell heralding the demise of Iraqi Jewry.

Read article in full

Thursday, July 25, 2019

UK minister: MENA Jewish refugees 'cannot be ignored'

In a  response to a parliamentary written question, itself a follow-up  to the first pariamentary debate on Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa held in June, the British government's minister for the Middle East has admitted that Jews were dsplaced and their plight should not be ignored, reports the CFOI newsletter.  (With thanks: Michael) 

Minister for the Middle East, Dr Andrew Murrison MP, has recognised the plight of the Jewish community in North Africa and the Middle East, in response to a Parliamentary Written Question asked by Zac Goldsmith MP on the subject.

Dr Andrew Murrison, Middle East minister

 The MP for Richmond Park asked what discussions the Foreign Secretary has had with his Israeli counterpart on “recognition of the plight of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa”.

 Dr Murrison said in his response that while discussions have not taken place, “the history of Jewish migration and displacement in the region is highly complex and cannot be ignored”.

 He underlined: “We acknowledge that the Jewish community has experienced unacceptable suffering”. Dr Murrison added: “We continue to support the aspiration for a Jewish homeland in the modern state of Israel, just as we support the objective of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state”.

Read article in full

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Abu Nur, who rescued Jews from Iraq and Iran, dies

Among Jews from Iraq, it was well known that Israel was complicit in the smuggling (kachagh - illegally) of almost 2, 000 Jews through the Kurdish mountains in 1970 - 1. The man behind the operation was Menahem Navot, known to Kurds as Abu Hur. Navot also helped evacuate Israelis from Iran ten years later. With Navot's death aged 88, Haaretz tells his story:

In 1955, Navot transfered to the Mossad where he served a variety of roles overseas, including in the department that was responsible for the Mossad’s ties to organizations worldwide. He was sent to Iran in 1969, where he forged ties with the Kurds in Iraq, who helped bring the Jews of Iraq to Israel.

Menahem Navot in Kurdish headdress

“The representatives of the Mossad had the addresses of the Jews in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq. We gave them to our friends the Kurds, and their representatives went to the Jewish homes and told them to get ready to leave,” he said. The Jewish families were driven in Kurdish jeeps to the Iraq-Iran border and from there into Iran and to Israel. The Kurds called Navot Abu Nur (“Father of Light”) because his eldest son was named Nir.

 In September 1978, when the shah's rule was tottering, Navot was responsible for ensuring the safety of the Jewish and Israeli community and preparing to evacuate them in light of concerns over the impending revolution.

In January 1979, the storm hit its peak. Navot, who had been shuttling between Iran and Israel, came for another visit to coordinate the extraction of the last  (Israeli - ed) Jews in the country. On January 22, he was on the El Al flight to Tehran, whose airport was barely functioning by then.

“The pilot was coordinating with other pilots around him,” Navot wrote in his journal. “There was no one to land them. The pilot said he couldn’t go on with the operation under these conditions, and to complete it a military plane would be needed,” Navot recalled. “I said, ‘well, then, this plane is now a military aircraft.’

They said I was crazy,” he said. “We landed. The crew left us by saying: ‘the person who comes to Tehran is a hero. Who knows if this won’t be the last flight,’” Navot wrote. Navot was eventually extracted by the Americans after he completed his mission in Tehran.

Read article in full 

The Kachagh trail to freedom: Joe Shemtob's story

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Will the Christians suffer the same fate as the Jews?

First the Saturday people, now the Sunday people are being wiped out from the Arab world, writes Edy Cohen in the Algemeiner, charting the anti-Jewish pogorms of the 20th century. (It must be said that Jews suffered pogroms before the colonial era, and pogroms such as the Farhud may be attributed to Nazi influence. ) (With thanks: Lily, David)

A look at developments in the Middle East over the past decades gives the clear impression that the region is becoming “cleansed” of minorities, especially the Christians who have inhabited it for millennia.

The process is reminiscent of what happened to the Jews of the Arab countries, who had to flee their homes amid pogroms and persecutions they suffered throughout the 20th century, especially after the establishment of the State of Israel and its victories over its Arab enemies.

 It was in Morocco, where several thousand Jews have remained, that the first massacre of Jews in the 20th century occurred — in Fez, on April 17, 1912, after Sultan Mulai Abd al-Hafid signed a treaty that turned Morocco into a French protectorate. For the people of the country, this handing of the reins of authority to a Christian ruler was an act of betrayal. Unable to attack French people, the Arab mob opted to attack Jews and their properties.  Fifty-one Jews were murdered, and many homes were looted.

 On August 3 1934, a Jewish tailor in the Algerian town of Constantine cursed Muslims and insulted Islam while drunk. The result: pogroms against the local Jews that killed 25 and wounded 38.

 Read article in full

Why do persecuted Christians rarely make the headlines? asks Lyn Julius in

These are trying times to be a religious minority in the Middle East, or along the fault line separating Muslim and Christian populations in Africa and the Far East. And things are getting worse. The Open Doors organisation estimates that 245 million Christians are at risk of violence and persecution, compared to 15 million in 2018. Last year, North Korea was called out for its mistreatment of Christians – today Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, China and (northern) Nigeria have joined its ranks.

A church in the Middle East

 Easter is a favourite time for Islamist jihadist groups to attack Christians. A pattern emerges of brutal anti-Christian violence: the Easter Sunday massacre by Boko Haram in 2012, the Peshawar church massacre in 2013, the massacre of Pakistani Christians in a Lahore park in 2016 by the Taliban.

 The media don’t bother to join the dots. And while the 2019 Christchurch massacre of 51 Muslims by a far-right Australian hogged the headlines for days, the Sri Lanka massacres of over 200 Christians gleaned a fraction of the media attention.

 Some Christians get none at all. Everyone has heard of the persecuted Muslim Rohingya, but, in the north of Myanmar, in the state of Kachin, Christians are being persecuted by the Buddhist majority. As soon as the atrocities happen, a veil of silence descends, especially if the perpetrators are Muslim. Who can forget Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s tweets condemning the massacre of ‘Easter worshippers’? Please, don’t mention the Christians.

  Read article in full

Monday, July 22, 2019

How an Egyptian Jew saved others from jail

With a mixture of gifts, bribery and personal charm, Clement Behar, who now lives in Paris,  managed to get a number of Egyptian Jews released from jail, and prevent Egypt's chief rabbi from giving a speech denouncing the Jewish state. Fiona Hastings interviewed the 92-year old for Haaretz (with thanks: Lily):

Clement Behar with his self-published memoir

At the time, Egypt was home to 80,000 Jews who resided there for three millennia, with some immigrating from Europe since the late 19th century. Despite their stature, the country’s Jews were put in a precarious position over their alleged loyalty to Israel. Many of them perceived themselves as more Egyptian than Jewish, and rejected calls by Egypt’s growing ethnonationalist circle to leave.  The calls quickly escalated into violence. One infamous incident is the Balfour Day riots, which took place in November 1945. They began as anti-Jewish demonstrations on the 28th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, but quickly turned into altercations in which five Egyptian Jews were killed and hundreds were injured. In 1948, the riots worsened. Hundreds were murdered, Jewish synagogues were burned down and Jewish areas in the country were bombed. Many Jews were jailed, often on suspicion that they had spied for Israel.

This is when Behar’s operation was set in motion. “Every day, officers arrested young Jewish people, and their families came to see me and enlist my help,” he wrote in his memoir. In 1953 the Egpytian Republic was born, and gave rise to a national socialist president – Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egypt was finally freed from the British occupation, but the Jewish community only suffered from these developments. The Pan-Arabist movement continued to grow under Nasser, and Jews were seen as an obstacle to its goal: Uniting all Arab nations into a single state. By 1950, 40 percent of Egyptian Jews fled. “I felt morally obliged to help the Jews,” Behar told Haaretz.

He began to do so, using his close friendship with a high-ranking police officer named El Hamichari. Behar negotiated the release of imprisoned Jews through “gifts and bribes.” Dressed neatly and wearing a traditional fez, the young Behar easily entered and left Cairo’s police stations, where he was often mistaken for an officer thanks to his command of Egyptian Arabic.

The Jewish community continued to shrink. 14,000 Jews had escaped to Israel, while others sought refuge in different countries. Egypt’s chief rabbi also became a target. In his memoir, Behar wrote that in 1954 President Nasser sent Rabbi Chaim Nahoum Effendi a “poisoned invitation.” To mobilize anti-Israel sentiment, Nahoum was called on to give a speech publicly denouncing the Jewish state. The rabbi “prayed that he would be spared the ordeal,” Behar wrote, but was powerless to decline the invitation.

Read article in full 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Australian radio explores issue of Jews from Arab lands

 The Israel Connexion is a weekly radio podcast by David Schulberg of Melbourne. Recently David recorded two interviews to illustrate the issue of Jews from Arab lands. Researching documents in the Arabic original,  Dr Edy Cohen found evidence of a secret Arab Nazi party founded in Iraq by the Palestinian wartime Mufti. Lyn Julius is the author of the book Uprooted: how 3,000 years of Jewish civilisation in the Arb world vanished overnight'.

Dr Edy Cohen is chairman of the Kedem Forum for Middle East Studies and author of ‘The Mufti and the Jews’. He works for Bar-Ilan University as a Research Fellow in international politics, and he writes and speaks at various media outlets in Israel (such as Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom) and the Arab world. He is also involved in various projects, such as the Shoah Memorial in Paris.

 Edy Cohen was not born in Israel. He is a refugee from Lebanon, and his story belies the claim often made by anti-Zionists that Jewish Arabs left for Israel willingly. Unlike many other refugees, he is not waiting for handouts or international sympathy. He has made a life for himself in Israel while he continues to advocate for Jewish refugees from Arab lands. (0:41-19:52)

 Lyn Julius, the daughter of Iraqi refugees, is the author of ‘Uprooted’, which tells the story of how 3000 years of Jewish civilization culminating in the Arab World vanished overnight. Her book poses a number of important questions: Who are the Jews from Arab countries? What were relations with Muslims like? What made Jews leave countries where they had been settled for thousands of years? What lessons can we learn from the mass exodus of minorities from the Middle East? (24:30-49:36)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Elan Carr: 'antisemitism destroys societies generally'

He's the son of an Iraqi-Jewish mother, a fluent Hebrew speaker and now in charge of combating antisemitism, a growing problem in the US since the synagogue shootings in Pittsburg and Poway, but also on campus and in academia.

Jonny Gould with Elan Carr

 In this podcast interview with Jonny Gould at the US embassy in London, Elan Carr tells how his grandfather was arrested and dragged off to prison in leg-irons in Baghdad in 1950. Carr's mother remembers visiting him in prison. This was also a time when Iraq's Jews had a window of opportunity to leave the country. Carr's grandfather urged his family not to wait for him but to leave. They duly went to Israel via Iran. From Israel Elan's mother  moved to California.

 Elan Carr tells Jonny Gould how as a major in the US armed forces he was posted to Iraq during the American invasion in 2003. It was a great thrill, he recounts, to have celebrated Hanucah in the former presidential palace. Carr lit a menorah designed and donated by Oded Halahmi, himself an Iraqi Jewish refugee. Carr led Shabbat services for the US troops, and affirms that they were never short of a minyan.

Elan Carr lights the menorah in Saddam's former palace, Baghdad 2003

Listen to Jonny Gould's podcast interview with 'Antisemitism Tsar'  Elan Carr here

More about Elan Carr

Thursday, July 18, 2019

NY Times ignores Silwan's Jewish roots

A piece by Luke Moon in Providence magazine blasts  a New York Times article by David Halbfinger for automatically assuming that every part of 'East Jerusalem' is 'Palestinian'. Silwan was home to Yemenite Jews until the 1930s. Do they have a right to return to their homes?

One would think a story about the US ambassador to Israel celebrating the opening of a new archeology exhibit might include a bit of history. Perhaps it would mention that Silwan’s first inhabitants were Yemeni Jews who in 1881 spent six months traveling to Jerusalem. These Jews were inspired to travel the long, arduous journey on the promise that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem the following year. They arrived broke and were greeted with suspicion by the local Jewish community living in Jerusalem. Settling on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley, this group of Yemeni Jews built a thriving community and established a synagogue, the same synagogue that the “right-wing Jewish settler group” is rebuilding and living in.

Perhaps an article that mentions the five thousand Palestinian inhabitants might mention how Silwan became a Palestinian village when it started as a Yemeni Jewish village. As the inhabitants in Jerusalem felt more confident to move out of the walled city, the original village expanded to include not just Jews but also Muslim and Christian Arabs, too.

An early British Mandate period census shows Silwan to be a mixed village of almost two thousand people, of which the Jews made up about ten percent. But during the 1936–39 Arab Revolt, the village of Silwan was ethnically cleansed of all Jews, and Arab families moved into the homes of Yemeni Jews. One might wonder if the descendants of those Yemeni Jews still have the key to their homes.

Perhaps an article that praises former ambassadors for avoiding East Jerusalem—since “Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and then annexed it” and “most of the world considers it illegally occupied, and the Palestinians want it as the capital of a future state”—would inform readers that the British started the process of annexing Silwan into the Jerusalem municipality, and the Jordanians completed the process in 1952. It seems the problem is not with the annexation but with who is annexing.

Read article in full

More about Silwan 

Maly Mazal-Davidoff recalls her life in Kfar Shiloah (Silwan) and in the Old City (with thanks: JIMENA)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Pot-smoking Halimi murderer could be released

The case of Sarah Halimi, tortured and thrown to her death by a violent antisemite, has taken a worrying turn: her killer, who had been smoking marijuana,  may not be held criminally responsible for his actions. Ben Cohen reports in the Algemeiner

Sarah Halimi

Lawyers acting for the family of a French Jewish widow murdered in her own home during a frenzied antisemitic assault have vowed to appeal the ruling of a Paris court that will potentially allow her accused killer to be released without trial.

 Last Friday, the judges in charge of the preliminary investigation into the murder of Sarah Halimi —  a 65-year-old former teacher who was severely beaten and then tossed from a third-floor window on April 4, 2017, by 27-year-old Kobili Traore, her neighbor in a Paris public housing project — ruled that Traore could not be held criminally responsible for his actions because he had been smoking marijuana heavily in the hours before the killing.

 In addition, according to a source close to the case who was quoted by the leading news outlet Le Figaro, the preliminary judges also dismissed the contention that Traore’s crime was aggravated by his violent antisemitism.

 Read article in full

More about the Sarah Halimi case

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

How Chabad sheltered Moroccan Jews in 1971

The Jews of Morocco have always looked to the King to protect them. However,  this story reminds us  just how precarious his position was in the 1970s when there were repeated attempts on the King's life. Presciently cancelling a planned trip out of the country, the Casablanca Chabad branch led by Reb Leibel, was able to shelter local frightened Jews during one such assassination attempt in 1971. (With thanks: Michelle-Malca)

Reb Leibel of the Casablanca Chabad speaking at his son's Barmitzvah

Minutes before Shabbos ended, a Jew ran into the room in panic. “Did you hear what happened? The king was assassinated by revolutionaries; the streets are empty and all the Jews are barricaded in their homes!” The death of the king, the personal protector of the Jewish community, could spell disaster for the Yidden of Morocco.

The farbrengen ended immediately; the gates of the yeshiva were locked, and Maariv and havdalah were quickly recited. Reb Leibel rushed home, and found his house packed with Jews who lived in the surrounding area. Apparently, they felt the safest place in times of danger was the home of the Rebbe’s shliach.

As the night progressed, the news began to trickle out. The king had actually survived the assassination attempt by a hairbreadth, and he quickly regained control over the country. During the investigations that followed, the police found stashes of guns and knives prepared for the murder of the local Jewish community...

Although calm was restored, an intense investigation was held, and the airports were shut down for several days. If anyone insisted on flying, he would be immediately arrested and interrogated to see if he was somehow connected to the attempted assassination.

Read article in full (p52)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Iranian Jews, struggling to prove they are patriots

For two years, Hasan Sarbakhian was forbidden by the Iranian authorities from having his photos documenting the lives of Jews in Iran being seen or published. This Jerusalem Post by Zvi Joffre give background information to Sarbakhian's project, quoting from an article by Larry Cohler Esses, the first reporter from a Jewish medium (The Forward)  to be granted a visa to visit Iran. However,  Iran-born journalist Karmel Melamed warns that the regime controls tightly what foreign journalists see and hear (see his comment below). (With thanks: Lily)

"During my interrogation sessions, I was asked why I have decided to concentrate on the lives of Jewish citizens and why not Shiite Muslims," said Sarbakhshian. "My answer was that all the Iranian media are at the disposal of Shiite Muslim. These are the minorities who have no platforms.

 Sarbakhshian tried again ten years later when he was living in exile, and decided to focus on Iranian Jews who had fled to Israel. "In Israel, my concentration was on the concept of Motherland. To understand where these Israelis of Iranian descent perceived as their motherland. The photojournalist asked the same question of Jews in Iran. He showed a picture of an Iranian Jewish doctor with a baby he had just helped deliver. "It really doesn't matter if the baby is born Muslim or Jewish or whatever, he only has done his job."

Iranian Jews running a restaurant in Jerusalem: still in love with Iran (Photo: H Sarbakhshian)

Another example he presented was an Iranian Jew accused of spying for Israel who was jailed for several years. The first thing he did when he was released was to visit the grave of an Iranian Jewish soldier who was killed in the Iran-Iraq War defending Iran.

Sarbakhshian stressed that in Iran, the Jews constantly struggle to prove that they are patriots.

 There are an estimated 15,000 Jews still in the Islamic Republic, according to a 2018 report by JTA reporter Larry Cohler-Esses in the same year said that the Iranian census counted 9,000 Jews in the country.

A 2015 report in the Forward by Cohler-Esses described Iranian Jews as "well-protected second-class citizens." Cohler-Esses was the first reporter from a Jewish, pro-Israel publication to be granted a journalist's visa to Iran since the revolution in 1979.

Iranian Jews won't hesitate to walk the streets of Tehran with yarmulkes on, but under Iran's sharia law code, Jews and other non-Muslims are penalized differently than Muslims with some violations, usually in a way that is not favorable to the non-Muslims. Tehran's five Jewish schools are also run by a Muslim principal, which the head of the Jewish community condemned as "insulting," according to the JTA report by Cohler-Esses.

After years of lobbying by the Jewish community, President Hassan Rouhani's government recognized Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a Jewish holiday in 2018, allowing them to not go to school and work without being penalized, according to Cohler-Esses.

Until a few years ago, Muslims and non-Muslims were treated differently in civil suits involving the death of an individual due to negligence. The Jewish community consulted ayatollahs and took testimony from high-ranking clerics in order to convince the government that under sharia law, Muslims and non-Muslims must be treated equally in this regard. Eventually, they succeeded.

Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians in Iran are the only recognized religious minorities in the Islamic Republic's constitution and "are free to exercise matters of personal status and religious education and they follow their own rituals," according to the constitution."The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Muslims are required to treat the non-Muslim individuals with good conduct, in fairness and Islamic justice, and must respect their human rights," according to the constitution. Each religious minority has one representative in the Iranian Parliament.

Read article in full

Jewish Journal of LA reporter Karmel Melamed, who left Iran in 1979, comments on his Facebook page that he would never be granted a visa to report on the Jews of Iran:

1) The Iranian constitution DOES NOT offer Jews and other religious minorities equal rights or equal justice under the law. The regime's constitution and laws are based on radical Islamic Sharia law which gives non-Muslims inferior rights.

2) The article makes it appear as if Jews in Iran are safe there, which is 100% WRONG! It fails to mention the 3 torahs stolen from a synagogue in Tehran in Feb. 2019, the brutal murder of a Jewish woman in Isfahan in 2012, the 2017 attacks on synagogues in Shiraz, the 1999 random arrests and imprisonment of 13 Jews in Shiraz and other calamities the Iranian regime has brought upon the Jews of Iran since 1979. 3)

The article cites a 2015 report by the Jewish reporter Larry Cohler-Esses as a source for its information on Iran's Jews today, but fails to mention Esses was given a special visa by the regime go to Iran prior to the Iran Deal in order to write a lovely story about how the regime "treats the Jews well" in Iran. It also fails to mention that Esses was given a regime handler the entire time he was there to monitor his reporting and translate for him.

HOW ON EARTH WAS his report accurate, objective and not unfiltered when he had a regime thug following him around, translating Farsi for him, introducing him to Jewish stooges for the regime to parrot nice things about the regime to him and feeding him false info during his stay in Iran?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Two halves of an Algerian scroll reunited

What do the University of Kansas and a French chateau have in common? The first possesses  part of a torn Algerian scroll. The second, residence of the French Duc d'Orleans, was for a long time home to the other half of the same scroll. Here is the amazing Mosaic saga of how the two halves  were re-united by a University of Kansas professor of religious studies, Paul Mirecki (with thanks: Lily, Noga): 

Fragment of the Kansas scroll

But who did the ripping and why they did it developed into the most interesting aspect of the saga.

 In 1840, the scroll was intact and residing at a synagogue in the Algerian city of Medea. The Ottoman Empire controlled Algeria at the time. Then France invaded. Meanwhile, a local populace of Muslim extremists launched a pogrom against the Jewish community. Arab religious and military leader Abd-el-Kader intervened in hopes of preventing bloodshed, evacuating members of the Jewish community. But he couldn't protect their property. As synagogues were looted, the item was taken. (This was likely done by people who didn't even speak Hebrew and merely hoped to sell it. By ripping it, they had "two scrolls" and could double their profits.)

 Enter Henri d"Orléans, the Duke of Aumale. The son of the last king of France and governor-general during the French invasion of Algeria, the duke lived in Chateau Chantilly.

"I found a quotation from him in his diary," Mirecki said of the young military commander. "He says in reference to the scroll, "I took it with my own hands from Medea's synagogue in May 1840 when the town had been left to Muslims, and the Jews taken by Abd-el-Kader.""

The Emir Abdel Kader

The duke brought it back home, where it remains in the vast collection of antiquities he eventually donated to the Institut de France. KU acquired its half of the scroll thanks to Alpha Owens. A KU student in the early 1900s, she went on to earn her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. A woman of wealth, Owens traveled throughout Europe and Latin America "collecting valuable realia material for use in modern language teaching," according to a 1952 interview. Mirecki thinks she evidently came across the document for sale at a market (or possibly a bookstore) when visiting France, as she had been a student at Sorbonne University. Owens bequeathed it to KU when she died in 1965.

Read article in full 

How did the Jews fare in Algeria during this period?  This article gives the  background to the scroll story:  the 19th century war in Algeria between the French and the rebellious western tribes led by the Emir Abdel Kader. Before Abdel Kader surrendered in 1847, several towns in Algeria changed hands: one in particular, Mascara, was the scene of a bloody massacre of those Jews who had not fled.  As the Arabs had taken their revenge on the Jews, the French were welcomed as liberators.

"In the long and bloody war between this one to France, which was the fate of the Jews of western Algeria? Far from freeing the Jews taxes, chores and vexatious measures that were their lot, the emir did not hesitate to strengthen, especially after the resumption of hostilities in 1835.  Indeed, Abd el-Kader then needs the Jews who play a leading economic and financial role in the region: besides the exceptional contributions he imposes.  He uses Jewish middlemen for trade and supply of arms.Jews still make tents for his troops and, no doubt, are charged with coining money, an activity prohibited to Muslims, in the city of Tagdempt.  Jews, like other sections of the population, are thus forced to contribute to the war effort in all places controlled by Abd el-Kader. In addition, between 1835 and the final victory of France over the emir in 1847, several medium-sized cities, such as Tlemcen and Mascara, pass into the hands of the French, before being taken over by Abd el-Kader. The situation of Jews, Couloughlis and Arabs rallied to the French becomes critical. he civilian population is caught in the heat of battle and the Jews, suspected of sympathy for France, are massacred by the Arabs. This phenomenon can be measured through the example of the Jewish population of Mascara, which is directly affected by the violence of the war."

Read article in full (French)

Here is the bizarre Esther-like  story of the Algerian rabbi who decided to offer his 14 year-old daughter Yudah to Abdel Kader, although the Emir already had four wives. Yudah was sent to France where Abdel Kader was in exile. It seems she never even got to meet him and died in France in 1848.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Yad Vashem extends prayers to North African Shoah victims

An Israeli high school student has persuaded Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, to extend prayers for the souls of Holocaust victims to those from North Africa. Haaretz reports: (with thanks: Ido, Ruth, Imre, Michelle) 

Libyan Jews returning from Bergen-Belsen in 1945

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center has amended the memorial prayers recited on Holocaust Memorial Day to include Jews who lived in Arab countries and not only refer to Jews of European origin, after the complaint of a high school student whose grandfather was a Libyan Holocaust survivor.

The amendments appear on the center’s website. The Yizkor (“Remember”) prayer recited on Holocaust Memorial Day originally beseeched God to remember “all the souls of all the communities of Beit Israel in the European Diaspora” who died in the Holocaust. Now the word “European” has been removed.

 The version of the El Malei Rahamim (“Merciful God”) read on Holocaust Memorial Day also confined itself to European Jewry: “God, full of mercy, Who dwells above, give rest on the wings of the Divine Presence, amongst the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky, to the soul of all the souls of the six million Jews, victims of the Holocaust in Europe.”

In the new version, the words “in Europe” are gone. The change was initiated by a Yael Robinson, a 12th grader from Zichron Yaakov, south of Haifa.

 In May the town held a public ceremony on the eve of the last Holocaust Memorial Day, like it usually does. Robinson, whose grandfather Kalfo Janah was a Holocaust survivor from Tripoli, Libya, attended. Some years ago Janah even lit the torch at the ceremony and shared his story. This year, Robinson felt hurt because the prayers ignored the suffering of her grandfather (who has since died) during the Holocaust.

  Read article in full

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Egyptian-Jewish memoirist Lucette Lagnado dies

Photo taken of Lucette z""l and her husband Douglas Feiden celebrating New Year 2019 

The death has been announced of Lucette Lagnado, author and Wall Street Journal reporter, aged 62.

Lucette Lagnado, born in Cairo, probably did more to popularise the story of Jews driven out from Egypt, like her own family in the 1960s, than any other US writer. Her award-winning book The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit met with international acclaim. It was followed by The Arrogant Years.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit centres on her father Leon, with whom she was especially close. The stately Leon, known as the Captain, would stride through the boulevards of Cairo in his white sharkskin suit. An observant Jew, he would attend synagogue every morning without fail. Equally unfailingly, he would stay up all hours to play poker and flirt with women - a uniquely Sephardi blend of religious devotion and wordliness.

Lucette Lagnado 's funeral will take place under the auspices of Manhattan Sephardic Congregation on Friday 12th July at 11:30 am  at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, Manhattan and burial will be at Mount Hebron Cemetery. Her family will be sitting shiva.

Alec Nacamuli of the UK Association of Jews from Egypt writes:

Born in Cairo, Lucette Lagnado was seven when her family were expelled as Jews and eventually settled in Brooklyn. She survived cancer as a teenager and brought her personal experiences to her reporting in the Wall Street Journal on hospitals, healthcare and the plight of the uninsured. She won awards for her articles on women undergoing preventative mastectomies and the treatment of dementia in care homes.

After co-authoring Children of the Flames: Dr Josef Mengele and the untold Story of the Twins from Auschwitz on human experiments in the death camps, she won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in 2008 with The Man in the white Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World which concentrated on her father, a flamboyant businessman and dandy in Egypt and the humiliations he suffered in exile, unable to find employment in Paris and ultimately reduced to selling ties in the New York subway. This was followed in 2011 by The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for her lost Youth from Cairo to Brooklyn which focused on her life and her mother who supported the family as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

WSJ obituary 

Forward obituary (with thanks: Boruch) 

Aish obituary

More about Lucette Lagnado

Is Hen Mazzig a bad or true progressive?

The Israeli son of Iraqi and Tunisian Jews, Hen Mazzig is a most energetic advocate for Jewish refugees from the Middle East and an articulate champion of truth and balance in the portrayal of the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

In this 45-minute podcast interview with Jonny Gould (see links below), Mazzig emphasises that all Jews are indigenous to the Middle East, having originated in Judea. The interview ranges widely, from Hen's narrow escape from a suicide-bombing, to his period in the IDF liasing with Palestinians as a member of COGAT, to his 'coming out' as a gay soldier.

Hen's background and homosexuality puts him at loggerheads with 'progressives' in the West who brand all Jews as 'white colonialists' and even exclude Jewish gays from their parades. Hen Mazzig has not ruled out an eventual career in politics and it is there he might make his most effective contribution.

🌍 Bad Progressive or True Progressive?