Tuesday, February 18, 2020

US Jews hold first mission to Saudi Arabia in 30 years

A delegation of 30 Jewish American leaders was hosted by senior government officials last week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for a four-day summit organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the first such specifically Jewish delegation to the Sunni Muslim kingdom in nearly three decades, JNS reports.

Malcolm Hoeinlein, head of the delegation (Photo: Flash 90)

The mission to the Saudi Arabia took place just a week after a report that efforts are underway to organize a breakthrough public summit between Israel’s prime minister and Persian Gulf leaders in the coming months. The mission also takes place just two weeks after the rollout of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” vision for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians—a plan that is believed to be supported by numerous Gulf States.

 “We had an open dialogue. We met with high level officials and raised our concerns,” said Conference chairman Arthur Stark. “They raised their concerns, and we hope and believe that this is a step in a long and productive relationship, that mirrors other visits that we’ve had to Gulf States where the embrace of Israel is clearly already there.”

Read article in full

Monday, February 17, 2020

Report: students threaten to destroy tomb of Esther in Iran

According to an unconfirmed report highlighted in Jewish Press, the Basiji, a paramilitary Islamist organisation represented in schools, universities and other institutions, has threatened to destroy the tomb of Mordechai and Esther in Hamadan, Iran, in retaliation for the Trump 'Deal of the Century'. The threat gives the lie that the regime is not anti-Jewish, only anti-Zionist.

Iranian authorities allegedly threatened to destroy the historic tomb of Esther and Mordechai in the city of Hamedan, and convert the site to “a consular office for Palestine,” according to ARAM, the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities in Iran.

 The organization said Sunday in a statement posted to the Twitter social networking site, “members of the Iranian Basij attempted to raid the historic site yesterday in an act of revenge against the Israelis Palestinian peace plan by President Trump.”

There is no way to independently confirm the report, but if it is true, it would not be the first time the site has been threatened.

The tomb of Esther and Mordechai: threatened on numerous occasions

The mausoleum of the Biblical Esther, Queen of Xerxes I, and her cousin Mordechai, is the most important Jewish pilgrimage site in Iran. The tomb is visited by numerous people every year as Iran remains home to the largest Middle East Jewish community after Israel.

The Tomb was added by Iran to its National Heritage List on December 9 2008, where it was to be under official government protection and responsibility. But that didn’t last long.

In December 2010, a group of Islamists threatened to destroy the tomb claiming there were fears Israel might damage the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, according a report by Iran’s Mehr news agency.

 “Muslims beware they have started the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque while their second sacred site in Iran, the Esther and Mordecai tomb is at peace and no Muslims make a sound,” the protesters were quoted as saying by the agency at that time.

“We, the student basijis … warn Zionist regime leaders if they assault the Al-Aqsa mosque in any way we will destroy the tomb of these lowly murderers.”

 Those who threatened to destroy the tomb were Basij members from the Abu Ali Sina University. (The Basij [Persian for mobilization] is a large paramilitary organization acting as the eyes and ears of the Islamic regime in schools, universities, state and private institutions, factories and ethnic tribes throughout the country.)

Read article in full

More background at Elder of Ziyon (With thanks: Malka)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Nazi Islamists, and how the Mufti dragged the Arabs into war

It is a sign of the times - and its enmity for Iran -  that Saudi Arabia, once friendly with the Muslim Brotherhood -  is now spotlighting the links between the Nazis and the Islamist MB  in order to distance itself from the Palestinian cause, itself led by the pro-Nazi  Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh comments on an article in the Saudi newsmedium Okaz (with thanks: Lily): 

Haj Amin Husseini, who was appointed by the British High Commissioner as Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate for Palestine, was the link for managing the recruitment of Arab fighters to the Nazi army, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported in an article published on Friday.

 The Nazi Ikhawn (Brothers),” the article refers to the close connections between the Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the Nazis. Saudi Arabia formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization in 2014 and banned it in the kingdom.

The Mufti meeting Hitler in 1941

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Hamas, an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood, have been strained in the past few years. Last year Hamas accused the Saudi authorities of arresting several of its prominent figures and members in the kingdom. Husseini, who was the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, contributed with his friend and leader Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Muslim Brotherhood, to recruiting a Muslim Brotherhood army of Egyptians and Arabs, gathered from orphanages and poor rural areas, to work under the Nazi army led by Adolf Hitler,” the newspaper said in an article written by its assistant editor-in-chief, Khalid Tashkandi.

 According to Tashkandi, the number of Arabs recruited by Husseini and Muslim Brotherhood was estimated at 55,000, including 15,000 Egyptians. The Saudi editor said there were a number of reasons why the Nazis were interested in Islam.

“On the one hand, the Nazis were aware that the oppression of Muslims in a number of Islamic areas under occupation and colonial powers would facilitate the recruitment,” he said. “On the other hand, the Nazis saw the Muslims as stiff fighters ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their faith.”

Read article in full

This article by Mattias Kunzel, asking why a Palestinian state was not founded at the same time as Israel,  demonstrates how the Palestinian Mufti, crushing his opponents and defying the best interests of his people, dragged the Arab League states into declaring war against the Jewish state in 1948. The Palestinian leadership  must therefore be held accountable  for the ramifications and consequences of this war.

The Arab leaders rejected the partition decision, at least in public. However, the question of whether the UN decision should be crushed using regular armies remained controversial to the end.

While Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and the allied Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, campaigned for militant jihad against the Jews in Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia still refused military intervention in December 1947. The Arab League followed this stance in the same month.

 It agreed to establish recruitment centers for guerrilla volunteers in Palestine. However, it viewed "the struggles in Palestine as a civil war, which it would only intervene in with  regular forces if foreign armies attacked the country and enforced partition by force," Abd al-Rahman Azzam, secretary general, declared in  February1948.

There were several good reasons to shy away from a Palestine war: First, the United Nations decision was unusually well founded. In April 1947, for example, a debate over Palestine in the UN plenary for several weeks had begun. On May 14, the penultimate day, Andrej Gromyko, the then Soviet UN delegate and later foreign minister, campaigned for the partition  of Palestine. (...)

One reason was that in 1947 tens of thousands of them had found work in Jewish-dominated economic sectors, such as the citrus fields. Secondly, the military strength of the Zionists was known. "Most Palestinian Arabs," noted Ben Gurion in February 1948, "refused and still refuse to be drawn into the war." In his study  Army of Shadows, Hillel Cohen provides examples of the tenacity with which Palestinian Arabs oppose their leaders' calls for war and make non-aggression pacts with the Jews around them, or even support Jewish defences.

But why did the war, which was so devastating for both sides, take place anyway? Why did the most radical one, Haj Amin el-Husseini's, prevail at a time when various answers to the partition decision still seemed possible? The die was cast in June 1946. That month, el-Husseini, who had been in French custody since May 1945 and was supposed to be a war criminal, arrived in Cairo. At the same time, the Arab League met in the Syrian resort of Bludan. There  it made a grave decision: The Arab representative bodies in Palestine that had existed up to that point were quickly dissolved and replaced by a new Arab Higher Committee headed by Amin el-Husseini.

Opponents of the Mufti, who had previously organized under the name Arab Supreme Front , were denied participation in the Arab Higher Committee. "The Bludan 'dictation' was a complete victory for the Mufti," emphasizes the Mufti biographer Joseph Schechtman. David Thomas Schiller speaks of "a takeover, a coup d'état".

Although Amin al-Husseini was not even allowed to enter Palestine on instructions from the Egyptian authorities, this league decision enthroned him as the new leader of the Palestinian Arabs and gave him access to a £ 10,000 annual budget. This transfer of power had consequences for the Jews: the leadership of the Mufti was like a declaration of war against  the Yishuv - the community of Jews in Palestine.

Al-Husseini's alliance with Hitler and his active participation in the Holocaust were well known. It also had ramifications for the Arabs: By its decision (to go to war), the Arab League had destroyed any approach to Palestinian politics that was independent of the Mufti. This is how countless Arabs experienced a déjà vu between 1946 and 1948: As in the period between 1936 and 1939, the Mufti once again established a terror regime against dissenters. Whoever wanted to grant the Jews rights or otherwise deviate from the doctrines of the Mufti stood with one foot  in the grave.

Read article in full (German)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Jewish visitors attend inauguration of Alexandria synagogue

Some 180 Jews from Israel, the UK, France, the US and elsewhere descended on Alexandria's Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue to mark its re-opening after a three-year programme of restoration paid for by the Egyptian government. The visitors held a shabbat service, prayed in the cemeteries and lit candles in memory of their dead. But silence will return to the synagogue after the Jewish guests go home -  the Jewish community in Egypt itself is on the verge on extinction. Report in the Times of Israel: 

CAIRO — This weekend marks the largest Jewish prayer gathering in Egypt for decades. From across the Diaspora, some 180 Jews of Egyptian origin have flown to the land of their fathers for a Shabbat dedicated to marking the newly restored 14th-century Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria.

 The weekend was closed to media and organized in part by the Nebi Daniel Association, an organization that works to preserve Jewish sites in Egypt. Only four or five septuagenarian and octogenarian Jews currently reside in Alexandria, Nebi Daniel Association board member Alec Nacamuli told The Times of Israel.

The city used to house 12 synagogues, but most of them were sold over the years to support the Jewish community there, and its infrastructure and institutions, he said. Once the largest in the Arab world, the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue was recently reopened in a festive gathering of government officials and Egyptian Jews on January 10.

In cooperation with the military, Egypt’s antiquities ministry oversaw the 64 million Egyptian pound ($4 million) renovation which lasted over three years after the roof and staircase collapsed in 2016.

Read article in full

When Egypt decided to restore a beautiful synagogue (Andrew Baker)

Arab states switch from erasure to restoration of Jewish heritage

Friday, February 14, 2020

New forms of old Syrian hate must be confronted

 Rawan Osman is a Syrian of Muslim origin who grew up in an atmosphere of rabid antisemitism. Now in Germany, she witnesses the challenges presented by a large population of antisemitic Syrian refugees.  These refugees need a programme of re-education, she argues. Must-read on Fikra Forum at the Washington Institute:

The Nazi Alois Brunner took refuge in Syria. He set up the secret police apparatus

For decades, the Syrian Ba’athist regime systematically incited hatred and Anti-Semitic propaganda against the Jewish people. The influence of anti-Semitism is perhaps most overtly visible in Syria’s foreign policy; the Ba’athist regime has unapologetically supported terrorist organizations that target Israeli civilians, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Regime’s backing of these organizations should not be miscategorized as support for the Palestinian cause—the horrific state of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the southern outskirts of Damascus shows the Syrian regime’s blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.

Rather, support for these terrorist organizations should be seen as some combination of political expediency and its real hatred of Jews.

Emblematic of this trend is the Syrian Regime’s decision to take in Abu Daoud—one of the architects of the Munich Olympic attack—in 1993, making it the only country to agree to do so, thereby allowing this terrorist to evade international law up until his death from natural causes in 2010.

Decades earlier, the Syrian government also made the decision to harbor the Nazi fugitive Alois Brunner, who was responsible for the death of at least 128,000 Jews. Alois Brunner is also reported to have become instrumental in establishing the Syrian Intelligence Service—the feared Mukhabarat —which has been responsible for mass deaths and murders of Syrians.

 However, anti-Semitism is also endemic inside of Syria, and has taken root at every level of society. Religious leaders quote—out of historical and religious context—Quranic scriptures to drive this ideology of hate, while many Syrian intellectuals and the artists adopt the hateful rhetoric of this dictatorship without question. Syrian popular literature is one area that demonstrates the deep relationship between the Syrian state, state-mandated culture, and anti-Semitism.

In 1983, then Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlass published a book titled The Matzo of Zion that described ‘The Damascus Affair,’ a historical incident where thirteen Damascus Jews were arrested on accusations of ‘ritual murders’ in 1840. This book, presenting unfounded accusations as fact, repeats the ancient “Blood libel” myth that Jews murder non-Jews to use their blood for religious rituals. Tlass was an adamant anti-Semite, confident that all Jews––not just Israelis––are bloodthirsty by nature. He asserted that Judaism is a “‘vicious deviation,” and that Jews possess “black hatred against all humankind and religions.”

The anti-Semitic propaganda in The Matzo of Zion mirrors the language of both Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Matzo of Zion reached similar levels of popularity in international anti-Semitic circles, but is perhaps most easily purchased in Damascus, where it is effectively sold on almost every street corner for the affordable price of $2.

 In fact, none of the aforementioned Anti-Semitic literature appear on the lengthy list of banned works in Syria, which allows these works’ uncritical dissemination. But perhaps the best and most influential example of anti-Semtism in Syria since the start of Bashar al-Assad’s rule is the twenty-nine-part Syrian television series Ash-shatat—‘the Diaspora.’

The writer, along with some of the Syria’s most prominent actors, have delivered an appalling compilation of anti-Semitic canards and libels, presenting Jews as the most wicked and immoral people on earth. Ash-shatat is not the only Syrian or Egyptian television production to spread anti-Semitism, but it is the most influential. The television series achieved a regional audience, airing in Iran in 2004 and in Jordan in 2005.

Read article in full

The West's indiscriminate refugee policy discriminates

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Mysterious 'Jew' surfaces in Najran and invites visitors

Since 1949, there have been no Jews living in Najran, an area of Saudi Arabia that was conquered in the 1930s from Yemen. According to Elder of Ziyon, a mysterious video clip has been doing the rounds of Arab media. It shows a man who claims to be a Jew from Najran, a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border. He is inviting Jews to visit him, claiming that there are 1,000-year old synagogues to see in Najran. Is it possible that the man's family was converted to Islam, or simply refused to join the exodus? Or is he a vehicle for the regime to join the Arab chorus inviting Jews to return (see here, here, here and here) to the kingdom, in the light of warming relations with Israel?

A 'Jew' has surfaced in judenrein Najran. 

'There were a number of Jews originally from Yemen who had conquered Najran in pre-Islamic times', writes Elder. 'In 1934, the town came under Saudi rule and the Jews were persecuted. In 1949 the Jews fled back to Yemen and from there they went to Israel.

'This man, however, claims that he still lives in Najran as a Jew and he is inviting Jews from around the world to visit him, where he can show them ancient synagogues -one that is a thousand years old and one that is over 1500 years old.It shows a man who claims to be a Jew from Najran, a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border.'

Elder can find no evidence of synagogues in Najran on the web.

 The Jewish Virtual Library describes how Jews in Najran enjoyed more freedom and equality than Jews in Yemen: According to Yemenite Jewish tradition, the Jews of Najrān trace their origin to the Ten Tribes. They lived in the region of Najrān in Saudi Arabia and were the only group of Yemenite Jews who lived outside Yemen under the rule of another kingdom.

On the strength of the laws of the desert and tribal protection, they were not subjected to persecution as were the Jews of Yemen. They enjoyed the same equality of rights as the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, were not taxed, and did not pay the *jizya (the poll tax imposed on non-Muslims in the Muslim countries "in exchange for the protection" granted them by the government).

The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia, who belonged to the Sunni Islam sect, practiced religious tolerance toward them and ate meat slaughtered under their laws of sheḥitah. The Jews of Najrān carried weapons in self-defense, as did the other inhabitants, and were renowned for their courage and strength. There was no other place in the Arabian Peninsula where Jews lived in such dignity and freedom as in Najrān.

By profession they were craftsmen: they worked essentially in goldsmithing and repairing arms. They earned a good livelihood and their material conditions surpassed those of Yemenite Jews. Their settlements were scattered throughout Najrān in small units of two to forty families. They lived in clay houses or in huts. Their clothes, of both men and women, were slightly different from that of Saudi Arabians and Yemenite Jews.

 The strict barrier between men and women, which was customary in social life throughout Yemen, was nonexistent among them. At festivities and celebrations men and women sat together and women danced to the sound of the men's singing.

  Read post in full

  According to Wikipedia : There was a small Jewish community, mostly members of Bnei Chorath, lived in one border city from 1934 until 1950. The Yemeni city of Najran was conquered by Saudi forces in 1934, absorbing its Jewish community, which dates to pre-Islamic times.[10] With increased persecution, the Jews of Najran made plans to evacuate.

A Jewish family from Najran in an Israeli ma'abara.

The local governor at the time, Amir Turki ben Mahdi, allowed the 600 Najrani Jews[11] a single day on which to either evacuate or never leave again. Saudi soldiers accompanied them to the Yemeni border. These Jews arrived in Saada,[12] and some 200 continued south to Aden between September and October 1949.

The Saudi King Abdulaziz demanded their return, but the Yemeni king, Ahmad bin Yahya refused, because these refugees were Yemenite Jews. After settling in the Hashid Camp (also called Mahane Geula) they were airlifted to Israel as part of the larger Operation Magic Carpet.[13]

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The story of Iraq's Jews told in an animated book

It began as an animated movie; now it's a book. The Wolf of Baghdad is a collection of cartoons illustrating the story of Carol Isaacs' family and community - the Jews of Iraq. Jennifer Lipman interviews Carol in the Jewish Chronicle (with thanks: Sami)

How do you draw something you’ve never seen? How can you bring to life a world you were never part of? Those were the questions facing cartoonist Carol Isaacs as she embarked on her graphic novel, a tribute to the home her parents fled before she was born,

The Wolf of Baghdad, which follows that city’s Jews from the turn of the last century to the brutal Farhud pogrom of 1941 and their eventual departure, is a beautiful, startling piece of work, and a valuable contribution to the literature on the experiences of Jews in Arab lands.

The novel shows, for example, the Jewish family matriarch wearing the abbaya, the full body cloak worn by Iraqi women in public in the early 20th century. There are scenes from the souk and in the Jewish Quarter, of children sleeping on roofs during sultry summer nights or swimming in the Tigris, along with heartrending images portraying the terror as anti-Jewish prejudice closed in.

 It’s a portrait of a disappeared world. Isaacs undertook exhaustive research to ensure her illustrated Baghdad reflected the one her family knew. She spoke to many relatives, in some cases relying on testimony recorded decades earlier, including that of her father.

“We had hardly any photographs, as you didn’t bring many out, and none showing where people lived,” she explains, “I found this wonderful book on Jewish houses in Baghdad; I tracked it down to a second-hand store in Jerusalem, to see how the houses actually looked, because they were quite specifically built to certain designs.”

Much of what she was drawing no longer exists. “The Jewish Quarter is in terrible disrepair, all the old houses are just crumbling, We have an address for my late mother’s house by the river, but it’s no longer there. There’s nothing even in terms of tombstones.”

Read article in full

The Wolf of Baghdad, with accompaniment by the band 3yin, will be performed at JW3 on 5 March 2020.

More about Carol Isaacs

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

How Libyan Jews were deported during World War II

From 1940, attempts were made to deport foreign nationals from Libya. About half the 2.542 French nationals were Jews, expelled to Tunisia and interned as enemy aliens in camps. Fifty died in allied bombing at la Marsa, among them  13 members of Maurice Roumani's family. In this important article in Haaretz, he traces the effects of antisemitic laws on Libyan Jews during World War II.

I was a child when I was deported in a truck together with my parents from Benghazi to Tunisia, and I was a witness to the bombing of La Marsa, a suburb of Tunis, on March 10, 1943. Thirteen members of my family were killed there, among them my grandmother, aunts and uncles, and other relatives.
Mussolini visiting Libya in 1937

For many years, I have probed the circumstances of the bombing, and in the course of my searching, I discovered and reconstructed from archives new details about the evacuation and deportation of Libyan Jewry to French North Africa during World War II.

 The beginning lies in 1938, when fascist Italy under Mussolini enacted the Racial Laws against the Jews. Although Libya was under Italian rule, the laws were not implemented there, thanks to the country’s Italian governor-general, Italo Balbo, who considered the Jews to be an important element in Libya’s economy, and tried to downscale the discriminatory measures taken against them.

Following the tragic death of Balbo, in 1940, two temporary governors were appointed and dismissed in rapid succession, before the appointment of Gen. Ettore Bastico, in July 1941.

That September, Bastico demanded that the 7,000 foreigners in Libya, among them several Jews, be transferred to Italy. Bastico claimed that their loyalty was dubious and that their presence was aggravating the food shortage. The Italian Interior Ministry vetoed the idea, citing insufficient prison space, a lack of construction materials for new concentration camps and transportation problems. The ministry suggested that the “dangerous nationals” be interned in concentration camps in Libya itself – and if not, the French and Tunisian citizens (Jews and Muslims alike) among them should be deported to their countries of origin: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Despite the plan’s official authorization by Mussolini himself, on September 20, 1941, the operation turned out to be complex and difficult to execute. Over a period of almost two years, between February 1941 and November 1942, the Cyrenaica region in eastern Libya, where Benghazi is located, passed back and forth between the warring sides five times. When the Italians retook Benghazi in April 1941, the city’s Italian residents looted Jewish stores and homes on the pretext that the Jews had aided the Allies and were speculating on food prices. Two Jews who tried to ward off the rioters were murdered.

Read article in full

Monday, February 10, 2020

Arab states switch from erasure to restoration of Jewish heritage

Restoration of synagogues is seemingly the new normal  in the Arab world. For all the hype that these preserved sites are silent witnesses to a shared Jewish and Muslim heritage, they will never be more than monuments to the ethnic cleansing of Jewish communities.  Seth Frantzman writes in the Jerusalem Post: 

Throughout Middle Eastern countries where Jews were once prosperous, numerous Jewish sites are getting a makeover and Jewish history being remembered. It is a major change from the past decades when Jewish history in many Muslim countries was sidelined, or even purposely erased.

Recent stories from Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan and northern Iraq paint a surprisingly bright picture. In northern Iraq, US diplomatic staff visited the tomb of the Prophet Nahum in the town of Al-Qosh.

Ambassador Matthew Tueller attended with Acting US Consul Elisabeth Rosenstock-Siller. Tueller and Rosenstock-Siller saw the restoration work at Nahum’s tomb and the US Consulate in Erbil in the Kurdistan autonomous region tweeted that the site is “rich in cultural importance to region’s Jews, Christians and Muslims."

The US has contributed $1 million to fund this project, help safeguard history and attract tourists.

In Herat, Afghanistan an effort to restore some synagogues has taken place, according to an article in  Al-Jazeera. Most Jews fled Afghanistan and only synagogues remained in some places. In Herat there were six. They were neglected during Taliban rule in the 1990s. According to the report, some efforts were made after 2001 to restore the structures. “Of the six synagogues, one was given to be as a school, another was given to be turned into a mosque and four that were badly damaged were set to be restored,” a caretaker of heritage sites told the reporter.

The Yu Aw synagogue in Herat (Photo: Hikmat Noori/Al Jazeera)

“About 10 Afghan artists and architects worked on it for over a year,” the report notes, regarding the Yu Aw compound that included Jewish sites. The Aga Khan Foundation also provided collaboration with the tourism authorities in Herat. The restoration work has contributed to the skills of young professionals.

 In the Moroccan city of Essaouira, a new House of Memory of Bayt Dakira has been opened by King Mohammed, who visited it last month. More than $1.5 million was spent on the site, according to reports.

Arab News notes that “Bayt Dakira is part of a wider effort to restore the country’s Jewish legacy. This has included the renovation of a dozen synagogues, 167 cemeteries and 12,600 graves.”

Weeks after the ceremony in Essaouira, the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt also held an event commemorating its restoration. “The house of worship was recently reopened in a festive ceremony after a long period of restoration,” Deutsche Welle reported.

 The project took just over two years and around $6 million was  invested by the Egyptian government. The synagogue has space for 700 worshipers and has other important elements. The site dates to the 14th century but was rebuilt in 1850 after being damaged. The government has also helped secure and invest in sites in Cairo, such as the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat. Magda Haroun, leader of Cairo’s small Jewish community has praised the efforts.Arab countries are looking back more fondly on their Jewish heritage.

 A report at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies notes that funds were raised in Lebanon to restore the Maghen Abraham synagogue. A video by the World Jewish Congress notes the project took a decade with private funds from 2009 to 2019. The synagogue in downtown Beirut has now been fully restored.

 The news from Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan is part of larger context of recognition and investment in Jewish sites and heritage across the Middle East and neighboring countries in South Asia.

Read article in full

The shrine of Ezekiel, now rebuilt as a Shia shrine (photo: Judith Neurink)

An article by Judith Neurink in Haaretz claimng  that the shrine of Ezekiel in al-Kifl, Iraq, will be opened to visitors  seems to be based on wishful thinking.The authorities plan to open up a separate entrance leading directly into the shirne from the Daniel market, says her guide Ahmed Abdelrahman. But Ms Neurink only has Abdelrahman's word for this. She herself admits that the burial chamber, with its Hebrew inscriptions, needs restoration, but after the site's makeover as a Shi'ite shrine, the authorities seem reluctant to make the necessary investment.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

'Darbuka' remark by politician causes uproar

Critics have been slamming a Blue-and-White politician for remarks he made in an interview with Haaretz, inferring the cultural superiority of Ashkenazim over Mizrahim in their tastes in music. Yoaz Hendel has protested that his remarks were not racist and were taken out of context. In any event, the controversy is not likely to attract more much-needed votes from Mizrahim to the Blue-and-White party in the run-up to the 2 March elections.

MK Yoaz Handel

Israel National News reports: MK Yoaz Hendel (Blue and White) drew ire when he told Haaretz that "people came here from all sorts of countries, some people came with a concert mentality and some people came with a drum (darbuka)  mentality."

The party's MK Ofer Shelah said: "He expressed himself in an unfortunate fashion. It would have been better if they had not been said, and they do not at all reflect the spirit of Blue and White." MK Tamar Zandberg (Democratic Union) called Hendel a "Trojan horse," saying: "While we are working towards a left-wing government led by [Blue and White Chairman MK Benny] Gantz, there are those in Blue and White who are Trojan horses, whose purpose is to prevent such a government. We heard the racist voice of Hendel this week, and these people are trying to prevent a change of government in Israel."

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) slammed Hendel as a "white racist against Arabs and Middle Easterners alike."

Read article in full

Herzog blames failure on talisman kissers

Friday, February 07, 2020

How Jewish identity has developed in Morocco

The musicologist and academic Vanessa Paloma Elbaz muses on the fluidity of Jewish identity in Morocco. When the country first became independent,  components of its Berber and Jewish identity were suppressed. Now, however, they are emerging in surprising ways. Read her article, Muslim descendants of Jews in Morocco: identity and practice, published in the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Crypto-Jews in 2015.

One day a young Jewish girl from Fez had a fight with her family and ran out of the mellah and banged on the doors of the mechouar (surrounding the royal palace) They opened the doors, she ran in and was never seen again.

They raised her in the palace, she converted to Islam and was married to a Muslim. In 2014, she told her adult granddaughter of her story, that she was a Jewish girl from the mellah of Fez. Her granddaughter is Muslim but is puzzlingly attracted to us [older Jewish ladies],she looks just like a Jewish woman from Fez, blond with large green eyes.

 Since 2010 a small group of Moroccan Muslims with Jewish ancestry have been reintegrating parts of their Jewish identity and practice into their lives. As with any group that recaptures lost identities, identity reconstruction occurs on a continuum of practice and engagement. In Morocco, publicly identifying with Jewish ancestry seems to be emerging from being completely taboo as recently as ten years ago to some who are maintaining a firm connection to Muslim practice while recognizing Jewish ancestry.

At the furthest extreme of this continuum, a small number of young Moroccans (five cases known to me) are engaging with Jewish ritual practice. This article will address the negotiations around and development of this continuum of identity and practice in contemporary Morocco.

These Muslim Moroccans who are exploring the Jewish component of their ancestry are contemporary examples of the kinds of negotiations and decisions that Crypto-Jews made 300-400 years ago, only a few generations after the forced conversions of 1391 and 1492. Their experience is not an exact parallel but when taking a closer look, one observes many shared elements of a similar process. Catholic Spain had forced conversions, an expulsion, an Inquisition, hundreds of years of
terrorized Crypto-Jews.

In contrast, Morocco has been a country where the Jewish population felt protected by the government and only during brief time periods there were waves of forced conversions tied to periods of  political and religious unrest for the general population.

Morocco is the only country in the world, apart from Israel, where Jewish family law is legally binding as a national law for Jews in contemporary times.

The origin of this manner of structuring legal concerns of the Jewish minority started during Cher-ifian Morocco. Because of the status of Jews in Islam as People of the Book they could be judged by their own Rabbis. As such, the Jewish community had a contract with the authorities which provided protection and legal independence after the community payed a tax: dhimmi, protected non-citizen minority (Amar, 1980:223).

 In contemporary Morocco, Jews use the rabbinical courts  in reference to family law: marriage, divorce and inheritance. For Moroccans these issues are resolved according to religious law: for Jews and for Muslims.

During the French and Spanish protectorates (1912-1956)the religious courts were reorganized by two dahirs from May22, 1918. The first one addressed the reorganization of the Rabbinical tribunals and the Jewish notaries and the other one instituted a High Rabbinical Tribunal (Amar, 1980: 226). Moroccan Jews were considered by the French and Spanish Protectorates as “indigènes” just as Moroccan Muslims. Legally and politically Jews and Muslims were just Moroccan in the eyes of the Europeans. But, since the Jews had been dhimmi in the eyes of Moroccan Muslims and of some Jews, the perception of the (Moroccanness) of the Jews was not clear.This very “Moroccanness” of Moroccan Jews was questioned by both Jews and Muslims during the years after Moroccan independence in 1956 from both the French and Spanish protectorates.

The founding of the State of Israel and the tensions felt in Morocco during and after the wars of Israel with their Arab neighbors, as well as rising pan-Arabism, a visit of Nasser to Morocco in 1960 and a push by both a Moroccan Islamic political party (Istiqlal) and efforts from HIAS and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to encourage Jewish emigration, pushed thousands of Jewish Moroccan families to leave in the sixties and early seventies.

During those years saying the word Israel was frowned upon in mixed company (Jewish and non-Jewish), and people said they were going to eretz (the land),  le  pais (the country) or alla (there). In postcolonial Morocco, the Jewish component of Moroccan history (as well as the Berber portion) was omitted from the educational curriculum in the desire to build a homogeneous Arabic national Moroccan narrative. In other words, it was the time to build a Moroccan identity after the years of European government, and the de facto decision was that Moroccan meant Muslim and Arab. This definition eliminated the richness of Moroccan’s complex identity and erased the Jewish component, and more dramatically the Berber element, which is about 60% of the Moroccan population, from national discourse of identity.

The legal independence that the Jewish community has had historically and continues to have today in relationship to the Muslim majority has been an important element in the maintaining of a vibrant minority community. The government’s official respect of Jewish traditions, supported institutionally by the inclusion and financial support of Jewish courts within the national legal system is one of the ways that Moroccan society has confirmed the “Moroccanness” of the Jewish community.

 Considering the various historical waves of Jewish migration into Morocco, Moroccan Jews have various levels of layered influences in the formation of their identities as Jews and as Moroccans.

There are Berber Jews (Amazighen), Arab Jews and Sephardic Jews. They were traditionally based in different geographical areas, had different languages, dress and culinary traditions. The most recent influx was the Sephardic Jews who flowed into Morocco in the years before and after the expulsion. These communities were discrete from each other but none of the boundaries were impermeable. The internal migrations of Jewish populations throughout Morocco at different historical periods has brought members from every one of these communities into the other.

In his monograph “On Identity,”Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese Christian writer who explores the theme of identity and belonging, succinctly articulates the complex factors forming and developing one’s identity. What determines a person’s affiliation to a given group is essentially the influence of others: The influence of those about him, relatives, fellow-countrymen, co-religionists, who try to make him one of them; together with the influence of those on the other side, who do their best to exclude him […] He is not himself from the outset; nor does he just ‘grow aware’ of what he is; he becomes what he is […] Deliberately or otherwise, those around him mould him, shape him, instill into him family beliefs, rituals, attitudes and conventions, together of course with his native language and also certain fears, aspirations, prejudices and grudges, not forgetting various feelings of affiliation and non-affiliation, belonging or not belonging (Maalouf, 2000: 20-21).

In other words, identity is formed by connecting to a group with which there is an affinity and disconnecting from one where that does not exist.

Read article in full

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Yes, there were Jews in Sudan - almost 1,000

The news that Prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu met the Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al Burhan to begin the process of 'normalisation', has surprised many. It is unlikely that the former Jews of Sudan were on their agenda, but this seems a fitting moment to remind readers that Sudan once had a thriving community of almost 1,000 . In September 2019, the Sudanese government invited  Jews to return, promising them full citizens' rights. 

Unbeknown to many, there was once a community of Jews living in the Sudan. This community, like most living in Arab countries, was driven to extinction in the last 50 years and its descendants dispersed to Israel, France, Switzerland the US.

But an earlier community, before the arrival of the British, was decimated when Jews were forcibly converted to Islam. The modern community grew and thrived after the British under Lord Kitchener reconquered the Sudan in 1898. The country came under Anglo-Egyptian rule.

Some converts returned to Judaism. One of the few books on the modern community of the Jews of Sudan was written by Eli S. Malka, who at the age of 87, realised that the history of the Jews of Sudan would be lost unless he put pen to paper.

Eli Malka, the son of Solomon Malka, chief rabbi from 1906 to 1949, served as honorary secretary, president and member of the Executive Committee of the Sudan Jewish Community for 30 years until his final departure in 1964.

 The community suffered persecution in the wake of the Arab-Israeli wars. One Sudanese Jew I met, from the Tammam family, told me how in the 1970s his uncle had been incarcerated for two years. The Americans paid a hefty ransom for his release, and he and his family were accepted by France as refugees.

 The community produced wealthy world leaders of Jewry, such as Nissim Gaon, president of the World Sephardi Federation, and Leon Tamman, one of the founders of the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries.

Tamman died in 1995. In 1975, out of fear of vandalism, some of the graves in the downtown Khartoum Jewish Cemetery (which dates back to the 19th century), including those of Eli Malka's family, were transferred to the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem. In the late 1980s, the Gaon family and others exhumed the graves of their relatives and flew them for reburial in Geneva.

For more information on Jews of Sudan visit Daisy Abboudi's blog Tales of Jewish Sudan.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Radio Interview with the last 'rabbi' of Baghdad

With thanks: Gideon

Not all interviews get aired, and this interview by Mishy Harman with the last 'rabbi' of Baghdad, Emad Levy, did not make the menu for Thanksgiving for 'Israel Story'. The station have now released it.

Emad Levy in the Meir Tweg synagogue in Baghdad

Emad Levy is the only Jew with an Arab name, and the only Levy with an Arab first name. He was elected leader of the 34-member Jewish community in 2003. His father taught Emad Hebrew from a record. Emad became the shochet, officiated at Jewish funerals, looked after the cemetery and old people's home, and read from the Torah on Shabbat.

When there were no longer any services, Emad was responsible for closing the only synagogue in Baghdad in case it was bombed. In 2010 Emad left for Israel, where he now lives with his wife and child.

Click here to hear segment (begins at 0:45 seconds)

Monday, February 03, 2020

From persecution to freedom: one Iranian-Jewish family's story (updated)

Every Jewish refugee has his or her story, but many are still untold, or kept within the confines of the family. Kam Aynessazian 's story might have remained unknown had he not heard of Point of No Return.Thanks to Kam for sharing  his family's story with Point of No Return readers.

A family photo taken in Chicago in 1986. From left to right: Kamran, Kambiz, father Masoud holding a picture of Kamyar, Kam(bod), Kayhan. In the foreground, mother Ezzat and Kayvon. 

Kam's uncle (his father's younger brother) was the first to emigrate  to the US in 1956 aged 20 with about $100 in his pocket. He ultimately established himself in Chicago and through the years helped all his younger siblings  to move to the US. Those who left Iran at that time  sought economic opportunities and higher education - denied to them in Iran - mostly due  to their religious minority status (a Jew's birth certificate invited discrimination by including the word Kalimee, meaning Jew, next to the person's name).

Life under the Shah was, in retrospect, a golden age for all sectors of society. Minorities were able to practise in freedom and without fear. Kam's family (his parents and six sons)  enjoyed a middle class lifestyle. But 'sudden' westernisation was producing a backlash from conservative Islamic fundamentalists, culminating in the Islamic Revolution.

Kam's oldest brother (22) had already come to the US in 1976 to pursue his higher education. Then in 1978, Kam's parents, anticipating the revolution and potentially dire consequences for minorities, managed to get two-month visitor's permits  for themselves and for their two middle sons (the third son was aged 14 and the fourth, Kam, aged 13) to the US, leaving behind the fifth (aged 10) and 6th son (aged 2) with relatives.

The parents returned to Iran while Kam and his brother stayed on - illegally - in the US. The Islamic Revolution broke out in November 1978, unleashing vicious religious persecution. Kam's second oldest brother (aged 18) was flown to Israel by an organisation rescuing many young adults. Distant Baha'i' relatives of Kam, who refused to convert to Islam,  were executed. Jews and other minorities - never popular - were forced to live in seclusion and practise in private. Many lost contact with their families abroad.

Kam's parents and the two younger brothers were stuck in Iran. In the meantime Kam's uncle was able to apply for and get immigration visas for them, but since the US Embassy was closed, they were unable to obtain them. Nor were they allowed to  travel to another country with a US embassy to receive them.

Kam's father was desperate and in 1983, he paid smugglers a hefty bribe to take his wife and two  sons over the border into Pakistan (he stayed behind so as not to raise suspicion). They endured many hardships along the way, but eventually made it. They joined a group which had access to forged documents and visas. His mother and brothers ended up in Spain. Through Kam's uncle,  they managed to obtain legal visas from the US embassy in Spain.

Back in Iran, Kam's father, a textile merchant, was trying to liquidate some of his personal assets while not giving the impression that he was preparing to leave. Most of his assets were left behind: the business, a shop, car and land.

Eventually, he tried to escape, but was captured and thrown into jail, with death as a certain punishment, in the border city near Pakistan. Thankfully, he had business contacts in that town who were able to vouch that he was there on business. He was then released.

In 1985, Kam's father tried again to escape to Pakistan, this time successfully, and was re-united with his family in Chicago. Kam had not seen him for seven years.

Against popular wisdom, Kam's parents (legal US citizens) went back to Iran in 2006, to visit family and friends. It turned out to be a grave mistake. Upon arrival, their US passports were confiscated. Kam's dad fell ill immediately. He ended up in hospital and died soon afterwards. Kam's mother was able to retrieve her US passport after a few weeks of court proceedings and immediately returned to the US. It took another few weeks of legal wrangling for the body of Kam's father to be sent back to the US.

Kam's mum and five of the six brothers currently live in the US. One brother still lives in Israel. Kam's mother has ten grandchildren, and so far, seven great-grandchildren.

If you would like to record your story please contact https://www.sephardivoices.org.uk/contact

Sunday, February 02, 2020

The Baghdad bombings, 1950 -51: Whodunnit?

It is a staple of Arab propaganda that the Zionists caused the exodus of Jews from Iraq by setting off bombs in Baghdad to scare the Jews into leaving in 1950 -51.

 Iraqi Jews themselves lent credibility to the rumour. Arriving as refugees in the transit camps, they vented their disappointment and frustration by blaming Israel.

 The myth received a new lease of life when emeritus Oxford professor Avi Shlaim announced at a conference in September 2019, Jews of Iraq: Engagement with Modernities, that he had written a book ascribing guilt for the bombings to the Zionist underground.

At that same conference, David Kheder Basson, an Iraqi-born academic and writer living in Israel,  challenged Avi Shlaim. He produced evidence that showed the involvement of the nationalist Istiqal party in planning the bombings.

Basson's graph below, called 'Busting the Myth', shows that 90,000 Jews had already registered to leave two weeks before the only fatal bombing, in January 1951 (second 'explosion' from left), had taken place. Three bombs were planted after the deadline for emigration had expired, and are therefore not relevant.

 What is more, an Iraqi historian named Shamel Abdul Kader interviewed a member of the Istiqal party who confessed that they had planned the first bombing, in April 1950, at a Casino frequented by Jewish youth. The objective was to force Jews to leave. The Jews were then hesitating to sign up for legal emigration, thinking it might be a government ruse. Indeed the Zionist leadership only began encouraging Jews to register three weeks after the  1st March law permitting legal emigration was enacted.  No one was killed in this bombing, although there were injuries.

As for the fatal Massouda Shemtob bombing in January 1951, there is little  evidence of Zionist involvement. Historian Tom Segev also blames the Istiqlal party for this bombing. Zionist agent Mordechai Ben-Porat has always denied the accusation. In the 1960s, he even sued an Israeli magazine for libel.

Friday, January 31, 2020

UK Middle East minister welcomes Jewish refugees in Trump plan

Following the release of the Trump Peace Plan, the British Government minister for the Middle East, the Rt Hon Andrew Murrison MP, has underlined the importance of recognising the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Speaking in the House of Commons at Westminster on 30 January 2019, the minister was responding to a question from Robert Halfon MP, whose family had been expelled from Libya.

He said that Jews were also refugees, as explained in the book UPROOTED which he described as explaining the issue 'exceptionally well'. The Trump Peace Plan is the first to detail the issue of the
Jewish refugees explicitly.

Click here to see Tweet from Conservative Friends of Israel.

On the way to Ramallah, a pitstop at Yad Vashem

Instead of gathering them at the ceremony at Yad Vashem to mark 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Israel should have invited the world's leaders to learn about the Arab and Muslim antisemitism which destroyed 11 Jewish communities in the Arab and Muslim world - a vindication of Israel's existence as a sovereign state. But such a centre of learning, or museum, does not yet exist. Instead, a visit to Ramallah by European leaders absolves them of guilt for the Shoah and towards the Palestinians (whose links with the Nazis are suppressed). Insightful piece in Israel Hayom by Professor Shmuel Trigano:

Professor emeritus Shmuel Trigano

It is a strategic mistake to view the anti-Semitism of our time as an extension of the anti-Semitism of 30 years ago. To be sure, it still exists among the classical far-right; but is blossoming primarily in the form of anti-Zionism within Muslim and far-left post-colonialist circles. The deeper problem is turning the "lessons of the Holocaust" into the moral basis for fighting anti-Semitism.

As an explanation, it favors victimhood over the political: Jewish suffering is put on display as a call to end hatred, instead of presenting Israel's status as a sovereign country as a counterweight to the new anti-Zionistic anti-Semitism. When the justification for Israel's existence is predicated on the memory of victimhood, Europe can view the state as a type of humanitarian tent for Jews, and less as a sovereign country. Consequently, Israel is not permitted, in the eyes of Europe, to realize its legitimate right to self-defense. The moment the Israeli soldier ceases being the emaciated extermination camp survivor, he morphs into a monster in the eyes of the Europeans.

 European recognition of Israel is based, therefore, on feelings of guilt toward the Jews – implying that the same guilt applies to the Palestinians. Europe turns a blind eye to Arab-Muslim anti-Semitism – which is the main source of modern anti-Semitism – in the belief that the Arab world is not responsible for the Holocaust, and that Europe oppressed the Palestinians by contributing to the establishment of the Jewish state.

 Isn't it only natural, therefore, that some of the participants of the Yad Vashem will visit Ramallah immediately after it ends? The reliance on the Holocaust in this regard means strengthening even further the myths that breed the new anti-Semitism -">Nakba, occupation, original sin. Israel is paying the price here for a fundamental strategic failure on the symbolic level, a failure stemming from the concealment and denial of the annihilation of 11 thriving Jewish communities across the Muslim world, two-thirds of whose descendants became Israelis who now constitute a clear majority of Israelis.

The Arab world's war on Israel is a war on those who were expelled, suffered from violence at its hands and were exploited by Arab countries under the flag of Arab nationalism and Islamism. This is the arena to which Rivlin should have invited the leaders of Europe. But where could such have an event taken place? Does a museum such as Yad Vashem exist, which commemorates this memory and anchors the State of Israel in the history and geography of the Middle East? Israel cannot respond to the existential accusations against it through constant self-justification and brandishing its victimhood for all to see.

There's no need for Europe. Israelis must turn inwards and find in themselves the self-conviction and self-assuredness of sovereignty; which is political and historical sovereignty. It must distance itself from victimhood to fight its enemies.

Read article in full

More from Professor Trigano

What the world's leaders will not learn at Yad Vashem

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Moroccan imam:' we should not repeat Holocaust tragedy'

Dr Ahmad Abadi, head of the Mohammedian Scholars in Morocco, was part of the Arab delegation making a groundbreaking visit to Auschwitz on 23 January. Here is an extract from his interview with Al-Arabiya,  according to MEMRI. Morocco has been staunch in its recognition of the Holocaust. King Mohamed Vl's condemnations of the Holocaust and antisemitism are emblazoned at the entrance to the new Jewish museum at Essaouira, Beit Dakira.

Dr. Ahmad Abadi:"What one can see in Auschwitz and its surroundings is the extent of barbarity that underlined these genocidal crimes against humanity. One can only stand amazed at how the virus of hatred penetrated a scholarly nation like the German people of that time.

Many of the German elites were involved in this [Nazi] rhetoric and they accepted – and some of them were even involved – in those crimes. Therefore, no one in the extended human family is immune to this virus.

 "We should learn this lesson, because we are an extended family, so that we do not repeat such a tragedy anywhere on our planet.

 "This visit is a groundbreaking initiative that may refute the widespread belief that Muslims can accept crimes against humanity. There is not even the smallest indication of this in our true religion, which forbids harm, especially since the people who were attacked had done nothing to justify it."

Read article in full

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Trump Peace Plan demands 'a just solution' for Jewish refugees

The Trump Peace Plan, released on 28 January, recognises for the first time 'a Jewish and a Palestinian refugee problem'. One may criticise it for equating the two refugee populations and minimising Jewish suffering, but one should applaud the fact that the plan contains an explicit reference to  Jewish refugees from Arab lands and demands a just solution for them.

The plan demands that a 'just solution for these Jewish refugees should be implemented through an appropriate international mechanism separate for the Israel/ Palestine Peace Agreement'. Quite what this mechanism would consist of is not specified - it could be the International Fund, as advocated by President Clinton. A separate agreement might well be a disincentive to resolve the Jewish refugee problem altogether, and conflicts with the Knesset law, passed in 2010, insisting that a peace agreement cannot be signed without compensation for Jewish refugees, as well as US Congress resolutions.

An interesting innovation is that the State of Israel deserves compensation for the cost of absorbing these Jewish refugees.

Here are relevant extracts: (with thanks Stan):

"A similar number of Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands shortly after the creation of Israel and have also suffered. A just solution for these Jewish refugees should be implemented through an appropriate international mechanism separate from the Israel/Palestine Agreement.

"The Jewish refugees who were forced to flee Arab and Muslim countries also suffered. Most settled in the State of Israel and some settled elsewhere. The Jewish refugee issue, including compensation  for lost assets must also be addressed. Additionally the State of Israel deserves compensation for the cost of absorbing Jewish refugees from those countries. A just, fair and realistic solution for the issue relating to Jewish refugees must be implemented through an appropriate international mechanism separate from an Israel/Palestine Peace agreement.״

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Israelis will NOT be able to visit Saudi Arabia after all

Reports that Israelis would be able to visit Saudi Arabia have proved premature, perhaps because the immiment announcement of President Trump's peace plan demands that the Saudis demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians. The Algemeiner has the story:

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Israelis were not welcome to visit the kingdom after Israel decreed that Israeli citizens could visit Saudi Arabia under certain circumstances, CNN reported on Monday.

Saudi Foreign minister Prince Faisal ibn Farhan

 “Our policy is fixed. We do not have relations with the State of Israel.Israeli passport holders cannot visit the kingdom at the current time,” the US broadcaster quoted Prince Faisal bin Farhan as saying.

 Israel‘s interior minister had said on Sunday; Israelis — if invited and permitted by Saudi authorities — would be allowed to travel there for religious reasons on pilgrimage or for up to nine days for business reasons such as investment or meetings.

 Israelis, mostly Muslims going on pilgrimage, have for years been visiting the kingdom, which hosts the two holiest sites in Islam, but usually with special permission or using foreign passports. “When a peace agreement is reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis, I believe the issue of Israel‘s involvement in the region will be on the table,” Prince Faisal said.

Read article in full

Monday, January 27, 2020

New study: 'Farhud victims should be treated like Shoah survivors'

A new study completed recently is now trying to provide another legal perspective in order for its authors to suggest that the court allegedly erred in its ruling denying compensation to Farhud victims on the same terms as Holocaust survivors. Israel Hayom reports:

The study was carried out by Dr. Nissan Sharifi, a lawyer and son of Iraqi immigrants, and Prof. Gideon Greif, a historian engaged in the study of the Holocaust. The study examines the case through legal eyes while analyzing the relevant laws alongside the chain of historical events in Iraq during the relevant period.

 On June 1 and 2, 1941, a serious pogrom was carried out on the Jews of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. 179 Jews were massacred, thousands injured, hundreds of women raped and tens of thousands of homes looted and vandalized. This pogrom was later known as "Parhud" (terror against the controlled) and was the culmination of a campaign of incitement and Nazi propaganda in Iraq, which began with Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Iraq had known many coups during those years, but most of its leaders at that time were pro-Nazis. King Ghazi, who ruled Iraq intermittently from 1933 to 1939, was Hitler's friend and ally and even received a magnificent gift from him.

 Nazi propaganda in Iraq was spread among other things, through Berlin's Arabic radio and the newspaper Al-Al-Arab. The newspaper was bought by the embassy in the early 1930s, and published, among other things, chapters from Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" which were translated into Arabic.

The person behind Hitler's translation of German into Arabic was Iraq's propaganda, economic and security minister Al Bassawi, who served under Prime Minister El Kilani, who was also a pro-Nazi.

 A report by the Iraqi Investigation Committee, established by the Iraqi government, stated that the Farhud was the result of Nazi incitement in Iraq. The Jerusalem Supreme Court acknowledged this, but rejected the appeal, in part, on the grounds that German law entitled to compensation is only one that was harmed in one of the countries under Nazi occupation. The court also ruled that the Farhud happened during a "two-month" period between Iraqi governments and coups, and hence the definition of a "metastatic state" which necessitates the existence of a prime minister who allegedly interfered with it is denied.

 The authors of the study say that "there is an exception in Article 43 of German law, which states that anyone who has suffered a" deprivation of liberty "can claim it - even if there is no territorial affiliation with Germany." One of the points to which the exceptional clause refers is that the plaintiff is entitled to compensation if the "foreign state government was motivated to deny liberty by the German Socialist government".

 On the rejection of the definition of "metastatic state" by the Supreme Court, the investigators report that the Iraqi commission's inquiry established that "the military police, civilian police and even the Iraqi military were involved in the commission of disturbances, actively or totally ignored by the rioters".

  Read article in full (Hebrew)

Names of those hanged on 27 January, 1969

Fifty-one years since the hangings in Baghdad: Remembering the Jewish martyrs of Iraq

Israelis to be allowed to visit Saudi Arabia (updated)

UPDATE: The Saudi Foreign Minister has now said that Israelis will not be able to visit the Kingdom.

In a further sign of warming relations, Israeli citizens will be allowed on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia or to make business deals, Bloomberg reports.

The Hajj in Mecca

(Bloomberg) -- Israelis will be allowed for the first time to visit Saudi Arabia, either for business reasons or to attend Islamic pilgrimages, Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said on Sunday.

 Deri signed a decree allowing exit permits for Israelis in those two instances, according to a spokesman for the minister.

The move is a further marker of warming ties between Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, as they are united by a shared interest in combating Iranian influence in the region. Previously, Israelis hadn’t been allowed to visit Saudi Arabia.

Despite the new decision, it will still be difficult for Israelis to travel there since no airlines fly directly between the countries and the two sides don’t have official relations. According to the Sunday announcement, Israelis will now be able to visit either for religious pilgrimages such as the annual hajj or for business reasons including seeking investment.

An Israeli visitor would also need to arrange entry into Saudi Arabia from a government entity. Israeli Muslims in the past traveled to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage on temporary Jordanian passports, but a 2018 report in Haaretz said Saudis would no longer allow pilgrims to travel via that loophole.

 Read article in full

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Middle East and North African Jews were also survivors

Not all Israeli Holocaust survivors came from Europe: thousands of  MENA jews are entitled to claim benefits as a result of the persecution they suffered. However, it is curious that this Jerusalem Post omits to mention Tunisian andLibyan Jews who were impacted directly by the Nazi and Fascist wartime occupations.

Tunisian Jews on their way to forced labour camps

Many of the non-European survivors had their roots in the Middle East where persecution was also rife.

Some 18% were born in Morocco and Algeria, where Jews suffered under the French Vichy regime, overseen by Nazi rule.

 A further 11% escaped Iraq after a two-day antisemitic pogrom in 1941 known as the Farhud, in which 180 Jews were killed and a thousand more injured, in scenes reminiscent of Kristallnacht.

Some sources put the number of dead much higher; the Israel-based Babylonian Heritage Museum says a further 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave, according to the BBC.

 The Holocaust Survivors' Rights Authority distributes in excess of NIS 4 billion in benefits and grants each year to around 59,000 Israelis who survived the Holocaust, each of whom can claim up to NIS 6,000 a month. In addition to the direct payments, the authority also handed out NIS 415 m.
worth of medicines, provided a further NIS 493 m. on nursing services, and funded medical treatments and equipment at a cost of NIS 132 m.

In recent years, the ministry has been working hard to ensure that survivors know their rights and entitlements. In the last two years, the ministry made more than 51,000 visits to survivors and sent out more than 40,000 letters to keep them informed, leading to claims totaling NIS 318 million.

  Read article in full

Friday, January 24, 2020

Some Arabs long for Jews to return

Having persecuted and purged their Jews as punishment for the rebirth of Israel, many Arabs now realize they shot themselves in the foot. They want them to return, Dr Edy Cohen writes in this BESA Center reports. But governments continue to look the other way.

Jewish refugee arriving in Israel

A million Jews lived in Arab countries in the 20th century. Today, just a few thousand are left, mostly in Morocco and Tunisia. The purging of the Jews caused a crisis in almost every Arab country from which they came.

Despite their relatively limited numbers, the Jews’ impact on society, culture, economy, and trade was crucial to the development of those countries, and their loss was felt. After the Jews were evicted from Iraq and Egypt, for example, those countries experienced crisis after crisis. There is now a palpable longing in most Arab states for the Jews to return.

Many believe that only with a Jewish presence will their countries blossom and develop as they did in the past.

 The Jewish contribution to Arab states was significant. In Egypt, the gold market flourished with a Jewish presence and continues to do so to this day, even though the Jews were thrown out and their stores ransacked.

 Jewish symbols like the Magen David remain engraved on Egyptian shops, in markets, and on buildings. The older generation still remembers the prosperity of the time when Jews were in possession of their stores.

 It is no coincidence that Cairo has decided to invest tens of millions of dollars in the restoration of synagogues throughout Egypt. The most recent is the renovation of the once magnificent Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) Synagogue, in which $6 million is being invested.

Read article in full

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Saudi leader visits Auschwitz for the first time

A senior Saudi religious leader is slated to visit the Auschwitz death camp in Poland on Thursday ahead of the 75th anniversary of its liberation by the Soviet Red Army, reports Times of Israel. This is a positive step towards combating Holocaust denial in the Arab world. But will  Arab governments recognise the antisemitism in their own back yard?

Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, speaking on April 25, 2018 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. (Screenshot: American Sephardi Federation)

Mohammed al-Issa (pictured), the secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL) and a former Saudi justice minister, is scheduled to arrive at Auschwitz alongside Muslim religious leaders from more than 24 countries and a delegation of American Jewish Committee (AJC) officials.

 AJC CEO David Harris said the trip represented “the most senior delegation of Muslim religious leaders to visit Auschwitz ever.”

 Issa, the Muslim clerics and the AJC officials will tour the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw on Friday as well as visit the Nozyk Synagogue in the Polish capital and a local mosque, Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for AJC said, adding that the group will share an interfaith Shabbat meal too.

They also plan to meet with Holocaust survivors on Friday at the synagogue, according to an individual familiar with the details of the trip who asked not to be name. Issa’s expected visit to Auschwitz comes after he visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, in May 2018 and wrote an opinion article in the Washington Post in January 2019 condemning the Nazis’ “heinous crimes.”

He also declared that “Muslims around the world have a responsibility to learn” about the lessons of the Holocaust. “I urge all Muslims to learn the history of the Holocaust, to visit memorials and museums of this horrific event and to teach its lesson to their children,” Issa, who is considered an ally of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wrote in the article.

 Read article in full