Friday, February 28, 2020

What Mizrahim lost, and why they need a fair deal

Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century”—the most recent American effort to advance a plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians—was released last month.For the first time, it makes an explicit mention of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Writing in Mosaic Emily Benedek explains what they lost and how a solution to the conflict will go nowhere without them. 

 Among those potentially affected by the implementation of such a plan, one group in Israel had been watching with particular interest: Mizraḥi Jews whose families had lived continuously in Arab and Muslim lands from biblical times until the late 1940s when they became the targets of organized violence on the part of their own governments and in the ensuing years suffered wholesale expulsion from their homes.

 These ancient communities, whose roots in the Middle East predated by a millennium the advent of Islam, numbered close to one million people. After 1948, they were cast out root and branch from Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, North Africa, and Iran. Most found refuge in the newly established Jewish state. There, the Knesset, initially slow to demand compensation for their losses, would eventually mandate that no settlement with the Palestinians would be acceptable if it failed to include recompense for individual and communal properties—estimated, in area, to amount to nearly 40,000 square miles, about five times the size of Israel, and valued at $150 billion—that had been confiscated by Muslim governments in the Middle East from their Jewish citizens.

 The new American plan does indeed address the case of the Mizraḥi Jews. Noting that the Arab-Israel conflict “created both a Palestinian and Jewish refugee problem,” and that the numbers displaced were approximately equal on the two sides, the plan goes on to state unequivocally that, separate from any peace agreement, “a just, fair, and realistic solution” for the Jewish refugees, “including compensation for lost assets” as well as compensation to Israel for the cost of absorbing them, must be “implemented through an appropriate international mechanism.”

All of this,of course, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, and whether or not the Trump plan ever comes to fruition, the Mizraḥi story deserves telling and retelling. For an engaging treatment, the 2018 book Uprooted by Lyn Julius, a British-born descendant of Iraqi Jews, can serve as a useful introduction. Uprooted opens with glimpses of the exotic bands of Jews, many barefoot and dressed in traditional robes and headdresses, who seemed to materialize out of the mists of time to tumble across Zion’s borders from the 1880s, when the first Yemenite migrants walked there across the desert. The Mizraḥi exodus continued for more than a century until, in the 1980s and 1990s, Ethiopians arrived via two daring airlifts.

 The Mizraḥi diaspora itself dates back millennia earlier to the Babylonian victory over the kingdom of Judea in 586 BCE, when captive Jerusalemites were marched off to Mesopotamia. Evidently, the new environs proved not entirely unwelcome. For when, a half-century later, Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home and rebuild their Temple, many preferred to remain in their new homes in the fertile land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. Indeed, so many stayed that, by the 3rd century CE, Babylon had become the epicenter of Jewish thought and practice.

 Not only do Jews of all stripes today consider the Babylonian Talmud (written between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE) to be foundational, but the gravesites of no fewer than seventeen biblical figures are, according to tradition, located in what are now the countries of Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Even in the early 20th century, the social and cultural importance of the Jews in Arab and Muslim lands stood out. Jews were popular singers, actors, and athletes; the first novel published in Iraq was written by a Jew; in 1870, Egypt’s first national theater was founded by a Jew; Egypt’s first opera was written in 1919 by a Jew; both the Egyptian and Tunisian film industries were started and dominated by Jews; and Iraq’s first minister of finance, Sir Sasson Heskel, was a Jew. As late as 1939, Baghdadi Jews formed fully a third of the city’s population: a greater proportion, by comparison, than was to be found at that time in either Warsaw (29 percent) or New York (27 percent). By 2015, in the entire country of Iraq, only five Jews remained. The rest, along with almost every other Jew in the region, had been expelled. Although the details varied from country to country, everywhere the story was roughly the same.

The root of it, Julius writes, was revealed in a plan laid out by the Arab League at meetings in Syria and Lebanon prior to the 1947 UN vote for partitioning Palestine into two states. As she puts it, the League envisioned a movement to “rob the Jews, threaten them with imprisonment, and expel them, having first dispossessed them.” On the eve of the UN vote, Egypt’s delegate solemnly warned the international body that should the measure pass, “the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in Muslim countries.” After the vote, intention became deed as the Arab League plan, in Julius’s words, “became a blueprint, in country after country, for the actions that devastated the Jewish communities in Arab lands; and for the forced exodus that was to follow.”

In all of the affected countries except Lebanon and Tunisia, Jews were stripped of their citizenship. In all but Morocco, Jewish assets were frozen and property confiscated on the authority of Nuremberg-style laws. Freedom of movement was curtailed for Jews in Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen. Employment discrimination forced Jews from jobs in all of the above-mentioned countries plus Egypt and Lebanon. Zionist activity was outlawed, and all Jews were considered Zionists. By 1972, 90 percent of the Jews in the Arab world had fled. The wealthy and well-connected, about 200,000 in number, tended to move West to Europe or the U.S., while the remaining 660,000 went to Israel. (The chronology in non-Arab Iran is somewhat different; perhaps a third left between 1948 and 1953, while the rest departed between the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and today.)

Violent pogroms played a role in showing the Jews to the door, as did continuing governmental scheming, including, according to Julius, secret recommendations of the Arab League from 1950-55 “designed to put pressure on the Jews remaining in Arab countries to leave their homes ‘without giving the impression of expelling them.’” Jews in Yemen and Iraq, under increasing stress, in the end were ransomed by Israel, and in the early 1960s the World Jewish Congress paid $250 a head to Morocco to let its Jews leave.

One of Julius's central aims in Uprooted is to put the lie to the claim that, until modern-day Zionism came along to poison the atmosphere, Jews under Muslim rule had enjoyed a long “golden age” of tolerance and interfaith understanding. Adopting Bernard Lewis’s judgment that this concept of Muslim tolerance represents, in her summary, “one of the great myths of history propagated by 19th-century intellectuals,” Julius enumerates the many massacres of Jews that took place throughout Muslim and Arab history, asserting that “for fourteen centuries, life for a defenseless minority [had been] precarious and insecure.”

To illustrate, she leads us into the “Jewish quarter” to demonstrate what life was like as dhimmis, possessing the inferior status imposed on non-Muslim monotheists by order of the Pact of Omar (variously dated to the 7th or 9th century). Those who submitted to their Islamic conquerors and gave up the right to bear arms were granted a pledge of security and thus saved from death, slavery, ransom, or deportation. But being a dhimmi required the payment of a harsh tax and submission to a second-class life of humiliation and degradation in which safety was never assured. Dhimmis were required to wear special clothes and badges, to step aside for Muslims in the street, and to suffer any insult or assault that was meted out. Forbidden from building homes or houses of worship taller than buildings belonging to Muslims, they were also forbidden from riding horses, marrying Muslim women, or testifying against a Muslim in court. Constant pressure was applied to both Jews and Christians to convert to Islam and thus save themselves from the onerous tax.
The institution of “dhimmitude” continued in place for more than a millennium until it was discouraged by European colonial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries (even as they turned a blind eye to violent Islamic expressions of anti-Semitism). But, argues Julius, its conception of the Jews as an inferior people remained very much alive as a motivating factor in the expulsions of Mizraḥi Jews from Arab lands, and still today it persists in the stubborn rejection of Israel. The early Arab fury against Zionism, in this view, had little or nothing to do with concern for the Palestinians (who had not yet rejected the partition of the land they shared with the Zionists). Instead, it had everything to do with a baked-in hatred of Jews and outrage that so debased and despised a people should be allowed to insert itself as a sovereign nation into the (purported) heartland of Islam.

Julius quotes Victor Hayoun, who survived a pogrom in Tunisia in 1941, describing the unpredictable relations between Arab and Jew under the social legacy of dhimmitude: “Our Arab neighbors, whose conduct toward us ranged from sincere fraternity to humiliation and even pogroms, . . . had sharpened my childish feeling that we were tolerated by the ‘masters of the place’ and they could get so angry as to make my status precarious.” Thus, rioting mobs in the late 1940s in almost every Arab country chanted “Itbach al-Yahud (murder the Jews) and Yahud klib al-Arab (the Jews are the dogs of the Arabs).
Lyn Julius has not endeavored to write an academic history in the manner of Martin Gilbert’s In Ishmael’s House or Bernard Lewis’s The Jews of Islam. Nor is her book a work of original journalism. Nor, unlike such memoirs of Jewish life in Arab lands as André Aciman’s Out of Egypt and the late Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, is it constructed around a driving personal narrative.

Rather, Uprooted is a personal cri de coeur that attempts to explain, from the inside, via anecdotes and particularly valuable references to little-translated works in French, the experiences of the now lost communities of Jews who were unjustly expelled from lands they had settled long before Muhammad dictated a single surah. It seeks, above all, redress for the relative silence, both in Israel and, especially, outside of it, that has greeted their traumatic experience.

 In Israel, repeated Mizraḥi efforts to raise the issue of compensation have rarely gained traction. Rather than dwelling on the tragic losses of the past, not just of the Mizraḥim but also of the tattered remnant of European Jews recently absorbed by the new state, the national focus was on forging modern Israelis out of immigrants, many of them indigent or even illiterate, from more than one-hundred communities across the globe. “The submissive and apologetic Diaspora Jew,” Julius writes, “would be transformed into a proud and virile, Hebrew-speaking Israeli.”

As is well known, this effort led to its own humiliations and hardships. The classic Israeli film Sallah Shabati (1964) satirized, at once uproariously and bitterly, the austere new life that Mizraḥim found waiting for them in their new-old home. Already grappling with the wholesale destruction of their way of life, they resented the tent camps and makeshift cabins in which they were housed for too long. And of course there was discrimination by Israel’s Ashkenazim who looked down upon their “primitive” ways.

In the end, the resettlement was a success—or at least the story has a happier ending. Israel did what it was created to do: serving as a safe haven for imperiled Jews. Today, Mizraḥim, who just before the Holocaust made up only a tenth of the total number of Jews in the world, now constitute more than half of the Jewish population in Israel, and “intermarriage” rates between Ashkenazim and Mizraḥim are near 25 percent. As has been plentifully documented in Mosaic, Mizraḥim have changed the country profoundly, influencing politics, music, food, and religious observance.
Where the case for restitution is concerned, the picture is less pretty, and stubbornly unresolved. How to redress lost Jewish assets? Between 1969 and 2009, Israel’s Justice Ministry collected 14,000 property claims from Mizraḥi immigrants, an exercise hobbled by the refusal of Arab governments and Iran to provide property records or other necessary documentation. Locked official archives have also prevented access to Arab League policies in the 1940s and 1950s aimed at disenfranchising Jewish populations. At one point, Israel thought to offset lost Mizraḥi assets against claimed Palestinian losses, but this was vehemently opposed by Mizraḥim settled outside of Israel who questioned why their claims of confiscated property should be used to settle Israel’s accounts with the Palestinians.
More recently, after intensive lobbying by American and Canadian Jews, including ex-Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, the tide has begun to turn. After the 2000 talks at Camp David, President Bill Clinton suggested creating an international fund to address the losses of both sides; in addition to contributions from both Israel and the Arab countries, the fund would primarily be endowed by the international community. The initiative awaits an active peace negotiation for its implementation.
In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution directing the government to include in any official American documents referring to Palestinian refugees a “similarly explicit” reference to Jewish refugees. Canada followed suit in 2014, stating that the experiences of Jewish refugees should be “taken into consideration as a part of any just and comprehensive peace deal.” The Oslo Accords declared that the subject of refugees from both sides should be a “final status issue.” As we’ve seen, similar, but much more specific language has been adopted in the Trump plan.
In 2012, Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, whose father was born in Algeria, led an international conference in Jerusalem titled “Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.” The following year, Ron Prosor, then Israel’s ambassador to the UN, presented a film at the UN’s New York headquarters recounting stories of Jews who were forced from their homes in Arab countries. “Since 1947, there have been 687 [UN] resolutions relating to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” he told the audience, “and yet, as we speak today, not one resolution says a single word about the Jewish refugees”—even though the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has acknowledged that Jews fleeing from both Egypt and Libya met the organization’s definition of refugees.
Meanwhile,whatever steps have been made toward recognition of the issue, much if not most of the Arab world, having gotten rid of its Jews, is now bent on erasing all signs of their once-vivid presence. (Morocco is an exception.) Julius names one particularly painful monument: the shrine of Ezekiel at Kifl in southern Iraq. That biblical prophet and priest was exiled to Babylon in 598 BCE with King Jehoiachin, lived there for the rest of his life, and was buried there. In 1170, the traveler Benjamin of Tudela visited Kifl and described finding a synagogue dating back to the First and Second Temple periods. During the 19th century, 5,000 Jews would visit the shrine every year during the festival of Shavuot. In 1910, the Baghdadi bibliophile David Solomon Sassoon wrote of the site:

The lovely building over the grave is extremely old, built from very big stones said to be the work of King Jehoiachin. Above the doorway was a plaque dated 1809/10, which has inscribed on it “this is the tomb of our master Ezekiel the prophet, the son of Buzi the Kohen, may his merit shield us and all Israel.”
This Jewish site is now a mosque, complete with external loudspeakers for summoning Muslims to prayer. With no Jews in the area to protect them, the Hebrew inscriptions described by Sassoon are at risk, and the Iraqi Ministry of Heritage and Tourism has apparently ceded control and administration of the site to a Shiite waqf. Julius warns that similar takeovers are occurring “with UN help”—meaning UN indifference and/or silent collaboration—in order to erase or discredit evidence of the Jewish origins of many Islamic sites in Arab lands. As is well known, similar efforts of Islamification have also been ongoing in relation to Jewish sites in Israel itself, including the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Rachel’s tomb in Bethlehem, and the Temple Mount.
Addressing Western liberals, Lyn Julius warns against the temptation to say, or to think, that Israel was created in expiation of European sins for the Holocaust. Rather, Israel should be seen as the homeland of an indigenous and once-threatened people, intimately familiar with the true nature of Arab-Muslim rule, who have returned to their homeland and lately found their voices.

“The majority of Israeli Jews,” she writes of the Mizraḥim, “have never left the Middle East; they merely moved from one area of the region to another.” Thanks to them, and to their sheer numerical weight, any attempt to orchestrate a peace arrangement in the region without their active participation and approval will go nowhere.

Read article in full

More reviews here, here , here, here, here here here and here

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Muslim-born convert Nisreen is Mizrahi music's new diva

Author and journalist Matti Friedman is proving a trailblazer when it comes to writing about Israel's Middle Eastern culture. Here in the New York Times he writes about Nisreen Kadra, an Arab-Israeli convert to Judaism, now the diva of the Mizrahi music scene:

At 17 she was spotted by a few Moroccan Jewish musicians playing Arabic music at the home of a friend, an Arab girl from Nazareth. After that she spent years working in bars, singing the classics of the Egyptian diva Oum Kalthoum, fending off aggressive and drunk men.

“It was a tough world, but that’s where I learned,” she said. She had no other musical education. She lived at home in those years, helping her diabetic mother and cleaning houses to supplement what her father made driving a cab. In the evenings she’d wait for the band to pull up and honk.

“I’d come home from work, shower, get up on high heels, put on jewelry, red lipstick, my huge fur coat and go to the clubs to sing,” she said. This was a questionable pursuit for a Muslim girl. “My mother didn’t want to let me, because what will the neighbors say, the relatives,” she remembered.

But the family needed the money, and that settled it. Winning the TV song contest in 2012 propelled her from the bars onto the bottom rungs of the mizrahi pop scene. She had a hit with the single “Learning to Walk” in Hebrew and a string of others like “Albi Ma’ak,” Arabic for “My Heart Is With You,” which blended both languages in a way that seemed completely natural.

Her Hebrew, which she says she picked up in earnest only after high school, improved with coaching, and her look was modified by the glam technicians. But her style remained that of the grand divas of Lebanon and Egypt, like Oum Kalthoum, about whom it’s said that she’d wear boys’ clothes to sneak into the mosque with her brothers to escape the strictures of her Egyptian childhood and unleash her female voice.

Read article in full

More from Matti Friedman

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Israeli expert finds 1,000-year-old Biblical codex in Egypt

In July 2017, Israeli historian Yoram Meital stumbled upon a handwritten 1028 CE biblical codex that was lying abandoned on a dusty shelf in a Cairo synagogue. Professor Meital has been helping the Drop of Milk association in Egypt catalogue synagogue archives in Egypt. The Times of Israel reports:

Detail from the Biblical codex discovered by Professor Meital (Photo: courtesy)

Wrapped in simple white paper of the sort one finds on tables in cheap eateries, at 616 pages, the Zechariah Ben ‘Anan Manuscript is one of the era’s most complete and preserved examples of the “Writings,” the third and concluding section of the Hebrew Bible.

 It had been lost to scholars for almost 40 years. Discovered by Meital in the Karaite Moussa Der’i Synagogue, the Zechariah Ben ‘Anan Manuscript (ZBAM) was previously documented in various publications by modern biblical scholars, from a 1905 Jewish Quarterly Review article by leading expert Richard Gottheil through to microfilms of the manuscript done by a team of Israelis from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in June 1981.

 The scholars left notes within the texts, and even published their findings. Then, as the Jewish community increasingly lost its members, the priceless manuscript, too, disappeared.

 After decades of trips to Egypt for his academic publications as a professor at Ben-Gurion University, in July 2017 Meital was in Cairo as a private scholar taking part in a Jewish community project headed by the Drop of Milk organization to document the city’s many synagogues — and seeking fodder for an upcoming book.

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Time to build a museum for Jews from Arab lands in Israel

As testified by the renovation of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria and other projects, there is remembrance of extinct Jewish communities in Arab and Muslims countries, while in Israel there is community without remembrance. It is time for Israel to build a museum dedicated to Jews from Arab and Muslim lands, argues Ashley Perry, who has been the impetus behind initiatives in government and the Knesset. Must-read in JNS News: 

Exterior of the renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria

The recent renovation projects involving Jewish synagogues and sites in Iraq, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Afghanistan are interesting developments.

 On the whole, it is a positive move back towards recognition of these nations’ Jewish communities that were either wholly erased or significantly reduced during the last century’s exodus and expulsion of almost a million Jews from Arab and Muslim countries.

 However, due to the lack of a significant Jewish community in these countries, these restoration projects are merely about bricks and mortar and rarely about reaching out to the communities, or their descendants, who remain largely unwelcome in the lands where their families lived for centuries and even millennia.

Nevertheless, if in these lands there is remembrance and memorial without community, in Israel there is community without remembrance and memorial. In the more than 71 years since the foundation of the State of Israel, there has yet to be built a single official memorial or institution dedicated to the memory and history of the Jews from Arab and Islamic countries.

Considering that the majority of Jews in Israel have ancestry in the Middle East or North Africa, this is negligence at best. For many decades the issue was almost completely ignored, or actively kept off the national agenda for a variety of reasons, from not wanting to further complicate complex relations with neighboring countries, to trying to sever Jews from these nations from their history and culture, which was largely associated with the Arab enemy.

 This permeated the mindset of subsequent generations of Mizrahi Jews in Israel, who were told explicitly or implicitly to forget about the past and look to the present and future. Of course, such an attitude was reserved solely for them; European Jews would have been rightly outraged had such an approach been taken with regard to them.

To ignore the history and culture of Mizrahi Jewry is not to tell the full Jewish story, whether to ourselves or outsiders. Thus, it is no surprise that most around the world fail to fully grasp Jewish indigenous and ancestral rights and see us as a foreign European import.

 Even when the issue was finally placed on the national and international agenda during the past decade, it was no easy undertaking. In 2011, the National Security Council, which sits in the Prime Minister’s Office, wrote a decision this author was proudly centrally involved in, to the effect that, among other recommendations on the issue, Israel was to build a museum dedicated to the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. However, nine years later, pitifully little action has been taken to achieve this.

Read article in full

Jerusalem museum proposed for Jews from Arab lands

Monday, February 24, 2020

Ethnic cleansing of Jews shows antisemitism of Palestinian cause

A simple tweet put out by activist David Collier has received over 2, 500 likes. But it also attracted a host of abusive or critical tweets. Collier categorises them as follows: 1. Those who don't care enough about human rights when it comes to the ethnic cleansing of Jews. 2. Those who deny that it happened. 3. Those who blame the Jews for their own plight. 4. Those who say the Zionists were responsible. 5. Those who say the Palestinians were not to blame, despite solid evidence that the Palestinian Mufti incited genocidal antisemitism across the Arab world.

Here is an extract from David Collier's blog:

Talking about the historical ethnic cleansing of Jews from the whole of North Africa and the Middle East is an easy method of proving the antisemitism within the Palestinian cause. This example started with a Tweet.

Not forgetting Yemen - ed
NB: The Jewish population of Morocco and Tunisia is actually 1%, but in another generation will be 0%

A tweet that clearly points out that whilst Arabs make up more than 20% of Israel’s population, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa has virtually no Jews in it anywhere. Given some of these areas, like Morocco and Iraq had large Jewish populations – it becomes obvious that the Jews were ethnically cleansed from the MENA region.

The tweet was popular – it was retweeted 2500 times and received over 6300 likes. Its message is clear and easy on the eye. There were a million Jews who lived in places such as Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia. In one way or another the Arabs in the region turned on their Jews, persecuted them and in most places drove them out.

 An act of quintessential antisemitic persecution. So when people reference ethnic cleansing in relation to the Arab / Israeli conflict – there is ONE obvious ethnic cleansing we really have to discuss. These people were not part of a civil conflict, they considered themselves at home and identified – as Jews always do – with the host nation. There were not even violent groups amongst them. They were simply othered, persecuted and driven out from their homes – often forced to leave all their posSessions behind.

The obvious conclusion: The first thing to remember is that this all came from one simple tweet. It isn’t the result of deep digging or long-term research. When you post something about the persecution of Jews – this is what you receive in response. This brutally exposes a clear and blatant truth. None of this has anything to do with international law or concern for human rights. These activists fail the most basic of tests. They simply do not care about people being persecuted. When the ethnic cleansing of Jewish people from Arab lands is placed before them – they respond with whataboutery, insults and antisemitism. If you need proof that the Palestinian cause is more about antisemitism than human rights, just look at the response to this tweet. It is *always* worth remembering this when you hear them talk about how much they care.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Seventy years since the immigration, an Iraqi Jew remembers

The 70th anniversary of the great airlift from Iraq is an occasion for Baruch Meiri, writing in Y-Net News, to reminisce about his arrival in Israel. His family went through name changes and several addresses, including a tent, but managed to fulfil their dreams through their children.

The 'No Return' stamp on Baruch's parents' passport

My family and I were part of the immigration from Iraq, which now marks its 70 th anniversary. Today it is 70 years since my parents' passport was stamped at Baghdad airport: لن يُسمح لك بالعودة إلى العراق.Meaning:  not allowed to return to Iraq.

Baruch Meiri reading about life in a tent camp

 This gave us, officially, the approval we had been expecting for 2, 500 years for a Homecoming. Among the three children listed on the Iraqi "passport", was my name, Farouk. I was about 10 years old. Approximately. Because almost none of us, among the 130,000 immigrants who arrived from Iraq in the early days of the State of Israel, had a birth certificate. Certainly enough reason not to celebrate birthdays.

 We were the third group in my family, numbering 11 people, who proudly bore our last name, Saig, a testament to Father Yehuda's occupation, the jewelry trade. And suddenly we found out here in Israel that we were in fact three separate families: the first group who immigrated to Israel, and numbered four brothers and sisters, kept the 'Iraqi' surname Saig. My brother Moshe, a member of the Zionist underground of Iraqi Jews, who was credited with the Bezeq trial in Baghdad and who immigrated the next day, came to Israel. The agency official at the Israeli airport decided to give him the surname "Meir". Maybe after his grandfather? The agency official did not explain.

We, the last five survivors of our family of the Babylonian exile were given a rather strange new name: Isaac.

 Not only were we given a different last name at Lod Airport (today Ben Gurion Airport), but many of our first names were changed too. Of course, the Jewish Agency clerk didn't even bother to get our consent. My brother Salim became Moshe; Brother Fuad Lavner; sister Shoshana, while the younger sister Puriel was given the name Hope (Tikva).

 It is worth noting that many of the girls who immigrated from Iraq were given the names Shoshana and Tikva. Sometimes I wonder if the Iraqi community had been assigned several thousand Shoshanas and Tikvas and it was imperative to use them all up.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Jewish minister dropped as Tunisia entrenches Israel boycott

Tunisia's Jewish minister of Tourism, Rene Trabelsi, will be leaving his post in a reshuffle announced by the prime minister last week. He will be replaced by Mohamed Ali Toumi.

Trabelsi, hitherto the Arab world's only Jewish minister, with an important stake in tourism on the island of Djerba,  will have served  in the Tunisian government just fifteen months. His appointment in November 2018 ignited a storm of controversy over his links with Israel, which he has visited several times.

But the nail in the coffin of his ministerial career was likely to have been the landslide election in September of Kais Saied, Tunisia's new president, a hardline opponent of 'normalisation' with Israel.

 According to the Times of Israel, the president called moves towards relations with the Jewish state 'high treason'. The Tunisian parliament was due to vote last year on a draft law criminalizing ties with Jerusalem, but the proposal did not get the endorsement of then-president Caid Essebsi, who died in July.

 During the debate, Saied said Tunisia was in a state of war with the Jewish state. Saied seemed to express tolerance of Jews, saying that Jewish people with no Israeli passport were welcome to visit the country’s synagogues. But he rejected “dealings with Zionists,” whom he accused of displacing  Palestinians'. Hundreds of Israelis, many of them of Tunisian origin, traditionally visit the country’s Ghriba Synagogue for an annual pilgrimage during the Lag Ba’Omer holiday.

Trabelsi had declared that lack of normalisation did not imply that Israelis did not have a right to visit.
Rene Trabelsi, dropped from the Tunisian government, and (right) Meyer Habib, representing French Israelis in the French parliament

In early February, however, Meyer Habib, who represents French Jews living in Israel in the French parliament and is himself of Tunisian origin, called on his Facebook page for a boycott of Tunisia which he claimed was descending into 'Iranian-style hatred' after it questioned the participation of a 17-year-old French-Israeli player in a tennis tournament. Although Habib took down his post, he and Trabelsi had a heated exchange.

Friday, February 21, 2020

After synagogue re-opening, Egypt sending mixed signals to Jews

The re-opening of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria demonstrates that Egypt is sending mixed signals to its former Jewish citizens: on the one hand it wants to revive the Jewish community, on the other hand Jews cannot practise openly (as in Morocco) and must be protected against real threats by strict security at al times. Insightful article in the Economist (with thanks: Alec): 

When it comes to Egypt’s Jewish community, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi says all the right things. Only a minuscule fraction of the 80,000 Jews who once lived in Egypt remain in this Arab, Muslim country.

 Nonetheless, Mr Sisi promises a resurgence of local Jewry. He has invited back Jews who were pushed out after Israel’s invasion in 1956. He has listed dilapidated Jewish cemeteries as heritage sites and spent millions of dollars restoring what was once the world’s largest synagogue, Eliyahu HaNavi, in Alexandria.

 On February 14th about 180 Jews of Alexandrian origin returned to rededicate the synagogue. They hammered a mezuzah onto its walls, danced with the Torah scrolls and sang psalms to the tune of “Inta Omri”, the anthem of Egypt’s most famous diva, Umm Kulthum.

Old men sipped espressos at nearby Café Delice, still playing Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien”, and swapped faded wedding photos taken on the synagogue’s steps. They cried over memories of leaving Egypt, surrendering their passports and signing documents promising not to return.

The service that followed was the largest in the synagogue for 60 years. The men promised to return a year later for a wedding—the first step to rebuilding a community which a century ago attracted more Jews than Palestine.

Read article in full

A bittersweet homecoming for Egypt's Jews (New York Times)

At last, the Trump peace plan grapples with refugees

Commentators and Middle East experts have now had a few weeks to scrutinize the Trump peace plan, whether to praise or bury it.  Remarkably, the plan is the first  explicitly to refer to the rights of Jewish refugees.  However,  it seems almost to have gone unnoticed that the plan puts paid to the primordial issue driving the conflict: the Palestinian “right of return.” Lyn Julius writes in JNS News (with thanks: Imre):

The Arab-Israeli conflict created both a Palestinian and Jewish refugee problem. Palestinian refugees, who have suffered over the past 70 years, have been treated as pawns on the broader Middle East chessboard, and empty promises have been made to them and to their host countries. A similar number of Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands shortly after the creation of the State of Israel, and have also suffered.

Announcing the Trump plan in Washington

The Trump plan states, clearly and unequivocally, that there shall be no “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees—code for overwhelming the state of Israel with millions of  “refugees” and their descendants. Instead, under the plan the “refugees” will be absorbed in their host countries or in a state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza.

As long as there is no humanitarian solution for the Palestinian refugee problem, Israel-Palestinian conflict will never end. The Trump plan understands this, and for the first time tries to come up with a “just, fair and realistic” solution that does not involve even a token return of “refugees” to Israel.
Moreover, for the first time in a peace document, the Trump plan explicitly mentions the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, in the same sentence with Palestinian refugees.

The document states: “A similar number of Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands shortly after the creation of the State of Israel, and have also suffered. … Most settled in the State of Israel and some settled elsewhere.” (In fact, more Jewish refugees [850,000] fled Arab countries than Palestinians fled Israel [711,00]. Some 200,000 settled outside Israel.)

An innovation is that the plan suggests that Israel ought to be compensated for absorbing Jewish refugees.

Some resent the comparison—Palestinian refugees are the byproduct of a war their side started and lost. The Jewish refugees were innocent non-combatants far from the theater of war, deliberately scapegoated by Arab regimes because they happened to have the same religion and ethnicity as Israelis.

Others have criticized the plan for affirming that “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.” Quite what this international mechanism might be is not specified. Observers fear that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that detaches justice for Jewish refugees from the main peace agenda will end up kicking the Jewish refugee issue into the long grass.

The underlying premise behind the “separate international mechanism” approach is likely to be that the Palestinians are not responsible for the Jewish refugees. The Jewish refugees ought to be compensated by the Arab regimes which dispossessed them and expelled them. But seven Arab League states went to war with Israel—a regional war that created both sets of refugees. The logical conclusion is that a regional agreement ought to be signed that deals with both issues simultaneously.

Another disappointment is that nowhere does the Trump plan mention the International Fund proposed by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000. This was intended to  compensate individual refugees, both Palestinian and Israeli, for their lost assets. The fund would have also had the virtue of compensating Jewish refugees who settled outside Israel.

But whatever its shortcomings, the Trump plan is not intended to do more than sketch out the broad outlines of a deal. It has tried to grapple with the refugee elephant in the room, and for this alone deserves praise.

Read article in full

Same article at Algemeiner

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Five Jewish writers united by their attachment to Egypt

A new book, On the Mediterranean and the Nile (Indiana Press, 2018)  by an Egyptian-born Jew, Aimee Israel-Pelletier,  pays homage to the considerable literary contribution in French  made by five Jewish refugees from Egypt.

Review by Deborah Roumani in Sephardic Horizons (Winter 2020)

The title of this book, part of the Indiana Series in Sephardi and Mizrahi Studies, is something of a misnomer. This is not another ‘story of the Jews of Egypt’ as we have seen several in recent years. Nor is it a family memoir of someone born in and exiled from Egypt. It is a series of analyses, profound and reaching across disciplines, yet well-rooted in its own field, of the work of five key fiction writers from the last two generations of Egyptian Jews.

 The author is a professor of French, author of a study of Rimbaud’s poetics, and thus brings literary tools to a group of novelists who express the deep-felt anguish of the uprooted Jews of Egypt: not as in biblical times exiting with song and gratitude to God, but expelled unwillingly from the land that they deeply identified with, even loved.

 Read article in full 

  Extract of review by Deborah A. Starr of Cornell University in AJS Reviews 43 (2018): 

In recent years, there has been an encouraging increase in publications about the modern history and cultural production of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Aimée Israel-Pelletier’s new book On the Mediterranean and the Nile: The Jews of Egypt provides a much-needed addition to this burgeoning field.

Israel-Pelletier examines writings—poetry, prose, and essays—by five authors who were raised in the Francophone culture of the Egyptian Jewish bourgeoisie and elites: (Jacques Book Reviews 492 Downloaded from UT Arlington, on 06 Nov 2019 at 01:06:59, subject to the Cambridge Core terms of use, available at

Hassoun, Jacqueline Kahanoff, Edmond Jabès, Paula Jacques, and André Aciman. The works Israel-Pelletier discusses were all composed following the writers’ departures from Egypt and the dispersal of the Egyptian Jewish community in the mid-twentieth century. To date, little serious scholarly attention had been paid to the literature produced by Francophone Egyptian Jews as a unique corpus. Egyptian Jewish literature does not fit comfortably in the postcolonial paradigm of Francophone studies, dominated as it is by the Caribbean, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Further confounding classification, two of the writers—Kahanoff and Aciman—ultimately made careers writing in English. In the context of Jewish studies, paradoxically, while French served as the lingua franca of middle- and upper-class Egyptian Jews (and other foreign minorities, as well as the Egyptian elites), little scholarship has been published in English about the Francophone literary production of Egyptian Jews. Israel-Pelletier’s book fills this gap.

Review by Joyce Zonana (emerita, CUNY) in The French Review 93 (October 2019):

us', she elucidates the relevance of Egyptian-Jewish letters to all Jewish, French and contemporary literary and cultural studies.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tears of joy and regret flow at the re-dedication of Alexandria's synagogue

The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria had not witnessed a Shabbat like it for forty years, as 180 Jews from all over the world held a service on 17 February 2020. They sat in their fathers' seats, prayed, sang and danced. They hoped that the restoration  of the synagogue by the al-Sissi government will herald a new beginning in relations between Egypt and the Jewish people. But their joy was tempered by the fact that Egypt still holds the communal registers hostage. 
Here is a news round-up put together by Point of No Return (with thanks to all those who contacted us): 

The Times of Israel (JTA) reports:

Under heavy security — one participant quipped that there were more police than participants — the delegation entered the large synagogue compound on Friday afternoon, where, with prayer and song, they rededicated the prayer hall through affixing a new mezuza to the main door. Inside the synagogue, individuals lit memorial candles for deceased family members, which was followed by the traditional Sephardic custom of Friday evening Sabbath services. (The Jewish Sabbath runs from sundown Friday until an hour after sundown on Saturday.)

Rabbi Yosef Nefussi blesses the Friday night challah brought from Israel

There were two rabbis at the service, Rabbi Andrew Baker and the son of the final Alexandrian rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Nefussi. (There was also Rabbi Abraham Niño Dayan - ed) Additionally, the service was joined by the US Ambassador to Egypt Jonathan Cohen and the former Israeli ambassador David Govrin, as well as other local cultural attaches. On Friday night, with wine and braided Shabbat challah brought from Israel, the Eliyahu Hanavi congregation recited the traditional blessings as a community, and broke bread before heading to a festive meal. They regathered the next morning for more prayer and Torah reading.

The highlight of the day was when 12 of the synagogue’s circa 60-70 Torah scrolls were taken out and festively paraded throughout the hall. “It was certainly a very emotional and poignant moment,” said (Alec) Nacamuli of the Nebi Daniel Association. “The 12 Torah scrolls were in honour of the 12 tribes of Israel,” said Levana Zamir, the head of the International Association of Jews from Egypt.

Keisar Zamir carrying a sefer Torah

 Cairo-born Zamir arrived with a contingent of some 20 Jews from Israel, along with her daughter and two grandchildren. The scrolls, she said, had been stored for decades, unused for ritual purposes by the ever-dwindling community. Their use, along with the rededication of the synagogue, made her “very, very glad,” she said. “I never imagined I would see my grandson here, holding a Sefer Torah, with the tallit [prayer shawl] on his shoulder. I cried, of course, there is so much emotion. It was just like seeing my father there,” said Zamir.

Levana Zamir with her two grandchildren, Kochav and Keisar.

 But even amid the afterglow of the celebratory weekend, the expat Egyptians told The Times of Israel that their community registers — generations of annals of births, deaths, and marriages — are essentially being held hostage by the same government that sponsored the synagogue’s restoration. Under the Ottoman Empire’s Millet system, all lifecycle events were recorded through the local community’s central rabbinate. (Israel’s chief rabbinate is a direct descendent of this system.) In major hubs Alexandria and Cairo, the registers date back to the 1830s.

Three years ago, they were all taken to the Egyptian National Archives where, according to Nacamuli, nobody can gain access to them. According to the Nebi Daniel Association, none of the communal documents pertain to personal property, but they are nonetheless invaluable for the continuation of Jewish life. “In religious matters they are often the only proof of Jewish identity to enter into a Jewish marriage, determine Jewish lineage or be granted a Jewish burial, especially in the Diaspora,” reads the Nebi Daniel website. “In civil matters, they are used to establish civil identity related to nationality, marriage, divorce, etc,” it continues. And, “for historical and genealogical research, the Registers constitute a rare collection covering 150 years of the history of a thriving Jewish community.”

 The Nebi Daniel Association is working to obtain digital copies of these documents, said Nacamuli, and is now considering its next steps. “We’ve been working on it for 15 years, and I can honestly say we’ve been treading sand,” he said.

 Zamir is hopeful for incremental slow change under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and compared him to assassinated peacemaker president Anwar Sadat. Under president Hosni Mubarak, she said, almost all memory of the Jewish community was wiped out and a generation of Egyptians in their 20s and 30s now have no idea of the flourishing Jewish community that helped build their country.

 “A-Sissi is like Sadat, he will succeed [in normalizing relations],” said Zamir. “He is doing it slowly and has very good relations with the Israeli government,” she said, adding that the Egyptian people are not yet ready to embrace Israel. Relations between Israel and Egypt are still far from normal, as illustrated by the fact that out of the 40 Israelis who applied for visas, only 15 were granted. Most other western nations can purchase visas at the border.

More news:

This item, An unlikely friendship, on the BBC website demonstrates a Jew and a Palestinian coming together to save Egypt's Jewish heritage. What the BBC does not say is that Marwa is married to Sami Ibrahim, whose father Albert Arie is one of the last Jews of Egypt. Marwa is not a random Palestinian but is bound to the remnant Jewish community by ties of marriage.

On the Friday, prayers were held at the Jewish cemeteries in Alexandria.

The re-dedication ceremony began with a procession of sifrei torah carried into the synagogue. Above: Edwin Shuker of the British Board of Deputies carrying one.

Rabbi Avraham Niño Dayan, Levana Zamir and her daughter Tuli

Click here to see video of Levana Zamir, president  of the association of Jews from Egypt in Israel. During the re-dedication ceremony Levana was asked to thank President el-Sisi for allowing the restoration of this 2000-year-old synagogue  on behalf of the Israeli Mission of Jews from Egypt. She added a special blessing for the state of Israel. The emotion of the occasion was such that Levana burst into tears, and the congregation of 180 Jews from Egypt from all over the world cried with her.

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]