Thursday, April 30, 2020

President's message features Egyptian-Jewish memories

Levana Zamir, president of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel, was one of the participants in a message broadcast by the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, on the occasion of the state's 72nd independence celebration.

The president and all the participants wished the country a very Happy Independence Day.'We have no other country', he said.

Then a 10-year-old child, Mrs Zamir said she could not forget the great joy her family felt on the day of the UN vote on Partition in November 1947. Her father was listening in secret to the radio and the family brimmed with excitement as the votes were announced: Yes -No-Yes-Yes. But as soon as the vote was passed, no Jew could utter the world Israel: their lips were sealed - until they were thrown out of Egypt.
She recalled her enormous excitement on seeing the IDF Independence Day parade, in which women soldiers marched.

To watch video, click here

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Ashkenazim who came to the Levant

Ashkenazim settled in Syria and Lebanon in the 19th century, while German doctors came to Iraq fleeing Nazism.  These interesting snippets come from Nagi Zeidan, the historian of the Lebanese Jewish community,  and from the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Israel.

The now demolished synagogue of Misgab Ladach, Beirut, opened in 1817. (Courtesy: N Zeidan)

In 1902 Bernhart, son of Adolphe-Gabriel Israël and Hermine Morgenstern, born in 1884 in Schneidemül, Poland  arrived in Aleppo as director of the Orozdi Bak Store in this city. Israël was a common family name among Sephardim, but this branch of the family had married Ashkenazim. As there were no Ashkenazi families in Aleppo, Bernhart headed to Beirut where there was an important Ashkenazi community.

Two brothers from the Ashkenazi family of Grünberg, Moise and  and William, both born in Hamburg, lived in Beirut and Zeidan found their graves in the Jewish cemetery of Beirut. In 1902 Bernhart Israël married Pauline, daughter of William Grünberg and Sophie Brasseur, who was born in Beirut in 1888.

 They had four children: Adolphe, born in 1909 became the greatest cardiologist in Lebanon. He was a member of the doctors' union in Beirut in 1948. Another daughter of William's, Wanda Louise, died in childbirth. Her husband Isaac Sakkal raised his two daughters alone. He was later abducted by the Gestapo in 1942, presumably in Europe.

 William's son Armand married Ilona Laszlo whose father Moritz was born in Vienna. The Lazlos arrived in Beirut to escape the Nazis in 1938. During WW2 many Ashkenazi Jews fled Eastern Europe illegally to escape the Nazis and settled in Wadi Abu Jamil (the Jewish quarter of Beirut). Elderly Lebanese Jews still remember that marriages of convenience were arranged with  refugee girl students. They came to study at the American University of Beirut because the Hebrew University was still in its infancy, or because they could not get permits to enter British mandate Palestine.

 A group of Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim arrived in Beirut in the 19th century.
Historian Nagi Zeidan says that this community intermarried with the Jews of Beirut but continued to retain an Eastern European accent in Hebrew. In time their Yiddish names were replaced with Sephardi ones. By the 20th century, French first names were also popular.

Nagi Zeidan points out that following the Crimean War in 1853 between Russia and Ottoman Turkey, several Ashkenazi families from Eastern Europe settled in Baghdad. The Austrian  couturier Hermann Rosenfeld had two sons who joined him later. One was an engineer and the other, Joseph, had graduated in medecine at St-Joseph's College in Beirut.

Ashkenazi doctors fled the rise of Hitler in 1933 and came to Iraq. Dr. Sustmann, Dr. Tucker, Dr. Rossano  and Dr. Strauss left Germany with passports.  They arrived in Turkey and from there made their way to Iraq.

At that time, Moshe Cohen, the shaliah (envoy) from Israel, commonly known as "Moshe Abu al-Laban"because he sold yoghurt as a camouflage for his activities, lived in Baghdad. Learning  of the arrival of the  doctors from Turkey, he managed to find accommodation at the Alliance school for them through his contacts.

They could not leave the building. Community members supported them. The Jewish community wanted to employ them but they were not granted a work permit nor permission to remain in Iraq.

Just then the wife of Jamil al-Madfai, who was to become Prime Minister, requested a female doctor to treat her. Dr Tucker, a specialist in women's ailments, fitted the bill. Both she and Dr Sustman managed to find work at the Meir Elias hospital. Thus the Jewish community could use these doctors' expertise - and save Jewish refugees from the Nazis.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Iraqi-Jewish historian foresaw disastrous Middle East politics

Baghdad-born Elie Kedourie is one of the most under-rated of historians, yet he foresaw what Middle East experts today now acknowledge with despair: that the post-WWI newly-independent Arab world would be a disaster for society and minorities. On the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kedourie's The Chatham House Version, Robert D. Kaplan  has this long but worthwhile read in National Interest: 

Kedourie’s essential diagnosis of Great Britain’s Arab policy in his lifetime was that the British Foreign Office’s awe of an exotic culture, combined with the “snare” of a misunderstood familiarity towards English-speaking Arabs—who used the same words, but meant very different things when discussing such issues as rule-of-law and constitutions—led to a profound lapse of policy judgment: towards which, one must add guilt regarding the post-World War I border arrangements that allowed for, among other things, a Jewish national home in Palestine. In the minds of this naïve generation of British officials, once Zionism and imperialism could be done away with, the Arabs would enjoy peaceful and stable institutions.

Fifty years ago, Kedourie countered with what in recent decades has since become a commonplace: that neither imperialism nor Zionism were the problems. As he put it, it is only a “fashionable western sentimentality which holds that Great Powers are nasty and small Powers virtuous.” In any case, he continues, even without imperialism and Zionism other outside powers would naturally work to involve themselves in this vast, energy-rich region as part of the normal course of history. The West was a problem, certainly, but in a different way than late British colonial officialdom and some of their American Cold War successor-acolytes had imagined it: Westernization and modernization were only amplifying the coercive, illiberal power of newly independent Arab regimes themselves.

Consequently, the nascent Arab middle classes were even more dependent on the goodwill of those vicious new regimes than they had been on the colonial powers. Indeed, everything from import licenses to securing jobs to school admissions required a silent pact with the authorities. And when oil wealth was suddenly added to the sociological fire of a falsely Westernizing Arab world, as Fouad Ajami (echoing V.S. Naipaul) explained: inhabitants of the great cities of the Middle East began experiencing the West only as “things” and not as “process,” importing the “fruits of science” without, as societies, producing them themselves. The results were sophisticated milieus, West Beirut being one for a time, of “Western airs and anti-Western politics.”

The Arab youth were especially dangerous, Kedourie unsentimentally observes: full of “passion and presumption,” they possessed the techniques of Europe without intuiting the cultural processes that had made Europe what it was. They hated their fathers’ world, and saw utopia rather than civil society with all of its messy backtracking, compromises, and checks-and-balances; thus, they paved the way for replacing Arab nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism—a phenomenon of a rapidly urbanizing Middle East, where the traditions of the village have been weakened and must be fortified anew in more abstract and ideological form.

The despair with which the class of Middle East experts in Washington now view the region is one that Kedourie arrived at long ago, and not cynically. Rather, it came about through painstaking historical research.

Read article in full

Monday, April 27, 2020

Egypt's Ramadan TV demonisation of Jews disappoints

If you think that the annual Ramadan TV series is an indicator of the improving image of Jew in the Arab world, you will be sorely disappointed by this year's offering, according to the Jerusalem Post. The Jewish Quarter in 2015 turns out to have been a flash in the pan: El Nahaye (The End), a 30-episode show due to air in Egypt, continues the dehumanising trend. In one scene, a history teacher tells his class  claims that “the overwhelming majority of Israel’s Jews fled and will return to their countries of origin”adding“in Europe”, as if the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa never existed. The director Yaser Sami has said that the Arab dream of the end of the the Zionist entity, depicted in the series,  will come about in  2120.
 On the other hand, this year's Saudi-produced series for the Gulf States does have a Jewish heroine.

A scene from the 2015 series The Jewish Quarter: its philosemitism was a flash in the pan

Ramadan in 2013 featured Khaybar, a drama showing relations between Jews and Muslim in Medina that led to the Prophet Muhammad expelling the Jews from Khaybar, an oasis in the western  Arabian Peninsula. In 2017 the show Kalabsh featured an American Jewish woman using her guiles to get an Egyptian diplomat to harm Egyptian national security.

And in 2019 the Egyptian viewer was treated to Alzyb’a, which portrayed Jews as being in control of the world. One exception was in 2015, when a series aired called The Jewish Quarter did not dehumanize the Jews to the degree expected, something that led to praise for the series in some Western press, but criticism inside Egypt itself.

In other words, during Ramadan – the time when television viewing is at its peak – the Egyptian viewer is exposed nightly to shows featuring popular actors that demonize Jews and Israel.

And this year is no exception, with a private Egyptian station airing during Ramadan a 30-episode show called El Nehaye (The End) that tells of a future war to liberate Jerusalem, the destruction of Israel and the dispersion of its Jews to their countries of origin.

Read article in full

Sunday, April 26, 2020

TV series Fauda is a runaway success in the Arab world

The Israeli Netflix series Fauda is a runaway success in the Arab world, the Algemeiner reports. The series is based on the adventures of a Mossad hit squad operating in the Palestinian territories. It features Arabic-speaking Jews posing as Arabs and this itself shatters stereotypes about Israelis. The main character, played by Lior Raz, is of Iraqi and Algerian parentage. 

Lior Raz plays the main character, Doron

Asked why the series is so popular, co-creator Avi Issacharoff noted that a large amount of the show’s dialogue is in Arabic. “I think part of it is the language, which means that ‘Fauda’ has crossed over into the Arabic language, and we are also bringing the story on both sides, not just from the Israeli side,” he said.

 “Of course, the corona also — that is, the fact that people are sitting at home and have nothing to do, so it certainly encourages people to watch, even if it means an Israeli series,” Issacharoff added.

Lior Raz, who plays the series’ main character Doron, said the show’s success in the Arab world was “very, very exciting.”

 “We are really pleased that we were able to reach the Arab public that we usually have no contact with,” he commented.

  Read article in full

Friday, April 24, 2020

Hatred of Jews is still being taught in Muslim countries

It is heartening to learn that more and more intellectuals, such as the Moroccan Kamal Ait bin Juba, writing on the liberal website, not only recognise the tragedy of the Holocaust, but acknowledge that antisemitism is routine in Muslim countries. Via MEMRI (With thanks: Lily) 

World leaders gathered in January at Yad Vashem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

"On January 23, 2020, a ceremony was held in Jerusalem to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Germany [sic], where many Jews were exterminated.

The anniversary of this event becomes [especially] justified and meaningful in light of the existence of a state like Iran, which never stops threatening to wipe Israel off the map… by means of its supporters, who take every opportunity to chant slogans like ‘death to Israel, curse the Jews.’ Moreover, hatred of Jews is still being taught in many schools across the world, [including] in so-called Islamic states, some of which may even have diplomatic ties and peace agreements with the state of Israel.

 These people [the Jews] are described [in their curricula] as devils, violators of agreements, etc. "The paradox is that what is called antisemitism…  an accusation that is made against those who deny the Jewish Holocaust or disagree with the Jews about it in the West, in Europe or in the U.S., is completely routine in the Muslim countries, where hatred of Jews, learned through major ‘sacred’ texts, is a matter of consensus.

Listen to recording and read transcript


Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Gourion family produced Mimouna pancakes - and a priest

The Algerian Gourion  family of Oran were famous for two things: running a bakery and producing a priest. An interesting article by Charles Bunan in the Gazette de Morial  enlightens us (with thanks Leon):

Rue d'Austerlitz in Oran, where the shop  Zouzou sold cheese and whey consumed during the Mimouna (Photo: Mahj)

The bakery came into its own at the end of the Passover festival, when North Africa Jews celebrate Mimouna. Long queues of customers wishing to purchase the bakery's pancakes (moufletta) stretched out into the street.

Charles Bunan recalls how Mimouna was marked in his Oran home. Two cups were set on the dining room table - one with flour and  green beans, the other with a gold coin set in dough which rose all night. The family meal ended with the traditional couscous in butter. All the homes in the street had their doors open, and the families went from house to house tasting stuffed dates, prunes and other sweetmeats.

The priest in question is Jean-Batiste Gourion, born in 1934 into an Oran Jewish family. Gourion studied medicine and natural sciences in Algeria and Paris. On Easter night in 1958 he was baptised in Normandy. He became a monk and was ordained a priest in 1967.

France owned a priory at Abu Ghosh, just outside Jerusalem. At the French Consul-general's request, Gourion was sent to Israel. He became prior and then father abbot in Abu Ghosh.

Read article in full

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Baghdad leaps from the page in new cartoon memoir

The Wolf of Baghdad animated movie by Carol Isaacs has been made into a book. Vivid images of Jewish Baghdad leap from its pages. Review in Jewish Renaissance by Lyn Julius: 

The Finns have a word for it: kaukokaipuu,  - a feeling of homesickness to a place you’ve never been.The place is Baghdad, capital of Iraq. A third of the city’s inhabitants were Jewish in the early 20th century. Indeed, Jews made up the largest  single ethnic group.

 The kaukokaipuu  sufferer is Carol Isaacs, whose family  were part of the 2,600-year diaspora in Iraq stretching back to Babylonian times. A professional musician and accomplished cartoonist known as  the Surreal McCoy, Isaacs  has set herself the task of recreating, appealingly and movingly,   pictures of Jewish life in Baghdad until the community’s demise  50 years ago.

 The result is her graphic novel, The Wolf of Baghdad: memoir of a lost homeland. The bookgrew out of a silent movie (animation), which  premiered in London in 2018 to  the accompaniment of live music by 3yin, an oriental ensemble, in which  Isaacs herself played the accordion. The book begins  in the grey tones of a  bleak London scene. The central character, who one assumes is  Isaacs herself, falls asleep while listening to music composed by Iraqi-Jewish musicians. In her dreams she is transported to her ancestral home in Iraq. This is a world peopled with ghosts.

The bustling markets of Old Baghdad, as imagined by Carol Isaacs in The Wolf of Baghdad

 Isaacs can almost smell the delicious aromas rising out of the cooking pots on the stove. She becomes her own grandmother  and dons the black abaya that women in Iraq were expected to wear in public. She begins to explore the world outside the home.

 As the reader is led through the alleyways - so narrow they almost block out the sun - the colours become vivid.  The journey continues through the bustling markets of Old Baghdad with their carpet and copper pot sellers, huge plates of Turkish delight and sweets on display, and the amba stalls, selling mango pickle from India. Here is the Tigris river, where Jewish children first learn to swim. When the river burst its banks, for a few pennies, porters would carry young passengers  on their backs to keep their feet dry.

 The narrative, interspersed with snapshots of daily life, comprises short quotes from relatives and friends collected or recorded over the  years. The drawings are based on familiar photographs of Baghdad and of family groupings in Ottoman dress.

 Isaacs’ family led active social lives but also mixed with Muslims and Christians. They had servants and life was comfortable. On the flat roofs, it was customary to escape the stifling heat and sleep under the stars. We are taken on an excursion to the Great Synagogue, surrounding a huge open courtyard, and to the main school, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, which served the Jewish middle class and  where children were closeted, safe from the outside world.

 There are interesting details that are easy to miss in the animation.  For instance a woman  who has lost her husband would wear the same dress for the  30-day mourning  period, until she finally casts the dress into the river. The dress makes  several haunting appearances in the book.

 But the storm clouds are gathering for the community and Isaacs deftly suggests the rise of pro-Nazi feeling with her pen. Leaflets containing propaganda  flutter down as crowds make the fascist salute.

 “When I returned from serving in the Iraqi army, I sensed the atmosphere had changed and that the Jewish community did not feel welcome anymore,” says Dr Heskel Isaacs, one of the author's family who appears in the story.

Scenes of fleeing and fearful families and padlocked gates contribute to a sense of foreboding and irrevocable loss. ‘In order to exit Iraq, my father had to leave the house (with everything in it) as a guarantee that we’d go back. And of course we didn’t,’ says Yvonne Hay, another Iraqi featured in the story.

 The images leap forward to  the persecution of the 1960s. There are quotes from Jews imprisoned in the Kasser al Nihaya – the Palace of  No Return, and the doleful spectre of executed Jews, their bodies hanging from gibbets in Liberation Square in Baghdad in 1969. In the final part of the book  the mood darkens  as Isaacs evokes  the Farhud massacre of 1 and 2 June 1941 where almost  200 Jews – possibly hundreds more - were murdered, raped and mutilated and there was mayhem.

Rioters ransacked Jewish homes ‘to the last feather’. Isaacs gives us to understand that this was the seminal moment when the Jewish community was lost,  although it was to limp along for another ten years, until the mass airlift of ninety percent of Jews to Israel in 1950.

 The wolf of the title refers to  the superstition among Iraqi Jews that a wolf is kept in a house where children die in infancy to ward off demons. Indeed, a wolf’s tooth was put in a newborn baby’s crib to keep evil spirits away and an imaginary wolf accompanies Isaacs throughout her Baghdad reverie. In the afterword,  Isaacs recalls visits to her family's London home by the family’s Muslim friends and there is also a useful timeline  and bibliography.

The wolf never manages to ward off the evil spirit of antisemitism, which is still very much alive in the Arab world. But a surprising bout of kaukokaipuu has begun to grip intellectuals in Iraq, even those who are too young to recall the  time when Jews lived amongst them. They are longing for their lost  Jewish community to return.

To see April issue of  Jewish Renaissance where this article appeared (p48), click here. 

More about the Wolf of Baghdad

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Syrian Jew who saved 527 children from the Holocaust

With thanks: Jenny K  

They called him 'Monsieur Marcel'. Today, on Yom Hashoah, it seems appropriate to remember Moussa Abadi,  a Jewish writer and Resistance fighter, born in Damascus in 1907. He settled in France in the 1930s. With his fiancée Odette, he created the “Marcel Network” in 1943 and saved 527 Jewish children in southern France during the Holocaust.

Odette and Moussa Abadi in Nice in 1947

Helped by a bishop and a pastor, the “Marcel Network” hid Jewish children and gave them fake IDs. Odette was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo in 1944. She was then deported to Bergen-Belsen. She survived the camp at the end of the war, and the couple got married in 1959.

The Guardian ran this obituary for Odette, who committed suicide in 1999:

In 1942, Moussa Abadi, a Jewish student and writer whom she had met in 1939, asked her to join him in Nice. He had set up a resistance organisation to help Jews from a widespread area of southern France, then unoccupied by the Germans, to take refuge in Nice where the Italian occupying forces largely ignored their presence. Odette became his chief helper, taking the resistance name of Sylvie Delatre. In September 1943, Odette and Moussa faced a terrible crisis. An armistice was announced between the Allies and the provisional Italian government. The Italian army withdrew from Nice. Immediately the Germans entered the town followed by Captain Alois Brunner and a special unit of SS police. Their objective was to round up the Jews who had survived because of Italian leniency.

 Thus began one of the most vicious episodes of the Holocaust. The Germans used every method to root out the Jews - from torture to bribery. Inevitably Odette and Moussa were besieged by fearful parents. The house would have been overwhelmed had it not been for the Bishop of Nice, Paul Rémond, who provided them with a room in his official residence. He also persuaded a number of Catholic schools and individuals to give children hiding places. The violence of the Germans was such that even local Vichy officials offered their help by supplying blank ration cards.

 In spite of all the difficulties, 527 children were saved, hidden in sanctuaries along the coast. In April 1944, the inevitable happened: Odette was denounced. The Vichy special police, the "milice", arrested her and she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and then Bergen-Belsen. There she worked as a doctor, looking after those who were too ill to be sent to the death chambers. She survived and returned to Paris.

Read article in full

How one French couple saved 527 children (Bonjour Paris book review)

Monday, April 20, 2020

Ramadan TV series with Jewish heroine sparks outrage

A new Saudi-produced TV series about to air over Ramadan and portraying Jews in the Gulf states in a positive light has sparked outrage. ( The series, titled Umm Haroun, may be based on the life of a famous Jewish midwife in Bahrain, Um Jan). Critics accuse the makers of seeking 'normalisation' with Israel. They are particularly sensitive to suggestions that Jews suffered 'injustices' or may even have been expelled. Khaled Abu Toameh writes in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily): 

Poster advertising 'Um Haroun'

Several critics took to social media to express their outrage over the series, claiming it portrays Jews as suffering from “injustices” in an Arab country. “We have many successful and heroic women in the Gulf,” protested Hana al-Qahtan.

“Why do we need to turn a Jewish woman into a hero in our dramas?” Ahmed Madani said on Twitter that he, too, does not understand why an Arab television channel would broadcast a series about a Jewish woman during Ramadan. “Would Israel ever produce a series about a Muslim woman in its prisons?” he asked. “What about the injustices done to the Palestinians? Why not produce a documentary about the suffering of Palestinians?”

 Hamas has also weighed in on the controversy, denouncing the series as a “political and cultural attempt to introduce the Zionist project to Gulf society.” The character of Umm Haroun reminds me of [former Israeli Prime Minister] Golda Meir, the head of the occupation government, who was a murderous criminal,” said senior Hamas official Ra’fat Murra. “This is the goal of normalization: hatred, slow killing and internal destruction. The series aims to falsify history and gradually introduce Gulf society to normalization with the Zionist occupation, at a time when some [Arab] rulers are panting to build close ties with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to protect their thrones.”

Yousef al-Mutairi, professor of modern and contemporary history at Kuwait University, told that the controversy over the series was unjustified. “Arab Jews are part of our history, whether in Egypt or in the Arab Peninsula, and this does not contradict our assertion that they were not expelled from the Gulf,” he said. “The expulsion took place for individuals who were engaged in activities that the society was not satisfied with, such as trading in alcohol. We must differentiate between Zionism and Judaism. Israel and those living in it are Zionists. But there’s no problem with Judaism.”

Read article in full

Kuwait's Ramadan show focuses on its long-gone Jewish community

Jerusalem Post

Jews in Bahrain: business people, politicians and midwives

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Reach for the stars, astronaut tells kids of Iraq

With thanks: Melvyn

Flying 350 miles over Baghdad, the astronaut Jessica Meir had an uplifting message for the children of that city. If they work hard, they too can fulfil their dreams. They might even become astronauts like she did.

In a video message from space, Jessica Meir said that she shared a heritage with children from Baghdad. Her father was an Israeli with Baghdadi-Jewish roots.

Jessica's mother is Swedish. They met in the US where Jessica was born.

Jessica, who is on a seven-month mission,  is the fifth Jewish astronaut to travel in space, and the first of Mizrahi heritage.

To see video, click here 

Astronaut charts Iraqi-Jewish father's journey

Friday, April 17, 2020

Nebi Musa riots were successful form of coercion

This important piece by Sean Durns in Mosaic, on the 100 th anniversary of the Nebi Musa riots, shows not only how the Arab mob could be successfully unleashed for internal political purposes, but that  British failure to punish the instigators of the riot was interpreted as encouragement.

An anti-Zionist demonstration in Jerusalem on 8 March 1920

Palestine remained under the control of the British Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA), a military government established in October 1918. Many leading OETA officials supported Faisal in his claims not only to Syria proper but also to Palestine. To some of them, giving Faisal Syria seemed the best way to strengthen British and frustrate French designs on the territory, and throwing Palestine into the bargain would help guarantee his success. Others backed Faisal precisely because they wished to undermine Balfour—whether out of practical considerations, hostility to Jews and Zionism, or some combination.

 Thus the OETA sought to assist Faisal in presenting London with a fait accompli in the form of a “United Syria” under his rule. Already in early 1919, the Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky observed, “The Palestine authorities are acting in a manner which clearly tells the Arabs that the [Balfour] Declaration need not be fulfilled.

 A group of pro-Faisal Arab activists instigated street action, hoping to influence the ongoing intra-Arab and intra-British debate about the fate of Palestine. On April 4, 1920, at the peak of the Nebi Musa festival, for which tens of thousands of pilgrims annually streamed into the area, anonymous Arabic-language notices began circulating in Jerusalem stating, “The Government is with us, [the British general Edmund] Allenby is with us, kill the Jews; there is no punishment for killing Jews.”

 Then, as the American foreign-policy expert Bruce Hoffman documented in his 2015 book Anonymous Soldiers.

"By mid-morning, a large Arab crowd had gathered just outside Jaffa Gate. Egged on by tendentious speakers from the nearby Arab Club, the crowd began to chant the rhyming Arabic couplet “Palestine is our land, the Jews are our dogs!”

" Holding up a picture of Faisal, Haj Amin al-Husseini—whom the British would appoint grand mufti of Jerusalem the next year—shouted, “This is your king!” Others in the crowd proclaimed, “Faisal is our king!” A newspaper editor and enthusiastic Arab nationalist, Aref al-Aref, cried “If we don’t use force against the Zionists and against the Jews, we will never be rid of them.” The frenzied crowd began shouting “We will drink the blood of the Jews.” The two ingredients—packed streets and fervent instigation—combusted. The pogrom had begun.

Thousands of Arabs ran through the Jerusalem streets, throwing stones at Jews, destroying Torah scrolls, setting a yeshiva and several houses on fire, breaking into buildings, looting, and so on. They did so for four days, from April 4 to April 7, with little intervention from the British authorities until the very end. By the time the riots were over, five Jews and four Arabs were dead, and hundreds more Jews injured, some critically.

Zionist leaders were outraged. Beforehand, several had expressed concerns about the increasingly tense situation—only to have those concerns dismissed. When the bloodshed erupted, Jabotinsky approached the military governor of Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs, requesting permission for armed members of the Haganah, a recently created Jewish self-defense organization, to be deployed to protect lives and property. Storrs refused. British troops even barred Haganah members from entering the Old City in order to defend their fellow Jews. Some Jewish leaders, including Jabotinsky and others on the Zionist right, interpreted the British reaction to Nebi Musa as evidence of broken faith.

They now doubted Britain’s commitment to the Balfour Declaration, and their doubts would continue to grow in subsequent years. Indeed, in the riots’ wake, the new civilian governor, Herbert Samuel, pardoned both Husseini and Aref, as well as Jabotinsky, who had been charged, along with nineteen Jewish defenders, with illegal possession of weapons and who had in a gesture of “evenhandedness” initially received the same sentence as Husseini. And, as mentioned, the British later tried to appease Husseini by naming him grand mufti and leader of the Supreme Muslim Council—overtures he would repay by allying himself with Hitler.

 A precedent had been set. The Nebi Musa riots were followed by yet more anti-Jewish violence during the era of British rule, violence which would culminate in the revolt of 1936-39, and which would then resurface in 1947. As for Faisal’s dream of a “Greater Syria,” it would never come to fruition. French forces deposed him on July 25, 1920, and thereafter Syria and Lebanon went one way, Jordan and Palestine another. Subsequently, many of his supporters would come to see a separate Palestinian Arab state as the only practicable antidote to Zionism. But that belatedand freedom-loving desire for an independent Palestinian state did not inspire the anti-Jewish violence that occurred 100 years ago.

 When trying to make sense of Arab violence in the Middle East, whether recent or historical, Western analysts tend to fall back on predictable clichés: riots result from resentment, oppression, poverty, or perhaps “ancient hatreds”; where the riots involve Palestinians, they are also the result of frustrated national aspirations. Sometimes there are elements of truth in these clichés, but most often they obscure more than they illuminate, especially when combined with the equally misguided tendency to see Arab politics solely through the prism of Western or Israeli policies. In the case of the Nebi Musa riots, none of these explanations fit.

To the extent that national aspirations were involved, they had nothing to do with Palestinian statehood, and everything to do with the incorporation of Palestinian Arabs into Greater Syria. Nor did accusations of mistreatment figure into the incitement that set them off. Rather, the riots were, first, an attempt to influence Arab opinion by showing support for the Syrian rather than the Egyptian solution. Second, and more importantly, they were intended to influence British opinion in the same direction.

 Today, when Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hamas fire rockets at Israel, or the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas incites Jerusalem Arabs to violence, the proximate cause often has as much to do with internal Palestinian politics as anything else. The relatively muted response to America’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem shows just how much Westerners exaggerate the importance of their decisions. But that is not to say that international actors have no influence at all, and this brings us to the second lesson of the Nebi Musa riots: when powerful figures encourage anti-Zionists to think their cause might be successful, the result is often the shedding of Jewish blood. By their manifest lack of commitment to the terms of the Balfour Declaration, local British authorities signaled to Arab leaders that some inconvenient disturbances might suffice to move the needle in London.

 The mandatory government then made matters worse with its demonstrations of “evenhandedness,” which amounted to meting out the same punishments to the instigators of violence and those who sought to defend themselves against it—and then pardoning everyone. Were this not bad enough, the British rewarded Husseini for his role by creating the position of grand mufti of Jerusalem and bestowing it upon him. He concluded, not unreasonably, that the risks of instigating pogroms were low, and therefore resorted to this tactic in 1929 and then again from 1936 to 1939.

  Read article in full

Sixty-five years ago, panic sweeps Moroccan Jews

Saved by a liqor glass, betrayed by friends

Remembering the Libyan riots of 1945

Morocco thwarts Israel/UAE plan to evacuate their citizens

We may never know the reason why this evacuation plan never 'got off the ground' - relations between Morocco and the UAE have been tense, with Morocco seeking closer ties with the UAE's regional rival, Qatar - but it shows unprecedented cooperation between the UAE and Israel. Middle East Monitor reports:

Mohamed V airport, Casablanca

Morocco has prevented a joint Israeli-Emirati plan to evacuate Jews holding Israeli citizenship from leaving, on the pretext of the spread of the coronavirus, Israeli Army Radio reported on Thursday.

 Morocco initially agreed to evacuate its Jews to Israel, but the United Arab Emirates (UAE) later contacted Israel to evacuate them on a plane with Emirati citizens, which Israel agreed on.

 However, Morocco thwarted the plan because it was not informed about the details. The Israelis were planned to land in the country during the Passover holiday, which ended on Wednesday.

 Israel has faced difficulty transporting Moroccan Jews to it directly, because El Al Israel Airlines are prohibited from entering Morocco, but the UAE initiated contact with Israel to offer to transport them on its airplane.

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

How one Israeli rediscovered his Egyptian roots

When he was growing up, lecturer Haim Netanel took very little interest in his Egyptian roots. Now he is  on a journey to rediscover them. Interesting piece in Israel Hayom: ((With thanks: Lily, Boruch, Imre)

"I knew my parents were from Egypt, but I didn't take pride in it, or hide it. We adhered to 'Israeli-ness.' When my father arrived in Israel, he was very successful financially. At the age of 25, he owned an apartment in north Tel Aviv. He integrated immediately into the Ashkenazi bureaucracy that ruled the country. His boss was from Austria, and they'd speak French to each other.

 "The Egyptian-ness stayed at home on my mother's side, too: Arabic movies on TV, and the food. But outside, we were all Israelis. They left Egypt boxed up, within the family. When my dad would listen to [the singer] Umm Kulthum on the radio I'd say, 'Turn off that wailing.' It wasn't Israeli. Later on, after he died, when I fell in love with the subject of Egypt, I was in the car and put on a CD of 'Enta Omri,' [one of Umm Kulthum's best-known songs], and I started singing in Arabic and I connected to the music. I imagined my father smiling in victory and saying, 'Wailing, huh?' The circle was closed as far as I was concerned.

Haim Netanel (Yossi Zeliger)

When his father, Ezra Netanel Wahaba, died 12 years ago, Haim set out on a journey to research the history of the Jewish community in Egypt, both in the Land of the Nile and in Israel. He published his work in his book, Am I an Egyptian? "I was curious to know where the Egyptian Jews came from, what their lives were like, how they put down roots here in Israel.

Stories about Egypt always interested me, even though I got them in bits and pieces. My mother is still alive. I heard stories from her, too, as well as from uncles and aunts on her side and my father's side. My dad made aliyah in 1949, when the country was a year old and King Farouk still ruled Egypt," he says. "That was a different kind of 'Exodus' that what my mother's family experienced. They left in January 1957, two months after Operation Kadesh, under [Gamal Abdel] Nasser. The position of Jews in Egypt was getting worse. In the public sphere, they were personally attacked, and Jewish shops were nationalized. Their possibilities of making a living were restricted and they felt that time was running out and they had to leave. Jews began to abandon Egypt.

 My father and his family were harassed after the War of Independence, but under King Farouk the situation was much better. At that time, envoys of the Jewish Agency were in Egypt and they encouraged the Jews to make aliyah, so the family decided to."

 The story of Egyptian Jewry is different from that of most Jewish communities in Arab countries. It was not a community that could boast ancient roots, like those in Iraq, Syria, Morocco, or Tunisia. "Egyptian Jewry was made up of immigrants," Netanel explains. "Only a few of them had roots in Egypt that went back a few generations. Most arrived from different places: Syrian traders from Aleppo, who acclimated into Egyptian society very quickly because they spoke Arabic; Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe – there was an Ashkenazi synagogue in Cairo – there were Jews from all around the Mediterranean: Turkey, Greece, Italy, and France; and also Jews who had come from Aden in Yemen, which was a British colony, who were on their way to the Land of Israel and wound up staying a generation or two in Egypt."

 "There were differences not only between these groups, but between the Jewish communities in Cairo and Alexandria. The former, in its songs and customs, was much more similar to that which had arrived from Syria. The latter was mostly made up of Greek and Ashkenazi Jews. What united the community were its leaders. The community enjoyed total religious autonomy. Cultural life centered around the synagogue. In the Jewish neighborhoods of Cairo, there were synagogues for nearly every cultural group.

 Each preserved its own heritage.There was something else that distinguished the Jews from the rest of the Egyptians: "When the British controlled Egypt and had control of people's lifestyles, they allowed the Egyptians to settle the matter of citizenship. The Jews gave up Egyptian citizenship willingly. Most of them held citizenship in other countries and it wasn't urgent for them to be Egyptian citizens, which would have required them to serve in the military and fulfill other obligations. They preferred to isolate themselves. Later on, when some of them sought citizenship, the Egyptians made it difficult for them. Even those who had been born in Egypt weren't given Egyptian citizenship."

  "The initial refusal of citizenship was heavily exploited by the authorities later on. Nasser, in particular, used it. The attacks started with riots that targeted Jews during the War of Independence, and the Arabs' defeat caused the Egyptians to feel immense anger toward their Jewish neighbors. Because the Jews weren't citizens, anything could be done to them and they could always be portrayed as outsiders. They were called 'Zionist,' even though a lot of them weren't."

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At Passover's end, Iraqi Jews wish 'Santak Khedra'

Passover is over. Moroccan Jews may have their Mimouna to mark the occasion, but Iraqi Jews also have a distinctive tradition.

They wish each other Santak Khedra:'May your year be full of green ' -  meaning a year of happiness, health and wealth. 

This is the blessing that Iraqi Jews give each other as Passover ends, as they pat each other gently on the shoulder with sheaves of wheat and boughs of myrtle.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

75 years since Bergen-Belsen freed, but lessons are still unlearned

Today the world marks  the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Unbeknown to many, Libyan Jews were sent to that camp; after the end of WWII, the virus of Nazi antisemitism remained in the Arab world and is still with us today in the shape of Islamofascist ideology. Here is an article  by Lyn Julius and published by the Jerusalem Post  on the 70th anniversary.

Survivors of Bergen-Belsen returning to Tripoli at the end of WW2.

More than 50,000 prisoners, mainly Jews, died there – of starvation, overwork, disease or following gruesome medical experiments. Anne Frank was probably the most famous victim. She and her sister perished of typhus in the camp just one month before liberation.

Among the prisoners liberated on that glorious day in April were several hundred Libyan Jews, deported to Bergen-Belsen via Italy. A photo exists of these survivors, dangling their legs out of a railway carriage on which they had scrawled, “Going home” and “Back to Tripoli.”

 According to The Jews of Libya by Professor Maurice Roumani, some 870 out of the 2,000 Jews in Libya with British passports were deported to Italy as part of the “sfollamento” policy to send away foreign nationals. Members of the same family could be dispersed to Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria – then under pro-Nazi, Vichy French control. Two transports of 300 Jews, and another 120, were shipped from Libya to Naples on cargo trains to Bergen-Belsen and arrived on May 25, 1944. Jews arriving from Libya in Bologna were taken by train to Innsbruck- Reichenau, part of the Dachau camp system, in July 1943.

 Reaching Bergen-Belsen relatively late in the war, the Libyan Jews survived. Some were exchanged for German POWs. They received packages from the Red Cross and obtained some relief in their working conditions. They even managed to keep kosher, exchanging cooked food for dry bread. One Jew, Zion Labi from Benghazi, started a school.

The deportation of Jews from Libya to the northern shores of the Mediterranean gives the lie to the widespread misconception that the Holocaust touched only European Jews.

Although their suffering cannot be compared to the horrors inflicted on the Jews of Eastern Europe, Jews in North Africa were not spared the impact of the war. Some 2,500 Libyan Jews were shipped by the Italian Fascist regime to the notorious Giado labor camp. One fifth died of typhus or starvation. Neighboring Tunisia came under direct Nazi control for six months. Some 2,000 Tunisian Jewish men, wearing the obligatory yellow star, were frog-marched into labor camps. Jews were used as slave labor in Algerian and Moroccan work camps. And all the while, thousands of Jews died in aerial bombardments as the Allied and German armies wrestled for control.

Arguably, North African states, having not yet achieved independence, were not responsible for the anti-Jewish measures adopted by the Vichy regime and the Italian fascists. But apart from individuals who saved Jews, the sympathies of the Arab masses broadly lay with the Germans.

Iraq, independent since 1932, was the scene of a pro-Nazi coup in 1941, leading inexorably to the Farhud, the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht. In this two-day orgy of murder, rape, mutilation and looting, up to 600 Jews were killed, according to British archival records. The exact figure will never be known.

The Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem played a central role in plotting the pro-Nazi coup in Iraq. In exile in Berlin from November 1941 until the end of the war, he broadcast anti-Jewish propaganda to the Arab world. He proved more zealous than the Nazis in promoting the “final solution” to the Jewish question. The mufti is thought to have been directly responsible for 20,000 European Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.

At the end of WWII, the mufti should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. He was indicted, judged and convicted by Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, arising from his pivotal role in the Handschar and Skandeberg SS divisions which deported Balkan Jews from Kosovo, Macedonia and Thrace. But the Allies shrank from offending the Arabs. The mufti remained a hero for tens of thousands. Nazi Germany lavished money and propaganda on the Arab world in the hopes of fomenting an anti-colonial uprising. It funded the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Egypt in 1928. Its founder, Hassan al-Banna, made the Nazi concept of the Jew as the epitome of all-embracing evil, overlaid with traditional anti-Jewish Koranic prejudice, the core of the Brotherhood’s ideology. By the war’s end, the Brotherhood had a million members.

 Shortly after the Belsen survivors had returned to Libya, the Jews of Tripoli and outlying villages suffered a vicious three day pogrom, which claimed the lives of 130 and made thousands of Jews homeless How was this possible barely six months after news of the terrible extermination of the Jews of Europe had reached the Arab world? The November 1945 Libyan riots were a spillover from disturbances in Egypt in which five Jews were murdered. While some blame the clash of Zionism and Arab nationalism, historians report that the rioters in Libya did not shout anti-Zionist slogans. The mob did not even know what Zionism was, a Jewish Agency report stated. It is noteworthy that the Egyptian rioters, incited by the Muslim Brotherhood, targeted Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions as well as Jews.

It is common to view the mass exodus and spoliation of a million Jews from the Arab world as revenge for the displacement of Palestinian Arabs in 1948. A more plausible explanation is that Nazi-inspired blood-and-soil nationalism, and xenophobic Islamism, which had entrenched themselves in the Arab world over the preceding decade, aimed to destroy, or at best, exclude non-Muslim minorities from public and political life.n 1947 the Arab League drafted a plan to treat their Jewish citizens as enemy aliens, before a single Palestinian Arab had fled.

Barely three years after the end of WWII, Arab League member states emulated Nazism with their Nuremberg-style laws, criminalizing Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas, imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. Violence and the threat of violence did the rest. The result was ethnic cleansing of age-old Jewish communities in a single generation.

The ghost of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish bigotry was never exorcised: after WWII, the Arab world gave safe haven to Nazi war criminals on the run. They became military advisers and spin-doctors of Jew-hatred.Adolph Eichmann, Nazi architect of the “final solution,” hoped his “Arab friends” would continue his battle against the Jews, who were always the “principal war criminals” and “principal aggressors.” He hadn’t managed to complete his task of “total annihilation,” but the Muslims could still complete it for him.

Not only has the virus of Nazi anti-Semitism never left the Arab and Muslim world, it has grown exponentially. Muslim immigrants have carried the virus of Jew-hatred back into European countries. Saudi petrodollars have financed the spread of Islamism, with its implicit anti-Semitism, worldwide. Eichmann would have been pleased to see that the Arab world is effectively judenrein: there are no Jews in Libya, and no more than 4,000 in the rest of the Arab world today. The Muslim Brotherhood, and its local Palestinian branch Hamas, al-Qaida, Islamic State and assorted Islamist groups still carry the torch for an ideology born in the Nazi era.

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Jews account for more than 10 percent of Moroccan virus deaths

The coronavirus has disproportionately claimed the lives of Jews around the world. The toll in Morocco is over 10 percent and includes three members of the Peretz family.  Many of the victims became infected when they attended a wedding in Agadir at the beginning of March, Morocco World News reports. 

Rabat – Israeli officials who monitor developments in the Moroccan Jewish community said on April 12 that Moroccan Jews account for more than 10% of Morocco’s COVID-19 deaths.

 According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the officials reported that 13 members of the Moroccan Jewish community in Casablanca died of complications from the virus this week. Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 Jews currently live in Morocco, yet account for 13 of the country’s total 126 COVID-19 deaths. The 10.3% share is disproportionately large, considering Morocco has a total population of 36 million.

 The Israeli officials did not detail the number of Moroccan Jews who are infected with COVID-19, have been hospitalized, or have recovered. The pandemic likely began its spread in the community after hundreds of French guests carrying the virus attended a wedding in Agadir in early March.

 Some wedding guests contracted the virus and then brought it to Casablanca while participating in Purim gatherings and celebrations on March 9 and 10. Moroccan-born Israeli Labor Party leader Amir Peretz announced in late March that two of his relatives were among the dead.

 Ari Peretz, a 52-year-old businessman, died in Casablanca along with his mother Simone. Ari reportedly attended the wedding in Agadir with Jewish businessman Michel Tourgeman, who also died of COVID-19 in Morocco.

 “In the Jewish community, they told of his contribution and the aid he gave to disadvantaged populations, Jews and Arabs,” Israel’s Channel 12 news quoted Peretz as saying. “Even the heads of the state and representatives of the royal court called me to express their sorrow.”

 At the beginning of April, a third relative of the Labor leader, Emil Peretz, succumbed to the virus.

 Top: Rabbi Sholom Edelman, 83,  succumbed to the virus. Above: Dr Amram Ruimy of Casablanca was one of three Moroccan doctors to die. 

 The latest Jewish victims of COVID-19 in Morocco include Rabbi Sholom Eidelman, according to Haaretz. Eidelman, 83, was the emissary of the Orthodox outreach movement in Casablanca and had lived in Morocco for more than 50 years. He ran a kollel, a full-time Jewish learning institution for adults, where he trained generations of rabbis and kosher butchers.

Read article in full

Another Moroccan artiste dies

Popular musician Botbol is fourth Jew to die of coronavirus

Pillar of Casablanca community dies

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Self-imposed curfew as 'dozens' of Iranian Jews allegedly die

Update: reliable sources with good contacts in Iran have since denied that 'dozens' of Jews have died. They say that the total of deaths from coronavirus is four. Many have been hospitalised but have not died.

Iran's 9,000-member Jewish community is suffering food shortages, illness and the 'death of dozens' of its members, Ynet News reports.

 "They were buried at the Jewish cemetery without religious rituals," a member of the community said, "They were covered with burnt lime."

Synagogues remain closed

 Iran is not under any curfew, but the Jewish community has imposed one on its members. The chief Rabbi decided as early as the Purim festival, that all Iranian Jews must avoid danger and stay away from synagogues. All 60 of them around the country remain closed since.

The Book of Esther was read online, and 4,000 people joined the feed. Members of the community say they are not experiencing any anti-Semitism and the authorities are respectful of their faith.

  Read article in full

At least two Jews have died of coronavirus

Monday, April 13, 2020

The 'lawyer' who helps get restitution for Tunisian Jews

This fascinating piece by Aidan Chivers in the Jewish Chronicle casts light on the tracing of title deeds of properties in Tunisia so they can be restituted to  Jewish owners who have fled the country. It is interesting that Moché Uzan would not have been able to do this painstaking work before the Arab Spring; but the authorities may still place bureaucratic obstacles in his path.

Moché Uzan: property restitution takes more of his spare time

This has taken me years.” the assistant to the Chief Rabbi of Tunisia says, pushing a bundle of documents across his cluttered desk.

 “But finally the family has legal ownership of what is rightfully theirs.” Moché Uzan has just established property rights for a family of Tunisian Jews who abandoned their home when they fled the country in the mid-1960s.

This is his most recent case from a personal project to restore the property of Jews who hurriedly left Tunisia at various difficult times over the last century. Many left with nothing to start their lives again.

A Jewish property successfully reclaimed by Moché Uzan

 Alongside his main role as assistant to Rabbi Haim Bittan, this project has been taking up more and more of Mr Uzan’s spare time.

 The work can be laborious, painstaking, and sometimes fruitless. “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone as a career path,” he smiles wryly. He earns a small fee for his time but only if he successfully manages to prove ownership for the families abroad.

 “One case can mean years of effort — with sometimes nothing to show for it at the end.” But when all his research and evidence-gathering comes to fruition, it can be very rewarding.

Read article in full 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Coronavirus claims life of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi

The former (Israel) Sephardi Chief Rabbi, also known as the Rishon Le Zion, died this Sunday evening in Shaarei Zedek hospital, in Jerusalem of the Coronairus. Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron was 79 and had underlying medical issues. Israel National News reports: 

Rabbi Bakshi Doron was admitted to the coronavirus ward of the hospital last week.

The 79-year-old rabbi had come to the hospital for routine treatment, complained of coronavirus symptoms and was sent for examination.

A few hours later, his test came back positive and his family went into isolation. Prior to the announcement of his death, it had been announced that his condition had deteriorated and he was in very serious condition.

 Rabbi Bakshi Doron's funeral is expected to take place in the presence of a limited number of people, in light of the Ministry of Health's guidelines to combat the spread of coronavirus.

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Prominent Syrian Jew dies of coronavirus

With thanks: Michelle

A prominent member of the Syrian community in Brooklyn, NY and Deal, New Jersey,  Stanley Chera, has died of corona virus. He was 78.

Yeshiva World News reports that Mr Chera was a close friend of President Trump, who often mentioned him in speeches.

Stanley Chera died on 11 April,  when the US became the first country to record more than 2,000 deaths  in a single day. More than 20,000 people in the US have now died of the virus.

  Read article in full

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Jews, Muslims and the 'original grudge' theory

Born in Marrakesh, Daniel Sibony brings his background as a psychoanalyst to the question of Jewish-Muslim relations over 13 centuries. He should be commended for swimming against a tide of denial, Lyn Julius writes in JNS News:

Daniel Sibony

In 2013, Princeton published  the first encyclopaedia  on the history of relations between Jews and Muslims, edited by Abdelwahab Meddeb and Benjamin Stora,  from the birth of Islam to  the present day. It is a glossy coffee table book, featuring more than 150 articles by an international team of leading experts'. Its stated objective was 'greater historical understanding and a more informed dialogue between Jews and Muslims.'

One man was not impressed. Daniel Sibony is a French  psycho-analyst and philosopher, and the author of no less than 26 books, most, sadly, not available in English.  Sibony believed that achieving 'greater understanding' and promoting 'dialogue' meant idealising  the true nature of Jewish-Muslim relations during 13 centuries of 'coexistence'. He set out his response to Meddeb and Stora in a book called  Un certain vivre-ensemble: musulmans et juifs dans le monde arabe.'

The book's message may be summed up as follows: "Tell me whom you despise, and I'll tell you who you are.'"

Sibony argues that the Muslim bears the non-Muslim Other an ' original grudge'.  The grudge has coloured Muslim relations with the Jews living amongst them since the Koran was written in the 7th century. The 'grudge' has helped define Muslim identity, he claims.

Going  back to Muhammed's encounter with the Jewish tribes of Arabia, the grudge consists of resentment against the Jews for 'betraying' Muhammed by refusing to follow his new religion. And there is the lingering resentment that the Jews were first out with their Holy Book.

The Jew is cursed by his primordial failure to convert. In fact the very term 'Jew'  - with its associations of uncleanliness and femiminity - was an insult in Morocco. He is condemned to inferior dhimmi status, a system of humiliating handicaps and strictures. He was banned from reading the Koran in case he might criticise it.To argue that the colonial era in Arab lands marked a divorce between Jews and Arabs assumes that there was a marriage in the first place.

Non-Muslims kept the Islamic world afloat through payment of the jizya tax. The ruler levied this tax in order to protect the Jews. But protect them from whom? A hostile populace which had assimiliated the lessons of the Koran and the 'original grudge'.

Living  in the Marrakesh medina in Morocco until he left for France aged 13, Sibony knew the power of the mob. Riots would erupt around the time of the Jewish festivals, to the extent that one Jewish mother preparing her daughter's wedding sought reassurance from a neighbour that his co-religionists were not planning to disrupt the festivities. The ruler could turn the screw on his Jews when he needed them to pay heavier taxes, while threatening to unleash popular violence on them. Today's jihadists, Sibony considers, are mobsters in modern clothing.

The Stora-Meddeb encyclopaedia vaunts the cross-cultural Golden Age in Spain as evidence that Jews and Muslims could coexist in harmony. But Sibony says that culture could exist and flourish side-by-side with a culture of humiliation: even a slave can enjoy a good night's sleep when he takes off his leg-irons. The Encyclopedia, he argues,  emphasises the positive exception to the rule.

But there are plenty of Jews from Morocco willing to testify to the good relations between Jews and Muslims. One reason was that the mob never penetrated the richer quarters, protected by the police - their Jewish residents were insulated from trouble.

Sibony claims that Jews did not want to dwell on the negative: they were too busy living life to the full - a life filled with music, poetry, ritual and faith. Besides, their childhoods were marked by the hope that they would soon be leaving. There were times when Muslims too forgot their 'grudge' -  but it was always there in the background, like a radio whose volume knob had been turned down. The ultimate proof that all was not well between the two communities is the massive exodus of Jews from Arab lands.

Sibony's thesis may be criticised for putting too much emphasis on a dhimmi status abrogated by the colonial era, and for ignoring the influence of European and Nazi antisemitism in the Arab world. But in Morocco, the colonial period was shorter than most, and Sibony still remembers seeing Jews wearing the discriminatory black djellaba in his native Marrakesh. He should be commended for boldly swimming against a tide of denial and distortion.

Read article in full

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Kuwait's Ramadan show focuses on its long-gone Jews

As has become customary at Ramadan, Arab countries  broadcast soap operas to a captive TV audience. This year, Kuwait's offering, Umm Haroun,  is focusing on its erstwhile Jewish community. One might expect a sympathetic, even nostalgic portrayal, in keeping with the trend set by the Egyptian  series Haret al Yahood. 

Jenny, an Iraqi Jew sharing Mizrahi history, summarises the achievements of the Jews of Kuwait, which included establishing the first ice and  sugar factories, on her Twitter feed: 

With its new TV show, Umm Haroun, Kuwait is shedding light on its long-gone Jewish community. Thanks to its location, Kuwait was home to many Jews from Iraq, Persia and even India who escaped their former countries to start anew.

Kuwait was a staging post on the route to India

 The majority of Jews in Kuwait came from Southern Iraq around 1776 when Persian ruler, Sadeq Khan Zand, captured Basra. Jews settled and excelled in trade between Baghdad and India. Jews belonged to the middle class and participated in the development of the country.

Jews mostly lived in Sharq district, Kuwait’s oldest neighborhood. The majority of shops were owned by Jews so that Sharq district was once called “firij al yahud” (the Jewish neighborhood in Gulf Arabic) . The Jewish cemetery is still located in this neighborhood. There was a synagogue in Sharq and Jews had their Sefer Torah. There is no evidence of Jewish schools. Most likely, Jewish kids studied at the “American Missionary school” among Christian and Muslim children.

Many Jews went back to Iraq in 1921 when King Faisal came to rule. The King was very trusting of Jews, in and outside of Iraq ! He even appointed Sassoon Eskell as Minister of Finance.

The Jewish contribution in Kuwait was mostly in business. Saleh Mahlab owned the first ice factory of Kuwait and sold it in 1912 while moving to Iraq. His son, Edward Saleh Mahlab (photo), moved back to Kuwait with his family and maintained close ties with the Al Subah ruling family.

Edward Saleh Mahlab: moved back to Kuwait from Iraq

Eliyahu Al Kuwaiti created the “Eliyahu sugar company” in the 1920’s . He traded sugar and tea with his friend Eliyahu Ibrahim, another Kuwaiti Jew. They both moved to Basra, Iraq, in 1932 and continued their business. They also worked with a Muslim lawyer named Mohamed Ahmed.

Other notable Jewish families contributed to the economy of the country. The Yehezkel family held the franchise to supply electricity to Kuwait for 35 years during the time of the late sheikh Ahmad Al-Jaber. Several Jewish families from Khuzestan had shipping companies.

Musicians Saleh and Daoud Al-Kuwaiti were born in Kuwait in the early 1910’s. They studied music with Khaled al Bakar. Their first hit “walla ajabni jamalech” (by G od I admire your beauty), was composed in their early teens.

In 1914, there were 83 to 100 Jewish families in Kuwait. Most of them had left by 1920. In 1947, the Emir of Kuwait issued a decision to evacuate all Jews from Kuwait. In 1951, Iraqi authorities plotted to dump about 50,000 Iraqi Jews in Kuwait. Today, there are no Jews in Kuwait.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Passover: Celebrate an Iraqi-style seder

The festival of Passover (Pesah) begins tonight with the seder, a ceremonial meal to recall the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. This year will be different from previous years as, for many, the festival will be marked in isolation, as the corona virus pandemic rages. Here is the seder, Iraqi-style, with Rabbi Hagay Batzri. (With thanks: Victor, Lily)


 Part 1 is 20 mins long. For Part 2, click here (20 mins) For Part 3, click here (15 mins)


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Rachel Muyal z"l, a guest at a royal Moroccan seder

Morocco's only female Jewish public intellectual, Rachel Muyal,  died in January 2020.  Writing in Tablet, Vanessa Paloma Elbaz recalls the life and times of this remarkable woman from Tangiers, and how a year ago she was invited  to a Passover seder attended by members of the royal family and their Jewish friends.

Rachel Muyal in the Nahon synagogue, Tangiers

Rachel embodied the tightrope balance that public-facing Jews master in the Muslim world, maintaining her “Tangerine” Judaism of being open to the world, while nurturing her identity as a Jew and a professional woman.

Her job as manager of the Librairie des Colonnes made her the de facto gatekeeper for the American counterculture writer Paul Bowles. Her living room hosted Bowles, Jean Genet, Mohamed Choukri and Tahar Ben Jelloun.

She was the public face of a moment in history that is rapidly escaping the lived experience of younger generations of Moroccans. During the last years of her life, Rachel often mentioned her desire to write a book about the Jews of Tangier and the city’s openness. She often repeated, we lived juntos pero no revueltos, together but not mixed—as in not intermarried.

And she once confided to me, “As a divorced woman, I had many proposals from all sorts of men, and very powerful ones at that. I had to become very creative in finding ways to say no.” Her life was in some ways reminiscent of the Judeo-Spanish song “El Romance de Sol” that was sung in her home on Passover by the rabbi’s wife when they came for lunch. The song tells the story of the beautiful Jewish virgin martyr from Tangier, Sol Hachuel, or Solika, a poor and pious adolescent who preferred death as an accused apostate over conversion to Islam and marrying the sultan. Jewish women in northern Morocco have been singing this song since the 1940s to teach the younger generations not to succumb to assimilation or intermarriage. The main line that is seared into everyone’s memory says I was born a Jew and will die a Jew.

 In the last years of her life, Rachel finally did write her memoirs. On the first day of Passover 2019 she launched La mémoire d’une Tangeroise to a standing room-only crowd during the International Book Fair in Tangier. As she was signing books, the palace’s secretary came over and told her to be ready at 7:30 in front of her house for a car to come and pick her up. She declined, claiming exhaustion, but was reminded that no was not an acceptable answer for the royal family.

 She told me, “I am an expert in pushing food that I can’t eat around my plate, so I wasn’t too worried about going to the palace the night of the second Seder, I wouldn’t eat what was forbidden.”What transpired that night in the Royal Palace of Tangier with four Moroccan Jews and four Muslims of the Alaouite dynasty sheds light on the inner core of Moroccan Judeo-Muslim relations. As the guests were seated at the table, Rachel saw to her surprise that each setting had a Passover Hagaddah by its side. Waiters strode in carrying covered silver platters over their heads. When they uncovered them, the full Seder plate was revealed, karpas, maror, haroset, matzo, everything!” she told me. “We did the full Seder, we did not skip a word, we sang the bibilu, ha lahma anya and did all the plagues, nothing was skipped over.

"I couldn’t believe it. I guess the royal family wants to connect to our glorious moments. And as I was sitting there, I could see the phantoms of the previous sultans walking by. I could see Moulay Abdelaziz, who reigned from 1894–1908 and died in 1943 in Tangier. His grandson was sitting with us at the table that night. I kept on thinking, ‘we are doing Passover, our Jewish moment of royalty, sitting at a true royal table, a table of kings.’ In Tangier we Jews call our children ‘my king’ because we consider all our descendants to be royalty.”

Read article in full

Monday, April 06, 2020

Another Moroccan-Jewish artiste dies

Update: 11 Moroccan Jews have died of the corona virus, including three members of the Peretz family (Times of Israel)


 Another Jewish music artiste has died from coronavirus, bringing the total of number of deaths in  Morocco to 76. Singer Michel Abikzer from Kinor David Maroc, passed away in Casablanca.

Fellow singer Vanessa Paloma writes: 'A sweet and generous man who, when he saw me, was always wanting to speak in Haketia and remember his mother's proverbs and songs. Deepest condolences to his wife and children and to all his friends.'

Popular musician Botbol is fourth Moroccan Jew to die of coronavirus

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Try a different Haroset recipe for Pesah

As Passover (Pesah) approaches, thoughts turn to preparing the Seder plate, whose ingredients symbolise different stages in the liberation of the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Central is Haroset, which symbolises the mortar used by the Israelites as slaves (some communities even mix brick dust with their Haroset). Here are some recipes From The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden (via 

The seder plate

  Ashkenazi Haroset
On the Passover seder plate, haroset symbolizes the mortar used by slaves in Egypt. These are the classic Eastern European ingredients. Only the proportions vary.
 2 medium-sized tart apples 1/2 cup (50 g) walnuts, chopped, 1/2 – 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 – 3 tablespoons sweet red wine, 1 tablespoon sugar or honey or to taste.   Peel, core, and finely chop or grate the apples. Mix with the rest of the ingredients

  Haroset from Turkey
2 sweet apples weighing 1/2 lb (250 g), peeled and cut into small pieces 1/2 lb (250 g),dates, pitted 1 cup (150 g) raisins, Juice and grated zest of 1 orange, 1 cup (250 ml) sweet red Passover wine, 2 – 4 tablespoons sugar or to taste (optional) 2 oz (60 g) walnuts, coarsely chopped

 Put all the ingredients except the sugar and the walnuts together in a saucepan and cook on very low heat until the mixture is soft and mushy and the liquid is reduced, stirring occasionally. Add sugar to taste. The amount will depend on the sweetness of the other ingredients. Blend to a paste in the food processor. Pour into a bowl and sprinkle with walnuts.

  Haroset from Egypt
1/2 lb (250 g) pitted dates, chopped 1/2 lb (250 g) large yellow raisins or sultanas, 1/2 cup (125 ml) sweet red Passover wine, 1/2 cup (60 g) walnuts coarsely chopped.  Put the dates and sultanas with the wine in a pan. Add just a little water to cover. Cook on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the dates fall apart into a mush. Cook until it thickens to a soft paste. Pour into a bowl and sprinkle with walnuts.

  Haroset from Morocco

 1 lb (500 g) dates, pitted and chopped, 1-1/2 cups sweet red Passover wine, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 cup (125 g) walnuts, coarsely chopped.   Put the dates into a pan with the wine, cinnamon, and cloves and simmer, stirring occasionally, until you have a soft paste. Put through the food processor if you want a smoother texture. Let it cool and stir in the walnuts.

 Libyan version is flavored with ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves — 1/4 teaspoon of each.

NB Iraqi Haroset consists of date syrup (silan) mixed with crushed walnuts

Syrian Haroset: recipe at the base of this article (thank you Gina)

Past posts about Passover