Friday, July 31, 2020

Seth Rogen ignores that most Israelis descend from refugees

For those who have never heard of him, Seth Rogen is a Canadian-Jewish actor. Rogen has raised a firestorm with his controversial remarks about Israel, which he claims is 'antiquated and ridiculous'. He was never made aware of the fact 'other people' lived there. He says he has been fed a huge amount of lies about Israel.

Too true, he and many 'woke' celebrities like him, have  swallowed a great deal of pro-Palestinian lies and propaganda.

David Harsanyi writes in National Review:

"I was once a young Jewish person growing up in similar cultural circumstances to Rogen’s, and anyone with basic cognitive abilities understood that “other people” lived in Israel. It was “other people” who launched pogroms against Jews in 1920s and 1930s. It was the “other people” who allied with Hitler during World War II, continuing to stoke violence against Jews, making the formation of a peaceful multiethnic state impossible. It was the “other people” who rejected the United Nations partition plan and launched an all-out war against Jews only three years after the concentration camps were liberated. It was “other people” who initiated wave after wave of terrorism against Jewish civilians — years before there were any “occupied” territories in the West Bank. It was “other people” who rejected dozens of peace offerings from 1948 onward. And yet, some of those “other people” still reside in Israel and enjoy more liberal rights than Arabs do in any Arab nation."

Absent, as usual with pro-Palestinian Hollywood personalities moving in  comfortable, privileged, assimilated circles, is any awareness of the need for Israel for the vast majority of Israeli Jews - refugees or descendants of refugees.

Siamak Kordestani of JIMENA tweeted: 'and how much did you learn in your schools about the many thousands of Mizrahi Jews  ethnically cleansed  from Arab lands in the 1940s and 1950s'?

For rebuttals to Rogen, see Shany Mor in The Forward, Aaron Bandler in Jewish Journal , Shahar Azani and Dani Ishai Behan in Times of Israel. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Israel is not a European colony

Sherry Sufi PhD is a pro-Israel Australian intellectual with a keen interest in the Middle East. In this Times of Israel blog, he cautions against using the argument that Israel cannot be an outpost of European colonialism because most of its Jewish residents never left the Middle East.  The indigeneity argument must apply to Jews in Europe and the US: all Jews, wherever they live,  belong to a distinctly semitic Middle eastern civilisation, he argues. (With thanks: Dani)

Sherry Sufi, PhD

What’s even more important is to avoid responding in a way that defeats its own purpose. For instance, a popular argument often seen floating around on social media says:

 • Most Jews in Israel today didn’t even come from Europe.
 • 2/3rds came from other Middle Eastern or North African countries.
 • They have had greater influence on Israeli cuisine and music.
• So it follows that Israel can’t exactly be a European colony.

The premise here is spot on. Those Jews who came from Israel’s neighbouring lands are to be saluted for their continued sacrifices in service to the Jewish state using their bilingual capabilities and intimate understanding of hostile forces. Yet the conclusion has a hidden flip side.

It concedes that when Jewish exiles from Europe did make up the majority of Jews in pre-state Israel between the first aliyah (1882) and independence (1948), that was a European colony. It also implies that if Jews from Europe or America were to ever become the majority in Israel through mass aliyah, that would again make it a European colony. These are misleading implications.

More Jews live outside Israel than within it.

3/4ths of the world’s Jewish population is made up of exiles who lived in Europe and by extension, America. An argument like the one above compromises their identity and status as native Middle Easterners. Remember, they are as Jewish and as authentically Middle Eastern as Jews elsewhere. They have kept the same traditions in exile as did their counterparts who remained within the Middle East and North Africa.

No one denies that the Zoroastrian Parsees that have lived in India for centuries are the natives of Persia (Iran). Though they have not been physically present on Iranian soil for over a thousand years, their historic and civilisational connection is undeniable.

That connection will remain intact so long as the Zoroastrian Parsees resist efforts to assimilate and dissolve into another civilisational identity.

The same is true in the Jewish case.

So the argument in response to the anti-Israel world view needs to be tighter than the above. All Jews belong to the same civilisation — Am Yisrael — a distinctly Semitic Middle Eastern civilisation.

Read article in full

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Gisèle Halimi, rebel with a feminist cause, has died

Tunisian-born Gisèle Halimi has died aged 93. Rebelling against the misogyny of her family, she made her name fighting for feminist causes as a lawyer in France, and defended an Algerian woman accused of planting a bomb during the war of independence in 1960. Obituary in Le Monde:

To describe Gisèle Halimi, who died on 28 July, the day after her birthday, two words spring to mind: fighter and rebel.

On July 27, 1927, in the district of La Goulette, in Tunis, when Zeiza Gisèle Elise Taïeb was born, no one was celebrating. As she recounts in La Cause des femmes (Grasset, 1974), her father, Edouard,was so upset to have had a daughter that he took several weeks to tell his friends about her   birth. A father who does not like daughters will nevertheless passionately love "his" daughter.

Relations between Gisèle and her mother had always been difficult, as she writes in Le Lait de l'Oranger (Gallimard, 1988), a moving autobiographical story, and in Fritna (Plon, 2000) . Mme Taieb would have probably wanted a more compliant daughter.

The young Gisèle rebels against everything, going as far as to embark on a hunger strike at the age of 10 to demand the right to learn to read. She challenges the religious beliefs of her Jewish family by refusing to kiss the mezuzah before going to class.

At 16, she refused an arranged marriage, pursued her law studies in France, returned to Tunis and enrolled at the Bar in 1949. The rebel she had always been became an activist - first for the independence of her country. Though she became French, she never gave up her (Tunisian) nationality. She always loved Tunisia and returned there regularly. In Paris, she loved to cook Tunisian dishes for her friends.

Settling in France in 1956 and marrying Paul Halimi, a civil administrator, she changed her name and gave birth to two sons. She divorced, while keeping the name by which she made herself best known, and married Claude Faux, who was Jean-Paul Sartre's secretary. She has a third son with him. Never a girl. This is perhaps why she had, a close relationship with her grand-daughter that she explores in Histoire d'une passion (Plon, 2011), her last published book.

  Read article in full (French)

Israel should build on changing Arab attitudes to Jews

In the wake of the Ramadan screening of Umm Haroun, the TV series which projects a more sympathetic view of Jews, Israel should build on the warming relations with Gulf states and Saudi Arabia to advance dialogue and the peace process with the Palestinians, argues Ksenia Svetlova in the Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Beatrice)

A screenshot from Umm Haroun

Saudi Arabia’s latest binge-worthy television series has an unlikely subject: Umm Haroun, produced for the month of Ramadan, depicts life in the Jewish community of Kuwait in the 1940s. It is far from coincidental that the show is aired on the Saudi MBC channel, flying in the face of harsh Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns and radical Islamic criticism. Arab and Muslim states’ interests in Judaism and the Jews has been growing quietly for around a decade. The gradual rapprochement can be seen in official meetings and rabbis’ visits to Arab capitals; the restoration, renovation and establishment of synagogues in Egypt, Morocco and Dubai; messages of reconciliation from Arab leaders; moderate legislation in several states; positive remarks by senior Muslim clerics and even, as Umm Haroun demonstrates, in literary and cinematic endeavors.

 The changing tides are inherently linked to sweeping geopolitical developments in the Middle East throughout the past two decades, from 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq, to the Arab Spring and the ascent of Iran. Since 1948, Arab regimes have officially sought to distinguish between Jews and the State of Israel, preempting Israel and the West’s accusations of antisemitism. Yet, their artificial distinction did not prevent them turning on their Jewish residents, expropriating their property, excluding them from public life and ultimately expelling them. Thus although the official line of Arab regimes always targeted the State of Israel and the Zionist movement, it appeared that 1,400 years of Muslim-Jewish and Arab-Jewish co-existence had ended abruptly. From Egyptian and Syrian caricaturists depicting Jews as malicious parasites to Saudi Arabian stores banning ‘dogs and Jews,’ relations were far from warm.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Scores of discriminatory laws were passed against Iraqi Jews

With thanks: Michal

Seventy years on from the mass emigration of Jews from Iraq, the full extent of state-sanctioned discrimination against them  - and the  community which stayed behind -  is not fully appreciated.

At a conference on the Jews of Iraq held at London's SOAS in September 2019, Khairuldeen al-Makhzoomi of Georgetown university enumerated dozens of laws and decrees passed by Iraq's government against Jews, despite the fact that they were nominally Iraqi citizens.

Kahiruldeen al-Makhzoomi making his presentation at the London conference at SOAS

Law 51 of 1948 added Zionism to the criminal code. From then on, Jews could be arrested, tried and even executed for 'Zionism'. Law1 of 1950 permitted Jews to leave Iraq legally on condition that their citizenship was revoked. The law was in force for a year.

Law 5 passed in urgent session in  March 1951 froze the property of Iraqi Jews stripped of their citizenship. In 1954 such property was open to public bidding.

There was an attempt to draw an equivalence between the confiscation of Jewish property and compensation for dispossessed Palestinian refugees.

 Law 12 set up a Secretariat to manage confiscated Jewish property. From 1951 - 56 several decrees  were passed, seizing, managing, disposing and liquidating Jewish property. These decrees piled on the pressure on Jews still living in Iraq.

However, not all newspapers supported the government's anti-Jewish  policy. Nor did all the religious authorities.

In spite of attempts by General Kassam, who overthrow the royalist regime in 1958 -  to affirm that Jews were equal citizens,  his successor General Aref rescinded Law 11 encouraging Jews to return.  In 1963, Law 161 introduced yellow identity cards for Jews, several of whom changed their names.

Other laws banned the sale of Jewish property and limited the amounts that could be paid to Jews.

The Baath regime passed a host of discriminatory laws. In 1981, the management of seized Jewish property came under the remit of the ministry of  finance.

One law, no 643, targeted the extensive property and assets of a single Jew - Ezra Menahem Daniel, although Daniel lived and died in Iraq.

To see video of al-Makhzoomi's presentation (29 mins), click here.

More about the SOAS 'Jews of Iraq' Conference 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Moroccan lentil soup for Tisha B'Ab

This week falls the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and other catastrophes, such as the Expulsion from Spain. It is customary not to eat meat, drink wine, cut hair or listen to live music. Here is a recipe for Tish b'Ab Lentil Soup, courtesy of Dafina,  by Moroccan-born chef Soly Anidjar, who now lives in Ashdod. 

The custom of Tisha B' Ab is to consume a dish of lentil as a sign of mourning for all the misfortunes that have happened on that day for generations. The 9th of Av has indeed become the symbol of the misfortunes of the Jewish people and it is true that at all times, dramatic events  - such as the Expulsion from Spain - have marked the history of the Jewish people on the 9th of the month of Ab.



500 g green lentils (soaked in advance)
 4 tablespoons of oil
 2 medium onion, grated
 2 stalks of celery, trimmed
 20 sprigs of coriander
 a piece of diced pumpkin
 3 grated tomatoes
 2 litres of water,
 1 teaspoon of salt
 a pinch of pepper
 1 teaspoon of turmeric
 4 bay leaves


 Rinse the lentils well. Heat the oil in a casserole dish and sauté the onion for two minutes. Add to the casserole all the vegetables,  then the diced pumpkin, the lentils, turmeric, salt, pepper, bay leaves.

 Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for one hour in a pressure cooker; without a pressure cooker for some two hours,  until the vegetables are tender.

More posts about Tisha b'Ab

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Israel's silent US partners facilitated mass emigrations

They may now be in disarray, but historically, Jewish organisations such as the Joint Distribution Committee were crucial, if unacknowledged, partners in facilitating and  bankrolling the smuggling of Jews via Iran, and later, the massive airlift transporting  Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1950 -1, Shulamit Binah  claims in  her Times of Israel blog:

Iraqi Jews waiting in Iran before boarding to Israel photo: JDC)

Documents found in the archives of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) reveal the crucial role played by American Jewish Organizations.

They facilitated the operation through diplomacy, political connections, and media attention as well as financial support and care to Iraqi Jewish refugees. The AJC led the diplomatic effort vis-à-vis the State Department, the United Nations, and the American media. They were well aware of the furious reactions of the Arab world to the Declaration of Independence of the state of Israel and defined the local Jews as enemies, spies, and agents provocateurs.

 The AJC worked in accordance with the newly formed Israeli state institution. Led by Foreign minister Moshe Sharett and through the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Mission to the UN in New York, Israel was trying to utilize the ongoing US-UK negotiations over the issue of providing technical and military assistance to Iraq, which, seemingly, could provide a useful inroad into the Baghdad government.

 There was a lot of humanitarian work to be done in Iran as well. Since Iraq did not allow American NGOs’ presence within its borders, the JDC was operating from Iran using its long experience with displaced refugees.  Until the beginning of direct flights from Baghdad in the “Ezra and Nehemiah” operation, Iraqi Jews fled illegally to Iran, taking the risk of arrests, abuse, and even murder. In most cases, they bribed their way through Kurdistan and arrived to Iran practically penniless.

 The JDC had already been busy assisting some 8,000 Iraqi Jews who fled illegally to Iran; they helped to secure Iranian permits; they addressed local animosities and arranged the Israel-bound flights. JDC set a “transit camp” in the old Jewish cemetery, called ironically Beheshti (Eden, in Farsi). Stanley Abramowitch, the JDC Iran country director, described a grim picture of crowded communities with health and sanitation issues and stressed the urgent need for funds and relief.

 In late 1949 through January 1950, he sent detailed requests for funding beyond the ongoing expenditure. Those additional funds were to be earmarked for accommodation, basic equipment such as beds and blankets, dispensary water installations, and stoves in preparation for the harsh Iranian winter.

Read article in full

Friday, July 24, 2020

Jewish buildings still stand in Iraq

The Jews may have gone from Iraq, but some of their buildings are still standing, although they have clearly been abandoned. These are two ornate examples of a school in the Nasriya governorate and a family home in Abu Sefen, Baghdad. 
(With thanks: Kobi A.)

Above is a Jewish school dating back more than 100 years. It is in the Suq Al Shuyukh, Dhi Qar Governorate, 29 kms south of Nasriyah. More photos here. 

Below is a Jewish house in the Mahalla (Jewish quarter) ofAbu Sefen, Baghdad. The year in which the house was built is indicated in Hebrew numerals above the door: 5775. This is 1928 in the Gregorian calendar.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Can a Jew reclaim his or her 'Arab' heritage?

The spectre of the 'Arab Jew' rises again. Writing in Hey Alma,  which describes itself as a Jewish feminist publication, Talia Aharoni has mixed ancestry - her mother is Ashkenazi - but she is now identifying as an 'Arab Jew' - although the Mizrahi side of her family reject such a label. See my comment, and that of Hen Mazzig below (with thanks: Michelle) :

 "The existence of the Arab Jew — the indigenous, brown-skinned Jew — has the power to crumble long-standing dogmas. For one, the idea that Jews and Arabs are inherently at odds, that one is the antithesis of the other, and that the so-called “gaps” between the peoples are so vast as to never be reconciled. These types of nuances can be uncomfortable for those who are quick to file away information into perfectly neat labels in their mind. The Arab Jew defies broad categorization. Even many Mizrahis tend not to think of themselves as Arab. Many, including members of my own Mizrahi family, become indignant — offended, even — at the insinuation. They’ve been told the same story: Jews can never be Arabs.

But in believing this, they deny themselves a part of their heritage — the thousands of years of shared history in the Levant, North Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. The spices and foods, dances and folklore. Even the values — the hospitality and generosity of spirit, the piety and modesty of character, and of course, the hectic and often heated exchanges — all endemic to the Middle East, irrespective of faith.

 When I was younger, I wasn’t interested in embracing my Mizrahi side. As the daughter of a diplomat, I’d spent my childhood split between the U.S. and Israel. But our home base was a small suburb outside of Jerusalem by the name of Mevaseret Tsion, which was originally founded as a transit camp for Jewish refugees from Iraq and Kurdistan. My classmates were a diverse bunch — Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and many mixed, like myself. But the overtly Mizrahi kids, the ones who spoke with guttural “chets,” ate spicy sandwiches and kubeh for lunch, and blasted Mizrahi music out of their cell phones, were often branded as “arsim” and “frehot,” Hebrew terms which loosely mean dumb and trashy.

 And so, for many years, I internalized this and denied my Mizrahi culture; it was easier to tuck it away, shove it in some faraway cabinet, and not risk, God forbid, being called a “freha.” I shied away from spicy condiments like zhug and amba, renounced Mizrahi music altogether, and often told those who’d questioned my ethnicity that I wasn’t “a real Mizrahi” — whatever that meant. I’d believed that in order to be taken seriously, I needed to shirk that part of my identity. I met no resistance within my own Mizrahi family, because sadly, most of them had done the same.

 Five years ago, I moved to New York City. On the other side of the Atlantic, enshrouded in blissful anonymity, I began to change. Slowly, I found myself chipping away at the barriers, the prejudices that had allowed me to suppress entire facets of myself. I gave myself permission to wonder, ask questions, and reexamine the stories I’d been told."

 Read article in full 

My comment:There are several reasons for Aharoni's confused identity: Since she nw lives in New York, it is likely that she has been influenced by 'progressive' anti-Zionist thought which questions the artificial 'binary' division between Jew and Arab created by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Has she stopped to define what is 'Arab'? Does she not mean 'Levantine'. or Middle Eastern'? How is 'Arab' different from 'Bedouin'? The late scholar Sasson Somekh said that no Jew could call himself 'Arab' unless he was fluent in Arabic and steeped in Arabic literature and culture (I would doubt Aharoni qualifies). Does she not really mean 'Arabic' Jew of culture, as Jews and Arabs have always been separate ethnicities? Lastly, it is no longer true that Israel disparages Arab culture - Middle Eastern food and music are now see as cool among Israeli youth. Lastly, as Hen Mazzig argues below, the 'Arab Jew' label is an imperialist device to deny Jews a distinctive identity.

Hen Mazzig comments,  quoting an earlier article he wrote for the Jerusalem Post: 
 Since this is being brought up again, by Hey Alma, that decided to publish a piece arguing Mizrahim are actually “Arab Jews”: “These scholars brand themselves as “Arab Jews” and subversives when they are in fact run of the mill pan-Arab nationalists. The term “Arab Jew” subverts Zionism because it is Arab nationalist/imperialist orthodoxy. Arab nationalists/ imperialists reject Jewish national identity and political power, while they generally accept Jewish religion. The term “Arab Jew” encapsulates this rejection. The greater issue is that there is a misguided school of thought dominating global academia which is distorting the whole imperial and colonial history of the region. There have been several nations that have acted as empires in the region, conquering, settling and dominating peoples outside their own homeland. These have been the Arabs, Turks and Iranians, and more recently the British, French and Italians. The Jews, in contrast, have merely returned to their only homeland. Israel is the only Jewish state in the world and 0.03% of the entire Middle East.” 

Read article in full

What are we to make of Massoud Hayoun?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The wisdom of Peter Beinart's grandmother

Peter Beinart now advocates a bi-national state in Palestine. But he has never needed Zionism and appears to have internalised today's 'woke' categories which pass over in silence the oppression of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, such as his own Egyptian-born grandmother, argues Lyn Julius in Fathom. 

Lyn Julius at Jewish Book Week in 2018
At the beginning of July, Peter Beinart, bellwether of US Jewish liberalism, sent shockwaves rippling through the Jewish world when he penned a long essay disavowing Zionism and advocating, in place of Israel, a bi-national state where Palestinians and Israelis would enjoy ‘equal’ rights.
Many critics have pointed out that ‘Beinartistan’,  as one described it, would soon become yet another Muslim Arab state with a vanishing Jewish minority. And if Islamic fundamentalists have their way, its Jews would swiftly find themselves reverting to the status of dhimmis’, with few rights under Muslim religious law.
How come a liberal like Beinart has bought into such a ‘dangerous delusion? Because he has never needed Zionism and because he appears to have internalised today’s ‘woke’ categories, which see Jews as benefiting from ‘white privilege’. He seems to want to promote, in the words of Einat Wilf, ‘Jewish powerlessness in an effort to restore [Jewish] moral purity.’
In progressive Western circles, Zionism has become decidedly un-cool. Self-declared Zionists, like the writer Bari Weiss, complain of bullying at the New York Times. In the vogue for identity politics, Jews are framed as white oppressors.
This postmodern conceptual straightjacket perverts historical truths. It dictates that only ‘people of colour’ can be victims, while the oppression of one million Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of pre-Islamic Jewish communities, among other minorities, from the Arab Muslim world from the 1940s, the subject of my book Uprooted!, must be passed over in silence.
The long history of oppression of Mizrahi Jews in the Arab Middle East is the key to understanding the main drivers of the conflict with Israel – an Arab and Muslim inability to tolerate difference, to co-exist with minorities, and an abhorrence for any exercise of Jewish power.
Yet in the Western progressive mind, bound tight as it is by the postmodern conceptual straitjacket, only Palestinians can be victims. The Mizrahi Jews are airbrushed out of public discourse. In the current jargon, they are ‘cancelled’. In this topsy-turvy world, merely to draw attention to Arab and Muslim antisemitism invites accusations of racism or ‘Islamophobia’.
Progressive orthodoxy even denies Jewish indigeneity, as one woke Manhattan rabbi recently tried to do, perhaps because it conflicts with the false settler-colonial paradigm which the left habitually applies to Israel. The fact that over 50 per cent of Israeli Jews have roots in the Middle East is simply ignored.Most Israeli Jews found refuge in the only state that would defend them unconditionally from persecution. By empowering Palestinians at the expense of Jewish Israelis, Beinart and other anti-Zionists would once again put Jewish destiny in the hands of others.
Someone who did appreciate the absolute need for Zionism was Peter Beinart’s Egyptian-Jewish grandmother, Adele Pienaar. Born in Alexandria, she was driven out by Arab nationalism. In an 2014 elegyhe wrote: ‘The lessons she drew from her experience of vulnerability and dislocation were straightforward: Jews should be on the lookout for trouble and should take care of each other since no one else would … her nightmare for Israel was that Arab nationalism would imperil its Jews in the way that Arab nationalism had imperilled Alexandria.’
Beinart’s essay, in effect, disparages his grandmother’s ‘tribal’ and instinctive Zionism in order to virtue signal to a narrow liberal intellectual milieu. It is a tragedy that he thinks the imperilment of Israel is a price worth paying for that, as the ‘vulnerability’ and ‘peril’ his Grandmother knew has not gone from this world. As for the Middle East, only a fool would think the Jews will continue to thrive without a state of their own.

Read article in full

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The rival Iraqi-Jewish dynasties who opened up China

A new book by Jonathan Kaufman explores the story of two rival,   intertwined Iraqi-Jewish entrepreneurial families, the Sassoons and the Kadoories, who opened up China to the world. It is interesting that David Sassoon, the founder of the Sassoon dynasty, was forced to leave Iraq by Ottoman harassment. Extract from Tzach Yoked's Haaretz article: 

Sir Elly Kadoorie with his sons Lawrence (left) and Horace

The story begins with the Sassoons, an aristocratic family that lived in Baghdad for 800 years and was one of its wealthiest families.

Because of its social, political and economic status, which extended well beyond the bounds of the Jewish community, the head of the family was granted the title “Nasi” – a Hebrew honorific meaning “Prince of the Jews” – by the Ottoman Empire. “In the 18th century, Baghdad was a crossroads of trade, people were coming from all over the Middle East, even from China,” Kaufman tells Haaretz in a recent phone interview from his home, outside Boston.

“And all these people would pass through the Sassoons’ house, because they knew they were the most important traders in Baghdad.” But hundreds of years of economic success and social integration came to an end one morning in 1829. David Sassoon, who was 37 and had been groomed from childhood to inherit leadership of the family empire, was kidnapped and jailed by the Ottoman authorities in Baghdad. They threatened to hang him if the family did not pay a high ransom for his release.

 “Desperate for money to boost a collapsing economy, the Turks began harassing and imprisoning the Sassoons and other wealthy Jews, demanding ransom,” Kaufman writes.  The harassment dealt a devastating blow to the family. The Sassoons lost their wealth and influence and decided to leave everything and start anew, elsewhere. David Sassoon believed in the integrity and decency of the British, Kaufman notes, and after his family ransomed him, he decided to move with his wife and eight children to Bombay (today Mumbai), where the British were opening up trade routes. Other Jews followed suit.

Sassoon became an Anglophile, studying British history, hiring a tutor to teach his children English and even arranging for the text of “God Save the Queen” to be translated into his native Judeo-Arabic – Arabic written in Hebrew script.

 Read article in full

Monday, July 20, 2020

Kurdish medium explores Jewish exodus from Iraq

The emptying of Iraq of its Jews is not a subject that Kurds wish to shy away from. It is the focus of this article by Holly Johnston in the Kurdish  news medium Rudaw English. 

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Bertha Bekhor was 15 years old when a man knocked frantically at the door of her Baghdad home, on a warm June evening in 1941. Violence was sweeping across Iraq's capital, targeted at one group – the Jews.

 "A man came to the house, banging on the door to be let in. He was a Jew, and was pale and trembling. He said he'd been on a bus and rioters began pulling Jews off the bus. He told them he was a Christian and ran as fast as his legs could carry him," Bertha’s daughter Lyn Julius told Rudaw English. The experience left Bertha’s family "traumatised", her father applying for passports the very next day so that they could leave the country they called home.

A 1998 service in the last functioning synagogue in Baghdad, Meir Tweg.

 The Farhud, Arabic for 'to dispose of something with violence,' saw upwards of 100 Jewish people killed on the first two days of June 1941, in bloody mob brutality that "broke the trust" between the Jews – then numbering up to 150,000 – and Iraq’s Muslim majority. Violence targeted at Iraq’s Jewish community by no means began with the Farhud.

Bertha, now 94, told her daughter of "frequent disturbances" throughout her childhood – including being hid from mobs brandishing tarred clubs on an anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a British government statement declaring support for a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine.

 But the Farhud did kickstart a new, deadlier wave of anti-Semitic violence that would see the country virtually emptied of its Jewish community by the end of the twentieth century. Bertha and her husband fled Iraq in 1950 for the United Kingdom, where Lyn was born and raised.

Lyn now runs Harif – an organization dedicated to educating people about the struggle of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, where Jewish communities are all but extinct in most countries across the region. Bertha “was happy to leave, although it was very hard for her," Lyn told Rudaw English via telephone. "I've often asked her about it, and she has no nostalgia at all.”

Read article in full

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Israel is a tiny enclave defending persecuted Jews

If the two-state solution is no longer the preferred answer to the Middle East conflict, what is?  Whether you agree or not with his proferred solutions for the Palestinians of the West Bank, this clear-sighted Newsweek op-ed by Yishai Fleischer is a refreshing attempt to give much-needed context to the debate.  

Joseph's tomb near Nablus, restored after an arson attack

To answer the question, let's zoom out.

The heavily-Islamic Middle East and North Africa is a large region: six million square miles, twice the size of the continental United States. It is inhabited by 570 million Muslims (406 million Arabs, 82 million Turks and 82 million Iranians) across over 20 states. Within this region, there are a few tiny islands of independent non-Arab entities. One example is the Autonomous Kurdish Region in northern Iraq, with a population of five million. The Kurds, while mostly Muslim, live in constant tensions with their neighbors, who would love to swallow up their land.

 Similarly, there is another small non-Arab group living in a regional enclave: the Jews. About seven million Jews populate an independent ethnic-national state called Israel. This Jewish state is located in the heart of the Arab world and is the size of the state of New Jersey—only one-sixth of one percent of the Muslim world's sprawling landmass.

American progressives cast Israel as a powerful Western giant, accusing it of denying rights to Palestinians. But that image is warped. The truth is that Israel is a tiny country tasked with defending a persecuted minority. Jews have no rights in the neighboring Arab states and, in fact, have been ethnically cleansed from those states. After Israel declared independence in 1948, 99 percent of Middle Eastern Jews—850,000 people—were purged from the Arab countries.

 Like the hostile Arab countries, the Palestinian movement, in its various iterations, has always been a machine for ethnically cleansing Jews. In 1929, they ethnically cleansed the Jews of Hebron, and in 1948, they did the same to the Old City of Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. In 2000, they evicted the Jews from the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem/Nablus and destroyed it.

By law, no Jews are allowed to own property within the Palestinian Authority, and an Arab selling land to a Jew there is liable for capital punishment. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority incites to liberate "all of Palestine" and pays terrorists who have murdered Jews $400 million in annual rewards.

 Beinart's idea of a bi-national Israel-Palestine, whose democratically elected Arab leaders would certainly work to undermine Jewish defenses from within, would defeat the whole purpose of the independent Jewish state in the first instance.

Read article in full

Anti-Zionists want Jews to revert to being dhimmis

Friday, July 17, 2020

BBC Arabic fails to interview Mizrahim now living in Israel

When BBC Arabic promised to investigate the views of Jews who had moved to Israel from Arab Countries, CAMERA Arabic was hopeful that the broadcaster would introduce some balance into its content. Disappointingly, a second programme in  the BBC 'Xtra' series  interviewed an anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi, and an Iraq-born Jew who had once lived in Israel but now lives in London (with thanks: Lucille):

The BBC Arabic programme 'Xtra' interviewed an anti-Zionist Ashkenazi

The highlighted question is a seemingly promising novelty since Jewish Israelis have been largely excluded from the discourse surrounding Middle Eastern Jews in Arabic language media and their opinions seldom sought, even when mentioned.

That exclusion is particularly notable given that Israelis make up well over 99% of the Jews who live in the region today, that the vast majority of Jews with Mizrahi ancestry now live in Israel and that they form a majority among the Jews of Israel.

In a previous “Xtra” programe broadcast eleven days earlier which dealt with the Jews of North Africa (the Maghreb), the BBC had shown some signs of taking a different path. The program featured a brief interview with a Jewish man, Amnon Sofer from the Israeli city of Ashkelon, who visited his birthplace in Tunisia which he left as a toddler fifty years ago. As Sofer was shown walking down a street in Djerba, the voiceover of a Tunisian Rabbi was heard, pointing out one of the most politically sensitive aspects of the issue of Middle Eastern Jews: “One cannot enter [Tunisia,] his land, […] without the consent of a high official, just because he departed to live in Israel.”

What then was “the view of the Jews who moved to Israel” presented in this second program? The BBC’s attempt to present an answer to the question they themselves posed was weak at best. The first of the programme’s items was based on a complete distortion of the question through the “exoneration of Zionism” lens, featuring a person who was introduced as a “Jew of Palestine” and who identifies completely with the campaign to deprive Jews in Israel of their right of self-determination.

The last item was more appropriate but had one major flaw: the interviewee, despite being an Israeli citizen who was unafraid to speak favourably of the country (a view rarely aired by BBC Arabic), had only lived in Israel between 1973-1987 and has resided in London ever since.

  Read article in full

More analyses by  CAMERA Arabic

Thursday, July 16, 2020

How a Mizrahi activist 'flipped' an antisemitic hashtag

When a group of white supremacists started a Twtter hashtag 'Jewish privilege', Jewish experience would once again end up being erased or distorted beyond recognition. That's when Hen Mazzig and other Jews decided to 'flip' the hashtag by turning it into an educational moment. Before long, the hashtag was trending their way. Read Hen's excellent piece in NBC News:

Celebrity Sarah Silverman was among Jews sharing tweets illustrating lack of 'Jewish privilege'

The virtual mob of anti-Semites sparked flashbacks to my Iraqi grandma retelling stories of surviving the Farhud, a massacre in which a real-life mob of Iraqis murdered all the Jews they could in Baghdad back in 1941. Just as Twitter did not stop the hashtag, the world fell silent during the Farhud, and its horrors are rarely mentioned today.

On Sunday, I decided I had to do something, to take action for my grandmother Hela. So I urged Jews on Twitter to share their personal stories to refute the #JewishPrivilege falsehood. In a matter of hours, my message had been liked and retweeted thousands of times. And the hashtag was being used again and again by Jews sharing their experiences of discrimination, violence, exile and mass murder.

 Their survival stories were heartbreaking. But I went to sleep feeling empowered. When I woke up, the hashtag was trending again — but this time, because Jews were using it, not anti-Semites. The tweeters included celebrities who often talk about their Jewishness, such as comedians Sarah Silverman and David Baddiel, as well as others who are not as outspoken about their heritage, including actor Josh Gad, former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson and “The Wire“ creator David Simon.

Their posts were not only focused on the Holocaust and historic anti-Semitism, but also on the discrimination and the bigotry that they personally were subjected to much more recently in Christian-dominated societies. Minorities have criticized social media platforms’ refusal to take action against online hate for years, and since we cannot depend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now TikTok to protect us, we need to take action ourselves. By “flipping” a social media attack, any minority group can take a bigoted online trend and turn it into an educational moment that provides resources for those who know little about the respective minority group.

 Thousands of years ago, this tactic was employed by Ancient Greek rhetoricians. It was called an “antistrophon,” for turning an opponent's argument back on themselves. Sadly, anti-Semitism dates back as far as the Greeks, and no amount of whitewashing from bigots on the right or the left will erase that reality. So we must continue to expose and fight it. Some of the anti-Semitic ideas used alongside the #JewishPrivilege hashtag the right-wing haters created are obvious and long-standing, like the stereotypes of Jews as privileged because they supposedly control all the wealth and run the global media. Many on the left have also bought into these well-known tropes, among them television personality Nick Cannon, who was fired for his remarks this week.

 But anti-Semitism among progressives is often more insidious. For starters, the left-wing permutation that Jews are synonymous with “white privilege” because some are white and can receive advantages in the West (though to the extent that’s true, it’s due to their skin color, not their religion or ethnicity) is a deeply anti-Semitic one in part because it erases the identity of the millions of nonwhite Jews.

 Related Jews of color are the majority of Jews in Israel and represent approximately 5 million of the 14.6 million Jews worldwide. Jews from the Middle East like myself will never be able to assimilate into the white majority, even if we were able to recover the wealth that was stolen from us when our families were expelled from countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Syria and Iran in the middle part of the 20th century. Our skin color, accents, names and traditions bar us from white privilege. The same goes for the sizable populations of Black, Asian and Latin Jews. Moreover, the notion that Jews of any background are the oppressors rather than the oppressed erases our history — including the Holocaust and pogroms of many decades past, but more recent chapters, like the plight of the Ethiopian Jews who escaped persecution in Ethiopia by airlifts to Israel in the 1980s and ’90s.

Of course, individual Jews and sometimes the policies of the government of Israel, the world’s only Jewish-majority country, can do terrible things to others. But seeking to deny the entire Jewish people’s generational struggles and erase us from the collective of minority groups denies our humanity and identity, and is thereby an act of deep-seated anti-Semitism. Instead, minority groups should be coming together to support and magnify one another’s efforts to end hatred, discrimination and ostracism.

 The white supremacists who started the #JewishPrivilege campaign on 4chan understand that this would make for a more powerful threat, so they intentionally tried to blur the lines behind white national racism and anti-racism advocacy by using the hashtag to turn people of all ideologies against the Jews. Dangerous forces are attempting to create tension between Jews and people of color. Anyone blaming Jews for systemic racism is doing the bidding of organized white supremacists.

 Read article in full

First kosher restaurant makes history in Dubai

As relations continue to warm up between the Gulf states and Israel, the Gulf's first kosher restaurant  has opened in Dubai. First reported in the pro-western Al-Arabiya,  it has been opened by a long-time Israeli resident of Dubai, Elli Kriel. Al-Jazeera has also picked up the story. (With thanks: Olivia)

Elli and friends enjoy her kosher food

As prominent Jewish leaders from around the world arrived in the UAE for interfaith events during the official Year of Tolerance last year, they sought kosher meals - food that follows traditional Jewish dietary laws.

 Longtime Dubai resident Elli Kriel, who provided kosher food to Jewish travelers informally over the years, noticed an increase in requests in the run-up to the Year of Tolerance and saw an opportunity.

Kriel started “Elli’s Kosher Kitchen” a food delivery and catering service offering certified kosher food in February 2019, two months after the Year of Tolerance was announced.

 “I realized there was an opportunity to do more and in a very adventurous moment, I decided to take the plunge,” Kriel said in an interview with Al Arabiya English. “The simultaneous recognition of our community also bolstered my confidence. I don’t think I would have done it before then,” she added.

 Two more events affirmed Elli’s decision. In May, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, a chaplain at New York University, was appointed by the Jewish Community of the Emirates as its first Chief Rabbi. In September, the UAE announced the construction of an interfaith complex in the capital Abu Dhabi that will house a Jewish synagogue, Christian church, and Islamic mosque.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-Zionists like Beinart want Jews to revert to being dhimmis

An op-ed by liberal Peter Beinart disavowing Zionism has elicited outrage from the mainstream Zionist community. It would not take long for the bi-national state replacing Israel to become an Arab-majority state. But Rachel Wahba, blogging at the Times of Israel, is one of the few to predict that a dwindling Jewish minority in an Arab state will force Jews back into their traditional subaltern state of dhimmitude under Islam.

Peter Beinart: 'naive, opportunistic'

Naive, opportunistic, and compartmentalized, the Beinarts in our community assume Jews can be safe and equal in a region where not being Muslim has always been a huge liability. In a region where native Jews and Christians have been legalized as dhimmi, legalized as second class citizens at the mercy of Muslim Arabs.

Today Jews have one Jewish country the size of New Jersey in the region. One. Half the Jewish population of this country, Israel, are refugees and descendants of refugees from Arab lands who once lived as dhimmis. My family on both sides lived this reality for over two thousand years. Instead of celebrating the end of dhimmitude the anti-Zionists in our tribe want to go backwards.

They insult the Mizrahim as they pay tribute to anti-Zionist currency. In a world where Anti-Zionism is the “new” Anti-Semitism. Internalized self hatred is symptomatic for persecuted people. We understand this. Disavowal of one’s Jewishness is as old as anti-Semitism. Now however you can be a Jew, disavow Israel, and still belong. And be popular among what passes for “progressive” in one too many a community.

 “Can you be less of a Jew,” a (former) new friend pleaded. She wanted me in her inner circle, her “sea of anti-Zionists.” The dilemma was all hers, it felt bad, of course it did, but I had no interest in the proposition. When a salesperson responded to my pre-COVID trip to Israel with a “its not with a Zionist group is it” gasp, we understand anti-Zionism is metastacizing out of the Far Left and the New Left, to the misinformed liberal progressive community in general.

It scares me. We know Zionism has been unpopular in the Left for a long time, forcing many a Progressive out of the scene since the eighties.  Forcing one too many progressive rabbis to have to “come out” as Zionists. Only to go back into their synagogue closets.

 Rabbis who once supported AIPAC embrace J Street. Readers of “respected” newspapers  are served optics layered with skewed information and embedded double standards when it comes to Israel. Cries of  “existential anguish” over supporting Israel are heard from them. We are witnessing an emotional “movement” driven by a need to feel good about oneself “as a Jew,” in a Zionist-ambivalent world.

This wandered Jew cannot bear the reality of Israel as a country instead of some idealized image of her/himself. Groomed to merge identities with a “light unto nations” only to discover Israel is a country like any other country, with issues and ugly problems, is too much to bear. Mirror mirror on the wall …oops. Pass those poisoned apples. Israel is still struggling every single day to survive– as a Jewish country. The country of the Jewish PeopleIsrael, unlike every other country, is slandered with double standards/anti semitism, forced daily to fight for legitimacy, validation, and outrageously,  the right to exist, on the world stage. When wandered Jews join Israel Denial it’s appalling. 

 As a new immigrant to the United States who grew up as a Stateless Iraqi Egyptian Jew,  it was shocking to see anti-Zionism grow in the seventies. Still, it felt fringe even in the leftist lesbian feminist community in San Francisco. Back then I thought it was just ignorance, that as Americans, or as Ashkenazim, they didn’t know about us and the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands.Today I know it is not ignorance, but an inconvenient truth. 

Read article in full

Will Beinart's Egyptian-born grandma be turning in her grave?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Report: Houthis arrest Yemenite Jews

Update: the report is described as false

An Egyptian newspaper has reported that Yemenite Jews in the Kharif district have been arrested  and dispossessed. There is no way of verifying this report, as it is not known how many Jews still live in the areas. The bulk of the remaining Jews were living in a compound in the capital San'a (via Elder of Ziyon): 

According to  an Arab media report, pro-Iranian militia is stepping up its attempts to ethnically cleanse Yemen of its last remaining Jews. The pro-Iranian Houthi militia has begun arresting the remaining Jews in the Kharif District, the Egyptian Al Mesryoon newspaper reported Monday.

 According to the report, after arresting the Jewish residents, the Houthis forced them to sell their homes, their land, and all their properties to Houthi leaders. The militia has also pressured them to leave Yemen.

  Al Mesryoon further reported that Yemen's small Jewish community has faced systematic discrimination and human rights violations from the Houthis, who have cut off water and electricity from Jewish homes and prevented Jews from going out to purchase food. The Jewish community of Yemen is one of the most ancient in the world.

Read article in full

Monday, July 13, 2020

How Kurdish Jews made their way to Jerusalem

Fascinating article in the Times of Israel by Shmuel and Aviva Bar-Am about the origins of the Jerusalem quarter of Nahlaot, founded by Kurdish Jews at the turn of the last century. The  advent of Kurdish Jews  to Jerusalem confirms  that Jews from the East - from Yemen, Syria, Kurdistan, Turkey, Bukhara, Persia -  settled in Eretz Yisrael  around the same time, or even before, the first aliya of Russian Jews (with thanks: Lily). 

Barashi Street, Nahlaot - named after a Kurdish Jew who fought in the Israeli war of independence

What kind of rocks do you need for making fire? At the end of the First World War, a group of English geologists thought that they could find the perfect blend of flint and steel in the rocks of Zacho, a town in Kurdistan. Off they went to the East and, while digging in the ground for rocks, they ran into a group of Jews.

 Excited, they wondered if the Jews were acquainted with Chaim Weizmann, celebrated in England for having been crucial to the war effort. And they asked what the Jews thought about the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British government expressed support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

 To the shock of the Brits, the Jews of Zacho had no idea what they were talking about. For like most Jews in Kurdistan, they lived a simple life in a close-knit ethnic community, isolated from the outside world and completely ignorant of world affairs. Each day they woke up, prayed, and worked the land.

And the next day they did it all over again. Nevertheless, the questions asked by the British geologists had piqued their interest. They began writing to Jews in England and in Palestine. And eventually this chance encounter between Kurdish peasants and British geologists would be one of the driving forces behind a mass immigration to the Holy Land.

 These days among the choicest residential areas in Jerusalem, Nahlaot consists of several dozen tiny quarters clustered together outside the walls of the Old City. Occupants of each little quarter generally belonged to a specific ethnic group with shared geographical connections, similar styles of worship, and common traditions. In those early years and until the middle of the 20th century, it was populated with immigrants from Kurdistan, Yemen, Iran, Syria, Jews from Urfa in southern Turkey known as Urfalim, and a very small number of newcomers from Eastern Europe.

 Inhabitants of Shaarei Rahamim, the poorest of them all, lived in tents, or large empty gasoline cans covered with tin. Conditions were terrible, with kitchens in the yard along with outhouses, and sewage running through the streets. Yet the Kurds knew that this was only a matter of time until they would manage to build more permanent housing.

  Read article in full

Sunday, July 12, 2020

NY rabbi rebukes colleague for erasing Jewish links to Middle East

A senior rabbi at a New York synagogue has rebuked junior rabbi Andy Kahn for tweeting that Jews were not indigenous to the Middle East.  According to the Jewish Journal, the tweet caused a furious reaction from JIMENA, the California-based organisation advocating for Mizrahi rights, and from Mizrahi rights activist Hen Mazzig. To add insult to injury, Rabbi Kahn blocked Jews objecting to his post-colonial, revisionist views on Twitter. Rabbi Kahn appears to represent those liberal US Jews who think of themselves as 'white and privileged'.

JIMENA also weighed in on Kahn’s twitter antics. “Him blocking a number of prominent and outspoken Middle Eastern Jews, before proclaiming Jews aren’t indigenous to Israel, is in fact an attempt to suppress Middle Eastern voices and experiences,” the organization tweeted.

“He can only grasp the most facile understanding of the Middle East — one that easily fits into his privileged worldview. Our *PLACE in MENA disrupts his narrative so much that the only thing he felt he could do is erase us – individually and collectively. This reeks of racism.” Prominent Mizrahi activist Hen Mazzig agrees that Kahn’s behavior was insensitive to Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. “Rabbi Kahn has a blind spot for Mizrahi Jews,” Mazzig told The Journal.

Rabbi Andy Kahn

“He has displayed it over and over again by silencing Mizrahi Jews and even actively attacking them.” Davidson addressed these concerns in his letter, noting, “Mizrahi communities today bear living witness to a Jewish link to the land — for some, a sustained presence there; for more, one interrupted by conquest and exile.”

 “I’m glad that Rabbi Davidson addressed Rabbi Kahn’s tweets and mentioned Mizrahi heritage,” Mazzig continued. “However, I am concerned that Temple Emanu-El, whose entire clergy is homogenous, has allowed Rabbi Kahn to consistently bully, harass and erase the experiences of Jews of color with little pushback. It speaks to how much they care about people of color in these times.”

 In a statement to the Journal, Kordestani said, “I commend Temple Emanu-El Senior Rabbi Joshua Davidson for speaking the truth about Mizrahi Jewish communities: we bear living witness to the deep Jewish connection to the land from ancient times until today.”

Read article in full

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Canadian Jews condemn 'Jews are our dogs' chant

According to Jewish Journal and other media, Jewish organisations in Canada have moved to condemn an anti-annexation march on 4 July in which the antisemitic chant 'The Jews are our dogs' was heard. Historically, the slogan was chanted by Arab mobs, for instance in the Nebi Musa riots of 1920. The chant has long been associated with the assertion of Muslim superiority over dhimmi Jews; dogs were viewed as ritually impure. 

Canadian high school students at the march chanted 'the Jews are our dogs'.

B’nai Brith Canada announced in its statement the Jewish organization has filed a hate crimes complaint against the protesters.

 “The display of anti-Semitism in Canada’s public squares is totally unacceptable,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a statement. “Opposition to Israeli policy can never be used as an excuse to demean Jews as ‘dogs’ or to threaten violence against them.”

 He added: “We have reached out to the high school attended by one of the rally’s organizers, and hope to visit at an appropriate time in order to educate students about the dark places to which rhetoric of this sort can lead.”

 Toronto’s Centre for Israel Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Chair Barbara Bank similarly said in a statement, “There is a lot of room for legitimate discussion about the State of Israel and the politics of the Middle East, but our community will not accept the use of Israel as a pretence to call Jews ‘dogs.’

This is not just offensive. Hate directed at Jews and other communities has a toxic impact on our city, province and country. Hatred that starts with words all too often ends in violence.”

  Read article in full

Friday, July 10, 2020

Albania unveils a Holocaust memorial

Albania has unveiled a memorial to honour its Jews and its citizens who risked their lives to protect Jews during WW2. It is notable that these Albanians were Christians as well as Muslims who abided by a code of honour called Besa. Albania was only country where no Jews died.  Haaretz reports: 

Israel ambassador to Albania Noah Gal Gendler speaks at the unveiling of the memorial

Albania unveiled a Holocaust memorial in the capital on Thursday to honor the dead and the Albanians who protected Jews from the Nazis.

 The marble memorial was put at an entrance to Tirana’s Artificial Lake Park, close to Mother Teresa Square. The inscription was written in three languages — English, Hebrew and Albanian — and it said that “Albanians, Christians and Muslims endangered their lives to protect and save the Jews.”

 The Nazis murdered six million people, but Albania was the only country where no Jews died or were handed over. Albanians protected their few hundred Jewish friends, and helped other Jews who fled from Germany and Austria by either smuggling them abroad or hiding them at home.

 “We are the only country with more Hebrews after World War II, where the Hebrews came in search of protection and salvation,” Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said.

 Read article in full 

More about Righteous Albanians

Yad Vashem has published this useful round-up of the impact of the Holocaust on Jews in North Africa (With thanks: Benjamin): 

On the eve of World War II there were 400,000 Jews in French North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, sometimes called the “Maghreb”, meaning Arab North Africa), and another 30,000 Jews in Libya, then an Italian colony. The fate of the Jews in North Africa was different depending on the country in which they were located. In Libya, which was an Italian colony, thousands of Jews were sent to labor camps and concentration camps, and almost 600 died in these camps from hunger and disease.

 In the three North African countries that fell under the regime of Vichy France, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, the fate of the Jews was, likewise, different depending on the country.

The Jews of Algeria, who held French citizenship, were stripped of their rights, required to wear an identifying mark, and subjected to admission quotas, even in primary schools. In Morocco, where Jews had civil rights but were not citizens of France, anti-Jewish laws were less rigorously enforced. The Jews of Algeria and Morocco were spared the fate of their brethren in Europe because the tide of the war turned against the forces of General Rommel at the battle of El Alamein; beginning in November 1942 the Allies began to liberate North Africa.

Tunisia was the only country among the three that the German army actually occupied. The army entered Tunisia together with a SS unit tasked with applying anti-Jewish policy. The Jews of Tunisia were saved only because in early May 1943, military developments forced the Germans to retreat. This article will discuss the situation of the Jews in France’s three North African colonies, whose treatment was greatly impacted by France’s defeat at the hands of Germany during World War II. An article on the Jews of Libya appears separately in this newsletter.

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Thursday, July 09, 2020

Will Beinart's Egyptian-born grandma be turning in her grave?

 Liberal Zionist circles in the US have been reeling from the shock that one of their most eloquent spokesmen, Peter Beinart, now advocates the replacement of Israel with a binational state in Palestine. Perhaps his own grandmother Adèle will be turning in her grave. Her family was expelled from Alexandria, Egypt and lived thereafter in the Congo and South Africa. Beinart seems to have forgotten his own 2014 eulogy to her in the pages of Haaretz:

Peter Beinart: forgot his grandmother's 'tribal' Zionism

My grandmother was neither morbid, nor even particularly nostalgic. When asked about her past, she’d often reply, “Who knows?” and then ask a question she considered more pertinent, like, “Why aren’t you eating your fish?” She didn’t talk much about the communities she had buried, but they spoke through her actions. She cooked vast quantities of bourekas, especially for Shabbat dinners, during which her grandchildren ran wild through the house. She went every week to Cape Town’s tiny Sephardi shul. She argued with her brothers in French. She kept a small book that listed the Jewish families from Rhodes, and the places to which history had dispersed them. On beautiful 75-degree days in Cape Town, she sometimes complained about the chill, which puzzled me until I remembered that she had spent much of her youth on the equator.

In my teenage years, when the anti-apartheid movement became a global force, we began to argue politics. My suggestion that Jews had a particular obligation to combat apartheid annoyed her. She probably felt that my claim that Jews had a special responsibility to black South Africans, or any other group of gentile underdogs, stemmed from my inability to imagine being the underdog myself. For her, it didn’t take much imagination. The lessons she drew from her experience of vulnerability and dislocation were straightforward: Jews should be on the lookout for trouble and should take care of each other since no one else would. She approached peoplehood the same way she approached family: like she was part of a gang.

Those instincts formed the basis of her Zionism, which was more tribal than ideological. She didn’t see Israel as a place to forge an ambitious new social order; she saw it as a place Jews could exhale. If her nightmare for South Africa was that its transition to black rule would resemble Congo’s, her nightmare for Israel was that Arab nationalism would imperil its Jews in the way Arab nationalism had imperiled Alexandria’s. If I questioned these fears, she’d ask me how much time I’d spent living in an Arab country. Our dialogue of the deaf bore a faint resemblance to the dialogue between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, except that Netanyahu doesn’t interrupt his lectures to inquire if Obama has had enough to eat.

In retrospect, I feel blessed to have had a grandmother whose experiences were so different from my own, and who saw the world in such different ways. Among countless other things, she taught me the danger of drawing any simple connection between a person’s political views and their moral character. On South African politics, my grandmother was the most conservative member of our extended family. Yet she showed more personal kindness to black South Africans than any white South African I have ever known—among other things, paying the school fees of the orphaned daughter of a woman who once worked for her around the house. I often reflected on that as a student in Cambridge, New Haven and Oxford, where I met people with impeccably progressive views who had far more empathy for humanity in the abstract than for the actually existing human beings they happened to know.

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