Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Arabic music goes from ghetto to Israeli mainstream

Israel has overcome its 'complex' regarding Arabic music, and today this genre is mainstream in Israeli culture, argues Linda Menuhin in this article for the Tel Aviv Review of Books. (Menuhin surveys the current Arabic music scene, but it is a shame that she does not elaborate on  Yemenite music, which had an influence in Israel since the early 20th century).

The Israeli all-girl A-wa band has popularised music in Yemenite Arabic

One Saturday in the summer of 1971, my aunt took me to her gym in Tel Aviv. The scene was familiar, like a Baghdad swimming pool in the sixties. Some people were exercising, some were swimming, while others sat together, chatting and relaxing. I sat in a comfy chair and turned my little transistor radio to Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel). It was just after the news, and they were playing an Um Kalthoum song. My aunt swiftly asked me to turn the volume down. This was a surprise and a shock for me. I had been in Israel for a few months, after fleeing the hell that was Iraq at the end of 1970. This is what Eli Eliahu, the talented Israeli poet of Iraqi origin, describes as the “stage of surprise,” one of the “stages of shyness” he details in a poem describing his father’s behavior—quickly switching his car radio from an Arabic station to a Hebrew one as he drives out of a private garage on to the main road, out of fear that someone might hear the Arabic songs he so loved.

Arabic music in Israel has achieved great success over the last two decades. Israel, in the year 2020, is a meeting point of the contemporary, with cultures from around the world existing in harmony. It is also a place where Arabic music, thanks to the impact of immigration, has succeeded in breaking through the barrier placed before it by Ashkenazi hegemony. This has been a successful struggle of public taste winning out over the radio producer’s instinct to view Arabic songs as an extension of the language of the enemy. Arabic, though, was the spoken language of 850,000 Jews. They hailed from different parts of the Arab world and spoke in different accents, but their broad contours of taste were somewhat similar: shaped by a music scene dominated by Arab legends such as Um Kalthoum, Abdel Wahhab, and Farid Al Atrash in Egypt, Salima Murad in Iraq, Sabah in Lebanon, and many more.

The Arab-Israeli conflict placed a political burden on these romantic songs. It introduced friction into the relationship between Jews from Arab countries and Jews from Eastern and Western Europe. This is how Jews from the East found their Arabic culture and music held hostage in their new homeland. So they had no choice but to embrace the melancholy melodies of traditional Greek music, turning it into the “legitimate” substitute for their benighted Arabic music— which, according to the music scholar Shimon Parnas, was viewed as primitive compared to Western classical music.

Eli Greenfield, active in the arts in Israel, says that “the real launch of Arabic music began with the arrival of Sapho, a French Moroccan singer, to Israel in 1988, where she performed in the ‘Heichal Hatarbut’, one of Tel Aviv’s grandest halls, singing Um Kalthoum songs.” This is how Arabic music first migrated from the cafes and bars to the beating heart of Tel Aviv. In the last 30 years, countless groups playing Arabic music or taking inspiration from it have been formed in Israel, and have succeeded in building a fan base both in the Arab world and further afield.

I believe that Israel has gradually rid itself of its Arab complex over the years, especially in the wake of the signing of the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1978. The conflict had placed a psychological obstacle in the path of accepting the music of the “enemy.” Nearly 20 years later, Sarit Hadad, one of the most famous singers in Israel, recorded most of her 1997 album Singing in Arabic (which, as the name suggests, had Arabic songs) in Jordan—just two years after the signing of a peace accord between the two countries. There she performed different songs by Arab legends despite not having Arab roots.

In the early 2000s, when I established a new Iraqi music collective “Sidara,” we put on a performance called “Meeting in a Baghdad Cafe.” This revisited the contributions of the brothers Saleh and Dawood Kuwaiti to the development of of Iraqi music during the first half of the twentieth century. Dawood was the grandfather of the talented contemporary musician Dudu Tassa. I invited Tassa to be a guest on my show on Reshet Bet, to talk about the reputation of the brothers, his grandfather and his great-uncle in Iraq before they came to Israel. I mentioned that Iraqi music was first broadcast from Qasr Al Zuhur—home to King Faisal the First, and where King Ghazi, Faisal’s son, held Saleh Al Kuwaiti in such high esteem that he gifted the musician a gold watch. The implication is that Jews could be accorded respect on their own merits, even as a minority. Tassa couldn’t help but comment that he had heard about the high positions Jews enjoyed in Arab countries before, but had assumed it to be an exaggerated tale built in the imagination of Jewish immigrants from there.

More than a decade after our conversation, Tassa released the abum Al Akhwan Kuwaiti (“Al Kuwaiti Brothers”), placing the songs and tunes of his grandfather and his great-uncle in a modern framework. It was a bestseller, accompanied by sold-out concerts. Tassa’s new arrangements struck a chord with thousands of Iraqis both inside and outside Iraq, even though Tassa’s singing accent—unsurprisingly—is not a pure Iraqi one. On the back of these new arrangements of his forebears’ music, Tassa was invited to perform, with the talented Nasrin Qadri, as opening act for the British rock group Radiohead on a sold-out arena tour of the United States. The group Firqat Al Noor first showed up on the Israeli scene five years ago. The 25-member orchestra, directed by Ariel Cohen, who has Moroccan origins, are standard-bearers for the traditional Arabic music once played on Voice of Israel radio. This ambitious project, which received enthusiastic media coverage, was the culmination of efforts by smaller ensembles such as Yoused Fe Ehad, Bustan Abraham, and a group led by Yair Dalal, who is of Iraqi origins. These groups have received the support of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and have been endorsed as emissaries of Israel abroad.

How did contemporary Israeli youth acquire this taste for Arabic music? No doubt, a significant cohort had been exposed to the Tarab (traditional Arab music that emphasizes long melodic notes) giants in the synagogue, after Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef allowed religious hymns to be set to these melodies. Festivals championing the cause of peace and coexistence in the Middle East have similarly helped the spread of Arabic music, especially Jerusalem’s annual Oud Festival—a huge pull for a large and diverse audience, including Israelis who do not have Eastern roots. This festival quickly expanded into a series of performances in scores of halls across several cities, supported with big budgets by municipal authorities and the Ministry of Culture. The popularity opened up the genre to mainstream platforms, including the grand elegant halls that typically play host to plays and musicals rooted firmly in the West. The Jerusalem Theater, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and even Tel Aviv University have all hosted Arabic music concerts in recent years.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

'Tehran' is latest Mossad drama to wow the Middle East

Tehran, launched on Apple TV in the US this week, is the latest of Israel's popular spy dramas to hit TV screens  across the world. It has already been bootlegged and illegally streamed across the Middle East - including Iran. The show features a Mossad hacker smuggled in to Iran to help blow up a nuclear site. Report in the Financial Times: 

Niv Sultan stars as a Mossad hacker smuggled into Iran in Tehran

Embarrassing failures are far outweighed by the successes, including, most recently, the spiriting out of an abandoned Tehran warehouse of the entire nuclear archives of the Islamic Republic, proudly displayed on TV by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April 2018.

The realism helps too, said Sima Shine, who kept an eye on Iran for most of her career at Mossad and the National Security Council, and watched Tehran closely when it aired in Israel. 

 “It’s good that they give a lot of credit to the security apparatus [in Iran], and they don’t show them as stupid — instead they show them as operating quite well,” she said. “We see the demonstrations by students, and the counter demonstrations, and the hidden parties of young people — we know that all these things are happening in Iran.” 

 The Iranians were equally fascinated by the drama and perturbed by inaccuracies, said Holly Dagres, an Iranian-American non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, the Washington-based think-tank. “This is the first time a wide Israeli audience got a glimpse of their enemy, Iran, beyond the news cycle. 

This is also the first time Iranians got to see what Israelis, to an extent, think of them,” she said. The timing helped too. “The unusual explosions must’ve added more interest in the series for both audiences as it unintentionally served as publicity for Tehran because the plot is about Israel taking out nuclear facilities.”  

Read article in full (registration necessary)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Break the Yom Kippur fast with these two Sephardi recipes

It is customary to fast on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Different communities have their own specific traditional foods for breaking the fast.  Here are two - one from Morocco and the other from Iran. 

Wishing all those observing Yom Kippur GMAR HATIMA TOVA!

Photo: The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

TORTITAS ( From the Jewish Journal of LA)
6 eggs 
2 teaspoons anise extract or 2 tablespoons arak liquor (optional) 
1-2 tablespoons anise/fennel seed, to taste 
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
 2 teaspoons baking powder
 4 cups flour

 In large bowl on stand-up mixer, mix eggs, sugar and oil until well blended. Add the anise extract (or arak liquor), seeds and baking powder and mix. While mixing, add flour one cup at a time and continue to mix. Mix dough until it comes together and forms a ball.Let dough rest for 10 minutes.Preheat oven to 350 F.Divide dough in tennis ball-size pieces. Roll out dough as thinly as possible. If using pasta maker, use lasagna setting.Pierce dough with fork or decorating tool. Cut into squares or use cookie cutter or drinking glass and cut into circles.Bake on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet for 15 minutes until golden.

 4 gala apples, peeled and coarsely grated 
2 tablespoons turbinado (demerera) sugar
a drop of rose water
3 cups water 
5-6 ice cubes

 Preparation In a medium bowl, top apples with sugar and rosewater. Flatten a bit, but do not mix at this point. Place the ice cubes on top of the mixture, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to eat, add water. Mix and serve immediately to break the fast.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Mukhtar forced Silwan Yemenites to buy more land

The blogosphere has been buzzing with reaction to a BBC Arabic programme   - some have called it a hit piece - politicising the funding of Elad, the organisation responsible for developing the archaeological site of 'Ir David', the city of Jerusalem in King David's time. 'Ir David' has been built over by  the 'Palestinian' village of Silwan. Accusing Elad of evicting Palestinians from their homes, the BBC paints a partial picture  of 'Jewish settlers stealing Palestinian land and  property'.  The reverse is true.  This blog has documented the fact, conveniently omitted by the BBC, that  Silwan 
( formerly Kfar Shiloah) once had a population, at its height,  of 200 Yemenite Jewish families, but these were forced out by Arab violence in the 1930s. David Collier uncovers some surprising nuggets: 

This photo from 1865 shows that the area now known as Silwan was mainly empty space.

Not long ago, the ‘Arab village of Silwan’ was a tiny settlement on the eastern ridge of a hill on the outskirts of the old city of Jerusalem. Building on the western ridge – in the ‘City of David’ began in the 1880s when Jews began buying land there. This image, showing all the empty space is from 1865: A new village, Kfar Hashiloach  was formed, Jewish land purchase increased and in 1910 the Jewish community were FORCED to purchase more land – by the then head of the Arab village of Silwan. Don’t be so surprised – Jews were already paying the village protection money so that their burial sites would not be vandalised.

 In pre-Israel days, Jewish protection was often provided by local Arabs ‘at a cost’. Much of the land purchased by Jews was stolen when Jews were forced out in the 1930s due to ongoing Arab violence. Arab families simply moved in to the vacated Jewish property. 

Obviously between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan had control, the Jewish presence was obliterated completely. When Israel recaptured the land in 1967 it came complete with a new population.When Jews began to repopulate some of their old property – such as a local synagogue – they had rocks thrown at them by local residents.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Letter confirms that Shafik Ades was a scrap metal merchant

Seventy two years almost to the day since the hanging of Shafik Ades in Basra, Iraq, a letter has come to light which corroborates his activities as a scrap metal merchant - and not, as charged by the Iraqi authorities, a weapons smuggler working for the Zionists. 

The letter, from the A & C Ades Company, states that a car was donated to the community for the use of the Hevra Kadisha (Burial Society) for the transport of the dead. The letter, dated August 1946, was found in the Iraqi-Jewish archive, a collection of materials confiscated by the Iraqi secret police from the Jewish 
community and now in the US.


The two letters referring to the gift of a car made by the Ades Company to the Burial Society. Right: Shafik Ades (photos: Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center)

 "We are proud to comply with your request and provide you with a large second-hand car purchased from the British army," the letter read. The archive also contains a response from Hakham Sasson Khedouri, chief rabbi of the community, thanking the Ades company. 

 The existence of the letters was revealed by the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Israel. 

Shafik Ades had thought that his wealth and connections with the royal family had made him immune to false accusations.

Ades's hanging on 23 September 1948 sent shock waves of terror through the Jews of Iraq and was probably the single most important reason why 90 percent fled the country, when emigration became legal in 1950.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Now is the time to tell the Arab world about Mizrahi refugees

The signing of a peace accord between Israel and the Gulf states and Bahrain should be the cue for educating the Arab world about  the 850,000 Jewish refugees  forced to leave or expelled from Islamic lands, argues Karmel Melamed in JNS News.

Following the signing of the peace deals between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, American Jewish leaders from prominent organizations such as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Congress have come forward to discuss how they have played a quiet, behind-the-scenes role over the past 25 years to encourage the Gulf nations to seek peaceful relations with Israel. 

Now that Israel has established a “warm peace” with Bahrain and the UAE, perhaps it is the best time for these same American Jewish organizations and their leaders to begin an educational campaign in the Arab language media about the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced to flee or were expelled from Islamic lands during the 20th century. Sharing the stories of the Mizrahi Jewish refugees with the Arab media and the Arab world may not only strengthen the peace Israel has established with these two Arab nations by showing Israel’s Middle Eastern roots, but also educate and enlighten the Arab masses about the Jewish refugees from the Middle East after 1948. 

As a Mizrahi journalist, I believe that sharing the Mizrahi refugees’ story with the Arab and Islamic world today, when the tides of peace are upon us, is one of the most important things we can do to as Jews living in diaspora to ensure this new peace is solidified and maintained for years to come. 

 For more than 70 years the American Ashkenazi community’s leadership has horribly failed to educate Jews in America about the plight of 850,000 Jewish refugees who fled or were forced out of the Arab countries and Iran during the last century. American Ashkenazi leaders have ignored the painful stories of Mizrahi Jews facing imprisonment, torture, executions, pogroms, forced exile and asset confiscations in the various Islamic countries they lived in after 1948. 

Likewise, the American Ashkenazi leaders have also failed to raise the issue of these Mizrahi refugees within the larger American and international dialogue when it has come to discussing the issues of the Middle East conflict. Moreover, Israel for decades had itself failed to share the narrative of the Mizrahi refugees from the Islamic countries even though more than 50 percent of the Israeli population is of Mizrahi background today. For decades, these failures in discussing the Mizrahi refugees’ painful experiences have allowed the Palestinians and many Arab leaders to spew their false narrative that the Jews of Israel are “foreign colonialists from Europe” who have no true roots in the Middle East roots.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

'Expulsion of Jews from Arab countries was a disastrous mistake'

The Abraham Accords have spurred  Dubai writer Salam Hamid to call a spade a spade: the Arabs made a disastrous mistake when they expelled their Jews. Their hatred predated the establishment of Israel, he writes.These Jews might even have aided the Arab regimes against Israel, he claims. But vast sums extorted  from Jews did aid Iraq's war effort, and assets seized from Syrian Jews, it is said, financed the 1967 war. Transcript at MEMRI (With thanks: Danny, Lily):

Salam Hamid: the Arab world's problem is hatred of Jews

"Over time, [this expulsion] had disastrous repercussions, when [it turned out that] the Arabs had lost an elite population with significant wealth, property, influence, knowledge, and culture. Soon enough, the Arabs waged pointless wars against Israel, until they were defeated [in June 1967] with heavy losses. Nevertheless, the mentality of the Arab leadership persisted, as they spun conspiracy theories to their defeated peoples and sought scapegoats in order to justify their repeated defeats at the hand of Israel.

 "If you ever visit Israel, you will see citizens of diverse colors, just like in the U.S. They arrived as immigrants from across the globe, of various races, and almost half of them are from Arab countries. Any intelligent person is aware that Jews had lived in Arab countries for 2,000 years before being arbitrarily expelled – yet here they are now, making up half of Israel's citizens. "Just a look at the number of Jews remaining in their Arab countries elucidates the difference between the past and the present. In the past, there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and the Maghreb, while today only dozens remain. 

Meanwhile, the Palestinians make up the largest group of asylum-seekers in the world. Some 700,000 of them left their lands after the 1948 war – not just because of the war, but because of several Arab leaders who asked them to leave the Jewish areas so that they could return after the fledgling Jewish state was destroyed. It is worth noting that in his memoir, Syria's then-prime minister Khalid Al-'Azm acknowledged the role played by the Arabs in convincing the Palestinians to leave – a mistake whose severity the Arabs failed to grasp, which created the Palestinian refugee crisis, and which prompted the founding of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] in 1949...  
"Our problem in the Arab world is our mindset and our hatred of the Jews. We have failed to learn the lesson of history, when other nations before us expelled their Jewish citizens. When Spain expelled its Jews in 1492, the country and its colonies were deprived of a group of people known for their talents in economics, finance and moneylending. As for Germany, it would have preceded the U.S. in creating the atomic bomb had Hitler not expelled [the bomb's] Jewish inventors, such as Albert Einstein and Edward Teller. 

Had the Arabs given even a passing glance to the contribution made by the Jews, especially in the financial sector, during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras, they would have learned their lesson, and not made the mistake of expelling Arab Jews, who might [even] have aided the Arab regimes against Israel.

 "This hatred for the Jews did not begin with the establishment of the State of Israel. It is an ideology that is still disseminated in the books that teach our heritage, which reflect the personal fatwas of bygone eras, and were suited to those times which lacked the openness of today. This hatred will therefore continue to exist, so long as our heritage [text]books continue to incite hatred against the Jews, as early as elementary school. 

Outspoken pro-Israel politician Mithal Al-Alusi supports giving Iraqi citizenship for 700,000 Israelis of Iraqi descent (MEMRI: With thanks Lily)

Monday, September 21, 2020

Bahrain politician appears on Israeli TV channel for first time

With thanks: Lisette

Click here to see the two-minute video clip.

The excitement was palpable when, for the first time, a member of Bahrain's Parliament appeared on an Israeli TV channel, days after the signing of the Abraham Accords.

The presenter of the Knesset Channel programme repeatedly asked Nancy Khedouri, a Jewish member of the Shura Council, the upper house of Bahrain's parliament, 'esh lonek? (How are you?)  in Iraqi-Jewish dialect. 

He also asked after the health of Edwin Shuker, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. 'Fantastic!' Mr Shuker replied.

There are some 30 Jews living in Bahrain, a community which at its height numbered about 800. When asked about the history of the community, Nancy Khedouri said that Jews settled in 1873 from several cities in Baghdad, Iraq.

However, historian Sami Sourani comments that Jews lived in Bahrain for centuries before. He points to the story of the brother of Maimonides (Ha Rambam) who lived in Bahrain and was a dealer in pearls. Oysters were fished off Bahrain's coast. 

The Cairo Geniza records correspondence between the two brothers. In his letters Maimonides complains that he worked from early morning till midnight treating the sick. He could hardly make a living because the sick people were poor and  could not afford to pay. His brother encouraged him to persevere: he told him he was ready to support him for all his sincere efforts. 

The Rambam's brother, unfortunately, drowned in the sea while his sailing boat was on a pearl-fishing trip.

More from Nancy Khedouri

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Egypt gives the cold shoulder to its citizens in Israel

As Jews exult in the promise of warm relations between Gulf States and Israel, Israel's peace with the Egyptian people remains in the deep freeze. Some 6,000 non-Jewish Egyptians live in Israel, but they are treated as would-be spies and traitors. The discrimination they receive from the Egyptian authorities  is eerily reminiscent of the treatment meted out historically to Jews living in Egypt - and indeed in Arab countries generally. Edy Cohen writes in BESA Center News: 

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli: revoked citizenship of three Egyptians

Thankfully, there is no open military hostility between Egypt and Israel these days, and there are some economic and diplomatic relations. 

Egypt also helps mediate between Israel and Hamas. According to several media sources, Israel is helping Egypt to eliminate ISIS in Sinai. That would testify to political security coordination existing between the two countries.

 However, there is still no cultural relationship between the two countries, nor freedom of movement. On the contrary: there is discrimination and punishment for anyone who tries to normalize relations, and it does not come from the Israeli side. 

 Egyptian PM Mustafa Madbouli, who is in charge of the Citizenship Law, recently revoked the citizenship of three Egyptians who live in Israel. Their only crime was having received Israeli citizenship. 

The official reason given for the revocation of their Egyptian citizenship was that they had not sought prior approval, but there is no such requirement for Egyptians seeking to attain dual citizenship with any other country. 

The more likely reason is found in the Egyptian Citizenship Law, which stipulates in Section 16, Subsection 10 that Egyptian citizenship may be revoked if the person has been identified with Zionism. 

Most Egyptian citizens who receive Israeli citizenship are not Zionists. Many are married to Israeli Arabs and live a normal life in Israel. They do not work for the Israeli security services or the civil service. The revocation of their Egyptian citizenship is simply punishment for their living a normalized life with Israel. 

The Egyptian model for Israeli-Egyptian relations is a cold peace between governments and no peace at all between the peoples. Every Egyptian who wishes to visit Israel as a tourist must first contact Egyptian intelligence for permission. He will then be humiliated, warned, and — if he made the mistake of contacting the Israeli embassy beforehand — possibly even jailed on suspicion of espionage. 

There is a phobia among Egyptians when it comes to relations with Israel. It is not acceptable to have cultural connections, tourist visits, or any form of relationship with Israelis. The only Egyptian allowed to be in contact with Israel is President Sisi. 

Four years ago, Egyptian MP Tawfiq Akasha visited the home of the Israeli ambassador to Egypt. Following the visit he was attacked in an unprecedented commotion. He was even physically assaulted in parliament. 

As for Egyptians living in Israel, they are reluctant to return home to visit family because of the harassment they will inevitably receive from the Egyptian authorities. They would also be subjected to long delays when they tried to return to Israel. In conversations I had with Egyptian citizens, I learned that they need a special permit to return to Israel, even though they live there. 

The special permit is often delayed for many months, which is a serious problem for Egyptian citizens who have jobs, businesses, or studies to return to back in Israel. They also have to put up with daily interrogations throughout the time they are in Egypt. 

All this harassment stems from the government’s fear that the citizen in question might be an agent of the Mossad. The Cairo government has a deep fear that Egyptians might spy for Israel. The recent book The Angel documents the story of the number one Egyptian spy, Ashraf Marwan (it has been made into a Netflix movie). He was no less than the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Egyptians deny to this day that Marwan was a spy. 

Over 6,000 Egyptians live in Israel. Most are married to Israeli Arabs and work in Israel. Most have legal visas, pursue business or studies, and have children or grandchildren. However, they do not live normal lives. They live in distress, as they are effectively barred from their home country.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Meet the Nonoos, prominent Bahraini Jewish family

An international fashion designer and an ambassador are members of the prominent Nonoo family of Bahrain. As Israel and Bahrain sign their historic peace agreement,  Jewish Insider profiles the Nonoos. 

Misha Nonoo (left) with Meghan Markle. Misha is said to have introduced Meghan to Prince Harry

 Do you know the Nonoos? The recent normalization deal between Israel and the tiny Gulf nation of Bahrain has put a spotlight on its even tinier Jewish community. And among its most prominent members is the Nonoo family, the Jewish tribe that traces its roots to Iraq and has reached the top echelons of both government and high society. 

 Bahrain’s Jewish population is estimated to be around 30 members — but they’re not all Nonoos, Ebrahim Dahood Nonoo, the head of the country’s Jewish community, told Jewish Insider in a recent phone interview from Manama. “We do have some Cohens and we do have some Roubens and we do have some Khedouris.” 

Nonoo himself made history in 2001, when he was appointed as the first ever Jewish member of Bahrain’s parliamentary Shura Council. He was succeeded by his cousin, Houda Nonoo, in what has since become a permanent seat reserved for the Jewish community — now occupied by Nancy Khedouri. And Houda Nonoo made headlines around the globe when she was selected in 2008 to serve as the Bahraini ambassador to the United States — the first ever Jewish ambassador from any Arab country. 

 “That was the most fabulous, fabulous event really, we were so thankful to the king for that,” Ebrahim told JI of Houda’s appointment as ambassador. “Our present king, he takes decisions that are really very, very good decisions even though they might surprise people.”

Thursday, September 17, 2020

What you will need for the Rosh Hashana seder

Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year - begins tomorrow evening. In the Sephardi tradition,   a seder of ritual foods is eaten, preceded by the reciting of ' Yehi Ratzon ' (May it be thy will' ) blessings. Here is a guide to what you will need, courtesy of Chabad.

                          WISHING ALL BLOG READERS SHANA TOVA!

On both nights of Rosh Hashanah, a number of foods are eaten to symbolize our prayers and hopes for a sweet new year. Many of these foods were specifically chosen because their Hebrew names are related to other Hebrew words that convey our wishes for the coming year.

An accompanying prayer is recited, expressing our wishes inherent in these words and foods.2 Recite each prayer while holding the particular food in the right hand, immediately before it is eaten. 

Before Rosh Hashanah, gather the following items:
 • Dates 
• Small light colored beans
 • Leeks 
• Beets (spinach)
• Gourd
 • Pomegranate
 • Apple (cooked in sugar) and honey
 • Head of a ram (or a fish) 

After chanting kiddush, washing, and breaking bread, the following foods are eaten: 

תמרים Dates. Related to the word תם—to end. 
Take a date and recite: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ Blessed are You, Lord our G d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree. 
After eating the date, take another one and say: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּתַּמּוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us.

 רוביא—לוביא Small beans. Related to the words, רב—many, and לב—heart. (The following blessing over vegetables is only recited if one has not recited the blessing over bread:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה Blessed are You, Lord our G d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.) Take some white beans and say: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּרְבּוּ זָכִיּוֹתֵינוּ וּתְלַבְּבֵנוּ May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that our merits shall increase and that You hearten us.

 כרתי Leek. Related to the word כרת—to cut. Take a leek and say: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּכָּרְתוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters, and those who wish evil upon us shall be cut down.

 סלקא Beets. Related to the word סלק—to depart. Take a beet and say: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּסְתַּלְּקוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us shall depart. 

קרא Gourd. Related to the word קרע—to rip apart, and also קרא—to announce. Take a gourd and say: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתִּקְרַע רוֹעַ גְּזַר דִּינֵנוּ, וְיִקָּרְאוּ לְפָנֶיךָ זָכִיּוֹתֵינוּ May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that the evil of our verdicts be ripped, and that our merits be announced before you. 

רימון Pomegranate. Take the pomegranate and say: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה מְלֵאִים מִצְוֹת כָּרִמּוֹן May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that we be filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate [is filled with seeds].

 תפוח בדבש Apple and Honey. Dip an apple in honey – some have the custom of using an apple cooked with sugar – and say: יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה כַּדְּבָשׁ May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that You renew for us a year good and sweet like honey. 

ראש כבש Ram's Head (or the head of another kosher animal or fish4). יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה לְרֹאשׁ וְלֹא לְזָנָב May it be Your will, Lord our G d and the G d of our fathers, that we be a head and not a tail. (The following is added only over the head of a ram: וְתִזְכֹּר לָנוּ עֲקֵדָתוֹ וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל יִצְחָק אָבִינוּ בֶּן אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עַלֵיהֶם הַשָּׁלוֹם …And You shall remember for us the binding and the ram of our forefather Isaac, the son of our forefather Abraham, peace be onto them.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Flm advocates against return of Jewish archive to Iraq

Advocates agains the US government's proposed return of the Iraqi-Jewish archive to Iraq have taken to film to make their case, with the release of Saving the Iraqi-Jewish archives: a journey of identity, a documentary highlighting the importance of the archive to Jews, their children and grandchildren now in exile outside Iraq. The Jerusalem Post reports:

'Prayer', a sculpture in Ramat Gan, Israel, memorialises the Iraqi Jews murdered in the Farhud massacre of 1941 and the Jews executed in the late 1960s. 

A new documentary, Saving the Iraqi Jewish Archives: A Journey of Identity, aims to highlight the existence of the archives and the Iraqi Jews who would like to reclaim them. 

 The fourth in a series of documentaries detailing stories from Iraq's Jewish community, culture and history, produced over the last 25 years by Carole Basri and Adriana Davis of D-Squared Media, the film highlights the stories of those connected with the archives such as the student who found a photograph of himself in his school transcript, and Harold Rhode, one of the individuals who made the discovery. 

 “This film relies on the personal meaning attached to items that verify an existence: birth, marriage and school records, religious books and artifacts, family photographs, and, most importantly, each person’s right to possess them,” Basri and Davis said.

 “When the community decided to speak out publicly, in our previous films, it was with trepidation; but they realized it was an important way to put their lives on the record. Today, they speak with one amplified voice to Save the Iraqi Jewish Archives for their descendants whose ancestry is forever linked to the land between the rivers. With only five (now four - ed) Iraqi Jews left in Iraq, now it is crucial.” 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

How Beirut synagogue benefactor mystery was solved

It was serendipity, only possible in this era of social media.

 Nagi Zeidan, the historian whose book Juifs du Liban  is about to come out, was missing one last piece of information before the book went to press. He was trying to find out about the benefactor who funded the building of Beirut's Maghen Avraham synagogue in 1926. 

 It was  90 minutes before the port explosion on 4 August 2020 that Nagi' was put in touch with journalist and author Tim Judah via geneaologist Alain Farhi. Tim's daughter Esther Judah travelled  to Beirut for the UN agency WFP after the port exploded. 

Tim's great-. great-grandfather from Calcutta funded the construction of the Beirut synagogue in 1926 (another benefactor paid for the land.) After the war all contact was lost.

 Tim Judah is the son of Joseph-Vivian, son of Emmanuel Judah. Emmanuel was married to Ramah, daughter of Moise, son of Abraham Sasson. Ramah's father Moise paid for the construction of the Maghen Abraham synagogue in memory of his father Abraham Sasson, who was buried in Beirut in 1897.
This photo, in Tim Judah's possession, shows two plaques in memory of Moise Sasson's father on either side of the front entrance to the synagogue. Esther Judah visited the synagogue on 8 September 2020 to ascertain the damage caused by the port explosion. The plaques were missing - probably stolen for their marble.

Nagi Zeidan adds:

Who was Moise, son of Abraham, son of Eliyahu Sasson?

To know who Moise was, we have to refer to his grandfather, Elyahu, son of Raphael, son of Joseph Sasson, born in Aleppo around 1819 and died there. The branch of this Sasson family is "Sasson-Ajami"  They were of Iranian origin and settled in Aleppo in the middle of the 18th century. The latter had four boys  - we know two: Abraham, born around 1840 in Aleppo; died in Beirut on March 1, 1897.
 Raphaël, was born in 1842 in Aleppo and died in Singapore on September 24, 1909.

Abraham, son of Eliyahu Sasson was married to Regina, daughter of Moses Silvera. She was born in Aleppo around 1844 and buried on April 7, 1903 next to her husband in the Jewish cemetery in Beirut.

They had several boys: the eldest, Eliyahu was born in Aleppo in 1862; Moses, born in Alexandria and died in Calcutta in January 1943.

The latter married in Singapore on February 18, 1896 with his first cousin Rachel, daughter of Raphaël Sasson. She, too, was born in Singapore on December 6, 1879 and died in England on May 14, 1964.

Here is the story of Moise, son of Abraham, son of Eliyahu Sasson and his relationship with the construction of the Maghen Abraham Synagogue.

Moïse Sasson was born in Alexandria on September 18, 1867. As an adult, he decided to try his luck in Calcutta, India. He was a trader, jute exporter and landowner. He was very successful in business. He made his fortune in India.

His father Abraham and his mother Regina moved to Beirut in around 1890.

Moise met his uncle Raphael in Singapore who was residing there. There, he met his first cousin Rachel, born in Singapore on December 6, 1879. He married her on February 18, 1896 in Singapore, without his parents attending - they remained in Beirut. They had a wedding invitation written in French in Beirut drawn up for the community to bless this marriage.

Moïse's father died in Beirut on March 1, 1897 at the age of about 57 and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Beirut.

 The couple had  five children: the 1st, a daughter, Ramah, born in Calcutta on April 21, 1899 and died in London on December 3, 1989 at the age of 90.

On April 7, 1903, Moïse's mother, Regina, died in Beirut at the age of about 59. She was buried next to her husband in the Beirut cemetery under the name Régine Sasson, wife Abraham Sasson.

On September 24, 1909,  Raphael died. He was the son of Eliyahu Sasson in Singapore, the paternal uncle and stepfather of Moses, son of Abraham, son of Elyahu Sasson.

In 1912, Moses visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with his wife Rachel and his brother Elyahu. The latter resided in Alexandria.

It is almost certain that he made contacts at that time, with a view to building a new synagogue in Beirut, in memory of his father.

The First World War being declared, the project was put on hold.

On August 25, 1926 at 4:04 p.m., the Maghen Abraham synagogue was inaugurated.

All members of the community were present to attend the ceremony.

Monday, September 14, 2020

'Arab News' publishes empathetic report on Jews of Lebanon

It is perhaps a sign of how far Arab states have changed  their perceptions of Jews that  the Saudi-owned news medium Arab News  has published a lengthy feature on the Jews of Lebanon. The article is honest enough to admit that the 29 Jews remaining in Lebanon are too terrified to divulge their identities.  Unlike the BBC,  it is frank enough to admit that Jews fled the Aleppo riots of 1947. Unlike the author of the only authoritative book on the subject, Jews of Lebanon by Kirsten Schulze, it does not play down antisemitism and suggest that the Jews fled the Lebanese civil war (the great majority fled at the time of the Six Day War ). The hook for the piece is the imminent publication of a book by the historian of Lebanon's Jews,  Nagi Zeidan. Zeidan  is a Lebanese Orthodox Christian who rejected his family's roots in  the Nazi-influenced Social Nationalist party. He has spent 25 years researching the history of the Jews.

Nagi Zeidan as a young man

 Historian Nagi Zeidan was a teenager growing up in Lebanon when his father, an official in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP, which was very popular in the country at the time), sent him to initiation camps, grooming him to become a leader himself one day.

 Zeidan was given books written by SSNP founder Antoun Saadeh advocating the establishment of a Syrian nation state spanning the entire Fertile Crescent. He was smitten as much by the secular anticolonial ideals as by the erudition of Saadeh, who wanted to unite people around their common history. 

 But the idealism of his youth was dealt a harsh blow when he came upon a sentence that changed his life forever: “We have no other enemy to fight … except the Jews.” 

 Questions jostled inside his young head: “Why should I subscribe to Saadeh and not befriend Jews? Abraham was born in Iraq. Doesn’t that mean that Jews are part of the Syrian Umma (community)? My father never gave me a logical answer,” Zeidan told Arab News. 

 “Then I met Jewish friends and found them very honest and kind. That made my inner struggle all the more intense. I grew up and the question grew with me: Why should I be against the Jews?” Very early on, his vocation was sealed: He set about researching the Jews of his country, drawing family trees from Abraham to the present day. “I was the only ‘suicidal one’ doing studies on the Jews of Lebanon,” recalled Zeidan. 

He was harassed by General Security and ostracized by his family. Uncles and cousins greeted him only from a distance. Ironically, just when Zeidan began tracking the Jews down in the 1980s, the community had already left. Their presence, dating back hundreds of years, had almost come to an end.

  (,,,) Nagi Zeidan tells his story to the interviewer: 

"Since 1995, my research has never stopped. I spent four months immersing myself in the memories of the old Jewish cemetery in Beirut, trying to decipher the inscriptions on the stelae. I discovered epitaphs, sometimes very touching. I was particularly upset by one of them, which read: “To that person who died young.” This was for Matilda, the daughter of Moses Eleazer Greenberg, who died at the age of 39, on October 30, 1909. 

Unable to bear the pain of losing her, her father died 51 days later on December 20, 1909 at the age of 69. He was buried next to his daughter. There was another young girl who died out of grief following the death of her father, and was buried next to him.

Nagi Zeidan  during a cleaning operation in a Jewish cemetery in Lebanon

 And then there is the patriarch of the Srour family, who died at the same time as his two children during the great famine of 1916. All three were buried in the same place. On some stelae, we find sad poems engraved on marble, calligraphed in Arabic, sometimes with a few simple words, such as “pray for them,” in Arabic and French. 

I understood a thousand things about the Jews, the complete opposite of what I was taught as a child. I felt compassion for these people while reading their epitaphs, and told myself that it was possible to live fraternally with them, to negotiate together. 

 During the renovation and cleaning of the Jewish cemetery in Sidon between 2015 and 2018, I discovered several graves buried in the sand. I was able to read the names of some deceased written in Hebrew, thanks to friends who translated them to me. 

Front cover of Nagi Zeidan's book

This cemetery had been vandalized several times, especially after the Israeli army evacuated the city in February 1985. The majority of the stelae had been ransacked and graves had collapsed when sand was moved from the cemetery. I was in tears. 

 My team and I had to re-bury the deceased with great respect and dignity. I took pictures and filmed everything to record all that I saw and did. I know this cemetery by heart, I know the smallest details. I have started to archive and save each of the graves that were unearthed. 

This cemetery holds a special place in my heart, it is a part of me and the deceased have become like members of my own family."

My responsibility was to make things right and to identify some of the deceased who have been buried for many years. I posted articles on my Facebook page regarding my work at the cemetery and as a result, several Lebanese Jews in the diaspora contacted me to ask if I had found their parents’ graves. Sometimes I was even asked to film and take pictures of the graves of their deceased. 

 I have become a different man. All my Jewish friends respect me, and I have gained self-respect, too. In a few weeks my book on the history of the Jews of Lebanon will be published in France. It will be the culmination of 25 years of research."

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sitt Marcelle dies, leaving four Jews in Iraq

With the death of Marcelle Ezra (Cohen)  in Iraq, the number of Jews falls to four. Known affectionately by her pupils as Sitt Marcelle, she had been a teacher at the Frank Iny Jewish school. She  is believed to have been in her 90s when she passed away. Marcelle  also ran the  office administering the Jewish community's affairs. Point of No Return is reposting an interview with Sitt Marcelle which appeared on the Niqash site in 2008.

Sitt Marcelle takes the register at the Frank Iny School

"Seventy-five year old (sic) Marcel Azra, one of the few remaining Jewish women in Iraq, has nothing left but memories of the man she loved. For his sake she didn’t leave the country, only for her dreams to be shattered by his death prior to their wedding. When he died, she was left alone, one of the few Jews still in Iraq. Today, Marcel, whose face is lined with wrinkles, lives alone in her house in al-Bataween area in central Baghdad. She is frail and rarely ventures out, depending instead on a neighbouring Christian family for help with her daily needs. 

"Once upon a time she was a teacher in the country’s most famous Jewish school, Franky Ain School (later renamed al-Nithamiyah School), but since retiring she has lived in solitude in her home. Marcel’s neighbours, Rami and his sister Rita, have helped her for many years. They call her ‘aunt’ and buy her needs, clean the house and look after the garden. They also cook her the Iraqi food that she so loves.

 "Looking at black and white photographs from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Marcel recalls beautiful memories of times spent with family and friends, all of whom have since died or left the country. “I have no one. All my Jewish family and relatives left the country. My brother, my sister’s sons and my friends… I stayed here alone. I thought I would marry Sahyoun and so I stayed. But fate did not give me this opportunity. Sahyoun died in an unexpected fight with a Palestinian who was living near our house.” Marcel says that the incident occurred in the early 1980s because of a dispute between Sahyoun and a Palestinian neighbor provoked by the news on television. 

"The dispute led to a fight and Sahyoun ended up dead. Despite the incident, Marcel never thought of going to Israel, but insisted on staying in Iraq. “I have no reason to leave. All my neighbours know that I am Jewish and no one has ever hurt me,” she told Niqash. “I do not want to die away from the place where I was born and spent the best years of my life." 

  Update: an acquaintance in London says that the facts have been misreported - Marcelle was actually married to the man she loved. He was not killed in a dispute with a Palestinian, but by a bomb thrown at the Jewish Congregational offices.

Jewish Agency to support Jewish life in Bahrain

Following the historic announcement of a peace deal between Israel and Bahrain, The Jewish Agency (Sochnut) is to work with Bahrain's 34 Jews to enhance Jewish identity and cultivate community life, Israel National News reports.

Itzhak Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, spoke Saturday night with the head of the Jewish community of Bahrain, Ebrahim Nonoo, with whom he has been in contact for some time. The two officially agreed that the Jewish Agency will collaborate with the Bahraini Jewish community to develop community life and provide additional services, similar to its activities in Jewish communities around the world.

Two weeks ago, Herzog concluded a similar agreement with the UAE's Jewish community.

The Bahraini Jewish community is small, totaling 50 Jews. Most of its members arrived in Bahrain from Iraq decades ago, and earn their living working in commerce and services industries.
Huda Nonoo, former Bahraini ambassador to the US 

 Nonoo's cousin  is a well-known diplomat in the Foreign Service of Bahrain, who has served for several years as the Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States.

Nonoo asked the Jewish Agency for tools to support Jewish education, enhance Jewish identity and cultivate community life.

Following this conversation, a Jewish Agency team will be established in the coming days, headed by the organization's CEO, Amira Ahronoviz, who will be working with the head of the Bahraini Jewish community and members. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

How the Banais from Shiraz became the voice of Israeli culture

The Banai family, now the subject of an exhibition in the Tower of David museum, is a phenomenon in Israel. The saga goes back to 1881, when Rahamim Bana came to Jerusalem from Shiraz, Persia, and settled outside the walls of the Old City. His son, Eliyahu Yaakov Bana, his grandchildren, and  his great-grandchildren created a legacy of talent. The Algemeiner has the story by Simone Masha. 

Retired judge Yitzhak Banai and his wife, Simcha, their son Eviatar Banai, music historian Yoav Kutner, exhibition curator Tal Kobo, Gavri Banai, and Eilat Lieber, museum director, pose for a photo at the Tower of David Museum. (Photo: Ricky Rachman) 

 Every generation of Israelis has its own Banai — sometimes more than one. Their very names — Ya’acov, Yossi, Chaim, Gavri, Yuval, Orna, Meir, Ehud, Eviatar, Uri — evoke every period of Jerusalem’s modern history, ever since the city developed from a backwater of the Ottoman Empire into the capital of the State of Israel. 

 “The soundtrack of my childhood was the radio comedy skits of the HaGashash HaHiver trio with Gavriel Banai, and the routines of Yossi Banai and Rivka Michaeli interspersed between Hebrew songs and classical music,” says Tal Kobo, curator of the exhibition. These skits, first composed in the early 1960s, became the iconic components of popular Israeli culture. The idioms and expressions they created have long been integrated into modern spoken Hebrew. 

 In the 1980s and early 1990s, the rock group Mashina took center stage. Founded by Yuval Banai, the group symbolized everything that was atypical, rebellious, and exciting at the time, with a pinch of international flavor. In the same era, Yuval’s cousin Ehud Banai offered another facet of Israeli identity, crystallized in the album “Ehud Banai and the Refugees. ”

And all the while, the radio continued to play Israeli classics — Yossi Banai singing the French chansons of Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens. By the late 1990s, it was Orna Banai who had the entire country laughing with her character “Limor” in the satirical television show Only in Israel.The late Meir Banai developed his own soulful musical style then, while Eviatar Banai can now often be heard at any nearby Zappa Music Club. 

When Yossi Banai wrote, “I’m making a bridge out of memories,” he was referring to his own. But the Banai family’s creative efforts form a bridge to the collective memory of Israeli culture. Their personal family story mirrors the development of Jerusalem and the development of Israel, and the exhibition shows the coalescing of the community and Hebrew culture in the land of Israel as a process. It is the story of one family’s cultural and physical journey — how they settled outside the Old City of Jerusalem, later moving to huts on the land that is today “Yemin Moshe,” out into the new area of Nachlaot adjacent to the Machane Yehuda open-air market, and then out further afield. 

And throughout this time, their artistic contributions in theater, song, and satire reflect each pivotal point in Israel’s history. “People think of me as a prince in Israel, but my grandfather sold vegetables in the Machane Yehuda market,” singer Yuval Banai remarked in an February 2019 interview with Sagi Ben-Nun Actor Uri Banai remains quite conscious of the singularity of the Banai success story across the generations. 

“It is interesting how a traditional family like this — where the father is a vegetable seller, the mother a housewife with seven kids — a hardscrabble religious family, helped found the Machane Yehuda market and became the topic of some of Israel’s best trivia questions. Every crossword puzzle includes at least one of us,” he said to Adi Greenberger in an article.’This Is Our Song,’ a line from a popular song by Ehud Banai, is also the Hebrew name of the exhibition,” says Kobo. “It serves as a metaphor of how the historical story of the Banai family and the Banai opus became a common soundtrack of Israeli culture. "

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Miscarriage of justice over Sarah Halimi's murder

This blog has been following the shocking murder case of Sarah Halimi, and the failure of the French judicial system to bring  her killer to justice. In a hard-hitting piece in Republic Underground,  Irina Tsukerman condemns the French judicial system, and the lack of engagement from Jewish organisations. Those who have subscribed to Black Lives Matter ought to be concerned by injustice everywhere, she writes. 

Sarah Halimi: miscarriage of justice

The Paris Public Prosecutor M. Molins, who declared Traore “not criminally responsible” for his actions, and refused to bring hate crime or terrorism charges against him after refusing initially to admit any Jew hatred was involved, is now a magistrate with the Court of Cassation. This makes him both a party and a judge to the case he previously prosecuted, which is not in line with the interests of justice.

 The Shameful and Embarrassing Silence of the Jewish Organizations: President Macron, in his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, disagreed with the verdict and opined that the perpetrator should be brought to justice.However, the court attacked President Macron, alleging political interference with the judiciary independence. Meanwhile, the allegedly influential Jewish organizations in France and outside of it remained strangely silent with respect to these shocking developments.

Le CRIF, a well known Jewish coalition in France, opted not to intervene in the process, possibly due to the political conflicts of interests. The American Jewish Committee, which boasts proudly of its strong presence in France, has taken no visible action to engage with the court over this situation, nor to apply its vast resources to exert pressure and to bring international attention to both the heinous crime and the clear miscarriage of justice. Instead, it prioritized the opening of the offices in the UAE, which may not do much for combating international anti-Semitism, but at least will bring sufficient attention and glory to the organization, which otherwise had nothing to do with the Israel-UAE peace process and only issued a lukewarm statement when the news of normalization broke. 

 The World Jewish Congress has taken the situation further, in an apparent effort to cover up the inconvenient implications of the treatment of this crime for its prestigious relationship and standing in France. Ronald Lauder, WJC chairman, commissioned Ray Kelly, the longest-serving Commissioner in the New York Police Department, to produce a report concerning the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.Fearing that the shocking results of this inquiry might be denied or suppressed, some party leaked the portions of report which ultimately held that France is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. 

Lauder proceeded to disavow the unauthorized leaks from his own report. The lack of involvement by these major French and international Jewish organizations raises questions about the utility of these self-appointed spokespeople and “State Departments of the Jews”, and their ultimate agendas. It seems that their dedication to access, popularity, and funding resulting from glamorous photo-ops far outweighs the inconvenience of dedicating resources to their state missions, much less risking all of the above-described boons of toeing just the right line in all the right places. 

 The Need for an Immediate Media Campaign and Coverage for an Upcoming Rally: Having despaired of securing the backing of major Jewish organizations and human rights NGOs (which are far too busy accusing Israel of facilitating human rights abuses), the local Moroccan Jewish community, along with its Muslim allies, such as the Moroccan Americans in New York (MANY), have come together to stage a major rally seeking to bring attention to the events. 

Reportedly, the rally organizers aim to bring together as many as 20,000 people on September 13. They have also created a group or supporters in the US on social media.This tragic chain of events, made so much worse by the silence of the supposed friends, has alread drawn the attention of the American Sephardi Federation in New York and Combat Anti-Semitism Movement. 

However, much more needs to be done. The organizers believe that unless the American media starts speaking out on the issue, there is no incentive for the French organizations and media to cover the case properly. Only a major media and social media campaign of support and pressure on the judiciary to hold the perpetrator accountable and to acknowledge and fight Jew hatred and other forms of bigotry in all their manifestations can bring a sliver of hope to this already unacceptable situation, where willful blindness and fear of confrontation with the extremist elements of French society is leading the way to alienating, marginalizing, discriminating, and dehumanizing the Jewish community, in effect treating them as if they are not French citizens, deserving of equal protection under the law. 

 Therefore, urgent additional coverage and involvement in this case should be the first priority for media and communities of all backgrounds who stand together against injustice, bigotry, hate, and extremism.Those who have subscribed to the Black Lives Matter cause should be equally concerned by the very obvious injustice in this case in France and should recall the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr" "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.


Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Oxford student makes the case for Jewish refugees

Kudos to Asher Weisz, who  is drawing the attention of Oxford University students to  the ethnic cleansing of Jewish refugees from  Arab countries. The persecution of Jews in Yemen is the latest trigger. Article in Oxford Student: (with thanks: Eran)

Some of the last Jews of Yemen

With nowhere else to go, these dispossessed Jews sought refuge in the land of their forefathers, Israel. As of 2009, roughly 50% of Israel’s Jewish population was Sephardi and Mizrahi. Yet these are Jews largely unknown to Westerners. 

 One million Jewish refugees were driven from nine Arab countries and Iran during the 20th Century. The governments and peoples which pushed them out did not just aim to destroy their lives. They aimed to destroy the brilliant history of Jews in the region. Jews had lived in Iraq ever since Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonians exiled them from their homeland in the 6th Century BCE. There, the Farhud, a bloody Nazi-influenced pogrom in 1941, was an early episode in an ever-mounting persecution. The Farhud slew nearly 300 Jews and injured more than 2000. Sporadic violence made it impossible for Iraqi Jews to stay and initiated their flight to Israel. 

 When, in 1948, Iraq went to war with the new State of Israel, Zionism was criminalized, leading to further state-sponsored persecution. Yet more Jews fled to Israel in great numbers, until, in 1952, Iraq banned emigration. In 1969, nine men were hanged as an alleged “spy ring”. Today, there are fewer than ten Jews in Iraq. That is the story of just one community. 

Similar stories unfolded in communities across the region, ruining lives and desecrating a unique culture. These were stories of thorough dispossession, usually sponsored and promoted by antisemitic states, hellbent on ridding themselves of the Jews. This is the story of Yemen too, a story of a once vibrant Jewish community, smashed to pieces in the 20th Century. 

For millennia, perhaps as early as the time of King Solomon, Jews flourished in Yemen, despite prejudice and oppression. They developed a rich culture of their own. The 17th Century’s Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, for example, wrote a celebrated canon of 850 poems. He was revered by Jew and non-Jew alike. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Israel to 'normalise' relations with Bahrain soon

Following the announcement of an imminent peace deal with the UAE, Israel may 'normalise' ties with Bahrain 'within  a month', according to this report in The New Arab. This would be welcome news to Bahrain's 30-odd Jews.

"Mossad is carrying out "intense and very close communications" with officials with the move to normalise ties by the end of this month, a report said on Sunday.

 Mossad chief Yossi Cohen held talks with the Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa three weeks ago, according to a report by Israeli Channel 12. The channel's military correspondent, Nir Dafouri, hinted that Israel may entice the Bahrainis with arms deals in exchange for normalisation.

Yossi Cohen, head of Mossad (Photo: Getty)

 Israeli sources suggested that normalisation with Bahrain would be announced shortly after Israel and the UAE signed the formal declaration of their alliance in Washington, scheduled to take place next week. They said normalisation may happen as soon as the end of September. 

 The channel reported that US officials are also mediating between Israel and Bahrain, noting that the senior advisor to the US president and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with the Bahraini king and his crown prince last week. Bahrain allowed Israeli flights to-and-from the UAE to use its airspace, one day after Saudi Arabia approved a similar Emirati request.

 In Manama, the Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa assured the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, of his country's commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which demands the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for normalising relations with Israel.

Monday, September 07, 2020

AFP article on Jews of Iraq paints a patchy picture

With thanks: Stan, Adam and Eran

An unsigned piece 'Iraq's Jews fled long ago, heritage struggles on',  from the French news agency AFP has received wide distribution in the world's media - for instance in the UK mass-circulation Daily Mail. 

While the general tenor of the article is about exile, loss and destruction of Jewish heritage, the piece is misleading in several respects and gives a patchy picture. 

 Firstly, it concentrates on the erstwhile Jewish community of Kurdistan. This was never more than a minority - 18 - 25,000 Jews out of a total of 150,000, mainly concentrated in Baghdad. 

A photo caption shows portraits of 'Jewish' teachers at an Erbil primary school .

Iewish teachers in an Erbil primary school

 Secondly the writer tries to give the impression that Jews still exist in Kurdistan. What there is - is a community of Benju, Kurds with Jewish ancestry, who have vague memories and nostalgia for their Jewish roots but to all intents and purposes, they are Muslims. It is not known who the Israeli Jews 'with Iraqi ID cards' who returned to Kurdistan might be - possibly these are Israelis who have been doing business in the Kurdish areas. 

 The article tries to blame the creation of Israel for the flight of Iraqi Jews. The 1941 Farhud, in which hundreds of Jews were murdered, is omitted, as is the rise of pro-Nazi antisemitism. 

There is no mention of the post-1967 execution of 11 Jews on trumped-up spying charges, nor of the smuggling of 2,000 Iraqi Jews out of Iraq through Kurdistan in the 1970s. American troops found just 34 Jews in Iraq in 2003. Only six Jews were flown to Israel after 2003. 

 The writer conveys the misleading impression that Kurdish Jews converted to Judaism in the ancient 1st century kingdon of Adiabene, whereas only the rulers are known to have converted. 

 Concerning Jewish heritage, the article is largely accurate. It remarks that the tomb of Nahum is being restored through a $1 million grant but laments that Jewish heritage generally is in a parlous state. 

It states that the house of Sasson Eskell, Iraq's Jewish finance minister in the 1920s, is partially ruined, while failing to mention that his main residence, the so-called House of Dreams, still stands.  

The 'Iraqi-Jewish archive' of Jewish books and documents was not 'whisked away' from Iraq: it was shipped to the US for restoration. The writer assumes that its rightful place is back in Iraq, failing to acknowledge the strenuous efforts of Jews outside Iraq to stop the archive from going back.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Iraqi Jews call for restoration of citizenship

The warming  relations  between Israel and the Gulf states has prompted Iraqi Jews to call for  the restoration of their rights   Edwin Shuker, vice president of the board of deputies of British Jews and former vice president of the European Jewish Congress, wrote in a letter Aug. 19 addressed to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, al-Monitor reports. “We feel the time has come to put a stop to the policy of exclusion based on race or religion,” Shuker told Kadhimi in his letter. (Moreover, Jews cannot hope for restitution of their property unless they are re-nationalised').

Edwin Shuker on a visit to the shrine of Ezekiel at Kifl in Iraq

 Shuker visited Iraq several times and he went to Baghdad, Mosul and even the holy Shiite city of Najaf. He visited several Jewish holy sites in different parts of Iraq, from the north to the far south. He produced a film called "Remember Baghdad" on Iraq's last Jews telling the story of their homeland Iraq. Al-Monitor asked Shuker about the intention behind demanding his citizenship back.

 “I was born in Baghdad on July 23, 1955, to Iraqi parents and my ancestors have been living on this land since 586 B.C.,” he said. “My right for nationality is guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution.” 

 After the removal of the Baath party in Iraq in 2003, Iraq's Nationality Law was amended in 2006. The new law provides the right to restore nationality for Iraqis who had lost theirs as a result of political, racial or sectarian factors. But Article 17/II of this law expressly excludes Jews and only Jews from pursuing this option. 

 “Iraq cannot begin to build a civil society with rights to its citizens until it reconciles with the injustice committed against many of its components including the Jews,” Shuker said. “It is time to start this process.” Menuhin believes that demanding the right to citizenship is “a moral matter” for Jews. They are not thinking of returning to Iraq, especially in these critical circumstances, but they would like to keep the connection.

 “Jews were excluded from returning to Iraq, even though they were the original inhabitants of Mesopotamia and carry a history of 2,600 years,” she said. “They contributed to building Iraq in all periods — especially in the modern era.” Israel opened a virtual embassy in Iraq in 2018, which has attracted thousands of Iraqis on Facebook.

 “Restoration of citizenship for Iraqi Jews contributes to implanting cultural pluralism in Iraq and promote justice,” Menuhin noted. “For the above reason, Iraqi civil society actually is pushing toward this goal much more than the Iraqi Jews themselves.”

 In the same vein, Shuker told Kadhimi, “The opportunity is there for Your Excellency to reverse the policy of exclusion and begin an era of building bridges, ending past injustices and connecting with Iraqis in the diaspora who would welcome the opportunity to help rebuild the country with their skills.” 

Friday, September 04, 2020

The UAE has a Jewish past, and a promising future

There are ancient relics testifying to a past Jewish community in the Gulf of Arabia, and the peace deal announced between Israel and the UAE may lead to the small expatriate Jewish community having an open and regular presence, the Times of Israel reports:

More than one Jew so, of course, two synagogues:
The United Arab Emirates’ modern Jewish community was only formally established in 2008, and it entirely comprises immigrants. 

Though small, numbering some 2,000-3,000 people, it is already participating in what could be called a thriving tradition of Jewish debate: Not one, but two organizations have claimed at one point to represent the UAE’s community. Ross Kriel’s Jewish Council of the Emirates in Dubai hosts services at a synagogueknown as “the villa,” a converted residence rented by the community, with a sanctuary, full kitchen, areas for socializing and playing, an outdoor pool, and several rooms upstairs where religiously observant visitors can stay over Shabbat. The villa’s location has been and remains a closely-held secret in an anonymous building — but as tensions relax and Jewish Israelis become a regular presence in the Emirates, it might come out into the open.

 Worshipers in the synagogue pray, as do many Jews around the world, for the safety of the country and its rulers. In the UAE, Kriel’s community prays each week for God to preserve Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

There's also a Chabad-backed outfit led by longtime Gulf resident Rabbi Levi Duchman and businessman Solly Wolf. Their organization operates a Talmud Torah Jewish day school where 45 children learn about Judaism. Duchman faced an official reprimand some months ago after launching a concerted public relations campaign introducing the new congregation but neglecting to acknowledge the existence of the city’s established but media-shy Jewish community. 

The Abrahamic family house in Abu Dhabi  will cater to the three Abrahamic faiths

Fragments of the past: The existence of an ancient Jewish community in the area upon which the United Arab Emirates now stands is poorly documented. Benjamin of Tudela, an early modern explorer, said he found a Jewish community in Kis in the modern-day emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost of the emirates. Beyond his words, little trace of that community remains.

But records of Jewish communities in the area have not entirely vanished. Ras al-Khaimah’s National Museum stands the tombstone of one David, son of Moses, unearthed in the 1970s by local residents. The tombstone features clearly legible Hebrew writing, with some Judeo-Arabic mixed in. 

The tombstone of David, son of Moses

According to historian Timothy Power, the mysterious David may have migrated from Persia to nearby cosmopolitan Hormuz at the height of its commercial splendor, between the 14th and 16th centuries. “A notable Jewish community existed on the island of Hormuz, situated at a strategic bottleneck at the head of the Arabian Gulf, less than a day’s sail from Ras Al Khaimah,” Power wrote, adding that one source attested several synagogues and two rabbis served the community at the time.